Author name: Ron Vitale
*Please tell us about your publications.
What first prompted you to publish your work? My two kids and I were goofing off in a swimming pool, playing a game. I was pretending to chase after them, and instead of being a werewolf, I pretended to be a werewhale. My daughter laughed as I chased her and she made this funny whale sound and we all had a great time that day in the pool. With Sharknado being popular at the time, I thought: What if I created a werewhale creature and then answered the question: What happened after Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? Once I had that idea, then it was an easy jump telling the story of Captain Ahab’s daughter.
What have you found the most challenging part of the process? When I was younger, I always thought that the writing would be the most challenging part of publishing a book. I was wrong. The hardest part for me is marketing the book. I’ve had to learn email marketing, Facebook advertising, Amazon ads, content marketing, create production and editorial calendars–basically I’ve had to devise, and then implement, a strategy that will provide a positive ROI. That’s both freeing and frightening at the same time. On one hand, I need to learn new skills and then experiment with what I’ve learned. Marketing isn’t as simple as buying a Facebook ad and a few promotional ads. Instead, I’ve needed to do A/B testing on Facebook ads. Once I refine the lookalike audience for the Facebook ad, I need to test different copy to see what actually performs, learn from that and keep refining over time. I enjoy both the creative aspects of writing and interacting with my readers, but I also really enjoy learning why the marketing is or isn’t converting. It’s fascinating to see the numbers come in and be surprised on what you thought would get a lot of clicks turns out to be a not so great. The only issue with all of this is time. There are only so many hours in the day. Between working full-time, raising a family, writing and marketing my books, well, things get a bit hectic at times. I guess that’s why I decided to write a book about what I learned. I really wanted to give back to my fellow authors because I’ve been helped so much along the way.
Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’? I used to be a 100% pantser. But when I was writing book 3 of my Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries series, I had to throw out a third of the book because it just didn’t work. I wasted a lot of time writing that and then having to redo that whole section. Over time, I’ve slowly moved over to the plotter side. I wouldn’t say that I’m all the way there, but I’m about 70%. I now have a Google sheet that tracks what happened (in one sentence and which characters are in that scene) by scene and I try to forecast out the future. I’m not going to lie–sometimes I plan ahead, other times I don’t. But I do see the value in having the overall story arc planned out in my head. Once I know what the main conflict is, where the characters start, where they’re headed and what I want to have happen, then I can fill in the rest as I write.
What piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you started your publishing journey? Keep writing. I wrote my first novel at 16 back in the ‘80s and rewrote and rewrote it. I tried to get that book traditionally published and failed more times than I can remember. I then started to write short stories, but I didn’t write my second novel (a sequel to the first) until the late ‘90s. It wasn’t until 2008 that I decided to write the Cinderella Secret Witch Diaries series and start something new. I didn’t know that I had more than one series in me. Back when I first started, I put all my eggs in that one novel. I thought it was the best thing and copies would fly off the shelves. What I didn’t know how to come to terms with was to keep writing and to nurture the creative part of me. I had created a fantasy world in that first book and I didn’t know what to do with another book. I wanted to create a whole series but if I couldn’t get book one published, why would I start book two? The more I write, the better I become at my craft. I’ve written novels that I love, but over time, I’ve realized that I’ve become a stronger writer by getting my hands dirty and learning my craft. I may not be a blacksmith and have a sword to show that I’ve forged, but I have words in a book. My journey as a writer started when I was 9 years old and will continue until I can no longer write. The most important thing is to keep writing. Dream, take those dreams and forge them into a story or novel, and then do the hard work of learning the craft. For me, that means writing and reading. Never give up!
If you could have dinner with any literary character who would you choose, and what would you eat. Although most of my books are fantasy, I also love science fiction. If I could have dinner with any literary character (and this might be a bit of a cheat), it would be with the Doctor from Doctor Who. Since I read a lot of the Doctor Who novels back in the early ‘80s, I would love to sit down and talk about history and time with him (well, now her). The fact that the Doctor has regenerated more than a dozen times into different people in the 50+ history of the BBC TV show gives me an enormous amount of topics to talk about. Now that the latest incarnation of the doctor will be a woman, I’d be curious to talk with her about how the world now sees her that she’s switched genders. It’s not every day that you could talk with someone who’s lived so long, as different sexes and been all through time and space.
