With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley-Jenkins present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Simon Wood
Simon Wood is a California transplant from England. He’s a former competitive racecar driver, a licensed pilot, an endurance cyclist, an animal rescuer and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and four cats. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper, Terminated, Asking For Trouble, We All Fall Down and the Aidy Westlake series. His thriller The One That Got Away has been optioned for a movie adaptation. His latest book is Deceptive Practices. He also writes horror under the pen name of Simon Janus. Curious people can learn more at http://www.simonwood.net.
You’ve recently hit the mark for over one million books sold. Congratulations! How does it feel to know that you have reached that many readers? What advice do you have for up-and-coming authors trying to make in today’s publishing landscape?
It’s a little scary and intimidating to have sold that many books. Rather than feeling relief from reaching this milestone, I actually feel quite a bit of pressure from achieving it. There are now a lot of people expecting my best and I have to ensure that I keep turning out good books that people keep coming back for time and time again. That’s quite a responsibility. The advice I would give to any writer starting out is forget trying to sell 1 million books or trying to get on the New York Times bestseller list and focus on writing good books and building a connection with your readers. Success comes at selling one book at a time. If a writer can build a strong community around his or her work then the sales and accolades will follow. I think it’s become very important in the publishing world where everything is on a virtual bookshelf that if a writer can build a ‘clubhouse’ mentality through social media, then half the battle is done. If there is a small army of followers who are willing to and wanting to shout from the rooftops about your books that’s all it takes to hit the heights.
Your past is full of exciting pursuits, from racing single-seater cars to becoming a private investigator. How have your past experiences impacted your writing? Do you ever feel tempted to return to these professions?
I think my past has given me quite a lot of material that I can draw from directly and indirectly. Motor racing was a very character building experience as they say. The trials and tribulations of trying to keep a racecar team alive certainly made me a stronger person and I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to pursue writing if I hadn’t raced. Certainly my time in motor racing was very eye-opening. The off track dramas and intrigue will provide me with enough story ideas to last a decade. Similarly my experiences as a private investigator as well as an engineer in the oil industry conjured up more than a few potential storylines for books. Not only that but these jobs were very much always jobs under pressure because there were always outside influences creating a lot of stress and stress is something that characters in a thriller are always dealing with. Would I go back to any my professions? Yes, I would go back to racing at the drop of a hat…as long as someone is running the team and providing the car. I’m not sure I have the willpower or the money to be an owner/driver again. I would certainly go back to being a PI if I thought the assignment would lead to a new book. My annoying trait is that I am very curious about people and situations, so I am always more than happy to roll my sleeves up and get involved if it might lead to a new book idea. 🙂
As a person with dyslexia, what are some of the challenges you face as an author, and what has helped you sort through those challenges?
When I started out writing, I essentially had to start from scratch. I really didn’t understand how composition worked. I had my wife read books on writing to me. I had to develop my own methods when it came to writing fiction. I use voice recognition software and I have modified Microsoft Word to AutoCorrect my spelling and grammar. My wife is my eyes. She reads everything and in most cases aloud in order for me to edit my books. Like any impediment, you develop your workarounds.
You admitted to channeling your love of racing into the character of Aidy Westlake. What do you think readers find so appealing about this character? Who are some of your favorite characters that you have created?
I’m not sure what the reader will find appealing about Aidy. For me, I wanted people to experience a world and lifestyle they wouldn’t see or understand. Also I wanted to highlight Aidy’s young age. Drivers embark on a very adult career as teenagers. Aidy is making some very adult decisions before he’s even 21 years old, so you have someone wise and immature at the same time, which makes for an interesting character at times. I think Aidy’s grandfather and his relationship with Aidy is my favorite thing about the Westlake books. I wasn’t quite sure who Steve Westlake was going to be to Aidy, but during revisions, his character really came out and that’s something really endearing between the two people.
Your books have been translated into many different languages, including four in German. Do you notice a difference in your book’s reception in foreign markets?
