Science Fiction author Michael J. Brooks leads a double life. In reality he’s a primary school teacher and in fantasy he’s caught in a struggle between two races trying to share a planet. His novel Exodus Conflict has received honourable mentions in two awards: Next Generation Indie & the London Book Festival, and it has recently been followed by the sequel Exodus Conflict: New Genesis. Check out the interview below as Michael answers my questions about keeping his real identity hidden, what he’s learnt throughout the self publishing process, why he’s pro e-reader, and much more (including multiple copies of covers for Exodus Conflict).
For those readers who haven’t picked up Exodus Conflict can you please give them a brief description of what it’s about?
Exodus Conflict is about two races, the human race and the Zull, fighting over a planet both need to survive and a pacifistic journalist named Alex Mercer trying to figure out why both races can’t simply share the planet. And while trying to figure out this conundrum, he starts to fall for a pro-war soldier named Andrea Blair, his exact opposite. So in short, Exodus Conflict is a sci-fi novel about love, war, animosity, and coexistence.
Can you please give us a brief overview of completing Exodus Conflict, from the first time you penned it, to becoming published?
I had a pretty boring weekend job as a security officer in 2008; I simply sat at a desk alone for twelve hours overnight. One day, because I love sci-fi, I decided to use all of that time to start writing a sci-fi novel.
I began writing my first draft of Exodus Conflict, while on my job. After my first draft was complete, I started looking for an editor and was assigned Jodi Lynn Tahsler by A-1 Editing Service. After the editing was done, I began submitting to publishing companies that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Months later I received my first rejection letter from Penguin Books. The person who reviewed Exodus Conflict basically said that they were pleased to have read my work, but the company simply could not break out a new author at the moment. The letter told me to stay encouraged and that Penguin had rejected authors that became successful elsewhere. It also said that they would be pleased to review future works.
The letter was positive, but I was still feeling disappointed. I believe that it was at that moment that I decided to move forward with self-publishing, which I had thought about doing in the first place. So I self-published Exodus Conflict in 2012. Between 2012 and 2015 I did a lot of heavy reading, which vastly improved my writing skills. So I made revisions to Exodus Conflict between 2012 and 2015 until I was satisfied. Now I am happy to say that, in 2015, the definitive version of Exodus Conflict is done. The sequel to Exodus Conflict, titled Exodus Conflict: New Genesis, is also complete.
How did you decide when Exodus Conflict was complete? Do you ever get the urge to change anything even though it is complete?
I decided Exodus Conflict was complete after making my most recent adjustments to the novel in 2015. I read the book after the adjustments and figured that the novel was now at its best; all plot holes and things that didn’t make sense were now fixed.
Sometimes I do get the urge to change some things, which could be as simple as a word in the dialogue or narration. But there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough and move on.
Did you change only spelling, grammar & punctuation? Or did you add/remove scenes and change structural things?
Scenes were indeed changed or removed. Sometimes even entire chapters were altered. For example, in chapter 5 of Exodus Conflict, Alex’s trial was originally going to take place on Earth and not Second Earth. But I figured it wouldn’t make much sense for Alex to go all the way to Earth for his trial when his cousin, and representative, could and should come to him. So the entire chapter was changed.
Structural changes were made as well. Even some character names were changed, because they didn’t fit the character, or for other reasons. For example, Christina Love’s original name was Christina McKenzie, but I already had a Dr. Lind McKinnon and didn’t want two characters with last names that began with “Mc.” So one had to go.
The ending to Exodus Conflict: New Genesis was changed. I originally had planned for Alex to die. And the novel would have ended with Alex and Andrea’s daughter, Alexandria Mercer, in her late teens talking to Andrea about her father. Andrea would then reminisce about how she and Alex met, to close out the novel. It was an interesting, touching scene, but I thought it’d be wrong to kill off Alex, after everything he and Andrea went through.
I had also planned a possible third novel, continuing the story after Alex’s death. That novel would have featured Alexandria Mercer (Alex for short) in a new story as she deals with being one-third Zull on a Second Earth where humans still have uneasy feelings toward the Zull, though they are sharing the planet with them. And of course there would have been a new threat, to the Zull and human race. But these plans were scrapped, at least for now, because I altered the ending of New Genesis and had Alex survive.
