8.5.15

Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #7 - William Malmborg

Today I bring you the final long-awaited interview in the popular series Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. Today's guest is author William Malmborg who is a successful writer of dark psychological horror/thriller fiction. From William's Amazon bio: "William Malmborg has been publishing short stories in horror magazines and dark fiction anthologies since 2002. In addition, four of his novels, JIMMY, TEXT MESSAGE, NIKKI'S SECRET and DARK HARVEST, are all available, as is a short story collection titled SCRAPING THE BONE that features five previously published and five original tales of horror. When not writing William caters to the whims of Toby and Truman, two cats who reside with him in Wheaton, IL."






Who are you and where do you come from? Do you think that your life experience has gone someway towards making you a successful author in your chosen genre?



My name is William Malmborg and I live in the Chicago suburbs.  It's hard to say whether or not my life experiences have played a part in my success simply because this is the only path I have taken.  I came into the publishing world during an interesting time.  For the first five years of my career, magazines were still printing stories and you submitted everything via the mail.  Social media wasn't a thing yet, and I had my first story published by a magazine before I had an internet connection on my computer.  During the second half of my career, magazines began to disappear, many of them with stories of mine that were supposed to be published, and publishing houses began to get goofy.  And then ebooks hit the marketplace, which opened up a whole new road toward publishing success.  Given all this, I think the fact that my first several years were spent in the trenches of the traditional publishing world – interacting with editors at magazines, facing rejection with work that wasn't ready for publication, and having other stories bought and published that were ready – helped in giving me an edge when the ebook marketplace arrived.            



Did you try to get publishing contracts for your books early on with traditional book publishers? If so, did you have any success there or if not what was it that made you decide to self-publish the majority of your work?



For the first ten years of my writing career, traditional publishing was the only real route an author could take if they wanted to make a living.  During that time, my short stories sold frequently to horror and suspense magazines, but my novels had a difficult time.  Just having a publisher agree to read the first fifty pages seemed a monumental success, and if they then wanted to read the entire thing . . . well, let’s just say that such was so rare that it in itself was a moment worthy of celebration. 



My novel JIMMY was the one that I strived the hardest to have published during that early period of my career, though I did have others, TEXT MESSAGE, SIMPLE LIES and THE MISSING KID, which publishers looked at as well.  Nothing was ever accepted during those early years of submission, the typical reason being that the editors felt the serial killers within my novels were too likable, and that readers would have a difficult time dealing with that.  “Who do they root for?” was a common question they asked.  Year after year, this went on, until finally Don D’Auria at Dorchester Publishing informed me (a year after I had submitted the novel) that he really enjoyed JIMMY, and that he would like to make an offer on it.  First, however, it needed some rewrites, specifically the portions of the novel written in the interview format.  He wanted the entire thing as a third person novel.  Two months later, I sent him the new version of JIMMY, one that was actually better than the original version had been.  Following that, sale imminent, I went on to do some self-imposed rewrites for TEXT MESSAGE, because I felt that would be a good follow up to JIMMY.  This did not happen.  Dorchester Publishing started to spiral toward bankruptcy before JIMMY could be published, and while I stuck with them for nearly a year, I eventually did the right thing and took the novel elsewhere.



Following that, thinking other publishers would be interested in having a novel that had been ready for publication with another publishing house; I began sending queries for JIMMY to everyone that was accepting proposals.  Each one was rejected.  No one was interested in JIMMY, which really surprised me.  During that period, I began to hear success stories from authors that were uploading titles to the Amazon Kindle.  Intrigued, I did as much research as I could on this new method of publishing, and then, once I made the decision to jump in, hired a well-known artist to create a cover, and uploaded it.  A few months later, it was a bestseller on Amazon and had made me more money during that short period of time than I had made in the first ten years of my writing career combined.     



Why self-publish?



I self-publish the majority of my work simply because it is the most logical and profitable method of delivery within the US right now.  With foreign language editions, I still use traditional publishers within the countries where the titles will be released since they know their markets the best.  



Once you have decided that self-publishing might be your route, what financial and artistic considerations should you keep in mind before you begin?



One of the biggest misconceptions of self-publishing is that it carries no overhead.  After all, with print-on-demand, the printer only has to print copies as they are ordered, and with ebooks, it is nothing but computer code that is stored within a device.  However, there are other costs to consider, upfront ones that are important in making it so the book will be noticed by the public and enjoyed once it is read.  The first cost; the cover.  If you want to be treated like a professional author, one whose work is going to stand alongside authors who have major publishers behind them, then you need to have a professional create the cover.  Poor covers are the most common reason why books are passed over when a potential reader is looking for their next fix.  It doesn’t matter how amazing the writing within is, if people aren't going to pick it up and open it, it might as well be four hundred blank pages.  Second: editing.  You need a professional to look over your work once it is completed.  Mistakes happen and it is nearly impossible for an author to catch their own when they have lived with the work, day in and day out, for months at a time.  Initial sales via a fantastic cover are great, but nothing will knock a title down like poor reviews due to editing and grammar errors.  Now, will these two things guarantee success?  No.  Nothing will ever do that.  But it will make the chances of success more likely.       



What do you see as your most innovative promotional strategy?



