SPS-174: From Star Wars to X-Files: How to Master Worldbuilding – with Kevin J. Anderson
In his career as an author, Kevin J. Anderson has basically seen everything. He’s written books based on films, written in the Star Wars and X Files universes, seen the ups and downs, gold rushes and bookstore bankruptcies. Through it all, his defining characteristic has been to keep writing. His consistency over time has created a catalog of over 160 books. Tune in for inspiration and advice aplenty for both newbie and established authors alike.
This week’s highlights include:
- Turning movies into novels
- Losing work as a result of the shift in the publishing landscape in the 2010s
- Writing in a variety of genres and styles, from zombies to space opera to thrillers
- How Kevin deals with writing more that one book at a time
- What world building looks like for Kevin
- Writing using dictation
- The importance of getting the word out about our books, even if we’d rather be writing
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
Transcript of Interview with Kevin J. Anderson
Narrator: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show:
Kevin J. Anderson: I’m a professional fanboy. That’s why I did so well with my Star Wars books and this isn’t like some contract job that I got. It’s you’re letting me play with the Star Wars characters.
Narrator: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers.
So you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success.
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It’s the Self-Publishing Show with James Blatch and Mark Dawson and I’m talking sci fi. Very excitingly I got to speak to an author whose books I was reading many years ago.
Mark Dawson: Enid Blyton?
James Blatch: Believe me, when my I had children I started reading Enid Blyton to them as an adult while I became sick of her. Very quickly indeed. Racist. A bit racist but just twee just benign sweetness that wouldn’t survive wouldn’t survive today writing for children.
It’s terrible slagging off one of the great writers, although my wife I think read a biography of her. She doesn’t come out very well from.
Mark Dawson: Your wife or Enid Blyton?
James Blatch: My wife came up brilliantly from reading the biography but Enid Blyton didn’t come out well. We’re slagging off one of the great authors. Is Enid Blyton the worldwide children’s author in America?
Mark Dawson: That’s a good question. I don’t know. There is a Brexit Ireland was yesterday and it actually is not that far away from why I suspect some of these rabid Brexitiers think. Yes I think we might be heading to in five years time as opposed to something slightly different let’s say.
James Blatch: Let’s not go down a political route. I think we’re losing our prime minister today so we thought we were going to lose it during the week when you and I were having a drink in London but now I think she’s announced she’s going and I for one think it’s time for you to step up.
Mark Dawson: I’m ready. I’ve been keeping a low profile in a Boris Johnson kind of fashion and I think it’s a bad time to announce and that is my candidacy.
James Blatch: Make Britain great again.
Mark Dawson: Yes. This will mean nothing to our American listeners. But we’ve got a couple of potential replacements as one guy called Dominic Raab or Rab or whatever and he’s he has a Twitter campaign gang “ready for Rab”.
And then there’s another one called Sajid Javid and his campaign is “Avid for Javid”. If I get bored today I’m going to look through the list of sitting Conservative MPs and come up with some others. If anyone can think of one to Michael Fabric, which is our favorite name it sounds like an android. Actually what is being claimed it is not so hard that
James Blatch: Fabric is not an Android. He is a quite eccentric.
Our local MP is called Jonathan Djaongly.
Mark Dawson: Wobbly for Djanogly?
James Blatch: I’m not sure what is. What he’s trying to project so I don’t think he’s going to be running anyway so that’s all exciting.
Politics is crazy these days. We talk a lot about fiction and non-fiction. It’s really difficult in real life now. The edges blur. But we are very much in the fiction realms.
I’m very much in science fiction in particular today and we’re talking to the great Kevin J. Anderson So I’m going to talk about him a bit more in a moment but before then let’s pick up on a couple of things that are floating around.
One is Mark that you have. I think we’ve probably come to the end of the survey phase of us exploring the idea of doing the self-publishing show live in 2020. What are the results? Can we go over to my glamorous assistant?
Mark Dawson: We’ve had nearly a thousand responses. Now we’ll just have another hundred responses and it’s there’s definitely an appetite for a conference in London.
Over 50 percent of those people said that they would come and a good number, at almost another 500, said that they would be interested then in watching a nicely produced replay. So that was interesting.
Lots of responses on speakers that he would like to see. Very flattering. I think I was probably the winner. Not that surprising given that an e-mail came from me. Tom Hanks, Jeff Bezos, Seth Godin would be a good one. Donald Trump may maybe a little bit tricky. So anyway, there’s definitely some appetite for that.
I had a very busy day in London on Wednesday for which he joined me for the tail end of it and one of the meetings I had was with Amazon and we are still probing whether it’s something that we might be able to do together.
They seem quite keen. So we are looking into it. I think if we do it with Amazon I know we mentioned that it might be ninety-nine pounds to come. If we do it with Amazon I think it might be quite a lot less than that. Potentially even nothing. So we will see. I mean if it’s nothing then we will fill in about 10 minutes.
James Blatch: We’re going to very carefully make sure that our tribe listened to the show.
So if you are listening to this show and you intend to come I would just keep quiet about it for now. Don’t post it on any other forums outside of SPF. We want our people because otherwise you know the moment opens we have to time that as well what we love to be. This would be like a Dire Straits concert which got sold out in seconds.
Mark Dawson: Dire Straits concert. Do they sell out in seconds?
It’s all the old folk winding up. Where did you go on Wednesday, James?
James Blatch: I went to see Dire Straits was not from dire straits.
As you know because I saw it the next day. I turned up on the wrong night like some confused old man, sent round to the box office at the Royal Albert Hall where a wonderful woman called Sam looked at me with pity and gave me a front seat in what was basically the royal box.
Mark Dawson: Here’s another one Dora.
James Blatch: Exactly. All right. Come this way. Come on love.
Don’t get on old people remember happened last time but here I am. I am the only person who can do technology
Mark Dawson: That’s true.
James Blatch: Okay, look it’ll go quiet on Self-Publishing Show LIve for a little bit while we do some work in the background and then we’ll make an announcement. And give you plenty of time hopefully to get ready to slack snaffle up those tickets.
I have an announcement.
Mark Dawson: Do you really?
James Blatch: I really do. I know you’re wary of this. I have finished my draft of my book. It’s the third draft but the final draft in the sense that this is the one that’s going to be revised and published and I feel very confident about that.
Mark Dawson: What do you want? A pat on the back? I’ve finished three this year.
James Blatch: I want to adoration.
Mark Dawson: It’s definitely a milestone but you’re not anywhere near finished yet. So there’s a lot more work to do.
James Blatch: Thanks for the pep talk. I had a long conversation with Jenny Nash who’s the sort of supervising editor of the editor that I’ve been using.
And Jenny is very kindly going to hold my hand through the revision process with a view to us producing revision material for the SPF audience that’s going to take we’re not sure what form that’s going to take. Probably a webinar.
She’s got one or two very distinct and easy-to-teach methodologies for revising and she’s packaging those up so we’re going to find a way of doing that. They’ll be really good webinars, I promise you. Or podcast episodes. Not sure about that.
And then we have a little announcement coming up later in the year, potentially a joint venture with Jenny with some course material so stay tuned for that.
