David M. Weber
I've supported myself one way or another as a writer or in something associated with writing since I was 17 years old, with the exception of one year I spent working as a hotel desk clerk, during my first year of college, and working in a heat transfer printing textile plant while my first wife completed her senior year of college.
My mother ran her own small ad agency in Greenville, SC, in the 1970s, and I started writing copy for her while I was still in high school and worked for the firm full time for two years before my first wife and I moved out of state to attend college. While attending college, I worked for print shops and a small PR firm in Asheville and Boone as a copy writer and a type setter. At that time, I was also doing paste-up art and most of the other chores associated with producing printed material in a pre-computer age. In fact, I am probably one of the world's last trained Linotype operators. (And isn't that a useful skill?)
After returning to Greenville from Boone, I took over Weber Associates (my mom's business) which she had downsized to a one-woman show in preparation for retirement, and ran it as a one-man shop for the next several years. I've done radio copy, television copy, national print magazine copy, and newspaper copy. I've managed two national PR campaigns and written articles for both newspaper and magazine publication, as well as government reports, annual reports for local businesses, financial plans, urban development plans, and housing availability studies for HUD looking for barriers to open housing, and worked in several political campaigns.
I've also done wargame design, mainly in the development of the StarFire gaming series from Task Force Games of Amarillo, Texas. StarFire was a tabletop boardgame which, in its original karma was basically a very fast playing set of rules for purely tactical warfare. I became interested in the game both as a player, and then, in the late seventies, as the person who developed the campaign and strategic rules which allowed players to build entire empires and expand them.
The reason my work with StarFire was significant in terms of my writing career was twofold. First, it was still more experience in how to write, and the development of the "future history" which tied the various scenarios of the games together and produced the "historical background" of the stellar empires in conflict with one another helped my developing appreciation of how to go about building a literary universe that was coherent and consistent. Second, it led directly to the writing of my first published novel, Insurrection, in collaboration with Steve White.
Steve and I had become acquainted by mail and by phone because of his interest in the StarFire game. I started bouncing rules concepts off of him, and when I set out to design a game which was to be called The Fourth Interstellar War, I did what I usually did, which was to write myself a short story about one of the critical incidents which led to that war. Writing a short story helped me to set the tone, or the feel, that I was going to be reaching for in the product I was designing. In this instance, I sent the story to Steve, and he responded with a short story of his own, set in the same chunk of future history. That sparked another story from me, which sparked another story from him, which sparked another story from me . . . and after a few weeks we realized that what we were actually doing was writing the chapters of a novel. Which is how Insurrection came to be.
We completed the rough draft of Insurrection in late 1986, and in 1987, I submitted it to Avon Books. At that time, John Douglas was Avon's senior editor. It took several months for him to actually read the manuscript, for several reasons, but after he did, he liked it very much. The main problem was length; even after I'd cut the length of our original manuscript by 100,000 words, what we had left in the "leaner, meaner version" was still 185,000 words, which was just a tad long for a first novel from a pair of writers no one had ever heard of.
We worked with John for over a year trying to reduce the length still further or to find some way to publish it as two books. Unfortunately, Insurrection didn't have a logical dividing point, and in my own initial editing attempts, I'd already taken out most of the real fat. We managed to squeeze out just over another 50,000 words, but then we were pretty much stuck. Eventually, John told us that he'd had all of his fellow editors read the book and they were in agreement that we couldn't cut still more without beginning to seriously damage the story line. Unfortunately, his corporate superiors at that time still wouldn't let him buy a book that was 132,000 words long from two authors with no track record. He was unhappy that we'd spent that long working with him and he still wasn't able to buy a book he liked very much. (It should be remembered that all of this was going on in pre-e-mail days. I'd written the book on an Osborne portable computer with a — literally — 3" x 5" display and dual singl-side, single-density 92 K floppy drives [which left me with a stack of better than 60 discs, even having flipped them and used both sides], and there was no e-mail connection. All correspondence was by snail-mail, which greatly stretched the process in comparison to how long it would have taken today.)
John's advice was that we withdraw the book, submit it somewhere else (choosing a publisher who printed good military science fiction), and tell whoever we submitted it to that the only reason he hadn't bought it was the length problem. He practically insisted that I have the second publishing house call him so he could personally assure them that he truly would have bought the book if the front office had only let him and that he recommended it highly.
That's about the nicest "rejection letter" anyone is ever likely to get, and I remain immensely grateful to John. Not only did he give Steve and me an invaluable leg up when we submitted the manuscript to Baen Books, but he also gave me a further demonstration of professionalism.
At any rate, Baen bought the book in 1989, literally within a week of receiving the manuscript. It was published in 1990, by which time Baen had also bought the solo novels The Apocalypse Troll, Mutineers' Moon, and The Armageddon Inheritance from me. Baen forgot that it had The Apocalypse Troll for several years, and it wasn't published until . . . 1999, I think.
