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’s 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 Jim Heskett, a thriller writer. How are you doing Jim?
Jim Heskett: I’m doing great, Tom. How you doing?
Tom Ashford: I’m doing pretty good. I had a look on your website and obviously there’s a lot of thriller books there. I’m not sure how many you’ve actually written in total, but it’s quite substantial from what I could see.
Jim Heskett: I’m not sure either, but yeah, there are a lot.
Tom Ashford: Is it mostly on thriller books or do you write in others genres as well?
Jim Heskett: Yeah, I’ve written some other genres that are moved to a pen name and mysteries. Yeah. I dabbled all over, especially when I first started.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Where in the states are you from?
Jim Heskett: I am in Colorado, right outside of Denver.
Tom Ashford: Very nice. All right, well let’s jump straight into the questions. Question number one is the big one. Why do you write?
Jim Heskett: The main answer I think is my mortgage and my car payment. I’ve always been a storyteller when I was very young. I was eight or nine years old in school and younger than that actually, and go out to recess with my friends, and everybody would have their little stories that they wanted to play at recess. On Monday we would do one friend who was into cops and robbers. We would play cops and robbers. Then on Tuesday, a different friend was into knights and dragons. So we would play that. Then on Wednesday when it was my turn to direct the playtime, my playtime episodes always had a narrative arc to them which I don’t think … Most of the other kids didn’t play like that. But in my playtime stories had a beginning, middle and end.
I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller, and as an adult I kind of realized I’m not really suited to do anything else. I’ve had lots of different careers, which I’ve been grateful for because it gives me great ammunition as a writer to have done all kinds of different things and had lots of life experiences. But really storytelling is really the only thing I’m suited to do, so I guess I have to do it.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Okay. In terms of your publishing history, are you self-published or traditional or hybrid?
Jim Heskett: I am hybrid. I’m mostly self-published. I have one book through an Amazon imprint. In the beginning of 2018 I had a book, that won Kindle Scout. It was actually the second to last or third to last book that Kindle Scout published before they shut that down. So I got in just in the nick of time. So you have one book with Amazon imprint and then the rest are self-published.
Tom Ashford: Okay. When did you start self publishing?
Jim Heskett: 2015 I think. Yeah, early 2015.
Tom Ashford: Okay. Question two, I know there’s a lot of questions within each question. Question two is how do you write? Are you more of an outliner or do you sort of just wing it as you go along?
Jim Heskett: Usually, I write with a big deadline looming over my head. That’s really the only way that I can get anything done is to impose deadlines on myself that feel ominous, and don’t help my stress levels, but they certainly make me push the words out the door. But I’m primarily an outliner, but I do like to live a little bit in the middle. I guess I write in what I call loose beats where I know how a scene is going to end up. I know the beginning and the end of the scene and sometimes, but I allow myself the freedom to move around in the middle. Like I don’t know where a scene is going to be set or I don’t know how they’re going to go about getting it.
I always know where the story is going to go so I’m not ever in jeopardy writing myself into a corner. But I do allow myself some freedom to experience that joy of discovery because it can’t be all paint by numbers or else there’s no fun to it. But also I don’t want to get into a position where I might have to waste words and think, “Oh gosh, this story isn’t working and it went off the rails here or there. So I’d hate to waste words.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, fair enough. Do you have a particular time and place that you like to write?
Jim Heskett: I’m usually freshest in the morning, not very early because I have a young child, so often I get up before I want to because of him. But mid to late morning is when I’m freshest I think, and when I’m most creative. But as the father of a young child sometimes I don’t always have that luxury. So sometimes I just have to get the words in when I can, and I’m really okay with writing crappy words because I know I can always go back and fix them or improve them later.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Do use them Scrivener or Vellum? What sort of software do you use?
Jim Heskett: Yeah, mostly Scrivener. I’ve been a Scrivener convert for about three or four years now. I was in Word before that, but Scrivener is the godsend. It does so many amazing things and I don’t even use half of what it can do, but the half that I do know how to do makes writing so much easier, just to be able to drag and drop scenes and keep track of word counts and all that stuff. So yeah, I do my first drafting in Scrivener. Then I do some stuff in Google Docs if I’m collaborating, and usually everything ends up in Vellum as the last place that it goes before publication so I can make it look pretty.
Tom Ashford: Cool. Okay. Question number three, 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?
