(Image courtesy of Ja-Mel Vinson)
To give my readers and fellow writers an insight into the processes and successes of other like-minded creatives, I'll be featuring some hardworking authors in my journal each week.
Today's author is Ja-Mel Vinson and he's planning to independently publish.
Ja-Mel Vinson II is a paranormal and fantasy author.
What made you want to become a writer?
I started writing when I was 10 after I got an assignment in my English class. I was told to write a true story, and I completely disobeyed my teacher. I wrote a fantastical story about getting trapped in the bathroom, saving a princess, and killing a monster. It was a silly, goofy little story, but it was incredibly fun for me to write and every single idea I had went onto the page. After I showed it to people (something I was never shy about with me also being a performer) and they loved it, I decided to continue writing, not only for myself, but to one day share my stories with more and more people.
What are your thoughts on the indie vs traditional publishing argument?
I believe that both indie publishing and traditional publishing are viable options. I’m publishing indie because I want to have more control over my work, the cover design, etc., be more involved in the publishing process as a debut novelist, and be able to set my own deadlines for when to get things done.
Marketing is something that will have to be done in either publishing method, but indie publishing is definitely more expensive if you want to get it right, as you’ll have to give out at minimum $800 for everything that needs to be done (depending on the word count and rate, this could go up, but $800 seems very minimalistic): cover design, book formatting, editing (I recommend the comprehensive edit, and would leave the plot issues and inconsistencies to the beta-readers, but you could do what you’d like for this part), and, sometimes depending on your website and where you made it (wordpress, wix, etc.), you may have to pay for add-ons, to get SEOs and generate site traffic, and a host of other things.
Indie publishing, while seen as an amazing and noble thing, is a bit stigmatized as of late due to rushed and poorly edited novels, but I guess that makes it all the better for you if you go this route because, depending on how well you market and edit, your book may gain more readers by word-of-mouth and generally make rounds for how good it looks and sounds. You also lose the opportunity to get literary awards for those books, so that’s a drawback only if you consider it so.
Traditional publishing has a lot of things taken care of by the publishing house, you get a cover design team, editing team, marketing team (which doesn’t do much because authors are expected to do marketing now), and possibly more, but it’s less expensive. You get paid an advance as dictated by the amount on your contract, but it requires more writing on your part. Getting an agent, sending query letters to publishers, it takes a lot of time and is very time-consuming. Your book is only on bookshelves for a few months I believe (don’t quote me on that), but you’re able to, at least, make your money in the beginning, and, depending on how well it sells, negotiate for a larger amount of money for the next book. Royalties are less than what you’d typically see with indie publishing, but I definitely see how it could be worth it to some people. Writing isn’t a get rich quick thing, not in either publishing method though.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest novel?
In Dreamer, we follow a college freshman named Maya Lilac. She has a nightmare the night before she moves in that involves her getting attacked and being saved by a clone of herself. She wakes up and, throughout the day, starts to hallucinate bits and pieces of the dream until it eventually comes true. She finds out from that point that she’s a Dreamer, can make her dreams real, and that her clone is a very real threat. Not only that, she’s the True Dreamer, so she has to use her powers to save her species from genocide, along with the rest of the world, and that includes stopping her clone. The problem in this arises from the fact that no one, not Maya nor her mother nor her sister or the Angels can come to a decision about what to do with her. So Maya has to learn how to be a hero, go through school, and decide if she trusts her own judgement against her family’s when she doesn’t have the memories of her powers or her previous heroics.
Please share your top 3 marketing tips with us.
Doing interviews like these
Promoting the book/website/social media accounts to my friends and family
Book reviews and guests posts on sites
Tell us about your typical writing day.
When I’m not in class or working, I would typically go to the computer, write for a little bit, eat some lunch, watch a bit of Youtube or read, do some more writing, eat dinner, do homework, and watch some Youtube, and then sleep until the next day. Otherwise, I write whenever I’m able to throughout the school day.
What is your definition of success? Would you say you are a successful author?
I define success as creating something that people enjoy. No markers of money or status matter to me because I fell in love with writing because I just wanted to write stories that I liked, that were insanely creative, and that people enjoyed (my love of performing has helped this develop). So long as there are people who like what I write, and I personally feel satisfied with the work that I’m making, I’d say I’m pretty successful.
