Sometimes, opportunity comes knocking, and following a recent interview I posted with the wonderful James Scott Bell, I was directed towards two writers who may have been interested in my interviewing services. As it happened, they were, and to top it off, they had just finished writing a book together, and so, in an instant I was in the midst of a multi-author interview and to be honest with you… I had the time of my life.
Both of these men are talented writers, who have walked away from the traditional world, and embraced the Indie lifestyle… Why I hear you cry, well, I will let them tell your themselves.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Brett Battles and Mr. Robert Gregory Browne.
Tell us a little about yourselves?
Rob: I’m a slave to my mortgage. Otherwise I’d be traveling in Europe right now, preferably France and Italy, while dining at nothing but the finest restaurants. Or something like that.
The truth is, I enjoy coming up with stories, hate writing them down, but love them when I’ve finally written THE END. I’m doing a job that so many people out there would love to be doing, and I consider myself very lucky. I write mostly thrillers, some with a supernatural twist, some that lean more toward mystery—especially my Trial Junkies series—and I’m now pleased to say that thanks to technology, I’m no longer a slave to corporate publishing and have taken my career and writing into my own hands.
Did any of that make any sense?
Brett: I’m someone who has been lucky enough to do what I love—write books—fulltime for over four and a half years now. Unlike Rob, I love the actual writing process. There’s nothing like seeing a story begin to take shape on the screen! I, too, started off traditionally published, then went fully independent nearly two years ago and never looked back.
Can you remember the moment you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Rob: I can remember the many moments I’ve wanted NOT to be a writer, but I guess that doesn’t answer your question. I think the moment it struck me that this would be a wonderful job was when I was about thirteen years old and I read a book by Donald Westlake called SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY. Westlake soon became one of my gods, but I remember when I was in the middle of that book I thought, man, I wish I could do this. It didn’t become a passion, however, until I was a little older and actually tried it, instead of just talking about it, and discovered that I had a bit of skill. It took me a very long time to really develop my craft—and its actually still developing—but I eventually got to the point where I thought I might actually be able to sell something. So I sent it out and it sold.
Brett: Rob really is a cranky SOB, isn’t he? I have never had a moment where I didn’t want to be a writer. When did I realize this was what I wanted to do? Well, believe it or not, I announced to all who would listen back when I was in fifth grade that I was going to be an author. I knew then writing was where I would end up. I never lost that dream and desire, though it did take me longer to make it happen that I had imagined. Life has a way of throwing up road blocks now and then.
What made you both decide to cast off the traditional mantle and go it alone?
Rob: I was actually a bit late to the “indie” game. I have several friends who got there before me and I saw the freedom they had and the kind of money they were making and thought, jeez, what am I doing? At the time I had a hardcover coming out and when I was attending a writers conference and my friends heard about the upcoming release, they all groaned in sympathy. Hardcovers were over, and they all knew it. Which, of course, is a bit ironic considering all any writer wanted in the past was to come out in hardcover. Now it’s the kiss of death. So when that book finally came out and didn’t set the world on fire (as predicted by my friends) and my publisher decided to charge $12.99 for the ebook version, I finally understood that the publishing business had changed, and the people who seemed to be accepting that change and understood how to adapt to it were those friends who had gone indie. I then sat down and wrote Trial Junkies, published it through my company, Braun Haus Media, and saw it quickly hit the Amazon bestseller lists ‹which was a first for me. For a while there it was the #1 legal thriller.
Brett: For me there were a few factors that seemed to intersect at basically the same time. The first was that as I was writing the last book of the contract I had at that time with Bantam Dell, I was becoming more and more fascinated by the burgeoning indie world. Friends like Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch were seeing success in a realm that pretty much hadn’t existed a few years earlier. To me it was a no brainer that ebooks were the future, and to have Amazon and Barnes & Noble then open up directly to individual authors? Whoa. The other factor was my publisher. I had a great team I worked with at Bantam for my first three books. They were the ones, in fact, who got me a very nice contract for books four and five. Unfortunately, before I had even finished writing book four, my editor had left for another publisher, and then my imprint (Bantam) merged with another (Ballantine) which resulted in the head of Bantam leaving. There went my two biggest champions. It was clear I was no longer a priority. I was changed for hard cover first release to mass paperback, and given just a fraction of the marketing help I’d had originally. Hey, things like that were happening all over. The industry was (and, to an extent, remains) in upheaval. They did what they thought best. I get that. No problem. By contract, I had to present them the idea for my next book, which they, not surprisingly, passed on. That was good. I had no intention of accepting an offer if they had decided to say yes. My plan at that point was to pursue both getting a book done that I could show around and get a new publisher, and also getting another book done that I could test the indie market with. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the indie route to win me over, and I ended up dropping the idea of looking for a new publisher pretty quick.
