Meet the Independents: PL Stuart
Research suggests self-published authors represented up to 34% of eBook sales in 2020. The number of independently-minded authors who choose to do-it-themselves is increasing. This is despite the limited financial revenue. According to ALCs, seasoned self-published authors, (those who have been writing for at least 20 years), typically earn less than £10,500 annually. Notably, the top 10% of these authors account for 70% of the total revenue in the industry. So, if we’re not going to be the next Neil Gaiman or Stephen King, why do we do it?
As a writer, we are bound to ask ourselves the same question at some point: should I aim for the traditional publishing route of submissions and agents and publishing contracts - or should I self-publish? To inform that decision, I asked some well-established #indieauthors to tell me about their journey.
Canadian fantasy author, PL Stuart, is not just a writer but a blogger and podcaster too. For me, he represents the effectiveness of an #indieauthor because his online presence is broad and informative. What do I mean? His online presence isn't just about promoting his work, it's about bringing writers together in ways that encourage discussion and awareness-raising. I think it is often where #indieauthors differ to traditional types. We know we need to maintain a high profile because no one else is going to do it for us! PL Stuart represents the independently-minded type whose creativity opens up the community to encourage participation, collaborative promotion and consistent support. Not surprising, he is such a nice guy!
Here's what we talked about:
1. Tell us who you are and how we might have read something by you.
Hi everyone! I'm P.L. Stuart, Canadian fantasy author of The Drowned Kingdom Saga. I was born in Toronto, Canada. I have a university degree in English, specializing in Medieval Literature. You may have heard of or read Book One or Book Two of the saga, entitled A Drowned Kingdom and The Last of the Atalanteans respectively. The series chronicles flawed and bigoted Lord Othrun's journey towards change, and his rise to power in a new world after the downfall of his homeland, which is based on Plato's lost realm of Atlantis.
2. Tell us about your journey as a self-published author. Where did you start? What lessons did you learn along the way? Have you reached your destination yet? Are you motoring along quite happily, trundling down a country lane or stuck in a lay-by?
I have always wanted to write, but did not have the time, energy, or focus to devote to it whole-heartedly until middle-age. If I could change one thing perhaps I would have published my first book a bit sooner. But as my wife says, "what's for you won't go by you", which means everything happens only when it's time. That's the main lesson I have learned. So my approach with everything I do writing-related future-forward is "do it as early and as often as you can." That applies to writing as many books as you can, marketing those books as early as you can, and things like that.
For me, I have not reached my ultimate destination yet, which is publishing at least twenty books in my lifetime, but I am more focused on trying to enjoy the journey rather than achieve the goalposts, because I have a tendency to be too focussed on the objective. One needs to take time to smell the roses on the way there.
But I am pleased with my progress so far, and happy to report I'm on track. I've kept - at this very early stage - to the commitment of publishing a book each year. I feel the first book was good and that the second book was an improvement on the first. I feel the third book is going to be even better than those first two. So the goal of continuous improvement - an ongoing process - is also on track.
I've expanded awareness of my writing brand somewhat, and slowly gained some wider awareness of my work. Most importantly, I have found a small audience that really enjoys my writing, whom I am eternally grateful for. I am hoping to grow that audience incrementally as time goes on.
3. Have you experienced any part of the traditional route? Have you submitted to agents and publishers much? Emotionally, how have you reacted to these experiences?
I did not query A Drowned Kingdom at all initially. I did send it to a handful of agents many months after it was already self-published, and received polite rejections. It was actually a nice feeling to query from a position of already being a published author with some modest sales and success. There was zero pressure. It was a situation where I felt, "Oh that would be nice if I ever secured an agent and a book deal!" But if I didn't, it would still be great, because in the meantime I would simply continue to write and publish books myself.
4. What was the defining moment when you said to yourself, “I’m going to self-publish!” What prompted it?
There was never any question about self-publishing my first series once I did some research into the publishing industry. But from the beginning I knew based on the age I completed my first novel (in my 50s), and the length of time normally spent on querying and finding a book deal, I was too impatient to publish to wait that long. The timelines in self-publishing can be extremely expedient, compared to traditional routes.
For the most part, I can publish my seven-book series in seven-years. On average, a traditionally published seven-book series would take twice as long. If my aim is to write into my late seventies or early eighties, and publish at least twenty novels, I have no time to waste!
5. Writing is a lonely business. Self-publishing even more so. Does this isolation affect you? How about things like ‘Imposter Syndrome’? What gets you out of these bleaker moments? How do you cope with it? (Do you cope?) Do you have a support network that helps you?
I think Imposter Syndrome loomed most large after my first book while I was working on my second. Many of my fellow authors seem to agree that book two in a series is one of the hardest ones to write. A lot of authors, including me, feel the pressure of penning something better, more spectacular than book one. You have all the accolades and all the criticisms of book one in your head. You are trying to improve your writing, really prove something, to yourself and your readers, that your first book was just a warm-up, that even greater things await. That pressure is real, and can be a bit crippling. Imposter syndrome always looms.
