Spotlight 012: Russell Nohelty
Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet in the authors are all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions, five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.
My name is Tom Ashford and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your Self-Publishing Resource Kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week’s guest is Russell Nohelty. He’s written about a dozen books and graphic novels in the fantasy genre and he lives in LA. Welcome, Russell.
Russell Nohelty: Thank you for having me.
Tom Ashford: How are you doing?
Russell Nohelty: Besides being very hot, I am very good.
Tom Ashford: We were just discussing off-mic the comparable heat between LA and London at the moment. And if you can hear a sort of buzzing in the background, like a light hum, it’s probably my computer fan and hopefully, it will not crash during the course of this interview.
So, apologies if we can’t get rid of it in post-production.
Russell, would you like to start by talking about your books and graphic novels before we dive into the questions?
Russell Nohelty: Sure. Most of the books that I write are fantasy, specifically dark fantasy, a little bit of sci-fi, but my most popular graphic novel is called Katrina Hates the Dead. It’s about a girl who gets sick of living during the apocalypse so she sets out to Hell the kill the devil.
I started actually moving from graphic novels to novels by novelizing that book. So it became Katrina Hates the Apocalypse as a novel and then I added two sequels.
The second book is Katrina Sets Out to Kill the Greek Gods and a third book is The Titans. And then from there, we expanded, we call it the God’s Verse, out to four books now.
So, one takes a minor character in the Katrina books and makes her own character in the Lobdell Chronicles. And then I have a couple more coming out later this year. One with a character named Julia Freeman that takes place right before in the 1970s and it takes place in Colorado.
It’s about a woman who finds out that she’s a pixie and has to stop a cult from using her blood to open a portal to Hell. Then there’s another character from my second graphic novel called Akta from a book called Pixie Dust, which is about a pixie who’s back from the dead to serve revenge on the king that killed her. And then that was novelized in a book called Betrayed. And then that series is going to be coming out in Omnibus later this year, as well.
Tom Ashford: Sounds great. So to jump into question one, because my follow-up is a little bit connected to that:
Why do you write? And I guess that would be extended to why did you want to move into graphic novels and novels? Why the decision to go into both fields?
Russell Nohelty: Well, I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to be a showrunner and a movie writer, and that didn’t work out so well, so far. I’m a very visual person, so my first manager introduced me to graphic novels.
Again, I’d write comics as a kid, but don’t do superheroes, and that’s what I told him. And he handed me a big stack of independent graphic novels, things like a Halloween and Y: The Last Man. And so like, “Just read these and then please never make that insulting comment about comics being only superheroes again.” And so I read them and I fell in love with comics, and I started writing comics.
Comics take a long time to produce. Most of our comics take at least two years. So while we were producing them, I started writing novels. And my first novel was called Gumshoes: The Case of Madison’s Father.
It’s actually a novelization of one of my teleplays. It’s sort of like CSI meets Encyclopedia Brown. And from there, I novelized another one of my screenplays, and then I was off to the races. I fell in love with novel writing too. So that’s a little bit of the beginning journey.
I would like to say I write because I just love the written word, but it’s truly because it’s a compulsion at this point. So I can’t not write. When I don’t write I get jittery, like an addict. And so the only way to flush all of the anxiety and all of the neuroses out of me is to continue to write.
And I mean, I do love writing, obviously, that’s my passion. I’ve written tons of books, but I mostly write to get everything out and to have the people read it, not so much the process of writing itself.
Tom Ashford: And in terms of your graphic novels, I’m assuming that they’re more on the traditional published side in that sense.
Russell Nohelty: Actually, I started my company Wannabe Press to publish our first graphic novel, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter. And so all three of our, there’s four of our graphic novels have come out through my own press and not through a traditional company.
Tom Ashford: Wow. And the novels you’ve written, are they self-published as well?
Russell Nohelty: They are.
Tom Ashford: Okay, cool. So question number two is how do you write?
Are you the sort of person that plots out every single story or do you come up with an idea and then just let the story take you to its natural conclusion?
