Kevin Tinto is an avid mountaineer, skier, scuba and free diver, Private Pilot and adventurer. He is also the bestselling indie author of ICE, winner in the ACTION/ADVENTURE category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. As our Author of the Day, Tinto talks about what it takes to publish an indie bestseller, tells us more about his characters, his writing process and much more.
ICE was a breakout indie bestseller. What has the experience been like since you first published it?
Self-publishing is a steep learning curve. The reason most writers are not successful in generating significant sales is that (in addition) to being able to write a bestselling-capable manuscript, you need marketing skills. Well, let’s start with a professional story editor, plenty of line editors and a guerilla marketing background. The marketing emphasis should be bootstrapping yourself to the top of the charts on limited resources. (budgets)
For writers reading this, it’s not an impossible task.
The short list:
Use Amazon Create Space for your paperback version. Then pay the $75 fee to have your perfect paperback recreated for Kindle. If you’re just publishing Kindle, use the Kindle Create App. (Wow!) It is ‘creating a pro manuscript for dummies’. I love it.
My cover for ICE and ICE GENESIS was done for $5.00 on Fivver.com. That’s right. Five dollars. Editors… You’ve got to hire a professional STORY Editor. My guy is Ed Stackler. Hiring a pro editor will cost you between $3,000 and $10,000—if he agrees to take you under his wing. If you can’t afford a pro editor, a good writer’s group can substitute, however, I found them to be counter-productive, if they don’t read your genre. Line editors—ouch. I got burned when ICE went nuclear and people found line edit issues. Find people who will read it and bust you up—that will save you in the review corner once your book is live.
Promotion! You can have the greatest novel since, (ICE), edited by Stackler, cover an eye grabber, everything perfect and if you don’t promote—it’s dead.
To that end, you MUST MUST MUST MUST promote. Here is a link to indie and Kindle book promoters who will charge from (free) up to ($400) for a promotion. I have used them all—a lot. ICE has been selected for two BOOKBUB promotions, the Godzilla of E-book blogs. It costs me $400, however, in one day I sold—get ready for it—75,000 books. The second run with the Bub netted 45,000.
Readers report that ICE contained quite a couple of surprises. Did you plan them all out before you started writing or did some of them just "happen" along the way?
Most of ICE, and ICE GENESIS germinated during the writing process. The idea that I’m going to write an outline and know everything upfront seems nuts to me, but you’ll hear that more often than not from agents and legacy publishers. Readers love twists and turns that make sense. If you start throwing in, ‘I’m smarter than the reader’ twists, they’ll see through it fast. Once you have a manuscript complete, in my case, then it goes to Stackler. If you’re getting a little too cute, Ed will nail you. They are also experts at finding plot holes, and suggesting ways to work around, change, etc. Consider it tough love. Better to have Ed Stackler find problems, than have blistering reviews.
Which of your characters has been the most challenging to write for?
When it comes to characters, I tell people who ask, characters form themselves in my mind, and then become ‘real people’ for lack of a better term. They write themselves, for better or for worse. They rarely follow the plot line I have planned for them. If you are true to the character, they each have their own set of needs, desires and flaws. In my case, if you have one character who is an expert mountain guide, and you want him to climb Everest in the middle of a storm to fit the plot, he’s not gonna do it. He didn’t get to be an expert, long-lived climber by making stupid mistakes. He will tell the author where to go, and wait out the storm. That drives the plot in a different direction, at least temporarily. If you use characters as a plot device to move the story forward, the book will fail. People fall in love with real characters. Not plots.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
Sure. My theme is that people can’t be viewed as good or evil. They are simply following what’s most important to them. People, for the most part, are concerned with themselves, way before they care about anything else. This leads to good behavior, and very bad behavior.
How do you come up with such brilliant ideas for conflict? I mean, the way the plot goes is just never what you expected it to be, you never know what might happen next!
Good fiction thrives on conflict. The key is finding a good mystery. Solving said mystery brings forth the best and worst in people and boom! It’s off and running.
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
When I was working fulltime in my own business, I started the first hour of every day writing. That’s the way to make writing a priority in a busy world. Now I’m a full time writer. I start around 6am at the local Starbucks and work till 10am. Then I roll out to the gym, bike, hike for a couple hours. Then I’m back at it from about 1:30pm till 4pm. That’s seven days a week, (if I’m working on a deadline). I generally work Saturday and Sunday mornings regardless. You’ve got to keep at it daily.
In the second edition, you also included two chapters of ICE Genesis. Tell us more about this.
Right. So, I’m seeing advance chapters in a lot of Kindle bestsellers. You want to keep the reader hooked, if you can. Advance chapters, like a movie trailer—pretty good at that.
Do reviews and reader feedback shape your work? Or do you feel like it's better to avoid the feedback—both positive and negative—so that it won't interfere with your vision?
You have to read the reviews at first. I’m more interested in negative reviews to find flaws, or perhaps the manuscript needs one sentence to explain a set-up, that you got, but no one else does…you can add that sentence anytime you want on Kindle. The first bogus one-star review is stressing, because any one-star reviews on a legit bestseller are (usually) bogus.
One guy left a one-star review, and I read the same review a second time under a different name. So, I read his other reviews, find out he’s a used book seller in New York. LOL. Sorry, bro. You’re not gonna put indie and self-published e-books out of biz. Once you get past 2,000 reviews, I don’t read them. I’ve already learned all I can from both positive and negative.
Name a book or a story you wish you'd written.
Yeah. Easy one. ALIEN.
Which one of your characters do you think you would get along with the most? What about the least?
I’d love to hang out with Al Paulson. Self-made billionaire with a taste for warbirds and adventure. What a ride. I’d love to hang out with all of them. If nothing else, to say, ‘what the hell are you thinking? Don’t go back in the haunted house!’ Not that ICE has any haunted houses…
Have you always known you wanted to be a writer? What inspired your debut?
I believe writing is in your DNA. My family is filled with published authors including my uncle, Terry Reece, and my mom’s cousin, Coleen Reece.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and what would you ask him/her?
That’d have to be Jesus Christ. You’d want to ask time and date of his next miracle. Cause if he delivers, I need to radically change my lifestyle.
What are you working on now?
ICE REVELATION, the third in the series, and brings this story to an end.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website at http://www.writingthrillers.com.