Carolynn Gockel has been writing stories for her friends and family since before word processors even existed. A few years ago she began posting those stories to the intertubes and started receiving emails, messages, and reviews from her fans telling her she should do it professionally. In the end, it was her husband’s nagging that wore her down, and she’s been writing professionally ever since.
Join Carolynn and me as we discuss:
- Her favorite part about being a full-time author.
- The various ways she’s generating revenue and how much.
- Sales funnels and why they’re important for authors.
- Her struggle in the beginning when she first tried going pro.
- Why she prefers pantsing with the Stop Light method instead of outlining.
- Her plan when she finished the manuscript for “I Bring the Fire”.
- Why she’s switching to Vellum over Jutoh for formatting.
- How she promotes her series.
- Dealing with negative reviews.
- Her advice for those of us trying to become full-time authors.
When did you make the leap to become a full-time author?
I made the leap to become a full-time author back in October of 2014, and I believe that was a little over 2-3 years after I started publishing.
Have you jumped between genres or have you stuck with one so far?
I have jumped between genres. I started out in urban fantasy then I switched to sci-fi, and I imagine that I’ll keep bouncing back and forth throughout my career.
Do you have the same pen name through all of those or do you switch them up?
I actually use the same pen name. I know there are a lot of different thoughts on that. I think if I ever wrote something that was more romantic that had more graphic sex scenes then I’d probably use another pen name. I think when I start getting over 12 books I’d start looking into getting another pen name too. I noticed that it becomes a lot harder for people to find your books that are in series when you start to have more than 12.
What’s your favorite part about being a full-time author?
I get to do something I love to do. It’s still a job, and every job has things that are tedious and horrible. I understand why people go for traditional publishing because you don’t have to deal with the little nuances. I also think that if I was traditionally published I wouldn’t earn as much money. I know I make more money. I mean, I don’t make a lot of money, but I make a lot more money than some successful traditionally published authors I know. So, I guess it’s going to be hard anyway you go about it.
Currently today, how are you generating revenue in terms of the different mediums you may have whether it’s eBooks, paperbacks or audio books?
My audio books are produced by Tantor, and I have no idea how much money I’m making with them. Most of my money is in eBooks, and I earn about $5,000 a month with those. I have six novels that make up one series and one novel in a new series called Archangel Project. I also have a bunch of short stories. So, the audio books and eBooks are my primary sources of income. The novels are making the most money, but the short stories are important funnels to my series. There’s one that is almost entirely from the point of view of an eight-legged horse, Sleipnir (from Norse mythology), and I have a short story coming out soon. It’s going to be a part of an anthology. Another one of my short stories is part of an anthology called “Nightshade”. I’ve actually found short stories and anthologies to be well worth my while because you can sell a lot more or give away a lot more as part of an anthology than you can as a standalone.
I have a short story called “Carl Sagan’s Hunt for Intelligent Life in the Universe”, which is part of an anthology called “Starbound”. It’s basically been keeping the first novel in the Archangel Project afloat. A lot of people say you shouldn’t write short stories, but I know Amanda Lee. She, along with a couple of my other author friends, likes to write a short story between novels. I find it’s a great way to clear your head. They can be used to make money too if you add them to an anthology or use them as a funnel. I find them useful for that.
You mentioned “funnel” a few times. Can you explain that a little bit?
So, a primary problem as a self-published author is visibility. You’re books aren’t on the shelves at Target. I’m sure that a lot of books that Amazon sells are because people see them at Target or Walmart or whatever, and then they go to Amazon to get them cheaper. Because you’re not part of that you have to reach people’s eyes in other ways, and one of the best ways to do it is to have multiple entry points to your series. I’m in the “Demons and Djinn” box set that takes the first volume of “I Bring the Fire” and just puts it in a box with eight other books written by different authors in a similar genre. “I Bring the Fire” is actually in two box sets right now with two different covers. So, it’s just about having those entry points.
Now we’re going to take a step back here and just rewind a little bit. Can you share a story with us when things weren’t going so well for you as an author? What was your worst moment as an author? Really try to bring us to that moment if you can.