But yes I’m pleased. It has been for me has been finding that editorial professional support to get me over the line to get me thinking about the book in a much more structured way. Identifying earlier whether it works or doesn’t, so that when I start writing I write it with confidence I did not have when I was just sat by myself, marching in the dark.
Mark Dawson: Tell our listeners how many words is.
James Blatch: It’s a shortish novel if you look at the saga genre. It’s one hundred ninety three thousand words I think at the moment.
Mark Dawson: I see George R. R. Blatch is…
James Blatch: Yeah. I take about as long to write my books as he does. I’ll happily live with that comparison by the way.
Mark Dawson: Yes. Have you got any dragons or dogfights with dragons?
James Blatch: There might be. I think there’s one mention of a Dragon Rapide, which was a beautiful 1930s a very early airliner, which was my own father’s very first experience of flying round the Isle of Wight and Dragon appeared obviously as a young boy getting up I am flying.
I’ve given it to my neighbor to read. It’s being read by somebody who reads a lot of Ken Follett and stuff like that and I’ll get a feedback from him.
It feels like it’s happening now I’m into the revision process. This week I have been polishing the first 30 pages.
Now I’ve got a question for you. I was going to post this in the group actually. If anyone knows the answer how long is look inside element.
How do they calculate how much they put in the look inside?
Mark Dawson: I can’t remember exactly. I think it is a percentage. Which is probably capped. I don’t know the answer to that one. I’d have to look that up. I have a feeling it is a percentage of the book. No need to obsess about that
James Blatch: Jenny wants to see, effectively, what would be the Look Inside as her first read of the actual words.
We are also going through structure at the moment but that’s about thirty nine pages is my first chapter but then my book is quite long. Okay that’s the question for you.
So yes I’m enjoying the revision. I don’t know how you get on with it but it’s just easy for me to have something you’re working on than to have a blank page in front of you where you’re creating it.
Mark Dawson: It’s my favorite part of the process. I’m doing it now. Just about finishing off the new page Beatrix Rose book. It’s being copyedited. It was proofread last night. My beta readers have been through and I’ve still got a few filtering through that I’m still looking and taking those into account.
My favorite one and this is quite funny. I have a scene or quite a few scenes set in Hong Kong in this book. One of the characters is the deputy chief of station in the CIA’s Consulate General in Hong Kong and one of my beta readers used to run that office in Hong Kong.
And he’s also persnickety, would probably be the right word. He’s very thorough and he doesn’t like when I get things wrong. Obviously, I’ve given him an absolute banquet this time so he’s gone through and said no, they wouldn’t say things like that. There wouldn’t be a vending machine because that’s bad for operational security. Fair point. There’s not a waiting room there and of course that means nothing most readers. I don’t know. I don’t care.
I kind of do care to an extent. It’s one of these things you’ll discover when you start getting into it as you’ll get people picking up small details that in an ideal world you would probably change but you have to balance the effort of making those changes with the benefit that will accrue to the reader when they’re reading. And if it’s like most readers would like I have no idea. I wouldn’t even know the answer to that question. I wouldn’t know that that was wrong.
It’s probably best in terms of how much time it takes just to kind of skim over those other things. I had a scene about getting a passport for a character basically getting one without going through official channels and my reader was almost angry with me.
You have to fill out these forms. And I’m like Well I don’t actually believe you. I’m pretty sure you think you could that they could be found anywhere. He was very helpful.
And it’s just in the same way an editor they send over to you some while ago is extremely brusque well-meaning but it doesn’t pull punches and this guy is just the same.
I’m very grateful for the work he’s done. He’s going into loads and loads of detail, which is very generous of him. I don’t think he’s bothered particularly about offending my sensibilities, which is quite lucky because I’ve got thick skin now.
James Blatch: It’s a judgment call isn’t it, about whether it’s something that a very small number of people would notice. And I already know the kind of audience my book might get which is sort of former RAF people they are going to be all over it.
Mark Dawson: I was talking to a policeman the other day about Line of Duty, which is a big show in the UK. I don’t know whether it shows in the US but it’s on BBC America probably would be. It’s a big show. One of the biggest on the BBC and the police.
Most police I’m aware of enjoy watching it even though they know it’s preposterous. It’s quite clever.
I do something similar. If you drown your narrative with lots of official and authentic sounding language or you lace it with authentic language throughout you can persuade an audience member that he doesn’t know that to the same degree that it’s kosher. And you can get away with more that way you’re distracting.
Now, of course, the police officer who lives and breathes this stuff will be like there is no such thing as that, and this would never happen, that procedure would get you sacked. All of that kind of stuff. But at the end the day it’s fun entertainment and I think most readers regardless of what they do for a living can switch off and just enjoy the ride.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I think that’s the key, is that you need to make that call. I think I’ve mentioned this before. Silent Witness, which is another big UK of crime drama series and it’s based around the forensic pathologist. I used to work as a BBC reporter and the forensic pathologist was a very learned guy. A very studious guy and he would turn up at these grisly scenes and spend a couple of days or may probably a day or go off again and then you wouldn’t hear anything from him and then he turned up in court and he presented this stuff in such a brilliantly academic, objective way.
And he would always caveat things. And then you watch Silent Witness and it’s just like this maverick version of how that works with this forensic pathologist busting into houses and going out and solving the crime. I always wonder what he would think in the evening whether he would think this is fun, I’m enjoying it. Or whether he just would not watch it.
Mark Dawson: Probably and also if you think about if you portrayed it as it put as it really is.
“Goddammit! This form needs to be signed in triplicate. I can’t find the third person.” And this is your cliffhanger. You can’t do that.
James Blatch: No. Having said that, you can’t have an aircraft at 30000 feet over Lake Mead when it’s supposed to be landing at McCarran Vegas.
Mark Dawson: Oh I see. It’s like that, is it? Don’t get me started yet. This is like shooting fish in a barrel for me James.
James Blatch: That was your first novel, wasn’t it?
Mark Dawson: That was my first novel yes. How many novels have you published?
James Blatch: Right. Let’s welcome our Patreon supporters.
We’ve got an excellent new crop of Patreon supporters who’ve been to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow
They are Chris Thompson from Ohio in the United States of America. Thank you Chris. Paulina Sierr. John Howard. Possibly the former Australian Prime Minister. I’m not sure.
Stacey Cuffe. Dena Jo Khanna and Fuzzy Moose.
Mark Dawson: Fuzzy Moose? Is that a made up name.
James Blatch: It’s absolutely not a made up name. It’s a real name.
Kevin J. Anderson. I know his name because I used to read I think Timothy Zorn and Kevin J. Anderson did a lot of Star Wars commissioned writing in the universe. I used to read those books. I started with Timothy and moved on to Kevin and Kevin is a big hero in the science fiction world.
I think you bumped into him on the beach in Bali did you not?
Mark Dawson: I did. I met Kevin in Bali and we got chatting and he’s an interesting guy. We saw him in the lift, actually, in his shorts with a dictation machine going out for a walk and he was going to dictate a few chapters.
