Author Interview: Fred Rayworth, Treasure of the Umbrunna

If author Fred Rayworth could offer two pieces of advice to aspiring authors, it would be this: 1. Join a writer's group (though it may take a few to find a good one), and 2. Learn your craft.

Fred actually wrote long before he was published, and he shelved his first novel. It was a sort of practice novel, if you will, and won't ever be published. Because the goal wasn't to get rich or famous, it was the love of writing. He also did something that all aspiring authors should eventually do -- reach out to published authors for advice and mentorship.

Check out his Author Interview below, and also be sure to check out his blog, where he writes a lot about writing itself.

1. How many books have you published and when (month/year)?

Treasure of the Umbrunna Mystic Publishers

November 2015

I’ve also had many short stories published in anthologies, the first one in 2002. The genres have ranged from icky bug (horror) to fantasy to science fiction to autobiographical.

2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?

When I realized I’d never make it in music (a long, slow process), I needed a creative outlet. In 1995, I decided to try writing a novel just to see if I could do it. By this time, computers were in full swing and I also had some writing chops. Of course, I still didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was a far cry from my first attempt at a Star Trek satire back in 1972 with a manual typewriter. In that attempt, I only made it through ¾ of a page and gave up.

Anyway, I sat down and just did it. I wrote The Cave, a science fiction story inspired by several novels including the Area 51 series by Bob Mayer. I actually finished the manuscript. I was not only shocked but very happy!

3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?

To tell the truth, none. I just did it and it flowed out, like magic…or as I spell it, magick. I guess the only real hurdle was finding time to sit down and do it. In that respect, I was lucky.

4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?

Hah! I immediately shelved it and got serious. The Cave will never see print. It was a first attempt and that was it. I’m not kidding. I went on and wrote The Greenhouse, my first serious novel which happened to be icky bug.

5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?

Seeing as how I had some writing chops, but non-fiction up to that point, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. About all I could do was set things aside and come back and look at it with fresh eyes later. As far as structure, point of view, pacing and all that, it would come much later, when I gained some fiction chops. As it turned out, editing and learning how to edit and everything involved was just as much fun as the writing. Also, the better I became at editing, the smoother and faster my writing. It didn’t stop the forest-through-the-trees effect, but it made things much easier with subsequent edits.

6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?

I usually don’t have to re-write. I think so linear in my stories, all I have to do is tweak, which isn’t quite the same thing. I don’t get off on tangents, at least nowadays. I did for a while, at least a little bit when I was unbridled. However, for the most part, I’ve stuck with my tried and true formula. When I start a story, all I know is A and B. Everything in-between is a total surprise (sometimes called seat-of-the-pants style). At the same time, since it is linear, or close to it, I don’t write myself into corners I can’t get out of. In the end, when I come back to edit, I might have to tweak this or that, but I never have to rewrite or delete entire threads. As a consequence, writing the story is a thrilling adventure and I have a lot of fun in the process. It’s not work, it’s pure pleasure. Then when I have to go back and edit, I get to enjoy it all over again and improve it and tweak it and just make it better. Since it’s already down, it’s different from the initial writing because there’s nothing left to add except the occasional enhancement. There’s never anything major except maybe the occasional hole to fill in, or a tweak to tie something together.

7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?

I belong to the Henderson Writer’s Group here in Las Vegas.

When I first started in Oklahoma, I had nobody but a couple of mentors and friends who helped. I had a couple of people at work who read some of my stuff (the icky bug, The Greenhouse, and my first adventure-thriller Lusitania Gold). I also had two author/mentors who made a huge difference. One was Carol Davis Luce. The other was Rhondi Vilott Salsitz. I was a huge fan of both authors, contacted them, and developed a friendship with both. They were immense influences on me and gave me feedback on my work and today, Carol Davis Luce is my dear friend and still my mentor.

Once I left Oklahoma and moved to Indiana, I joined the Highland Writer’s Group. This group met for critiquing each others' writing and that’s how things really picked up for me. I’d read chapters and excerpts of my work for them and get critiques. When we moved to Las Vegas, at first I was in the writer’s group from hell. This group was horrible and based on negativity. I almost swore off writer’s groups until I found the Henderson Writer’s Group. This critique group has heard several of my complete manuscripts, cover to cover, including Treasure of the Umbrunna.

I get plenty of great feedback from a wide range of individuals in the writer’s group, many who don’t read or even like my various genres. I take each opinion with a grain of salt, of course, but I also take whatever they say seriously, and look at each thing they say, no matter how far out it may seem. Sometimes, those off-the-wall things can be just what I needed to hear. Then when a bunch of people say the same thing, over and over again, well…that’s a pretty big hint as well!

This kind of feedback has helped me tremendously!

