Joseph Lallo, though having written several novels, was slow to consider himself an author. Educated at NJIT, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering, the world of Information Technology is where most of his bills were paid until Sept of 2014 when he finally became a full-time author. His books include the popular Book of Deacon series, as well as a sci-fi adventure series called Big Sigma and a steampunk series called Free-Wrench
Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.
My name is Joseph R. Lallo (still haven’t earned that second R that seems mandatory for us fantasy author types). I’m originally from Bayonne, NJ, and until recently I was working IT for the healthcare industry through a complicated sequence of sub-contracts that isn’t really worth explaining.
I’d never really had any plans to be an author, though from a very early age I knew I wanted to write a book. Basically I just knew as early as second grade or so that I wanted “wrote a book” to be on my list of things I did when I was a grownup. There were a few abortive attempts around that time, but eventually I discovered a game called Dragon Warrior, a title for the NES which was a fairly standard RPG involving knights, dragons, descendants, and prophesies. My buddies at the time decided to create our own characters and stories to act out within the setting of the game. (As far as I know this was prior to the advent of the term LARP, but we were almost there.) The others eventually moved on, but the creative juices continued to flow and ferment in my head until in high school or so I started jotting down notes. By college I’d graduated to typing those notes, and in 2010 after two years of rejection from literary agents I let my friends talk me into self-publishing.
In September, 2014 I finally quit my day job (a week before they laid off my whole department—first rat off the ship!). Since then I’ve been writing a few thousand words a day, and working with Jeff Poole and Lindsay Buroker on a podcast dedicated to the intricacies of marketing for indies in our genres. I’ve got somewhere north of 13 books out—the exact count is a bit blurry because there’s an anthology and some short stories and contributions to collections in there—and the sales have been more than enough to buy the bills, not to mention put the down payment on the house I’m living in.
What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?
The hardest thing about balancing the writing with the work was remembering to sleep. In the early days, before I published, writing was an escape from the frustration of the IT world. I would write on my phone during my train/bus commute, type for a few minutes before I left for work, and type for a few hours after I got home. Let’s be honest, I also typed more than was really morally appropriate while I was at work, since running reports and compiling code meant some days there would have otherwise been a lot of thumb twiddling.
After self-publishing, writing continued to be a mildly disappointing hobby for about a year and a half. After that things picked up and I started to treat writing as a second job which grew to eclipse the main one.
Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).
Back then, depending on shift, I would get up at either 4:30 am or 6:30 am. After the normal morning ablutions I would have about 10 minutes to do some quick outlining or writing, then I was out the door and onto a bus/light-rail/train commute. That was usually an hour, during which I would use my phone or a pad to write some more. I was at work until 4 or 6pm (again, depending on shift) and would write during my lunch hour and during those moments when there was little else that could be done work-wise (which didn’t come up as often as I would have liked). Then came the reverse commute with a little more phone writing, then dinner and another hour or two of typing. Weekends generally had three hours of writing each day as well, assuming I didn’t have other plans.
Nowadays I’m up at 7am or 8am (or whenever my brain decides to stop ignoring the daylight). And I write until I’ve got at least 3k words, however long that takes. Most days I get closer to 5k, and then I spend the rest of the day doing chores, taking walks, and handling emails and other book biz.
If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?
I released my first book in January, 2010. Between then and May 2011 I made about $19. Which was something like eight sales, because I had a widely varying price structure at the time. It wasn’t until I had 3 or 4 books out that I saw traction, and only then because I’d made the first book in the Book of Deacon trilogy free.
At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?
I’d like to say I made the decision to quit the day job when I did my taxes one year and found that my day job’s salary was barely enough to cover the taxes on my self-employment income. In reality it took a year and a half longer than that. I ended up sticking at my day job out of the ironclad belief that the success I was enjoying was temporary and as soon as I stepped onto the rickety lifer raft of my writing career it would sink and I’d be ruined. Things at work continued to get more and more unbearable though, and for months I was hemming and hawing about maybe quitting the job. Then, after 9 years, the people who had subcontracted me finally made an offer to hire me as an employee. Their offer was generous, but would have almost certainly come at the cost of 10-20 hours a week unpaid overtime, which aside from destroying my sanity would have entirely eliminated the time I’d been spending writing. At that point I knew I had to either quit the job or quit writing. Framed in that way, it wasn’t a difficult choice.
By then I’d been earning good money with the books for almost three years, and banking most of it, so I had a big enough nest egg to take some of the anxiety out of the act. What I felt, mostly, was relief that I wasn’t agonizing over a decision anymore. My dad almost had a heart attack though. He’s from a background where you don’t quit a job, ever.
What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?
I think a lot of people who are thinking of going into writing full time don’t realize that, especially for self-pub and increasingly for traditional pub, it isn’t just a job, it’s a business. You’ve got to handle everything from lining up editors and artists to planning advertising and doing book keeping. If you go as far as I did, you’ll even be setting up a PO Box and handling some inventory. Writing is only about half the job.
As for interests outside of writing, I’m into video games. I also got a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering, so sometimes I like to solder together some doodads or toy with 3D printing.
What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?
It may sound trite, but just keep writing. There are things that will help you get noticed, and to sell more books, but you can’t make use of any of them if you don’t have books to sell. The more titles you’ve got out, the more chances you’ve got to win the “discovery lottery” and have people realize how good your book is. And if you’re writing a series, having a bunch of stories means if you can hook them with the first book, you can sell through the whole series. All of the other stuff, from getting good covers to getting proper editing, comes second to actually finishing the story and, ideally, starting the next one.
Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to touch on?
Once you get rolling and you’ve got some money (assuming you’ve already gotten top notch covers) consider getting some reference drawings or illustrations of your characters. There’s something magic about giving your characters a face, and giving your fans someone to picture (and maybe someone to draw their own pictures of).