My ALLi author guest this episode is Michael Webb, who writes YA fantasy books, but attracts readers of all ages. Michael has a great deal of advice for other authors on how to successfully write, launch, and market a debut novel and keep the momentum going for subsequent books.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Michael Webb. About the Author
Michael Webb lives in Atlanta, GA in the United States. He only recently took up writing and fell in love with it. The Shadow Knights series was his debut work, and he's excited to dive into the treasure-hunting, fantasy series, the Treasure Hunters Alliance. Michael has been married for 20 amazing years. His wife is a therapist, and his son is in high school. In addition to writing, Michael enjoys exercising, hiking, watching movies, drinking coffee, and traveling. You can find him on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.
About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Read the Transcripts — Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Michael Webb
Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Michael Webb, who writes YA fantasy books, but attracts readers of all ages.
Michael has a great deal of advice for other authors on how to successfully write, launch, and market a debut novel, and keep the momentum going for subsequent books. I'll let Michael Webb tell his story.
Michael Webb: Hi, I am Michael Webb. I am a young adult fantasy author. My first book came out in 2021.
I started a couple years before that delving into writing, somewhat late in life. It was not a long-time career that I was pursuing, just a hobby that turned into much more.
So, my first book came out, The Last Shadow Knight, which became a trilogy, which is now out, The Shadow Knight's trilogy.
Just recently I've been working on a new treasure hunting fantasy series that just came out, the first book of that. It's gone great, I've really developed a passion around writing, selling books, meeting readers, inspiring other authors.
To date, I'm approaching around 70,000 copies of books that have been sold. So, it has been a lot of fun and a joy to get into what was originally just an interesting hobby that has turned into a lot more than I ever expected.
I grew up most of my life in Atlanta, Georgia. When I was young, I was passionate about reading. I read a lot of different genres. I read young adult, I read dystopian, I read action, I read fantasy, I read mystery, kind of jumping around, experiencing a lot of different stuff. I was never interested in writing, ironically, but that passion for finding a good story, enjoying reading something, was really instilled in me from a young age.
Howard Lovy: For the first 40 years of his life though, Michael never really thought about becoming a writer. His career path did not seem to touch on that kind of life.
Michael Webb: Well, I went to Georgia Tech for part of my college career studying computer science. I ended up graduating from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, studying marketing. Then after I graduated there, which was 2002, I started working with Ferguson Enterprises. They're a plumbing distribution company that sell fire hydrants and water pipe, sewer pipe, all that sort of stuff.
I've worked for Ferguson for 20 years now. I currently still work for them today, I'm in purchasing, so I manage a shared purchasing department for Ferguson, and it's been great. Not really anything to do with writing.
Howard Lovy: It wasn't until the age of 40 that Michael decided to try his hand at writing.
Michael Webb: There wasn't a specific event, I don't think, that kicked it off. I think it was just reflecting on what am I doing with my life and my time. I used to be big into CrossFit, I've always been into fitness and exercise, running, lifting, stuff like that, but I was a part of a CrossFit gym and every morning, probably five days a week, sometimes six days a week, I'd go work out first thing, get up at 5:00 AM and go work out. Due to some other reasons, I stopped my membership at that gym and did workouts on my own, but it wasn't nearly as frequent, and what I found was I had a lot more free time.
So, I would probably say that was the impetus that kind of made me come up with this idea that I'm no longer spending an hour and a half, two hours, every morning dedicated to this one activity. Now, my time's a little more freed up. So, what do I want to do with that time? Do I want to sleep in, or do I want to follow some other creative outlet?
That was the same time as when I started writing.
Howard Lovy: Young adult fantasy is what Michael enjoyed reading, so he chose that as his writing genre. He also had his own son in mind as a reader.
Michael Webb: The Last Shadow Knight was my first book. I came up with the name before I came up with the plot, which is funny. I just thought, that sounds like a cool name of a book, I'll write something about that.
I knew I wanted to be in the young adult epic fantasy genre. That's what I love reading. I feel I know what I enjoy in a good story, so I felt pretty confident in my ability to create moments like that for other people to enjoy.
I set it out to be a trilogy in my mind, because I like those epic stories that go over the course of multiple books, giving you time to flesh out the characters and the scene and the conflict.