Do you feel that the traditional route is still the best option for some writers?
Rob: That’s hard for me to say. I think it probably is for those who are less inclined to getting into the groove of indie publishing. Because you really do have to do it all yourself, or pay someone else to handle it for you. Cover design, formatting, editing, copy editing. These things cost money. I’m fortunate that I can I do all but the editing phase, and I have a writer friend who edits for me. At the same time, I hesitate to encourage people to go into traditional publishing because the numbers just aren’t there. Most first time authors are given a paltry advance, poor contract terms, and now that ebooks are forever, they often find it difficult to get the rights to their books back down the line. Most traditionally published authors can’t make this a fulltime profession. The majority of their income comes from their day jobs. The myth, of course, is that the publisher will do miraculous things when it comes to marketing and publicity. But the truth is, most of them don’t do much at all, and in fact, expect the author to do the bulk of it. “Get on Facebook,” they say. “Open up a Twitter account. Start a blog.” Well, those are things I can easily do on my own, thank you. What I need is someone willing to twist the arm of high-profile reviewers to read and review my book. What I need are ads in newspapers across the globe. Which is also a fantasy unless you’re A) already a bestselling author; or B) someone who has been paid a hefty advance (it does happen once in a while) and the publisher has no choice but to promote the hell out of you in hopes of recovering their investment. Whichever way you choose to publish, you need to go into it with your eyes open and learn as much about the business as you can.
Brett: I agree with Rob.
Do the big publishing houses need to change their perspective of the indie scene or are they merely fading kings enjoying the last days of power? (A little melodramatic, but I’m stuck at the day job currently so please forgive me)
Rob: I know and like a lot of people in the business, and I’d characterize them as well-meaning, passionate book lovers who just want to do the best they can for their authors. They are often hampered by the rules and attitudes of their particular publishing house and I do think there’s a certain snickering snobbery when it comes to independents. That may be changing, however, as we see more and more success stories coming out of the indie world.
But I’m an old school guy and I don’t really want to bring down the empire. I see no reason why there isn’t room for all of us. After all, there a lot of readers out there, new readers born every day, and thanks to technology, people who are discovering the joys of fiction for the first time. So it doesn’t have to be a competition. As Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Brett: Honestly, I’m not really sure what their perspective is these days. My concentration has been writing and getting my books out. I’m more than happy to leave the tracking of what’s going on in traditional publishing to others.
To stick with the writing side of the process, this is the first book that the two of you have worked on together, correct?
How did you become acquainted and how did that lead to writing a book?
Brett: We met first online, then in person for the first time at the inaugural Thrillerfest. Both Rob and I had our debut novels come out in 2007. There was actually a whole group of us debuting that year, and we banded together to help promote ourselves, calling our group Killer Year. The others were Sean Chercover, Bill Cameron, Marcus Sakey, JT Ellison, Jason Pinter, Toni McGee Causey, Dave White, Gregg Olsen, Patry Francis, Derek Nikitas, and Marc Lecard.
As far as writing POE together, Rob and I had been discussing writing something together for a long time. We had even honed in on an idea that Rob had come up with years earlier (the basis for POE). When our schedules finally aligned, we jumped in.
As you have mentioned, the book is called POE. Can you tell us a little about it?
Brett: I’m going to leave this for Rob. He’s better at concise descriptions.
