Author Interview, Jared Garrett, Beyond the Cabin
How do you deal with growing up in a cult? You write a novel based on your experience. At least, that is what Jared Garrett did. Since then he's added his Beat scifi series and more. Of all the marketing he does, appearances at conferences and comic cons seem to drive sales the most. His advice for aspiring writers? Finish that novel, then finish two more. Always work on your craft. Read his full author interview below!
1. List the titles of your published books (include publisher and year published) plus your author website/Facebook page links.
Beyond the Cabin
Beat (The Beat Series book 1)
Future House Publishing
Push (The Beat Series book 2)
Future House Publishing
Lakhoni (The Guide and the Sword book 1)
Future House Publishing
The Seer (The Thirty-Six)
Author Website: www.jaredgarrett.com
Author Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JaredGarrettAuthor
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
I’ve been starting books for 26 years! But the first book that I really truly completed was Beyond the Cabin, which is a novelization of my orphanage-like childhood in a Scientology splinter cult, which I left when I was 17. I wanted to write my story, but it was going to be too depressing, so I novelized it and made it a far more uplifting story that still deals with the horrendous crap I had to live with.
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
It was so long! It was like the story didn’t want to end. I kept writing words and telling story but the story kept growing, so it felt like it was going to be an endless process that just pounded me into the ground until I died and then it would bury me in soil made of words. So my biggest hurdle was to finish the first draft and let it go—let go of the idea that the story I had just told was the complete and correct one. I had to go back and really critically read and find what the right story was for the book. And this is a very personal book, so this was very difficult for me.
I ended up having to cut opening scenes, add a new opening scene, cut a bunch of other rough scenes, and then find the actual journey that the protagonist was on. This was easily the hardest book for me to write. But I’m also really proud of it. Ultimately it tells the precise story that I had been trying to get at the entire time.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
I sent it to an editor, they loved it, and I got a six-figure book deal. Of course.
HA! No, I sent it around to agents and got some very positive responses. I also got some very form letter responses. I did more revision based on some of the more constructive rejections and continued submitting for over a year. Agents began to point out that they liked the story and thought my writing was great, but that they didn’t know how they would sell such a unique book.
I got tired of reading that in rejection emails, so I opted to publish it myself.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
For Beyond the Cabin, the editing experience was drawn out over a couple years. As for Beat, my first book published by an actual publisher, I got what I expected, more or less. I thought there might be a bit of struggle around the linguistic things I’d done in world-building the reconstructed society 100 years after an apocalypse. I was right. They didn’t like any of it, really. I argued back, they argued, and I caved. I shouldn’t have. I will never not regret that. Beat is a bit cyberpunk, a lot YA action, and pretty hard core scifi. I feel like the linguistic changes dumbed it down. That said, the other editing was fantastic. They found places to clean up the story and bring out stronger characterization, as well as raising stakes and highlighting some of the themes. Big thumbs up.
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
I’m a convert to re-writing. I used to dread it, but that was when I was a novice and I thought my writing was better than it was. Then I started taking re-writing seriously with Beyond the Cabin and realized how powerful it was. I love going through a manuscript and finding what the right story is. I love strengthening characters’ voices and motivations.
For me, by the time I’ve got the first draft done, the story is pretty much where it should be. I revise on a story level while I’m working on the first draft. So revision is usually a strengthening and carving and shaping.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?
For Beyond the Cabin, absolutely. It’s a powerful story and my readers were very complimentary and validating. I wish they’d been a little more critical. But when they pointed out that the initial opening scene felt off and that it dragged in the middle, that was extremely helpful.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
For Beyond the Cabin, I hired Nathan Shumate to do the cover and interior design. I told him themes and he read the book and his initial proposal was fantastic. I was self-publishing, so I had all the influence. ALL OF IT. I love the cover. That said, I’ve learned a lot since that first go-round, and I am considering a new edition with a new cover. I think readers tend to pick up books that have some kind of action happening on the cover, so I’ll take that into account when I redo the cover. I’ll be hiring one of the many artists I follow on Tumblr to do my covers in the future.
For traditional publishing, authors typically have very little input on the cover. For Beat, that is unfortunate, because while the first cover my publisher did for it was artistically lovely, it was terrible for marketing. It’s a YA adventure that looked like a medical thriller. The new cover is much better. We judge books by their cover—that’s usually the first thing a potential reader sees—so the cover is singularly important.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
Self-publishing was a matter of finding a good cover artist, doing a deep edit, and then using Amazon’s excellent author platform. I self-published for a lot of the reasons I explained earlier. Also, 2014 was a watershed year for my family, with a layoff, serious health issues, and other insanity occurring. So I decided to stop waiting for publishers and other industry gatekeepers to give me permission to put my book in readers’ hands.
The experience was and is wonderful, affirming, disheartening, and very challenging.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
I did a party at a local independent book store for a book launch, inviting friends and family. It went ok. Since then, I use a little bit of social media, but mostly try things like Amazon ad campaigns, email lists, contests, and a lot of appearances at events like writer conferences and comic cons. Bit by bit, it is building. An event late last year was the first event I went to that wasn’t a net financial loss.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
People love Beyond the Cabin. They love all of my books. It’s amazing to see and hear people say lovely things about my stories. Beat was #1 in several categories on Amazon. So was Lakhoni. I’m thrilled by the feedback. The challenge is getting more visibility.
