Friday, August 30, 2013

The Man Behind the Podcasts: Patrick Hester

If you hang out in the online SFF community much, you’ve likely run across Patrick Hester before. The guy is nutty busy. He blogs, tweets, writes a column on graphic novels for Kirkus Reviews, and runs three podcasts, the most notable being the SF Signal podcast, which has been nominated for a Parsec award and twice nominated for a Hugo Award. In addition to all that, Patrick is an emerging SFF author himself, and—oh yeah—he works a full-time day job! I had the great pleasure of interviewing Patrick for a new article I wrote at Blackgate, but since I could only use a small portion of our conversation and Patrick had so many great things to say, I decided to run with the full interview transcript here. Enjoy!

GC: Welcome, Patrick! Could you please describe your writing career up to this point in a nutshell.

In a nutshell, I got serious about writing in 2000 and spent the rest of the decade trying to write something I felt was worthy of publishing. I'm pretty obsessive about that part and didn't begin shopping a novel series and selling short stories until 2009. I now have a couple short stories out in anthologies, and have pushed some other stuff out myself as part of a hybrid/indie model I've been developing for myself. Still trying to sell the novels, though.

GC: How do you make ends meet?

I stand on street corners with a sign that reads: "Will write for money."

Kidding… I only do that at conventions. The rest of the time,
I work in marketing, currently for a local Denver wholesaler. I've done marketing for small and large companies (even one that was a subsidiary of Pacific-Rim-monster-sized GE), and for individuals like Realtors. I also write a column on graphic novels for Kirkus Reviews, teach writers about Scrivener on my website and in a workshop I've developed, help people setup Wordpress blogs and their social media platforms, and sell ebooks on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble digital platforms.

GC: You're a busy man, what with the podcasts, a blog and a whole slew of other online activities on top of actually writing. A) Do you find this work within the SFF community to be a double-edged sword? B) Can you see an author in the modern age becoming commercially successful without being active in the online world?

It's funny, Garrett—I work on three podcasts: SF Signal, Functional Nerds, and I produce Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing, the podcast for wannabe fiction writers. On a good week that can turn into five or six hours of audio, so, yeah… busy.

As for your direct questions:

A) Yes.

B) No.

Would you like me to expand on those? Okay. But I'm going to do it in reverse order.

Can an author be successful without being active online—no, and let me tell you why. In addition to searching out the best books, publishers are vetting authors for their marketability. How active are they on social media? How well do they interact face to face? Do they maintain a blog? They're using phrases like 'social footprint' as part of this vetting process. The days when an author could be anonymous, hunkered down in their house writing books without really interacting with fans, are over. And most authors are realizing this is a good thing. A very good thing. They have more control over their brand and their marketing, and more ability to directly impact how many books are sold. The possibilities are incredible.

Social media came along and blew everything away; the 24-hour news cycle is now the Twitter News Cycle, 'word of mouth' doesn't wait for the next day at the water cooler—it's online and instant, and the degrees of separation between the reader and the author have been removed. I remember writing letters to authors and waiting weeks for some sort of response. I didn't always get one. In fact, I'd say at least 50% of the time I never received a response. You had to mail it to some address on the back or inside cover of the book and who knew whether or not it would ever reach the hands of the author? A couple weeks ago, I downloaded an anthology to my Kindle and started reading it. I came across what I thought was an error in the text—a funky bit of punctuation. I grabbed my phone and shot the editor an email. Because I know the editor personally now. Thanks to my online presence, the podcasts, and because we're Twitter and Facebook friends. It was midnight. I got a response ten minutes later and we had a dialogue about whether or not this funky punctuation was an actual error that needed to be corrected, or if it was, in fact, correct. (It was.)

Not everyone is embracing social media, the fact that the walls are breaking down, or these new possibilities for authors. I remember the story of an author who was so upset about their publisher wanting them to blog and get on social media, that they quit. It can be overwhelming, and I get that, but don't quit. I always preach moderation and starting slow. Don't setup an account on every freaking platform out there and then try to keep up with them all. You will drive yourself insane, and you'll burn out really fast. Pick one or two. Play with them. Dip your toes in and get used to the water. Block out an hour a day and split that up, 15 minutes in the morning, 15 at lunch, 15 after dinner, and 15 before you go to bed. Branch out as needed. This approach works very well for the wary.

On the double-edged sword—because I do what I do, the blogging, the uber-long twitter rants about the History show 'Ancient Aliens', the podcasts, I am purposely trying to entertain. In order to be entertaining, I make a lot of stupid jokes. I want the listener to laugh. When people are laughing, they're happy and they'll come back and listen again. When the person I'm interviewing is laughing, they relax, the walls come down a little, and the listener gets the opportunity to connect on a different level. I get this giddy thrill when someone tags me on Twitter, Facebook or even Google+ to tell me that they bought a book based on the interview I did with a particular author. I did that—I helped sell that book. Me. It's thrilling.

