It’s difficult to describe Nathan Lowell as a writer. Technically, he writes science fiction and fantasy stories, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. As an author who attributes 100% of his success to digital publishing, he’s the perfect choice for our first ever Author Profile. He began his writing career by fully embracing the cutting edge of digital publishing at the tender age of 54. Three short years later, this family man from Colorado made the transition to full-time writer status. And he’s not just getting by; he’s doubled his income from what he used to make as a PhD.
ePU – When I ask around about what makes you successful, I hear the same thing from a lot of smart and talented people. In short, they say you tell a good story. I note how they all said “tell” and not “write”. I don’t think that was by accident, and I certainly don’t see it as an insult.
NL – I think that’s pretty accurate.
I’ve said for some time that I view myself as a story teller, not a writer. I don’t really care what words I use as long as I can tell the story. I also try to tell “different” stories. My stories are responses to what’s out there now and an explicit attempt to tell “small” stories about “real” people. I try to use the tropes in ways that make the stories unmistakable members of a particular genre, but also unmistakably “Nathan Lowell Stories.”
ePU – Your peers marvel at your ability to connect with your audience. Audience is a big word that’s not very specific. Did you have a specific audience in mind when you started, or you cultivate one along the way?
NL – The connection comes naturally. I tell stories and the intimacy of being in the listener’s head translates naturally to a connection. I make myself available and try to answer every question/comment on my blog and the blog at Podiobooks.com. I think that’s important. I’m also on Twitter and regularly talk to the fans who seek me out there.
I also avoid “being everywhere.” I can’t be everywhere and provide the kind of connection that I want to have.
As for specifics, I cultivated the Podiobooks audience I started out with some explicit strategies in mind.
First, “A Thousand True Fans.” I didn’t know if I could get 1000, but that was my goal. [ePU note: Nathan’s eight audio books made up 11% of the downloads at Podiobooks.com in July of 2011. The demand for his most recent book release in December of 2010 was so overwhelming that it literally crashed Podiobooks.com’s dedicated webserver, taking the entire site offline for a week while new hardware and memory were installed. When many of those fans — who self-identify as “The Crew”, though Evo Terra prefers “Lowelleians” — learned that their insatiable appetite for the final book in one of his series crashed the site, they rushed to Podiobooks.com and poured in literally thousands of dollars in donations to help the free site recover. Yeah, you could call them “true fans”. And there’s a lot more than a thousand of them!]
Second, “Big frog, small pond.” I set out to be a significant player in a limited market. I wanted to avoid as many of the problems with obscurity as I could. By going with Podiobooks.com, I was able to see if there was an audience for my stories without having to fight for attention with a 100,000 other offerings. [ePU note: While there are nearly 550 free serialized audio books on Podiobooks.com today, there were less than 100 when Nathan released Quarter Share.]
Three, “New Content.” One thing I noticed in the marketplace in general is that new content is rare. (I’m falling down on this one at the moment by failing to produce two books a year in audio.)
Four, “Specialization.” I did my homework and listened to a bunch of serialized audio books before I started my own. I made note of those features that worked for me as a listener and those that didn’t. I designed my episodes to use the features I liked and I avoided those I didn’t. For example, I specialized on the “single read” because too many people had too much trouble with variations in audio quality and performance by using extra voices.
ePU – To say you’re a prolific author is an understatement. How much of your success do you attribute to having a back-catalog?
NL – Where most people rely on building a list of readers, I concentrated on building a list of products. Because the majority of my work is in series, each book builds on the foundation of the previous. People who don’t like my work — or who grow tired of it — drop out (usually silently) while those who remain become more and more engrossed and engaged. I focused on full novel length works because that’s what I found most valuable for my own reading and I wanted to “pay it forward” as it were, by providing the longer works.
I wrote the first four books in the first year. The last four have been slower coming. They’re also longer with my most recent, Owner’s Share, coming in at just under 200K words. Prior to that is Captain’s Share with 140K. By comparison, the first book in the series, Quarter Share, has a bare 80K words.
ePU – Did you see an obvious “scale” effect at some point in your rapid-fire release schedule?
NL – My fourth book, South Coast, really kicked things up for me at Podiobooks.com. That was when the subscriptions began multiplying and I was getting enough reviews to stay visible in the charts. It’s also where word of mouth about how different the books were from the rest of the offerings began to pile up. Whether it was a function of time — it took a year — or a function of the number of visible titles, I can’t really say. It *was* remarkable because it all happened in that first year.
At the risk of sounding less than humble, I did something remarkable, and people noticed — and remarked on it.
After that, each new book has gotten more and more attention. The delays between books give people chance to spread the word and to talk about the future of the series and my writing. I think that’s an important factor. While gossip travels at nearly the speed of light, word of mouth is a bit slower.
ePU – But you don’t just give away free audio books. You also sell text-based versions of your titles, those very same titles that people can hear you read them for free. Feel like sharing some numbers with us on how the eBook publishing is going so far?
NL – When Ridan Publishing first released Quarter Share in print and ebook, it didn’t do much for about six months. But then the big Kindle market explosion happened in Oct/Nov 2010, with my book poised and ready. It jumped up to about #500 overall on Amazon and stayed in the top 10 in it’s genre for weeks.
Book two hit print just about the time the final book in the audio series started. It sold 3500 units in less than 10 days. It’s matched the sales numbers of book one in half the time.
Book three hit just before BaltiCon (a regional science fiction convention in Maryland) and it also exploded, shooting up to #212 on Amazon before slowly sliding back down.
Specific to ebooks, each has sold about 12,000 units and continues to sell about 40 a day, giving me a combined sales of 120 .. or $240 a day income. The ebooks are and always have been priced at $4.95.
Book four – Double Share – is due to hit this month (and might make it), and that’s the point where we expect to break into the top 100 of sales rank and begin to generate a more sustained level of sales.
I’ll keep you posted.
ePU – Do you really write every day?
NL – No. I’m a binge writer. When I’m in a writing mode, nothing else happens and I write until I drop. I’ve written as much as 20,000 words in a single day before. It’s not uncommon for me to write 10,000 words a day for days in a row.
In between, I only write blog posts, tinker with web pages, and generally let things build up in my mind until it becomes nearly unbearable and I go into binge mode again.
My family doesn’t like it when I write.
Well, maybe not. But thousands of listeners and readers certainly do. And while we can’t promise you the success Nathan has seen, we can tell you he’s not alone. Is he special? Sure he is. He’s talented, works hard to become better, and works constantly. If you’re looking for some sort of secret recipe, that’s it.
We’ve got a whole slew of authors lined up for monthly Author Profiles. Know someone we should profile? Drop us a line and tell us why you think so. And remember, we’re focused on digital publishing success stories. Hope you enjoy!