By Doug Dandridge
Exodus was the second book ever that I wrote intentionally for self-publication. Let me backtrack just a bit on that. I have been writing novels and short stories since 1996. At first they were pretty awful. They got better as I wrote more. The secret to becoming good enough that people want to buy your work is not really a secret. Everyone who has made it to that place has learned it the hard way. You get good enough to sell by writing, a lot. I garnered a lot of rejection letters. The letters got better, but I still wasn’t a selling writer. In 2010 I decided to try something different. I had read years before that a famous agent said that Space Opera was dead, but it didn’t seem that way to this reader. After all, David Weber and John Ringo had huge followings. So I decided to write an epic Space Opera/Military Science Fiction series and publish it myself.
This was a departure from what I had been doing. I had written about sixteen novel length works by this time, some good enough to publish, and many now self-published. All that I have self-published since embarking on that venture have received for the most part very good reviews, if not exceptional sales. All had been written as stand alones, because that was what the publishers wanted, but all were left open for sequels, because that was what the publishers wanted. Exodus was to be a long series from the outset. I could only hope that each would sell a thousand copies or so to make the series worth continuing. I had no idea. I settled on the name Exodus, then added the Empires at War subtitle because I didn’t want people to think it was a bible story. I later learned at a workshop that I had picked the perfect title keywords for military scifi.
I planned the series for about six months before I started writing. I wanted something I would love to read. Much of military scifi seemed to have a lot of lead up to the action, then boom, the action was over, or it was skipped over and we went directly to the aftermath. As an amateur military historian, I wanted to read about the battles, not the aftermath. I also wanted to avoid a lot of the common tropes of scifi, while making everything as accurate as possible as far as the science and tech went. Of course I was going to have some McGuffins, FTL, inertial compensators and the like. But I wanted the basic science to be right. With that in mind, I developed my Universe. I wanted a human Empire far enough from the space we know now that I could do what I wanted with the distribution of star systems and planets. I used the idea of humankind fleeing an alien menace and reestablishing themselves ten thousand light years from Sol. I have always loved Harry Turtledove, and used his template of lots of characters to tell a big story, and what could be larger than a war across thousands of light years. I copied techniques from Jim Butcher and R A Salvatore to cover the action. And then I started writing.
That year was my most productive, writing two hundred thousand words each of Exodus and my fantasy series Refuge, as well as most of three other novels, all while working full time. Exodus finished at two hundred and ten thousand words, and I decided it was much too long for a single eBook. Later I would split it into books one and two, and rewrite sections to make them more or less complete novels on their own. If I could do it over today I would have put in more work making them almost stand alones, each with their own part of the story to tell. When I started my Machine War spinoff series I did just that. It was all a learning process, and I’m still learning.
I put my novel The Deep Dark Well, written in 2005, on free promotion at Amazon and gave away forty-one hundred of them. Two months later I put out my first Exodus book. I said I would be happy if I had sold a thousand of them, and I did, in the first month. Exodus 2 came out two months later, and I was selling three hundred books a day on Amazon in January of 2013. Two months later I quit my day job and became a full time author. In the last three years I have published twelve books in the Exodus Universe, nine in the Empires at War series, two in Machine Wars, and one in Tales of the Empire, a series of books telling some of the stories going on in the rest of the Empire, both before and during the war. I have sold about a hundred thousand books across the line, compared with fifty thousand of all of my other books. Along the way I have made some changes, sometimes based on fan requests, sometimes just because they made sense to me. The technology is constantly evolving, and the stories evolve along with it.
People who like Exodus seem to like it a lot, it might even be said that they love it. I Have received a lot of feedback from fans who say it is their favorite series, and I their favorite author. I’m not sure that I belong up there with a lot of the people they compare me too, but the most important part is that they like the books. Exodus is not for everyone, and I had to learn that lesson early on. It is for the fanatical military science fiction fan who wants a look into the numbers and logistics of a vast war, told within the stories of interesting characters. The good guys don’t always make the best decisions, because sometimes there are no good decisions to choose from. Not everyone makes it to the end of the book, but as some fans have said, the good guys win, most of the time, and they learn from their mistakes. The books seem to be really popular with people in the military and veterans, who have seen the situations where sometimes the best you can do is get most of your people home.
Exodus: Empires at War: Book Three hit number one in Space Opera on Amazon UK, and number three in the US. Since then every book in the Empires at War series has been at least top ten in the US, and books four through seven hit that number one spot in the UK. Each book gets a better average of reviews than the preceding volume. And it really is something great to look on the list of genre best sellers and see my book, something I wrote, up there with some of my all-time favorite authors. That’s called living the dream.
I’m not always sure where this series is heading. Empires at War will have an end, probably around book twenty. Epic wars do not end quickly, and they go back and forth with one side winning today, the other tomorrow. Machine war will probably encompass five books. And Tales of the Empire? I‘m planning at least four more short story collections, as well as a couple of historical, from the perspective of the people in the Empires at War books, stand alones detailing some of the salient incidents in the rise of the New Terran Empire. And when Exodus is done, there are possibilities for several new series dealing with the expansion of humanity across the Galaxy and beyond. It’s a big Universe I have created, and I could write in it the rest of my life and not get bored. But there are also other projects I want to tackle, other series. Hopefully will have learned enough from Exodus to make those series successful as well.
People tell me I have arrived. And I think, not yet. I still have a ways to go. I think there is always room for improvement, growth. And hopefully I will be doing this for a couple of more decades. If those decades are anything at all like my first two and a half years as a full time writer, I’m in for a hell of a ride. And hopefully my fans will ride along with me.