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
Not as good as I had hoped, but then I realized that my hopes were completely unrealistic. I have sold around 100 print copies and 500 e-book copies of Beyond the Cabin over 2.5 years. Social media is the worst way to sell books. The best way is to get in front of readers at events like Comic Cons and the like. That said, if you can get a big site like Book Bub to do a promotion, or a review site like Kirkus to review favorably, you’re going to get huge movement for at least a week or so.
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
Ebook. With five books available on Amazon, I sell probably 2-5 ebooks a day, mostly the ones through my publisher. Not a lot of volume. But when I am at events, I’ll sell 20-35 print copies of my books in a 2-3 day event. That’s because I treat those events as business trips, not vacations. I’m at the sales table all day every day when I’m not on panels.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
For my self-pubs, I set the prices. I change the prices regularly and do countdown promotions on Amazon as often as I can. I price them just under regular market prices usually. Sometimes I make them dirt cheap or free in order to jumpstart some visibility. I’ll do that when I have a new book coming out, in order to encourage new readers to try my other books.
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?
I am now and always will be a writer. I tried quitting three times; it didn’t work. Each novel has its own challenges in the drafting and revision process. I wrote Push, the sequel to Beat, in three months, doing most of my drafting on my commuter train to work. I’ve been working on Usurper, the sequel to Lakhoni, for six months and am about 70% done. It’s been a tough slog.
I have to be careful to not try to draw grand conclusions from challenging writing times. Writing stories is a job and I have to find a way to get it done. With all the writing I’ve done, I’ve learned that each book or series really does have its own way of getting done. I usually do a bare bones outline of beginning, middle, and end—based on character motivations. Then I draft as fast as I can for the first 5-10 chapters. Then I go back and outline in detail. Then I write like a maniac. Usurper has so much going on that I’ve had to outline a lot, then re-outline as new things happen because of characters doing unexpected things.
Just keep writing.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
For my second self-published book, I knew better what I wanted for a cover. That helped. And for subsequent contracts with my publisher, I’ve known better what I need to fight for.
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
When I finally decided to stop calling myself an aspiring writer and to stop waiting for permission from the grand old industry. I write, so I’m a writer.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
I write when I can make the time. I am currently fighting to get a routine back, but my day job schedule, with all the travel I do, is making it a challenge. So I write on planes and in hotels. Right now, I’m in the lobby of a hotel in Munich.
I have a large folder of stories that want writing. I’ll keep writing until that folder is empty.
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
“Can I get a free copy?”
Kidding. They usually ask if I’ll write their book for them.
Still kidding. The most common things I’ve been asked by aspiring authors are two questions, which I’ll provide my answers to right under them.
1. How do you find time to write?
I don’t find time. If I sat around waiting for the time to write, I wouldn’t get much done. I certainly wouldn’t be writing about 150,000 words per year, which is too slow in my opinion. I make time to write. I have to prioritize the writing (which includes drafting, revising, marketing, newsletter stuff, and seeking an agent) over other things. Often, the writing loses out. If I decide to binge-watch The Expanse or Iron Fist, that’s fine. But that means I don’t write those 5000 words I needed to get done. By the way, The Expanse is worth it.
So I make time. It’s best to find a time that will work for you most every day. That way you can form a habit and you have a better chance of not having other things take that time away. But if you can’t do that, just stay determined, take your failures and lack of motivation in stride, and get some words written whenever you can.
2. How hard is it to self-publish?
Wrong question. If you’re worried it’s really hard to self-publish, you’re probably being too impatient and you should go finish and/or revise your story more. Make your story amazing. Take it to the point where you are unquenchably excited about it and need to get it in front of readers.
It doesn’t matter how hard it is to self-publish. (It’s easy. What’s hard is to make sure you spend the time to craft a butt-kicking story and then spend the time and money to get it edited and get yourself an awesome cover.) If your story is truly awesome, difficulty level doesn’t matter. Worries about difficulty in getting published are for scrubs and posers. Don’t be a scrub or a poser. Writing a fantastic story is everything.
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
Write your book. Finish the thing. Then put it away and write another. Don’t be so impatient to get famous or rich or published that you don’t do your absolute best to send the best book possible out into the world. Crappy books are everywhere and only the very best, and luckiest to be sure, will rise to the top of the glut of mediocre erotica and self-affirming garbage out there.
So finish the book, then put it away and write another. Then go back and laugh at how bad your writing was with your first book. If the story’s still great though, revise it and see where it goes.
I strongly believe that if you write and publish your first book without having completed at least two other manuscripts, you’re probably going too fast and your stories are not all that great. Usually. By the time I published Beyond the Cabin, I had completed three other manuscripts, done a bunch of freelance writing, had started and killed two writing groups, and taken at least 100 hours of writing craft courses.
Writing is serious business. It’s so much fun and is endlessly, wonderfully challenging. It’s a business that will depress you and excite you and crush you and lift you. Take it seriously, have fun, and do the work.