Back when I was fifteen and trying to figure out how I could liven up my first blog, I started doing author interviews. I did these interviews for a number of years, then stopped last year when I cut down on my posting schedule.
Well, I missed doing author interviews, and from the quiet around here lately I gather you missed them too. So I’m proud to announcing that I will be doing author interviews twice a month until my Nanowrimo extravaganza starts up in October.
For my first guest I’ve chosen Steve Alcorn, multi-published author and founder of the Writing Academy. I actually had the pleasure of taking both his Beginning Writer’s Workshop and his Young Adult Fiction Writing Workshop earlier this year. While both courses were pretty basic, it’s good to get back to basics sometimes and these courses definitely helped sustain me through the first part of my current rewrites.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the interview:
1. Can you tell us a bit about your writing career?
I’ve always been interested in writing. About twenty years ago, I finally decided to do something about it. I formed a penpal relationship with another writer in Australia and the two of us wrote a Romance novel called Ring of Diamonds. After that I wrote two young adult novels, and published several nonfiction books about the theme park industry, plus my best selling book for writers, How to Fix Your Novel.
2. In a nutshell, what does your writing process look like?
As I teach in my classes, I do a lot of planning before I do any writing. For fiction this means outlining the three acts, having detailed sketches of each character, and even a carefully plotted scene list before I write the first word of the manuscript. For non-fiction books I also work from a fairly tight outline.
3. What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you and how do you get around it?
Writing is easy. Planning is difficult. But the reason writing is easy is because I have a good plan. So I spend a lot of time making sure I know exactly where I’m going before I even start. This avoids what a lot of people mistakenly call “writer’s block,” which isn’t really writers block, it’s just that they get stuck if they don’t know where they’re headed.
Sometimes a book can begin with hundreds of disparate ideas. Many of these ideas may not pan out; they simply don’t fit into the finished product. So part of the planning process is deciding what to keep and what to toss. Once that’s done, the writing is fairly easy.
4. If you could tell an author self-publishing for the first time three things, what would they be?
Point 1 – It’s all about marketing. There’s a misconception that if you publish through a conventional publishing house you will automatically make big sales. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These days big publishing houses don’t put any marketing money into new authors. They still expect you to market your own book. Well, if you’re going to put all that work into marketing, why not make the big bucks yourself? There’s something very appealing about making $10 per copy of your book rather than $.50 per copy. Authors who are not interested in spending a lot of time marketing their book shouldn’t bother to publish. Marketing means setting up a website, speaking in front of groups, doing signings, readings, and interviews like this one. If you’re willing to put that effort in, then you can be successful.
Point 2 – Shelf life can be infinite. When a book is published by a conventional publishing house it is likely to be available at bookstores for only a few weeks; then unsold copies are returned. When you self-publish through a site like Amazon’s createspace your book is available forever. My sales go up every year, even for books that have been available for a decade.
Point 3 – The actual process of self-publishing is quite straightforward these days. Sites like createspace make it easy. I just put together a new class about this process that includes how to format the interior of your book, how to find great cover art, and how to get your book in print as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook. The course is called Publish Your Book Now! And is available at http://WritingAcademy.com
5. You’ve also created several writing courses. How did you get into teaching?
For about 15 years I’ve been teaching writing classes through Education To Go (ed2go.com). These classes are offered through the online extension programs of 1500 colleges and universities worldwide.
I first became involved with ed2go because I was friends with Bill Cannon, a Hollywood screenwriter, who offered a class there. Bill and I taught seminars together, and eventually I wrote a number of classes including mystery writing, young adult fiction writing, and writing for children. When Bill passed away I also took over his class on story structure.During the past 15 years I’ve helped more than 20,000 students structure their novels.
Most recently I’ve also done a series of video workshops. These classes are available on my own site, http://WritingAcademy.com.
6. Can you give us a basic walk through of the course creation process?
As you might expect, every course begins with a detailed outline. Then I make a set of PowerPoint slides to accompany each lecture. I like to lecture directly to the camera, because it creates an intimate connection with my students. I place my laptop right below the camera, so I can look at the PowerPoint slides as I teach. I don’t write out the content of each lesson, because I like the naturalness of impromptu speech.
7. What resources would you recommend to writers hoping to learn more about self publishing and creating writing courses of their own?
Authors interested in self-publishing should definitely check out my new course, Publish Your Book Now! It’s available at http://WritingAcademy.com. It contains everything you need to get into print in just a few hours.
For those interested in creating courses, I did an interview with John Coley. It’s available as a podcast at http://jbdcolley.com/olp030
8. What question do you wish I’d asked, and what’s the answer?
You’re known for theme park engineering, yet you seem to spend a lot of time writing and teaching. What’s the connection?
Theme parks are all about storytelling. That’s what writing is, too, whether fiction or non-fiction. Storytelling is mankind’s oldest way of passing down knowledge, and that’s what I enjoy most about all of my pursuits. My greatest pleasure is when a student tells me about the “light bulb moment” they had in one of my classes, when all the ideas came together and they moved to a higher level of understanding.
9. Can you tell us a bit about the projects you’re working on now?
In the writing world I’m constantly working on new ideas for books and classes. I just published A book that shows how writing evolves from a novel into a screenplay, and I just recorded a new class about self-publishing. In the themepark world we’re working on new developments in China and Dubai. It keeps me pretty busy.
Steve Alcorn is the CEO of Alcorn McBride Inc., the company that provides the audio and video systems used in nearly all of the world’s theme parks. He is the author of several novels, two books about theme parks, and two books about writing. In his spare time Steve enjoys world travel, sculpture and music composition. During the past decade he has helped more than 20,000 aspiring authors structure their novels. He and his wife live in Orlando, Florida, next to a theme park.
Don’t forget to check out Steve’s writing courses at the Writing Academy.
Have more questions for Steve? Feel free to ask in the comments section below.