Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Can Ebook Data Reveal New Viral Catalysts to Spur Reader Word-of-Mouth?

In my new best practices ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, I explore at great length a concept I call Viral Catalysts.  Think of viral catalysts as the virtual knobs, dials and levers attached to an ebook that an author or publisher can tweak to increase reader word-of-mouth.  Viral catalysts make books more available, discoverable and enjoyable to readers.  See Secret #19 in the book for a full discussion of viral catalysts.

Earlier this month at the RT Booklovers convention in Chicago, I decided to approach the viral catalyst challenge from a completely new angle for a presentation they titled MONEY MONEY MONEY, with the subtitle, "How Data Driven Decisions *Might* Help Authors Reach More Readers." 

I analyzed a nine-month chunk of Smashwords sales data, aggregated across multiple Smashwords retailers, to determine if there were potential data-driven metrics that might reveal new viral catalysts that authors can put to work.  The data encompassed millions of dollars in book sales for a collection of slightly more than 50,000 books.  My study began with a series of questions that I thought could reveal potentially useful answers.

These questions included:
  • Do authors who change prices frequently sell more books?
  • If ebooks are immortal, how do sales develop over time?
  • How do individual titles develop at a retailer?
  • What's the ideal word count for ebooks?
  • What word count do romance readers prefer?
  • What word count do erotica readers prefer?
  • What impact does price have on unit sales?
  • How are Smashwords authors pricing their books?
  • What are the most common price points?
  • What price range earns the author the most money?
  • What does the indie ebook sales distribution curve look like?
  • What's the optimal price per word? 
To learn the answers to these questions, I presented Henry House on our technical team with a massive wishlist for data dumps, and then I crunched his numbers in a spreadsheet.  Some of the findings were eye-opening and useful, and others were simply fun. 

I uploaded a modified version of the presentation to Slideshare, embedded below. 

As I caution in the presentation, data-driven decision-making is no substitute for writing a super-fabulous book. Write the greatest masterpiece you can, and then review the data for ideas that at best might enable you to add incremental improvements to reader enjoyment, accessibility and word-of-mouth.  Viral catalysts are all about incremental improvement.

Much of this data has never been shared with authors before.  If you find the data useful, please consider sharing it with your friends. Facebook it, tweet it, Google+ it.   Embed the presentation in your blog (click here to access the presentation at Slideshare, then click the "< > Embed" link to obtain the code you'll cut and paste into your blog).  Talk about which aspects of the data have the most relevance to you and your publishing.  Does your experience differ from the average?  No problem, this is to be expected.  Every book is different.  Share your experiences.  When authors help authors advance best practices, all authors and readers benefit.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Author Bill Dicksion On Telling True Stories of the West

Bill Dicksion is 87-years-young, and the author of seven novels. He stands as an inspiration for anyone wanting to become an independent author. He's been with Smashwords for almost two years, and his sales have been growing each quarter as readers discover his books (when we see strong organic growth like this, we know we're looking at a future bestseller).  He and his wife, Millie, live in Hawaii, where he is hard at work on more books about the American West.

[David Weir] I want to get to your novels, but first, you've had such an interesting life, can you tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?

[William Dicksion] I was born in Wewoka, Oklahoma, on August 25th 1925, the fourth child in a family of ten children. I went on to obtain a degree in science and worked as an industrial chemist for two major manufacturing companies, assisted in doing pioneering work in purifying rare earth metals, and did post-graduate training in marketing. I obtained licenses to market real estate, stocks and bonds, and operated a successful landscape contracting company on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

I’ve held a commercial pilot’s license with a flight instructor’s rating, taught many people to fly, and then became an air traffic controller and worked at six different facilities. I helped train many air traffic controllers, some of whom are now ranking members of the Department of Transportation. I’ve traveled in almost every state, including the territory of Guam. I’ve traveled in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Asia, and returned many times to Oklahoma, where I have two surviving brothers and numerous nieces and nephews. I have three children, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. My wife and I now live in Honolulu.

I’ve published seven novels and a memoir, with a collection of poems, musings, and essays. Some of my stories have been included in anthologies published by the Honolulu Chapter of the National Writers Association. With the assistance of Smashwords, my books are being read throughout Polynesia and in locations in Asia and Europe. I remain interested in science, history, geography, and philosophy, and my writing expresses these interests.

I grew up in central, and western Oklahoma. My father was a farmer/rancher. Farmer/rancher more accurately describes what most people call ranching. Cows have to eat even when the grass is covered with snow, so somebody has to grow feed for both animals and people. I learned about farming and ranching by helping my father. I had lots of help because my father raised children as well as cattle. I had seven brothers, and two sisters. My father was a loving man, but he was a stern disciplinarian; when he gave us a job to do, we’d better do it right. Excuses were not accepted. If we didn’t know how to do a job, he’d say, “Don’t you think now would be a good time to learn?” If we said, “But I don’t have the tools,” he would say, “You have a hammer and an ax. Make your own tools.”

[DW] You mentioned that your father and grandfather were great storytellers; how did they influence you and your deep interest in the West?

[WD] Winter nights in Oklahoma are long and cold. We followed a tradition set down by our ancestors. Even primitive people sat around their campfires and told stories. We didn’t have TV or even radios, so we sat around our fire listening to stories told by our parents and grandparents. My grandparents were true frontiersmen, and the hardships they faced make the worst of mine seem mild in comparison. I grew up steeped in the lore of the West, and I try to share those stories because they are real, and they are history. When I tell stories, I don’t pull any punches. I tell it like it is. I don’t like innuendos, hints, and sly references-- if it’s worth telling, tell it as it is.

[DW] I know you fell in love with science when you were young. How did this help to shape your outlook, your career and your writing?

[WD] Science and scientists are, I believe, misunderstood words. You don’t have to wear a long white coat and work in a laboratory to be a scientist, although I have done both. Real science is done by people looking for answers. Growing up poor forced me to look for answers, and science showed me the way. I truly believe there are no unanswerable questions, and no unsolvable problems. Like most people, I encountered some real doozies, but like my father told me, “If you don’t now how to solve the problem, now is a good time to learn.” I carry that philosophy into my writing. I started writing professionally at age 77. I had written reports, and letters, of course, but nothing creative. I didn’t know an adverb from an aardvark, so I read everything I could find that would help me learn.

I think one of my best stories is, “A Button in the Fabric of Time,” about an American engineer being selected by an advanced civilization from a planet in another galaxy, to represent them in negotiating with Earthlings one thousand years into the future. The future is not glum, my friends, it is bright beyond compare.

