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B.R. Snow discusses Summerman with Michele Cody

As he always does upon completion of a new book in the Damaged Posse series, B.R. Snow sat down for a chat with Michele Cody, President of the Damaged Posse fan club.

MC – I just finished Summerman and have to say I’m still laughing. It was a fantastic read and thanks so much for giving me a sneak peek.

BR – Thanks, I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

MC – I also really like the new website. It has a great look and is easy to navigate. You really did it yourself?

BR – It’s amazing what you can do with the tools available these days. I know enough about technology to be dangerous but in no way could I ever be considered a “techie.”  I’m using Host Monster as my hosting company and Word Press for the actual site. Between the two of them, creating the site was pretty straightforward. Two big thumbs up to both of them for their quality and ease of use.

MC – Summerman reads like you were having fun writing it.

BR – I had a ball writing it. I’ve got a pretty strong collection of characters and I think the series itself is taking on a life of its own.

MC – Definitely. I’m already anticipating what situations the Posse will get into next.

BR – I don’t want to give away too much about the next book in the series but Merlin is the central player which I know will make you happy.

MC – Oh, I love Merlin. How about a hint?

BR – Well, he creates something in the technology arena that gets out of hand – a man versus machine theme.  Given how the four of them approach problems, as well as life in general, you can imagine how it might play out. I don’t know if they will all end up in the middle of the St. Lawrence River again but you never know. (laughs)

MC – (laughs) Poor Uncle Dick. The laugh out loud parts, and there are a ton, are great, but I especially enjoyed the humanity of the characters.  Summerman has a tenderness I really enjoyed. In particular, the situation with Mamo at the end was very special.

BR – You’re going to ruin my reputation for being a total curmudgeon. But Mamo was a lot of fun to write.

MC – “Don’t be naughty.” It reminds me of my own grandmother. Given the “destiny” of her and Paco, will they be making a return in the near future?

BR – I never know exactly what my characters are going to do. Sometimes the best thing for me to do is just get the hell out of their way. But if I ever find myself in a place where their talents could be useful, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring them back.

MC – It’s not like you have any shortage of characters. I counted about twenty in Summerman. Was it tough to juggle all of them?

BR – It was a challenge, but an enjoyable one.  Writing is hard work. People always ask me how to write a book and my answer is always the same, “one word at a time.” It sounds trite but it’s true. And if I’m not keeping my average daily word count to at least 1,500, I know I’m not working hard enough. And writing 100,000 words on anything is a marathon. And for those folks who don’t believe me, just pick one of your favorite words and try typing it 100,000 times.

MC – I just had a flashback to Jack Nicholson in the Shining. All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

BR – (laughs) Well, Jack may not have been creating great literature, but he sure stayed busy. I’m one of the lucky ones in that I love the effort and challenges of writing.  With Summerman, I spent about a year mulling it over. I’d be on the couch with my eyes closed and Laurie would ask me what I was doing. When I told her I was writing, I don’t think she quite believed me. I knew that with that many characters I had a ton of choices to make before I ever started typing. The last thing I wanted to do, and I absolutely hate when it happens, is to write myself into a corner. There’s nothing worse than getting a hundred pages in and having to say, “Now what?” So I guess it wasn’t as much of a juggling act as making sure I had all the subplots developed to the point where the characters could slide in and be comfortable.

MC – How do you know when a character is developed enough? I’ve noticed you don’t spend a lot of time describing your characters’ physical characteristics but, by the time I’m finished reading, I always have a vivid picture of who they are.

BR – Thank you. That’s one of the best compliments you could ever give me. My approach is pretty simple. For my existing characters, I try to keep them consistent. They might do something out of the ordinary or show some personal growth, but I never want any of my readers to say, “Hey, wait a minute. Merlin would never do that.” With new characters, if they aren’t clear and I can’t see them, I often start with an adjective-noun pair to get me started.

MC – Uncle Dick as a duplicitous narcissist?

BR – Exactly. You were paying attention, weren’t you? I remember I emailed you that description for Uncle Dick early on. It struck me as the perfect frame for him and I think he stays pretty true to form throughout the book. But to answer the question of how I know when a character is truly developed, I’ll reread a page or two and if I’m able to remove all the dialogue tags-all the he said, she said-and still know exactly who’s talking, then they are developing into balanced characters. And since I use dialogue to such a large extent, a character’s ability to pop off the page is a very important test for me. I spend a ton of time on my characters and have a strict rule to never waste one no matter how small their role is. Because you never know when one of them might surprise you.