In a previous interview with The Indie View (http://www.theindieview.com/2015/07/23/indieview-with-michael-j-brooks-author-of-exodus-conflict/#more-10936), you mentioned before you turned to self publishing, before looking for an agent, only publishers. Why is that?
I did not look for an agent because I wanted to cut out the middleman. From what I understand, if you get an agent, not only would a portion of your sales go to the publishing company but the agent as well.
Were you worried about tackling the task of publishing by yourself?
I was a little worried about the cost of an editor and where to find a good, reasonably priced cover designer. I was also a little worried about independently promoting my book. As for the actual process of self-publishing, Kindle Direct made that seem easy, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
When did you make the decision to self publish and why?
After Jodi Lynn Tahsler of A1 Editing Service finished editing my draft, I went looking for publishers. I wasn’t having any luck with the traditional companies and the vanity presses were too costly, charging way too much for their publishing, cover design, and promotional packages. I think that’s when I fully decided to self-publish.
What three things should self published authors never skimp on?
(1) Never skimp on getting a professional cover done. It is worth the money, and many cover designers online charge a fair price. I’ve gotten covers done for around seventy dollars. (2) Never skimp on finding beta readers to give you constructive criticism, whether they be friends or you find them online through such sites as World Literary Cafe. (3) Never skimp on reading. Read books in your genre and books that are of other genres. Read magazines. Read online news and informative articles. All of these things provide inspiration for story ideas and can introduce you to new vocabulary.
I would say never skimp on getting your work professionally edited. But the cost of editing can be pricey. And as an independent author, it may be difficult to make that money back in sales. So it is a good thing to hone your own editing skills and have friends who are very good at editing that may charge you a lesser price.
I did get the Exodus Conflict novels professionally edited, and working with those editors improved my writing skills, so in the end it was worth the cost. When I publish my next novel, though, I’m not sure if I’ll get it professionally edited. I may just use beta readers, to get constructive criticism.
I actually believe that I am now a good enough writer to develop my work and edit it myself, but I owe my professional editors some of that credit. However, if I intend to submit my work to a publishing company or agent, I may get a professional editor once again.
Do you have any advice for writers getting criticism from friends since it’s not always considered a valid form of critique as they may worry about hurt feelings?
My advice is to tell any friends giving you criticism that you need them to be blatantly honest in a respectful manner. Tell them that it would be doing you a disservice if they were easy on you, letting your book suffer from things that it didn’t have too, because they didn’t speak up. Now that’s what would really hurt a writer’s feelings, in my opinion.
By “develop my work and edit it myself”, do you mean you would feel confident enough to publish your next novel
without any work feedback from others, or will you still go through beta readers without worrying about professional services?
I’d definitely go to beta readers for feedback.
How much do you think entering writing competitions has benefited you?
Thanks to the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the London Book Festival, Exodus Conflict is the recipient of two independent author awards. I believe such awards add merit to your writing skills. And I do believe that these awards can help catch a reader’s eye when browsing your novel to see if it is worth purchasing.
I can’t necessarily say that these awards have helped to generate a multitude of sales for me (though they might have for other independent authors), but they are good promotional tools that just might have helped influence those who did purchase my novels.
I see that you are also on Wattpad. How important do you think it is for authors to release free content? What merit do you find in doing it yourself?
I think that releasing free content can help encourage people to purchase your work. It allows people to see how good of a writer you are and if they want to take a chance on you, an unknown independent author.
Can you tell us about the writing you’ve published on Wattpad?
Some of the writing published are free samples of Exodus Conflict. There is an original story as well, called Insidious Rising: The Salvation of Jessica Corben. This story is about a paralyzed college student, Jessica, who has a fetish for everything paranormal, and despite facing depression from being paralyzed, she discovers she just might be the world’s best chance for survival.
I haven’t updated this story in a long time. I’ve been busy writing for Jukepop Serials, but I’ll get back to Insidious Rising soon. I still have a lot of issues to work out with that story.
On your author website you mention you’ve kept your face and real name hidden due to the nature of your books and your career. I’m curious about which elements in your novels are too sensitive to share with your work life. What parts of the novel made you release it under a pen name and kept your face hidden?