Rob: Alex, the best way to answer this is to simply provide the cover copy that we came up with:
After losing her mother to a terrorist attack, Alexandra Poe was devastated when her father—disgraced and accused of treason—disappeared from the face of the earth. Now, ten years and a stint in Iraq later, Alex is approached by a man who has information about her father and wants to help her find him.
But there’s a catch. The man works for Stonewell International, a security firm that specializes in fugitive acquisition. And in return for their help, Alex must agree to run point on an extremely dicey mission. One that will take her behind the walls of a brutal and dangerous women’s prison near the coast of the Black Sea.
When Alex finally agrees, she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. She may find her father, but she could very well lose her life.
How does a joint venture such as this work? Unless you are next-door neighbors I am guessing that you were not actually sitting side by side as you wrote.
We’re about 90 miles apart, so no sitting together. The first step, and probably the most important, was to get a working outline that we both liked. We discussed it over several months, then I hacked something together, which Rob took and added his thoughts. We knew there were several ways we could proceed from that point—trade off chapters, working on certain storylines, etc. How it ended up, though—and this was largely due to schedules—was that I wrote the bulk of the first draft (with many phone conversations along the way to discuss issues and problems as they came up), then Rob did a thorough rewrite pass, and together we did a final polish. We’re planning on flipping roles for the next one.
So you are planning on writing some more together. Just how different was it to working on a solo project?
Brett: We always envisioned POE being the first book of a series, so we are definitely onboard for book two and beyond at this point. The biggest difference from working solo was having somebody to talk out problems with when you came to them. But even that wasn’t hugely different. Rob and I often talk during our solo projects to help each other work issues out. The only difference this time was that we had to really listen to what the other one had to say. 🙂
Rob: Brett THINKS I was listening to him, but I was really thinking about what to have for lunch. Seriously, though, he’s right about the process not being hugely different, and in some ways was much easier than a solo project—for me, at least. It was kind of nice to be mutually enthusiastic and excited about the project.
Writing tends to be a very personal process, and I know a lot of writers who could not share that space with anybody. Despite your friendship, did you have any teething problems working on the same project?
Brett: None that I can recall. Differences of opinion? Sure, that was bound to happen. But even those were minor and solved with a quick conversation. It was truly a painless process.
Rob: Brett’s right. In fact it was especially painless for me in the first few weeks because Brett did the first draft this time around. And we also discovered that there was very little, if anything, that we disagreed about. I honestly can’t remember any.
In the music business, I know several bands have broken up over this, so tell me, how did you decide whose name went first on the cover?
Brett: I don’t even remember if we discussed it. Rob?
Rob: We never discussed it. But a few years back Brett and I started doing podcasts on writing (I think we did four or five before we got too busy) and at the time we simply went by Battles and Browne. I’m the one who pushed that in the beginning because Browne and Battles just didn’t roll off the tongue as easily. It would be like saying “butter and bread” or “McCartney and Lennon.” So when it came time to design the cover, I just kept with the tradition. I honestly couldn’t care less about whose name goes first. Everybody knows I’m the most talented one anyway. (That was a joke, by the way. Calm down, Brett…)
If you could describe the book in three words (each) what would they be?
Rob: Oh, Lord. How about this: a great read.
The two of you write in similar genres, but what do you think about the possibilities if you were to get authors from different genres collaborating?
Rob: I honestly don’t think it would make much of a difference. A good writer—like all of my literary heroes—can pretty much write anything, so you adapt to the needs of the genre and go for it. As long as the writing is compelling, all will be fine.
What books have influenced you most in your life?
Brett: Good question, but I’m not sure I could distill it to single titles. For me, it’s been more the authors themselves, and the body of their work. Writers like Alistair MacLean, Stephen King, early Robert Ludlum, Robert Heinlein, Graham Greene, Isaac Asimov, and Haruki Murakami, though there were many more. They have all shaped and influenced the writer I have become.
Rob: The book that made me want to be a writer was SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY by Donald Westlake, which I read in serialized form when I was thirteen. The book that made me want to be a THRILLER writer was MARATHON MAN by William Goldman, which to this day ranks as one of the best thrillers ever written, in my opinion. Other authors that influenced me were James Kirkwood and Walter Gibson aka Maxwell Grant.
