Matt Williams, author of Jak Phoenix, had a chance to speak with independent author Brian S. Pratt, who was kind enough to answer a few questions. For those of you who don’t know him, he is probably the most successful independent author ever, with thousands upon thousands of books sold without the help of a major publisher. If you’re an author or a fantasy reader, enjoy the interview below!
MW: Tell us a little bit about yourself:
BSP: I’m just a regular guy whose imagination tends to run amuck now and again. I am a veteran (Air Force), drove taxi, managed a Pizza Hut and even taught teens to drive for a couple years. Nothing in my history would indicate here’s a guy who is going to write a bunch of books. Of course, anyone who knew me from when I was 12 until now would know that a book is never far from my hand. I read all the time, less so now that I’m writing. I live in the country and prefer peace and quiet.
Could you give us a quick overview of the Morcyth Saga?
It’s seven books long, never been edited, written in the present tense, and has sold well over 50,000 copies. A rather unbelievable achievement given that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing when I started. Had I known then what I know now, I never would have written it in present tense. Some people just can’t get over that.
The Morcyth Saga is about a teen who is into role playing and likes to read fantasy novels. He goes for a job, ends up in another world where magic works, and then discovers that his experiences from role playing and reading are going to come in rather handy. The way I figured it, if someone is going to pull someone from our world into another where they want him to do something, become a magic user or the like, then wouldn’t it stand to reason you would want a candidate who was already inclined toward those respects? Make them more likely to believe it’s real and take to it quicker. Thus, James was born.
How about a quick overview of the Broken Key series?
The Broken Key Trilogy is like a role playing adventure. Dungeon delving, treasure hunting, traps, scrolls, potions, etc. It’s filled with excitement and humor. The main characters are-Riyan, who is the shepherd and daydreams about being an adventurer; Chad, who is a miller’s son and hates the family business; Bart, the resident ne’er do well who’s past has given him skills honest citizens shouldn’t possess; and Kevik, a magic user apprentice barely on the path of magic. Lots of action.
Where did your inspiration come from when you began writing?
Mainstream writers were letting me down. Books taking forever to come out. When they did, they were boring. Wheel of Time is a prime example. First several books were some of the finest fantasy every written. Then it bogged down with a myriad of sub-plots, characters, and finally reached a point where a scorecard was necessary in order to keep track of it all. The main characters were hardly seen, maybe 20 pages in a 700 page novel. At some point I wouldn’t be surprised if the phrase”braid pulling” won’t be used to describe such novels.
I figured I could do better. So I set out to write a story in which you followed the main characters almost exclusively, trimmed the descriptives down to a minimum, and had action or something interesting in every chapter. From the response I’ve had, it seems there are many who like those kinds of stories.
What is your main goal when writing?
Be consistent, keep the story moving briskly with exciting things happening all the time. I like the “Rule of Three.” Have three plots going on at any one time. Most times, only the main one is visible while others are going on behind the scenes, encroaching upon the action every now and then. Then at the end, you pull it all together. Sometimes, there’s a “Oh yeah, that makes sense now” kind of feeling.
I also like to throw in random stuff too that are what I call “plot seeds.” Plot seeds are actions or occurrences that I can draw on later when I need to figure out how something came to be. Doing so also makes you as the writer appear clever, when in fact you don’t know what you’re doing half the time.
How in god’s name do you write so much?
Just write. I can write 1600 words an hour, but tend to do more around 1000. If you write 1,000 words a day, that’s 365,000 words a year and my books range around 120,000 words. So that is 3 books a year on just an hour a day. If writing is a priority, then write. The nemeses of any writer are the excuses we come up with as to why we can’t write. And let me tell you, it’s a battle daily to overcome them.
Do you ever look back and wish you could change anything about your earlier work?
Not really. I am doing well now, and to go back and change anything would altar the path I took to get here. Pull one string and it may all come unraveled. It was a struggle, still is for the most part, but I am content.
What is the best piece of advice you have for new authors?
Write. Write some more. Then write a little bit more. Set a goal and stick to it. If you are happy with what you are producing, do not allow the naysayers to tarnish your joy with poison. I say poison because bad reviews are just like that to a writer’s confidence. You begin doubting yourself, second-guessing what you are doing, and when you sit at the computer to type, and fail to do so. I went through this more times than I care to recall. If you want to know what kind of reviews might be in your future, check out The Unsuspecting Mage on Amazon, both US and UK. You are unlikely to ever get worse reviews than what has been posted there. Yet, my books sell, and sell well despite reviews. I don’t put much stock in them anymore. If you’re a writer, then write. When one book is out, start the next. Don’t wait to see if you are a success before starting another. Either you enjoy what you are doing, or you don’t. If not, find something else to do.
What do you think has made you one of the most successful independent authors?