Well, for starters, I work as a public school teacher, and the nature of my novels is not kid-friendly. For example, the Exodus Conflict novels contain several written depictions of war violence that might be considered graphic. It also contains depictions of sexual violence against women, meant to bring awareness to the issue and show just how senseless and despicable it is.
So because of the graphic nature of some pages of my novels, I choose not to associate my real name and face with them. We live in a world where one of the things an employer may do is Google your name to find out just who they are hiring. I have heard stories of educators being fired for something as simple as a picture of themself on Facebook holding a glass of wine. You simply can’t work with kids and at the same time write and promote novels that contain what may be considered graphic violence, harsh language, and extreme sexual content.
As a public school educator, you are in the public eye, and scrutiny is waiting.
Have you thought about getting a cartoon drawn with a different appearance, but something you can link to yourself? Enabling yourself to have a brand outside your book covers.
I intend to get a logo made, to establish my brand.
Does it ever bother you that you can’t promote your novel face to face? No writer’s festivals, library talks, book launches, or signings. Do you feel like you are missing out on a wealth of marketing opportunities because you cannot show your real identity (a bit like being a superhero… 🙂 )?
Yes, I do sometimes feel like I am missing out on some opportunities that may help me generate more sales. But the way I see it, as an unknown independent author, not many venues are looking to book you for signings and public appearances anyway. That’s part of the challenge of being independent from major publishers. So in the end, those in-person marketing opportunities that I may be missing out on are few, and probably not worth the risk, at the moment. So I’m not too bothered by passing them up. Also, I am open to podcast interviews.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me is waking up at 5:00 AM to go to work, getting back home at around 4:30 PM, and then scrounging up about two or three hours to read novels and do my own writing. I usually set aside Saturday all to myself, allowing me more time to write and read.
That sounds like quite the routine. What advice would you offer writers wanting to complete similar goals such as writing novels and still having another career?
My advice is to plan out your weeks to get some writing time in, at least three times a week. Simply practice good time management.
If you could plan a daily dream schedule what would it look like?
Work four hours a day and spend the rest lounging in bed and writing.
What is it like writing around a day job? Do you see it as a “day job” considering you are willing to sacrifice your author image to complete your other career goals?
I do not see it as a “day job.” Teaching is a career that I have always wanted to enter into, and I enjoy doing it. Writing around my teaching career can get irritating. There are times when I feel that I don’t get enough writing time in. And there are days when I don’t get any writing time in, when I intended to. Writing around my teaching career can definitely get difficult.
What is it about both teaching and writing which makes your purse both? What magical moments have you felt when you just knew those were the two passions for you?
As for teaching, I went to a Liberal Arts college that stressed a need to give back to the community. I wanted to do my part in giving back and figured I’d try teaching. I started working with kids in an after school program created by my college. After the first day of the program, I drove back home in tears because I had had such a great time. That’s when I knew teaching was for me.
As for writing, I had always loved fiction movies, television series, and books. The moment I tried my hand at writing fiction, which was Exodus Conflict novel 1, that’s when I knew it was something I was definitely passionate about.
Is it your goal to become a full time writer, or are you satisfied with having two careers?
I am actually satisfied doing both of the things that I love, teaching in the public school system and writing fiction. Teaching allows me to make a difference in society, and writing fiction allows me to explore my creative side.
Writing fiction also allows me to bring attention to what I think are crucial issues facing the world today. Screenwriter John Truby said in an interview that writing science fiction is about portraying today’s world through a different lens, and that’s what writing science fiction let’s me do, as well as entertain.
Life is short, and I want to do all the things I love, to include teaching and writing. I suppose if my novels start to make me livable wages or if I get picked up by a major publisher, I would leave teaching and just be a professional writer, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Have you thought about writing a middle grade fiction novel?
I’ve thought about writing middle grade fiction, and if I did, I’d probably use my real name, as that type of fiction would be more appropriate to write for someone in the teaching profession.
During my various online stalking to ask you these questions, I noticed you have three websites. Why have you chosen
to have three? What does each site offer that the others do not?
