Author Chris Philbrook parlayed his love of playing role-playing games into an opportunity to write for them, and eventually, himself. His post-apocalyptic Adrian’s Undead Diary series has garnered an average 4.6 rating across 5,200 reviews on Audible. Read on to get his advice for achieving audiobook success.
Q: How did you become an author?
A: Ever since I was a kid my friends told me I was a storyteller. I cut my teeth running role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and White Wolf through my teenage years, and I broke into writing by authoring serials for a game developer’s website in my early 20s. Writing for their games put the itch on me. I developed an idea for a series of stories, and one of my best friends from childhood essentially dared me to write it.
I started a blog with his help, and we did a lot of marketing online to promote it, like sharing posts in Facebook genre groups and giving out simple prizes. With that online exposure, I grew a reader base of thousands within a few months, and when I made the jump to eBook/print (and later audio), I had a path to success laid out for me. Eight novels into the Adrian’s Undead Diary series, I broke off and started to write other stuff, and those titles have been received well, too.
I make stuff up for a living. It was a good dare, and I’ll forever be thankful that my friend pushed me harder than I pushed myself.
Q: Can you tell us about your experience on ACX?
A: I had caught wind of the ACX platform through a few writers groups on Facebook. Most of the authors reported an easy, profitable experience, and I got excited to try a new way to add readers to my writing portfolio. After doing some research, I decided to post one of my titles. Forty-odd auditions later I made a connection with producer/narrator James Foster, and we were off to the races. He’s been my end-all, be-all resource, my close business associate, and dare I say, a friend.
Taking this step has opened up a world of opportunity for my creative talent. Going from print to eBook or vice versa is not the same as going to audio via ACX. The audio production process through the ACX platform is far more like going from print to the silver screen. You are producing a theatrical version of your book.
Creatively, you will be sharing a vision with a narrator and producer who have different takes on your story. They have ideas for how it should sound, and how it should be listened to, and there’s tremendous merit in listening to their ideas. Greatness is rarely developed in a vacuum, and ACX puts you in a position to interact with incredibly talented people who want to take your story and add to it so that an enormous audience can access it. It’s a thrill to work with folks who want to be successful with you, not just because of you.
I trust James’ ideas and interpretation because we’ve worked so closely together for so long. I put my vision in his hands, and know that he has learned about my writing style and reader base, and has my best interests aligned with his own.
Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?
A: I read blogs about the profession and attend writers meetings as often as I can. Cory Doctorow’s blog, Poppy Z. Brite’s, and Neil Gaiman’s Journal are all favorites of mine. Joining the Horror Writers Association and the New England Horror Writers was a terrific pair of decisions that led to making many friendships, and securing a literary agent to promote my titles and help me be a better writer.
I also challenge myself by writing stories out of my comfort zone. I truly believe that the only way to be a better writer is to write things you wouldn’t normally write. I’m most well known for a post-apocalyptic story, but I love writing dark and urban fantasy. My dark fantasy works have been less of a hit, but my contemporary fantasy has been a smash. Walking away from my supposed bread and butter was frightening, but I think the payoff has been enormous. Taking the risk and writing new stories causes you to access new dialogue, new situations, new characters, and new ways to engage your potential readers. If you’re not trying to get better, you risk boring your readers.
Finally, I believe that traveling and meeting new people is huge when it comes to being a quality writer. Writing is about the characters, right? Compelling, interesting characters can be based on, or inspired by real people. I find traveling and meeting people is the best way for me to be inspired.
Q: Is there someone you look up to in your industry? Why?
A: I look up to the people who treat writing as more than just an artistic endeavor; I appreciate the folks who understand the level of commitment required and passion it takes to succeed. I appreciate the people who see the tools that are out there, and snatch them up to find success, not wait for it to come to them. Using email blast services, doing podcasts, attending conventions, speaking at panels, doing small local signings…all of it leads to selling books, and being a successful creator/author. This applies to the big people as well as those still coming up. Folks like Hugh Howey, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Mark Tufo, and others have led the way, or are leading the way.
Q: What is your must-have item in your writing space?
A: I require music (preferably without lyrics) and copious amounts of coffee. I mean borderline illegal amounts of caffeine. Like, I should probably either scale it back, or get some kind of prescription.
I also need water. Not to drink, but to sit near, or listen to. I write so effectively when I’m near a lake, or river. I used to drive ten miles to a secluded town beach to write during warm weather because I just felt the writing there.
And don’t laugh, I keep a Chicago Manual of Style in the top right-hand drawer of my desk. Without it, I’d have to pay double to have my indie titles edited. Probably far more, based on how fast and loose I write when I’m feeling it.
Q: Can you tell us about a mistake you’ve made in your career, and what you learned from it?
A: I have consistently made the mistake of under-promoting my new releases ahead of time. I tend to complete a project, and after it has been edited and finalized, rush it to market. I’ve learned over time that if I slow it down, promote the title through social media, blogs, and interacting with authors in the same genre as my release, I tend to have much higher early sales (which means I chart higher), and then go on to have more subsequent sales of other titles. I’m a work in progress.
Chris Philbrook is the creator and author of the urban fantasy series The Reemergence, as well as the dark fantasy series The Kinless Trilogy and the post apocalyptic epic Adrian’s Undead Diary. Chris is the owner of Tier One Games LLC, his game development company. He and his wife welcomed their first daughter, Willow, to the world in April of 2016. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.