Spotlight 38: Daniel Willcocks
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 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 Daniel Willcocks. He’s written 19 books in the horror genre and he lives in the UK.
Daniel Willcocks: Hi, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Tom Ashford: It’s great to have you on.
Do you want to start by going through the books that you’ve written?
Daniel Willcocks: I tend to write everything, what I label as dark fiction, so that’s a mixture of horror, can leak a little bit into sci-fi, a little bit of post-apocalyptic fiction as well.
I tend to like exploring the darker side of things so a lot of my books can be quite dark and grimy, but I always have that uplifting humanity hope side of it.
I’ve been writing since 2015 and I was one of those people who was quite fortunate that my first novella that I released ended up making it to number one in the horror charts around Halloween of 2015. Which just sparked this crazy journey we call independent publishing. But a lot of bits and pieces on the way.
I’ve got a podcast called the Other Stories podcast, which releases 20 minute horror fiction every Monday and around Christmas last year we hit five million downloads with that, me and my writers that I write with them, under our story studio, Hawk and Cleaver.
I also have a podcast where I interview other writers as well and give them a chance to promote themselves similarly to this. And then we’re looking into the mindset of how you become a writer, the obstacles that you face and everything else.
But I primarily focus on the fiction side of things and getting the words on the page just because I like to hold a book in my hand with my own name on it because I’m a narcissist.
Tom Ashford: I think we all are, at some level.
Daniel Willcocks: Yes, there’s nothing better than that feeling of literally just holding a paperback of your own book and, going, it’s finished. I don’t know whether it’s the, it’s finished, so I have it or whether it’s the, this is something I’m proud of. It can be a mixture of both, sometimes.
Tom Ashford: It’s actually real.
Daniel Willcox: Yes. Yeah.
Tom Ashford: If we go into the questions, the first one is why do you write?
Daniel Willcocks: It’s a big question. It’s something that I think my answers have changed over the years that I’ve been writing, but I think the main reason that I write is the catharsis of it. Particularly when you get into a book that deals with certain subject matter that potentially isn’t necessarily in your wheelhouse of understanding or experience.
Obviously I write a lot of horror and dark fiction so I tend to play with the things that are a bit more taboo. Things that are a bit less spoken about in society. And for me it’s just a way of, I guess dabbling in the other side.
I’m processing how people might think, react and deal with particular situations. Not slightly for the off chance that I’m not a post-apocalyptic nut-head that’s going to plan into the future as to what might happen in the apocalypse. But it’s definitely nice to almost prepare yourself a little bit for certain situations.
I think one of the main bonuses that obviously comes off of writing things that are quite honest and true to yourself is the people who read your stuff and then reach back out to you. And particularly those who are in disadvantaged situations or I get a lot of people who arrive as come out of surgery recently are dealing with some horrible stuff and they say that reading my books, it takes them away from that, which I don’t understand because I write horror.
But actually having that feedback and having people reach out and say, and this is having some impact on my life is a huge push to keep writing.
Tom Ashford: Was there a particular story that you wanted to tell when you first decided to write?
Daniel Willcocks: There was a mixture of certain stories and the novella that I ended up writing came just completely out of left-field. So it wasn’t one that was particularly planning on writing, but it was one that just came to me.
I guess that a lot of my work tends to be a little bit with relationships and particularly how people are behind closed doors and the situations, the things that you can’t really put a name on that are real. I really like getting into the nitty gritty of psychological horror and finding the things that happen in everyday life that you can really put a spin on and try and understand what it is.
When I was first writing, it was just a compulsion. I had a bit of spare time. My son had just been born and it was one of those things of, I want to start writing. I want to prove to him that if there’s a passion that you have, you can find time to fit that in and make something work from it.
Tom Ashford: Nice. I know you mentioned being indie published.
Have you ever got a traditional contract or pursued a traditional contract?
Daniel Willcocks: I haven’t. It’s something that is teetering on the back of my mind. I’ve had a couple of what I call indie publishing contracts, so working alongside publishing houses or indies built. But no, nothing down the traditional route.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? So do you tend to plot your stories out or just pants them as the term is?
Daniel Willcocks: It’s a mixture. When I’m writing short stories I’ll pants it because for me a short story is that, just catharsis, that let it out on the page and just seeing what happens. And nine times out of 10 that comes out well. Sometimes it comes out as a scrambled mess, but it’s the rest of the times that you cling on to.
When it comes to writing longer words, it’s definitely a case of needing some kind of plan. I’m not somebody that will spend weeks researching and planning. And it’s probably partly the reason why I deal with post apocalypsia or stuff that is more difficult to explain why it’s supernatural because there’s less need to ground that in reality. So you can play with it a bit more.