[DW] I heard you had some exciting adventures moving west to make your way in the world?

[WD] Indeed I did. I hesitate to tell this story because it seems implausible today. I was 13 in the spring of 1938 when, due to droughts and dust storms, my father lost everything--the ranch, the animals, everything. There was no welfare in those days, and we were going hungry. I had to try to earn money to help. I was told that California was my best bet, so I hitchhiked west. I had six dollars in my wallet, the clothes on my back, and 1,500 miles to go. I slept on the prairie, ate whatever food I could find, and my ceiling was the sky. I was a child completely alone, but I wasn’t afraid. . . . I tell that story in my memoir, “A Brief Moment in Time.”

[DW] Did you try and enlist in World War II as a teen?

[WD] I worked in California all summer and sent money home, and then returned to western Oklahoma to finish high school. Western Oklahoma grows wheat and lots of it. I drove a combine to harvest the wheat, and then drove a truck to haul it to the railroad to be shipped overseas to feed American and British soldiers who were fighting Germans. It was World War II. I had dreamed of being a fighter pilot, but it wasn’t to be. The recruiting officer saw the scar tissue on my lung X-ray and turned me down flat. I had inhaled too much dust, and it left scar tissue on my lungs. That was the lowest moment in my life and probably the luckiest. Many men who enlisted as fighter pilots didn’t make it home. Since I couldn’t serve my country in the military, I went back to California, enrolled in college, and paid my way by working in defense plants. . . .I could write a novel on that experience. Hmm, maybe I will.

[DW] What about your other career as a pilot and air traffic controller?

[WD] I guess watching birds fly made me want to fly. In my spare time—which I had damn little of—I went to the local airport and washed airplanes, or did anything I could do, to get an hour of flying time. I finally got a license to fly, but I couldn’t afford to rent an airplane; so I got an instructor’s rating, taught students to fly, and got paid instead. I got my degree in science and wanted to use what I had learned, so I got a job as a chemist. Most young men and women were away somewhere fighting a war, so I advanced quickly to a supervisory position. One thing led to another, and I ended up doing research in rare earth metals. Most people didn’t even know what rare earth metals were. I wasn’t paid much, so I applied for and was accepted as an air traffic controller. I liked the work and did it well enough to train other air traffic controllers. I transferred to Hawaii, where I met my wife, who was a secretary to the facility chief. We married and transferred to the island of Guam, where I controlled the aircraft flying missions over Vietnam. Yep, I could tell a story about that, too.

[DW] So, on to your writing -- when did you start, and who were those who influenced you along the way?

[WD] I got into writing through the backdoor. Like the troubadours of old, I was always a storyteller, but I did it orally. I reiterated the stories I had been told, to my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. They sat spellbound as I opened doors long closed. My niece suggested I write the stories for others to read, but how could I, my penmanship is illegible, my spelling atrocious, my typing skills limited, and I had a business to run. But fate found a way. I suffered a heart attack and had bypass surgery. Recovery takes time, and I was bored. My wife and my children bought me a computer. Mystery of mysteries, how do I use the thing? As my father taught me, if you don’t know, now is a good time to learn. I had stories to tell, and the computer had spell-and-grammar check. The computer made it possible to write legibly. That computer released a monster.

[DW] Tell us why you write Westerns, and what the difference is between the inauthentic Westerns out there and a true Western?

[WD] I’m not a genre writer, but I grew up in the West, I love the West, and the true stories of the West are as interesting as any fiction ever told. That is why I am so disappointed by the stories being told about the West. When I write western, the history is right, the geography is right, and my stories are valid. The stories of Frank and Jessie James have been told so many different ways, that who knows what really happened? A few historians have recorded the true story, but it never saw the light of print, because publishers print what they believe will sell.

[DW] Did you publish through traditional publishers first or start with ebooks?

[WD] Did I publish through traditional publishers? No, emphatically No.
I am an unknown writer; therefore, I have no name recognition to draw readers. Publishing is a business, and publishers want to make money. They don’t give a damn about good writing, and for sure they don’t give a damn about writers. They butcher the writing, pay the writer a miniscule, and then throw them away. Nope, I don’t need traditional publishers; they need me, and if my guess is right, ebook distributors like Smashwords will show them that.

[DW] What do you like about independent ebook publishing?

[WD] When writers publish their writing, they own it, and no one has the right to alter it to suit their purpose. If it doesn’t sell, then the author can alter it until it does. People love to read good books, and the best and cheapest way is as ebooks. Ebooks save time, paper, storage, shipping and handling, so they cost less. I give some of my books away. It costs me almost nothing and for every book I give away, I sell a few.

The best thing that ever happened to me as a writer was meeting Mark Coker and his lovely wife Lesleyann. They are writers; they understand writers. They have opened the door, and now writers can be true to their art. I believe it will produce some good writing, and who better to distribute it than Smashwords.

[DW] I understand your wife, Millie, helps you in your work; can you tell us about that?

[WD] Millie sparkles like a jewel among the rocks. Praise embarrasses her, so I will limit mine by saying, “I couldn’t write without her help.”

[DW] How often do you write, how long per writing session, and do you generally know where you're going with a story before you write it?

[WD] That’s a three-phase question. I’ll try to answer them one at a time. I write something every day, and I spend about eight hours in front of my computer. I don’t time myself; I write until I’ve completed whatever I started. I have a thousand stories to tell, and each day more come to mind. I don’t plan a story. I don’t outline a story, I just write the story as I would if I told it orally. The advantage of writing is, if I need to verify, I can search for what is real. Being real is important to me. I never plan an ending. I just tell the story until it’s told, and I like happy endings. I don’t want my readers to walk away feeling glum; I want them to feel uplifted and wanting more.

[DW] What's your favorite part about writing these novels?

[WD] Finishing them and then reading them aloud. I improve my writing by reading it. When I read it aloud, the mistakes slam me in the ear. I have to be patient with myself – there’s always rewriting and rewriting. And if after finishing it, I can say, yeah! that’s what I was trying to say. And that makes me walk away feeling good.

[DW] Do you have advice for first-timers who may be trying to work up their courage and emulate what you've accomplished?

[WD] My vanity is enormous, but I don’t feel qualified to give advice to accomplished writers. I will, however, share some things I’ve learned. If you write journalistically, you must write with honesty, sincerity, and brevity. The same is true if your intent is to inform or educate, but if you write fiction, you are writing creatively, so create characters that never were, and put them in places that never will be, doing things no sane person would do, and make both so real that they seem more real than that which is real. Make those characters so real that when they cry, the reader cries with them. Robin Hood is a case in point. Everybody knows who Robin Hood was, yet in reality he never existed. I could cite more, but you get the point.

