Author Interview: Jeffrey Ballard

Jeffrey Ballard writes speculative fiction…and is giving away the book reviewed on this blog for a very limited time. Check out his website here.

-How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

New writers or those writing their very first piece of fiction are often in a rush to get where they want to go—usually sign an agent or a traditional publishing deal, or jump in with indie-publishing. I understand the enthusiasm (I had/have it to!), but often I think the idea of practice is lost on some new writers.

I like to compare writing to learning to play the violin. Most people after one year of first picking up a violin wouldn’t expect to sign a record deal. Yet many new writers have this expectation about getting their first novel or story published, often at the expense of writing something new.

My advice would be after finishing one story, submit it to agents and editors, but start writing something else immediately, dive into your chosen craft and learn as much as you can through consistent practice.

-When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder?

“Breaks” from writing for me tend to be on the order of hours rather than anything extended. It’s not that I’m a workaholic, it’s that for me writing is a stress-relieving activity. It helps me stay sane.

Now publishing—that’s something I need breaks from. But I think as an artist, we’re always parsing the world around us to use in our art. It’s one of the reasons I now love to travel (I didn’t use to). Getting out in the world and seeing different cultures and meeting different people is a sure-fire way to turbo-charge my creative voice with lots of new ideas. I always come back with copious amounts of notes to one day use in my fiction.

-From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today?

I think the advent of the e-book and the Netflix effect have dramatically changed the publishing landscape in the last five years. Netflix is changing consumption habits from a steady-drip type of consumption to a binge consumption model. Rather than watching one episode a week for thirteen weeks, consumers now wait until the entire season is available and watch the season over the course of a few days.

For publishers this means rolling out one book a year in a series is too slow, or at least not optimal. The series loses momentum as the binge-consumption part of the market waits until more than a few books are out before beginning to read. And because the traditional publishing industry often has long lead times (generally a year or so) associated with releasing books, I think many series lose out on that market and associated momentum, which can lead to a series getting prematurely killed by the publisher for low sales.

The introduction of the e-book has facilitated this trend to binge consumption. The e-book is much easier to both produce and distribute. In a single day, a publisher can generate the e-book and distribute it world wide, while a traditional print run takes months to print, warehouse, and then ship (not to mention determining the size of the print run and handling returns). The consumer can also purchase the e-book with minimal effort versus having to overcome the barrier of physically getting to the bookstore. This is why most indie publishers are focused on e-books and print-on-demand as it allows the rapid release cycle that is necessary to take advantage of the binge market.

Traditional publishing and bookstores aren’t going anywhere. But I think the traditional market is already trying to adapt and will continue to adapt to tap into this binge market.

-What books are you currently reading?

I just started the Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. The opening drew me right in, and I’m very excited about the unique setting. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the world building as the series progresses.

-Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why?

Orson Scott Card is the first name that popped to mind, oddly enough. Not in the context of sales or other metrics of success, but rather in appreciation of craft. Every time I read Card, I’m blown away at his mastery of craft.

He’s made some controversial statements in the past, and I’ve heard other writers call for boycotts of his works in response to that, which I think is too bad. Card is one of the greats that many writers can learn from. And it’s worth mentioning that there are legitimate ways to read (and by extension, learn from) authors who one does not wish to financially support, such as libraries or discount book stores.

-Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?     

I am horribly delinquent on finding new writers to delight in. However, Ramez Naam who wrote Nexus is on my radar. He gave a very compelling seminar on mind control at the 2013 Worldcon in San Antonio that has stuck with me ever since. In answering this question I went and pulled Nexus off the shelf and then browsed online and saw that the trilogy is complete as of May 2015. So now I know what I’ll be reading after I finish the Leviathan Trilogy (binge-consumption again!).

– Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I recently read the book The Diary of a West Point Cadet by Captain Preston Pysh, and one sentence in particular struck a chord with me: “Habits become character, and over time, one’s character becomes his destiny.” Make writing a habit rather than a task.

Personally, I wake up early every morning to write. Some of those sessions are stellar with one to two thousand words written, others are abysmal with no words written. But there’s a great quote by Madeleine L’Engle, “Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” Which I’ve found to be true in my own work.

When I’m stuck in a story, or just not feeling “it,” I sit down anyway, tell myself it’s okay to have a bad writing session and then see what happens. Usually getting started is like pulling teeth, but once started the creative juices start flowing and I end up further along in the story than before I had sat down–even if it’s only fifty words.

-Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?​

I’m busy writing a new novel series tentatively titled Sunken City Capers. It’s based off a novelette I published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and subsequently Indie-published.

The premise is that much of the world is underwater due to a major terrestrial event in the past and our heroes make their living by pulling underwater heists in sunken cities. The character interactions in this series crack me up, to the point that I was laughing out loud while writing in a coffee shop. I had to stop writing to explain to my spouse who was with me, what I was laughing at.

The first book is scheduled to be released in October, 2016, with new novels being released in November, December in the same year, with more in 2017.

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