I recently had the pleasure of asking author John Rector a series of questions regarding publishing, writing, and the ebook world. Mr. Rector has topped best-sellers lists, dabbled in both indie and traditional publishing, and has a definite stance on every subject. While his presence online is not overwhelming, he does maintain a blog which is full of opinion, insight, and news.
A special thanks to John for taking the time to talk to us. Without further ado:
iReaderReview What are the top five questions that you wish interviewers would ask, but they never do?
John Rector It’s funny, but out of all the interviews I’ve done, I’m usually surprised by at least one question. I guess I’ve never been asked about the craft of writing, or the actual process of writing a novel. I used to love reading those kinds of interviews when I was trying to write my first book, but maybe readers aren’t as interested in that side of things as I am.
IRR Your work has garnered much praise for standing out in the crime and suspense genres. Has the influence of such out-of-the-genre authors as Bukowski helped you to develop rounder and more relatable characters?
JR It’s helped with my style more than anything. I never read a lot of crime fiction, so I didn’t have a set of preconceived ideas of what my stories should look like when I started. I just studied the writers who I admired, and when I sat down to write, the stories naturally gravitated in the direction they wanted to go.
IRR Another aspect of your work that stands out is the contrast between gritty intensity and emotional development. Why do you think that readers find this so entertaining?
JR I think emotional development is key. Readers will always have more of a connection with a story if they can relate to the characters on an emotional level. That’s the foundation of a good story. If a reader feels a connection to the characters, the intensity level is much higher than if you just walk them through a plot.
IRR When your writing career began, you independently published your novel “The Grove”. What was the response for the book like? Did it surprise you?
JR It surprised the hell out of me, and everyone around me.
At the time, my agent was shopping my second novel, The Cold Kiss, to editors in NY. The Grove had already been through that process, and while it came heartbreakingly close a few times, no one would take a chance on a new writer.
This was back when ebooks were less than 2% of the market, before Konrath, and no one had any idea of the potential. I thought if I could sell a few hundred copies on my own, it might prove to the NY publishers that there was an audience out there for my work. Then, if I was lucky, maybe they’d take a chance on me.
As it turned out, I sold several hundred copies over the first day or two, and it took off from there. Everyone was shocked, not just me.
IRR After the success of that novel, you made the switch to traditional publishing. What made you make that decision?
JR I never really made a switch.
When I released The Grove, Tor/Forge was already trying to put together a deal for my second book. The timing was nice. If I remember correctly, I self-published The Grove on a Friday night, and Monday morning my agent called and told me Tor/Forge had made an offer for The Cold Kiss. So technically, I was an indie author for a weekend.
Also, there was no indie publishing scene at the time, so there was never a thought of not taking the traditional deal when it was offered. The idea of selling millions of books as an indie, or even having a career self-publishing, never entered my mind. It was too far fetched.
After I signed the deal with Tor/Forge, I decided to leave The Grove up as an ebook, and that turned out to be the best decision I’ve made so far in my career because it caught the attention of Amazon Publishing. They called me about six months after The Grove went live and asked if they could republish it through AmazonEncore.
I almost said no.
I say that with a smile now, but at the time Amazon Publishing seemed risky. They’d only published a small handful of books, and I’d just signed a three-book deal with Simon and Schuster in the UK that included The Grove, and I was hoping to do the same in the US.
In the end, I took a step back and tried to look at my situation in a non-biased way. When I did, it was clear that the path I was on with the big 6 was littered with the decaying bodies of first time novelists who came before me, and I could easily see myself as yet another publishing casualty. So, I decided to take a chance and go with Amazon.
A year later, when my third novel, Already Gone, was ready to go, Tor/Forge had first rights. They made a good offer, but I turned it down to go with Amazon’s new Thomas and Mercer imprint, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
IRR A lot of authors say that it takes a certain type of person to publish traditionally and another type of person to publish independently. Do you think that this is true? What traits do you have that made traditional the best decision?
JR I don’t think that’s true at all. I think publishing is publishing. Whether you do it yourself or work with a publisher depends on your goals and what paths are available to you. If you want to control every step, and you love the hours spent marketing, talking to readers, and selling your work, going at it on your own is definitely the way to go. If you hate all that stuff and would rather focus on the writing, then having a team behind you makes things a lot easier.
What indie publishing represents to me is an option, not only for writers who are unable break into traditional publishing, but for traditionally published writer’s who’ve had enough or who didn’t get the attention they thought they deserved from the industry. It’s also opened doors for people who have no interest in publishing traditionally and who want to be in charge of their own careers. No matter where you stand, there’s no denying that it’s great to have a choice.
IRR You’ve called your new novel, “Already Gone” your “fastest selling novel so far.” Was there a difference in your marketing strategy that lent to this exciting development? Would you also call the book your best novel so far?
JR Already Gone was one of the Thomas and Mercer flagship novels, so it received a bigger push than The Grove, which was the first novel I published with Amazon Publishing. Also, it was a departure from my other books. The first two were smaller, Hitchcock-ian suspense novels, and Already Gone was more of a thriller. My marketing strategy consisted of doing whatever my publicist told me to do, which mostly consisted of showing up for interviews.
I can’t say if it’s my best book so far or not. It’s the first one to be nominated for a major award (2011 International Thriller Award), but it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite. I like each one for different reasons.