Don’t ever give up. Ask yourself, “Why do I write?” and there are probably as many answers as there are writers, but whatever your reason, continue writing, the world needs good writers, and with Smashwords, every writer can be published. Who knows, you might write something that will resonate throughout all time. And that’s your legacy.

[DW] Finally, do you have other books in the pipeline?

[WD] Only three. One will be published in a month or so. The other two are only half done. I have dozens more just waiting to be written.

[DW] Thanks!

[WD] Thank you, David, and to all who labored through this, Millie and I bid you a fond Aloha.

Interested to read Bill Dicksion?  Download Sagebrush for free at Smashwords or at any of the fine retailers below.

Smashwords Distributes Bill Dicksion to the following retailers:

Apple iBookstore
Barnes & Noble
Diesel eBook Store

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sarah Burleton On Her National Best-Seller "Why Me?"

Sarah Burleton grew up in the Midwest, the daughter of an emotionally disturbed woman. Her book, "Why Me" chronicles the abuse she experienced at the hands of her mother. It has proven to be a remarkable success and has been on The New York Times bestseller list for an extended time now. She has made it her life's goal to get her story out to the world and to become an ambassador to children who are experiencing similarly frightening childhoods today.

[David Weir] When and why did you decide to write "Why Me?"

[Sarah Burleton] “Why Me?”, basically the accounting of my abusive childhood, seems like it took my entire life to write. I tried many times over the years to write down my story but didn’t know how to start. I also didn’t know how anyone who read my story would react. Would they laugh and say that I really wasn’t abused and that I deserved what I got? Or would I be criticized for putting my “dirty laundry” out for the world to see? It was a very scary thought–the idea that I would be “abused” again by people I didn’t even know. But, at the urging of my husband—who believed that getting my story out onto paper could help me heal—I decided to write it without even thinking about publishing it. So I wrote.

[DW] What made you to decide to publish it?

[SB] As I was writing my book, each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter I completed made me finally realize that I had been feeling guilty my entire life for no reason at all. I had been carrying around a weight on my shoulders and a shame for being abused when nothing I had done had ever justified the abuse I endured. When I felt the weight lift off of my shoulders after completing my story, I felt compelled to put my story out there for anyone who was like me in the hope that they would read it and realize that they too, were victims of their loved ones. I wanted to help one or two people if I could – never expecting that I would be helping thousands.

[DW] When did the book first start attracting reactions from people and how did that affect you?

[SB] I first started looking at getting my book traditionally published and was immediately discouraged by the long query process and the hoops one had to jump through to even get an associate editor to view a transcript. So during an online Google search one day I stumbled upon the Amazon KDP program and uploaded my book in September 2010. I had a trickle of sales for the first couple of months and then at the end of December 2010, sales of my book took off and reviews started coming in on my Amazon page. I was so honored that people were taking the time to read my story and even more honored that these same people were taking the time to leave such kind and inspiring reviews on my book. I remember sitting with my husband at night and wondering out loud who was reading my book at that moment and what they were thinking of it – it was all a very overwhelming experience.

[DW] Other than distributing your book to the major retailers, did you do anything to market the book?

[SB] I have done no outside marketing of my book; it felt very odd to me to ask people to read a story about my childhood abuse. I felt that it was a story that certain people would need to read and would find on their own – they would have to be looking for it for their own personal reasons. I did utilize the tools provided by Amazon and Barnes and Noble (the Author Central page, author description and the “From the Author” sections). I “talk” to the readers in these sections of my page – I want them to know me a bit even before they read the first paragraph of my story.

[DW] When did you realize your book was on the New York Times best-seller list?

[SB] Soon after I made the top 100 at Barnes and Noble, I did a Google search on my name and my book and saw that one of the links that popped up was to the NY Times and I was listed on there at #23. I’ll never forget seeing my little book and my name listed among the giants in the publishing industry and I am continuously amazed to see my name on there week after week.

[DW] Can you tell us about the offers you've gotten since from traditional publishers and other types of media companies?

[SB] In March 2011, I was listed on Good Morning Americas “Top 10 Self Help Books” for the Amazon Kindle. Soon after, I was contacted by Raw Television Productions and was asked to be part of a series they were developing about women who had overcome adversity that was going to be pitched to the OWN Network. Unfortunately, the OWN Network didn’t think that the series was right for them at that time, but we are revisiting sometime in the future. I also was approached by 3 major publishers who were interested in obtaining my print and e-book rights, but in the end, I decided to remain indie and turned down each of those offers. The only rights I have signed away are my audio rights to Brilliance Audio and my audio book will be released on May 1st of this year!

[DW] What do you now see as the advantages of remaining independent rather than signing on with a traditional publisher?

[SB] I am a control freak, so the thought of not being able to log on and see what my sales were doing during any point of the day really bothered me. I also, probably like many authors, hold my little story near and dear to my heart. I was extremely concerned that my message of strength over adversity would be lost in flowery language and edits once a publisher got their hands on it. I didn’t want my message to be lost and my story to be put on a backlist for a year. I love that I have all of the say on the editing, distribution, and pricing of my book and it would be very difficult for me to give up all of that freedom I enjoy as an indie.

[DW] What's your opinion of exclusivity options like KDP Select?

[SB] I am not a fan of going exclusive with anyone - I don’t see the value of putting all of your eggs in one basket and hoping for the best. I would imagine that for an author, exposure is everything, so why cut out so many readers by only publishing on one site or device? It seems very counterproductive in my opinion.

[DW] Yours is a deeply personal story, of having been abused by an emotionally disturbed mother. How difficult was it for you to tell this story?

[SB] It was extremely difficult for me to tell this story. I only wrote about what I could clearly remember; the incidents in my life where I could still see the scar Mom left on me or remember the way Mom’s breath smelled in my face. I had many more things I could have written about, but I couldn’t remember what house I lived in at times or what exactly happened on a particular day that set Mom off on one of her tirades. I didn’t want to make anything up or fill in “holes” so I only relived what was still giving me nightmares and what was still making me sad in my adult life. Reliving these experiences word for word was extremely difficult and there were times I would write a chapter and weep for hours afterward. I went through every emotion possible while writing my little story – and I believe that emotion is what made my book so powerful.

[DW] How long did it take to write it?

[SB] Once I sat down and actually wrote it – it took me about a month and a half to complete it. I gave it to a former professor I had in college to edit it for spelling and grammar with the specific instructions that I did not want the tone of my story changed. Looking back – I should have probably asked for more advice on adding meat to my story or making the tone of certain parts sound more “adult,” but at the time – I was not thinking of any of those things.

