Friday, May 6, 2011

Interview with Vincent Formosa

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?
My novel sprang from a germ of an idea a few years ago and then went from a 6 or 7 chapter short into a full blown novel once I started plotting things out.

I’m a big fan of the Douglas Reeman, Frederick E Smith style of World War Two novels and because my interest has always been history, aviation and military history it just seemed natural to write something along those lines.

My novel is called ‘The Eagles Of Peenemunde’ and it is set in May 1944.  It is about a reconnaissance pilot who gets shot down over Peenemunde and we follow his adventures once he is captured by the Luftwaffe. Peenemunde was a restricted test site in Germany for all of their secret projects like the V1, V2 and jets and these form a cornerstone of the plot.

The novel is very much an action piece with a mix of air combat, the specter of the Gestapo and explores the themes of loyalty, the limits of loyalty and how far people will go for one another. This is intertwined with a romance that flows throughout the story and provides the conflict that leads up to the big confrontation at the end.

How much research did you have to do?
Quite a lot. Even though my interest is history and military history in particular there is a big difference between knowing general dates and events and being familiar with the minutiae of a particular time and location. One of my main priorities was creating a believable world for my characters to inhabit so I paid a lot of attention to the tech, the setting, slang, rationing, airfield layouts, aircraft and munitions. I felt that that the more convincing I could make things, the more I could pull my reader into the story and take them along for the ride.

Thankfully I’ve built up a good collection of books on the period but even then there were a lot of things I needed to find out. This is where the internet proves invaluable for research. I was able to contact some veterans groups for certain information while some diligent googling led to me to some very obscure data that I was looking for. I’m quite happy at how things have turned out.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
I had a stab at getting published along the traditional route in 2008 with little success. To be fair, looking back, my novel was in nowhere near the shape it is now so that probably explains why they weren’t interested at the time. There have been huge changes in the manuscript since then.

At the time I had a small amount of email correspondence with Joe Konrath and spent quite a bit of time reading his blog. Funnily enough, it was revisiting his blog over Christmas in 2010 that convinced me to go the self-publishing route.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
I don’t belong to a critique group as such, but I have got a group of people who proof read for me, and we discuss my writing and where the editing needs to come. I’ve been quite lucky in that regard. I frequent a few forums where I’ve managed to make contact with a number of people whose profession is the print industry and I feel very privileged that they’ve given up their own time to help me.

Their help has made a tremendous difference to the quality of the final novel. The importance of a fresh pair of eyes to look on my writing is something that cannot be underestimated. They caught a number of things that improved the flow of the narrative.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish to Amazon?
I was aware of the POD (print on demand) model but hadn’t really looked at it. I had the same view most other people do if you say the words ‘self publish’. It was only after I read Joe Konraths blog that it crystallized a number of thoughts in my head. One of my proof readers, Heather Reasby had also gone the self publish route with her novels and she gave me some tips as well.

The big deciding factor was I recognized that my novel falls into a niche area. It’s not a mainstream thriller and as such if I had been published in the traditional way, not only would I get next to no publicity from my publisher but I’d be getting a reduced royalty for the privilege of getting my book onto the shelves of stores.

When you also consider the fact that more and more books are sold online I decided I had nothing to lose by doing this myself and getting a bigger royalty of whatever success the book has.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
No, again I was very lucky here. One of my proofreaders was published; another had been a publishing agent so I had an enormous amount of experience there to help me. I made a number of tough revisions to the novel late on during the editing period.

I do consider this one of my strength areas actually. I did cut a number of scenes from the novel and I was quite tough on what to keep and what to get rid of.

What have you’ve learned during your self-publishing journey?
I think from a writing standpoint the biggest lesson is being tough on yourself and be your own worst critic. You have to be able to constantly ask yourself, “Is this good enough, does it make the grade?” and if you do get a proof reader, then you need to listen to what they suggest and also be intelligent enough to divorce your personal feeling for the text from the reality of what people are telling you.

Aside from that, the whole media blitz, marketing thing is a huge learning experience for me. I’m picking things up as I go but I think the important thing is to not rush around thinking I know it all. I don’t, so if someone offers advice, then I need to listen.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
It’s early days yet, but it will be appearing at Barnes & Noble, Borders Australia, Sony, Itunes, and Angus and Robertson Australia in the coming weeks. I’m not sitting back though, if I can find other avenues to stock my book, I’ll look at the possibilities that are out there.

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
When it comes to marketing I am playing catch-up a little bit. Although I have a fairly strong sales background, marketing itself is a whole new game for me.

I have a blog of my own which is not just reserved for articles about writing. I like to mix and match with a bit of politics and thoughts on films, tech, computer games, books and other media that catches my interest.

I’ve joined a number of forums to announce the ebook and provided a voucher for $1 off to give an incentive for people to buy. I must admit that I’m still not getting Twitter at this time. I have a twitter account but don’t really make use of it. I’ve yet to be convinced about the value of twitter from an author standpoint. On the other hand, if I can convince Charlie Sheen or Stephen Fry to list my book, I imagine the exposure would be much better.

Online I am reaching out to a number of websites asking them to review my book and I’m waiting for hear back from those.

I’m kind of taking a staged response to this and learning as I go. The main thing I think is to get the book out to as many etailers as possible. Once I have that in place, I can start making the announcements of where it is available. Aside from the online stuff I’m also contacting print magazines that cater to the aviation market, like warbirds etc who may be interested in this kind of book to see if they will review it.

If the magazines are positive I may then look to expand to more mainstream publications and see if they will review it.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
At the moment; yes. This initial rush to get it ‘out there’ has taken up quite a bit of my time the last two weeks. It’s a learning process. I’m sure next time around I might be a little calmer about things, but it’s been a bit frustrating waiting for it to be approved and start appearing on sites.

To be fair, I may as well immerse myself in the marketing side of things because my brain isn’t exactly in writing mode right now. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve run searches on google to see just how many references I can find online to my novel. I tell you, it’s a good feeling to see it come up on screen.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
I don’t think I could lay claim to being an expert by any means, but it’s been a fun experience. The biggest piece of advice to anyone is to float around the forums for a bit, pick up on what’s happening and ask questions. One thing I’ve found is that people are very willing to help and provide advice. Never be too proud to ask.

I’m quite tech savvy when it comes to computers so I chose to go the do-it-yourself route but it was interesting trawling around looking at the options that are out there to edit and format self published manuscripts. What I would say is take your time in this regard, because you could end up paying out a chunk of money when you don’t need to.

What’s next for you?
More writing. I’m already100 pages into my next novel titled ‘Operation Audacious’ which follows the adventures of an RAF squadron in Russia in 1942. The last 7 months or so has been pretty intense with the focus being proof reading, editing and revisions, as well as preparing the manuscript layout for print and ebook compilation so it’s been a real pleasure to getting back to some actual writing.

I read an article recently that said writing a book is 30% writing and 70% editing and revision and now that I’ve finished my first novel, I can confirm that this is true.