I write non-fiction about dogs and cats. Occasionally, fiction authors have come to me for either advice or approval when they’ve added a dog or cat to their novel. It occurs to me that I have information that might be of some help since they can’t be the only ones who are concerned about creating realistic pets for their fictional characters.
There are a few things you should know before you start to add that canine or feline character. Just as in real life you have to know which type of companion would be best for your character. Dog? Cat? One of each? Next you have to understand that choosing a mutt of either species isn’t going to make it any easier to write. There’s no such thing as hybrid vigor (the theory that mutts are healthier than purebreds), and in either case, the animal will have the best or worst characteristics and health issues of its parents and ancestors.
You’re probably thinking that cats are easier to write about. Maybe. Maybe not. None of the old wives’ tales really applies to cats. They’re not independent creatures, they are independent hunters. They crave attention and affection every bit as much as dogs do but they are the ones who tend to solicit it when they want it. The cat is suddenly on top of the book you’re reading, on your computer keyboard, walking across your desk. They need lots of human interaction and environmental enrichment so you will have to think about setting up your character’s home with everything a cat will need from a sturdy cat tree to a sturdy scratching post. Litterboxes. Yes, that was plural. One box for each cat, and one for the house. If there’s more than one cat, the boxes should be open and they should be in different rooms. The food shouldn’t be near the water dishes.
If you do not want to create a mutt with coat color and characteristics chosen by you, then remember that a cat is Pedigreed and a dog is Purebred. Knowing the terminology will make you more believable as a caring author to the person who knows the difference. They are far more likely to put you on their list of favorite authors.
Pedigreed cats can be everything from the very popular Persian who is so flat-faced they have trouble breathing and eating, to the affable and large Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat (Wegies to their fans). There are many specific breeds of cats and there are books full of descriptions or you can search out their breed clubs online or go to one of the larger cat registries like CFA or TICA.
Purebred Dogs have owners who will insist that you get the characteristics right or they will dismiss you as a know-nothing and not worthy of their reading time. You will lose them if you make a major error regarding breed characteristics or color. These things are easy enough to research, either online or in books of dog and cat breeds.
The Border Collie and the Russell Terrier are two extremely active breeds. They are hard-wired to be that way so the person who has one but doesn’t do herding will have to be actively involved in a dog sport or two. This means you will have to learn about the sports in order to add those as well. That may just be a small thing in your book but get the details right. Most people mistake Poodles for do-nothing dogs with a fancy haircut. They’re wrong. They’re also wrong if the think the Poodle is French. It’s not. Poodles were originally bred for hunting and those tufts of hair left on the ankles and the rump are there for the purpose of keeping the dog warm in the water while retrieving. How many of you knew that? Poodles have rather delicate feet. In Europe they are used for finding truffles. Chihuahuas aren’t just yappy. They’re intelligent but their Breed Standard calls for them to be Terrier-like. They may be the smallest of the breeds but they are certainly not wimps.
Some breeds are better with children than others. Most bites come from the family dog. All children must be supervised around cats as well as dogs. You will go a long way in helping to educate your readers if you work that sort of behavior into the story. As with cats, colors and markings are important in many breeds.
Is your character active? What would he or she do with a dog? A couch potato? Does the character have a lot of time to put into grooming? That will help determine the type of coat the dog or cat should have. Your character’s pets should be trained using positive methods, and should wear a harness to prevent pulling on the trachea. Small, but important, points.
Would your character have a therapy dog or cat, a service dog of some sort? Where would they go and what would they do together?
Remember that if you’re adding a pet for your character, you’re not adding background; you’re adding another character.
Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author. Arden, a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, lectures widely on wellness for pets including, behavior, training, and nutrition She is also an experienced television producer/host, and a lively guest expert on various radio and television programs and a popular and much acclaimed speaker. Her Podcasts, The Petxpert, are on YouTube and will soon be added to ROKU. Darlene’s dog books include, The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs, Small Dogs, Big Hearts, and her behavior book, Rover, Get Off Her Leg!
A Certified member of The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a former director of the Cat Writers’ Association, former member and board member of Dog Writers’ Association of America, Inc. one of the few layperson members of The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and a member of Boston Authors, among her numerous awards are the CWA Muse Medallion, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/American Humane Education Society’s Media Award for veterinary writing and animal welfare.
