In this Q&A, Michael Prescott, bestselling author of 22 titles, discusses the best and worst aspects of being a writer and his personal experience with traditional, indie *and* hybrid publishing.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO WRITE?
Financial gain! Truthfully, that is a large part of it. But I also enjoy seeing the story come together, often in ways I didn’t quite expect.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE “BEST” AND “WORST” ASPECTS OF BEING A WRITER?
Best is being self-employed, setting your own schedule, and being creative. Worst is the uncertainty in terms of income, and the frustration when a book you’ve worked on for a year doesn’t find an audience – or in some cases even a publisher.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGES AS A NOVELIST?
Trying to keep the work fresh. I write within the confines of a fairly narrow subgenre – suspense fiction featuring a female protagonist – and after a while it can start to feel like the same old thing. I don’t like to repeat myself in any obvious way, so coming up with new characters and plot twists can be challenging.
HOW DO YOU MARKET YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOKS?
In most of the usual ways – Facebook, author website, email. I don’t use Twitter – never got the hang of it. Marketing isn’t my strong point. To some extent I rely on my self-published books to sell themselves.
DESCRIBE A TYPICAL WRITING DAY. ALSO, WHEN DRAFTING YOUR NOVELS, DO YOU HAVE A WORD GOAL? PAGE GOAL? TIME GOAL?
There’s no typical writing day for me. Some days I write almost nothing, while other days I crank out a lot of stuff. I do try to write at least a few paragraphs every day just to stay in the game. But I tend to work in bursts of creative activity separated by intervals of inertia. Regarding word count, I used to aim for 100,000 words when I was being published by Penguin. These days I aim for maybe 80,000 words. As for a time goal, with self-published books there is no deadline – which may or may not be a good thing!
HOW LONG DOES IT USUALLY TAKE YOU TO WRITE A FIRST DRAFT? WHAT’S YOUR PROCESS LIKE?
The whole process from initial concept to finished book usually takes about a year. There’s no first draft per se – I keep revising as I go along, and I always make many structural changes, throw away scenes or rearrange them, etc. It’s a pretty free-form process, which is another way of saying it’s fairly chaotic and inefficient.
DO YOU EVER EXPERIENCE WRITER’S BLOCK? AND, IF YOU DO, WHAT USUALLY HELPS?
Writer’s block, for me, is a sign that something is wrong with the story. I make a list of things that might be bothering me about it, and then I try to address those problems. Once the problems are solved, the block is gone. So I find it useful to get blocked, since it serves as a signal that something is amiss.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST EFFECTIVE PROMOTIONAL TOOLS?
Email is effective. Promoting my books on Amazon’s Meet Our Authors threads was helpful in the early days of my self-publishing efforts.
WHAT PERCENTAGE OF YOUR TIME IS SPENT WRITING? MARKETING?
I spend almost no time on marketing, except when a book is first released and I have to announce it via email, Facebook, my website, etc. Otherwise I stick to writing. I also spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around, reading blogs or books, taking naps, and doing other unproductive things.
DO YOU SEE ANY ADVANTAGES WITH BEING AN INDIE AUTHOR VERSUS WORKING WITH A MAJOR PUBLISHING HOUSE? DISADVANTAGES?
Being an indie means you can write what you want, take as long as you need, and make no compromises. It cuts out the middleman and can sometimes result in a larger paycheck. On the other hand, you lose the benefits of working with experienced editors, who can bring a more professional polish to your work. And a book put out by a major house is more likely to come to the attention of Hollywood, to get international publication deals, and so forth.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED AFTER YOUR TITLE FINAL SINS WAS PUBLISHED. I UNDERSTAND THAT AFTER ITS PUBLICATION, YOU DECIDED TO GIVE INDIE PUBLISHING A TRY. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY?
After Final Sins, Penguin dumped me, along with many of their other longtime writers. They decided to focus on vampire erotica, which is definitely not my thing. I tried to get a deal elsewhere, but with the whole industry in bad shape there were no takers. To make money, I did some stock trading and option selling, which worked out well. Eventually [I] decided to self-publish Riptide as a vanity project. Things took off from there, though not right away. I published Riptide in the summer of 2010 and didn’t see my ebook sales start to climb until a year later, when I had added a couple of other ebooks to the mix.
HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH AMAZON’S IMPRINT, THOMAS & MERCER, DIFFERED FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING HOUSES?
Thomas & Mercer is a much more author-centered operation. They treat the author as a client, not merely a resource. They consulted with me extensively on the cover art, the promotional copy, and the marketing plans. Their attitude was not at all “take it or leave it,” as it can be with the New York houses. It was more like: “You’re the client and we need to make you happy.” They hooked me up with an excellent developmental editor, David Downing, for Grave of Angels. It’s been a very positive experience, without the stress that sometimes cropped up in my dealings with a more traditional house.
WHAT ARE SOME MISCONCEPTIONS YOU BELIEVE ASPIRING NOVELISTS HAVE?
That writing the book is the easy part and it’s really all about marketing. That there’s some secret formula for commercial success. That it’s not necessary to be familiar with a genre in order to write in it. That you don’t need to be a reader in order to be a writer.
ANY WORDS YOU’D LIKE TO LEAVE FOR ASPIRING NOVELISTS?
If I were starting out now, I’d probably go the indie self-published ebook route, at least at first. But I’d also try to get professional feedback from a freelance editor, because you need someone to tell you where you’ve messed up. And I’d hire a professional copy editor to clean up the text.