The Big Five publishing houses are all based in New York City. The biggest literary agencies are based in New York City. New York City’s local newspaper has a bestseller list that publishers feature on book covers. And many top authors, like James Patterson, are New Yorkers.
New York City is one of the world’s wealthiest cities, which gives the Big Five publishers a financial advantage, but this publishing concentration in one city is also a weakness.
Why? Because New York City is special, different, and weird. That’s not a controversial statement. Ask any New Yorker, and they’ll tell you proudly that no other city is like New York City.
New York City is a world unto itself, which can make it a bit out of touch with the rest of the country. It’s easy for New York City publishers, agents, editors, and journalists to be so focused on their local readers that they overlook the rest of the country. And there are a lot of readers in the rest of the country.
But having favor with New York City’s readers doesn’t guarantee that your book will sell anywhere else in the country. By the same token, if New Yorkers hate you, your book isn’t automatically doomed to failure.
But since most of the gatekeepers, publishers, and agents live in New York City, many authors ask, “Don’t I need to comply with New York values to succeed in publishing?”
Do authors need to comply with New York City publishing values in order to be traditionally published?
In short, no. No, you don’t. It’s even possible to get a contract with a traditional publisher without complying with New York City culture. In fact, it might be easier to make a living in publishing by thinking outside of the Big Apple because there are so many more readers outside of New York City.
Novelists like Larry Correia have even sold millions of books that would cause the typical New York City agent to seek a safe space.
I recently asked Larry how he became a mega-bestselling author without conforming to the New York City publishing mentality. He is a New York Times bestselling author of over 25 novels, 50 short works, and two collections, and he’s co-edited three published anthologies. When he’s not writing about rednecks with shotguns hunting vampires, he’s talking about writing on his popular Writer Dojo podcast.
How did Larry Correia get started as an author?
Thomas: How did you get started writing?
Larry: I do not have a traditional writer background.
I came from an agricultural background in the rural Western United States. I was born and raised in a very poor part of California on a dairy farm in a Portuguese immigrant community, but I have always been a voracious reader. I grew up reading tons of action-adventure fantasy. Later in life, I was in the gun business as a machine gun dealer in Utah. I was a firearms and concealed weapons instructor and’ve always been a gun nut.
I asked, “What would horror movies be like if they starred my kind of people?” And then, I wrote a book called Monster Hunter International that answered that question.
I wrote that book before the ebook revolution. We didn’t have the capability of doing easy ebook publication, so it was a much different process back then. Vanity publishing houses were really your only option unless you were doing print runs entirely yourself.
I understood that my product would not appeal to the typical New York agent. Still, I tried the traditional publishing route, where I submitted 112 times to agents and publishing houses and got rejected everywhere.
Despite the rejections, I recognized that the product I had appealed to an audience of people who loved horror movies, horror movie tropes, and guns. At that time, I was a moderator on an internet gun forum when internet forums were the primary mode of internet communication before social media was widely used.
I was well-known in that world, so I started posting my short fiction for these other gun nuts to see and enjoy. They liked it.
I started doing an online fiction serial with another author named Mike Kupari, where we went back and forth for a summer, each writing 1,000 words per day. He’d write a scene, then I’d write one, then he’d write the next scene. We went back and forth. When it came time to self-publish this book, I did a print run and sold about 6,000 copies, which, at the time, was pretty astronomical.
Thomas: Astronomical but not surprising because you were doing the most important thing right: you had an audience and wrote a book for that audience.
You might spend a whole page in your books discussing the a gun’s caliber and which attachments the characters will take on their vampire hunt.
I imagine the typical editor thought, “Nobody wants to read a whole page about what gauge the shotgun is.” But your readers do.
Most indie authors write a book and then try to find an audience for it. You did the opposite.
Larry: I was coming from an audience that was deeply unsatisfied and lacking in product. I often heard people in my demographic complaining about the state of the market.
