Parallaxed Journal: Why do you want to be a writer?
Mr. Biesele: I’m a pretty intense human being when it comes to projects I work on. I want to work on projects I hope change at least a small part of the world. And I fully commit to them. I spent a number of years in tech on bleeding-edge projects and I was disappointed with the results. After feeding my technical side and starving my artistic side for decades, I decided it was time to change my approach to life and feed my artistic side. As I tried reengaging the writing from my early years of life, I found that writing was something I could engage in with a passion equal to the passion I had pursued in technology. Writing became my world changing tool and in the beginning I decided that if I could use writing to change the minds of twenty middle school kids and open their imaginations up to greater possibilities, that I would have made a major accomplishment. Today, I have reached more than twenty kids and it has energized me into the writing profession.
Parallaxed Journal: What is the first thing that you wrote that made you feel and think that writing is what you want to do?
Mr. Biesele: I wrote some things in middle school that got me interested somewhat in writing. In high school, I wrote something so breathtakingly dark that it flipped out both the English teacher and the school counselor. Once they realized I wasn’t serious, that I had deliberately jerked their chain, they passionately pursued publishing my work. It’s hard for the teenage mind not to notice that kind of power over the world. At that point, the seed of writing was planted in my mind and I realized that writing was a vehicle to influence the world. I got wrapped up in the science and technology side of my skills, so my writing languished for decades, poking out only occasionally in the articles explaining technology and finance that I wrote.
PJ: How important to you is self-discipline in writing?
Mr. B: Lack of self-discipline is what kills the potential for most writer’s work. This is especially true if the beginning writer is motivated by money. The only money that will be changing hands in the early days will be the money you pay to learn the craft. Many people feel writing consists of writing something for a few months, having a few people critique it (their writing buddies), a couple of months of editing, and then they are ready to go to press. Ultimately, that leads to a lot of frustration. Writing the work, engaging with your writing group to improve the work and editing it to where you feel you are improving your work: that can be enjoyable. But it’s after that point that you really need the self-discipline. Rather than being finished, you have reached the beginning. Unless the writer publishes their novel with a big publisher and makes use of their editing, the writer is just at the beginning of the road that will lead to them to dread working on their piece and maybe even to despising it. Having professional editors advise you on plot structure and phrasing — that is when the real work begins and it is very painful. For example, after book #4 had its first encounter with the professional editor, I was so disgusted that I electronically ripped the book up (while mentally wanting to tear the paper out of frustration) and took apart the book into scenes, reordering and rewriting the entire book. The self-discipline to work through those terrible episodes is required if you want to put forth your best effort.
PJ: What advice would you give people who would want to grasp the skill of writing?
Mr. B: I would advise taking some writing courses, or if school is not your thing, then you can choose my route, which is to suffer through professional editing with a good professional editor. We are not talking, “I will edit and advise you on your book for $400.” We are talking about an editor who has experience working for a publisher and who will charge you $1,200 a pass to look at your work. Think of it as a kind of tuition. The other aspect of learning to write is practice. You need to be able to summon your writing talents at a moment’s notice for small projects. There are some fun ways to build your talent to the point where you can do that. I used to walk into my favorite fast food Mexican restaurant and while I sat there eating, mentally write ads for the dishes that I liked. I got this idea from David Weber’s bio where he said he never suffered writer’s block because he came from an advertising background. There, if you don’t write well under a looming time-crunch deadline, you don’t get to keep your job. When I read that I thought, gee, I should be able to do that. So I developed that talent by repeated practice. It’s a bit like playing speed chess. The other thing to try is to pick objects around the house to write about. If you want to practice fantasy writing, pretend some object was brought to your home by fairies. Write about why they brought it to you and what they are like. This kind of practice helps perfect your skills and is also fun.
PJ: Why did you make the choice to self-publish? What took you there?
Mr. B: I pursued publishing earlier versions of the novels with agents. Life was neatly sorted into two categories: agents who were successful and who had so many clients, hell would freeze over before they accepted your novel. The other category was hungry agents. I knew the work I had produced was very complex. If you look at the bios of the majority of hungry agents, their background is not sufficient to understand a complex science fiction/fantasy novel. And chances are that if they don’t understand it, then there will be people who don’t understand the novel. And since they are in it strictly for the money, not for the art, then a complex novel with all of its uncertainty in terms of sale-ability, is just a bad bet. So if I wanted to push the art, I had to assume all of the risk.
PJ: What does self-publishing mean to you?
Mr. B: Quite simply, extreme pain 24/7. If didn’t get into to self-publishing my novels to see what would happen. I had only one objective and that was to make them successful. Every book can find a set of readers, even a complex novel. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely hard. Other than that pain, it means I can perform the great publishing experiment. The first three novels and quite likely the fourth novel in my four part serial will contain illustrations. They will hark back to early 1900’s illustrated fiction. As a self-publisher, I can do this. Publishers are generally against illustrating teen and adult novels. So I have the freedom to control the entire production and marketing process of the novel in detail and I vigorously do. That means pain 24/7.
PJ: Which is the best distribution method you have used for promoting your book?
Mr. B: Honestly, I haven’t found any good ones and I have tried. My best venue so far has been Facebook. Twitter generally is a lost cause unless I want to promote my book to other authors trying to promote their books. Goodreads falls somewhere in between. Goodreads giveaways are good for early promotions when nobody has read your work. But as your readership grows you fast run into the “welfare state” aspect of their giveaways. They do not allow you to attach strings of any kind to their giveaways (such as a request to review) and as a result, their giveaways are easily gamed. The one thing I can tell you the large publishers excel at is engaging their readers and that is the key for the self-publisher. Facebook so far has provided the best engagement and I can clearly track some sales to it.
