I recently had the pleasure of meeting Chris Kennedy at a con. Since I haven’t done much coverage here on self-publishing, and Chris has put a lot of time into developing advice for self-publishers, doing an interview with him was a no-brainer. So here you go, enjoy his wisdom!
Zen: Your first career wasn’t writing. Tell us a little about your years as a naval aviator, and how it influences your writing. Do you think you would have become a writer if you hadn’t been in the military?
Chris: Hi Zen, and thanks for having me. You’re right—I was a naval aviator for 20 years and then an elementary school principal for another five. It wasn’t until after both of those jobs that I started writing, and I think it’s probably safe to say that I wouldn’t have become an author if I hadn’t been in the military. My first story was military fiction, and it’s unlikely that I would have been able to write it without having been an aviator.
Zen: At what point did you decide to start writing, and why do you think you started then, and not before?
Chris: Well, they say that 81% of people have a story they want to tell…but that was never me. I never felt the need to write, nor did I ever have a story that I wanted to tell. One day, though, I was driving home from work and some of the things that I had seen that day gelled, and my first story was born. Once I had it, though, I really felt the need to write it down. And…ever since, I see stories all around me in everything I do. Once you know where to look, stories are everywhere!
Zen: What made you decide that self-publishing was the right fit for you?
Chris: 79 agents turning down my manuscript gave me the impression that they just weren’t interested and that I should try something else. Going the self-publishing route was a bit daunting at first as I didn’t know anything about the process, and I knew I needed a plan. Having been in the military, planning was something I could do, so I built a plan to learn about the processes I needed to complete and how to get them done affordably, and then I moved forward with the plan to get them done. Self-publishing has taught me a great deal about the industry and how to complete all the major tasks; I am a much better authorpreneur for having gone this route. Also, since I get 70% of the Amazon royalty rather than 15-20%, I’ve been compensated a lot better, too. ☺ I have had a couple of publishers ask to take me on recently, but they can’t do anything I’m not already doing for myself.
Zen: What’s been the most surprising part of the writing and publishing process for you to learn?
Chris: The most surprising part is how much you can accomplish if you are disciplined. You don’t have to do a whole lot (writing, marketing, etc.) each day, as long as you do something. Three years ago, I was unpublished…today, I have one million words in print and have sold over 60,000 books. If I can do it, starting with nothing, your readers can too (but they have to be disciplined!)
Zen: All authors have had a painful mistake or two along the way. Care to tell us about one of those learning opportunities?
Chris: The biggest mistake I made was when I wrote a fantasy book. I had a big following of scifi readers I thought would follow me into the genre, so I didn’t think I had to do a lot of marketing. Boy, was I wrong! If you’re going to change genre, you HAVE to go back to the beginning of the marketing process and start over. Take it from someone who didn’t, and had an absolutely awful book launch! My bonus tip would be to make sure you put aside money for taxes at the end of the year when you start getting paid. Uncle Sam wants his money…don’t spend it all and be empty-handed when he comes calling in April!
Zen: There’s a daunting amount of information out there about writing and publishing. Where would you suggest beginners start their learning process?
Chris: My book on self-publishing, of course! No, seriously, I would have them talk to someone who was already doing it, if possible. The best thing to do is to get a mentor who can guide you through the process. Having a mentor, however, does NOT remove the responsibility about learning the business from the aspiring author. You are now an authorpreneur, and you need to make yourself smart in all aspects of the business, not just the writing part. Read or do something to help you become a better author and/or business person every day!
Zen: You’ve been on a tour of sci-fi conventions lately. What do you like most about cons?
Chris: I like meeting people, networking with other authors, and learning things I didn’t know. Not only have I developed ties that have led to some great projects and publicity opportunities (thanks, Zen!), but I’ve learned some of my best tricks at the panels I’ve participated in (both as a panelist and in the audience). Putting my website’s QRC on my business cards and bookmarks? Something I learned at a con while on a panel with Gail Z. Martin.
