Garrett Robinson, is an author and a film director, and one of those rare breed of writers who is making a very good living for himself from his writing. If there are authors out there who are wondering whether or not they can make a living from their writing, this is really an episode you really are going to want to listen to!
Jasper: It’s a particular interest of mine because my mother was an author in the pre-internet days, and my son is now becoming a budding author, so I was really interested to hear your story and find out how you’ve managed to make a success using the online tools that are available today.
Garrett: Let me just start off by saying, mad respect to your mother, because I don’t know that I would have been able to make it in the old world of traditional publishing. I think that at some point in my career, as it exists now, I might be offered a traditional publishing deal but, basically, I came into writing and creating books and publishing books at a very good time for the way I like to work, which is just that I could start creating things, make them available to people, and sort of let the momentum build by itself. You can help it along with certain tools and marketing techniques. It enabled me to put a lot more control over my own career rather than seeking the approval of the industry, as it were, or agents, or publishers, or whatever, which is actually something that’s very near and dear to my heart is that sort of juxtaposition between independent art and the artistic industries.
The traditional route was you got an agent, they sent your manuscript to the publisher, if you were lucky it got read, and then, more often than not, you’d get the rejection letter, and that was basically it, and there’s nowhere else to go. Today it has changed. In some ways, I think it’s changed for the better, and in some ways, I think it’s changed for the worst. One thing that I like is basically that if you can get, to whatever degree, successful on your own, then you can come into the traditional industries, whether it’s book publishers, film studios, record labels, you can come to them in a position of power. If you’ve built your own audience, and whether that’s people who are already reading my books or, say, if I had 5 million followers on Twitter or on Facebook or Google+, you can go to these people and say, “Listen, I already have the audience. Why don’t we just work out a business deal that’s beneficial to both of us?” They like that. Otherwise, you’re just somebody with a book that might be really good, but, honestly, if traditional publishers were only interested in really good books, “Fifty Shades of Grey” wouldn’t exist. It exists because it has an audience, and it had an audience before it was even published. That’s actually an interesting anecdote.
The author of “Fifty Shades of Grey” was a woman who went to a “Twilight” fan fiction website and started writing “Twilight” fan fiction, but making it very erotic, and obviously there was a market for that, and she became so popular on this website, with millions of people reading this fan fiction story that she was writing, that a traditional publisher came to her and said, “Hey, why don’t we publish this as a book? We’ll change all the names. We’ll take out the vampire stuff, but you just keep the story the exact same way that it is, and we’ll publish it.” And it did extremely well. It’s not particularly well written, when you compare it to the literary greats of history, but she had an audience of millions and millions of people and a tremendous marketing team. That’s what they’re more interested in. If you can create your own audience with really, really good art that you feel very passionate about, then you can walk in from a position of power, and that’s fantastic for the artist.
Authors have published their books chapter by chapter on a blog, in serial form, and they’ve built up an audience that way, and then, once they’ve built that audience, the publisher suddenly becomes interested. Often, the argument against that is, well, if you can get it for free, why would anybody want to buy it, but actually people will always want to buy the physical book. People like that are the whole reason why Kickstarter and other sites like that exist. There are people who say, “Hey, I really like this guy.” Maybe they haven’t even read your book, but they are like, “I really like him, and I want to support him or her.” There’s a fantastic writer on Twitter named Ksenia Anske, and she has her books on Amazon and Kobo and iBooks, but then she also has them available for free download on her own website. Anybody can go and get them there, and right underneath there’s a donation button. Her books cost two or three bucks on Amazon. Sometimes she has people download the book and donate $15, you know.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a writer, and I wrote lots of stories set in the worlds of books and games that I played, so I guess you could say that I actually started off writing fan fiction. Soon I progressed and wrote my own stories. Once I graduated high school, I actually ended up in the film world, and I started writing scripts and working on sets, and that’s still my ultimate end goal, but what I discovered was that you are very, very dependent on other people if you’re on crews all the time, if you’re on sets and just being a production assistant or something like that, you’re very dependent on other people, and if you want to become independent, of course, you have to be a screenwriter, or you have to be a director or a producer. I don’t like producing, and nobody wants to hire you as a screenwriter or a director unless you’ve already made money doing it or already have an award-winning film, and it’s the catch-22 where you can’t get jobs until you’ve already succeeded, but how do you succeed if you don’t get the first job?
