7 Questions With Author Gene Masters
Gene Masters is a retired consulting engineer living in East Tennessee with his wife, Ruth, and a black cat named Margaret Thatcher. They have two grown daughters, and two grandchildren. He is the author of several technical treatises, including his doctoral dissertation, but Silent Warriors: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific was his first serious attempt at fiction; it has been followed by Operation Exodus.
Masters received a commission in the U.S. Navy on graduation from college, and his first tour of duty was aboard a transport in the Western Pacific. His second tour was aboard a recommissioned and updated diesel-electric submarine, the USS Angler. Angler was originally commissioned in 1943, and made seven war patrols in the Pacific before being decommissioned. Her updating to an SSK-class boat in the 1950’s fitted her for operation against cold war submarine adversaries with advanced soundproofing and sonar. Masters left Angler and active duty after a Mediterranean tour. Later Naval Reserve assignments included the diesel-electric submarines USS Manta and the USS Ling.
For the ones of you who are new to my blog, I’m Esther Rabbit, writer, content creator for authors and massive nerd. If you’re interested to know all the tips & tricks surrounding the process From Writing To Publishing Your Novel, you’re only a click away. For writing and marketing tips consider subscribing to my YouTube Channel.
What’s your own definition of an author / indie author?
These days, one tends to use the terms “author” and “writer” interchangeably, but maybe that shouldn’t be the case. A writer is, like an author, one who writes, but, from there the definitions diverge. A writer (at least according to the dictionary) is one who writes books, stories, or articles, as a job or a regular occupation. An author (again, according to the dictionary) is one who originates or creates a literary work.
But I would take the dictionary definition a step beyond: an author is one who takes ownership of a literary work he or she has created. As such, an author becomes identified with the work, for better or for worse. If you mention a literary work like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, most people can name the author, H.R.R. Tolkien.
But the book has been made into a movie, and while the movie is also associated with Tolkien by the public, I challenge anyone to name the screenwriter. Tolkien, the author, has possession of, and is identified with, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, whether it’s the book or the move, so he’s an author. But the screenwriter (Fran Walsh), is a writer.
For an indie author, it’s even more personal. Indie authors not only take possession of their work, they also put their own cash on the line to get their work out there before the public. Some of us are fortunate just to break even between costs and royalties; some of us take off, sell well, come out way ahead financially, and even build a modest following. A very few of us make it really big; unfortunately, most of us fail. But we are, in general, an optimistic group: even those among us who fail regularly will keep on trying.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
That pretty much depends on what I’m writing. For a short story, I can map the story line out in my head before I even start to write, so I can do just that – just sit down and start writing.
For a non-historical novel, I confess to doing both, but the results are better if I have mapped out a story line on paper before I begin. For my Operation Exodus, I got the idea and just start writing – fleshing out the story line in outline notes as I went along. Without those outline notes, I tend to lose track of the characters (their physical characteristics, for example: did that person have blue or brown eyes?).
For an historical novel, like my Silent Warriors: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific, a much more restrictive creative process is required. You can’t (at least I can’t!) mess with history. I start with a matrix laid out in Excel, with the characters across the top and a dateline on the side. That gives me the bones of the outline, and I start writing from there. At first it will be just a series of not-necessarily-connected scraps that will form the overall story. Then I go back and connect, sometimes shuffle, the scraps, until it all makes sense.
No matter how I start the project, however, I will always set it aside for a time, let it all stew in my head for a while, and even perhaps start another (not necessarily writing) project. Then I go back and rewrite. Leave it. Rewrite. The process continues until I’m happy with the product. One novel I started two novels ago remains unfinished because I’m still not happy with it.
What are some of the major setbacks of this profession?
I cannot claim to be a professional author. I was a professional engineer, and made a decent living at it for many years, but I’m now retired from that profession. I think I would hate having to make a living as an author, at least not as the author of the novels I want to write. So, yeah, the biggest major professional setback I can imagine would be to have to make a living as an author.
But, in comfortable retirement, I have the luxury of writing to please myself, and, if my effort is not a commercial success, then so be it, as long as I am happy with the product.
That being said, it’s really edifying if other people read and enjoy your work, and the more the better! So, the next biggest setback, to me, would be if most of the rest of the world thinks my writing sucks.
To even accomplish getting universally panned, however, one’s work must be published, promoted, and bought by as many readers as possible. Getting that done requires skills beyond being a good writer, and not having those skills is another huge setback.
What are some of the myths around self-publishing / traditional publishing?
I chose to independently publish my books because I’m up in years, and don’t have the time nor patience to (1) search out and find an agent or (2) interest a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown author who’ll probably die within the next ten years or so.
But I think the biggest myth associated with traditional publishing is that the publisher will do all the work, and the writer gets to just write. An agent and a publisher are in business to make money, and like it or not, the writer still has to get out there and sell the product.
The advantage of having a traditional publisher, however, is that the author has access to a larger audience, a larger promotional budget, and a staff devoted to marketing and selling their work. The publisher gives him these things not out of charity, but because he is in business, and wants to maximize his profit. Of course, the author also does very well if the product sells, and might also earn a nice advance on his next book!
