Friday, November 18, 2011

Meet John Michael Hileman-Christian Writer with a Story to Tell

I met John through a conversation on FB and we hit it off not only from a writer's point of view, but from our personal convictions and faith. He's a talented, somewhat complex guy and I've greatly enjoyed the process of getting to know him. I think you will, too!

So, you’ve written two novels that have been published so far. Was the writing process pretty much the same for both books, or did you find it different the second time?
Most of VRIN took place in a Fantasy world of my own creation. It’s pretty easy to write about a world that doesn’t exist. No one can say, “Hey! There aren’t any stairs in front of the Blah Blah Blah museum!” When you’re writing about a man hunting for a dirty bomb in the streets of Boston, you need to have a working knowledge of Boston and the surrounding area. Since part of my childhood was in the suburbs of Boston, I have a good idea of how things work. The internet filled in the blanks.

Tell us about your recent novel, Messages.
The elevator pitch sounds something like this. David Chance can see messages in the sea of words around him, messages that warn him of future events. But can he trust the messages to guide him through a gauntlet of dangers to stop a dirty bomb from detonating in the city of Boston? But the best way to describe the book is to let others says what they thought of it. “Messages, by John Michael Hileman, is a high-energy, fast-paced work of fiction, packed with grit and substance” ~ Literary Classics Book Awards and Reviews. ”From the first page I was swept away. The characters are well developed, the plot is masterfully woven and the subject is entirely fresh.” ~Author Diann Young

So, what drew you to the speculative fiction genre as a writer?
I like being able to create scenes no one has ever created before. Speculative fiction offers a canvas for that kind of out of the box thinking. Plus, alternate realities allow you to examine the principles and precepts of God from another perspective.

What has the publishing process been like for you?
Lots and lots of waiting. Writing a book is merely the beginning of a vast journey. If you set foot on the road, prepare your heart to enjoy the walk, because there aren’t’ many rest stops on the way.

What’s been the most difficult part of the writing/publishing process?
Overcoming doubt. When I started as a writer, I wanted success, and I feared failure. God has shown me that success is not in the quantity of people who love you, but in the quality of people who love you. It is fair to say, my readers have given me more than I could ever give them. I no longer wonder if I was meant to write, because I have a stack of e-mails from dear friends, who remind me how important what I do is.

Just last night I got a letter from a concerned mother who asked whether or not my latest novel would transform the heart of her Atheist son. I shared this insight. A stonecutter was once asked, “which strike of the hammer broke the stone?” The stonecutter replied, “The first. The last. And every one in between.” I don’t know if my book will be the strike that breaks her sons hard heart, but knowing that I am partnering with someone of such great character, gives value to the work I put in to writing it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Chat with Jenny Milchman

I met Jenny a few months ago while trying to figure out how to maneuver my way around the minefields disguised as Amazon Author's Forums. She gave a rookie some good advice, serious heads up on what I could expect on the rocky road of Indie publishing, and made me feel welcome in the process.
A few weeks later, I downloaded her short story, THE VERY OLD MAN, and loved it.
Since then, I've been able to share our path with her, and get to see her goal of being published come to fruition. Her book, COVER OF SNOW, a literary thriller, is forthcoming from Ballantine.

It couldn't have happened to a more deserving woman.

Jenny recently completed a cross-country tour of some 60 bookstores. See what she had to say about it!

1)      What made you decide to undertake such a pre-book tour?   

We actually call it a pre-pre-book tour, since we’ll be doing another one next summer, which will be six months before my book is out!
Anyway…how it came to be is a bit of a story.
Last year, I got the idea for a holiday called Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. I’d been taking my own children to bookstores since before they could walk, let alone read—actually, the first thing I did after learning I was expecting was visit Borders for a gift to give to my parents to announce the news, so you could say my kids have been going to bookstores since they were embryonic. And I’d been reading a lot about the demise of this bookstore or that, and for me each one was like a little death. Take Your Child Day grew out of that.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the response people would have. Bloggers took it viral. The national e newsletter for people in the book industry, Shelf Awareness, covered the Day. Then the ABA (American Booksellers Association) wrote me. Before you knew it, book lovers everywhere had brought Take Your Child Day to over eighty bookstores in thirty states and two foreign countries.

