Meet the Independents: Travis M Riddle
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.
My first guest is a writer who typifies the label of Independent Writer. In my reviews of his books I have consistently called him one of the most innovative fantasy authors in the genre. Somehow, Travis M Riddle avoids fantasy tropes to tell stories that are unique in terms of their narrative, character and setting. You can find out more about his innovative style in my earlier interview here.
Travis will make this point in his interview but I think it is worth emphasizing: it is doubtful his stories would be published via traditional routes because they are so inventive. Let's focus on that point for a moment - traditional routes like conformity because it is easier to promote. Publishers prefer novels that fit into their genre-defined boxes. Thereby limiting the development of the genre in my opinion. The consequence here is that this forces authors to write for the market - rather than tell the stories they want to tell. There is a real commerce versus art clash in this context. Travis illustrates how, as an #indieauthor, he avoids that dilemma.
Without any further comment from me, let me introduce you to Travis so he can tell you about his journey as an #indieauthor.
1. Tell us who you are and how we might have read something by you.
My name is Travis M. Riddle. I’ve written a fair amount of stuff by this point, but the ones you might’ve heard about are Flesh Eater which was an SPFBO 7 semi-finalist, and On Lavender Tides, which is my latest book and is a Pokemon-inspired adventure.
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’ve learned to limit my spending! Putting money into your project to make sure it’s of the highest quality possible is obviously extremely important, but I’m now able to recognize when something is a higher cost than what I’m comfortable possibly never making back, haha. I don’t think I’ve reached my metaphorical destination yet, but each book launch has been more successful than the last, so maybe I’m slowly but surely getting there.
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 sent queries out with my first book but never heard back from anyone. It was disheartening, but not entirely surprising, given how much the sentiment of “You’ll get 100 rejections before you’re accepted!” or whatever proliferates online, whether it’s in regards to manuscripts or literary magazine submissions or whatever else.
4. What was the defining moment when you said to yourself, “I’m going to self-publish!” What prompted it?
I think it was seeing the popularity of SPFBO, and seeing what great books were flourishing in that community and the people propping them up. I hadn’t really dabbled in much of the self-pub world at that point, but that contest really opened my eyes to what it was like and what quality of product was possible to put out there.
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?
The isolation doesn’t really affect me, that’s never bothered me much. Imposter syndrome is definitely heavy though; it’s easy to see the same authors promoted by blogs or fellow authors and then think to yourself “Why is no one talking about my book?” I don’t really know if I cope with it, to be honest. It’s discouraging seeing a bunch of the same books/authors recommended by everyone all the time, whether it’s on Twitter or r/Fantasy or wherever else; it feels very insular. All you can do really is just keep writing and hope that eventually someone takes a chance on what you wrote and shouts about it.
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 hate marketing, and to be honest I don’t do a ton of it. I try to get the book in as front of as many people as possible when it launches, by contacting bloggers, getting ARCs out to other authors, posting on social media/Reddit, but after that I have never had much luck with ads on Amazon or Facebook. Plus they’re awful companies that actively suppress creators so that we are forced to pay them to show our work, so I don’t really want to play into their hand. I just rely on word of mouth. What I really enjoy is the cover art creation process, being able to find an illustrator who I think really captures the vibe that I’m going for and working in collaboration with them.
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?
It takes a ton of commitment, and sometimes I truly do not feel like writing, but I try to get it done anyway. When I’m in Book Writing Mode, my goal is to write one chapter every weekday, squeezing it in around my day job. I usually get it done in the morning before lunch, but sometimes I have to wrap up in the afternoon. I don’t really do anything after quitting time; the evening is my time to relax. I sustain it by focusing heavily on those weeks/months when I have to write, then taking several weeks off while beta readers check it out or just letting myself take a mini vacation before I start up on the next part of the process. That time off where I spend my free time playing video games or watching movies instead of writing are vital to keep my sanity.
8. 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’m wondering if any publisher would have let me actually title a book “Mother Pig.” Chalk that up to a self-publishing victory.
9. 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?
I think there are tons of interesting things to do with an IP, but many of them are not financially feasible for a self-published author, haha. I think a game (board, card, or video) based on the Jekua world would be super cool but that is outside my expertise. A graphic novel adaptation of The Narrows or Houndstooth would also be amazing. I have commissioned some artwork for my older books and made some merch out of that, which you can find on my website, but aside from that there are no current plans.
10. What is your greatest success? (In whatever context you choose to define).
I think just the fact that I keep pumping out weird books that are very distinctly “me” and anyone at all connects with them on any level, haha.
11. Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
I’m still working on the Jekua series that started with On Lavender Tides. Book 2 should be coming out in the fall; my plan is to release another volume (there’ll be 6 total) roughly every six months. Book 3 is already with beta readers, and I’m in the process of outlining book 4.
12. 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?
It depends on the contract, I suppose, and also what project they’re interested in. It’s definitely not a flat no! I’d love for my work to get a wider reach, get it into more readers’ hands. A publisher has way bigger marketing resources than what I can accomplish on my own. If any agents are out there, hit me up, haha! I mainly take it a day at a time and try not to get my hopes up about anything in particular; when launching my Jekua series, I was hopeful that Podium would pick up the audiobook rights and they did, so that was something I got to cross off the list! Aside from that, we’ll see how the next SPFBO shakes out…
Independence brings freedom. Both creative and commercial. I think Travis represents both of these elements. Commercially, he is developing a reputation for his innovative reworking of the fantasy genre, one that defies categorisation. (You'll find this will become a common feature in these interviews). I believe his commerial future is bright for this reason. Read the reviews of his books and you'll find so many readers praising his departure from the usual tropes.
Independence also requires courage. It is a brave author who will depart the well-trodden path established by those writers who have gone before. Yet Travis continues to explore new worlds, new ways of telling stories. It takes time for trail-blazers to be recognised. I have so much admiration for such writers who step away from that path and head off into uncharted areas.
The thing that makes him one of my #Independents is his creativity. The famous psychologist and management consultant, inventor of the Six Hats theory, Edward de Bono, defines creativity this way: "Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way."
This perfectly defines Travis' approach to writing. It takes time for others to appreciate this level of disruption to the genre's continuum. As an #indieauthor, Travis is on a journey which will bring about that disruption in a way no traditional route would ever allow. Traditionalists don't like rebels. And Travis Riddle is a rebel of the highest magnitude.
To find out more about Travis M Riddle
Go to his website: https://www.travismriddle.com/
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/traviswanteat
and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/travismriddle
His books are available from Amazon