Jenna Nelson grew up in Shoreview, MN, where hanging at the local supermarket was considered a big night out. After graduating from UW-Madison, she drove her 1979 Buick Electra, the largest car known to man, to California to flee the snow and find refuge in the land of film, her favorite pastime.
Soon Jenna noticed that the TV needed turning up, spoken words seemed muted, and everyone sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Diagnosed with a significant hearing loss, Jenna turned from movies to books, where every word was savored and none was missed.
A Midwest girl at heart, Jenna lives with her husband and their saved-from-the-pound-pup Clancy. By day she works as the VP of Marketing for a financial firm, by night she weaves tales of nefarious and fantastical worlds.
Time to chat with Jenna!
Is your recent book part of a series?
My Fantasy novel The Snow Globe is Book 1 of a Duology – The Winterhaven Chronicles. Here’s a tiny blurb:
By day, Sondrine Renfrew works at Cimmerian’s Curio Emporium, her aunt’s apothecary and antique shop in London, 1875. By night, she weaves fire, water, and air into both inanimate objects and living creatures. When a hooded stranger offers Sondrine a snow globe in trade for medicinal herbs, she accepts, enchanted by the castle, forest, and sea encapsulated under the glass.
Her enchantment fades, however, when her deceitful aunt betroths her to one of London’s wealthiest men—a complete stranger. Determined to escape the marriage, Sondrine trades her corset for trousers and decides to run away. With one foot out the door, she falls down a veritable rabbit hole into Winterhaven, the haunting world inside the snow globe.
To say chaos ensues from that point forward would be a gross understatement.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
Originally, I didn’t want to spend too much time in Victorian London, so there wasn’t a whole lot of research needed. But after a massive rewrite, I changed quite a lot. There were so many details – the dress, the mannerisms, the verbiage. The tiniest things needed to be pondered – like the word “twit” could not be used, because it came about later than 1875. So disappointing! I spent so much time with etymologyonline.com we are now considered a couple. Countless hours were spent reading articles and watching movies to better understand the time period.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
When people tell me they did three full edits and finished, I’m always blown away. I’m a serial editor. *cue the shrieking violins* I am constantly looking for new ways to write a sentence, to get rid of the riff-raff, and to generally add more fodder for the senses.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
Having a great cover is key. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t afford a good cover. You don’t need a lot of money to self-publish, but you do need some, and the cover is one place the money should be spent. What’s the point of writing a great story if no one can find you? Platform is also helpful. It used to be that only NF writers needed a platform, because Big 5 publishers would get your books into the right hands. This is no longer true. Also, I hear a lot of complaints about having to market oneself – even in the traditional arena. Unless you write a blockbuster that gets picked up for big money, I think you need to go into this business knowing that part of the equation is marketing. I liken it to athletes. You need to play the sport well, yes. But you also need to choose healthy food and eat a balanced diet. You need to go to the gym. You don’t simply show up on the field, hit/kick the ball, and find success. There’s a process in getting there. There are multiple aspects to being a writer and in this day and age marketing is one of those things. Writing no longer exists inside of a vacuum. If you rely solely on your publisher, or solely on people somehow finding your book, your chances for success are much slimmer, I think. To put it in more blatant and perhaps depressing terms, nearly 1MM books are now released per year between Indie authors and trade publishing. You need to find a way to stand out.
What else have you written?
I’ve written two screenplays and three books. As far as my novels go: a MG Sci-Fi with a girl protagonist called Violet Strange, a YAUF called Virgin, and a YAUF with some contemporary issues called Tainted. I really love them all in very different ways. Virgin was my second book and my true love. It landed me my first agent along with a big producer who wanted to turn the trilogy into a TV series. Needless to say, it all fizzled. Easy come easy go. Virgin is a great tale, and I’d like to get it out into the world soon.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Many. But oh are they fun to write, because unlike in real life where horrible people may continue to live and even prosper, I know my characters will get their just desserts. The king in this book is about as despicable as they come.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
How much time do you have? 🙂 To be completely candid, my road to publication has been forked, plagued with twists, and downright depressing at times. Over the past decade I’ve had three literary agents, none of whom could sell my work. I was also under contract with a small press that turned out to be highly disorganized. Luckily, before my book came out, I asked to break the contract and they complied.
Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends with great agents and fantastic publishing tales.
When I amicably parted ways from my last agent, it occurred to me that it might behoove me to go it alone. Regardless of what happens with The Snow Globe, I’m glad I did it on my own terms. I like being in control in any given situation, and often, the traditional path means giving up that control, and not in a positive way. I’m all for having someone tell me to make scenes better, richer. I’m against being ignored and told to do things because it’s the only way to garner a sale. Writers are often treated unfairly in trade publishing—like children. We are not. Many of us are adults with important jobs, whether as a SAHM or as a VP of a major financial firm. And yet, we are the lowest rung on the ladder; we’re fungible. I know writers who have never been paid for their work, even though the promise was there. I know writers who were given contracts so egregious it would have ruined their careers to sign. Trade publishing is looking out for itself. I get it. But the beauty of going Indie is that it’s me looking out for me. And I trust myself wholly in every regard. 😉
I know that you’ve suffered a significant hearing loss that has impacted your life in many ways. On a positive note, you say that this loss drew you closer to books and writing. Can you elaborate on your experience and how it has changed or restructured your world?
Losing one of your senses is pretty terrifying. For most of my life I’d had perfect hearing. But in my early 30s, I noticed I was having a real problem – not so much with sound, but with speech discrimination – understanding what people were saying. It’s as if the whole world was speaking underwater. And for the record, yelling doesn’t help—it’s just louder water! It’s genetic – both my mother and sister have chronic hearing problems. Going to the movies was one of my favorite pastimes, but that grew increasingly frustrating so I turned to books; I’d always been an avid reader anyway. I started coming up with my own stories and found a natural fit with writing because all that was needed were my eyes and my imagination.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
For someone like me, social media is amazing. I don’t need to rely on my hearing to communicate, and that’s a beautiful thing. Before my hearing went kaput, I used to be pretty social in real life, so Twitter is really the perfect place for me. I love chatting and connecting with other writers. The downside is that you do get some very aggressive people demanding that you RT them or buy their book. You would never walk up to a stranger on the street and do that, so why is doing it online okay? It’s not.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
I think as a writer you really need to take a step back and understand that you cannot possibly write something that everyone will love. That’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors, right? My goal is to not read the negative reviews. I wrote the best book I knew how to write. If it doesn’t resonate with a reader, that’s totally fair. That’s the beauty of the world—diversity!
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
I get asked this a lot. The answer is: what are your goals? Way back when, getting traditionally published meant getting into brick and mortars. Now, it guarantees nothing. I have a few traditionally published friends whose books never saw a B&N bookshelf. Sad, but true. Regardless, if your goals are to have one of the Big 5 names stamped on your book, then that’s the route you need to take. If your goal is simply to get your work out there and find readers, Indie might be the way. For me, I wanted nothing more than the elusive “stamp of approval” from the Big 5. But editors were never interested. Ten years ago it was a big fat no-no to self-publish. Now, it’s very much accepted.
Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?
Indie is going to take over, I believe. Right now, publishers are not putting marketing muscle into the mid-list, so those books are dying on the vine. Moreover, it takes years to get published. I think the Big 5 will continue to support big authors, celebrities, and the like. But the midlist is fading quickly. Those authors need alternatives and Indie publishing is one of them. We have Indie movies, Indie music. Why are Indie authors judged so harshly? Sure, there are stinkers out there, but isn’t that the case with all mediums?
What might we be surprised to know about you?
Around fifteen years ago, a friend said that I needed to listen to this amazing children’s book on CD. My first remark was that I wasn’t much into children’s books. When he told me it was about a boy wizard, I was even more disinterested. Of course, I succumbed. I fell in love with Harry Potter and it remains one of my favorite series to this day. To think I write about such things now – magic, wizards, faraway lands—it’s kind of mind-boggling.
If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?
