Secrets from a Best Selling Author
An Interview with JC Ryan
JC Ryan is a name you may not have known prior to this interview, however, as you will soon learn, this best-selling author has a library worth of published material, earning him the best-seller ranking, as well as putting other writers to shame.
How are you so prolific? Not just prolific but geographically, historically, blending science and science- fiction with imaginative plots?
For the past eight years, while working as an IT project Manager I found myself stuck in a daily 3-hour plus commute on a train. The first few days it was nice to sit and stare out the window at the beautiful areas I was traveling through but after a few weeks I’ve seen it all—twice a day, and it became a bit boring. I bought myself a tablet and started reading during those commutes. That was a welcome distraction, browsing the internet, reading a book, and reading the latest news. The latter obviously not doing much to relax me before I had to start my day nor winding me down after a stressful day at work. However, working as a contractor, getting paid by the hour, it soon struck me that I am spending 15 hours per week totally unproductive—earning nothing and not doing anything that I really enjoyed. It was time which I could be using to do what I have been dreaming about for a long time—writing a book. That was in December 2013.
Since then I have spent my time on the train to research and write books. It amazed me to realize that my daily commutes added up to more than 60 hours per month—more than one and a half workweek. Obviously, those were not the only hours I’ve been writing, once I started writing, I enjoyed it so much I soon got lost in the stories and kept on writing at home in the evenings and over weekends.
But at some stage I realized I am overdoing it and had to work out a schedule so that I had time to spend with my family and enjoy life as well. As a project manager, it was not too difficult to work out a realistic schedule. I now aim for about 20,000 words per week and achieve that and sometimes a bit more every week. It might sound like a lot of writing but if you break it down to 4 hours of writing on weekdays (3 hours on the train and 1 hour at home early morning or in the evening before going to bed) plus 4 hours per day over the weekends it adds up to 28 to 30 hours which is about 700 words per hour. It’s not that much. For me it’s all about being persistent and disciplined.
As for your question about geographically, historically, blending science and science fiction with imaginative plots. I am 60 years old and have seen and experienced a lot so far. I grew up on a farm in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia in Africa. I have lived in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, I have travelled to the USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. My first degree was a military degree and I served as an officer in the military for seven years before a crippling back injury forced me into a new direction. I returned to university, studied law, and became a lawyer, and then practiced law for more than fifteen years before my family and I left South Africa and moved to New Zealand, where I became an IT project manager. We later moved across ‘the ditch’, as the New Zealanders and Australians like to call it, to Australia in 2008.
You incorporate a huge “What if” theme in your books, especially the Rossler series. How did this develop? What inspires you?
I have always been interested in history, and I have learned that it is, as Winston Churchill said; “The victor gets to write the history.” In other words, there is almost always another side, an untold side, to historical events. Not only is knowledge lost over time, [but] it also gets twisted over time. In the scientific community of archeology, ‘conformity’ has become a password. Nothing will be accepted unless it conforms to the current [way of] thinking. If anything, when ‘un-conforming’ is discovered, it is either ignored or twisted until it fits into the mold.
When I look at the writings of people like Michael A. Cremo, Erich von Däniken, Alan F. Alford, Robert Bauval, Zecharia Sitchin, Graham Hancock, and many others I am not the only one who is questioning the current account of our history. I’m not sure about the alien theory some of those authors cling to though.
As for my inspiration for the first book in the Rossler Foundation series, The Tenth Cycle, I watched a TV show on the history channel about the Great Pyramids. The program was about the fact that the pyramids could not have been built the way modern-day Egyptologists want to make us believe. I did some research about it, and then the idea struck me that I could put my own spin on it and make a series out of it.
You come from a diverse background that includes extensive travel. Military. Legal. IT. And then writer. How has this helped you, and why did it take you so long to get into writing – you are obviously a natural?
I am not so sure about being a natural but as you can see from my life experience above, there is a lot to draw on when I am writing. The reason why it took me so long to start writing was that I always believed that I didn’t have any imagination and would never be able to write a proper story. Also, English is my second language which was another thing that held me back.
Nevertheless, a few years ago, a good friend of mine asked me why I don’t write fiction. He thought I had the ability to tell ‘good’ stories. It took me a while to think about it and then one day I said; “Why not? If you don’t try, you always fail.”
It was not until I wrote the first book, and was so overwhelmed by the responses I got from readers, that I realized I might just be able to do this. Over time, I have learned not to worry too much about my language skills – that was for my editors to sort out – and to concentrate on telling the story, and leave the language polishing to my editors.
Now I love writing. I think the saying is true; There is a book in every one of us—some of us get to write it, and some don’t.
If writing was no longer available, what are your other interests?
If I can’t write I would like to travel and see more. There is so much that I would still like to see and experience. I have just recently returned from a trip to Italy. It was an amazing experience visiting Rome and Sorrento and places like Paestum, a major ancient Greek city on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Magna Graecia. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three ancient Greek temples in the Doric order, dating from about 600 to 450 BC. Visiting Matera, a city in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy was probably the highlight of the trip for my wife and me.
“My books are on average about 130,000 words and it takes me on average about 6 to 7 weeks to write the first draft.” A city occupied by humans for more than 10,000 years, one of the three oldest cities in the world, the other two being, Jericho (mentioned in the Bible) and Aleppo in Syria. I can keep on going, there is just so much of these places I still want to see.
You wrote your first novel The Tenth Cycle in 2014 – a seven book series. Since then you’ve added The Exonerated Series and then The Carter Devereaux Mysteries, a series with Book 4 just released in May 2017. How have you managed to write ALL these books in under 3 years?
Actually, the 8th Rossler Foundation Mystery is in progress.
There is really no magic trick to it. For me, the formula is simple—a realistic schedule, which I created, and which I adhere to, writing 20,000 words per week. Being persistent and disciplined, making sure I put in 20-30 hours per week to achieve my goals.
What is your writing day like? How long does it take you to plot out your novels and then write them? I ask because they are not fluff – most are quite detailed with interesting nooks and crannies for the story to weave through, and characters that the reader comes to know?
These days, now that I am in a position to do it full-time, my writing day consists of 4 hours in the morning and another 3-4 hours in the afternoon. In other words, I spend 7-8 hours a day writing, and naturally my daily word count has gone up as well. I also spend more time reading books in my genre, and try to finish a book every 10 days or so.
I keep a file of book ideas, and whenever an idea comes up, I write it down there, and when I happen across some information related to it, I also file it in the ‘Ideas’ folder. That way I don’t get distracted by the ‘next shiny object’.
Once I am ready to move on to the next book, I spend a lot of time thinking through the theme and storyline, and write a very high-level outline. Then I think through the flow of the story, and start to write a detailed outline. By detailed, I mean some of my outlines are 150 pages or more. The longest outline I wrote so far was a little over 230 pages. In this process of creating the detailed outline, I do my research on the various topics, finalize my characters, timelines and story flow.
By the time I am done with my detailed outline and I start writing, I pretty much just finish the book. It’s almost like ‘copy typing’ or ‘filling in the blanks’. I am so into the story by then, I usually struggle to keep my fingers moving along quickly enough. During this time, I work closely with an editor to edit the book, which they do overnight, also making developmental suggestions. I know that’s not how most “how to write” books advocate it, but that’s what works for me.
You have a very large number of reviews, matching many, popular, mainstream writers. Your positive rating is 4.3 out of 5, most of the 322 reviews on The Tenth Cycle are totally positive, a few wishing you had less romance. That is an excellent bestselling author status. How did you manage to reach so many people? What was the secret to getting so many reviews? (Unless it is a trade secret of course!)
There are no trade secrets here; I am more than happy to share what I do.
In the beginning, I got hung up on the idea that reviews are the be-all and end-all of successful writing—it’s not. Well, at least not for me. I found that it’s much more important to write a good story and let the reviews come naturally. I also found that my time is better spend on writing than chasing reviews. So those reviews you see came from genuine readers, naturally. Yes, I did a few give-aways in exchange for a review, but most of the times those didn’t make a dent; they probably account for no more than 20 of the total. I found that people who like or disliked the books go online and say what they think.
I have to say though, lately, I got the impression that Amazon is helping me in the back-end. It seems that they email readers a few days after they have bought or borrowed a book and ask them what they think, and if they would write a review. I am not sure though if they do this for all authors, but it has certainly helped me get 95% plus of my reviews.
I also have an invitation at the beginning and end of all my books for people to join my email list and with that I give them a free book – Mysteries From The Ancients http://jcryanbooks.com/get-your-free-book/ and this has proven to be a big winner with them. It’s an 80-page e-Book covering some very interesting and through-provoking, unsolved archaeological mysteries. I get a lot of readers emailing me about this book, how much they enjoyed reading it. Whenever I get such an email from readers, I always use the opportunity to ask them to post an honest review of any of the books they have read on Amazon. Also, whenever I send out an email about a new book or a promotion, I ask them to post an honest review of any of the books they have read.
That’s it. That’s my ‘secret strategy’ to get reviews.
How much of your time goes into research?
The short answer is; a lot. My books are on average about 130,000 words and it takes me on average about 6 to 7 weeks to write the first draft. But before I start writing I put in about 10 to 20 hours of background research and when I write the detailed outline, I would spend about half the time on research. So, I would say about 40% of my total time goes into research, and the rest into writing the first draft, before it goes to the final editing process.
You have now started releasing your novels as audiobooks through Amazon, with The Tenth Cycle soon to be released. What made you decide to include Audiobooks? Do you plan on releasing all your books in audio format?
Audiobooks have become a big thing. When commuting on the train, I met so many people listening to audiobooks, I know people driving to work and other places often listen to audiobooks. With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and all sorts of electronic devices, all having audio capability, it has become necessary for authors to cater to that market.
I am really excited about the release of The Tenth Cycle in audio format and yes, I intend to turn all my books into audio format. Many of my readers have asked me to do so, already.
What can we expect for the remainder of 2017? New book series or more from the popular series?
There is another, the eighth book in the Rossler Series, in progress at the moment. I have done the planning and outlining, and I am almost ready to start writing.
There is also another series in the making. This time not against an archaeological backdrop, but more to do with modern science and the dangers it holds. It’s going to be about how science fiction is becoming reality. In other words, scientific breakthroughs are destroying science fiction stories; they are no longer figments of imagination. I don’t want to give away too much about it at this stage, but be ready to be surprised to learn how much of what we thought is sci-fi has actually become reality. It’s going to be a real mind bender, I believe.
The first book in this new series The Sigma Wave, will be the next one I publish. If you’d like a free book of mine –“Mysteries from the Ancients”– visit my Website at www.JCRyanBooks.com, and you can download it immediately.
[Editor’s note: JC Ryan and I enjoyed an extensive two-hour Skype session where we spoke of all manner of things, especially his ranking as an author. The visibility of an author is often at the hands of readers. If you look at JC’s ratings, each book enjoys several hundred or more four and five-star reviews, enough to make him notable, and on par with mainstream novelists. I encourage you to read one of his books, or listen to his audiobooks, now in production. You’ll be hooked. Let us know what you think.]