Last month, The Husband and I attended Sci-Fi Valley Con in Altoona, PA, and had a blast. One of the more interesting parts of the Con, for us, was the panel talk given by author Chris Kennedy, who has successfully self-published four genre novels, with a fifth one on the way. He had a lot of great advice and insights into the business of self-publishing, and I felt that many of you out there who, like me, are sitting on the Next Great Novel hoping to find a publisher, might draw inspiration from Chris' experiences.
So I asked him if he'd be agreeable to an interview, and he was; and I'd like to thank him for his generous donation of time and wisdom. I hope you find as much interesting information in his words as I did. And, incidentally, go out and buy his books!
Mama Fisi: I really appereciate your fielding these questions, Chris.
Chris Kennedy: Before I get to the questions, Kathy, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview me. I really appreciate it.
MF: Not a problem, Chris, the pleasure is mine. Why don't you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
CK: I’d be happy to. I’ve had a pretty eclectic career path, from flying attack jets for the United States Navy to being an elementary school principal. For the last year, I’ve split my time between my day job as an instructional systems designer and my night job as a science fiction author, while still trying to meet all of my commitments as a husband and father to three great kids. As you can probably guess, I’ve been kind of busy.
MF: What got you interested in writing books?
CK: I read somewhere that 83% of people want to write a book, but only 10% actually do it. I was never part of the 83%. I never wanted to write a book...it just kind of happened one day. I was looking at some things on the internet and all of a sudden, a story popped into my head, and I had to get it out. I guess you could call me the “Accidental Author.”
MF: Where did you get the inspiration for your first story?
CK: I was looking at some news stories and one caught my eye. It talked about how the Chinese had brought several of their new cars to the Detroit auto show, and that they also planned to open up some manufacturing plants in the United States. I thought to myself, boy, wouldn’t that be a great opportunity for them to sneak some people into the U.S., and the story “Red Tide: the Chinese Invasion of Seattle” was born.
MF: Can you give us a brief summary of the plots of your novels?
CK: Sure, Kathy, I’d be happy to. I have four books that have already been released, with a fifth that will be out next month. The first two of these were “Red Tide” and “Occupied Seattle,” the conclusion to the duology. Without giving away too much, China sees an opportunity to regain the island of Taiwan by invading Seattle in the book “Red Tide;” “Occupied Seattle” is focused on our struggle to try and get the city back.
The other three books I’ve written are the Theogony trilogy, “Janissaries,” “When the Gods Aren’t Gods,” and “Terra Stands Alone.” In these books, the majority of the main characters from the “Occupied Seattle” series go to space, where they find that the Earth is in great peril from a race of hostile aliens that are headed in our direction. With the help of three friendly aliens, the heroes go looking for help in defending the Earth. Along the way they make both friends and enemies, and find that Earth’s history is different than what we’ve always thought. Very different.
MF: Why did you decide to shift your focus from military fiction to science fiction? Would you say science fiction is easier to write?
CK: My first two books were military fiction because that is what I knew best. With 20 years of naval service, I was very comfortable writing military fiction. All of my life I’ve been an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, though, and that is what I really wanted to write, so with my next series I took the characters to space. I don’t know if either of these genres is “easier” than the other to write, but I certainly enjoy writing science fiction more. I can let my imagination run free, and I have done so with all of these books. I like to say that they are science fiction, with a side helping of fantasy.
MF: How did you decide that self-publishing would be the way to go?
CK: I would like to thank the 60-70 agents that rejected my book queries for convincing me that self-publishing was the right choice, as well as for letting me keep their 15% of the royalties! Seriously, though, when I first started out I wanted a traditional book publishing contract, because I didn’t know anything about self-publishing and thought ‘that was the way it was supposed to be done.’ As the rejection notices piled up, it became clear that I needed to do something else. I was confident that “Red Tide” was a good story, which I thought people would read and find enjoyable. I saw something about self-publishing on Joanna Penn’s web site (http://www.thecreativepenn.com/blog/) and thought, “Wow! I can do that, too.” Happily, as it turned out, I was right.
MF: Can you describe your experience with getting your first book self-published?
