Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview: Novelist James Scott Bell

Bestselling Author’s Tips 
On eBook Self-Publishing
By Mark Young
Bestselling novelist James Scott Bell likes to take chances. This year—after successfully writing novels for traditional publishers for two decades—Jim entered the relatively new era of eBook publishing with a bang. Since last February, he has released three eBooks under the Compendium Press banner. Here is the lineup:

Watch Your Back, a suspense novella and three short stories, released on February 9th in Jim’s first self-publishing venture. This novella is a story about a brash IT guy who has it all—a secure job, a loving fiancĂ©e, and a financial future that looked very bright. Everything begins to change when he is attracted to a new woman at work. Casting everything aside, main character Cameron Cates jumps aboard a fast moving train wreck of lust and greed that ends in an unexpected manner.

After the novella, Jim added three short stories at part of the same eBook, just in case you did not get enough suspense. Fore Play is the story of a married golfer who likes to play on and off the gold course, a lifestyle that may change his game for good. In Rage Road, a young man takes his girl out for a ride and finds out the hard way why it is best to control ones anger. One thing just leads to another. Finally, in Heed The Wife,  married man Frank Dabney always listens to his wife in order to keep the peace and to make sure his wife sticks around. This time, however, listening to his wife might be the worst thing he could ever do.

Less than a month later, Jim released his latest nonfiction book on writing, titled Writing Fiction For All Your Worth. (Jim already has several writing books published through Writers Digest).The goal of this book is to help writers develop “strategies and techniques for getting your fiction to the next level.” The book contains the best of Jim’s articles and blog posts on writing.

Finally, Jim released a third eBook on May 4, a short story titled No Laughing Matter. The expression you’re killing me comes to mind as I read Jim’s short story about a comedian who is deadly serious about making it to the big time. He has one last gig that may send him to the top—or will it prove deadly?

Jim has dazzled suspense lovers over the years with a number of published novels, primarily legal thrillers set in his hometown of Los Angeles. Many tags can be pinned to Jim’s coattails—novelist, screenwriter, trial lawyer, writing mentor, and adjunct professor. And now, one more tag: a self-published eBook author.

MARK: It is always a pleasure to learn from a writer of your stature, Jim. Thanks for joining us here on Hook’em and Book’em once again. Let’s start with the most obvious question. Why did you decide to venture into the eBook business?

JIM: It's sort of like, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't a writer who loves to write, has many stories to tell, has readers who ask for more stuff, and who now has the means to deliver it to them—why wouldn't he?

It's a great time to be a writer. If you can deliver the goods, I say deliver them.

This is especially true for short form fiction. There's really no print market for novellas and short stories. In the glory days of Chandler and Hammett, there was. Now, once again, it's possible for writer to turn out stories and get paid for them. I always wanted to be able to do that, so I am.

MARK:  What are some of the things you have learned about eBooks since you launch Watch Your Back last February?

JIM: I've learned that the fundamentals are very clear. First, you have a write a really good book. That doesn't change. Then you have to have it vetted by those who can be objective about your work. I use beta readers, take their feedback, and tweak. Then I need to hire a copy editor to catch the mistakes.

Good cover design is, of course, important. It also helps to have some copywriting skill and marketing sense. It's really like running a small business, which I've done. So if you are intentional and have a plan, and can write, you can actually do pretty well for yourself.

MARK: How did you go about putting together your first self-published eBook?

JIM: I was between print projects. To fill the gap I started writing a short story. I wanted to write it in the style of James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and it just took off. It soon became apparent it would be longer than a short story, probably novella length. At the same time I'd been writing short stories with twist endings. My wife got me a Kindle for Christmas, and that was the impetus to me to get this material out there.  Thus, Watch Your Back.

I also blog at The Kill Zone and write articles on the craft of fiction. I put together some of the best of those for Writing Fiction for All You're Worth.

Both books took only a few weeks to get ready and online. This is an amazing and wonderful thing.

