Talking Publishing with Chris Kennedy
I met Chris Kennedy when he traveled to be a featured author at the Fayetteville ComicCon in 2017. He has a lot of things to say worth listening to when it comes to the topics of running a successful publishing company, as well as publishing books by veterans and those who understand the military well enough to write it with authority. He’s currently at DragonCon, where several works from his publishing house have been nominated for (and won!) several of the fans’ choice Dragon Awards. He was gracious enough to share a bit about his experience creating and running a successful military science fiction (and other genres) publishing house.
Q: Please share a brief bio (100–200 words) encapsulating your military experience, as well as touching on your writing /publishing credits.
Chris Kennedy: I spent 20 years in the Navy as a naval aviator. I flew the A-6E Intruder bomber off the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (acquiring over 1,700 hours and 300 arrested carrier landings) and the EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft (another 1,800 hours) before ending my career in a variety of staff jobs. As an author, I just passed the 5-year point in my author/editor/publisher career. I started as a self-published author, but have grown into the position of publisher for others now, as well. I have published about 20 titles of my own, and a total of about 80 titles across the five imprints of Chris Kennedy Publishing.
Q: Since we met at the Fayetteville ComicCon in 2017, you’ve been growing and expanding your publishing house, Chris Kennedy Publishing (CKP). In a 2015 interview with Phil Hall of Business Superstar, you credited your background in the Navy for giving you experience in research and planning. Can you expand on that? What in your military background helped you decide how to write and grow a strategy? Were there particular resources you drew on?
What I was talking about in that interview was my ability to plan. Having been in the Navy, I’m used to being given objectives and having to work out a plan for achieving them. In this case, the goal was, “Get My Story Published.” When I was unable to find an agent that liked it, I developed a plan to learn about all the things I needed for the book (editing, cover design, etc.) and how to accomplish them. Then, like any good military person, I accomplished the objective and got “Red Tide” published. No one was more surprised than I was when it sold, and I said, “I need to do this again!”
Q: Your press publishes predominantly military science fiction (Mil-SF)…
Yes, it does, although there are also YA, fantasy, and horror imprints.
Q.a: Many of your writers also come from a military background. For those writers, what do you think is the appeal of science fiction? Why do so many readers with a military background enjoy reading in the genre?
I think that once people leave the military, they really miss the camaraderie of being in a unit (I know I did). Civilian life just doesn’t have the same brotherhood/sisterhood the military does, and no one really has your back anymore. Reading/writing military scifi takes us back to “the good ol’ days” of being in a unit and makes you feel like you’re “part of something” for a little while, even if it is all make believe.
Q.b: For those writers who don’t have a military background but write Mil-SF, what sets them apart from writers who understand a military environment, and those who fail to capture it?
I’ve seen many people without a military background who can write good military scifi. For example, Mark Wandrey, who I co-write with, does a great job of it. They are able to capture the essence of a unit by asking questions and working hard to get it right. There are also plenty of writers who can’t write military scifi…they don’t do the work required. The same can be said for any genre, though (and life in general)…the people who work hard will be successful.
Q: From a publishing perspective, what are some of the common narratives concerning veterans that you’ve seen in other news/entertainment media? Do they coincide with the themes in the books published by CKP? What are some common areas of military life you wish you would encounter more in fiction?
The two things I emphasize in my books are sacrificing for the group (something that is sadly uncommon outside the military) and the camaraderie of the unit that I mentioned before. The news media talks about these a lot…the key, though, is getting them right. ☺
Q: On your website, it states that “…the focus is on fun, message-free science fiction.” Do you find that certain themes or messages naturally arise when you have military writers tackling Mil-SF? Are there any you try to stay away from?
That note is meant to show readers that CKP books aren’t going to tell them how to live their lives; the point of the books is to tell a great story that readers can lose themselves in, without feeling like the author is preaching to them. I read to lose myself in a great book; that’s the standard I use for all the books I publish.
Q: As a publisher, what advice would you give to veterans looking to start writing? Would you recommend they look at working with a publisher, or going the indie author route, and why?
Read. Read a lot. Not just fiction, but read about the craft and business of writing. Get better every day. The first four years of my career as a writer, I started out the day by reading blog articles to help me become a better author or publisher. 15–30 minutes every day. It was an investment in me, which has paid off very well. There are a number of great books out there on writing and publishing; make sure you’ve read some before you try to publish your book. It’s good to start out as an indie and publish a book or two, as you will familiarize yourself with the process before you try to get an agent. It will also give you a start on your platform, which will be helpful in landing an agent. Finally, you may do really well, like myself and a number of other authors have done, and decide you don’t need an agent at all.
Q: Anything to add?
Always put your best foot forward. Don’t EVER turn in anything that is rushed or not edited. You’re only going to shoot yourself in the foot, and you may kill the only chance you were ever going to have with that publisher. Always. Be. Your. Best.