Around the world, I think people are more alike than they are unalike. People tend to like the books for the same reasons as everybody else does. I think it’s interesting when you see some national lines being drawn. I think one German trade review remarked that the storyline was something uniquely American and could only happen in America and never in Germany, which I found quite interesting. I do find that an American audience is quite moralistic in some ways and if character crosses a perceived boundary then it’s a black mark against that character whereas I don’t see that aspect remarked upon by a British audience per se. I do like to think I write stories with a universal theme which everyone can relate to in some way.
In addition to writing, you also lead various workshops around the country. Can you tell us a little more about what your workshops offer and who would benefit from taking them?
I’ve written quite a few pieces for Writers Digest over the years and that’s led to me presenting seminars and workshops on a variety of topics. I tend to approach writing with an engineer’s mind in that I have to understand it by disassembling and reassembling the component parts of what makes a story. This tends to make my advice quite practical. So I’ve developed a number of workshops on all manner of topics from plotting and outlining to the nuts and bolts of suspense writing. Also my writing career isn’t like most other writers. I came up through the small presses then to mainstream publishing. I turned to self-publishing after my primary publisher went bust during the financial crisis. I had two options — find a new career or start over. I developed a marketing plan, invested in advertising, re-edited the books and built a social media presence. Within nine months, I’d sold nearly 250,000 e-books and my phone started ringing. Publishers were inquiring about available rights. From there I developed a hybrid approach working with publishers as well as self-publishing titles of my own. All this has made me a very rounded writer and hopefully a savvy one too. With all the sales success over the last five or six years, people became interested in how I went about it all so I developed a workshop called the 21st Century Author, which goes into all the aspects of being a modern day writer whether you are published by a major publisher or whether you’re doing it all yourself. It looks at how to build an audience and keep them while keeping an eye on the ever-changing publishing landscape.
You also write horror under the name Simon Janus. How did this pen name emerge? Do you plan to write more under this name? Have you found having two writing identities beneficial?
A few years ago, I was at a crossroads. Though I’d started out writing horror fiction, my novels were mainstream thrillers. This led to a little bit of confusion as to what kind of writer I was. In horror circles, people saw me as that thriller writer, and in mystery circles, people saw me as that horror writer. The upshot was readers didn’t know what to expect from me. That’s never a good situation. Because I already had a couple of thriller novels out I thought it was better to develop a pen name for my horror work. It helps my readers determine what it is they’re getting and avoid disappointment. I do plan to write more horror novels under my pen name but my thriller identity keeps getting in the way.
You mentioned that you have a “weakness for longhaired dachshunds.” Andrea also loves these dogs! What makes the dachshund breed so special to you? Do you want to share anything about your new puppy?
When I was twelve, I wanted a Doberman because I thought they were handsome and powerful. Then I encountered a longhaired dachshund and instantly scrapped any interest in a Doberman. They are very much a big dog in a small dog’s body. They are adventurous, cantankerous, opinionated, and stubborn. How can you not like somebody like that? I’ve had a dachshund ever since. Last year, I lost Royston, who was a rescue who’d been with us for over 15 years. He was a very special dog and more popular than me at any book signing. Recently we’ve taken in Sabine to take over as our pack leader. She’s proving to be quite a character although we’re not quite sure who that character is yet. She’s certainly keeping us on our toes.
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything you may be able to share with us?
My new book is Deceptive Practices, which came out on November 15. I’m excited to see the reader reaction to this new book. A follow-up to Paying the Piper called Saving Grace comes out next year. A movie adaptation of The One That Got Away is still in the works and next year could prove to be very interesting. There are a few other things but it’s still early days. All in all, it’s a very full plate. 🙂
Thank you for interviewing with us, Simon!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley-Jenkins has an M.A. in English from the University of Idaho, where she taught composition courses. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is a teacher, an editor, and a writer, who loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life