And now, from Inside the Writer’s Studio,
A Very Special Interview With Michael J. Allen
It is heartbreaking that we live in such ugly times. Nasty people eating wretched food while sporting horrendous clothing, all while throwing thoughtless attitudes at any poor soul who happens to cross their path. This ugliness hits us from all directions, and can bombard us at any point in time.
As we stumble through this ash-laden, fume-choking ugliness, we may find ourselves close to giving up, nearly certain that hope is just another cruel joke played upon us by some uncaring deity. And, yet, we are joyfully surprised when a gleaming beacon of light pierces our desperation to show us the good that does exist in our world.
Dare I say, one of those shining beacons emanates from an author whose compassion and warmth barely outshines his talent as an author. I speak of the Delirious Scribbler himself, Michael J. Allen.
Michael hails from the stormy wilds of Oregon, taking delight in the refreshing cascades of liquid sunshine. His precipitous muse inspires him to soak in a variety of genres: science fiction, fantasy, western, space opera, urban, and action-adventure. He doesn’t confine his stories and ideas into a single classification; rather, he gives his narrative free reign and allows for the creation of multi-layered and organically-grown adventures. Yet, his books are neither vague nor unmindful. Michael’s wit and wisdom gives his readers a collection of chronicles that never fail to entertain.
It is my honor to introduce an author with style, grace, and a collection of really nifty vests, Michael J. Allen.
So, Michael, when did you start writing? What inspired you to start? Please share with us your humble beginnings!
Michael: The New Year’s Eve between high school and my enlistment date, I was up watching my VHS copy of Willow. The tracking went haywire and I had to rewind the tape to the beginning to reset it. While that was going on I picked up a sketch pad and drew a crossroads in the wilderness then added three characters to the image, a would-be warrior, a mage in tattered robes and an iron skull mask, and a young elf. The tape finished and I restarted my movie. Some of you have no idea how nice DVD/Blu-ray really is.
Why, my goodness, I certainly have no idea what you’re talking about!
[Michael smiles sweetly, then continues]
Michael: Well, the tracking went haywire again. While the VHS rewound once more, I redrew the whole scene except the characters had leveled up. I started the movie again, but the whole time it was playing I kept glancing at the two sketches. When the movie ended, I changed over to the old PC and wrote six chapters on a word processor program so old even I can’t remember its name.
Creating the story was thrilling, but what really made me want to write and share stories was the reactions of my geek friends when we’d come back together after they’d read what I wrote. Watching them argue about who the best character was and why this character did this and what was going to happen next—I was hooked.
Where can we find your work?
And I really suggest visiting Michael on his Facebook page. He’s a darned personable guy!
Now it’s time for The Big Self-Publishing Questions!
What moved you to self-publish your work? What was the first work that you self-published?
Michael: Since that first moment watching the reactions the story evoked in my friends, I’d wanted to share my stories with more people. I’d been reading most of my life, so after I came back to writing, I started trying to get published by the same publishers that put out my favorite authors.
Unfortunately, I ran into a few snags. First, that early writing really sucked. By time I got better, the publishing industry had mutated. Traditional publishers were being far more choosy about new writers, preferring them to have a ready follower base on the new social media platforms. For the publisher, this meant the author came with an established audience of cash-waving buyers.
Well, I am not good a social media. I’m a private person who doesn’t consider himself very interesting—the stories, sure, but not me. That kind of nixed any chances of raising an audience through blogging. So after my rejection letters started coming back with real input, instead of the usual form letters, I decided I’d gotten good enough to stop letting novels languish in my hard drives and put them to work building that audience the big boys wanted.
I set out to learn everything I could about publishing, book formatting, etc. In June of 2016, I released Scion of Conquered Earth, the first in my Scion space opera series. A month later, I released Murder in Wizard’s Wood , my first modern high fantasy.
Could you describe the process you went through?
Michael: I’d been attending writing conferences and workshops for years, so I had a small knowledge base to build from. I spent several months researching best practices wherever I could find them. I bought pre-made interior design templates and reverse engineered how they worked. I stacked my desk with hard backs and paperbacks from my library and tried to mimic the masters. I also delved into business licenses, tax requirements, distribution networks and ISBN codes. All throughout, I was editing that first book and trying to beat my passable graphic editing ability into a decent cover.
