(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the 8 Questions Podcast)
Today I’m talking to Chris Fox who, if you are a listener to any of the Sterling & Stone podcasts, or my podcast, Wordslinger Podcast, you have heard of Chris.
You may actually subscribe to some of his own stuff. He’s got a lot out there that you probably pay attention to.
He’s a full-time author. He’s writing books for writers and novels about werewolves, aliens and star ships and mysterious ancient cultures. And those are fun topics, Chris.
Chris: Yes, I could just live in the dream. I can’t believe I get paid to write about that stuff.
Kevin: No joke, it’s kind of like growing up you and I, I’m sure we both watched pretty much the same stuff, and it’s kind of nice to be able to tell those stories. I have this theory that I really just rehashed these stories I grew up listening to and watching on television, but I don’t think I can be blamed for that.
Chris: Me either. You know what, I do exactly that and I think that people who assume we’re original probably just didn’t grow up during the same time period.
Kevin: Right. Whose quote is it that says, “Originality is the art of hiding your source?” Is that Edison?
Chris: I don’t know but it’s such an appropriate quote.
Kevin: So, Eight Questions. So you don’t know any of these questions. We didn’t talk about them beforehand or anything so I’m hoping I catch you by surprise just enough that you’re pleased, but not so much that you don’t have anything to say.
So, we’re going to give it a shot, okay?
Chris: Okay. Fingers crossed.
1. You have a whole book about lifelong writing habits, so why is a writing habit important to you?
Chris: A writing habit is important to me because I think we all have a calling in life, and I realized early on that mine was writing.
And for so much of my life I didn’t. I didn’t write. I knew I was bad at it and I didn’t think I could achieve the things that I wanted.
And the moment I made the switch and started writing everything, this “ahhh” came on, in golden halo around my head. I realized this is what I was meant to do, and I love it, and it’s a part of me.
When I follow that passion, I know that my life just in general is better.
I feel happier. I know I’m pursuing what I’m meant to pursue. So, that’s why I think a writing habit is critical in my life.
Kevin: That’s interesting. That’s like saying writing is part of your self-improvement or self-therapy.
Chris: Very much so. I think that so many of us are looking for a creative outlet, and in my case it’s writing. Other people do dance or artwork or whatever their schtick is. But all of us really want to I think express ourselves and writing is a great way to do it for me.
Kevin: So when you don’t get to write, and I just had this experience because we just came back from about two weeks on the road and I didn’t get to write much because I was driving like eight to twelve hours a day. So when you don’t get to write, how do you feel?
Chris: It’s not something I talk about a lot but I have chronic depression, which I know a lot of people suffer from. If I’m not achieving something, usually writing related, I get depressed and I start saying, you know, hey I’m worthless and that voice starts up in the back of my head.
It’s almost for my own sanity that it’s so important for me to write consistently and to keep creating.
Kevin: Yes, I feel the same way. Good. We discussed once before on my show that you and I freakishly have a lot in common. I noticed on your Bio that it says you started writing at six years old, and I always tell everything I started writing at five years old. So I beat you by a year, but still very similar.
Chris: Yes, it’s like we’re long lost brothers in a way.
Kevin: Yes, man, let’s strike up the bromance. Okay. So second question:
2. One of your books is titled 5,000 Words Per Hour. So how important is writing speed to an author?
Chris: Writing speed to an author is the busy author’s best friend I think.
That speed is going to be different for every author, so not everybody’s going to get to 5,000 words an hour.
Chris: But if your speed is 1,000 words an hour and you write consistently every day at 1,000 words per hour, it’s all about getting that momentum.
So chasing your writing speed, for me, is a way to sort of gamify it and get my butt in the chair.
So consistency is far, far more important than speed in my mind, but speed is a way to achieve consistency.
Kevin: So, in your book you give a lot of tips. I believe at this point I’ve read everything you’ve written on the non-fiction side and a couple of your fiction books. I’m still working through your fiction.
But you have some little tips and tricks on how to each that 5,000 words per hour. Do you want to share a couple of those?
