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Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing

Jan 26, 2018

Mark chats with Canadian Science Fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer. Sawyer is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world’s top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (the full list of such winners: Paolo Bacigalupi, David Brin, Arthur C. Clarke, Joe Haldeman, Frederik Pohl, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, and Connie Willis).


In their conversation, Mark and Rob talk about:

  • The fact that Rob was the very first science fiction writer in the world to have a website ( which has grown to over 1 million words of text and more than 800 documents since it launched in 1995, including documents about the craft and business of writing and publishing
  • The text-heavy nature of Rob’s website and how he still manually codes his website in HTML
  • The SEO involved in the creation of the SFWriter website using the three main key words: “science fiction writer” and how that has led to Rob being on the first page of search results for those in the media looking to talk to a sci-fi writer for various commentary on events (example, anniversary of the moon landing, cloning, the death of a famous science fiction writer, etc)
  • How optimizing his brand and SEO has led to just under 1000 radio and television interviews
  • The way that Rob’s novels are typically grounded in real-life scientific research, such as his latest novel, Quantum Night, which is about psychopathy and what might happen if a psychopathy were to get into the office of the President of the United States
  • The way Rob was able to pivot in the marketing of the book after Donald J. Trump became the US President
  • The brilliantly supportive way that Rob’s US audiobook publisher (Audible) worked quickly to resolve the issue of a few funny incorrect pronunciations that a US narrator made with a couple of “Canadian” words
  • Advice for authors regarding dividing up your IP by format as well as by territory and how the aggregate of the sale of rights of each unique division adds up to far more than a single “world rights” offer would typically be
  • How Rob used KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and KWL (Kobo Writing Life) and other direct to retailer and distribution platforms to publish to iBooks, Nook and other markets using the rights that he did not sell to a publisher (ie, direct selling an “international edition” of a book like QUANTUM NIGHT where publishers only purchased Canadian and US rights)
  • How each new format that emerges for a book enlarges the audience, rather than cannibalizes upon the previous format editions
  • The ABC Television program (FlashForward) which was based on Rob’s 1999 novel of the same name and details about his involvement with that experience
  • The approved changes in the television adaptation (which includes changing the “flash forward” from 21 years to 6 months) that helped to make the story more palatable for a US network television audience yet retained the important theme of “fate VS freewill”
  • How a scene in that novel, published in 1999 had a scene which predicted the existence of the Espresso Book Machine, which can print and bind a paperback in about 15 minutes right inside a bookstore
  • The changes within publishing since Rob’s first novel was published in 1990
  • The different royalties received on the self-published version (70%) VS the traditionally published version (17.5%) of Rob’s novel Quantum Night and a reflection on the time most likely spent by the author and by the publisher on a single book (typically a 12:1 ratio) and how that changes the perspective of the 3:1 split in the publisher’s favor
  • A teaser for Rob’s next novel about the Manhattan Project, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020 and how that ties in to Rob’s marketing plans for the book and himself
  • The figure Rob has in mind for selling the Canadian, American and British rights to a publisher and, if his agent isn’t able to secure those numbers, his plans to release it independently
  • The odds that a book will never be made into a movie, including stats on how only 3 out of the 53 novels that have so far won the Nebula Award (often seen as the “best science-fiction novel” of the year) have been made into movies (They were: Dune, Ender’s Game and Flowers for Algernon)
  • The approximate 16 years that Rob’s Nebula Award winning novel The Terminal Experiment has been optioned for film rights (but with no film ever having been made so far)

After the interview, Mark reflects upon two elements from the conversation. First he looks at the manner by which Rob has acted as a linchpin within the writing and publishing community, mentoring other writers, assisting beginners and always looking to connect people together. Then he explores the way that, when Rob is talking about one of his novels, he focuses on the high level concept that makes people think or makes people want to engage, rather than a "blow by blow" of the plot details. He encourages writers to look for a similar thing in their own work.

This podcast was sponsored by Findaway Voices – a company that gives authors and publishers everything they need to create professionally-narrated audiobooks and reach listeners in more than 170 countries through the world’s largest audiobook distribution network

Links of Interest:


robRobert J. Sawyer — called "the dean of Canadian science fiction" by The Ottawa Citizen and "just about the best science-fiction writer out there these days" by The Denver Rocky Mountain News — is one of only eight writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the science-fiction field's top honors for best novel of the year. Rob — who holds honorary doctorates from the University of Winnipeg and Laurentian University — has taught writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, and The Banff Centre.

The music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0