Welcome to the one hundred and thirty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Kevin Cullis. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Kevin. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Kevin: I’m a USAF veteran and after my service I went into the computer industry and began selling computers to businesses for a living. As I began my selling career I thought I could do more and get promoted over time, that’s the expectation of most people. But I found that it wasn’t going to be the case, progression was going to be limited, so I became somewhat frustrated. But I did not let that stop me and began looking for other opportunities. One day after realizing that I was answering the same questions over and over again from business customers I thought I’d just might write these problems down and write out the correct sequence of how to do something or fix a problem. So I started to write. And write. And write.
I’m an extrovert and can talk with anyone, so one day I was talking with a customer and mentioned in passing that I was writing down my computer experience. She asked a few more questions and then said, “Why don’t you write a book?” I looked at her quizzically and thought, “Hmm, why not, couldn’t hurt to try.” So I changed my focus of my content to this direction. Soon after, I realized that when looking at computers as a tool you need a business reason for using it, so I added this idea to my content and pressed on. I then got a job at Apple selling computers to businesses. Originally I wrote to cover Windows, Mac and Linux (I was using Linux at the time), but after starting at Apple I realized Mac users did not want to know about Windows, so I took out the Mac part of the business and computer content and rewrote it. This was my first major change. Another change came when I was considering my audience and realized my wife, who is a Real Estate broker, did not want to read 124,000 words about a Mac, she just wants to work her business, find the Mac answer, then move on. So I cut it by half and rewrote it again to this final version.
Morgen: And being a Mac user (since only June 2010 but now wouldn’t go back to a PC – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfetbidVUYw is a video I could watch over and over, and often do :)). What genre do you generally write, Kevin, and have you considered other genres?
Kevin: Non-fiction, but I have a story in my book that has touched a new writing nerve, so I have some fiction in me that is just itching to get out. 🙂
Morgen: Ooh great… if it’s long enough maybe you could do it for http://nanowrimo.org. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Kevin: Just my first book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version. I sent copies of my book to a local indie book store and went specifically there to see and take a picture of it. But I had done this before. I had taken a book proof and actually inserted it in the location that I thought it would go and took a picture as well as to see how it would look on the shelf with all of the other books of my genre. It was both my vision as well as market research, “Wow, this is what my book will look like on the shelf” and how does my book compare with others. That experience was both thrilling and insightful to me. I am just now seeing the results of that first picture, envisioning it being there and now seeing the results grow.
Morgen: 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kevin: I write a blog that compliments my book content as well as use social media and guest blog posting and speaking to get known. As Jack Canfield stated, 10 percent of your effort is in writing your book, the other 90 percent is marketing. Which, when you stop to think about it, a writer IS a business person. Although most writers do not want to know or have been told, “Don’t worry about it, as your agent we’ll take care of it for you” as these people scarf most of your income for the little work they do. I do most of my marketing myself, but then I have others of my tribe that help out as well with the buzz.
Morgen: 90%/10% that feels right. I’m (effectively) doing the marketing now before I have my books ready. Don’t get me wrong, I love running this blog and meeting all the lovely authors I interview but at the back of my mind I think (hope) about how it will help my eBooks when they’re ready. This next question may not be applicable because, I guess, it’s more fiction-related, but have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Kevin: No, and some, because it’s about the readers, not about the writing judges. While it does help, your audience and your rising sales is the best judge of your work, and reflect your efforts.
Morgen: True. So I assume you don’t write under a pseudonym?
Kevin: Nope, I want my own name on every book, or at least those that I help get out into the public.
Morgen: I’m pretty sure then that I know the answer to this but… do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Kevin: No and no again. As long as a writer is willing to be more than just a writer and take on the responsibilities that they are in the business of writing, for the most part you can ignore getting an agent. Besides, the publishing industry is going through the same turmoil with ereaders as the iPod has done with the recording industry. Most writers need to quit seeking validation from agents and publishers and focus and find a hungry audience and feed them what they’re hungry for. That should be the first and foremost validation for any first time author. If you get the accolades, that’s icing on the cake.
Morgen: It is. 🙂 Is your book available as an eBook? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Kevin: Will be in late August or early September. But I have heard that larger publishers are not telling the whole story about eBooks compared with indie writers and their successes. At the moment I don’t read eBooks as I like to make notes in my books and when I reread them make notes with another pencil or pen, to see what I pick up differently.
Morgen: That’s interesting. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Kevin: Since I have no publisher (I am the publisher), my acceptance was taking on the responsibility myself and independently publishing my book. Just getting my first proof at my eighth month, two week pregnancy of my “baby” was thrilling enough, and each proof until the finished one. My only thrill is getting feedback from readers who have read my book. In fact, one recent reader, a former Fortune 53 company Executive recruiter who has started her own business said in an email to me, “I wish I had read your book two years ago.” That means more to me than anything else. That’s validation!
Morgen: 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kevin: I originally considered finding an agent and publisher, but after learning about the publishing industry as I was writing my book I decided to shoot straight to my customers and bypass all of the rest of the publishers. My reason is twofold: one, that most publishers do not want or care about a first time author, and two, the time it takes for them to get it done and into the market would take too long compared with what I can accomplish. I did most of the work myself, or paid someone to help, and will reap more of the rewards than dealing with a publisher. If a publisher asks, I’ll weigh what the offer is.
Morgen: All very true (in my opinion anyway). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kevin: Future versions of my book. I have some friends that might be helping doing a Windows and Linux version of it. Will see as time progresses.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Kevin: I blog most of the time and market to boost sales and help finance my next books. Around 3,000 words. But with my Mac application I could probably write much more, just have not done it yet.
Morgen: I can look forward to that. 🙂 Again this may not be appropriate, but what is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Kevin: As my first coach said I needed to “puke out” my first draft, many a day I had the “dry heaves” and could not write worth a damn. But I found that going out and reading more gave me more food for my writing brain, or switching to another project. Writing is like breathing, it’s in and out, in with reading, out with writing.
Morgen: That’s funny. 🙂 Where do you get your inspiration from?
Kevin: My purpose for writing: using my talents to help others with their weaknesses. It’s my “Why” of doing it.
Morgen: You mentioned a story earlier, would or do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kevin: A little of both, but mostly head into a specific direction and don’t deal with specifics at first, then as I progress I see where things go and new input is provided or inspiration comes out.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Kevin: In my book I used two characters from a movie, Teacher’s Pet with Doris Day and Clark Gable, and I wove a story around them.
Morgen: Being non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Kevin: Taking my talents and market needs and write to that. Find a hungry crowd and feed them what they want.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Kevin: Anyone that might be my ideal reader, but then to get alternative feedback, give it to someone that does not have a clue. They can provide insights that I may not see. I gave an early proof to a friend and he suggested I put case studies in my non-fiction book. I didn’t say no or yes but thought about it. Doing the “wife test” I wondered if my wife would read a case study. No! But a story she would, so I turned a suggestion into another direction for my book.
Morgen: Which would perhaps be more appealing to a larger audience? Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kevin: As a friend suggested, when you begin to write your first draft and then revisit your first chapter you go, “Ewww, I wrote that?!” You’ll grow and learn, and if you want to do this for a living, you’ll never stop either of them. As I have exercised my writing muscle I’ve become better at being fully-formed with my results, but still not there yet.
Morgen: Some writers can edit forever and wonder if they ever get there when in fact they arrived ages ago. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Kevin: For my book I had to do a lot of research as it was both technical and very process oriented. For me it was not a matter of putting things down, but putting things down in the right sequence, much like building a house and starting with the foundation first. The feedback I received from my readers has been very positive and you can view their comments on Amazon or my blog site.
Morgen: “very positive” that’s… well, very positive. 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Kevin: My creative processes I set up my computer open up iWork pages and begin writing. Recently I got the application Dictate for my Mac that does speech-to-text and has been a much better first draft application then using it for editing. It has speeded up my writing considerably as my thoughts are running through my head and is much faster at getting my thoughts down than my typing. In the past I would almost lose some of my thoughts, but with this application my bottleneck is no longer my typing, but my brain.
Morgen: I had Dragon dictation software for my PC and found I couldn’t have the TV or music on which I wanted at the time but also found that it was slower (maybe I wasn’t patient enough as I’ve heard they have to get used to you) than I type but then I’ve been typing for years. Do you write on paper at all or do you prefer a computer?
Kevin: Mostly my Mac, but on occasion paper. I once attended a writing conference where I asked a keynote speaker if she “used analog or digital tools.” She looked at me and said, “What did you just say!” Later I talked with her and found out she had to write with pen and paper in her hand and rarely wrote using her computer. However, after talking with her and hearing her writing process and others doing the same I have begun writing occasionally with pen and paper, it changes my thinking process and what I actually write. I am mixing it up these days.
Morgen: Apparently each method uses a different section of the brain. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Kevin: I write mostly anywhere, but most of the time while I was writing my book I wrote in coffee shops, hence my book’s cover image. I also had a proof copy of my book sitting next to me so that I could get feedback from potential readers. In fact, my book cover came from a discussion with a young lady who used Microsoft PowerPoint clipart to come up with my basic idea of my cover.
Morgen: And it does what it says in the ‘tin’. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Kevin: My favourite part of writing is being at a coffee shop with my Mac laptop and my book beside me and asking for feedback from the book and the reader turning the book over and sees my picture on the cover and seeing their eyes light up with excitement, “This is you!” Priceless! The least favourite aspect of writing is hearing others say, “I could never write a book!” I would have, too, about ten years ago, but then I had an idea and put actions to it. The thrill of an idea and my way of thinking drove me to write rather than the thrill of writing drove me to a subject to write about.
