My Writing Life – William Hertling

hertling2012_headshot (1)When did you first discover a love of writing?

When I was in college, I helped coauthor a series of four handbooks on using computers. I loved the process of laying out the books, of writing the articles inside, and seeing people use and be helped by what we created.

Then in 2009, I had the idea for my first novel, Avogadro Corp. Around this time I was reading several Cory Doctorow novels, including Makers and For The Win. What I loved about his books were that they were big on ideas, and contained a ton of technical knowledge. If he could write and publish that, I felt like I could write and publish my near-future science fiction.

What’s your favourite book?

Neuromancer by William Gibson and Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams are two favorites, because they really seemed to depict what our near future would be like. Even now, thirty years later, they’ve aged really well, and still seem like they can be our future.

Where do you get your story ideas?

I read two influential books in the same year: Accelerando by Charles Stross and The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Both dealt with the technological singularity, Accelerando from a fictional perspective, and Kurzweil’s book as non-fiction. They helped me realize that so much of science fiction had missed the huge implications of artificial intelligence. Once you realize that, it seems impossible to have a story set in the future and not address strong artificial intelligence in some way. And that caused me to write Avogadro Corp, which explores the point of emergence of AI to see how people react.

Since then, I’ve stayed immersed in the technology world and think about the implications of new technological changes. How will coming changes affect society? How do they affect the individual? What stories can I tell about that changing world?

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

Hugo-award winning author David D. Levine told me to “keep writing and keep the pipeline full.” I might have stopped after my first novel, if not for that advice.

Do you believe in Writer’s Block?

No, although I do suffer from the fear of that each book will be my last. But usually around the time I’m wrapping up one book, the ideas for the next book start to trickle in.

If there was one writer (alive or deceased) that you would love to meet, who would it be?

I’d love to have dinner with Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, and Ramez Naam. I think the conversation would be amazing. I feel really fortunate to have met them all individually.

What’s your favourite literary genre?

I love science fiction, and always have. One of my guilty pleasures was Jack Reacher novels. Simple, black-and-white justice, with none of the complications of the real world.

What made you decide to self-publish?

I shopped my first manuscript around for a year to agents and publishers without receiving any interest.

Then in 2011, I was at OryCon, the science fiction convention in Portland, listening to a panel about getting published. One author mentioned submitting her novel for three years, building up dozens of rejections. Another author said they’d been submitting for five years, and had hundreds of rejections. The third author had been submitting the same book for twenty years before it was finally published.

The message they were trying to convey was perseverance. Getting published wasn’t easy, but you had to keep at it, for as long as it takes.

But in my day job I worked on web strategy at a big tech company. One constant in the technology industry is rapid change. I was pretty sure the publishing industry wouldn’t continue to exist in the same form for another two or three years, let alone five or ten.

I also met another author, Annie Bellet, who was paying her rent check with her self-published novels.

Between these two proof points, I decided I wasn’t going to wait any longer. That was November 12th. By the end of November, I published Avogadro Corp.

Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share?

I believe it’s important for an author to drive sales of the first five hundred books or so, after which word of mouth starts to take over. The key elements to driving those first sales are credibility and exposure: making sure that each element of your book, website, and social media presence are credible and professional, and that you look to increase exposure to these in as many effective ways as possible.

How do you find the time to write?

I have three small kids, which makes it tricky to write when they’re awake. I get up early most mornings, and get in an hour of writing. As my books have taken off, I’ve cut back on my day job, so I now have bigger blocks of time for writing.

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William Hertling is the author of the award-winning novels Avogadro CorpA.I. ApocalypseThe Last Firewall, and The Turing Exception. These near-term science-fiction novels explore the emergence of artificial intelligence, coexistence of humans and smart machines, and the impact of social reputation, technological unemployment, and other near-future issues. His novels have been called “frighteningly plausible,” “tremendous,” and “must read.” You can follow him on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

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