And now, from Inside the Writer’s Studio,
A Very Special Interview With Joshua Robertson & Lillian Oake
We’ve all done it at least once in our lives.
I’m not referring to those times we open the linen closet with a bottle of ketchup in one hand, a fistful of Skittles in the other, humming “Gary, Indiana,” and saying, “Now, why the hell did I go here?” No, not that.
I refer to those moments when we think to ourselves, “Wow! How is it that these people are so much cooler than me?”
For me, that moment occurred (again) when I met, and then subsequently learned about, two astounding authors, Joshua Robertson and Lillian Oake. Lillian, a winsome, red-haired sylph has penned two elegant fantasy novels and three short stories. The ever-prolific Joshua has created scores of dark fantasy novels and short stories, as well as articles, podcasts, and blog posts. Joshua also is a Licensed Master Social Worker, a healer of the minds and hearts of both children and adults found within residential behavior schools, psychiatric treatment facilities, the child welfare system, and the military. Together, with their Goblin Horde, they traverse the country, sharing (and selling) their fantastic stories of demons, gods, dragons, and fae.
Dear Readers, I am merely ecstatic to present to you, Joshua Robertson and Lillian R. Oake.
When did you two start writing? What inspired you to start? Share with us your humble beginnings!
Joshua: One summer, I remember my sister writing stories and I thought the process looked fun, so I started penning stories, too. I finished my first short story around the age of nine and my first novel around the age of seventeen. Although I never published either of those, I soon realized writing was the one thing in which I would never retire. The reason I write has evolved over the years from escaping from reality to better understanding myself to calming my overactive imagination to leaving a legacy of reveries for my children.
Lilian: I was a lonely kid with four brothers and no sisters, so I spent most of my days daydreaming. When I was in ninth grade, I decided to write out a scene from my mind and “start a book.” A friend of mine found it in my notebook and got all sorts of excited about how visual the scene was, and so I kept writing.
Oh, this sounds really cool. So, where can we find your work?
Joshua: You can find my books anywhere books are sold, though you may have to request them from your local bookstore or library if you do not readily see them on the shelves. If you are looking to purchase online, you can go to my website and discover all the links.
Lilian: Mine are pretty much found in all the same places. Signed books come from my website, but you can find all my titles on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and more!
What moved you two to self-publish? And what were the first works that you self-published?
Joshua: The first work I self-published was Bo Bunny and the Trouble, a middle-aged children’s chapter book, which was soon followed by Melkorka, a full-length novel in my dark fantasy saga, Thrice Nine Legends. One of the things I learned early in my professional career as a speaker and trainer was that I understood and retained information far better if I was forced to teach it to others. So instead of pursuing traditional publishing, I decided to start my own small press and learn the ins and outs of the industry. The choice was fundamental in shaping me into a better writer and knowing what it took to survive as a self-published author in the modern era. I feel as though the company was a success, thriving for several years, before I transitioned the brand to my own imprint and continued as a self-published author. The goal is to now become a hybrid author, having titles that are traditionally and self-published.
Lilian: I used to be the kind of person absolutely against self-publishing. I thought everyone who did it was uneducated in the publishing industry and that it was full of a bunch of wannabes. I was given the opportunity to work with a major editor from a major publishing house who really made me feel a lot better about my writing, and when I met Joshua and saw how knowledgeable and capable he was of running a small-press, I jumped for it. I already had a following thanks to my story, Nahtaia: A Jaydürian Adventure, that was online for free at the time. I ended up publishing Nahtaia as my first self-published book.
How did you get your work self-published?
Joshua: I was lucky to have contacts with a few micro-presses, small presses, and vanity presses. I also had interactions with a literary agent and I was harbored into a handful of writing communities where several authors were already published. Networking gave me a leg up in publishing a book, but I still had to research the industry before I could publish anything in good conscience.
The extensive list of knowledge needed to publish a book would likely take all our interview time. There is a good reason why multiple staff members at a publishing house are needed to successfully launch a book and keep readers interested beyond ninety days. From pre-launch to post-launch, and the exhilarating moments in-between, the knowledge a self-published author needs to acquire can stop you in your creative tracks. Understanding the pros and cons of each publishing platform, copyright, publishing rights, pricing, cover design, interior and exterior layout, marketing, editing, publicity and events, distribution options, and so on is overwhelming at best. I do not mean to sound discouraging; however, the reality is a self-published author must not only understand the craft of writing a book but also the business of writing a book.
While I learned bits and pieces of all these elements, I realized that unless I wanted to become a certified editor, graphic designer, publicist, etc., I would need to outsource several tasks to experts, creating a team I trusted with my brand. For the sake of brevity, my process primarily was networking with professionals to assist me in publishing quality books.