CK: When I decided to self-publish, I read all that I could about the process to prepare myself. The two best sites I found were Joanna’s site and Joel Friedlander’s site (http://www.thebookdesigner.com/). Prior to its release, I knew that my book needed to be reviewed, and that I needed to have a great cover and marketing plan. I put together a great team to edit it, found an awesome graphic designer to do the cover (Genesis Graphic Design) and set up a Facebook page, a web site and a Twitter account to help with the marketing. When I released the book, I had a plan in place that I thought would be successful.
MF: Were you surprised by the success of your books?
CK: Despite having a plan that I thought would be successful, my expectations were a lot more realistic. I hoped to sell 50 copies of “Red Tide,” 100 copies of “Occupied Seattle” and then 500 copies of the third book, whatever that turned out to be. I hoped that the sales of the third book would finally break even with my costs to that point. However, not only did sales exceed my expectations, they wildly exceeded my hopes and dreams, as well. I’d have to say, yes, I have been very surprised by their success. The end of July marks the one-year anniversary of the release of “Red Tide.” In that time, it has sold over 4,000 copies, “Occupied Seattle” has sold over 3,200, and “Janissaries” has sold over 11,700 copies in just the six months since its release. The best success stories, though, are the ones from my readers. I had one reader that said he had read all four books back-to-back, and then he had to take two days off work to recover. Making that kind of impression is tremendously humbling and makes me want to write the very best books that I can. My favorite review was the one that said, “I only keep three authors, Clancy, Cussler and Kennedy.” If being compared with them isn’t success, I don’t know what is. MF: What advice or recommendations do you have for writers who are looking to break into the genre? CK: My advice would be two-fold. First, take the time to understand the process and figure out what you are supposed to do (i.e., have a plan!). For example, you need to start marketing a book six months prior to your book’s release, not once you’ve already published it. My second point would be to follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you ‘no.’ A year ago, I had no experience with either writing or the publishing industry. If I can do it, you can, too!
MF: Would you say you've been extraordinarily lucky, or is your experience with self-publishing a common occurrence?
CK: I would say that it is neither lucky, nor is it common. I’ve been successful with self-publishing because I’ve worked hard and followed a plan. With the current state of the publishing industry, anyone that wants to be published can be. How much success you have with your book, though, is determined by the amount of effort (1) you put into making your book great prior to release and (2) the marketing plan that you develop in advance of its release.
MF: What goals have you set for your next book? And how many more books do you foresee for this series?
CK: I am hoping the next book will vault me into the Top 20 of the Amazon Top 100 Science Fiction Authors’ list. With the release of “When the Gods Aren’t Gods,” I got as high as #30, so I think it is very possible. With the additional time to grow my platform since then, I’m really hoping to make the Top 20. As far as having more books in the series, I don’t know how many I will ultimately end up with in this universe, but I already have at least nine more in my head. As long as readers are still interested in reading about it, I’ll keep writing about it. The next trilogy is the “Codex Regius;” I’ve already got about 10,000 words into the first book of that trilogy. Readers will get a sneak peek at it at the end of “Terra Stands Alone.”
MF: Will you be sticking with science fiction, or will you be trying other genres?
CK: I wrote a fantasy short story for the Baen Fantasy Contest last month and really liked the universe I created for it. I liked it so much, in fact, that I decided to write a full length novel that picked up where the short story left off. So far, I’m about 10,000 words into it. I thought that it would be a single book, but totally against my will the story has grown into an epic trilogy. The readers on my Facebook page have called for more science fiction, but I’m going to periodically work on this series, too. It’s a good story that I think everyone will like.
MF: Anything else for us today?
CK: Yes, Kathy, there is. I’ve got some good news for your readers. Once Baen’s fantasy contest is over, I’ll be making that short story available for free to anyone that has liked my Facebook page. For a great fantasy short story at an even better price, all they need to do is give my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/chriskennedypublishing.biz) a “like” and they’ll get the info on where to get it when it’s available.
MF: Well, that sounds great, and I wish you the best of luck on your next project! Self-publishing certainly does seem like the way to go--and success depends on promotion as much as it does on having a good, readable story. Thanks for talking with us today, Chris!
CK: Thanks again for talking with me today, Kathy. If your readers are looking for some great military fiction or scifi/fantasy, my books are on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00E4MIJA8. They can also connect with me on my blog at http://chriskennedypublishing.com or follow me on Twitter at @ChrisKennedy110. Thanks!