Fortunately, as you allude to, I do have Deb, my amazing wife, my family, and a support network of incredible author friends who often undergo the same trials in the writing business as I do. So I don't truly feel alone, except for the actual writing part, which only I can do. People like T.L. Coughlin, Sean Bell, Bjorn Larssen, Holly Tinsley, Jacob Sannox, Krystle Matar, Sean Crow, Eve Koguce, R.P. Lauer, and a lot more that would take me all day to list, are invaluable. I don't feel I could have gotten through some of the tougher times without them nearly as well.
Furthermore, I don’t believe I would have enjoyed the early success I have experienced without the immense guidance, support, and love from the Writing Community on social media. They are simply phenomenal! We boost each other’s work, lift each other’s spirits during those tough moments like a negative review or a sales slump, celebrate each other’s successes like winning a writing award or bestselling status, and provide invaluable coaching and tips about the world of writing. Especially a self-published author, I think it’s very hard to thrive without that sort of help. I encourage every author to get involved and connect with fellow creatives in the Writing Community!
6. A self-published author has to be a jack-of-all-trades, don’t they? They likely employ an editor and cover designer but the other jobs are down to you. I’m talking stuff like marketing or IT. What lessons have been learned here? Which jobs do you hate? Enjoy?
I elected to publish with a self-publishing assistance company called FriesenPress. They are a Canadian company and, in my opinion, at the upper echelon of the self-publishing assist companies in the country. My project managers have been fantastic. Their team worked hand in hand with my wife Deb (my partner in my authorpreneur adventures) and I to produce what I believe are professional looking books. I have nothing but positive things to say about Friesen Press.
FriesenPress is expensive, but I find great value in the money spent. They take care of elements like the editor, cover designer, providing a website, and other critical but time-consuming aspects. This frees Deb and I to focus on other things, especially me writing, and potentially removing jobs I might not otherwise enjoy (navigating formatting and publishing my book on Amazon and other platforms, for example), and having someone else handle them.
FriesenPress also adds a lot of complimentary services like audiobook production, and the feeling of "one-stop shopping" for everything an independent author could need. For me, to get my books published quickly and professionally, FriesenPress has been a great investment.
7. Time, effort and commitment. Following on from that last question, you don’t have anyone to do the work for you. (Or do you??) How do you find time when Life isn’t getting in the way? How much time per week is involved, on average? How does it fit in with the day job? What level of commitment does it take – and how do you sustain it?
As I noted, I have my Indie Publisher FriesenPress to help take some of the load off, but a lot still falls on my shoulders. I am extremely grateful to my lovely wife, Debbie, who backs my work completely, and takes on even more responsibility that might otherwise be overwhelming if I did not have her at my side. Moreover, she has elected to partner with me, to create a wife-husband author duo. One of the senior project members at FriesenPress, has affectionately dubbed Deb and I their ' favourite author couple'.
I love that title, because very few experiences can be more rewarding than teaming up with one's spouse to create magical, fantastical novels, and ensure those novels reach the hands of those who would want to read them. Deb is the better half in our marriage, and in our Indie author business. She has a background in marketing, and is extremely savvy with her organizational and promotional skills. She keeps us in order, on budget, and on mission.
She takes care of so many critical details of our business, in order to free me up to engage more in the writing-related activities, including actually writing. She is entirely indispensable as a wife, and as a business partner. Her value extends into the realm of my writing too. While Debbie is not an author herself, nor an editor, she is very much my primary point person for editing. I have a wonderful, professional editing team at FriesenPress.
But before any final draft of mine gets into the hands of FriesenPress, the first person my novels must meet approval from is Deb. She has a very discerning, critical eye, and is highly intelligent. She can also be very frank in her feedback. Perhaps most importantly, she is not my target audience. Deb does not typically read fantasy by choice. It is not her preferred genre. So for her to enjoy a fantasy novel, it has to meet some fairly high standards. I believe that is a distinct asset when it comes to writing The Drowned Kingdom Saga.
I work shift work, my time and energy to devote to writing is sporadic. Some days I just don’t feel like writing, and I don’t. Sometimes I write, in maniacal fashion for many, many days in a row. It ebbs and flows. I try not to put too much emphasis on how many words I write per day. I just try to meet whatever self-imposed deadlines I have for my writing. My aspiration is to write a book per year. My internal clock seems to tell me when I’m falling behind in my writing, or when I’m on track. So I do set general goals for how long it will take me to write a book, but not specific daily word targets.
The most time consuming part is marketing and other writer-related activities. I have a lot on the go, including my regular blog posts, an interview series where I interview other creatives called "Six Elementals Interviews", co-host an author interview podcast with the amazing Steve from Steve Talks Books called "Page Chewing", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bNEdjOlfAI and am an assistant editor and blogger for the amazing Before We Go Blog https://beforewegoblog.com/ led by the awesome Beth Tabler. So that involves a lot of reading and writing reviews, and other administrative tasks associated with being an assistant editor.
Then of course there is promoting your work, allowing readers to get to know you and your writing, including participating in interviews like this one, podcasts, writing conventions, and more. It's all amazing, fun, but can also be very time consuming and there are times you need to relax and take a break from it all. When I feel that way, that's exactly what I do. Exercise, spend time with Deb or family and friends, watch Netflix, just unplug and do something else. Then you come back recharged and ready to do more!