Honestly, I don’t really have a promotional strategy.  I simply write and release the work.  Initially, I always price my new releases at 99 cents, so that the readers who have been with me from the beginning will be treated to a great deal, but after that, once the price goes up to my typical $4.99, I step back and let word of mouth do its thing.   The only exception to this is when I’m able to get a book promoted by BookBub.  When that happens, I once again lower the price to 99 cents for the days they market it and enjoy the snowball effect as the initial sales from the ad bump the title into several top ten categories, which then brings in more sales.  



What kind of marketing did you do to establish your author brand and what do you think is the most successful marketing for self-published authors? Is there any one thing that you have determined has helped you sell more books – i.e. could you outline your path to establishing your brand and your most successful sales method/s as?



As I noted above, I didn’t really do anything to establish my author brand.  I simply wrote and released books.  I think that attempting to create a brand is a bit counterproductive for a writer.  Readers should be the ones to establish the brand for an author, and then the author can embrace it.  Doing it the other way around will simply create an author who is so focused on image that they aren’t focused on writing. 



Authors do not get books noticed, books get authors noticed.  Once a reader enjoys a work, they will seek out more by the author and might even join a page dedicated to the author while seeking out more information on that author.  Trying to get noticed as an author to drive interest toward the books is silly.  It just doesn’t work. 



My initial success was due to one thing, a professional book cover that encased a story that readers enjoyed.  Without that book cover, no one would have picked up the book, and without anyone picking up the book, there would have been no word of mouth that generated the sales that followed.       



Do you design your own covers? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader and how big a part do you think it has played in your success to date? 



I think cover design is one of the most important factors for a reader when deciding what to buy, and for that reason, I don't design my own covers.  I've attempted too, and do have skill when it comes to creating interesting cover concepts, but I'm not skilled enough to create something that can stand alongside the other professional works that are being released.  As for my success, I think most of it is due to the fact that I always use professional cover artists for my work.  Without them, my work would look like the standard 'self published' work that is being release, work that doesn't really sell.  It doesn't matter how fantastic the writing is, if the cover looks like it was thrown together at the last minute, readers aren't going to want to buy it.  Now, there are exceptions to this to be found within the marketplace, but one should never consciously drive toward being the exception.  Becoming successful when doing everything right is hard enough, so why try to make it harder.     



In your opinion, is traditional publishing on the way out? Do you think that traditional publishing can continue to keep up with the rise of self-publishing?



I don't think traditional publishing is on the way out, but I do think they're going to have to do a better job at adapting to the new world of publishing.  Brick and mortar bookstores are no longer the standard delivery method for books, so focusing on shelf space and prominent ‘front of store’ displays seems somewhat silly.  Publishers also need to recognize that authors can now play a big part in their own careers given the technology that exists, so there is no reason why authors shouldn't be brought into the decision making process on how their work is delivered to the public.  This isn't to say that the author should get to make ALL the decisions (if they want that power then they need to go independent), but they should be brought into the process.  Lastly, contracts need to reflect the current marketplace rather than the one that used to exist, especially when it comes to the term IN PRINT.  One of the biggest factors on why I've turned down several book contracts that had been presented to me during the last three years is due to the gray area that now exists with the term IN PRINT.   In the past, when a publisher stopped printing a title, an author could get the rights to that title back.  Now, if the publisher has the book available as an ebook, it can still be considered IN PRINT even if they aren't doing anything to market it.  This makes it incredibly difficult for an author to get their rights back on the title. 


Would you ever consider signing all your books to a traditional publishing house or will you always mange some of your titles yourself through self-publishing?



I wouldn't have a problem signing all my books to a traditional publisher if the contract presented to me was a good one, and if it looked as if the publisher was honestly going to do everything they could to make the books even more successful than they were prior to the contract.   



Have you ever used free book promotions? Do you think they are a worth-while marketing tool for self-published authors? If so/not – why?



I have used free book promotions and felt they were worthwhile.  During its last free promotion, JIMMY was downloaded 30,000 times in three days, which brought in over 100 new reviews within a month and helped bump the title into several top ten categories on Amazon.  It also got the attention of foreign publishers, who then bought foreign rights to it.  JIMMY is now a bestseller in both print and ebook in Germany.  Therefore, that free promotion was incredibly worthwhile.  That said, the free promotion only really worked because it had a good cover, one that readers clicked on.  Without a good cover, free isn't going to mean much, because there are always thousands of titles being offered for free.            



What avenues of self-promotion did you find to be most effective and affordable? What’s the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ advertising you have employed?



BookBub is the only marketing site that I would ever recommend.  They have consistently driven thousands of readers toward my work whenever I have hired them to do a promotion, which, in turn, bumps the title up into the top 100 categories, which brings in even more readers as the Amazon algorithms start to market it based on its bestseller status.  Of course, there is no guarantee that they will drive such sales to the work, but if a title has a good cover and an enticing description, the odds are good that it will drive quite a few readers to that author's work. 



Note: If it seems like I'm harping on that professional cover thing, it is because I am.  Having a good cover it is very important.   



Do you feel there’s a good sense of community within the self-publishing industry?



