Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Interview with Dean C. Moore

Have you ever had a minor character evolve into a major one? Did that change the direction of the novel at all?
In The Warlock’s Friend, Cleo, a witch, was originally conceived as one of many dotting the enchanted forest of Thresdar.  But the instant I introduced her (or rather the instant I was introduced to her by whatever force was guiding my hand), I fell in love with her witty comebacks and personality.  She grew into a co-protagonist and sidekick to the hero, Heldor, with equal weighting and importance when it comes to determining the outcome of the story.

Similarly, in Escape From the Future, the arch-villain was conceived as this mysterious cloaked figure.  While he took on depth and breadth of character with each rewrite, he is ultimately surpassed as the force to be reckoned with by his protégé, Alicia.  It’s her coming of age story, the meteoric ascendance of her paranormal powers that kept stealing center stage from him.  I went with that and the story is a lot stronger for it. 

The Warlock’s Friend is perhaps as much sci-fi as it is paranormal fantasy. What’s more, there is a parallel present element that will make fans of the TV series, Supernatural, smile.  Escape From the Future is sci-fi and paranormal fantasy mixed with urban fantasy.  It takes some experience blending two or more genres seamlessly because the trick is to avoid turning off genre purists.  Sci-Fi folks, for instance, will tolerate more technical writing, whereas fantasy folks will start to roll their eyes and skim over those sections.  But over the years I’ve learned to balance the needs of both readers better. 

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
I did.  Quite frankly it’s an endeavor I recommend solely to masochists.  With industry consolidation going the way it is, it takes a board of ten or more people to sign off on the book.  So breaking in for an unknown writer is nigh on impossible.  What’s more, the gatekeepers have become corrupted, to my thinking.  Their own jobs are at stake with each title they pass up the food chain to higher and higher level gatekeepers.  So, for that reason, there is little inclination to pass on anything that doesn’t remind them of the last hundred books they’ve read just like it.  In short, fear over taking unnecessary risks continues to squeeze writers with original voices right out of the equation. 

I could go on with the insanity of pursuing traditional publishing outlets these days, but I’ll spare you the rant.  Suffice to say it’s easier to win the lotto.  Smaller publishing houses offer a loophole, but the advances are considerably more humble, and you have to ask yourself do you want to settle for ten percent royalties when you could do much better self-publishing? 

But don’t take my word for it.  Here are three links from people who have successfully published through mainstream publishers, including one best-selling author, and swear they will never go this route again, at least not until they sense the tide changing back to something more amenable to writers. 

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish your book(s)?
Quite a few things, some of which I’ve mentioned above.  Going the route of acquiring a traditional publisher means waiting at the very least two years to see your title make it on to the shelves.  And that’s assuming you hit nothing but green lights all the way.  You query an agent, and the first agent says, “Yes, I’ll represent you!”  Most people will not be so lucky and will spend a year or more acquiring an agent.  Then you have to hope the first publisher they send your book to will be excited enough about it to pick it up.  In reality, that’s usually another odyssey that takes a year or more before hitting pay dirt.  But let’s say you beat the odds.  From the moment the publisher gets his or her hands on the book it will now be, at a minimum, a year before they approve it and another year before it publishes.

Because I write a lot of sci-fi merged with paranormal fantasy, the first thing I had to ask myself was, could I afford to wait that long?  Or would my sci-fi by that point read more like ancient history?  Honestly, the world is moving too fast to accommodate those kinds of timelines.  Hell, in six months the entire global arena has changed.  Who could have predicted the Occupy Movement in the U.S.?  Or similar uprisings around the world?  According to our government, no one could have predicted ISIS.  Now, imagine this was some other industry.  Imagine the publishers had ordinary folks for customers, who weren’t used to being abused and kicked around.  Do you think they’d still be in business if they told their customers, “Thank you for your order.  We’ll get back to you in a couple years.” 

Then there’s the fact that I’m fairly prolific, not hugely so.  But you’d be surprised what you can do with great time management, and years of practice honing your craft.  Add to that a Morgan Freeman-like mandate to do as much as possible, owing to getting off to a late start and feeling like I need to make up for lost time, and well… Suffice to say no publishing house on earth would even be inclined to keep up with me.  Keep in mind that most writers writing full time with even mediocre time management skills can knock out probably two books a year, providing they’re average length books as opposed to tomes.  And part-timers who have a day job can maybe do one novel a year with excellent time management.  So my vacillating between two and three titles really doesn’t make me a speed demon.  But it’s still too fast for traditional publishing houses to deal with.

