Hi James and thank you for visiting #ThePhilFactor today. If you’re a reader you’re likely familiar with James Scott Bell’s many legal thrillers, including Don’t Leave Me, Blind Justice, and many others. If you’re an indie writer you should be familiar with his series of books on writing which include Fiction Attack! and Self-Publishing Attack!, hence my interview title. If you like zombies you may be familiar with his Mallory Caine zombie legal thrillers published under the pen name K. Bennett. The point is James Scott Bell writes a lot. What I’ve touched on here is just the tip of the iceberg. In the dictionary there’s a picture of James Scott Bell next to the word prolific. What you may not know about James Scott Bell is that after years of success in the traditional publishing industry he has, of his own volition, become one of the new breed of hybrid authors that publish traditionally through a publisher and independently through electronic means.
TPF: Although you could publish everything you write through a traditional publisher you choose to self-publish some of your work such as the Force of Habit novellas. Why? (for those of you who don’t know, the Force of Habit series is about a crime fighting nun)
JSB: It’s a matter of dollars and sense. Good sense. Writers tell stories. They desire to have readers read those stories for a small remuneration. If they deliver the goods, the readers come back for more. The problem in the past was that there was only one delivery system available: print. And most of the profits went to the folks who owned the printing presses.
But we are in a new world now, with a new delivery system—digital—that does not require the large-scale production costs of print. So a writer who is prolific in one form or many (long, short, novella) can realize gains unknown to them in the past. My fighting nun series, for example, would have had a tough time finding a home in the “old world.” Now it can make a home of its own.
TPF: After so much success with your legal thrillers, were you or your publishers worried about tarnishing or diluting your “brand” with the humorous Force of Habit and Mallory Caine, Zombie at Law series? And why the pen name for Mallory Caine novels?
JSB: Branding is only an issue in the trad/print world, in my humble opinion. The reason I chose a pseudonym for the zombie legal thriller series was for that very reason—it was a completely new brand for me. My agent and I thought it a good idea to do that, mostly to help readers make the distinction. But things have changed in the last few years, and I might not make that same decision today.
TPF: (For my readers that share my sense of humor, please note the subtitle in the upper left of the cover: Justice: It’s what’s for dinner. The title & subtitle together have made me a fan for life) James, what was the inspiration for a zombie practicing law in the Mallory Caine series, and do you foresee a whole franchise of zombie novels involving other occupations?
JSB: I’m always trying to think up fresh concepts, and when zombies suddenly got “hot” a few years ago, I thought to myself, What can I do that’s new? The first thing I thought of was the zombie being the hero instead of the monster. And then, with my legal background, why not have the zombie be a really good lawyer? I pitched it to my agent, who cracked up, and we brainstormed a bit and then he sold the series to Kensington. I intend to have K. Bennett do some more along these lines, probably independently.
TPF: You studied both writing and law in college. Did you always plan to be a writer with your legal work paying the bills until your writing career became profitable?
JSB: I wanted to be a writer in college. Law was not on my mind. I took a workshop with Raymond Carver, and that was discouraging in that I couldn’t do what he did. I thought if I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t do any kind of writing. I didn’t have “it.” I was told you couldn’t learn to be a writer, which I didn’t discover was a big, fat lie until years later. By that time I was practicing law to support a family. When I went back to writing, I didn’t know if it would ever happen for me, but it did and gradually I stopped practicing law.
TPF: Where did your passion for teaching writing come from?
JSB: From discovering that “Big Lie” I mentioned above. I felt hopeless about writing, but when I determined I had to try to become a writer no matter what, even if I failed, I found out it really was a craft you could learn. You could get better. I was so grateful and excited about that, I wanted to share it with other writers. One of the most gratifying things in the world for me is hearing when a writer makes it, and tells me I helped along the way.
TPF: Is there something you’ve learned from the self-publishing process that surprised you?
JSB: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the system I mapped out and put into practice (which I detail in my book, Self-Publishing Attack!) has worked exactly as I thought it would. I haven’t had to make any adjustments to it. Just work it, correct and optimize little details now and again, and most of all have the fun and joy of writing and publishing more work that pays.
TPF: When you look at the work of independent, self-published authors is there one thing above all else that you think “indies” should be mindful of?
JSB: Unrealistic expectations. The Hugh Howeys of this business are rare. You have to go into the enterprise of self-publishing committed to writing for the rest of your life, studying the craft as you go, driving yourself to be the best you can be with the time that you’ve got, adding more work to the “long tail” of material. Then, when income starts to increase, it will be a pleasant consequence. Just don’t get disappointed up front. You have a long writing life ahead of you. The journey is part of the reward.
James, thank you for your time. For my readers who are authors I strongly encourage you to check out James Scott Bell’s books on writing and independent publishing. For my readers who are readers check out all of his work. With such diversity James Scott Bell has books for every taste. You can find James Scott Bell on the interwebs on his website. You can also read him on the blog Kill Zone, which is a blog where several popular thriller/suspense writers opine on a variety of topics and you can also follow him on Twitter. As always, if you enjoy what you read here at #ThePhilFactor please hit the Facebook, Twitter and other share buttons below.