Five Questions Are Not Enough!
“Lust, Money and Murder,” Book 1, which you offer as a free download from your site, is an outstanding example of how to set up a novel, grab the reader from the first line, and swiftly move them through an action sequence, hooked all the way through the (literal) cliffhanger. How do you develop your story sequences to make them so tightly written and how long do you spend getting it set up? [Editor note: Watch the Book Trailer]
I spend huge amounts of time on the beginning of my books trying to make them hook the reader in as quickly and deeply as possible. I have literally rewritten and changed the beginnings on some books 25-30 times. This is probably a habit that grew out of the need to hook literary agents back when I was involved in traditional publishing (I only self-publish now).
With most agents, you have about 60 seconds to get them interested or they chuck it. But many readers are the same, and I’m one of them. If I’m not firmly hooked within a couple of pages, it’s my opinion that the author is not doing a very good job, his/her story needs honing.
That’s not to say every book needs to start with an action scene or anything like that, but there must be something strongly compelling in the writing to hook you and make you want to read more.
Despite what I’ve just said, I don’t believe I work any harder on the opening of a book than I do on any other part.
In today’s market, your ENTIRE book had better achieve a super-high level of reader engagement, or you’re in trouble. The moment engagement drops, even a tiny bit–the moment the narrative tension grows a little slack–you run the risk of losing your reader to some other form of entertainment. TV, movies, games, chatting, social networking–the list is endless and always growing, not to mention the massive number of OTHER books that the reader can turn to.
I believe the “unputdownable” quality of my books (something readers say about them, not my words) is the reason I have been as successful as I am, and I will always stay focused on that aspect of my storytelling.
Do you plot out all aspects of your storyline ahead of time or do you have a general idea that you allow to develop as you write?
The latter, and that’s a very clear and succinct way to describe it. I start with a premise that I find intriguing. A young woman begins to receive mysterious emails that accurately predict future events, and she places bets on them and starts making tons of money (Passion, Power & Sin). A five month old baby starts talking, or so the father thinks, and he soon believes the baby is out to get him (Baby Talk). A 14 year old boy’s older, reckless friend begins to push him to take life-threatening risks to prove his manhood (The Wrong Side of the Tracks).
Once I have the premise, I often dive right in and start writing the opening scene, or various opening scenes, and go from there. I might write 1/3 of the book before I actually zoom back out to the big picture and ask myself “Where is this story going? What will happen in the middle, and how will it all end?” I will spend a day or two up at the outline level, working on the overall story structure, and then dive back into the details.
Most of my writing process consists of exactly this – spending the majority of my time down at the detail level (writing or daydreaming actual scenes, dialogue, etc.) and then occasionally “climbing” back up to the outline. This is what I think of as development. It’s very much the same process artists use when painting a picture. First they make a rough pencil or charcoal sketch, then they dive into the details, and every now and then they step far back from the canvas to see how it all fits together.
Wild Child, which has a whimsical, fantasy style about it, also pulls in the reader to want to know more. The search for answers appears prevalent in this story, as well as the relationship between characters. How do you decide a story is worthy of being written and do you start in any particular way? For example, some writers have a title and build the story from there.
I think the answer to this question is evident in the last one. For me, writing a successful novel is all about the premise of the story. Period. That’s the kernel around which everything else is built. If the premise is not intriguing enough for me, then I will never finish writing the book. The telltale sign that I don’t have an interesting enough premise (for me) is that I get a feeling of having to push myself too much to write the book, and it becomes heavy, like work. It is no longer fun. When I’ve got that great premise, I, as the author, want to know what happens next each and every step of the way–I want to see how it all plays out. This inner desire to see how it all unfolds is what gets me through the arduous process of writing an entire book–it pulls me along, all the way through to the end. I suppose this is what some people call inspiration. Anyway, I have learned that if I am being steadily pulled forward by this magical force as I write the book, so will other people as they read it.