They complained about the state of fiction and how most fiction just didn’t scratch that itch for them. With that complaint in mind, I actually made my first Monster Hunter novel gun-nuttier. I gun-nutted it up.
Once I failed to get an agent, I accentuated those parts of the book in a final edit before I self-published it. Then, I advertised it primarily on these internet gun forums.
Thomas: It’s the kind of book you could sell at a gun show. At that time, you were the only person writing novels for the kind of people shopping at gun shows.
Larry: For years, my people would complain about how they were dissatisfied with what was available in fiction.
Several authors partially scratched the itch. Stephen Hunter was writing thrillers. Tom Clancy had the techno-thriller genre. But there was nothing on the fantastic side of things to scratch this itch.
When I was writing the book, I thought I was writing action-adventure horror because I used horror tropes. Knowing what I know now, I would categorize it as urban fantasy, but that genre didn’t exist at the time.
I took all those elements that we loved from the Stephen Hunter, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor world and put them into the fantastical world. I threw in werewolves and vampires, and I went whole hog.
I grew up on Tolkien and Terry Brooks, so I included elves, trolls, gnomes, and orcs. I had fun with it. The stories were about mercenaries and military contractors living in a world where monsters are real and getting paid to handle monster problems. And I made it fun.
That combination was exactly what that audience had been seeking for a long time, so it blew up huge.
Thomas: It’s easy to think of fantasy as elves and orcs, but at its core, fantasy appeals to the longing of the fantasy reader to feel like a warrior or a powerful elf. Your books are fantasy in the sense that they allow men to feel more powerful than bad guys.
When a man buys his first shotgun, something deep inside him wishes that vampires were real so he could use that gun to defend his family. You see it in the movie Christmas Story when Ralphie gets his Red Ryder BB gun. He’s shooting the bad guys who are trying to invade his house.
Males want to believe they’re powerful enough to protect their families, and your books satisfy that fantasy because that’s what your characters do.
Your characters are family men. They’re married, or they have children. They value family, and protecting the family is a high value. For that kind of reader, your book scratched that itch like Tom Clancy’s work did for techno readers.
I remember a friend saying, “I just read The Sum of all Fears,” and he proceeded to summarize the 30 pages about how a nuclear bomb works. He cared less about the action and whether the bomb would detonate than about how a nuclear bomb works.
Being nerdy about what your audience wants you to be nerdy about can unlock marketing potential. Give your fans something to talk about. If your fans are in a gun store and one says, “Hey, this is the same shotgun Pitt used in the book,” suddenly, they’re talking about your book.
Larry: Absolutely. It was fun because I’m one of the only authors who does book signings at the SHOT Show, which is the big industry tradeshow for the gun business. I became the token writer of a big culture.
I’m not alone anymore because after I did it, other people recognized there was a market there, and they started catering to it as well, which was awesome.
I originally wrote for a specific niche, but I realized I might have a mainstream career when I got a review saying, “I’m a 65-year-old grandma. I don’t like guns, violence, or monsters, but I love this book.” At that point, I thought, “Wow, I might have a mainstream career beyond catering to my people.”
One of the employees at Uncle Hugo’s independent bookstore had read my online fiction serial. He contacted me and said, “I work at a big bookstore. Would you send me an early copy of Monster Hunter International? I loved your online serial. If I like your book, I’ll show it to my boss, and he may buy some copies. I sent it. He loved it and showed it to his boss, Don Blyly, a legendary bookseller.
Don wound up printing the book on a dot matrix printer. He read it at home and loved it. I sold Don a bunch of cases of books, and he hand-sold them to his customers.
Don’s bookstore was sampled for the Entertainment Weekly bestseller list back then, so my original self-published book ended up third on the Entertainment Weekly bestseller list because of the number of copies Uncle Hugo’s had sold.
I had an independent book published as a $25 print-on-demand paperback that I was selling on internet gun forums, and suddenly, it had become a national bestseller.
Once again, this was pre-Amazon, but everything just went nuts. Baen Books approached me because they loved the book, and they made me an offer.
