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I’ve been thinking a lot about indie writers lately. Self-publishing takes serious chutzpah, and I wanted to talk to an author who’s not only doing the indie writer thing but doing it right. You know, someone who actually sells books.
Garrett Robinson is that guy. An indie author who’s written and sold fantasy and sci-fi novels on his own for over a decade now. Not only that, but his work has garnered a ton of praise! And that’s not all! He actually narrates his own audiobooks! I’ve listened and he does a damn good job of it!
Why not can pick Garrett’s debut novel Nightblade and get into some seriously epic fantasy on your next commute! You can also check out his Youtube channel, where Garrett posts weekly videos about writing and other fun stuff!
Let’s start with the obvious question- how did you get into writing?
I started writing when I was twelve or thirteen years old, and I continued it through high school. I fully intended to be a writer when I left school. However, interestingly, at around 17 I was hit hard with a love of filmmaking. I worked in corporate film and then the independent film world for the next ten years.
But finally I realized that if I ever did get into the sort of filmmaking I wanted to pursue–big-budget epic blockbusters–it would take much, much longer than I thought. And of course, I might not make it at all.
That’s when I had the idea of returning to my old dream of writing. Banging out a fantasy novel requires time, attention, and skill. But unlike a film, it does NOT require a hundred-million-dollar budget. And if my books do well enough, some day I can still be involved in the production of them, whether on the big screen or the small. So, I started writing professionally in 2012, and I haven’t looked back since.
You write sci-fi and fantasy, what drew you to these two genres?
It’s always been sci-fi and fantasy for me. I fell in love with them at an early age. I grew up on Tolkien, Brooks, Goodkind, and even some authors I’ve fallen out of love with, who I won’t name, because in most cases it’s not their fault. They’ve been my great loves for so long that I honestly don’t remember a time I didn’t love them.
Quick take! Star Wars- Sci-fi or fantasy? (and there is a wrong answer here, Garrett)
Science fantasy, OBVIOUSLY.
I noticed you’ve also dabbled in literary fiction. That genre can be intimidating for a lot of young writers. Can you tell us a little about Rebel Yell? What inspired you to write it?
Rebel Yell was a statement book. I wrote it because I had something to say that I didn’t think I could say in any other way.
It wasn’t written for an audience. It was written for me. And in some ways, it’s still my own favorite thing I’ve ever written. But because it WASN’T written for anyone else, it never did well (which I expected).
I have more statement books in me. I’ve been stewing on one for about five years now. I don’t know when I’ll get the time to sit down and write it, but I’m in no rush. And I’m sure more will come after it.
What is your advice to an aspiring writer who would like to take a crack at literary fiction?
I’d say that literary fiction is the one genre where I agree: you should write it for yourself, and not for anyone else. But I’d also advise you not to have high expectations for the success of your book. It might be VERY important to a few people. But you’re so unlikely to write the next Great American Novel, that it’s better to just act as if it isn’t going to happen.
Outside of fiction writing, you are a prolific blogger, and you run a successful Youtube channel. How do these separate creative avenues help your career as an independent author?
I love blogging and making YouTube videos because it gives me immediate feedback. I write books faster than most, but it’s still months before I get any response from my readers. On the other hand, YouTube videos and blog posts get comments within seconds. It’s a way of staying in touch with my people, as well as keeping me from the feeling that I’m going off the deep end. It’s hard to imagine not having any real connection or contact with my audience for months at a time while I’m writing my next book.
Posting regularly, and the conversations that result, are also a great help to my writing. Like any writer, I struggle with thoughts and themes as I’m working. I can throw them out there, sort of half-formed, in a blog post or a YouTube video. And the conversation I have with my audience in the comments helps me cement my ideas, turning them into something that can find life in the book. More than once, readers have written me after a book release. There’s that moment of, “Oh, THAT’S why you were talking about that on YouTube three months ago!”
You’ve got a lot of projects going on at once. How do you manage your time? What does a normal workday look like for you?
To be honest, I run my life out of my Bullet Journal. It helps me organize everything I’m doing. If you’ve been a disorganized person in your life, or if you juggle a lot of plates like I do, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll.
Through Bullet Journaling, I developed a series of checklists that run my entire life. I have a weekly checklist, which I print off every Monday, and a monthly checklist, which I print off on the first of each month. They tell me every regular, routine action I have to do, and on what day. They’re always on my desk right next to my keyboard.
And of course, the first item each day is, “Work on the next book”. I try to put in at least five dedicated hours of work on my next book each day, and then I get into the more “administrative” tasks I have to do. But if I don’t write first thing in the morning, it doesn’t get done. I have to write the day off as a wash.
I’ve also developed lots of smaller checklists for certain tasks. I honestly recommend it to anyone. If there’s a repetitive but complex task you have to do on a regular basis, checklist it. Print out a few of them and keep them in a desk drawer. When it’s time to format your next book for publishing, or organize an author cross-promotion, just pull out your checklist and check off each step. And adjust your checklists as necessary as your routine changes. It hasn’t made my life easy, but it’s certainly made it less chaotic.
Can you sell us on the idea of self-publishing? Why should writers tell their literary agents to kick rocks?
You shouldn’t! I’m pursuing agents right now, for translations and foreign rights, as well as for some other avenues I’m exploring. And in addition, there are some genres that you should ABSOLUTELY pursue traditional publishing for. Literary fiction is one of them.