I’ve been working with a friend to find better alternatives for hearing aids. Hearing aids cost 5k-7k and only last 3-5 years. Moreover, insurance doesn’t cover them. It’s criminal. So we’re looking for a way to create a device that’s cheaper and works better. As a population, the hard-of-hearing are grossly overlooked, but hard-of-hearing no longer pertains to old people. It’s becoming epidemic, especially in people under the age of 25. Something needs to be done – we have the idea, and I think it could work. But funding is essential. Of course, that’s from a completely selfish standpoint. From an unselfish one, animal rights are one place my money would go. Underprivileged children is the other. Education and books for all. Always.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
Rain. I miss those Midwest thunderstorms. It cleans the air, soothes my soul, and helps me to write about all the wonderful things.
TweetBest-Selling author and humorist Dan Alatorre turned his sights on fatherhood in “Savvy Stories,” and the results were hilarious. Since then, Dan has racked up a string of #1 Bestsellers in family humor, novels, illustrated children’s books and cookbooks, and has been published in 12 languages throughout 14 different countries. His romantic comedy Poggibonsi: an Italian misadventure, set in Tuscany, will be released in a few weeks.
Dan’s success is widespread and varied. In addition to being a best-selling author (he claims it was a slow week at Amazon when that happened) Dan has achieved President’s Circle with two different Fortune 500 companies.
Time to chat with Dan!
What is your latest book?
Poggibnsi: an italian misadventure
It’s a romantic comedy set in Tuscany, and it involves marital infidelity, runaway capitalism, culture clashes, death, office politics – all the stuff we consider hugely funny, right? No? I may be in trouble, then.
Is your recent book part of a series?
I hope not. I mean, no. I have done several series (serieses?) and they’re fun but this is a stand alone. Astute readers will see a character from one of my other novels appear in this one, though, so you have to say awake. Actually, that’s good advice for any book of mine. Please stay awake while reading.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
I’m a terrible typist. I type with two fingers. It’s very slow. And I hate proofreading so there are always a TON of typos. People who text with me think my phone is out of whack but really it’s just me. My new computer has a keyboard that SUCKS so a lot of letter o’s and a’s don’t get types – I’m not kidding! So things can become awkward when asking my lady writer friends about “word count” and leave out an “o.”
I’d get a new keyboard but it forces me to proofread so it’s actually a sadistic plus. You’d think with just the two fingers I’d usually hit the right targets. You’d be wrong. I’m so bad, I’m considering having myself checked for dyslexia.
What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?
I can’t do anything short. I wrote 104,000 of paranormal for Mother’s Day (don’t ask). Short stories are just my idea of sitting down on Sunday morning and trying to type out an amusing 3-line post for Facebook, and 6000 words later I’m thinking about making it into a serial. Can you tell by the length of these answers that brevity is not my strong suit? Stop torturing me!
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
That would have been a smart idea. Why didn’t I think of that? I think I’m too egotistical to write under a pen name. I thought about it, though, because people who’ve come to know my stuff through my family humor stories might not want to read a bawdy romantic comedy, you know? “Oh, there’s the author who did that wonderful illustrated book about the mermaid; let’s get his new book for little Heather. What??? There are bare naked breasts in it???” Could be trouble. Or funny. Let’s go with funny. Because it’s a comedy.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
I am trying to write a book in every genre, kind of like an errant guidance counselor from high school – “Just try all of these and see if you don’t suck at one, kid.” So far we have humor, sci-fi thriller, illustrated children’s books, cook books (is that a genre?), paranormal, memoir, and now romantic comedy.
Mainly I like comedy, and that’s what I’m best known for, so of course I had to try other things to prove my worth to society. If you can make people cry in art, or a movie, or a book, you’re an amazingly talented master. If you can make them laugh, you’re a clown. I disagree. Both are difficult emotions to get from a reader, and anyone will tell you getting somebody to laugh is much harder. That said, I try to do both. I want my readers crying in some places and laughing in others – in the same book. If you can make them laugh AND cry, you own them. They’ll trust you for the rest of the roller coaster ride. Write that down, writer-types. It’s hard to do, but it’s worth the effort. Every great story contains trace elements of every genre.
