Rocking Self Publishing | Weekly Interviews With Self-published Authors
Hello there, I’m Simon Whistler, host of the Rocking Self-Publishing podcast, one of the most popular podcasts in the indie publishing space. Each week I interview one successful self-published author about how they made it so you can do the same.
When we first met thriller author Jim Heskett two years ago, he already had an impressive six titles out. Since then, Jim has been turning out books at a lightning-fast pace (20+ titles and counting!) all while juggling family, friends, and a full-time job. This week I catch up with Jim to find out how he does it.
Today, two years later, Jim’s got over 20 titles, including his Whistleblower trilogy and his Micah Reed series. In fact, just in 2016 alone, he published 325,000 words, consisting of five books, one short story, and one collaborative novella (with J. Thorn)…while maintaining a full-time day job and enjoying life with his wife and toddler son.
Jim says it took him two years to write his first book, one year to write his second, and then only six months to write his third. And he keeps getting better, as evidenced by his now sprawling catalog.
A critical component to Jim’s high level of production as an author is planning and organization. Pre-writing and outlining the story in its entirety before starting the first draft allows him to work out the story and decide what scenes will go in, as well as what proposed scenes should not go in. This allows him to cut out unnecessary scenes he would have otherwise written and would later have to cut. Also, knowing what he needs to write makes it easy for him to burn through the first draft of a 60K-word novel in a month’s time.
Jim focuses on drafting only one project at a time and not getting distracted by new ideas and other projects during the drafting process. This helps him get to the end fast.
“When I’m in the first draft of something, I’m totally faithful. I take it out to dinner. I tell it I would never cheat on it, I would never look at another manuscript…”
He also notes that he writes short, preferring to flesh out the scenes after he’s gotten a basic draft down. His first drafts tend to run 30-35K words long for a 60K novel. Not only does writing short help him finish the first draft much more quickly, it saves him time and words if he does have to make cuts down the road.
Jim does three drafts of each book, focusing on filling in the scenes on the second draft and a spit-shine polish for the third draft. The first draft gets sent to a trusted alpha reader to help him identify plot holes and structural problems. The second drafts gets seen by trusted beta readers. After the third draft, it goes to his editor for a final pass.
In between drafts, he works on his book description, noting that often writers will need to write dozens of drafts on their book description to get it just right.
Once his third draft goes to the editor, he finishes the book description, sends it to a cover designer, and starts scheduling social media content, reaching out to podcasters for interviews, and other promotional activities.
Good Organization is Critical
Jim likes to use Trello, a Kanban board-based activity tracker that works as a visual to-do list, allowing him to easily keep track of the multitude of moving pieces involved in publishing a book. He tracks his lists through boards labeled “DO SOMEDAY,” “DO LATER,” “DO NEXT,” “DO NOW,” and “DONE DID IT ALREADY.” By keeping up with it and focusing each day on the “DO NOW,” he’s able to drag each task through the various boards until they finally land in the “DONE DID IT ALREADY.”
“Thinking about writing is also productive time.”
Since Jim is as pressed for time as most indie authors are, he likes to think ahead on the next writing session or marketing task that’s coming up whenever he can. In order to keep the production process moving and books shipping out to market, it’s necessary to make use of any and all time, whether that means thinking about his story on his commute or utilizing his lunch hour to write.
In order to make sure he delivers the cleanest manuscript to his editor — thus, making his editor’s job easier and avoiding any unnecessary delays — after he finishes spit-shining the third draft, Jim listens to his third draft using his Mac’s text-to-speech app at the slowest pace he can stand to catch as many little errors as he can.
If he has time, Jim will also run his manuscript through the Grammarly and/or Pro Writing Aid apps as well, using them as another filter to catch errors.
Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alida Winternheimer, our favorite editing and writing coach, is back this week to discuss point of view, how too much showing can strangle your narrative, and her new upcoming book The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View.
Long-time listeners will remember Alida Winternheimer from previous RSP Episodes #58 and #165, but for those who are just meeting her here for the first time, Alida is an author, editor, mentor, and writing coach. Through her company Word Essential, she has helped countless writers become better writers, including Chris Fox, Mike Stop Continues, and Eustacia Tan.
“I really consider myself a teacher, so…as a developmental editor, my focus is on helping people become better writers through working on this one specific project and their personal goals.”
You can read more about Alida’s editing and coaching services at her website WordEssential.com, which is filled with great resources for writers, including Story Works Round Table episodes where she discusses various elements of fiction-writing with fellow authors Kathryn Arnold and Robert Scanlon.
To further her goal of helping writers, Alida is also in the process of creating a fiction writing series that covers the most important elements of creating great fiction: Characters, Point of View, Revision, Setting, and Plot. Her first book in the series is The Story Works Guide to Writing Characters and will be released in October 2016.
Her second book, The story Works Guide to Writing Point of View, is due out soon.
