Edward W Robertson is the author of Breakers and Meltdown. He also writes at his blog, Failure Ahoy! Edward is one of those rare authors who has his finger on the pulse of the industry. We asked Edward a bunch of questions. Grab a cup of tea, this one is well worth it.
The Ed: Tell us a little about what your reading at the moment.
Edward W Robertson: I’m reading The Righteous, by Michael Wallace. It’s the first in a series of polygamist thrillers. Wait, that’s thrillers about a polygamous sect, not a thriller novel with multiple wives. I don’t read a lot of mystery/suspense stuff, but it’s really good. Setting it among a fundamentalist Mormon group was inspired–not only do you have all this political intrigue between families, but you get a look at a fascinating and, to most of us, quite foreign culture.
Yeah, it’s good. I’ll be grabbing the next book when I’m done.
Your novel, Breakers, follows survivors of an epidemic that wipes out most of the population… and there are aliens. If you were stuck in the world of Breakers, who would you want most by your side, Raymond, Mia or Walt?
The obvious answer here is Walt, because he is very effective and very lucky, but the fact of the matter is he’s way too careless about himself. Travelling with him, I would die every day. I would be a redshirt to his Captain Kirk.
Raymond, meanwhile, is prone to seeing what he wants to see rather than what’s actually in front of him. Too much wishful thinking. So I would definitely go with Mia. She’s pragmatic and smart and would keep us out of danger. Also, given the post-apocalyptic nature of things, I assume Walt and Raymond smell much worse.
You also have a blog, Failure Ahoy! Take us through your writing process. Do you schedule a time for blogging and writing each week, or just follow your muse?
I’m backwards of the stereotype. I blog as the muse strikes me and write fiction on a rigorous schedule. Well, “rigorous” being situational. Sometimes I spend the bulk of the day checking my stats (when there are stats to be had) or seeing how the internet is doing. But fiction is my top priority right now. When I’m writing the first draft, I write six days a week to keep up momentum; when I’m editing, I edit every day; even on my “days off,” I’m usually fooling around with the plot of the next project. I’m young, and trying to reach the point where I’m not afraid of falling off a cliff every day, so that’s what it feels like it takes to not die. Or have to get a real job again, anyway.
You can normally tell when I’ve finished a novel because I suddenly update my blog every other day. Otherwise, I post when something crazy happens, or when I’ve sponged up enough information that I feel like I have something interesting to say (and the current chapter is making me cranky). One’s a career, one’s for fun. That’s the difference.
On Failure Ahoy! you write extensively about review corruption in the wake of the John Locke / Amazon scandal. Moving forward, what would you like to see happen, and how can authors and readers work together to re-create a trustworthy review system?
This situation is virtually impossible. If Amazon clamps down too hard, they run the risk of wrecking the value they’ve created in their review system—compare them to B&N or iTunes or Kobo, for instance, all of which have reviews, but give them far less prominence. But if you leave it totally unpoliced, you run the risk of people losing faith in it.
And so much of it is a gray area. I’ve given Joe Konrath some crap for his stance on the issue (which is sprawling, but basically boils down to “It’s no big deal, and everyone cheats anyway”), but he’s raised some good points about where we draw the line. Is it okay to be reviewed by family? Friends? Hardcore fans who would give you five stars for slapping your name on the phone book? From fellow authors who you may be friends (or enemies!) with? How do you measure bias and how much is too much?
I don’t think there are any concrete answers here. What I would like to see from the stores is policing of obvious and widescale corruption–if you have proof John Locke bought 200 reviews, then you delete those reviews. Otherwise, I would like to see Amazon and others employ a light touch, erring on the side of leaving things alone.
As for authors and readers–well, I think the keys are transparency and listening to your gut. Readers can help by reviewing often, and if they have a pre-existing relationship with the author, it’s probably best to disclose that. There is an obvious difference between your mom reviewing your book under a pseudonym and in leaving a review that says “I’m the author’s mom, and I really liked this book.” One is deceptive, one lets other shoppers know upfront to take the review with a grain of salt.
Personally, however, I would discourage authors from trying to drum up reviews from family and close friends. Even if they’re honest opinions, it’s not going to look good to strangers. If you’re in this for the long haul, you don’t want to do anything that could be mistaken for bad behavior. (That’s why swapping reviews with other authors–even when you genuinely like each other’s books–is a bad idea.) Play it straight. Reviews will come in time.
In your “I’m new to indie publishing” series of articles you advocate giving away as many as 20 000 copies of your eBook as part of a long term publishing strategy. Part of the reason we started Needle is the idea that new technologies breed new ideas. What do you think is a good mindset to have for people looking to embrace self publishing.
Patience, perseverance, flexibility, and a Zen-like immunity to bad reviews, slow sales, setbacks, and the shenanigans of stores, readers, other authors, the weather…
What you need above all else is the determination to keep writing even when there are no outward signs of success or encouragement. But artists have always needed that.
A mindset that is particularly useful to self-publishing is an eagerness to fail. To be stupid. To be a loser. If you are willing to do all these things, that means you are willing to experiment. To abandon old ideas. To try new tactics. To fail until you find the thing that works for you.
I used to hate the sales and marketing end of things. For a full year, I was lucky to sell ten copies of my books per month. But it turned out I just hated my preconceived notions of “marketing”. The idea of dashing across Facebook being all “Hey dudes and lady-dudes, buy my book!” made me want to implode and disappear to another dimension. So when I discovered I could sign up with Select and hide under the bedwhile I gave my book away, and that would help me succeed–well, grabbing that with both hands is what gave me this career.
Then everything changed and I’ve had to adapt again. But adapting is much easier when you understand that, whether you’re doing great or you’re doing terrible, the current success or failure is only temporary. The only way to put yourself in a permanently better position is to write more books and gather more fans.
Everything else is just stuff that won’t matter next year. Don’t get too attached to it.
Lastly… big breakfast, big lunch, or big dinner?
Big dinner. I get extremely lazy after a big meal, so if I eat a big breakfast or lunch, I accomplish nothing for the rest of the day. Unless sitting on the couch playing Mario is an accomplishment in your neck of the woods, in which case let me know where you live so that I can also move there.