They said, “We would like to publish this book, but there’s a delay in traditional publishing. It will be about a year after we get it on the calendar, print it, and distribute it, so you’ll have to discontinue the self-published version during that time.
I agreed to that. I took the advance and discontinued the self-published version. Then, for a year, all these people who had read the original book told their friends about it. But their friends couldn’t buy it because it was unavailable.
Nothing makes an American want something more than being told they’re not allowed to have it. So, one year later, in 2009, when the small print run came out for the first Baen Books version of Monster Hunter International, it exploded. We sold the entire print run in three days nationwide.
Thomas: We have a podcast episode about this phenomenon of scarcity. It’s a psychologically powerful motivator, but I haven’t heard of using scarcity like that before, where you can’t get the book.
Larry: We didn’t do it on purpose. The publisher at Baen Books, Toni Weisskopf, is a very smart woman. She’s very intelligent and knows the publishing industry like the back of her hand.
She thought to herself, “Okay, this book was independently published. He’s already sold a lot of copies, so he’s probably hit most of the available market.” For that reason, she did a small print run, assuming most people who would buy it already owned it.
However, she didn’t realize the power of word-of-mouth marketing on this product in the community I was catering to. When the book finally came out, the community went absolutely bonkers. We sold through the print run and had to hurry up and get a second print run, which we blasted through.
That was 15 years ago, and Monster Hunter International, that original book, launched my career. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. It’s become an eight-book series with four spin-offs and an anthology of short stories, with another one coming out. I’ve co-authored novels, and others have written in the shared universe.
I owe it all to being a little independent guy who wanted to write fun horror stories for gun nuts.
How do you find or grow an audience?
Thomas: The principle here is that you found an audience of underserved people, and you wrote what they wanted.
Many people don’t read because they can’t find books written just for people like themselves, most often because those books don’t exist. If you’re a New York City coffee shop attendee, you have a world of books written for you. But thousands of communities want different things, and only hundreds of those communities are well-served with books.
If you can identify an underserved community and give them what they want, you can be successful. It helps if you’re a member of the community itself, and it also helps if that community gathers online, in person, or both.
If Larry’s gun nuts didn’t have that online forum and didn’t gather in real life, it would have been harder to sell his book, but the creation of the community was already done.
Some authors build a community from scratch, and there’s value there, but that is a slow start because you’re growing that community one person at a time.
Larry: It’s such a weird process, and it’s very hit or miss. I’ve seen authors attempt this for other groups, and I think it just has to be organic. You have to see and recognize the opportunity to fill a gap in the market.
My career has grown beyond that initial small group of people, but the key to an author career is to get enough stuff out there that people can see your quality and recognize it.
Today, I write in five different genres and several series. I do well in all of those, but it was all built upon the foundation of having that core group of a few thousand hardcore fans who were eager to tell their friends about my book.
That group of hardcore fans has enabled me to expand to other genres. After I’d written a couple of Monster Hunter novels, I told Toni Weisskopf, “I don’t want to just be the monster guy for the rest of my life. I want to try some other things.” So, I pitched her some other books. I have since written thrillers, alternate history, sci-fi, nonfiction, and epic fantasy, which is doing really well. But the key to that expansion was that original foundation.
I don’t think people realize how insular the New York publishing environment was. The independent book revolution changed publishing so dramatically. It’s so incredible. The tools available for marketing and production are just phenomenal. It wasn’t like this at all 20 years ago. Back then, you either fit into the Manhattan culture and were accepted, or you kept your head down and your mouth shut. You were either completely apolitical, or you went along with the herd. A few token people, like Tom Clancy, got a pass for whatever reason and were allowed to be different.
Anybody else who didn’t conform was the proverbial nail that got hammered down. When I got into publishing 16 years ago, it was lonely. Now, I love it. It’s enabled people from all walks of life and all parts of the country and the world to freely express themselves without having to sneak past the gatekeepers.
