Creator Q&A - Russell Nohelty
The incomparable Mr. Nohelty answers a few questions for us
Russell Nohelty is a USA Today bestselling fantasy author who has written dozens of novels and graphic novels including The Godsverse Chronicles, The Obsidian Spindle Saga, and Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter. He is the publisher of Wannabe Press, co-host of the Kickstart Your Book Sales podcast, cofounder of the Writer MBA training academy, and cofounder of The Future of Publishing Mastermind. He also co-created the Author Ecosystem archetype system to help authors thrive. You can find most of his writing on his Substack (The Author Stack) at authorstack.substack.com (including various links to his work). He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dogs.
I first came across Russell a few months ago via Substack Notes and he’s one of the hardest working writers/publishers that I’ve seen on Substack. He’s a seasoned entrepreneur and passionate about what he does. I’m pleased that Russell took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.
This is another entry to the ongoing Generation Lens series of Q&As where I ask people to share their thoughts about the perceived (and actual) differences between generations.
When you were a teenager what did you want to become when you grew up?
I wanted to be a movie director. I watched Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, and El Mariachi. They showed me you didn't have to wait and rely on other people to grant you permission. You could just do the thing. I am still doing the thing, though in publishing now, but it all goes back to those three movies. My mother always said I did a lot of writing as a child, but I didn't believe her. Then, she showed me a huge folder with awards, published material, and enough examples of my writing that I had to admit I must've always wanted to be a writer, too, but my first memory was wanting to be a director.
The three movies that you mention above... they were clearly low budget, indie, character driven movies. How do you feel about movies on the other end of the spectrum (i.e. blockbuster, special effects driven, unreal movies)?
I like big, dumb movies, but they are big and dumb. The fact people analyze Star Wars or Marvel, and complain that they aren't brilliant pieces of cinema baffles me. They are made for the middle of the Bell Curve to satisfy the most people and offend nobody. The best you can do in that scenario is to make a B- movie, but you also avoid making a D movie or worse. Everything that Disney puts out is a C+ to B-, which is fine. You can enjoy that kind of movie, but you probably shouldn't look for any deeper meaning behind it.
Yes, big movies used to take more chances, but they haven't since studios were bought by private equity companies. This is because of capitalism. The private equity firms that control Hollywood need these behemoths that make billions of dollars to extract maximum stockholder value. It's not the fault of the creatives or filmmakers that these movies have to be bland. It's a feature of Hollywood selling what little remained of their souls to the highest bidder. They are enjoyable, but that is about all they can ever be, unfortunately, which is why I always prefer indie cinema.
What was your first big break in your chosen career/work?
In 2017, I released a book called Monsters and Other Scary Shit on Kickstarter. I remember that first night after I raised more in 12 hours than I did the previous year on Kickstarter combined, I looked at my wife and said "I don't think my life is ever going to be the same", and it wasn't. I went through several years where I had to prove I wasn't a flash in the pan, but that was the first time people stood up and took notice of what I was doing in my little corner of the publishing world.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome with your work?
I think the biggest challenge any writer faces is how to find people who resonate with your work and speak to them in a way that they fall in love with your work quicker. I was no different. Once you can figure out how to speak the language of your ideal fan and write work that resonates with them, all you have to do is keep doing that forever. That's a bit flippant because continuing to do the work often feels downright impossible but once you can make that product-market fit, you feel kind of unstoppable, at least for a time.
When you write do you have a preference between pen and paper and the keyboard?
I have terrible handwriting, so bad that it actually hurts to use a pencil after a few minutes. So, I am 100% keyboard.
How do you organize all the information that you deal with? Folders? Tags? Particular apps?
I have an extensive series of folders that help me organize everything on my computer. Mainly, I organize projects into complete, developing, and inactive. Then, by format, then by series, then by books. So, comics from the Godsverse are in a slightly different place than the novels about the Godsverse, but it's a system that works for me. I can never find anything when it's in the real world. I end up just throwing everything out because I don't like clutter. The Apple philosophy of keeping everything on the desktop sends me into a panic attack. Things need to be in their place.
How would your describe your career to other people: entrepreneur; consultant; other?
