I love discovering new indie authors. About a month ago, my Nook suggested I try a book by Joseph Lallo. “The Book of Deacon” caught my attention quickly, and held me riveted throughout the entire trilogy. Don’t tell Joseph, but when I turned the last page of the first book, I rushed off to buy the 2nd and jumped for joy to find that it wasn’t priced outrageously. I bought the next two, and have the rest of his books on my “buy now!” list. Correction: I’m now deep into the tale of “Jade” and it is a wonder I’m getting anything done.
These books were published through Smashwords and it didn’t take me more than a few pages to realize I was dealing with an indie author — my favorite kind. His characters drew me in and let me explore their world with them. The pacing was rich and delightful, something I could not get from a traditionally published novel. I could hear the agents screaming about word count in the back of my head. Looking back on the trilogy, I cringe thinking about what “traditional” publishing would have cut out of those books. Worse, I shudder thinking of what they might have demanded that he add.
I see Joseph Lallo’s books as a perfect example of why indie-publishing is good for readers, because these luscious reads can make their way into print and into my eager fingers.
My “Panning for Gold” class just ended, and I’ve been asked to teach it again in August. I thought my students and followers might enjoy discovering Joseph’s work, and he has graciously agreed to let me interview him here on Deleyna’s Drift.
D: What made you decide to go indie?
JL: Initially I had intended to go the traditional route. I read up on the proper protocol for approaching literary agents, brushed up my query letter, and made a list of trustworthy and reliable agents. A year or so later, I had a few dozen rejection letters and zero confidence in my writing. I was content to let the story sit on the shelf, but a few of my friends urged me to self-publish, so I decided to give it a shot. When I got my first review, I was hooked.
D: Were there some hurdles that you struggled with?
JL: There were a number of hurdles. The best and worst part of indie publishing is that every aspect of the publishing process is entirely up to you. I had to become proficient with formatting and layout, cover design, marketing, you name it. I’m fairly good with a computer, so I was able to wrap my head around the nitty gritty pretty quickly. The first major hurdle, though, was working up the confidence to put my book out there. Once it was out there, I found that marketing was and is the trickiest part for me. I still feel strange approaching someone and asking them to give my book a try. It feels like an imposition to me.
D: Did you start out with printed books or with Smashwords?
JL: I started out with eBooks first, Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing, specifically. The cost and risk were lower for both myself and my potential readers, and issuing corrected editions was simple and didn’t cost a dime.
D: I see one printed book on sale through Amazon — is this POD? Which printer did you decide to go with? How do you like working with them?
JL: The paperback is POD. I went with CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company. So far I’ve been very happy with their service. Since they are in the Amazon fold, they qualify for all of the usual Amazon shipping perks. The cost per book is reasonable, and there are a few different choices for distribution, which can get your books just about anywhere, including library shelves. I’m hoping to have the rest of the trilogy published through them by the end of the year. These days, if you opt for the “digital proof” option, the max price to get a book set up with them is about $25, and purchasing one costs me around $5.50 including shipping for a 325 page 6×9 paperback.
D: How are your sales doing in print?
JL: The print book is doing okay. Better than I expected really. I had them made because a number of fans were interested in physically adding the books to their libraries. My plan was to set them up for print-on-demand, purchase 100 or so to stockpile for autograph requests, and see what happens on amazon. I had to revise and re-proof, so it cost closer to $50 to get it set up. I broke even before too long, and have been selling a few each week since. Not bestseller material (I wouldn’t recommend doing print exclusively), but keep in mind that the print book is The Book of Deacon (Book 1), which is free as an eBook. So that’s a few people a week who are choosing to pay $9 – $13 for something that otherwise costs nothing.
D: How do you like working with Smashwords?
JL: It has been great working with Smashwords. Even though I tend to earn more money through the Amazon side of the equation, Smashwords has been far more valuable to me. Their style guide is my primary resource when it comes to producing standardized, well formatted books, and they are a “publish once, distribute to many” service. A few percent of my royalty is a small price to pay to have someone handle the nuts and bolts of pushing my books to seven markets and counting. I’ll admit they can be a bit slow at times, but their dedication to speeding up the process has made some serious strides already, so I have a feeling I won’t have much to complain about in the future.
D: How long were you working on The Book of Deacon before you published it?
JL: That’s a tough question to answer. If you were to start counting from the moment I started dreaming up the characters and setting, it was something like twelve years. If you start counting from when I started putting pen to paper, it was closer to 6-8 years. If you start counting from when I started typing the mound of notebooks, more like two years. The massive range of time involved is primarily due to the fact that it was never a focus for me during that time. I’d scribble in a pad whenever I got a spare moment, but I never even really considered it a hobby. Since the trilogy, I’ve written a few other books, and the process from start to finish tends to take six months to a year, still doing it part time.
D: How long did it take before you felt like you’d “made it” as a “real” author?
