Author Interview: John W. Mefford
The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with author John W. Mefford. Enjoy!
Author John W. Mefford
Bio: A veteran of the corporate wars, former journalist, and true studier of human and social behavior, John W. Mefford has been writing his debut novel since he first entered the work force twenty-five years ago, although he never put words on paper until late 2009.
Considered a visionary leader in his fifteen-year IT career, he quit his job and started writing, pouring out his thoughts with no net.
When he’s not writing, he chases three kids around, slaves away in the yard, reads, takes in as many sports as time allows, watches all sorts of movies, and continues to make mental notes of people and societies across the land — even if they piss him off.
Committed is the first book in the series, The Michael Doyle Chronicles.
John lives in Frisco, Texas with his beautiful wife, three adorable kids, and a feisty fat cat.
Website / blog: www.johnwmefford.com
Twitter ID: @jwmefford
Facebook: John W Mefford
Goodreads: John W Mefford
Q: Welcome, John! Thanks for being here today. What is your genre? Why did you choose it?
JM: Hi Ashley. Thank you for sharing your precious blog space. My first and only published book, COMMITTED, is a suspense / mystery / thriller. I really felt like the genre chose me. It’s the genre that I’ve read the most. For years I wanted to take that leap of faith and write one of my own. It finally became a reality on 11.1.11.
Q: How many books have you published? Are they traditionally published, self-published, or a combination?
JM: COMMITTED is my debut novel, the first book in the series, The Michael Doyle Chronicles. Back in the summer of 2011 I finally opened my eyes and I saw I was standing in the eye of the book industry hurricane. I did a lot of research and began taking baby steps towards the self-publishing path. I believe things happen for a reason, which is why I’ve been open-minded to learning so much in the last few months. But I also realize that this industry will continue to shift and I need to continue to be in a learning mode.
Q: Shifting directions and leaving behind a fifteen-year career in corporate America to become a self-employed writer must have impacted your life in unexpected ways. When did it really sink in? What would you say to other writers who are considering similar career changes?
JM: First, it allowed me to fill my lungs with air and let it all out. The stress I’d built up took a while to release, but writing became my most fulfilling outlet. For the first time in years, I allowed my mind to think with complete freedom. There’s nothing better than that. There were a couple of things that made me realize what I’d been missing. In my previous life I was the consummate multi-tasker, never focused on one task longer than a few spare moments and usually thinking about three of four other things at the same time.
When I write, I need a minimum of 2-3 hours to make substantive progress. It allows my ideas to cultivate and evolve, and it provides me a depth of concentration that I realized I had never achieved before. This has created an environment that has allowed me to improve as a writer.
For everyone out there considering making a career shift into writing, we are all unique, as are our situations. But life is ever-changing. For me, it was the right decision at the right time. If and when you make that switch, you need to create situations that allow you to build your confidence. Have an open mind but a strong heart. Given my desire to stretch my mind and challenge myself, I’m sure I’ll try other ventures, both creative and business-oriented.
Q: Do you sell copies of your novels, or other works, directly from your website?
JM: I looked at that option, but decided out of the gate to keep it simple and sell my book through the traditional ebook venues (Amazon).
Q: How much time do you spend on Twitter each week? Do you have a Facebook Fan Page?
JM: Have you been over-hearing conversations in my house? I probably spend too much time on Twitter right now. I’ve been working to time-box it a bit. With so many followers interacting with me, I really enjoy the back-and-forth chatter. I’ve also branched out on Facebook. My author fan page is a place where I can expand my thoughts and share ideas longer than 140 characters and allow the feedback to percolate a while.
Q: Do you blog? How often? Strictly professional or a blend of all things?
JM: I have blogged, but not as much I plan to do in the future. I see my posts as a discussion of anything to do with my path an author and the writing world. But when you’re opening up your soul for everyone to see, the posts become personal very quickly. That’s been one the hidden blessings from this journey I’ve chosen. Opening up, being yourself, helping others…it heals old wounds and opens doors to your soul you never thought you’d reach, let alone share with the world.
Q: Do you have a motto or favorite quote you turn to on tough writing days?
JM: It’s funny. I’ve never allowed myself to say, “I have writer’s block, therefore I can’t write.” Still, some days are more free-flowing than others. I was recently in Chicago and my wife and I took this amazing architecture tour down the Chicago River. The tour guide said she had once been told, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re not living.” It really stuck with me. I see it as a combination of thoughts: Don’t fall in a rut and go with the flow. Challenge yourself, experience new things, open your mind, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your direction and priorities, but enjoy what you have. That’s what life is all about.
Q: Have you outsourced editing, cover design, formatting, web design, marketing, etc?
JM: I realized that to be taken seriously as an author, some tasks are best completed by experts in their own field. I used the wonderfully talented Jeroen Ten Berge for my cover. And I had an outstanding editor. I took on the mundane tasks of book formatting and conversion. With a little help from Jeroen and my sister in-law (professional photographer), I created my own web site. I think my website is professional, yet unique. The marketing, PR front is a world that is as deep and murky as a black hole. I enjoy the creative brainstorming to develop ideas to build my brand/platform, but you can easily get lost going down too many paths at once. As an “indie” author, you have to constantly take a step back and determine where you should spend your time, energy, and money.
Q: Do you work with a writing group?
JM: Very early in my writing process I gave that whirl. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. With this second book, I plan to use beta readers as my main feedback mechanism before I take it to the editor. If anyone is open to being a beta reader, feel free to reach out to me through my website.
Q: When you did you first decide to self-publish? How much time did it take to get from an idea to an ebook on Amazon?
JM: From the time I started to put together my self-publishing project plan to my release date (11.1.11) it was just under six months. Knowing I still had a ton of research to complete, I built extra time in my schedule. And sometimes you’re dependent on others and their schedule. The next time around will be much quicker, since part of the self-pub decision was also the beginning of creating my brand – website/blog, pictures, cover art, etc…
Q: Have you published any of your work for free? Why or why not?
JM: I just joined the KDP program on Amazon, and then made COMMITTED free for two days to help create a buzz. I think it worked fairly nicely. In the long run, I hope we see a trend where authors and readers alike appreciate the intrinsic value of the unique products we create and can avoid low-balling promotions. It’s a balancing act, trying to stay true to yourself and your profession by pricing your work of art at a fair price, yet also utilizing the most effective marketing strategies. Like many things in business, change is the only constant, and this situation is no different.
Q: What tips or advice would you offer to writers who are about to join the self-published community?
JM: Frankly, I could write a book on my path and the reason I’ve made certain decisions. A couple of high-level thoughts come to mind. First, be prepared to learn. There’s no way to know everything about any profession without going through the experience. Second, creating your brand while being true to yourself is as important as creating your narrative voice. Stay out of the online bickering and realize every word you write is being scrutinized. Be professional, courteous, enjoy it as you’re experiencing it, and remember to pay it forward.
Q: Is there another writer (or two) in the Twitterverse that you would recommend newbies follow?
JM: Besides @dcPriya, the first one who comes to mind is @Melissa_Foster. She’ s a remarkably talented and successful author, but also someone who’s decided to share her knowledge and wisdom. She’s a dynamic, positive woman. Another one of the many supportive and knowledgeable people in Twitter Land is Claude Bouchard (@ceebee308). Claude has more connections than a Hollywood producer, is funny, and a damn good writer.
Q: What is coming up for you in the next few months?
JM: I’m in the middle of a major re-write on Book Two of The Michael Doyle Chronicles. It’s looking like a 2012 Q2 release at this stage. Here is the release of my first official plug: A chain of death… all linked by one unstoppable force. I have a good idea on the title, but want to finish this re-write before I settle on the title and begin the cover art process. There might be another surprise to share, but it’s too early to determine if it will come through.
Q: Do you have (or are planning to make) any audio books?
JM: Creating an audio book is another one of the many items on my list. But in the world of constant prioritization, it hasn’t hit my top 20 yet.
Q: Have you done a blog tour? Any advice or cautions?
JM: I haven’t been the focal point of a blog tour. But I’ve done a fair amount of observing. For readers who follow many of the same blogs hosting the same author, it can be viewed as a bit gluttonous for those who are inundated with blog posts for 30 straight days. But I’m also amazed at the authors who can create so many blog topics. And then there are a few whose blog topic is a glorified Facebook post. Like any type of public relations/marketing event, there’s a fine line between tantalizing your audience and bludgeoning your audience. And that threshold is probably different for each of us.
Q: Do you create an outline before beginning a new book?
JM: I started with a high-level summary of the book and a description of some of the characters. After I wrote the first three of four chapters (my chapters are Patterson-like short), I realized I’d work better if I plotted out a couple of sentences per chapter to describe where was I headed for the next four to five chapters. What made it work, however, was that I gave myself carte blanche to change direction at any time. It was fluid, but I never felt like I didn’t have a plan. For me, it was the best of both worlds.
Q: Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?
JM: I’ve dabbled a bit with a few other story ideas, starting two novels, but they fizzled out pretty quickly. I definitely have more clarity about my characters and deliver a plot that “rings true” when I’m focused on one storyline. Plus, it’s the ride of a lifetime. Why would you want to interrupt it?
Q: Do you use specialty software?
JM: That’s an easy one. No. It’s straight up Microsoft Office. Then, I do the conversions from there using various tools I’ve hunted on the Internet.
Q: Tell us about some of the hurdles you've cleared on the path to becoming an author. Did you have any idea at the start what the process really entails?
JM: When I first sat down to write, I didn’t know I was writing my first book. I wrote for a little over three days and produced about 20 pages. I re-read it and said, “S*it, I think I can write a novel.” Then came the first decision point: Do I dive into the internet and pummel myself with book-writing information? I feared I’d find only a fair amount of self-doubt, so I acquired only one piece of data: How many words equated a normal book page. I was off and running. Only after I finished the first draft did I allow myself to think about all the unknown obstacles before me.
One of the biggest hurdles I cleared was putting myself out there and letting the world see me and my work for what it was. And by taking the self-publishing path—when you’ve yet to take step one in brand-building—you’re pretty much guaranteed that the list of heavy-duty supporters starts behind me and my wife. But going the grass-roots path has been invigorating. Frustrating at times, but an experience I would never trade. As I noted earlier, once I became comfortable that I’ll always be in learning mode, life got a little easier.
Q: What is the best comment/compliment you have received about your work?
JM: Before I released the book, I put excerpts on my website and one reader sent me the following feedback: “I am not a literary critic and most certainly lack any training in that field, but I am a reader, and a big-time appreciator of fine writing—and, John, you have IT! Clearly, you have the talent, the skills, and the creative juices. Onward! I shall watch with much anticipation what comes next!!”
Comments like that early on lifted me up and gave me the incentive and confidence to continue marching forward and to not let my inner demons divert my objective.
Q: Let's flip things around for a moment. As a reader, what factors do you consider when deciding whether or not to purchase a book?
JM: Not unlike many readers the cover and title make a first impression. If it passes that litmus test, I’ll look at a couple of reviews. Then, I’ll read a sample. From there, I can usually tell if the story holds my interest. Word of mouth certainly plays a role. If someone I know and respect recommends a book, I’ll at least read a sample and possibly buy it outright. After going years spending $20-$40 on a book, price just doesn’t matter.
Q: Thank you, John, for sharing your publishing experiences with us. We wish you continued success, and hope you'll come back and share updates with us in the summer!
JM: I really appreciate this forum, Ashley. And I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share my world with our wonderful readers. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to write stories that hopefully move them. Thank you!
Amazon (US): 'COMMITTED'
Amazon (UK): 'COMMITTED'