I think there is a false community, a circle jerk type of community where authors are constantly promoting themselves and swapping reviews with other authors, all while feeling like they are somehow in competition.  When I joined Twitter a few months back, I started to get swamped by authors who would follow me and then unfollow me within a few days because I did not follow them back.  And every author group I've ever been in was one where everyone was trying to get everyone else to like their Amazon page and review swap.  Now, I have no problem with reviewing other authors’ work if I enjoy it, and if they want to review my work because they enjoyed it, that's great.  But contacting me with a 'I will review your work if you review my work' proposal, will simply cause the proposal to go into my trash bin.   



Would you recommend other aspiring self-publishing authors pay for particular services? Editing or cover design, for example?



I’d say that authors should be ready to lay down about $1500 for a cover and editing before they release their work.  This is what I budget for my titles when doing it myself, and I always make that back within a month.  Simply put, if you don’t think a title is going to make that money back, then why release it in the first place.     



You use social media a lot and interact with your readership – how important do you think this is to becoming a success as a self-published author?



I don’t think the use of social media by the author helps in becoming a success; I think it is the use of social media by readers who have enjoyed the work that helps an author become a success.  An author’s use of social media is simply a way of interacting with those that have already discovered them.  Books bring readers to authors, not the other way around.  Now, once an author is successful, and has a readership that likes to interact with them, then social media can be used to announce new titles, which will help maintain success, but using it in the beginning in hopes of driving readers toward ones work in order to become successful . . . nope.  That’s a fool's errand.  Just focus on writing and releasing professional pieces of fiction, the rest will follow.



Where to from here? Are you currently represented by an agent and are you working with any publishers on future projects?



2015 will be an interesting year.  I have two titles that will be released, Blind Eye in May and Santa Took Them November.  I've also signed a deal with a publishing house to be one of the authors that writes for their supernatural crime thriller line.  Nothing has been made public about this deal yet, so I can't share any specifics on it; however, I'm really excited to be working with that particular publisher and with the other authors that are currently involved in the series, many of whom I read when first starting out.  Lastly, this year should see more foreign editions of my work being released overseas, which is always exciting.  I have a publisher in Germany that has helped establish my work in that country, and now I'm hoping to branch out into the surrounding countries.  



Finally, thanks for sharing your thoughts on self-publishing. Where is the best place for readers to find your books?



Anywhere books are sold.  

Links for William Malmborg







#selfpub, Amazon Best-sellers, Interview, William Malmborg, Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors, Self-Publishing, Selfpublishing vs traditional publishing, William Cook, writing





24.4.15

Recent Interview: Men in Horror: WILLIAM COOK

Recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Malina Roos for her very cool blog: How To Dismantle Your Life. Check it out.

Men in Horror: WILLIAM COOK



I first read William Cook a couple of years ago and was immediately enthralled with his writing and his style. The book I read was BLOOD RELATED. I loved it. It was intense, creepy, dark and twisted.   For some reason, my review of this book has disappeared from Amazon and Goodreads, so I dug it up and reposted it.  

"Be warned, this tale is not for anyone who dislikes gore and violence.

This is a brilliant tale of fathers and sons, serial killing at its finest and the legacy families create. Charlie and Caleb Cunningham are twins and serial killers, following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather.

The story is told through letters, news articles and from the points of view of the killers, the police and the doctors involved. All the pieces of the story are woven together beautifully through the the magical way William Cook has with syntax. Well worth the read....if you can stomach it."


William Cook

1.     When did you start writing horror?

I started writing horror stories (although I didnt know they were horror stories) when I was about ten years old. The first one I wrote won a school competition it was about a boy who gets lost in a strange desert where he witnesses giant heads falling out of the sky. He discovers that the heads are being fired out of a cannon by a voodoo witch-doctor who has somehow reversed the process of shrinking heads. I think I got the idea after watching King Solomons Mines and seeing the scary witch doctor in the movie. My first real horror publication was a story called Devil Inside which was published in 2010 in Lee Pletzers Masters of Horror Anthology. Since then I havent stopped.

2.   Have you written in any other genre?

Yes, I have recently ventured into Science Fiction, Young Adult and even had a story published in a collection of childrens Christmas tales. I also write a lot of poetry too much perhaps, and my first ever book published was a limited edition release called Journey: The Search for Something way back in 1996.

3.  What makes you uncomfortable?

Bad reviews! Seriously though, I am not a fan of needles absolutely hate getting jabbed, especially at the dentist when they use those syringes and stick them in the roof of your mouth etc. Bullies also make me uncomfortable and I quite often write about them. Usually really bad things happen to them in my books.

4.  Does your family read your work?

I deliberately dont encourage them to read my (horror) books for obvious reasons. Although some of my newer work like the kids stories and science fiction I dont mind as much. Ive found its very true the old adage that the worst critics are family and friends I dont know why the hell it is but I can count the friends and family (you know who you are) who have bothered reading my books on one hand! I used to actively seek feedback on my writing from friends and family in the early days, but gave up when I realized any critique from such quarters was largely pointless as it was either biased or I could tell they hadnt actually read the work in question. Sort of related to the question . . . I am working on a small kids book with my seven-year-old daughter who is a keen writer herself. She has written about ten pages so far of a story about zombies (dont know where she gets that from!) and its really good. Obviously Im biased (see above) but it really is good and Im looking forward to publishing it for her when its finished.