Then, I was tooling around and not really going anywhere in that, and I had to take nine to five jobs to support my family. I have a wife and three children now. My friend, who wanted to be an author, turned me on to a podcast about self-publishing, and I started listening, and I was struck by how you could just go out there and find your own audience. I started adapting my scripts that I’d already written, my story ideas, into books and self-publishing them, and within five months of doing that, I was suddenly doing it full time. I didn’t need the nine to five job anymore. My book income was supporting me. Now, I’m trying to work up to the level where my books are making me enough money for me, myself, to go adapt them into films. That is now the goal that I’m working toward, but it’s just a matter of continuing to put out the books every single week, every single month, and building that up into its own thing.
You made a great point about turning the passion into the paycheck. When I first got started, I had all kinds of other things going on. I would work on this thing or that thing in order to make some sort of temporary money thing so that we could do whatever we needed to do that month. I found out that once I decided that I wanted to do this thing, and I wanted to do it so passionately, I wanted to write good books and really entertain readers, every time I got off onto doing something else, it always was bad in the long term. It distracted me. I sabotaged myself. Once I decided that I wanted to do it, what was needed was full commitment, 100% commitment, and as soon as I got that commitment down, that’s when things really started taking off.
Probably the most common question I get asked by people who want to do this is “If you’re like a new author, what do you need in the way of an audience, or how do you reach that audience…to give you enough, sort of, income to make it actually pay?” There is actually a fantastic checklist. There’s an Irish author named David Gaughran, who’s fantastic, and he just recently wrote a list of what he would do if he was just starting off today and didn’t already have a career, which he does, and it’s a fantastic list. Basically, it’s write the first book, get your first 10 sales. Do whatever you need to do to get your first 10 sales, because that starts getting you into the algorithms and whatnot, and then you work on getting your first 10 reviews. From there, you build up your email list, you establish your online presence, your blog, your website and everything, and you just go for what your minimum income goal is.
Everybody income goal is different. For one person, it might be they can live on $1,000 a month. For another person, it might be $2,000 or $5,000. If somebody is coming from a very wealthy lifestyle, like, there’s a hybrid author named C.J. Lyons, and hybrid means that she self-publishes some books and publishes other books with a traditional publisher, she came from a medical background, so obviously she and her family were doing very well, and her minimum income requirement was a lot higher than mine. You need to figure out what that number is, and then you only need to establish a rigid production schedule that you stick to and acquire enough fans that that schedule works out to whatever it is. Let’s say you need $2,000 a month as your income. Well, if you can write a book a month, a novel a month, and that book sells for $5, and you get $3.50 of that sale, then all you have to do is divide $2,000 dollars by $3.50, and that’s how many people you need buying your books every month.
The thing is is that it gets better and better and easier and easier with every book. You have to write more than one book. Nobody in self-publishing publishes their first book and immediately becomes an overnight millionaire bestseller. People do become overnight millionaire bestsellers on their 8th book or 9th or 10th or 30th, whatever it is. I’m past 35 now, and I’m still not a millionaire bestseller, even though I’m doing it full time.
Garrett Robinson is a self-made, independent author with more than a million words published across thirty titles. After publishing his first book in December of 2012, within six months Garrett’s books were popular enough for him to quit his job and write full-time.
Since then he has written works in a variety of genres, with far and away the most popular being his Realm Keepers series of Young Adult fantasy novels. He has also released the literary novel Rebel Yell, an indictment of the mainstream industry’s treatment of independent artists that is both witty and thought-provoking.
His most recent project is VlogaNovel, in which he writes books on live streaming web video for his fans to watch. Viewers can contribute names of characters and places, as well as plot points. A new episode of his fantasy serial Nightblade releases every Friday, with an Amazon top 1,000 reviewer leaving it a five star review and the statement, “Robinson appears to have found a heroine with whom his readers can care about and develop a sense of connection. I look forward to reading more of Loren’s story.”
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