Jim Heskett: So I guess the answer to that is, yeah, I’m sort of a full time author. I guess it depends on how you define it. If you define it by the lack of a day job, then yes, I do not have the day job. Do you define it as do I make enough money to pay the bills? Do I have a a lack of side hustles? I mean I’m an author. I’m a podcaster. I do contract work. So yes, I don’t have a day job. Most of my income is not actually from writing or, I don’t know. It depends from month to month. But yeah, I haven’t had a regular day job since last year so I’m mostly just focused on writing and all the other side hustles. I don’t know if that exactly answers your question, Tom, but that may be about as good as I can get.
Tom Ashford: I think it’s a good answer. I think things all works out the same, and I think it counts if you’re doing what you want to do when you want to do it, then that, I think that counts as being
Jim Heskett: That’s true. I can work in my pajamas and house shoes if I feel like it, so that’s pretty nice.
Tom Ashford: Okay. Well question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Jim Heskett: I have made a lot of mistakes.
Tom Ashford: I think we all have.
Jim Heskett: I think the main mistake that I’ve made in my author career was not treating it like a business from the very start. In the beginning I wrote across multiple genres. The first thing I published was a mystery. Then I published a post-apocalyptic trilogy. Then I published a thriller trilogy, and I did all that before I even really got into writing a series, which I know now Chris Fox calls the flagship series. You’ve got to have a long series cause that’s how you really make money. It was really a couple of years before I even started doing that, so writing cross genre, picking bad titles for my books because I didn’t understand.
I understand now that book covers and book titles are a business decision, not an artistic one, but one of my early books was a thriller. and I named it Sallow City, “S-A-L-L-O-W” because I thought it was very clever because it was a comment on … The book was set in Flint, Michigan. So I was trying to be clever with the name about the city, but the thing is the readers didn’t get it and they would call it Shallow City or Swallow City. So it was just very confusing. I later renamed that book to something much more to market, but I didn’t understand then that being clever isn’t always the right way to reach people.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. That story sounds very familiar to me. I haven’t started my flagship series yet. I’ve got two different trilogies and three standalones all in different genres as well. But yeah, and I haven’t actually started my flagship. So what’s your flagship? Have you got a flagship series now?
Jim Heskett: Yeah. I have a couple of long running series. I had a couple of trilogies and stuff like that that are finished. But I do have a couple of long running series. One is currently at five books and the other one is at eight books. But to answer the other part of your question, what I got right was I think that early on, and this is more accidental than a business decision, was that I focused on character in the stories because I think as a lifelong reader, I understand that that’s what readers are looking for.
Jim Heskett: When I get emails from readers saying nice things about my books, they don’t email me to say, “Hey, that was an amazing car chase in that book.” Because every thriller book has a car chase, so that’s not going to stand out to people and make them love the book. The people who love my books do so because of the characters. So when they send me an email to say, “Hey, I like this book,” they always mention the character. Like, “Oh, I love Micah Reed or I love Lane Parrish.” So it’s a lot less about the plot and a lot more about the character, and that’s what hooks people.
Tom Ashford: Okay, great. Okay. The fifth and final question is, What’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Jim Heskett: Like I just mentioned, treat it like a business. When I really started out I was mostly focused on backlist and producing a lot of books really fast. And it’s great now that I’m like four years into my publishing career and I have 20 something books. So it’s great that I have a sizable backlist that I can use to promote. I can have more opportunities to give books away for free as lead magnets and stuff like that, but if I could go back in time … This is my advice to new indie authors out there is that if I could go back in time, I would have focused just as much on learning how to write to market and learning ads from the start. Because I didn’t really treat my writing career like a business until really probably earlier this year or late last year.
Jim Heskett: I spent time to study the tropes and the genres, spent time to study what readers are looking for. And I started taking ads seriously and I took Mark’s Ads for Authors course. So I didn’t really embrace that side of the business until recently. And I think my first few years of publishing show that. I wrote a lot, but I wasn’t selling a lot until I really viewed it as a whole thing and not just an artistic endeavor where I had to do these businessy things because I had to.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Yo. So basically treat it like a business from the start.
Jim Heskett: Yeah. Yeah. That would be my uncomfortable piece of advice because most of us authors are creatives. Most of us are not naturally business people, so that’s probably not what you want to hear when you’re first starting out. But it’s the best piece of advice I think I could give is, look at the whole business, the art, the production, the business, the admin, the managing, the networking part of it. You have to view it holistically, I guess is the word I’m looking for there, if you want to be able to succeed in this business.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Awesome. Okay, that’s all. The five questions up. There’s a little secret as well actually. You were actually the very first person to submit an application for the podcast, so congratulations. Yeah.
Jim Heskett: Wow, I didn’t realize that. Yeah, I guess I just saw it on Facebook and jumped on it and thought I would like to do that.
Tom Ashford: You got in quick.
Jim Heskett: All right, thanks so much for having me, Tom. This has been great.
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.
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