Interview with Robert Stanek

What do you enjoy most about being an author?
The blank page scares many writers. I love the blank page. It’s a new canvas for my words and I love filling it. I know writer’s block is something most writers experience, but in 30 years of writing I never have. I like to think it’s because I absolutely love sitting at the keyboard and creating something new.

I know it’s also because I’m always working on several things at once. I love that about being an author too. When I write children’s books, I dream up the words, the art. I create the cover. I set the type on the page. When I write fiction, I create the characters, develop their back stories, and give them a world to play in. When I write nonfiction, I scope the work, develop the flow of topics, and write what I know.
What is your experience with independent publishing?
I signed my first contract in 1994. I’ve been a professionally published author since 1995 and an independently published author since 2001. My Ruin Mist books (Keeper Martin’s Tale, Kingdom Alliance, Fields of Honor, Mark of the Dragon, The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches, In the Service of Dragons) were some of the earliest successes in the independent publishing revolution we’re in the midst of right now.

Back in 2001 when my first indie book was released as an ebook serial there were very few indie books and even fewer indie success stories. I'd like to think I helped change that when my Ruin Mist books quickly became top sellers on Amazon. Like the little engine that could, the Ruin Mist books are the little books that could and they debuted in digital a decade before ebooks ever hit mainstream audiences.

I thought 2002 was a fantastic year when print sales of the books soared beyond my wildest expectations and I was sure that year would never be topped, never be achieved again. But then I brought Ruin Mist to audio in 2005. The books catapulted to #1 on Audible for FOURTEEN consecutive weeks and then stayed on the Kids & YA Top 10 for 180 consecutive weeks.

By 2011 I thought for sure the ride was over. That this was it for Ruin Mist, but it wasn't so. Today, more than 1 million people have read the Ruin Mist books.

Independent publishing also gave me a chance to finally bring my children’s books to the world and my children are the ones who urged him to get the Bugville Critters books published. I brought the books to audio first and then to print and digital ebook.

To bring the books to audio, I began working with voice artists in 2005 and it took four years of work with multiple voice artists to get to the release of all 28 original Bugville Critters books in audio. Once the original Bugville Critters books were released in audio, print and digital ebook, I started releasing the Bugville Jr books and Bugville Learning books I had created.

Now there are over 100 Bugville Critters, Bugville Jr, and Bugville Learning books available and those books have been read by more than 1 million people.
Do you work full-time as a writer or do you work another job at the same time?
My day job is as a technology journalist and writer. I’ve been a published technology journalist and writer since 1995. Technology books are very different from works of fiction. The average work of fiction is about 400 pages and about 90,000 words. The average tech book I write is about 650 pages and about 300,000 words. I’ve also written more than a few 1200- to 1500-page books, with the longest being about 654,000 words.

Everything else I write is my second job and I write these books out of necessity as much as out of love of the craft. Technology writing for specific types of products, such as operating systems and enterprise software, is cyclical, with the need for new books following product cycles.

Even with hit books early on in my career, I was at the mercy of product cycles. Throughout the late 90’s and early 00’s, I went back to work out of necessity and then wrote on nights and weekends. In fact, all of my books published from about 1998 to 2002 were done in my spare time, much like the books I wrote from 1995 to 1996 when I also was serving in the military and going to school.

These days, I write technology books when the work is available and write other types of books in between product cycles and any other time I have spare time. If I’m not writing a tech book, I’m writing fiction, children’s fiction, etc.
What do you consider your first big break in publishing?
First big break? Wow, my first break of any kind in writing was a long time in the making--longer even than most people can imagine. I finished my first full-length novel in 1986. At the time, I was stationed in Japan and writing was something I did just because I loved writing. When I left Japan at the beginning of 1989, I had four finished novels and was on my way to Survival Training, followed by Air Combat School, and finally to a posting in Germany as a combat flyer. I finished a 5th novel by the time I left Germany in the fall of 1991 for a new posting in Hawaii. It wasn’t until 1993 that I sent out my first query letters to publishers.

While I studied up on how to get published and continued submitting my work for possible publication, I also started looking at new areas to write and how I could tie in the career path I had chosen in Computer Science. I completed my Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science degree program in 1994, and was working to complete my Master of Science degree program. In my job in the military I was working deep in mainframes, Unix computing and this thing called the World Wide Web. The Web was new at the time and relatively few outside the military and academia had ever used it.

On a whim, I drafted an outline for a book about publishing on the World Wide Web. I found the name of an editor at a publisher called Macmillan and sent the outline along with a query. I’m not sure why I picked that one editor at that one publisher, but I did. I expected it would be months before I got a response. I focused on completing my courses so I could graduate from my Master’s program.