Chris: Sure. So, the simplest thing is to write to a timer and as you are writing make sure that you do not stop and go back and edit.
So the timer starts and you are cranking out new words. You don’t bother correcting things. You just get it out of your head and sort of try and get into that flow state.
And for this to be effective, you need to erect what John Cleese called a tortoise enclosure, which means you’re kind of in a creative playpen where you’re not going to be interrupted by anything outside.
So shut off all distractions, set a timer and write for whatever that time is. Start with something short like five minutes.
Kevin: Okay. Anybody who can quote John Cleese is okay in my book. Another book, and one I really loved, was Write To Market. So what does it mean to “write to market”?
Chris: So writing to market I think is going to be different depending on who’s answering the question. But to me it’s finding the intersection between what you would love to write and what you know there is a voracious market for.
So if you want to write something that’s eclectic and off the wall and there’s no audience, you’re probably not going to sell a lot of books. But if you want to write to a hot genre that you happen to personally love, then you’re writing to market and you’re much more likely to make a living at this author thing.
Kevin: Yes. So I have a follow-up question to that and I want to really dig in on it because this is something I think authors in general, but not just authors – I think even if you’re not an author, this idea of creating your product to market is very important, especially for artists.
3. How do you balance what you love to write with what you know will sell?
Chris: It’s really just looking to see what is currently selling. I love giant spaceships. I love werewolves. I love epic fantasy. I loved different flavors of horror and urban fantasy.
So what I did was just went and looked at all those things and saw who was in the Amazon Top 1,000 and who was making money in those genres.
I found what seemed to be popular that I also loved writing, and kind of started writing that.
Kevin: Okay. There’s that crowd that brings up that word, sell-out though. How do you negate that? How do you stop yourself from being a “sell-out” or can you even be a sell out?
Chris: I think you can. If you are writing something that you hate, then you’re probably selling out.
So I know a couple of people that write romance, erotica specifically, who really dislike what they do and are very vocal about that. And they’re earning a pretty good pay check. They’re making a living doing it and high kudos to them, but there’s a lot of bad jobs you can have in the world.
Chris: You know if you’re going to be a writer and you’re going to go through what in my mind is one of the most difficult professions out there, then you should be writing something you like.
Kevin: I agree with that. You can get a job almost anywhere as a writer and find work that’s lucrative but you hate it. I mean that’s easy to do. I did that for decades.
Kevin: And that’s the fine line by the way, and that’s why I really wanted to dig in on this in particular. Because this whole idea of writing to market, people get confused over it.
You’ve been very specific about this, but you’re not talking about going out and saying sparkly vampires are popular, so therefore I write sparkly vampire books now.
You’re saying find the genre or find the work that’s selling and write the stuff you love as close to that as possible. I may be butchering this actually. Why don’t you do better?
Chris: I think you pretty much nailed it. I guess I’ll reiterate it with slightly different words, but all of us have different things we like to write.
I don’t think anybody is pigeon holed into one thing. It can feel that way, especially if it’s your first novel where like this is the only thing I’ve written and this is what the book’s about.
So having some experience under your belt will make this easier, but in order to figure out what it is you’d like to write, you have to read it. So all you’ve got to do is pop around Amazon, look at genres that interested you as a kid or interest you as an adult, or experiment and try something new.
I recently picked up a western for the first time and read Lonesome Dove and I found that I like that. Maybe some day I’ll want to write a western as a result.
But give yourself experimentation. Give yourself the permission to kind of play and learn and do new things, and do it in areas where you know that books are selling.
4. How do you avoid genre hopping, which we’ve been warned not to do?
Chris: I don’t. I hope genres all the time.
Kevin: I do too. And I know that’s the key advice, but do you find there’s a downside to genre hopping?
Chris: Absolutely. So, if you are writing, let’s say you are Von Hepner, one of the most prolific science fiction indie authors out there, you crank out sci-fi book after sci-fi book after sci-fi book, and somebody brand new finds you.
They’re going to work their way through your entire catalog and they’re going to read, whatever 20+ books that you’ve got out.