I don’t have a terror moment as an author. There have been lots of little bumps like formatting problems. When I was first publishing I really didn’t know what I was doing. I only started because I was writing fan fiction, and my husband was saying, “You’re getting 10,000 views a month writing fan fiction! You have to go write something original!” I was like, *sigh*, “OK. Nobody’s going to read this.” Then I just wrote something, people read it, and he was quiet for a while. I was like, “Woah, I wrote a short story, made $30, and bought some boots for our kid.” He was like, “Yay!”, and I forgot about it for a while. Then he started nagging me again, and I began writing “I Bring the Fire”. So, I did write an original story, but then I’d go back and write fan fiction or write an original story on fan fiction. So, there were a lot of things that went wrong at first, but I never had that pressure of, “Oh my god, I have to make it as an author.” I’m pretty sure I had no aspiration to be an author. I figured this was just a hobby. I figured in 10 years or so I would be earning $500, and it would be a nice side income when I eventually retire. When bad things happened it was just like, “I’ll fix it.”
I guess, at a minimum, I knew starting a new series would be hard. It’s actually gotten good critical reviews, but it hasn’t been a super-duper success. There are some people who might be interested in buying it for audio. I would love it if that happened. I feel like audio is the next place to go, but I’m homeschooling my kid, I’m writing, and I’m promoting. I feel really stressed because I don’t feel like there are enough hours in the day. I’m not a very audio-type person. The idea of proofing sound just makes me crazy. So, I would love if we got picked up by somebody else that would get the narrator and just do it because I don’t have that much time. Then there’s Chris Fox, you interviewed him, and he can finish a book in 21 days. My books take about six months. Right now, I think it’ll be seven and a half months before my next novel in the Archangel Project is released. Granted, I’ve had two novellas in-between, but still, I’m not a fast writer at all. I tried outlining to make things faster, and it turned out to be worse. It just wasn’t a good fit for me.
You’re a Pantser?
Yes, I’m a pantser. I think it’s called the Stop Light method. My friend Christine, she’s a pantser too, and she said, “So, you’ll have some scenes that you have to get to, but you have to work out how to get to them.” Yea, that’s definitely me. I don’t have to write those parts first because those parts keep me going. When I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get there, and when I’m not feeling like writing my mind will be like, “But this big scene is coming out!” I’ll want to write those scenes so badly, but I can slog through the other parts. I mean, there are times you don’t know how you’re going to get from one part to another, and usually the way I do it is I just write. Then I throw it out, and I write again. Eventually, just by doing it over and over again, I figure it out and something happens. Something in my brain connects. I’m like, “Oh, if I do it like this it’ll be that much better.”
You mentioned the Stop Light method. Can you explain that?
It’s like writing an email so I know what’s going to happen. I know how it’ll end, and I’ll have some key moments along the way. I just have to get to all those moments and connect them together. It’s the same thing for the Archangel Project. It’s a trilogy, and I know how the trilogy ends. I know exactly how it ends. I actually just finished the rough draft of the middle part and now I’m editing that right now. I’m finishing up some other things with “I Bring the Fire”, like the paperbacks, which I hate print. I hate print with such a passion. When I’m done, hopefully in just a week or so I’ll start writing the final installment of the Archangel Project trilogy. I know how it ends, and I know some key middle points, and I have no idea how it begins. I’m sure it will be painful in the beginning.
Why are you doing the paperbacks if you don’t like them so much?
I think it adds legitimacy. I have about 12 people who beg me, “You’ve got to get the paperbacks!” I paid for it when I made the high resolution covers so I might as well. I figure that come Christmas time I might sell 100 copies.
So, you’ll actually be getting a return on your investment?
Yeah. You know what, I don’t think I’ve done this in a while, but for Goodreads giveaways, if you have a free eBook version in your series then you can sneak it into your little description. Something like, “Hey, you can get the first book free if you don’t win the giveaway.” Some people will go out and find it. I have found that it’s not the best return as far as getting free downloads go, but giving away only a few books through Goodreads doesn’t really help you. Instead of giving away only one you’ll get some people to go ahead and download it for free.