PJ: How do you manage advertising for your book? Do you think it’s worth it?
Mr. B: Advertising is where self-publishers can get quickly ripped off. I have tried a number of venues and they all rip you off in one way or another. When pursuing advertising one must be ready to learn and ready to exercise painful vigilance. I spend hours at my advertising console gauging the advertising performance and I am ready to turn it off when it stops performing, even if I have no advertising alternative at the moment. I generally use Facebook advertising now a days and I can guarantee you the way it works is so complex and convoluted that I would bet no one at Facebook truly understands it. It periodically runs off into la la land spending vast quantities of money with no effect.
As to whether it is worth it. Probably not but you have no choice if you self-publish. Promote or perish. I will footnote this by saying if your intent is to prostitute yourself writing into whatever will sell to large numbers of people, you will have much less need of advertising. But in that case, you need to take a number of courses in novel construction, creative writing, and in marketing/sales. You need to learn the psychology of the mass market consumer and eat all of your pride (unless you happen to like writing mass market novels). Some people bypass those steps because they have a natural knack for understanding the mass consciousness. I most certainly do not, so I spend a great deal of time experimenting with ad design trying to attract the people who will like my niche.
PJ: What professional help do you think is most beneficial to enhance the quality of your work? A copy-editor, group critique, a professional illustrator, etc.?
Mr. B: I would say that number one on the list is a professional editor with real publishing industry experience. It’s not as hard as you think to find one because a fair number of people have been contract editors to publishing houses. I used an agency to locate my editor. I gave them a spec of what I needed and they found an editor that met all my needs. In my case, I wanted an editor who was familiar with both science fiction and fantasy genres and could edit native British dialog (would understand common British English idioms) and would be able to edit American English as well. The person they found actually met all the criteria and as a bonus, was able to help me with landmarks in London and New York. They also did more than simple copy edit. They analyzed the construction of the novel and the way I presented the characters.
Next on my list would be an illustrator. Even if you are not going to publish an illustrated novel, besides needing a good, original cover, it is helpful to have a ready source of art for your promotional website. Your writing is what keeps people but the illustrator is who gets people to come look and take the time to read your pitch.
A good layout person is next if you are publishing a paperback/hardback. Really, you need a book designer, not just someone who happens to know how to run the Adobe tools. A good book designer can help you find an interior style and typographic effects that will enhance the character you are trying to project with your novel. Admit it, you can tell when someone shot the output of Word into the press, can’t you? Does that make you have great anticipation about the novel?
PJ: How do you find time to separate the writer part of self-publishing with that of the publisher and distributor? Do you find yourself debating which to put more time into?
Mr. B: I am still trying to find that balance. Frequently my writing side starves and I find that I wish I could just forget about selling the novel and just go write. Unless you are casually self-publishing, every minute the clock ticks another chunk of your money goes down the drain. So it’s not like you can decide to stop working on the publishing side one day. Right now is an especially terrible time for writers despite all the hype about the “self-publishing revolution”. Since “real” people have to buy your book and the “real” economy is in terrible shape, people tend to buy the authors they know (or read the books that are nearly free). So you have to become the author they know. And giving away your writing for free without some kind of strategy just locks you into being an author of free material.
PJ: Do you feel that it’s important to still have a job while self-publishing a book? Why or why not?
Mr. B: This again depends on what you intend to do. If you are not intending to do publishing as a business, then you definitely need a job. Casual self-publishing probably pays meaningful amounts of money about as often as a lottery ticket. If you are seriously into it, I would say from my point of view you need to have about $15,000 ready cash for the first book and money to live on. The most common thing that kills small publishers is under-capitalization I always keep this statistic in mind: Scholastic knew that Hunger Games was going to be successful because of the internal demand of people wanting to check out the manuscript to read. According to an article I read, they felt the need to give away 4000 copies to people they knew would influence others. What are you going to do to get that kind of mojo and how much will it cost?
PJ: Do you plan on self-publishing your sequels too? Why or not?
Mr. B: Once you self-publish, it is a trap in some ways. If your self-publishing is totally unsuccessful, in these risk adverse times why would a major publisher pick up your writing? Plus once you have published, a publisher cannot pay you at the debut author rate but must pay you at the experienced author rate. That’s a risky proposition. All of my sequels will be self-published unless they become so successful that I can’t handle the volume. Then I’m sure a large publisher would be happy to take care of that problem for me.
PJ: What is one thing you know now about self-publishing that you wish you would have known earlier?
Mr. B: All of the advice passed around to self-publishing authors is really wrong. Unless your novel is one of the compulsively read genre’s like erotica, steamy romance, etc., your good writing won’t do squat for selling your novel. If it’s your first, second, third, …, it’s unlikely your writing will be good enough to be a beacon attracting readers. So admit it and devise a plan to deal with it. Remember the salesman’s creed: If I am a good salesman, I can sell you total crap and make you thank me for it. There is no such thing as “post your novel and they will come.” You must learn to engage your readers and get them actively involved. Relating your life as a writer won’t do it. You must build a fantasy that your readers can live. Had I known this, I could have built that fantasy world for them while writing my novels and had my potential readers engaged when my novels became available. Instead, I wasted my time talking about writing and the writer’s life to them just like everyone else trying to self-publish. Now I have to build that world while the money clock is running.