[DW] Were there people who encouraged or helped you along the way?

[SB] The only person who knew I was writing the story at the time was my husband; he was the one who encouraged me to write down my nightmares just for my own piece of mind. He was absolutely wonderful throughout the entire process and I couldn’t be more grateful to have someone like him in my life.

[DW] How did you feel when you were done writing it?

[SB] I felt this enormous sense of guilt lift off of my shoulders and a wave of relief wash over me. I never realized how much I punished myself for the acts of my mother over the years – I always assumed that I had done something wrong or terrible for her to act the way she acted towards me. It is hard for many people to understand how a mother can hate her child – it’s even harder to understand it when you are the child and it’s your mother who hates you. By the end of the book, I realized that I really had no answers to the behavior exhibited by my mother – but what I knew was that I was not going to let my past dictate my future anymore. I had finally made a huge step in overcoming my childhood.

[DW] Since you've heard from others who suffered abuse as children, how has your story affected them?

[SB] Some of the emails I get from readers bring me to tears – there are so many of “us” out there; those of us who have suffered abuse at the hands of a loved one. The overwhelming theme I hear from my readers is that they realize that they too cannot let the past dictate their future. They realize that they cannot change who their parents are but they can change the way that they themselves react to situations in their lives. I have received emails from teenagers who tell me that they appreciate their mothers more; emails from mothers who want to reach out and offer me a motherly hand of love; and emails from people who were abused or are still being abused – using me as a venting board to tell their story. It is quite an honor to be trusted with such personal information and I pray nightly for those readers still suffering.

[DW] Usually success attracts critics also. Have you faced much criticism and if so, has that been like to deal with that?

[SB] My book has been called, “Boring, Poorly Written, Unbelievable, Fiction” and many more choice adjectives on numerous reviews and chat boards. At first, I was extremely insulted by these opinions, but then put myself into check and remembered that they were just opinions – nothing else. I know the truth, my family knows the truth and that is all that matters. If someone wants to knock me down for the way that my book is written or because they just don’t believe someone could be abused like that – then they are entitled to express that. It’s OK – I don’t let it bother me anymore and I make it a rule to never respond to a negative comment or review.

[DW] Are you working on another book, and if so, can you tell us what about?

[SB] I am working on a bullying book specifically for the Young Adult readers. I was bullied in school and can relate so much to what kids feel and what it is like to feel like there is no one in the world out there supporting you or understanding you. I hope to have it published onto all venues by Christmas – right now I am 6 ½ months pregnant so that has been slowing me down a bit!

[DW] Congratulations!

[DW] Do you have advice for others who may wish to write non-fiction, but haven't worked up the courage to do so yet?

[SB] I would suggest writing the book without the intent to publish – but for your own personal reasons. If I knew I was going to publish my book onto global platforms like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, I may have written it differently or let the fear of customer reviews and critics cloud my judgment when writing it. Write what you feel, write what you know and remember, and once it is all done, then think about publishing it. If you have an abuse story like mine and you want to write about it – then do it! Even if you don’t publish it, seeing your story on paper makes you realize things about yourself that you never knew before and you will realize what a strong individual you really are.

[DW] Thanks Sarah!

Smashwords distributes Sarah Burleton to the following retailers:

Apple iBookStore
Diesel eBook Store

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Author Nicky Charles on Why All Her Books Are Free

Nicky Charles is one of the most popular authors at Smashwords and at our retailers, yet she won't show up on any bestseller lists. At the Apple iBookstore, her four books have earned nearly 25,000 ratings, all averaging over four stars. Her highly-rated paranormal romance books, each over 100,000 words, are free to download and read. Her pure love of writing is inspiring. She suggests those who want to financially support her writing contribute to charity instead.

[David Weir] Why don't you charge for your books?

[Nicky Charles] That’s probably one of the questions I get asked the most by readers and there are several ‘layers,’ if you will, to the answer.

First of all, it’s important to point out that I’m very fortunate. Unlike some, I already have a good job and don’t have to use writing to supplement my income. While I’m not rich, I have sufficient [income] to live on and don’t need the money. (The bills are paid, I have a roof over my head, food on the table etc..) Many authors aren’t that lucky. They have to sell their stories to try and make ends meet. I’d rather let readers pay those who actually need the funds than give the money to me.

Second, writing is my hobby and I don’t want to turn it into a job. If I charge for my books it will start to involve foreign income tax and paper work and hiring an accountant to sort it all out. (Finances give me a headache!) At this point in my life I’d rather not deal with all of that.

Some people seem to think that offering my books for free is part of a gimmick or a convoluted sales ploy, but it’s not. Quite simply, I love to write. I love to paint pictures with my words and to make people feel emotions. I love building a new ‘universe’ and filling it with details to the point that readers actually start to believe that such a world exits. I love sharing my stories with others and hearing from fans and ‘meeting’ people from all around the world. That’s my payback.

When people insist that I deserve to be making money off my books, I try to direct them to donate the value of the book to an animal shelter or food bank. (If I was paid for the books, I’d likely be donating most of the proceeds there anyway.) I suppose I have a ‘pay it forward’ type of philosophy. I enjoy writing and getting feedback, people enjoy reading my books, they can pass that joy forward by helping out a charity... Everyone wins this way.

[DW] Did you set out specifically to be an independent author or did you fall into this?

[NC] I never planned on being an author at all! And I still don’t ‘feel’ like an author and have trouble believing that my books have reached this level of popularity. If you want the long version of how I fell into this, here it is:

It all started when I broke down and upgraded to high-speed Internet. I was exploring the wonders of YouTube and discovered some clips from an old TV series called Scarecrow and Mrs. King. The show wasn’t out on DVD at the time, so I began scouring the web for episodes and during that search stumbled upon the world of fanfiction. I never realized people wrote fanfiction and started to delve into that genre.

I still recall with stark clarity the day I wrote my first story for that show. I was in the basement doing laundry when I suddenly thought, ‘Hey, no one’s ever written Lee (an SMK character) as going undercover as a biker.’ I quickly jotted the story down and posted it on a whim that very night. Surprisingly, it was well received so I wrote another and another and another... I hadn’t realized how much fun it was to write. Thoroughly hooked, I even joined a fan group for Bruce Boxleitner (the star of the show) so I could share my stories with like-minded individuals.

About the time I posted my fourth story one of the group moderators, Jan Gordon, sent me a private message and pointed out that while my stories were good, I was making several mistakes with regards to switching point of view and dialogue tags and, heaven forbid, I was using Canadian spelling and no one did that! (I haven’t bent on the spelling point, lol!)

