At least a few times a year I get a questionnaire from a student studying writing at a college. The questions are generally the same and I love to answer them. Here’s one I did yesterday. I thought you might enjoy it.
1. What made you want to be a writer?
Reading books at an early age. Especially Tolkien. I wanted to tell those kind of stories. Big, grand, adventures. And that led to passionately studying writing in every book I read. Writers seemed like incredibly dreamy, soulful, people who were willing to look at the world and see the possibilities, good and bad. And, I was of that temperament. So it seemed a good fit.
2. What writers influenced you and how?
As I’ve mentioned Tolkien… I would also add C.S. Lewis in my early years. Later it was Hemingway, then Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. In time I discovered Raymond Chandler. I love Stephen King but Cormac McCarthy is where I feel comfortable when I write, and Hunter S. Thompson and Garrison Keillor have somehow, weirdly, influenced me.
3. How did you enter the writing field?
I wrote a “Hollywood novel” and got an agent. He couldn’t sell it and eventually I wrote a Post Apocalyptic version of The Old Man and the Sea. My then agent told me it was too much like The Road and refused to represent it. So I put it up on Amazon and sold two copies. Four months later I was selling about 15k copies a month. Then some publishers from the Big 5 got interested and I went back to that agent. He wanted to represent it, of course. He started a small bidding war and I ended up at Harper Collins. Last year I returned to Indie Publishing. Big Pub is dead.
4. What mediums do you publish through and why (e.g. blogs, print, twitter, etc.)?
I publish my fiction through Amazon. I write a serial and sell it through a website called Galaxy’s Edge. I blog on my website, mainly culture and politics. I also do a podcast where I play D&D with other SciFi writers. My books are available in print from two different publishers.
5. What other job fields do you interact with to create, finish, and publish a piece of work?
I have two editors. A formatter, and a cover artist. I also use a small marketing company.
6. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Write six days a week. Don’t look back. Just write the whole thing beginning to end before you go back and edit. Read Stephen King’s On Writing. Listen to audio books and then edit your books by reading them out loud and performing them as though you’re a voice actor. Editing is where you make your money. Go indie. Big Pub is dead. Learn everything. Listen to everyone’s story. Use everything you can to entertain people. Be bold. Find your voice by reading authors you love and then imitate them until it feels natural. Don’t respond to bad reviews. Have an email list. Have a website. Build your platform. Interact with every reader. Always have a book in your pocket. Never have fans. Readers are better. Be kind. Do good work. Write the kind of junk you’d want to read.
7. As a professional writer, how do you adapt your writing and publishing techniques to maintain an income in a world that is constantly publishing free content?
On Amazon you should be pubbing as much as you can. Best selling authors are currently pubbing every 90 days. Using drip campaigns and building your email list enables you to be constantly selling your backlist to new readers. Your first book should be a free, or low priced. Give people a chance to get know you.
8. How do you see the world of writing changing in the present, and what changes do you expect to encounter in the future?
I expect Barnes and Nobles Booksellers to shutter. Once that happens Big Pub will collapse though they’ll pretend not to. In reality they’ll reduce their client lists down to a bare minimum of Cadillac super clients: King, Patterson, etc.
In other words: Amazon is the future. Get good at producing your own books and doing your own marketing. And, you will make much more as an Indie. And… have a lot more fun.