So our first tour of bookstores happened before I even knew a book of my own would ever be coming out. We visited bookstores in New York, and up through Massachusetts, spreading the word about Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. By the time news of my contract—which was a long time in coming, over 11 years—arrived in May, it just made sense to expand it to a cross-country tour of bookstores. We could see for ourselves the state of bookselling in America. Were the dire reports really accurate?

In the midst of our trip, of course, Borders went bankrupt. But I am happy to report that that loss notwithstanding, not only did things not seem to be dire, they were thriving. We saw brand new bookstores opening, flagship stores hailing second branches, and others expanding into new spaces above and below and to the sides of their original stores.

2)      How did you decide which stores to visit?

Every morning my husband, who is a hack smartphone user, would figure out which bookstores were closest to where we needed to be going, and plan our route accordingly. We drove out of the way sometimes to reach a particularly tempting one, but with only a few exceptions—say, some places in North Dakota—you can’t throw a stone, or drive a car at any rate, through this country without hitting a bookstore. Most days four or five.

3)      How did you approach the staff at each visit? 

This was harder than I thought it would be. I learned that I really am not comfortable—suffer a lot of anxiety—going into places where I’m not positive of my welcome. And trying to sell anything of mine just puts me over the edge. I feel like the guest who knocked over her wine glass at a dinner party. But having Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day to talk about helped. I really believe that what we are doing with this Day will help the industry—show the next generation how unique are the pleasures of spending time in a store, surrounded by books and people, instead of online. We’re fostering readers—we may even be creating tomorrow’s bookstore owner. So I enjoyed talking to the booksellers about that.

Some of them just naturally asked how I came to be doing this, did I own a bookstore or work in one? And then I found it possible to say, “Actually I’m an author,” and even offer them one of the bookmarks we’d made up with advance blurbs for my book.

We also bought books at every single store. My clothing allowance—possibly our kids’ college funds—went to funding this trip. But I really believe that if I want a store like Night Heron Books & Coffehouse in Laramie, WY to exist, for it to be there with a welcoming soul, and a piece of pie, and volumes to pore over, then I have to support it with everything I have.

4)      Since your book isn't coming out until 2013, how did the bookstore staff respond to your visit?  Will you keep in touch with the bookstores?

Most of them seemed to feel that wasn’t long at all! They’re booksellers, they know all about sales forces coming in with catalogs six months out. But you’re right, it does seem like a long time, and I am making an effort to keep in touch. Some of the bookstore owners—such as Becky Chapin of Calico Books in CO, who is the second generation of booksellers in her family—have become Facebook friends, or even people I’ll call.

At a pure gem of a bookstore in Salt Lake City called The King's English Bookshop we met a bookseller named Rachel who was the most enthusiastic person-under-twenty-five I've ever chanced to meet. Her love of books was positively radiant. She walked around the store, pulling volume after volume down, each one a better choice than the last, and described them in such detail you could tell she read as voraciously as her lucky customers.  

The owner of OldFirehouse Books in Fort Collins, CO, Susan Wilmer, not only dug up treasures for my eight year old that made her beam, she invited me to return for Mountains & Plains, the trade show where booksellers come together to talk about what’s new and exciting. Others imagined events we could do when my book comes out—a bookseller named Judith who owns Judith's ReBook in Midway, UT talked about getting her church group in. I felt as if I didn’t just meet bookstore owners, I made friends.

5)      Did your publisher (Ballantine) know about this tour? 

My editor definitely knew—she asked me to send photos of the stores! Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day was actually one of the first things she asked me about when she took me and my agent to lunch after the deal was made. I think publishing and bookstores are close bedmates and anything that’s good for one is good for the other. I also think some of it is pure altruism: my editor, like the best of editors everywhere, adores books and was happy I’d get to be amongst so many of them.

6)      Did they encourage this tour?