5.  Does your writing make you uneasy?

Most of the time, no. However, it really depends on the subject matter though and I must admit to getting a bit nervous about some of my research subjects for stories. Not so much in the subject material but in what other people or readers will think of the finished stories. I am a bit paranoid about the NSA and their monitoring of certain taboo subjects that are common to the grist of the horror mill. Subjects like terror, murder and serial killers, for example, are common research subjects for horror authors and red-flag search strings that are actively monitored by the powers that be. I used to feel uneasy when writing about topics (such as described above) but I think that I have largely become desensitized to the emotional effects of dealing with this material on a daily basis. Writing Blood Related, my novel about a family of serial-killers, definitely made me pretty strung-out and slightly disturbed due to having to project the main characters stream of consciousness on to the page via a first person narrative. Five years of my free-time went into this book and I researched just about every case of serial murder that I could find which definitely impacted on my psyche but paid off in the final presentation of the story. Suffice to say, I now have an encyclopedic knowledge of these weirdos whether I like it or not!

6.  Who would you say you write like?

I write like me of course! My writing style or voice is a collage of influence and styles everything from the way I learned to write at school, the accent of my written voice (a combination of UK and US spelling and theory), the authors I have read over and over again, and the evolution of my own style and development as a writer. I dont try to write like anyone but I do try to write like someone who knows what theyre doing (hopefully). Over the past five years I have been intentionally writing in the (north) American vernacular and it was a decision that I worried about for a while but it largely came down to the way certain words were spelled and styled and now it is like second nature to me. My schooling was based on a U.K. education system and we were taught to spell and write according to the commonwealth rules and style-guides of the day. 

7.  Who are your favourite authors?

I have many favorite authors and it will be no surprise that writers like Stephen King, James Herbert, Robert Bloch, Robert McCammon, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe and Ramsey Campbell are at the top of the list. Over and above horror the authors I love to read again and again are Sherwood Anderson, Roald Dahl, James Ellroy, Colin Wilson, Charles Bukowski, Ray Bradbury, Peter Carey, Dostoyevsky and Thomas Harris. For a full rundown on my favorite books and authors, check out my list here: http://www.williamcookwriter.com/2013/08/favorite-books-list.html

8.  Who influences you as a writer?

I find that Im not really influenced by people directly but that I am more influenced by the things that people create. Art influences me greatly in my writing, film and music particularly, but graphic art and, obviously, written works conjure up emotion and IDEAS that definitely inform my own work. Probably the biggest influences on me have been Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. King for his amazing and prolific output and superb writing style and advice (On Writing really changed the way I approached my writing), Bradbury for his simplicity and story-telling ability that encourages original and creative thought (his stories influenced my dreams for a long time) a very inspirational pair. Ultimately though, without being too modest, I am my biggest influence. It is up to me to drive myself forward and to push hard with my writing. The outside world is full of influence and affectation, but at the end of the day, it is my will-power and my mind that allows me to sift through all the detritus and glean the remaining gems and pearls of wisdom and apply it to my own style and philosophy. One of the works I studied at University was Harold Blooms The Anxiety of Influence and it really struck home with me. The central tenet being that writers (specifically poets in Blooms discourse, but equally applicable to writers in general in my opinion) are inspired by writers that have come before them and that this somewhat inescapable influence inspires a sense of anxiety in authors attempting to forge new and original works. I believe it is true to a large extent and I work hard to try and create work that is as free from the influence of other authors styles and subject matter as much as possible. However, when you write genre fiction, this is a nearly impossible task. No writer creates in a vacuum and for every style we have a representative genre (or sub-genre) and a group of influential writers and works at the helm of such literary movements, regarded as exemplars and pinnacles by which up-and-coming authors should somehow emulate to attain the same success. Unless an author doesnt read, influence is unavoidable but, in my view, not necessarily a bad thing.      

9. Do you remember what your first horror book was that you read?

The Monsters Room (or Petes Angel) by Hope Campbell introduced me to Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman when I was about seven years old. Loved it! The first real horror book I read was probably James Herberts The Rats at about eleven years old, followed closely by Shaun Hutsons Spawn, Stephen Kings Carrie and Night Shift, and Robert McCammons Mystery Walk. Suffice to say by the age of twelve I was hooked on horror in any shape or form.

10.  How old were you?

See above. I used to watch Hammer House of Horror on Sunday nights with my Mum when I was eleven/twelve years old. Still cannot work out why mum used to let me watch those shows but wouldnt let me listen to KISS because she thought they were Satanic! Go figure!

11.  Is there any subject you will not touch as an author?

Graphic descriptions of pedophilia are something I have no interest in portraying in my work. I have written stories about these creeps before but I feel it is unnecessary to portray the acts for any reason. Implication is far more subtle and effective than graphic description. I write horror that attempts to confront readers with their own fears, not make them sick in the process.

12.  What was the best advice you were given as a writer?

If you want to be a writer, just write. Pretty simple really, but a no-brainer (obviously). The best advice about writing I have read/received is Stephen Kings excellent memoir/writing guide On Writing. It is a wonderfully inspiring book for a budding writer, and more so for the writer of dark fiction. Highly recommended.

