This Sunday, May 30, 1999, On The Same Page will interview young author, Brandon Massey, whose debut novel, Thunderland, is featured in the May, June issue of "black issues Book Review."
M.T.: As you're only in your middle-twenties, how long did it take for you to write Thunderland?
B.M.: From first draft to the final, published copy, it's taken six years. Not all six of those years were spent working on the book, however. Some of that time was spent waiting to get feedback from agents or publishers (who can be exceedingly slow to reply!). If I were to estimate the amount of time I spent actually writing the book, I'd say about three years.
M.T. Have you taken writing classes? Could you name some of your favorite authors and your mentors.
B.M.: The only writing classes I've ever taken were English Composition classes in college. I've learned to write fiction by reading a variety of authors, and by getting good, honest feedback from people that I trust. I really feel that you can learn almost anything you need to know about writing simply by reading other writers. The key is learning to read like a writer--you have to pay attention to story structure, character-building, pacing, and a myriad of other elements. It requires a different set of eyes than pure leisure reading.
Some of the authors who've had a huge influence on me are Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon. Although they all write horror-suspense fiction, I read widely in other genres, too. It's vital in order to keep your work fresh.
M.T.: How did you find out about the Writer's Club Self-Publishing Program and how long did the process take from start to finish? (Describe the process. Was there an editor, because I noticed your book is well-edited Did they obtain your ISBN number for you? Who designed your cover?).
B.M.: I found out about Writer's Club Press through an email to Writer's Club members. I had joined the group several months before, and I had not really utilized my membership benefits. But when I read this email about self-publishing, using on-demand publishing technology, I immediately pounced on it! I had always been interested in self-publishing, but the financial hurdles had always seemed too great. Now, here was a way to publish my book that I could afford.
The process was straightforward. I sent them my manuscript via email, and they handled all of the official registration procedures, such as securing an ISBN. I had a coworker who has a graphic design background create the book cover. An editor who had published one of my short stories edited the manuscript for me. From start to finish, the process took about three months.
M.T.: Explain to us about the print on demand with the Writer's Club?
B.M.: The Writer's Club has contracted with Xerox to utilize their new, BooksInTime technology. In essence, once the Writer's Club gets your manuscript, they format it using their typesetting software, and electronically transmit the reformatted manuscript to Xerox. Xerox then compiles this into a file that they can, at a moment's notice, print out in trade paperback format, with a laminated cover. They can print as many--or as few--copies as you want, whenever you want. The great advantage of this system is that unlike traditional book printing, you don't have to pay upfront to print several thousand copies of your book, then hustle to sell all these books and recoup your investment. With on-demand publishing, you can maintain a small inventory, and reorder copies whenever you need to. It's an amazing, economical system that puts publishing into the hands of virtually everyone, and I'm convinced that it's going to revolutionize the book business over the next several years.
M.T.: Thunderland is full of plot twists and suspense which personally had me scared to death. How did you work on your plot? Did you develop it organically or did you outline your novel?
B.M.: Thank you--I'm glad you found the story riveting! I wrote a sketchy outline of the story before I started writing, but about the only purpose it served was to give me the confidence to begin the book; with the outline as a map, I could be sure that I had a general idea of where the story was headed. Soon after I started writing and saw the story begin to unfold, however, I discarded the outline, because by actually writing the story, I gained a deeper understanding of the plot and the characters. The final draft of the book is totally different from that first outline. But I think outlines are helpful in giving a writer the confidence to plunge into a book. If you really get stuck in the story, you can fall back on that outline and regain your way.
M.T.: Who developed your web page with the sound effects and eerie sense of foreboding?
B.M.: I designed my website myself, and I aim to update it every three to four weeks. It wasn't as difficult as I initially thought it would be; there's some great software, such as MS FrontPage 98, that makes website design relatively simple. The most challenging part was creating and organizing the content. To help my efforts, I studied the websites of other writers, and I noted features that appealed to me. I drew up my "wish list" for my own website, and set to work. For the first couple of months, I revised the website several times a week, tweaking things here and there, and now I've finally arrived at a model that I'm comfortable with. Nevertheless, I plan to redesign the site by the end of the summer. I don't want it to grow stale.
M.T.: When did your novel come out and how is it doing, sales wise?
B.M.: The novel was released around the end of February, and sales have been steady; I've sold several hundred copies. I sell virtually all of my books through on-line outlets, such as Amazon.com, because I don't want the hassle of dealing with a lot of bookstores and distributors. The book is sold in a small number of stores, and I handle all distribution myself. As time goes on, I'll look to move the book into new outlets.
M.T.: Explain some of your marketing techniques.
B.M.: I do most of my marketing on-line, by promoting my web presence. I've joined banner exchange programs, registered my site with all the major search engines, and gotten listed in several directories of African-American related sites and literature sites. I also email lots of press releases to the media, webzines, organizations, book clubs--you name it, I send them one! I also hold a monthly, book giveaway contest, in which all contest registrants need to do is sign my guest book. Each month, I randomly select a participant, and send the winner an autographed copy of Thunderland. People love games and free stuff, so this contest has attracted a lot of attention to my work.
The key thing to keep in mind about marketing is that it's all about repeatedly exposing your name and your book to your audience. I read somewhere that it takes seven to twenty impressions for a reader to purchase a book by a new writer. So I want for people to keep seeing my name popping up all over the Internet and in the media, because sooner or later, curiosity will get the best of them, and they'll check out the book--and buy it.
M.T.: What advice would you give to new writers, young and old?
B.M.: Read everything, write every day, educate yourself about the publishing business, sharpen your work until it gleams by getting feedback from trusted sources, and never, ever give up.
M.T.: Please read the review of Brandon Massey's book below. You can check out his web page by clicking here Brandon Massey's Site