You mentioned earlier that you considered this a hobby, and you didn’t really take it that seriously. At what point did you realize that you could actually make a living doing this, and started taking it a little more seriously?
So, it was book one in my first series, which was August 2013. I had three books total at that point. It was when I first went pro, and I got a whole bunch of downloads without any advertising. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing!” I earned enough that my husband was like “Oh, wow!”
Was that because of the amount of downloads you got?
No, it was the money I made. I care because I can look at the download now, and I know what every download is basically worth. Or more to the point, I don’t want 100 downloads worth because suddenly it’s an average, and not everybody who downloads your book is going to go read the next one. I’m not sharing that. It’s a secret.
In your series, “I Bring the Fire” when you finished that manuscript what do you do with it? Did you have a plan with that?
I mean, I was excited enough about the story that I knew I would finish it.
Did you have a plan after you finished it?
Ha-Ha, no. I had no plan. No clue. Again, it was just my husband nagging me. I enjoyed writing fan fiction, and it was like a game for my brain. You have this character, these personalities, and I started writing fan fiction. I said this in another interview: it was either write fan fiction or become a nasty internet troll. I have a lot of opinions, and I can be strident about them. But, you can put your opinions into fiction, and you don’t have to be strident. You can kind of push them softly and be entertaining. It’s like, “You don’t like Interstellar? Well, then you’re wrong!”
I actually liked that movie.
You’re safe. I can continue this. It’s like all the big ideas that make people back away from you at cocktail parties. You can put those into a story, hopefully make it long and interesting, and make the characters engaging enough. I feel like sci-fi and fantasy are one of the few places where you can talk theology too. It’s the only place where you can start talking about the meaning of life in a fun and interesting way.
You had absolutely no plan without any real aspirations. You were just kind of doing it for the sake of doing it. What do you do differently now?
Better covers and I’ve gotten Vellum for formatting now. I’ve used Jutoh too. I’ll probably get them all into Vellum eventually so that they’re just a little bit more pro. The thing about Vellum over Jutoh is that it’s so much faster. It’s worth the expense because you can go superfast and everything is done. I mean that’s the biggest difference. I do think that with being a professional author there’s more attention to it because you can feel like you’re just letting people down. I leapt into another genre, into sci-fi, and my sci-fi is a little bit darker.
What’s one marketing technique you currently use before and after your launches?
You know what? It’s not so different. I do have a mailing list, and I have a subtle one. I have one for the Archangel Project and one for “I Bring the Fire”. I’m mostly just hitting my mailing lists and my Facebook. I do postings on Tumblr as well. My main strategy when I have a new release is the same as every other month in that I amplify the first book.
Why do you do that?
Well, I write in series. I’m not somebody who writes standalone stories. I have an overarching theme and story, and I wrote the Archangel Project and “I Bring the Fire”. I really need to get readers back to that first book. Without the first book it won’t make any sense. So, it’s not really useful for me to promote the new book. It’s way more useful to promote the first. Now one thing I did learn when I finished “Ragnarok” (which is the last book in the “I Bring the Fire” series) I did learn that when you finish a series you get a little bit of a bump. When I finish “Heretic” (which is the final installment of the Archangel Project) I might do some sort of Facebook promotion where it’s like, “Oh, this series is complete” or something like that. I found that Facebook boosted posts are really underrated because they actually work really well. When I promoted “Archangel Down” one of my fans was like, “I love this book! You have to get it!” And somebody responded on her post like, “I like this woman’s other series, but you know what? I don’t want to start this series until it’s done.” So, I’ll probably do some sort of big thing when it’s finished.
Have you ever been in a slump or taken a break from writing? If you have, how did you get out of that slump, and how did you get back to being consistent?
So, I have days when I don’t want to write. My dad died last year.
Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.