13.  If you had to start all over again, what would you do different?

I would begin writing as soon as possible, at any age. Self-doubt is one of the biggest killers to a writers self-confidence and career. In retrospect, I see that I could have had established myself as an author a lot earlier than I have if I had just given a go instead of doubting my ability and listening to naysayers who were mostly inexperienced or wannabe writers themselves. I would probably not restrict myself to genre fiction as I have up until now. I think I would have made more of an attempt to develop my story-writing skills in Science Fiction and Childrens literature. Oh well, tomorrows only a day away still time to alter direction.

14.  How many books do you read a year?

Between twenty-forty books now that I have a Kindle. Before I started reading eBooks Id probably only read ten books a year while I was writing. Before I started writing seriously I used to read about forty novels/books a year at least.

15.  Do you write every day?

In one form or another. I do a lot of blog posts and marketing which cuts into my writing time but I try and write at least 1,000 words a day. Life is very busy as I look after two primary school age kids when theyre no tat school and I have a couple of casual jobs that bring in a little bit of cash. Luckily I have a very supportive wife who earns a good salary and who encourages me with my work from home. Without her support, life would be very tough as a writer.


AUTHOR LINKS


Amazon author page


Twitter @williamcook666

Facebook Friend Me

Facebook Page Like My Page

GoodReads Become a Fan

LinkedIn Connect With Me

You can find this interview included in my most recent book, Hopeless (click on the image below to buy - only $0.99): 

A young girl must face her biggest fear – her father. As she struggles to protect her mother from the man who she once idolized, young Hope must confront her situation and the possibility that they may not get out alive. A fast-paced short horror story with a twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat. From the author of Blood Related and Dreams of Thanatos

Bonus Features: includes an additional short story and a recent interview with the author.


Warning: contains adult content + themes of psychological horror and domestic abuse. 

http://www.amazon.com/Hopeless-Short-Horror-Fiction-Book-ebook/dp/B00VNYPPC0/ref=la_B003PA513I_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429924537&sr=1-1

Interview, William Cook, Malina Roos, Men In Horror, New Release, Amazon, Kindle, #Amazon, #Kindle, Horror, #Writing

10.4.15

Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #6 - Russell Blake


Today, I bring to you the last in the first run of the popular interview series:  Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. This interview imparts a lot of valuable wisdom that serves as a nice summary to this series. Russell Blake is a best-selling self-published author who has steadily climbed the sales ranks since he embarked on his prolific career. From his bio:

"Featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Times, and The Chicago Tribune, Russell Blake is the USA Today bestselling author of twenty-eight books, including Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, Zero Sum, King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, Blood of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher, Silver Justice, JET, JET – Ops Files, JET II – Betrayal, JET III – Vengeance, JET IV – Reckoning, JET V – Legacy, JET VI – Justice, JET VII, Sanctuary, Upon A Pale Horse, BLACK, BLACK Is Back, BLACK Is The New Black, and BLACK To Reality.
Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related.
Blake co-authored an action/adventure novel, The Eye of Heaven, with legendary adventure author Clive Cussler, to be released by Penguin in September, 2014.
Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns.
Russell is a proud member of RABMAD – Read A Book, Make A difference."

Let's get into it, here he is, Mr Russell Blake:


You are a New York Times Best-selling author who has published most of your own work – can you tell us how you managed to get on the NYT best-sellers list? I.e. Obviously you sold a lot of books but what is it that you did to get on that particular list and receive that distinction?
I’ve been on the NYT and the USA Today bestseller lists numerous times, both co-authoring with Clive Cussler as well as with a few of my self-published efforts. I honestly don’t remember the first time, but I think it was a bundle I did that featured JET, which is also my biggest selling series.
  
Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing and for the way you brand yourself as an author?
I like to say it’s a combination of fear and desperation that drives the ideas, although the truth is that real life offers so many ideas the shortage isn’t in potential plots, it’s in the time to write them. I was a big fan of all the usual conspiracy thriller authors when I was growing up – Ludlum, Le Carre, Higgins, Follet – and so when I decided to try my hand at writing I gravitated toward what I read. I mean, I also love Tom Harris and Stephen King and the usual marquee names, but I cut my teeth on conspiracy/espionage thrillers, so that’s what I started with, and it later evolved into more of an action thriller thing, a la James Bond-ish fare. As to my branding, I struggled initially, because I wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as any one thing, but I quickly figured out that you need to be able to quickly summarize who you are for readers, as in, at a glance, or for many it’s just too muddled and they move on to something that’s clearer. As an example, Clive Cussler, you know exactly what you’re getting. Robert Ludlum, same thing. So I wanted to brand myself the go to guy for action thrillers, which is what I ultimately focused on. Ironically, I’ve written noir mysteries with my BLACK series, which does very well, and have tried my hand at everything from NA romance under the R.E. Blake pseudonym, to conspiracy fare like Umberto Eco and Dan Brown write, but what I think most identify the Russell Blake brand with is action thrillers, which is how I prefer it.
  
How important do you think non-fiction titles are to self-published authors hoping to enjoy best-selling status? I.e. Do you think that your non-fiction titles have helped your fiction sell and/or vice-cersa? 
 My non-fiction have done zero for my fiction. If anything, that was one of the early lessons I learned: target a genre with laser focus and establish yourself in that genre. Don’t dick around trying to be all things, be really, really good at one thing and become known for it, then, if you want, try branching out – but only after you’ve made your mark and are well established in your target genre. Don’t genre hop, don’t get distracted, and most importantly, make it very easy for your reader to know what they’re getting when they buy one of your books. You bounce around, you’re a question mark, and life’s too short for most to guess what you’re going to deliver next.

