B.V. Larson: Tops in Amazon Science Fiction

B.V. LarsenB. V. Larson is the bestselling author of more than thirty novels, many of which have reached the Amazon/Kindle Top 100 bestseller list.

Writing in several genres, most of his work is Fantastic in nature, and spans from Military Science Fiction to Epic Fantasy. As a California native, B. V. Larson’s stories often take place on sunny beaches and in cities such as Las Vegas.

In this guest post from Larson (no podcast, unfortunately), he details the process that has resulted in a prolific writing career and millions of downloads of his work from Amazon.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
Early on I figured it out. I was about seventeen when I wrote my first short stories. I was quickly hooked.

What was the first thing you wrote that you thought might be good enough to be published? Was it published?  If so, when, where, and by whom?
I sold a number of short stories, maybe twenty, before I landed any book-length deals. About half of those were paid pro sales, the rest were freebies in various “for-copies” small press mags. I was under the impression my stories were great right from the start (day one) so I sent them out and started collecting my 1000+ rejections as a teen. My first stories were never published (still aren’t, not even self-pubbed, they aren’t something I would show off!) But after about five years of writing stories and a few starter novels I began getting published. The oldest novel of mine that can be found now is “MECH 1” which was written way back in the early nineties when I was just starting.

What was your first published work?  Did you submit your story directly to publishers or did you get an agent?  Tell us about your experience with that process.
I submitted things relentlessly for many years. Although I sold short stories before the kindle era, I never sold a novel to anyone until KDP allowed me to self-publish in 2010.  I did get several agents and a few deals (which all fell through) in fiction before 2010, but my real success was in non-fiction. I have a computer science college textbook series that is going into its fifth edition now, and is still in print. That was my first serious publication, and I landed the deal back in 2000.

How did you handle rejection then?  How do you handle it now?
No one likes rejection. But I’ve always handled it pretty well and kept on slogging. At this point, I’m the one turning down offers from publishers, rather than the other way around. Essentially, rejection is a thing of the past for me. It’s a nice feeling, but I suffered through about twenty years of disappointment and hard work to get here.

How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?
I get ideas all the time. I keep them in files on my hard drive, and in audio recordings. I keep a recorder with me at all times and track any idea I get immediately. When I’m trying to put something new together, I dig through my thousand-plus idea files and try to pull together a story. Often, failed efforts trigger ideas for me. For example, I might see a movie or read a book, and the start is cool and interesting. Ten minutes in, the story switches entirely and becomes dull. This creates a desire within me to tell the story that was promised, the one that should have been told, and to do it in my own way.

What is your process of writing? Do you write every day? Do you write on a schedule?
I defend my writing time like a rabid badger. When producing new work, I write every single day (including my own Bday, Christmas, etc) until its done, seven days a week. I try to write at the same time of day as well. These simple rituals double my writing speed.

Regarding character development…  How do you develop your characters?  Are they based on you or real people?
Some of my characters are, admittedly, based on real people. At least in their attitudes and their “voices”. Others are…well…I don’t know where they come from. I hear them talk in my head, and I write down what they say.As far as development goes, I write action stories. I therefore do not like to do windy backstories. I don’t like to have people reminisce or chat in long expositional dialogs with other characters. My people are characterized by their dialog voice and their goals, and how they attempt to achieve those goals. I think the action SF genre demands that approach. Think of a James Bond movie–an older, good one. How much did you learn about his parents? Did his daddy get drunk and beat little Jimmy on Christmas Eve? No one knows and no one cares.

What’s the value of researching a specific topic, location, real person, or event prior to writing about it?
Surprisingly little. I think getting technical details down is valuable to the writer to get him into the mood of the book, and a portion of the readership will recognize and value it. But in my experience, I’m as likely to get a rash of one-stars from people who think they know more than I do about a topic I carefully researched and presented as a slew of five-stars from people when I made it all up, but they bought it. Overall, I tend to do more research than I need to, partly to get development ideas. Learning about a real current physics theory on how a warp drive could work inspired me, for example, in my latest book, “Dust World”.

