After working for two years in an office as an environmental consultant Aaron Hodges left the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand to travel the world in search of his next adventure as part of the New Zealand tradition of an “Overseas Experience”. During his travels he rediscovered his love of writing after dusting off an old manuscript he had abandoned five years prior. In December of 2015 he finished rewriting that manuscript and published what is now his debut novel “Stormwielder”. It quickly took off in sales. Now his writing is supporting his world travels so he can continue living the adventure.
Join Aaron and me as we discuss:
- His favorite part about being a full-time author.
- What caused him to abandon writing for years.
- How he got back on the saddle and finished his manuscript.
- The point he realized that he could be an author full-time.
- What he would do differently if he could do it all over again.
- A personal habit that contributes to his success.
- Where he goes to get his cover artist and editor.
- Why he suggests focusing on writing over everything else.
When did you make the leap to become a full-time author?
I published my book in December of 2015. Before that I was writing full-time from October/November. I didn’t really intend on becoming a full-time author at that point. Things just sort of took off. Now I’ve been writing furiously trying to get words down for my next book. It turned out quite nice because it gives me an income while I’m traveling.
What’s your favorite part about being a full-time author?
It was getting away from that 9-5. Working in an office was the worst part. Especially getting stuck in the office in the winter when you’d go in while it’s dark and leave while it’s dark. I remember having no energy for doing anything after work.
Also, just the fact that I can write from anywhere is really nice. I’d be on the road traveling through Guatemala or wherever and just find a coffee shop that I can sit down in and type out a few thousand words.
How did it feel when you left your office job?
That was actually about two years ago as part of what we call in New Zealand our “Overseas Experience” also called our “OE”. It’s kind of a tradition where we quit at some point and just take off for a year or two to see the world. That was the initial elation. Now the full-time author part is allowing me to keep doing that a bit longer than most people.
So at what point did you realize that you could write a book while you’re traveling?
Last year when I was traveling through the United States and through Mexico I started trying to work on rewriting “Stormwielder” from an old copy that I had from years ago. I slowly started doing more and more of that while I was traveling, and I realized that it was very easy to fit in-between drinking lots of alcohol and going horse riding or whatever it is that you do during the day. I figured that out around last year.
Currently today, how are you generating revenue as an author?
My ebook gives me about 95% of my revenue. The paperback doesn’t sell very well. I haven’t even gotten my first paycheck from Createspace because it hasn’t reached the limit yet. The audio book has only been out for about five days now, and that’s sold about 20 copies so that could become a potential earner now (fingers crossed!). Other than that I’ve just got old savings from when I worked in Canada, and that’s about it.
So how much do you rely on your savings versus the income you’re getting from your novel?
The first two months “Stormwielder” came out I was earning far more than what I was spending. Now it breaks about even as long as I keep my expenses down. Keep in mind that’s with living in cheap countries like Colombia and Nicaragua. That’s also with doing things like scuba diving, rock climbing, and whatever else I decide to do during the day.
Tell us a story when things weren’t going so well for you. Share with us your worst moment as an author (or as your were working to become an author)? Really bring us to that moment and tell us that story.
It was quite a few years back when I first wrote a decent copy of “Stormwielder” I applied for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. They used to run this competition for aspiring authors. I entered that quite a few years in a row and never really got anywhere. At the same time I was applying for a few publishers and never got anywhere from little, old New Zealand, unfortunately. At that point I decided that the book wasn’t good enough to go anywhere, and I tried to rewrite it for the fifth or sixth time. This was around the time I was going through university. I basically lost motivation, put the book aside, and never really got through that final rewrite. Then five years later (last year, 2015) I finally picked it up again and decided to have another go at it. I spent five years without writing at all, no creative writing anyway. It was very hard to pick up where I left off. Now I’ve been trying to build my skills back up that I developed from writing in the first place.
Can you walk us through that and how you got back up on the saddle?
I discovered coffee is a very good motivator. I used to never drink coffee, but I discovered cappuccino will get the creative juices flowing. Now every day that I’m writing I start with a cappuccino.
Did you just plow through your novel with caffeine or did you have a system setup for yourself or did you just write what you could?
Part of it was just putting myself into an environment where I was more likely to focus and be inspired. I always went out, even when I’m living in a hostel or a hotel or something; I would go out and get coffee at a local coffee shop and see what’s going on around me. I think it helped that I was writing in places up in the mountains in Mexico and on the beach.
The other part was a building process. I was just rewriting little parts at a time. 1,000 words a day was the aim, and these last two weeks I’ve been writing close to 3,000 words a day with my second novel. I’ve brought myself back into a writing rhythm. I figured if I could keep to at least 1,000 words a day from January into March then I can have 90,000 words and a first draft of book two done for the series.