MC – Why did you decide to set Summerman in the Thousand Islands? I know you grew up there and the book is dedicated to the people who live there, so was it some form of tribute?

BR – Absolutely. I have nothing but reverence for that part of the world and the people who live there. It’s an amazing place, but since it’s a seasonal place in that the summer is the time of year when the area really comes to life, it’s also the perfect home for Summerman. His annual timeframe of about 90 days on this side mirrors very closely the timeframe the Thousand Islands region has available, primarily from an economic standpoint. For many people who live there, it’s all about the summer.

MC – Tell me about your transition to e-books? As you know, I’m very tactile and love the touch and the smell of hardcopy books.

BR – You’re certainly not alone. I do too, although I’m finding it less important these days. Packing for vacation is a lot easier. I grab my Kindle and go. I can store over 3,000 books on it and, as long as I can find wireless, can buy any book I want in less than a minute.

MC – Are you one of the people predicting the demise of physical books?

BR – No, physical books will be around for a long time to come but the trend is rapidly moving in the direction of digital.

MC – And you’re comfortable not pursuing traditional publishing?

BR – I am. I’m not closing any doors but, from my perspective, it’s the logical choice for me at this point. As a reader, the ease of use is hard to overstate. I can be sitting outside playing with the dog, get an email about a new book, check it out on my Kindle, even download a sample, and if I like it, order it and be reading it in under a minute. I’ve saved at least an hour by not driving to the bookstore, finding the book, waiting in line to pay for it, and driving home. There’s also the issue of price. I still go to bookstores because I love them, especially small independent ones. The staff is always knowledgeable and their love of books is obvious. But when I look at the price of a physical book, I always pause. Invariably, e-books are cheaper. And I’ve lost all romantic notions about the need to have books stacked everywhere in the house and garage. As a writer, going independent with e-books makes so much sense. The royalties are more generous than those from a traditional publishing house. Unless one is a big, established author, it’s the writer’s responsibility to do most of their own marketing anyway. One has to question the value of going with a traditional house given the digital tools and applications available. A good e-book combined with a well-designed social media marketing strategy is a powerful combination. We’re just starting to see the initial success stories. Amanda Hocking has had an incredible run, although she did recently sign with a big house. She was established with a strong negotiating position which I’m sure helped get her the deal she got. I’m certain she worked very hard to get where she is and I’m glad to see her doing well. John Locke has sold well over a million books this year as an indie. He’s obviously a very smart guy. Joe Konrath has a great writing blog and his e-books have taken off. Michael Prescott’s books keep popping up on the Kindle bestseller list and if I’m not mistaken, Barry Eisler recently turned down an advance somewhere in the neighborhood of a half million to self-publish.

MC – Nice neighborhood.

BR – Indeed it is. But when you see an established author turn down that sort of money in order to self-publish, it tells you a lot about the power of this emerging platform.

MC – What price point did you finally settle on for your books?

BR – After a great deal of consternation and sleepless nights (laughs), I finally settled on $2.99.

MC – Three bucks? I can spend more than that on a cup of coffee.

BR – Exactly. I may do some experimenting over the coming months to see how the price point impacts my sales, but I’m comfortable with the $2.99 at this point. And I pretty sure that the vast majority of my readers will decide that spending three bucks on one of my books is money well spent. And I’m betting that once they’ve read one, they’re going to want the read the rest of them and become a member of the Posse.

MC – As this independent publishing boom continues to emerge, are you at all concerned about the increase in the number of bad books that get published? Are you concerned about the impact this could have on the public perception of e-books?

BR – To be honest, I really don’t give a rat’s ass. There have always been bad books out there and I guess the overall percentage of bad to good could go up, but does it really matter? And who really is the judge of whether a book is good or bad? Besides, I’m not in the business of judging books, other than my own and the ones I buy. The good books will eventually find readers and great reviews and the bad ones won’t. I don’t see that aspect of publishing changing. Truth be told, the way things go viral these days, word of mouth, which has always been a major determinant in bestseller lists, will become even more important for all books, both good and bad.

MC – Interesting. I know you’ve had interest from traditional publishing houses and agents. But you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a while now. You believe this is right time for you?

