Today’s post is an interview with Lutheran author and economist, Ray Keating, who is well-known for his Pastor Stephen Grant series. His novels were some of the first Lutherans novels I ever read, and I often smile to see new installments coming out. And, now, he is producing a podcast, Ray Keating’s Authors and Entrepreneurs!
Ray Keating Interview
Mary: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Ray. I’m excited about your new podcast and the thoughts you’ve been posting to the Writing (LCMS) Lutherans Facebook page. Could you share with us your motivation behind this new project?
Ray: First, Mary, thanks for this opportunity to chat with you. As for the new Authors and Entrepreneurs podcast and posting what I call “Thoughts of the Day” on the Authors and Entrepreneurs Facebook page and elsewhere, my personal experience involves writing in a variety of areas, being a business owner, working with many other business owners, teaching entrepreneurship and being an economist. As a result, I not only love writing, but also the business aspects of being an author. It’s my hope that I can provide some insights for authors who don’t like or don’t have any experience with the business side of writing and publishing.
Mary: Your use of the term entrepreneur is very insightful to me. You discuss it at length in your first episode. How do you think seeing oneself as an entrepreneur affects our perspectives as writers?
Ray: Authors need to realize that they also are entrepreneurs. And what we mean by “entrepreneur” is a person who owns and actively operates a business. As I pointed out in the first podcast, as an author, your books are your passion, your creations and your business. You are the owner and operator of your books. Therefore, you need to work for their success. You need to learn as much as you can about the book business, and in the best-case scenario, authors should enjoy marketing their books. Get over looking at marketing your book as a drudgery, and instead embrace it as part of the overall effort as an author.
Mary: In your latest podcast, Episode #4: Indie Author vs. Small Publisher, you made some particularly good points and raised some very legitimate questions. (Everybody, listen to it! Then check out my list of Lutheran Freelance Writer Support!) Could you summarize for us how you see current trends among publishing houses impacting the rise of indie authors?
Ray: As I mentioned in that podcast, indie publishing is not new. For example, Walt Whitman couldn’t find a publisher for his 1855 volume of poems titled Leaves of Grass, so, he designed and published the first edition himself. He also promoted it … let’s just say, aggressively. The great rise of indie authors in recent years is mainly a function of advancements in technology, namely, the expansion of ebooks, print-on-demand publishing, and marketing and selling books online. These developments have expanded opportunities for authors and readers, while seriously challenging the rather staid world of traditional publishing. As with any industry facing upheaval, some existing firms take advantage of the changes, while others decline or fail.
Mary: What do you think about a model like Grail Quest Books, an alliance of self-publishing authors joined together as a sales channel and writing community?
Ray: Efforts like this are exciting. It’s not just a case of indie authors independently taking advantage of changes in the marketplace, but authors trying to create a business model whereby working together creates value for all involved. I expect to see more new business models emerging in the publishing arena.
Mary: One of your strengths, in these podcasts and thoughts you’ve shared elsewhere, has been your emphasis on self-marketing. Professional marketing is not what writers so often think it is! Could you comment on what you would like to see from budding authors?
Ray: I think most authors hate marketing. That’s understandable. After all, most of us don’t like to talk about ourselves, and what we’re doing. It can make us feel uncomfortable. At the same time, though, authors are exceedingly pleased when their publishers get the word out about their books. Unfortunately, small publishers often fall short in terms of marketing efforts. In fact, these publishers usually expect authors to do much of the marketing. And if you’re an indie author, then you either have to spend money to hire someone to do all of the marketing for your work – and that is prohibitively expensive – or you do it yourself.
I think it’s easier to get out there and market your books if you think about performing two roles. Your first role is the writer, the author, the creator. Your second role is the person who needs to get your book in the hands of readers. By the way, the role of marketer-in-chief for your books doesn’t mean that you actually do everything. Instead, you need to get a handle on your own strengths and weaknesses, and see who you can turn to for those areas where you are weak. In the end, no one else is going to market your books, so embrace and enjoy the process.
Mary: On my website, I have an ongoing list of Living Lutheran Authors and I really do my best to encourage Lutherans to write. What encouragement would you like to give, first to those who are only starting to write, and second to those who have regretfully been burned by publishing processes?
Ray: Your efforts to encourage Lutheran writers are much appreciated. To new writers, I would simply say that given the technological tools at the disposal of writers today, this is the most exciting time in history to write and publish a book. Beyond the technology issues, I think my basic advice is the same as what others would say: read a great deal and write as much as you can. But then I would reiterate: don’t be shy in marketing your work.
As for the writer burned by the publishing process, many of us have been there. I wrote a few public policy books published by small, traditional publishers. It was nice to get an advance to write the books. However, in terms of marketing, most of it was on me. My advice would be that if you still have the writing bug, then dive into indie publishing. You have complete control creatively and on the business end. Try it, you just might enjoy it and get re-energized.
Mary: Finally, because I can’t help myself, which is your favorite book among those you’ve written?
Ray: That’s a tough question. The first one – Warrior Monk – obviously is near and dear to my heart, as it was my first novel. I had thought about writing a novel for so long, and I finally did it! But I’m also a big believer in hopefully getting better at what you do, the more you do it. So, if really pushed to make a selection, my latest, Lionhearts, just might be my favorite. That could change soon though, as the next thriller in the series, Reagan Country, is coming soon (see, there’s a shameless plug). Thanks so much for this interview.
Ray Keating, thank you very much for the Pastor Stephen Grant Novels and your very helpful podcast, as well as joining me in this interview.
Ray Keating is an economist, author and columnist. In 2010, he published his first novel – Warrior Monk – and he has continued writing thrillers ever since.