Friday, October 15, 2010
An Interview with Author John L. Betcher
But Mr. Betcher didn't enter into the risks lightly or foolhardily. With a cum laude English degree and Juris Doctorate, Mr. Betcher is well versed and skilled enough to intelligently make his mark in this world previously controlled by agents and publishers.
His latest novel THE 19th ELEMENT recently went into international distribution.
Reviewers consistently praise his writing, including comparisons to Robert Parker's wit, and Vince Flynn's action.
Mr. Betcher's first book, THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF VOLLEYBALL COACHING, is a far cry from the action packed adventure series featuring charismatic hero James "Beck" Becker, the third installment of which is expected to be released later this year.
Follow Mr. Betcher at http://www.johnbetcher.com/
Q) Why? Why dive headlong into the turbulent waters of self-publication in both formats of ebooks and hard copies? I should mention here, your novels actually have waiting lists in libraries.
A) First of all, I want to say thanks for inviting me to this interview, Dave. I really appreciate it.
To answer your question -- all publication waters are turbulent these days. I chose the route to publication where I held the most control of the boat.
But enough water analogies . . .
As you mentioned, I published a small book on volleyball coaching strategies in May, 2009. I knew the only way I could get that book published was to self-publish it. Oddly enough, most volleyball coaches don't read much about volleyball. Hmm? (One fellow volleyball author told me his book was a "million seller" -- that is, he had a million in his cellar. Lol.) In any case, my VB book had a minuscule audience from the word go, and I knew it. No traditional publisher would have been interested.
So when it came to publishing my suspense/thriller novels this spring and summer, I already had a good chunk of self-publishing experience from the first book under my belt. I knew how to design and layout a book, list it on Amazon and convert it into Kindle format. Those things remained the same from 2009 to 2010. But it was the improvement in Print On Demand (POD) quality and pricing that really made self-publishing an easy decision for me with my current books. Now instead of warehousing and shipping books all over the place, I can accomplish printing and delivery seamlessly through my POD printer, CreateSpace. I never lay eyes on most books I sell.
There have been other changes in the publishing world since 2009 as well. The industry now generates more self-published titles each year than traditionally-published ones. Amazon is selling more eBooks on Kindle than they are of the paper variety. And the public has rushed to adopt eBook readers in general -- Kindle, Nook, eReader and others.
At the same time, traditional publishers are changing how they do business. It's no longer possible for an author to approach a mainstream publisher directly. You have to go through a literary agent.
Agents aren't used to being the gatekeepers of the industry and are unprepared to deal with the hundreds of Query Letters they received via email each day. Who wouldn't be? As a result, it has become more difficult to obtain a literary agent to represent your work. And if you are fortunate enough to snag one, they face a contracting traditional publishing business to whom your book can be sold.
From my perspective, traditional publishing is looking like a less and less attractive avenue. Even if you do get your book published via the traditional route, publishers are now requiring new authors to do almost all of their own marketing and promotion . . . and on the author's own dime, as well.
When it came time for me to make my publishing decision, I knew I could write a book. And I could publish a book. And I was going to have to market the book anyway . . . why not retain creative and strategic control and higher royalties?
Returning to our water analogy -- that, in short, is how I came to take the plunge into the expanding ocean of self-publishing.
A) Just before I penned the volleyball book, Coaching Volleyball Magazine -- a national volleyball coaching publication -- had featured my picture and a recent volleyball article on their cover. It was the April/May, 2009 issue. I like to joke that the USA Olympic Gold-Medal-Winning Men's Volleyball Coach Hugh McCutcheon had to wait until June to get his picture on the same magazine's cover. That statement is true. But it certainly has nothing to do with my story being more important than his. It's just a fun tidbit to tell.
For about eight years before publication of that volleyball article, I had been involved with youth volleyball in my home town. Writing volleyball articles for Coaching Volleyball -- there were three articles in all -- was a natural offshoot of the experiences I was seeing play out before me in the volleyball coaching world. I coached my last year in 2008 - 2009. That spring, my youngest daughter graduated high school.
With her advancement beyond youth sports . . . and a concurrent decrease in my involvement therein . . . I had spare time on my hands.
One night my wife, who loves to read mysteries and thrillers, was lamenting that she was running out of good books to read. She suggested to me that I spend some of my new-found leisure on trying to fix that situation.
I had a few ideas. I was intrigued by a new challenge and all the learning that would accompany it. So I dove in. (Sorry about the water again.) I found I enjoyed both the writing and the learning, and haven't looked back since.
Q) No doubt you've learned, and probably are still learning marketing strategies. Did the pitfalls of marketing come as a surprise, or had you conducted sufficient research early on in order to avoid many of the mistakes novice self-pubbed authors seem to make?
A) Your question poses a false dichotomy. (eg. Did you go to Duluth or by bus?) The pitfalls and challenges of marketing were known to me. And you are correct that I had to do a lot of learning as well. But that doesn't mean I have avoided the mistakes of a novice self-pubber. By and large, I am pleased with my marketing strategy and execution to date. But it is very early in a very long race. There are also a few things I probably wouldn't do again if I had them to do over.
I wouldn't enter so many contests. That gets pretty expensive. And my research has shown that winning recognition in most of those competitions does little for actual book sales. Sure, it makes you feel good. But I wouldn't put my marketing money there again.
And I would certainly develop my web presence and social networking more completely before I released my book. I'm just now getting to where I want to be on Twitter, with 2,000 followers. And my blog at Self-Publishing Central is still in its early stages. My first version of an author website was also a DIY job. I didn't get that fixed until June. I'm satisfied with it right now -- at least at my current scale of operations. I may upgrade again if things really take off.
So I was prepared. And I learned. And I still made mistakes. And I continue learning. If anyone claims to be an expert in the book publishing/marketing biz right now, they're being optimistic about their clairvoyance. The industry is still in flux. Only time will tell which strategies will truly work. Right now, I advise authors to employ as many marketing approaches as possible -- and spending as little money on them as you can manage.
Q) What books or stories first caught your attention and gave you pause to believe you would like to write?
A) I am a huge fan of the late Robert B. Parker . . . particularly his Spenser Detective Series. If anyone is responsible for influencing my writing style, and for giving me hope that I might be able to write fiction, it would be Mr. Parker. His taut prose, enjoyable characters, keen wit, and gift for keeping the plot moving along have inspired me more than I can say.
Q) For those who think they would like to write a book, what advice can you offer?
A) If you would like to write a book . . . give it a try. Expect it to take a very long time.
Sit down at a comfortable location with your computer and begin wherever seems best. Outlining? Plotting? Or just start the story. Then keep writing until you have reached an end. Write whether you feel inspired or not -- you can always fix it later.
When your first draft is done, know that you are just beginning to write that book. Keep working with it until every part of it is the best it can be. No one writes a good book -- they re-write one.
Don't worry about how to publish your book until you've got a finished book in hand. You'll have enough on your plate with just writing until that first book is done.
And once the book is done . . . hey, you've written a book. And don't let anybody take that away from you. If others criticize, you can always ask to see their books. Or you can do as I do and simply say, "I keep trying to get better all the time."