Unexpectedly, I got a response from the editor almost immediately. A phone call, received by my wife, that I was to return. Within days of that call I had a contract in my hand and a week later I was writing a “little” book called Electronic Publishing Unleashed. Originally, I was supposed to just be a contributor to the book but the publisher liked my work so much I ended up as the lead writer, writing about 800 pages of the 1050 pages.

The book was written and published to a break-neck schedule. I started in December finished by May and the book was published in September. Before I had even finished, the publisher signed me to a second book, Web Publishing Unleashed—a 950-page monster. I wrote right through graduation and into the fall, finishing about 750 pages by late October. That book was published in March 1996. The books were huge bestsellers that established me as a leader in technology writing.
What did you enjoy doing as a child and how do you think those experiences have influenced your career?
Remember that kid at your school with the bowl haircut, wearing ragged shirts two sizes too small or too big, patched pants that were high waters or had rolled up cuffs, and shoes that were taped together or mismatched? Well, that was me.

I grew up in Racine, a city in southern Wisconsin about midway between Chicago and Milwaukee. I’m one of five children raised by a single mom. Poverty wasn’t just a word in my world as a child; it was a daily reality that my mom, my sisters, and I lived. Poverty and all the dark things that go with it never broke us. If anything, it only made us stronger.

School was a place I raced to eagerly every weekday. I loved school not only because it was sometimes the only place I got to eat, but because I loved learning. Outside of school, I spent a lot of time at the library. The library is where I discovered The Three Musketeers, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Call of the Wild, and more. The writers of those books--Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Herman Melville, Jack London, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe--became some of my greatest influences and their stories helped me survive the world around me.
Who has been most influential to you in regard to your publishing career?
Growing up, family was the most important thing. We didn’t have much, but my mom, my sisters, and I had each other. My own family has been as great an influence on my life and career. In fact, I started writing children’s books for my children. The books I wrote were the kind of books I wished were available in stores but weren’t.

As my children grew up, the types of children’s books I wrote changed with them. I wrote books for infants and toddlers, then progressed into early readers and eventually to chapter books. As with my fiction, I wasn’t looking to write children’s books to make money or have them published. In fact, I wrote my first children’s book in 1993 and it wasn’t until 2004 that I tried to get any of my children’s books published. I simply wrote the kinds of books I as a parent felt good about reading to my kids and the kinds of books my kids loved--and that was enough.

I think one of the reasons I’ve written so many books is that I wasn’t really trying to write and then sell my work. I was just writing what I loved to write and what my kids loved. That approach to just writing what I loved carried over into my nonfiction writing as well.
When you’re not writing what do you enjoy doing?
When writing is your fulltime occupation and your spare-time hobby, you really don’t have time for much else. Being an indie author as well as a professionally published author means, I have to be Me, Inc. Squared.

If I’m not writing, I’m probably designing a book cover, doing illustration work, setting type on an illustrated page, sketching out a story line, reviewing printed pages, or any of the dozens of other things that must be done to prepare a book for publication. Why? Because there’s no one else to do that work if I don’t.

I don’t think many people understand how technical writing works and how involving it is. With technology books, writing is only one part of a much larger process that also involves author review and page review. As I write chapters, those chapters go to editorial and also are sent on to technical reviewers. When I get chapters back from editorial, the chapters contain edits and comments from the copy editors, development editors, and others on editorial staff. The chapters also contain comments from technical reviewers. This part of the process is called author review.

During author review, I’m working with the manuscript in Microsoft Word. I must respond to every question and query and a typical chapter may have several hundred of those which may or may not require me to make actual changes in the text. Author review is followed by page review. Page review is the final part of the manuscript review process.

During page review, I’m working with the manuscript in its final form in Adobe Acrobat. The manuscript is marked up with comments that I must address from the formatters, proofreaders, and others on the editorial staff. For pre-release products, there may be several rounds of author review and several rounds of page review.

After all these years of writing, I have a simple formula to determine how much of my time a writing project will require, inclusive of writing, review, and everything else that a book involves. 1 page = 1 hour. Thus, if I’m writing a 700-page book (inclusive of all front matter and back matter), I must plan for the project requiring 700 hours of my time.
What’s the most interesting thing a fan has ever said to you?
The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches and In the Service of Dragons books are popular with teens and I often hear from readers who tell me they never really enjoyed reading until they discovered these books. I’ve heard from fans who read the books for fun while being forced to read a “classic” book that they hated at school. That was fun for me to hear.

I think though that one of the best things that has ever happened to me as a writer is the first time an entire class wrote letters to Buster Bee. The first time that happened I was overwhelmed. It was simply amazing to receive so many letters from kids who love the Bugville Critters stories.
Can you tell us a few things about yourself that readers might not know?
Sure. My military career took me all over the world, so I have many favorite foods. I love yakisoba and sushi. I love kalbi and kimchi. I love schnitzel and sauerkraut. I love gyros and spanakopita. I love kalua pork and poi. Oh, and I love pho, and now just thinking about all those wonderful foods is making me very hungry. :-)

Reading is big at my house, so we have reading nooks all over the place. When I have time, I like to read in the sun room (but the sun room is also my office so I’m usually tempted to go back to work rather than read for very long).

