Monday, October 10, 2011

Author Spotlight: Michael R. Hicks

One day before I officially join the authors I've been highlighting this month as a published author and I wanted to continue talking to those that have walked the walk for a while now. I started following Michael on twitter about five months ago (when I first went on twitter) and I saw a passion and drive in him that I was instantly drawn to. After talking with him, I now see why that passion is there.

Michael, I'm so glad you could join me the week of my book launch to share your story. Can you start with telling us about the genre you write in?
With the IN HER NAME series, my original books, the genre was science fiction, albeit with a very heavy dose of fantasy thrown in. SEASON OF THE HARVEST was a thriller with a sci-fi twist, and I've got book projects lined up that hit both of those genres, and others (such as young adult), as well. I'm not trying to consciously diversify, but those are the directions the story ideas are taking me, and I don't see the need to pigeon-hole myself.

When did you seriously know writing was what you wanted to do?
I originally wrote IN HER NAME back in the early 1990s but, not surprisingly, it didn't get picked up by any publishers. To be honest, I didn't pound the pavement too hard, because writing the book was something that had been great fun and also a bit of therapy for when I was having a few rough times in life. 
Even when I self-published the book in 2008, I didn't expect to make a living from it. I sold three copies the first month and was ecstatic! But it was only this year, when SEASON OF THE HARVEST took off in February, that I really started thinking of writing as a career. And in August I left my day job to write full-time.

Wow! That is great to see someone with the passion to leave the day job. So you did try the traditional route first?
I shopped the manuscript for IN HER NAME around, but didn't have any takers. And back then, you really only had two options to get published: get picked up by a "real" publisher, or pay a vanity press to print your books and sell them on your own, which I wasn't about to do. So the book sat under my desk for 14 years in a box that I used as a footrest until I learned about Kindle publishing in 2007. I then published it on other ebook platforms as they emerged, and printed the books through CreateSpace and Lightning Source. Looking back, I'm glad things turned out the way they did, because I'm probably making a much better living as a self-published author than I would having gone the legacy route.

How many do you have out there? Are your books in print, eBook or both?
I've currently got eight books (including a self-publishing guide) published. All of my fiction books are or will be available in print, and I'm just about to publish the ninth book, which is the sixth of the IN HER NAME series.

Can you talk to about the business side of publishing?
Like anything else - it has its ups and downs, its joys and frustrations. I guess the one thing that probably gets many self-published authors is that when you go this route, you're first and foremost a business person. You have to learn about marketing, money management from a business perspective, tax issues (businesses have a LOT of tax advantages), and so on - and you have to do it all yourself or be willing and able to pay other folks to do it for you. 
And then there are the things specific to publishing that you have to handle: finding good people to edit your work (note: a book that's only been edited by the author hasn't been edited at all), doing the cover art, formatting the book for both ebook - multiple formats - and print, and understanding the various back-end interfaces for the different publishing platforms.

How important is social media to you?
For me, social media has been EVERYTHING. Twitter, in particular, has been my gold mine. Without Twitter, and without learning the things I did before I published SEASON OF THE HARVEST, we wouldn't be having this interview. Facebook has certainly helped, but the bulk of my fan base has been built on Twitter. Yes, I've tried other things, from local book signings to paid ads, but by and large those have been a waste of time and money for me, and I've had a couple of other businesses in the past and had similar results. Social media has the advantage of reach and leverage, as well as the ability to search for folks who have interests that might match up well with your books. I can potentially reach millions of people through social media. You just couldn't do that before unless you were backed by a publisher willing to fork out huge amounts of cash for a massive advertising campaign (which isn't going to happen for most new authors). With social media, the trick is learning how to do it effectively, and then putting the necessary time into it. And that, the time investment, is where most folks fall down, especially with Twitter. You've got to be on there every day, intermittently throughout the day, and you have to really interact with people and not just spam them or it won't work for you.

You share some really great tips there on social media. Any other advice you would give?
Well, if I could give advice to myself back when I started, here are the things I'd say: If you enjoy writing, write every chance you get and don't stop. Start a program of self-improvement. Read books on business, writing, changing your mindset. I always recommend folks start with The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson, and Joe Konrath's book, a Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Learn to leave your ego at the door. Find someone who can really tear your writing apart and expose its flaws. Learn to love the red ink, because that's what will make you a better writer. (Someone telling you how good you are does nothing to improve your craft.) A lot of folks aspire to get to where I'm at (writing full-time) just like Joe Konrath and some other authors were my inspiration. But it's not easy: for me, it means long hours, working seven days a week, and a considerable amount of stress over the market. I combat that stress by writing more, because an author's real safety net is the number of titles he or she has out on the virtual (or real) bookshelves. Understand that success isn't going to come overnight. It's like saving money in a bank. You put away as much as you can and let the interest compound over time. Today it's only a few bucks. In time, it will become a fortune. The first month IN HER NAME was published, I maybe made $9 or so. In July, the best month so far this year, that one book (the omnibus version) brought in over $12,000. But it took me seven years to get there. Last but not least, don't give up. Things aren't always going to go as well as you'd like. Keep writing, keep promoting. If my family and I have to eat peanut butter for a while, then so be it, because I know we'll make out okay in the long run.

I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting folks and have been having a great time. It's not easy, but when you're doing something you love, "work" is no longer a four-letter word!

I really appreciate you joining us and sharing just how hard it can be for a self-published author. 

Michael R. Hicks. Author, RVer, and wearer of FiveFinger shoes.
Web: Email: Contact Page Twitter: KreelanWarrior

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