I first met Annie Bellet in 2010 when I attended a novel pitch and packaging workshop hosted by Dean Wesley Smith in Lincoln City, OR. I found her to be delightfully aggressive, in terms of her goals and work ethic, and we hit it off quite well. We’ve since seen each other at subsequent workshops in Lincoln City, as well as at major conventions such as World Science Fiction convention in Reno, NV. She is one of my best friends in the writing biz, and it’s my pleasure to feature her on this week’s “Catching up with . . .” installment.
BIO: Annie Bellet is a full-time speculative fiction writer. She holds a BA in English and a BA in Medieval Studies and thus can speak a smattering of useful languages such as Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Welsh. She has sold fiction to GigaNotoSaurus, Digital Science Fiction, and Daily Science Fiction Magazine, as well as multiple anthologies. Her short work is available in multiple collections from major e-book retailers and her first fantasy novel, A Heart in Sun & Shadow, is available now as both an e-book and in trade paperback.
Her interests besides writing include rock climbing, reading, horse-back riding, video games, comic books, table-top RPGs and many other nerdy pursuits. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a very demanding Bengal cat.
Annie’s blog is at http://overactive.wordpress.com/
Now, to the questions:
QUESTION: When you decided to pursue professional fiction writing full-time, what kinds of conversations did you have to have with your spouse, family, friends, etc? What do you think you’ve learned *since* going full-time that might help aspiring or fledgling writers towards their own goals?
ANSWER: Well, I didn’t really have a conversation with my family or my friends about it. I did have a long talk with my husband though. We’d tossed around the idea before, but once I got into grad school, it became more serious. Then my MFA program wasn’t working out for me and Matt (my husband) and I had “the talk” about what going full-time as a pro writer would mean. I sold him with the numbers, sort of. I told him I’d need ten years to be making a full time living. Remember, this was back in 2009 and the e-book thing wasn’t really going yet, other than a few people right out on the edge. I was watching Zoey Winters and Joe Konrath a little by the end of the 2009, wondering if the self-publishing stuff would turn into a viable option, but when I first decided to go full-time, the trad publishing method was the only one I felt viable. My initial plan was to write a novel a year for ten years and send those novels out and try to get an agent and a publisher.
What have I learned since? Haha. So much. I was so naive when I started. It wasn’t until the fall of 2009 that I discovered Heinlein’s Rules or started reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog and discovered those workshops. I’d finished a novel that fall, in about 5 weeks, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I felt like I was writing too fast, like something was wrong with me, but my first readers were all telling me the book was good, so I was like what do I know anyway?
I think the advice I’d give to people starting out is to go for it if you really want it. While sometimes I just shake my head at my thinking back then, I also am glad I didn’t know too much because I’m not sure I would have had the guts to go for it. Also, learn the business side of things and pay attention to it. If you want to be a professional, you have to be a professional, which means making decisions that make sense on a business level. Also, be flexible and ready for things that you don’t expect. Thanks to some advice I got, I’m shifting my writing schedule this summer because one project I’m working on is making me more immediate money than another. Have business goals and keep them within your control. Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. There, is that enough advice?
QUESTION: You just had your 12th professional short fiction sale. How have your experiences been with the markets you’ve been successful with so far? Do you specifically target those markets now, or do you just run each story through a list of markets until it wins with an editor?
ANSWER: I don’t really target those markets, other than the fact that they pay well. I always start at the top of the payscale and work my way down, so it’s not really any wonder that Daily Science Fiction sees my stuff quickly since they pay better than most of the other pro markets out there. I’ve had good experiences with the markets so far, with the exception of one semi-pro market that had to be nudged a bit hard in order for me to get my payment. But the pro markets have been just that, very professional and easy to work with.
QUESTION: What kinds of effort do you make on a novel, versus a short story? Any advanced planning for one, versus the other? Which do you enjoy doing more?
ANSWER: Well, for novels, I outline. I don’t really outline much for short stories other than to make a few notes and do any research on science or whatever that might make it into the story (I’ve found that 90% of the research I do never sees the page in my fiction, but oh well). Novels I like to go into with an outline and then it usually shifts and changes as I go. I don’t think I’ve finished a novel yet that didn’t go through at least four outlines while I was writing it. It’s more a way to keep track of what I’m doing and how the story is evolving than a rigid structure and my outlines aren’t very detailed. Often they are something like Chapter 3: MC meets up with buyer, things go wrong or Chapter 10: Fight happens, people get hurt, B dies at the end.
I don’t know which I enjoy writing more. I’ve shifted over to longer works lately because I like money and that’s also where my brain has been going, but I’m writing a lot of novella length fiction, which is sort of more toward the short story side. I love it all, I think. Short stories are nice because I generally finish them in one sitting and that feels good. Finishing a work is always a nice reward.
QUESTION: You’ve aggressively pursued e-publishing via Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc. Has the e-book landscape lived up to expectation? Are you pursuing a “double life” as an indie author and a trad pub author? Where do you think the market (as a whole) will be at in 10 years?
