Spotlight 20: Boo Walker
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, welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at 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 Boo Walker. He’s written eight books in the thriller and uplit genres and he lives in Florida. Welcome Boo.
Boo Walker: It’s great to be here. Thanks, Tom.
Tom Ashford: Did you want to start by explaining the term that I didn’t recognize, which is uplit?
Boo Walker: Sure. I started my career years ago writing thrillers and then a few circumstances started to push me in a new direction. And I wrote the book that I had always wanted to write, which is something called Red Mountain. The idea is I wanted to write a page turner without guns, without car chases and stuff.
So how do you do that? You make these really big, bright, beautiful characters and throw them in a world of chaos and dysfunction and then see how they can come out of it. And in doing so, find themselves and find a reason for being.
Hopefully the idea is that you can bring some tears and joy out of a reader and really affect them in maybe a deeper way than my thrillers had in the past.
My new publisher, who I’ve just been working with this year, I don’t know if she coined the term, but she mentioned it recently, was the idea of uplit, up market fiction. And that basically means commercial fiction, that’s meant for book clubs and that makes you feel good inside.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Okay. If we dive into the questions, question number one is why do you write?
Is there a particular reason that you wanted to start writing in the first place, like a particular story?
Boo Walker: It’s been a path over the past 15 years. Ultimately, I subscribe to the idea that why do you write? Because you have to, because honestly it is a lot of work. It is grueling and it, for me at least, it really can tear things up inside of me. It’s an emotional roller coaster and when you’re not writing, you’re marketing and trying to wrap your head around the million ideas that you have to do.
I think my short answer is that I have to. But if I look back at what has happened over the course of the past 15 or 20 years, I started as a songwriter in Nashville and that’s where I really started to tap into the muse and I learned how words work together. And how if you put them in the right place, you can evoke some really deep emotion.
Also the idea that if you put your butt in the chair and you, in my case it was a guitar or banjo, if you just sat there and worked long enough and hard enough, eventually the muse visits you and things come out of you that are very unconscious or subconscious in a way. And that is a really good feeling. And once you tap into it, it’s hard to let go.
But in 2001, I started having some hand issues that basically, long story short, over the course of a year, I realized were career ending. So I left my band and my songwriting career and ultimately went through a tailspin for a few years, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. Because for a long time I figured out exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to write songs and play music.
Somewhere along the line, I fell in love even more with reading. And the notion of writing a book came and I started writing my first thriller, Low Country Punch, and it was a slog for a long time. In fact, I rewrote it in first person, then in third person, in first person.
But somewhere in all that, over the years, actually the second half used to take place in Bolivia and I threw all that out. But somewhere in all that I started to find that music again and realize that if you dive deep enough and you put your butt in the chair and you keep typing and you keep trying, you have these moments where you almost forget your typing and it all just comes out and you see the story and it just unfolds and time disappears and man that’s a good feeling.
So that’s why I write because I’m a better father and husband and friend and person, if I can access that place every morning before I go out into the world.
Tom Ashford: Nice. And you mentioned a publisher.
Are you traditionally published, self published or hybrid?
Boo Walker: I am hybrid. A few months ago signed a deal with Lake Union Publishing, which is the uplit kind of book club fiction imprint of Amazon.
Tom Ashford: Very nice. Okay.
Question number two is how do you write? Do you tend to plot your stories out or do you just dive in and see where it takes you?
Boo Walker: I so wished that I could just dive in and see where the story takes me. I think I don’t have the memory to be able to follow things, especially as I’ve taken on more and more points of view.
I guess the best way to answer that question is to look at the book I’m writing now, which has been without a doubt the most difficult. It’s the third in a series that I had only intended on writing one book. I wrote the first book with character ages and details that I never wanted to have to remember and now I’m having to remember them.
I’ve gone back and used Scrivener to really get organized and mark down my settings and which way the porch faces and the color of character’s hair and that kind of thing. And still with this book in particular, the idea for me in writing a book is you give your characters their worst nightmares and you make them grow in such a tremendous way.