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
My good friend Allison’s book The Fourth Descendant has just become a bestseller. I was one of her critique partners for it, so I get to say I helped in the creation of another bestseller! We are also writing a marketing series together that will be released this fall, so now I have to change the covers to say “by bestselling author Dan Alatorre with bestselling author Allison Maruska.” (I told her I’d get her name squeezed into this interview. Hah! Okay, Allison – that’s ten bucks you owe me.)
If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?
“I will sell you my book out of my trunk at the next red light.”
That’s a good idea. I may actually try that.
What else have you written?
I’ve been very fortunate. I have 17 titles in 12 different languages. I’m really big in Portugal, I think. Or there’s a dearth of reading material there.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
That we don’t shower. I shower every day.
That there’s a stigma to being indie – tell that to High Howie and a lot of other big names that are turning away from traditional publishing in droves.
That indie is easy. It isn’t. It’s harder than trad publishing because you have to do so much yourself, and if you suck at any one aspect, that may ruin your chances. (I’m terrible at cover designs, for example, so I have artists do mine and fans get to vote on the best one.)
That you’ll have lots of people helping you if you trad publish. You won’t. They’ll be telling you, and you’ll still do your own marketing. There are tons of examples – and I’m not trashing trad publishing; I still query – but it’s not what it was 10 years ago and 10 years from now it may not exist at all. Buggy whips, anyone?
Did I mention showering?
Indies are a clean, hygenic people, as noted. And helpful. I was given SO much support when I stared out, and I try to repay it each week on my blog. There are lots of things you can do wrong and you’ll fall into an abyss of despair. Yes you will. My blog is abyss avoidance.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
My characters are like me, so all the time. It’s more fun that way. ”Put your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them,” right? At each decisive spot in the story, I try to have something go wrong to make the path more difficult for Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road. Or for Elton John. Somebody.
Often I’ll do unexpected things in dialogs. Two people are talking back and forth and one says something completely inappropriate or off topic, which is what people do in real life, but if it’s outrageous, it can be memorable. My characters tease each other. They know each other’s inside stories and they act like it. Here’s an example of a niece talking with her aunt.
“You’re stalling. Tell me something real. Something mom would never tell me. Just say the first normal father-husband thing that comes to your mind about my dad.”
“He was a good lover.”
Gina’s jaw dropped. “What?”
“With a big penis.”
“Oh, my god.”
“Huge.” Sam shook her head. “Your brother will probably be pretty popular after he hits puberty. Now slow down, you’re speeding.”
Didn’t expect that, did you? People love my characters.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most?
Pounding it out. I wake up and it’s Christmas morning every day because I get to write. I get great ideas at 3am for a conversation or story and I’ll hide in the pantry and tell them to myself in a talk-to-text on my phone just so I don’t forget them. Although that method has resulted in such great story ideas as “the cat mango garden in the butler,” but still.
Proofreding. (Yes I misspelled that on purpose as far as you know. Frigging keyboard.)
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
I go with the hot hand. If an idea is percolating in my head, I will write it regardless of where it comes in the story. I mostly write in order, though, because I usually come up with an outline before I start writing the story – and that’s a complete outline. I’m not a pantser. But as I’m mowing the lawn and I keep thinking about how funny that dinner scene is going to be where the wife confronts the best friend about who the mistress is – yeah, I know; not an obvious humor topic, but it’s a VERY funny scene – well, then I just go start writing it, even though it’s 15 chapters into the future from where I am. The danger in doing that is, it might not actually fit when you get there. Things change as we write.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
Not the title, but the ending. Okay, that’s not true. I usually know the title and the ending before I start writing. I don’t know why I lied about that. Let me go into some detail here for new writers, because this is typically a difficult thing for them.
I’ll be thinking of a story and I’ll start sketching out an outline, and as I do I will throw the ideas in a folder in my computer – so the folder has to have a name. I’ll call it whatever the story is mainly about, and that usually ends up being the name unless I come up with something better as I’m writing it. For example, I have a semi-dystopian story that has elements of Fight Club, Hunger Games, and the recent racial-cop disharmony from Ferguson and Baltimore. It’s called The Kill Club, and the premise is that rival gang leaders have created these riots on purpose but the media has mid-identified it. The main character is a psychopath who evolves from gang lord to mass murderer to media sensation – to attempting to put Thunder Dome-style death matches on live TV broadcasts. And the politicians and media heads go along, thinking it would solve random gang violence around the country if gang members compete to kill each other on TV. (Um, this one’s not a comedy.)