Zen: Of the cons you’ve been to, which ones are your favorites (so far)?
Chris: I’ve done about 25 in the last two years, so I’ve got a lot of con experience. My favorite is LibertyCon in Chattanooga, because I get to talk with all of the best and brightest in military scifi, including the authors I grew up reading. I also like HonorCon in Raleigh, NC, as it is heavily focused on the military scifi genre that I write. RavenCon in Williamsburg, VA, is a sentimental favorite…it was my first.
Zen: You are a frequent podcasting guest. What tips do you have for authors who haven’t tried out that medium yet?
Chris: If you want to be on podcasts, check out RadioGuestList.com. They have a free service to tell you what shows are looking for guests. There is also a paid version for $5, which is worthwhile if you’re going to be doing a lot of it. Remember that it’s about the show’s listeners, not about you. Focus on what you can do for the listeners and how you can best provide value to the host, and you’ll do fine. It’s not about you! Don’t worry, the host will give you a chance to plug your book. If you spend all your time plugging, you’ll be a terrible guest who’s never invited back.
Zen: A self-published author doesn’t have a publisher doing any of the marketing. What have you found are the most effective tools for generating book sales?
Chris: Social media is the biggest, especially since it’s free (I like free). The important thing to remember is that you have to start developing a following 4-6 months prior. If you wait until your book is launched to start working on social media, it’s FAR too late—you’re never going to be successful.
Zen: Not surprisingly, you write military-style sci-fi. What science fiction works have influenced your writing?
Chris: I love most of the Baen authors, like Michael Z. Williamson, Larry Correia and David Weber, but my favorite is John Ringo. He tells a good gritty tale that I can really get into. I heard David Weber say last weekend that an author is the sum of everyone he or she has read in their lifetimes; if so, I’m a Baen author.
Zen: Tell us a bit about your non-fiction book about self-publishing, where writing hopefuls can get a lot more guidance than we can cover in an interview.
Chris: The self-publishing book is everything I learned in my first year as a self-published author, both in how to become a better writer and how to succeed in the business. I tried to cover all the questions that people always ask me at cons—all of the ones that start with, “I think I could be a writer too, if I only knew…” It is a great primer on how to get into the business of writing, and it takes you through all of the processes you need to know.
Zen: Finally, tell us about your upcoming projects.
Chris: I’ve got several awesome projects coming up that I am really excited about. First, I’m working with Mark Wandrey on a future scifi mercenary series that is going to be GREAT! Mark already has the first book half-finished, and I love it. I was late to an event because I lost track of time while reading it. Look for books from both of us in the fall. I am also going to be in a “First Contact” anthology with 13 other awesome scifi authors. That should be out before Christmas. Finally, I am working with Thomas A. Mays on a dystopian YA scifi novel that will have a female main character (because Zen challenged me to write one!). A last note to aspiring authors: try to find and work with great authors when possible, especially ones that have big mailing lists (and start your own mailing list on your own website)!
A bestselling Science Fiction/Fantasy author and speaker, Chris Kennedy is a former naval aviator and elementary school principal. Chris’ stories include the “Occupied Seattle” military fiction duology, “The Theogony” and “Codex Regius” science fiction trilogies, and the “War for Dominance” fantasy trilogy. Get his free book, “The Death of Atlantis,” at his website, chriskennedypublishing.com.
Called “fantastic” and “a great speaker,” he has coached hundreds of beginning authors and budding novelists on how to self-publish their stories at a variety of conferences, conventions and writing guild presentations. He is the author of the award-winning #1 bestseller, “Self-Publishing for Profit: How to Get Your Book Out of Your Head and Into the Stores,” as well as the leadership training book, “Leadership from the Darkside.”
Chris lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with his wife and family. He is currently working with the Navy to help shape Navy training processes for the year 2025. He is the holder of a doctorate in educational leadership and master’s degrees in both business and public administration.