I think he came back and said I just had a nice walk and wrote 3000 words. That’s pretty impressive. I can’t do that yet. I need to be tethered to my desk when I’m dictating.
James Blatch: You can’t walk and talk?
Mark Dawson: I struggle with doing more than one thing at once. Kevin is able to multitask so he probably was a woman at some point in his life.
James Blatch: Let’s hear from Kevin Anderson.
Welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. A science fiction and a little bit more legend in the world of publishing. I’ve got so much to talk to you about. I’m so excited to have you on the podcast.
Kevin J. Anderson: Legends are blown out of proportion so I’m just a normal guy that writes a whole ton of books a whole time enjoy it.
James Blatch: And that’s one of the things we’re going to talk about; the volume. I know something you said to me before the podcast that you want to keep yourself relevant. You work hard at that. You work hard at not just sitting on a back catalogue and I want to talk to you about how you do it and what your next move is as well.
But let’s recap your career a little bit. We should say we only have an hour. We are talking about knocking on a hundred.
You must be as close to 100 books.
Kevin J. Anderson: Oh no I’m at 160. I did eleven last year alone. A lot of them was our story collection though.
I come from a time when you are vilified if you did more than one book a year because you were a hack you couldn’t possibly be putting in the time. And that of course is ridiculous and now there are many of these indie authors that just blow me out of the water and I go, Man I thought five books a year was rocking it and you guys are doing 18 books in 12 months.
I mean not everybody of course, but one of the other big things is that I got trained to what people wanted when I was writing things and what they wanted was these giant two hundred thousand word doorstop novels and that’s it’s completely shifted now. It’s gone back to faster, shorter books. But I’m getting ahead of the whole discussion. We’ve barely even started. Well I’m off and running.
James Blatch: Let’s talk about your start, Kevin. Where did writing start for you?
Kevin J. Anderson: When I was five years old and I saw the film The War Of The Worlds and I thought, I want to write stuff like that. And that’s really sad because I’m five years old and I don’t know how to write yet.
So I drew pictures and I would tell stories and from that point on I mean this isn’t a new thing for me I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five and I bought my first typewriter when I was 10.
People might not know what that was. It was kind of like a laptop that when the power goes out. But I published my first story in a magazine when I was 12 years old and my first novel when I was 25. I am now 56 and I have published 160 novels and I have 23 million copies in print in 30 languages and I run my own publishing house.
And quite literally, just Friday I was approved and I am the professor and director of an entire program for a Master of Arts degree, a graduate degree in publishing at a Colorado university. Because I had so much free time.
James Blatch: I did notice that some university additions you posted the other day. Where do you find the time?
Kevin J. Anderson: I don’t know but I don’t want to get bored. Well there’s a couple of different things that go back in the 90s when my career really started taking off.
People were throwing projects at me, and this is when media time books were very very popular there. There was a Star Trek book that came out every month and I was offered the X Files. I was one of only three writers that wrote X Files novels.
I got my big start writing Star Wars novels and then there was also a movie novelization which you don’t see them that much anymore. But it used to be that there was a paperback novel of almost every film that was released in the theaters and there was just constant work that you could do that.
They wanted people to do it quickly because you’d get the script didn’t and you had maybe six weeks to turn in a finished novel. I learned how to be fast. But I learned how to be fast for a second reason because I wanted to keep writing this. The media tie and jobs the Star Wars and X Files. I worked for DC Comics and I worked for Dark Horse Comics and wrote comic scripts as well, but I never ever wanted to give up writing my own original fiction.
And if I was going to squeeze in my own original fiction that meant I had to learn how to do that fast too because you can’t shut everything else off for a year to write your novel in a year or so.
Even in my most prolific days I never ever had a year right where I didn’t publish at least one novel that was original every year.
James Blatch: I wouldn’t ask a couple of questions about the movie tie-in fiction festival. I think it’s a shame that they don’t do the tie-in novels as much anymore and the reason I say that because I think probably the first what felt to me like a grown-up novel I read was Star Wars by George Lucas, which is the paperback and I’ve got it on my shelf over there.
I was 10 years old. It had a few extra scenes in it on Tattoine. I can still remember and because I’ve seen the film that led me to the book. 10 year old boys, it can be quite difficult to get them reading. Maybe not for you, Kevin.
You probably were a big reader at that age.
Kevin J. Anderson: I was a huge reader but getting everybody to do something other than play video games or watch TV or watch movies. It’s all entertainment of course and there are people that write the movies and write the video games but you want them to be reading books.
I thought that and because of my work in the Star Wars universe particularly I met lots of readers who came up to me to say that that my books were the first ones that they ever read or that I got them into reading and they never enjoyed reading before but they wanted to read the further adventures of Luke Skywalker and so they got they got the books in it. It’s a great service.
But for your audience more on this end, it was really a lot of stable work for a lot of writers. There was so much work to do. You could get a publishing contract if you were one of the people that they knew. Once you proved yourself, that you were reliable and easy to work with and you turned in good work and you did it on deadline, you could pick up the phone and say I’ve got a month free, do you have a star trek book for me? Or do you have a movie tie in book for me?
2010 was about when the indie publishing movement started to started to blossom. And it’s kind of like the Wild West and going crazy and we’re learning as fast as we can every single year. And what worked last year doesn’t necessarily work this year and it’s very unstable and unpredictable.
By being plugged into the media tie-in books, as a freelance writer, I never felt that I was going to have a hard time finding work because anytime I had time I could just get another job. And I had enough money saved in the bank that I could spend a few months writing one of my own original novels.
But all of that went away. That’s what it’s like if you owned a chain of video rental stores all of a sudden poof they’re gone. For established writers like me, that had a good solid career going, all of a sudden we found ourselves a little bit at loose ends. Wait a second. I can’t count on work next year. I’m the sort of person that’s unemployable. I’ve been a freelance writer for so long I can’t get a job working at a at a bank or something like that. I didn’t even know how to go to a regular job.
James Blatch: Why did those books go away? Let’s talk about Star Wars for a second, because I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek and I remember reading Alan Dean Fosters’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which confused me when it came out because you had the whole George Lucas story. And then there was suddenly this book by somebody else and I wondered if it was official. Is this the real thing? And then I read the Timothy Zahn.
And Kevin I’m pretty certain I read some of your books back in the day.
Kevin J. Anderson: You probably did. We did quite a lot of them and Tim and I, our books came out at about the same time.
There’s a lot of things at play here. One of the main reasons of for the media tie-in books, the movie novelization, is the one I’m trying to think just some. I rarely go to the movie theater so I’m trying to think of some new movie that just came out.
But there would always be the paperback book of it. But the paperback market itself has really dwindled because all these places like grocery stores and gas stations and bus stops that used to have a wall full of paperback books unfortunately found that they could make more money, more profit, by selling diapers in the same space. So books dwindled more and more.
And even here, one of our giant chains, Borders, was more heavily focused on genre fiction. They did more science fiction, mystery, romance than their competitor Barnes and Noble and so when Borders went out of business a disproportionately large part of the bookshelf space for genre fiction went away. And just the entire paperback field kind of went away.