But if you’re a genre hopper like we are, you’re going to finish what you like, in this case let’s say my science fiction, and maybe you’ll pick up my books about werewolves, but more likely you’re going to look for more science fiction.
So, because I genre hop, my backlist is less attractive to new people who find me.
Kevin: Yes. That’s what I’ve discovered. I have to thank you by the way, though because you’re at least one part of this. Nick Thacker was another part, with the idea of writing to market. Nick encouraged me to start writing thrillers. He kind of dared me to.
So I used your Write to Market process really to kind of determine what to write and how to set it up and everything. And the book has done extremely well, better than any of my other books. So thank you.
Chris: Awesome. I’m really glad to hear that. And all day long I’m getting emails from people saying hey, it’s working, and it really makes me grin.
What I think is funny is it’s not a process that I invented. It’s been going on since the dawn of time I’m sure. It’s just something that I’m writing down that I’ve learned the hard way over the last couple of years.
Kevin: But it’s good to see someone prove it. You did it with Destroyer, and you have a sequel to that, just released or releasing soon?
Chris: Just released. It came out Monday and so far is doing exactly the same thing Destroyer did. So it sailed up to about 400 on the Amazon store, it’s currently around 650 and fingers crossed, I expect it will settle in to the top 1,000.
Kevin: And what’s the title of that book?
Chris: Void Wraith.
Kevin: Void Wraith. And I love the covers. So now I want to shift gears just a little because you are in addition to be an author you’re app developer, right? Still, right? I mean you haven’t moved on already, as far as I know.
Chris: Yes, I still tinker so I write stuff on my own time that I use personally and don’t publish. And then I also have apps that I put out.
5. How has being an app developer helped you to be a better writer?
Chris: I think that being an app developer teaches you two things that are absolutely critical to most professions. The first is organization.
So you have to break down this massive software project into a number of manageable pieces across a team of people, which is the same thing you do with a book, when you factor in editors and cover designers.
So managing that process is something that being a software engineer can teach you, and it really taught me to be a better author because I’m on top of every part of the process, because I have a better system for outlining.
And then the other thing that it does, being a software engineer, you always have to get things out the door fast.
So it’s unacceptable for you to say well, this is my baby and I’m going to take a year to write this out. No, no, no, no. You have six weeks to, from scratch, take ideas that somebody has had and turn that into a functional product that people can use.
So you have to accept that what you’re releasing you’re striving for excellence, not perfection. You’re not going to be able to get it exactly where you want it to be. You just make the best product you can and accept that it’s going to be, you know, maybe a little bit flawed.
Kevin: So how do you handle the whole kill your little darlings thing? Maybe that’s not appropriate for this. I like it the way you put it actually. You’re striving for excellence, not perfection.
6. How do you accommodate that and how do you prevent yourself from throwing out the baby with the bath water in a sense?
Chris: I think practice. It’s learning to turn off the inner critic.
Instead of hearing hey, this is wrong or you’ve made this mistake and thinking that’s a bad thing, seeing the opportunity to learn from it is a good thing, and changing your mindset about that helped.
I quit twice in my life because I wrote something that wasn’t good and somebody gave me feedback about why it wasn’t good and I just said to myself screw it, I’m never going to be able to do this and I quit.
Kevin: How did you bring yourself back after that?
Chris: When it’s in your blood, I think you have to write. So eventually you come back and you try again, and I kept doing that.
So I would take several years off and eventually I would start writing again, and I’d start showing it to somebody, and finally reached a point where I was decent enough where people were like hey, this is good, would you write some more stuff.
7. How long did it take you to write your first book and how long does it take you to write a book now?
Chris: The very first book took me about four years, and currently it takes me about three weeks.
Kevin: Right. I like how you do the sprints and everything. I think that helps a lot. I’ve adapted your process to fit my 30-day process and so I think coming together it’s like peanut butter and jelly now. We’re doing all right. I’m finding the things that work for me.
Chris: I think what we’ve proved, and I really love this, is that everybody’s process is different but there are a lot of similarities between them.
