Monday, March 31, 2014

Interview on Smashwords

Why do you write?
Because when I am writing, it feels like there is nothing else I would rather do. 
 
Have you always been a writer or why did you start?
Writing is actually my "third act." I was a college professor, then a banker/finance manager and now a writer. When I retired, I thought I should study calculus to keep from going crazy but that was an insane idea. Then I thought of studying Mandarin (I am Chinese); soon I got bored with the text books and started translating "real stuff." One of the items was a famous book called The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, said to be the best introduction to traditional Chinese culture. From that study, four years later, came The Battle of Chibi, my first book. 
 
Who are your favorite writers and why?
I have read Tolkien and J.K. Rowling over and over because they have created new worlds and write flawlessly. I also like Salman Rushdie, Larry McMurtry and a host of others I continue to discover. I am fascinated by the stories and how they are told, unusual stories told with a difference. 
 
How do you approach cover design?
The covers for my first two books came courtesy of Createspace and its templates; I published in paperback then. When I change to publishing in ebook format, I made adjustments, easy with software today. With my third and fourth books I got more ambitious (and lazier) and turned to professional help, both with proof-reading and the covers. 
 
What do you read for pleasure?
These days, almost everything I read is for pleasure. I have pretty much given up on the news and politics. I do like to challenge myself and so have read stories about young adults, even young teens, or the paranormal and some things which one would not associate with pleasure so much as with learning about how and what to write. Learning itself makes that a pleasure. 
 
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like my laptop because it has versions of the reading apps that allow for the greatest control, but I am learning how to use similar apps on a 7-inch tablet that I have just acquired. Originally, the idea was to be able to read lying down, but I find that that makes me sleepy. 
 
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
None that has brought fame and fortune so far, but I expect to keep learning and trying.
 
Describe your writing process.
For The Chinese Spymaster which is the novel that was entirely made up, that is, it was not a translation and/or an adaptation of some other work, I started with an idea or two that I wanted to make work. Then I created some characters and they led me to situations, actions and other characters. I often wrote notes of what I thought some scenes would play out but felt that if I kept in mind the integrity of each character the scenes would often develop differently. By contrast, in writing The Battle of Chibi, I felt obliged to follow the text quite closely; I did make radical decisions about which chapters or parts of chapters of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms I would keep.
 
Who were the greatest influences on your writing?
More than the writers I mentioned earlier, I think of my high school senior year English teacher and my college English teacher. They were both very dedicated and required a five hundred word essay a week which they would have graded before the next one was due. My high school teacher even required that the essay be written during class! But he was less strict about the number of words.
 
What's the story behind your latest book?
I have heard a great deal about Judge Dee; his fans are as devoted and loyal as those of Agatha Christie or Nero Wolfe or Carl Hiaasen. So I thought I would see if I could turn his stories (written by Robert van Gulik) into a play. (I also have an interest in community theater.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Chinese Spymaster goes on a "blog-tour"

Like many (most) authors, I give almost no thought to promoting my books. This is unfortunate for a self-published or "indie" author. Promotion is what publishers do for their authors although one hears complaints that more and more these days they don't do much. It is the rule of 80-20 (a phenomenon Vilfredo Pareto discovered and so it is sometimes named after him although he is most famous for the principle of "Pareto optimality"). For publishers 80 percent of whose revenues are generated by 20 percent of their clients will spend their time and resources on the 20 percent. The other 80 percent are much like like their self-published ("Indie") brethren: they have to do it themselves.

Into the vacuum ("opportunity") has flourished a plethora of book-promoters--from the many full-service marketing/PR like services ($$$$) to a great many how-to books or web-sites ($/*). Naturally there is a full spectrum of these services; in marketing-speak, it is called "differentiation"--the services provide various levels like whiskeys that are red, black or blue and aged for ten, twenty or thirty years. 

Some experts on book promotion recommend that authors visit book or publishing conferences. Others swear by readings and book-signings. Still others claim that the only way is to get the book reviewed, the more frequently the better. This appeals instinctively to writers; we write and read and so it seems logical that reviews should be the trick.

But there are, it used to be said, many roads to Rome. I have commented before on how helpful certain web-sites can be for authors in search of feed-back, comments or reviews of their writing; that is probably the first category of help that writers look for. One of those web-sites also provides help in promoting one's work.


The Making Connections Group on Goodreads (note link to a sample tour) has dedicated moderators who are active bloggers. They also arrange for "blog-tours" and The Chinese Spymaster has been on one of these with a promotion, a review and/or an interview blogged by a different blogger every day for a week, some days by more than one.  The work of arranging such a tour has been undertaken by the gracious and hardworking moderators of this group. This clueless writer shuffling slowly into the social media of the twenty-first century is more grateful than words can express.