Interview with Indie Fantasy Author Lindsay Buroker

I'm pleased to post an interview from Lindsay Buroker. She's an indie fantasy author with a great gift for telling a fun adventure story with memorable characters. I've read lots of her stories, but my favorite by far is Flash Gold, a YA novella about a teenage engineer who builds a steam powered dog sled. (Any mothers out there? Check this story out for your daughters! The main character, Kali, is a great role model for young women and shows them it's okay for girls to like wrenches and screw drivers!)

Lindsay has also garnered lots of experience in the e-book world, which she generously shares on her site entitled E-book Endeavors. Check out her site for lots of great info on self-publishing.

And now, here's Lindsay's interview:

1. What influenced your decision to self-publish?

I got my first e-reader (a Kindle) in October of last year, originally so I’d be able to take lots of books on trips without having to pack physical versions. I didn’t really think it’d replace my love for the dead-tree variety, but lo and behold I became a fan.

I’m not sure how I stumbled across JA Konrath’s infamous blog, but, like many indie authors, that’s where I first became aware of how easy it was to get a book into the Kindle store (among other places). My Goblin Brothers short stories were already up on the web, so I thought it’d be a nice promotional opportunity. I could create an ebook and maybe start building a fan base for the novel I was planning (and still need to get back to!).

Around that same time, I’d finished polishing my high-fantasy/science-fiction adventure, Encrypted. My first novel, a high-fantasy mystery called The Emperor’s Edge, had been sitting on my hard drive for almost a year. I liked the story, but I wasn’t sure it’d stand out enough to win over any agents.

I wasn’t enthused by the idea of sending out bazillions of query letters for Encrypted either, but I figured I had to take a shot. The problem was that I didn’t see many agents particularly interested in high fantasy. A lot of them expressly said don’t send us that junk (okay, they didn’t call it junk, but that was the vibe I got).

As I started making plans for my short-story ebook, I grew more and more excited about e-publishing and the possibilities there and less and less excited about querying agents. I also realized that even if I was lucky enough to find an agent, it’d probably take two years before I could hope to see my book on a shelf somewhere. Whereas with e-publishing, all I had to do was find someone to proofread the manuscripts and have cover art made. I could get my books online within a few weeks.

Ultimately, I did publish that collection of short stories, but I also published The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted (all this within about two months of first discovering Mr. Konrath’s blog). Now I have another short story collection out, a novella, and Book 2 in The Emperor’s Edge series. I’ve also long since made back the costs of editing and cover art design, and I even hired a small company to create a “podiobook” of EE (basically an audiobook that you podcast chapter by chapter on iTunes).

So, originally it was a lack of patience combined with disillusionment with the traditional system, though these days I have to admit the money is a nice incentive to stick with self-publishing (you make 70% of the cover price as an indie ebook author).

2. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on your self-publishing journey?

Well, there’s a lot of common sense stuff such as the need to put out the most professional story you can, to write a good blurb, to have professional looking cover art, to price competitively, etc. but I think most of that is fairly intuitive.

I think the most important thing might be learning what works and what doesn’t work (or works less well) when it comes to book promotion. I had some knowledge about building up a blog, since I’ve done that before for my day job, but I didn’t come into this knowing how to sell books.

I won’t go into depth here, but I recently wrote a blog post on High Level vs. Low Level Book Promotion Techniques in case folks are curious about what I believe works best. I write a lot on e-publishing and ebook marketing on my site, so please come by if that’s something you’re interested in.

3. What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome on your self-publishing journey?

Well, I’ve had my difficulties getting cover art done that I like, grin, but I suppose obscurity is the biggest obstacle when you’re getting started.

I’m not one of those authors who got lucky and had one promotional thing (such as a Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship or some such) that propelled them into the bestseller charts where they stayed ever after. I don’t write in a hot genre, and I didn’t get into e-publishing early, before there was much competition. I feel like it’s been a lot of steady, relentless work and a little bit of “trying everything” to slowly work my way up the Amazon sales ranking charts.

