Last April I was at the FWA’s mini-conference in Altamonte Springs and who did I meet in the lunch line but the impeccably polite and personable Ben Hale. Ben is comparatively new to indie publishing (his first novel came out in June of 2012) but that hasn’t stopped him from producing four titles in his series since then. His work has earned him finalist status in this year’s Royal Palm Awards and he was a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. At over 40,000 copies sold, Ben is a success by anyone’s definition and it was my pleasure to talk with him about his life and career.
TBR: Your bio says you had the story for Lumineia in your head for years before you actually started writing. What were the main factors that kept you from writing it sooner?
BH: Honestly I never thought about it. I loved the story, but didn’t think I had the ability to put it together. I guess I thought writing wasn’t in my skill set. I mentioned it to my wife once and that was the end of it. She encouraged me to try, and a year later my first book was finished.
TBR: How do you define success as an author?
BH: I would say that success is personal to each author. For some it’s just finishing a book, for others it is being an international best-selling author with movies being made from their books. Personally, I view success as being able to do something you love for a living. I became a full-time writer in December, and have been very fortunate in continuing to do so.
TBR: To authors who write for years without recognition, your current level of achievement seems rather meteorical. What factors or actions do you think contributed most to your initial and continued success?
BH: A rise in sales has a great number of factors, one of which is certainly luck. However, I think you can stack the chances in your favor. I did months of research before I started, was meticulous with editing, cover art, and branding, and then released a trilogy of books in the span of six months. I think that if someone wants to be taken seriously as a writer, they have to put out a book that is of equal or better quality than the professionals. Between research, editing, and cover art, I spent months of time (outside of writing and editing) and money to make my books as good as possible. It’s an enormous help that I have experience running a business, because that is what being an indie author is. It’s a business. It’s so much more than just writing. Managing your books like they are your product is highly advantageous for a hundred different reasons. Then all you can do is hope for luck.
TBR: Most authors have some sort of writing process. Would you say you have one and if so, what is it?
BH: I once heard that writers are either planners or blurters. I’m a planner, and I outline my books extensively before I write it. In doing so there is just as much creative work put into the outline as there is in the book, but it gives me a framework to track where I want the story to go. If a book is well outlined, I can typically write a chapter in 2-3 hours.
TBR: Do you think there is a difference between being a writer and being an author and if so, what is it?
BH: I would say that a writer is someone who enjoys writing, while an author enjoys writing books. I would classify myself more as an author and speaker than a writer.
TBR: What marketing strategies have been most useful to you?
BH: I believe that the Amazon Select program is the best individual tool available right now. When used properly one can have massive free downloads, which can lead to enormous sales if the books are in a series. I shared some insights to a friend recently and he did an excellent job of combining several different techniques. The first day of his free promotion he had over 20,000 free downloads. I wouldn’t say that is the norm, but combining several tools with free promotions can be life-changing. It was for me, and I am by far not the only one.
TBR: How useful do you feel writing conferences to be and in what ways?
BH: I think they are very beneficial to aspiring writers that want to work on their craft. That said, I see very few of them altering their format to instruct authors on how to be an indie author. The most recent one I attended had a large focus on how to pitch agents, and how to work with publishers. Indie publishing is almost an afterthought, if it is mentioned at all. That’s why I try to make myself available to visit groups, organizations, or schools whenever possible to help writers know what is possible in today’s market. When writing conferences start including that, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
TBR: Virtual book tours are a marketing method which appears to be increasing in popularity. Did/have you participated in any virtual book or blog tours? Why or why not?
BH: I have limited experience with virtual book tours, but that is due more to time constraints than desire. The problem that indie authors face is that there are thousands of hours that can be spent on a hundred different marketing efforts. Virtual book tours, blog tours, twitter, facebook, and everything else are good, but are most effective when paired with an established fan-base and other proven advertisements. Done alone they have less power. For now, I have focused my energy more on writing than advertising. Once I have a larger fan-base my marketing efforts will have a much more dramatic impact. In short, I would rather spend an hour to sell hundreds or thousands of books, than a hundred hours to sell a few.
TBR: You were one of the most popular speakers at this year’s FWA mini-conference in Altamonte Springs. What was your favorite part of that experience and why? Are there any additional speaking engagements scheduled for the near future?
BH: I am grateful for your opinion of my talk. My favorite part of the event was getting to enlighten writers to the changes in the publishing market. So much has changed in the last five years, and yet so many authors still know little about it. I hope I can inspire many authors to go after their dreams, and will be speaking on a panel at the Florida Writers and Publishers conference in September. I will also be on a panel at Indie Book Fest, which is Saturday August 3rd. I will also be signing books at that event.
TBR: You left a successful business career to write full time. Was that a scary decision and how did you make the leap?
BH: The transition was surprisingly smooth. I pushed more and more responsibilities to others, and before I knew it I was writing every day. When I decided to do it full-time it was a little scary, but I had prepared enough that I wasn’t really afraid. Excited would be a more appropriate adjective to describe that time.
TBR: One of the most pervasive challenges for many authors is the common misconception the outside world often has that writing is somehow, “not a real job.” How pervasive have you found that perception to be and how do you deal with it?
BH: I laugh every time I talk to someone who is surprised by my new profession. It doesn’t bother me when they clearly view being an indie writer as less than reliable employment, because it gives an opportunity to change someone’s perspective. In reality, anything can be a full-time job. For the record, if I could snowboard every day and support my family, I wouldn’t hesitate. Writing is a close second.
TBR: I understand that you and your wife have welcomed a brand new baby boy into the world. Congratulations! Your bio indicates that you also lead a very active lifestyle with family, sports and other activities. With such a busy household, how do you balance the writing life with family life?
BH: Time. I have done enough now that I have a fair idea of how much time it takes to write, edit, market, etc. If I take time off to do something with the family, I balance the time and do it later—or before. I would say that balancing time may be the greatest trick to being a successful writer, and father. We did just welcome our fourth child, and I couldn’t be happier.