Spotlight 35: David Nees
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 at selfpublishingFormula.com\starterkit.
This week’s guest is David Nees. He’s written seven books in the post-apocalyptic and thriller genres and he lives just outside Washington DC.
David Nees: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Tom Ashford: Would you like to start by talking about your books and the two different genres you write?
David Nees: Sure. It’s kind of interesting. I guess most people through self-publishing have some interesting moments. But my first book I published in April of 2016. It was a post apocalyptic, within 30 days, it rose to number one in the genre, both post-apocalyptic and dystopian. And hung around in the top 10 for a month.
Tom Ashford: Wow.
David Nees: I sat back and thought, “Wow, this is easy. This is just going to work out fine.” But I noticed all summer long the income, the sales and income dropped by half each month until I was down under a thousand dollars a month of income. And I said, “There’s something else I’m missing here.” I’ve struggled to find my way back to respectable income. It’s taken more books to do that, obviously.
I had no idea about advertising at that point. I had no idea. I had no idea of what you do and so I just sat back and thought it was all automatic. That’s when I realized there’s other elements to this game.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Okay.
If we dive in with the the five questions, the first one is why do you write? Was there a particular story that you wanted to tell in a post apocalyptic genre?
David Nees: I was reading a book during a difficult business episode. I had a business that I had to close down after our great big recession and that was a multi year and very stressful effort. I was reading One Second After, a post-apocalyptic book and was taken by the story and started at night dreaming of that premise of an electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States, but going off on a different direction with a story.
After dreaming about that for a month, I wrote down a 20 page synoptic outline of scenes and sent it to my sister who was at the time a high school English teacher and drama advisor. She said it sounded like it could be an interesting book and so I decided to do that.
It was therapy more than anything else and I really found that I enjoyed the process of writing. I enjoyed creating characters, creating scenes and I had a lot to learn.
An interesting side point is I gave an early manuscript of the first book to a good friend of mine who had been my attorney through all the business closing down and he reads a lot. He’s got a very un-attorney mind at times and gets away from that world of the legal profession.
His comment was, “You’ve been hanging around lawyers too much.” I said, “What do you mean by that?” He says, “Well, you explain everything in the beginning of a paragraph and never let us discover it.”
What he was telling me was a version of the old admonition of show, don’t tell. I was writing the way a businessman or an attorney would write by telling rather than showing. So, that was my first corrective action that I was introduced to.
But I enjoyed the process and I enjoy the learning of the craft and it’s nice to sell because then you get the accolades. That’s a real clear indication people like what you produce. I’m pretty much set on that course. I promised my wife when we closed the business down and been through four years of just extraordinary stress to make all that, to navigate all that smoothly without damaging ourselves.
I promised her that I was entrepreneurial and I’d probably do something other than drive a bus for a living, but I promised that I would do something that didn’t involve having inventory or lots of employees or bank loans. And guess what? Writing fits that bill perfectly. I’ve been able to move on in a manner in the fashion I promised.
Tom Ashford: Had you always wanted to be writer before that?
David Nees: I think I had this gift early on. I wrote a number of stories in high school, just my general English classes in college. Anything I wrote was well received, but I wound up in the business, in retailing as a retailer. So that was all put aside except for I always found ways to engage in writing.
To write sales instructions, sales procedures, sales manuals, motivational things. But I had to craft it to the business needs, but I could look back and see that there was I think a talent there trying to get out. After so many years I was finally able to express it in a more artistic way. Much more satisfying.
Tom Ashford: Question number two, is how do you write? Do you plot your stories out or just sort of see where they take you?
David Nees: It’s a mix of both. I start with an outline. It’s not a strict plotting, but more like different scenes that would progress a story. But I’m always surprised at what comes up when I start to write. The story will go sometimes in a little different direction or I reach a part in my plotting and outline that was vague in my own brain and then the story will dictate which way I head when I enter that foggier area.
What’s interesting is I’ll always have a character or two that comes out of the story that I never anticipated. I just in the middle of writing come up with someone that I should insert into the story that I had never thought of before. I would have to say that the story drives some of it as well as some plotting.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place that you prefer writing?
David Nees: I started out in a little cubby on the side of our dressing room, wedged into everything else and have graduated to the spare room we have in the house that I turned into an office. I can close the door and put in some solitary time because it is a solitary profession.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Okay.