Hardcovers and trade paperbacks, because they made such a narrow profit margin on these paperback books they just didn’t make enough money writing a novelization. Jennifer Lawrence, Red Sparrow, which was out I think last summer. So that’s just sort of went away.
So this was like blue-collar workers when all the factories in town got closed down. And so all of us that could always count on just going into work, suddenly that that entire market went away.
And then e-books, the Kindle was 2009, 2010, something like that. That came out and suddenly e-books started taking off. But the big publishers frankly didn’t know what to do with e-books. And a lot of them were just kind of ridiculous, they were pricing e-books at fifteen dollars or even more.
My wife had a Palm Pilot and a lot of people might not remember a Palm Pilot but it was like it was a PDA, a personal data system. There was no letter to the system so I think there’s something like that. And she bought one of the first e-books on that. So she got to download. She could read it on her little Palm Pilot, which is like a like a big iPhone with a cover on it. And she was reading it and she thought how cool it was.
When I found out she paid twenty-eight dollars for what was effectively an e-mail I thought how is this ever going to take off this is stupid. When I buy a book for 28 dollars I actually have a book and I’m holding it and when I’m done I can put it on my shelf like a trophy if I’m going to do an e-book. It’s more of a disposable thing. I want to read it and not look at it again. But if I have to pay 28 dollars for it well I’m not going to do that I’m going to buy the print book.
I think that’s what’s going on.
James Blatch: I noticed the other day, I bought my military history book and it’s one of these big one that it was like 15 quid for the book and 17 quid for the e-book that makes no sense.
I can only imagine that they’re trying to keep the physical book going by overpricing the e-books.
Kevin J. Anderson: That doesn’t make any sense to me because it’s a different person who buys the big heavy thing and the person who puts it on their iPhone or the Kindle or whatever.
But the flip side of that is because the traditional publishers charge too much for their e-books, then when indie writers came in and charged vastly less. Two dollars three dollars whatever that they would charge a lot of readers would go I could buy seven Indy books for the price of one traditionally published book. And some of them might be garbage but if you’re a reader that just goes through a book a week or two books a week who can afford twenty dollars or thirty dollars or whatever for an e-book.
So that’s one of the ways that indie publishers, indie authors, just jumped in and gobbled up the readers because they were offering a good story for a lower price and they could do it quickly.
James Blatch: You had a cracking job to write those in genre film universe books and I guess a little bit of a predecessor. It was like official fan fiction, commissioned within rights.
Maybe fanfiction the e-book version of that, which is outside the rights and nobody should make money from it, has taken over from that role that you and Tim and people were doing?
Kevin J. Anderson: They’re still doing them. There are still Star Wars novels.
When I started, it was with the license was with Bantam Books and then the second publisher that got the Star Wars license was Del Ray books. And so when they got the license they wanted to give the projects to their authors and so they kind of brushed the first generation aside.
Then Random House that owns Bantam then bought Del Rey books and then they got Star Wars back. But now Disney of course has bought it all.
Long story short that it’s been different people own Star Wars and now the ones who have the Star Wars license for publishing they have their own people that they want to hand things to.
But my Star Wars stuff was in the 90s and early 2000s. You asked me how I find time to do everything. It’s not like I’m sitting around looking at my fingernails and hoping that they call me for a book. I would love to be considered.
But I’ve got the Dune novels with Brian Herbert. My own saga of Seven Sons and I’ve got three books right now that I’m working on that’ll be coming out this calendar year from two from traditional tour books big in hardcover. And I’ve got an audible original that’s sort of a serial killer thriller so I’m just finishing that now. I’ve got another epic fantasy that I have to turn in by June which I haven’t really started outlining yet so I’m hoping my editors aren’t listening to this podcast.
Plus at Edward Fire Press we publish about five books a month. Right now I’ve had three military science fiction novellas that I’ve published at various times and so now I’m collecting those three novellas which is just enough to make one single book that I have very cleverly titled Three Military S.F. novellas, which I’m putting together right now they’ve all been proofed. I will I’ll take the electronic files I’ll run them through Vellum and I’ll create the omnibus e-book.
And we’re going to do a print edition of it because now it’s long enough to do a print edition whereas you don’t do that with the 15000 word novella and I’m getting the cover designed. We’re publishing Alan Dean Foster’s new book since you just mentioned his name we’re publishing a new book by Alan Dean Foster and I’m the art director some designing his cover.
I sent him a draft over the weekend and Alan wrote me this morning to say that the character needs to be changed in this way and different outfits and I’ve got to go back and work with the artist and in my spare time.
James Blatch: Such various things you’re writing and I’m wondering what the common threads are. You write with a lot of other people. You have your own series as well. And I’m just looking through your back catalogue on the screen here.
Is there a common thread to the stories you write. Is there a common theme somewhere or do you enjoy the variety and you throw something out there each time?
Kevin J. Anderson: I enjoy the variety but the common thread to me is that they’re good stories.
I read widely. I would read science fiction and fantasy and mysteries and historical and so to me they’re all just good stories and good books. There’s a different mindset between writing a big space opera science fiction or writing epic historical fantasy or writing a modern day thriller. But they’re still all interesting characters.
I love very complex plots. Most of my stuff is kind of like Game of Thrones with the zillion storylines and everything’s all coming together. I just I love plotting those because it’s almost like choreographing this big complex musical number. I’m the common thread through all of those.
James Blatch: Is it that these are stories that Kevin would like to read?
Kevin J. Anderson: Yeah
James Blatch: And that’s always a good start isn’t it. I’m wondering if someone said, okay you can only work on one series from now on, what would it be?
Would it be one of your own series or would it be a collaboration. Is that something you enjoy more?
Kevin J. Anderson: Only one series is really tough because I’ve done I think 15 Dune novels with Brian Herbert and he’s one of my very best friends and we love working together. But we’ve done 15 novels and so we’ve actually taken a break for a year or two and we’re working on other aspects of the Dune universe but we might we might go back to that one.
I really, really love these two steampunk fantasy adventures that I wrote with Neil Peart, the drummer from Rush. That’s Clockwork Angels, and Clockwork Lives, and those are the ones that I pressed to my heart. I just love those books more than anything else. But I can’t write 20 more books in that universe. That’s the story we wanted to tell.
And there probably is one more and we’ve been discussing it for almost two years now. We just can’t match our writing schedules. And the one that I really adore a lot is my Dan shambles zombie P.I. that’s kind of slapstick comedy and goofy comedy. He’s a zombie detective and he solves crimes with vampires and ghosts and mummies and it’s just you know puns and pratfalls and kind of like the Spaceballs version of Star Wars.
James Blatch: Spaceballs is a great film in its own right.
Kevin J. Anderson: Right. So those are fun but the way I write so much I think is that I do switch gears. I do the funny Dan Shamble book and then you do this really horrible serious vampire serial killer novel called Steak and then I do a gigantic epic fantasy or space opera and then I’m ready for a break. So I can do a stupid Dan Shamble book again.
