Interview with author Rob Sinclair – Part One
I am delighted that Rob asked me to be part of his blog tour for his new book Hunt for the Enemy. It is published on 11 February and is already getting some great reviews. I will be reviewing it later, but for this part of the blog tour, Rob has agreed to answer some questions about writing and publishing. And here is part one, with his very comprehensive answers. Part two will be posted tomorrow.
I’ve been following your approach to writing and publishing and you seem to be very businesslike about it. Would you say your approach is to treat your writing as a business?
Absolutely. It’s something I’ve written about before (here). I think it’s particularly important for self-published authors to realise that they are the makers of their own destiny. No one is going to help you in this industry unless you do the leg work first. It takes a lot of determination and guts and planning and effort. Self-published authors need to be entrepreneurial, they need to take risks, not be scared to make mistakes – because we all mistakes! I think it helped that I previously had a career in business. I was a forensic accountant for a global accounting firm for many years and my main role was a project manager on large investigations. It gave me some great project management skills and project management is completely transferable to almost any walk of life I think. I manage my writing career like one big project.
And it is clearly paying off! I am a firm believer that indies should treat their writing and publishing as a business, if they expect to get paid for their work.
Do you have a business plan – per book and/or more long term?
I do. Not a formal, fully written out plan, but I have the basics in my head and then lots of spreadsheets etc. where I keep all sorts of information: lists of reviewers, bloggers, links to interviews etc., costs, revenues. As an accountant I still love spreadsheets, I even use them to map out my work chapter by chapter (when I’m in the editing stages). But I guess the more strategic aspects of my business plan are just in my head. For example,for my new book release, I started planning a timeline of events in my head a number of months ago: date I need final proof ready by, date I need cover by, date I need ebook and review copies ready by, date to start contacting bloggers/reviewers, date to start plugging on social media and paid advertising. There’s a lot of different things that need to happen for every book launch and between my head and my lists I have it all mapped out (at least I think I do!). Some would say it would be better to write it all out and formalise it even further, but so far I think I’ve got the balance about right.
As for long term, it’s more fluid. I’m currently working two books ahead. My third book, Hunt for the Enemy, is just coming out but I’ve also just finished drafting my fifth. That’s both because the lead times are big from drafting to publication but also because I like to have a safety cushion in case something unexpected happens. My loose plan is to release one book every calendar year, but actually with more than one book in reserve I could do a push and get them out quicker if circumstances demanded it. I then have my future pipeline of books too. I have two quite solid ideas in my head for next books. I don't force them though. They just seem to come. Hopefully that will continue to happen! As for long term goals? Well it would be nice to be an international number 1 bestseller and if you don’t set your sights on the top you’re unlikely to get there!
Do you give yourself deadlines?
All the time. Every single day to be honest. The day I’m writing this I’ve got three interviews and one blog to do. Then I’ve got just a few working days left until book launch for Hunt for the Enemy. I told myself the first week of January that by book launch I wanted the first edit of the fifth book completed, plus a re-write of a screenplay for my first book (Dance with the Enemy), that I’ve been working on. I should just about manage that.
The deadlines are never set in stone but I always try to keep a bigger goal and break it down into smaller chunks. This year I want to draft one new book. As well as that I want the fifth book to be fully edited and ready for release (the fourth already is).
When I start the new book I’ll aim for 4,000 words a day. I work four days a week as one day I look after my youngest son, and even on the four writing days my time is constrained by the school run and kids’ bedtime routines. That said, the draft will only take a few weeks to achieve, all being well. Then each time I come to a round of editing (for whichever book’s turn it is) I normally give myself a deadline of either two or three weeks to do a re-write/edit. The same with the screenplay although the timeframes can be squeezed because it’s much shorter. I then plan all those mini deadlines around other events in my life; book launch, school holidays, birthdays, Christmas, etc. Usually I end up with a few weeks spare here and there where I’ve got to my goal well in advance and then I can relax and get on top of the other pressing things in my life – reading, watching movies, playing golf, going to the pub ... Actually it’s DIY and gardening mostly!