When it comes to your own writing, do you have a particular process that you follow; a schedule?
Brett: Yes, pretty much. I’m a first thing in the morning writer, and by first thing, I mean EARLY. I usually get up around 4 a.m., and am starting in on whatever project I’m working on by about 5:15 to 5:30. I’ll keep up until somewhere between noon and 2 p.m. After that, I’m pretty shot writing wise for the day. If I get up late, or have to do something before I can start writing, it’s extremely difficult for me to get into the groove.
Rob: My particular process is to avoid writing as long as humanly possible, then grudgingly get to work. I wake up about six or so, play around until eight, then drink my coffee and start in. I write until lunch, take a break of an hour or so, then get back to work. If I’m on deadline, I’ll write into the night, if necessary.
Do you normally work on multiple projects?
Brett: Yes, to an extent. I have a primary project I’m working on, but at the same time I could receive a book back from my copy editor which means carving some time out to go over that. And I’ve always got my next project simmering in the back of my mind, so I never know when an idea might pop out.
Rob: I may spend time playing around with other ideas, but I’m at my best when I’m concentrated on one task.
If you had to write a novel in a different genre to your other works, what would you choose?
Brett: I’ve already written a straight literary (for lack of a better term) novel called THE PULL OF GRAVITY that’s out there. I’ve also written a young YA novel, though it’s still kind of a thriller. Basically, if a story comes to me I’ll try to write it, no matter the genre. Wouldn’t mind trying to tackle an epic Sci-Fi tale at some point to feed my inner-teenager, though.
Rob: Nobody really reads them anymore, but I’ve always wanted to write a western. I doubt it’ll ever happen.
Indie writers have a freedom, or at least think they do, to write across multiple genres, mixing and matching as they see fit. Do you think this is a good thing, or is it damaging their attempts to build a solid platform at the start of their careers, but trying to please too many people at once?
Brett: Platforms are important, but I don’t think it’s bad if someone writes in different genres at all. Worst case, use a penname.
Rob: You never know how readers are going to respond to any move you make, so I can only base my answer on how I feel about my own favorite authors. And that is that I’ll read whatever they write. I may like some genres better than others, but if an author I enjoy wrote it, I won’t hesitate to read it. I think the whole concept of genres was invented by publishers and bookstores so that they could figure out how to sort the books. Then again, I could be wrong.
When it comes to traditional publishing; with one of the ‘Big 6’, you can find your books being translated should they be a success. This is something you do not see Indie authors doing. Are they losing out on potential sales, and an increased fan base, or would it be pointless for them to even consider it?
Brett: All five of the books I did with Bantam were translated into at least one other language, I believe, some multiple. That was awesome. I love having those copies on my shelf, and I loved reaching out to an audience I wouldn’t otherwise have. Are indies doing this now? Some, I think, though it is not nearly as easy as when you are traditionally published. I have a feeling, though, that will become easier in the coming years, and there were be convenient services that will help independent authors get their work into other languages. Still, it’s doubtful that any foreign sales will be more than a small percentage of any author’s sales—there will, of course, be exceptions.
Rob: I think a lot of indie authors are already doing this, but really, it isn’t the Big Six who sold my books to other countries, it was my agency’s foreign sales department. Always retain your foreign and movie rights if you make a deal with the Big Six. I believe that Amazon is working on a program that will allow independent authors to have their books translated into other languages. That’s certainly something to consider.
Thank you both for taking the time to chat with me, it was an honor and a very enjoyable experience.
If you are interested in finding out more about Brett or Rob, you can find them on Facebook, Twitter or via their own websites.
Their novel, POE, is published today, so everybody needs to head over to amazon right now and grab their copy. I for one cannot wait to read it.
The Amazon.com link is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Poe-An-Alexandra-Thriller-ebook/dp/B00BXTED3C/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_1_M968
The Amazon.co.uk link is:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Poe-An-Alexandra-Thriller-ebook/dp/B00BXTED3C/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_1_M968
The Barnes and Noble link is: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/poe-brett-battles/1046284270
One thought on “Two For the Price Of One – Alex Labourne Interviews Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne.”
That was a fantastic interview!