ANSWER: Haha. Aggressively pursued, eh? I’m not sure I agree with that, but sure. I aggressively pursue money, it’s the nature of the self-employed, I think. There’s money in self-publishing, so I went after it. I still send stories and novels to trad publishers as well, because there is also money there. I’m a commercial fiction writer and a professional, it’s part of my job to get paid for the stuff I write.
The e-book (and print, and audio) landscape is better than I expected. When I first dipped my toes in, I wasn’t sure it would work at all. I figured no one would find me or be interested in my stuff. So I put up three literary short stories and waited a few months. They sold a handful of copies a month, just like that. It was pittance in terms of money, but I started thinking about it and doing the math and realized that this might be a viable path. I had a lot to learn, of course, and I’m still learning (just re-did an early cover for my first fantasy novel, for example). Being a good writer is one job, being a good publisher is another. So once I decided to get into it, I had to learn a whole new job.
But it has changed everything. In my original con job *ahem* pitch! to my husband, I told him I’d need ten years (so somewhere around 2019 or 2020) to make a decent living. With self-publishing, I think we’ll be there by the end of 2015 (maybe sooner). That’s a pretty significant thing for us. I went from making 18 dollars US in 2009 to $480 US in 2010 to about $3,000 US in 2011 and so far this year I’ve already passed 2011’s earnings. That’s with a mix of magazine and self-publishing sales.
I don’t think the market will change much more as a whole in the next ten years. We’ve come through a lot of changes these last couple and I’m sure things will keep shaking around and settling out for a while. Or maybe something else huge will happen, who knows? All I know is that the next ten years look pretty good for me.
QUESTION: You’ve also endured a lot of personal trials. Without delving into uncomfortable specifics, what do you think your personal hardships have taught you about storytelling. Do you use your stories for catharsis, or escape? What advice would you give to other writers about writing-as-outlet in this way?
ANSWER: I don’t really write as an outlet. Sometimes my heart sort of boils over and I commit literary fiction, so I guess that would be the stuff closest to my dark insides or whatever you call it. Those are the stories that come kind of from my life. I don’t choose to write that stuff, however, I find it awkward and painful and not very fun, so it only happens when I don’t really have any control over it (hence the heart boiling over imagery there).
Mostly I write stuff that I love to read. I guess that is sort of escapism, because in my fiction there are usually happy endings and I like the good guys to win. I do delve into moral ambiguities sometimes, because I find the grey areas interesting, but I don’t tend to stray into areas too close to my own personal experiences. I already know what I went through, it isn’t that interesting to me. I think that just living is good for writing and being open to new things and new people and willing to explore things that you find interesting. I write about people and places and adventures that excite and interest me.
But I don’t really know what I’d say to someone who wants to write an outlet. I guess we all write for our own reasons. If you really are struggling with something in your life, my advice would be to get professional help. Writing can be cathartic, but sometimes trying to heal on your own is dangerous and more of an avoidance than a healing.
QUESTION: Of all the stories and books you’ve published to date, which is your favorite, and why? Are you big on doing “universe” series with stories and/or books interconnected?
ANSWER: Hmm, let me see which is making me the most money. Just kidding. Actually, I’m not, since my favorite is probably a toss-up between the two that are making me the most money. One is my thriller, which was a huge learning experience to write (a genre I read but had never tried before). The other is the Gryphonpike Chronicles, which are a string of interconnected novellas. They are a blast to write because I love adventure fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, and killing all the things. It’s also crazy fun to try to figure out how to write convincing and interesting stories from the point of view of an elf who is mute due to a curse.
I guess I am big on doing series with things interconnected. My mystery/thriller pen name will have three series going under it soon, all of which have crossovers. My SF short stories are often in the same universe, though the only way to tell would be the words I use for some kinds of invented technology. Of course, there is the Gryphonpike Chronicles, which are naturally in the same world/series since the whole thing follows the same group of characters through multiple stand-alone adventures. I guess my brain likes to invent places and then let the stories play in that universe. I mean, what is the fun in doing all the world-building if you don’t get to go exploring?
QUESTION: Please tell me about some of your upcoming projects, or projects newly available for public consumption. What are these books (and stories) about, without giving away too many spoilers?
ANSWER: Well, this summer I’m going to be writing more Gryphonpike Chronicles novellas. The first three are out right now, with two more coming in the next week or so (have to get them finished up, edited, and formatted). The companions will face a vampire, undead, more undead, spiders, kobolks, undead kobolds, some more undead, and probably do a lot fighting with some witty quips and bickering in there. Also maybe some looting. Here are some of the covers for upcoming work.
I’m also going to be working on a series of fantasy/mystery books (the covers of the first two are at the bottom of the post there). The pitch line for those are basically, What if Robert E Howard wrote episodes of Law & Order set in a city designed by Monte Cook. Or the short version- Law & Order with sword fights. Hopefully they will be as much fun to read as they are to write. There will be four novels in this series (that I have planned at the moment anyway), all out by December.
Thanks, Brad, for the questions!