Bill Hoyt is the author of Good Hater and, most recently, The Monster Maiden of Westering Slough (Tales of the Red Brethren). He took the time to share some of what he's learned about the importance of indie publishing, the fantasy genre, and how writers can start to improve their craft.
Your most recent book features a young girl who was brutally scarred by a fire. What was the inspiration behind this book? How difficult was it to capture the essence of her character?
Many writers believe that a story should be about who hurts the most. So for the Monster Maiden of Westering Slough I started with a generic character and gave her some real pain, just to see how she reacted to it. But during that process, I recalled the number of times I've been absolutely astonished at how well young people seem to handle unfathomable setbacks or tremendous pain. We've all seen the kid who is dying of bone cancer at 15 and thought, where does she find the strength to deal with that? In those cases, it's often those around who suffer most. The kid is dying – and knows it – but it's a parent who cries herself to sleep every night. My character reacted sort of like that. So I made her father suffer even more by making him responsible for her being burned. After all, he raised the dragon that did it. She has forgiven him, but he still feels guilty.
In the end, she's a talented girl who has a good sense of fairness and a bit of a temper and who is understandably hurt and frustrated by people who abuse her. But her father is a scarred man who doesn’t always do the wise thing when it might provide a shortcut to restoring his daughter's face, and thereby relieving the guilt he carries. So the story in the end became more about him, because he was the one who had the pain.
What is your favorite genre to read? Do you find yourself leaning toward this genre in your own writing?
After history, without a doubt my favorite genre is fantasy, both to read and to write. But I'll admit to being very opinionated about what makes up that genre. I enjoy Tolkien and LeGuin and Feist and Saberhagen; good stories featuring magical swords and wizards and dragons are, to me, fantasy. An erotic novel in which one of the characters just happens to be a mermaid is not. A romance novel about menopausal werewolves that could be told just as well without werewolves is not. So I tend to skip a lot of modern fantasy. You cannot read everything, and it makes little sense to read what holds no appeal to you. Unless, of course, you're reading it in order to improve your own writing in some way. That’s always a good idea. But then it's work and not play.
What advice would you offer to new writers who want to break into indie publishing?
Indie is an immediate way to share your expertise, to tell your story, to make some money.
I also believe that it is the future of publishing. The current book publishing model, with its corporate publishers and distribution channels designed to move physical books, is being broken upon the wheel of technology. Those who are publishing indie and electronically today (and learning the necessary companion skills, like self-marketing) are building the next model. It will likely be one in which the phrase “published author” is redundant or perhaps even meaningless – what is a “published author” in a world without corporate publishers? So I would say that if you think others will enjoy your work, publish it yourself. Everyone will soon be doing it.
But we also need to be honest with ourselves about why we want to go indie, because if we’re not, we’re liable to get hurt or embittered very quickly. What I mean by that is that there are a lot of authors who believe they have written the Great American Novel. They are certain that it’s not published only because every editor they have sent it to is an incompetent jerk. But readers of that book are quite likely to agree with the editors and have no qualms about saying so. Seeing your beloved work mauled in public is far more painful than reading a rejection on crème-colored cotton paper with nice letterhead in the privacy of your own home; at least there you can burn the letter. So if a person is going indie to avoid the pain of rejection by professional editors, they would be well served to learn the craft better first. Learning to write well is hard work. Indie publishing does not relieve authors of the responsibility to do that work.
You're also a blogger and have been for some time. Have you found that regularly writing in your blog has improved your skills as an author?
Without a doubt. Blogging forces you to capture the essence of a story in only a few paragraphs. It's almost like writing a micro-story. I have found that practice to be especially helpful for writing history, in which I need to form small stories into the building blocks that will make up a bigger one, whether I’m writing a biography or the story of a railroad strike.
Even though I found it most useful for non-fiction, it cannot hurt a fiction author to have one more outlet for writing. It is the practice, not the end use, which helps us the most. Just don't give your best ideas away to strangers for free.
Would you recommend that new writers take advantage of social media sites to promote their books, or are these sites overrated?
Yes and yes. I do think that Twitter and Facebook and the like are overrated. Unless you already have a million followers, you're not likely to send out a tweet that brings a thousand readers to your new book. But I think you need to be in those places anyway. New writers should make themselves available to their readers, and social media is a great way to do that. Maybe when you're selling like Dean Koontz you won't have the time to interact with those who read your books. But for now, access to you is a service you can provide your readers for very little cost. Any way you can keep them thinking about you and your books is going to benefit you in the long run.