In late 1991, Jim Baen pointed out that I seemed most comfortable writing novels which were really parts of series. He'd already bought the second collaborative StarFire novel, Crusade, from Steve and me, but he asked me to pitch several specific solo concepts for series to him. His theory was that instead of "stumbling into" a series, we should plan one from the beginning, so that I could get myself properly organized going in.
I came up with a total of 10 possible proposals, one of which became the Honor Harrington series. Another of them eventually became the Hell's Gate series (the first two novels were written with Linda Evans, the third — The Road to Hell — is a collaboration with Joelle Presby which released in 2016, and Joelle and I will be working on the fourth book in that series as soon as we can get our schedules to mesh), yet another eventually became the Safehold series I'm currently publishing with Tor Books (the tenth Safehold book, Through Fiery Trials, came out in January 2019 and I owe them at least three more), and still another has become The Gordian Protocol, which ended up as a collaboration with Jacob Holo, which came out in October of 2019 and The Valkyrie Protocol, due out this fall, and an additional three books under contract.
Baen has also published five novels in what I think of as the Norfressa series but most people call the War God series, beginning in 1995. The fifth — The Sword of the South (2015) — is actually an updated version of the first novel I ever wrote, and my next solo project for Baen will be its sequel.
I was unaware when I proposed what became the "Honorverse" that Jim had been looking for someone to write "Horatio Hornblower in space" for about 25 years. I'd already chosen Honor's name before I discovered that, however. I'd known from the beginning what I wanted her first name to be, and I also knew that if the series worked the way I hoped it would, one of the natural comparisons for it would be Horatio Hornblower, so I chose her surname to match Horatio's initials and as a sort of homage to CS Forester. What I wasn't prepared for was the enthusiasm with which Jim embraced the concept. He immediately banged off a contract for no less than four novels (which was huge for me in 1991), and I wound up writing the first two books in the series — On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen — back to back. In fact, I delivered the second book less than two months after the first one, and they were actually released only about one month apart. That was very unusual timing, and I'm of the opinion that it was a very smart marketing decision on Jim's part and that it made a material contribution to the way the Honorverse took off.
If I wasn't prepared for Jim's enthusiasm, I was even less prepared for where this series has gone since the first two books. The twenty-seventh Honorverse novel, Uncompromising Honor, came out in October 2018, and there are (so far) six anthologies. Although Uncompromising finally tied up the story arc for Honor which began in On Basilisk Station, the Honorverse is still going strong. Tim Zahn, Tom Pope, and I are currently working on the fourth "Manticore Ascendant" novel; Jane Lindskold and I have been given the green light for the fourth "Star Kingdom" novel; Eric Flint and I have begun work on the next "Crown of Slaves" novel, and my next solo Honorverse foray will probably be the story of Sergeant Alfred Harrington's service in the Royal Manticoran Marines before he transferred to the Navy and became a doctor. I believe that all of the "mainstream" novels since number eight, War of Honor, have all made it at least to the New York Times extended list of bestsellers.
A writer is not often fortunate enough to enjoy that degree of success. That's a point of which I'm well aware, and I'm very grateful for the reader support I've received. I'm especially gratified, since I write basically military science fiction, by the heavy representation of current and past military personnel in my readership. It suggests I'm getting something right.
Of course, the Honorverse isn't the only thing I write. In fact, counting the collaborative novels and the Honorverse anthologies, but not counting omnibus edition re issues or anthologies I've contributed to but didn't edit, at this point I have 74 titles which have been published or delivered but not yet released. And at the moment, in addition to my next two solo projects, I have five additional collaborations in the works. As I look back at it, I guess that isn't too bad a record for 30 years at my trade.
At the moment, I am actively working on a novel with Richard Fox, which will be a prequel to my In Fury Born novel from Baen Books. Chris Kennedy and I are in the process of copyediting Into the Light, the sequel to Out of the Dark, from Tor books, which is due to release in January. In addition, Jacob and I are in the process of proofreading The Valkyrie Protocol; Eric Flint and I are working on our next collaboration in the Honorverse (Eric is writing his part right now); Jane Lindskold and I are working on the next Star Kingdom (Stephanie Harrington) novel; and Tom Pope, Tim Zahn, and I are working on the next Manticore ascendant novel (with Tom and I lagging behind Tim on this one, I fear).
One of the genuine pleasures of my writing career was working with Philip Pournelle to complete his father Jerry's final manuscript, Mamelukes, in the Janissary series which Jerry began in 1972. This is the first new book in the series in over twenty years, and it was a labor of love for Phil and me. We are under contract to do three more collaborative novels, extending the original storyline, and I am looking forward to that project. In my copious free time.
I think I'm getting to a point where I can see daylight on the other side of all of the current collaborative work, at which point my next solo projects will be the sequel to Through Fiery Trials in the Safehold series and then the next book in the War God series.