What a thrill to host the inimitable Randy Ingermanson on IC today. It was learning Randy’s Snowflake Method of story development that made the process of novel creation a reality for me so many years ago. So when I found out Randy had decided to publish a “How To” book on writing using the Snowflake Method, I begged him to visit IC and tell us about the book as well as his other projects.
Randy, so glad you could make it. First, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an Army brat and grew up in Kansas, Germany, and California. I wound up getting a PhD in theoretical physics at UC Berkeley and then decided that I really wanted to be a fiction writer. No, that probably doesn’t make sense, but I don’t really care. I like writing fiction. I’ve been pursuing that dream ever since.
I must say, I’m so glad you did, because it’s that unique combination of pondering the physical world and creative writing that produced the concept in your newest non-fiction release.
Tell us about the book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.
I wanted to write this book several years ago, but my agent convinced me it was just too weird. As he pointed out, it’s already hard to sell a book on how to write a novel. Writer’s Digest is the main publisher for that kind of book, so you either sell it or you don’t. If they say no, then you’re out of options. And the problem was that I wanted to write the book as a story. I have this crazy belief that story is the best way to teach things. By showing how it’s done, rather than telling how it’s done. But my agent told me that doing it that way would make it even less likely to sell, and the odds were already long. So I put it on hold until recently.
Well, you’re in good company, Randy. I’ve heard that C.S. Lewis felt his fiction works were more important than his apologetics. He often said, “For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Story deepens our understanding of the material.
You’ve written about The Snowflake Method and given classes on it for years. What made you finally decide to write the book?
I guess the real question is what took me so long? I’ve been an indie writer for almost three years, and this is the perfect book to publish as an indie, because it’s so risky to publish the traditional route. I just didn’t think about doing nonfiction as an indie until recently. But I noticed several months ago that a number of indie books were appearing in the “how to write fiction” category. And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. I realized I don’t need a publisher. I can just do it myself. So I put it on my calendar.
As you mentioned above, you’ve been “indie” for three years now. What prompted you to make that jump?
The problem for me is that I tend to mix categories, and traditional publishing doesn’t know how to handle that. The bookstores don’t know what shelf to put it on. My City of God series is a mix of suspense, time-travel, and historical fiction, with a touch of romance thrown in. Because I’m a physicist, people want to put me in the science fiction category, but I always envisioned myself as a suspense guy who uses a science backdrop–kind of like Michael Crichton.
And the problem is that in the Christian market, any hint of science fiction is absolute death to sales. My publishers kept trying, but the sci-fi label somehow got stuck to me pretty tight, and nobody could get it off.
Ouch! Sounds painful.
Eventually, I just wore out with traditional publishing. It was obvious that my publishers and I couldn’t find a way to promote my work effectively. So I took a sabbatical from fiction writing, hoping that someday another way would open up. When e-books began selling well, I saw my chance and went indie.
What do you see as the pros of indie publishing for you?
For me, indie publishing is ideal for a whole fistful of reasons:
1) I can easily cross categories. So I gave my City of God series two categories: Christian suspense, and general market science fiction time-travel. The series fits both of these categories, and I wrote a product description to make it clear that there’s a very strong Christian element in the books. That’s important when you promote a book in any general market category. There are some anti-Christian readers who don’t want to be surprised with unwanted religious content. So I give them a warning label to prevent them from buying my books. You have to respect people’s rights by giving them an accurate product description.
And this cross-category strategy has done very well at finding readers who love my kind of fiction. Suspense is easy to promote among Christian readers, and time-travel novels are quite popular in the general market science fiction category. The numerous glowing reviews make it clear that there is an audience for my fiction, and they’re finding me.
2) I don’t have a publisher telling me what I can’t write. Publishers like to publish things they know how to sell. If they don’t know how to sell it, they try to get you to change things to be what they can sell. Which makes sense for them, but drives me nuts.
3) I don’t have a marketing committee making bad decisions on book covers or titles that doom the book from the get-go. If there are any bad decisions to be made, I want to be the person to make them. I’m the one with skin in the game. Those are my books. I’m the one who cares about them most.
4) I set the schedule. This is huge for me, because I’ve always felt like deadlines were a deathmarch.
5) I set the price. This is crucial. Publishers these days want to price e-books way too high. Some people say that publishers are trying to protect the price of paper books. I don’t really care why they’re doing it, but it’s clearly a bad idea.
I’ve had the first book in my City of God series, my Christy award winning novel Transgression, priced at $0.00 for the last couple of months and I’ve given away nearly 60,000 copies. A publisher sees that as 60,000 lost sales. I see it as 60,000 potential new readers who can try me at no risk. I’ve got the sequels priced at $2.99, which is far below what a publisher thinks is a fair price. But I think it’s a great price.
