This Author Spotlight
Michael R. Hicks
In anticipation of his new Science Fiction novel DEAD SOUL, I had a chance to interview novelist Michael R. Hicks, who is quickly becoming one of the break-out indie novelists in the world today, alongside writers such as J.A. Konrath, John Locke, and Amanda Hocking, all of whom have put up some very impressive sales figures through their combination of talent and hard work.
Without further ado. . . .
1. How did you get into writing?
I’ve enjoyed writing since late in high school, and did a lot of technical and analytic writing during my career in the government.
But I started writing novels because I had hit a major rut in reading science fiction, which was my favorite genre. The breaking point was after I read a book by an author whose work I had always enjoyed, but the book was terrible! I said, “I could write something at least that good!”
That’s how I got started writing IN HER NAME.
2. Is IN HER NAME the first novel you wrote? What was the time frame?
Yes, what’s now known as the “omnibus edition” of IN HER NAME was the first book. I did things a little backwards by taking the original book and breaking it up into three separate novels, EMPIRE, CONFEDERATION, and FINAL BATTLE.
I wrote the omnibus from 1991 to 1994. It took me so long because of the novel’s length - 325,000 words - and because after I finished the first draft I absolutely hated the second half and completely rewrote it!
3. What was the path from finishing IN HER NAME to your indie publishing success, including the writing of your own self-publishing guide?
After I finished IN HER NAME in 1994, I shopped it around to the various publishers who printed science fiction works. Not surprisingly, none of them took it up.
So, the manuscript sat in a box under my desk as a footrest until I learned about Kindle publishing in 2007. My project that winter was to scan in the manuscript (all thousand pages of it), edit it, and finally publish it for the Kindle, which I did in May 2008.
At that point, my wife and I being Kindle fans, I started hanging out on the Kindleboards forum a lot. That was back in the time when there were only a few hundred users, and the few authors who were a rather novel group of folks, if you’ll pardon the pun. Readers on the forum checked out my book, liked it, and encouraged me to write more.
I took up the proverbial pen again after fourteen years and started working on a prequel to IN HER NAME, called FIRST CONTACT. Then came LEGEND OF THE SWORD.
At that point, I was taken with a strong interest in genetically engineered food and wrote SEASON OF THE HARVEST, a sci-fi thriller.
I did a lot of thinking then about what I wanted to do with my writing. My royalties by that time (late 2010, early 2011) were averaging around $300 a month or so, which was nothing to sneeze at, but wasn’t exactly a living wage. Part of that, I knew, was that I wasn’t doing much in the way of promoting my work.
So, when I released SEASON OF THE HARVEST in February, I pulled out all the stops and worked like a dog trying to promote it. I’d already been putting in 12 to 16 hour days for most of the previous three years between my day job and writing, and some days during February and March I worked even more.
And that’s when it happened. My royalties took off like a shot, going from $342 in January to $28,931 in June, and even higher in July. That’s when I decided to go for broke and left my day job to write full-time.
4. What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?
When I’m writing new material, I generally use a word count goal as a benchmark, and it’s something I’m having to be more disciplined about, because now my family’s financial well-being depends on it. My current goal is 3,000 words a day. I have yet to consistently achieve that, but that’s my goal.
For editing, it varies. My general goal is at least five hours a day, or enough chapters to meet my deadline to have a book ready to go to my editor. Right now, for example, I’ve got to get at least three chapters a day edited for IN HER NAME: DEAD SOUL to make my 18 September deadline. It’s a lot.
And normally, yes, I do at least some writing 7 days a week. There are exceptions, but I’m being more ruthless with myself about that.
That’s a long, long list! But my faves would have to include Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, David Drake, Scott G. Gier, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and...well, the list goes on!
