Brian Rathbone is a bit odd. Fitting in has never really been his thing. He tried it once — it didn’t work out; neither did high school. After getting his GED and leaving the life of a professional horse trainer, Brian went to work at a nuclear plant, and then a convenience store, a gas station, a pizzeria and eventually in the mailroom of a commodities trade company. After discovering computers in the early 1990’s and doing consulting work for companies like Lockheed Martin, Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Joe Gibbs Racing, Brian moved up to Voice President of Research and Development for a medium-sized Internet company. Later in his technology career, Rathbone helped expand broadband Internet access into rural areas as part of a stimulus funded broadband planning grant awarded to the North Carolina State Broadband Initiative.
During much of this entire adventure, Brian was an avid reader of fantasy fiction. For years he’d known he would eventually write his own stories — he even told his wife he would someday write fantasy novels on their first date. It took many years of thinking about writing novels before he got the opportunity to act on it. After a couple false starts, he found himself at a career crossroad. While sitting in the Atlanta airport on a 2-hour layover, Brian finally committed himself to writing. He wrote the first chapter of Call of the Herald that day and has been at it ever since.
The first trilogy in the Godsland fantasy series is The Dawning of Power. The ebook is just $0.99 on Amazon Kindle, and with the purchase of the ebook the audiobook is just $1.99!
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.
Hi, everybody! I’m Brian Rathbone, a successful self-published writer with a good chance of soon becoming a hybrid author, who is both self-published and traditionally published. I’ve always had a deep love of fantasy fiction and decided as a teenager that I would someday write my own books. When I worked in technology and programming, I would have difficulty shutting my mind off at night and would debug code in my sleep. Sometimes I fixed real problems this way, but it was exhausting. I began thinking about my stories I would someday write. When I finally got the chance to write, I had fifteen years of thinking into it. I couldn’t type fast enough — still can’t.
It took me a decade to succeed as a self-published writer, but now I am able to write full-time. It’s not always easy, but I am living my dream.
What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?
Time and money. When I had a day job, I had plenty of money to provide a robust marketing budget but not enough time to make effective use of that money. Now that I am full-time writer, I have the time but fewer financial resources than I did. I anticipated two years to make the career change, and a year and a half into it, it’s working out about right.
All the nights, weekends, vacation days and sick days I spent writing have finally paid off.
Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).
I’m currently busier than I’ve ever been before, but it’s all good stuff. I recently finished writing my eleventh novel, which is the first I’ve intended for traditional publishing in eight years. I queried an agent I met at a convention and am waiting patiently for a response. In the meantime, I am outlining the fourth and final trilogy in the Godsland fantasy series. I’ve also been working on some collaborative novels, two of which are in the final stages of editing. I’ve been planning a Kickstarter fundraiser for these books for a couple years, and it’s all coming together. My voice artist has six novels in his que and I’ve been proofing those as they come in.
Just in case I was getting bored, I recently had a non-fiction writing project offered to me. It’s broadband related, which allows me to tap my passion for technology and utilize my writing skills in a way that will actually help people.
I also occasionally tell a bad dragon joke on Twitter.
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?
My sales started out heartbreakingly slow. It was 2007, and eBooks weren’t what they are today. I had finished my first trilogy but failed to attract an agent or publisher. I decided to run an offset print run myself, which was a huge mistake. I did lots of things wrong and risked $7,500, but I believed in myself. It took me three years to make my money back.
Eventually I discovered Mobipocket, which was the dominant ebook retailer at the time. The Dawning of Power became the best selling epic fantasy on Mobipocket for the better part of two years. I was hooked. Once the Kindle changed the world and absorbed Mobipocket, I continued to make a solid part-time income from my writing. Releasing the second trilogy and the audiobooks solidified my sales, and the release of the third trilogy made it possible for me to go full-time.
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 wanted to write full-time for years before I got to do it. It was very difficult managing my time and family life against my writing and publishing work, which was a full-time venture in itself. My wife and I decided we needed certain savings and safeguards in place before I made the leap. When the federal grant I was working on ended as scheduled, I had the opportunity to make a clean break. I couldn’t resist. It hasn’t always been easy, but I don’t regret a thing.
Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?
I can live off my fiction royalties alone, but I also write non-fiction and computer code when the opportunity arises. For example, I wrote software for the furniture manufacturing industry back in 2005-2008, and it has been running eight or nine factories ever since. There is a good chance if you bought a sofa, recliner, ottoman, or ‘lift chair’ in the US in the last decade, my software was used when cutting the wooden parts. Every once in a while those factories need something tweaked or added and I put my programmer hat on. It’s fun as long as I don’t have to do it all the time.
What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? What are some of your interests outside of writing?
People told me to give up writing for years — even people who love me or are dear friends. I almost gave up a hundred times, but I just couldn’t give up. I knew it was something I was supposed to do. I persisted even though it made people think I was nuts and put pressure on a number of my relationships. There were a lot of sacrifices, but it has finally paid off. It’s a good thing, or I would be in the dog house for years!
I love racing. If it moves, chances are I tried to race it at least once, but mostly I raced horses, motorcycles, and cars. I never went pro as a harness driver, but I did win a number of amateur horse races in my younger years. Later in life I adopted online stock car racing, which is a good bit safer. I won an online racing championship in 2007 after four years of trying. People laugh, but it was among the hardest things I ever pulled off and something I’m very proud of.
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?
Don’t give up. Building up a residual income through royalties takes time, but it is by it’s very nature residual, which means I now get paid even if I don’t work. Granted I earn more when I release new work and when I put effort into marketing, but I still get paid even when I don’t do those things. It’s been almost a year since I’ve released a book or have done any work that contributed directly to the bottom line and I’m not homeless.
Focus on producing lots of quality content and building your audience. Content is king and visibility is queen. I give away series starters as eBooks and audiobooks and use bad dragon jokes on Twitter to drive traffic to them.
I wrote a book about how I built my audience for anyone interested. It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.