Today I’m here with Alec Hutson – the award-winning author of The Crimson Queen.
As is customary for me, I wanted to insert a little part of the blurb here. That got me all wrapped up in the concept already. Doesn’t it just sound thrilling?
The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.
But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.
In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age…
And after that side note, I say hi to Alec and thanks for joining me!
Alec: Thank you so much for inviting me here!
Me: How or rather when did you make the transition from thinking of your writing as a hobby to deciding to go professional?
Alec: Well, I had finished a fantasy novel (much of which was written on Wattpad) and decided to publish. After toying with the idea of trying to go traditional I decided I didn’t want to deal with the trouble of querying, waiting, getting an agent, etc. Since I had almost no expectations, I thought I’d just self-publish. I put up my book in December 2016. That first month I made 1500$, and I was thrilled. If it had faded away after that I would have been happy. But the book took off in January. I made something like 9k in January, and then 13k in February, all from the one book. Now, I had recently signed a contract at an international school in Shanghai (I was a teacher), so I couldn’t just quit my job and leave my students. But I started setting the money I was making aside and decided pretty much then that when my contract finished at the end of 2017 I would go full-time.
Me: Who is your indie author role model? Why?
Alec: When I was putting together my book I emulated Jonathan Renshaw’s Dawn of Wonder. He’s probably the biggest success story in indie fantasy. Even three years after publishing his one book still regularly ranks in the top 600 of Amazon. So I adopted his pricing strategy, applied to some of the same book contests, and in general modeled my book on his.
Me: So, when you first got started what was your game plan? Did you have a specific approach to the wild jungle of the self-publishing universe?
Alec: Not really. I thought my book was well-written, and I knew I couldn’t compete on speed (I’m a slow writer) so I was hoping readers would find my book and think it was a bit more polished than some of the other indie writers, who seem to focus on plot and quick release rather than craft.
Me: What were your initial expectations? Would you say you were too optimistic or pessimistic now that you’ve been through the experience?
Alec: I mean, I think I was being optimistic hoping to recoup my investment (which was about 1500$). Even that it hard to achieve in self publishing. I guess I picked the winning lottery ticket, so in hindsight I was being pessimistic.
Me: What would you do differently, if you were just starting the process now?
Alec: Well, I guess I would not have signed my contract to work another year as a teacher. Teaching for all of 2017 really slowed down my writing – it wasn’t until I left my job in December 2017 that I really made headway on the sequel. I wrote about 100k words in the first 3 months of 2018.
Me: Ok, it’s time to go into the nitty-gritty: wide or KU? How did you make the decision? Do you think you’d ever switch for a new series?
Alec: KU. KU, by itself, is larger than all the other ebook stores combined. It’s a massive audience hungry for books, and every borrow there increases your visibility on the retailer with 85% of the market. Just on page reads in 2017 I made something like 35k dollars. I mean, if KU changes significantly or the scammers become too difficult to deal with I could see myself switching. Indie authors have to be flexible. But right now I love it.
Me: So, when did you first join Wattpad and what were your publishing aspirations at the time?
Alec: I joined Wattpad in the fall of 2015. I did want to publish what I was working on, and I thought I would try for traditional. But after doing a lot of research it seemed to me that self-publishing, at this point in time, is the way to go.
Me: In what ways has your Wattpad audience helped you grow as a writer?
Alec: Certainly gave me confidence. Wattpad readers are kind, and they really liked my story – I think I got to #2 in fantasy for a while. I’m old enough that I don’t think I learned much craft on Wattpad, but the feedback I got was invaluable pushing me forward. I had a few unfinished books before I joined Wattpad – I’d get 60k words in and think they were terrible and put them aside. But with Wattpad I knew people wanted to read what I’d been writing so it pushed me to finish. Honestly, I might not have completed the book without Wattpad, and it’d be sitting in a drawer in my apartment.
Me: What is the biggest lesson Wattpad taught you, which you then went ahead and used in self-publishing? Any transferrable skills?
Alec: Actually, I found with Wattpad when I was writing 1500 word chunks or so that I was breaking down chapters into smaller scenes, each with their own little arc. Wattpad readers don’t want to get an update of 2k words or whatever of boring backstory or characters not doing very much. So I think what Wattpad did was force me to keep the action moving forward, and make every little section as interesting as I could make it. And I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback that my story really carries the reader along – and I think Wattpad’s format of small snippets helped with that.
Me: Did your Wattpad audience help in other ways during the launch?
Alec: A little. A few of my readers bought the book. But my experience was that most Wattpad readers don’t make the leap from the website to Amazon.
Me: What were your three focus points during the launch?
Alec: Erm, to be honest, I just put the book up on Amazon. I checked the boxes like having a decent cover, a website to collect mailing list emails, etc. But I didn’t approach publishing that systematically.
Me: What are your TOP 3 self-publishing resources?
Alec: Kboards, the Facebook group 20booksto50k, and a private Slack group I’m in with a number of other self-published fantasy authors
Me: What would you recommend new self-published authors do first and foremost?
Alec: Work on craft. There are a lot of self-published books out there that weren’t ready. Prospective authors should get good feedback on the state of their writing and stories before they decide to take the plunge. And Wattpad is a very forgiving environment so success there doesn’t necessarily translate to success in the wider world. For me, I workshopped my book with several other fantasy writers I trust at a writing retreat, and I wrote and submitted several short stories to online magazine and websites. When I started getting published there I knew at least in terms of craft I was ready.
Me: In what ways do you keep in touch with your audience? Do you prefer Wattpad or other social media or both?
Alec: Ugh, I’m not particularly good at this. I occasionally post updates on my website and on my mailing list, but I’m not a very chatty author.
Me: What are your self-publishing goals for the next few years? Where would you like to see it all go?
Alec: Finish the trilogy I’m working on. The sequel to my first book is all ready to go; I just need my cover artist to finish up and I’ll be ready to publish. So I’m looking at a July release, if all things go well.
Me: And I sincerely hope to see you achieve that! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me today; that was great!
Alec: Thank you! I hope my answers help others who are walking the same path or thinking about doing so!
I can be found here: http://www.authoralechutson.com/ if anyone would like to check out my writing.