Author Spotlight: Thomas Robins
Thomas Robins is an emerging science fiction author who has quickly gained a loyal readership through perseverance and effective self-publishing. I was able to pick his brain about how he got his start and what his advice to new writers would be. Read on for some insights and sage advice from an author who has been there.
“My best ideas for stories come when I am mowing the lawn and if I can remember them until Wednesday, you get to read them, too. I am desperately dependent on word-of-mouth to get people to read my books because, come Wednesday night, I have to decide between promoting and writing, and I almost always choose writing.”
L.J. Kelley: What’s your writing routine? Are there places or things that must be present for you to work?
Thomas Robins: The white noise of Starbucks is good for writing, but if something becomes overpowering, I put in my headphones and listen to classical piano on Pandora.
L.J.: When did you decide to become a writer?
T.R.: A few years back I was pulled into the world of Wool by Hugh Howey. Hugh started telling his fans they had his permission to write in the world of Wool and publish those stories for others to read. Actually, he insisted those who did so charged for their work. I considered this a part of the Wool experience and delved into writing what some would call “fan fiction.” Nowadays, the Kindle Worlds program allows authors to publish in others’ worlds, but at the time, Kindle Worlds did not exist. I contacted Hugh Howey directly and received his blessing to self-publish in the world of Wool. As it turned out, people liked my work, and I moved on to write my own first novel Desperate to Escape.
L.J.: Did you have a positive experience with self-publishing? Any advice for those of us considering it?
T.R.: I love self-publishing. It allows me the freedom to write what I want, charge what I want, and retain all the rights to my works. I know one self-publisher who was offered a contract with a publishing company. She was ecstatic until her lawyer looked at the contract. After the lawyer told her what the contract really meant, she didn’t sign it. In both self and traditionally published models, there are the outliers who are making tons of money (e.g., Hugh Howey and Steven King, respectively). The vast majority of people who publish in either way will earn very little. The difference is, while I may only make $350 or $20 this month from e-sales, the guy who’s sending his book out to all the publishers is spending time and money to get his rejection notices.
L.J.: How did you find someone to help edit your work?
T.R.: I was lucky enough to marry someone who had worked as an editor to pay for her graduate school. However, there are lots of editors (and proofreaders) who charge reasonable rates. You can find many hanging out on KBoards. Or feel free to contact me, I know a couple editors with good rates.
L.J.: Is it your goal to write full-time and quit your “day job”?
T.R.: Realistically, I have to say I will never be a full-time writer. I have a good day job and I like it very much. I know of people who quit their jobs to write because they had a books sell like hotcakes, only to find out the sales leveled off, the royalties went down, and second and third books did not sell like the first. Unless I happen to bring in a couple million in one year to set up a nice living fund, I doubt I would consider dropping the day job.
L.J.: Where do you get your story ideas from?
T.R.: There are three main elements I need to write a story: the world, the people, and the feeling I want get across. I like to start with the world and understand what the larger context of the story is going to be. Then I like to go to the feeling, it will help me understand the tone of the piece. Finally, the people. The people are the most important. If you have a well-developed cast, each with their own background and motivation, then the interactions of those characters drive the story forward. As an example of the usefulness of character building, I put out a short story last winter, Where Dragons Lie. I hadn’t planned on writing more in that world, but I had several readers contact me and tell me they liked one particular character who had a very small part in the book. Luckily for me, and them, I already knew the backstory for that character and was able to write another short story, The Dragonslayer’s Daughter. It was fun for me and the readers loved it. In fact, many thought the second story was better than the first.
L.J.: What age range are your readers? Do you find writing for middle-grade or YA is more or less difficult than writing for adults?
T.R.: I write primarily for adults, but what I write is appropriate for young adults as well. I began writing a middle-grade book, but I found my writing to feel “kiddish” and I lost interest. I really want to touch something in the reader’s heart, somewhere they did not think anyone else knew about. That’s the goal, I’m sure I don’t always reach it.
L.J.: What do you look for in a good story?
T.R.: Characters with depth. It’s hard to put into words, but you can tell a difference between when an author is trying to add depth and when a character really has depth. If I don’t believe the character, I won’t get caught up in the story.
L.J.: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to books?
T.R.: Definitely. I get the urge to read the Star Wars Expanded Universe books. Every few years I binge on them and catch up.
L.J.: What other genres do you read besides science fiction?
T.R.: I read some fantasy. Mainly, however, I’ve been reading all kinds of works by other independent authors. Once you delve into the world of independent authors, you’ll never hurt for a book again.
L.J.: Can you recommend a cure for writer’s block?
T.R.: Have I had trouble writing? Yes. However, writer’s block is a myth. All you need to cure it is a hard deadline. I had an editor contact me earlier this year and offer me a spot in a book if I could write the story in a couple weeks. I went from not even thinking about a story for that collection to having it written and edited by the deadline. Set deadlines and stick to them and you’ll find you get unstuck pretty quick.
T.R.: I could write for pages on advice. I’ll stick to three things:
- Find a group of 10 or less authors you get along with and can share your success and struggles with. My group is very close, but I’ve never met them in person. This group needs to be able to be harshly honest with you about all your decisions. KBoards or Meetups are a good place to start, but you will eventually need a group that is more private.
- You need beta readers. These are people who read your near-finished works and let you know what worked, and what didn’t. Mainly what didn’t. If your character’s dialogue is off or something is way too outlandish to be believed, then the beta reader tells you and you get it fixed before publication. If you don’t know about beta readers, you can read more about them at my blog here.
- You need a mailing list. Start from the beginning, I wish I had. I use MailChimp as my service and it works out great. The people on my mailing list are my favorite people and they appreciate hearing from me when I have new works out. Every chance you get, you should put a link to your mailing list. For example, you may never hear from me again on this blog, but if you like what I have to say (and if you are good people), then click here to join my mailing list. See how easy that was?
T.R. (cont.): If you’re thinking about writing, go for it. Even if you never publish, get your stories out of your head and on paper. Share them if you can. A few years ago I would never have believed I’d have people eagerly awaiting my next story, but here I am. If you have a drive inside you, follow it. All you need is some time every Wednesday night between 6 pm and 10 pm.
L.J.: Congratulations on your much-deserved success, and good luck with your future endeavors.
**To see more of Thomas, visit www.thomasrobins.com.
L.J. Kelley has completed her first young adult novel and has been published on Mash Stories while also volunteering as a peer editor for The Greenwich Village Literary Review. Check out her website at www.ljkelleyauthor.com and follow her on twitter at @LJKelley1