What are your views on authors offering free books? Do you believe, as some do, that it demeans an author and his or her work? I learned a lot when I published Lost (book 1 in my Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries series). I have given more than 10,000 ebook copies of that book away since 2011. Do I regret it? Partly. What I didn’t understand is that I need to have a marketing strategy tied to giving my book away. In the early days when the KDP free days still meant something, I was so happy that people were downloading my book, but I did not stop and think about why I was doing that and what it meant. For example, I didn’t have an email list and autoresponders setup, but now I do. I learned a lot over the last six years and now I only use a freebie if it’s part of my marketing strategy. I will say this though: Getting thousands of people on your mailing list might be great, but several of those readers reached out to me by responding to my autoresponders and let me know that they couldn’t read my book and leave a review because they had hundreds of free books in front of mine yet to read. Thousands of authors are all giving their books away and there’s only so many that people can read. I now use Instafreebie for much more targeted reasons.
What are your views on authors commenting on reviews? I don’t do it. I’ve had reviews saying that my book was the greatest and another that said something like “this book is the worst I ever read.” The reader went on to say that she only read a few paragraphs, but looking at reviews can be a time suck (and a big block to one’s ego). What I now do is set up an autoresponder email and over time new people on my mailing list are asked to leave a review. Once in a blue moon, I happen to notice that the reviews went up. I’d rather spend my time writing and marketing than looking at my reviews.
How do you deal with bad reviews? Mostly I ignore them. If there’s something legitimate in the review, I’ll take the constructive feedback, but I often find that people get a free copy of the book, don’t like what they read and then complain about it–without having read the entire book. I’ve found that that’s part of the balance in giving your ebook away for free. It’s a crapshoot. I would much rather target readers through a lookalike Facebook ad and drive them to my mailing list to get the free book and then through an autoresponder ask them to leave a review. I learned the hard way: A few years ago a friend passed on to me a mom’s book club and I gave them all my book. What I didn’t know is that they were not the demographic at all for a fantasy book. They hated the book and a few of them left reviews on Amazon. You live and you learn!
Sort these into order of importance:
- Great characters
- Good plot
- Awesome world-building
- Technically perfect
How much research do you do for your work? What’s the wildest subject you’ve looked at? It all depends on the book. I’ve had to research Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the winter and how disastrous the weather was with tens of thousands of his soldiers dying. In another book, I had to figure out how a space elevator worked for a science fiction book I was writing and in my most recent book, Ahab’s Daughter, I had to research Kanaloa, Dark Squid God from Polynesian mythology. I find the research fun, but I also need to make certain that I don’t do too much because I need to get to writing.
How influential is storytelling to our culture? I remember in my undergraduate English classes our professor taught us about the village scop–a man who would tell the oral history of the town. Now our storytelling has taken a dramatic turn. We’re telling stories in video games and through snaps on Snapchat. Storytelling is still immensely important, but the mediums that we use have evolved with augmented reality and the internet.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing/publishing? Dean Wesley Smith wrote a book on Heinlein’s Five Rules that really helped me overcome my fear of rejection and perfectionism. They’re simple, easy to follow but somewhat controversial:
Robert Heinlein’s five rules are:
- You must write.
- You must finish what you start.
- You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
- You must put it on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until sold.
I find rule #3 to be really hard.
What’s the worst piece best advice you’ve received about writing/publishing? I think the worst piece of advice is that I needed an agent. I spend a lot of wasted time trying to get an agent and had some brushes with the traditional publishing world back in the ‘90s but that left me feeling powerless. My book went into a black hole and I had no idea what the agent was really doing for me. Now with being an indie author, I make decisions on my business and I like having that freedom.
If you could be any fantasy/mythical or legendary person/creature what would you be and why? Well, I would have to say an elf. When I used to play Dungeons & Dragons (yes, I’m very geeky) as a kid, I always wanted to be an elf. But to be specific, I like Tolkien’s high elves. A close second would be Gandalf, but I thought being an elf with living so long and having excellent dexterity and intelligence would be fun. Reading, being able to do magic and learning how to be a warrior would all be rolled into one. I rather like that!
