Nick Cole is a hybrid author of post-apocalyptic fiction, a publisher of Apocalypse Weird, a complex, multi-writer universe intent on the destruction of the world a little left of how we know it, and a maker of a mean omelet. This week I chat with Nick about how he went from falling in love with The Old Man and the Sea, to building a writing career as both a traditionally published and self-published author.
Brother, Frankenstein by Michael Bunker
Nick Cole began his writing career with a dark Hollywood novel that landed him an agent, but unfortunately, no publishing deal. Around that time, he had discovered Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. While playing the post-apocalyptic game Fallout, Nick got the idea to set The Old Man and the Sea in a similar setting. He wrote the book The Old Man and the Wasteland, and, when his agent passed on it, spent four months editing it to perfection and published it himself in 2011.
He spent $1,500 to produce and publish the book and sold 8 copies that first month, but then four months in, it just “exploded.” The book was reviewed on Boing Boing and Nick was invited on to a radio show. And then publishers came a’knockin’. So he called his agent. Now he was interested in representing the book.
His agent stirred up a nice little bidding war, and Nick secured a deal with Harper Voyager for The Old Man and the Wasteland, two sequels, and another novel. The Old Man and the Wasteland was re-released on 1/22/13, ultimately earning a starred review inPublishers Weekly; Book 2, The Savage Boy, on 2/26/13; and Book 3, The Road is a River, 10/15/13. Following the release of that series was Soda Pop Soldier, on 8/12/14, which Nick describes as Call of Duty meets World of Warcraft.
Nick stresses that when writers find success with their indie-published work and start attracting big publishing deals, it is “vital” that they not sell the novel that has created that interest. Even though he was able to retain his reviews when The Old Man and the Wasteland was re-released by his publisher, Amazon algorithms still recognized it as a separate book resulting in a huge loss of momentum by losing all his previously established connections and also-boughts. Worse, to this day, he still receives emails from readers saying they didn’t know there were two sequels out. Looking back, Nick says he should have sold just the sequels or another book.
Nick also discovered the limitations of the standard non-compete clause contained in most publishing contracts when he wanted to self-publish his previously represented, but unsold Hollywood novel Fight the Rooster, and was told he couldn’t. He feels that archaic standard is starting to change and emphasizes that “your name is your brand, so every little bit helps,” and that it doesn’t make sense to be exclusive unless they throw so much money at you as to justify it. Otherwise, go hybrid, he advises.
While the benefits for self-publishing are tremendous, Nick is quick to point out that traditional publishing has its own hefty advantages over indies; namely, getting a writer’s books into brick-and-mortar stores, worldwide distribution, potential TV and film rights, etc.
Where Nick feels traditional publishing misses the mark is in frequency of releases and pricing, something that indie writers excel at. To illustrate his point, he says he is currently writing a solely digital novel for trade publication. He was asked to do it last October, he has to turn it in by July, and it will be published in October of this year. If he were publishing it on his own, he could have it available to readers in a quarter of the time. Instead, he’s using that extra time on a “little” side project called Apocalypse Weird.
Apocalypse Weird is collaborative multiverse Nick’s put together with Michael Bunker and Tim Grahl. Writers are invited to write books in “an epic multi-arc story that takes place at the end of civilization and the beginning of something terrible and very evil.” Think Lost meets World War Z. Similar to other shared-brand universes done by traditional publishers, there are many authors writing in the universe according to canon; however, very different from other franchises, Apocalypse Weird authors are fully credited, receive 70% royalties, and in the event of a media buy-out, are entitled to equal shares on products they have contributed to.
So far, they have over 20 authors working on the project, with nine books already released. Tier 1 authors have been invited to lay the groundwork and create the canon. Tier 2 authors are contracted to write stories within an already created “sandbox” established by a Tier 1 author. Tier 3 allows writers to tell non-canon, Apocalypse Weird survivor stories that get posted and readers are allowed to vote up. One guy got so many hits on his story, Nick says, they offered him a Tier 1 contract.
The project has been going quite well so far, Nick says. Everyone gets along, and even some Tier 1 writers have been mentoring Tier 3 writers. Although the ultimate dream would be to sell the franchise down the road for big bucks, for the time being, Nick’s having fun making this big, weird, wonderful world by writing out its destruction…and letting other writers have a whack at it too.
On chasing “cool”: “What you should do is write that thing that you’re super passionate about and, you know, a book that you would want to read.”
On the “war” between traditional and indie publishing: “What I’ve learned about every community is that it’s a very small world and you should, you know, be careful of what you do and how you act and how you treat people because chances are you’re going to run into them again.”
On market potential: “I do believe reading is akin to heroin. You can take somebody who says, ‘I’m not a reader,’ and if you get them the right book and they have a great time reading it, they’re going to buy another book. And the great thing with Amazon is they’re going to buy that book at one o’clock in the morning when Barnes & Noble is closed.”
On art for its own sake: “I do believe art needs to be commercially viable; otherwise, you end up with opera.”
On the writer’s responsibility to their readers: “To maintain that love and to please your fans, you must produce content and not this two-year publishing slog, George R.R. Martin, hoping that your fans — you know how many of George R.R. Martin’s fans have died? That’s a statistic. There are people that have died waiting for this guy’s next book!”
On having fun with your art: “And that’s a big thing that I would say to writers right now: Don’t take yourself so seriously. Be willing to write some junk food. Be willing to write some fish and chips. Be willing to write Big Macs.”
- Listen to audiobooks. Being a long-time actor, Nick likes to perform his novels when he’s editing and polishing a piece. He finds reading the book out loud makes it easier to find the right cadence, rhythm, and pace of the book. Listening to audiobooks will help you develop your narration skills to allow you to discover if your book “sounds” right.
- Edit hard. Nick spent four months in his garden polishing The Old Man and the Wasteland. He wanted to make sure it was perfect and read just right — and his efforts paid off!
- Diversify. Nick is both traditionally published as well as self-published, and he’s also a publisher. As he points out, every little bit helps in developing a brand, and no stream of income is guaranteed.
- Write junk food every once in a while. Write stuff just for the fun of it. It’s good for you, and who knows what you might end up with.
- Write in someone else’s world. Writing in another universe, whether it be Apocalypse Weird or Kindle Worlds, can be a great opportunity to increase your visibility as an author and a brand, and can be fun!
What is your secret writing pleasure? What would you write if you didn’t have any other consideration other than it be fun?
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