One of the reasons I was able to finish “I Bring the Fire” was because he liked it. I knew I had to finish it, and I knew he was getting sick. I got a bad review where somebody said, “This is worthless” or whatever. I had my dad and another fan that was also sick (and thankfully still alive). Some people just don’t like the ending, and they were like, “This isn’t complete.” Well, it’s more of a ‘Death Star blows up, and Darth Vader goes spinning away’ kind of ending, although, it’s a little more pessimistic than that. I think “I Bring the Fire” is a very happy and fun series. People have told me that parts of the story made them cry. So, when people give me bad reviews like, “She shouldn’t have published this.” I’m like, “Ok, between your opinion and the opinion of the person who is dying…eh.”
So, with my dad, it was hard. I actually spent some time reading at that point. I just read a lot, and then I gradually got back into it. I read an extremely happy novella, and I wanted to make “Archangel Down” funny. I think I’ll probably take a break from this and just write something funny and silly.
There were times when I didn’t feel well, and I took some time off just to write short stories. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll write some short novellas and write some zany romances that my “Magic after Midnight” fans want me to write. Will it be right? I don’t know. I could base it in the “I Bring the Fire” world though. I actually have an idea. In the Archangel Project, there’s a sexbot, and his name is Six-Tee-Nine. He’s hilarious. He might get his own series at some point because it would be funny. I think once I’m done with the Archangel Project I’ll have two worlds to play in. Then I could basically write fan fiction on my own fiction, forever.
What’s a personal habit that you believe contributes to your success as an author?
Well, it’s not a good thing, but I’m obsessive compulsive. I just start writing, and I can’t stop. It drives people around me crazy. I could talk for hours about my books. It’s better to write than to spend that time at cocktail parties going over boring ideas with boring people watching them back away slowly when I start talking. It’s not really a habit. It’s just a personality trait, and I’m glad I found some way for it to be useful instead of just annoying.
So what are you most excited about right now?
Oh, I guess finishing up the Archangel Project. The middle book, “Noah’s Ark”, isn’t even out yet. It’s with my first beta reader, and I have some edits to do today. Then that will be done, and I’ll be going into the final stretch. I’m kind of nervous about being free because I don’t really know what’s next after that, but I’m also kind of excited. I’ve got ideas and something will turn up.
What advice do you have for those of us trying to become full-time authors?
Have a critique group (of beta readers). I’ve got a lot of feedback from my fans that read my fan fiction. I wrote fan fiction for about two years maybe even three before I seriously published. Well, I wasn’t really serious. I was just trying to keep the husband from getting really mad at me. I wound up with a lot of professional authors that liked my fan fiction. They would also push me and say, “You really should start doing this.” I ignored them, but when it came time to actually write my own personal fiction I had this pool of people who liked my work. I knew I could trust them to be critical enough to tell me things they didn’t like. I think that’s the basic thing that most authors don’t have when they’re starting out, and I think it’s something you really need.
There was a review on Goodreads that said, ““I Bring the Fire” was the worst book I’ve ever read in my entire life.” Then there was this huge, long thing about how bad it was. I actually kind of liked it because it was the worst book that they ever read? That’s huge! I was kind of proud of that. But, the point is you meet some people that like what you’re selling so they don’t say things like, “This is the worst book that I ever read.” That’s not really helpful. You can’t really do anything with that. But, if somebody was like, “OK, this character went out of character here; I don’t think she would really say that” or “This is flat-out not funny, Carolynn.”
What’s the best way that we can reach you?
The best way is through email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s end on a positive note. What is one of your favorite success quotes, and what does it mean to you?
Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” It’s not that I just got lucky with the books I’ve published. There was a lot of work and a lot of things I was doing behind the scenes. But, there was luck too. I do believe that sometimes you just hit a cord, and I think I hit a cord with “I Bring the Fire”. I’ve gotten more critical, independent reviews for “Archangel Down”. It’s actually doing better than “I Bring the Fire”.
If you want to bring a little chaos into your life then check out Carolynn’s Amazon author page.
Enjoy the interview? Then please let me know! Email me at Brandon@buildyourauthorcareer.com or leave a comment below. I read every email and comment.
Feel free to check out some of my previous interviews with other inspiring authors:
To your consistent progress,