British author Vincent Formosa combines his background in history with his love for aviation. Read about how he navigates a crowded self-publishing field and why Twitter is not the platform best suited for him.
1. Tell me briefly about your latest book – what is it about and what motivated you to write it?
My latest book out is a novel titled Run The Gauntlet. It follows the life of an RAF light bomber squadron from the outbreak of World War 2 to the end of May 1940 and the fall of France.
I was inspired to write it after reading an article in an aviation magazine about the air war in France during the German Blitzkrieg. It related a few details about a Blenheim bomber squadron (the Blenheim was a twin engine light bomber in the RAF at the time, 3 men per crew) that lost 18 out of 21 crews in 10 days and that figure did not include the replacements who had also been shot down.
I was staggered by this. The thought of a squadron that had fought and trained for years before the war to be almost casually wiped out really brought home to me the cost of war. So I started the novel, doing a lot of research along the way, trying to encompass that press on attitude while conveying the harshness of combat.
2. How have your sales been?
Sales so far have been slow. My first novel came out in 2011. My second novel came out at the end of 2016.
I’m playing the long game on this one. I’m writing for a bit of a niche genre (aviation military fiction) and while there are lot of aviation magazines, they don’t review fiction, so it’s proving difficult to get myself out there and known. I realize that when someone buys your book and then looks to see there are no more by you, you miss an opportunity for a secondary buy. So as time goes on, I’ll have more books out there and it will naturally blossom. A reader will read one, say “I enjoyed that,” and then see there are others they can buy. So one sale can turn into four or five.
3. You’ve chosen to use indie publishing for your books. Can you elaborate as to why you made this choice?
About 8 years ago I came across Joe Konrath’s blog where he discussed what had led him to self-publish and I found his argument very reasoned. 99.9% of new authors will not get much in the way of promotion from a publisher, so for the virtue of getting my book physically on a bookshop shelf, I’m giving away quite a percentage of royalty.
So if I’m not getting any promotion help, why not do it myself and get more royalty for me?
4. What would you say are the pros and cons to indie publishing?
You can write what you want. I’m a firm believer in writing what you love and are passionate about. Writing to suit trends is a route to oblivion and stilted forced writing. If I was with a publisher, ideas might be deemed “too risky” for them and I might find myself tempered by their own agendas and wants. Doing it myself gives me more freedom.
However, the con of course is you have to be hyper critical of your work, get beta readers to inform you of what’s going on. You must have discipline. If you don’t you’re going to turn out a sub par novel that is not a good reflection of your invested time and is going to make it more difficult to attract a reader base.
5. Discuss your background and how that has influenced your writing.
I grew up always wanting to be in the armed forces, to serve, so I think it established a good base for me to get into my characters’ heads and explore their viewpoints and motivations. The library was my second home growing up and I was a voracious reader of all sorts of stuff: science fiction, history, science, economics, etc.
I have a history degree; I have the background in research, gathering material and pulling it all together. I love digging and finding little nuggets of information that can be the start of a premise of another novel.
While I was in the ATC I was very lucky. I got a lot of flying time (80 hours of stick time), handled and shot full grade military weapons on the ranges and have been in all three services in a limited capacity. At university I was in the Officer Training Corps and University Royal Naval Unit (I discovered I was not a good sailor) and in the ATC before that. So I’ve had a glimpse of life in the RAF, Royal Navy and the Army. That has given me such an insight into the services and what it’s like.
Writing historical military fiction has enabled me to combine my love of history, research, flying and produce something that I enjoy and I can pour my passion into.
6. What sort of networking have you done as an author, and what have been the results?
I’m in a number of Facebook writing groups. I’ve had some good feedback from that. That’s good as it’s people who write different genres and sometimes you get a nice alternative viewpoint pointing out something I would never have considered.
I’d like to do a writing convention, go to some workshops and rub shoulders with people. I think that would be really good.
7. Talk a little more about the sort of marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been most successful?
This is an area in which I am weak at the moment. I have a Facebook page. I do intend to have a writing blog in the near future. I have reached out to a number of magazines to try and garner reviews, but as mentioned above, with not a lot of success right now. I did get a segment on British Armed Forces Radio but that did not produce much in terms of sales or interest.
Facebook advertisements have been a waste of time. I got a lot of page impressions but that did not translate into sales and was not a worthwhile investment. I’m still hunting for something that will produce a more tangible result.
8. Are there any marketing or networking techniques you’ve intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
Twitter. AVOID. LIKE. THE. PLAGUE. If I was famous and/or rich and had the time to do interesting stuff beyond “had bacon sandwiches for breakfast, nom nom nom,” I might use it. But I find Twitter is a waste of time. Gathering “likes” and “followers” reminds me of how everyone goes crazy when you first join Facebook, you go mad trying to get as many people as possible as “friends” but it doesn’t really mean very much.
As a portal to get people’s attention, unless you say something controversial or headline grabbing, an unknown like me is not going to get visibility with that platform. Facebook and a blog allows me more room to make lengthy posts with some substance behind them.
9. What are the most important things you’ve learned about both publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Typesetting and layout. Not just in a book, but also for covers, not leaving orphan words or letters in your layout on a back cover is such a small but incredibly important detail.
Font selection, margins, etc are also things we take for granted but are so important, striking that balance between size and readability on the page to make it a pleasing reading experience.
You have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention. Writing a good blurb, having a good cover, a good layout, font, etc. are so important.
10. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
For the next novel, I must do more of a lead-in prior to publishing it and making it live on my publishing platforms. Announce it as coming soon. Preview the cover. Post about it on writing forums. Get the word out there before it is released. I haven’t done it before. I need to do that next time.
11. New authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books, whether they go the indie or traditional publishing route. What advice do you have for an author just starting out?
Join some groups on Facebook and start reading. Have a look at some successful indie authors. What are they doing that you could also do? Not everyone can do what they do. Cherry pick the good stuff and have the discipline to create time to do these things. If you’re going to commit to a blog, then realize you must create regular content to maintain and grow an audience. This is why I’ve not done a blog yet because I’ve not had the time to devote to it and make it work. That’s my next thing to do.
12. What other projects are you currently working on?
I’ve learned that managing my time can make me more productive. With my first two novels, I devoted myself just to them, so even when I parked the first draft for 3 months before coming back to it with fresh eyes, I didn’t do work on any other stories. That was wasted time.
So with my current work in progress which is half done, I’ve already formulated a few ideas for my fourth and fifth and sixth novels. Once the draft is done on the latest novel, I will start reading and researching and gathering material for the next book.
My current work in progress is a stand alone novel set in late 1941/early 1942 titled Maximum Effort. It follows a pilot starting his second tour in Bomber Command, steeling himself to go back into action with a new rookie crew and a new bomber whose reliability could just as easily kill them as the Germans will.
After that, I’ll start work on a novel titled Prototype which is set in 1945 and follows Britain’s first jet fighter going into action against the Luftwaffe. So lots of aerial combat action over the skies of Europe.
13. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
Well-researched, fast paced action with well-drawn characters and an easy writing style that draws the reader in and leaves them wanting more.
14. How can readers learn more about your books?
My Facebook author page is here.
My novels are available as both ebooks and paperbacks on Amazon: