The Well, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Well?
PETER LABROW: It’s a story with a simple premise that rapidly becomes more complex. Two teens (Becca and Matt) fall down a well and can’t get out. One of the teens is seriously hurt. Their parents are away so the alarm won’t be raised for days. But within pages, the stakes are raised further; outside the world turns. There are people who miss Becca. The predatory man who had been stalking Becca now turns his attention to Hannah, her best friend. Two women know where Becca is trapped—and are desperate that she shouldn’t escape otherwise a curse hundreds of years old will be fulfilled. The Well interweaves a supernatural tale of terror with that of a very real, very modern horror—as the two stories become one, family, friends and strangers alike are drawn together by a terrible shared fate. I could say more—but I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers. What I will say is as readers are drawn into the story, it becomes richer, more complex, more real and more dangerous. It’s fast-paced, gripping, hard to put down. I’m pleased to say I’ve had e-mails from readers who’ve been unable to sleep, had nightmares or, in the case of one reader, broke down in her office as she read a particular chapter. That’s me folks, bringing thrills and misery to the world, one sentence at a time.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
PETER LABROW: I have very strong beliefs about characters. Characters in fiction often don’t behave as people in real life would. Fictional characters often have clearly defined goals, specific events in their backstory which drives them in a singular way. Real people aren’t like that. Real people are complex, contradictory, conflicted personalities. Real people have both a light and a dark side, sometimes, if circumstances arise, a very dark side. So, I like to create people who are a mixture of good and bad—and then paint them into a corner to watch them react. In fiction, people are often given a choice between good and bad—in The Well, many have to choose between bad and less bad. What would you do if there were no good choices? So, yes, I give the people a backstory, but then I make life hard for them—someone who might always have been ‘good’ may be forced into doing something that would surprise and shock those around. And I reflect what happens in real life—people can behave in a seemingly unpredictable way. When time is tight and the stakes are high, sometimes you make the wrong choice. Then things unravel.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
PETER LABROW: Someone who has the connections and money to turn The Well into a movie or television series! I’ve always said that I don’t want to write ‘worthy’ fiction. I’m not out to change the world. I don’t have an agenda—well, except perhaps for promoting equality (in The Well, the strongest characters are female and often young). First and foremost, I want people to enjoy my books in the same way they would a film. I want them to be gripped, unable to put it down until they finish—and then pass it on to a friend. And review it on Amazon, please. Yes, The Well is written around a series of themes and I believe it has more depth to it than the average horror story. But I’m not worried if people don’t key into that, so long as they enjoy it.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
PETER LABROW: A long one. I remember telling my mum, when I was an early teen, that I wanted to be a writer. At school, I only really excelled at two things—art and English. I decided to go to art college and from there developed a career in marketing. Of its own natural course this became website development. Much of my work—around half—is copywriting. I’ve written non-fiction for over twenty years, including a non-fiction book about training and countless magazine articles. All the way, the feeling that I want to write fiction has been gnawing at me. I tried about ten years ago—I got 120,000 words into a 160,000-word novel and bailed because I was dissatisfied with it. Last year, I started The Well—and finished it in a year.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
PETER LABROW: About 50%-60% of my time is spent doing revisions. I wrote The Well in about five months, then spent almost seven months working on ten revisions. I’m obsessive, I guess, I wanted it to be as good as I could make it. As a copywriter, you’re disconnected from the reader, you’re writing for the client. As an author, especially an independent author, you’re directly connected. It has to be right. I do my research as I’m working—although sometimes, if something is difficult to research, that can hold me up. I like to travel and write. A lot of The Well was written or revised in hotels, on trains and planes. I also work with a review group. It has to be recognised that a publisher will deliver a series of things which aren’t automatically there for an independent writer—marketing, publishing and writing advice, editorial skills and so on. So, I tried to fill those gaps. I have a review team of eight people—each with different reading preferences and social sensibilities. I listened to, and acted on, their feedback—98% of it was valuable. I also hired an editor/proofreader.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