Let’s not even go into talking about the wasted time querying agents and publishers, preparing synopses after the fact (since I don’t use them to write.)  I calculated one time that the amount of time I’d wasted simply seeking representation (inside of one year) would have been much better spent writing another novel.  That was all the math I needed for a wakeup call.

Okay, I need to get off this subject because I clearly have an axe to grind!  Really, I’m the nicest, calmest person you’ve ever met, and my face hardly ever turns red as it’s doing now in the mirror.  I’m going to forego taking my blood pressure at this time as well.

But for a cool down after such a strenuous emotional workout, I’m going to mention that “indie author” doesn’t carry the kind of stigma it once did.  Probably because far more famous, established writers have come to the same conclusions I have.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
I belong to an ever growing circle of writers who critique one another’s work, ever-growing because you can never have enough eyeballs on your early drafts, or for that matter, your later drafts.  Also because I don’t just write paranormal fantasy or sci-fi but sometimes merge the two genres, and occasionally stray off the beaten path entirely and pen something like Love on the Run, which is a romantic comedy and action-adventure involving a couple of bank thieves.  Some editors have a wide ranging reading palate so feel comfortable editing me wherever I go.  Others like to stick to one or another genre.  So with that critique circle segmentation in mind, I’m forever looking to widen my number of cross-reviewers.  Partly because I’m fairly prolific as I mentioned above, and partly because I’m a bit of a workhorse with an entirely unreasonable writing and editing schedule that might well burn people out otherwise.  Not everyone is into power drinks and superfoods and esoteric meditative practices and P-90X just so they can keep slamming out books.  Some choose a more human as opposed to paranormal path.

What have you learned during your self-publishing journey?
That self-empowerment is very intoxicating.  I love being able to control every facet of the writing, editing, publishing, and marketing process and conversely I like the fact that my fate is no longer in anyone’s hands, save, of course, my own, and the reading public.  And I’d much rather take my chances with them than with an old school model suitable to another age in which only one percent of writers get to make it and the other ninety-nine percent are left out in the cold.  Not because they aren’t good enough, but because with industry consolidation it just makes more sense to give 80 million to Steven King for his next book than spread that money around and take a risk on 80 writers at a million dollars each or 160 writers at… I’m too tired to do the math.  You get the idea.  Why is this?  Because with industry consolidation they’d just be competing against themselves.  They own or represent all the other writers!  

To take their side of things (though it begrudges me to do so), in all fairness, it’s very hard to establish a brand name for a new writer. So much so that they don’t let you die once you do become a household name.  Clive Cussler has been transformed into a factory that will be turning out books in his name long after he’s dead.  Mercifully, while it’s a bit of a slog, with a little more self-empowerment, one can take steps to become more recognizable to people.  Virtual books tours like this one help!   

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
I’m mostly on Amazon and Goodreads when it comes to sales outlets.  The current exception is CreateSpace where you can buy my paperbacks directly.  And please do use that outlet over Amazon, as the royalty paid to writers is better.  At some point in the future I may sell books directly off my own website, at least for certain promotions, i.e. autographed copies.  And I’m contemplating, based on demand, using Lulu since I can do hard cover books and special large print editions with them that I can’t presently do with CreateSpace.  You’d pretty much have to use my “Contact Me” form on my website if you want some of these more elaborate alternatives such as a hard cover or a large print edition.  Otherwise, I have higher priorities right now, such as getting out the audiobook versions of my twelve and counting titles.  For indie authors, as with much of the industry these days, the sales are more in e-books and audiobooks than printed books.  That said, I really want to be as flexible for people as I can be.  I know my parents could benefit from large print edition books! 

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
I have my own website, and there you can click on the Events tab to find out what I’m up to at any given time.  I do host an indie book review blog as a way of paying it forward.  But being a voracious writer means some corners get cut.  I used to be a heavy reader at one time.  Witness the thousands of books in my library.  But I’ve since cut back to essentials pertaining to researching my next novel.  As a consequence, I’m lucky if I do two to four reviews a month.  I’m certainly not about to pose any threat to serious bloggers.

I use Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Pinterest, more or less in that order, at least when it comes to promoting my books on social websites.  On Twitter I’m mostly networked with other writers, and we help to promote one another’s titles.  I have the largest following there.  The downside is my twitter feed reads like an endless billboard of book ads and promos.  I myself tune it out after a while, so I try to be a little less aggressive when promoting my own work.  Beating people over the head with the same message over and over again is never a good marketing approach, in my opinion.

Google+ I use more for curating content and posting video clips, pictures, and news articles of interest to other sci-fi and fantasy writers like myself.  When I use Google+ for getting the word out on my books, I’ll likely be a lot more selective and understated than with Twitter. 

