My Writing Journey
As a long time resident of Mexico, I know it probably strikes my neighbors here as odd that I write thrillers for English-speaking markets, most notably the U.S. and U.K. I can appreciate that it would be a little weird - writers in Mexico, as in the U.S., are largely unheard of. The few fellow writers I've met make a few dollars here or there at it, but nowhere near a real living. Fortunately, I'm the exception, and this blog will seek to shed some light on how that came to pass.
First, let's address Mexico. Why live here, for almost a decade, and not in the U.S. or somewhere equally "first world?" Well, for starters, because the perception that Mexico is not first world in many of its cities is a false one. Perhaps twenty years ago that might have been true, but not so much now. I find that every year, Mexico increasingly resembles its neighbor to the north, with all the creature comforts, consumer goods, health care, and hygiene one would find in many mid-sized American cities. Perhaps some areas will be run down and poor, just as some areas of L.A. or Pittsburg will be less than pleasant, but on the whole the areas I frequent are filled with Gringo tourists who have paid thousands of dollars to spend a few days soaking up the sun on a quiet beach sipping cold beer or margaritas.
When I sold my business, I decided to spread my wings and live abroad for a while. I was tired of the hyper-competitive marketing and consumption machine that was my view of American life - everyone needs a new car every three years, a new house every five, and the population seems unhappy and frazzled with the pressures of keeping up on this rapidly moving treadmill. I sensed that life didn't have to be like that, so I spent 6 months traveling around Mexico and Central America looking for a place to settle down. I wound up choosing the Pacific coast due to the combination of weather, price, and lifestyle, and I've never looked back. My friends thought I was nuts, and everyone told me I was very brave (shorthand for crazy). Now, they come visit, and they're the ones eying my existence with envy. I want for nothing, work as little or as much as I like, and spend many days at the beach for a few hours, walking my dogs or sipping something cold. I have no interest in or plans on returning to the States. I'm not missing anything that I can tell. If I want to follow the latest exploits of the Kardashians or hear the rationalizations of bankers explaining why the taxpayers have to subsidize them while they steal billions, I can do it from afar. No need to be in-country.
As to how I came about writing, it's been a long process. I've written for a long time. I just never though the work was deserving of anything more than being shredded. I've spent thousands of hours writing both fiction, non-fiction, ad copy, blogs, product brochures, etc. in a past life, but it was crap, and I knew it. Maybe not as bad as it could have been, but not good enough to want to charge people to read it. But a funny thing happens when you write thousands of hours. You get better. Or at least, the hope is that you do. Still, I was resigned to never being anything more than avocational. I didn't have the interest in doing the big publishing company dance, working very long hours for a pittance. Life was fine without my books out in the world.
Then the Kindle happened. I got one, and I almost instantly recognized that it had changed everything about reading and publishing. I devoured articles about self-pubbed authors doing well absent participation in the traditional machine, and last June I decided to publish my first book: Fatal Exchange. Since then, I've released a total of 13 titles, with another coming out in April, and yet another in May. I've written well over a million words since last May, and 2012 will probably see nearly that many again.
My process is simple. All I do is write, 12 to 15 hours a day, when I'm in the story. The last book and this new one I'm trying something different - only writing 6 hours a day. If I can generate 5000 quality words per day, I can turn out a respectable novel ready for polish in three weeks. Before, I was shooting for 7000 - 8000, but it's exhausting, and now, unnecessary. I think one book every six to eight weeks is plenty. But the quality has to be there, and I won't write until I've got a compelling idea that needs telling. I also invest in an editing team - an editor, a copy editor, and a proof reader. My work should compare favorably to the big company offerings, and I think the biggest mistake indie authors make is to somehow believe they can do it on the cheap, and compete. They can't, which is why so many self-pubbed works are miserable reading experiences. It hurts the authors, as well as the entire indie movement, because like it or not, most of us are relegated to the amateur/illiterate pile due to sloppy offerings from our peers. Not all are guilty of this, but enough so that it is a problem. And that's a shame. It's entirely preventable.
I'm making a very good living writing. Even by U.S. big city standards, much less by Mexican standards. And I'm excited, because my sales are growing in fits and starts, and the future has never looked brighter. After 10 months, I'm seeing sales in the 10K books a month range, which is unprecedented given that none of my offerings are of the .99 variety. Folks are paying $4 and $5 to read my work, and generally liking it. That bodes well for 2013 and beyond.
My message to fellow indie authors would be simple. Plan to work extremely hard, perfect your craft and demand more out of yourself than anyone else would, be your own brutal critic, and do this for real if you want any chance of success. I've read that there are only 200 authors in the country who make the kind of money writing where they could be considered to be vocational authors. It's surrealistic, but for whatever reason, it's now 201, although I don't actually live in the country. But the point is, I've achieved this with no help from any corporate interest, in a business that is impossible to break into, and where I'm competing with John Grisham and Stephen King for reader dollars. And while I'm not seeing their kinds of numbers, I'm seeing enough to be fat, dumb and happy down Mexico way. For that, I'm extremely grateful.
Russell is the international bestselling author of Fatal Exchange, a groundbreaking genre-blending thriller set against the counter-culture backdrop of New York’s gritty underground, The Geronimo Breach, an action/intrigue/thriller set in Panama, the bestselling Zero Sum trilogy of Wall Street thrillers – Kotov Syndrome, Focal Point and Checkmate (which hit #15 on Amazon’s top 100 free books), The Delphi Chronicle trilogy (The Manuscript, The Tortoise & The Hare and Phoenix Rising), the epic assassination thriller King of Swords, and its prequel, Night of the Assassin, and The Voynich Cypher.
Muchas gracias a Russello!!! Thank you so much, Russell Blake, for making a spectacular visit to my blog as a GUEST BLOGGER sharing your WRITING JOURNEY!!! I truly appreciate you!! What a delightful, informative read, one I'm sure to revisit! You are not only resourceful but generous and hilarious. In short, awesome! I am wishing you continued success in your writing career and plenty of happy, exciting, sunny, blessed, peaceful, writerly days.....
Living A Golden Life