Monday, January 10, 2011

Interview with Mark Adair

Briefly describe your journey in writing your first book.
When I reached the seriously-considering-college-options phase of life, I faced my first of several forks in the road. I loved to write and I was good at it, but technology…well technology was young, sexy, and promising. Like any red-blooded male, instead of listening to my inner voice, I went with sexy. During my ensuing technology career I designed and developed complex software systems at Disney, US Navy, Lockheed Martin, and my own software consulting business. All my success did little to drown out the voice inside insisting that I give some love to the writer in me.

One night, following months of 14 hour days, sleep completely avoided me. I couldn’t get my mind to turn away from the complex and critical technology projects. After trying every tactic at my disposal, I grabbed my trusty laptop and sat down in bed, thinking I’d do some more work. I sat there staring at the screen for 20 minutes or so. The next thing I know this guy pops into my head…bright, introverted, and sensitive, tormented by a past that he didn’t orchestrate and a future he couldn’t control. His name was John Truman.

The next several months flew by as I worked full-time developing software and spent every other waking hour writing the story that kept flooding into my mind. Every day I learned something new about the characters in The Father’s Child. They surprised me and the story followed along nicely, until one night I penned those famous words - “The End”.  

Did you query agents or traditional publishers before publishing on Amazon?
Yes, after I finished my 4th or 5th rewrite, incorporating feedback from my critique group and readers, I began sending out query letters to agents who my research showed me were most likely to be interested in my genre and style. The responses to my approximately 75 query letters ran the gamut - polite “no thank you”s, several positive notes about my writing and the book, and several requests for full manuscripts. Out of the full MS request group I had two serious discussions with agents concerning representation.

What factors influenced your decision to indie-publish?
After nearly 2 years of faithful pounding the find-the-agent pavement I’d cooked my frustration into a nice stew. I didn’t appreciate feeling like the old-school teenage girl waiting for a guy to ask her to dance. After all my technology success in some very demanding environments the slow going gave my ego a real pounding. One day, a screen writer friend challenged me to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with my career. After failing to adequately defend my position, or lack thereof, I realized that it was time to move on, one way or another. The possibility of indie-publishing seemed unromantic at best and semi-pathetic at worst but doing nothing looked quite a bit like quitting.

Setting my romantic notions about the traditional publishing world aside, it occurred to me that I didn’t really believe in a paradigm where a small group of people, mostly in New York, controlled what the reading public would and/or should be exposed to, not to mention eating up much of the profits in the process.  Living in Northern California I appreciated the organic, grass roots way of things, and then the light went on: e-publishing fit quite well with my overall approach to life, and my basic values. Why not give it a shot? What did I have to lose anyway? Time to move forward, asserting my career and my work. If I failed, I failed, but at least the writing career would be in gear again.  

Did you design your cover art?  If not, would you care to share your graphic designer’s information? How involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
No, I didn’t design my cover art. From the outset of my publishing journey I felt the weight of all the publishing responsibilities. So I asked for help. One of several areas I knew to be a weakness of mine was graphics/visual design. I searched for someone in my village, a friend with that particular skill set who would put something together, mostly for love and possibly some exposure. Julie Lynne Smith, a budding graphic artist, stepped up to the plate and produced the cover for The Father’s Child. I had ideas about what best projected the book’s soul but she took it from there and provided me with several alternatives.

How did you feel when you got your first sale?  Are you pleased with sales so far?
A family member bought the first copy, and the second. I appreciated their support and enthusiasm and their involvement is absolutely critical, but they didn’t seem like real sales. I’m a big picture person so first sales, subsequent sales, etc. are steps on the way to a bigger goal for me – writing success that turns into a full-time career and connecting with people, readers and writers.

Am I pleased with sales so far? Interesting question to ask a fiction writer. By definition I have a more than adequate imagination so I have to carefully differentiate between realistic expectation and hopeful scenarios…such as the one where Oprah limos up to my door and introduces me to a world of unbridled success and public adoration. On the other hand I’m a suspense writer so I’m used to telling my characters “no” and putting obstacles in their way. I am a confident person with plenty of personal successes in my past, and that experience set my personal bar pretty high. So, no, I’m not pleased with the sales so far because many of them are first level sales – someone contacted directly by me or someone in my support circle. As much as I appreciate their response, I’m looking forward to the time where most of my sales come from the 2nd level and beyond. Having said that, I understand it’s not a sprint and I’m in the first leg of the marathon.  

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned during your indie-publishing journey?
It’s a lot like work.J Seriously, it’s not a game and it demands diligence, persistence, confidence, talent, and community. I’m a community guy. I believe in the village concept when it comes to success in any field, but especially in writing. Story is what I do, but story without people doesn’t work very well. Everything revolves around people – the story, producing a publishable MS, getting the word out, and, of course, readers.

Writers inhabit a peculiar world when it comes to career paths and processes. The steps aren’t well defined and there are few individuals beyond the writer with truly vested interests. But without people it goes nowhere. So the biggest thing I’ve learned so far in this journey is the same one that has proven true in other journeys – people make the world go round. Help and be helped.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?
When I made the decision to head down this publishing route, I created a fan page off of my Facebook personal page and a Twitter page for me as an author. A couple years prior to that decision I’d put together a web site dedicated to my writing career with links to my blogs, updates on my writing, etc.

Over the past few years I’ve blogged in the more traditional see-my-life fashion but recently I began blogging a new quirky suspense story, one chapter at a time. ZAP is the story of a pub owner, Scotty MacDonald, whose life takes a crazy turn when an English gentleman shows up at his place of business and threatens to ZAP one of his employees. The ZAP blog gives readers a free taste of my writing and allows me the privilege of connecting with readers during my writing process.

Very recently I stumbled upon Kindle Boards – all Kindle, all the time. It’s opened up a whole new world to me. I’ve found the community there to be welcoming and helpful. The extremely high percentage of pro Kindle writers/readers creates a unique place to hang out, for those of us publishing on that platform.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
Not at this time. The Kindle market, although relatively new compared to traditional publishing, seemed by far the most mature electronic business with the most dedicated users/fans. I’ve taken a look at iBooks and Google, but for now Amazon receives the vast majority of my time and energy.

What’s next for you?
Dinner, but after dinner keeping my foot to the publicity gas pedal is my number one priority. In addition, I have 3 other suspense projects, including a sequel, in various states of completion. So even as I move forward with getting the word out about The Father’s Child, choosing the next project and settling down into serious writing mode will be right around the next corner.