Indie Interview: Rob Cornell

Tell us a little about your indie book or books, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work.

I have five novels out there right now. One is a standalone thriller entitled Red Run. It’s about a single father of two teens who learns his daughter’s been murdered and his son is the prime suspect. He goes about proving his son’s innocence and trudges through all sorts of secrets about his kids, his ex-wife, and even his own in the process. The two other novels I have in the mystery/crime genre are Last Call and my latest release, The Hustle. They both feature private-eye turned karaoke bar owner, Ridley Brone. The Ridley novels have all the wisecracking humor you’d expect from a PI novel (think Janet Evanovich) with a layer of tragic humanity that many readers should be able to relate to.

Then there’s my urban fantasy thrillers, The Lockman Chronicles. I call my conception of these books my chocolate and peanut butter moment. Remember the old commercials for peanut butter cups? You had two people—one eating chocolate, the other peanut butter—and by some crazy accident their snacks would meet. “You put your chocolate in my peanut butter,” one would say. The other says, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate.” Here’s a YouTube vid if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers. Hard-core action. Strong, sometimes remorseless hero. Plot twists galore. I’m also a huge fan of Jim Butcher and his Harry Dresden series. This is urban fantasy done right. Emotionally engaging main character. Quirky supporting characters. Cool magic. Scary creatures.

I got to thinking. What if someone like Jack Reacher landed in a world like Harry Dresden’s? That spawned the idea for DARKER THINGS. Basically, it’s action-thriller meets urban fantasy. I put my chocolate in my peanut butter.

You talk on your blog about the frustration with the marketing mindset of the traditional publishing industry. How has that shaped your approach to indie publishing? 

Simple. I write what I want. What I find fun. I tell the kind of stories I want to read. I don’t have to worry about knocking off the corners of an idea to make it fit some predetermined slot. I write what I want and worry about how to get it to readers after the fact. Kicking the voices of prospective agents and editors out of my office has done wonders for my writing. I’m writing more than I ever have and I’m having a blast in the process. And lucky for me, there’s a handful of people out there who like reading my stuff.

What made you decide to edit your own work? Do you recommend that to other writers? Why or why not? What’s your editing process? 

I edit my own work because I can’t afford an outside editor. But let me clarify. I’m not the only pair of eyes on this thing. I have a discerning first reader that picks up the crumbs I leave behind. Could I do better with a paid editor? Maybe. Maybe not. Just because someone charges you to read your manuscript and write on it doesn’t mean they’re any good at it.

I only recommend this to other writers if they have that good first reader. But even then, I’m not the kind of guy that likes to tell other writers how to do their business. I don’t think it matters. If the story works and readers enjoy it, you’re golden.

As far as process goes, like I said, I have a first reader that goes through the manuscript for me. Then I go through it again. The nice thing is, if I miss anything (and everybody misses something, indie or traditional) digital publishing allows me to fix those things. I’m made some pretty glaring errors with my first published novel, Red Run. I was new to the whole indie publishing scene and hadn’t really committed to it even. Since then, I’ve cleaned up that novel, and have gotten some great reviews for it.

What were the biggest surprises you had before publication? After? 

My biggest surprise beforehand was that people were self-publishing. It seemed crazy to me. It went against everything writers have been told since … forever. The biggest surprise after was that people were buying my books and that many actually liked them.

What’s been the most challenging part of the process? (Is that different from your experience with traditional publishing?) 

Putting your books out there on your own, you’re basically a one-person publishing house. Which means those responsibilities publishers handle for you (cover art, editing, marketing, etc.) you have to do on your own. You’re not just an artist anymore; you’re running a business. I don’t mind any of that. In fact, seeing myself as an entrepreneur is empowering. But the key is balancing those responsibilities. The writing must come first. If you don’t have the books, you won’t have the readers, no matter how much time you spend on Twitter.

Do you plan to continue to publish your own work, or are you looking to get a traditional publishing deal?

I’m looking for a nontraditional deal. There are new paradigms forming in the wake of this mighty change in the industry. The most visible is Amazon’s foray into publishing. The way they do business makes traditional publishing look positively draconian. There are other, smaller, upstarts staking territory in the new world. They provide the services of a traditional publisher, but with author-centric contracts. Basically, the resurgence of the small press, but with far more return on the investment for both publisher and author than the old model.

What advice would you offer for currently unpublished writers considering the indie route? (How about for traditionally published authors considering switching?) 

Do your research. Look at every possibility. And write nothing off just because some yahoo from your writing group says real writers don’t do that. Real writers write stories and get them into readers’ (digital) hands. I missed a real opportunity because I didn’t know enough and wasn’t willing to question my own assumptions. I kick myself to this day for it.

Is there any indie “conventional wisdom” you disagree with? Why?

There’s a lot of conventional wisdom I disagree with. For the sake of brevity (and to avoid getting flamed too hard) I’ll mention one. There’s a myth out there that in order to write well, you must write slowly and carefully. It’s garbage. Don’t believe it. If you write with passion and let the story carry you away, you’ll have a lot better story for it. And there is nothing wrong with releasing more than one novel a year. You’re a storyteller. If you want to make a living at this, you’re going to have to step it up. When people get upset by this suggestion, I like to bring up William Faulkner, who wrote As I Lay Dying in something like six weeks (might have been less) and sent it to his editor without revising a word. So, no, writing slow is not a requirement for writing well.

The big discussion point lately has been KDP Select and Amazon’s demand for exclusivity in exchange for participation. What are your thoughts on the tradeoffs? 

I’m almost dead set against it. The exclusivity thing is tough to swallow. Amazon is offering an author five days to give away their book as long as they also give away the right to sell it anywhere else…does that sound right to you?

I say almost, because if you have a whole bunch of titles (more than ten) I think it might be work experimenting on a single title to see if it actually gooses sales.

Full disclosure: I enrolled one of my books in KDP Select, thinking I would “experiment” with it. I ended up changing my mind afterward. Luckily, there’s a three-day grace period where you can get out of it so you’re not stuck there for 90 days. I opted out, and don’t plan to opt in anytime soon.

One of the challenges for indie authors has been the large volume of work out there that isn’t ready for publication, especially since readers have limited tools to search through the pile for the quality books. Do you think this will always be a problem, or is it just a phase in the evolution of epublishing?

I don’t think it’s a problem even now. It’s not that different from traditionally published books. There’s no way you can read all the books ever published. If you look at it that way, then it’s overwhelming. But then you start to break things down. Fiction or Non-Fiction. Different genres. Different sub-genres. Books on the bestseller lists. Books recommended by friends. Books you have read positive reviews on. Books by authors you’ve discovered and are automatic reads.

The same thing can be said with e-pubbed books. Is there a lot of garbage out there? Yeah. Have I had to read through anything not ready for publication? Nope. That’s what the whole word of mouth and browsing favorite genres comes in. And if I want to try something new? I can download a sample to my Kindle and read it in my spare time. If I get hooked — click and I have the books.

I don’t have to worry about the junk, because the closest I’ll get to it is the first paragraph of a sample.

An accidental nomad, Rob Cornell grew up in suburban Detroit, then spent five years living in Los Angeles before moving to Chicago to receive a BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College.

He has traveled full circle, now living in rural southeast Michigan with his wife, two kids, and dog, Kinsey—named after Sue Grafton’s famous detective.

In between moving and writing, he’s worked all manner of odd jobs, including lead singer for an acoustic cover band and a three-day stint as assistant to a movie producer after which he quit because the producer was a nut job. You can find his books on Amazon and  Barnes & Noble.