Featured Author Interview - Michael Chrobak
Michael, thank you for graciously granting this author interview with our our readers during our Holiday Book Blog Party. Please kindly share an a overview of yourself and work.
I’m currently retired from the workforce and focus only on my writing now. Over the years I’ve held several different jobs in a wide variety of businesses and industries. Nothing ever felt right for me, and I never stayed in any one job for long. My longest was just over 6 years when I was the Youth Minister for my church. That’s my passion - working with teens and young adults, and it’s what I focus my books on as well.
Thank you for the brief overview and introduction. Please tell us some more about your writing journey. How did you begin writing and what made you want to be a writer?
I started writing very early, maybe 4th or 5th grade, but never got serious about it until after high school. I had written the beginnings of a SciFi novella in the 7th grade, and even got so far as to ask my English teacher to edit it for me. He lost it. But it was more than likely not very good anyway, so perhaps that’s a good thing.
I wonder if your English teacher knows now that you're a published author, but share with us what inspires you to write?
I write to help young people figure out what this thing called life is all about. All of my books will have situations that most teens will be able to see themselves in, and I will always present my views of the way the world works. Though some of my books are focused on faith-based topics, I try to give a broad spiritual perspective rather than a rigid religious doctrine
Do you have any memorable event in your writing journey that you’d like to share?
I think the main thing I would like to share here is how easy it is to make mistakes launching your first book (unless you are one of the very few lucky ones who get a publishing contract). There are so many people who advertise services for authors, and most of the items they try to sell you are things you can do yourself. The two items you should never do on your own are editing and cover design. Trust me on this. Find good people you can trust and let them do this for you.
Since you have published many books, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Yes. Get involved in the social media groups out there. You’ll find that there are hundreds of other independent authors who have already done what you are thinking of doing, and they are more than willing to help. The independent author community is one of the most supportive groups I’ve ever been involved with, so open up to them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Do you also have any advice for authors to approach publishers?
First of all, I think it’s important to understand the three primary types of publishers out there. There are the traditional publishers, or ‘big house’ names. These are the hardest to get your manuscript in front of, and usually only work through author agents, and those cost money to work with. Big house publishers never charge a fee to publish your manuscript, they take care of all of the editing and formatting work, but they keep a much larger percentage of each book sold.
The next type is the ‘small house’ publishers. Usually these are set up by people who are independent authors themselves as a way to supplement their income (you’re not going to get rich self-publishing, unless you are very, very lucky). Some of these are really good at what they do, and some of them think they are really good. My best advice is to look at the books they publish. Are the covers professionally done? Or do they look self-published? Also - buy a couple of their e-books and read them. If they are filled with grammatical errors or formatting glitches, your book probably will be too. Small house publishers typically don’t charge a fee to work with you, but they will charge you for each service they provide. However, they normally take a smaller percentage of each book sold, and sometimes don’t withhold any amount.
The final group is the ‘vanity’ press. These are companies that promise you they’ll get your book published and into the Best Seller categories, but to do this, they need an upfront fee - typically hundreds to a couple thousand dollars. They don’t give you any guarantees that your book will sell, so you are taking a huge risk that you’ll sell enough copies to earn that fee back. My advice is NEVER use a vanity press.
Those are excellent pieces of advice, thank you. How about book marketing? What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge for new authors?
The biggest challenge is getting in front of the right people. The advent of self-publishing has made it possible for thousands of authors to get their books into print. And, I’ll be honest, a lot of what’s out there isn’t all that good. So, to make your book stand out in a sea filled with similar looking fish, you really need to put in some work. Your book isn’t going to sell itself, and, to be honest, you’re not going to sell it either. What you are going to sell is YOU. A reader is more likely to buy a book from a self-published author because they feel a connection. So learn where your readers hang out, what social media sites they use, and what interests them, and then get involved with that as well.
What have been the most effective methods of book marketing for you?
Anything you can do face-to-face, whether that is a book signing or a live reading at your local library or other event, or renting a booth at a CosPlay or ComicCon type event, you will sell more books by looking your potential customer in the eye and making a connection. If you can’t do that, it’s still possible to be face-to-face. You could do a Facebook live promotion, or Instagram live video, or host a YouTube channel. Get creative, but get out there in front of your potential readers.
Great advice. It sounds like you recommend both methods of traditional and online marketing. Now, on to the tough aspect of being an author, how do you handle rejection?
For myself, I’ve spent a few dozen years on a deeply spiritual journey and have realized that rejection has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the other individual and their perceptions of the world. So, I guess I handle rejection pretty well, since I honestly have no emotional attachment to what other people think. Bad reviews, to me, are simply a reminder that I may not be focusing on the right potential readers. They don’t define my ability as an author in any way.
Those are some great takeaways for fellow authors on rejections and unfavorable reviews. What about any recent success with your book? Anything you'd like to share with us?
Since I write specifically for teens, and especially for teens on a faith journey, I love when one of my reviewers says they are going to use something I wrote for one of their Youth Ministry or Sunday School lessons. I also love when a teenage reader contacts me to tell me how much they felt like I was writing the book about them - how much they can see themselves in the book. That really makes my heart warm and my face blush.
This has been an insightful and informative interview, but before we end the session, can you tell us what have been the reactions from your readers regarding this book? Any lessons learned from your readers or author events?
Most of the reviews have been very positive. Even the ones that only gave 3 stars still had some good things to say. The best part is that most people get how difficult it is to blend faith and fantasy together. Usually there is a huge emphasis on one side or the other. Like the Narnia books - very good fantasy books, but most people don’t know they are faith based just from reading them. A lot of my readers have told me that the way I blend the two together really works for them, and since that’s what I was going for, I’m glad to hear it.
Thank you Michael for taking the time to share your valuable experience and journey with us. I'm greatly appreciative of your effort and generosity, and numerous authors will benefit from your writing advice and wisdom.
Hoang Chi Truong, Host and Author of TigerFish, a memoir