6. What advice would you like to impart to a writer beginning his/her journey?
Four things: 1) Don’t stop writing. Ever. 2) Find people to edit and beta read your work, and who aren’t afraid to tell you what sucks. Listen to what they tell you. That’s how you improve your writing. 3) Rejoice when you get your first one-star review. The greatest books ever written have tons of ‘em. You’ll be in good company. 4) Promoting your work isn’t prostitution, it’s part of being an author. People won’t read your books if they don’t know about them. Just be nice about how you do it.
7. You’ve mentioned IN HER NAME being perfect for film adaptation; who would be your dream cast and writer and/or director? James Cameron?
I think Cameron would be great, but there would be others who’d do an awesome job. However, I’d say that Peter Jackson would probably be my first pick after Cameron.
8. Where do you see the publishing business in a year? 5 years? Beyond?
Unlike folks like Joe Konrath, I don’t have any background in the publishing industry other than my fistful of rejection notices. But I guess I can speculate like everybody else!
This is no big surprise, but I think we’re going to see the Big 6 publishers implode. One or two of them might pull out of the Great Extinction by offering innovative and attractive options to authors. There will be a period where they’ll pump up their author ranks with new blood that’s signed up under draconian contracts, but that won’t sustain them. In the end, most are going to head the way of the dinosaurs.
In the meantime, more and more of the better (and smarter) traditionally published authors are going to buy up their rights and publish on their own, offering good to great quality books at great prices.
Brick and mortar bookstores? Barnes and Noble might survive because of the Nook, and independent bookstores that can integrate digital books into their business process will survive. Most others, aside from specialty niche and second hand stores, are going to go the way of Borders.
As for print in general, it’ll still be around for the foreseeable future, but will represent an increasingly small percentage of the reading medium. Looking at my own sales figures, while I’m making thousands of ebook sales per month, I might sell sixty or so print copies. The kicker is that I make more per unit for ebooks: for the IN HER NAME omnibus, for example, the retail price for the print version is $16.95, and the ebook is $5.99. I make $1.00 from each print copy, and $3.99 for every Kindle book. I even make more - around $2.00 - for the $2.99 ebooks, vs. $1.00 for the print books that are priced at $9.95. At this point, I’m questioning why I should even bother making print versions of my future books.
Then we get to the big question: what’s the future of the “indie publishing movement.” People sling around a lot of terms for what’s happening, but I think it’s really a straight case of technology-enabled market economics. What’s happening now wasn’t possible before Amazon introduced the Kindle: that was the asteroid that will eventually kill the publishing industry dinosaurs.
I’ve read a lot of opinions on the whole indie publishing thing, but this is what I think it boils down to: authors who write good quality books, who learn how to effectively promote them, and who have set goals and are willing to work their butts off to achieve them will succeed. That success may take time - years, in some cases - but I believe that as a general rule victory goes to the skilled and persistent, although some luck always helps. This isn’t anything unique to publishing. If you look at any type of endeavor, the successful people have that same combination of traits.
The difference now is that success or failure is almost entirely in the hands o the author, without gatekeepers (the publishing industry) determining who should be allowed access to the readers.
I’m finishing up the edits for the sixth book of the IN HER NAME series, DEAD SOUL, which I hope to have out the door in ebook format by 1 October.
After that, I’m not sure. I have a ton of projects lined up, but I have to take a look at the market and see what makes the most sense to do next.
10. Who or what inspires your writing?
Right now, it’s the need to keep my family fed! Beyond that, I don’t really have any specific inspirations: stories literally pop into my head out of nowhere, and I have to write them down.
Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can buy your books, your social networking info, etc.
Just to thank you for this opportunity for some shameless self-promotion!
As for where to buy my books, they’re available for all the major ebook formats, on Amazon (US, UK, and DE), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony Reader, iBooks, and general ePub format on Smashwords. Print versions are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Also check out Michael's how-to guide to self publishing; I've read it and recommend it; plus, it's written by a person with the sales numbers to back it up:
Thank you, Michael, for sharing your time, experience, and knowledge with us!