Back in 2012, I interviewed an indie author who had really impressed me, Joseph Lallo. Today, I'm happy to present a follow up to that interview.
D: I've been a fan of yours for years. One of my favorite blog posts of all time is the one in which you announce that you are now a full-time writer. That was...amazing. Can you tell me more about how that felt?
JL: It was surreal. For days I felt like at any moment they were going to call me up and say, "No, really, you can't quit. Come back here and be a grownup."
I'd debated and deliberated on it for so long, though, that I felt more relief than anything else. Of course, the way it actually went down sort of derailed me a bit. I gave them five weeks notice, and then they decide, at 3PM on the day before I was supposed to leave that I shouldn't come back the next day. I went from "Wow, you know, it's finally happening. It'll be so strange to walk in here tomorrow and know it is my last day" to "Wait, what? You fired me the day before my resignation kicked in? Wha... I... Can you do that?"
Wistful to confused in three seconds flat.
D: How do you feel about being an indie, now?
JL: I'm still glad, and proud, to be an indie. Overall I feel it was the best choice for me. I like the freedom that comes from making all of my own decisions, and the flexibility of not being tied down with too many contracts. There are plenty of times that a marketing team or a staff editor would have been really helpful, but I've heard that even the big publishers are starting to put the onus onto the authors to do most of the marketing and editing, so the value of traditional isn't very clear anymore. It would be awesome to see one's books in the local bookstore, but these days people carry their local bookstore in their pockets!
D: Are your challenges changing as your career progresses?
JL: Well, the ebook gold rush is over. Sales are leveling out now that the early adopters have adopted, but the number of authors is still increasing exponentially. That means the slices of the pie are getting thinner and finding ways to stand out are getting more difficult. Funny enough, the problem isn't that there is an endless supply of bad books flooding the market--though there IS no shortage of them. The thing that really makes it more difficult these days is the endless supply of GOOD books. It isn't hard to stand out in a sea of drek. People will pick a good book over a bad book ten times out of ten. But if the choice is which good book out of a list of fifteen good books? Then the odds are with the reader. It's a GREAT time to be a reader. For an author, it means you have to keep stepping up your game. But there's nothing wrong with being driven to improve.
I'm also finding that as my series get longer and I produce more series in general, keeping the fans happy is tricky. I can only write so many words a day. So do I write two books in a row in the Book of Deacon series to try to build momentum? Or do I alternate back and forth in order to keep both sets of fans happy? So far I haven't had any troubles coming up with ideas, so that's at least not an issue... yet.
D: You have more printed books available now than when I interviewed you before. How is that process going? Any recommendations?
JL: You know, paperbacks are not big money makers for most of the year, but during the holiday season they enjoy a big spike. Plus, they give you something to autograph for fans. It is really useful to have them, and I'm working on generating them for my entire backlist. The process is tricky though, because I try to have the covers professionally made. That means I have to do the interior in order to get a page count, then use that to calculate the spine width for the artist to use for the cover art, then circle back and add the image. It takes time and effort, and I always feel like it would be better to be writing.
I definitely feel that you should get them done, though. Print On Demand is best unless your merchandising mojo is particularly strong. CreateSpace is what I use, but Ingram Spark and Lulu are good too. Just do as much of the work yourself as you can. Getting an artist to do a cover costs much less and has better results than using their cover service, and interior formatting takes some trial and error in a word processor to get it done, but once you've got the process down it's not that difficult.
D: Are you still working with Smashwords? Any thoughts?
JL: I'm indeed still doing all of my non-Amazon distribution through Smashwords, and it has been working out great. Because I've had a fairly strong track record, Mark Coker (the guy in charge) has worked directly with me on more than one occasion to help set up promos and guide my release strategies. I've even met him at a convention to chat face to face.
In theory I could earn more money by submitting directly to the various sales outlets, but Smashwords handles all of my updates, price changes, and format conversions, plus gives me access to stores that don't have direct submission methods, to the time and effort saved is more than worth the percentage they take.
D: You've done two Nano novels. Has doing Nano influenced your over-all writing process?
JL: Actually, I've now done three! This past November was a success, so I've got Free-Wrench, The Other Eight, and the (now in Beta) sequel to Free-Wrench called Skykeep. That'll be out in March, maybe.
NaNo has definitely helped me to streamline my writing process, coaxing me into doing better outlines and sticking to my word count goals. It also gives me a chance to work on stories outside my main series and develop new ideas quickly, although if things keep going the way they're going the NaNo books will just become additional series.
D: What is your "process" these days?
JL: Right around when I'm finishing a given book, I'll start talking to the fans about what they'd like to see next from me. Usually it boils down to me alternating my main series, so if I'm just wrapping up a sci-fi book, it'll usually mean a Book of Deacon novel.
From there I'll look at the gaps in the series. Will it be a prequel, will it be a sequel? Which threads should I pick up on? Which ones should I tie up? Once I have the slot in the timeline I'll start tracing out a beginning, a middle, and an end. If I'm feeling particularly dedicated I'll do a chapter by chapter outline, but more often than not after I get the first two or three chapters thumbnailed I'll just start writing and make it up as I go. Incidentally, I'm a recent convert to Scrivener as a writing tool and it is really growing on me Skykeep is the first full novel I've written in it, and my next Book of Deacon novel is about 1/3rd of the way through in it as well.
If I start to weave around and get off the original plan for the plot, I'll usually go with the flow unless it starts to clash with the intended direction of the series or wouldn't work with prior events. That circles forward until it's complete. I try to do at least 3000 words a day right now, and I'm hoping next year to bulk that up to 5-7k.
D: What is your editing process? Has this changed?
JL: My editing process has remained fairly consistent. I don't do any serious editing until I'm entirely finished writing the plot. As I write, I make notes to myself with "***" on either side. Once I hit the last page, it's in alpha. Sometimes I'll send this out to some friends and fans, but usually I wait until Beta for that. I circle back to the start and do a search for all of the notes and work my way through a second time, applying the changes, combing out some of the grammar snags, and fixing the flow.
At this point I consider it Beta and send it out to the readers. While they're working on it, I'll start another small project. After a few readers finish I'll see if there's any feedback that needs to be applied as changes, and type them up. At this point I may or may not do another read through just to see if there are glaring problems that anyone missed, then it is off to the editor to be proofread and corrected. Once I get it back I'll apply edits as needed and address any notes the editor left behind, then format it up for release.
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: I'd definitely urge myself to take the leap to full-time author a little earlier. I'd warn myself that it won't always be easy, and that I need to be thinking about marketing at every step of the process. If 2010 me had known to get a newsletter set up, I'd be in a much better position right now, that's for sure.
D: Anything else you'd like to say?
JL: I'd just like to thank you once again for talking to me! It is always great to share what knowledge I have, and it is enlightening to take a moment and think about my own process.
D: Thank you! And thank you for all of the hours of delightful entertainment that you've given me.
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