Perseverance. An unwillingness to give in to the chorus (and at times thundering chorus) of those saying my books are horrible, that I’m a hack, that I will never make it. Plus, I kept on writing. I knew that at some point, my books would catch on. When they did, I wanted to have a bunch ready to sell. And I did…now I do.
Are you writing full time now?
Yep. Don’t have any other job. Though writing full time is a bit misleading. I don’t write nearly as much as I used to. It’s difficult sometimes to find the time. After all, there are a lot of demands on my time in regards to my past work, this interview is a good example of that. I love it though and wouldn’t give it up even if I could get additional books out. (don’t tell my readers though, they’re clamoring for me to get on with the next one, he says whispering while his eye dart to and fro to see if he was overheard). I do find time to write daily, if not thousands of words. Then there is editing, reader emails, checking sales, and a hundred other things. Plus, I live alone so along with all this, I cook, clean, play with the dog and of course video games. Love empire building ones.
What are you enjoying best about being independent versus writing for a “traditional” publisher?
No schedules, no demands, and the sense of pride that it was all due to me and me alone. However, I do have a Hollywood Producer shopping The Morcyth Saga around to traditional publishers. He says that if we had the backing of one of them, it would be easier to sell it to a studio. Not sure about that. I’ll be scrutinizing any deal closely before I sign. I like doing it myself.
Where do you see the publishing industry in the next few years?
The Indies are here to stay. Check any online (eBook/Kindle) bestselling list and you’ll see that Indies are up there with the powerhouse authors of traditional publishers. If publishers want to compete, they are going to have to rework their model.
I believe in the near future, traditional publishers will have a whole new way of handling new authors. The best way to test the profitability of new authors is with eBooks. Instead of trying to get new authors into bookstores (which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars), they should instead distribute them as eBooks (start up costs for this would be negligible compared to the return) for a year or two. Then, if their market value proves itself, proceed to books. If not, release them and take on another. Publishers will only be out only the cost of editing. Back in 2005 when I began the less than satisfying and downright hope-destroying “submitting/query letter” process, I would have jumped at that.
When an Indie can write a story, have it formatted for Kindle through Amazon.com, and then all other eBook formats at Smashwords.com for nothing, and then have it available to the world, what do they need with a publisher? Publish your book on those two sites and the first sale is profit. Then like in my above example, if they do well at eBooks, publish their work on LSI (Lightningsource.com) for $87, and have paperbacks available worldwide.
Tell us about your latest work:
There are several in progress, actually. I have about 5 books in different stages of completion. My next book to be completed will be book 2 of Travail of The Dark Mage which is the follow-up series to The Morcyth Saga. After that, probably do another in the Adventurer Guild series. I also have ideas for several other series’ that I have yet to start. But if I publish the first book of another series before I get Travail of The Dark Mage completed, some of my readers have vowed to tar and feather me. J
What is next for you?
Movie deal for The Morcyth Saga. Not sure when, or even if, but one Hollywood producer has a fire in the belly to see it happen. Actually, this is the first place I’ve ever mentioned this outside of a few fan emails. So your readers are getting an exclusive as it were. The Morcyth Saga is being translated into Icelandic. Not a big market for sure, but a second language is going to be cool. And who knows where that might lead. I may have it translated into Spanish next, but that probably won’t start until 2012 at the absolute earliest.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A bit of advice, take it as you will. – If you want to make it big, rely less on the self-publishing companies like iUniverse, Lulu, Publish America, and the others. They are in it to sell the unsuspecting author a bunch of packages they don’t need. They set the price of their books too high, and lay all the work promoting the book (and the cost) to the author. 95% of my sales are eBooks. If I didn’t have paperbacks, my pocketbook wouldn’t even notice.
Do it yourself. I’m always here to offer help and advice as best I can. Feel free to email me with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
About email… Get one that readers can use to contact you. Post it everywhere your book is listed, if it is allowed. At the very least have it at the beginning of every eBook and on the back of every paperback. I have many steadfast, loyal readers who spread the word because I replied back in a friendly, personable manner. Also, turn off spam filters for that email address. Yes, you get a lot of junk mail, but that is a small price to pay to not miss a reader email. A year after I published my first book, I happened to check my spam folder and found a reader email. Angry is a mild understatement to describe how I felt. It was a month old and days away from being deleted. How many others had sent me emails only to have been ignored? For that is what they will feel if you don’t respond. Now it’s set to off and I get a couple a day. Answering them is the highlight of my day.
My website has lots of information for Indies www.briansprattbooks.com.
My above responses contain about 2000 words and only took me an hour and a half (going back and editing took another half hour). Like I said, writing isn’t hard, it’s just finding the time and inclination to do it. Best of luck to you all and remember, we Indies are all in this together!
A very special thanks goes out to Brian!
Brian’s book are also available on Smashwords!