Cameron Conaway talks with author J.J. Hebert about the changing nature of books.
J.J. Hebert’s Unconventional has been the #1 Inspirational Book in the Kindle Store numerous times and his latest work, a children’s book titled Weepy the Dragon, has garnered some good praise so far. But we’ll chat with him about his self-publishing company, Mindstir Media, a group using its position at the forefront of the book revolution to help aspiring writers fulfill their dreams.
It’s fairly known by now that all printed book sales are down by at least 50%. A recent Mashable article was titled, “Ebook Sales Surpass Hardcover for First Time in US History”. Readers, no less voracious than before, are simply consuming information differently. Due to illegal torrent downloads and the rapid shift from paperback to eBook, many traditional publishing companies slow to evolve are now strapped for cash and afraid to publish new writers who may not make their company loads of money. Quality literary writing can suffer in this climate because it’s not usually the type of writing that sells. Vampires sell. Sex sales. Previous fame sells. Risks are riskier right now.
A few years ago I was astounded when I learned that a local bookstore (a huge chain) never carried copies of two books written by local authors – one book won the Pulitzer and the other won the National Book Award. Add to this that American MFA programs are churning out thousands of highly talented writers each year and we’re left with quite a problem: loads of great writers paired with scared publishers and dwindling bookstores. So what do the writers do? Some become police officers or bankers and if they’re lucky get a few days each month to write. Others become disenchanted and give up on the craft altogether. But others turn to self-publishing, a form of publishing that has throughout its history been considered low-brow and, in many academic circles, even despicable. Reputations are changing quickly, though, and I’ve caught up with J.J. Hebert to talk about these changes.
When did you see the evolution of the book? Walk us through that moment when you knew without doubt that Mindstir Media had to be created.
I knew several years ago that readers were starting to consume books differently. The ebook format was growing and gaining momentum in the marketplace thanks to the launch of Kindle in 2007. Audio book was another digital format that had also become popular. I could definitely see then that “the book” was starting to evolve. Consumers enjoy instant gratification and low price points. Digital books are delivered instantly to the consumer at a lower price (generally) than printed versions. I remember thinking: How could the market not embrace this technology?
The moment came at the end of 2008 when I knew it was time to form my own self-publishing company in order to publish my novel, Unconventional. I had searched the Internet for self-publishing options and I wasn’t impressed with the options, so I created my own: MindStir Media. The company became official in January 2009 and I self-published Unconventional through the MindStir Media imprint that July. It didn’t take long for my book to become successful, and that’s when I started to hear from aspiring authors. A lot of them. They wanted my help. I helped many authors for free early on and then realized that I could help more authors if I was compensated and could therefore pay a “staff” to handle some of my workload. So I opened up MindStir Media to the public and began helping authors self-publish their books. I’ve had a lot of fun thus far!
The “indie” book movement is certainly growing. Places like Indie Bound allow readers to find new voices, great books and even the bookstores in their area that will carry them. What is the “indie” movement and do you believe readers should make a concerted effort to support it?
I believe the indie movement is incredibly important to literature. It gives lesser known authors a voice and provides consumers with more reading choices. There are thousands of high quality indie books out there that would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for self-publishing. As you touched on earlier, most traditional publishers look for a certain brand within a certain genre that they feel strongly will sell. They don’t bother with the other works – you know, the “unconventional” stuff. Thankfully those traditional publishers/gatekeepers are not the only option for aspiring authors. Those authors can self-publish and thus contribute to the indie movement. Consumers should understand that in order to have more reading choices they must support indie authors by buying their books.
An author approaches you about self-publishing their book. What negatives of the industry would you inform them about? Conversely, what are some of the unexpected benefits of going the self-publishing route?
If an author wants to see his book in Walmart, Target and every Barnes & Noble store in the country, self-publishing is not a good fit. The truth is that Walmart, Target and B&N physical shelf space is dwindling and is mostly reserved for traditionally published books – usually New York Times bestselling books. But here’s the good news for indie authors: More people are buying books online than ever before. Consumers don’t have to drive to their local store and they’re also not limited to the big brand name authors like Stephen King or James Patterson. Online book buying has shown the world that there are many great indie authors out there and their books can be purchased at unbeatable prices.
To probe your brain a bit, tell us how you pieced together James, the main character in “Unconventional.” He’s a janitor trying to be an author and encounters problem after problem. He cries. He doubts himself. Though he certainly fit the book’s title at times, he also felt like a real and authentic male character. Can you give us a glimpse into how his psyche came together?
James faces adversity, cries, doubts himself, persists, and overcomes. I think this is the story of millions of men in the world today. We just don’t hear about it very often because this culture does its best to mock men who show feelings. The whole “men don’t cry” mentality is dangerous. Men are humans. Humans cry. Therefore, men cry. It’s very simple, but society just can’t seem to understand it. Anger is usually related to sadness, in my experience, so I can’t imagine sucking back my emotions. That would be like creating a ticking time bomb…
I created James by looking deep within myself, by embracing my vulnerability and rawness. He exists somewhere in all men whether we like to believe it or not. He’s everywhere. Just look around.
Lastly, where can our readers connect with you?