Narrative Point of View
When discussing POV in storytelling, we usually think of 1st or 3rd person POV, and, if we’re feeling a bit godly, Omniscient. But one POV that isn’t often considered is the POV of the narrative.
“The narrative has a point of view that is related to the point-of-view character, which then shapes how the reader experiences the story and the point-of-view character. The author doesn’t exist in the world of the story. The narrator is the storyteller who is responsible for everything on the page.”
Narrative exposition makes up, on average, 60-80% of a story, and it is what guides the reader through the story, cluing them in to clues with sleight-of-hand mentions of detail or cleverly disguised foreshadowing, dictating the whole emotional vibe of a story through word choice, pacing through sentence length, and giving the lay of the land, among a hundred other things. It is the “voice” of the story, and it has its own POV that writers need to pay attention to.
One common mistake that new writers make, Alida mentions, is taking the oft-cited show-don’t-tell advice and making it gospel. While showing a scene allows for a deeper reader experience when clued in to sensory details and inner thoughts versus the one-dimensional telling of what happens in a scene, using the POV character to show everything to the extreme can choke your narrative’s voice and make a scene drag. While readers want to be able to “see” a setting of a scene in their minds, they don’t necessarily need to read about the main character running his/her hands over every item and describing every little detail. As always, one should aim to strike a good balance that carries the reader deep into the world, as well as forward through the story.
Choosing Your Story’s POV
There are many considerations to choosing a POV character. 1st person allows the reader to really get into the character’s head, but it’s difficult to show what’s happening elsewhere in the story where the character is not. 3rd person is great for being able to jump to different characters in different scenes, allowing the author to show happenings in different places occurring at the same time. Omniscient allows the author complete freedom to delve into any character’s head, actions, behavior, the road up ahead, the past, the future…a tricky POV, to be sure. (Alida recommends writers check out The Known World by Edward P. Jones as a great example of Omniscient POV done well.) And of course, there’s always 2nd Person POV, usually associated with “Choose Your Own Adventure” type stories.
While all the POVs offer different advantages and limitations, “a great starting place,” Alida advises new writers, “is to write a closed, third person, single point-of-view character, past-tense narrative. That is your standard for contemporary literature…”
Writing point of view can be a complex element to learn and become good at. Alida offers lots of resources on her website for understanding POV, as well as her upcoming The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View; however, listeners of RSP can, for a limited time only, sign up for Alida’s The Royal! package for a substantial discount. The Royal! includes the following: a storyboard critique; 1 hour of coaching via Skype; a comprehensive developmental edit of 10,000 words; and a follow-up hour of coaching via Skype.
It is a fantastic opportunity to have a one-on-one coaching session/master class on your current work in progress.
Tips to Gain a Better Understanding of Narrative and POV:
Alida suggests taking published books in various genres and highlighting the exposition in order to gain a deeper understanding of how narrative and its POV works and shapes the entire story.
This week we welcome return guest and inspired collaborator J. Thorn to talk about his many collaborative projects, including his recent collaboration in his American Demon Hunters series with three other authors on a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans; The Author Copilot, his new coaching service for authors; and his two new podcasts!
J. Thorn is well known for his creative collaborative works. He has collaborated so far with J.F. Penn/Joanna Penn, Zach Bohannon, Glynn James, Sean Platt, Dan Padavona, T.W. Piperbrook, T.W. Brown, Michaelbrent Collings, Mainak Dhar, J.C. Eggleton, Stephen Knight, David J. Moody, J.R. Rain, Chad Lutzke, Bettina Melher, John L. Monk, Jim Heskett, and Lindsay Buroker. (Whew!)
One of his more recent collaborations took place on an overnight train from Chicago to New Orleans with three other intrepid authors…
“All aboard the 8.05pm from Chicago to New Orleans for 19 hours that will change their lives.”
So reads the description of American Demon Hunters: Sacrifice, the resulting supernatural thriller written by J. Thorn, Zach Bohannon, Lindsay Buroker, and J.F. Penn in just three weeks, starting in Chicago and ending in New Orleans. J. Thorn and his cohorts spent the train ride down from Chicago brainstorming the book’s concept, then the following week in New Orleans hammering out an outline and writing their respective characters (along with a bit of adventuring), and then another week of edit passes before it was ready for a professional edit, then up for sale on Amazon where it has garnered an impressive 4.7 stars with 53 reviews!
It was a tough process, Thorn admits, but it was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience that he and Zach enjoyed so much, they are considering putting together collaboration workshops in destination cities (with or without travel by train) where participants will join genre-specific groups and come away with a finished book at the end of it. (For more information, please visit The Author Copilot Retreat Sign-Up.)
Tips for Great Collaborations
For authors looking to create great collaborations, J. Thorn advises two key points:
It’s important to establish one’s own writing voice before attempting a collaboration. Experience in one’s own craft will make the collaboration process easier and the process much more smoother.