Thomas: You’ve provided a model for authors who’ve come after you. All the design and production tools and processes have become easier, but the necessity of writing for a specific audience is just as effective as it was back then. At Novel Marketing, we call it writing for your Timothy.
Additionally, writing for a specific audience rather than writing a specific genre gives you flexibility in genre. Even though you’re writing in different genres, you’re writing books that appeal to the same group of people. You didn’t go out and write a why-we-need-gun-control book.
Larry: No. I actually wrote the opposite of that, and that book got to number 17 on all of Amazon and number one in nonfiction.
How does authenticity help an author?
Larry: You must be true to yourself and your core convictions. Many writers try to disguise who they are because they want to cater to one group.
That can work if you’re wired that way, psychologically. However, most creative writer types aren’t. In fact, much of the power of what we write comes from the fact that we are telling stories that we ourselves believe in or want to hear.
We all have themes in our work, and if you’re trying to write something you’re not true to just because you’re trying to cater to someone, it will stifle your creativity and make you less productive. Most importantly, you’re not going to have as much fun, and if you’re not having fun, the reader can tell.
Contagious enthusiasm is the single most powerful weapon we’ve got.
How does an author’s authenticity affect their brand?
Thomas: Word-of-mouth is still the best marketing tool. It’s the number-one way people find out about books.
Knowing who you are and staying true to yourself is what marketers call a consistent brand. The first step of creating a consistent brand is knowing who you are, what makes you weird, and leaning into your weirdness.
Your weirdness is not a liability. For example, Larry, you’re conservative, you live in the country, and you work with people who buy guns. Those are liabilities if you’re trying to be a New York author. But for you, they are strengths that make your brand consistent and show your readers that you know who you are.
The second step in the Novel Marketing branding process is to know who you’re writing to. It’s very helpful if you’re a member of the community you’re writing to.
If you’re from outside the community, you need to be transparent about it.
Larry: It comes down to a question of authenticity and passion.
Michael Connelly writes a character named Harry Bosch, a veteran police homicide detective in L.A.
Michael Connelly was never a cop, but he was a crime-beat reporter stationed in Los Angeles, so he knew the city’s crime better than just about anybody who’s not a cop. Plus, he’d worked with thousands of cops.
When he writes Bosch, you can feel the passion and authenticity. I have a lot of friends who are cops, and they say it’s not 100% accurate, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.
For some aspects of your story, you will check reality at the door to tell a better story. That said, though, Connelly’s got it. He’s got the community, and he can tell those police procedural stories in a way that makes the reader feel like they’re there.
How can using specific details about niche topics benefit your readers and your brand?
Larry: Earlier on, you mentioned Tom Clancy and the nuclear bomb. What you described is what I refer to as the Michael Crichton Effect. When you read a Michael Crichton novel like Jurassic Park, you feel smarter after you finish because you feel like you understand DNA.
Thomas: As a 14-year-old, I was excited to explain chaos theory to all my friends after reading Jurassic Park. However, my newly attained knowledge did not help me win friends and influence people.
Larry: No, but it’s a powerful thing. When people read an author who is authentically enthusiastic about a subject they integrated into their story, readers take that information and enthusiasm with them and tell their friends.
Your writing career is golden once you get a community of fans going. If you’re making those readers happy, entertaining them, and giving them what they want, you can experiment with other genres and try to grow as an artist.
It’s hard to grow and experiment if you don’t have a core group invested in your success. I love my fans. They are the greatest people in the world, and I owe all my success to the fact that they’re cool.
Can good marketing make people like your book?
Thomas: Often, people come to me with a completed book and want me to market it. Most of the time, it’s obvious that they haven’t thought about who the book is for. They think I have a magical marketing button I can push to make readers suddenly become the kind of people who want to read that book.
But that’s not a marketer’s job. Marketers can’t change people. But as an author, you can change your book. You can change it and make it the kind of book readers want to read.