The idea of trying to do that again with the same characters has been really tough. But I pulled it off I think, with the second book in this series. But to do it a third time is really, it makes me tip my hat to fantasy authors and thriller authors that can just do this over and over in a series.
I couldn’t even figure out how to plot this at first. I just didn’t know where I was going. So what I did is I ended up dictating about 170 pages or so completely, I would say 70% just pantsing it. And somewhere in all there, I figured out my voice and I figured out some new challenges and where the characters were and how they’d grown.
I went back and outlined and had a pretty rough outline, then started writing and wrote 100 pages, realized my outline needed revamping. So I guess my method is, something a friend author called it the other day, which is combing.
There’s nothing pretty about it. It’s just every book is different. But I get 100 pages, I clean it up. In this case, I sent it to my beta readers to make sure I’m not just completely off my rocker. And then I work on the next 50 pages and then I’m just at a spot now, I’m on about 140 pages and I spent the past two days re-outlining and now I’m ready and set and I’ll get to about 250, kind of slogging through.
And then if I built my foundation correctly, I believe the last 100 as usual, kind of just races to the end and hopefully it’ll be nice and clean. But there is nothing pretty about my way. It’s just jumping into the ring and wrestling with the story until it’s starting to make sense.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place that you prefer writing?
Boo Walker: I’m a morning guy. If I haven’t done it by 11, I’m pretty much out of luck unless I load myself with coffee in the afternoon. Usually, I’m up by four or five and get some coffee and put some music on and maybe read a couple chapters of a good book just to get inspired. And then I just unleash hell for two or three hours until I start to see elephants.
Tom Ashford: Cool.
Question number 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?
Boo Walker: Oh, it’s very apropos to my life right now, that question. I have been writing as just a hobby/part-time thing for six, seven years. In the past couple years I’ve really found my groove and I’m finally starting to make some money.
Just a couple of weeks ago I actually took my full-time job and I downgraded it to a part-time job and that allows me to keep my benefits, which is a thing here in the US that’s not a lot of fun to deal with as an entrepreneur. And get a little money and allows me to do some work in the afternoon.
But for the most part, in July I actually made more money by July writing, than I will all year in my full time job. So I’ve now eclipsed it and I consider myself a full time writer with a little side gig to pay a few bills and we’ll see how long that lasts.
I think what I’m trying to find balance of is, I don’t want to feel the pressure of waking up and having to give a story no matter what and risk losing the fun of writing. So that’s why I’m holding on a little bit, at least till I’m very, very safe.
Tom Ashford: What is your side gig, if you don’t mind me asking?
Boo Walker: For 10 years now, I’ve run global sales for a family winery out of Washington state. And so spent a long time traveling and I recently, not just for writing but to be around my wife and son more, my son is six and he’s really getting into this wonderful age.
I called this family that I work for and we worked out a deal where I would just handle Florida and a little bit of the Southeast and travel when I felt like it and have a lot less pressure. And basically I can wake up now and my first concern after family, is my characters as opposed to selling wine around the world.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is, what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Boo Walker: Maybe I could have seen this with foresight. Matter of fact, I could. I can answer this in a couple of ways.
For a long time, I kept thinking that if I wrote the perfect book, the audience would come to me and I never had any inclination to hook up with other authors. And that was a big mistake because when I finally did, I mean, I did the NINC conference in St. Pete two years ago and it really changed the way I looked at things. It showed you what can be done.
This marathon runner just broke two hours recently and that idea for people, shows other runners that they can break two hours. And when I met some of these authors at NINC, I realized that, Oh Boo, you’re sitting here complaining because you have to write 2000 words today, well D.K Holmberg writes 10,000 every day.
It’s raised the bar for me in a way that I wished I’d done earlier. And the other thing that I probably would have learned is that when I switched genres, I should have created a pen name. And I guess my problem is, what I write now is, uplit fiction is what I would want under my real name, Boo Walker.
But I started with thrillers and it instantly messed up my algorithms, so I spent the summer putting my thrillers under a pen name, Benjamin Blackmore. And if you’ve ever dealt with that, it is not a lot of fun, especially once you get into audio and things like that.
