Welcome to the twenty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with historical / romance novelist Charles Weinblatt. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Charles. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Charles: Writing is arguably my only skill. I’m terrible with math and dangerous with tools. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. However, I had to retire on disability from my university position in 2004, at age 51. Due to degenerative disc disease, I’m forced to be horizontal virtually all of the time. So, since 2004, I’ve been writing – constantly, flat on my back. My debut novel was published in 2007. Since then, I’ve completed three more books, with more in the pipeline.
Morgen: Wow. I thought having sciatica was bad enough. I can’t imagine having to write or type in that position, although novelist Marina Lewycka writes her books in bed and I couldn’t do that. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Charles: My novel, Jacob’s Courage, is historical fiction. More than that, it is a passionate coming-of-age love story. Although I prefer to write novels, I also write non-fiction, short stories and even some poetry. I completed a children’s book last year called Runaway Ducks and a non-fiction book called Book Marketing 101. I’m almost done with a science-fiction novel. So, I can cross several genres. But I prefer science fiction, horror fiction and historical fiction.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Charles: My first published book was Job Seeking Skills for Students (Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1987). This was a short textbook produced via my outplacement consulting practice and through graduate courses in Education at my university (The University of Toledo). Today, this would have been a perfect opportunity for self-publishing. My second published book was Jacob’s Courage (2007, Mazo Publishers) http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com. This is historical fiction. My third book, Book Marketing 101 was self-published (2010, Smashwords). This is a how-to book for novice authors. My fourth book is Runaway Ducks (2011, Smashwords). I call this horror fiction for kids. It’s scary… but not too graphic.
Even though I have a trade publisher for Jacob’s Courage, I do a great deal of marketing on my own. My publisher has done a wonderful job with editing, printing, reviews, stocking and restocking. But I work on marketing every day. I fabricated a video teaser ad and I had a full-length video trailer created for the Holocaust novel. I promote the book via countless social networking sites, appropriate web sites, with blogs, by writing on blogs, commenting on major newspapers and magazines and with some strategic advertising. I tweet about it, I create a Facebook page for my book and I have a constant presence on Goodreads. I created a BookBuzzr account that allows readers to sample large portions of the book before selling it through a variety of retailers. I review books on Amazon and post a link to my book at the end of each review. I tag other books on Amazon and ask other authors to tag my book. I write published articles for The Examiner and other newspapers and magazines. I am a reviewer for several international organizations. I write and publish articles with E-Zine and TRCB and I write articles for Read the Spirit Magazine. I contact and do business with major international Holocaust museums, including Yad Vashem, The United States Holocaust Museum, and museums in Europe and across The United States. My book is used and sold globally with these Holocaust museums. The book is required reading for high school students in Ohio. The task of author marketing is endless. You can count on your publisher for reviews, editing, graphic design and distribution. But the best of publishers will rely on authors to market for as long as the book remains in print.
Morgen: My goodness, I’m tired just reading that list. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Charles: I recently cancelled my contract with a literary agent. It turns out that the principal was not very reputable. One of his employees had the kindness to warn me about him. So, I’m looking again.