Dialogue tags? Point of view? Whatever was she talking about? I had absolutely no training in writing beyond the basics we all learn in school, and those topics hadn’t been covered to the best of my recollection. I questioned her extensively, did some research and began to try to hone my skills with the sole intention of becoming a good fanfiction writer. After all, what else was there? I never considered the possibility of writing original stories. That was for authors who worked for big publishing houses.

Unbeknowst to me, however, Jan was about to unwittingly catapult me into the position I now find myself in. She’d been working on an original story – "Black Silk" – and began posting it on the group we both belonged to. One day, as we were discussing her story, an idle comment stirred my muse and I thought, ‘if Jan can write an original story, maybe I can do the same.’

In my mind, I was going to write just that one story and then return to my beloved fanfiction. However, once I started I found I enjoyed original stories as they allowed for greater freedom and creativity. One story led to two and, well, here I am!

[DW] How did you discover ebooks and indie publishing?

[NC] Again, I have to tip my hat to Jan Gordon. I was very naive about ebooks and indie publishing. Quite honestly, I’d never even heard of such a thing! When Jan said she was publishing "Black Silk," I was sure she must have been referring to a traditional publishing house and had submitted her manuscript to one of them. It was quite surprising to learn that she had actually self-published her book. And even more surprising was that this wasn’t a novelty. A number of people were accessing self published books and reading them, not only on their computers but on ereaders, a device I was unfamiliar with at the time.

I couldn’t believe that an ordinary person now had the ‘power’ to create a book and distribute it all on their own!

[DW] Tell us about your first book, how long did it take to write?

[NC] Amazingly enough, my first book was written in only about two months! I’m a fast writer and at that time, I was simply interested in getting the story down on paper (or hard drive, if you want to be exact) and I didn’t really focus or even understand some of the finer points of writing. My mind set was write, publish, done.

Now I spend much longer working on my books. My stories are more complex, the characters have greater depth and, since each "Lycan" story builds on the others, I have to cross reference my earlier works to ensure my ‘universe’ stays consistent.

The editing process has also become more rigorous. I’ve been perusing writing websites and picking up tips on what qualifies as ‘good’ writing. Jan Gordon—who now functions as my editor—reads over my work numerous times and we have lengthy discussions about punctuation, spelling and grammar. Neither of us are professionals but with each book, we’ve tried to improve our skills and keep raising the bar. "Bonded" took ten months to write and publish!

[DW] Do you remember your first readers/fans and their reactions, and if so, what effect did they have on you?

[NC] The first time I received a review, I was so excited. To think that someone had read my story and taken the time to leave a comment! It was a heady experience. I remember reading the message over and over, not quite believing what I was seeing.

Then, when fan emails began to trickle in, I was even more amazed and the volume of mail has just continued to grow! "Bonded" was published near the beginning of January and I’ve been averaging about 100 fan emails a week for the past three months not to mention the posts on my Facebook site (I have almost 3000 ‘likes’) and the messages left as parts of reviews. For a while I was almost in tears, it was so overwhelming. I try to answer all messages and there just isn’t enough time. Poor Jan, I was crying on her shoulder several times claiming we’d created a monster and I couldn’t handle being “Nicky Charles, the author.” Thank heaven, she’s good at pep talks!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from my readers even if the number of messages is staggering. Some simply express how much they enjoy the books and ask to join my mailing list. (I currently have over 2600 people on a mailing list for a newsletter that I send out when a new book is published.) Others share personal stories with me, saying that reading my books provides them with a temporary escape from a busy life or difficult situation. I’ve had soldiers in Iraq tell me they read my books between missions, busy moms with triplets claim the stories provide a much needed respite, people who have survived bad relationships say the books give them hope...

I recall one person who said she was so grateful she had my books to read while waiting at the hospital for her daughter’s transplant. It helped take her mind off how worried she was. Wow. The fact that she took the time to write and tell me that was so moving.

Some emails make me chuckle. Readers have stated that the books have helped spice up their marriages, or made them see their husbands in a whole a new light. Some have even claimed their spouse is thanking me for inspiring ‘frisky’ behaviour, lol! I have people in their twenties writing to me, grandmothers in their seventies (and even a great-grandfather just last week!)

I’ve made so many new friends through writing these, too. There’s a group of ladies on Facebook who I’ve become close to, a photographer in England who corresponds with me occasionally, several readers who’ve asked for advice on establishing their own writing career, one lady drops me a line now and then to keep me updated on her schooling—she’s going to be a vet technician.

People have contacted me from all over Canada and the USA as well as Spain, England, Australia, Germany, France, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, Japan, India, South Africa...more places than I can recall. It is truly astonishing that I can sit in my little corner of Canada and touch the lives of people all over the world through my words. And the fact that in some small way I’ve helped people truly warms my heart.

[DW] You've described your books as "steamy werewolf novels." Why this particular genre?

Basically, I write what I’d want to read. Real life can be hard. The news is full of tragedy: hunger, war, natural disasters, intolerance... When I manage to find a few spare minutes to sit down and relax, I don’t want to revisit those themes in a book. I want a story that ends HEA—happily ever after. And if the story has a few scenes that make you curl your toes and a bit of a mystery or some suspense, all the better.

As to the werewolf part... Well, I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal. The concept of extrasensory perception intrigues me. I like to think that there is life beyond our planet (I grew up on Star Trek reruns.) When I was younger I had a vivid imagination and thought that witches and genies were real...

However, I never considered writing about werewolves until after I posted my first original story on a site called Fictionpress and only a few people read it. I was a bit disheartened and wondered why some stories on the site were getting so many reviews when mine wasn’t.

I began to look for themes, to see what was popular, and discovered that vampire stories were all the rage. (I’d never heard of Twilight back then – I truly am ‘out of the loop’ when it comes to pop culture – and still haven’t had time to read that series or see the movies.) Not being too keen on the ‘undead’, I tried to decide what else I could write about that might appeal to readers. For some reason, possibly because Jan had written about were panthers, the idea of werewolves popped into my head.

I wrote the first chapter of "The Mating" and posted it as a short story to see if anyone would read it or not. Well, the response was overwhelming. Readers on that site loved it and wanted more so I decided to continue the story.

Near the end of the book, a supporting character named Ryne made an appearance and captured my imagination. While I’d really only planned on writing one werewolf novel, my muse had other ideas. I wrote Ryne’s story in "The Keeping" and then, near the end of that book, a character named Cassie appeared, so of course I had to deal with her and thus "The Finding" came to life. Before I knew it, a series had been born!