What is your writing process?
I’ve come to quite a set process now which is great. I feel like I can plan things well in advance comfortably. I tend to start a book with very little in terms of plot. Just a couple of big ideas. Perhaps the beginning, or the end, the main character. Then I just start writing. Whatever I started with, quite soon I’ll have figured out loosely the beginning and end and the key characters. Then it’s just a case of getting there. I don’t like to plan much more than that because actually even the parts that I have planned in advance tend to change as I’m writing them out. I don’t know why, but that always seems to happen!
The drafting stage for me is really just a big brain dump. It’s where most of my plotting actually comes from. I write quickly when I’m in the zone, and aiming for 4,000 words a day I’ll complete a first draft in a few weeks.
Then I sit on it. I move onto another project for a few weeks. I’ve always done that. I think it really helps to cement the story in your mind, you can think bigger picture about it, but it also helps that you when you eventually go back to it the writing itself is cold. I find I pick out the holes in the drafting much more effectively that way.
I’ll generally then do two rounds of editing initially. By that I mean a thorough read through from beginning to end. Along the way I’ll add sentences, paragraphs, chapters, maybe a new character, look at characterisation, settings, etc. It can be quite a dramatic re-write. It’s at that state that I map the book out onto a spreadsheet too, making sure everything flows nicely (e.g. chapter lengths, points of view, timelines, locations). The first edit always takes longer than subsequent ones.
Usually after the second edit I’ll send the book out to my editor for a development edit. When that comes back I’ll do another two passes myself. Then back to the editor for copy-editing. Then back to me for final edit. Then to proofreader. Then back to me for final read. Then PUBLISH! Finally.
And when you consider that between every draft and round of editing I’m leaving a few weeks’ gap you can see why the lead time from drafting to publication takes so long!
That’s pretty impressive! I really admire your thoroughness.
Who is the first reader of your drafts?
Generally one of three people: my wife, my mum or my editor. Depending who is available first! I give it them all about the same time. I think my wife prefers to see the final product now as in the early days for the first book I used her as a guinea pig quite a lot to look at very early drafts, sometimes just chapter by chapter. I think that took away some enjoyment from the final book for her given she’d read parts of it so many times already! Now I don’t let anyone see any of it until I’m content with the whole book. My mum always likes to see them early and usually has some good comments on the books too.
What professional services do you use with your books? How essential do you consider these to be? And have you kept the same team for each of your books?
For a self-published author I think it is absolutely essential to use professionals where you can afford to and where you need to. The editor I’ve been using (Charlie Wilson – The Book Specialist) has really helped me a lot, not just in polishing the manuscripts but in teaching me a lot of things about writing (which as a self-taught writer was very valuable). I use her for both development and copy-editing.
Proofreading is also very important. And I’ve come to know that it’s about much more than just looking for typos. Finding an eagle-eyed proofreader who looks at style and consistency in your work can be a real eye-opener and worth every penny.
For the publishing side I’ve used Authoright (Clink Street Publishing) for each of the books in my series. They offer a whole host of services to self-published authors from editing to marketing. It is possible to do some of those things yourself, or even to just organise it all separately, but actually there’s a hell of a lot that goes into the publication process: cover design, full cover design, typesetting/ formatting, ebook conversion, publication and distribution in different formats. Unless you’re planning to just do a very simple self-publish direct to kindle (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing), then I’d strongly recommend getting help from people who know what they’re doing when it comes to publishing. And the physical books they’ve produced (which are print on demand) all look great and very professional.
What are your experiences of working with editors and proofreaders?
One of the turning points of my career was when I first used my editor. I’d been struggling with Dance with the Enemy for a couple of years. I was working full time back then and my wife had given birth to two sons since I’d first drafted the book. I’d been round the houses with agents a number of times and had gotten nowhere and wasn’t far off giving up my publishing dream altogether. But I couldn’t have done that and then be left wondering what could have been. So I decided to self-publish. The first step in that, I decided, was to hire an editor – largely borne out of the fact that agents had been telling me the work was good, but that it wasn’t quite good enough, and to be honest I was at a loss as to what needed changing. Charlie was brilliant. She really gave me a lot of very constructive advice on the book. Told me what was working, what wasn’t, not just overall but chapter by chapter, line by line, character by character.