In fact, just this morning I was driving down to the Apple store because my iPhone needed to be fixed. The charger wasn’t working. And on the drive down I have my little digital recorder that I have in the car and I outlined a whole short story on the drive down, because I’ve been commissioned to contribute a certain a story to an anthology of sequels to the movie The Thing. I’ve been doing my research re watching the movie. Well it’s not to the movie as to the original story Who Goes There by John W. Campbell.
I’ve been watching the versions of The Thing. I read the Who Goes There novella. I was thinking so what do I do as a sequel? On the drive down to the Apple store, I outlined the short story, and I will probably write it tomorrow and be done with it.
James Blatch: And that will be written by you or you had a part with somebody with that?
Kevin J. Anderson: No, just me. What I’ll do is, I will go out with the recorder that I just showed and I will probably walk for a couple of hours and I’ll dictate I’m guessing like a 4000 word short story.
And then I send the audio file to my typist who transcribes it and sends me back a word document. Then I’ll edit that a couple of times and submit it.
James Blatch: At any one time, do you have many books overlapping? Because the process of proofing and revising.
Or do you stop and start one project?
Kevin J. Anderson: I have many things that are overlapping just because there are many different steps.
Writing a novel there’s many different steps between… well among the reasons it’s a big epic historical fantasy so I’ve got to research everything and then I’ve got to develop the characters and do the worldbuilding. And then I have to plot it and I’m a plotter. I outline everything very detailed. Then I write the outline and then I write the first draft and then I do the first major edit and then I polish it a couple of times before it gets turned into the publisher.
They’ll copyedit it and then I’ll proofread the typesetting and then I’ll have to do promotion. So there’s however many steps that was a dozen different steps that.
Some of those are fun. I enjoy doing the plotting and the world building and some of those are abhorrent. I hate doing the proofreading and I hate doing the first edit. The hardest part is doing the first edit because I did the fun part when I wrote it and now I’ve got to fix it so that it’s as good as it gets. As good on the paper as it was in my head. And that sometimes takes a lot of work.
By having a lot of overlapping projects I’m not facing a week’s worth of really really boring stuff so I can I can alternate I can do outlining of one book and then switch over to an hour of dreadfully boring proofreading and then I go back to doing maybe research on sailing ships for something and just constantly switch. You know like the annoying person who sits on the sofa with the channel changer for the television and just keeps surfing through channels. That’s kind of what I do with my projects. I have all these different projects and they’re at different stages and if I just had to do something start to finish over the course of a year to write a book I I think I would just get very stalled and very very bored.
James Blatch: Tell me about the world building stage. That’s not necessarily a stage that everybody does. What does that actually entail?
Kevin J. Anderson: Well it’s funny because just the last four days I was running this giant writing conference called the Superstars Writing Seminar and that’s our tenth anniversary of that and we had 200 attendees this year.
There’s a craft day and business stuff. And I did a three-hour workshop on world building and I’ve actually written a book called world building and that’s a good question.
I’ve mapped out that there are a lot of steps. I used to work for a gaming company, where I had to write the world building background of these fantasy worlds that other gamers would read my background and set their games into that world.
And that taught me how to just from scratch if you’re going to be making up something you have to think about the geography and the society and the politics and the religion and the arts and the sciences. Society itself there’s so many different layers.
How are women treated? How are our old people treated? As useless leeches on society or are they treated as the purveyors of wisdom and they are revered? How do they treat their kids and do they offer education to everybody and what kind of communication is there? Do they have a military? Is it a mercenary army or is everybody drafted and has to serve? Is it a volunteer army, where you can’t go in it or not go in it? What kind of weapons do they have?
If you’re talking about a fantasy world, do they have gunpowder or not? Because that’s kind of a game changer and makes a whole lot of difference if you’re medieval.
If in Game of Thrones suddenly somebody invented gunpowder and they had cannons that would change the entire world.
What kind of climate do they have? Because climate has a real effect throughout everything. If you’re in a hot and humid place with bugs you dress differently, your clothes are different from if you were an Aboriginal up near the North Pole or Alaska or something like that. They have the furs and they cover themselves up because they’ve got to stay warm. That’s not your problem at all if you’re on a tropical island in Bali where all you gotta do is dunk in the ocean because it’s so hot all the time.
The Inuit have 20 different words for snow because that’s part of their life. And I think the nomadic desert tribes in the Sahara have dozens of words for different kinds of sand and wind and drifts.
You just start asking these questions and filling in the blanks and describing them. And that really builds your world and when building the world it gives you story ideas. If I start asking and answering these questions about a nomadic desert culture, it starts to lead to well then what character can I use to demonstrate this aspect of it or it might spark an idea for a storyline.
James Blatch: I guess it’s also important for consistency if you’re going to write a series for me.
Famously, George R.R. Martin does sometimes become a bit confused about his own world he’s created.
Kevin J. Anderson: Yeah well and the Saga of Seven Sons was seven novels and then I did a prequel and then I did a connecting book and then I did a follow-up trilogy then I did a graphic novel.
That’s a big universe that I’ve developed and I’m may well like to go back and do some other stories in there. But I was terrible. I should have been much more obsessive about keeping a journal or a bible so that every time I would introduce something that I would fill it out. By the time I realized I needed something like that the job was just too enormous for me to even tackle.
If somebody comes up with a terrible contradiction then what you say is, Hey, I’m glad you caught that. That’s an answer that will appear at a later book and you figure out some way to write a story that explains it.
James Blatch: Do you recommend this as a technique for people who are not writing fantasy? So even if they’re set in either today or maybe a period 60s or 70s or something is it still a useful step to work out the universe that your particular characters live in?
Kevin J. Anderson: It’s always helpful to have some documented thing to know if that if you said the character had brown eyes and one chapter in green eyes and another chapter then you don’t make that mistake and even just like family and friend connections or how old were they when they graduated from university or something like that it’s. It all depends if you’re going to do a series with 20 books that would be a good thing to have.
If you’re just writing one sixty thousand word novel that’s a that’s a one off you probably don’t need something like that.
It just depends on how obsessive you want to be. My problem all the way through, even in university, I was just terrible at taking notes. I could listen with my full attention but I hated to take notes.
And so now that I’m writing a Saga of Seven Sons, which altogether is I think it’s over a million words long and that’s a lot of things to keep track of. I really wish I had set up some kind of a formalized bible.
We’ve done 15 Dune novels set over a timespan of something like something like 40000 years. That’s a lot of time. And we’ll get a letter about it. Wait, in this book that was set 10000 years before Dune you mentioned this fact. But then in a later book that was set fifteen thousand years after Dune you made this minor contradiction in chronology.
I remember I got that letter at the same time when in the real world Russia was invading the Ukraine. And if you listen to one news network, they said Russia’s invading Ukraine. And you listened to a different news network and they said, nope, no Russians here, nothing’s happening go away.
We can’t even figure out what’s happening in our own world right now today. So if you’re a fan saying, well wait a minute he got this detail wrong over the course of a thirty thousand year time span, come on. Reality is not quite that specific even in our regular timeframe.
James Blatch: Have you written much or anything that’s not fantastical? Not got a fantasy element?