Do you believe there is such a thing as writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
No. There is burnout, and inexperience, but writer’s block doesn’t exist. It comes down to one of three things: you’re sick of your book, you’re not sure how to continue, or you’re feeling like what you already wrote sucks. These can all be fixed. If you feel you have this condition, go write something. Anything. Maybe a different story. Or, find a fave novel and type it in, copying it line by line, just to run it through the writer’s part of your brain. Do not allow your brain to wallow and become lazy. Make it work. Do that for a few days, and you’ll be writing again on your main project.

How did you market yourself in the early days?  How do you market yourself now? How important is marketing to the process?
Frankly, I’m not much of a marketer. I have a marketing budget that’s very close to zero. I spend about an hour a week doing something like this interview, which I consider to be “marketing”. However, when you are first starting off and don’t have a fan base and need attention, spending time getting the word out is worth it. I was fortunate enough to get into the kindle game when it was new and hot and there were more buyers than there was good content. If you put out something that looked reasonably pro, you got sales. (To explain, I sold 7 books total in May of 2010, over 20,000 in December of 2010). Competition is much stiffer now, and using things like bookbub and the like is worth it to kickstart a career.

As a critical aside, no one should ever spend more time marketing than they do honing their craft. Good content is king. A reasonably well-packaged book that meets the demands of the readers will sell.

What’s your opinion on the value of social media to becoming a successful author?
Extremely low. If you enjoy these activities, do them, but keep it down to an hour a day. Production of good stories is about 99 times more valuable. I think many good authors are sucked up into social media and don’t do enough writing.

Do you remember the day you were signed by an agent or a publisher?  Do you remember the day you found out your work was sold for actual money?
I actually had several agents before I landed a pro-pub deal. Signing with an agent was exciting, but no guarantee of success. I do recall signing my first big textbook deal in July of 2000. I was excited, and daunted by the massive amount of work I’d just committed myself to. I worked like a madman to write 1000+ pages by the following March.

Do you need an agent to be a successful author?
No, not at all. At least not in self-publishing. But I do like my agent and found he’s earned his cut in every deal so far. I have an agent for audio books, pro sales, foreign rights and movie deals. It’s hard to get any of those contracts nailed down without an agent.

Your opinion of self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
Self-publishing is fantastic–if it works for you. I would say you have to have many more skills to do it successfully. On the other hand, you need to be luckier to get in traditionally. In the future, it’s easy to see self-publishing becoming the proving ground for authors (the way the old short-story market served the industry years ago) and pro pubs picking up those that succeed in the mosh-pit of self-pubbing.

What was the tipping point, i.e. when did you finally start to gain traction and obtain success?
Honestly, except for textbooks, I was a total failure until KDP opened up for self-publishers. I’m closing in on a million sales now, and most of those are self-published books.

Are you big reader?  If so, what are you reading now?  Favorite authors?
Oddly, writing constantly gives me less time to read. But I do read. I tend to read old favorites, plus whatever is on the top one hundred in my chosen genre. I love Stephen King from the old stuff, and I read writers like Vaughn Heppner for fun, and to keep current.

What other advice can you offer writers who are new to the process or struggling with the process?
Don’t expect immediate success no matter what route you try. Experiment, and be willing to alter course and willing to fail. Writing is like learning to play a musical instrument. You can’t expect to make money from your violin the first day you pull it out of the box and saw on it, making cat-screeching sounds. For most of us, writing acceptable fiction takes years of dedicated effort and many disappointments.

Tell us about your latest book and where our audience can find you online.
My latest publication is “Dust World”, sequel to “Steel World”. These books are kicking off a new series, and are very popular. They follow the life and times of James McGill, a man who lives about a century from now, in a time when Earth has been annexed by a vast, galaxy-wide interstellar Empire. They’re full of adventure, violence, non-explicit sex and intrigue.

My website is at BVLarson.com You can find me with a simple google search, I’m on wikipedia, etc. Any major ebook vendor will have me in stock as well.

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