I ran into Christopher Schmitz upon asking him for an advanced reader copy (ARC) review. He was inadvertently introduced to me as a book blogger, but upon some social media stalking (Because, my dear readers, if you’re going to ask anyone for anything, it is prudent to do some research on that someone.), I discovered that he is also a prolific blogger, a bagpiper, and an ambitious writer/swashbuckler of rules who turns a finger to “the way things ought to be.”
I’ve learned a lot from Christopher’s blog, and so I asked him for an interview—to which he graciously agreed. He’s published traditionally and independently, and he has quite a lot to say about the courageous path he’s taken.
Want to learn more about what it really takes to be a published author? Read on.
Let’s rewind the clock for a minute. You’re an author-entrepreneur/blogger/book reviewer/bagpiper. How did this begin?
I have always been a storyteller, ever since my school days. I wrote a few pieces of short fiction even back then, though none of it really survived in a format worth publishing…although I do have one piece that I intend to put in a humor anthology whenever I eventually release it. (It was an old high school assignment where we had to rewrite a famous poem… I Did A Visit From Saint Nicholas/T’was the Night Before Christmas… except Santa was going down Grendel’s chimney to finish what Beowulf started—it did not go well for Santa and his reindeer.) Anyways, I had several stories completed and one novel traditionally published when I really began looking into Indie publishing in earnest—mainly as a way to avoid scammers. I just started where I was and kept learning…and I still am! In addition to writing I have a full-time job, own some rental properties, freelance for my local newspaper, and travel as a gigging bagpiper. I have a superhero complex. I see stuff I like and think, “I can do that.” And then I feel like I have to prove it. Yeah… I don’t really sleep a lot.
I can only imagine. I struggle to match my socks in the morning. Can you tell us a little bit about your day? How do you manage everything?
I actually start my mornings off in the gym. Sometimes I’ll write in the mornings, but it’s usually at night and a little at lunch time. I set my writing goals for the week rather than for a day and it seems to work for me…but goal-setting and putting reminders on my calendar works for me. I also keep a long-term and short-term to-do list so I can cross items off and see the whole picture. I’m goal-oriented so it helps; I need to see all of the pieces in an operation in order to really have a handle on it (which is also why I like writing from an outline).
You casually mentioned in our email exchanges that you write 3-5 books a year. What? and HOW?
I aspire to write like Stephen King. I set goals and write even if I don’t feel like it. After a few paragraphs of garbage, I usually find my groove. Part of it is also how I keep a long-term plan of the books I want to write. By mid-February of this year I’d already written detailed outlines for all 5 books in the series I’m working on and completed one novel. I finished my second with almost a week left in April. Of course, that doesn’t account for editing and publishing work on my indie titles, plus all the promo and everything. I could certainly hit 5 this year, and I think I could write 6 if I pushed it; but I’m probably going to relax and work on some short fiction stories that are burning up my insides. Find a time, protect it, and write. Writers write, right? So write.
Yea. *chuckles to self* That sounds super “relaxing.” What can you tell us about being an independent author and your own publishing journey?
I began with a traditional house that was eventually bought by a different publisher, and it eventually closed. I kind of sat on my manuscripts for several years after that, too shy to move forward after some of the worst offenders tried to scam me (Tate, Publish America, etc.), which is perhaps why my blog is so pro-author and is particularly vicious against vanity/scam presses. I waded in slowly as a poor broke author. Luckily, I was working on post-grad studies at the time and so I wasn’t feeling the compulsion to do anything at that moment. I was also writing a ton of nonfiction, which is what eventually brought me back into publishing in earnest…publishing a nonfiction book. Once I was familiar with the tools I’d been researching, I started revisiting older manuscripts, cleaning them up, and publishing (plus querying for new fiction I’d begun to write).
You’ve also published nineteen books over several genres—both fiction and nonfiction. How important is it for an author to be diverse, and how important is it to have a sizable catalogue?
I think it’s important to have at least one book in your back catalogue. It shows genuine fans that there is more out there that you’ve written and adds credibility. It tells your new fan, “this is a legitimate author worth following.” That makes them more likely to follow you, sign up for a mailing list, etc. If you don’t have anything else on the back end, write a novella and publish it as an ebook on Kindle. Do it correctly and with high quality, but get some filler out there so that you have more than one item on your Amazon Author Profile. Splitting across genres, however, is often discouraged by the pros. I did it, and it demands more mental energy. I am a very eclectic author already, but most literary professionals would tell you to be the best you can be in your preferred genre. I’m a rebel I guess, but I think they are right: Unless you absolutely must write in multiple genres as I felt… But it really can slow the growth of your platform since the net you are casting is broader.
The more specific your niche, the easier it is to find success.
You write a lot of “how to” articles for independent authors, and as a newbie, I’m a huge fan of them. Are these lessons you’ve learned yourself or knowledge you’ve aggregated from other people?