So you do things a little bit differently than I do, but we’ve both had very similar success and any writer listening to this, take your process and run with it. So, you can take little bits from and from Kevin and from Monica and from anybody else that you know, but at the end of the day your process should be your process.
Kevin: Yes. Monica is awesome by the way, Monica Leonelle. Just so people know who we’re talking about.
Chris: I think most of them do.
Kevin: Yes, I’m betting 99% of this audience does.
8. Would you recommend that other authors take the path that you took in your career?
Chris: If it works for them, great. If not, that’s fine too. So don’t look at what somebody else did and try and mimic it exactly. Look at it and try and figure out what you can take away from it, because your journey is definitely going to be different.
The big take away while looking at somebody like me is if you don’t give up and if you keep after it, regardless of the path you take, you are probably going to find the success that you’re after.
Kevin: Yes, I agree with that. And I think it’s good to have role models. I think that if you find people who are achieving the type of success you’re after, you’d kind of be foolish not to at least mimic them in part.
9. Who inspires you, not just in writing but in life?
Chris: So, in writing, Lindsay Buroker was the first person that I found. I think we all have that one indie author that we saw doing this, doing what we wanted to do who proved to us that it was possible, and for me that was Lindsay.
I got to meet her at The Smarter Artist Summit, which was awesome.
Kevin: That’s cool.
Chris: And I learned a lot from her. She used to post prolifically on her blog to help other indie writers and that taught me a ton.
Outside of writing there are people like Tony Robbins who’s a huge inspiration.
Bill Gates, he gets a lot of bad rap these days but just the time and effort that he put into building software into what it is today amazes me. And the guy is brilliant. And the tenacity he’s showing when sometimes he’s the media darling, but more often he’s the bad guy. And he never let that get to him.
So people like that have really inspired me to ignore critics and just do what I’m going to do as best as I can do it.
Kevin: Yes, I’m kind of actually a fan of Bill Gates. At various times in my life not so much, but especially since he’s moved on from direct management of Microsoft and you know, he’s out there single handily curing malaria and that sort of thing. He’s hard not to admire at this point.
But he just kind of rolls with whatever punches come his way.
Chris: That’s a quality I really admire.
Kevin: Yes, I need to learn to do that. This is technically the final question so let’s draw it out a little.
10. What’s the biggest goal you’ve ever set for your life and how close have you come to meeting it?
Chris: The biggest goal I have ever set in my life, I want to write the preeminent fantasy series. I want to eclipse The Wheel of Time. I want to eclipse A Song of Ice and Fire. I want to eclipse Lord of the Rings.
I want to write like a two or three million word series that fifty years after I have passed away, people still read and love.
Kevin: That’s awesome. That’s a big goal.
Chris: That’s like a life goal.
Kevin: So how close are you?
Chris: Not very. So, I started when I was 18 years old. I’m going to turn 40 in July. When I was 18 years old I started working on a fantasy world I call Shattered Gods.
The basic premise is that the Gods had a titanic war and they killed each other off, but their bodies litter the world and so ordinary people can go to these bodies and if they’re not killed in the process, come away with magical abilities.
So, I fleshed out this rich detailed fantasy world, as so many of us have, and I’ve been working on it for 20 some odd years. But I wouldn’t let myself write the books until I knew I was good enough.
So, the reason why I’ve experimented in so many other series, and will continue to at least through 2017, is because I want to build my writing chops to a point where I can start writing what I feel the best the books that I have ever produced.
That will happen probably in 2018, but I’m laying a lot of ground work. I’ve got the plot for the first six books done. I’ve written some passages and I have beta readers so that’s about where I’m sitting.
I expect that it’s going to be a long journey, but it’s my hope that I’ll have a large enough backlist when I start working on this that I no longer have to release a book a month to keep my head above water.
Kevin: I think that’s interesting and I’m glad you brought that up. Because it seems like right now my career, in order to kind of maintain the income I need, I have to essentially release a book every month. Which is not always possible and so the income starts to fluctuate.
