My cousin Brian is also an author. He’s a self-publishing success story, reaching as many as a thousand downloads a day and over a million copies sold since 2010, which led to contract offers from publishers. His most recent book, The Bone Triangle, book two in the Unspeakable Things series, was published by 47North. Find him at BVLarson.com.
JLH: When did you begin writing and what was your first paid publication?
BVL: I started writing seriously and sending things to publishers when I was about 17. It’s been a long road since then. I had a number of pro short story sales in the 90s, then in 2001, I sold a textbook series to a pro publisher. These were college computer science textbooks. I made serious money with those, doing ten volumes by 2010, when I dropped it because fiction was taking off for me. I self-pubbed for about a year, then started getting contract offers from publishers, which I’ve been signing since 2011.
JLH: When did you enter the world of digital publishing and why?
BVL: I found out about Kindle books in April of 2010. I worked all summer, 12 to 16 hours a day, getting my books up there and getting my first sales. This paid off as the Kindle grew in popularity and my sales grew with it. I originally had over ten novels lying around that had been rejected by all the publishers (I managed to get close several times, had agents and deals, but never got a real contract with a real check for a novel). So I figured I would just put them up and see what happened. It turned out to work for me when the public could decide what they wanted to read, rather than a few NYC editors.
BVL: I built up years of books before I began putting them online. Still, even counting that head start, I’ve written at least half of my work in the last three years. I’m writing faster now, mostly because it’s easier to do work on something that’s paying!
JLH: What’s the key to your success?
BVL: I consider myself to be an entertainer first and foremost. If I was a comedian, I would go up on stage to make people laugh, not to “express myself” or anything else. With every book I write, I’m thinking about the reader all the time. Is he getting bored? Is this what the reader wants to see happen at this point? Would I be upset if I were the reader and guy X died at the end of this scene? That’s what’s in my head. Also, I move the plot faster than most people, and try to do it in unexpected directions.
I think for a lot of writers, writing is about them, not the reader. They write to tell their story, or to make a point, or to feel better about something in their lives. All that’s fine, but to sell a thousand times more books, you have to adopt a different approach. To be clear, I write because I love writing, not just to make money. But I make sure I write things I would like to read, and which I believe most readers would like to read. When I read a self-indulgent book, I’m annoyed with the writer and stop reading. I don’t write that kind of work. Entertainment is all I’m shooting for, and that’s my key to success.
JLH: Does cover art matter? Who does your covers?
BVL: Cover art matters a lot when attracting readers initially, before you have a fan. I do my own covers for self-pubbed books, (completely pro on all my 47North pro sales), but I’m seeking help now in that area to make my self-pub covers better.
JLH: You write in several genres, including science fiction, epic and urban fantasy, and paranormal romance. Do you think this has helped or hindered your marketability? Or is it a fair price to pay to keep from getting bored (and boring readers)?
BVL: Probably, it made things worse for me, as people give me bad reviews when they buy a new book from me and get a very different experience. Originally, I wrote in many genres trying to break in, and because I get bored easily. Now, I’m trying to get more focused.
JLH: What are some of your influences and inspirations?
BVL: I consume media of all forms, and that has influenced my writing. My books feel different because there are movie/game/internet/current technology influences. I’m not purely literary in my interests and background. This upsets some readers, but most love it.
JLH: Are your books targeted to young adults or mature readers?
BVL: My protagonists vary in age, but are usually 25-35. (In other words, actual young adults, not teens.) About content, I wouldn’t give my books to someone under, say, 14. There are “adult situations” implied. There’s very little profanity, no graphic sex, but lots of terrible things happen to nice people, and there’s usually plenty of violent action. This varies with the genre, of course.
There is this odd concept in publishing that goes like this: “There are “young adult” books, which are really kid books for teens and simple people. Then, there are books for “mature” readers, which means a book that an approximately 40 year old NYC agent/editor finds worthy of reading. Honestly, I think there are more types of humans out there than these two flavors. I target 20 to 35 with my books.
JLH: What are you working on right now?
BVL: I’m currently writing Dream Magic, the seventh and final book of my “Haven” series of epic fantasies. It’s almost finished!
JLH: Any advice for aspiring authors?
BVL: This is a fantastic time for authors. We’re out of prison and running wild in the fields outside. Everyone can now publish and get their books read, but only a few will make it to the top. (Think: Hunger Games). But honestly, don’t expect an easy path. Writing fiction is not easy, it’s like learning to play a violin at a concert-quality level. Very few of us can grab up a violin and make beautiful music our first time out. But with practice and fanatical dedication, everyone now has a shot at it!