I’m chatting today with Wayne Grant, author of “The Saga of Roland Inness” series.
Wayne’s books have been selling by the (virtual) truckload and I’m sure most of my readers will have noticed the likes of Longbow showing up in Amazon’s list of books you might like after you’ve read one of mine.
So, I asked Wayne if he’d like to do a Q&A and here’s the result. I hope you enjoy it and check out his books (links at the bottom of the page).
First off, tell us a bit about you, and why you chose to write about an archer. Are you a fan of Robin Hood in general, or other re-enactments? I know your series isn’t a direct re-boot of the Hood legend, as mine is, but you take elements from it don’t you?
Longbow, the first book in the series, was written 15 years ago for my two (now grown) boys who were still little—so I wanted to have a young protagonist. I had just read a great history of the Templar knights and the 3rd Crusade, so I came up with the idea of a young (14 year old) boy who becomes squire to a knight and goes on that Crusade. Of course, my young hero needed to have something that made him special and what could be better than a longbow? While this time period is the setting for many Robin Hood tales, I didn’t intend (at first) to have that be a part of the story. Once I decided on the longbow as Roland’s weapon, however, I couldn’t resist pulling Robin and Tuck in as supporting players. They are such wonderful characters. My Robin is a pretty traditional version, but my Tuck—now he is quite different.
What’s your writing process? Do you have plan everything out? Work off the cuff? Do you have to write every day (personally I don’t like that old myth – I write when I feel like it and it’s worked so far)? Do you like to work in silence or have any favourite music to help you concentrate?
I always have a general plan for the main arc and the key scenes of my story from the beginning, but my outlines always die an early death. I quite often write scenes that I know are completely out of order because I know what I want to say in those scenes. Once those get done, then writing the connective scenes becomes much easier for me.
Like you, I am a streaky writer. When I get in a rhythm I write for long stretches and I write fast, but then I tend to set it aside for a while. That said, I do set pretty firm personal deadlines for finishing books, and so far, I have not failed to meet one.
Writing historical fiction does require setting aside time to read up on events and characters you include in your story. In The Broken Realm, I introduced William Marshall as a character and needed to do some research. Luckily there have been a number of great biographies of him published lately. I also spend a lot of time on the historic timeline, which is probably the most challenging part of my process. Everything moved so damned slowly in the 12th Century! It’s hard to stick to the actual timeline and maintain narrative drive, so I do sometimes fiddle with that. Anytime I make a major deviation from the documented history, I cover it in my Historical Notes at the end of my books.
Regrettably, I am easily distracted, so no music while I write. Otherwise, my musical tastes run to storytellers—Warren Zevon, Van Morrison, Richard Thompson, Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits, etc.
Can’t beat a bit of Richard Thompson – his playing on “A Sailor’s Life” is mesmeric!
I see you’re planning on making your series run over four books – a tetralogy. That’s exactly the same as my series – I’d set out to write a trilogy but decided I had enough to say to stretch it over an extra book. Did you plan four books from the start? And, if so, why?! Hahaha, it seems you and I are the only ones writing a four book series!
I’m so glad I’m not the only one to experience a run-on trilogy! Yes, three was my original plan, but I just couldn’t get to a proper stopping place in The Broken Realm. There was just too much chaos back in England when Roland returns from Crusade to sort it all out in the third book, hence Book 4 is in progress. My plan is to complete the “coming-of-age” arc of Roland’s story in that book so that readers can move on if they please. That said, I expect I will add additional standalone books in the future with the same characters.
I notice you have your books listed in the children’s charts, but looking at the reviews suggests the books are equally suitable for an adult audience? Do you have a target audience in mind when you’re writing? Do you, for example, make sure there’s no profanity in your work so it’s more accessible?
When I first wrote Longbow for my two boys, I very specifically crafted it to be suitable for kids of ten and up so, while I had a pretty high body count, the violence wasn’t all that graphic and I did avoid most profanity. I tried to follow the example of CS Forester and Hornblower rather than some of the current popular historical fiction writers (though I love many of them and relish a good gory battle scene). When I later decided to self-publish, I did edit it to be a bit more gritty and mature—more young adult, but still light on the sex and graphic violence—and it seems quite a few folks actually like things a little less bloody.
I think it’s true that people get more interested in historical themes as they age, but I was a bit surprised that my readership turned out to be primarily adult with many of middle age and up. Kids seem to be more drawn to a dystopian future—I like to write about the dystopian past!
Your cover art is very engaging. It’s simple, with snappy titles and, to me, that’s perfect for Kindle. Who designs them?
I was very lucky to find a great artist on the internet named Brian Garabrant (http://www.briangarabrant.com/). He has been a real pleasure to work with and his pricing is very reasonable.
I wanted an old fashioned kind of cover in keeping with an old fashioned kind of adventure tale and Brian hit the mark for me. The Broken Realm is my favorite of the three covers, but it was a challenge because, for the first time I wanted all three of my main characters shown. Roland and Declan were no problem, but getting Millicent right was difficult. The first version was a “damsel in distress”, which was nothing like this bad-ass young girl. In the next version, she looked like a Frank Frazzeta Amazon warrior. Bad-ass, but geez, she was only 14, so I had to have him scale back the bust etc. In the end, he got her just right.
I agree with you, Broken Realm is also my favourite, and that brings me to my next question: you are, I believe, self-published, like me. Did you try to find a publisher before you decided to go it alone? Further to that, do you have an agent?
