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Behind the Bestseller: Robert Buettner (Part 2)

Bestselling author and all-around nice guy Robert Buettner is back on You Can Write A Novel to give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be the author of a “big” book — and he tells us how he tackled writing something entirely new on the heels of the critically acclaimed Jason Wander series.  Plus, he shares his five tips for becoming a bestselling author.

Laurence MacNaughton:  So what’s the most common question you get asked by readers? (Besides “Who does those awesome covers?”)

Robert Buettner:  Reader questions (as opposed to aspiring writer questions, which we cover below) vary as widely as readers. The most asked question is actually mundane. “What order are the books in?” Answer:

I. Jason Wander, or Orphanage, series from Orbit:

1. Orphanage

2. Orphan’s Destiny

3. Orphan’s Journey

4. Orphan’s Alliance

5. Orphan’s Triumph

II. Orphan’s Legacy series from Baen:

1. Overkill

2. Undercurrents (forthcoming July 5, 2011)

3. Title to be determined

I think the confusion may be worse because e-book readers skip some clues that physical book readers see. The physical books of the Jason Wander series now in stores have the book number, 1 through 5, on the spine, and the five books are listed in order inside, opposite the title page, under the heading “Books by Robert Buettner” The new series has a similar list opposite its title pages. But, as is customary in publishing, each publisher only lists the author’s books that IT publishes. Thus, “Baen Books by Robert Buettner” lists only the new series.

LM:  What’s it like writing an entirely new book, after the critically acclaimed success of the Jason Wander series? Was it hard to switch gears?

Liberating, actually. The Jason Wander books were written 100% in Jason’s first person voice. The new series allowed me to see and comment on the world from new viewpoints. One viewpoint is very new. In fact, I hope, readers will find it not just new but unique.

In the same way, a new publisher, and so new editing and supporting perspectives, were also liberating.

Time Warner Aspect, which became Little Brown Orbit, publishes the Jason Wander books, and does it marvelously. Orbit’s also very much a New York Big Six imprint, and as such formal in author relations, compared to an independent.

Baen, which is publishing the new series, is very much an independent. But a unique one. Baen began as, and kind of remains, the defacto science fiction imprint of Simon & Schuster. Baen’s SF/F list is as large as a New York Big Six imprint’s list, and S&S distributes Baen books with all the clout of the New York Big Six publisher that S&S is. But Baen isn’t physically located in New York. Toni Weisskopf, Baen’s publisher, continues the late Jim Baen’s enthusiasm and hands on involvement with Baen’s authors, as well with Baen’s readers. Baen’s process is less formal than a New York Big Six imprint, but the quality, expertise, and resources are very equivalent.

Another change accompanied the shift to Baen. Baen/Simon & Schuster chose to give the new series “Big Book Treatment,” meaning the format is larger even than trade paperback, with author name prominent. The theory is that I now have a following who will buy the book not because of the covers (which are bold and striking) or the store placement (which is prominent), or even the reviews, but because (gulp) I wrote it. That’s flattering, but also high-wire scary.

LM: So, no pressure or anything.  How about sharing a common question from aspiring writers?

RB:  “How do I become a New-York published author?” There are usually collateral, accompanying questions, like, “Do I actually have to, like, write the book first?” Or “How do I make sure the publisher includes Paris and Tokyo on my signing tour?”

Here’s the answer I give:

1. Write. Don’t just think about writing and read books about writing, though by all means do those things. Do it. Until you take that step you won’t know whether you want it bad enough. And if you really expect to learn the craft well enough to be New York published, you had better want it pretty bad.

2. Write lots. They say that a writer has to write a million words to develop the skills to produce salable commercial fiction. I believe Stephen King had collected seven hundred short story rejection slips before he sold his first one. I completed seven novels of varying degrees of awfulness, now boxed up for eternity, before Orphanage.

3. Write well. Study The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and anything Mark Twain wrote about writing. The best contemporary treatment of the art and craft of writing that I’ve seen is King’s On Writing. Find a mutual critique group of people who know what they are talking about, take your lumps, and learn from their mistakes and yours. If you write well, you will be ahead of ninety percent of the twenty-five thousand or more unsolicited slush submittals that a reputable agent wades through annually.

4. Rewrite well. There is no good writing. There is only good rewriting.

5. Last but not least, persevere. When you have written, then rewritten, a novel so good that it can’t be ignored, be prepared to reinvent yourself and your craft when it is ignored, anyway.

Wise words!  Stay tuned for the final installment of Behind the Bestseller: Robert Buettner right here on You Can Write A Novel.  And if you’re interested in checking out his latest novel, Overkill (which I had to force myself to put down so I could publish this interview), you can find it here:

Robert Buettner’s ‘blog

Robert Buettner’s website

Baen’s webscription page for Overkill

Amazon’s Overkill page

Amazon’s Undercurrents page

Amazon’s Orphanage page

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