Tahani Nelson has put on her armor and summoned her troops.
The cause for which they fight is Nelson’s novel, “The Last Faoii.” Winning the battle would mean getting the book into print, into the hands of as many readers as possible.
Welcome to the new, wide-open world of book publishing. Nelson finished the book—a young adult dark fantasy about a woman warrior fighting in the heart of a broken empire—a couple of years ago, then spent a year and a half collecting rejection slips from almost 200 agents.
Then she heard of Inkshares, a publishing company based on the crowdfunding model, through which books are chosen for publication based on how many many people pre-order copies of the book. On Aug. 1, Nelson entered an Inkshares contest that at last count had attracted 357 authors.
As of Friday, she was in sixth place. If she is in the top three when the contest ends at midnight on Nov. 1, Inkshares will give her the full treatment—editing, proofreading, layout, cover art, promotion and distribution.
Nelson has been working diligently to attract more followers willing to make pre-orders. She has been hitting social media hard, updating her blog on a regular basis and posting excerpts, a glossary and then the first three chapters of her book. She posted a video trailer and she is having a drawing to give away a $100 Visa gift card to one reader who pre-orders a book on Oct. 1—this Saturday.
She’s done interviews, raffled off pictures of some her characters that she drew and she did a reading at Barjon’s bookstore in downtown Billings. She has also put up handbills around town, urging people to support her on Inkshares.
Given the martial tilt of her novel, she recently had the idea of addressing her followers as soldiers, asking them to gird up, grab their weapons and fight with her to the end.
“I started doing that and it really took off,” Nelson said.
Nelson, a 27-year-old Billings native who is an infant-toddler educator for Young Families Early Head Start, started writing in high school. She was still in high school when she completed her first novel, which she described as “a 900-page monstrosity.” It was a blatant rip-off of “Lord of the Rings,” she said, and it was so disappointing that she never considered trying to salvage it.
She started “The Last Faoii” (pronounced “fay-o-ee”) in December 2012, after she woke up in the middle of the night with a fight scene in her head. She said she sat down and wrote the first three chapters in one sitting.
She still wasn’t sure what the book was about, but she knew it would be a book “where the main character was a female who wasn’t pathetic, or being saved, or wearing bikini armor.” She had read too many fantasy novels where the women were just love interests or damsels in distress, always secondary characters at best.
Though the finished novel was rejected by so many agents, some of them gave her good advice, which she followed. The main objection was that it was too long, so Nelson cut approximately 17,000 words, down to 100,000 words. Another frequent criticism was that her teenage hero sounded way too mature for her age.
“I don’t know how I wrote like that,” Nelson said. “I don’t sound like I’m 35 or 40. But she did.”
Nelson also honed her craft in an unusual way. Right after high school, she began reading manuscripts for free, offering aspiring writers basic help with grammar and spelling and the like. She offered her services on Facebook forums or author sites, and she continued doing so after earning a degree in English from Rocky Mountain College.
Often she’ll read just a short story or a chapter or two—she figures she’s read more than 150 shorter works—but she’s also read at least 20 full-length novels. It has helped her even as she tutored mostly younger authors.
“My writing has gotten so much better through this process,” she said, because it’s easier to spot flaws in someone else’s work, and then to spot similar flaws in your own work. And most of the time it’s just plain fun, she said.
“I just love being part of somebody’s brand-new world,” she said.
Inkshares sponsors contests in various genres with various partners. The one Nelson entered is called the Geek & Sundry Fantasy Contest. The top three books in the contest will all be published and marketed by Inkshares, and then Geek & Sundry, which is a multimedia production company, will choose one of more of those products to develop into other media, including film, television and digital products.
For Nelson’s book, fans can pre-order an ebook for $10 or a signed paperback for $20. On the contest page, books are ranked in terms of the number of “readers” they have amassed. They are counted a bit differently from the actual number of pre-orders, which has to do with measures to prevent people from gaming the system.
In the rankings, as of Friday, Nelson had 125 readers and 152 pre-orders, for sixth place. If she cracks the top three, her book will go into all the major bookstores and hundreds of smaller independent stores.
If she doesn’t make the top three but sells at least 250 pre-orders, Inkshares will print whatever number that is and send them to her buyers. If she doesn’t hit 250, no books will be printed and buyers will receive a full refund.
Besides hoping to become rich and famous—what’s the point of being a novelist if you don’t dream about that?—Nelson wants to win so she can publish a “deliciously dark” sequel to “The Last Faoii.”
She said she got a good start on the sequel but suspended work on it pending the results of the Inkshares contest.
“I don’t want to put those characters through all this horrible stuff if no one’s going to read it,” she said.