That leads us into question number three, which is 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?
David Nees: I retired from business basically and didn’t get into any other business or go to work anywhere else. So I guess you can say I’m a full time author. Finally this year, what’s the word? The phrase self-sufficient. I’m earning enough to maintain my wife and I, at this point.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Okay.
Question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
David Nees: Boy, a lot of mistakes. Telling, not showing. Forgetting to paint scenes. I try to remember an admonition by one of the better known authors. I read something about his rules of writing and that was, if a scene is important in the story, describe it clearly so the reader can see it, but don’t weight your story down with describing every scene in great detail. It just slows the plot down. So I’ve had to learn where to do that and where not to do that.
Keeping dialogue genuine. I seem to be getting better at giving genuine voice to my characters and making the dialogue flow in a reasonable way. So I think I’ve done a good job at that, but that’s been something that you have to practice at and get better. You have to hear that in your own mind, the conversation that’s going on and then review that carefully.
One technique, it’s time consuming, that I’ve used is when you’re done with the story is to read it. Take the time to read it to myself out loud. You can only read out loud for so long. Can’t do that for two or three hours, your voice gives out. So it does take time, but boy, do you hear things that you don’t hear with your mental voice.
Tom Ashford: It’s too easy to skim across things as well. You’re actually just reading inside your own head, especially if you’ve written it.
David Nees: Absolutely. Your brain fills in the gaps and it’s the bane of trying to proofread your own work. Proofreading by the way, is one of my biggest ongoing challenges. I started out needing some serious editing help, but now I think I’ve graduated to be good enough to structure my stories in a way that doesn’t need an editor.
But I still need more proofreading help. I still have reviewers say I loved the book, but there was a number of … You need to get some proofreaders. And I’m going, “Oh my God, I’ve had four people look at that book and it’s been published for a year.”
Tom Ashford: Some stuff always slips through. I’ve seen stuff from like the 12th edition of a Stephen King novel and he’s got mistakes. The amount of money that’s gone behind that book, you think someone will pick this up in one version or another, but apparently not.
David Nees: Well, you’re right. Actually, as I think about it, and I had talked to my wife about it. She reads a lot and she says she’s never read a book that didn’t have one or two proof writing errors and proofreading errors, and I thought, yeah, the same as you. “How many staffers do these famous authors have and it still slips through.” But nevertheless it doesn’t help with the audience to run into too much of that.
Tom Ashford: The fifth and final question is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
David Nees: I’d thought about what are the factors for success, at least for me? And the baseline, just irreducible baseline, you cannot get away from this is, you have to write well. You have to write a good story. They have to be good characters and the plots have to be good.
You can achieve some success without that with a lot of advertising and promoting and pushing, but I think you build on a shaky foundation when you do that. If your foundation is good, and by foundation, I think of how well you develop your craft of writing. Everything you do on top of that is going to work so much better because that foundation is good,
I do think you need to advertise. I’ve come to that and that’s why I joined Mark Dawson’s group. That’s why I signed up for Ads for Authors because I realized this game has gotten more competitive and it isn’t going to happen on just the merits of my writing. I have to add to that.
I’m not sure it’s a zero sum game. I mean in my business, in specialty retailing, it was always a zero sum game. If a competitor moved into the marketplace, everybody would say, “Oh, it’s going to expand the market.” No, it just divided the market and you’ve got a smaller slice of it.
I don’t think writing is that way because there are so many readers out there even if they’re not reading you but they’re reading similar books. You think about it, it takes months to write them and they can read them in days, or a week at the most. There’s no way you can keep up with that. So readers are looking around to fill in the gaps even if they’ve got a favorite writer they’re waiting for. You just need to be out there and be seen.
In that way it’s not zero sum, but there is a huge amount of competition and you can be lost in the crowd. That’s where being smart about what you do about promoting and advertising helps you get seen and say, “Take a look at me.” And then somebody does and adds you to their list of writers they look at. I think they just have to keep moving around their favorite list of writers because we can’t produce them as fast as they can read them.
Tom Ashford: That’s very true. That’s good advice. Thank you very much for coming on. Those were your five questions.
David Nees: Well thank you for having me.
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 at selfpublishingFormula.com\starterkit.
And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at selfpublishingFormula.com\spotlight-guest.
I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.