[DW] As you start a new book, do you have a pretty good idea how the plot will go, or does it emerge as you write?

[NC] I generally have an idea of how it will start and end but the middle of the book is often quite vague and poorly formed. Certain scenes might be floating around in my head and I’ll try to jot the plot down in point form. However, the finished product is often very different from the original plan. Things I thought would work, don’t fit, or a new scenario pops up. In a way, writing a story is almost like reading a book—you never know what might happen next.

[DW] How do you create the characters in your stories; are they fairly pre-formed, or do they take surprising turns during the writing process?

When I create my main characters, it’s often a certain personality type that catches my attention; maybe someone young and naive, or an impulsive person or perhaps a strong individual with an inner sorrow. I want to explore how they’d react to certain scenarios.

As I begin to write, I have a general idea of what the character will be like with regards to major personality traits, job, where they live etc. Sometimes I’ll scour the Internet looking for a picture of someone who matches my mental image, so I have an ‘anchor’ to refer to when writing about their appearance. Then, as the story progresses, the character’s background emerges and it can form the person in unexpected ways. And, of course, some characters can become quite demanding in what they want!

For example, "Bonded" was supposed to be a novella that provided a back story for Damien (a character introduced near the end of "The Finding.") Reno was supposed to be a minor character but whenever I tried to write a scene, he wouldn’t stay on the sidelines and kept becoming the main focus. After several attempts to force the story to go the way I’d planned, I threw up my hands in despair and concentrated on Reno.

It turned out he wasn’t just the tough guy he appeared to be on the outside. The more I wrote, the more I realized he had inner scars that shaped him and affected the choices he made throughout the story. By the time I was done with the book, he’d moved from a one dimensional, secondary character to one who was quite complex.

I can honestly say that I love all my characters. When I’m writing their parts, I become them, thinking as they do, feeling their hurts, their anger, their excitement. Sometimes I catch myself as I’m typing away and realize my face is contorted or tears are spilling from my eyes because that’s what the character is doing in the story in that particular scene. It can be quite emotionally exhausting. By the time a book is completed I know them so well they are like close friends or family. I think that’s one reason why I have characters from earlier books make cameo appearances in newer stories. I don’t want to let them go!

[DW] How has your personal writing process changed as you've gained experience?

I can’t believe how much I’ve learned over the past few years. As I said previously, I’ve had no ‘training’ in writing per se. But I take what reviewers say to heart, not just the good but the bad as well and try to grow with each book. If someone doesn’t like my book then obviously something isn’t working. At times it’s just because my style doesn’t fit theirs, but other times it can actually be a problem area I wasn’t aware of. I like to think I’m a reflective writer who is always trying to improve.

In the beginning, my writing was all about plot. I didn’t really care that much about the proper use of commas or how many times a character explained their thinking. Now I’m watching for ‘thought-a-logues’ and ‘showing not telling’ and trying to write more realistic dialogue. I never realized there were so many ‘rules’ with regards to writing fiction. My manuscripts are read over and over and I’m constantly tweaking here and there, bumping up the description—I love description!

On the other end of the scale, I hate editing with regards to grammar, spelling and punctuation. Commas are evil and their proper use drives me crazy! And spelling—oh my! I want to use Canadian spelling because I’m proud of my country and want to promote that fact. However, Canadian spelling is a strange mix of British and American and with the US being right next door, a lot of Americanisms have filtered across the border and into my daily repertoire. Jan and I have spent countless hours researching certain words trying to determine which spelling is the ‘most’ correct.

(A few readers, especially those from the US, find the Canadian spelling strange, but those abroad such as the Irish or Australians have written to say they find it refreshing.)

Working with graphics is a skill I’ve also developed through all of this. For "The Mating" I simply used a textured background but now I’ve become much more experienced. Since this is a hobby I try to keep expenses to a minimum and search for public domain, royalty free images rather than buying cover art. I then alter the pictures using my favourite programs Corel Draw and Corel Paint and have become quite adept at layering images, adding transparencies, altering the colour balance, applying hues, cropping etc.. It’s actually quite fun to see what you can do and to try and get the perfect look. I believe that for "Bonded," I had over thirty mock ups before I got it right!

There is one area of ‘learning’ I’ve experienced that I wish I hadn’t and that is copyright law. While it’s a good thing to know, the reason I had to expand my knowledge base wasn’t. Since writing "The Mating" it has been plagiarized over ten times on various writing websites. The plagiarists, I believe, are usually teens—it’s sometimes hard to tell from their profiles—who want the attention of having people think they are authors. Some change the name of the characters while others just copy the text word for word. I even had one enterprising individual photoshop the cover of The Keeping and insert her own name to use as her profile picture!

These are more annoyances than real problems and I regularly do a Google search for my books and send out DMCA takedown notices when needed. I think because my books are free some people believe I don’t care what happens to them, but I do. They are my books and while I might give them away, I’d at least like to be acknowledged as the author!

However, recently a bigger problem has come to my attention and that is ebook piracy. Three times in the past few months I’ve found copies of my free books being sold by someone pretending to be me. I’ve never received a penny from these sales and feel badly that my readers have been tricked into purchasing something they could have received gratis elsewhere. I’m currently in dialogue with the site’s representatives trying to ensure that my readers have received refunds and that steps are being put in place to prevent a recurrence of this situation.

Ebook piracy is a growing problem not just for me but for all authors. Smashwords author, Ruth Ann Nordin, even wrote a book about the subject (They Stole My Book) which is a free download on the site.

All authors need to be vigilant and regularly search the Internet for illegal copies. They should also become familiar with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and know their rights with regards to their intellectual property.

[DW] In the future, will you start charging for any of your books?

Not for the foreseeable future, however I’ll never say never. Perhaps when I retire it could be used to supplement my income. Or if I lost my job or had some other form of economic reversal, I’d use my writing to help pay the bills. At times I think I could use the money to help my community build a new animal shelter—they’re in desperate need of one—so it’s a thought in the back of my head, but right now I don’t see myself acting on it for the next few books.

Several people have asked for print copies of my stories and I’m starting to explore POD publishing. If I ever go that route, then of course, I’d have to charge to cover the expenses.

[DW] Do you expect to continue writing in the same genre in the future, or explore others?

I think I’ll always be writing some form a romance—I’m not into horror or crime or historicals. However, I won’t necessarily stick to werewolves or even paranormal. It all depends on what strikes the fancy of my muse. I’m very visual and when I see a picture or scenery or ‘people watch’ it often sparks an idea and then I’m off jotting down notes for a possible plot. They don’t always involve shifters.