IRR Where do you think you would be now if you had decided to continue publishing independently? Would you ever self-publish again?
JR I’d probably still be working a day job, but who really knows? As one of the very early indie authors, I might’ve hit a lucky wave and sold a ton of books, but since I don’t self promote unless I’m absolutely forced to, I doubt indie publishing would’ve worked for me nearly as well as it has for some. I’m also a fairly slow writer, and it seems that in order to make self-publishing really work, you need to pump out a lot of material for readers to find.
If I had to guess, I think I probably would’ve sold ten or twenty thousand copies here and there as an indie, but nowhere near what I’ve sold through publishers. I certainly wouldn’t have had two books reach #1 one on the main Amazon list, or have a book hit the top 10 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. I also doubt the books would’ve all been picked up by Hollywood if I hadn’t gone with a publisher. But, you never know.
And yes, I’d definitely self publish again. I already have a collection of short stories out there now, and I wrote a novella recently that I’d planned on self-publishing, but Amazon expressed interest, so I decided to release it this summer as a Kindle Single through Thomas and Mercer.
All I know for sure is that with the way the industry is today, you don’t want to turn your back on any of the paths available to you if they can help you reach your goals. They all have their perks.
IRR As a once independent and now traditional author, you have a very unique perspective. Where do you foresee the publishing industry headed in the next five years?
JR Ah, the impossible question.
I think the big 6 will adapt to ebooks much more than they have so far. They’re already making money off them, but they’ll be forced to put more resources into them mainly because there will be fewer places to sell paper books after B&N goes under. I can see the indie stores that survive selling a combination of new and used books, but the primary delivery method for new work will be digital, and accepting that change is how the big 6 will survive.
Plus, there will always be legions of writers out there who see the big 6 as the mountaintop, and who have no interest in self-publishing, even if the opportunity to make more money presents itself. For that reason, there will always be a big publishing industry. Of course, no one really knows what things will look like in five years, but this is how it looks to me today.
IRR There is a lot of debate about the prices of eBooks these days. Where do you feel that the optimum price for a full-length well-written eBook novel lies? Why?
JR I think $5 is good, but you need to be flexible and experiment to see what works for you and your goals.
IRR I understand that you aren’t a huge fan of self-promotion. Do you feel that a lack of social networking and media disconnects you from your readers? How do you make up for that?
JR I’m not a fan of self-promotion at all. It’s actually one of my pet peeves. I never buy a book from an author on Facebook or Twitter telling me how great they are. If someone else without a stake in the book tells me it’s great, or if I stumble across a good review, that’s different, and I’m much more willing to take a chance. Because that’s how I feel, that’s how I approach my own promotion.
I also don’t think there needs to be a connection between a writer and their readers beyond the books themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing from the people who read my books, and I do my best to answer every email that comes my way. But as a reader, I have no desire to know anything personal about the writers whose books I love. For me, knowing who is behind the words takes away from the story. I’d rather not know they exist at all. The story is what interests me.
IRR Often, authors receive a lot of rejection before starting their careers in the traditional publishing industry. As a short story writer, I’m sure you’ve received your share of rejection slips. How do you persevere without getting discouraged?
JR When I first started writing fiction ten years ago or so, I was like everyone else in that I thought everything I wrote was much better than it really was. Around that time, I submitted to a small, indie print zine in New York, and the editor sent back a rejection that said something along the lines of, “There are not enough trees on the planet to make the paper required to document everything that is wrong with this story.”
This guy went on to explain why the story was garbage, and it was like a bomb going off in my head. For the first time, I got it. I understood. I saw exactly what I was doing wrong, and I saw how to fix it. He was absolutely right in his criticism, and it was the exact lesson I needed at that moment in time.
To this day, I look back on that rejection as the point where everything changed. I dropped my ego, I was honest with myself about where I was and where I wanted to be, and I got to work. For the next few years, I sent everything I wrote to that editor, and when I was lucky enough to get a rejection back with a few lines of advice tacked on, I thanked him, and I took it and I kept submitting. Even when my stories began getting picked up by lit journals and pro magazines, his little zine was still the first market on my list, and I kept sending them to him until he finally published one.
After those years spent trying to hone my craft, I felt I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my writing. I became unbelievably tough on my work, because I think you need to be in order to get it to where it’s good. Once I reached that place where I was writing stories I knew in my heart were good, rejection stopped being about what I was doing wrong, and more about finding the right market.
Writing is all about knowing what you want to do, being determined to do it, and having a thick skin along the way. No one likes bad reviews, but if a one star review paralyzes you and stops you from writing something new, it’s time to find a different gig. No matter who you are, how many books you sell, how much money you make, or how much you accomplish in this business, someone out there will always think you suck.
IRR You mentioned on your blog that a new novella may be out this summer and a new novel this fall. Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect?
JR I have a Kindle Single novella called Lost Things coming out on July 10th in conjunction with Thomas and Mercer. It’s the story of two friends who are attacked one night on their way home from a bar, and in the chaos, they kill one of their attackers. Because it’s such a vicious death, they decide it would be better to keep quiet and hope they don’t get caught. Things go bad from there in a fast-paced, twisted way.
The new novel should be out sometime in early 2013.
IRR Top three authors of all time. Go.
JR Stephen King