8. A self-published author has to be enterprising, an entrepreneur. Does the commercial side of the role come naturally or are you rubbish at the business side of things? What are the struggles here?
I do have my wife Debbie, as I indicated in the previous response, to handle a lot of the business side of things. I find I THINK I'm ok too, with that side, but it's very hard to tell, this early on in my writing career. It's definitely a long game, and Deb and I treat it like any other start-up business. It takes time to recoup investments, gain the amount of clients and sales that puts you in the black, gain brand recognition and acclaim, etc. I don't necessarily enjoy self-promotion but I don't find it too difficult that I shy away from it. I feel quite comfortable with most elements of the business side except I struggle a bit with technology sometimes. Luckily Deb and I have lots of children (7) between the two of us to assist when we can't figure something out in that regard! So far, commercially-speaking, things seem to be going quite well, with a long way to go, and big goals to reach for.
9. Self-published authors are independents. They retain control of their work. Tell us about one specific part of what you’ve created that reflects this independence. I’m talking about things a traditional route might not have allowed or advised against. It might be a book itself, its cover, a character, a setting etc.
I read an article once by a leading executive who works for a big traditional publishing imprint. This executive is well-respected and has enjoyed a long, successful tenure in the field. He basically said, it's unlikely he would ever publish a book with an unlikeable protagonist because they don't sell. Well since my book is all about an unlikeable protagonist in Othrun, and that's a non-negotiable part of my writing, I suppose I would never be accepted by a traditional publisher, if that executive's statement holds merit.
I love the fact that I can write a compelling and interesting character that is potentially detestable to some readers, and no one can tell me I can't write that character exactly the way I want to. That independence is not something I could part with, under any circumstances, for The Drowned Kingdom Saga. It is an integral part of why I write, and why I enjoy writing my series.
10. How important is your IP? Your intellectual property. You retain it, as an indie author. Is that important? If so why? Can you tell us about any plans you have to develop it?
Retaining IP is one of the primary reasons I chose to self-publish. I retain the rights to all my work. I can keep my books for sale on platforms like Amazon forever under current Amazon rules. I never have to worry about my books going out of print, or having my book deal cancelled and having to deal with legal channels to reclaim my rights.
11. What is your greatest success? (In whatever context you choose to define).
I think becoming a number one FriesenPress Bestseller with A Drowned Kingdom and being mentioned in the esteemed Kirkus Magazine’s 2021 Indie Issue among “Four Great Examples of the Genre” of fantasy are highlights that for me help indicate some of the success I've enjoyed to date.
12. Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
I am currently writing Book Three of The Drowned Kingdom Saga, called Lord and King. I am also working on a special top secret writing project, a collaboration with other authors that shall remain nameless for now, but I am VERY excited about. Hope to speak more openly about that later in the year!
13. Will you always self-publish? If an agent or trad publisher came along and offered you a contract, would you take it? What goals do you have in mind for your future? Or do you take it a day at a time?
I do plan to explore the possibilities of more hybrid or small press traditional publishing, or even big traditional publishing after I finish The Drowned Kingdom Saga, but it's not my main focus. I plan to publish at least twenty books set in the same universe as the saga, regardless of what avenue I use to publish them. If they are all self-published, so be it. The industry is changing so rapidly, including traditional publishing, that the advantages and disadvantages to traditional publishing to me seem essentially equal (though different) to self-publishing, as things currently appear.
I honestly believe in the very near future self-publishing will perhaps become more advantageous for the vast majority of writers than traditional publishing. We'll see. That does not preclude me taking the right offer it came along, but I am not doggedly pursuing traditional publishing opportunities, and not actively querying any works or seeking a literary agent at this current time.
I'd like to pick up that last point in the interview. PL Stuart isn't alone in thinking authors will likely travel in both publishing worlds in the near future. Agents approach successful #indieauthors because they are less of a risk, they have a fan base. Starting off by self-publishing can be a good way to get yourself established, clearly this is what PL Stuart has in mind.
The answer to Question 9, represents another key benefit of being an #indieauthor. The sustianability of integrity. We touched on this topic in Travis Riddle's interview. "Traditional" publishing carries a number of traditional values, often generated by a risk averse culture. Beyond those boundaries are stories filled with characters who are unsympathetic but the joy is following their journey to atonement. Often such characters may represent forms of diversity that need to be explored. The independently minded author is free to create characters that break moulds, explore sensitive issues and generally open our eyes.
Finally, the truly independent author sees themselves in a wider context - as someone who curates, evaluates and promotes those qualities which form a vibrant #writingcommunity. PL Stuart does this alongside his own writing. It takes time, effort and commitment and we should appreciate these things because it enhances that community. It's worth keeping that in mind next time to read a blog post, read a review or listen to a podcast.
Want to find out more about PL Stuart?
His website: https://www.plstuart.com/
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/plstuartwrites
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/plstuartwrites
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p.l.stuart/
To buy his books: Amazon