[DW] Any advice for others who would like to try writing and publishing indie books?

I get lots of emails asking this very question and I always tell them that if they have the desire to write and share their work, then go for it. Having others read your work is incredibly rewarding and indie publishing is actually quite easy.

Sure, you can try to get accepted by a big publishing house but the statistics aren’t encouraging. Many don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. I read somewhere that less than one percent of submitted manuscripts are ever read and only about one percent of those are ever published. If you are one of the lucky ones, you have to work within the publishing house’s guidelines for the number of words, what content they want you to add or delete, meeting preset deadlines etc.. And when your book is finally ‘out there’ you earn less than ten percent royalties and could very well lose the rights to the characters.

As an indie publisher however, you are the boss. You decide the book length, the content, the cover image, when you publish, what price you’ll charge, where you’ll distribute. Every step of the process is under your control.

Of course, before you consider publishing, make sure you have a good product. I encourage aspiring authors to try and find someone who will give honest feedback. I was fortunate in that Jan found me and pointed out my short comings as well as my strengths. Too often friends and family try to be kind (or don’t know what to look for) and simply say, ‘hey, this is good’ when in reality the story needs a lot of work. Join one of the many online writing sites and find a good, knowledgeable person to critique your work.

Then, be prepared to write and rewrite and rewrite again so that you are publishing the very best book you are capable of. Do some research on writing forums so that you avoid common pitfalls like “telling rather than showing”, or mixing up points of view. Watch out for punctuation and grammar and don’t just rely on spell checkers.

Once your work is ready, download Mark’s Style Guide. If you’re not familiar with all the features of word processors, it might seem daunting at first but the book is actually an easy read and outlines step by step how to format your book for publishing. Also be prepared to promote your book through social media such as Facebook or book blogs. Smashwords has a marketing guide as well.

Be careful. There are a lot of self-publishing websites out there that just want your money and some will charge you for services that should be free. Smashwords is an excellent company to go with. It’s reputable and really cares about the authors that publish through them. They also have an excellent distribution network and I know one of the main reasons my books have gained so much popularity has to do with the fact that they are available through popular sites like B&N and the Apple iBookstore.

Once your book is published, sit back and enjoy the experience. When the first review or fan mail arrives, it is one of the best feelings in the world!

[DW] Thanks, Nicky!

Smashwords distributes Nicky Charles to the following ebook retailers:

David Weir is a veteran journalist who has published three books and hundreds of articles in various publications, including The Economist, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. He currently covers technology for

Coming up: Interview with an up-and-coming writer of authentic westerns, and an interview with a New York Times bestseller!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Irish Indie Author Claire Farrell Reaches Global Market Writing Books She'd Want to Read

Irish indie author Claire Farrell eschews social media, preferring instead to spend her days writing books she'd want to read. When the recession hit hard, she made writing her full time job. Two years later, her books are selling so well she supports her large family on her writing income. As she told us in the interview below, she writes up to 5,000 words a day. She's a great example of why authors should distribute as widely as possible, keep writing and stay patient because you never know when or where your books will start resonating with readers.

[David Weir] We've noticed how well your books are selling and wanted to ask you to share some of your secrets with our readers. One thing we noticed was that Thirst, the first in your Ava Delaney series, is free. How important has that been to help your subsequent books sell?

[Claire Farrell] The Ava Delaney series didn’t sell anywhere outside of the UK Amazon store for the first few months. When I released the second book, I set the first as free, and that pretty much drew attention to it on various channels. Having a freebie was a huge kickstart into getting noticed, but that was last year, before the massive flood of freebies. My book made it into the top 100 freebie lists on Amazon and Apple (despite its truly awful average rating on Amazon at the time), which was pretty much free advertising. I knew that most people who downloaded the book would likely never read it, but I figured that some of those who were really interested in the genre would probably read it quickly. The emails started coming in that week about the series, and a lot of people would thank me for giving away my book; I was surprised because I was thanking them for taking the time to read it.

[DW] The covers to your books are beautiful and professional-looking in design; how have you achieved that?

[CF] So far, I’ve created the covers to my self-published work myself using Gimp and Photoshop and stock images. My only aim was to create something simple and recognisable. It isn’t the perfect solution, and I’m constantly on the lookout for the right artist to revamp the Ava Delaney series because they aren’t as professional as I would like.

[DW] You also maintain a blog. In what ways has blogging helped build your audience and sell books?

[CF] I’ve slowed down on blogging due to lack of time, but I don’t feel as though blogging helped build an audience. It’s more of a base for people to find me, and it’s less formal than a static website. It’s great for giving quick updates and answering random questions, but I rarely write anything truly serious or meaningful.

[DW] Can you share with us the way your books have taken off in different markets through different distribution channels?

[CF] I wasn’t paying much attention, to be honest. It sort of happened all by itself. I’ve never expected to sell more than a handful of books, but I’ve been publishing a series, and I think that’s probably the most important thing I did. I know that the majority of readers who contact me directly are those who found my books on Apple or Barnes & Noble. I know that having a freebie was massively important. I believe Apple have featured my books on the genre pages, and that probably helped, but I’m not sure how, other than one being a freebie, my books are being found anywhere else.

[DW] How important has Smashwords' Premium Catalog been to your books' success?

[CF] At first, I thought it would be useful to price match Thirst to a freebie. And it was. If I look at this as a business, availability and content are ranked right up there in importance, and I couldn’t upload directly to any of those retailers, so the Premium Catalog was a boon. But living in Europe made me fully aware of the additional benefits of having books as widely distributed as possible. At the time I began publishing, Irish people (and others) were charged an extra couple of dollars to buy a book which took a lot of impulse buys out of the equation. Smashwords alone was the perfect solution. Apple recently began selling modern ebooks in the Irish iBookstore, which was another avenue that excited me, but they also regularly feature self-published books. Their customers seem to be avid readers who enjoy low priced books and frequent releases. Barnes & Noble seem to do their own thing, but lately they’ve been chasing Amazon’s tail in terms of sales. I don’t sell much on the other channels, but I see the potential there—Kobo in particular.

[DW] What is your view of Amazon's KDP Select (exclusive) program and whether it will help or harm authors in the future?

[CF] Exclusivity can and will work very well for some writers. Especially in the early stages when the full force of interest is behind it. I can see why writers are tempted, and I know some people have blown up using Select, but I couldn’t imagine taking my books down from other channels. I have a series, so it would be a bit cheeky to take future books away from the people who have been reading all along, just because they don’t shop at a certain place. As a reader, it wouldn’t make me happy, but we all have big decisions to make.