BR – This is the perfect time. In the past, I’ve had agents reach out and then ask for anywhere between three and six months to make a decision. Oftentimes, when a writer does sign with an agent, it can be months, or even years, before the book is launched. During that time, an author might be faced with their publisher wanting changes to characters, storylines and a host of other elements. I think what really helped the Damaged Posse series mature is the characters have had time together.  While the e-book industry matured, I’ve used all that time I would have burned shopping for an agent or a book deal to get better as a writer. Now I have several really good books ready to go

MC – So you’re launching all four in the series at the same time?

BR – Pretty close. I’m launching Summerman later this month just before Christmas followed closely by Sneaker World. Early next year, I’ll launch American Midnight and Larrikin Gene.

MC – (laughs) You’re launching the 3rd and 4th books in the series first and then following with the launch of the 1st and 2nd? Why doesn’t that surprise me?

BR – (laughs) What can I say? I’m a strange guy. I’ll also be launching Divorce Hotel, which isn’t one of the Damaged Posse series, in the not too distant future.

MC – Lucky for you, all four in the Damaged Posse series are all very good and can be read as stand-alones.

BR – Lucky me, indeed. By using the digital platform, my speed to market time is dramatically reduced. Once it’s out there, millions of people around the planet have immediate access to it. It’s a great time to be a writer.

MC – I’m guessing a lot of people aren’t necessarily very happy about that?

BR – Sure. Anytime you get this degree of disintermediation within an industry you’re going to have a bunch of people confused and, sometimes, very pissed off.

MC – Disintermediation? I hate asking because I’m dreading either the economics or technology lesson that is sure to follow.

BR – (laughs) In economics, disintermediation is the removal of many of the intermediaries in a supply chain.

MC – You’re talking about cutting out the middleman.

BR – That’s exactly what I’m talking about. In today’s world, regardless of industry, if you aren’t adding value to whatever process you’re involved in, you’re in trouble. In a traditional book deal, I, along with my agent, would be considered the supplier. The publishing house would be considered the manufacturer and they would have a variety of methods and channels they would use to package, print and distribute the book on a wholesale basis to the retailers; the bookstores. Then people like you and me serve as the buyer. Today, I can have a direct relationship with my readers that, due to social media applications, can be highly personal. Folks like Amazon serve as the transactional gateway between me and my readers and they do an amazing job.

MC – A lot of the people who are pissed off at the changes in the publishing industry are mad at Amazon.

BR – Yes, they are. And Jeff Bezos, their CEO, has been getting a ton of shots taken at him. I guess it goes with the territory, but I don’t really understand it. He was in the right place, at the right time, with the right technology and was smart enough to see the opportunity and execute on it. I think Bezos will go down next to Gutenberg as one of the most influential people in the history of publishing by the time he’s done.

MC – That’s high praise.

BR – He’s just getting started and we’ve only scratched the surface of the whole e-book phenomenon. I was thinking the other day that what’s going on with publishing is very similar to what happened with music. I was doing some consulting work with Warner Music Group in Burbank right around the time they were trying to figure out how to deal with the Napster issue. They had a small army of people trying to develop the strategies, websites and associated databases that would enable them to respond, but they were hamstrung on many levels. Between the layers of management oversight, artist contracts that outlined rights and royalties, the lawyers, not to mention a whole bunch of new, and still emerging, technologies, they had a difficult time with it. It was part of a huge corporation – you and I both know what trying to implement change is like in that type of culture. Disintermediation is bad enough; disintermediation that’s driven by technological change is really tough to deal with because your life can literally change overnight. That was an extremely disruptive period for thousands of very smart professionals and a lot of the same parallels hold true with what is going on in publishing. Rather than assign blame, I wish some of the folks would get a bit more solution-centered. Going forward, I think there is a role for most of the current players in the industry, although I wouldn’t want to be in the book warehousing business at the moment. But to stay relevant, I think it’s going to take some creativity as well as some flexibility around price points and author’s rights. Regardless of whatever role the various stakeholders end up playing, I know it will require embracing and adopting a comprehensive digital strategy. But what do I know? I’m just a writer. And I try not to take it too seriously. Except comedy. That I take very seriously.

MC – (laughs) Good luck with the new book. I’m pretty sure people will enjoy it as much as I did. Any final thoughts before we say goodbye?

BR – Save a tree; go E. Be well, my friend.

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