Morgen: Sounds like you had a lucky escape. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Charles: I have three books available as an e-book (Jacob’s Courage, Book Marketing 101 and Runaway Ducks). Jacob’s Courage is also sold in print globally. I read e-books on my computer (via Kindle). Print sales have been fairly steady. E-book sales are progressively increasing. In my opinion, authors of fiction who are not well-known may be better served with a traditional publisher. Mazo Publishers does a terrific job with distribution, reviews and marketing for Jacob’s Courage. Within a month of its publication date, the book was being sold on all major Internet retailers, in bookstores globally and as an e-book with Kindle and with my publisher. Mazo obtained compelling reviews by two of the most persuasive sources in the genre (Jewish Book World and The Association of Jewish Libraries). It was a nice feeling to have my publisher working on editing, graphic design, printing, distribution and marketing, while I was able to continue writing my next books. Of course, self-published authors don’t need to share their net profit with a publisher. But for authors who would rather write than distribute and market, it can be worth sharing with a publisher. I lost no control over any portion of the process and I receive a nice royalty. It should also be noted that trade-published books tend to enhance an author’s platform more than self-published books, especially for fiction. In my opinion, authors are best served publishing both in print and as an e-book. After an author has established a substantial fan base with traditional publishers, he or she can transfer to self-publishing. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing, in part because of the poor reputation of many vanity publishers. It is providentially diminishing. But it still remains a fact that anyone can be self-published, regardless of talent. This makes it difficult for readers to sort through the vast wasteland of self-published dreck, in search of the real gems. Also, many of the best review sources, including newspapers and magazines, still will not review a self-published book. As a reviewer myself, I see this repeatedly and I find this a minor reason to seek a trade publisher.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Charles: My first trade-publishing contract offer was by Kendall-Hunt Publishing for the textbook, Job Seeking Skills for Students in 1986. I was surprised that they offered a contract at all and shocked that they offered a $1,500 advance (not against royalties)! Yes, it was a terrific feeling. I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered a contract for Jacob’s Courage in 2007. I learned how to construct a publishing proposal and I had the dedication to contact about 100 publishers. That generated four offers, not counting vanity publishers. I’m glad that I waited, because Mazo Publishers was a perfect fit for my book and its genre. It was just as thrilling for me as the first publishing contract, 20 years earlier. I’m proud of being self-published and e-published. But it never feels quite the same as having a traditional publishing company proffer a contract. Anyone can be self-published, apart from of aptitude. But being trade published is a special badge of respect and it enhances an author’s reputation.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Charles: Are you kidding? I am, “Mr. Rejection.” After being rejected about 90 times for my Holocaust novel, I was beginning to doubt my talent. But smart authors use rejection as a tool. Many publishers will engage you in a conversation and even offer recommendations, although the book is not their choice for publication. Anyone who can’t take rejection, or who takes it personally, should probably self-publish and save themselves the grief and anxiety. I look upon it the same way as getting a job. The more times you send out a resume (or a publishing proposal), the sooner you will achieve your goal. I also learned that there are now literally thousands of small independent publishers around the world. Many of them specialize in one or two genres. They aren’t seeking you. They don’t know that you exist. You must find them and then submit the perfect proposal for that publishing company. So, the more research that you do, the more proposals that you send, the sooner you will have the best offer. I also learned that the best offer is not likely to be the first one. Be patient. In my case, with my novel, the best offer was the fourth contract offer. I’m glad that waited.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Charles: I will soon complete my science fiction novel. It has been a thrill to write. Although I’ve been successful with historical fiction, I really prefer science fiction and horror fiction. Some of my readers want to buy a sequel to Jacob’s Courage. I left the ending with a natural lead-in for a sequel. But if I say any more about that, I will give away the exciting ending of the novel. Whatever my decision, one thing is certain. I will always be writing something.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day Charles? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Charles: I try to write or research something each day. Some days, with Jacob’s Courage, I wrote several chapters. I tend to get on a roll. When that happens, I don’t want to stop. At the same time, I do not consider myself a professional writer. I am happily retired from higher education and I don’t need to generate another source of income. I write primarily as a hobby. So, I do not place expectations for myself per day. Nor do I have deadlines, except when a book is due for a galley proof. For that, I am grateful. I enjoy a more leisurely pace. I’m certain that if I were trying to earn a living as a published author, or if a publisher placed a deadline on my book, the pace would be substantially swifter.
Morgen: What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Charles: Thankfully, I’ve never experienced writer’s block. Of course, some days are more productive than other days. And when the words are not flowing out so gracefully and proficiently, I turn instead to research. Except for my children’s book, I’ve always needed to conduct research. In fact, I devoted more than three years of daily research to Jacob’s Courage.
