GLVWG’s resident Mark Twain, Charles Kiernan, spoke with Ben Sobieck, who will conduct three seminars at the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™, on March 24, 2018, with Weapons in Fiction, Writing inside a Franchise, and Using WATTPAD to Build a Writing Career.
Ben Sobieck describes himself as a thriller writer, which encompasses several traditional genres: mystery, action-adventure, crime fiction, and noir. He has also written many short stories and numerous flash fiction pieces. He is also a big promoter of Wattpad. That might need a little explanation.
Charles Kiernan: Thanks for this interview, Ben. Let’s start with what is Wattpad? Why should our conference attendees avail themselves of this service?
Ben Sobieck: Wattpad is a social reading website and app, which means it’s like a cross between Facebook and Kindle. Writers post short stories and novels on the site, and they don’t charge anything to read them. What’s the benefit of giving something away for free like that? Sixty million devoted readers from all around the world is what. They read, read, read, and they will follow the writers they love to the gates of hell (or heaven, if they’re not reading my work).
What this does is fill in the missing piece that a lot of writers have when building their careers. They need a platform of readers who care deeply about their stories. When they do, it’s a lot easier to pull agents, publishers and other partners into their orbits. For instance, a query letter might site that the story being pitched has 100,000 reads on Wattpad. That shows proof, and that’s powerful.
I’m happy to say that I’ve partnered with publishers, movie studios, TV producers, and more through Wattpad. I won a Watty Award for one of my stories. Not to toot my own horn (which means I’m about to), but the competition for the Watty Awards is the world’s largest online fiction contest. When I entered in 2016, there were 140,000 entries.
How does Wattpad work with that many entries? It’s all about the data. I’ll be going into more on that in my presentation.
Also, I am serving as editor of The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad, which will be out in the summer of 2018, and will be published by Writer’s Digest Books. It’s Wattpad’s official guide, so I must be doing something right. Or very, very wrong. One or the other.
CK: You are the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction, published by Writer’s Digest Books. What is the number one mistake the incautious author is bound to make when their character picks up a weapon?
BS: Goodness, that’s an easy one. It’s all the cocking! It’s as if writers don’t know what else characters should do with firearms. The things I’m talking about are cocking back hammers that don’t exist on the models depicted, such as with Glock handguns, and pumping shotguns for no reason. Firearms function in a particular way. If you understand those technicalities, it’s easy to know why all that cocking is often a mistake or out of place.
My goal with The Writer’s Guide to Weapons was to condense complicated and nuanced information about firearms and knives into something digestible for the writer not interested or unfamiliar with those topics. My background is in weapons media, having worked for a publisher of firearm, knife and outdoors content, so it was a natural fit. Once you realize that firearms and knives have to follow the same laws of physics as airplanes, omelet spatulas and swimming pool diving boards, everything becomes a lot easier. Pop culture puts a lot of daylight between that understanding and many writers. That means writers look, to be frank, stupid.
But it’s not just a book of me screaming at writers. It’s fun! It’s full of puns! It’s punny. And David Morrell, creator of Rambo, wrote the foreword. Similarly, he’s also not in it to yell at writers. I learned a lot about him while writing the book. Did you know Rambo is named after an apple? This is the stuff you learn when you peel away the ridiculous garbage in the zeitgeist. What you find is that what you thought was intimidating actually isn’t.
CK: You will be having presentations on the above topics. What do you plan to cover in your third presentation Writing Inside a Franchise?
BS: Taking over someone else’s series for a few installments is the next level up from participating in an anthology. The difference is that the synergy can bring better returns. You’re not competing for attention against 15 other writers, as with an anthology. You are, in a way, poaching someone else’s readership. And that someone is poaching you to keep a series chugging along, because more installments means more reads.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a two-way street. I learned a lot when I did this with another writer. It works like a mentor-mentee relationship, but it’s not sitting down for coffee. It’s more pragmatic, like building a porch or fixing a lawnmower.
CK: One more question. Typing gloves?
BS: If you have a mortgage and little ones (as I do), you’ll need a full-time job’s worth of income (as I also do). For many writers, that means you’re under the thumb of an employer. Now, there’s nothing wrong with full-time employment. It is, however, a matter of math. How much can you focus on your writing if you’re spending 40 hours a week building someone else’s dream, and commuting to do it?
What you need is a vehicle to dislodge this obligation nailed into your knees. What you need is a side business that grows while you work your full-time job.
That’s the mantra behind The Writer’s Glove®. On the one hand, it’s a way to keep your hands and fingers warm while you type, and it’s not fingerless. On the other hand, it’s a full-fledged LLC with a USPTO trademark, an e-commerce storefront living on a dedicated URL, a manufacturing partner, a trade secret, fulfillment, real GS1 codes, and articles of organization. On both hands, it’s a black glove that fits like a second skin. The deluxe version sports touchscreen-compatible index fingertips and a light grip for holding paperwork/mouses/coffee cups securely.
See? The puns always find a way in.
Since launching, The Writer’s Glove® can count 32 countries as home to customers. You don’t need an MBA to pull something like this off. Writers are small business owners. They produce a product, conduct consumer research, build partnerships and market themselves. But because it’s art, suddenly writers can’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs? Nonsense. The mechanics behind bringing a book to market are nearly identical as that of any other product.
Once I figured that out, it didn’t matter what the product was. It could’ve been The Writer’s Glove®, or The Writer’s Socks, or The Writer’s Toupee. It doesn’t matter, because it works the same as the writer’s book.
CK: Again, thanks so much for this interview.
Benjamin Sobieck is best known as the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Writing Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books). He also writes crime and thriller fiction, in addition to blogging about weapons in fiction on his popular website, CrimeFictionBook.com.
Interview by Charles Kiernan:
Charles Kiernan is the proud author of two, entirely unpublished, middle-grade fantasy novels. He is better known as a storyteller—as in, stand up in front of a crowd and tell them a tale. He has also pawned himself off as Mark Twain to the unwary, but with no success to literary agents.
He is also coordinator for the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild, Pennsylvania State Representative for the National Youth Storytelling Showcase, Pennsylvania State Liaison for the National Storytelling Network, recipient of the 2008 Individual Artist Award from the Bethlehem Fine Arts Commission, and grand slam winner at the Lehigh Valley Story Slam, November 2017.
He is proudest of his blog on fairy tales, Fairy Tale of the Month, which he has been writing since December 2010.