Today our guest author is Vic DiGenti, author of the award-winning Windrusher series, published by Ocean Publishing and now available as Kindle downloads. In the past few years he’s developed a writer’s training program that he teaches at University of North Florida, and in workshop segments at the Florida Writers Conference held annually in Lake Mary, Florida. He’s also the Northeast Florida Regional Director for that organization.
N:Welcome, Vic! Thanks for joining us today.
V: Hi Nancy. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your readers.
Readers of the “Faith, Hope and Grace” blog are writers from all over the country, so many may not be familiar with who you are. Please tell us about your background in production and writing and what led you to get involved in the Florida Writers Organization.
The majority of my career was spent with the public broadcasting outlet in Jacksonville, WJCT. During my time there, I had a number of positions, including public affairs director, special projects and corporate communications director, VP of Special Events, which included producing the Jacksonville Jazz Festival for 8 years. My final title was VP/Community Development and I was responsible for membership and auctions. As you can see, I couldn’t hold down a job. Although I spent more than thirty-five years in broadcasting, I always thought of myself as a writer. So when I retired, I dusted off a manuscript I’d begun several years before and decided to give it another try. That effort became Windrusher, my first novel in a trilogy of Windrusher adventures. I joined FWA in its first year, some ten years ago. As a new writer, I was looking for guidance, as I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I found the workshops and conferences FWA presented to be of great help to me and later volunteered to lead the writers group that met at my local library, after the former leader moved away. Shortly after that, I was asked to be the Regional Director for NE Florida. At the time, we only had two writer’s groups in the area. Today we have six. As Regional Director, I sit on the board of FWA. I truly believe that organizations like FWA can help writers in so many ways. In fact, the motto of FWA is Writers Helping Writers.
How many years have you been writing fiction and how did you make your first Windrusher sale?
I’ve written short stories since my teens. Not very good ones, I must admit. But it wasn’t until I retired in 2001 that I attempted to write my first novel. When people ask me why I wrote a book with a feline protagonist, I tell them I didn’t have a choice since our household had been overrun with cats for many years. Not that we’re hoarders, but my wife and I rescued a number of cats, and for a period after I retired from WJCT, I was executive director of a cat rescue organization. This strong bond to things of the feline persuasion certainly helped me in the writing of the Windrusher adventures.
My first sale? I’m not sure, but I launched that book with a post card campaign. I had compiled an extensive mailing list of everyone I knew or had ever known, worked with, went to school with, etc. I mailed a post card to them announcing the publication of Windrusher about 6 weeks prior to it becoming available. I was more than overjoyed with the result of that campaign. It really helped to get Windrusher off to a fast start.
You’ve taught many writer-oriented programs from media kit preparation to crafting a strong story structure. You’ve been around the FWA for many years. What mistakes do you think beginner writers need to be aware of? How about those of us who’ve been around a while and still haven’t sold that breakout book?
We were all beginning writers at some point. And learning our craft comes easier to some than others. Many writers are impatient to see themselves in print (as most of us are), and rush into the publishing process before they’re ready. Like a fine wine, a book needs time to mature. What I really mean by that is the author needs time to learn his craft. He/she needs to learn what works and what doesn’t. How to create compelling characters, a strong plot, good dialogue, and to write in scene. It isn’t easy, but the more we write the easier it becomes. I always suggest that new writers not only write as much as possible—which includes rewriting and revision—but also read as much as possible. Read good how-to books for more pointers, and read the masters of the genre they’re writing to see how the experts do it. Aside from that, it helps to attend conferences and workshops, and to find a good critique group.
There are no easy answers for those of us still looking to breakout. We don’t like to hear it, but the odds are not very good of reaching The New York Times Bestseller list. But we have to keep trying. Stephen King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” I guess that’s why they say don’t give up your day job.
Like most authors these days, the electronic publishing world continues to amaze and paralyze most of us. What made you decide to put your Windrusher series into the Kindle format or was that your publisher’s decision? Are you seeing strong sales via the Kindle yet?
