Spotlight 23: MJ McGriff
Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from The Self Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.
My name is Tom Ashford and I’m part of the self-publishing formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self-publishing resource kit selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week’s guest is MJ McGriff. She’s written two books in the science fiction genre and she lives in Florida. Welcome, MJ.
MJ McGriff: Welcome. Thank you so much. So happy to be here.
Tom Ashford: It’s great to have you on. So would you like to start by talking about the books that you’ve written?
MJ McGriff: I have released two novels in the sci-fi genre. They’re part of my New Earth series. And basically the premise behind that is New Earth, which basically, our old Earth has gone, kind of fuels my obsession with dystopian stories. But basically it’s stories about a group of heroines who basically have to save this new one. And they come from all kinds of backgrounds. So you have a Federation soldier, you have someone who’s been deemed a traitor, you have someone that’s been deemed an enemy from an opposing side. So it’s a really fun series and I had a good time writing it. So that’s what that one’s about.
Tom Ashford: Sounds great. So let’s jump in with the questions.
Question one is, why do you write? So was there a particular reason that you started writing in the first place?
MJ McGriff: When I was a kid in elementary school, I loved to read. And then once I finished a story it was like it didn’t want it to end, so I wanted to write my own version. And I really have to give credit to my elementary school teachers. They were really instrumental in feeling that love of writing. In third grade, our teacher had us write our own stories and illustrate them, and then she went and had them bound and put in the school library so all the other kids in the school can read them. So that was pretty cool. I had another teacher of mine, when I didn’t get a part in a play and she was like, “Well, write your own script and write your own part.” I was like, “Okay, that works.” So I really thank them for feeling that writing passion I already had and giving me the confidence to pursue that. So ever since then, elementary school and middle school, I would write stories for my friends and pass them out. So I guess you can consider that an early form of indie publishing, so to speak. And that was really fun and really cool. So it’s just something that I’ve always done and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Tom Ashford: Was there a particular reason that you chose science fiction?
MJ McGriff: I loved it. As a kid, I always watched Star Trek. I used to sit with my parents, and both were really big nerds, so that helps. We always watched Star Trek and Star Wars, and I just loved the fantastical elements of it. Fantasy is another love of mine too. Imagination’s the limit. You can really just come up with anything. And I think that’s just the fun in storytelling for me.
Tom Ashford: Are you self-published or traditionally published or hybrid?
MJ McGriff: I’m self-published at the moment.
Tom Ashford: Would you ever look to get a traditional contract or are you more focused on just taking the indie route?
MJ McGriff: If the contract was right, I’m definitely open to it. I’m all about having, from a business perspective, having those different kinds of multiple strings of income. So if a traditional publisher comes to me and the contract makes sense, I’d definitely consider it.
Tom Ashford: Cool. So question two is how do you write?
Are you more of a plotter or do you just see where the story takes you?
MJ McGriff: I am such a hardcore plotter. I mean, my type A brain can’t function unless it has a plan. So I spend at least a good month with my outlining and world-building and developing characters. I get with my editor just to make sure my outlines are solid before I even start drafting. So I’m very hardcore plotter. And now that my time is very limited, I work full time, I have my creative writing business and I’m a single mom so I only have little pockets of time here and there. So once it’s writing time, I have to know what I’m writing and then I just take off from there.
Tom Ashford: What sort of word count are your books?
MJ McGriff: The first two books that I published, they’re around 80K. The fantasy story that I’m working on now, it started at 100K and then it went down to 60 and now it’s climbing back up to around the 80-90 range. So that’s where I try to stick to with that.
Tom Ashford: What sort of software do you use? You use Scrivener, Word, Google Docs, that sort of thing?
MJ McGriff: I love Scrivener. It’s great to have all of my projects and my notes and my world building pictures and that sort of thing. I also use Google Drive because if I’m on the road or I don’t have my laptop accessible, I can type on my phone or type on somebody else’s desktop and save it on the cloud. And then when I get home I can pull it into Scrivener. So I use it for those.
Tom Ashford: Nice. And is there a particular time and place? I know you mentioned getting pockets of time and things like that.