This series is selling wonderfully well. This is a series my publishers gave up on ten years ago, but it’s profitable for me, because my costs are low. I’m earning legions of new readers who never heard of me before. That’s a win-win situation that could not have happened with a traditional publisher.
6) Indie authors earn 70% royalties on e-books. This is 5 or 6 times the effective royalty rate of authors who work for traditional publishers. This means I can price my book at a nice low reader-friendly price and still earn enough money to cover my costs. Low-priced books sell a lot more copies than high-priced books, so everybody wins here. I love that.
P-shaw … Is that all???
What do you see as the cons of indie publishing for you?
You don’t get an advance when you’re an indie author. You have to pay for all the editing, proofreading, cover design, and formatting. You have to do all the marketing and other promotion. You have to do a lot of administrative stuff that authors don’t like doing.
Not every author can handle that. Authors like getting advances so they have something to live on while they write the book. And they like getting free editorial work, graphic design, proofreading, formatting, and admin stuff.
For me, the pros vastly outweigh the cons, but I completely understand that some authors feel exactly the opposite. It’s great that we have choices. We didn’t used to. Now we do. This is the best time in all human history to be an author.
Can I get another Amen, folks? Oh yes!
You and Brandilyn Collins have been instrumental with American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) in directing the board to make decisions that are more indie friendly. Can you tell us some of the changes which have occurred that will benefit indie authors?
Let me be clear that the Executive Board wants to make things better for indie authors, so it’s not like we had to crack any whips. Brandilyn and I are both fully indie right now, so we’ve suggested what changes will be most helpful to indie authors. But the board has been great about making changes to reflect the recent massive changes in publishing. A big ship turns slowly, and a big organization changes direction slowly, too. But ACFW is making great strides. Here are some of the things we’re moving toward:
* The first thing we did was to change the Mission Statement of ACFW so that it no longer was focused on traditional publishing. It was a matter of changing a couple of words, but the message is clear. Indie authoring is cool.
* Indies will be eligible for the Carol awards, beginning in 2015. To qualify, an indie author will have to meet certain criteria. (The intent was to make it roughly as difficult to qualify as it is to find a traditional publisher.)
* Indies will also be eligible for the various other promotional goodies on ACFW, such as Fiction Finder.
* Indies have their own e-mail loop right now, where they can discuss things that are of interest to indies but which would not interest traditionally published writers. (Such as where to get good editing, cover design, proofreading, and formatting. And all the myriad admin tasks that indies have to do, but trad-published authors don’t ever worry about.)
* Respect. I think this is the biggie, actually. Up until a few years ago, self-publishing just wasn’t a wise option. There were a lot of predatory vanity publishing houses out there taking advantage of authors who wanted to self-publish. As a result, there was a stigma associated with self-publishing. That stigma may still be around in the minds of some people, but I’d like to eliminate it completely among ACFW members. I don’t think we’re there yet. I know there are some writers who think that going indie is a second-best option. But as more and more writers decide that indie is the best option for them, I think the last shreds of that stigma will go away. Major authors like James Scott Bell, Athol Dickson, and Brandilyn Collins have gone indie, and that sends a powerful message. Other big guns, like Colleen Coble and Margaret Daley, have gone hybrid, and that also sends a strong message. Being indie is cool. Being hybrid is cool. Authors have choices, and that’s radically cool.
So glad to hear all that. ACFW is the other thing I credit with helping me start the writing journey. I am forever grateful!
Are there other changes you would like to see happen or any that you expect soon?
Just because of confidentiality, I can’t really talk about future changes, other than those that have been publicly announced.
Just whisper them to me. I won’t say anything …
Really, Randy, just one little tidbit????
<air conditioner noise>
If there are pressing issues that you’d like to see addressed, send me an email through the Contact page on my web site at http://www.Ingermanson.com
Okay, Randy, we’ll do that.
What should we expect from Randy Ingermanson in the future?
1) I’ll continue working on my City of God series of time-travel suspense novels set in first-century Jerusalem.
2) I’m working on a series of novels about the life and death of Jesus. I wrote the first one years ago for a major Christian publisher, but it crashed and burned during the publishing process and all rights reverted to me. That first book in the series, tentatively titled Rabbi Yeshua, is in the revision stage right now, and will be out within a few months. (But I can’t give you a deadline, because I hate deadlines.)
3) I will be writing more books on “how to write fiction.” My most recent book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, is the first in my Advanced Fiction Writing series. I’d like to write several books in this series.
Wow, Randy. Can’t wait to see even more Ingermanson books available. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was really a pleasure!
Readers, this is the place where I usually post one of those pesky (sorry I couldn’t resist) author bio thingies. But I forgot to ask Randy for one and it’s too late to catch him (he just flew out the door!). So I decided to check the “About” page on his website … and boy am I glad I did. If you’d like to know more about the man behind the curt—uh—I mean Snowflake Method, click here.
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