Kevin J. Anderson: I’ve written some pretty straight out thrillers, but not a lot of them. And usually, my straight thrillers often have some kind of a Twilight Zone twist or something to it. I’ve written a few things that were pretty much just straight historical but I’m really more interested in something that invokes a sense of wonder or a sense of the fantastic.
I live in the normal everyday world so I don’t want to write in the normal everyday world.
James Blatch: Does H.G. Wells still stand as the spark for you. It was the film version rather than the book, wasn’t it?
Kevin J. Anderson: It was the film because I was five years old I wasn’t reading anything although I did when I did learn how to read I got a copy of the War of the Worlds and I worked my way through it and then I read the Time Machine. I read a whole bunch of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. I think I was 11 years old when I read Frank Herbert’s Dune.
I loved Ray Bradbury’s fiction. I went through book after book of all of Ray Bradbury short stories. I really got into the whole Edgar Rice Burrows, John Carter of Mars series when I was eleven or twelve. I read a lot of Edgar Rice Burrows. I loved Andre Norton.
I did read a lot of Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. But Ray Bradbury was the one. The Sound of Thunder has destroyed time travel stories for me for the rest of my life. Everybody should know a Sound of Thunder. You have to go read it. It’s like a seven-page story.
It talks about how if you go back in time and you change even the tiniest thing, like if you kill a butterfly that has a ripple effect throughout all of history and you’ll change things.
Now when I watch a movie or something where our modern day time travelers go back to ancient Rome and they interact with people and they kill people and they muck around I’m going, you’re totally changing history by doing that because if you kill some guard in a coliseum, well then you’ve killed all future generations that this guy might have had and it just keeps cascading outward.
Read the story. Ray Bradbury explains it a whole lot better than I can.
James Blatch: That’s a concept that’s brilliantly done as well on an episode of the Orville which is that Seth MacFarlane show.
The second in command has a very brief interaction with a young girl on this planet, which grows several hundred years every eleven days and you see in hundreds of generations the dramatic impact on the planet from hat one interaction. That’s obviously inspired by the butterfly effect.
Anyway, here we are. We are interacting a little bit about science fiction. Let’s move on a little bit to the writing process and you’ve hinted at this already that you do dictation.
Is that for everything? Would you sit down at a keyboard quite often as well?
Kevin J. Anderson: I’ve pretty much trained myself to do almost all of my original writing by dictating. I’m a natural storyteller and that’s how I like to express myself. That’s how I like to get the ideas down.
I spend enough time at the keyboard doing editing and staring at the words that way. And we talked before we started recording. I live in Colorado right in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and I’m within easy driving distance of thousands of miles of trails through the mountains and waterfalls and deep forests and canyons and I love to hike. I love being outside.
I can go off to Rocky Mountain National Park and hike all day long and I will get, I don’t know, ten thousand words dictated. To me that’s just my the best writing office in the world.
It keeps me exercised in and shape and just writing while you’re out in the middle of the forest and hearing the wind and smelling the leaves and watching the rushing water. It’s \ recharges my creative batteries and I can add more details to what I’m writing.
I’ve written quite a few chapters in my Dune novels while hiking in Death Valley, which is a very bleak, wild beautiful but bleak and hot desert out here in the southwestern United States. I really think that just by being outside and I write better.
And then, of course, I’m chained to the keyboard to do e-mails and interviews and podcasts. I’m not really chained but I’m sitting here. There’s enough that I have to deal with my butt in the chair in front of the computer monitor that if I can do my other work while being away from it then I prefer that.
James Blatch: What an absolutely lovely way to write books.
Ten thousand years ago the Kevin J Anderson was the person sitting around the campfire telling the story.
Kevin J. Anderson: In fact, I teach a lot of writing workshops and some of the people are well I just can’t dictate it. It’s much more natural for me to be writing on the keyboard and I often call bullshit on that. When they say it’s natural on the keyboard and they’ve tried dictating for a few minutes and they just don’t get the hang of it.
First off I go, you didn’t sit down at a keyboard and type 70 words a minute. The first two days you typed, you had to learn how to do it and so it’s a learning process. But the whole natural thing when people say that it’s more natural to be typing.
When you’re typing, think about that: you think a sentence in your head and your brain breaks that sentence down into individual words and those words get broken down into individual letters that make up the words and then your brain sends nerve impulses to your fingers to move around and this randomly arranged keyboard to reproduce the letters that reproduce the words that reproduce the sentence that you had in your head.
Whereas if you’re dictating, you think of the sentence and it just comes out your mouth. So there’s far fewer steps in between the process and of course I know a lot of people that don’t have any filter that they just think of things that comes right out their mouth and that’s a bad thing.
That’s why I like to be hiking because I can be moving I’m in my own zone. I’m in my fictional world and I’m just creating things. I’m walking along and I’m having space battles I’m having romantic arguments, I’m having character development or writing a dragon whatever happens to be on the docket for that day.
James Blatch: How often do you come across confused looking other walkers when they hear you?
Kevin J. Anderson: I used to quite a lot because I was the only one doing it, but now everybody’s got some bluetooth headphone and or an earpiece in and walking along and talking to yourself is not as strange as it used to be.
James Blatch: How different is the final draft from your first dictation?
Kevin J. Anderson: Nowadays, very little. It’s just strictly cleaning up grammar and things but what I find when I’m dictating is that I’ll put in a lot of unnecessary words or I might repeat things because I’ve been hiking for a while and I forgot that I mentioned that the person’s wearing a parka of grizzly bear fur or something like that. I’ll remember that’s in my head as a detail of the character. And then later on in the chapter I’ll add the same detail because I forgot that I had already put it in there.
So that’s what my editing is. It’s cleaning up but it’s not rewriting. You can just listen to my audiotapes of me dictating and. It’s pretty much like me reading aloud.
James Blatch: You don’t do your own audiobooks presumably or do you?
Kevin J. Anderson: I’ve done a couple of them. And I mean I’m a very good reader out loud. That’s not the right way of saying it but I’m good at it. I’m a consumer of audiobooks too. I’m always listening to some book on my headphones or when I work out in the gym I’ve always got a book going.
But it gets back to one of your original questions of where do I find the time and recording an audiobook is not all that lucrative. If as an author if I go in and record it, that’s days in the studio and I could be a more effective use of my time if I was just writing new things.
But I also like to add cool stuff onto my resume. So having professionally produced audiobooks that I’ve read, I’ve done it before and some of the stuff that I’ve worked on has been nominated for some audio awards and things, so I could I can always do that.
But one of the things that I do like to hold is because I’m dictating my work because I’m going out and I’m recording conversations, I’ll have a conversation between me and you are a fictionalized version of it and I’m dictating it my audiobook. Narrators, the professional ones, have gone out of their way to come to me and say that reading my audiobooks are easier than almost anything else just because I’m dictating it in the first place. I’m not typing a sentence that no human mouth would ever speak.
The words that I’m saying in a sentence are naturally words that a person could say. One of my narrators showed me an example. It was a military thriller or something and there were like seven words with the letter S in a row. That was extremely difficult to narrate. But reading down the page you don’t notice anything like that. And I’ve been complimented that my prose is very easy to read aloud just because I’m dictating it in the first place.