So, in writing that first book a big inspiration for me was actually my son. At the time he was 12 when I was writing, and I wanted to write a story that gave him some sort of inspiration of a character that hopefully could encourage the best in him.
So, what I built, the main character, his name is Veron, which stands for truth, he grows up and goes through a lot of difficulty, it's not an easy life. He's got a lot of ups and downs and challenges, but what I wanted to build was a character that grits through the hard times. He's got a lot of skills, he has a ton of talent, he's great at so many things, but when he's not, he puts in a lot of effort to work through it, which is what I wanted my son to get out of it because he's very talented in a lot of ways, he's very intelligent at school, but when something's difficult, that can be a challenge and he doesn't want to do it. So, I love this idea of a character who sees obstacles and wants to get better, wants to improve, and he trains, and he practices, and he gets better and better to become this amazing shadow knight, this warrior through that hard work.
But through all of this, the ups and the downs, and the obstacles, and the failures, and the successes, he's choosing what's right, and while it doesn't always have an immediate impact of choosing what's right leads to good results, the end of the story, the arc, is this overarching theme of the characters who are pursuing themselves, pursuing greed and selfishness, they end up falling by the wayside. Where the ones who are thinking of others, who are trying to make the world a better place, those decisions and actions end up having a positive influence, not only on their selves, but on the whole world.
So, that's not necessarily an in-your-face theme, but I tried to weave that in to show a morality, so to speak, that these, especially the main character, is making these choices that we see as right, and they're difficult, they're not easy, but to see that reward and that payoff. So, I hoped that the book would be an inspiration to my son through that.
Howard Lovy: Michael comes from a marketing background, so he places a great deal of importance on having a well thought out plan to make sure readers know about his book.
Michael Webb: There are two things that are important for successfully selling books. One is having a good book; another is having a good marketing plan of how you get the word out.
So, I put a ton of time and effort, and I still do, even though it's been out for almost two years, I'm constantly thinking of, how can I get the word out? How can I get more visibility to my books?
So, I started, as I was writing it. Originally my goal was, I just want to write a fun story and sell a couple copies and then move on.
But then I fell in love with writing, and I decided that I want to keep doing this, and if I'm going to spend this much time writing a book, I want it to be good, and I want it to have every chance to succeed when I publish it.
So, I slowed down my process. I didn't take the approach of, let me just scratch a story together and then publish it.
I hired editors and I got beta readers, and I revised it and revised it, and I invested heavily in a very quality cover which really attracts the eye.
I planned out months ahead of time things like getting a website together, getting a newsletter together, reaching out to book bloggers and reviewers, and creating a social media presence, and getting to know other writers, getting to know influencers online.
A big part of my, when I got started, my launch plan was, how many people can I reach out to, give free copies away, give them an eBook copy ahead of time to read, so that hopefully when it does launch, it gets momentum because there's a lot of people talking about it.
I reached out to probably 120 different bloggers, influencers, reviewers, people I found online or on social media, and basically just from a cold call pitched them, an email or a message on social media, pitched them, hey I wrote this book, you don't know who I am, my name is nothing, but I wrote this book, this is what it's about, I'm super pumped, and I think you would enjoy it based on seeing what you've been reading and writing about.
That took a lot of time and effort. It was a lot of hard work, but I felt that was necessary to get the ball rolling.
Out of those 120 that I approached, I had maybe 15 of them that took me up on it. So, it's difficult, but at the time it was worth it because a lot of the 15 people had great things to say and they are posting on their blogs, they're leaving reviews on Goodreads and on Amazon, or on BookBub, and so that helps spark more interest.
The more people who read it, once you get the ball rolling, the trick with selling on Amazon, I have found, is you need to get some critical mass, because once Amazon decides this is a good quality book, it's getting good reviews, it's got a good cover, it's sold some copies, it's going to start helping you do the rest. It's going to appear in also-boughts when other people are on Amazon. It's going to be sent out on email marketing letters. They're going to choose you for Kindle daily deals. They're going to put you in the prime reading program.
