Fast-Paced Best Seller: This Author Thrives on Volumes
With 25 Books in 30 Months, Self-Published Writer Plots Success
By ALEXANDRA ALTER
Yoon Kimn wishes Russell Blake wouldn't write so much.
Ms. Kimn, a 46-year-old IT consultant who lives in Coram, N.Y., is addicted to Mr. Blake's fast-paced mysteries and conspiracy thrillers. In the past two years, she has torn through all 25 of his books. But it is hard to keep up. Mr. Blake has been publishing a new novel roughly every five weeks. In December, he released two new books: a hard-boiled noir detective novel starring a struggling Hollywood private investigator, and a thriller about an ex-Mossad agent on the run.
Author Craig Osso writes thrillers under the pen name Russell Blake.
"I wish he would slow down," says Ms. Kimn, who says Mr. Blake's frenetic publishing schedule leaves her little time to read other authors. "I have so many other books I want to read."
Some novelists are obsessed by plot pacing and character development, others by a literary turn of phrase. For Mr. Blake, it is about speed, and volume. Mr. Blake, who self-publishes his books, has released 25 books in the last 30 months.
He wrote one of his best-selling books, the 229-page thriller "JET," in just 16 days. He churns out 7,000 to 10,000 words a day and often works from eight in the morning until midnight. He spends many of those hours on a treadmill desk, clocking eight to 10 miles.
"Being an author is like being a shark, you have to keep swimming or you die," he says. "People don't want to wait a year and a half for the next book in the series, they want instant gratification."
The hours and miles are paying off. Mr. Blake discovered that one way to sell a lot of books is to write a lot of books. He says he has sold more than 435,000 copies of his books, at around $5 to $6 each, and under Amazon's self-publishing program, he keeps 70%.
The author has released 25 books in the last 30 months.
He signed a deal to co-write thrillers with the blockbuster novelist Clive Cussler. Their first book, a collaboration that will be published under both authors' names, is due out this fall. Mr. Cussler's agent, Peter Lampack, said he was impressed by the "narrative flow" and dense action in Mr. Blake's books.
Self-publishing has become a booming sector of the book business, thanks in part to prolific authors. Bowker, a publishing research firm, tracked 391,000 self-published titles in 2012, up from 51,237 in 2006. In 2013, self-published books accounted for 32% of the 100 top selling e-books on Amazon each week, on average.
Some self-published authors produce more books a year than many established writers put out in a lifetime. Jon Hargrove, who self-publishes vampire novels and mysteries under the pen name J.R. Rain, released 18 books in 2013, including eight that he co-wrote with other credited authors.
Melissa Foster, a 47-year-old mother of six who lives in Maryland, self-published 11 novels in 2013, mostly romances, and says she has sold more than 400,000 copies. Ms. Foster credits Mr. Blake with goading her to write faster. "Just the massive amount of work he has out there has really spurred his success," she says.
Russell Blake is actually the pen name of Craig Osso, a 52-year-old retired home developer who lives in Baja, Mexico. He was a late literary bloomer. He started writing 10 years ago, when he was newly retired and feeling restless. "There's only so much tequila you can drink," he says. He wrote a thriller, decided it wasn't good, and deleted it. He wrote four more, and tossed them too. He tried to find a publisher for his sixth novel, but no one wanted it.
Then, 2½ years ago, he decided to try self-publishing. Amazon was offering authors royalties of 70%, far more than traditional publishers, who typically give authors 15%. Mr. Osso put out his first book, a financial thriller titled "Fatal Exchange," under the pen name Russell Blake in June 2011, through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program.
It didn't go so well. The first month, he made just $18. Over the next few months, he wrote seven more books, including "The Geronimo Breach, " a globe-spanning thriller about a shifty diplomat; "King of Swords," which featured a brutal henchman planning a mass murder of world leaders at the G-20 Summit; and "The Delphi Chronicle," about a New York private investigator who accidentally becomes the keeper of a secret manuscript.
"I kept writing as though there was tremendous demand," he says. "That's the helpful part of being delusional."
Mr. Osso started writing 10 years ago, when he was newly retired and feeling restless.
His first 10 books barely sold. Mr. Osso was losing money, spending $1,500 per book to pay editors, proofreaders and graphic designers who created cover images for his digital books and paperbacks. Then, he began experimenting with different marketing tactics. He made the first book in his series free, in hopes of hooking readers. Sales began to pick up.
He realized he could take advantage of Amazon's algorithm for its "new releases" category, where readers tend to browse, by putting out a book roughly every 30 days. Each time he put out a new release, his backlist sales would surge.
He is currently ranked No. 6 on Amazon's list of top-selling action and adventure writers, behind Mr. Cussler, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown. Amazon doesn't publicly release specific sales figures.
Now, he has to keep pace with readers' expectations. He is at his keyboard every morning by 8 a.m., after eating a breakfast bar and drinking some decaf coffee. ("Imagine me on caffeine," he says.) When his legs start to go numb, he switches to his treadmill desk and walks for an hour or so while typing. "They say the knees are the first to go," Mr. Osso says. "It's not the knees, it's your wrists."
To ward off the sloppiness that inevitably comes with such speed, Mr. Osso pays two editors and a proofreader to comb through his books for errors and typos. His content editor, Dorothy Zemach, a freelance editor who used to work for Cambridge University Press, says it can be taxing to keep up. "There are evenings when my husband says, 'Don't check your email, there will be another book from Russell,' " she says.
Mr. Osso says he aims to slow down soon. But he keeps getting bombarded by ideas. He plans to move into the romance genre next. He has become a self-styled guru to aspiring writers, and occasionally dispenses creative advice on his blog. He says there is no secret to his productivity.
"There's no magic," he says. "You just have to be sort of insane."
Write to Alexandra Alter at firstname.lastname@example.org