You post on your site at http://mikewellsblog.blogspot.com how 3000 printed copies of “Wild Child” went from the trash can to the #1 Amazon spot.
It is a very revealing look at how the publishing market has shifted toward e-books, I believe in a 70/30 ratio. When you write, do you do so with it planned as only being an e-book as your marketing focus, and is this a different frame of mind than you might have expecting it to be a print book?
I only publish ebooks (and audiobooks) now. As far as I’m concerned, printed books are dead, except for certain kinds of books (not most novels) and as collector’s items. As a professional writer, I can’t work on inspiration alone–I make my living from my writing. Which means that like it or not, I have to think about the practical side, too. I don’t want to get into a discussion about the future of ebooks vs. paper books–I have my opinion on that and I’m pretty sure I’m right. But for me, it really wouldn’t matter if the paper book market were holding steady or even growing relative to ebooks. For me, paper books and ebooks are two different worlds.
Paper books represent the traditional publishing industry, a place that was not particularly friendly to me and one in which I was not very successful.
Ebooks are the reason I’m a successful novelist, and the reason I’m sitting here giving this interview right now. Despite all the hype that’s out there, the paper book market is still controlled by the Big 5. If you don’t believe me, self-publish your book on paper and see how many copies you can get onto the physical shelves of a Barnes & Noble. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but with the massive effort it would require on my part to even get a few copies in a few physical bookstores, I could sell thousands and thousands more ebooks. So what’s the point? I have to focus my energy on what works for me, not what doesn’t work or feels like an uphill battle.
That’s a long explanation of why I only publish ebooks and perhaps I deviated a bit from the question.
To answer the rest, as I only publish ebooks, yes there are some things I do to take advantage, and which would not work with paper books. Your citing of Wild Child is a perfect example. It’s just too short for big publishers to make money on as a paperback book unless it takes off and becomes a worldwide bestseller, which rarely happens, a matter of luck in many ways.
Ebooks don’t care how long they are, so to speak. An ebook is just a digital file, has no tangible form. There are other things I do to take advantage, but the flexible length aspect is the main one. And this works on both ends of the length spectrum. For example, the full Passion, Power & Sin set (1-5) would be over 800 pages in printed form (according to Apple), which would be very hard to publish on paper in a single volume. I certainly wouldn’t want to drag it around!
You are a prolific writer with many books (many of which are a series.) You have also managed to pick up 155,000 Twitter followers (a huge number), essential to getting the word out about your writings. Your followers are such that whatever you write, you are guaranteed a buying audience. What advice can you give to writers trying to build on their social media follower base in order to expose more of their work, and how long did it take you to reach that number of followers?
Every fiction writer I know who is successful does it a little differently–there is no one size fits all formula that works for selling books (or anything else, for that matter). Depends a lot on what you’re good at, your personality.
Some writers use Twitter, others Facebook, still others Goodreads, and others use no social networks at all and sell thousands of copies just based on the genre, cover, title and synopsis.
Yes, I do have a lot of followers on Twitter (took me almost 6 years to build that up, mostly by following other people first and offering them a free book). But only a fraction of my readers are on Twitter (maybe 15%)–most find out about my books from a number other of different angles–my blog posts, browsing on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Goodreads, recommendations from friends, reviews on book blogs, Linkedin connections, interviews like this one, reviews in large publications (The Evening Standard), an article in The Daily Mail (about Wild Child)…they’re pulled in from a very wide variety of sources. So I would advise new authors to use a multi-pronged approach and try as many avenues as possible.
I know one author who is very successful who uses nothing but Pinterest. I find that very strange but it works well for her because she’s learned how to use it effectively. In closing, I’d like to say you’ve asked some very good questions in this interview, and I’ve enjoyed answering them. Thank you so much for the opportunity!
Editor note: [My thanks to Mike Wells for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope that they serve as an inspiration to other writers. Be sure to visit Mike on his many social media platforms listed:]
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Wells/e/B004MCEC1U