Haha…most of these are lumps I learned the hard way. I do include occasional articles that I’ve scavenged from others when I think “this is saving me from future perils.” The nice thing about the indie scene is that most questions out there have been asked already and so it’s nice to know where to go for help. I follow several blogs that often have good nuggets for me to glean wisdom from. I try to be that kind of blog for others.
I think it would be much bigger if I invested more time and energy into it. When I first started I had a daily to-do list which included making a post on each of the different platforms (one author friend has a publishing contract that obligates him to tweet three times per day). I still post frequently, and I have automated many things! When my blog publishes (I schedule them well in advance), it copies itself to my Twitter and my Twitter pushes to my Facebook. The blog also mirrors via RSS feeds to my Goodreads and Amazon Authors profile after about a day and my last 5 Goodreads reviews post to the sidebar of my blog. Once you figure out how to set those things up, it drastically reduces the amount of time spent copy/pasting links and posts.
Social media is a MUST HAVE in order to maintain a platform. It’s no longer a suggestion for success… It’s mandatory.
But, Christopher… I’m just starting. I don’t even have a book out. Should I be building my author platform?
Yes! Start talking about things that interest you or interest others that have things loosely in common with your book (and then focus in and target a niche). You should only rarely blog about your books. I can’t even remember when the last time was that I blogged about my own… probably two months ago (but I have two new ones coming out, so it’s about time to change that). Platform building IS NOT ADVERTISING. I have unfollowed/unfriended more than one person who posted three times daily with a book blurb and buy link. We’ve all had that one friend who sold Amway, Scentsy, Young Living, or whatever multilevel/pyramid sales program is vogue. The key word in the sentence is HAD.
Always be making friends rather than “always be selling.” If you try the latter, you’ll be shouting in an empty room.
So much wisdom in one small paragraph. I’m scribbling down notes as fast as I can. Can you give us a pro tip on how to start all this effort?
I started blogging knowing that nobody would see my initial posts, and so I began writing articles about things that I always needed to know. I occasionally share them with places online but tried to grow organically by using topics with keywords and phrases that people would be searching for. Some of my articles (after about 2 years of writing at least 3 articles a week) got reblogged by some well-known authors including the Writers Beware blog (especially my article about the Readers Magnet scam since I kind of broke that story with detailed information). Just start writing. Use some of the tips from above and put your own spin on it—
above all, either be useful or entertaining.
Ask blogs and sites if you can contribute content. Review other authors! Add many as friends and then follow up with a positive comment. Platform building is infuriatingly slow, so hurry up a wait. Work on your next book while you’re writing for your platform.
I’m young and hungry, but I’m also pretty nervous about starting out my own venture. What if I do everything wrong?
Fix it. Seriously. Every error anyone has ever pointed out in a book has been corrected (the beauty of the indie tools we have available). Every time I’ve done an event I’ve either learned something that I could improve or have been able to teach someone else how to have more success. You won’t arrive until you’ve faked it for a while. I’ll let you know if I ever make it. If you’re an introvert, pretend you’re not. Honestly, none of this is easy, but sometimes you’ve just got to get in the water.
If you’re faking it, you’re doing a pretty darned good job. I’ve read some of your nonfiction, but can you give me a plug for one of your fiction books? Your favorite, perhaps? I love self-promotion!
College student Claire Jones is investigating a series of strange murders when a handsome werewolf kidnaps her. He claims he’s rescuing her from the clutches of an evil sorcerer and that nothing is as it seems. Claire can’t run forever and if she and her companions can’t reclaim an arcane artifact capable of ending the warlock’s reign of terror, he will unleash the dark god Sh’logath’s cataclysmic power upon the universe, shattering dimensional barriers, and devouring all reality.
(The sequel to Wolf of the Tesseract, the above, is about to drop on this, and it will be available by June!)
Oooh! Beefy werewolves and a mysterious string of murderers? Count me in. Before I let you get back to your writing frenzy, give me one more answer: If you could give one piece of advice to newbie authors, what would it be?
Buy my book, lol. Most everything in the book is on my blog…and I learned the stuff in my blog from others. That’s my advice: be open to feedback and advice from others—not when it is given to you (cuz that happens when you’re really screwing it up). Go looking for voices that will encourage and guide you (and be critical when you need it). Attend cons, read blogs, and forever strive to improve your craft. The single best thing I did was spend about 4 years writing short fiction instead of novels. It made me learn to edit, learn to begin, end, and cut sections. It is hard to get people to commit hours of their life to reading your 100,000-word rough draft, but a 4,500 word short story? That’s more appropriate and short fiction allows you to hone your craft (verb choice, tenses, and learning what NOT to say). Keep writing!
So there you have it, folks! To learn more about Christopher’s work or cash in on all the work he’s already done for you, follow him at Inside the Inkwell or just go ahead and check out The Indie Author’s Bible. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or his super-snazzy website.
Remember what I said about making connections? This is a great place to start.
Photo by congerdesign