Becca Mills, author of Nolander, talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Like many writers, I remember writing little stories when I was a kid and showing them to my parents, absurdly proud of what I’d produced. Then I grew up and became a college professor, so I’ve spent most of my adult life producing academic writing — challenging and enjoyable, but very different. Writing my first novel brought me back to that wonderful feeling I remember from childhood: the satisfaction of producing a world out of your own mind. It’s just terrific.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Tolkien. I’m not writing epic fantasy, but Tolkien has nevertheless profoundly influenced how I pursue fantasy world-building. Here’s how: let’s say you and I are talking about something, and I randomly mention World War II. I wouldn’t stop and say, “Now, as you know, World War II was …” and go on to explain that piece of history. I don’t need to, because you and I both know about that event. It’s part of the shared history of our world, so everyone already knows about it. Giving a fantasy world that feeling of shared and therefore not explicitly described history is a big part of what makes it feel real. Tolkien absolutely excelled at this technique; in fact, so far as I know, he’s the one who created it as a self-aware approach to world-building. This approach is what generates the profound sense of loss that underlies the victory at the end of LoTR: Middle Earth is ending, and the age of humanity is beginning. That world, which felt so deep and real, is fading away, and you’ll never really have the chance to know it, because you’re human, and that history, which has been so tantalizingly alluded to, doesn’t belong to you. Tolkien’s seminal essay “On Fairy Stories” is the place to go if you want to learn more about this technique. It’s a profound insight, just amazing.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
Since I have a “day job” and two little kids, I pretty much try to write whenever I can. Sometimes I get a big block of hours and sometimes just a few minutes here and there. What seems to be important is that I write at least a little each day. If I skip days, it seems more difficult to get back into the swing of things. I think that’s pretty standard advice, when it comes to writing: putting “the butt in the chair” is what produces books.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
No. I really wasn’t interested in attempting the traditional route. I’m sure it works well for many authors, but I thought it sounded sort of horrible — the rejection, the lack of control. It was really the advent of indie as a viable option that made me think, Hey, I maybe I could write a book.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
My goals are pretty simple: 1) write books that people, including me, enjoy and 2) keep trying to introduce my books to new readers. There’s so much random chance in this business that I’ve decided to focus on goals that seem within my own power to achieve.
How have you marketed your book(s)? Have you used social media (Twitter, Facebook etc)? Have you paid for any advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads etc)? And how did it go?
I haven’t done any paid advertising, since I’ve heard from other indie authors that the returns are uncertain. For now, I’d rather put any extra money into the books themselves. I do have a blog and am on Shelfari, Goodreads, and Twitter, but the latter platforms are fairly low-key as marketing tools, and the blog is more my attempt to give back to the indie community through book reviews, writing tips, and so forth.
Have you signed up for KDP Select? If you have, how has it gone for you? Do you think free promotions are helping with your paid sales? If you haven’t signed up, why not? Are you worried about the exclusivity clause?
Nolander is enrolled in KDP Select, and so far that program been my most powerful marketing tool. The exclusivity clause didn’t bother me because, as an overwhelmed first-time self-publisher, I’d planned on just getting the book up on Amazon initially and worrying about other retail platforms later, once I’d figured out what I was doing. When I discovered there would actually be a benefit to having the book available through Amazon alone, I was delighted.
Whether Select will turn out to be a boon for me in the long-term remains unknowable, but so far it seems to be helping. When my book was first available, I did a one-day free promo, giving away about 750 books. That upped sales a little bit for a week or so and, more importantly, helped me get a few reviews. About six weeks later, I did a longer and more successful promo, giving away about 18,000 books. That promo has upped sales for a longer period. Plus, it generated more reviews, pushed Nolander up Amazon’s contemporary fantasy popularity list, and connected my book to a number of more popular books through Amazon’s “also bought” recommendations system. Given the “audience” the Amazon site commands, these results could end up being quite productive. While my sales are still modest, they’re still markedly higher than they were before that second promo.
I do, in general, think giving books away is a great marketing technique. As indie phenom J. A. Konrath has said on a number of occasions, the very best advertisement for your writing is your writing.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
I think it’s probably healthy that Amazon no longer has a 90% share of the market, despite the fact that, in my view, they won that huge market share fair and square. Amazon has been responsive to authors and readers. It’s also been delightfully innovative. I’d like to see enough competitive pressure applied to the company to encourage those terrific traits to continue.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
I’m working on the second book in the Emanations series right now and hope to have it out by the end of the summer.