MARK: Is Compendium Press an entity for only James Scott Bell books or are you open for new business from other writers?

JIM: Compendium Press publishes print law books. It's a small company I've run for over twenty years. It became the natural entity for publishing my e-books, too. I'm not looking to acquire books by other authors.

MARK: Stepping back and looking at the eBook industry as a whole, what do you see happening in this field as it pertains to both self-published authors and those within the traditional publishing industry?  What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for writers? For readers?

JIM: The industry is in such flux now. Especially for the last six months. Traditional publishers have been taking it on the chin. Some of them will evolve and survive and continue to serve authors and readers. Let's remember there still is a print world, and it is still the major part of the pie. That will probably change in the next several years, but traditional companies can get lean and mean and find a way to stick around.

For writers this is, as I said, a new golden era. Advantages abound if –– and I stress this above all –– the writer knows how to tell stories. Which leads to the primary disadvantage: it's so easy to put stuff out there. It doesn't do the writer any good to throw up junk. Readers may take an initial chance on you, but if you don't deliver you don't get repeat business. As Mickey Spillane put it, "Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book."

At the same time, I don't go in for trashing the traditional publishing industry. It still does many things well. But right now it's all about the terms of the deal. Each writer will have to be wise and assess what's being offered to them (if indeed they get to that stage). And traditional publishers will have to be flexible like never before.

MARK: What advice would you give unpublished authors who has not yet found a niche for their works within traditional publishing? Are eBook or POD (Publishing On Demand) formats a viable option for these writers?

JIM: Let's face the fact that most writers are not ready to be published right out of the gate. It takes a long time to learn the craft. Amanda Hocking wrote five or six full length novels in one year, then studied the market and wrote more, better books. You still have to pay some dues in this game.

As for POD, I'm not sure that's going to be a great benefit for the writer. It is certainly becoming easier, as with Amazon's CreateSpace program. But the real gain is going to be in going into e-pubbing with stories that sell, or getting the right deal from a print publisher, or some combination of both.

MARK: I know you are a firm believer that a person can learn to be a bestselling author or screenwriter. On your web site, I noticed that you offer a two-day seminar that helps writers achieve these goals. Tell us a little more about this project and where they might be able attend these teaching seminars.

JIM: I've always loved helping writers. When I was trying to figure out how to write, I benefited from things like Lawrence Block's fiction column in Writer's Digest and excellent books, like Dwight Swain's. At the same time, I was doing my own trial and error. I'd get jazzed when I figured out ways to make my fiction work better, and I wanted to teach others what I'd learned. So I did. After over a decade of doing so, and seeing students go on to publication, I've pulled together the most powerful things I know for a two day intensive seminar. We held the first one in LA in June, and had a great group that included a #1 New York Times bestselling writer. The response was so good I am going to take it on the road in 2012. Plans are being made now, so watch my website for updates.

MARK: What surprises to you have in store for suspense readers like myself that are addicted to James Scott Bell stories?

JIM: Thanks, Mark. There are definitely surprises in store, and soon, but what kind of suspense writer would I be if I told? Suffice to say I am having more fun than ever as a writer and there is much more to come. I'll never stop.
More information about Jim may be found at the James Scott Bell web site. Jim also is part of a group of suspense writers on the highly visited blog site The Kill  Zone, where writers learn more about the business of writing and publishing.


  1. Jim, Thanks for your mentorship of so many great writers, and for boldly going where no man--well, maybe very few--have gone before in the rapidly changing publishing industry. Most of us are watching, trying to get our nerve up to make the jump to e-publishing.
    Mark, Thanks for having yet another great guest on your blog. I know we all look forward to a progress report on your own e-publishing experience.

  2. Thanks for the interview, Mark. I hope it helps writers become wiser about e-pubbing. Thanks for sharing your own adventures here.

  3. Jim, Mark,

    Very cool interview. Enjoyed it a great deal.