So, all these things that you've got to start the ball rolling, and if you can, Amazon helps so much. People love to hate on Amazon, but they're my best friend because they have sold the large majority of the books to people I never would've reached myself had it not grown on Amazon to this place.
Howard Lovy: Sales initially fell off, but then something happened. It reached a critical mass as word spread and sales skyrocketed.
Michael Webb: When I first started, April 1st, 2021, I sold a few out of the gate, but that's what you expect. All of your Facebook friends, and people you know from high school, and your parents' neighbour, they're buying their copies and then it starts to settle back down.
I thought, all right, it was like maybe a hundred copies or so, 120 copies, I'm like, all right, that was cool. But I see the bell curve dropping back down, so this gravy train's about done.
But then eventually, one, I lowered my eBook price; I had that price too high out of the gate. I didn't realize how to market that. I lowered my eBook price and the reviews started coming in, and people started telling their friends, and then those sales started trickling back up.
So, after the first month, I could see that uphill curve, and then after the second month, it was even higher and higher. By the third month, I was selling 1200 books in a month or so, in my third month of my debut work coming out. So, at that point I'm just giddy with excitement, because I did not expect that at all.
From that part it was just this steady stream. I got my second book that came out in December of that year, and then the trilogy was finished summer of 2022. So, with each book launch, there was a renewed surge and interest, but I'm always trying to find new ways to get the word out of promoting, like my college alumni magazine, I've had a couple articles posted in there. My company, my day job at Ferguson, they've done some articles written up on our company website about my books and about writing. I'm trying to network on Facebook and on Instagram, and I started using TikTok, although I'm not doing very well there right now.
Howard Lovy: And for Michael, there was never any question about going indie.
Michael Webb: Yeah, I never even considered it from the beginning. Just everyone I've heard that pursues trad publishing it is, you wait a year, you wait two years, and then you get a stack of rejection letters, and if you're lucky enough to get someone who's interested, you're waiting even longer.
Then, the real discouraging thing is most trad published authors I've found don't make a lot of money, because the traditional publisher keeps most of that, and they don't necessarily do much to help promote you, which is what most people assume.
So, being indie, I have all that control. I can market however I want, and I feel that's something that I know pretty well. I mean, I studied it in school and I'm always experimenting, trying new things, and I love that. I love thinking of new ideas to get the word out, and I get all the rewards from it. I'm not sharing it with another publisher. So, a hundred percent, I am happy to be an indie writer. It's been a great fit for me.
I encourage any people I know that I talk with, that are pursuing writing or wanting to be an author one day, I encourage them to go the indie route because I think it is the much better fit for today's market of where we're at.
Howard Lovy: It also helps that Michael keeps up the momentum and releases new books as fast as possible.
Michael Webb: Attention spans of readers is short these days. Whereas in the past, someone could write a book and then a couple of years later come out with the next book and be fine, in the indie world today, if you're a year later for your second book, a lot of times people have forgotten about you. People want books quick.
So, I tried to do it as fast as I can. I had about nine months and then eight months between my second and third book. This next year I'm hoping to get those times a little bit shorter. I get to be a better writer, it's easier because I have less revisions, less editing that has to happen.
So, my time late timetable is a lot more truncated now, and I think that helps a lot with keeping momentum, that the more frequent you're publishing your books, people aren't forgetting about you, they're likely to get the next one in your series. Plus, if you keep it within a year, you can do a pre-order for book two in the back of book one, and I found that really helps retain readers. When book three came out, I had, I think it was 2,400 pre-orders for the eBook by the time it came out, and so that was a huge surge of readers and reviews coming in all out of the gate. But all of it was because I had that pre-order in the back of the book, so I say definitely keep it within a year, so you can put that pre-order up.
Howard Lovy: Michael is careful to juggle family, work, and writing time.
Michael Webb: I try to balance it a good bit, where I wake up early, I wake up at five and I'll work for about an hour and a half, two hours, just about every morning. So, I'll write in the morning before my day job work, sometimes in the evenings if other people in the family are doing other things I'll write.
On the weekends, I'll usually put in a couple hours each day of the weekend. So, I find little pockets here and there, but it's important. My family definitely comes first. I don't want my writing time to overshadow that. My son is in high school now but he's also getting a little more independent, meaning he's doing his own stuff more often.