I love that you edited your book to ramp up the gun details after New York said no. That was brilliant! You said, “If this is going to be for the gun nuts, then I will make a book they’ll love! They might have liked the first version, but you edited the book to make it one they’d love.
Whose feedback should an author implement?
Larry: That’s right. When I was shopping it around to different agents, I had one who was interested. She said, “If you make the following changes, I would be interested in representing this book.”
I looked through her changes, and they were not good. I was just a newbie paying for this out of my pocket based on my gun store wages, but I knew there was no way those changes would work. If I had made those changes, it would have destroyed the work.
It still would have been a book, but it wouldn’t have been what I wanted.
At that point, I asked myself, “Do I want to satisfy New York City, a place that’s entirely paved and has no shooting ranges? Or do I want to make my readers happy?” I concluded that I couldn’t satisfy people in New York and still make my audience happy. Most importantly, I couldn’t make myself happy if I conformed to her changes. So, I passed on her offer.
You have to be true to yourself and your audience.
Thomas: The moral of the story is that it’s okay to be different. There’s a push amongst gatekeepers towards homogeneity. They really like uniformity. But diversity of thought becomes an asset for marketing.
It’s okay to write a book some people don’t like. In fact, I would say it’s required. The most popular books have the most voracious haters. Think of the Bible and the Quran. Both have fans and haters. If that makes you nervous, check out our episode on handling trolls and haters.
We often view our own weirdness or our uniqueness as a liability. If you view it as an asset, you can build your whole brand around it.
I often use the metaphor of using armor that fits. If you only have your sling and stones to battle a giant, that’s all you need. If you try to put on the king’s oversized armor, which you’re not used to, you’ll be taking the wrong approach.
Don’t try to make something fit that doesn’t fit.
Instead, look for the community that you fit in. Look for the people you can thrill. If you thrill them consistently, they’ll follow you through different genres from book to book.
Larry: I’ve tried to coach writers away from trying to placate people who aren’t in their target audience. Often, you’ll see some hashtag on social media with writing advice that says, “Don’t ever do this,” or “Always do this,” or an influencer will insist that a certain kind of person isn’t allowed to tell a particular kind of story.
But if you try to make your art fit the demands of those people, you’ll create inferior art. Don’t negotiate with terrorists. Make your own art.
Don’t let other people dictate what you can and cannot say, especially if you’re an independent. You have no gatekeeper, publisher, or agent stopping you from telling the kind of story you want to tell.
Thomas: Getting feedback from the people you’re writing to is critical. It’s also important not to implement every bit of feedback from people you’re not writing to.
If you don’t know what community you’re writing to, everyone’s feedback carries the same weight, but it’s all conflicting, and you’re overwhelmed. The more feedback you get, the more lost you become. The more edits you implement, the blander it becomes because it keeps getting changed without getting better.
There’s an old saying, “Don’t spend money you don’t have to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.” The same is true for your brand.
Don’t make brand changes. You don’t need to impress people who don’t like you.
You can’t turn a hater into a lover. But you can cause people who like you to like you even more because you’ve served them well.
What happens when you try to please everyone with your writing?
Larry: Sometimes people aren’t giving you constructive criticism. They just want you to fail. They’re going to attack you. They’re going to find something to attack in your work. They will pick out some quibble to throw at you to make you feel bad and see if they can’t bend you to their will and shame you into compliance.
A giant contingent of our society enjoys forcing creatives to get in line. They’re not in it for the stories or the art. They’re in it to be bullies.
When authors kowtow to these people and bow down and say, “Okay, I’m going to do what you say because I don’t want you to be mad at me. Maybe if I comply, you’ll be nice to me,” it never works.
They’re never going to be nice to you. In fact, once you give in to them, you’ve just empowered them, and they will do more.
Write what you want and have fun. Don’t worry about the haters.
How do haters affect your sales?
Thomas: It helps to have those fanatical fans.
When bullies bother you, and you stand up to the bully, suddenly, your fans feel like you’re also standing up for them.