The Exodus Conflict website was the first site that I created. Its purpose is to solely promote the Exodus Conflict novels. My blog’s purpose is to promote all my writings. I also use my blog to post book reviews and to post my own articles and thoughts on book-related subjects. This is important, because when marketing yourself, people don’t simply want post after post, or Tweet after Tweet, of you continuously saying, “Hey, check out my novel.” People want to know your thoughts on subjects and that you’re an intelligent person.
My other site is my author website. I actually created this site with the intention of abandoning my blog. But I realized that getting rid of my blog would be a mistake. When I make a post on my blog, that post is automatically shared on Google Plus, reaching more people and saving me time from having to make separate posts for Google Plus. So my blog has become a very convenient promotional tool. However, I am keeping my author website to further my internet presence, as every author seems to have a website, not just a blog. My website also offers some features that my blog does not, such as writing tips.
What other social media tips would you offer authors, aside from not promoting works nonstop?
Talk about everything on your social media: books, movies, music, television, video games, etc. This will help let people know who you are and feel more connected to you, letting them see that there’s more to you than a person trying to sell a book.
Also, read and comment on other people’s posts and written material. If your comments are well thought out and intelligent, it may encourage people to check out your internet sites.
Another tip I would give is to follow other people on sites, such as Twitter or Goodreads. This may encourage them to follow you back.
Where is your writing space and what is it like?
Nothing special. Just a desk sitting against a bare white wall inside a studio apartment.
Do you find the bare white walls help keep you inside the story, and helps you push away distractions?
I’d say it’s not necessary the white walls that do this, but more so the peace and quiet of my environment.
On the reading side of things, what are your favourite novels?
My current favorites are Crossover: a Cassandra Kresnov Novel and Divergent.
Do you read whilst writing? Or do you go through separate stints of each?
Each day I write, I read for an hour or two before I start (or at least try to). Reading prior to writing has become routine.
Reading often gives me new verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. It also shows me vivid descriptions that I can incorporate into my own writing. For example, I might read in a novel, “The sky promised rain.” Then I’ll think about how I might use the word “promised” in my own writing to create a similar phrase. For example, I might write, “his tone promised disciplinary action if his subordinate continued to be defiant.”
So I always have a notepad or a word document open while I read, to write down verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and descriptive phrases that I can make my own. In order to learn how to write a novel, you have to read novels.
Are you an e-reader or physical book person?
I find myself gravitating toward ebooks lately, so I would say that I am an e-reader. With ebooks I get my book as soon as I purchase it on Amazon, not having to wait for them to be shipped. I can also store many books on one device, allowing me to carry them wherever I go; that’s something you can’t do with physical books, unless you want to drag a heavy bag around.
What can we expect from you next? More novels in the Exodus Conflict series, or something new?
I would love to do a third Exodus Conflict novel, but I’m not sure if enough material is there, especially since I scrapped the original ending to New Genesis. I have also thought about creating other novels within the Exodus Conflict universe, so we’ll see what the future holds for Exodus Conflict.
Right now, I’m working on a free serial for Jukepop Serials, called Dark by Design. When complete, expect Dark by Design to be published through Kindle Direct.
You could always do a novella for book three 🙂
Good point. I’ll definitely think about it.
What is Dark by Design about?
Dark by Design is an urban fantasy about a police officer named Max Rafferty who awakes in the midst of an exorcism that leaves him with strange powers and curses him with an inner bestiality he must struggle to tame. But with his new demonic powers, he intends to find the Supernaturals who abducted his friend and love interest, Karen Summers, and make them pay. But it won’t be easy.
Max and his partner, a vampire named Nixie, must face hordes of Other-world killers and find out who is behind a recent slew of abductions to find Karen and keep a small neighborhood known as the Devil’s Corner from being plunged into hell.
I love the urban fantasy genre, but a lot of urban fantasy has a female as the main protagonist, so I wanted to create an urban fantasy with a male protagonist, targeted toward male readers (not that female readers can’t or shouldn’t read it). Dark by Design was also born out my love for dark comic book superheros, such as Batman and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.
I just want people to know that I love writing. And when I self-publish my work, I do my best to give my readers the same quality that they would get from a published novel. I believe in giving readers their money’s worth. Also, I appreciate feedback and questions, so I want people to know that they can contact me anytime with their feedback and questions through email.