But another myth is that indie publishing is easy. In truth, it’s a tough gig. You can try and do it all yourself: find a copy editor and a proofreader (you’re nuts if you think you can do those things on your own), format, publish (on Amazon or a similar outlet) and promote your work. Or you can do what I did, hire somebody to do those things for you – and there are plenty of firms out there who will do just that. Some of these firms do more than others, and they all charge a fee, and may even lay claim to part of the royalties your work will generate.
But if I’m to be an author, I would rather write. And I can afford to hire just such a firm to do some of the drudge work. Some will just edit for style, but not copy edit. Most will require you send a sample of your work before they agree to work with you (that doesn’t guarantee you have found a good firm, but why would you trust anyone who wouldn’t do that?).
After a lot of investigation, I found Joe Perrone, Jr., at Escarpment Press, LLC. After reading my first novel, Joe agreed to style and copy edit, format, publish, and minimally promote my book. Escarpment does all this for a reasonable fee that’s set, in advance, and doesn’t take any part of the royalties your work generates. But even as good as Joe is, I still have to marshal the process, and while Escarpment starts up an ad campaign or two for me, and promotes my books in blogs, social media, and on their website, I still have to self-promote.
What is the best way for an author to approach self-promotion?
By far the best way would be to have an unlimited budget and hire a PR firm. Failing that, become active on social media. Have a Facebook page, get on Linkedin and Twitter. Sign up on Goodreads. Post articles, let people know you write books worth reading!
Set about getting your work reviewed. As long as your reviews are mostly good, they can perk up reader interest, and sell books. But it takes a lot of reviews to get your work noticed.
It also helps to write in a genre that lots and lots of people like to read. Unlike murder mysteries, or romance novels, military thrillers and books about submarines have limited appeal. Guess which kind of books I write.
Set up a website. Mine is www.genemasters.net. A web address is cheap enough to get, and YouTube has plenty of videos that show you how to set up your own site. It helps if you have some computer savvy, but, if you lack that, find a knowledgeable and willing relative or friend. And, of course, you can always find a website designer and hire it done.
Write and post a blog on the internet regularly, at least once a month. I post mine on my website, but there are also web outlets for just blogs.
Write up a press release promoting your book and send it to as many outlets as might actually use it. Try to get an interview on a local TV or radio station. Do interviews like this one!
Think about taking out an ad in a magazine or newsletter that might appeal to your target audience.
Do you have any tips for authors who are looking into getting more reviews for their novels?
You’re probably asking the wrong person! Silent Warriors has been on the market for a year now, and has exactly thirteen reviews on Amazon. Operation Exodus has only garnered two on Amazon to date!
But how does one go about garnering reviews? One way is to ask for them; ask on Goodreads, ask on Facebook, ask your friends, ask your neighbors, and ask your relatives (but only if their last names are different from yours!).
Identify your target audience. If you write mystery novels, for example, find out what magazines, websites, newsletters, etc., target mystery novel readers. Contact the publisher or website administrator, and ask them to post a review. I got a very nice review of Silent Warriors in the American Submariner magazine.
Be generous in sending out copies to people willing to read your work and post a review. If you’re publishing on Amazon, try to urge your readers to write and submit a review to Amazon. (But that, for whatever reason, is not easy. I understand that Amazon is very particular about publishing reviews.)
You mentioned Social Media. How do you approach the tools you have at your disposal?
Before I published, I can’t claim to have been especially active on Social Media; I had to struggle to get a Facebook account (for the longest time they thought I was a bot; I had to send them a copy of my driving license before they actually let me on – but that’s a whole other story).
Today I am most active of Facebook and Linkedin. I have a Twitter account as well, but am less active there.
In addition to a personal (friends and family) page, Facebook lets you open a commercial page that “connects you with customers or fans.” Mine is “Gene Masters, Author,” and I used it to post pictures of my books’ covers, story synopses, and some personal information that might interest readers. I then wrote up and took out an ad on Facebook featuring the Silent Warriors audio book. (You can limit how much you’re willing to spend on the ad, I capped mine out at $50.)
Then they ask you to target your ad: I targeted veterans over 30 in Tennessee. Those that responded to the ad, I asked to “like” my page, and, in that way built up a follower base of about 100 people or so. Now I periodically write articles or share news stories that might interest that audience. At some point, later on (perhaps when I publish my third novel next year – submarines again!), I will repeat the effort, go outside my home state, and build up my customer base. As to how many audio books my ad sold, there was a slight spike in sales, but I doubt it was $50 worth.
Linkedin offers another opportunity to build up a customer base. You can have as many as 5,000 contacts on Linkedin for free. Linkedin continually gives you an opportunity to connect with people who might be interested in your profile by posting suggested connections. You can select those people most likely to be interested in your book (in my case, active duty military or veterans) and invite them to connect. If they do connect – and most do – you can message them with a writeup describing your book, and even attach a cover picture.
I’m not at all sure as to how to attract followers on Twitter, but there probably is a way to do that as well. But I suspect it’s by being famous to begin with.
Are you in the Writing Industry?
Shoot me an email, I’d love to interview you!
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