I’ve also had beta readers go over entire manuscripts for an overall feel. Sometimes I get good feedback and sometimes nothing useful. It depends on the reader.

8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?

My publisher designed the book cover. I had minimal say in the design except I requested there be green. They did that for me and I was very happy with how it turned out. It is not an actual scene in the book, but is representative of the story.

I think the cover can have a big impact on the book. The cover attracts the eye, not only by color and the image but by how professional it looks and by what the image represents. A cheap cover gives the impression of well…self-published work, which might indicate less than stellar editing. Then again, I’ve seen some high-end publishers with dynamite covers put out garbage too, so it’s not always an accurate indicator.

9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?

Since I started writing in 1995, I’ve been rejected 689 times, 21 years worth, so I have a thick skin. I’ve had everything from no response, to very nice letters to very nasty, demeaning and downright rude responses. I refused to self-publish, which is one reason it took so long. I figured if I didn’t have the chops for a publisher to believe in me enough to foot the bill, I didn’t need to fork out the money myself to end up with a garage full of books. It took a while but to me, it was worth it.

10. How have you marketed your first book?

Book signings, book events, Facebook, Twitter. Interviews.

11. How was the initial feedback from readers?

All five star reviews on Amazon. So far, everyone has loved it except one guy who read it, says it’s okay, but not his kind of fantasy. One guy couldn’t put it down and read it in one sitting. My most consistent feedback is “When is the next book coming out?”

12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?

It’s doing okay, as far as I know. I had no idea what to expect, so it’s a new experience for me. What helps the most is publicity! ANY publicity.

13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?

I don’t have the numbers, per se, but there was a spike on Amazon when the printed book came out and then another one when the e-book came out. I’m not sure what the spikes actually represent as far as sales numbers.

14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?

The publisher did that. I have no control.

15. What made you decide to write more books? How were those experiences (writing/editing) compared with your first book? Did you do anything differently?

Treasure of the Umbrunna was my 10th book! I’ve been at this passion (it’s not a hobby) for 21 years. I’ve written 11 books so far. The sequel to Treasure was #11 and I just started #12, the third book in the series last month. And no, it isn’t a trilogy!

I write because I love to, love to create stories. I wrote that one science fiction book, The Cave, but that was just to see if I could do it. I’ve written two icky bug novels, The Greenhouse and The Factory, six adventure-thrillers so far, Lusitania Gold, Spanish Gold, Palmdale Gold, Turkish Gold, Lompoc Gold and Las Vegas Gold. Of course, there’s my two fantasy novels, Treasure of the Umbrunna and the sequel, Gods of The Blue Mountains.

As I wrote each one, they became easier each time. The ideas just flowed. However, sometimes, the novels came ahead of the editing! Case in point is my next novel to get published, Lusitania Gold. The following in the series will be Spanish Gold. However, when I was reading to the writer’s group, I skipped it and went right to the third one, Palmdale Gold (for reasons too long to go into here). Because of that, when I went back to start editing Spanish Gold, whoa! I realized I wrote that novel when Dubya was still in office. It needs some major work. You can see a huge difference in my writing back then compared to the ones I wrote after that. It’s going to be a lot of fun fixing it when I can get to it.

16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?

Nope. Not at least so far.

17. When did you consider yourself a “writer”?

Wow! You know, that definition has danced around not only in my head, but in discussions I’ve had with people for a looong time! In retrospect, I suppose I’ve considered myself a writer since day one. I didn’t consider myself a real author until my first short story was published back in 2002.

18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?

When I’m home. Everything motivates me to write! I get inspiration, my polkadot sewer (my term) from all kinds of things. I love doing it so it doesn’t take much to get me going. In fact, I had to hold back with my answers.

19. What do aspiring authors ask you?

A lot of questions about publishing and self-publishing. I have to defer them to someone else about self-publishing because I won’t do it myself so I send them to the experts who are more intimate with the ins and outs.

I also get questions about structure like point of view and passive voice. Show not tell. Getting agents. Our annual writer’s conference.

20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?

I’ve put over 200+ articles on my web site on writing because that’s my platform. However, to give a few highlights and try not to sound too cliché…

Don’t do this because it’s a hobby. Do it because you LOVE to do it, because it’s a passion. If not, find something else to do.

Develop a thick skin.

Be ready to speak in front of people.

Learn your craft.

There are rules about technical stuff. Heed those.

There are rules about processes. Those are suggestions ONLY!

Learn your craft.

Never start a story with backstory. Start a story with action – something happening (whether it’s the prologue or chapter 1).

Don’t go to a book signing and sit behind the table and knit or talk on your cell phone!

Oh, did I mention learn your craft?

Create a web site and some kind of platform (to attract people to your web site). Don’t just have a static web site with “Buy book here.”

Use social media.

One more time. Learn your craft!

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