That’s certainly some of the things that I’ve learned, that I maybe could have done better. And as far as successes, well along those same lines, I’m really happy that I had the guts to switch genres. I wrote thrillers because that’s what I read. But also it seemed like that was what was really successful five, six years ago.
And when I had this other book that I wanted to write, it kept creeping up. And I told my agent at the time, who we’d never sold a book. We almost sold my first thriller to Bantam Del. But I told her at the time, that I wanted to write this uplit feel good book that was maybe a little bit deeper and had a little bit more literary air.
And she was very anti, but I just marshaled the courage to just dig into it. And I had so much fun and that’s where I found my voice. I’m really proud of my thrillers, but somewhere in writing Red Mountain and the following books, that’s where I started to find the confidence of, hey, I’ve become … As opposed to as an aspiring writer, I’ve found a voice that I know is mine and when I sit down it happens to come out.
So that was a big, brave choice for me, especially in a world where we have this idea of writing to market and trying to focus on making money. I get that, but at the same time, if something that I don’t really believe in, I’d almost rather sell pharmaceuticals and make a ton more money than grinded out writing.
I’m proud that I did that and it seems to be sticking. And the other big thing that I think is important to mention would probably help a lot of listeners is, I created two different mindsets over the past couple of years. And right now, I’m in an income mindset. Meaning my number one goal is to see how I can maximize my margins and make some money. Especially now that this is, writing is winning the bread right now.
But the two years before, I had a different mindset and that was I want to gain readership. I didn’t care if I make a dime. I want readers because when I release a new book, I want people to go after it. And I think in this day and age, you want to collect email addresses and you want to have a nice social media.
For me, I had a day job so I wasn’t worried about making money. I just wanted an audience to read what I was putting my heart and soul into. So I spent a ton of money on advertising. Fortunately, I was able to lock into some great AMS ads that didn’t have a terrible ACoS score. And I wasn’t necessarily losing money, but I figured out a way to ramp it up just enough to where I was breaking even.
I was able to break into the rankings and that’s really what put me in the spotlight to give me access to Lake Union publishing and to set me up for this year, which has been a much more profitable year.
Tom Ashford: Awesome. Well, that links a little bit into question five, which is:
What’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Boo Walker: It’s still all about the story and it’s about writing. And I think one of the things that I’ve learned from authors as I mentioned earlier, is it’s so easy for us to talk about being a writer or to talk about the book we’re working on. And for me, it’s very easy to focus on the marketing part or the social media part or coming up with a new logo or a website or new concepts.
But in the end, we are writers and if we really want to be great and if we want to excel, we need to sit down every single day at, whether it’s morning or night or whatever. And you need to write and you need to get your word count down. And the bottom line is, there’s no excuse why somebody can’t write 2000 words a day.
I shoot for about 3000, then I might edit and then my brain is pretty much mush, so I’m astonished at what others can do. But if I can do 3000, anybody can do 2000 words a day.
And I think it’s in that, where you learn and somewhere in there you have to squeeze in the study of craft. And I think maybe, I spent so much time studying craft. I think I’ve read almost every book I’ve gotten my hands on over the years. And maybe it was a bit of procrastination.
So now I’m in this mindset of enough studying, now just get in the ring and make it happen. And I think that’s the advice I want to give to everybody is, quit talking about it, sit down and get your word count done. And if you don’t want to play by the word count, if that’s intimidating, do your time sprints.
Don’t worry about how many words you’ve written or characters. Worry about how much time you’re actually 100% focused. And I use this app called Be Focused actually, that does these 25 minutes sprints. And I try to do five or six of those in a row. And during those sprints, once I press go, I do not look at social media mail, phone. It is just me and the story, no excuses.
And then the second it dings, I can reach for my guitar or go take a walk or whatever. But that’s the thing, is we just got to get in and do it. And it is a slog sometimes, but when it’s happening and when it feels right, it all seems to make sense and it’s worth it.
Tom Ashford: Perseverance and commitment. Definitely. Good advice. So those are your five questions, you are off the hook.
Boo Walker: Right on. Thank you very much.
Tom Ashford: Thank you very much for coming on. It’s been great to speak to you.
Boo Walker: Likewise.
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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