One of the best things to happen to Brandon Sanderson was that hit piece by Wired Magazine that totally trashed him.
Suddenly, people who were on the edge about Brandon were defending him. They identified with Brandon’s plight as a “nerd” who’d been bullied, and they stood up for him.
Brandon was very gracious.
Larry: Oh, man, far more gracious than I would have been. I would have lit that reporter on fire.
Brandon Sanderson was the first author to take the time to give me career advice when I was a newbie. He had just written Mistborn and had been chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s work. He gave me business advice and told me stuff he wished he’d known.
He’s genuinely one of the nicest guys in publishing. When Wired did a hit piece on him because he’s a religious family man who loves his wife, it was asinine. They were just dogpiling him.
Brandon is a gracious guy, plus he’d just completed a $47 million Kickstarter, so he was doing just fine. I would have responded with nuclear fire.
I have found that if you have a core group of fans with whom you can be honest, frank, and blunt when you get attacked, you can monetize your enemies’ hatred. Now, it doesn’t work if you’re disingenuous. I’ve seen writers try to emulate the tactic by picking fights and trying to be a lightning rod of controversy so they can sell more books. But that doesn’t work.
First, you must have your craft down. Your books have to be good enough that people stick around.
Second, the controversies have to be organic and truthful. If you go out of your way to be an antagonistic jerk, people will see right through that. Don’t fabricate pointless, fake drama.
If you’re going to make a stand on something, make sure it’s something you believe in. Then, when people attack you, your readers will take it personally. Because they identify with you, your readers will rally around you and tell their friends to buy your books.
But if you do it disingenuously, your readers will know.
You must be a storyteller, creator, and an artist first and foremost. Take a stand. Have a backbone. Believe what you believe and stand by your convictions.
Thomas: Don’t go looking for a quarrel, but once you’re in one, be in it to win it. Pick a hill you’re willing to die on and stand there. Courage in the face of adversity is inspiring to your readers.
But none of it matters, and none of it will work if your book isn’t good. You’ve got to write a book that scratches the itch that your readers already have.
Does your craft get a pass if you convey an important message in your fiction?
Larry: We’ve all seen people who become overnight bestsellers for one book because they wound up in the news for some reason. They have one book, but it’s not a good book, so they never publish another one. Fame and controversy won’t help you if your books aren’t good.
One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Jim Butcher, who says, “Never preach harder than you can entertain.” Above all, you’re a writer. You’re an entertainer first.
Some people think I’m against message fiction, but I’m not. I’m only against message fiction that beats you over the head. I’m against message fiction, where the message comes first, and the story comes second. You have to tell a good story; if you want to weave a message in there, that’s awesome, but you have to prioritize the story.
Thomas: Clamavi di Profundis is a band I adore. They write fantasy ballads, and they have one called Dragonshore. It’s the story of the dragons attacking Hammerdeep where the dwarves are. The dwarves go on a revenge mission to clear the dragon shore of its dragons.
Last night, I was looking at the lyrics and realized the seven dragons line up with the seven deadly sins. I finally saw the song’s spiritual message that completely went over my head the first 50 times I listened.
I loved the story of the song, but now that I realize it has a deeper message, I love it even more. That’s what good craft can do.
If you want help with the craft of writing, I’d recommend Larry’s podcast Writer Dojo. Every week, he talks with authors. It leans toward fantasy and sci-fi, but he also talks with authors from other genres.
It’s an excellent podcast that gets into the nitty gritty of craft.
Any final encouragement for authors?
Larry: Get out there and write. Have a good time. If you’re having fun, the reader will sense it, and they’ll have fun too. Put your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard. Get it out there.
Connect with Larry at his website, MonsterHunterNation.com.
Only a suicidal zealot would even whisper the name of Martin Luther, because heresy is fatal in Renaissance Italy. But Luther’s ideas ignite Lucia’s faith, so she must choose—abandon her beliefs or risk her life. Journey with Lucia as she navigates the dangerous world of 16th-century Italy.