You are a best-selling Amazon author – can you pinpoint what it was that spiked your success to date? Apart from the writing is there anything that you can isolate that helped your books climb the ranks?  
Sure. I remember when Amazon’s Select program first came out in December of 2011, I didn’t participate in it for the first month, and then regretted the hell out of not doing so when I saw some of my buds hitting massive sales numbers after free promotions. So I put a book into the program in January, 2012 – The Geronimo Breach – and I want to say it sold five or six thousand copies after a free run, and pulled sales of my other dozen titles with it. For about six months there, it was like you could do no wrong with Select and a free run because of how the algorithms treated the free downloads, and you’d shoot into the top 10 on the Amazon store as paid after it was done. That visibility brought thousands of sales of a title, and because I had so many titles I could run a Select promo on, I was able to do a new title every three weeks or so and restart the cycle. By the time the algorithms softened somewhat, I’d already had ten or twelve bites at that top 100 apple, and the sales became self-sustaining as readers began trusting the brand to deliver what they wanted. But I think it really turbocharged when I released the first four installments of my JET series in Oct-December of 2012. It really went massive from that point on, and I remember spring of 2013 I was pinching myself at the sales figures every month. Those were truly the good old days.
  
Did you try to get publishing contracts for your books early on with traditional book publishers? If so, did you have any success there or if not what was it that made you decide to self-publish the majority of your work?
No, for a variety of factors. First, I’m impatient, and I don’t have a year or three to wait to find an agent, write something they believe in, then do the NY rounds with it. Second, I’m a lousy employee – I don’t do very well being told what to do, and when you’re in a trad deal as a new author, you’re an employee, but without the retirement package or the salary. Third, I write a lot, enjoy writing a lot, and enjoy seeing readers react to my writing. For me that’s a big part of why I do what I do. I’m kind of used to seeing a new title released every five or six weeks, and there’s no way a trad publisher could keep up with that output, so it never really crossed my mind to try. And frankly, the economics of trad publishing didn’t appeal to me as a newbie, because unless I hit the jackpot, I’d make more flipping burgers on an hourly basis, so I had no real desire to sign up to indentured servitude, which is how I saw the low to mid-list. I have nothing against trad publishing or those who work in the biz, it just never appealed to me economically, so I decided to start my own publishing business and keep the lion’s share of the profit myself. So far, so good.

What kind of marketing did you do to establish your author brand and what do you think is the most successful marketing for self-published authors? Is there any one thing that you have determined has helped you sell more books – i.e. could you outline your path to establishing your brand and your most successful sales method/s as?
I think having a recognizable cover treatment that’s distinctive is probably the most important thing initially, because that’s the first exposure anyone’s going to have to your work – they’ll see the thumbnail of your book online. If you can have an iconic look, and carry that through to your author page and blog, etc., now you’re a brand, not an author. As to the most successful sales method, that’s a moving target. I’m still a big believer in giving away the first book in a series free as a taster, if you will, of what the reader’s buying into, but that has changed recently and isn’t as effective, so it’s anyone’s guess what will work well by the time this interview hits.
  
What are some current best practices that you’re using to sell books? Any tips?
Subject your quality control to the same rigors you’d expect from a traditional publisher – there’s no such thing as “just good enough.” If it isn’t the absolute best you can produce, and hasn’t been professionally edited and scrutinized by informed, experienced eyes, you’re shortchanging the reader. Likewise, carry that through to your covers. Everything  you do should be professional, polished, and worth paying for. The tip, if there is one, is to operate your publishing business like a proper business, not like a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with hobbies, but most people don’t expect to make money from their hobbies, and why anyone would expect to make it at their writing hobby beats me.

How important are ‘series’ books to your success as a self-published author?
If I could do one thing over again, it would be to write a series much earlier than I did. I love some of my stand-alone books, but there’s no question that readers embrace a good series with much more enthusiasm than stand-alone titles, at least in my genre.
  
Do you design your own covers? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader and how big a part do you think it has played in your success to date? 
I hire professionals to do covers, because it’s the first impression a reader will have of my work, and you only get one shot at it. I don’t have twenty years of graphic design or cover design experience, so I can’t compete with a really skilled talent who’s put in thousands of hours doing it. I would say the number one biggest mistake indie authors make is to go cheap or home-made on their covers, and the second biggest is trying to self-edit, usually for the same reason: they want to create a product people will pay for, but don’t want to spend the money to do it, so try to wing it at low or no cost. That rarely turns out well.

In your opinion, is traditional publishing on the way out? Do you think that traditional publishing can continue to keep up with the rise of self-publishing?
Traditional publishing is thriving. Contrary to the prognostications of its demise, profits are at record levels. Self-publishing does extremely well in some genres, like romance, but not particularly well in others, like thrillers (just my luck I picked one of the lousy ones, but hey). I never believed the model where trad pub goes paws up due to being unable to compete with self-publishing. That’s naïve. Self-publishing is a viable way to make a nice living as a mid-lister, or at least has been so far for me, and hundreds of authors I know of, but it’s not about to replace being able to put books in every airport in the world, nor of being able to deliver names people are willing to pay $15-$25 to read. They really service different markets. Self-publishing services the voracious reader, traditional publishing services the occasional reader and the fad reader (the reader who maybe buys a book a month, and the reader who buys one or two books a year – the book everyone else is reading). Once you understand that they service different segments, it becomes very clear why they can co-exist without causing too much grief, with the notable exception of genres like romance where the big players were in fact targeting voracious readers (I’m thinking Harlequin). For those players, it’s a different playing field. For someone putting out a Grisham? Business pretty much as usual.