Share some of your writing goals with us. Have you met any of them yet?
Some of my writing goals are to finish this version of Dreamer and start to find a cover designer. I also want to get some character cards and a book trailer made for the book, and figure out who exactly my mystery characters are and what red herrings I’d use to throw the readers off (that’s right! We have a little mystery in this story folks!). I also want to figure out how to make the romance between Rosemary and Astrid relevant beyond a simple point of study for the Daemon. I’ve met the character-driven and mystery points, but the others are more geared towards the future and things that will require quite a bit of money for me to do.
Watch Ja-Mel's first appearance (JAN 2018) on my podcast, The White Room!
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How do you deal with negative reviews and criticism?
I try to find something positive in all the reviews I receive, and keep an open mind and ear when it comes to critiques. When I do get something that particularly stings, I try to remember that it’s ultimately a suggestion and that I as a writer have the final say on what I want to do. I know more about the story and the direction of it than the reader would, so I can exercise my judgement to say whether it’s a valid point.
Do you have a favourite author for fiction and non-fiction? Why are they your favourite and which of their books would you recommend?
I don’t have any favorite authors, but I do have some books that I particularly love and enjoy. I really like Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (Martian Chronicles is a description goldmine, I swear! Love it so much for that!), The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and so you don’t think it’s all classics, Antigoddess by Kendare Blake (so far, I’ve enjoyed what I read), Montmorency by Eleanor Updale (though that may largely just be nostalgia), and a few others from my childhood. Haven’t read much as an adult, but I’m fixing that.
Where do you get your ideas/ how do you find inspiration?
The ideas honestly just come to me. “Dreamer” popped in my head as the first story I made after I fell in love with writing, “Fairytale” (future series) came about first as a sequel to Maleficent (2014) but has become its own thing, “Chronicles”, “Crystal Waters”, and a host of future stories all just popped in my head. A few I got from writing prompts and pictures and such, but a large majority of them just came to me one day as a story idea. Some from dreams, but others from simply living life. So, keep your creativity going. Never shut something down; you never know what it could become.
Can you share any free resources or tools you have found helpful?
I don’t really use many free resources, but one that I recently discovered that’ll help you keep writing is fighter’s block (google it). It basically gives you a character and an enemy (a block) that has a certain level of health. You set your word count, start the timer, and for every word you type, you simultaneously keep your health up and knock down the health of your opponent (who will keep attacking you). Meet your word count and you gain that much experience!
A technique I learned about in my Computer Science for Education course that I think would work well for writers is the Pomodoro Technique. You set a timer for 25 minutes (or more), and just get going. You document every time you get distracted, but you don’t stop going. Make it to the end of the 25 minutes and that’s about it. You can either start the timer again, or simply stop and assess.
There are timer apps that you can use for it that’ll play calming music, give you a sort of fail screen if you exit the app to do something on your phone, and all manner of other things.
Scrivener and yWriter were apps that I tried using for my two main WIPs but didn’t find too useful because they were already so developed at the time, but I’ve heard people swear by it and can see how they could help some people out. Me, I just take it all in stride and document everything in word documents and folders on my flashdrive.
A good site for short story prompts and ideas is blog.reedsy.com/short-story-ideas/ You can type in a genre and it’ll give you prompts for that genre. You can also use prompts from other genres or from the homepage and give them a fantasy or a romance or a sci-fi spin. I took a mystery prompt about disappearing footprints in the snow and merged it with a fantasy, so it can be done. And it can be fun too!
Do you outsource your work?
Yes. I’m planning on outsourcing both editing and cover design. I’ll have my beta-readers take looks at the story in between rounds of professional edits.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Please tell us why and what your pre-writing processes are.
I’m a plantser (both). Really weird, I know, but the way I do it is: I get the idea, and from there, I’ll figure out a bit about the characters (their names, maybe a basic appearance, their powers, etc.) I don’t know the power or magic system (depending on the story) in its totality yet, and I don’t even fully know the characters, but I start writing anyway. I write for a bit, get some of the way into it, and go back through editing. While I’m going throughout this process, I may do some character interviews once I know more about them, figure out the history of the world, how they operate, things like that. I really just learn about the story as I go, but I do also take some steps along to help assist that like my character interviews for personality (and those do change the histories of the characters. They say things that I don’t expect them to, but I go with it), generally figuring out the story beats, writing out any excerpts I get, having them battle my friends’ characters to see how powerful they are and then make situations where they can showcase those abilities, and a couple of other things that I do at sporadic points. Also, dreams, thoughts, and random ideas that just pop in my head can affect the world too, so nothing is ever really set in stone, more of just constantly evolving and ever so slightly being a bit consistent.
