As a connoisseur of alien invasion movies, author Craig Alanson has given a lot of thought to the logistics of potential encounters between humans and extraterrestrials. His conclusion? “There is no way humanity could survive a real invasion,” he says, “not without a lot of outside help.” The question of who would step up to help humans on the receiving end of an alien attack would ultimately lead Alanson to write Columbus Day, the first installment in his Expeditionary Force series of humorous military sci-fi books. The series charts the course of an intergalactic war between humans and a technologically advanced alien species called the Ruhar—and a second alien race that comes to assist Earth. The series has grown to 12 titles, with Breakaway, the latest installment from Alanson, publishing earlier this month and immediately debuting at #1 on Audible.
Alanson likes to have creative control over his stories, which is a big reason he’s taken an indie publishing route. “The focus on print in the traditional publishing space is problematic for me,” he says. “I don’t want the shelf space and cost of printing to dictate the length of my books, and I like to price my e-books below the cost of a paperback. Don’t get me wrong; considering the market share of the big publishers, they have a hugely successful business model. It just doesn’t work for me.”
In the end, Alanson chose to publish with Podium, a company that is nontraditional in another respect. Podium is an independent publisher specializing in audiobooks within the genres of fantasy, mystery, romance, and sci-fi. Podium launched in Toronto in 2012 and gained notoriety after adapting Andy Weir’s independently published e-book original The Martian, which was narrated originally by voice actor R.C. Bray.
While his creative output may be exceptional, as a consumer of content, Alanson is like any other reader with a busy life and limited time. Books are essential modes of enrichment and escape for him, but putting his full focus on reading isn’t always possible. “I listen to audiobooks while driving, running, working out, and mowing the lawn,” Alanson says. “Often, I prefer audio to text, simply because a good voice actor turns words on a page into a new and richer experience. Audiobooks are their own art form.”
Writing an audiobook is also significantly different from writing for print. “I try to ‘hear’ the dialogue in my head as I write and focus on how the narrative will sound,” Alanson says. “I find that readers’ eyes can skip over dialogue tags at the end of sentences, but in audio form they are annoyingly repetitive and take away from the flow of the story— so I avoid them as much as possible.”
As audiobook fans can attest, a narrator can make or break the listening experience. Podium cast R.C. Bray to narrate the Expeditionary Force series. Alanson couldn’t imagine a more perfect fit. “Bray is a genius when it comes to switching between characters during rapid-fire dialogue sequences,” he says.
MEETING THE MOMENT
Victoria Gerken, publisher and head of acquisitions at Podium, has observed a sea change within the publishing industry. Increasingly, successful authors like Alanson prefer to publish independently, and she can clearly understand why. “Before the Kindle Direct publishing revolution,” Gerken says, “the traditional publishing industry was simply not big enough to include all the people who wanted to write a story and have other people read it—and that is particularly the case for genre fiction.” Podium works with authors to fulfill their creative visions while giving them the autonomy they might be denied by a mainstream contract. “Authors will increasingly recognize that they can reach readers and listeners directly,” she says, “and they don’t need to give up a large portion of their earnings to a third party whose value is increasingly diminished.”
By publishing with Podium, authors can take control of their schedules, publish more frequently, and maintain ownership of their work while enjoying a fruitful publishing partnership, and Podium is meeting the increasing demand for audio-first books. “Podium’s output is growing on pace with the growth of the audiobook industry,” Gerken says. “We published 500 titles last year and we are on track to publish 900 in 2021. We are expanding our offerings in the mystery, nonfiction, romance, and thriller genres, as well as in the fantasy and sci-fi genres that we are known for.”
Alanson himself is working on a new series for Podium. But this time, he’s coming back down to Earth, literally. “We are really excited about Craig’s new series.” Gerken says. “All we can say is that it’s Earth-based and R.C. Bray will be narrating the audiobook editions. The series is very different from Expeditionary Force, but with all of the adventure and sparkling dialogue that his fans love.”