I encouraged my publisher to make the Windrusher trilogy available as an ebook. The books are currently only on Amazon.com, but he assures me that they will soon be available for other platforms. And I’m not sure how the Kindle sales are going as I don’t have access to those figures. However, anyone ignoring the e-revolution runs the risk of being left behind. Two years ago, I would never have guessed how quickly ePublishing would grow. Today, Amazon.com sells far more ebook downloads than traditional hard cover and paperback books. And we’ve already seen some major success stories by independently published authors like Amanda Hocking, who has sold several hundred thousand ebooks. J. A. Konrath was an early proselytizer for ebooks, shifting away from traditional publishing (he’d been with Hyperion Books for a number of years) to put all his work on Amazon. And we just heard that Barry Eisler supposedly turned down a $500,000 advance for his next John Rain thriller to ePublish it himself.
The fact that it is now possible for anyone to publish anything they want, both electronically and via print on demand outlets, makes me wonder if new writers are going to be willing to put in all the blood, sweat and tears it takes to learn to write a really, really good book before publishing it themselves. You’ve been watching and reporting on the e-book business for several years now. What are your thoughts? Is there value in going through the submission/rejection process before going self-published?
I still believe that it’s important to make your bones, as they like to say in crime novels, by writing as much as you can and following the traditional route of trying to get an agent and a publisher. Konrath will tell you that he was rejected 500 times and wrote eight novels before he found his first agent, and was eventually published. Independently publishing an ebook is very attractive when we hear of the successes, and fact that Amazon is paying 70% royalties. The problem arises when writers publish poor quality work. Let’s face it, bad writing is not going to look any better just because it’s an ebook and you price it at 99 cents. Sure, some people will be attracted by the low price, but even bargain hunters will feel they’ve been taken in if the writing doesn’t live up to the hype. Poor customer reviews will kill your sales, so it makes good sense to wait until you have the best book possible. And this usually means learning the craft.
Matanzas Bay has been a long and winding journey for me. I had a “what if” idea while writing the second in my Windrusher trilogy, Windrusher and the Cave of Tho-hoth. In that book, my protagonist, the cat the family calls Tony, is stolen from his back yard in Crystal River, Florida. Several days later, he finds himself in a room in a rather grand home on a bluff in La Jolla, California. With him are three other cats that have also been stolen. That book was a bit of a mystery, as the reader had to figure out why this crazy guy was stealing these cats. Anyway, the family hires a private detective to track him down, which he eventually does. That character was Quint Mitchell. In developing his resume, I gave him an interest in archaeology. Although it didn’t come into play in the Windrusher book, as I was writing it I had this image of Quint working at an archaeological dig and unearthing a body. The picture stuck with me and I made a few notes for future reference. When I completed Cave of Tho-hoth, I dug out the notes and began plotting what eventually grew into Matanzas Bay. The story took a lot of unexpected twists and turns from my initial outline, with perhaps 15 or 20 rewrites along the way. I entered the manuscript in the First Coast Writers Conference novel contest in 2007, and surprised myself by winning. That was awesome. Even better, the finals judge, author David Poyer (Ghosting and The Towers) gave me a 7-page critique which proved invaluable. So once again I went into rewrite mode. After that exercise I began querying agents and publishers. While there were some nibbles, nothing much happened. Then in 2009, the still unpublished manuscript took the top prize in the mystery category of FWA’s Royal Palm Literary Awards competition, before going on to be selected as the Book of the Year by accumulating the highest scores from the judges. This win finally landed me an agent, but the timing was terrible with the publishing industry in turmoil. Several months ago, I decide to take the plunge and become an independent publisher. The book is available as an ebook for Kindle and the Nook. Soon to be followed by a trade paperback, which should be available to be ordered by most bookstores.
Here’s the product description for Matanzas Bay: When PI Quint Mitchell volunteered to help with an archaeological survey in St. Augustine, he didn’t count on digging up a murder victim. In the nation’s oldest city, Mitchell discovers links to ancient sins, comes face to face with his own past, and unleashes powerful forces that will do anything to keep their secrets—even if it means taking his life.
As he learns, St. Augustine was birthed in blood—Matanzas means “place of slaughter” in Spanish—and violence is never far from the surface.
BTW, I decided to use the pen name Parker Francis to separate these hard-edged mysteries from the Windrusher books, which have a large YA audience.
Nancy, thanks so much for allowing me to be a guest on your Faith, Hope and Grace Blog. It’s been a pleasure.
For us, too, Vic! I wish you every success with Matanzas Bay and look forward to you joining us again in the future.