Morgen: I don’t really get it either but sometimes I struggle to retrieve the correct word (it took me a second to look for ‘retrieve’) and I’m hoping that’s to do with shortage of sleep rather than getting older (I’m 44 in August). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Charles: I do plot my stories. I have certain objectives in mind. Each chapter of each fiction book has content, character development and dialog requirements. So I typically know on any day how to go from point A to point B. That being said, there are many occasions when an idea takes off on its own. I generally allow this to continue unabated and then I return for editing when the chapter is over.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Charles: I have tons of work that will never see the light of day! I sometimes write poetry. I’m pretty sure that poetry is not my forte. I have stories that I’ve started, but I never finished. Instead, I decide to move on to other concepts. I have stories that started out well, but faltered along the way. Some of the most frustrating are stories that I am certain are priceless and original, only to see the same concept appear in a book, play or movie. That is an exasperating feeling.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Charles: I dearly love to write. I despise editing. I believe that I’m a very descriptive writer. But I sometimes struggle with dialog. I think I am adept with character development. But I sometimes struggle with metaphor and allegory. I believe that the best fiction expresses itself via parable and symbolism. Readers need to become enveloped in imagery. The best books are those in which you can feel, sense, touch and taste the narrative and characters. That’s why one of my most important reviews came from a bestselling author who said, “You see, hear and smell… Hitler’s Third Reich.”
Morgen: Wow. I’m not a fan of editing although research would be lower on my preferences – the writing is where I get my thrill. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Charles: Whatever happens, never stop writing. Unless you need to do otherwise, write about things that interest you. Never stop working on character development. You can place your characters into situations in which they become heroic, but remember that readers today prefer realism. That means that your characters should be real people, with flaws and imperfections, rather than archetypical heroes or villains. With fiction, readers must know what it feels like at all times. Don’t simply describe what happens. Make the reader sense each situation. It is hot, cold, sunny, cloudy or rainy? Are your characters freezing, perspiring, frightened or nervous? How do they respond to others in the environment? Do they feel secure, anxious, sensitive, numb, powerful, dynamic, etc? Much of this can be revealed via creative dialog. But it is necessary for the reader to feel what each character experiences. This was probably the most difficult part for me of writing about the Holocaust. Knowing that members of my own family perished in Nazi death camps, I had to recreate the sensory experience in detail for my reader. It eventually extracted a toll. When the book is done, have it professionally edited before you try to publish it. No author can really successfully edit his or her own book. You’ll need a new and different set of talented and competent eyes on it. If you can’t afford to hire a professional editor, visit your nearest university English department. Ask if a graduate student could edit the book. Sometimes the student can even earn credit for it. If you try for a traditional publisher (recommended for fiction), forget about Harper Collins. The big publishing houses are only interested in accomplished, recognized authors, or authors presented to them by trusted literary agents. It can be at least as difficult to obtain an agent as a novice author as it is a publisher.
Morgen: Yes, I’ve heard that.
Charles: Instead, focus on small, independent publishers globally. Find those who specialize in your genre. For example, conduct an Internet search on, “Publishers Historical Fiction.” Carefully examine each of their submission guidelines. They are all listed on the agency web page. Then learn how to create a winning publishing proposal. The publisher will want only a sample of your writing, not the entire manuscript. Your proposal should also present at least one page each for the following critical topics: sales attributes, marketability, a biography, synopsis, market analysis, competitive analysis and marketing strategies. In essence, your proposal should tell the publisher who will buy your book (demographically), where these readers are, why they will buy it and why your book is better than others in the genre. It should also explain anticipated marketing strategies and techniques. Learn how to use e-mail and fax blasts. Most importantly, learn how to embed Internet links of your creation for publishing proposals. We all fear opening an attachment from a stranger, including publishers. Yet, almost all of us will open an Internet link. See http://cweinblatt.wordpress.com, for recommendations on how to embed hyperlinks into your e-mail publisher proposal.
Morgen: That’s great, you’re a gem. What do you like to read?
