Welcome to the six hundred and nineteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction and scriptwriter Mary Batten. 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, Mary.
Mary: Hello, Morgen. Thank you for this opportunity to be featured on your blog.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. I’m delighted you could join me. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Mary: I write nonfiction books, magazine articles, and television shows for children and adults. Most of my work deals with nature and science, although I get quite political in my blog. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and I knew I wanted to be a writer at that early age. I don’t know why the writing bug bit me, but I know my grandmother played an important part. When I was in the second grade, I lived with my grandparents, as my mother was expecting her third child and our family doctor thought it would be less stressful for me (I had had rheumatic fever the year before and everybody was worried about my heart) and my mother if I lived with my grandparents whose house was just five minutes down the road. During that year, my grandmother and I played a storytelling game almost every day. She would make up a story and then I would make up a story. In retrospect, I realize we were “writing” with our imaginations.
I live on the East Coast of the United States in Virginia.
Morgen: What a wonderful grandmother. I totally understand about the writing bug biting, it got me in my late thirties. With your non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Mary: Sometimes an editor calls me and asks whether I’d be interested in writing about this or that topic. Otherwise I write about things that fascinate me. Nature is always a great source of ideas. I’m drawn to unusual, often bizarre behaviours of animals and plants, such as mating behaviour and pollination.
Morgen: The great thing about nature is that there’s so much of it. You’d never run out of inspiration. What have you had published to-date?
Mary: To date, I’ve published some 15 books. These include my new eBook, How To Have Sex If You’re Not Human: Intimate Journeys in Natural History, Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, Aliens From Earth, Hungry Plants, Anthropologist: Scientist of the People, Please Don’t Wake the Animals: A Book About Sleep, Hey, Daddy!, and Wild Cats. I also have a short story, “The Rabbit”, in the forthcoming edition of IN GOOD COMPANY, a short story anthology published by Live Wire Press.
Morgen: A great variety. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Mary: Only one of my books is self-published, How To Have Sex If You’re Not Human. I decided to step into the digital publishing world and self-publish my first eBook. Digital technology makes it so easy for writers to publish their work. It’s a whole new publishing arena that gives writers control of their work, higher royalties, and elimination of the middle level of agents and publishers. I find it very exciting and it’s clear that digital books are the books of the present and the future. However, there’s a tradeoff. The writer must take on the challenge of marketing her work. You aren’t going to sell any books unless you climb the steep marketing curve. Marketing is time consuming and difficult. It definitely cuts into writing time. You have to become your own publicist, interact with social media, blog, do podcasts, and anything else you think will help sell your book. Some writers hit it big by self-publishing digitally, but most writers who go this route don’t. Most of my books are published by traditional publishers. I think pursuing a mixed publication strategy is best for me.
Morgen: I think you’re very wise. Authors these days have to do plenty of marketing, needless to say more so when they go it alone but then we get to contact our readership directly which is great. Are all your books available as eBooks?
Mary: I have two eBooks: How To Have Sex If You’re Not Human, which I self-published, and Hungry Plants, which my publisher, Random House, released in digital format.
Morgen: For the traditionally published books, did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Mary: Yes, I come up with most of my titles and others evolve from brainstorming with my editors. I sometimes make cover suggestions; in other instances, my editors and publishers come up with the cover idea in collaboration with the illustrator. I am so fortunate to have wonderful artists like Higgins Bond, Paul Mirocha, and Beverly J. Doyle who have illustrated my books. Titles and book covers are extremely important in catching a reader’s attention. They’re the first thing a potential buyer sees.
Morgen: They are indeed, and you have striking titles and covers (Sexual Strategies is my favourite of the three you’ve sent me). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Mary: I’m working on a two-part memoir project.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Mary: Usually I write something every day. I’ve never had writer’s block.
Morgen: You’re very fortunate. I rarely get stuck but then like you, I write a variety so it does make it easier. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?