Michael La Ronn is a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels. He also teaches a course on the art of writing and is an enthusiastic podcaster and YouTuber. Here he tells me how he manages to do all that while holding down a full-time job!
You are an incredibly prolific writer. How many books have you published now?
By the time this post goes live, I'll be at 54 published books.
You’ve written all those books while you are also holding down a full-time job. In addition to that you also do regular podcasts and teach courses. I’m wondering how you make time for all that? Are you a super disciplined writer?
I am hyper-disciplined, to the point where I have cut pretty much everything out of my personal life that isn't writing. I rarely watch television or play video games anymore. Writing gets my full attention when I'm not at work or in law school classes.
I became a writer after a near-death experience in 2012 and I realized that life is too short not to follow your passion. After that, it was pretty easy to make time for my writing.
Do you set yourself specific word counts to achieve daily?
I don't set word counts on a daily basis except for when I'm writing. There are so many areas of my writing life that need my attention and my resources are so stretched that I don't always get to write every day. However, I know that most years I'll publish between 5-7 books rain or shine. I've had some years when I've done more than that. Because I'm so dedicated, the words always take care of themselves at the end of the year.
What’s the thing you enjoy most about writing?
The freedom. I can write whatever I want, whenever I want, in whatever style I want, and get paid for it. It's energizing.
And what’s the thing you dislike most about writing?
I dislike the fear and the self-doubt. It feels like one day I'll wake up and never have to worry about them again, but instead, it's a recurring, lifelong battle that every writer has to fight in their own way. When you understand that, it gets easier.
You’ve written both fantasy and science fiction books but I believe you have now committed to writing in the specific genre of ‘urban fantasy’. Why did you decide to do that? Was it because you found you enjoyed this genre more than the others, because you identified this genre as a profitable market or for some other reason?
I have written in a lot of genres, but I always find myself coming back to urban fantasy. I decided to dedicate my fiction to the genre after having so much fun writing my Magic Trackers series, which is about a dream mage. I love cities mashed with supernatural creatures and magic.
Ironically, choosing the urban fantasy genre had nothing to do with profit as that series doesn't sell well. But I'm passionate about the stories I can tell in the urban fantasy genre and I know that the money will follow.
I see you teach courses on Teachable (a platform for hosting and selling online courses). What are the main pros and cons of Teachable? Have you tried any other platforms (e.g. Udemy)?
The pros of Teachable are that it's easy to use, it pays monthly, and the user interface is good. The con of Teachable is the community aspect—it’s not desirable to build a community there around your courses, though they're working on that. I have looked into Udemy and other types of sites, but I prefer complete control over my pricing and content.
What do you do to promote your courses?
I don't do anything to promote my courses other than feature them prominently on my website and mention them periodically on my YouTube channel and podcasts. My courses are typically quite in-depth and the opposite of what most are doing in the space right now, so I don't worry about promoting them too much. Usually the most driven writers in my audience buy them, and that's enough for me.
I know you do a lot of research to make sure your books are optimised to target the correct readership. What would you say is the single most important thing an author can do to make sure that a book really leaps out at a potential reader who is browsing on Amazon?
The book cover is by far the most important thing an author can get right. Making sure you have a cover that matches other self-published books in your immediate subgenre can't be understated. It's a lesson that took me a long time to learn.
How did you find your cover designers? And how do you go about commissioning a cover? Do you tell the designer exactly what you want or do you let the cover artist make those decisions?
I find my designers by looking at other books in the subgenre I want to write. I give the designer general ideas, but most importantly I give them a link to a Pinterest board with book covers that have a similar look to what I'm going for.
I'm a believer in picking the right designer. If you pick the right person and give them good enough instructions, everything else follows, including a good design.
When promoting books, a self-published author is faced with a huge number of potentially expensive options: Facebook ads, Bookbub deals, Amazon ads – not to mention paying for covers, editors, web hosting, podcasts and so on. Let’s assume I’m a new writer with a total budget of $1000. How should I spend that?
If I were starting out today with a $1000 budget, here's how I'd spend my money:
- Website Hosting with Bluehost: $150
- Cover Design: $300
- Copyeditor (only): $300 (assuming a 50K novel)
- Scrivener (writing software): $50
- Amazon Ads: $200
That'll get you going. You can create a respectable website with a free WordPress theme, produce your first book, and have a decent Amazon Ads budget for your first book. Start there, and then keep evolving.
Do you think podcasting is something that all authors should think of doing? Recording regular podcasts must take up a lot of time. Do they gain you many readers?
Podcasting is not for everyone, nor should every writer consider it. It’s best for “verbal” people—ideally, people who excel at communication. If that’s not you, then don’t do it. If you want to improve your communication skills and are willing to do the work, then definitely do it.
I have three podcasts at the moment:
The Writer’s Journey, which is an audio blog of me talking about my struggles and successes as a writer every week. It’s a behind the scenes look at a working writer’s life. I turn on the mic and talk about what’s on my mind.
Writing Tip of the Day, which is a podcast for writers that offers a crisp writing tip in 5 minutes or less.
AskALLi Member Q&A, a podcast with The Alliance of Independent Authors (a nonprofit for self-published writers), where we answer the most common self-publishing questions.
I’ve never seen my podcasts as “reader magnets” though my listens have increased month after month for the past two years.
Instead, I view my podcasts as a strategy to engage with my audience. It gives them something to consume to get to know me on a deeper level. If you like my books, you’ll like my podcasts. I’ve been fortunate that my podcasts happen to drive sales for me, but that was never the main goal.
Which podcast service do you use? Is it worth paying a company to host podcasts or are free services such as anchor.fm good enough?
I use Libsyn. They’re affordable and I’ve never had a problem with them.
I like Anchor.FM (I was even a guest on their podcast a few years ago), but I prefer complete control over my content. Anchor.FM comes with some limitations. Freedom is worth paying for.
Finally, for a reader who doesn’t usually read science fiction or fantasy, can you recommend one of your SF books and one fantasy book.
Science fiction readers will love my Android X series, about an android special agent in the year 2300 who hunts down rogue androids with his human engineer. It’s a fast-paced thriller in the future.
Fantasy readers will love my Last Dragon Lord series, about a blood-thirsty dragon lord who seeks revenge against the conspiracy that overthrew him. It’s a dark revenge tale that is very unpredictable.
And what about other authors – can you pick one great science fiction book and one great fantasy book?
I’ll default to my favorites. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for science fiction and American Gods by Neil Gaiman for fantasy. You can’t go wrong with either of those.
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 40 science fiction & fantasy books including the Android X series, Modern Necromancy series, and the Galaxy Mavericks series. He writes from the great plains of Iowa and has perfected the art of balancing writing with a full-time job and family, writing 5-7 books per year.