I recently had an opportunity to talk with thriller author Russell Blake, and pose a set of questions that seek to dig into his process and opinions on writing and self-publishing. The answers may surprise, as some fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but you have to admit that he seems to be doing something right.
You recently posted a series of blogs on book promotions that have worked for you on Amazon, including one that cites some pretty amazing sales figures. Ten thousand sales a month? What gives?
The blogs are intended to give other indie authors a window into my world, and share what’s working, and what isn’t. Trust me, the sales figures amaze me as well. I really started my journey as an author when I released my first thriller, Fatal Exchange, in late June, 2011. That’s not that long ago. That sales have ramped that quickly and the work’s been received with such enthusiasm surpasses all my expectations. I tend to orient my blog for other authors, because many of my Twitter followers are authors, and that’s my field of interest. And I want to send the message to my fellow scribes that incredible things are possible, even without an agent or publisher.
Why are your books selling like that? Price? Genre? Promotions?
I wish I knew. It’s certainly not price. I have my titles priced between $2.99 and $5.99, with special promo pricing on a few at $3.47 or $3.77. But I have avoided the .99 cent route. That always smacked to me of undervaluing the work, and I think it set an expectation in people’s minds that your work’s crap. I give away a couple of books for free – Night of the Assassin, and The Delphi Chronicle, Book 1. I’d rather give them away then try to hawk them for .99. I think that sends the wrong message, and it’s last year’s tactic to generate a splash. Only when everyone’s doing it, the splash value goes away. It’s probably a combination of having released a slew of titles so having a decent backlist, the genre I’m in (adventure/conspiracy thrillers), and luck. A lot of this is luck, unfortunately. Nobody wants to say that, but it is.
I find it hard to believe it’s all luck. You released, what, 12 titles in 2011? That’s not luck.
Agreed, that part isn’t. I write 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, when I’m in a book, and spend another 3 or so hours a day on social media and promotions, so it’s a grueling workload. I like to think I’m the literary James Brown – the hardest working man in publishing. But 2012 is the last year I’ll be keeping up that pace. While it’s been good for the author career, it eliminates pretty much everything else from my life, and that’s not healthy long term.
Let’s talk about your latest book, The Voynich Cypher. You say it’s a departure for you. In what way?
I typically write conspiracy thrillers that are in the Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth vein. But I had this idea stewing to try my hand at a Dan Brown/Raiders of the Lost Ark style pure adventure thriller that incorporated a treasure hunt element. After writing The Geronimo Breach, I outlined what I thought was a compelling plot for a book that used an ancient manuscript written in code as the basis of its story. Fortunately for me, such a document actually exists – The Voynich Manuscript. I crafted an intricate series of hunts within hunts using that document, and the protag from my Wall St. trilogy, Zero Sum, who must decrypt the most enigmatic document in history while being chased by secret societies and megalomaniacal billionaires, who will stop at nothing to protect or possess its secrets. I’m very happy with the way the book turned out, and think fans of the Da Vinci Code and Sahara will find it compelling.
How was writing that different than your other books such as King of Swords or The Delphi Chronicle?
Research. Months of it. Arcane books on the authorship of the Voynich, on its cypher and illustrations, on cryptography, on medieval history and secret societies, on the history of the Catholic Church, on European and Middle Eastern geography… hundreds of hours of research. It’s difficult writing that kind of a book, is what I discovered. Although I hope the end result is worth the effort. So far, advance reviews and feedback have been glowing, so I’m hopeful.
What’s next for you? Anything in the works?
I’m finishing my polish on the sequel to King of Swords, titled Revenge of the Assassin. Then I’ll take a couple of weeks off, and plot out my next one, which will either be a sequel to Revenge, a sequel to Fatal Exchange, or a sequel to Delphi. My goal is to release seven to eight novels this year, so I have to stay busy. But I’ve already got two in the can, so I’m on schedule. Voynich launches March 17, and Revenge will go live end of April, so my readers will never be more than six weeks away from another book in 2012.
Thanks for joining me today!
You can pick up your copy of The Voynich Cypher here.
More on Russell:
Russell Blake is the acclaimed author of thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, Zero Sum, Night of the Assassin, King of Swords, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, and his latest, The Voynich Cypher – a Dan Brown/Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure thriller based on a real-life fifteenth century manuscript written entirely in unbreakable code. He has also penned the non-fiction tomes An Angel With Fur, and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). Views expressed are solely those of the author.