Writing Excuses 10.35: Breaking In, With Charlie N. Holmberg

Charlie N. Holmberg, who was recently signed by Amazon’s 47 North imprint, joined us in front of a live audience it Sasquan (the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention) to talk about breaking in to the industry. Brandon and Dan broke in a decade ago, and Howard never actually bothered breaking in.

This episode is brought to you by David Farland’s writing workshops at mystorydoctor.com, whose URL completely escaped Howard during the episode. Here are two coupon codes:

  • August50 gets $50 off any course regularly priced $399
  • August100 gets $100 off any course regularly priced $749



Go find a friend, and without comparing notes, writing down the names of three books or movies that you love. Randomly pick one of each, and then “your pick meets your friend’s pick” is your prompt.

20 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.35: Breaking In, With Charlie N. Holmberg”

    1. @ChallengedHibiscus: Brandon doesn’t monitor this comment space, so you’re unlikely to get an answer here. I don’t actually know the answer myself, so I can’t help. Sorry!

  1. Hi there,

    I’m always listening, though not posting much in the comments. I figure I should have a go at changing that given how much I get out of these podcasts.

    Given the topic, I just thought I’d point anyone who is interested towards Darrell Pitt’s Secrets of Successful Writers. It’s actually a long series of short interviews with authors, mostly indie and self-published. It’s quite on-topic in terms of discussions around ‘breaking in’. From what I gleaned, the most common advice for self-publishing is:

    – Be persistent and patient. Don’t expect your first book to take off (it won’t). Keep writing and publishing. Readers want to know that you are reliable.
    – Price low, at least to start with. Prob $0.99. There’s a subculture of people on places like Smashwords and Amazon looking for a bargain. Pitching low can undervalue your book a bit, and some people may be turned off by the low (or free) price, but many more will download it to give it a shot.
    – Be nice to any readers or reviewers you do happen to get.
    – Social media may or may not help. It’s all a bit confused and hard to tell how much good it does.
    – Write the best book you can write. This last bit is all to easy to forget, but of course, the best marketing is writing a darned good read.

    Anyway, I found the book interesting. There’s a freebee Smashwords version and I think you can read it free on Google Books too.

    I should say also that some of your past programs have been a wonderful help, sometimes at exactly the right time. That one you did a while ago now about how it’s ok to write for your own fun came along at exactly the right time for me. Advice in general on W.E. is always interesting and useful.



  2. Nice episode.

    Just read Charlie Holmberg’s books (Paper Magician, Glass Magician, Master Magician) a couple of weeks ago, and I love them. Really great reading.

    You said the Paper Magician is short? Just pick the 3 of them and u have a long 150K novel ;)

    Is great to hear Charlie “live”.
    big congrats, Charlie!

  3. Hey guys, great podcast, very useful to get another outlook into the publishing world as it is.

    One question though. I believe we were going to get a Project in Depth on The Devil’s Only Friend this August. Are we still getting that, and if so, when?

    1. All four of us needed to be present in order to record that Project in Depth episode, and for various reasons the four of us haven’t been together since May. We’ll probably record this one on the cruise.

  4. I was there when this was recorded and did not expect to see it on the site so soon. Great ‘cast as always, everyone!

    1. We hadn’t recorded a fifth-sunday episode for this slot, and needed to lay that one down at WorldCon/Sasquan. So we did, and our post production engineer, Alex, did a brilliant job of turning around the mix-down within the week.

      The other two episodes we recorded at Sasquan probably will not air for quite some time.

  5. Interesting point… Charlie mentioned that a lot of people were able to download her book for free via the Amazon prime. I take it that, since the downloads were free, that she only got exposure out of those copies?

    1. That’s a good question, and should probably be taken to Hannah Bowman Marlene Stringer, Charlie’s agent. It’s NOT safe to assume that she’s not being paid for those copies. Her publisher, 47 North, is the same company as the reseller giving away free copies, Amazon Prime, and the reseller is only giving those copies to people who’ve paid $100-ish per year to be Prime members. It’s possible that Amazon is paying Charlie’s royalty, and eating the “loss” because it builds exposure for their author, and they’re interested in seeing that author sell to a large audience.

      But I’m guessing. We need to ask the agent.

      [EDITED: corrected the name of Charlie’s agent.]

  6. Amazon gave me a stipend for the month of Kindle First. :) So no royalties, but I wasn’t a pauper either.

    Also, Marlene Stringer is my agent, not Hannah Bowman, though she too has agenting skillz.

    1. The stipend model makes a lot of sense. They could lose their shirt on a royalty promise. I mean, not their ACTUAL shirt, because Amazon owns all the shirts already, but still. Cool.

  7. So, you want to break in to modern publishing, but you doubt that advice from people who broke in 15 years ago really matches the current scene? Well, read what Charlie N. Holmberg has to say! She just broke in a year ago, so… the advice is fresh, even if some of it does sound familiar. The transcript is available in the archive or right over here, so start reading now!


  8. First of all I want to say great blog! I had a quick question which
    I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself
    and clear your head prior to writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my
    mind in getting my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems
    like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints?
    Thank you!

  9. @Brooke,

    I’d say that’s a pretty common difficulty. I remember in one of the earlier episodes, Brandon mentioned that he can’t make the “steal a half-hour here and there” writing model work for him because it takes him too long to work into the writing. He said he needs a 3-4 hour block of writing time in order for him to be productive. So maybe you need to try to schedule longer writing sessions to make that less-productive into time worth it.

    Personally, I favor the “load myself up with chores/assignments that I don’t want to do” approach. If writing is easier/more attractive than the other things I’m procrastinating, I’ll get it done every time! :)

  10. @ChallengedHibiscus

    I’ve heard someone else ask Brandon that question. But, sorry, I do not have a link the answer. I’ve seen him at JordanCon and read a number of his online interviews.

    It boiled down to: “It depends upon the story.”

    Something like Legion – He can knock out in a day. He’s an outline writer – so he uses the outline to help him form the story. If the story goes off the outline, he’ll change the outline.

    Something like a Stormlight Archives book – that can take weeks to months. It all depends upon how long the story has been brewing in his head. It also depends upon how much time he has to devote to that one project.

    Good luck with your projects.

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