Ellis Shuman was born in the United States but moved to Israel as a teenager. He served in the Israeli army, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives outside Jerusalem. For two years, 2009-2010, Ellis and his wife lived in Sofia, Bulgaria. Alongside working a day job in online marketing, Ellis writes frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, books, travel, and the craft of writing.
What is your latest book?
This past year has been a very exciting one for me. I self-published my suspense novel, Valley of Thracians, and it has done remarkably well. I’ve been very pleased with readers’ responses, as the book is not your typical suspense novel. Some readers have described it as ‘travel fiction’ as well as an introduction to Bulgaria, a country that few have visited, or know much about. In my novel I strongly emphasized the setting of the story. The book deals with a Peace Corps volunteer who goes missing during his service in Bulgaria. His grandfather comes to the country to track down the missing young man and ends up learning about Bulgaria’s history and culture as he travels.
I’ve been particularly excited with the reaction of Bulgarians who have read the novel. Some have claimed that it is the Bulgarian version of a Dan Brown thriller, while others said that this was the first time any international author had featured normal Bulgarian citizens in a novel. I have to admit that I made a number of small corrections in how I depicted life in Bulgaria in response to comments received from my Bulgarian readers.
What else have you written?
I published a collection of short stories, The Virtual Kibbutz, ten years ago. The stories were based on my experiences as a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel, in Israel’s southern desert. As part of my Israeli army service, I served on the kibbutz when it was established in the 1970s. During my years as a pioneer, I worked in agriculture – driving a tractor, picking vegetables and sorting them for market. It was amazing to see our successes in growing bumper crops of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. However, as my wife and I began raising a family, we realized that we were interested in more independence and control over how our children grew up. Also, living in the desert, so far away from our families, was a challenge. We left the kibbutz after seven memorable years, and moved to a small community near Jerusalem. I returned to the unique kibbutz way of life in my writing nearly two decades later and introduced readers to this lifestyle with the stories in my book.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
After publishing my short story collection, I realized that I lacked the drive to write another work of fiction based in Israel. This was what hampered my creativity for several years. And then, I was given an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have my job relocated to Bulgaria for two years. My wife and I made the most of our time in Sofia. We traveled extensively around the country, learning about Bulgaria’s history, culture, traditions, cuisine, and most importantly, its people. Little did I realize at the time, that everything I was experiencing was actually research for my novel.
Bulgaria is most definitely off the beaten track for western tourists, which is a shame, as its landscape is picturesque, filled with traditional villages, mountains perfect for wintertime skiing, and endless shorelines of sandy beaches. Few international authors have used Bulgaria as the setting for their novels, and Bulgarian authors are rarely translated into English, if at all. My fiction, based in Bulgaria, is therefore quite unique. Even now, three years after returning to my permanent home in Israel, I return to Bulgaria daily in my writing.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
In my day job I am an editor, and actually, editing is my most favorite part of writing a novel. I enjoy writing, but I absolutely adore editing. Editing is the stage that makes your writing come alive. With writing you create a manuscript, but with editing, you transform that manuscript into a book. As I edit, I add details to my scenes, character to my characters. Dialogues come alive during the editing process. I am currently editing my second novel and I am enjoying every step of the process.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
My wife is my alpha reader, the first person who is exposed to my fiction. She is hardly an editor but can easily find mistakes and typos in my writing. I shared my first novel with my wife as each section of the book was finished. Unfortunately for her, that meant long intervals between reading the different parts of the story. With my new novel, I have already completed a quick, first draft. As soon as I finish editing the draft into something presentable, my wife will get an opportunity to read it. I will also share the novel at that stage with a number of other beta readers and look forward to their remarks and suggestions.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
I work a long day at the office with a one-hour commute in each direction. By the time I get home in the evenings, I am completely washed out, with no creativity left in my body. I look forward to weekends, but that is the time when I enjoy my family, travel, reading, and relaxation. So, when do I find time to write?
I managed to add on an extra hour to my day and I use it to pursue my creative endeavors. I leave an hour earlier each morning for work, but instead of going directly to my office, I sit down for a one-hour session at a nearby coffee house. While I drink my morning cappuccino, I tune out all the noise around me and make a lot of progress in my writing.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I was inspired to write by my father, who worked as a journalist while I was growing up. With his encouragement, I created, managed, wrote and marketed a neighborhood newspaper, going door to door asking for news of my neighbors’ summer plans, and the activities of their children and their grandchildren. Afterwards, I sold the paper at ten cents a copy. I never got rich with this childhood pursuit, but I developed a desire to write and tell stories. It would take me many years until I was able to publish my stories as a book.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
Even before I published a novel, I started a writing blog where I regularly post articles about my travels in Bulgaria and Israel, as well as book reviews and other opinion articles. I also began blogging for The Times of Israel, a leading online news source. All of this became part of my campaign to market my novel.
I published Valley of Thracians with the KDP Select Program at Amazon. Last March, in an attempt to build up readership and get additional reviews, I offered the book for free. A total of 8,900 copies of the book were downloaded in a five-day period, temporarily making the book a best seller.
In October, I reduced the price of the book for five days from $4.99 to $0.99. This time I advertised the book in BookBub. Thanks to this advertisement, I managed to sell 910 copies of the book in one week. Those authors considering BookBub should also know that my advertisement was rejected twice, and I think this is because at the time of my original submissions, I didn’t have enough reviews of the book posted on Amazon.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I decided to focus all my marketing efforts on one social media platform – Twitter. I have never developed an author’s page for Facebook, nor have I devoted efforts into establishing a presence on Goodreads. But with Twitter I have become quite successful, with over 14,000 real followers.
My success on Twitter is due, in part, to my not marketing my books there. I never tweet to my followers, “Buy my books” but instead tweet value-added information and links to the articles on my blog and elsewhere. My followers are particularly interested in my writing tips, as I freely share all of my experiences during the writing and self-publishing process. I follow back fellow authors and writers, and actively hook up with them all the time. I have made many good friends on Twitter.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live in a small community in the forested hills west of Jerusalem. It is a perfect location, not far from Israel’s international airport. My wife commutes to Jerusalem while I commute to Tel Aviv. We’re close enough to enjoy the best of both cities as well as explore the rest of the country, which, admittedly, is not very big.
I would never consider moving to another location in Israel or elsewhere. I had the amazing opportunity to live for two years in Sofia, Bulgaria, and that gave me a chance to travel around Europe. That experience also became an inspiration for my writing.
Care to brag about your family?
I have three wonderful, adult children, and all three of them live in the Tel Aviv area. My eldest daughter is married. She and her husband have two beautiful daughters. My wife and I enjoy being with our family, and especially our granddaughters, as much as we can.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
In my day job, I promote online poker. I have traveled to Manila, London, Las Vegas, and Bulgaria as part of this job, and in 2005, I played in the World Series of Poker (in a celebrity/media event). I only promote online poker where it can be legally played, so Americans, Bulgarians, and Israelis are not the focus of my marketing efforts. I sincerely believe that poker is a game of skill and adults should be free to play it whenever and wherever they want, no matter if it’s in a Las Vegas casino or in the comfort of their own home on their computer.
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