I learned a lot from that first edit that I’ve taken on board for all my future projects and there’s no doubt that the final Dance with the Enemy is significantly better than my original drafts because of the help that I had. Professional editors certainly aren’t cheap but they are absolutely worth it if you want your work to be the best it can be.
How long from chapter 1 to pressing the publish button did each of your books take you?
Dance with the Enemy took the longest because it was such a long journey, not just in learning how to write, but in editing and publishing too. I started in 2009 and published it in 2014. But much of that time wasn’t writing it. It was sending to agents, editing and for probably a year or so doing nothing at all while I was battling a full-time job and a new baby!
I honestly can’t remember when I started Rise of the Enemy. I know I’d written the first half of it while I was submitting Dance to agents, but then never got the chance to finish it. It was only then in early 2014 when I took a six-month sabbatical from work that I finally sat down and finished Rise and sent it out for editing. Then eventually published it in April 2015.
I drafted Hunt for the Enemy during that six months too. So it’s a little under two years from first draft to publication for Hunt.
I started drafting my fourth book early 2015 and that was with the editor by last summer. That’s essentially ready now but probably won’t be published until early 2017 (it’s currently under consideration by publishers but if there’s no interest I’ll go ahead on my own as before).
I started drafting the fifth book in autumn 2015 and I need to do one more read through before that goes to the editor. I’d expect that to be fully edited some point this calendar year. So I’m certainly starting to condense the timelines and also feel that the whole process is becoming more streamlined and engrained.
What did you learn about writing and publishing from your first book that made you write/publish/market your second book differently, and then what did you learn from your second book?
Writing wise I’ve learned so much largely through the help of my editor. Her editing on my more recent books has been far less intensive because a lot of the things I was getting wrong with my first book I now know not to do.
As for publishing, that’s a hard one. I don’t think of it book by book but more event by event. There are some events I’ve done that I just didn’t get any real benefit from (e.g. festivals). There are a lot of paid marketing activities I’ve carried out where I saw no discernible improvement in my sales figures. That’s not to say I wouldn’t try those same things again, but I’d try them with caution and look to do them differently to try and prevent making the same mistakes again.
Indie authors are always very interested in the costs of publishing. Can you tell us how much you spend on the different services you use?
I’ve spent a lot! Put simply I’ve gambled. The way I saw it I was entering a very tough industry and I wanted to give myself the best chance of success. The money I’ve spent on editing, proofreading, cover design, publication etc. probably runs at £2k–4k per book on average. The money I’ve spent on marketing has been far more than that and I spent a considerable amount in particular on the release of Rise of the Enemy. Ultimately I think a lot of that was largely wasted. I can’t do anything about that now. For Hunt for the Enemy I’ve spent much less but I feel I’ve been more savvy in the ways I’ve built up to the launch. Only time will tell whether that’s the right approach.
Overall I’d wished I not spent the money on some of the wasted strategies. But, having that said, overall I’m happy with my sales figures; well over 100,000 before release of Hunt. And one way to look at it is that everything I’ve done so far has in a way helped me to achieve that.
That's all part of looking at it from a business perspective, I guess. It's a hard learning process that will eventually pay off.
Do you get an income from or based on your writing work other than from sales of your books?
I’ve had one paid speaking engagement and wouldn’t say no to more in the future but it’s book sales that are the key income source for me.
Having that said I’m working on a screenplay adaption of Dance with the Enemy and if I sell that it could open the door to a decent new income source. Fingers crossed.
Very good luck with that. Exciting times!
Thanks for this, Rob. Part two of this interview will be tomorrow.
Here are the links to the blog tour so far, where there are reviews and interviews.
Tomorrow it will be the turn of Shots Blog
Hunt For the Enemy is available on Amazon. It is published on Thursday 11 February and can be pre-ordered.
Follow Rob at these places: