By Evangeline Jennings
Winston Emerson is an amateur knife thrower whose wife still has both eyes and ears. He’s also an American novelist who is currently playing his rent and running his car on the back of his indie author earnings. So obviously we’re eager to learn how. But first, of course, there are the niceties to observe.
How the hell – and where the hell – are you?
At twenty-eight years old, I’m at the point in my life when I’ve stopped growing and started aging. Naturally I find myself obsessed with my own mortality, which can darken a day now and again, but I’ve found the perfect girl with whom to spend the rest of my life, I’m working a job that I don’t hate, and I’m watching exciting things happen with my novels. All in all I’d say now is the happiest I’ve ever been. Where am I? Drifting along with the rest of the galaxy.
And Louisville, Kentucky, if I’m not mistaken. How has your summer been?
I work at an arboretum. Every day I see plants scorching in the heat. The Mississippi River is evaporating to the point that barges might soon be marooned in the mud. Fish are suffocating by the millions. You have to be a wizard to grow a tomato right now. But we humans have air conditioning, so none of that matters.
Now, I know you have self-published and we’ll talk about that in a moment, but did you pursue traditional publishing first? What were the factors that persuaded you to go it alone?
I decided to self-publish A Circle in the Woods on a whim. I haven’t pursued traditional publication for it. I may do that at some point, but it probably needs a lot of sales behind it before any publisher would be so bold. Circle is a different kind of book. It just depends on how things go. My books are selling consistently, and my audience for The Object is growing. I don’t own an island yet, but my royalties have bought me a used Cadillac and paid my rent for the past three months, so I’m in no rush to sign a shitty contract with no advance.
Care to share how many sales that amounts to?
Somewhere between four and five thousand. A tiny number, but I’ve learned a lot in the six months since I first self-published. Hopefully the next six will be better.
I enjoy the marketing aspect of self-publishing, but it detracts from writing. I’m eager for the day to come when my books take on lives of their own and I can get by with a weekly blog post to maintain my “online presence.” When I’m deep into a novel, it’s all I can think about. Readers should be happy when I disappear for long periods of time. It usually means I’m writing.
You’re taking an interesting approach to self-publishing. Serialization. Multiple writing personalities. Tell me about The Object?
I’ve read dozens of articles that declared serialization dead in the world. That’s absurd.
Turn on your television. People are addicted to serialized stories and always have been. I’d scribbled down the idea for The Object in a journal several months before I began to serialize it on the blog. Then one night while researching the self-publishing market, I had an epiphany. A marketing technique that could work as a sort of perpetual motion machine. I believe if I do hit the Amazon Bestseller List in the next year, The Object will get me there. I can’t give you the details of my plan right now, but if it succeeds I’ll be more than happy to share.
Well, obviously I’m going to hold you to that. Now, why – as a writer looking to make a name for himself – did you decide to publish one book under a different name?
The Drought is a mess. I shouldn’t have published it. It needs liposuction and a makeover. I used a pseudonym out of embarrassment. Forgive me, world. I was new to self-publishing and eager.
Fair enough. Premature ejaculation is a problem for most young men, I’ve heard. Now, clearly you have faith in serialization. I have a strong instinct about it too. But I don’t think I’ve got it right yet. I’m beginning to see it as writing a TV show – with episodes, and arcs, but no final ending. That’s a new idea and a new discipline for me and I think most modern “novel” writers. My current episode-based story leaves no room for a sequel and I think that’s a mission critical error. Is that what you are trying to do with The Object?
The Object is definitely structured to appeal to a television-watching audience. I’m actually writing it with the idea in mind that it could one day be adapted to television. The story is pre-planned. It will run for three books, all approximately 18 episodes each. Hopefully the release of Book One will help increase the size of our audience, though we are nearing 100 subscribers.
And how is the interactive side of it working out?
The interactivity is the most beneficial part of The Object for me. With voting polls, I don’t have to guess which characters my readers like the most, hate the most, or think little of at all. This makes it easier for me to mess with my readers. Episode Nine is coming up, for example, and everyone is in for a big surprise–not a good one, either. We’re also currently running a character contest on the blog, and the winning entry will receive $50.00 cash and a copy of A Circle in the Woods.
A Circle in the Woods was the subject of some small controversy on the Harper Collins website Authonomy. Specifically, with regard to punctuation and the complete absence of quote marks for speech. Much ado about nothing?
James Joyce. Hubert Selby, Jr. Cormac McCarthy. These guys and many others face the same dimwitted criticism. It’s about reaction to change or the unusual. A Circle in the Woods is a novel with poetic style. A literary interracial couple. Some people are drawn in. Other people are repelled. Some will embrace a new technique and allow a book the chance to validate itself. Others cling tight to their daddy’s creed: “Stick to yer own kind, boy.” What’s your world perspective? Or maybe it’s just a terrible, terrible book.
Can you take us through some of the self-publishing process? Did you use an editor? A cover design artist? Proof-readers?
Other than the cover art for A Circle in the Woods and The Object (both by my cousin, artist Justin Comley), I’m doing everything on my own. I recommend the same strategy to everyone. Don’t spend much money on self-publishing until your book proves it can sell a little. Learn everything you can about the market. Read and read and read. Find out what successful authors did. Come up with something no one has ever done before. Seize every valid opportunity. Don’t beg. Believe in yourself. Oh, and write good books.
How did you approach marketing?
Speak confidently. Present yourself to the world. That’s all you can do. If people like what they hear, they’ll listen. If they don’t, they won’t. Pushiness gets you nowhere and patience is fundamental to this game. If you want ideas for specific techniques, read The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe by Jeff Bennington and check out his blog, The Writing Bomb.
Do self-published writers succeed on the strength of their marketing? Or their writing?
Success in self-publishing is like a good bourbon and coke, to my taste, anyway: equal parts of each. Great marketing fails with a shitty book. A great book fails with shitty marketing.
Now we can start the fun stuff… Here at Pankhearst, we like music. Always have. If you could pick one song to be your theme song and have it play every single time you enter a room, what would it be?
That’s easy. A sweeping representation of life and death. Celebratory and mournful at the same time. Perhaps the greatest guitar riff ever written. We’ll go with an early, pre-fame performance, when his lack of confidence added an extra twinge of brilliance. Once you’ve recovered from being blown away by the song’s general power, absorb the lyrics, how they progress, what they tell you. Warehouse by the Dave Matthews Band, performed solo by Dave here:
Mommy porn. Good or bad? Hot or not?
When you start to look into the lives of the women drawn into the world of pornography and realize an overwhelming majority of them were sexually abused, and then you start piecing together all the pedophilia, sexual exploitation, and misery you’re funding by having anything to do with it–not to mention the general dumbing-down effect of hyper-sexuality on society as a whole–you’ll find yourself disinterested in porn.
Three authors you’d love to have a beer with?
Matthew, Mark, and John. Imagine a drunken argument over what Jesus really said. We might have to swap beer for wine.
If you could change one thing about the country you live in, what would it be?
I would make it so that every individual or company with one billion dollars or more obeys my every command. A dramatic economic and political shift in focus from war, weapons manufacturing, and crude oil to medical science, space exploration, and the necessary social programming that could raise the lower class to a middle class standard and prevent corporations from collapsing all of human civilization. Does that qualify as one thing?
Why space exploration in particular? Nerd curiousity or a genuine belief it will yield a decent return on investment? What’s the vision here?
Space exploration goes hand in hand with weapons manufacturing. Why? Because both utilize a lot of the same science. Imagine a world in which countries flexed their arms and compared sizes of their prided appendages not by bombing each other but by winning the race to, say, the moons of Saturn. The drive for technological growth would remain, but instead of finding more perfect ways to make something explode, scientists would instead be paid to develop more efficient energy resources for the sake of deep space exploration. Bring on the photosynthetic solar cells. As to a return on our investment, I’m sure, each time we visit a new planet, we’ll mine it out, strip it of resources, and then stake it off into tracts and turn it into real estate.
Well done! Idealism and cynicism – all in one neatly wrapped packed. Now, pick three words – no hyphens – to describe your writing.
We all die.
Interesting. If I was asked to do the same thing in five words, I’d go for “Bad things Happen. Everybody dies.”
Now, complete this sentence: “Writing should be …”
You inherit five million dollars the same day aliens land on the earth and say they’re going to blow it up in two days. What do you do?
Spend forty-eight scary hours with my wife and then die. I doubt money would have much use in such a scenario.
They’re casting for the movie of one of your books – which book do you think would make a great movie and who would you like to see in the leading roles?
The only book ready for film, I believe, is A Circle in the Woods. Zooey Deschanel to play Marley. She has the right eyes. Brittany is tricky to cast because her role is so time sensitive. It needs to be a young teenage girl who can look twelve and sixteen. At the moment, I like Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl in Kickass). For Kerouac, I’m thinking Robert Duvall. Phil Stapleton would need to be an unknown actor. Todd Field or the Coen brothers to direct. I would demand that “Cypress Avenue” by Van Morrison be playing on the radio during the climactic scene in the car. And Dane DeHaan to play Glenn Miller.
And finally, did I hear you had a big time agent interested in representing you?
Yes, and I will write whatever she wants me to write. I’ll write about fairies if that’s what it takes to get my work to a publisher. As a matter of fact, I have an outline for a novel about fairies, but it’s not your typical fantasy story. All of my narratives lead down dark paths.
A Circle in the Woods on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0075CG636
The Object blog: http://theobjectserial.wordpress.com