Author Interview: Derek Haines
Today’s installment in the Indpendent Writing Series is an interview with writer Derek Haines. Derek and I became acquainted through Goodreads. He sent me a message after I left a review of his book Louis. As a reader, I am still a little shocked every time an author contacts me. It is amazing how easy it is to connect!
I counted 13 of your books for sale on your site. Did you self publish all of them?
Yes. I’m frightfully independent and have for the most part always been self employed. Perhaps I’m just not very good at doing as I’m told, which probably explains why self publishing is so attractive for me. My first book
was a collection of poetry, and as at the time I was in the printing industry, I managed to have a small run printed and went about trying to find people to read it. I think my mum proved to be my best customer though.
Years later when self publishing by print on demand in paperback became available I jumped at the chance and published two more books. One collection of essays and then my first attempt at a novel. It was atrocious in hindsight, but it was a great learning exercise in discovering what was required when self publishing a novel. Although I learned a lot from that experience, I still know that self publishing a perfect book is extremely difficult and although I try hard, I know I haven’t achieved the level of quality that I would like as yet. This is one of the frustrations with self publishing because you don’t have a cohesive team behind you doing all the nitty gritty work involved in a manuscript’s preparation. While I do have external help, it’s not the same as a professional group of proof readers and editors working together.
Another increasingly problematic aspect is that ebooks have actually made self publishing more complex in many respects, as unique versions of a book’s file are required for each publishing platform. With totally different file requirements for POD, Kindle and Smashwords, just to name three, the work needed to prepare or update a manuscript is much more time consuming than when I only published in paperback. As you said, I have published 13 books, but in actual fact, it feels more like I have 39.
You write on a wide array of topics, and across genres. Do you think this limits your sales at all, or do you still have lots of repeat customers? (A friend said, “People either read authors or subjects,” and that statement prompted this question!)
I love writing and when a story gels in my mind, that’s my next story. The absolute beauty of self publishing is not having any limits on subject or genre. My last book, which was a romance set in a hospice would never have made it across an agent’s desk. This I think is the essence of self publishing in that the restrictions have been lifted and stories have become much more important than whether a manuscript fits the publishing norms of 110,000 words and fixed marketable genres.
Self publishing is about breaking the traditional rules and experimenting, and in doing so, it has created a lot of debate. Although it’s now an accepted alternative by many readers, I think there is still a long way to go yet before the book publishing market in general settles down.
Oddly enough, I’ve never given any thought to how a book connects with others I’ve written or how it will affect sales. While it’s nice to sell books, sales have never been my main motivation in writing. My profession as an English teacher pays the bills, so book royalties are a nice surprise when they come. I have always regarded writing and publishing as a passionate hobby and a side income. But I do have a small loyal readership who seem to return when I publish a new book, so they are clearly attaching to me as an author.
The most important reasons for me to write are to tell a story I want to tell, and that perhaps my grand children will read them one day and connect with my words. A way of leaving more than just footprints in the sand.
One of the things many authors have mentioned in these interviews is that self publishing has made everything more immediate – from the speed with which a book can go from idea to published, down to the speed with which authors get feedback on new works. Have you noticed this immediacy and if so does it change anything about your processes?
Getting a manuscript ready for publication is certainly not any quicker as it takes a long time to get it to an acceptable standard. But the one thing I have noticed is how immediate reader’s reactions are and how connected authors and readers have become. When I first started self publishing in paperback, there was almost no connection between my readers and myself other that the odd review. But now a review or social media comment can start an immediate interaction involving more people that just the one reader and the author.
This is great and connects readers with authors, but the downside is that it can take up a lot of time, which robs from the time needed for writing. It’s a double edged sword.
We “met” because you sent me an email after I posted a review of Louis. Do you contact everyone who reviews your work? Have you ever changed a story or made adjustments to a story based on feedback received from your fans? (One writer that interviewed did, with great results, so I’m just curious if many others have made similar changes.)
I always listen to what readers say about my books and I’d be a fool not to as it’s the very best way to improve. As you said, we met after you posted an honest review of my book and highlighted a problem that needed my attention. While like any author, I love getting glowing five star reviews, it’s the reviews that say, ‘hey I loved this about the book, but this aspect really didn’t work for me’, which are the most important. They are the balanced and honest reviewers, as no one necessarily loves everything about a book. There’s often a ‘but’ in a review and this is what I do definitely take on board. I do try to reply or thank most reviews I receive from readers, good or bad.
Although I must admit that with this new immediacy and connection, there are certain occasions when I do ignore reviews when they say things such as my novella was too short or that the reader’s mood wasn’t right when they read my book and hence they didn’t enjoy it. I accept their views, but don’t enter into a dialogue.
Oddly enough, I can’t recall a review that made me change elements in a story. Maybe my punctuation, grammar or manuscript formatting might be rubbish sometimes, but apparently I don’t leave too many plot holes.
People have been talking about the fact that ebooks (and I would add books that are printed on demand) never go out of print and therefore have what amounts to immortal shelf life. Some authors have said that sales of their older books increase with each new book that they publish. Since you have written and published so many books you are in a good position to say if that seems to be true for you or not. Is the “long tail” of ebooks all it’s being cracked up to be?
This is definitely one of the main advantages of self publishing. When a book is published by a traditional publisher, it is relegated to ‘out of print’ quite quickly if it doesn’t sell well. However, with self publishing it’s possible to try again with a book, either by updating the cover, changing the title or possibly doing a complete re-write of a book. I mentioned my first novel being a disaster earlier, but it now sells modestly well under a new title with a new cover and after being completely re-written. There’s nothing stopping me from doing this again either.
Most of my older titles still sell and it is noticeable that they get a little boost when I release a new book as new readers discover me and look for more. The main advantage with self publishing is that my books remain available for as long as I want them to be. So yes, I do think there is a ‘long tail’ effect.
Do you have favorite writing-related forums or blogs that you particularly enjoy? Do you attend writers’ conferences, or see any value in doing so?
I have a long list of writing, publishing and book review blogs I read regularly, but I tend to avoid online forums. I prefer to comment on well informed blogs and interact with readers of my own blog and participate in a few selective Facebook writers groups. As an English teacher, I’ve had my share of conferences, so I have an aversion to them. Perhaps due to my independent nature, I just don’t make a very good committee member. I must admit though that I just love Twitter. I thinks it’s the instant nature of it and perhaps a little anarchy and lack of rules about it that I like.
Finally, are there particular sites or books or other online places you would like me to point my readers to? I would also love to include a couple of images with this post – maybe one of you and one of one of your books?
As for a book, I must admit to having a favorite. One Last Love should never have been written by me as it was so far removed from any genre I had written in before. But for some crazy reason it is my bestseller by a long way. It just proves that you never know what will be popular with readers.