Anyway, that’s the basic story and the title, and I’ve written maybe 1000 additional words than what you just read. If a character says or does something that would be a better title, Kill Club goes away and the new idea takes its place.
In my sci-fi thriller The Navigators, a time travel story, it was nicknamed “the fantastic five” (horrible, I know) until halfway through when a character realized they wouldn’t be piloting the time machine they’d discovered, and that at best they’d be navigating it. One of the other characters said, “So, we’re the navigators, huh?” That became the title because it was also the background theme about how these young adults had yet to take charge of their own lives.
The new one is a YA fantasy nicknamed The Water Castle, but that sounds a little too much like “water closet,” so we’ll see.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I don’t edit much as I write and I sure don’t edit afterwards. I have a pretty clear idea of what’s going to happen in a story and even though I’m verbose, I’m usually pretty engaging. My critique partners tell me when I’m being long winded (they didn’t get chance to see this piece obviously or it’d be pithier) and I’ll trim and cut based on their suggestions, so that’s probably editing as I go.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Sure! A good bad guy is a great thing! I had a real rat bastard (are we allowed to cuss here?) and wow did I despise him. Findlay, in The Navigators. I hated that little weasel! I still hate him. I need to go drink some milk now because just thinking of him upsets my stomach.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
You have to be good but you need to catch a break, too. First, write a good story with interesting characters and a compelling plot. Make the reader hooked to know what happens next and so they HAVE to turn the page. Very few writers do that. Next, you need a professional-looking cover (and that doesn’t have to cost $1500) and a blurb that makes shoppers become buyers. That’s HARD. Next, the opening chapter has to hook readers from the start, from the opening words. That’s hard, too. So there are a lot of things you have to get right, and if you screw one step up, your great story will go unread.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
“If I could give you one thing, it wouldn’t be confidence, it would be ENOUGH confidence.” – me.
Writing is both very easy and very hard, and the hard stuff for most authors is not always the writing, it’s the marketing and promotions.
The other advice is, don’t polish that book forever. Publish it and get on to the next one. Waaaaaay too many writers attempt perfection. Don’t. At some point, your re-polishing doesn’t make the story better, it just makes it different. And you have more than one great story in you. Don’t deny your readers that.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
This is another long answer that will be good for new authors. Bear with me.
I talked with an agent who wanted to rep me. After several meetings it became obvious that the pace of trad publishing was glacially slow. We were looking at 18-24 months to release a manuscript that was ready to go. I parted ways with him because I’d been successful in business and I knew whatever I learned myself via indie publishing would give me knowledge and skills and leverage for the future.
I put my book out and fell into the abyss, selling almost NO copies for a loooooong time. Oprah never called. I couldn’t give the book way. (You think you can, but lots of people are giving way books and you can’t even do that.)
That’s the abyss. Slowly, I learned the steps necessary to climb out of that hole – professional looking covers, good ad copy-like blurbs, etc – and now I help others not fall into such holes. I put out a lot of books because I get up early and write before anyone else is awake, then I work very efficiently to get a story completed. Putting out lots of titles means there’s always something for a new fan to read while I’m working on my next book.
I blog and I’m on social media, but only the ones I like. As I learned to market, things took off and I was fortunate enough to get a few bestsellers. But it was a long slog I’d like to help others avoid, just out of sheer humanity. Life’s hard enough. If a more successful author wants to help you, let them. And there are plenty that will! I was eventually smart enough to find people to help me, and now I help others. The indie community is great that way, unlike any other business I’ve been involved in – and it IS a business, so waiting 24 months to release a product that was ready seemed like a bad business decision and it still does, but I have never shut the door on trad publishing and I still query my latest books.
There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?
When you are as famous as Stephen King, you can charge Stephen King prices. Until then, you can’t. But most people who follow my advice can sell a book for $2.99 or more and not have to give it away – or fall into the abyss.
