Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interview with Bards & Sages Julie Dawson

Available at Amazon

Julie Dawson of Bards and Sages Publishing is here to chat about writing, mentoring and epublishing. Welcome Julie!

What prompted you to start your imprint, Bards & Sages?

I started B&S originally back in 2002 as a simple online venue to promote my own writing and as a base of operations for my writing contest. I sponsor a writing contest each year to benefit different charities.

What was your inspiration for going into electronic publishing?

The biggest reason why I decided to develop my own press was because the industry has lost the mentorship mentality that made it possible for authors to mature. When I was "growing up" in my writing, so to speak, there were actually more opportunities for writers than there are now. What I mean by that is there were dozens of small publishers that worked with authors. Maybe they only paid $5 for a story, but they also walked you through the editing process and gave you ideas and had you involved in the proofing. You learned as you went. The best advice I ever got came in the form of a THREE PAGE rejection letter that began "I'm not going to tell you what you are doing right. I'm going to tell you everything you are doing wrong." Nobody does that any more. So writers get strings of rejection letters, but they don't know what they are doing wrong, so they keep doing the same things wrong.

And at the same time, there are a lot of vultures that want to take your money. So they encourage you to 'self-publish' and fill your head with all these negative ideas about publishers (reinforced by the generic rejection letters you get, of course) and then charge you these ridiculous fees for things you don't even need. Meanwhile, any illiterate with an internet connection can call himself a publisher, and these creeps reinforce the negative stereotypes authors develop regarding publishers.

What kinds of projects do you accept?

We publish speculative fiction and role-playing games. With our speculative fiction, I really look for character-driven stories. As I often tell writers, I need to either care enough about your character that I want them to succeed, or I need to hate the character enough that I want to watch them fail. The worst thing you can send me is something filled with generic, cardboard characters that all sound alike, act alike, and at the end of the day seem interchangeable.

With our RPGs, we publish supplements for the 3.5/OGL game system, and our own Karma Roleplaying System.

How much support/editorial help do you provide your authors?

I see myself in that "mentor" role, trying to help people navigate through the industry and sift the fact from fiction in regards to the business. I make a profit with B&S, but my primary objective is to do for others what my early contacts in the industry did for me: give them a swift kick in the ass and set them in the right direction. I have something of a reputation for being too blunt or not being "supportive", but in truth I don't see how it is supportive to just tell people what they want to hear or offer fake encouragement when there are obvious problems...particularly when many of the problems are easily corrected if you can force the author to take off his or her blinders. As someone once told me, you don't make a diamond by rubbing it with a fluffy bunny slipper. You make it by applying pressure and heat!

Do you have a graphic artist on staff?

I work mostly with freelancers. I do have a core group of “go to” people that I prefer to work with, but sometimes if I want a very specific vibe for a project I send out an open call at or other sites. Some of my favorites are listed on the site under the Resources section. (

How long does it take from submission to publication?

It depends on the project. A full size RPG or novel can take a year from start to finish. We’re currently on a six-month lead with the Quarterly, so stories that are being accepted now will be published in the January 2011 issue. If it is a digital only product, which a lot of our RPG products are, it can be turned over in less than two months. A lot depends on the art and editorial work involved.

Where do you distribute your client’s books?

They aren’t clients, as they don’t pay ME. I pay THEM. Sometimes, too many people seem to forget that is actually how these things are suppose to work. We have a print partnership with, which handles the majority of our printing and distribution now. Our print titles appear on and are available for sale with a variety of retailers. We have digital distribution arrangements with and to distribute our titles to ebook retailers. And we have an exclusive partnership with to distribute our digital RPGs to the hobby market.

What is your payment rate and royalty split with authors?

I can’t discuss royalties for contractual reasons. For the Quarterly and our work-for-hire projects, we pay semi-pro rates (1 cent/word) upon publication.

In addition to being running an imprint, you are also an author. Can you tell us about your latest book?

I released The Doom Guardian a few months ago. I’m mostly a horror writer, so The Doom Guardian is my first significant attempt at a traditional fantasy novel. Of course, being a horror writer, my fantasy has horror undertones. The story follows a group of characters trying to prevent an undead apocalypse.

There’s Nadia, who is both a dhampir and a Doom Guardian. Doom Guardians are the equivalent of paladins for the god of the dead, Nadru. Nadru is actually a good guy in the world, and the mythology of the setting involves him defeating his father, Vagruth, and having him banished for crimes against humanity and the other gods. His church’s primary job is to make sure the dead get where they are suppose to be without having their souls snatched by devils and demons or becoming defiled by necromancers creating undead monsters. Of course Vagruth doesn’t take this all well, and the book’s plot involves his followers trying to return him to the world.

Darseidon is a dwarf that fought in the Great War that finally banished Vagruth’s followers. He’s in his Twilight, a time when dwarves know they are going to die soon. Usually, they use this time to get their affairs in order and enjoy their last years in peace, but he finds himself thrust into this situation where he has to help Nadia stop Vagruth’s followers, or else everything he fought for in his youth will be lost.

Nigel is a dark elf thief and con artist on the run with a pocket full of stolen gems, and he accidentally gets caught up in the events after tricking Nadia into helping him escape the authorities. He was probably the most fun to write of the three, because he has such an outrageous personality. Particularly when compared to the morose Nadia or the pragmatic and fatherly Darseidon. Nigel has garnered something of a fan club among female readers, to the point where I needed to sate their appetite for him by having one of my artists create a character portrait. It’s now on my website as a downloadable screensaver. (

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?

No. I am a publisher, after all. I felt it more important to show a bit of solidarity with my authors by publishing it through my own imprint that farming it elsewhere. Sort of like going to a job interview and finding out the person conducting the interview is himself looking for a better job. I don’t think it would be good for organizational morale to look elsewhere for a publisher!

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?

I do have a website, which I have spent a lot of time recently revising ( We have a facebook page and twitter account. We also have two groups at, one for our general fiction and one specifically for the Karma RPG.

Besides Bards & Sages, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?

Almost all online retailers carry the majority of our fiction titles, though I usually direct people to As I said, we have deals with Mobipocket, smashwords, and onebookshelf to distribute digital products, so our stuff is available all over the place. We have pretty good distribution.

What’s next for you?

Further evidence that I am a glutton for punishment, that’s what! We’re currently putting the finishing touches on Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, Vol. II, which will feature the winners of last year’s writing contest. We just signed Kevin Wallis as our newest author, and we will be publishing his short story collection Beneath the Surface of Things for a fall release. We have this year’s writing contest in full swing. On the RPG front, we have a major print and digital 3.5/OGL release, The Book of Silvered Shadows, which focuses on concepts of neutrality.

Personally, I’m almost done a new horror novel, and I’m toying with the idea of releasing it for free in installments to promote the company. I’ve also started jotting down notes for a sequel to The Doom Guardian. So there is a lot going on right now.