Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?
Oh yes, which I imagine is a commonality with most debut authors. What is truly unique about the first novel is the lack of pressure. You have all the time in the world to finish it (and all the time in the world to self-critique and talk yourself out of it). But once it’s out, you transform into a published author with reader expectations. It took ten years to publish my first novel, but I have released nine additional titles in the four years since.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
There are soooo many things that I would change, because publishing your first novel is a very steep learning curve. I made a lot of mistakes, as most authors do, but if I had to narrow them down to a single thing, it would be to develop a marketing plan before publication. The clock starts ticking once you hit that “Publish” button. If you don’t have a launch plan, your book will fade into obscurity faster than you think.
As a simple example, most book awards will only accept submissions within the first year of publication. By the time I learned that, my debut novel was already ineligible. Most things in the writing world are time sensitive, so it’s a huge boon to hit the ground running.
Is there a genre you absolutely despise, or does all writing demand equal respect?
This is a thorny question, because good writing does not equal good ideas. I can appreciate quality prose regardless of genre, but the value of that prose is bound to the topic it supports or the story it creates. In that regard, I don’t think it deserves equal respect. A great story with decent writing is more valuable than a boring story with perfect writing.
As far as the genres themselves, I have never been a fan of romance or inspirational fiction. Nothing against the authors or readers, I just find zero appeal in those stories. In fact, I poked fun at speculative romance in Sparkle Pirate, the third Max and the Multiverse short.
Which genre of book do you think should be most adopted for kids in school?
Science fiction, no contest. The entire genre is about big ideas and cultural reflection, which is hugely beneficial to the developing mind. While I can appreciate the classics, I think kids would be far better served reading Dune instead of The Great Gatsby.
Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
I have a pretty long list of celebrity encounters, thanks to my days in the music industry and my active status on the convention circuit (when there’s not a global pandemic). The pinnacle remains William Shatner, whom I met at the Albuquerque Comic Con. I usually meet celebs in green rooms and pre-event mingles, but this time around, I wanted a photo booth pic. When it was my turn to pose with Captain Kirk, I couldn’t help but do this:
What is your favorite quote?
Too many to name, but given current events, let’s go with this gem from Douglas Adams:
“It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring writers?
Do not stress over arbitrary deadlines. I know you want to release that book before [insert some personal date], but it’s a meaningless goalpost that can force you into bad decisions. Delays are not the end of the world, so don’t fret about them.
In fact, here’s another favorite quote from Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
What have you put most of your effort into regarding writing?
Marketing, by a wide margin. Everything else is a distant second, including the writing itself. It’s a sad fact that marketing is the make-or-break point for writing success. It doesn’t matter how good your story is if no one ever reads it. Writers constantly complain about marketing, and for good reason, but the ones who balk are the ones who never make it out of the trenches.
I often say, “Writing is the easy part. Marketing is where the real work begins.”
Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover.
Cover design is a constant struggle. For the longest time, I did not fully appreciate how critical it is to a book’s success. I went through numerous designs for my Max and the Multiverse series before I got it right. In essence, a cover needs to evoke a tone, genre, and hook without saying a word. (In my case, a lighthearted sci-fi comedy about a nerd who surfs the multiverse.) Previous covers touched on bits and pieces, but they never quite captured the full picture. Once I figured out the proper design, my sales shot through the roof overnight, all without changing a single word of the story. It was an “aha” realization that I’ve heeded ever since.
I should also note that covers need to look professional. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a kind but worthless sentiment. All readers do, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your cousin may be a whiz at Photoshop, but that doesn’t make him/her a professional illustrator. This is why I always advise that authors with limited budgets should spend every cent on professional cover designs.
Do you Google yourself?
All the time, but only for branding purposes. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is essential to visibility. I am constantly tweaking my website and blog to curate my search rankings.
Pro tip: you can control the summary box that Google displays at the top of the results page. Authors can claim that section and request updates, which is hugely valuable for branding. I also recommend using different search engines to compare indexes. Duck Duck Go is a great privacy-friendly version that shows unfiltered result sets.