Aaron was kind enough to send me a picture for the blog that shows one of his inspiring writing places. Check it out below:
At what point did you realize that you could make a living as an author?
About halfway through December when my daily earnings from the book exceeded what I made as a consultant by about 50%. I realized, “Oh, OK this is worth doing!” It’s dropped back a bit since then, but I figure that if I can keep publishing then it will work out OK. My plan is to get the next book in the series out by June 2016. I just finished the first draft yesterday. I celebrated with a beer about midday. That one will be called “Firestorm”. I have the whole trilogy outlined from the first time I wrote the book when I was no good at writing. I think it’s going quite well though, and it’s on track to be published by sometime in June.
When you finished your first manuscript what did you do with it? Did you have a plan?
When I first finished my manuscript I had outlined the whole trilogy. It came out to around 100,000 words. I went back to the very beginning and realized that my writing had changed and improved so much that I literally rewrote about the first 40 pages and added more which resulted in the first part of the trilogy that is now “Stormwielder”. That left about 80,000 words from the original 100,000 for the next two books. That’s doubled again for the second book, and we’ll see what happens with the third.
Do you feel like that was a good exercise?
Yea, even today when I’ve rewritten “Stormwielder” about a dozen times people still tell me that the first half of the book is much better. It’s amazing how much you learn as you’re writing.
Looking back, if you could do it all over again is there anything you would do differently?
Definitely, I would change my publishing process. I would get it proofread. As many times as my friends and I proofread it there were still mistakes in there that pegged me back a couple times from reviewers. That would have definitely closed that off. I probably would’ve gotten a more professional cover. The one I got at the moment is still eye-catching in terms of drawing the readers in, but I think the typesetting could be improved. I’m actually having someone improve that at the moment along with the cover for the second one. Also, from what I’ve read on message boards it probably would’ve been good to have the second book ready to go earlier. [Update: the typesetting on the cover of “Stormwielder” has been improved].
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success as an author?
I’ve established a good routine at this point. I go to the coffee shop and grab my cappuccino, read up on the news or whatever for a bit, read the last part of what I wrote previously, and then I just start writing from there. I also take a lot of breaks. I’ll write for 30 minutes and then take a small, 10 minute break and browse the internet or something. Then I’ll write for another 30 minutes and so on.
What are you most excited about right now?
Probably getting “Firestorm” finished. I’m very interested to see how it all turns out once I publish it. Like I said, I have someone making the cover right now, and I have my editor lined up for the end of the month. I’m excited to see it all come together.
Where did you go to find your cover artist and editor?
I found them both on the Kindle message board [Kboards]. I looked around there for people with good feedback and reasonable prices. I messaged a few cover artists. I settled on one that has been great. Her name is Melinda Burt. She must have done about 20 different iterations. We’re getting close, and it’s just a matter of fine-tuning at this point.
What advice do you have for those of us trying to become full-time authors?
Forget about everything else and just write. You can do all the marketing, adverts, and all those different things to encourage people to buy your book. But if they don’t like it you’re not going to go anywhere really. I think that’s probably what inadvertently helped my book the most was that I had rewritten the thing so many times that it was half good by the time I published it.
One place that I would recommend is a website called Writing.com. I spent a lot of time there when I was re-writing the book the first couple of times. It’s a community of writers that will review your work if you post it up there, and you can review other people too. That helped me learn. You could see in other people’s writing what was wrong like whether they were using the passive voice too much or too many adjectives and such. Then I went back to my own work and thought, “Oh, I did that. I should go back and fix that myself.” It was quite a good place to learn about writing. It’s an older website, but it still does the trick.
What’s the best way that we can reach you?
Let’s end on a positive note. Share with us one of your favorite success quotes, and tell us a little bit about what it means to you.
My favorite one is: “Always keep fighting” by Jared Padalecki from the show “Supernatural”. It represents his battle with depression, but it’s something he’s advertised a lot with his fans on Facebook. He uses it to raise awareness for people with depression. While that’s never been a problem for me it does speak to me. It’s three words that tell you no matter how bad things get you just have to keep trying and fighting on. Eventually you’ll get to some place better. I think that’s really cool because no matter what you do in life you’re always going to have hard times. You’re always going to have those times when you want to give up, but you just have to keep fighting.
If you want your fill of hero’s, magic, villains, demons, gods and lots of fiery action then go check out “Stormwielder” on Aaron’s Amazon page here.
If you enjoyed 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,