MJ McGriff: Yeah. Well, when I’m on my lunch breaks at work, I write. And then when I get home and after my girls are in bed, I have my little writing desk off in the corner of my bedroom. And that’s where I sneak in some writing time.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. So question three is, and you’ve touched on this a little bit, but it’s are you a full time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
MJ McGriff: Okay, well, I’m not full time yet, but what I am doing is this past year I’ve been working with a branding and business coach for authors and trying to really get my creative business set up. So that way when the income starts coming in from my books, I’m good to go as far as the financials and making sure my brand is on point, and building my community and knowing who I’m writing to.
So that way the marketing is effective and reaches who I want it to reach. So I’m taking all of those steps and easing my way into the full time author. And then, on the creative end, it’s just cranking out books. I try to crank out at least two full-length novels and a short story a year. So I try to keep to that production schedule, so that way I can transition on into full time.
Tom Ashford: Are you working on a series, did you say? Or is it more standalone?
MJ McGriff: I am working on a series. So right now I’m working on a YA fantasy series. So there are a lot of books and novels and short stories and freebies all worked into that series. So it definitely helps with production to stay in the same story world for a while.
Tom Ashford: Do you think you’ll go with permafree or 99p or cents for the first book, or try to keep them all normal ebook full prices?
MJ McGriff: With the scifi series, I tried the permafree for a little bit. But I’m not sure because what I’m doing right now is I have short stories that I’m automatically giving away for free. If anything, I might have a novella that’s in there, maybe 99 cents, and then keep the ebooks full price. I think as long as I give a lot of that free content out in the front end to lead people into the full length books.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is, what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
MJ McGriff: Wow. I think the biggest mistake I made was not thinking about marketing. And it’s so crazy to say because my day job is in marketing, but when you’re creative it’s hard to see yourself. So with my first three books I wrote them and sent them out and did a little bit, and they went nowhere because I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t create a community. I wasn’t clear on my brand. So I think that was the biggest mistake I think I’ve made as far as my writing is concerned.
So that’s why now I basically took the year before I even published this YA fantasy novel to really get all of that together so I can launch this book properly. So I think that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made. As far as what I’ve gotten right, I think really just not being afraid to learn and always learn. Like I said, my day job is in marketing, but I’m still learning because it’s hard to market something for yourself as opposed to somebody else. So not being afraid to learn, not being afraid to reach out to people and get help, have mentors, read books on craft, read books on business, just always staying in that constant flow of learning, I think, has really, really helped me.
Tom Ashford: And your fifth and final question is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
MJ McGriff: I think my biggest piece of advice would be, starting out, is to be ready to invest in yourself. I know at first money can always seem to be an issue, but I think there’s only but so much you can do on your own and learn on your own. So when it comes to Mark’s courses, I signed up for his ad for authors courses and that was amazing to me. But just keep that in mind. I know my first year I didn’t have too much disposable income. So what I did was I saved for a year while I was writing, because I know editors are going to cost money and covers are going to cost money.
So every month I put money aside and in the meantime I’m cranking out drafts, so that when I had the time to hire an editor, the money was there and the draft was done. So I think that’s the biggest thing for anybody who really wants to make this a business and who really wants to level up and go full time, is to just keep that in the back of your mind. There’s going to be a point where you’re going to have to invest and just to be ready to.
Tom Ashford: I think that’s good advice, because it is possible to release an ebook essentially for free, but it can come back to bite you. Or you won’t make any sales at all and you’re just dead in the water as such and you have to start over. So you might as well invest at the beginning and make sure you hit the ground running.
MJ McGriff: Absolutely. And even if it takes time, it’s better to have it take time and do it right than to rush it and do it wrong.
Tom Ashford: Awesome. Well, those are your five questions, and very good answers. And thank you for coming on the show.
MJ McGriff: Well, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Tom Ashford: No worries. Hopefully I’ll see you next year at [Nink 00:11:17].
MJ McGriff: Oh, absolutely. I’ll be there.
Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s Self-Publishing Spotlight. Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit, and if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest. I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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