Lilian: I learned most of what I needed to know about the publishing process from Joshua. As he said, we outsourced for editing, design, and more. Working with the artists to create a worthy cover was probably my favorite part of the entire process while formatting is my least favorite. I’m surprised when I stop and think about how much I know now in the whole industry, and I feel very comfortable doing it.
What do you both feel is the biggest challenge in self-publishing?
Joshua: Time management. I have spoken to hundreds of authors over the years and this consistently is their number one issue, followed by concerns over their lack of knowledge in some of the topics mentioned above. Balancing time between managing the business, writing the books, and having a personal life takes a rigorous commitment to routine coupled with a splash of spontaneity.
Lilian: Making and meeting my own deadlines. I’m really terrible at it, and mostly because of what Joshua mentioned previously—time management. I must give myself a very wide window when it comes to announcing new releases. I do work well under pressure, but sometimes things outside of my power go wrong. At other times, I can end up giving myself too wide a timeframe and end up with a finished book I’m sitting on for weeks at a time. It’s frustrating.
What do you like best about it?
Joshua: In terms of the industry, I love the community of professionals. Those who have linked together in the creative arts are some of the most supportive, optimistic, and genuinely freethinking people I have had the pleasure of meeting. When it comes to publishing my books, I enjoy having the say over when my books are published. While it is wise to set up a suitable launch for a successful book release, I am glad I do not have to wait eighteen months to hit the publish button.
Lilian: Bringing characters to life on my own terms. I’ve worked with a small press that did not give me the freedom to do what I wanted with my characters. With self-publishing, I can commission an image of any character for whatever I want, whenever I want. No one can tell me, “Well, you should do this or that to make it better because I think so.”
As we know, self-publishing has its detractors. How do you respond to them?
Joshua: Foremost, I think self-publishing has critics for good reason and we would do well to listen to their criticisms, if anything for self-improvement. Like many other industries—and the Force in Star Wars—self-publishing has a dark side that swallows up some authors. I am not blind to the fact that some self-published writers send their book babies into the world without proper nurturance (editing, formatting, etc.), attempt to game the system by nefarious means (book stuffing [https://goodereader.com/blog/indie-author-news/whats-all-this-stuff-about-book-stuffing], pay for reviews, etc.), or otherwise make book publishing difficult for the rest of us. I think as a community we should shun these types of behaviors to maintain the integrity of our industry, our books, and ourselves. Personally, the most I can do is be honest and genuine about my own work while advocating for better practices among self-published authors.
Lilian: I recently wrote a blog post about why this is in the first place. I totally understand the mentality behind those who are against self-publishing and indie authors. The problem is that people can take a picture of their foot, put it on a cover with a title, then fill the pages with their three-year old’s yearly “why” questions and publish it. It’s hard to be seen or heard in the ocean of badly self-published books. I admit I’m quick to analyze and judge self-published books—including my own—because I expect to see the negatives before any positives. When someone asks me if I’m self-published, I tell them I am but I also give them the list of all the people I have working behind me to put out the best work I can possibly get out there. I give them the breakdown of the process and how much time and money is invested in every project. People tend to see it a bit differently after that part of the conversation.
What is your advice to authors who are considering self-publishing for the first time?
Joshua: Get involved with a community and find a mentor.
Lilian: I agree with Joshua’s response. And don’t expect things to be fast and easy just because you’re doing it on your own. Expect to spend money and a lot of time and energy into marketing your own stuff.
Get ready to roll for initiative! It’s time for our favorite part of the interview:
The Sludge Pile Lightning Challenge!
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to re-write the following text in the style of your favorite author. This text has been taken directly from the user manual of the Ridgid 18 Gauge Brad Nailer:
Stay alert, watch what you are doing and use common sense when operating a power tool. Do not use tool while tired or under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication. A moment of inattention while operating power tools may result in serious personal injury. Dress properly. Do not wear loose clothing or jewelry. Contain long hair.
Joshua, writing as Rudyard Kipling, because, who else?
This is the instructions for operating a power tool that has been written for those who need an additional dose of common sense. The sting of the instrument is avoidable but becomes increasingly dangerous if you approach while blindfolded, intoxicated, or otherwise forget to use your brain. I must say that letting your hair flow or your attire hang insecurely so, swaying to and fro, will indubitably result in an endless throe. If you read the longstanding books of accepted history, you will see careless men and women sometimes survive to test their smartness another day. In the case of power tools, that is not true. Lo, stupidity makes a dead human.
All photos courtesy of Joshua Robertson & Lillian F. Oake