Which authors have influenced you the most? Tolkien and Isaac Asimov are the two authors that I have such great respect for. Tolkien’s world building inspired me and allowed me to escape to Middle Earth at a time that my mom was going through a difficult divorce. Asimov amazed me because he could write in any genre. I read his books and realized that I did not have to be limited to just one thing. I could write whatever I wanted just like him.
What is your writing space like? I have an office with a laptop and a monitor set up with all these books around me, but… I don’t write in my office. Instead, I go downstairs in the back family room, sit cross-legged on the sofa with a pillow on my lap and my laptop on top of that and then I write. It’s comfortable but it’s not the typical writer’s space that many readers would think of to imagine where an author writes.
Tell us about your latest piece? Ahab’s Daughter: The Werewhale Saga is an action adventure book that has just enough spin-tingling horror thrown into it to keep you on the edge of your seat. I wanted to explore the premise: What happened after Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? But instead of telling a man’s story, my novels have women as the main protagonist. Not only do I get to explore what would Ahab’s daughter role be after he died at sea, but I pushed past normal social expectations to challenge what would happen if his daughter ran off to sea trying to find her younger brother who had delusions of finding the island of nightmares that their father used to tell them about as kids. I had a lot of fun writing this book and take it as a major sign of success when my 14-year old son came to me and told me that not only did he really enjoy it, but that some scenes were really creepy. He’s normally not that effusive and I had to laugh at his feedback.
What’s your next writing adventure? I have the first draft of book 4 of the Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries written. I just need to get back to reading it with fresh eyes and then rewriting it (see, the #3 Heinlein rule is really hard to keep!).
What was the last book you’ve read? I recently finished Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky and I loved the book. It’s one the Nebula award and I just fell in love with it. There aren’t many times when I read a book and just get lost in how different and unique the book is and I hope that more people read it with an open mind.
Is this the age of the e-book? Are bricks and mortar bookshops in decline? I wouldn’t say that bookstores will fade away entirely. Amazon is now opening their own physical brick and mortar bookstores and I think that’s good for the industry. Not everyone wants to read ebooks. I read both physical and ebooks. I prefer ebooks for my daily commute to my full-time job because I don’t have to carry the physical book. I expect that ebooks will become more popular but speciality physical books will be around to give as gifts or even normal books so people can bring them on vacation. The form factor is hard to beat: Physical books are small and have a great tactile feel (and smell)–that’s something you can’t get from an ebook.
With the influx of indie authors do you think this is the future of storytelling? No. I commute to work on several different forms of public transportation and have been doing this for 22 years. Back in the ‘90s people carried the big Harry Potter hard backs with them on the train–then things shifted to Kindles, and now smartphones. I’m seeing an interesting change in reader behavior. More and more commuters are using their smartphones not only to play games but to watch Netflix. Honestly, that shocked me. We authors are now competing with screen time on the train. That’s not something I could have imagined back in the late ‘80s when I first started writing.
In order for us to adapt, I believe authors need to diversify our work. Yes, I write short stories, blog posts and novels, but I’ve also created podcasts and see a need for story arcs for augmented reality, TV shows, movies, virtual reality and things we haven’t even thought of yet. At my core, I’m a storyteller. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m telling a story with my voice, words or through some other means. I’m trying to be open with what the future will bring though due to lack of time my primary creative outlets are the written word with a few of my novels being available on Audible. I’m open to creating new worlds and storylines for augmented reality, video games and the like, but haven’t gone down that path yet. But I see the need there: People want stories–just not necessarily in the written form as I had once thought.
Are indie/self published authors viewed with scepticism or wariness by readers? Why is this? I believe indie authors are still viewed with scepticism. Part of that is due to our limited resources. It’s difficult to not only write but find great covers (for what we can afford) and to have a well-edited book. With indie publishing so easy, anyone can write whatever they want (without any editing) and just put the book up live. Readers are now needing to go through a slush pile and they don’t have time to do that. I’ve worked hard over the last six years to provide the highest quality book that I can.
Is there a message in your books? Yes, everything I write aligns to my personal mission: I believe that, no matter how difficult our childhood, we can use imaginative stories to heal ourselves and lead lives filled with love and hope.
How important is writing to you? It’s part of who I am. I write because I love it. Sometimes it’s like the beauty of touching freshly fallen snow as a kid and building an amazing snowman. Other times it’s not so easy. But through it all, I love telling stories about the human condition and hope.