My agent and I have spoken a little about Random House’s role in my marketing efforts, and though I can’t say much now (and actually don’t know all that much for certain at this point) it does seem as if they are very enthusiastic and supportive of the kinds of things I want to do. Which is to say, very little “marketing” at all, and more building the kinds of relationships that come together over a mutual interest and passion: books.

7)      Since a lot of our readers are Indie writers (and we're always looking for new ways to promote), do you think you'd recommend such an experience for Indies?

That’s a very complicated question. It gets right to the heart of the difference between the two publishing paths. There’s the traditional path, where even if you never visit a bookstore yourself, the major house is going to get your book into most or many of them—for a time. (About two months if you’re lucky). And there’s independent or small press publishing, whereby getting into bookstores…will take work. (I was going to say, is a fight. Both can be true).

At the same time, I think that being in bookstores is crucial for many reasons. First, it’s hard for a book to really break out, sell in enormous numbers, without the help of bookstore sales. Some do—but most of the successful ones do all right, maybe even do well, but never reach the numbers that a book that covers all the bases does. Amanda Hocking sold millions of copies, but still felt that a traditional house would give something to her, and one of those things is likely a bookstore presence.

Second, the number one way to sell books is word of mouth, and booksellers—to paraphrase Harrison Ford in the film Witness—are heck at word of mouth. These are the folks who will hand sell your book, not just to every customer who comes into the store, but to other booksellers—the people responsible for Indie Next Picks and Indiebound bestsellers. Bloggers are great at WOM, too, and I definitely feel that a balance between face to face kinds of promotion and virtual ones is key. But ignoring the good, old-fashioned, real time, live interaction element is a mistake, I believe. In fact, I believe that as our world goes increasingly virtual, F2F will become new-fashioned—enjoying a resurgence as its import is felt more and more.

There’s also a final reason, a touchy-feely one, which has to do with a dream most writers have. To riffle through the pages of your book between covers. To catch someone in the act of reading it and say, “That’s mine. I wrote that.” To walk into a bookstore and see it on the shelf.

What I would recommend for the indie author is a modified version of what I did. You don’t want to be met with a lot of no’s or blank stares—these caused me discomfort when I experienced them simply because I was doing this in an unusual way, in advance of the sales force the publisher sends. And you don’t want to spend an indie author’s hard won budget fruitlessly.

What I would do as an indie author is first begin frequenting the bookstore or stores nearest you. A lot. Attend events, author signings or, hey, story time with your kids. Buy books if you can. Make friends of the booksellers. Chances are they will at least let you leave a few copies of your book on consignment, but I would try and stack the deck a bit better than that.

Find out which bookseller is responsible for staff picks, and/or who reads in your genre. Ask them if they’d be willing to read your book. Bring a plate of cookies—offer to shelve some books so they can get a little extra time—anything it takes to drum up a willingness to flip through yet another volume, one they don’t have advance reviews telling them is good. If your book delivers—if it’s as good or better than the one that got that starred review—this will take you places you might not have imagined you could go.

Susan Novotny owns The Book House in Albany, NY, and she printed up copies of one of her customer’s books, using it to launch her own Staff Picks Press. A sales rep from Simon & Schuster spotted this book, read it—and went on to make an offer. The book sold at auction a few months after that.

"Many booksellers go out of their way to support local, independent, and small press authors already, so it's always a good idea to seek them out. Greg and Mary Bruss of Mysteries & More in Nashville, Tennesse had no fewer than four author events scheduled the month we visited. At least half of those were with local, small press authors."

If you’re now convinced about how important bookstores are, draw a radius around your home—as far as you can afford to drive in a day or a weekend—and identify the bookstores within it. Then do the same thing. Visit, say hi, buy a book or two. Go there more than once. Perhaps your local bookseller read (and loved) your book and will put in a call about you, say, “So and So is coming up.”

The bookselling community—like all worlds built around a mutual passion—is ultimately a small one. One or two contacts can spiral exponentially. 

8)      Did you talk about your Amazon anthologies with the bookstores at all? 

A new e press published one of my short stories “The Very Old Man” in a collection called Lunch Reads 1 last year. That’s my only publication to date, and I didn’t mention it to booksellers. They can’t sell an e volume—not yet anyway—and it’s only a short story. I have another story coming out in a print anthology called ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II to be published next fall, and I hope to have ARCs to bring around on our next bookstore trip. The other authors and I featured in the anthology will actually be doing some touring for that, so I’d love to set up events in the nearer places.

9)       I guess, mostly, I'd like to know if you think it was worth it?  I know it's impossible to tally at this point, but do you think it was a good experience?

It was a wonderful, joyous, soul-changing experience, for me and my family.  
Every day was a new adventure, and only partially because we saw the Rockies melting into the Badlands to salt flats and volcano ruins then the Sawtooths all around us. The bookstores were the real adventurous part. How different every single one is from the other, the singular nature of each store. The conversations we had with new people shopping, browsing, and working there. The cozy place to sit in one, the smell of burnt sugar in another. The sight of the books, a volume in Montana that would never be stocked in Illinois. The bravery of every single man or woman selling books today—how they are giving their all to the thing they love best.

We brought presents for the booksellers—candy tins that we filled and decorated with a photo and the name of my book. My husband called this swag. And to this day as we’re leaving the house, calmly and a tad boringly by comparison back at home in the suburbs, my five year old will call over his shoulder, “Got the swag bag?”

The trip affected all of our lives, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Enjoy some interesting pictures of Jenny's journey....just click on the links.

Other interesting links:

Shelf Awareness

The ABA:

Jenny's Blog

Monday, August 22, 2011

Interview with British Author Tim Ellis

I first met Tim online at a Facebook site called Kindle Writers. We kind of hit it off and Tim helped answer some of the glaring questions than Newbies can have, and made me laugh doing it! After we'd talked for a few weeks, I purchased his first Parish and Richards thriller/mystery called A Life for a Life and greatly enjoyed my first real British Indie novel. Since then, Tim has been on a bit of a roll, including his third Parish and Richards novel, The Flesh is Weak. He has graciously agreed to be my first guest blogger. Welcome the talented and funny Tim Ellis.

You are an academic with considerable education. Why write novels?

First of all, let’s dispel the myth of me being an academic. I left school at 15 without any qualifications, and after a couple of dead-end jobs, joined the Army where I stayed for 22 years reaching the rank of Warrant Officer Class 1 (Regimental Sergeant Major). I completed my Masters degrees and Doctorate between the ages of 40 and 50 merely to prove I could. I wanted to write novels for as long as I could remember, but like most people, life got in the way. You have a family, bills and a mortgage to pay, who can afford to pack it all in on a whim? So, I didn’t really get the chance until I retired in 2009, and 18 months before that I’d already begun learning how to write, so by the time I was a man of leisure, I’d written three books.

You write in several different genres, including young adult, historical, crime, and science fiction. Which genre is your favorite and why? Which of these genres is most popular among readers in the UK?

People generally write what they read. I read everything, and that’s why I write in so many different genres I suppose. My favorite, if I have a favorite, is historical, but that’s not what people want to read, and not what sells. The most popular among readers in the UK (and in the US the last couple of months) is crime, especially my Parish and Richards series.

Are you doing anything special to market your books? Do you have any suggestions for US writers who might want to reach a wider audience in the UK?

No, I don’t do anything special to market my books. I use Twitter, Bookbuzzr, I have a website in which I write the occasional blog and have a Featured Author page. Sometimes I do interviews, but not too often. I suppose I’m a great believer in my writing doing the talking. If people like your books, then word will spread. As for suggestions for US readers trying to shoehorn into the UK market – I don’t think there’s an issue with American writers being read by UK readers, we devour everything you throw at us from TV, music, and literature. And if that’s true, then the US writer only has to get noticed. Networking sites seem to be the main medium for promotion, but apparently writers are still permitted to self-promote on the Amazon discussion forums in the UK!

I’ve recently read of UK authors earning healthy contracts after self-publishing. As a rule, how do readers and writers in Britain feel about such efforts? Had there been a stigma about those who self-publish as "not being good enough?"

