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5.05.2014

Being a Solo Flying Writer Can be Scary As Hell. Being a Pro Writer Offers Grounding. Being an Indie Author Too Gives the Best of Both Worlds.

My first published works appeared in the Janes' School Gazette in 1976, a grade school newspaper where I wrote columns and was a junior editor. (Yes, that was when I was in the 4th grade. :-)

Ten years later though, in 1986, I finished my first full-length novel. In 1991, I won my first writing award--an award that sat on my desk for some 20 years, reminding me where I got my start in this crazy business called publishing.

But it wasn't until 1994 that I signed my first contract with a publisher, which makes 2014 officially my 20th year as a published professional writer.

Between 1994 and 2001 were a lot of good and great writing years. In 2001, I went independent and straddled the so-called hybrid-author line between published pro and indie writer.

Of all the things I've done in my life, going indie was one of the scariest. Why? Independent writers fly solo. They rely on no one and nothing. It is refreshing. It is releasing. It is renewing. And yet it also can be scary as hell.

ABOUT EBOOKS AND AUDIOBOOKS

Many people think ebooks are something fairly new, but an interesting fact about ebooks is that they've been around since the mid to late 1990's when there were several very popular ebook programs that helped writers produce books on floppy disk and later CD-ROM. The first really big ebook push was around the fall of 2001. Back then, Amazon carried ebooks distributed by Ingram Digital. 

Ingram Digital's initial ebook distribution program went to websites all around the world. The first Ruin Mist novel was released as a serial ebook in 2001 as part of Ingram Digital's early ebook service, as well as other early ebook services, and was very successful. Reagent Press and I followed the successful ebook launch with a print release in February 2002 and the Ruin Mist books quickly became bestsellers on Amazon and elsewhere. 

In 2005, Reagent Press and I brought the Ruin Mist books to audio, focusing particularly on digital audio which was something fairly new at the time and available from sites like The Audio Book Store, Emusic, and Audible. Upon their release, the Ruin Mist audiobooks quickly dominated bestseller lists, especially at Audible. 

Like Harry Potter, Narnia, and many other popular books, the original Ruin Mist books are available in editions for adults and young adults. For adults, there are 'Keeper Martin's Tale', 'Kingdom Alliance', 'Fields of Honor', and then 'Mark of the Dragon'. For young adults, there are the four 'Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches' books and the four 'In the Service of Dragons' books.

The world of Ruin Mist is expansive and there are many other related novels. 'Journey Beyond the Beyond' and 'Into the Stone Land' are Ruin Mist: Magic Lands novels. 'Breath of Fire' and 'Living Fire' are Ruin Mist: Dragons of the Hundred Worlds novels. 'The Dragon, the Wizard & The Great Door' is a Ruin Mist: Guardians of the Dragon Realms novel. Companion guides like 'Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ruin Mist', 'Keeper Martin's Guide to the Fantastic', and 'Art of Ruin Mist: Heroes and Villains' are also available.

About all this, I am certain of one thing and it is this: If the Ruin Mist books had been published only in print or only in print in standard markets, the books never would have sold over 1 million copies. Just as the availability of the Ruin Mist books in print beyond standard markets created new opportunities, so did the wide availability of ebooks and audiobooks. As you plan your author platform, you too should be looking at releasing your books in formats, editions and markets that make the most sense for you.

ABOUT MY DAY JOB

An industry joke by and between writers is "Don't quit your day job." Of course, I wrote the Ruin Mist books and many other fiction books while also working a day job. My day job from 1985 to 1996 was in the military. From 1996 to the present, my day job is as a technology journalist and writer.

After high school, I joined the military to see the world--and really did. I was stationed in Japan, and toured Asia. I was stationed in Germany, and toured Europe. I saw what hell is like during two combat tours in the Persian Gulf War. I was stationed in Hawaii, and toured the Pacific.

After the military, I began work full-time as a writer. My writing though was primarily focused on nonfiction. I wrote articles for PC Magazine, Dr. Dobbs, and other journals, and I wrote technical manuscripts and other nonfiction works for publishers like Macmillan, McGraw Hill, Pearson, Microsoft, and O'Reilly. This work paid the bills, the mortgage and kept the lights on, but I also kept dreaming of things beyond.

Lessons and experiences from all my military service and traveling spill over into my writing like water over Niagara Falls. When my children were young, I started writing the Bugville Critters books in the 90's and over the years finished dozens of illustrated picture books featuring a little bee called Buster, a little lady bug called Lass, and their friends. My children have always been big Bugville fans and they're the ones who urged me to get the books published. 

When I started the journey to get the Bugville books published in 2004, I decided to bring the books to audio first and then print. Audio seemed a natural fit as my children loved hearing the stories as much as they loved reading them. At the time, I also was starting work on the Ruin Mist audio books.

The first Bugville Critters audiobooks were released in 2007. The print books followed in 2008. After releasing the original books starring Buster and Lass, I realized I also had a wealth of early learning books. These books became part of my Bugville Jr and Bugville Learning product lines. About all this, I am certain of one thing: If I had not expanded the Bugville Critters into new product lines, the books never would have sold over 1 million copies. It was the wide selection and diverse product offering that helped the books become successful.

As an author, your books are your brands and you too should be looking for ways you can expand. Expand into areas that make sense based on what you are writing.

I've sold 2.5 million Robert Stanek books, but I don't know if I'd have been able to continue as a writer without also having sold 7.5 million William Stanek books. Selling 10 million books over 20 years is a solid success, but one without the other? I'm not sure that would have worked, and it's one of the reasons I decided to be both a pro and an indie author. 

I hope my insights from 20 years in this crazy writing business help you in your writing.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post! Very insightful!
    I am self-publishing my first novel this fall. What advice do you have for people who are self-publishing, but with no experience on their belt (that is, stuff you can put on a resume). What would you say is the best way to get your book out there?

    Again, thank you for this post, it rings true!

    Sincerely,

    K.J. Bryen, plungingintothenovel.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you KJ! Apologies for the late response. I was planning on doing a "getting started" post in response to your query and am still working on it. I know that probably won't help you, but hopefully you got your first novel launched.

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