But that idea of building up the catalog so that it’s discoverable, you and I both share that as a philosophy.
Are you finding that that’s happening more and more or is it not really start tipping yet?
Chris: Absolutely, it’s finally started to tip. So my backlist, now take whatever new release I’ve got out of the equation, is now earning like six grand a month.
Kevin: Very nice.
Chris: And that’s pretty consistent. It’s enough that I can live on. I need more, and I live in Northern California so I need more than that.
But that will basically cover my net every month and so I’m okay, and the new releases on top of that are helping.
So I think that in another year, when I’ve got let’s say twelve more books out and I’ve finished a few more series, I’ll have much more money in savings, a larger backlist that hopefully is paying my bills, and then I’ll be able to slow down.
But it’s hard to know because Amazon could change how they do things tomorrow. So we don’t know that we’re going to be earning money as authors the same way two years from now.
Kevin: Yes, that’s the importance of building that list.
Chris: Yes, which is my number one priority and I feel it should be for every author listening to this.
Chris: Your list is more important than your backlist. The way that you reach readers for your newest book coming out, it lays the foundation for your whole career.
If you look at Void Wraith’s success, it went into Amazon’s Top 400 because I emailed a list of people that were interested in that book, because I had already accumulated 2,000 email addresses, and that’s just in two months.
So I can’t even imagine where that’s going to be in ten more months.
11. How are you building your list?
Chris: So I use the reader magnet philosophy that Nick Stephenson originally espoused.
And this time around what I did is I tied the reader magnet very, very closely to the main plot and answered some questions that you weren’t going to get answered in the book, and I didn’t list it on Amazon.
So, for the first month the only way for you to read this to get answers was to get the book from me directly, which is why I had such a huge burst of sign-ups.
And I noticed that as soon as I released it on Amazon, I mean the book’s making almost a $1,000 a month by itself for a twelve thousand word story, but sign-ups were cut in half the second I listed that on Amazon.
Kevin: Interesting. That’s a good method to keep in mind.
Chris: Yes, so going forward with new series, I will use reader magnets and I will not list them on Amazon. If you want to read the stories and find out more about the universes that we create, you’re going to have to get on my mailing list.
Kevin: Okay. So, I’m totally going to steal that from you. Because I’ve been doing a lot with short fiction lately and having just phenomenal success just building the list really from short stories.
But I was posting those on my blog, and I’ll probably continue to do that, but I’m going to write some exclusive shorts that are tied in with the various series that I write, and start offering those as magnets because I think you’re right.
That exclusivity drives more traffic.
Especially if you’ve already got a group of people who are interested.
Chris: I’m pretty surprised by first, how effective the reader magnet was, and then secondly how much that effectiveness diminished the second I made it easy for them to get it another way.
Kevin: All my magnets right now are available everywhere, so I need to really do something exclusive. Good, I’m taking something away from this. I hope everyone else is taking something away from this.
So okay, Chris that’s all the official questions I had for you, so my final question really is where can people find you?
Chris: My central hub is chrisfoxwrites.com. You can find access to a lot of articles I’ve written for writers. You can get a free copy of ”5,000 Per Hour”.
And then if you’re more of a video person, I’ve put together a series on outlining your novel, on editing your novel. All that stuff is add-free, it’s just available for people to digest. So chrisfoxwrites.com for anything I’m able to teach you.
Kevin: That’s awesome and those videos are fantastic. Everyone listening, you should definitely check those out. Chris, thanks so much for being on the show. I always learn something every time I talk to you. We got to start hanging out more.
Chris: Absolutely. I’ll make it down to Austin more often.
Kevin: Yes, I’ve got the RV now so we’re going to range out. We’re moving full-time in October so maybe you and I can hang out at your place sometime.
Chris: Awesome. Make it to California, I’d be happy to host you.
Kevin: You got it. Okay, everybody, thanks for tuning in. And if you’d like to find out more about my work, you can track down all things Wordslinger at kevintumlinson.com and definitely be sure to check out Chris’ work at chrisfoxwrites.com.
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