Russell Nohelty: I used to be a pantser when I first started, but back then it would take me a year to write a book. I started plotting two and a half years ago from a post that I saw on a website called Ghostwoods about how to write a novel in a weekend. And I just followed that template.
I sort of made it my own. And now I have a beat sheet of what happens every thousand words. But I allow myself to go off-script as long as I hit the major beats. So every five to 10,000 words, I have it bolded in my outline, and I have to hit that. But, how I get to that 5,000 words while I have a rough idea, I often go off the rails.
Tom Ashford: I normally ask whether someone uses things like Scrivener or Word for their novels.
In terms of creating a graphic novel, a self-publishing graphic novel, what sort of software do you need for that?
Russell Nohelty: So I use Word to write my scripts, and then I send it off to an artist and I communicate with them through Skype and Facebook Messenger. And they use a combination of InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop, which is what I then use to manipulate the files afterwards, as well. And then we compile everything through Photoshop, and then I send it to my printer.
So it’s actually fewer things than people expect, but it just takes a very long time. While I can write 5,000 words a day, an artist can draw maybe one page a day. Usually, artists have two, three projects happening at a time, so that expands the workload. And so I’ve never had a project that took less than 18 months as a graphic novel, whereas once I start plotting, I can write a book in two to three weeks.
Tom Ashford: In terms of your sort of writing time, is there a particular time and place that you prefer writing?
Russell Nohelty: Oh, absolutely. I have a pretty strict schedule, especially when I’m writing or doing editing. I get up at 6:00, from 7:00 to about 8:30 I do office work. So part of the publishing side business is I have to answer all sorts of emails. And even as a writer, I have to answer emails from a lot of people every day.
And then from 9:00 to about 2:00, but no later than 3:00, I try and bang out words or I’m editing. So I try to write 5,000 words a day in 1,000-word blocks. And then when I’m editing, so that’s 5,000 words are writing a day, and 20,000 words editing a day during that time.
Then after five, six hours of writing, I have to take a break. So from 3:00 to 5:00, I have my own sort of deep think time. I go on walks, maybe I take a nap, and I have lunch during that time.
Then from 5:00 to 7:00, I’m either cleaning up what I wrote that day or I’m doing more office work. So I have a pretty strict schedule in that sense and it really helps me stay on track.
Tom Ashford: Question three is, are you a full-time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
Russell Nohelty: I’m a full-time creative professional, but I don’t make all of my living from writing. So I also own a website called The Complete Creative, which helps creatives build a better business. I help people build mailing lists, and do advertising, and other things.
Plus, I run a publishing company, so I publish other people’s work. And then, I’m also a writer and graphic novelist. I also own a Verizon dealership, which makes up about 10% of what I make, as well.
So I don’t have a job, but I don’t make a full-time living only as a writer. And that’s because as I was starting to do this, I left my job in 2015 to do this full-time, June of 2015, and I just had to have a bunch of stuff going on in order to functionally make it work. So my publishing company was publishing other people’s works.
And my Verizon dealership was doing a lot of my business at the time and sustaining my ability to live. And then it wasn’t until 2017 where I started making a really good living on my graphic novels and novels. And by that time, I still had all of those other kinds of functions in my business. So I wasn’t going to just let them go away because they were making me money, so I kept them. But most of my time is spent writing.
I also make a large portion of my living at conventions. I just did San Diego Comic-Con. A week ago, I did Denver, Phoenix, I do about 20 to 30 conventions and that’s where I sell most of our books.
And then on Kickstarter, we also do about 30 to $50,000 a year through running Kickstarter campaigns. And between all of those pieces, I have a functional business that returns a six-figure income a year.
Tom Ashford: Okay. Well, that sounds like you can count yourself as a full-time author at that point, between all of it, a full-time freelancer.
Russell Nohelty: Yeah, I mean, I consider myself a full-time author. But I don’t make all of my money going to Amazon and pulling money from there through publishers. But I don’t do anything else except write. And then I have other people manage a lot of my and publish other people’s stuff.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is, what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Russell Nohelty: All of them. I made all of the mistakes. So what I got wrong was being too unfocused at the beginning of my career.
