Randall Moore is working to make the switch from self- to traditional publishing. He shares his experience with the querying process and explains why book giveaways are not a preferred marketing method.
1. Tell me briefly about your latest book – what is it about and what motivated you to write it?
My latest published book is Welles Lang’s Magic Box. It’s about a genius cinema auteur who’s employing an innovation in performance capture with a side effect: not only are the actors’ performances captured but their souls are as well. It comes from an idea I had years ago about performers dying to be in a movie that will truly immortalize them. It’s a hybrid of horror and science fiction with action adventure and romance thrown in.
2. How have your sales been?
Sales have been tepid at best. I did a Goodreads giveaway of 100 digital copies and a Freebooksy giveaway of 1,300. I got one great review and some terrible reviews from people who failed to finish my book.
3. You’ve gone the self-publishing route. Tell me more about that and how you got into it.
Self-publishing started as a lark. It was exciting to see my short story for sale on Amazon. I made it free and had hundreds of downloads. I then expanded my short story into a novel, which became a trilogy. By now writing had become an all-consuming passion and I haven’t let up to this day.
4. You’ve had some experience with the querying process for traditional publishing. Talk a little about that.
After completing my sixth Falco Adventure, my writing had improved to the point where I wanted to get my feet wet in traditional publishing (well, that and tepid sales). Writing, editing and publishing my novels was gratifying but not sufficiently satisfying, as what I really want is readers. I queried Unholy Gathering and then Welles Lang’s Magic Box. I concluded that my entreaties failed to garner requisite interest so I self-published both novels. Since then I’ve queried American Jihad and Nomad Nurse. I had a request for more pages of American Jihad and sent a manuscript of Nomad Nurse to an agent. Unfortunately, I moved and lost my email address so any response from agents will result in their mail being returned as undeliverable.
I find it surprising that most agents feel no need to respond to queries. A lot of them say no response is a pass. I’m thinking about writing a story about a literary agency where only entry-level interns read anything sent to them and they’re so bitter at their lack of influence, they find it easier to hate everything sent their way. Having been in sales I understand the reluctance to take on an unproven talent without a platform. If I were a literary agent I’d sooner try to sell Kobe Bryant’s cookbook than one of my tomes. I think most agents’ secret dream is to field a call from Stephen King requesting a change in representation. Querying’s a game I haven’t yet mastered but I’m committed to continue with it even though my backlog of novels continues to grow.
Form rejections from agents are a little disappointing but that’s what’s to be expected. My next milestone will be to have someone reject a manuscript after reading it. That seems more thorough than turning down a three-paragraph pitch with a few sample pages. I honestly wonder if anybody reads any of this stuff.
Also, agents and publishers seem to be very political, and by that I mean they are very much to the left, closed to queries unless you’re an “other voice” (i.e. non-white male) or LGBTQ. I signed up for emails from one agency and the only new non-female fiction authors are gay Asians. I exchanged messages with the head of the agency about LGBTQ and concluded that the only way I would be interested in writing a gay character would be if he were an assassin. I wrote the novel based on a piece of flash fiction and that’s among my growing backlog of novels to be queried.
5. What are some of the pros and cons of self-publishing you’ve experienced?
It’s gratifying to see the piece you worked so hard on for sale on Amazon. I think we all have the fantasy about achieving the success attained by Hugh Howey and Andy Weir. The reality is their experience is the exception and not the rule. I started out writing a series and sustained it for six novels. I could return to the characters but I would have to have interested readers to make that happen; thus, I continue to query agents.
6. What sort of networking have you done as an author, and what have been the results?
I’ve always been sort of a loner, not the best tack for an aspiring author. I thought by announcing my works on Facebook, friends would be interested in reading them. Not so. Not everyone I know is a reader. I joined Goodreads and a number of groups. I managed to persuade a friend to read my first novel. Then I joined Read for Review and had a few books reviewed. I even traded reviews with other authors but that didn’t seem to make a difference in sales. I did multiple giveaways and only received 2 reviews of my first novel: the next 5 received zero reviews. I’ve joined several writing pages on Facebook and provide my website and links to Amazon for published novels. I’ve managed to garner views of my website and it’s possible even reads on Kindle Unlimited. Someone in Denmark read my historical epic The Merchant, the Janissary and the Corsair through to the end. No review was given but at least someone read the whole thing.
7. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been most successful?
I’ve done giveaways on Goodreads, Amazon and Freebooksy. Goodreads has been pretty disappointing. My last two giveaways of 100 copies each did generate ten ratings for each but reviews for only one. Freebooksy was a complete bust, 1,300 downloads and no reviews. This is part of the reason I’m interested in traditional publishing. I want to work with people who are more knowledgeable, experienced and adept with marketing than I am.
8. Are there any marketing or networking techniques you’ve intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
Hard not to be cynical about giveaways. I get that people like free stuff. Trouble is the effort and expenses aren’t worth it if the books are never read and reviewed. I’ve received unexpected ratings that had to be the result of Kindle Unlimited. I seem to get a trickle of royalties so at least someone is reading a few of my things.
I think about arranging with a bookstore to do a reading. Most small booksellers have been driven into the ground by big box retailers and they, in turn, by Amazon. I moved recently and toy with the idea of finding a local writers group. But I am comfortable with my solitary fantasy life and am always working on the new and revising the recent.
9. What are the most important things you’ve learned about publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
It’s subjective and readers are fickle. If I knew what it took to get people to read through my book I’d be tempted to be writing that way now. On the other hand, I write for myself and wouldn’t have the requisite passion for pandering to a fickle reader.
10. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
I probably would have waited longer to publish my first several novels. I hit a style early on and have only honed and perfected it. So in that respect I think I’ve gained more by continuing to write new stuff rather than agonizing over what I’ve already done. Each day is a new challenge and each new project is exciting both in what I’ve decided to write about and what I hope to learn by completing the process.
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?
Write every day, even if it’s just for an hour. And read. Discover authors you admire and allow them to inform your style. As for marketing, that’s something I haven’t cracked because I’m fairly clueless about this important aspect of the job. Seeking exposure on your page is something I haven’t tried yet. I hope it helps.
12. What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently outlining a period piece, a mystery noir that takes place in 1930s San Francisco. My protagonist is a private detective who happens to be Chinese operating out of Chinatown. He’s more Sam Spade than Charlie Chan. I’m in the process of studying about the construction of the transcontinental railroad and I’m going to weave that into the novel. My wife just finished reading a draft of a speculative fiction novel I wrote in early 2018. She said it was a page-turner for the first two thirds and bogged down after that. It’s on my to do list to fix what bothered her and then I’ll be querying my 2017 heist novel, Boise Eclipse, in the New Year.
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?
Both prolific and diverse, Randall Moore writes literate, action-packed, genre-bending adventures with mystery, romance, a touch of the supernatural and bit of good humor mixed in.
14. How can readers learn more about your books?
Check out my website. There are micro-descriptions of 21 of my novels and links to Amazon to purchase the first twelve in Kindle or paperback. By the time you see this I may have covers from my 22nd and 23rd uploaded. Work on my 24th continues.