Continuing with my series of author interviews, I'm happy to share a conversation with fellow urban fantasy and zombie author Josh Guess.
I've been following Josh's Living With the Dead blog for a couple of years now, and I've recommended his novel Beautiful to everyone I know. You can check out Josh's work here.
James: Okay, first interview question (coming at you from sunny San Diego): Living with the Dead has been going strong for over two years now. How large do you estimate your audience to be, and how do you keep coming up with new ideas to keep the story engaging?
Josh: The question of audience size is hard to answer. If you're asking about daily readers and people that subscribe to the feed, it varies from 150-500 on any given day. I'm never quite sure if my analysis of the numbers is accurate. As far as readers of the collections go, I've sold or given away more than I can recall offhand.
As far as keeping the series interesting goes, I just write the things that interest me. I come up with a lot of ideas I love, then research the hell out of them to figure out how to make them work. As far as content goes, I have a nearly infinite supply to draw from. I think the truly engaging and unique aspect of the series is the characters and how deeply the reader gets into their lives. I mean, how else can I make a series that contains little action and no dialog work over a long period of time?
James: Who would you say are your most important literary influences?
Josh: Different people at different points in my life. I'm a huge Raymond E. Feist fan from way back, but since I've been writing I keep coming back to Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher. I don't really feel as though my writing is specifically influenced by anyone (though that's hard for a writer to judge) but those four guys are everything I aspire to be in terms of skill and talent. Style-wise Jim Butcher has been the person I tend toward, and I've learned a lot from constantly rereading his books. Of course, Stephen King is huge for me as well. I like writing pop fiction, and he's the best. Not to mention having thirty million dollars. I'd like to manage that as well.
James: Beautiful was a great novel. I've recommended it to my friends, who have invariably liked it. It's got the potential to become a great urban fantasy series. So where the hell is the sequel?
Josh: I'm working on it. I feel bad that the sequel, called 'Monster', is taking so long but I'm also putting out two books of Living With the Dead each year, and writing a third book on top of that is really difficult. Add to the mix my full-time job, which is very demanding on me physically and mentally, and you begin to see why writing quality material takes time. Thanks for the kind words, by the way--that series is a true labor of love. It's near to my heart.
James: How did you first learn about self-publishing?
Josh: Like many authors in the self-publishing age: through J.A. Konrath's blog. I read him for a long time, looking at his efforts in self-publishing and studying his results, before I took the plunge. He's the biggest reason for that decision by a wide margin.
James: What are your thoughts on independent publishing versus traditional publishing, and what terms would you require before signing with a major publishing house, if at all?
Josh: I think both have their merits, depending on the author. Obviously, traditional publishing is great for people who already have name recognition, but with the advent of eBooks and a truly accessible platform traditional publishing is now a legacy system. I think that's a great thing, because you don't have a middleman deciding what you should read any more. I could write a book on this, really. I don't want to slam big publishers here, but there are good reasons why so many authors with deals are choosing to self-publish.
For me, self-pubbing was always the way to go. LWtD is a property that by its very format could never be published, as I give away the story for free every day. I've actually had an offer from a publisher to purchase the rights to the first two books, but I turned them down. They offered me no advance and I would have had to shut down the blog itself.
To even consider a traditional deal, I would have to be offered enough money that I wouldn't have to worry about work for a long, long time. I would require some say in the e-rights to my work, and retain the right to publish anything I want on my own.
Doesn't seem likely they'd agree to that.
James: How has writing changed your life?
Josh: In a lot of ways. I'm much busier than I once was, but that's part of the process. Once I got into the groove of writing and coming up with ideas for stories, I kind of couldn't stop. Now my problem is a lack of time to explore those ideas.
I tend to think of most things in terms of writing now. What would make a good plot element, how I would structure something out of real life in a story. Just going to the grocery store is an entirely different and fascinating process now.
The strangest change since becoming a writer has been having fans. That's weird. It's completely awesome, but not something life really prepared me for. I was never in sports or super popular. Having people like my various pages on Facebook and send me messages telling me that they like my work is unreal. The idea that I'm this guy who sits on his couch (soon to be relocated into an office because my wife wants her couch back) and writes, and that people actually buy the things I come up with? That's totally nuts to me. Even after a few years of it, I still don't quite believe it.
James: What reaction did you get from your family and friends when you first started self publishing, how did it make you feel, and how have things changed for you from then to now.
Josh: My family was very supportive, even when I told them that I would be keeping at it until I was full-time. No going back to school or anything to hedge my bets, because that was energy and time I would need to put into my writing.
It felt pretty awesome, to be honest. My family has backed me to the hilt, and I couldn't ask for better. They've been my cheering section and my reality check at every turn.
Not that much has changed. I've learned a lot of lessons in the last two+ years, and I've got a better idea of where my career is headed and how to get it where I want it. Luckily I have a boring, normal family. We're all friends and totally honest with each other. I guess it's good that I'm making progress toward being full-time, or their faith with my ability to do it might have gotten shaky by now.
James: What made you choose the Zombie Apocalypse genre as the kickoff for your writing career, and where do you see that going?
Josh: LWtD started out as daily writing practice. I decided on the story and format because it was the zombie story I wanted to read. I had no idea it was going to turn into something so popular, though I admit that part of why I wanted to write it as a free blog was to build a following as I went along. I just didn't expect to accomplish so much, so quickly.
James: Where do you see yourself, and the publishing industry, five years from now?
I have hopes for myself, not expectations. I'd love to have huge name recognition and millions of dollars, but I'd settle for writing full time. That's the end goal for me, to be able to provide for my family doing the thing I love.
Either way, I'll still be writing. The publishing industry is going to be a whole different ball game. If the big publishers don't make some major structural changes, they're going to fall. Maybe not a complete collapse, but if they keep on the way they are--trying to take advantage of authors and treating the people that produce their product like indentured servants--then at the very least they're going to become irrelevant. At worst they're going to fold totally as the services they provide become more widely available by independent contractors. The industry now is based on the gatekeepers controlling the flow of product. Five years from now, they might be guarding the gates, but the walls will be knocked flat.