On another level, it has taken me almost two years to sell books at the distribution channels. It happened almost overnight in the end, so you never know when luck will be in your favour. I don’t sell a massive amount of books compared to the well-known names, but I’m proof that you don’t have to. I’m thrilled about my progress so far, and I hate to think what I might have missed out on if I chose Select.

[DW] So when did you start writing?

[CF] I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Always. Before I could write, I would draw pictures and make up stories in my head about them. I let it fall by the wayside in my late teens for a number of reasons, and I regret that, but times changed. In 2010, a couple of weeks before my 27th birthday, I was pregnant with our fifth child and preparing to upload a book for the first time.

The recession had already struck bad. There had only been one Borders here, but my partner worked there contractually. The first company who employed him there had been liquidated, and people were losing their jobs everywhere. Borders was eventually shut down, and my partner was promised work by an English company, but things got so bad that they couldn’t afford to set up in Ireland again. We were pretty much screwed, and for the first time in years, there was no work out there.

We had both been born in harder times, and we had grown up through the boom. The pop was bound to happen, but we still weren’t prepared. We were surviving, but with four kids and another on the way, I needed more than surviving on benefits. I researched the heck out of anything I could do, and I began hearing about self-publishing ebooks. That kicked off the writing buzz again. I had to do something, and I finally began to see writing as a viable option. I feel like I truly started writing in the last two years, and we’re not screwed anymore.

[DW] Did you receive any special encouragement from anyone along the way?

[CF] Teachers in my primary school went out of their way to make a big deal of me writing stories. They gave me hope that I could do something that would make me happy. Obviously, my partner has been the most encouraging person. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to give it a real chance. I have five kids, including twins, under the age of eight. He wouldn’t voluntarily put up with them every morning if he didn’t believe in me. ;)

[DW] When did you realize you have a talent that resonates with readers?

[CF] I’ve never thought of it in those terms. I write what’s in my heart and head, and I hope for the best. There’s an audience for everything, and I’ve been lucky enough to find some readers who are open to the stories I share.

[DW] Did you try conventional publishing before turning to indie platforms like Smashwords?

[CF] No. It has never appealed to me. I don’t believe I have the temperament suited to it, and I don’t believe I write suitable books either. The indie scene was perfect for me. I don’t think either method is right or wrong, and I think the most success will probably be had by combining both, but neither are suitable for everyone out there. Both are hard work in different ways, and some of us are suited to one than the other.

[DW] You live in Ireland -- how important is your country in your writing, as in providing a specific sense of place?

[CF] I try not to rely on setting too much. I’m sometimes told I’m doing it wrong, but I skim descriptions when I’m reading, so I try not to dwell on them while writing. I prefer to let readers find their own world in the story. I’ve always wanted to write a world that anyone could step inside, no matter their circumstances. Because some people have asked more about the locations, I did use Pinterest to share actual pictures of places mentioned, but some readers weren’t happy about me ruining their own vision, which was actually kind of cool. In a non-descriptive sense, I believe Ireland, or at least, Dublin, is very present within the writing. I don’t live in a pretty place, and I think it translates in the writing. Also, the Irishisms. No editor will ever manage to clean my manuscript of the slang.

[DW] Do you have a sense of your audience, their demographics and where they are based?

[CF] There’s a good mix with UK and US readers taking the biggest shares—and yes, I use British English. Most are probably female, but it isn’t something I focus on.

[DW] You characterize some of your books as "romantic paranormal suspense." What key elements make a good novel of this type work?

[CF] I generally call the Ava books "urban fantasy." It’s a pretty broad term, but I can’t think of anything more appropriate. For me, the most important element in any novel is the characterisation. If people can relate to the characters, then they are likely to care to stay with them until the end. And I have to care about the characters to write about them.

[DW] Do you recommend any particular length?

[CF] I enjoy writing shorter pieces, but every audience is different. With so many people reading on smaller devices, short is great. It feels good to finish a story, especially when you don’t have much time to read. I think we’re finally getting back to a point where length isn’t necessarily a judgment on the value of a story.

[DW] Can you describe your writing process, i.e., how much time you spend each day, whether you write from a pre-formed plan or rather more freestyle?

[CF] I’m not a great planner, although I’ve discovered that writing a series can be a lot easier if you prepare a vague sort of outline at the very least. My writing process is a little frantic. I go into hermit mode and write until it’s done. My partner has been able to give up his search for work in order to help me find the time. My first drafts are probably more like incredibly detailed outlines, but for me, that’s a lot easier. I write a lot because I enjoy. I love first draft writing. My current “schedule” is 5,000 words a day, but I don’t publish everything I write. The editing takes so much longer (partly because you’re relying on other people’s help) that there just isn’t enough time right now because I’m focusing so much on my series. I don’t write every single day, but while a book is out with beta readers or an editor or proofreader, I focus on writing something new.

[DW] Do you have other advice for others who might hope to replicate your lead and follow their own dreams to write and publish?

[CF] I write books I want to read.

I haven’t aspired to be one of the top sellers. I didn’t have a backlist to publish. You probably won’t notice me on Facebook or Twitter. Most people will never remember my name, and I’m not part of any indie group. I just plod along, doing my own thing—right or wrong. I didn’t even tell my family I was publishing for a long time. I’ve probably never been in the top 2000 on Amazon, or top 500 on Barnes & Noble, but I’m supporting my rather large family right now, and that’s what matters to me. I’ve no idea how many books I’ve sold, and I think too many people get stuck on the numbers and rankings, but it’s more important that readers are satisfied if you want long-term results. You don’t have to be in the top 100. Making a living from fiction isn’t an impossible dream. I’m not the greatest writer, I don’t have the best covers, and I don’t have a platform. I’m not trying to write anything profound, but I write about things I care about and wrap them up in a world a reader can hopefully get lost in.

It’s taken a long time for my books to stand on their own two feet, but I’ve been too busy writing new stories to notice. That’s probably the key. Having a freebie (before Select) helped boost the series, but releasing new content has kept readers with me. The only advice I can give anyone is to be patient and dedicated, and find your audience. Keep writing, keep working on improving your craft, and treat people with respect. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Not every book has a huge market, but that’s okay. Not everyone can take the same path, so you find your own. The only true failure is in giving up.

[DW] Thanks, Claire!

Smashwords distributes Claire Farrell to the following ebook stores:

Apple iBookstore
Barnes & Noble
Diesel eBook Store

David Weir is a veteran journalist who has published three books and hundreds of articles in various publications, including The Economist, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. He currently covers technology for