But I’ll definitely know what I’m heading towards. I’ll know what the premise is. I’ll have an idea about what characters are involved and then I’ll let the situation unfold. So I’m a bit of a mix of both when it comes to the longer form work.
Tom Ashford: In terms of the writing software that you use, do you use Scrivener, Vellum, Word?
Daniel Willcocks: Again, a mixture of all sorts. I’ll write originally in Scrivener and then I’ll transfer that in Word to proof from my end. I use Vellum to format and throw a few other software components I use along the way. So, I tend to do writing sprints and for that I’ll use an app like Forest in which you just block off everything on your phone for however long you want to set it and just dive into the words for as long as I can.
I sometimes use Pinterest to generate ideas and just create a bit of a mood board for the story I’m trying to create. And one thing that I have found incredibly effective for myself is that I’ve created my own Spotify play for writing. So it’s filled with a lot of soundtracks from horror films, from horror games, just anything that might be quite dark and mood setting.
Whenever I write that’s the play list I listen to. To the point that I’ve ruined my Spotify end of year analysis. Generally do like the end of year, here’s what you listen to most. It’s just a load of random score and soundtrack crap that I’ve been listening to when I write. But it is what it is.
Tom Ashford: I’ve done the exact same thing with sci-fi. It’s a 24 hour playlist that I just put on a shuffle and now there’s no actual bands.
Daniel Willcocks: Oh no, which is a bit sad, but at the same time it’s a good way to actually get the words down, isn’t it?
Tom Ashford: Yeah.
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?
Daniel Willcocks: I am a full time writer. I went full time April last year. I’m approaching my year anniversary of that.
I took a mixture of steps really. I made sure I was getting the writing down every day. I was working on projects that I love. I was saving up in my old job to get to a point where I had… I wouldn’t say it was enough money to comfortably have jumped off. I think actually in the end the situation at my old job was a case of I was almost pushed out while situations occurred and I just went, you know what, I’m not working here anymore. I’m going to try and make this happen.
And it also works because one of my things I’m known for is collaborations. I’ve collaborated with a lot of different people and because of that I’ve gotten to a point where the royalties were reaching a level where I could jump out and make a go of it full time. And I think one of the big things from that is once… Because I know there might be people listening who are on that edge and aren’t sure whether or not to make a go of it.
I think the important thing to remember then is just remember that the minute you do jump off that ledge, you’ve got an additional 40, 60, 80 hours, however long you want to put into it, a week in which you can then dedicate that to your writing.
And as you put in the steps to build that, I got from where I began to where I was before I took the leap. Writing I think is a minimum of, well around a thousand words a day average. And obviously if you’re full-time, that’s now up to five, six, 7,000 words a day. And with that you can really produce more, get that ball rolling and just keep on going until you’ve made a go of it.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is, what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Daniel Willcocks: So the thing I think I’ve got right is that I’ve surrounded myself with people who are similarly minded people that are going for the same kind of thing and people that inspire me.
I built quite a few communities and networks in which there’s a lot of people that I can rely on, really friendly people. I’m sure people have said this before, but the indie community is just the friendliest community there is. And everyone’s willing to help each other. I think not being afraid to reach out and just either ask for help or ask to get involved in projects has been one of my bigger strengths in terms of getting to where I am today.
And in terms of things I’ve not quite done right or probably not failures as much, but one thing that I’m still working on, that’s still a challenge every day, is just trying to find the right routine to avoid burnout. Because as an indie you can really get bogged down into feeling like you have to constantly produce, produce, produce, produce, and forgetting to give yourself a rest sometimes because the money isn’t always reliable.
But as long as you keep working it’s there, but sometimes you can almost zone in on work, work, work, and forget the other side of things as well. So that’s been my biggest challenge since going full time.
Tom Ashford: Question number five is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Daniel Willcocks: It doesn’t matter what you have to say. If you want to say it, just get it down on paper. As soon as you get the words down on the page, something magic happens and the rest of the words just begin to flow.
I think the biggest nugget of advice I can give from that is when I originally first started writing, I remember that I’d write 200 words a day and that would feel like the greatest achievement in the world. And I’d chip away, chip away, chip away.
If you can find your minimum and then just every day improve it by 10, 20, 30 words to a point that you’re happy and you’re producing the things that you want to, then it’s possible to write that book that you’ve been wanting to write for ages.
Write that novella, write that journal column, whatever it is you want to do. Just get the words on the page, get your arse in the chair and get it done.
Tom Ashford: That’s good advice. Cool. Well those are your five questions. Thank you very much for coming on.
Daniel Willcox: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week, 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 the 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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