Anthony St. Clair is passionate indie author of the Rucksack Universe series. He shared with XinXii his marketing strategy for book series, the pros and cons of self-publishing, and why a milk crate has to stand on his working place.
About Anthony St. Clair
Globetrotter, fantasy author, and beer writer Anthony St. Clair has walked with hairy coos in the Scottish Highlands, choked on seafood in Australia, and watched the full moon rise over Mt. Everest in Tibet. Anthony’s travels have also taken him around the sights and beers of Thailand, Japan, India, Canada, Ireland, the USA, Cambodia, China and Nepal. He and his wife live in Eugene, Oregon, and gave their son a passport for his first birthday.
1. What are your biggest challenges in your life as an author?
My biggest challenge is helping my books find their readers. It is amazing to live in an era where more people can publish and read than ever before, but it’s also a good challenge to figure out how readers can connect with me and my work.
For 2015, I’m meeting that challenge by really pushing my comfort zone. To better connect with readers, I’m working on real-world and online events, video, and better email marketing.
2. How were your book covers created? What is the most important about a good cover for you?
I am a firm believer in playing to your strengths. I can hardy crop a photo, so I don’t go near cover design. One of my local beta readers, Bonnie Donaghy, not only critiques my early drafts, she is also an excellent graphic designer.
We collaborate on concepts, bold color, and iconic, stand-out imagery. A good novel cover needs to be intriguing, make you wonder and stick with you, while also communicating a core theme or premise of the book.
When I published my first book, The Martini of Destiny, in 2013, we originally went with an idea based in stock photography. It was a fun cover, but we realized we hadn’t thought through the series aspect enough. Since my Rucksack Universe series is based in travel, fantasy, and magical realism, we talked extensively about how each book in the series can look distinct and stand on its own, while also being part of a cohesive whole. That led us to a bold, intriguing design that is now the core of all my covers.
3. Which criteria define your book prices?
I believe in pricing based on similar titles in my genre, instead of rushing to the bottom. Free or $0.99 are useful tools for occasional promotions. Otherwise, I believe strongly that a book’s list price should be based on its peers.
For example, when pricing the 458-page fantasy/magical realism novel Forever the Road, my third and most recent book, I examined novels of similar length and genre. That helped me arrive at an e-book price of $4.99 and a trade paperback list price of $15.99. These prices were in line with the market and customer expectations, while also giving me the flexibility to run sales.
4. What is your strategy, that your work becomes a bestseller?
Tenacity and quality. I’ve always understood that my series would be a gradual climber, needing time and titles to find its market and climb up the charts. Just as The Princess Bride did okay at the box office but only gradually became a modern classic, over time more people are discovering my books and finding enduring stories that they love.
Part of being tenacious is putting out the best work I can. Quality is everything to me. The joy of indie publishing today is it truly is more egalitarian. Pretty much anyone can do it. The challenge is that not everyone does indie publishing well. My years in copywriting, marketing, and journalism have made me a meticulous planner. I believe in putting out the best story that readers deserve, done to the highest professional standards.
Writing a book is art. Publishing a book is a professional business. Nowadays, it is just as easy to do a stand-out, high-quality job as it is to knock together something shoddy. I’ll err on the side of high quality. This matters so much to me, I even have a “Quality Guarantee” page on my website that also outlines the 15 steps my books go through before publication: http://www.anthonystclair.com/quality
5. Besides classic marketing actions, what do you do to boost the success of your book?
As I mentioned above, this year I’m focusing hard on pushing my comfort zone. I’m putting together events and readings. I’m drafting out ideas for simple videos and raising my game on email marketing. I’m even developing a free one-man show that puts people in the world of my stories.
Beyond this, though, the first thing I do most days of the week is sit down and write at least 1,000 words on the next book. My Rucksack Universe series, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, isn’t a linear, sequential series. I have recurring characters and big story arcs, and the books both interconnect and stand on their own. Readers and I can explore this world as long as I draw breath.
6. What is your most precious tip for a new indie author?
Writing and publishing a book combines art and business—and that is a wonderful thing. But it is a challenge, because embracing today’s indie publishing requires letting go of obsolete mythology about being a writer.
If you are indie publishing, you are running a business. My dad is a utility contractor whose company installs water and sewer lines. He runs a business. My wife is a Suzuki violin teacher with her own private studio. She runs a business. I am an author who writes, publishes, and markets my own books. I run a business. So do you.
Love what you do and be confident about it. Other people will too. If you don’t take your work seriously, no one else will.
Understand your writing process. Embrace it. Trust it. Nurture it. And keep going.
Play to your strengths. You don’t have to do everything yourself. More importantly, you shouldn’t. Understand what you’re good at, and do it. Hire out the rest.
Lastly, get over the idea of the muse. Plumbers don’t have “plumber’s block.” They get up in the morning and go to work. If your book is going to progress from dream to published reality, you’ll need to do the same.
7. Where do you write? Would you show us your writing place?
My home office! To riff on Virginia Woolf, I have a room of my own with a lock on the door. This way I can be at home with my wife and two children, but I still have a dedicated space to get my work done.
About the milk crate, by the way. I have a 3-month-old daughter, and sometimes I wear her in a baby carrier while I work. She doesn’t like it when I sit down though. So I set my laptop on the milk crate as a simple “standing desk.” It’s quite an upgrade, actually; when my son, now 3 years old, was a baby, my standing desk was an empty diaper box.
8. With which author would you like to have dinner, and what were your first question?
I wish that I could have had dinner with Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the 40+ bestselling Discworld novels, who passed away last month. His stories have been delighting readers around the world since I was a little kid. For years he was Britain’s top-selling author—unseated only by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.
I’d always hoped to one day be a peer of Pratchett’s, perhaps get to meet him someday. Unfortunately, I won’t have that chance now. If I could have, though, my first question would have been, “What continues to make writing worthwhile?”
9. What is your next project, and what would you do differently compared to your past ones?
I have 3 projects in the works right now: the fourth and fifth Rucksack Universe novels (codenamed “Lotus” and “Wet,” respectively), as well as a prequel novella that I want to use as a permafree way to entice new readers to the series.
As of this interview, I’m two-thirds of the way through writing the rough draft of Lotus. When I wrote my first three books, I was also really figuring out my writing process. Each of those books came to final form via multiple from-scratch rewrites and lots of “authorial baggage.” I’m happy with the end results, but knew I was also working toward a better way to write books that worked for me. By the time Forever the Road came out in September 2014, I knew I had my process down.
Working on Lotus is really exciting, because it is the first book that I’m doing from scratch through my full process. It’s invigorating and the drafting is going well. Once I hit the editing and revision stages, I envision improving how I pace and space scenes, based on other books I love in various genres. This all combines to make Lotus an exciting book that builds on the other titles in the series, hones in on the “beerpunk” aspect I’ve been told my stories have, and has us wandering with compelling characters both for the action on the page, and for stories to come.
How I promote my books is also changing. I’ll be using events, video, and email marketing far more for pre-launch and post-launch.
10. What do you appreciate in XinXii?
I like XinXii’s overall ease of managing titles, as well as its distribution into various global markets and multiple European ebook retailers. I’ve alway envisioned my series as having a more global appeal, so working with a distributor that helps me be available in more countries is a huge win-win.