In my humble opinion, the stigma of self-publishing remains and that’s part of the reason writers accept a traditional publishing contract. Another reason is because of the difficulty in marketing and promotion and the way it eats into your writing time. It’s been discussed on many websites, blogs and so forth, but one of the issues about putting your book out there is getting people to notice it. I don’t think anyone has ready-made answers to that conundrum, but one thing I’ve noticed looking at my sales figures is that the figures have increased month on month. This suggests that if you’ve got a good book the word will spread.

Would you take a contract from a traditional publisher?

Is this the million-dollar question? I’ve had an offer already and declined. I’m not saying I’d decline the next one, if one came along, but it has to be right for me. I’m gradually creating a fan base, and from the emails and reviews I receive people like reading what I write. One assumes that this fan base will continue to increase as long as I continue to write good books. The question then, is why do I need a publisher?


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Are Ebooks Better When They're Shorter?

Yeah, I know. Its been a couple of months since I wrote one of these, but I've been busy trying to make a splash in the ebook world. More on that later. Not to mention, I don't like to just write to see myself in print...we'll unless you take ebooks into consideration...then I like it a lot!

Speaking of ebooks (nice segue), I don't know if I'm the only one that's noticed this, but it seems the voracious ebook readers out there are latching on to the shorter, less wordy cousins of the longer reads.

I think James Patterson sort of started this trend with his short, fast-reading chapters and then others seemed to follow. I noticed how much quicker I read his books, and then got on to the next one. I see that same kind of trend in ebook world. I'm a prime example. I've down loaded a ton of ebooks and find myself getting bogged down on the longer reads, especially if they drag out a point here or there. But folks like Joe Konrath, John Locke, Amanada Hocking, J.Carson Black, and Patterson, have had great success by telling a crisp, fast moving tale that doesn't take weeks to read. Even in my limited experince of just four months, I get at least one comment a day on folks that have read Caribbean Moon one day and Deceitful Moon the next. Both are around 275-300 pages and move very quickly.

Is this a sign of the times regarding attention spans, or do readers really want to fill there lives with new, fresh adventures as often as possible?

So tell me what you think, and does this make sense?

P.S. I said I'd address the success of Caribbean Moon and Deceitful Moon, so here goes: CM is now #4 in Kindle Books and  store, DM is # 14 as of this morning...still trying figure things out, but so far, so good. :)


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is More Better?

I recently read a popular blog where the the author says he has over 40 titles on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble. Very prolific. There are all kinds of works from short stories to collaborations to novels. I like this author and have read many of his works. But does that kind of production make it more of a business than an art? Is that how it should be?

I keep thinking of that line in Jurassic Park "...just because we can, doesn't mean we should..." But I also think of "...those that can, should..."

Back in the day, if a writer released two books in a year, it was an anomaly, a freak of nature. Now, for some, and you know who you are, it's one every two to three months, ignoring all of the previous taboos involved in this business.
No production concerns, no agent to slow down the process, and NO gatekeeper persona to sift through. Just write and publish. Write and publish. Write and publish.

Is this new wave a good thing for the publishing world? More specifically, the indie world?
Tell me what you think.

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Start to the Blog thing...

I Started Over...

I've dedicated myself to restarting this blog. The first few entries were about my journey into publishing, but there are only about a billion people doing the same thing...such a rookie... so I'm going a different direction.
I'm pretty sure there are some wonderful stories out there, so instead of reading about me...well at least ALL of the time, I'm going to let you begin to read about others, authors and readers. In the 35 days since I published Caribbean Moon , I've met some absolutely wonderful folks. I had no idea writers, indie (independent) and legacy writers, were so supportive. Being an ex-jock, I suspected there was nothing but guantlets of competion laid down hourly and may the best writer, author, win. Once again, I was wife would never believe what just came out of my keyboard. I don't ask for directions, either. :)
So in the coming weeks, time permiting, you're going to get the opportunity to meet some extraordinary folks with unique journeys and dream destinations. I hope they grow to mean as much to you as they have to me and that you discover some truly talented writers not named King, Patterson, Robb, and, of course, Murcer!