What about branching out into audiobooks or translations into other languages? I’ve been using ACX to make all of mine into audio and they do really well! I’m also looking at translations although that’s just as expensive as audio and, to my mind, probably not as likely to sell as much. What’s your thoughts on this?
Whew! There’s a lot in that question. Yes, I am totally self-published through Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct and have no agent. Back in AD 2000, when I first wrote Longbow, I got an agent rather quickly (to my surprise) and made it to the final editorial review at Harper Collins before they passed on it. I was told they already had a book in the queue about a young medieval archer. The following spring, Harlequin was published by Harper Collins, so I suspect I got bumped by Bernard Cornwell and Thomas of Hookton. As much as I love Cornwell, to this day I have never read his Grail Quest series.
Back in 2000, self-publishing was not very feasible and I had my “regular” career to tend to, so I put Longbow on the shelf for 14 years. In 2014, I retired and did a rewrite/edit of the book and sent out queries to agents, but generally got the response that there wasn’t much of a market for an historical “boy’s adventure” in the U.S. Enter Amazon.
I committed myself to finishing The Saga of Roland Inness, in part as a legacy to my two sons. I put Longbow out on Amazon with zero expectations. It was published in October and I told my wife that I hoped it would sell 100 copies by Christmas. That would mean that someone, somewhere (besides friends and family) had purchased it. Somehow it caught the eye of the wonderful folks in the UK (God love you all!) and it started to sell. By Christmas 2014, 3000 copies had been sold and everyone, including me, was astonished. So my retirement hobby morphed into second career. All-in-all it’s been better than taking up golf.
I have not had the books translated or made into audio books, but I am somewhat interested in the latter. The vast bulk of my sales are Kindle with only a few hundred a month in paperback, so I’ve been concerned that audio would do about the same as paperback. What has your experience been there? ACX looks like an interesting option.
I’m in the same boat – I hardly sell any paperbacks compared to Kindle versions. But I do pretty well with my audio sales. I wrote a blog post for the Historical Novel Society which you can check out here. I’d recommend ACX/Audible to anyone who’s selling well with their Kindle versions.
What about your feedback from readers? Do you have a favourite review, or compliment someone has said about your work?
I’ve had some wonderful reviews, like the mom in South Africa who thanked me for finally getting her 12 year son to read a book and the care giver for an autistic boy in Australia who says my books got her 11 year old into archery and an archery club.
My negative reviews are just as interesting. I had one that began “Absolute pants!” I had to Google that, as it is not an expression here in the States. I’ve also learned a number of things from fans, like:
- Fall is not a season in the UK.
- You never “fire” a bow (I should have known that one.)
- There are virtually no tides in the Mediterranean
Hahaha, yep, I also fell into the “fire” trap – the original version of my second book actually started with Robin giving the command to, “Fire!” I had to sort that before any reviewers noticed.
What do you have planned for the future, once your fourth and (perhaps!) final Roland Innes book is finished? More historical fiction, or something completely different?
I plan to have the fourth in the Roland Inness series out by sometime this summer (I’m almost half done with it) and I have had a new series in my head for a long time. It would be set in the first decades of the 19th century and would focus on a young officer in the early American Army. 1800-1820 is sort of a golden age for historical fiction (Hornblower, Aubry, Richard Sharpe), but there isn’t a really good American series set in that time period. I would like to take a stab at that, though I would hate to alienate my wonderful British readers by taking the opposite side in the War of 1812. Somewhere in there, I will do the other two Roland Inness books as well.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Or any tips on marketing?
There are no sure things in this business. Amazon puts out over 100,000 new titles a month so it is hard for even a great self-published book to get noticed in the flood. On the other hand, trying to get through the bottleneck of traditional publishing remains a long shot.
At this point, I doubt seriously if I would sign a traditional publishing contract. With the royalty differential, a publisher would have to convince me they could sell 4-5 times as many books for it to be in my interest financially. Finances aside, I love having complete control of the process. I do my own editing, with a big assist from my gimlet-eyed wife, and set my own prices. If I find a mistake in a book, I can go in overnight and fix it, no fuss and no muss.
Of course, if none of my books were selling, I would probably feel differently. So what are my thoughts if you choose self-publishing? Nothing that original, but:
- Edit, proof, repeat. Lots of self-published books turn off readers because of bad grammar and typos. Be sure there are none in the first 20 pages and very few thereafter.
- Get a good cover. A lot of covers are similar in this genre. Be different, but good different.
- It’s all about visibility on Amazon. Choose your categories carefully. Drill down to the lowest possible subcategory. Early on Longbow rose to the top of the tiny “Children’s Medieval Fiction” category, got slapped with a #1 Bestseller tag by Amazon and sales quadrupled overnight.
- Be lucky. I picked a simple title for my first book—Longbow—only half realizing how that title and that weapon resonates with the British people.
Excellent tips, I agree completely with all of those. What about you as a reader, rather than a writer? What are your own favourite books?
I love to read good histories. Right now I am reading Six Frigates by Ian Toll about the birth of the US Navy. My very first historical fiction was the Bruce Trilogy by Nigel Tranter, which I read as young officer in the US Army in Germany many, many years ago. I still think those are great books. Then, of course, there is the gold standard for American historical fiction—The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara—great book. I also indulge the guilty pleasure of an occasional Lee Child Jack Reacher thriller!
Huge thanks to Wayne for answering my questions. Our writing careers seem to have followed a very similar trajectory and it’s been great to find out more about him and his work. Do check out his books via the links below!