It’s worked though! I’m to the point now where my ebooks pop up all over the steampunk categories on Amazon, and people are finding them without me actively promoting them outside of my blog and my Twitter account (where I only rarely post links to my books).

If you’ve ever heard of a parable called The Daffodil Principle, I think that’s the road most of us will take out of obscurity. You do a little every day of the kinds of things that have lasting effects, and, over time, your success will grow.

I have to say that one thing that’s made the whole experience truly wonderful (and all worth it) is the response I’ve received: the positive reviews, the Twitter messages requesting more books, and the nice emails from fans (I’m still in aw that a self-published author would have real fans!). Just today, someone emailed me and asked me if they could use my Emperor’s Edge world to make an RPG supplement for personal use. Why, of course! I was tickled that someone would want to. :)

I mentioned before that high fantasy isn’t the most popular genre, and sometimes it’s disheartening to see those thriller and romance authors raking in the bucks, selling hundreds of ebooks a day, but, you know something? Science fiction and fantasy fans are some of the coolest, most passionate readers out there, and I’m glad to be a part of that.

4. What advice can you share about self-publishing with other writers out there?

Save yourself some pain down the road by joining a critique group and making sure your work is really ready before jumping into this. They say it takes 10,000 hours of working at a skill to master it, so it’s all kinds of hubris to think your first novel is going to be a winner. I call Emperor’s Edge my first novel, but I just mean it’s the first one published. There were three or four “practice” novels before that, ones that weren’t good enough to bother polishing, but I ran a couple of them through a workshop and learned loads by giving and receiving critiques. I have three novels out now, and I still feel like I have a lot of room for improvement as a writer.

With all the success stories out there now, it’s easy to run to e-publishing with stars in your eyes, but most of the people making it are folks who came close to making it in the traditional publishing world too (i.e. got an agent but didn’t ultimately find a buyer because the moon and stars just weren’t aligned right). Most of the exceptions (and, yes, I know there is some poor work out there that sells well) are from authors who got into this early, when there was a lot less competition in the ebook world. Just assume that you have to have something pretty darned good to make it today.

5. I’m a huge fan of your characters. Where do you get your inspiration for them?

Why, thank you. :)

I have to admit that my Emperor’s Edge characters aren’t the most original. I was about twenty when I came up with them, and I’d devoured tons of Forgotten Realms and DragonLance and other Tolkien-inspired fantasy as a teenager, and you can see that influence in the familiar “types” of characters I started out making.

Today, I’m more likely to go for something less common. Tikaya, my heroine in Encrypted, is a philology professor with a knack for cryptography. Kali, my heroine in Flash Gold, is a self-taught engineer/tinkerer. My goblin heroes are little geeks too, the types to scheme themselves into and out of trouble because they haven’t the size or strength to be fighters.

I’m not sure where the inspiration comes from (though I did have a crush on MacGyver as a kid). I’d say it’s just a reflection of my tastes these days. I grew out of my love for warriors and started enjoying characters who solved problems with their brains instead of swords.

6. What influences your stories?

My early stories were very derivative since I read nothing but fantasy. These days, I read at least as much non-fiction as I do fantasy, maybe more, and I often get ideas from history or the world around me.

I was taking a real estate class when I was working on Emperor’s Edge, and I ended up having a chapter where my heroes were researching someone via plat maps in a real estate library. Of course, one needs to keep things interesting, so there’s an assassination attempt during that research session. ;)

7. What project are you working on now? 

I just finished a rough draft of the next Flash Gold story. I don’t have a title for it yet, but it’s another novella, around 26,000 words. I’m hoping to get that out at the end of the summer.

I’m also about a third of the way through a rough draft of the next Emperor’s Edge book (the third in the series). I’d love to have that done and out by Christmas, but we’ll see. My novels have all been over 100,000 words so they take a while to write!