Books, beekeeping, and being self-employed - William C. Tracy

14 Jun 2024

I’m happy to be in this year’s SPFBO again. I entered a book for the 2018 and 2019 contests, but at that time I wasn’t nearly as involved in the publishing world as I am now. I’ve learned many things over the past six years, including how to run a small press, how to quit a full-time job, how to keep bees, and what really goes into being self-employed. And since I have your attention for now, you get to learn about it too.

Let’s start with the most pertinent one: the small press. I run Space Wizard Science Fantasy, which publishes primarily queer sci-fi and fantasy books. You can find our web site at It was almost an act of self-defense to start it. I had written seven or eight books already, we were in the midst of the early pandemic, and my writing group decided, “why don’t we put together an anthology of lesbian SFF stories focusing on strange plants?” Great. Well, how should we publish it? Many of us were published already, but I was the only one who had a concerted self-publishing presence at that point. So, I volunteered. Little did I know what that would bring.

Distant Gardens was our first anthology, and soon after that, I opened my doors to publishing books by other authors. I released J.S. Fields’ fifth Ardulum book, because they wanted to move to a more independent press. Shortly after, I formally opened my submissions, hoping to get a couple authors. I ended up publishing two anthologies, some novellas, a few standalones, and the start of several series, twelve books in all! It was enough to fill up a year of publishing, at one book a month. I put together a Kickstarter, which ended up raising about $18,000 to help pay for cover costs, artists, and pro-rates for authors in the anthologies.

I was already starting to get submissions for the second year of publishing.

As my press grew, I was really starting to look for ways out of my engineering day job. I’d been there for seventeen years, it was still the middle of the pandemic, and I wasn’t really thrilled with where the company was going. I started working as a data analyst mentor for an online certification course, which gave me a more or less steady income as I figured out this publishing thing.

About this time we also got our first two hives of bees.

Bees are amazing creatures, and beekeeping is an addictive hobby with, literally, some sweet rewards year after year if you do it right. Since I was already working at home, it wasn’t a problem to go out in our bee suits and check on the hives now and then. We got over 50 pounds of honey the second year we had them, which was great for my wife and I, since we’d started having afternoon tea every day and we like honey in our tea.

It seemed like the small business thing might actually work. My wife is a travel agent, which is a great pairing for an author. She was able to plan travel for us to various book conventions, WorldCons, and other cool places to make connections with other writers.

Since we didn’t have to take time off from our day jobs (instead we just work all the time…) we could also attend more markets and conventions as authors, which gave me a chance to hand sell my books and make money to support the business. We now attend about 20-30 markets a year selling books, and I usually make more there than I do selling online. We also use the wax from our beehives to make custom candles. We haven’t gotten quite enough honey to sell yet, but that’s another goal.

I also acted as a judge in SPFBO’s sister competition for science fiction, SPSFC and read a whole lot of really great indie books. There is some fantastic indie content (as all you SPFBO -ers know), with a much wider range of topics that I was seeing in traditional publishing. I wanted to help those authors, especially with queer voices, get the visibility they needed to sell books. I could do that as a small press.

Year 2 of the business took off, I planned another Kickstarter, which ended up raising over $18,000 this time, and once again, I had enough books to publish one a month for the next year. One of those was Fruits of the Gods, which is my book in this year’s SPFBO, about seasonal fruit-based magic, and two sisters who escape confinement, learn to use the magic, and plot to take down a corrupt government. I had taken back my rights from the original small press that published it, added some content which had been removed to pare it down to the size that press usually published, and I got a new cover, more in line with my original vision.

I also joined SFWA that year, and now with more than 30 books in my catalog, I could sell even more at markets, with a wider selection of books. I took a few developmental editing jobs (outside of the ones I do for all the books I publish) and my wife, who’s our in-house copy editor, got a few freelance copy-editing jobs as well. I also wrote some articles with SFWA about how to make sure you’re actually making money at this publishing business (LINK). It’s a hard thing to track, but I’ve learned over the years using my data analysis skills to help out with marketing, pricing, and publishing costs. It’s not a glamorous topic, but it’s essential to running a small business, which is what any self-published author is doing.

This year, I’ve expanded to five hives of bees, we’ve had to hire a second copy editor, and my publishing schedule is full to late 2025 or after. I’ve also started branching out in my writing. I’m planning on publishing two custom RPGs, one based on music-based magic and creating spells, and the other from one of my new authors, about post-apocalyptic giant crab monsters.

I’ve also moved over to BackerKit with my crowdfunding efforts (LINK). The fourth and final installment in the lesbian SFF stories that started with Distant Gardens is coming out this year. It’s titled Fiery Deeps, and the theme is fire, female power, and technology. The other two are Farther Reefs (pirates, mermaids, and sea creatures) and Lofty Mountains (winged creatures and cozy fantasy). That’s in addition to the other great novels coming soon.

So where am I going with all this? I guess it’s that I’m a big fan of indie stories and authors. There are a lot more ideas and movement in this area than what I’m seeing from the large presses, and I know a lot of authors in this area. You are all constantly inventing cool ways to get your books out there, and finding great ways to get the word out, which is the biggest obstacle to indie authors selling their books. Contests like SPFBO and SPSFC raise the visibility, as do markets and conventions where you can meet and talk to fans and other authors.

So, keep at it! Keep publishing weird and niche fantasy and sci-fi that you think only you will read. That’s where newer genres like romantasy and progression fantasy started out, not to mention the (almost venerable by now) grimdark. I absolutely don’t think I’ll be the winner of this year’s SPFBO, but I’m looking forward to reading that one, as well as some other wonderful books in this contest.

Reach for the life you want, whether it’s writing, publishing, beekeeping, or something else. I’ll see you out there in the writing trenches!

About William C. Tracy


William C. Tracy writes and publishes queer science fiction and fantasy through his indie press Space Wizard Science Fantasy. He also does developmental editing on all titles released from it.

His largest work is the Dissolutionverse: a space opera with music-based magic, including ten books and an RPG. He also has a standalone epic fantasy with seasonal fruit-based magic, and a nonfiction book about body mechanics and correct posture. He is currently working on the final book of The Biomass Conflux, a hard sci-fi trilogy with generational colony ships and a planet covered by a sentient fungal entity.

William is an NC native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003 and runs his own dojo in Raleigh NC. He is an avid video and board gamer, a beekeeper, a reader, and of course, a writer.

In his spare time, he cosplays with his wife such combinations as Steampunk Agent Carter and Jarvis, Jafar and Maleficent, and Doctor Strange and the Ancient One. They also enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.

You can find them at Facebook / Backerkit / Bluesky / Twitter / Webpage