I made a ton of mistakes; pretty much every mistake available to me, really. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, even with all the research I was doing. I probably bought two dozen proof copies of Scion of Conquered Earth trying to get it to look right. To do my early proof work, I spent hundreds of dollars uploading revisions to Ingram Spark over and over before I learned to use Createspace’s free uploads and revisions. Eventually, after countless cover changes to adapt for printer foibles, I put the book up on preorder, available in Kindle, paperback and hardback. While I waited for the thousands of readers to buy my book (there are millions of readers, thousands is a very reasonable percentage, right?), I edited Murder in Wizard’s Wood to release right after.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge in self-publishing?
Michael: First knowledge, followed closely behind by gaining visibility. I imagine writing a good book should be in there too, and raising money for third party editors and good cover artists, as well. But not knowing what you don’t know when starting out is a killer. After that, there is (and was) such a glut of inexperienced writers convinced that since their mom said the book was good they can just upload the manuscript and get rich quick. All that noise makes getting a novel into readers hands hard, especially where all those poorly edited books have soured the reader pool on trusting indies.
What do you like best about it?
Michael: Speed and control. I can put novels out as fast as I am able. I’ve had novels sit in traditional publisher queues for over three years. Those novels I’ve gotten traditional contracts on took a year or more to go through the in-house process. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very nice having a publisher gather editors, handle the cover art, gather reviews and such, but at the same time, if they make a poor choice, I’m stuck with it. With my own work, I not only have total control—and total responsibility—I can run giveaways. I can schedule sales around my con appearances. I can raise and lower prices until I find the right price.
As we know, self-publishing has its detractors. How do you respond to them?
Michael: I love participating in civil debate. I’m happy to talk pros and cons with them, but I’m not going to try to convince them. I am doing what I feel is good for me. I don’t have time for people that dwell on negatives or insist of telling others how to live. I have books to write and readers waiting on sequels.
What is your advice to authors who are considering self-publishing for the first time?
Michael: You’ll hear everyone strenuously recommend hiring professional editors and artists. That’s good advice, but I’d recommend you attend conferences and talk to the rest of us. We’re a wonderful community, and most of us will give it to you straight. You might even find someone who offers you a hand. That’s not to say I’m recommending you go author to author and asking them to mentor you. If they see something in you and they have the time, they’ll probably offer help, but if you want to self-publish, you also have to learn to stand alone.
Prepare to Duck-And-Cover! It’s time for our favorite part of the interview:
The Sludge Pile Lightning Challenge!
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to re-write the following text in the style of your favorite author. This text has been taken directly from the GiiNii Digital Picture Frame user’s manual:
Your picture frame is equipped with 512MB internal memory and twelve pre-loaded photos of National Parks Library. The photos will automatically start playing when there is no memory card inserted and not supported files in internal memory. To play your won content, insert a memory card containing photos into the card slot on the right side of your picture frame and your pictures will start to play automatically.
Michael has wisely chosen Douglas Adams!
Greetings decoratively challenged simpleton,
The Sirius Cyberdyne Corporation hopes this digital image viewer will make your drab flat of concrete block/milk carton furniture feel more metropolitan. To ensure you the best possible experience, our Loner-sensitive Artificial Intelligence will provide calming landscapes downloaded from the Encyclopedia Galactica (data rates may apply). These scenes have been selected by our board of reformed criminal psychologists to assuage melancholy or sociopathic feelings brought about by solitary misunderstood lifestyles as well as prevent madness caused by staring into the vast emptiness of our unlit high resolution screen.
Should you have actual images to display and can follow the upload instructions provided by our primary school tech support representatives, this system will begin playing those few good moments of your life on an endless repeat.
Please be advised that customers owning more than twelve dozen cats have occasionally found our eight petabyte internal storage insufficient to display all volumes of The Antics and Glowers and Hairballs of Mister Fluffy 167 without visiting a Sirius Cyberdyne Outlet for our Ol’ Biddy Kitty storage upgrade module.
Photos courtesy of Michael J. Allen, The Library of Congress, Cook’s Illustrated.com, VHS Collector.com, and Wikimedia Commons.
Post updated July 25, 2019.