Indie Powerhouse Author Russell Blake on the Secrets to His Success

When I got wind of indie author, Russell Blake’s success, I had to reach out to him. His books may not have graced the top of the NYT bestsellers list yet but they will and he’s proven that writing in volume and quickly does not have to conflict with writing quality material.  As noted in the recent Wall Street Journal article which is featured about him, Blake has written over 25 novels in just 30 months, that’s roughly a book a month and in doing so, not only has he quietly garnered over a million dollars but has sparked the interest of none other than thriller great, Clive Cussler.


In my interview with Blake today, I had to know his take on what is happening in the indie scene today, his writing process and how he stays motivated when there are so many things that can distract an indie author nowadays.


How do you choose what to write about next? Do you follow trends? Do you search the top Kindle books and then make a decision based on that?

I don’t really pay attention to trends – they tend to only be good for telling me where the market’s been, not where it’s going. When all’s said and done, a good story’s a good story. I prefer to make a trend than follow it, honestly, and in my genres, there really aren’t any useful observations I can make, other than competitive pricing trends. As to what I choose to write about, I lay out a production schedule for the year so I don’t procrastinate too much, and I stick to it, just as though I were a contractor and my publishing arm was the customer. Without that understanding of what I intend to publish I’d probably just wallow around. The structure helps me focus, although, for instance, last year, all that went out of the window when the idea for Upon A Pale Horse came to me. So it’s a guideline that I try to adhere to, but not at the expense of a cool idea.


Treadmill deskHow do you keep motivated when it’s so easy to get distracted by checking your Facebook update every 5 minutes?

I stay off the internet when I’m writing. Otherwise I’m sucked in, and my productivity drops by 50%.

I’m curious about your treadmill desk. Any photos you writing on it that you can share?

Sure. I use a Lifespan 1200 with an adjustable height desk. It’s been a lifesaver for me. Sedentary is bad. Active is good. If you want to live to enjoy anything…


Do you outline before you start writing or do you just wing it? 

I write a paragraph or two summarizing the story. Then I do the first 15 chapter headings as one sentence summaries, a la “Intro Jet, attacked in shop, escapes, attacked again in street.” Then I start writing. By the time I get to chapter 15, I have a much clearer idea of how I want to adjust chapters 15-30, so I repeat the process until finished. I spend no more than a couple of hours outlining, because once I’ve got the basic story idea, I want to write it, not write about it. And I’m impatient, so I generally give in to that impulse.


Are your first drafts as bad as mine?  Just how bad are they? or are they pretty clean?

Mine are about 95%. But it’s the other 5% that’s the difference between okay and sparkling.


How many drafts do you do before your manuscript is off to your editor?

Typically three.


How many words do you normally write a day? And what time do you start writing and finish writing?

I shoot for 7K a day. It generally takes me 10-12 hours to get there. I’m a slow typist, and I sometimes want to think about an element before I charge forward. As a shorthand I’ll insert XXX or YYY when I’m uncertain about a name, place or fact, and come back to it later, so as not to stall my momentum. Occasionally I’ll have a 10K day when I’m completely on, but it’s just as likely to be a struggle to get to 5K, if life intrudes.


Do you edit as you write or do you just do a brain dump?

Nothing comes between me and my prose. I write it, come back and rewrite it (usually shaking my head wondering how the hell I’m ever going to whip it into shape) and on third draft, I’m usually surprised that it doesn’t completely suck. I find if I try to edit as I go along it’s a major momentum killer.


Sometimes I have a problem finishing a story. Or if I write a novel, I only write the first draft, more like a crapdraft and then I abandon the project and work on something else. How do you keep from doing that and completing each book so that it’s ready for release without losing confidence, getting frustrated about the amount of work it’s going to need in order to be truly ready and moving on to something new when it’s half-baked?

I force myself to keep at it until it’s finished. Nobody ever succeeded by quitting, and I think if you abandon it, it’s likely to stay abandoned. I sort of make a deal with myself to finish it, and that’s what I do.


In the WSJ article it says you use two editors and a proofreader? What do each of them do? And why that many?

My first editor does structural and prose adjustments. My second editor has different skills, so is looking at the same material, only at a more technical level. He’s a military fella, and so is tuned into the more technical aspects of the subject matter, as well as on the lookout for repetition. Every editor is going to have strengths and weaknesses, just as writers do. The more eyes on your work, the better the final product is likely to be. The proofreader cleans off the nits the two editors didn’t catch.


What tips do you have for writers who are trying to choose the right type of editor?

Get sample pages done, and ask for references. Better yet, ask authors whose work you think is of a high caliber for a referral to their editor. That’s what I did. And ensure that the editor doesn’t alter your voice, but rather, improves it.


It was mentioned in the WSJ article that you are expanding into other genres such as romance. Why?  How important is finding the right subgenre in finding indie success and how do you personally select which subgenre to maximize sales?

My foray into romance is purely a function of a discussion I had with Melissa Foster when she was conceptualizing her romance series. We got to talking, and a lot of ideas went back and forth. It became obvious over time that our collective brainpower might create a different enough product to make it worth our while. So we agreed to give it a try. She’s blowing up the charts with her offerings, so she’s clearly doing it right in that genre.

Come summer we’ll give it a go, and hopefully the result will be greater than what either of us could have done on our own. As to subgenres, again, I don’t pay much attention to them. I write stories I would want to read myself, and after I have an idea for the story, try to figure out where they fit. Fortunately, most of my work fits in the action/adventure/thriller genre, so it’s easy. But my advice to budding writers is to pick one genre and stick to it until you’ve established yourself. Otherwise the reader doesn’t know what to expect from book to book, which generally translates into no sales.


Once you have a book cover, do you write your own descriptions? How do you know when the descriptions are just right and really going to sell your book well?

I write my own descriptions. Nobody else will do it better, and it’s part of the job. I try to synthesize the high concept into two or three sentences that make the reader want to know more. That’s the only job of a blurb – it’s ad copy. A blurb doesn’t create a synopsis of the story, and it’s not a book review; it’s an ad for the book that should compel the reader to click buy or at least check out the Look Inside. I know it’s done when it would get me to buy the book, not before.

 What do you do from the moment you upload your book to start promoting it? What advice would you give writers starting today compared to when you started almost three years ago?
I do a cover reveal, a blog announcing the book, put up an announcement on Facebook and Twitter, and then run a few ads. The big thing is building a mailing list, because then you can put out an announcement to your loyal readership and they’ll buy the book in the first few days, which gets you onto the radar of the Amazon algorithms and onto the Hot New Releases list. The truth is that I haven’t found any launch technique that’s much more effective than putting the books out with a minimum of fanfare, which is partially driven by the amount of time I have. If I’m writing much of my time, I don’t have two weeks to mount a sustained marketing campaign for each book and meet my production schedule. I could probably sell more books on release if I did more of an official launch with fanfare, but there are only so many hours in the day, and I only allocate 20-25% of my time to non-writing tasks. So really, it’s whatever I can accomplish with that 20-25% of my time. When I slow my production in 2014 to only four Russell Blake novels a year, I’ll do more of a launch strategy. It will be interesting to see if that makes much difference. I hope it does, but suspect it won’t.

 For more inspirational interviews and posts for writers, click here.