Morgen: I know! Two of my non-writing friends are big readers (one heavy fiction, the other light non-fiction) and whenever they’ve read my writing they’ve said they could never do it but I ask them if they have and they say “no” to which I say they should because they’ll never know what comes out, but I doubt they will, and if they don’t want to, that’s fine. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Kevin: My biggest surprise has been that the barrier to entry to getting published is almost non-existent with today’s available technologies with the various writing tools as well as print on demand (POD) publishers.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kevin: After I began writing my book I was at a dinner with my dad, his girlfriend, my sister, and my brother and sister-in-law and I announced that I had planned on writing a book. Both my sister and sister-in-law laughed out loud about my announcement. Later, as my dad’s girlfriend was leaving she turned to me and said, “YOU go write that book!” Another friend went to a snobby writers critique group and he went around to each individual writer and asked how many books each had sold. Each one said none! My advice, stay away from people who are cynical or have not accomplished what you want to do. Always talk with or get advice from someone who has done what you want to do, never from those that have not, and this advice works for writing and life.
Morgen: Absolutely, supporting each other is what writing is all about. What do you like to read?
Kevin: I read at least a book a month and I read just about anything, whether it’s nonfiction, biographies, the Internet, or fiction, each specific content offers me new ideas on what and how to write.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Kevin: Just about anything. Watching old black and white movies, reading, learning, exploring.
Morgen: 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Kevin: Here’s my list: http://etymonline.com, http://etymonline.com, http://www.acx.com, http://bookshopblog.com/2008/02/03/how-to-package-books-for-shipping, http://www.wordhippo.com, http://www.deanwesleysmith.com, (Dean is THE best at telling the real story about writers and the book industry), http://kriswrites.com, and http://www.indiebound.org.
Morgen: Wow, that’s some list, thank you. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Kevin: I’m based in the US and I find it not an issue at all because I’m able to guest blog at websites around the world.
Morgen: You are. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Kevin: http://LinkedIn.com for professional connections and LinkedIn groups and the links above to connect those that are focus on what I want to accomplish.
Morgen: That must be how we met. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kevin: As with any career or one with talents, the future is bright if you’re willing to take action and do the work that you love.
Morgen: Too true – you get out what you put in. 🙂
Kevin: With the new technologies of print on demand and writing tools the act and task of writing has become so much easier. If you don’t take advantage of these new opportunities you have no one to blame but yourself. You can’t steer a parked car, so get moving.
Morgen: I like that; like not being able to edit a blank page. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Kevin: As a first-time author and entrepreneur, and every writer is entrepreneur, I chose to use low or no cost solutions to get the job done. While I originally began using OpenOffice as my word processor of choice, I decided to see if iWork Pages could produce the right results. As I began to research book design I found out about leading, the spacing between lines of text. While we all are aware of single and double spacing, the book industry use of the term “12 on 14” to reflect a 12 point font with 14 point spacing was new to me. It took me an hour, but I found that Pages could perform this function. I took a page out of my book and printed a “12 on 12” and a “12 on 14” and gave each of those pages to my wife and asked which she preferred to read from. She chose the “12 on 14” page! I knew I had arrived at using Pages to finish my book.
Morgen: Ooh that’s interesting. I have Pages and tried it for a while but now stick with Word for Mac (which I find totally exchangeable with PC users) but will go back and test it out. 🙂
Kevin: Also, during a recent book conference I shared my proof copy with a professional editor and asked to give me a letter grade for my effort, mostly just the overall look rather than specific problems. She gave me a B+ and asked if it was designed in Adobe’s InDesign or Quark. When I told her that it was iWork Pages she did not believe me until I showed her the file on my laptop. She was stunned at the results.
Morgen: I’m definitely going to look now. 🙂 Thank you Kevin.
I then invited Kevin to include an excerpt of his writing:
“A 14 year-old-son brought his mother into an Apple store for her to find out if Macs could help her with her clothing boutique business. She said, “My son says I should get a Mac to run my business, so why should I?” I told her, “Let’s show you why!”
Starting with GarageBand I created a 30-second advertisement that sounded like a newscast. Then I started PhotoBooth and recorded a short video of her talking about her boutique and added several pictures from iPhoto into an iMovie project. Then I exported into iTunes and then into an iPod to play her own commercials with her store’s video system. I took her boutique pictures creating a marketing flyer in iWork Pages and a catalog in Numbers to direct mail to her customers.
Her face betrayed her astonishment at what I was able to do. She told me that about 40 percent of her advertising budget was in outsourcing to others, if she could do it herself she could save money. I said, “This is what I can do in five minutes. Think how much more you could do. So, what do you think?”
“You had me at GarageBand,” she said (true story)
Morgen: That could have been me (except for the 14-year old son). As soon as I saw the podcast icon on my GarageBand I was hooked on it… and here I am more than 70 episodes later. 🙂 Thank you Kevin.
Kevin Cullis is a former Air Force officer, currently a business geek and now has become an entrepreneur. He has his Masters Degree in Administration as well as 12 years of face-to-face experience selling both Macs and PCs to businesses. He loves helping entrepreneurs and small business owners integrate, utilize, and optimize the use of their Mac in their marketing, sales, and business management processes. The combination of both a business and a computer process perspectives makes him unique in saving and making money using a Mac. ‘How to Start a Business: Mac Version’ is his first book.
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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