I'm a writer first and foremost. I usually tell people I'm a USA Today bestselling author, but I don't really care about that stuff. It just makes me seem like I have some sort of authority in the world. People really like labels, though, so the distinction helps. It's funny because that list run is the book I lost the most money on at launch. I eventually made my money back on that release over time, but it was deeply unprofitable during its list run.
As a creative professional, I make money in lots of ways, but mainly I consider myself a writer. I almost always use myself as an example in my non-fiction. I consider myself somewhat of a professional guinea pig, and my Substack is a business memoir of sorts.
I've tried a ton of different subscription platforms in my career, and the simple fact is that I am a better member of a community than I am a leader of it. Substack gives me the ability to integrate with a large group of amazing writers and readers while still owning the data of my subscribers. I will never again join a platform where I do not own the chain of custody of my subscribers. On top of that, their recommendation engine is still best in class and they have better organic reach than any other platform I've tested. I've tried a bunch of other options in my career, and Substack is the only one where I have found success in reaching a critical mass of people who resonate with my work.
What motivated you to write so much about how people can successfully use Substack and other online platforms?
I am selfish. I want more creators to make more weird things, and they will only do that if I can show them how to make money from those things. Across a long enough time horizon, if you can't monetize or find an audience for your work, you will burn out. Maybe you won't give up, but you'll definitely pull back, and I don't want that to happen. The world is filled with bland, capitalistic-created crap, and I need people to see through that and find ways to exist in capitalism, even use it to their advantage, so they make cool things for me to consume because we have talked about how I'm definitely not going to find those things from private equity-backed oligopolies.
I believe you're a Millennial... how do you feel that you fit into this generational cohort? Like a glove, like a noose, or like an elephant's raincoat?
I feel fine with it. So many of my friends eschew the label, but I'm cool with it. I definitely feel pretty connected to the Gen X label too since I was born in 1982, but in general, I feel like I resonate more with the defining characteristics of Millennials than with Gen X. I think most to all labels are dumb, but people like their labels.
Does your Millennial status inform how you deal with formal organizational structures and authority figures? Are you able to work comfortably in that kind of environment?
I have never met a form of authority I didn't immediately want to buck against and smack in the face. However, over time I've realized that it's not really the organization as much as the underlying structure of capitalism that I have a problem with in the end. I don't blame a hammer for being a hammer and I don't blame a company for doing what it takes to succeed under capitalism, and that often means doing things that are either evil, dumb, or both. Even if they are neither evil nor dumb, most things are counter-intuitive to leading a thriving life. For instance, working for 40 years only to be able to enjoy the worst years of your life, or a company that focuses on scale for so long the founders can't ever enjoy the billions of dollars they have acquired. It's just a very dumb system all around, and I find myself saying "This is dumb" a lot when I think about things that "work".
I learned recently about Gödel's incompleteness theorems which says that in any formula, even wildly successful ones, there are pieces of it that can't be proven or verified. It made me realize that the dumbness of capitalism is really there at such a minute level that it's baked into the existence of the universe itself. I always knew that quarks violated almost every law we built about the universe, but it's just...dumb all the way down.
Pretend you wake up one morning and you learn that the Internet has been destroyed. What's the first thing that you do?
Have some tea, probably, and figure out how to move forward. I have a lot of emails, but not a lot of phone numbers, so that would be a tricky one. However, I would definitely sit back and take it in first. I have nothing against the internet, but it is a very effective disseminator of capitalist propaganda, and I would at least celebrate for a minute that the worst offenders of that indoctrination will be burning to the ground as I sipped my tea, even if it also destroyed my business. Sorry to make this all about my deep seated hatred of capitalism, but seriously, it's the worst. Yes, it's probably better than any other system we tried, but only just barely. At least the noise, for one moment, would be silent, and maybe we could think clear for the first time in 30 years.
Thanks so much to Russell for sharing his answers with us! For more about Russell:
He’s launching a Kickstarter for the new Direct Sales Mastery book. https://writermba.com/dsa
If you’d like to try out the full breadth of content at The Author Stack, he’s provided a a link for a 30-day trial: https://authorstack.substack.com/awesome
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