Author Interview: James Gianetti, The Town of Jasper
A story about a quarantined town--sounds like a true story, but author James Gianetti assures us that it is purely fiction. He started writing it six years ago before rewrites and ultimately, submitting to publishers. Read his full interview below about his experience.
(Elevation Book Publishing, 2017)
When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from? Include the synopsis.
I started writing The Town of Jasper back in the summer of 2014, so about six years ago. The idea came from popular television shows that were engaging me at the time. Shows like The Leftovers and True Detective were stories that really stood out to me. Since we live in a time where television is dominating the market of how we explore stories, I wanted to write something that would appeal to both binge watchers and readers alike. It was a kind of leap of faith approach but one that felt necessary.
Jack Sutherland, a disgraced detective battling his own addictions, must trudge through the quarantined town of Jasper. After “The Incident” leaving nearly half of Jasper’s population unconscious, Richard Morrissey rose to power. Morrissey, a grieving man desperate for justice, keeps the town afloat by forging a tentative alliance with the mysterious and violent Fillmore Whites. Meanwhile, a deadlier enemy lurks, known only as The Redeemers. This cult has its own dark ideas for Jasper’s salvation.
Both Sutherland and Morrissey battle impossible odds to save what little is left of Jasper.
What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
There is a specific freedom that comes with writing a debut. I had total creative freedom to go and do what I wanted with it without being confined to a deadline of any sort. And that’s great, but at the same time, the most challenging thing I had to overcome was the lingering question of “Are people going to actually care about these characters and this story?” There were times where I stepped away for months because I was convinced the story wasn’t good enough. So a lot of the struggles and hurdles I overcame were internal.
Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
I stepped away from the manuscript for a couple weeks. When I finish a story, I have a tendency to think of dialogue or elements after the fact and then wind up rewriting them into the story later on. So I stepped away from it and let it digest, then I went right into the re-writing/editing process. Then, I stepped away again and came back to read the most recent draft as if I wasn’t the one who wrote the story. I did my best to read it as reader rather than a craftsperson to see if lightning was striking on the page.
What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
It was a process. I sought the help of a professional who was outstanding. He looked over the story from a content perspective and told me what worked and what didn’t. I had to kill some darlings, but it was a necessary step forward for the novel and a significant learning moment for me as a young writer. He offered a direction that I was previously oblivious to and wound up structuring the story into something that was compelling and systematic. I learned a whole lot through working with him.
Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different from the initial writing?
Anyone who tells you that they have it after the first go around or even second is lying. Neil Gaiman says, “the process of doing your second draft, is a process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” That couldn’t be more true. Re-writing is inevitable and involves a great deal of patience and creative potency. Writing is like painting a portrait. You work hard and create a foundation and then you have to polish to make sure every corner is the truest representation of your voice. Voice may be the most important element in writing. Initial writing is far more fluid and natural. At least it was for me. Re-writing puts you in a position where you are continuously going back and forth, left and right, inside and out. It takes a toll. But it's part of the process.
Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha/Beta Readers)? What did you get out of that?
I had a few Alpha and Beta Readers look over the story. Any feedback is valuable. There were aspects of the story they enjoyed or felt needed work. There were also aspects of the story they felt were confusing. Since your Alpha/Beta readers are the types of people that will hopefully buy your book, their input is incredibly important.
Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
My publisher made it clear that I would have input on cover design. I told them what I thought we should go for and sent them some samples of other covers and images as reference. Their graphic designer and I worked together for over a month going over different renderings until we came up with the final product. Personally, I think it is incredibly important. Your book has to stand out among thousands of others out there. Additionally, the visual appeal of the book needs to be seamless with the voice and style of the story. We live in a visual world so your book needs that curb appeal to lure potential readers into picking it up.
How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
I knew once I started writing the book that I wanted to traditionally publish. After the story was set in stone, I sent it out to dozens of publishers accepting unsolicited material. I was fortunate enough to get an email from my publisher who said they liked my sample and wanted to see more. I sent more and we proceeded with discussions in the months after until we reached an agreement. I love the submission experience. Even the rejection. This is an incredibly subjective business so rejections happen. A lot. But knowing there is a possibility of getting an acceptance is very exciting.
How have you marketed your first book?
Social media has been an incredible marketing tool. Instagram and Twitter have been incredible tools that have allowed me to reach a wide array of readers and people interested in following the story and characters. Goodreads has become my newest addiction. It is an excellent platform for serious readers and authors. My publisher was able to secure a booth at Book Expo, which was such a surreal experience being surrounded by industry professionals and dedicated readers. I also did several book signings at bookstores in my area after the book was released.
How was the initial feedback from readers?
It was very positive. It’s not easy having your hard work out there in the wild. But up to this point the book has been met with positive reviews. Thankfully.
How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
The book has been selling well. It is on sale via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and indie bookstores. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools for books and has helped mine a lot.
Talk about print vs. eBook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I think the markets for both are very different. We live in a digital world now where people like reading books on a tablet or even a smartphone. However, the traditional reader of physically enjoying a book while it’s in their hands still very much exists. Personally, I have seen far more sales from print than ebook.
Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
My publisher set the prices of the print and ebooks. I believe they set the price based on how many pages there are.
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 have written a couple short stories since the novel which have gotten published. I don’t plan to stop writing anytime soon. I love every aspect of it. The experience with writing shorts was different. Obviously, the scope of the story is far more condensed, so every single word has to count. Not to say they don’t in novels, but to gain the attention of a short story editor, the writing doesn’t just have to be sharp, it has to be perfect.
Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
For short stories, there are an inordinate amount of literary journals/magazines to publish them in. There are far more literary magazines than publishing houses. However, just because the volume of lit mags is high, doesn’t mean it is easy to get published in them. I have found the process of writing and trying to publish my shorts as rigorous as my novel.
When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
The phrase “I’m a writer” is used gratuitously. I say that with my ego at the door. I considered myself a writer once I signed my contract and became published. Before that, I was just someone who writes.
When do you write? What motivates you to write?
I try to write every day. If I am not writing then I am submitting, editing, researching magazines or writers, reading, etc. I am constantly in motion as far as trying to better myself as a writer. The best way to improve your craft is to simply keep writing.
What do aspiring authors ask you?
They ask me how I got a publishing deal. A lot of people ask how I came up with the story. That’s almost always their first question.
What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
Don’t write a story or novel just for the sake of writing one. Have a goal in mind. Don’t give up when rejection letters flood your inbox. It just takes one to say yes. Publishing is probably the most subjective business so don’t take a rejection as a representation of your writing; sometimes it’s just not what a publishing house is looking for. Lastly, the work is only halfway done when you finish writing a book or even getting a publishing deal. Publishers love authors who have a strong platform. Market yourself as a hard worker willing to put the time in to market your book.