Jim Heskett began his writing career like many writers do, by pursuing the “traditional publishing lottery,” submitting his work to various agents and publishers. He had a few close calls, but no deal…so he switched to self-publishing. In the last six months, he has released five fiction titles, and is on course to release another three titles in the next month. This week I talk to Jim about his Five Suns Saga, and the “brave new world” of self-publishing.
Jim discovered Stephen King at age 14, and has been writing ever since. In his 20s, he pursued screenwriting for some time, but then realized he was more interested in storytelling than necessarily in screenwriting. So he switched to long-form fiction and began the long process of submitting to agents and traditional publishers, an endeavor he likens to winning the lottery.
He decided to switch to self-publishing after one agent mentioned that an indie author would have to sell 10,000 copies before she would be interested in that author. If he could sell 10,000 copies, he thought, why would he need an agent? He says, “I just started to see that the gatekeepers were an unnecessary step, and I could go direct to readers via Amazon and Kobo and other platforms.”
What would you do if you thought the world was going to end…and it didn’t?
Jim originally envisioned his Five Suns Saga as a sprawling seven-book epic series, which morphed into a collective collaborative project where he invited other writers to write in his universe akin to Kindle Worlds. He wrote a few stories on his own to get the project started, but when he couldn’t get people interested, he decided to write them all himself. The result is his Five Suns Sagaseries, a collection of stories centered around the mystery of what causes society to collapse. The first book in the series is, as of this writing, #11 in the Espionage subcategory in the Kindle Store, and looks to be an excellent start to a promising career.
Shortly following the release of his trilogy, Jim published Reagan’s Ashes, a stand-alone thriller that had gotten some attention from an agent previously. The story follows Reagan Darby, a young woman who suffers from bipolar disorder, who sets out to fulfill her father’s final wishes: to have his ashes scattered in Lake Nanita in Rocky Mountain National Park. Only her strange cousin Dalton insists on coming along, and she quickly discovers he has motives….
Although Jim first self-published his book of poetry Love Poems Hate Poems in 2011, his five other fiction titles were all published within the last six months.
8/8/11 – Love Poems Hate Poems – (51 pages) – Permafree
11/11/14 – Abandoned: Three Short Stories – (38 pages) – $.99 (Kindle Unlimited)
12/18/14 – Five Suns of Treason (Book 1 of Five Suns Saga) – (76 pages) – Permafree
12/27/14 – Five Suns of Sedition (Book 2 of Five Suns Saga) – (129 pages) – $2.99 (Kindle Unlimited)
12/27/14 – Five Suns of Anarchy (Book 3 of Five Suns Saga) – (80 pages) – $1.99 (Kindle Unlimited)
2/17/15 – Reagan’s Ashes – (277 pages) – $3.99 (Kindle Unlimited)
Jim released the three books in the Five Suns Saga all together in December, a strategy that allowed him to include links in the back of each book to the next book, allowing readers access to the story as quickly as possible.
He ran a successful Kindle Nation Daily promo in February of 2015 for $100. The promo garnered him 5,000 downloads in two days — definitely the highest spike he’s had at that time — but it also brought with it his first one- and two-star reviews, an unfortunate risk, he says, of running promos on free books.
For his next planned series — a chase thriller trilogy — he plans to experiment by putting all three books up for pre-order, then releasing them between three and four weeks apart so that he has time to do individual promotion on each title, but close enough together that once a reader is done with one book, the next book will either be already available or available very shortly.
Since all three books are already written, I asked Jim why he wasn’t releasing them simultaneously. He said that was something he might try on his next series. “One of the great things about being an indie author is we have the control to be able to experiment. We have the control when we release, what our album covers look like — you know, we have all that control in our own hands.”
Indie Author Answers
Jim also hosts Indie Author Answers, a new podcast focused on self-publishing and writing craft. He mostly talks about storytelling, using an old trunk novel he wrote as a newbie writer, Problematic Virtue, as a way to illustrate various craft technique, POV, plotting, and characterization. So far, he is 14 episodes into it, with a total of 71 episodes planned. His main goal with the podcast is to help other writers and build engagement with his fan base, and he does that by trying to make each podcast into an engaging story.
Critique Groups and Beta Readers
Jim has participated in various critique groups, both face-to-face and online, and has found it to be invaluable experience. He says you learn a lot by critiquing other people’s work, especially outside of your own genre; however, he finds that critique groups in general are too slow for indie authors due to the page limitations and rotation cycles, and feels they are better suited for traditionally published authors who don’t have that short of a turnaround time.
For indie authors looking to vet work they intend to publish, Jim recommends beta readers. His own beta readers include a small group of people he trusts, who give good feedback and read quickly. He has four or five betas that read everything, but he tries to engage a new reader for each new title. He’s found his beta readers through friends, writer forums, and social media.
Jim feels critique groups are essential to authors in that they provide a sort of developmental edit. And while nothing can replace the quality of a good editor, whether developmental or a proofreader, he says, if you’re brand-new to publishing and don’t have the money, there are still plenty of ways to make a quality manuscript. One hack he likes to use is to run the Text to Speech function on his Mac and listen to his entire book at the slowest speed in order to force himself to slow down and listen for errors. He also will read his titles on his Kindle, as well as print it out and read it from back to front, paragraph by paragraph, to catch those pesky typos that have a tendency to allude an eye already familiar with the text.
What’s the Next Big Thing for Jim?
He has written a new novella series called The Whistleblower Trilogy, though — lucky for his fans — he suspects there’s a fourth book and a prequel there. Each title runs about 170 pages, and he expects to release them in April of 2015.
“I just started to see that the gatekeepers were an unnecessary step, and I could go direct to readers via Amazon and Kobo and other platforms.”
“One of the great things about being an indie author is we have the control to be able to experiment. We have the control when we release, what our album covers look like — you know, we have all that control in our own hands.”
“It’s a brave new world, Simon.”
- Join a critique group. If writing craft is something you want to improve, there’s no better way to learn than to cultivate relationships with other writers, give feedback in genres you wouldn’t ordinarily read, and receive feedback from readers who might not ordinarily read your genre.
- Experiment. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies. If things don’t work out, you can always do it differently for the next title…or simply change it back. The benefit of being an indie author is you have the control to experiment with pricing, frequency of releases, length, genre, covers, etc. There is no one best way to do any of these things, but you won’t find better results without trying new things.
- Listen to your book as part of your editing process. There are various applications out there that will read your book out loud. Try listening to catch typos missed in the ordinary course of proofreading.
- Write shorter books. Jim wrote his upcoming novella trilogy quickly and all at once. He finds shorter books are definitely easier to get to market, and it’s a good way to build up a catalog of titles quickly.
What is your best hack or trick as an indie author for producing a high-quality manuscript?
Jim started a podcast and is sharing what he did wrong with his first novel. What creative ways are you engaging with your audience?
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