Interview: Nathan Lowell

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with contributors to my new shared world anthology WALK THE FIRE. Up first: respected peer, Kindle Best-seller & podcasting household name Nathan Lowell (Walk The Fire: Flame in the Night). Let’s jump right in:

Who you are and what you do?

Nathan Lowell – Author, Podcaster, Educator.

Who were your earliest influences in speculative fiction, in any genres, as a consumer and as a creator? Which influences have stuck with you.

Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke – Heinlein, Norse, McCaffrey, Tolkien. Add in a bunch of the classics like Verne and Wells.

They’ve all stayed with me and hooked up with people like Mary
Steward, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, S.S. Van Dine, and a host of others who are not in the speculative realm but nevertheless took me to worlds that touched my imagination.

How old were you when you sold or published your first story? How
long before your second?

Fifty-five for both…

What role does social media and the online community play in your career, relationships and process?

Without the online community, I would never have known about podcasting and would not have started to write seriously.

Publishing has undergone sea change in the last few years. There are strongly divided groups of professionals and consumers. What’s your philosophy on traditional and independent publishing?

Is it either or, or both, and why?

I wouldn’t rule out a traditional contract but I’ve had to turn down the offers that have come my way. For the most part, I would need to be convinced that the deal would result in better results together than I could achieve on my own. So far, that’s not happened.

What was the last/current book, visual and audio entertainment you consumed?

I’m re-reading Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

In your ‘Share’ novels, you populated a universe with corporations not warriors, traders not flotillas. Why did you choose this route?

I spent decades in business and studied economic theory. One of the primary influences is the notion of “business as economic warfare” and it occurred to me that this kind of warfare – not the blow-em-up kind – would make more sense in an expansionist universe. It serves as the backdrop on which I can play the “company town” idea on an intergalactic scale and provides a rich context in which to situate stories about common people in extraordinary circumstances.

You’ve been accused of writing ‘slice of life’ stories–albeit slices of far-flung and very different lives. Stories where the universe doesn’t explode, armies don’t clash and there are few clear, mustache twirling villains. My question is: why do you love exploring these ‘smaller’ stories?

I find them more interesting. I got tired of reading stories where the main character was somebody I could never be — people of power and influence even before the story began. Tycoons, princes, ship captains, etc. I’ve always identified more with the mess deck and combat information, so it was an obvious direction for me.

You and I collaborated on a story in my ‘Walk The Fire’ anthology. You’ve also worked or will work in several author’s shared worlds.

What are the creation of those stories – and the shared world process in general- like for you?

Living hell.

No.

Seriously, it’s often the constraints of working in the other person’s playground that gives me inspiration to find new ideas to write about and the opportunity to explore those ideas in stories I might not otherwise write.

What’s next from you? Writing wise?

Zypheria’s Call and The Hermit of Lammas Wood… this year… plus maybe one more — perhaps Cape Grace. I still owe a few shorter works around and the last two books in the Share series should see print.

Next year? Six books.

You credit podcasting with being the gateway to your professional writing career. Many indie authors have similar free content offerings.

Have you experienced ‘growing pains’ with your audience following you to pay, or is there any interesting insight you have about the interaction of free and pay in your career!

There has been very little friction between the two worlds. I offer the audio for free and the text for sale. I also don’t gouge readers on ebook prices and the paperbacks are as inexpensive as I can make them and still have it be worthwhile. Listeners and readers both have been very supportive.

If there’s any issue, it’s in the delays getting the works into print because most readers assume that the audio versions means that text is available somewhere and we’re just sitting on it.

You’re an outspoken commenter on social media and try to educate writers on the difference between ‘broadcast’ media and ‘niche’. What, for you, is the chief stumbling block for authors experimenting with indie and new media channels?

They listen to marketing people.

The problem is that most social media marketing experts operate on the tried and true principles they learned in broadcast. Those principles still hold and work just about as well as broadcast marketing theories would predict when mass market techniques are used in micro market channels.

The main difference is in expected results. A mass market response of 1% is pretty good. For every 100 people you reach, one of them follows through. This works pretty well if you can reach a million people. That means 10,000 will follow through. This is all well and good in mass market channels — tv, radio, print, etc — where the communications are one way. The advertiser broadcasts to as wide (and as targeted) an audience as they can afford.

Where most authors trying social media get into trouble is in thinking that this common wisdom about mass markets translates into social media channels. The obvious problem is reaching a million people so that your 10,000 customers find you. Very few people have a million friends/fans/followers and those that do have surprisingly little influence on behavior. (There’s a name for that — The Million Follower Fallacy). More, in trying to get your message in front a a million people — 99% of whom don’t care about your message — you alienate a large portion of the people in those social media channels. In broadcast, that’s not really much of a problem, but in social media, they can turn you off. They unfollow/unfriend/defan those people who fail to engage in the social media space. The net result is that the more you try to gain followers by broadcasting messages that are important to you but not to them, the fewer people will listen.

The savvy marketers will recognize that social media isn’t a marketing channel at all. It’s a connection channel. It’s a collection of places where you can form connections with other people. In social media, content is not king–connection is. The more real connections you have — the more you recognize that the avatars and @handles all have real people behind the keyboards — the more readily you’ll find common ground for connection.

That’s the true power of social media, but the marketing types don’t really understand how less-is-more works in these spaces.

Last question: Nathan. Bubbelah! What’s with the coffee????

Coffee is a key part of running any ship. Military, commercial — all of them run on coffee.

Coffee was also part of my growing up in rural Maine. We had a wood fired stove in the kitchen and there was always an aluminum percolator full of coffee that stayed warm on the back of the stove all day. When company called, the polite offer was “got time for a cup of coffee?” and it was a poor guest who was in too much of a hurry.

I started drinking coffee while in high school and have learned a lot about good coffee, bad coffee, and all the things that make up the rituals we generally take for granted. Those rituals bring people together and bringing people together is what my stories are about.

Thank you Nathan, for sharing a little insight into your work and inspirations.

Learn more about Nathan Lowell here, and read his latest story “Flame in the Night”, in my shared world anthology Walk the Fire (Kindle), along with eight other stories and authors.