James Blatch: Let’s just talk about the commercial operation then, Kevin, because you run your writing as a career, as a business. You’ve got a publishing house, as you say.
In terms of your how you approach that, do you look at targets for the year that you’re going to do. Are you turning over what you want to do or are you looking to increase and expand?
Kevin J. Anderson: It’s a lot more reactive than proactive because I’m a hybrid author. I still get a lot of traditional publishing contracts and that changes every year. Some years I might get three really big contracts and the next year I won’t get any. So then I have to pump up my indie publishing.
It gets bigger. I mean the promotion gets harder. The social media work gets more exhausting. I’ve got a newsletter. I’ve got a Facebook page. I’ve got a Twitter feed. I’ve got a blog. I don’t think I’ve updated in a month or two. There’s just so much.
I do a lot of public speaking. I do podcasts like this. So it’s a full-time job just trying to make people aware of the work that I’m doing and the books that I’ve got coming out.
Part of me is old fashioned and I would like to spend my time writing but if that’s all I do then nobody will know about the books that I write and nobody will read them so that I don’t get to spend my time writing anymore.
The publishing operation pretty much started in 2010 when I started reissuing my own books because I had a lot of backlist titles that the fans wanted. This was very early, like gold rush days, for putting your own books up on Kindle.
A lot of people had Kindles but there weren’t that many titles out there. And so I put some of my old books up there and wow within six months to a year they made me back as much money and e-book royalties as I got paid for them as paperback originals in the first place. That’s not that big of a deal because they didn’t get paid much for them in the first place.
James Blatch: I read those books.
You had inherited the copyright you got the copyright back.
Kevin J. Anderson: They’re my own. My first novel had been out of print for 10 years. And people would find them in used bookstores and things but when my first novel came out it was my first novel nobody knew who I was. But now I’ve got millions of fans and Star Wars followers and X Files fans. And then my own Saga of Seven Sons readers and the Clockwork Angels readers.
They would go back and they’d look up my list of published works and they go man, I would like to read Kevin’s first novel Resurrection Inc, but I can’t find it anywhere. And so I could put it up. My newsletter has more subscribers than my first novel sold.
I’m reissuing my own book and I send it out to my newsletter and you get a bunch of those to pick up a copy because they’ve been wanting it and they didn’t know where to go with it.
And so we kind of became converts right away and we started publishing as many of my titles as we could. And because I’ve been a traditional author for a long time, I have a lot of traditional author friends and they were also wanting to get on the e-book bandwagon because they saw other people being successful at it. They all had books on their backlist but they didn’t want to learn how to do it. So they just offered me their books.
I got a bunch of Frank Herbert books. I got a bunch of Jodi Lynn Nye and Alan Dean Foster and Mike Resnick and Robert Lynn. These are our friends that are Hannah’s authors that had a lot of books and they just wanted to have them reissued.
My publishing house accidentally expanded that way because everybody started giving me books. And again this was kind of gold rush days you put the books up and they would sell. And we had a lot of books so even if they didn’t make that much money, I had a lot of books that made a little bit of money, so that started adding up.
And then people started sending me original books and they were e-books at first and then we learned how to do print-on-demand books. This year we’re expanding fairly heavily into doing hardcover editions of everything just because they look cool.
The writers want to have a hardcover of their books and it’s not that much extra work once you learn how to do it. The hard part, which my wife tries to kill me for twice a year, is doing the royalty statements and divesting all of the money because as an indie author if you’re just doing your own stuff you can just cash the checks and put the money in your bank account.
But we have 94 different authors and when you have to break up through three hundred and twenty some royalty statements among 94 different authors and keeping track of how much money this title earned for this author and then issuing all the checks, that’s far more complicated than plotting a seven book space opera series.
James Blatch: You employ people, Kevin, you have some assistance.
Kevin J. Anderson: We’ve got some assistance. The accountant is a contractor and we have a cover designer who’s a contract we have. I have an assistant and we have some people helping us with Amazon ads. There’s so much more to do all the time.
Of course, the more employees that I get that’s more employees that I have to manage. And then that takes up a bunch of time.
I don’t know how I do it either, it’s just all day every day but I love doing it. I don’t want to grouse about it. I’m doing what I love, I’m writing stories and publishing books.
At WordFire press we published four never before published novels by Frank Herbert and Frank Herbert the author of Dune, he’s one of my favorite authors in the world and he passed away in 1986. But these are books that had never been published before by one of my favorite authors and I’m publishing them. Amazing. There are times where I just go this is really cool.
And so I’ve got to keep doing it.
James Blatch: By the way, I should know this, but Brian Herbert is Frank’s son?
Kevin J. Anderson: Yes, Brian Herbert is Frank’s son.
And he and Frank, father and son, wrote Frank Herbert’s last published novel. It is a collaboration with his son. They were talking about doing more do novels together when Frank got pancreatic cancer and he died fairly quickly after the diagnosis.
So we had many notes from the Dune novels and we had an outline of the last one he wanted to do and we’ve built up our own spinoff novels about other periods in the history.
I’m a professional fanboy. That’s why I did so well with my Star Wars books and this isn’t like some contract job that I got. It’s you’re letting me play with the Star Wars characters or you mean I get to write X Files episodes that are in paperback form?
Or I got to write Batman and Superman and I got to work with the drummer from Rush, which is one of my very favorite bands ever. I did that movie novelization for the movie called Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which was this charming pulp adventure with robots taking over Manhattan and an evil scientist on a deserted island.
I saw the movie trailer for it and when the publisher came approached me and said Kevin would you like to write this novel? They showed me the movie trailer and I just went nuts. This is everything perfectly up my alley.
Then I had to sign like NDA and all kinds of agreements and they gave me the script and the movie didn’t live up to its potential. It wasn’t as good as that. The trailer looked okay but there’s still a fanboy part of me that I’m reading this movie script and I’m seeing clips from the movie that isn’t gonna be out for six more months and it’s part of the secret club almost and that’s fun.
James Blatch: It’s fantastic. And your position now is getting traditional deals and self-publishing. What do you prefer?
Commercially, is self-publishing more lucrative for you or because your own name, do you get good profitable deals from the industry?
Kevin J. Anderson: It literally depends on what the deal is.
It’s a roller coaster every single year. I might get a really big contract one year and then I won’t get anything for several years.
I’ll be honest. I like traditional publishing. My favorite is they give you a million dollar advance and you write the book and hand it in and you don’t do anything else. That, to me, that’s the best way of doing it. But that just doesn’t happen anymore.
Personally, I am in a position that if a publishing house offers me a book for say fifteen thousand dollars or twenty thousand dollars you really have to juggle and go, do I think this is going to be a lot of work?
And it’s for fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, would I do better if I just wrote the book myself and published it and hoped to earn more than fifteen or twenty thousand dollars and my own royalties? Because as an indie author, I keep all the money instead of just 10 percent of the money or whatever the publisher’s royalty rate is.