The other half of it is about getting to know all of these people within publishing and then knocking on their door with a project I'd love them to buy and publish. Being known as 'the podcast dude' or as 'the social media guy' doesn't always help when you're trying to get an urban fantasy novel published. Doesn't necessarily hurt, either, but it can be a challenge. It's all about perception, and sometimes you can't control how people perceive you no matter how hard you try.

GC: What are the biggest challenges you face trying to become the author you want to be? Is it on the writing end? The publishing end? Finding an audience? A combination? Something else entirely?

Oh. Boy. Okay. First, my mouth. I recently said, "I sometimes have trouble keeping the inner smartass from commenting." And my friend replied, "I know. I've met you." Sums it up well. Combine that with the fact I don't suffer foolishness lightly and you have a recipe for disaster. I dial it back a lot. When I tell people this, they are shocked and wonder what life with Patrick would be like if I didn't dial it back…  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth—on writing, you have to write. To be fair, you have to write every day. There is no other way. Every successful author will talk about their writing time. Every 'how to' book on the shelf can be summed up thusly: sit your ass in the chair and type words on the screen. (I just saved anyone reading this tons of money.)  How I write every day is a combination of things. Thing the first: I take my laptop with me when I leave for work in the morning. I haul it to lunch and write. Thing the second: I exclusively write in Scrivener, and Scrivener has great Project Tools for setting wordcount and will actually calculate your daily wordcount needed in order to finish a project by a specific date. Wanting to see the little progress bar for the day change from reddish orange to bright green is addictive.

On publishing—traditional publishing is slow. Geologically slow. Mountains growing an inch over millennia, slow. It's a process, and if you don't have the right temperament, or if you set unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself and your career, you will not be happy. You'll be like one of those folks in the commercials for satellite TV. Announcer Voice: "When you write a book, you want to get it published. When you want to get it published, you cold-query it without editing to everyone listed as an agent or editor in the Writer's Market book. When you send it without editing to everyone in the Writer's Market book, you get rejections. When you get rejections, you get angry. When you get angry, you start a snarky blog talking crap about all the people who rejected you. When you start a snarky blog about all the people who rejected you, you never get published. Don't start a snarky blog that never gets you published…"

So I keep this in mind whenever anything comes up. Rejection? No problem, gonna get those. Someone doesn't like what I wrote? Ah, well—can't please everyone. I can't let it get me down or it will drag me down. Same is true for everyone trying to do this.

GC: So I mentioned becoming the author you want to be. What's the storybook ending for your writing career? If your wildest dreams came true, where would you be as an author ten years from now? 

Sipping virgin Cuba Libre's on a beach somewhere because the royalty checks on my 25th consecutive NY Times bestseller keep rolling in…

GC: It's not so easy becoming a successful author. Why do you bother?

Define successful.

It's different for every person.

I have always loved books and reading. I started reading at a young age and it stuck. To me, the coolest thing possible would be to walk into a bookstore and see my name on one of those shelves.

Also, to drive The General Lee would be unbelievably cool. Or the Batmobile. Don't even get me started on Airwolf...

GC: Bonus question! I play guitar too, and love the blues. How do writing and playing music correlate for you?

Both are creative outlets. If something keeps me from doing either for too long, this need to create starts to build up. This usually results in my playing the guitar until my fingers are numb, or locking myself in the Super-Secret Underground Lair of the Functional Nerds until the story is on digital-paper.

As for The Blues—it gets a bad rap sometimes. People think its about sadness when really, it's about joy. I challenge anyone reading this to go hear a live Blues band playing somewhere and not find their toes tap to the beat, body sway with the rhythms, and a smile creep onto their face. The Blues gets in your blood and becomes a part of you. There is nothing else like it.

Writing gets into your blood too, but it doesn't have that same instant gratification you get from strumming a few chords and letting the music take you where it will.

GC: Awesome! Thanks, Patrick. Anything else you want to sound off on?

Yes. Southern style sweet tea is obviously the greatest drink ever created. Much better than the hot tea most authors prefer. Discuss.


  1. A big congratulations goes out to Patrick! Just a few short days after I posted this interview, he went out and won a Hugo for his SF Signal Podcast. Here's the complete list of 2013 Hugo winners:

    1. Indeed. A well deserved Hugo for Best Fanzine, I might add.

  2. One correction Garrett - I won a Hugo for Best Fanzine. The SF Squeexast took the Fancast honors.

    Thanks for taking the time to pick my brain!


  3. Right, sorry about that. I realized my mistake when I went back and read through all the nominees and winners, but forgot to come back and amend my comment.

    The SF Signal podcast was nominated for best fancast, though, so congrats on both accounts, and thanks again for taking the time to chat with me!

  4. "Greatest drink ever created"? Patrick, you must have made a typo, because those words weren't attached to the word "COFFEE."