This week’s guest is Jonathan Brazee, a retired Marine colonel and author of the popular military scifi series The United Federation Marine Corps. In this interview, we talk about Jonathan’s unexpected success as an indie author, the importance of listening to your readers, and the one thing he wishes he had done differently.
Jonathan is a retired Marine colonel and seasoned world traveler (over 100 countries!) based mostly in Thailand.
Although he sold a short story to an academic magazine in 1978, as well as a few nonfiction projects, he didn’t return to his first love of fiction until 2006, while in Iran, when he started writing his first full-length novel The Few: A Tale of the Marines in the Near Future. He submitted the book to two or three publishers with no response, then decided to self-publish it through iUniverse in 2009.
Then, in 2012, while traveling from Thailand, Jonathan chanced upon a traveler reading on a Kindle. They got to talking, and Jonathan mentioned he had a book available on Amazon. But when the traveler tried to look it up, he discovered that his book was not on Kindle. Jonathan set out to correct that right away, publishing it himself through KDP, and immediately ran a free promo for three days. Over the next two weeks, he sold 700 copies, seven times the number of copies he had sold over the previous three years.
Reader response was enthusiastic, and Jonathan started getting email from readers asking what happens next. Despite not having planned to write a sequel and despite having killed off a bunch of characters, he set about writing a second, and ultimately a third inThe Return of the Marines trilogy, which he ultimately turned into an omnibus, which is to this day still his bestselling book.
Following that, he wrote Recruit, the first book in his The United Federation Marine Corps series. Initially, he had planned for only five books, but changed his plans midway through the series in response to reader feedback, eventually writing eight books and creating a storyline he was even more excited about.
“I’m positive because of the feedback I wrote a better book,” he says.
Fast-forward to today, Jonathan now has 28 titles out, including an exercise book, a short story, and two Spanish language translations (22 separate books).
Jonathan’s marketing efforts have been pretty minimal given the level of success he’s had with his books. Although he’s applied for BookBub ads, he has yet to be accepted. Jonathan did run an ad in Leatherneck, a magazine for Marines, when he released his bookThe Few: A Tale of the Marines in the Near Future, which he says didn’t do anything for his sales. Most incredibly, he didn’t start his mailing list until just last year in October of 2015, after he had already sold over 100,000 books!
Starting a mailing list was the smartest thing to do, he says, but it was the dumbest thing not to do it sooner. Now he has CTAs and links at the back of all of his books, contributing to his now 600-strong mailing list.
While he hasn’t been aggressive on the marketing end of things, Jonathan does actively engage with his fans, employingTuckerization tactics to excite his fans and get them involved. He’s had readers buy 10 books because he’s named characters after them. One reader, a colonel, requested that his namesake die gloriously.
Jonathan also points out that the “space marine” genre is pretty small, with only 3,000 to 4,000 titles in the category, which is great for visibility, but it’s also full of readers hungry for new books.
“Write what you know, write what you want, but try to put it in a genre, in a category where you can get more visibility,” he says. “Try to pick up on what the reader wants to read.”
Although Jonathan admits luck is a factor, he says, like anything, there are ways to increase your odds to find that luck.
When he is in Thailand, Jonathan goes into work early to avoid traffic, knocks out his day job, then writes in the afternoon for three to four hours until traffic has died down, Monday through Friday. On weekends, he tries to get in another three to four hours. He’s currently in the States right now, but still keeps to the same general routine.
“You have to have a schedule,” he says, “like exercise.”
Next Big Thing
Jonathan’s very successful The United Federation Marine Corps series just wrapped up this past December, and his The Werewolf of Marines trilogy has just been released in an omnibus. He’s currently in the States for the next six months, but will soon be traveling the world again…and, of course, writing more books.
- Set a daily schedule for your writing. It is this habit that has enabled Jonathan to pen over 20 books since 2012.
- Listen to your readers; they will tell you what they want. It was Jonathan’s readers who pushed his first stand-alone book into a trilogy and inspired him to expand a five-book series into an eight-book series, greatly improving it. He says he’s very happy how the series has turned out, thanks to reader feedback.
- Attend a writers’ event or conference. It was a conversation Jonathan had with another successful author he met at last year’s WorldCon in Spokane that pushed him to set up his mailing list. Conferences are great places for writers to learn from other writers.
Have you ever changed a story as a result of reader feedback, and were you happy with the results?
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