PETER LABROW: All of them. No really. I get something from everything that I read. It would be easy to say Stephen King since I write horror, but I do like his work. I like the way that, when you’re reading his stuff, the words fade away and it’s like watching a movie. That’s a rare skill, and it’s the thing that pulls you through even when it’s one of his less good books. I’ve read 1984 more than any other book. It’s staggeringly good on every level. It’s an exciting yarn that pulls you through, with layers and layers of depth. Recently I probably like Audrey Niffenegger the most—she really has a way of creating something lovely and different. That’s a great thing: for an author to create characters you’d like to meet.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
PETER LABROW: That is such a tough question. The first one to spring to mind is William Horwood’s Skallagrigg. It’s about a girl who has cerebral palsy and her quest to find out what or who Skallagrigg is, a deity she’s heard of only within mentally disabled circles. It’s a slow starter—I almost gave up on it. Once it got going it was amazing. The way in which Horwood inhabits the mind of a teenage girl with cerebral palsy is extraordinary. I don’t only read horror! If you pinned me down on a horror title, it would have to be The Tell-Tale Heart.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
PETER LABROW: Twitter is extremely useful, enabling me to connect with writers and readers alike (@labrow if you want to follow me). I like the way that a writer can be accessible via the Internet, it’s a great time to be an author. Goodreads is a fantastic website for readers—I’m currently running a giveaway of The Well and so far almost 700 people have entered it. That’s fantastic. I browse for horror websites, send review copies, write guest blogs—a lot of Internet stuff. I’m open to doing interviews and so on. We’re currently finishing a very ambitious trailer for The Well – it includes a fair bit of CGI, mixed with live action. We’ve not shot it as if The Well were a book, but as if it were a film. I’m looking forward to getting that up on YouTube, where I plan to run a channel with author’s questions and answers, chapter readings and some surprise stuff. I spend a lot of time on marketing, it’s a lot of effort for sometimes little reward, but it’s enjoyable.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
PETER LABROW: I read something the other day on Twitter: ebooks aren’t killing books, they’re moving them from paper. I think ebooks are creating an upsurge in reading. It’s the future. Amazon has a great system—I can upload a title and be on sale in a day, in the USA and UK (I submitted The Well to the iBookstore six weeks ago and it’s still not listed). Amazon’s not perfect, but it’s good; very good. I’m a Kindle owner myself and I really like the device and the Amazon ecosystem. I do need to make The Well available on more devices, but Kindle is—to my mind—the most important. I personally prefer Kindle books to paper. I love paper, but on a Kindle I can read with one hand (in the bath, or drink in hand) and carry loads of books. If I get it right on Kindle, I don’t really need to worry about anywhere else. There are things I’d like to see Amazon do—release book lending in the UK, for instance. Allow authors to ‘gift’ review copies—at the moment, I have to maintain a USA Amazon account because I can’t send a gift certificate to the USA from my UK one. It would be nice to break down those paper walls too.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
PETER LABROW: Get writing. Nothing will happen if you don’t. Be precious about nothing—if it’s wrong, delete it, if it’s not perfect, polish it. Revise and revise—don’t think you’re done just because you typed ‘the end’. Work with reviewers—and listen to what they say. I had one very close reviewer with whom I shared everything so I could get a different perspective, with others I let them read what was written and I gave them nothing more. Use an editor and/or a proofreader—you can’t rely on yourself. Your book is too important, people will judge it on silly mistakes. I’m not naive, I’m sure there’s the odd typo in The Well, it would be impossible for there not to be. But I recently read the Kindle edition of The Kraken Wakes and spotted over two dozen errors. Also, get the right software – using Word or similar is inefficient. Take a look at Scrivener—it’s the best long-form writing tool there is, hands down, no contest. Invest in a good cover. I know you can’t tell a book by its cover, but a book’s cover sells the book. And, be ready for slow sales and the hard fact that marketing your book once it’s out there is as much work as writing it in the first place. Finally, with Kindle, rules are out of the window—you don’t have to write to a specific word count since there are no paper costs. I’m currently working on both my next novel and a collection of short stories.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Well, in 2010—fulfilling a lifelong ambition to author fiction.
It is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK. You can read a sample on his blog.
Read his blog and follow him on twitter.
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