Facebook, I must confess I have a love-hate relationship with.  More hate at the moment.  They want a DNA sample to prove you’re a blood relation every time you try to do any networking with professional colleagues, or fans.  And they just don’t seem to get that I market my books under a pen name, not my real name.  So when I created an author’s page under my pen name, they were cool with that.  The problem is anytime someone hits “like” on the page it doesn’t show unless they’re using their real name as opposed to their pen name.  Are you beginning to see why it’s more hate than love currently in this love-hate relationship? 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been locked out of my Facebook account because I tried to follow too many people at once.  “You’ve been hacked!”  “No, you ditzes, I’m networking.  Bite me.”  Deep breath, Dean.  Time to switch the subject before you start sounding like just another hater.

That said, please do “like” me as it does help people to find me and my books on Facebook.  And like it or not, for unfathomable reasons, most of the world is on Facebook and continue to prefer it to other sites.  And sometimes you just have to go where the people are, and pray that someday they too will be as enlightened as you, and come over and visit you on Google+ or (really, fill in the blank however you want.)

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Yes.  They require entirely different states of consciousness!  Both are creative processes, and fun in their own way, but marketing brings out more of my business side, and that’s another character altogether.  And when he’s on stage, he doesn’t want to surrender the spotlight to the flakier, soft-edged writer, with no sense of boundaries or time schedules, or discipline as to when to put down the pen and start doing something else.  Actually I think there’s a diagnosis for people who have trouble changing from one thing to the other.  When they’re in any one groove they’re fine, but getting them to switch tracks in their brain requires some kind of jolt akin to electroshock, or possibly meds. 

I’ve tried every possible way of carving up my time: market first; write second. Next day, repeat.  Or vice versa.  Nope, doesn’t work.  Now I write for 9 months of the year, market for 3 months.  I hate to say it but that seems to be working out best.  The hard part about it is that’s 3 months I’m not writing!  And it just kills me.  Remember all my earlier rants about the benefits of self-publishing over traditional publishers?  Well, this isn’t one of them.  It would be oh so nice to dump all my marketing concerns on someone else’s lap.  But in all fairness, the only people who get to do that anymore are the top one percenters, the James Pattersons of the world.  Mid-list authors who may be every bit as professional and good but who have smaller followings have been on their own for some years with marketing.  Precisely why many of them started bailing to the self-publishing circuit, since if they have to do all the work anyway with building an audience, better they do it for a larger percentage of the take.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
Go for it.  There’s never been a better time to be a writer.  It’s true that most books don’t make much money.  But that’s because, going the traditional route, so much of the money is squeezed out of the system by way of overhead, that there’s little left for the writer to live on.  What’s more, if they aren’t going to promote your book, just throwing it on a bookshelf somewhere is right up there with putting a note in a bottle and setting it adrift on an ocean. 

But you can change the equation.  With self-publishing, you can make a little less humble of an amount off of each book, and you can also add to your revenue over time by getting out more titles until at some point you hit critical mass, and it is a living.  So definitely don’t write just one book then get discouraged when no one buys it.  Some concessions have to be made to the fact that we live in a media saturated age.  And it just takes people a while to find you.  I think Seinfeld was in its last season on TV before I stumbled on to it.  Homicide: Life on the Streets, was halfway through Season Two.  And these are major networks with no shortage of advertising outlets.  The flip side to that is you don’t have to be as discovered or as famous because you don’t have that kind of overhead.  You just need a humble following of readers who are devoted to you, love your work, and are eager for more.  And it’s a worldwide market!  How hard is it to find just a few hundred folks in all the major English speaking countries of the world (counting countries where English is a 2nd language, not a first)?  You can afford to be pretty obscure in your writing tastes, and with a humble enough lifestyle still get by.  So learn to live cheaply until you can get discovered, and hopefully by then you’ll have something more philanthropic to do with your money than plotting how to buy your first Mercedes roadster.

Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
Photography.  Nature (including hiking, camping, and snapping pictures.)  Dance.  I used to do modern dance for some years in College with the Martha Graham Dance company.  To this day I frequently return to a lot of the old routines and stretches before breaking into something more freestyle as part of my own aerobics regimen.  And I’m an audiophile.  I have a really elaborate stereo system for tweaking the most sound quality out of digital disks to make them play like pristine vinyl records.  It’s budget-audiophile, definitely, as this is one hobby that can get ridiculous fast cost-wise.  But if I ever do make it big with my writing, I can see indulging in some upgrades to my system! 


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