Charles: I enjoy a fairly wide range of books. At any given time, I’m reading at least one fiction and one non-fiction book. I review books for some international organizations. One of them, The New York Journal of Books, seems to have made me their Holocaust, Jewish and WWII expert. Frankly, I’m not sure if there is a genre that I dislike, although I’m not really into children’s books. I wrote one because I had devoted four years of daily life researching and writing about the Holocaust. I had to clear my mind with something very different. If I had to list my favourites, it would be: 1) Science fiction, 2) Horror fiction and 3) Historical fiction.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Charles: All novice authors must use the following two sites when they are ready to publish: 1) Predator & Editors and 2) Writer Beware. Although they offer a very comprehensive list of publishers and agents to avoid (for fraud, or as scam artists), both sites also offer a wealth of information about writing resources. They provide valuable information on manuscript services, e-publishing, copyright and legal issues, POD, literary agents, journalism, conventions & conferences, contests, workshops, resources, screenwriting, promotion, signings, opinions, bookstores, chats, web sites, professional alerts, poetry, the craft of writing, vanity and subsidy publishers and all manner of other writer’s services. With the understanding that countless other inexperienced authors attempt to publish books without much prior knowledge of the publishing process and various publishing opportunities, I produced a blog about everything that I learned about publishing and author marketing. You can read it here: http://cweinblatt.wordpress.com. You can create your own FREE 30-second teaser ad video trailer at Animoto.com. My teaser ad is here.
Morgen: Ooh, now that’s interesting. I’ve heard of authors doing trailers / teaser ads but imagined it being quite complicated. I’ll definitely check that out. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Charles: I live in Ohio, USA. Although I am rather limited physically, because of my disability, I still managed to do some local public speaking. In addition to explaining about your book, you can typically sell copies at the end of your speech. I also discovered that public speaking can generate useful regional publicity. Two local newspapers, the Toledo Blade and The Toledo Free Press generated very nice articles about my writing, my books and the public speaking events. Those articles vastly increased attendance (and sales).
Morgen: I’ve been a volunteer at two UK literature festivals and have found that the majority of authors have had books for sale, a great incentive for them, and they charge less for their presence, although most I’m sure like to meet their readers and are happy to inform and in many cases, entertain. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Charles: I discovered that book sales can be pushed higher by being interviewed on widely read blogs and web sites. In my case, interviews with BookBuzzr, Wandering Educators (http://tiny.cc/f7bsv and http://tiny.cc/3uehm), Joey Pinkney, Mike Angley and Jewish Literary Review each bumped up my landing page visitors and purchases). I have had a huge number of hits from participation in many different writing and publishing groups at LinkedIn. I also have generated interest with Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. Be careful not to spam your audience. Instead, provide them with useful, relevant information. Another good way to generate interest in your published book is by writing published articles. Two of the best places to do this are E-Zine and TRCB. Write about anything of expertise or interest. I’ve had at least 30,000 article views from the two sites listed above. Many of them also visited the landing page for my novel.
Morgen: Absolutely, spamming is not good. Few people are interested in those who can only talk about what they have for sale – it often leads to Twitter de-follows. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Charles: The landing page for Jacob’s Courage is http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com. The video trailer is here. I have a blog with some essays at: http://cweinblatt.blogspot.com. I write about publishing and book marketing here: http://cweinblatt.wordpress.com. I have a brief Wikipedia Page and Smashwords page.
Morgen: A Wikipedia page, wow! I’d think I’d have made it if I had a Wikipedia page (seeing as we’re not allowed to create our own). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Charles: Learn as much as you can about all types of publishing. I have a footprint in traditional publishing, self-publishing and e-publishing. There is a time and a place for everything. Very few self-published books will ever reach a retail store shelf, where almost half of all books are still sold. Of course, if you can sell thousands of books on your own or via the Internet, that’s not very important. Learn which format is best for each of your books.
Morgen: That’s what I’m doing at the moment; looking at different options – I have some agent meetings next month so will know better then. 🙂
Charles: Then, be persistent, dedicated and committed. Some authors lack the self-esteem to contact traditional publishers. I find that sad, because most small independent publishers take a chance on unknown authors every day. Know when to trade publish, when to self-publish and when to e-publish. Then, whatever you decide, be willing to spend time marketing your books virtually every day. Even trade-published authors must devote considerable time and effort on marketing. Do not vanity-publish unless you can sell thousands of books on your own, or you do not care about sales (ex. memoir authors). If you do, don’t count on any meaningful assistance with marketing, sales, stocking and restocking.
Morgen: Thank you so much for such wonderful information. I wish you all the best for your future projects, and of course your health.
Update April 2012: A link to this interview can be found (External links) on Charles’ Wikipedia page.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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