Amazon has truly transformed the publishing landscape in a big way. Not only has it opened doors for new authors whose work may not fit the traditional mold, but it has leveled the playing field, allowing the works of Indie authors to rank alongside those of traditionally published authors like Stephen King and Lee Child.
Kindle Scout, Amazon's reader-powered publishing program, offers the best of both worlds by publishing the stories authors want to tell and getting them into the hands of the right set of readers using their big, beautiful marketing engine. Two years after launching the program, they have published over two hundred books across five genres, many of which have found success.
In keeping with Kindle Scout's scrappy startup feel, I teamed up with fellow author Max Eastern to share our thoughts on our books, writing, and Kindle Scout.
NYC lawyer turned author MAX Eastern's novel, The Gods Who Walk Among Us, was published in March 2017 by Kindle Scout.
Chris: Why did you choose to publish your debut novel through Kindle Scout?
Max: Traditional publishing is going through some troubled times. Publishing through Kindle Scout eliminates the middlemen you find in traditional publishing, gives me more control over my work, allows my book to be available to the public for purchase much earlier than with traditional publishing, and I have the power of Amazon backing my book.
Chris: What motivates your protagonist?
Max: A desire for redemption, a sense of honor and duty, sympathy, curiosity.
Chris: Why are Americans so obsessed with celebrity?
Max: Escapism. There are many problems in our world today: paying your kid’s college tuition, debt, unemployment, bad health, the economy, terrorism. All these affect us in our own lives. But when it comes to the messy divorce of two Hollywood superstars, we really don’t have any personal stake. We can watch their lives, their comings and goings, and invest some emotion without having to worry about any real consequence for our lives. It’s like rooting for your favorite sports team. If they lose the championship, life goes on and there’s always next year. The same with celebrities. It’s not our lives. Also, following them around satisfies the human desire for gossip, but it’s not as nasty as gossiping about your neighbors because celebrities have deliberately foisted themselves into the public eye.
Chris: Politics and scandal are relevant in today’s political climate. How do these themes play out in your book?
Max: Celebrities are fine except when they start to get too involved in telling the rest of us what to do. There is something of a disconnect between the lives these people lead and the lives the rest of us lead. And it’s not just celebrities, but many of the leaders of our society. They sometimes act as if they see themselves as gods walking among us mere mortals.
Chris: How did setting the book in NYC influence the mood of the story?
Max: There are some noir aspects of the book, and New York City is good for that. I also tried to convey New York from the point of view of someone who lives in the city but is not all that successful. If there is a place where gods deign to walk among us humans, it is NYC.
Chris: How would your cynical protagonist and fellow lawyer, Adam, describe you?
Max: He’d say I was okay to have a drink with, but that I kept interrupting his rants with rants of my own.
Chris: Are you working on something new? What can your readers look forward to hearing from you next?
Max: The further adventures of Adam Azoulay, paparazzo and ex-lawyer.
Chris: Thanks for the interview, Max! I can't wait to read the next book.
Get your copy of Max's terrific debut novel, The Gods Who Walk Among Us, for 99 cents during the Kindle Scout Anniversary Sale.
Max then took a turn asking me questions.
Max: Your novel was incredibly suspenseful. What are your techniques in generating tension?
Chris: Creating suspense is all about raising the personal stakes for your characters. As the tension mounts, readers worry about the characters and race through the pages to find out what comes next. If you can make the “what comes next” a surprising reveal, even better. I try to end each of the chapters by leaving a little blood on the floor, so to speak—a reason why the reader wants to turn the page. While you can’t do it every time, it sure is a lot of fun when you can.
Max: There's no question the book travels into dark territory. How do you access those realities when creating?
Chris: I try to imagine the world my characters live in—envision the scene from their point of view. Marissa, in particular, hits some pretty dark places in her own internal journey. In writing those passages, I recalled some of my own difficult experiences, and although the details were nothing alike, there were similar emotions. Tapping into those emotions helped me convey Marissa’s state of mind in what I hope was a convincing way.
Max: The main character of Marissa is very nuanced and complex. What went into creating her?
Chris: Believe it or not, I started off by channeling a bit of my Mom. Like Marissa, she was a young mother, a little insecure and afraid of making mistakes. From there I tried to imagine this kind of character in more of a professional setting, like the world I lived in, and how her insecurities and desire for stability would drive her actions. Then I thought about how she would need to grow to be the type of person she wanted to be. She ended up not being much like my Mom at all, but those first seeds of character were helpful in creating a protagonist who is brave, fallible, and resilient. My love for figuring out what makes people tick is one of the things I like best about being a writer.
Max: What kind of role does place play in your work, the Pacific Northwest?
Chris: Seriously, there is no better place to set a gritty thriller than in the Pacific Northwest, where it rains most days from October through May. Gray days make for good fictional mood setting. Add on top of that the physical terrain of the area with the ocean and mountains, and you’ve got natural barriers that make great obstacles for a story. Just the other day a mudslide blocked off a major route from my house to the downtown. Now imagine that I had an emergency and needed to get somewhere in a hurry, only because the main road is blocked off, I had to use one of the crazy little corkscrew roads up the hillside. They’re steep. Narrow. I’m speeding up the cliff face, because like I said, I’m in a hurry. The road is slick because, hey, it’s March and it still hasn’t stopped raining. I round this hairpin turn and there’s a truck coming my way. He’s careening down the hill too fast, because he’s in a hurry too, and his wheels are over the center line… See what I mean? The terrain itself can create good tension.
Max: Can you talk about the importance of building a brand as a particular type of author?
Chris: Building a brand is like making a promise to your readers about what they can expect from you and your work. I like to write complex, suspenseful stories about flawed characters who try and overcome their own internal baggage and experiences to do the right thing (of course, “the right thing” is a very subjective term). If I suddenly wrote a sweet romance and published it under my own name, it would be confusing for my readers. That’s why some authors have pen names when they write in different genres—so they don’t break the promises they’ve made to their readers.
Max: Your Kindle Scout novel was a success, mine is a week old. What kind of advice do you have for me?
Chris: I treat my writing career like I would a tech startup. I have a small team around me with complementary skill sets. I experiment, track results, and adjust my approach. And like a startup, I invest in my success—I spend money on services, marketing, and advertising where needed. You don’t need a big budget to follow this approach, but you do need SOME budget. I also make it a point to learn about the business—I read books, articles, and case studies on what makes authors successful. Not all of them are applicable or transferrable to my own approach, but I make it a point to keep an open mind.
Congratulations on launching your writing career, Max! My advice would be that it’s an exciting ride. Enjoy the victories (from the small to the big). Be resilient. Persevere through the obstacles. If you make smart choices, stay positive, and focus on your goals, you will find success.
Max: What's next for you?
Chris: HA! This is my year of the sequels. I’ve written a second book using some of the same characters from In the Dark. Dark Harvest is a Holt Foundation story. It's about a pregnant woman who goes missing and the search to find her. Although both stories start with a missing girl, this one goes in a very different direction that I hope readers will find gripping. Although I don’t have a specific release date yet, it’s in final production and I expect it will come out in May 2017 via Kindle Press. I’m just finishing a draft of the sequel to my first Indie book Deadly Lies. I'm calling it Vow of Silence and hope to release it in the fall. We’ll see how fast I can edit.
Meanwhile, I’m working on an outline for a stand-alone. It’s a nail-biter of a psychological thriller.
I do love having multiple things on the go…