Would you recommend that self-published authors, who get offered publishing contracts from large publishing houses, retain their digital rights for their books?
Sure, if they can, but good luck doing that. I can count on one hand the number who have been successful at it. eBooks are cash cows for publishers, and there’s little chance they’ll let an author keep the highest margin chunk of the pie.
  
Have you ever used free book promotions? Do you think they are a worth-while marketing tool for self-published authors? If so/not – why?
Yes. See my earlier comments.

What avenues of self-promotion did you find to be most effective and affordable? What’s the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ advertising you have employed?
Bookbub, by far. Nothing else I do seems to have much effect. Wish there were more outlets, but I haven’t found any that deliver.
  
Once an author decides that self-publishing might be the best route, what financial and artistic considerations should they keep in mind before they begin their journey?
In my most popular blog (you can find it at RussellBlake.com and by searching “How To Sell Loads of Books”) I lay it out. In a nutshell, operating a publishing entity has zero skill-set in common with being a good writer. Sorry, there it is. As an author, I recommend focusing on craft, learning to understand story structure, grammar, vocabulary, technical issues like the difference between head hopping and omniscient third person POV, creating compelling, moving narratives with genuine and impactful dialogue, etc. As a publisher, none of that will help you. You need to get good at marketing, promotions, blurb writing, branding, product strategy, pricing, sales, quality control, etc. They are not givens, and authors generally don’t have the entrepreneurial or business expertise/drive to be good at book publishing. I think the very best and most successful self-pubbed authors I’ve seen are entrepreneurs who ran their own businesses before doing this, so they already have the skill-set of operating a business. Too many authors don’t want to learn that skill-set, and come from the perspective that they just want to write. Which is fine. But if that’s your perspective, start shopping for a trad deal, because the traditional publisher handles all the business end – point being that someone has to, so it’s either you, or someone else/the publisher.

The other obvious one to me as a guy who’s started and operated a number of businesses, is that you have to have a workable plan, as well as realistic expectations – including realistic investment capital with which to fund your business. Can you start with nothing and somehow succeed? Sure. Just like you can start with a cookie recipe and somehow parlay your love of baking into owning and operating a multinational cookie conglomerate. But the odds say, not likely, if all you have is a recipe and a willingness to work. Because book selling/publishing is a retail business where you have to be able to quality control, get pro packaging and formatting, and produce a product people feel is worth paying for. With the glut of free books out there, that means yours needs to be pretty frigging amazingly pro to have a chance, in my opinion, because readers have myriad choices and little time – and everyone wants superior value for their dollar. Only in this world have I met so many who expect to invest nothing in their business, and have it generate a return. How many start-up businesses call for zero investment? Not many, as in virtually no successful ones. So my advice is to expect to do what entrepreneurs have done for centuries, which is scrimp and save and sacrifice until you have sufficient capital to start your business. “But I don’t have any money” isn’t a substitute for doing so. Neither is hope, or prayer, or a conviction that you’re different like all the other different people. Starting a publishing business is starting a business, not living a dream or some sort of wish-fulfillment. So expect to face all the challenges those who start businesses expect to face, including needing money to QC and produce a product, and then promote it.

Do you feel there’s a good sense of community within the self-publishing industry?
Absolutely, but there’s a lot of bad advice and delusion out there masquerading as help, too. On the plus side, I’ve found self-pubbed authors open and willing to share about most aspects of their businesses. On the minus side, I’ve seen limitless terrible counsel parading as know-how. My advice is simple, and applies to any claims from anyone, ever, about anything: consider the source, meaning consider what results those preaching a doctrine have generated using that doctrine, and demand proof – if you want to be nice about it, call it trust, but verify. You can steer clear of a lot of trouble by applying those two rules with rigor. If someone is telling you X is the answer, consider what result they have achieved for themselves doing X, and then further consider that their circumstance and timing and competition might have been vastly different than what you’re facing. That’s why I don’t really offer any specific marketing advice. I can only tell you what worked for me, one, two, three years ago, when the marketplace was different, the competitive landscape was different, the vendors were different, the algorithms were different, virtually everything about the business was different. Will that help you? We’d always love to think that we can predict future trends by studying past trends, but the only thing we can really expect to achieve is to understand how history repeats itself.

I like to say this is a business of exceptions, as are all the arts. Every author who makes it, whatever that means to them, has done so differently. No two stories are the same. So the best advice I have is to figure out how you are going to be an exception, and then go be one. Because generally speaking, following the crowd leaves you nose to butt with a bunch of other herd animals, none of whom are likely doing much to speak of.
  
What would you say is the single biggest advantage of deciding to self-publish?
The ability to not compromise on the story you want to tell, how you want to tell it, and the speed at which you want to release your stories.