JL: It is an elusive feeling, I’ll tell you that. I honestly still don’t quite feel like I’ve made it. It has been over two years since my first book came out, and until very recently I didn’t even use the term “indie author.” I used the term “phoney baloney author.” There have been moments, though, when I thought, “This is what an author feels like.” The first time I got a positive review was one. My first piece of fan mail was another, and my first autograph. The first month I earned more from the books than from my “real” job was a great example, too. Two major ones happened recently. A few months back a fan contacted me after seeing that I’d be attending a convention (unrelated to the books) that she was attending as well. She wanted to meet me face to face so that I could sign her book in person. Circumstances conspired to prevent it from happening, but the thought that someone wanted to meet me simply because of my writing was pretty magical. I’ve also been approached for translation rights to Bulgarian and German, which knocked me for a loop. More and more I’m coming to realize that becoming an author is sort of like becoming a grown up. All through your childhood you imagine that one day you’ll change into an adult, that you’ll wake up one morning and you’ll know all of those things you’re supposed to know, but years go by and you’re just the same person. Then one day someone walks up to you and says, “Excuse me, sir…” and you realize that grown ups are just kids who got older. Authors are just writers who turned a hobby into a paycheck.
D: I ran into your first book as a recommended free read through Barnes and Noble. How did you get such great promotion?
JL: … I was a recommended free read through Barnes and Noble!? Like, officially? When!? Uh… Well here’s the “first one’s free” story. Early on, I’d priced the eBook, more or less arbitrarily, at $9.99. I sold one. A few months later I put it on sale for half price. I sold one more. Eventually I set it to the lowest price that still qualified for Kindle’s higher royalty tier, $2.99. I sold maybe 3. By this time, the second book was out. I’d read a few interviews, notably one with an indie author called Brian S. Pratt, in which it was suggested that you offer a book for free to take the risk out of giving your book a try, so I did so. Soon there was a steady stream of sales and I was feeling pretty pleased. Then Amazon price matched to $0.00, and everything exploded. I was picked up in a few “Kindle Freebie” blogs and the like, readers started leaving positive reviews, and things began to snowball. As for how I got picked up in such a great promotion? Apparently if you have a high enough average score it just sort of happens without being asked… or told.
D: I saw it about a month ago, I think. Found it in the shopping recommendations on my Nook. I want to say it was in the “NOOK Books Under $5” category, but I could be wrong.
I’m going to assume you’ve figured out the difference between lie and lay. (wink) I have would-be-authors who worry about typos and being “embarrassed” by their work once it is published. (By the way, I’ve read professionally edited novels with more errors and certainly more serious ones than I found in your books.) Still, there’s no question a few slipped by you. What words of advice do you have to encourage my readers?
JL: Right, yes. Of course I know the difference between lie and lay. And I am in no way frantically searching through my manuscript and a grammar guide right now to see if I’ve got any misused instances lingering in the current version.
There are readers who will condemn your book for a single misused semicolon. My books were positively riddled with errors when they were first published, and even today I get the occasional review with a line like “Joseph Lallo’s grammar is debilitating.” Is it embarrassing? Yes. But even before the sweeping corrections that have hopefully rendered my book at least moderately professional, I was getting positive reviews. For many readers, possibly even most, if a story speaks to them, it speaks whether there are grammar issues or not. Grammar is mechanical, it can be repaired. The content is the important thing. If people like your story and they like your characters then little things like misusing rein/reign every single time (yes, I did that) or misusing prophecy/prophesy every time (yep), or the occasional run on sentence (doing it right now) won’t make a difference.
D: Debilitating? (rolling eyes) Hardly. I loved the review (5 star, if I recall correctly) where the woman said her husband kept telling her to “Stop laughing at the book.” You have some laugh-out-loud moments that will stick with me forever. I will never look at a potato the same way again. You also write some of the smoothest action scenes I’ve read.
Your books are long, satisfying, delightful reads. Can I ask about your writing process? How do you plot and keep track of such long novels?
JL: I’ve gone about writing in a few different ways, but the different techniques all center around similar principles. Basically, I set checkpoints for myself. In the beginning they are very basic; this is where the story begins, this is where the story ends. Then I break it down into a few interesting scenes or important events; the entry or exit of different characters, arrivals at different locations, major battles, etc. I make sure I know who is involved in each step, where they need to be, what they need to be doing, what they need to have done. Once I’ve got the outline, I start writing. It is like connecting the dots with words. If things feel like they aren’t going to line up, or didn’t line up, I leave a note in the text. (*** Go back and make sure she mentioned where she was going. ***) Once I’m done writing, I do a search for each instance of “***” and apply the adjustments. Also, I never treat this outline as though it is set in stone. If the characters start taking their own directions, I usually change the story to accommodate. Nine times out of ten they are going someplace much more interesting, or at least more true to who they have become.
D: If you could go back in time to the moment you first thought of self-publishing, and offer a word of advice to yourself (and others like you) what would it be?
JL: The number one piece of advice is one that I’m still having trouble following: Relax. Remember that you are writing because it is something you enjoy. There will be mistakes, but you will learn from them. Have you ever walked into a cabinet and gotten a knot on your head? That’s what we call a “knowledge bump.” It taught you not to do that again. Indie publishing, particularly with eBooks, is very forgiving. Bad covers, bad descriptions, bad grammar, they can all be fixed. I know, because I’ve done it. And if your book didn’t do well today, that doesn’t mean it won’t do well tomorrow. Just keep writing, keep applying all of the hard-earned experience to the next book. The rest will take care of itself.
D: Anything else you’d like to say?
JL: I’d just like to say thanks for the interest, and I hope I’ve been helpful.
D: Absolutely! And thank you for being so transparent. I know you will encourage other new authors.
Looking for a good book? Try out these by Joseph Lallo: