MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I have blogged many times warning beginning fiction writers not to self-publish. Today, I am interviewing self-published author K. Edwin Fritz, who will discuss his experiences (and talk about writing!) Keith’s web page is here!
Keith, you’ve self-published your books so far. How do you deal with editing?
K. EDWIN FRITZ: I did MAN HUNT by myself, and it was hard. Really hard. And even though I’m an English teacher by day, I still published it with about a dozen mistakes. It’s was pretty embarrassing. For the second book in the series, I’m asking a favor of another teacher friend. Fortunately, she loved MAN HUNT and is willing to take on the burden.
VENTRELLA: What process did you use when choosing a cover?
FRITZ: I designed it myself. I like simple-looking covers that make you think once you look closer. Busy or chaotic images are distracting to me, so I guess it’s not surprising all my covers are relatively simple but are laced with symbolism.
VENTRELLA: How have sales been?
FRITZ: There is always a surge when one of my books first comes out, but that’s pretty much over after a month or so. I used to think friends and family would buy lots of my books, but that’s proven to be wrong. Most of them have avoided me like the plague. One nice thing, though, is that the ones who truly do support you become obvious immediately and are consistent. I’ve recently begun to advertise to the big world out there, and the results are mixed. I’ve had one nice success and a couple of flops. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time I’d rather be spending writing more stories.
VENTRELLA: Is this something you want to continue to do?
FRITZ: No… and yes… but no. I’d love to land a big publishing contract, of course, (or even a decent one) and if that ever happens it’ll be goodbye self-publishing. But in the meantime, there are some positives that have kept me going.
VENTRELLA: What are the benefits of self-publishing?
FRITZ: Probably the freedom is the best. I can put out whatever story I like, and no editor, publisher, or agent is going to mangle it. Another big plus is the time it takes. From what I hear, traditional publishing still takes a long time… many months to even a year or more. With self-publishing, once my book is done I can have it ready for sale in a matter of days if I bust my butt enough. One final reason is subtle but, in my opinion, still pretty big. There is a big boost to your self-esteem when you actually have a finished book to put into people’s hands. The same thing would happen with traditional publishing, of course, but with self-publishing you are guaranteed to get there.
VENTRELLA: What do you see your long-term goal?
FRITZ: Ultimately, I’d like to make a living out of writing. Until that happens, I’ll be happy making enough money to go on vacation once a year.
VENTRELLA: Do you advise other authors to self-publish their novels?
FRITZ: I think that depends on what your goals are. Don’t do it to make money. But do do it to gain experience and grow a fan base.
VENTRELLA: One of the reasons I advise authors to avoid self-publishing is because many publishers see this as a negative when they are considering your next book (unless you’ve sold 10,000 copies or something). Do you think that stigma (even if undeserved) is realistic?
FRITZ: Yes, and not just from publishers. Whenever I tell my new students or strangers that I’m a published author, they perk up. But when I add that word “self” there is a visible disappointment in their eyes. It stinks of “Oh. You couldn’t get a published the real way, so you must not be very good”.
Having said that, the publishing world is going through big changes thanks mostly to the ebook craze, and I’ve heard that traditional publishers are taking on fewer new clients because of it. “Successful” self-published authors (whatever that means) are used as a litmus test by traditional publishers, and you’re right about those sales numbers. If you can do well on your own, they’re happy to ride your coattails to even more sales when they put their name behind you. I consider that situation a win-win … with a touch of humility. But most self-published book can only count on a couple hundred sales at most. Getting to the kinds of numbers that will actually attract a publisher is very very unlikely. And there’s something else, too … the truth is most self-published books really aren’t that good. Trust me … I’ve read many.
VENTRELLA: How did you get started? What was your first story or book published?
FRITZ: It was a short story called “Doctor Time” and it’s about a man who invents a potion that makes him live forever. The story follows him as he slowly (very slowly) watches life of all kinds change and die off around him. It’s a sad story, but it’s also kind of peaceful in its way. The first time I told it was more or less a dare from a friend who challenged me to tell a story off the top of my head, which I did. I told it a few more times after that around campfires, etc, and it came out a little different and a little better each time. Later I tried to write it down, which took several tries over a 6-month period. Eventually, it was published in my college newspaper. An updated version appears as the final piece in my NIGHT STORMS collection.
VENTRELLA: How much of writing is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?
FRITZ: I do believe that many people are born with an ability to tell a great story, however that’s not the same thing as being able to write one. They are similar but not identical skills, and learning the difference is a LOT of hard work. But can people who can’t already tell a story learn how to write one? Probably not. You need a foundation to work with.
VENTRELLA: Tell us about MAN HUNT.
FRITZ: My debut novel is a thriller, dystopian, horror story. It takes place in the North Pacific Ocean on an island that has been forgotten by mankind. Living there are men who have committed all manner of moral crimes. Deceived by an elaborate ruse, they wake deep within fortress walls where they are tortured, brainwashed, and then trained to physical perfection. When they are finally released to the island’s hills and abandoned streets, they are told one simple rule: Survive long enough and you will be sent home. The island’s only other inhabitants are women.
I like to think that in MAN HUNT, survival of the fittest means being literally hunted. It’s LORD OF THE FLIES meets hard-core feminism, because it tells both sides of the story.
VENTRELLA: What should someone read first if they want to get to know your work?
FRITZ: I have a bit of an eclectic range, so it depends on your tastes. Horror/ Thriller lovers should jump straight to MAN HUNT. People who prefer Dark Fantasy or Sci-Fi would probably like COVER OF DARKNESS (collection of 13 short stories). My first book (also a collection) is more Young Adult/ Light Horror with some more Dark Fantasy & Sci-Fi thrown in.
VENTRELLA: How do you make your protagonist a believable character?
FRITZ: I pay attention to real people. I think the difference between a good author and a mediocre one is when he/she is willing to be a student of the world.
VENTRELLA: What’s the best way to make the antagonist a believable character?
FRITZ: I actually took a great workshop on this once, and I’ve come to truly believe the answer I was told that day: A great antagonist doesn’t believe they are bad. He/she just has a warped vision of what is the right thing to do.
VENTRELLA: Which of your characters was the hardest to write and why?
FRITZ: Believe it or not, it’s one of my 2 protagonists, Obe. (It’s a label the women of MAN HUNT give him … he can’t remember his real name). He’s hard to write because he has the most change to undergo, and because I started him out as a little too sympathetic even though he has inherent guilt. In my first draft, he came off as a complete wimp. Changing him to someone who could be empathized with while still being vulnerable took for-ev-er.
VENTRELLA: What makes your fiction unique? In other words, what is it about your stories that makes them stand out against all the other similar stories out there?
FRITZ: My biggest influences are Stephen King and William Shakespeare. As a result, most of what I write tends to be a mixture of pop culture horror/fantasy and traditional literature. It may sound like a strange mix, but I think it works well. Sort of like how the biggest cry you have for a TV character is when the one who always makes you laugh suddenly suffers a tragedy. It’s that mixture that makes such a profound impact.
VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first? What gets your story idea going?
FRITZ: I often start with a simple “What If?” question and have fun answering it in detail. But no matter what, plot must always come first, even though this isn’t my first instinct (I like to think about the characters and all their crazy mannerisms). Ultimately, people remember and talk about the story, not about who was in it. Yes, great characters are remembered too, but when you really listen to what people say, it’s about what those characters did, not about who they were.
VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?
FRITZ: It’s like that old adage: Intelligence = Knowledge of Things (a tomato is technically a fruit), but Wisdom = Intelligence + Experience (tomatoes don’t belong in a fruit salad). Writing what you know means writing about the things you’ve experienced, which means you are sharing your wisdom with the world.
VENTRELLA: When going through second and third drafts, what do you look for? What is your main goal?
FRITZ: Every story has it’s own message, it’s own reason for being … it’s own wisdom to impart, if you will. I rarely know what that is when I’m drafting, so revision for me is about seeing what that message is then making sure it shows up loud and clear in all the right places.
VENTRELLA: Science Fiction doesn’t seem to be selling as much as fantasy these days, including urban fantasy and all the varieties. Why do you think that is?
FRITZ: Probably because the advances in real life science are making the fiction element less attractive. Who wants to read about fake space ships if there’s a real one going into orbit? Having said that, I’m a huge sucker for sci-fi, and I doubt it will ever die off completely. It’s human nature to advance the species. It will just change as the science of life changes.
VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important to start by trying to sell short stories or should a beginning author jump right in with a novel?
FRITZ: Definitely start with short stories. You need the experience of creating a complete story arc with all those characters, etc. It’s not that you can’t do a novel first, it’s that early in your writing career you will make mistakes and doing them on a novel means a lot more time and energy wasted. A bad short story can be tossed and forgotten. A bad novel will follow you for years.
VENTRELLA: How do you promote your work?
FRITZ: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, my blog, author signings, going to (and running one) writing groups, and recently I added paid advertising to my repertoire. Basically I innundate my life with writing. I even wear a wristband that says “Ask Me About My Novel” so that strangers will know what I do. (And, yes, I have sold a couple of books because of it).
VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?
FRITZ: Them: “You should write a story about (x)!”
Me: “Oh, you have an idea for a story but you can’t write it yourself so you want me to do it for you even though it’s totally outside my wheelhouse and since we’re friends/relatives I should be expected to drop everything I’m barely finding the time to work on and write your story instead? Thanks. I’ll get right on that.”
VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
FRITZ: “Read a lot. Write a lot.” There simply is no substitute. Reading a lot shows you different styles, different skills, and often different errors not to commit yourself. Writing a lot gives you the opportunity to gain that valuable experience. But you must do both or you’ll never get better. If you only do one of them, you’ll only ever stay the same.
VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?
FRITZ: Short stories first. I started MAN HUNT in 1994. Book 1 was finally published in 2013. I’m not exaggerating when I say there have been at least 100 versions of the first 20 pages, and at least 20 versions of the first 100 pages. The final draft was over a thousand pages, and it took me 6 years to draft it. That’s when the hellish process of revision began. I’m quite proud of the first book in this now-trilogy, but I can’t shake the feeling that I could have written far more stories of equal or greater quality if I would have learned my writing chops on some short pieces first.
VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?
FRITZ: I can think of 5 people:
1) Leonardo DaVinci. He’s probably the greatest Renaissance Man of all time. He was so far ahead of his time on so many things. Sometimes I actually find myself wondering if he was a time traveler or an alien. I would love to bring him to the modern world and watch him react to it… and then start making immediate plans to improve everything. 😉
2 & 3) Sitting on either side of him should be Shakespeare and Mr. King, of course. They are my idols. I owe them a beer in the very least. And watching them banter about writing over and around DaVinci’s whirlwind and chaotic head would be pure heaven.
4) Across the table would be Helen Keller. She’s incredibly wise despite having such a long, hard setback in life. Come to think of it, she’s probably wise because of it. She’d probably put everything all those other guys are saying into perspective.
5) My wife. She’s a little bit of all of the above, and there’s nobody in the world with whom I’d rather share such a great moment.