I met Benjamin X. Wretlind through a convoluted series of coincidences, and I ended up reading a couple of his blog posts. I was immediately struck by one outstanding attribute: passion. I was intrigued not only by what Benjamin had to say, but the passion by which he said it.
Check out the interview below, and see what passion is all about.
PF: First of all, tell me a little about the stories you write. I get the sense that your stories are horror, but they have a philosophical bent to them. If I had to describe your work, what genre or sub-genre would I call it?
BXW: If I had to lump all of my writing into one genre, I would call it “literary,” but I dislike that term as much as any. I think all writing is cross-genre in some way–although there are exceptions to every rule, and my writing is no exception. I’ve always called CASTLES: A FICTIONAL MEMOIR OF A GIRL WITH SCISSORS “literary horror,” and SKETCHES FROM THE SPANISH MUSTANG just plain literary…with a little of that supernatural thing thrown in for good measure.
My short stories, on the other hand, have almost always been written with a horrific bend, and while I do have some which might be considered Steampunk or Science Fiction, because they were written at a time when I was seriously thinking all I wanted to write was horror, I never really crawled out of that genre’s basement. I think if I wrote a short fiction piece now, it would ended up horrific.
And you can take that any way you want.
PF: On your website, you also publish short stories for free. What’s your long term plan for these stories?
BXW: Some of those stories have been collected in REGARDING DEAD THINGS ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, which I published in 2011. I was apologetic in my afterword to the collection, since most of those stories were written in the early 2000s. I don’t really have a plan for the others except to throw them around the web like I am right now. I did put up a “voting” button just to see how people react to my work, but it’s not because I’m a statistical guru or picking out stories for the next collection. It was just fun to code.
PF: I get the impression from your website and blog that you’re a dyed-in-the-wool indie author. Which independent publishing service have you found to be the best suited and best buy for your money (if you need to pay anything at all)?
BXW: I hate spending money, so I don’t if I can avoid it. Like most Indie authors, I use Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Service, Barnes and Noble’s PubIt, CreateSpace for the print runs (although I might switch to Lightning Source in the near future), and Smashwords. I would like to say that although Smashwords is often discounted as a repository for poorly written erotica, it’s a great place (and the only one I really know of) to distribute work to iTunes, Sony, Kobo and a few others. I do not, on the other hand, use Amazon’s KDP Select program except for a few novellas which I use as giveaways. In that respect, I’m not like a lot of other Indie authors who rely soley on Amazon’s publishing arm, even though 95% of my sales are generated through them.
PF: Obviously, you can’t fall back on a big, brand-name publisher for marketing your work. What’s your strategy?
BXW: None. It’s all a learning game. I created a 12-Step program to market my latest work, SKETCHES FROM THE SPANISH MUSTANG. To recap (since it’s on my blog and not yours), here it is in a nutshell:
Step 1: Edit, Edit, Edit
Step 2: Make a Pretty Cover
Step 3: Write a Description that Sell
Step 4: Solicit Reviews
Step 5: Solicit Interviews/Guest Blog
Step 6: Buy Advertising/Send out Press Releases
Step 7: Schedule Book Signings
Step 8: Run Contests/Do Giveaways
Step 9: Social Network Like a Pro
Step 10: Publish So Many Books You Look Like J. A. Konrath on Steroids
Step 11: Passive-aggressively Fill Your Blog Posts
Step 12: Get Lucky
Since the only luck I’ll ever have is bad luck…well, it’s a rough road to travel down when you don’t have a marketing department working for you.
PF: Let’s say you catch the eye of a decent publisher who approaches you to publish your next work. Do you go for it? Or do you stay independent, do it your own way and reap the benefits without paying the middle man?
BXW: Writers are writers and we should all be equal in the eyes of the reader. However, the horrors of marketing for an Indie author tend to make the temptation of someone else doing the work that much more appealing. Would I? I would have to seriously think about it, provided I could retain ALL creative control and not have to give up anything that an Indie author stands for–respect and admiration for all writers and their art.
PF: I first started following you after you retweeted an interview for Eric Jackson, not because you retweeted what I’d sent, but because you were plugging the heck out of that interview in order to get exposure for a fellow author. Then I started reading up on your blog, and I really liked what you had to say. But tell me: why is it so important for you (or any of us) to support their fellow author?
BXW: There is too much division in the world as it is. Why should writers divide among themselves? So a book is published via traditional means. Does that make it better in the eyes of the reader or in the eyes of other traditionally published authors? A book is self-published and it gets a good following. Does that mean it’s worse because it wasn’t vetted through a corporate machine looking for words that mean something only to their bottom line?
No. It doesn’t matter who does what. As I said before, writers are writers. There’s nothing in our DNA which makes anyone any better or any worse. Frankly, this bullshit has to stop.
PF: What’s your advice to an established author (i.e. published through a brand-name house) when speaking with an independent or small press author?
BXW: Never call a self-published author lazy and do your damn homework before you say said author didn’t study their craft. The downgrading of Indie authors is no different than the downgrading of other races in other times. WTF?!? Stop it. Talk about the writing, the craft, the way to make a work stand out, not about how wonderful you are by virtue of your publishing house.
PF: A very young author approaches you with their first full manuscript, and it’s surprisingly good. The author asks your opinion: should they start selling their first manuscript to a name-brand publisher, or go direct to independent publishing?
BXW: That’s a personal choice, and I wouldn’t want to persuade anyone in any direction. I would let them know what it takes to market (the pain!) and what it takes to get rejection letters from 100 different literary agents (the pain!). Truthfully, it’s a matter of picking your own poison, so-to-speak…although “poison” isn’t really the term I should use for success. Look at the pros and cons of both avenues of publication, then pick what feels right. Or, pick both.
PF: Some people have said that they’ve been turned off by low-quality, independent writers, and I agree with you – I think there’s still a bit of mutual irritation between so-called “real” authors and independent authors. If you could make a sales pitch to a worldwide audience of choosy readers, what case would you make for independent writers?
BXW: If I asked you to make a list of your top greatest books of all time, how surprised would you be if I said 10% or more of them were originally self-published? A book is a book. Writers are writers. If the imagination of a writer takes you on journey, then the publisher shouldn’t matter. Picking a book based on a publisher is just plain snobbish…and rather stupid.
PF: You’re an indie writer, an avid supporter of your fellow author, you’re an artist, a devoted husband, a father of five, you work full-time, and you design websites on the side. How the heck do you stay glued together?
BXW: Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. And Paxil.
Benjamin ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He has been–at different times, of course–a fry cook, range boy, greens maintenance technician, reservations agent, room service attendant, editor, banquet server, meteorologist, instructor, program manager for Internet applications, curriculum developer and simulation engineer.
The author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, Benjamin has been called “a Pulitzer-caliber writer” with “a unique American voice.” Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines to include The Horror Express, All Hollows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society, Horror Carousel and Bare Bones.
He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows). He is married to a wonderful and creative woman and has five kids, a dog, a hamster and two fish. You can find Benjamin psychoanalyzing himself on his blog (http://bxwretlind.com/) or lounging about in the Twitterverse (@bxwretlind).
Go buy some books! http://www.amazon.com/Benjamin-X.-Wretlind/e/B004X2O624
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bxwretlind