This week I am chatting to Joe Clay, a self-published writer of paranormal fantasy from Georgia, USA. He started writing flash fiction on his blog, Author: Joseph Clay, in 2014, and has since expanded into full-length novels. The first edition of his novel Demons of the Jungle was released in 2014, and the second edition came out last year – the series will continue with Witch’s Dilemma, which has a speculated release date of May 25, 2016 (edited by Human Voices Editorial Services).
I spoke to Joe about the self-publishing process, planning techniques, and the life of a full-time indie writer.
On your blog you have expressed strong opinions about how to go about self-publishing. What is the process you recommend indie writers take?
There are several steps, due to the fact that a self-published author must wear many hats. I’ll give you my top 3 in order of importance.
- Hire a proofreader/editor. No matter who you are and what degrees you have on the wall, you cannot edit your own work. The reason the self-publishing industry has a bad reputation is because of the shabby work out there, which hurts you and the rest of us. Finding the proper proofreader/editor is a delicate process and the two of you must mesh. Put their name in the book, first to give them credit for catching your mistakes (and trust me there will be some), second because it lets the reader know that you took the time and effort to have your book edited, and last but not least because everyone does a better job when they have to sign their work. If the proofreader/editor you choose balks at you listing their name, do not use them. Take the proofreader/editor’s advice over anyone else’s; you have to trust them and you must have a good working relationship with one another. You don’t have to make all the changes they suggest, but explain to them why you think the story needs to stay the same, or come up with a compromise in a professional manner. Don’t take the comments they make to heart – you are paying them to be brutal and bleed all over what you thought was perfect.
- Hire a graphic designer or artist. The first impression your book makes on a potential reader isn’t the blurb or synopsis, it’s the cover art. This applies to e-books as well as print. Do not fall into the trap of using pre-made, cookie cutter book covers. You sweated blood and cried tears writing your story. Make your book stand out in the sea of novels. Give it a face that gives the reader some insight into what the book is about.
- Hire an experienced formatter. Most new writers start with Smashwords, which is great, but there is a drawback – if you know nothing about formatting an e-book your story will never make it to their premium catalogue. Plus, when the reader purchases from Smashwords they have to know what type of file (EPUB, MOBI or PDF) their e-reader takes and purchase that file, so you have to upload three different files to Smashwords to get the full benefits. What I do is upload directly to Amazon and Nook; the book shows up within 24-48 hours if formatted correctly. These are you biggest two e-book outlets and you want your book there as soon as possible. Research your options when it comes to publishing and understand what type of formatting each requires – cheaper or free is not always better. In order to save time and a ton of headaches I hired a formatter who understood the internal workings of Smashwords, Amazon and the others. Guess what? It gave me more time for marketing and writing the next bestseller.
What is the most rewarding part of the writing and self-publishing process for you?
The most rewarding part about writing is that it keeps the voices in my head silent, plus to me it’s not work. I enjoy it and it relieves stress, but the most rewarding part is when a reader sends me an email, rates/reviews a book, or says at a book signing something like, “Thank you, Joe. I enjoyed your book, it took me away from my troubles and allowed me to escape from reality”. That right there is what’s it all about. As for self-publishing, I’m a control freak and with self-publishing I’m in complete control. If my book is selling I just keep doing what I’m doing; if it’s not selling then it’s on me to fix it.
Your books link together and feature some of the same characters. Do you have any tips for people wanting to write a series?
I’m still new at this so I’ll explain how this series happened. My first writing endeavour was one huge manuscript, pushing close to 200,000 words. The editor sent it back and basically said, “Learn how to write. Maybe start with a short story and then break this down into more short stories”. That’s what I did. My first book, Demons of the Jungle, didn’t come from the 200,000 word manuscript (that’s another story all on its own) but I did introduce the main character Levi West at the end of it. I constructed a timeline, breaking the huge manuscript up into sections. The story grew from there and at this time the series covers eight years of the main character’s life. Things change within eight years, new technology evolves, but most importantly the character must evolve also.
Next I developed a block of twenty plus characters in this massive manuscript – all I had to do was put them in different stories and figure out from there who would live, who would die, who would disappear, and work the story around that. Since Levi was introduced in Demons of the Jungle at the age of 25-26, that put the book toward the middle of the series. But, hey, if it worked for George Lucas and Star Wars, it should work for me. The second book, Witch’s Dilemma follows Demons. These two books and all that will be in the series are also standalone books. You don’t have to read them in order, or all of them – each story supports itself with its very own plot. I think that’s important, not to have to read every book, but to drop teasers referring to an earlier book or one yet to be released and let the reader make the decision about whether they want to know more.
Out of all the characters you have created, do you have a favourite, or one you most identify with?
I have two, Elena and Lori, and sooner or later they will clash as they have a common interest, Levi. I identify with Levi a lot. We are the same when it comes to the way we think and react to certain situations. We both are detail-oriented and control freaks. The problem with Levi is that he doesn’t care about the outcome of his decisions or whether they are wrong or right.
How do you write?
I have a legal pad that I do a rough timeline and outline in; it’s a very rough outline, as I keep most of it in my head, plus I keep notes on the legal pad as I go through the story. I have a 4×3-foot white dry erase board that I use from one chapter to the next, letting me know what the flow is, what needs to happen from chapter to chapter. My character building sheets are all done by hand and then transferred to the computer after the story is finished – well, for the ones that live. I use these notes to write the story on the computer. I don’t have a daily word count. There is so much that goes into being self-published, sometimes I’ll go three or four days without writing a word. When I start a book I never have a projected word count; I write till the story closes itself out. The way I stay on or close to schedule is that I work off projected deadlines – I guess that comes from being a retired engineer. I’m lucky, writing is my full time job so I do spend eight hours a day, at least, doing writing related tasks, research for the project I’m working on or a future one, marketing, book signings, lesson planning for my creative writing courses, etc.
Who are your favourite writers to read?
They are so many. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens. Modern day, James Patterson, Phillip Margolin and Anne Rice. I also read a lot of independent authors and interview them along with writing reviews of their books, and I read blogs. As you can see I read a lot and believe all authors should; it’s a way of learning. I would suggest to your readers, for an entertaining read check out your Fifty Shades Saga.
Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Yes, Rise from the Ruins. This is the book that starts it all, when Levi turns eighteen, and I’m hoping to also get it released this year. For the last book of the year I’m thinking about trying to pen an erotic short story. That one is still in the back of my head but keeps screaming to be written. We’ll see how it goes.
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You can buy Demons of the Jungle in paperback through Joe’s website.