On the other hand, that depends on your own financial circumstances because you might really need to have a twenty thousand dollar check to pay off some bills. And as an indie book it might take you years and years to earn that much money.
So you’ve got to really look at your own situation and you’ve got to pay attention to traditional publishing and bookselling because it changes. I’m not being doom and gloom but there’s a lot of grumblings over here in the US that Barnes and Noble are the only remaining gigantic nationwide bookstore chain. They may be in financial trouble. I don’t know. I haven’t looked at their they’re statements that are coming out sometime soon.
But what if that bookstore chain went bankrupt the way that Borders did and there is no big change to that the whole rest of the bookselling operation across the country? It’s just a whole bunch of little independent bookstores. Are there enough bookshelves for a traditional publisher to sell enough books to warrant paying an author a million dollar advance? If you could follow that chain of logic.
Because if they’re not paying you a significant advance and you could do it yourself and keep all the money, maybe that’s the way you want to do it. But on the other hand, and this is what I often spend time talking to my vehement and vocal indie authors about. If I sell a book to Tour books, which I often do, I just turn in the manuscript they pay for the content editing, the developmental editing. They pay for the copyediting. They pay for the proofing and they pay for the cover design. They pay for the printing. They pay for the fulfillment and they pay for the advertising and distribution.
That’s the reason I only get 10 percent instead of 70 percent. Because they do all that extra work.
Now you’ve got to decide for yourself, is that better for me or is being the person wearing all the hats better for me?
Anybody who tells you there’s a definite answer is crazy. You have to make up your own mind. I happen to like doing both.
If it’s a project that I feel is more appropriate for WordFire press I’ll publish it that way. If it’s something that I feel I can get a significant enough advance for and major review coverage and publicity and, well, I don’t like book signing tours, but maybe a book signing tour or something like that, then I might go traditional on it.
It’s a decision that you have to make. And like I just said WordFire press, I spent the past year and a half putting together all of my published short fiction. Well most of my published short fiction. So that was either lost or some of it didn’t deserve to ever be republished again.
But I just released a four-volume collection of my selected short stories. So this is like a half a million words of short stories in four different volumes and WordFire did that.
Random House would never do that collection. And I wanted to have control over it because these are my short stories and I designed the covers and I did the layout myself. But I also have a big epic fantasy called Spider the Dragon that comes out from Tour Books in June. That’s a big fat doorstop with a gorgeous cover. In fact it’s up for preorder on Amazon so this spine is of the dragon. It’s a great cover.
I feel that they can do that better than I could. So you got to decide. There is no clear cut answer. Obvously because I just rambled for 20 minutes. There is no clear answer.
James Blatch: No but what comes out of that is that you are so well-placed, Kevin, because you’re right, there will be changes. And it seems to me that the proper transformation traditional publishing is being put off by the industry doing some clever maneuvering but they can’t keep it up forever.
There’s going to be an upheaval and how well-placed you are. You’re sitting there, you’re agile. I think is probably what the corporate business people say you personify that agility, that ability just to chop and change and do it the best way without being stuck to some dogma.
Kevin J. Anderson: Well and that’s why I’m exhausted all the time.
I’ll be grumpy. Like I said I’m 56. I didn’t want to have to relearn my industry every single year. I thought I should have it set and I was really well set maybe 10 or 15 years ago.
And then you’re basically a bunch of dinosaurs looking up and there’s an asteroid coming and it’s like do I want to be a dinosaur or do I want to be a mammal? I would prefer to be a mammal so I’m working at trying to be nimble and staying up front and doing what I need to do.
James Blatch: Trying to be a mammal. I think is probably a good place to leave it. We’re knocking on an hour. It’s gone like that. I found some of the Star Wars books that I read as a fanboy of yours Kevin.
Kevin J. Anderson: You did read them didn’t you?
James Blatch: I did read them and I think I read pretty much all the Tim Zahn’s. I recognize the covers now. I consume a lot of Star Wars stuff back then and I loved it.
And what was fascinating of course is that there was a long gap before the first prequel came out. And so I thought that having read all these amazing stories the development of Han and Leia and Luke and then the prequels, you sat there and think, Why didn’t you pay attention to some of the books that were written by these brilliant minds who could come up with fantastic stories?
Because clearly none of those were quite good enough about it anyway. I could go on. Let’s not go there.
Kevin, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you for coming on. I think maybe you bumped into Mark in Bali. Is that right?
Kevin J. Anderson: Yeah. That’s probably why I’m here on the podcast because we hung out together and there was a 20 Books to 50K conference in Bali, where you flying halfway around the world to talk about things that I mean you’re sitting in a tropical paradise talking about Amazon ads and Kindle rockets and Book Bub and keywords and sales rankings and Facebook ads.
Mark gave a talk and I gave a talk and he asked if I could be on the podcast tonight and I said I’d love to.
I want to close this because we’re maybe 45 people that had come to this conference and these are probably the most intense and active indie authors that are just studying how to get better and they’re really motivated.
And I’m soaking up this information like a firehose is blasting at me. And there’s so much advice and so much going on. And the most important thing that I learned that the entire conference came from the towel guy at the pool. He’s an Indonesian gentleman and he’s there handing out towels to anyone who comes along. And again, this is after days and days of intensive indie marketing and indie publishing. I’d seen it every day and I go up to him and he hands me a towel and he’s just beaming and smiling.
I joked at him, I said, oh look at you, you’re smiling again. And he got serious and he says it is important that you smile because when you smile on your face, you smile in your heart and that’s what’s good for your soul.
I went, Wow. That’s the best thing I’ve learned all week long. I’ll just end it with that.
James Blatch: Perfect Kevin. Thank you so much indeed for joining us. Thank you.
Okay there is Kevin J. Anderson. He’s in an interesting position and that very successful traditional career. Very switched on. Worked out that indie is the route to go and the ultimate is he said in the interview he would be quite happy if all he was doing was just sitting there writing and somebody else was looking after everything for him. And he’s not the only person who kind of does it reluctantly, but he does it well.
Mark Dawson: He does. Yes. Before anyone says anything I have decorators.
James Blatch: What is happening?
Mark Dawson: I’ve got the decorators in. They are working on the doors outside my office and you may need to cut this a little bit.
James Blatch: We’ve got about two minutes left on our recording run here anyway so let’s wrap it up.
It was a huge thrill to have Kevin on. It was fortuitous that you met him in Bali. He’s a big fan of yours and what you’re doing with Self-Publishing Formula and we’re a big fan of his.
I had a little fanboy moment talking to him, which was brilliant.
Great to have a big name on the podcast. A bigger name than Mark Dawson.
Mark thank you very much indeed for joining us this week. Lots of good stuff to come over the coming weeks. Have a quick look at the old schedule I’ve been doing loads of interviews recently.
We do have a mini-series that we should just talk about very briefly so first week of June we’re going to release a mini-series on Amazon ads, Facebook ads, and BookBub ads.
Those three episodes will go out one after another in the first week of June to bring everybody up to date with those advertising platforms. What’s working and what’s not.
Excellent superb. Have a great week. That is a good bye from me and it’s good bye from him.
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