Ross Harrison is a writer and self-publisher of science fantasy who has been an avid writer since childhood. We chatted with Ross about how he took his hobby for writing and turned it into a career, how he fights writers block, and what tips he has for other aspiring writers on how to make money from writing - that after all can be a tough nut to crack...
So Ross, going back to the beginning, how did you get involved in writing and then self-publishing?
I have no idea how I got interested in writing, but I presume it comes from being read to by my mother and grandmother. My dad also wrote a fantasy trilogy, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, because I didn’t learn that until years later.
At first, I just wrote short things for myself and my family. Somehow, I slipped from that into a proper novel, although I didn’t know it at the time. About halfway through that, my grandmother happened to ask me if I was thinking of trying to get it published when I was finished. I said no, since I hadn’t even considered that, but the idea stuck and grew.
I lost that novel thanks to a computer error of some kind but several years later, after I had finished my first novel, Shadow of the Wraith, the idea of trying for publication came back pretty strong. I was too hasty, though, and started sending it off to agents long before it was ready. That resulted in rejections. Probably fifteen or so. That’s when the idea of self-publishing emerged.
I hadn’t really considered it before, as at that time it was really more vanity publishing. But once I’d read about this new thing called Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, I decided I was going to go for that. I got to work re-editing the book, and it turned into more of a rewrite. The thought that real people were going to read the words I was thinking ‘that’ll do’ about made me start all over again and vastly improve the book.
At that point, part of the book was still up on the writer’s community, Authonomy. About four days from self-publication, an agent from a well respected agency contacted me. He’d seen my work on Authonomy and wanted to read the full manuscript. I said no. It was a hard decision, but I was already too far down the self-publication road (mentally) to put that on hold while he read the full 129,000 words. But it was certainly confidence-inspiring. He actually wanted to read the second book once I’d finished my edit on it, but once that was done, it didn’t feel right to not self-publish that too.
As I said, it was a hard decision, but I don’t regret it.
I notice that you have mainly focused on Science Fiction - why does that genre particularly interest you?
Specifically science fantasy. I think it’s mostly because I like the complete freedom. I’m not particularly limited by what’s possible or plausible. If I want to write something a little more realistic, then I can, and it can easily be set in the same universe as something a lot more fantastical.
Not only am I more free as the writer, but the freedom in the setting of space and multitudes of planets and space stations and so on is very appealing. Practically any genre can be written inside sci fi.
Typical issue - but any advice for those of us who face the annoyance of 'writer’s block'?
Elmore Leonard says that there’s no writer’s block, just lazy writers. I agree to an extent, but I don’t think just because you get to a point where you can’t think how to proceed it makes you a lazy writer. I think perhaps what he means, or what I take from it, is that the way round writer’s block is to just write. If you can’t think what to write next in your story, write out what you’ve done that day, or describe the scene outside your window. Just write something, and keep writing until you’re not ‘blocked’ anymore.
That said, I think it’s more of a personal thing. For some writers, I think it’s a sign that you need to give the writing a rest for a little while. Before you give your brain repetitive strain injury!
Making a living out of writing full time can be a tough nut to crack. What difficulties have you faced in selling your work and do you have any tips you’ve picked up along the way?
I’m still learning the best ways, however what worked well with the first book was finding a few forums to announce it in. Then following that up with copying and pasting some reviews. Of course, simply engaging with people in the forums is good too – you don’t have to be plugging your work constantly.
That and approaching review bloggers were really the only two things I did for the first book. For the second I was very unwisely lazy about it, and did very little of the former and was unfortunately unable to find any new review bloggers (it’s nearly as hard to get those as it is to get an agent).
The payoff shows when I can match in a single month (more than once) of book 1 sales, my overall book 2 sales.
One of the worst things to do is sit back and hope that readers will give you plenty of reviews. After hundreds of sales, my reader reviews barely reach double figures. And that’s with two novels and a short story combined.
What's next for Ross Harrison! Any sneak peeks you can share with us on the subject of your next novel?
I took a short break from writing book 3 of the NEXUS series to do a brief experiment. A few months and 70,000 words later, I’ve finished that experiment and started my rewrite. It is that more realistic something I mentioned earlier.
A thriller with a touch of noir, Sixteen (working title) is set in the same universe as the NEXUS series, but pretty far from anything in those books. Harem is a city rotten to the core. Somehow Jack Mason finds its only straight cop after him for murder. To make things worse, Harem’s crime lord wants him dead. Only with the arrival of a government agent does Jack get the chance to prove his innocence and expose the human trafficking that sparked it all.
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