However, self-publishing–or indie publishing, as I much prefer to call it–can be a great option for some. It’s not inherently better than traditional publishing. It just requires an entirely different skillset, as well as a different mindset.
Traditional publishing can be great if you’re good at selling yourself. Independent publishing is usually better if you’re good at selling a product. Because that’s all traditional publishing will give you–an entire corporate structure that is good at selling your books as products. If you want to skip that middleman—and if you’re capable of skipping it, which not everyone is—then independent publishing might be right for you.
And if you can do it, it can be a great thing. You’re free to create whatever you want, as long as you can reach and market to the audience that wants it. You keep a much larger percentage of your book sales—typically about 3-4 times more. And you’re never in danger of being dropped by a publisher, because you are the publisher. That’s a powerful position, and a much more secure one.
It does require hard work, and a lot of skills that don’t always come naturally to authors. You need to learn marketing, finances, public outreach, social media. You have to learn to do product research, and you need to know how to hire people. In short, you need all the skills that go into starting your own small business, because that’s what you’re doing. Or, you can hand over most of your profits to have someone else take care of the business for you. That’s what traditional publishing provides, and so it could be a great route for some people.
How are you leveraging your social media influence to sell your books?
I get a little turned off by words like “leveraging” and “influence,” because it’s honestly not how I think of my social media presence. Heck, that might be why my social media presence is still relatively small! I don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers on any platform. Instead, I approach social media like I approach any social encounter—I try to make friends. I’m much more interested in making earnest, deep connections with a few people, than I’m interested in being “followed” or known by many people. I have about 20,000 people on my email list, which is my biggest following online. But I KNOW those people. I talk with many of them regularly. And when I release a new book, they’re interested. They buy it. And that’s more than enough people to turn my writing into a career.
This isn’t the approach that works for everyone, but it works for me. Focus less on numbers, and more on making real connections. Find YOUR people. Not everyone is going to be the type of person you want to hang out with. Not everyone will be the type of person who likes your book. But…why would you want to be connected to someone who DOESN’T like you or your work? Ignore them. Focus on finding your people, and becoming closer to them. If you’re like me, you’ll be much happier in the long run.
When an author chooses to self-publish they bypass the traditional gatekeepers. With this in mind, how does an indie author know when their WIP is ready to publish?
In my opinion, you have to rely on NON-traditional gatekeepers. Join writing groups. Solicit beta readers. Pay developmental editors, plus copy editors. You don’t have a single “authority” to tell you your story is ready. You have to rely on a lot of people, and the average of their advice is the best you can do, in most cases.
(And yes, they can be wrong. But so can traditional gatekeepers. Just look how many failed books come out of the trad industry each year.)
In the end, you have to realize that there is no definitive answer to “when is my work ready to publish,” and you kind of have to wing it. And that’s why you have to be okay with a few duds out of the gate. Make your first book as good as you can, and then publish it. Learn from that book, and publish another one. Keep doing that, learning with each new venture, until through sheer grit and experience, you start to get a handle for when a book is REALLY done.
It’s the least sexy advice possible, but it’s all I’ve got. If you want more on this topic, I made a YouTube video about it!
On your vlog, you talk about the advantages of publishing through Kindle Unlimited. But, Amazon restricts Kindle Unlimited work from being published on other platforms. Why should authors not worry about this?
You should! You should think hard about it, and only make the decision if it makes sense for you and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Here’s the only thing I’ll point out on this: many authors frame the KU question this way: if you’re in KU, you’re ignoring every audience except Amazon. You’re ignoring Kobo, iBooks, Nook, and a variety of others.
Here’s one thing they never recognize, though: KU is its OWN audience. It is NOT the same audience as people who BUY books on Kindle. KU is its OWN thing. And if you publish on Kobo, iBooks, etc., you are ignoring the KU audience.
To me, the KU audience is more valuable than every other audience combined. It is even MORE valuable than Amazon buyers. I make about 60% of my earnings from Kindle Unlimited—SEPARATE from actual Kindle sales. So for me, it’s an easy decision. But for many other authors, that’s not the case.
Again, it’s the least sexy answer possible. But it’s the truth. You have to have some experience, you have to spend a few years doing this, and then you need to take a look at the data and make the smartest decision you can based on the information you have available.
Below is a paid link. If you’d like to check out Kindle Unlimited you can read Garrett’s books for free with your membership. Along with that, you’ll get access to over 1 million ebooks and thousands of audiobooks! Using the link below will help support the blog plus you’ll get your first 3 months FREE!
Finally, you published your first book way back in 2012. What do you know now that you wish you knew seven years ago?
If I could go back then, I’d tell myself a few things:
- The Bullet Journal doesn’t exist yet, but here’s a summary of how it works. Do it. Trust me.
- Consistent creation is the only route to success. Not best. ONLY. Write, you dummy. Write constantly, and get better at it every time. Always be creating the next books.
- A couple of big companies are going to want to work with you. You’re going to be tempted, but you need to say no. You’re meant to be your own boss. Every time you step away from that, you stumble. Stay the course you decided at the beginning of this whole crazy journey.
That wraps up my interview with indie author Garrett Robinson. If you like what you read, please support Garrett and pick up one of his audiobooks here!