So that, I think, frees up my time. I've experienced that more recently. I've got more time because he's growing up and soon, he's going to be out of the house.
But that is a challenge that most writers face is, how do you get in that time? For me, it's generally early in the morning, just keeping that discipline time of hitting the alarm, even though it's early, getting up, getting the words on the page, and then finding whatever other time I can.
Howard Lovy: Michael writes YA fantasy, but he was surprised to discover who his actual readers are.
Michael Webb: Well, ironically, I've done some surveys to find it out, my most significant population zone is 60 plus, people aged 60 or over is my biggest audience. Although I write, what I do is, I write stories for adults, but I make them content appropriate for younger readers to be able to enjoy them too.
So, that's why the large majority of my readers are adults, and that's, like I said, that's who I write for.
But like my son, he was 12 when I wrote it, I don't want to write something that I want to tell him, no, you can't read this, it's too mature for you. So, I make sure there's no language, there's no sex, there's some violence, but kind of like a Harry Potter or Hunger Games level violence.
So, friends read it, or what I've found is really cool is I'll meet people that the adult reads it with their teenage son or daughter, or middle school age kid, and they bond over a story that they can both enjoy, and that's what really gets me excited.
The young adult market, that middle school age, high school age, it's tough to break into it as an indie writer, because often they want physical books, and indie writers have a tough time with that because you're not necessarily able to get into bookstores the same way traditional publishers do, and the cost for print on demand is a lot higher. So, the large majority of my sales are electronic, eBook, Kindle Unlimited or audiobook, and that is an adult reader base.
So that's, I think, a lot of reason of why my demographic is trending older, but I love that because I know it's appropriate for all that big range, and a lot of people enjoy it no matter where they're at.
Howard Lovy: Michael's advice to other indie authors; take the time to get your story right. After that, take the time and effort to properly market your work.
Michael Webb: The biggest advice I would give, I think two things. One is taking your time and get your story right, because as soon as you publish your book, it's out there and people are going to form opinions, and if you have poor reviews on your book, it is not going to do anything. It doesn't matter how well you market it. People need a good story. It doesn't matter what genre you're writing in; they need a good story with compelling characters, and something that they can get excited about and care about what happens to the characters.
The best way to do that, I am not a writing expert, I didn't go to school for it, I didn't really study it at all. I feel I lucked into a good story, but what helped me the most was all the assistance I got, I had two rounds of developmental editing. I had a round of Alpha readers. I had two rounds of beta readers. I had a copy editor, and then I had one more line editor that I even did after it published, because my writing got better and I felt my first book wasn't quite where I thought it should be, so I revised it.
I had so much help, but all of those readers, and editors, and other writers helped me point out flaws in my work. Not that I changed everything that everyone said, but I looked at it through the lens of, they saw this as an issue, so is it an issue? Do I agree with that? And if so, do I want to change it and update my story to make it what I think would be better?
I spent so much time doing that, which is why I feel The Last Shadow Knight resonates with people so well, is they love the story, and they love the characters, they care about what happens to them, and that's what keeps them reading book after book through that series.
So, my advice for a writer is take your time and get your story right. Don't finish your draft, don't send it through Grammarly and then say, all right, I think I'm pretty much good. Get other readers, get other writers, get editors. Invest money and time into getting that story good. So, that's part one.
Second advice is, it doesn't matter how well you get part one done, your book could be the best book in the world, but if you don't put effort into marketing, you're not going to sell anything.
Now, I studied marketing in school, but you don't have to have a degree in it, you just have to do research, and you have to put in the time and the effort. Like I said, I'm two years into this and I am constantly thinking, how can I get the word out to more people to have visibility on my books?
That's thinking through social media. It's thinking through how it's presented on Amazon. It's thinking through pricing. It's thinking through, when do I run a sale, what do I do with my newsletter?
There are so many resources out there to help you with that, but if you don't take the time to go learn it and to experiment with it, then it's not going to happen.
So, most authors I see who don't do well with their books, one of those two things is a struggle. Either they're not taking the time to get the story right, or they're not putting all the effort into marketing and getting it out there visible to hopefully help. Because you get those two things going right and then the book will sell.