Seek out potential collaborators in the people you’ve already built relationships with. J. Thorn knew J.F. Penn for years before they did their first collaboration together.
While J. Thorn advises persistence — it took him three years of polite relentlessness to get approval to adapt a Clive Barker short story to video — he also counsels patience. Although he has participated in many, many successful collaborations, he points out that he’s also had eight failed collaborations. And that’s just part of the process, he says.
“No matter how badly you want a collaboration, you can’t force it. And if you feel yourself starting to force it, it’s probably not the right person or not the right time.”
Next Big Thing
More collaborations, of course! The third book of his dark fantasy dystopian series Dustfall with Glynn James just released last month; and this month, he and Zach Bohannon released Book 1 of their new post-apocalyptic thriller series Final Awakening.
“My best advice to my younger self or to a new author is there’s no perfect time. I think we’re all guilty of saying like, well, when I just get to here, then I’ll be able to do this…and sometimes I think you have to force yourself to do things that you’re not quite ready for and that sometimes work out and sometimes they won’t. But if you sit back and you think, like, well at this point in my life, or when I’m making this much money, or when my kids are this old — like, if you’re waiting for that stuff, there’s always stuff that’s going to delay your starting, so just do it.”
Have any listeners out there published a collaborative work? If so, would you do it again? What was your favorite part about collaborating? What was the worst part?
Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at email@example.com
Science fiction author Amy J. Murphy joins us this week to talk about her heroine-led space opera series Allies & Enemies, how she Kickstarted her indie publishing career, and productivity strategies she uses as a writer with ADD.
Amy writes “space opera featuring kickass heroines.” She has just published the final book Exiles in her trilogy, Allies and Enemies.
She first started out working on the traditional publishing side of things for a children’s publishing house and very quickly realized that she had no interest getting her author dreams crushed by “book factory” mentality. She came across Hugh Howey, which led to her discovering indie publishing, and she decided to get serious with a book she had been working on for the past 10 years.
Fallen, Book 1 of Allies and Enemies, was published November 2015; followed by Book 2, Rogues in April of 2016; and just recently concluded in March 2017 with the third and final installment, Exiles.
The books have sold well and received great reviews. Fallen was even a finalist for Best Military SciFi novel for the 2016 Dragon Awards.
In order to fund the editing for her first book, Amy set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money. The effort generated a small grassroots effect, with friends telling friends. The campaign concluded successfully, and Amy found a great editor and got her first book Fallen completed and published.
Though many folks believe it’s difficult to run a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter without a big following, it’s actually the opposite, Amy says. It’s a great way for creators who have a small to no following to start building a following from scratch, start generating interest and building a little community in a structured environment.
As a result of her Kickstarter campaign, not only did she raise the funds to pay for a professional editor to help her get her book finished, but it led to an expanded social media network. She received a shout-out on a friend’s podcast, which led to her getting invited to do a reading at Geek Mountain in Vermont along with a fellow writer.
Of course, social networking works best in both directions. Outreach was important to her success as well. An email to Lindsay Buroker commenting on her podcast led to an invite onto the show herself, and eventually to a spot in a box set with popular authors like Chris Fox and Lindsay Buroker.
Writing with ADD: 10 Years a Book to 3 months a Book
It wasn’t until later in life that Amy was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), a condition that makes it difficult for her to concentrate for long periods of time, among other things, but she feels it contributed to the length of time it took for her to write her first book. She had to develop “work-arounds” in her work life to help her avoid distractions and spend more butt-in-chair time in order to get Books 2 and 3 done.
One of those strategies, she says, that helped her tremendously in going from writing a book in 10 years, to 10 months, to just 3 months, is the Pomodoro Technique, a productivity technique that involves setting a timer for regular short periods of focus time broken up by frequent breaks. (See Amy’s blog post: “Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique”)
Amy’s Five Rules of Indie Publishing…
…that she has learned by breaking them….David Letterman style:
If you’re going to have a series, write the whole series first…and make it binge-worthy.
Establish your writer platform, website, social media, and email list from the get-go.
Don’t throw money away by paying for ads randomly. Develop a game plan and marketing strategy for launching your books.
Make sure you have a CTA (Call to Action) at the back of all your books thanking your readers and inviting them to visit your website to learn more about you, maybe get a free story/book, and, of course, to sign up for your mailing list.
Do not give up. Don’t expect overnight success either, but don’t give up. There’s a place for everyone who wants to share their stories.
Advice to New Authors:
“There’s no wrong way of doing this. You pretty much will find out the course you’re going isn’t the best course. The answers are out there, and you just have to find the course that works for you.”
Don’t give up, and never be afraid to ask for help.
What are some of your favorite productivity tips, strategies, and tools that you like to use to get more writing done?
Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at firstname.lastname@example.org