My life-long love of books is what led me to be a writer. As a child, the library was my sanctuary -- a place where I could leave the world behind and escape into magical places. After so many books, you'd think my passion would wane, but to the contrary, I have more ideas and stories to tell than time to write them all down.
What can readers expect when they open one of your books?
Some say that a person's experiences define them. Well, that goes doubly-so for writers. As a writer, I draw on a deep well of experiences. I've lived; I've loved; I've laughed; I've cried--and so do my characters.

My story ideas come from my life experiences and passions. On writing days, I wake each morning ready with a fresh set of characters and ideas, and I work each day to tell the related stories.

I write in multiple genres and many of my readers follow me across those genres. I've written thrillers, fantasy, children's fiction, and more.

Some of my favorite writers include W.B. Yeats, J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Poe, H.G. Wells, L.M. Montgomery, Jules Verne, Frank Herbert, C.S. Lewis, T.H. White, and Gene Wolfe. So I'd like to think that their works have influenced my writing as well.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Lots. I founded Go Indie in 2007 to help other writers and I publish the Read Indies blog (http://readindies.blogspot.com). There are many articles there written to help both new and experienced writers.

I also created Robert Stanek's guide to Publishing, which is freely available on my website (http://www.robert-stanek.com).
Published 2014-02-26.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Complete Magic Lands Omnibus (2-in-1 Omnibus)
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 85,670. Language: English. Published: February 22, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
Meet Ray and Tall. Their people spend their entire lives in a floating world. They are born, live, and die in this water-soaked place. Now they must go into the wilds alone and return with one of the great ones to prove themselves and to win the hearts of the girls they love. But their paths are much more challenging than either ever imagines.
Dragons of the Hundred Worlds Omnibus (Breath of Fire, Living Fire)
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 64,560. Language: English. Published: February 22, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
2 novels in 1 omnibus. Enter an age of titans, dragons, and heroes. For thousands of years the ageless dragons have ruled the hundred worlds, conquering all who oppose them while raising those who bring them glory. But in remote Karthold, Rastín struggles to keep alive the memories of his fallen people and fulfill the wishes of his ailing father.
Strike Force. The Cards in the Deck #2 (An NSA Spy Thriller)
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 14,340. Language: English. Published: February 22, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
In the heart of the Middle East, former NSA agent, Scott Evers, is drawn deep into an explosive terrorist plot. Two ships in the Mediterranean were destroyed, a Navy helicopter was shot down, and two SEAL teams are missing in action. As he races to find answers, Scott is being hunted by a rogue operative that wants him dead no matter what it takes.
A Legacy of Dragons (Book #2 in the Guardians of the Dragon Realms)
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 14,540. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Journey further into the frozen world of the Ice where the lives of many hang in the balance. Vilmos learns more about who he is and what his true powers are. Adrina starts to come into her own as she learns more about the great golden dragon she controls.Emel returns and vies for the affections of the evil king's daughter. Simultaneously, the death and dying continue.
Devil's Due. The Cards in the Deck #1 (An NSA Spy Thriller)
Price: Free! Words: 6,900. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage, Fiction » Science fiction » High tech
Still a man on the outside looking in, Scott Evers is working security onboard the Sea Shepherd, an Island class vessel performing fishery protection patrols in the Mediterranean Sea. With tensions heating up in the Mediterranean Sea and with terrorists afoot, Scott's an instant away from everything going as terribly wrong as he fears. When the dust clears, his world will never be the same again.
The Dragon, the Wizard & the Great Door (Guardians of the Dragon Realms)
Price: Free! Words: 12,350. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
Thousands of them died in the war. The survivors fled to the four corners of the lands. Some few escaped to the frozen wastes of the far north where they bide their time and plot their return. Such a hard life requires sacrifice. There are things that must be done without. But when a great plague settles in and the dying begins anew two must sacrifice themselves for the good of the many.
Absolutes
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 8,900. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » High tech, Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
"Absolutes" is one of my early novellas. Absolutes melds science fact with science fiction. The brilliant boy scientist, Krzysztof Steelbridge, is blinded by ambition and ultimately consumed by it.
August Rains: A Short Story
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,660. Language: English. Published: December 3, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Classics
"August Rains" is one of my early short stories. John Anderson, a retired principal, visits an old school house and must face the demons of his past. Sentimental, fun.
Silence Is Golden: A Short Story
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,860. Language: English. Published: December 3, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
"Silence Is Golden" is one of my early short stories. In the distant future, the universe is controlled by Majority-1. Their rule is supreme. No one dares oppose them, and so it is against all odds that Ev tries to make a stand against them. To do so, however, she must sacrifice everything and everyone she holds dear.