You recently collaborated with another best-selling author who has been around for many years – Clive Cussler. Mr Cussler’s works have been traditionally published as were the two books you collaborated on – how much of a difference did you notice in the process of publishing as a traditionally published author in this instance?
Not that much, really, because I hold my work to pretty rigorous scrutiny as a self-published author. I have two editors and a proofreader on my self-pubbed stuff. On the trad pubbed, I face the same sort of scrutiny, which I welcome, and which I believe serves the reader well. The more eyes on the work, the greater the chance you catch more nits. Having said that, there will always be a few that sneak through.
  
In light of your publishing collaboration with Clive Cussler, how has the experience helped to strengthen your own brand (and sales)?
I think it’s served its purpose, which was to expose me to the airport crowd, and to familiarize his vast audience with my approach. Would that I could automatically sell a million out of the gate like Clive can after doing this for 40 years, but that’s not how it works. It’s certainly solidified me as credible, a competent craftsman, if nothing else. And it can’t hurt that several million more readers have seen my name on the cover with Clive’s. I’m extremely fortunate to have gotten to write with a name of that stature, and only view the collaboration as a positive in every way.

Would you recommend other aspiring self-publishing authors pay for particular services? Editing or cover design, for example?
Yes. Many don’t want to hear that, but yes, they should hire professionals to do a professional job if they want to produce a product that will be taken seriously as being professional.
  
You use social media a lot and interact with your readership – how important do you think this is to becoming a success as a self-published author?
Only to the extent that engaging with your readers is fun for you. I have yet to see any structured social media strategy that doesn’t seem like just trying to sell people crap, which I automatically tune out. My approach is simply to post whatever is of interest to me, whatever is on my mind, and not use social media as a selling tool. Doesn’t mean that’s the only way to roll, just means that’s how I do it.



Are you in regular contact with other self-published authors and how important was any input you may have received early on in your career?  Do you have a mentor in terms of your self-publishing success – someone who may have inspired you to ‘give it a go’?
I talk to hundreds of kindred spirits, but while I digest all their input, none of it really factors into my decision making past a certain point. Everyone’s got an opinion. I want to hear ‘em, but in the end, it’s my book, my name on the cover, so the buck has to stop here. As to someone who inspired me to give it a try, it was a non-author buddy who badgered me for about six months with articles about self-published authors selling like hot cakes. Thank goodness I finally listened.
  
Where to from here? Are you currently represented by an agent and are you working with any publishers on future projects?
 I have a top agent, I’ve sold foreign language rights on a nice, steady basis, and I’m working on a couple of spec concepts we’ll probably shop around. I’m circling with some fairly serious Hollywood names about my JET series, and some other stuff I’m not allowed to talk about. I’ll believe any of it when it happens.
   
Can you offer any advice to fellow writers if you could go back in time and “do it all over?” What’s your top tip for other indie authors?
1) This isn’t easy, so if you’re looking for an easy way to make money, this ain’t it. 
2) Make sure you’ve studied your craft enough to be able to tell a hell of a story, well. 
3) Have a hell of a story to tell. 
4) Don’t cheap out on editing and covers. Hire professionals to do the things you’re not competent at a professional level to do. If you have no money, start saving, or barter (although as with most competent professionals, if they’re competent, they’ll want to be paid for that competence). 
5) Stick to a single genre until you’ve given that a serious whack. If it doesn’t work after, say, a half dozen or more shots, reconsider either the genre, or your skill, or the look and quality of your work. 6) Be your harshest critic. As with babies, nobody wants to hear theirs is ugly, but most of our babies are in fact ugly, so just suck it up, get used to the idea, and realize that it’s about 98% effort and application, and 2% talent, that turn our ugly babies into gems. Walking around delusional about how ugly your baby is does nobody good service, especially if you are willing to do the work to make it shine. 
7) Whatever you do, do it passionately, because in the end the glow of the passion will matter more than all else. 
8) It’s rare to make more than beer money writing books. That was true a hundred years ago, it was true last year, and it will likely be true 10 years from now. 
9) Write because you love it. Operate a publishing company because you have a plan to make money selling books, and have acquired the skill (or are willing to) to have a good shot at selling books, regardless of who wrote ‘em.

And probably the single most valuable thing I can impart: Treat your own work as though you had to pay thousands of dollars to buy it and publish it. Pretend you didn’t write it. Would you bet the farm on whatever it is, if, say, someone you didn’t know wrote it? If not, you shouldn’t publish it either, because you’re making an author decision rather than a publisher decision. Don’t let your author dictate your publisher’s actions, and listen carefully to what your publisher is telling you when considering what to write. If you were a big name, you’d have an agent who would tell you not to write the autobiography of your pet duck as your next magnum opus. You’re not a big name, so you have to act as your own agent in this. Be pragmatic, cynical, and above all, only be willing to publish something you absolutely believe in – and not because you wrote it, because it’s great.

That’s all I have.
  
Finally, thanks for sharing your thoughts on self-publishing. Where is the best place for readers to find your books?
and wherever ebooks are sold or pirated…







 #selfpub, Amazon Best-sellers, Interview, Russell Blake, Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors, Self-Publishing, Selfpublishing vs traditional publishing, William Cook, writing

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James Ward Kirk Fiction - Publisher

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