Why do you write?
I write because it’s something that I love. I love creating worlds and characters, crafting histories and powers, seeing how people interact. I love that writing can effectively make me a god of sorts (just a joke I have), and that it gives me an outlet for all my wild and zany ideas. I love showing people my work and talking about what I do. It makes me extremely excited when showing them what I’m working on, and getting feedback to make it better, and even the editing is fun because I get to perfect my words and my craft. It’s something that I can’t imagine myself not doing because it’s been with me for so long. I can’t let my characters down too; they’re real people in my stories, and I’d be disappointing them if I just randomly stopped and didn’t keep coming back to see how their lives unfold.
What do you love the most about writing and why?
The thing I love most about writing is how creative you can be with it. Inventing a new thing and going extremely in depth in it, learning about something that you probably never knew or coming up with new inventive ways to do something. For Dreamer, I made a dream I had into a story about a girl’s dreams coming true, then they were destined to come true as I introduced The Fates from Greek mythology to the mix, then I fixed the villain and made her an antagonist (there’s a difference there. “Villain” is evil, “antagonist” just opposes our good guys. Doesn’t mean they can’t be an anti-hero or tragically misunderstood), then Maya went through a very brief lesbian phase (I threw that out of the main Maya that we see because her relationship with her boyfriend, and her friendship with her best friend serve two different purposes. Still, I like to think there’s a universe where Maya and Rosemary date and fall in love), then she flipped back, and… you can make anything happen in a story so long as it makes sense according to the world you’ve built up.
The possibilities are literally endless and only stretch as far as your imagination is willing to go and how much logic you want to apply, and I love that about writing. It lets me explore everything that I’d never be able to in real life. Novels give me an outlet that film and playwriting and poetry and creative nonfiction don’t. Two are limited by people and a pseudo-reality that I can’t be exceeding complex in, one relies on truth more than fiction (though the line there is pretty blurry. Still, can’t make everything up), and another has lines and stanzas and doesn’t give me as much of an artful flow as I’m used to with novels and short stories. It’s truly something that I enjoy and can see myself doing forever.
What do you dislike about writing and why?
I don’t think there’s a particular part of writing that I dislike. Editing is fun because, although it is tedious to overlook your work, you can develop things more, notice problems you didn’t see previously, fix mistakes, add in phrases, establish lore in a more artful way, and all manner of other things integral to a story. Rewriting makes what you write what you write. It makes everything better. Since I love learning and am always looking for more knowledge, worldbuilding is one part that I immensely enjoy because I’m discovering things that I’m coming up with and pulling from the internet and my own mind for.
Do you ever visit other authors' websites and if so, what do you look for? Why?
I don’t visit other authors’ websites often (I do have a list), but when I do, I look for their site presentation and order, their bios, headings, information on their site for their latest book (it appears that I post more information for my stories that other sites do, but I don’t particularly see that as a bad thing since it alternates between excerpts and information about the world like powers and history and stuff).
In order of importance (most important first) when shopping online, what do you look at first? Examples: cover design, formatting, reviews, description, price, publisher, author name, page count, preview, formats available.
3. Cover Design
5. Page Count
7. Formats Available
9. Author Name
Leave a comment or note of thanks for your readers?
I would like to say thank you to all of you for reading this and I hope you learned, at least one thing about how I do things and maybe stuff you can apply to your own writing. Check out Dreamer if you’re interested, and you can find my other information there. You can subscribe to my mailing list if you want to be up to date on my writing (I send out ONE email at the end of every month, so no spam! I hate spam.)
Also, THANK YOU RACHAEL! You’re so nice and kind and helpful and amazing. I really appreciate it all!
Thank you so much to author Ja-Mel Vinson for sharing his insights on writing and publishing books. If you would like to support Ja-Mel and his work, please consider visiting his website.