All book promotions are hard for writers because it’s not writing, and because many writers are shy. Learning to do it well is hard work.
Publishing is a changing world. Read about it, but not to excess and make sure the source documents in any articles you read aren’t more than two years old. If they are, see if there’s been an update by the original author; usually there is.
Make author friends online and other places, and listen to the friends who have your best interest at heart when it comes to new articles and industry trends, etc.
Promote others more than yourself, but don’t stay friends too long with others who don’t reciprocate (to the extent that they can).
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
I come to the table with a bunch of seemingly useless facts that have been stuck in my head for decades. I absorb stuff. If I watched a documentary about elephants 10 years ago, I probably remember most of it. So I don’t have to research much, and I’m pretty bright. I have a genius level IQ and was in Mensa. I went through graduate school and never opened a book. I came up with a new time travel theory all by myself for The Navigators.
But I don’t recommend that for other people. The internet is a great tool, but watching a shotgun go off on your computer is different from hearing the blast, feeling the kickback into your shoulder, having your ears ring, smelling the burnt gunpowder (it smells like fireworks), and seeing the bruise the next day. That’s a big difference. Get out and experience life. I’ve been shot at and I’ve swam with sharks, dived a sunken boat, walked on a glacier – and I can bring those experiences to my writing better than somebody who watched it on YouTube. Experience real life and work it into your stories. It’ll be much more compelling.
Do you have any secrets for effective time management?
Tons. We all have 24 hours a day but some people get a lot more done. Here are some tips; do the ones that work for you.
Do the most important stuff first. If you do all your email and Facebook and don’t write a chapter, how bad do you feel? Get the chapter done and don’t do Facebook? You’ll sleep just fine and your book will get done in three months not three years.
Record/DVR everything. The Kardashians can wait. Write your word count, and when you need a break, watch your recorded TV shows and skip the commercials. A 1-hour Tv show has 20 minutes of commercials. That’s more than 2 hours saved if you watch just 1 hour a night. And that’s 2+ more hours of writing time each week. Check your personal email on your lunch break at work if you can. Do your non-essential Facebook stuff (playing, and we all need to play) while waiting in line at the store or the bank.
The biggest two are these: make your writing time sacred, and when you do sit down to write, actually write in that time (do Twitter later!)
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
It always amuses me how people react to things. In comedy, you understand that some people won’t get a joke here and there. But in some dramatic scenes, like in Poggibonsi, one reader will say the description of the old barn getting repaired is a totally long and boring passage that should be deleted, while another reader will write me gushing about how it was such a beautiful metaphor about the MC’s marriage! That kind of range in feedback always surprises me.
Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?
I type fast at times, but overall I’m slow because I only use two fingers. That allows me to really think about what I’m putting down, editing the sentences in my head first because I’m typing so slowly! I should really learn how to type. You’d run out of the room if you ever saw me doing it. It’s awful to watch.
Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?
I like writing a synopsis, but I suck at it! I keep trying, though. Luckily, I have friends who are good at it. Let’s face it, writing an 80,000 word story is a different skill set than a 500 word piece of ad copy – and that’s almost what a synopsis is.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
A LOT. Books on Amazon are impulse buys. If you don’t have good cover, you won’t sell, period.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Fave: Pizza!!! I would eat that every day, even for breakfast.
Least favorite food? Oh, lots of stuff. I’m a picky eater. Let’s go with mushy vegetables. Yuck. And plantains SUCK. Ask my wife – she will give you a list.
If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
I have to admit, I’d sneak into the women’s locker room wherever the Buccaneers cheerleaders work out. Sorry.
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Money. I can be friends with anyone rich. I am very open minded that way.
Care to brag about your family?
I have the best family in the whole wide world. I wrote a bestseller about how fun it was to have my baby daughter around. One day she’s going to realize other daddies don’t all write books about their kids. My wife gave me the coolest idea for a YA fantasy that is probably the best idea I’ve ever worked on. It gives me chills, some of the plot twists!
What was your favorite year of school? Why?
I met my wife in my first year of graduate school and thought she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, and I was amazed that she would even talk to me. I fell in love on our first date and immediately knew I’d marry her, which I did.