Today on my blog I am welcoming indie author Bjørn Larssen into the Indie Spotlight.
Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.
Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.
Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner (Storytellers)
2020 Stabby Award Nominee (Children)
Hello, Bjørn. Welcome to my blog.
What made you decide to publish your books independently?
I spent a year researching traditional publishing as I was working on Storytellers.
I was under the impression that I would just sit in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, creating like the Artisté that I am, while some other people marketed my books and made sure they were selling. The more I learned, the wider my eyes opened. The agents expected me to already have a strong social media presence. The publisher’s interns might send review copies of my book out. My advance would be four figures split into three payments… and then in 2020 “zero advances” became a thing. I’d have no say about the cover artwork, the way my books would (or wouldn’t) be promoted, I’d have to change my book until the publisher was satisfied. What would I get out of this, I asked myself, apart from validation?
There was also the time factor. I saw a tweet tagged #ShareYourRejections, in which the author told us she took 9 years to find an agent, 4 years longer for the agent to find a publisher, and next year her book would be out. All I could think about was “I might be dead 14 years from now”. And so I never received any rejection, because I never sent any queries.
That’s a serious chunk of time! I can see why that would put anyone off going down that road.
What are the benefits of being an indie author?
Artistic control. This is a pro and a con, of course. My successes are mine, but my failures are also mine. My editor is my employee – I pay her to adapt the book to my vision, where a publisher would make me adapt my book to theirs. Every time I see a reviewer use a variation on the phrase “I have never read anything like this,” I know that no legacy publisher would have touched my book. Children is a very strange novel, dark and funny, mythological and political. It doesn’t fit into any particular genre. I would never get away with that in legacy publishing, because it’s difficult to market and sell something like this. But this is the book I wanted to write.
I also own all the rights. My books will never go out of print, unless I decide to pull them myself. If book two in a trilogy doesn’t sell well, nobody can drop me, keeping the rights to those two books. If a publisher goes bankrupt and my rights are one of the assets someone keeps, I don’t have to sue to get them back. (This happened to two of my friends.) I can price my books however I want. I can change the cover and blurb every week if I feel like it.
Those are some definite advantages. On the flipside what challenges do indie authors face?
I’m never going to see my book on “10 Books We’re Looking Forward To The Most In 2022” lists or get reviews from Real Critics in Real Papers. (Mind, it’s not like all that many trad authors get those reviews either, there is less and less space dedicated to books.) I only ever get bitter when I read articles about how there are simply no new, original voices in literature, or reviews of awful books. This space could have been devoted to incredible indie books those critics won’t acknowledge.
Being an indie writer/self-publisher means owning a small business. Any business needs investing in at first. I am lucky, because my background in graphic design allows me to take care of covers and formatting, but most people need to hire someone to do this. I had to pay my editor and proofreader. A “real” publisher would have covered all those costs. But my royalties would be 7.5% of cover price, out of which the agent would take 15. I wouldn’t see a cent before the advance is earned out. As things are, I get 35-70% royalties on each ebook. I earn the same money selling 1000 books that a trad author would on 10000 sales
What advice would you give to aspiring indie authors?
Work with an editor. I can’t emphasise this enough. I’d suggest starting with a sample chapter, to see whether you’re going to be a good fit – there’s nothing worse than spending $1000 to have someone give you extensive notes about how very much they didn’t understand what you wanted to communicate. Get a proofreader – there are people who delight in finding typos in self-published books (I don’t know why either).
Everyone judges the book by the cover. If your cover looks like it took 15 minutes to design, people will assume it reflects the overall quality of the book and won’t bother reading even the shortest blurb. If the cover is not genre-appropriate, people will pass, or, worse, leave one-star reviews. They’ll feel cheated, and rightly so.
An average debut sells 100 copies in the first year and 500 copies in the book’s lifetime. Mind, I said “average”. Some books sell one copy, to the author’s Mum. Set your financial expectations very, very low and you can’t be disappointed.
What have you learned from being an indie author?
We’re judged more harshly than legacy-published authors, but we also have much more freedom. I can’t deal with deadlines – I’m chronically ill – so I don’t. The next book will come out when it comes out.
I’ve found wonderful writer friends who struggle with the same problems as I do. We beta-read for each other, critique each other’s manuscripts, and cry on each other’s shoulders when we need to. Actually, this might be my favourite part – becoming friends with incredibly talented people.
And… for all the sweating and cursing and shouting at my laptop… it’s fun!
And last, but by no means least…What can we look forward to seeing from you in 2021?
Hopefully Land, the sequel to Children. I’m also working on a different project, also related to Norse mythology, but this one would be all about the humour. And last night I had an idea for writing a cosy mystery set in the same small town as Storytellers. AND I would also like to write a non-fiction book about the Norse Gods and lore. Actually, that’s what you should look forward to seeing from me between 2021-2030…
Thanks so much for having me!
Thank you so much for joining me today, Bjørn. I am looking forward to reading Land later this year!
Would you murder your brothers to keep them from telling the truth about themselves?
On a long, cold Icelandic night in March 1920, Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, finds himself with an unwanted lodger – Sigurd, an injured stranger who offers a story from the past. But some stories, even those of an old man who can barely walk, are too dangerous to hear. They alter the listeners’ lives forever… by ending them.
Others are keen on changing Gunnar’s life as well. Depending on who gets to tell his story, it might lead towards an unwanted marriage, an intervention, rejoining the Church, letting the elf drive him insane, or succumbing to the demons in his mind. Will he manage to write his own last chapter?
Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal – Best Historical Fiction Novel
Buy Storytellers here:
Add Storytellers to your To Be read list here:
Gods make lousy parents.
All Magni wants is peace and quiet, but when your father is the God of thunder, you don’t get to live the life you want. When Thor destroys all his son knows and loves, Magni vows to bring prosperity and end the violence… forever. But can you escape cruelty in a universe built on it, or the shadow of your father when everyone calls you by his name?
Maya, her rage more powerful than she knows, wants freedom to pursue her own destiny. Neither torture nor blackmail can make her obedient or pretty enough for Freya, her foster-mother and Goddess of love. Fighting for independence and revenge, can a mere human win a game where Gods dictate the rules?
2020 Stabby Nominee –Best Self-Published/Independent Novel
Buy Children here:
Add Children to your To Be Read list here:
Who’s next on Indie Spotlight?
Evan Witmer is the sole writer and webmaster for oddfiction.com where he posts free short stories. At the end of each year he takes down the last ten stories he wrote and self-publishes them online; containing the ten stories within a surreal framing device.
He has a Masters of Bioengineering and does tech transfer for the University of Buffalo. Tall and quirky, he collects beer labels in his free time. He relates more to the works of MC Ride and Tarantino than to most modern authors. He’s trying to lose forty pounds.