When I started, I was doing a whole bunch of genres. So I did sci-fi, fantasy, mystery. I did YA. I did adult, did graphic novels. I did a nonfiction book. And while all of those helped, they also prevented me from burning through to one genre and being known for that thing.
The best that it happened was I happened to have two graphic novels that were both sort of dark fantasy, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter was my psychological thriller, dark fantasy, and then Katrina Hates the Dead was my satire humor, dark fantasy. And so those two were the driving force of my career at the beginning.
But while I was making a lot of money on them, I wasn’t doubling-down on them. I didn’t do more graphic novels of Katrina until 2017, and we finished production of that in 2011.
And Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, we just started doing more comic books of that last month and we finished that production in 2012. So I think the thing that I got wrong at the beginning was, once I had something that stuck and was and was almost popular, I wasn’t doubling-down on it.
I think it’s important when you start, you don’t know what you like, or what’s you’re good at writing, or what you even want to write. So, I didn’t have a problem with writing a whole bunch of different genres and figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t like, and even in my business, I didn’t know I would like negotiating contracts or that kind of thing, or database spreadsheets.
I didn’t know I would like any of that stuff, so it wasn’t that I did a whole bunch of other things, it was that once I found something that was working, I didn’t put my foot down on the gas fast enough. And now I’m playing catch up and just hoping that people still care about these things as I’m releasing them.
Tom Ashford: I’m sure they do.
Russell Nohelty: I hope so. Fingers crossed. That’s all you can do as a business though.
And what I got right, I think, was that I didn’t stop, that every time that I would hit a roadblock, I would find a way around it. And I think that’s what stops most people. Most people, they don’t get that publishing deal and they go, “Oh well, it’s all over.” Or their first book or their fifth book, it doesn’t hit, and they say, “Oh well, that’s it. I can’t be successful.”
Our book, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, started as our worst-selling book. And over the three years that we’ve had it out, at least officially in 2014, and so it’s five years we’ve had it out, it’s gone through seven printings, and every year the excitement for it has almost doubled.
So not only did I have the ability to pivot, but I also was able to take products that most people would have abandoned and keep pushing them. Part of that was that I did an offset print run for our book Ichabod Jones, and so I just couldn’t give up on it.
Even though it wasn’t making a lot of money, I had a thousand copies of it, so I couldn’t just abandon it. A lot of authors are in this mentality that they are releasing every couple of weeks or every month and if then something doesn’t hit, or whether something hits or not, they’re onto the next one.
I’ve always had this opinion that when I make something, I make it to sell forever. And that has allowed me to make things, that may not have been profitable to most people or worthwhile to most people, actually very profitable to me because I would make a book, our graphic novels costs between 10 and $15,000 to make, and I would keep pushing them for years until they made 60, $80,000.
But even the ones that were successful out of the gate, weren’t so wildly successful that there was no, like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy among them, the way that they got into the public sphere was just continuing to take those things and showing them to more people.
Tom Ashford: Last but not least, question five is what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Russell Nohelty: The final piece of advice is that there is no single way to succeed. Every single person that I’ve ever met who was successful has done it in a different way. Some of them have done it through rapid releasing. Some of them have done it by releasing one book a year. Some of them have done it on Kickstarter. Some of them have done it at shows. Some of them have done it by a combination of all of those things and still more have done it through maximizing advertising. Some of them write to genres, some of them wildly off-genre.
And it’s really important that you understand that all of the advice that you get is just one person’s advice.
Even my advice on The Complete Creative site, that’s culled through hundreds of people, talking to hundreds of people, and trying to find what’s common among them, still is information that these people have gleaned from years ago. So they may have a piece of information that works two or three years ago and it doesn’t work anymore.
And when you’re figuring out how to do this, it is important to look at markers of other people who have been successful, but then to also understand that the way they broke in is absolutely not going to be the way that you break in because every journey is unique.
Tom Ashford: Awesome. That’s great advice. And that’s your five questions up. So I thank you very much for coming on and braving this horrendous heatwave on both sides of the Atlantic.
Russell Nohelty: Thank you for having me.
Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s Self-Publishing Spotlight.
Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest. I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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