20 June 2007

Author Answers with Seth Harwood

Don't go to your local library looking for this week's author; you won't find him there. Rather, grab your iPod and your computer to download Seth Harwood's books.

Harwood's one of the authors among a growing trend of making books available only online or as podcasts and this week he talks with Word Nerd about why he's putting his books out this way and how he got into this business.

To find Harwood's books, check out his website.

WN: Your novel is available through podcasts and as a PDF file… why go that route instead of publishing it the “regular” way? What are you hoping to accomplish with the podcast novel?
HARWOOD: With the podcast novel, I’m hoping to build audience. And the truth is, it’s been working great. Not only have a lot of people started listening to my books, they’re also writing in, encouraging me, and helping to promote my work. I’ve found some true fans. As a writer, it means a lot to me to have an audience that’s out there waiting for what I write. Even with publishing stories in literary journals, I’ve never had this kind of feedback.

So basically what I’m doing is giving my work away for free right now and saying, “You, audience, you be the judge. If you like what I’m doing, great. If not, no harm done or money spent.” And so far the response has been wonderful: a whole lot of people are getting very excited about Jack Palms and sethharwood.com. They’re really liking it.

Initially when I started podcasting, my hope was to improve my agent pitch for cover letters. I wanted to tell them I had 600 listeners and… but it didn’t interest them. The fact is people in publishing still don’t seem to understand how podcasting can be a great promotional tool—even with Scott Sigler hitting #7 on Amazon.com with no promotions other than podcasting!

And back to your original question, even though I went to a prestigious grad school for creative writing, I didn’t have any opportunities to publish the “regular” way. All of my work still went into the slush piles. So I’m doing this and hoping that as I get bigger, people in publishing will start to notice.

WN: With things like podcast novels, what does that do to the future of books? Are readers going to have to trade in their library cards and bookshelves for iPods?
HARWOOD: I don’t think it does anything to the future of books. I love books and I love reading, and I don’t think anything can replace the feeling of holding a book in your hands and reading it. Nothing’s can match the joy of curling up with a book or the ease of taking a book wherever you want and diving into it. At least I hope not. Not yet anyway.

But I do think podcasting will change the face of promotions and marketing for books. I’ve been able to draw more listeners and fans by podcasting from my apartment for close to free than I could have on a big nationwide book tour. Podcasting’s a great way to introduce my work to loads of people. And these people are eager buyers. They want to buy my books when they come out, and, as a writer, my goal is to publish my work in book form. That hasn’t changed; there’s nothing I’m more eager to accomplish.

Everyone’s got time when you end up listening to the radio, music, or you just can’t read a book—whether it’s driving, or working out, or whatever—and podcasting is a great way to use that time to follow the kind of books that you like. That’s really the best thing about podcasting for listeners: is that there’s a whole world of free downloadable fiction they can find on the web and listen to whenever they want!

WN: You’ve got two podcast novels out about Jack Palms. What kind of character is Jack?
HARWOOD: Jack Palms is a one-hit-wonder action movie star who’s basically come back from a period in his life where he pissed off a lot of people, fell out of the movie business because he got caught up in drugs and a bad marriage, and now he’s clean and ready for what’s next. But he’s not sure what to do with himself. He’s looking for some kind of action and when it comes along and finds him, he does his best to stay on top of things, out of harm’s way.

It’s kind of funny: you can make an action movie and come off as a real tough guy on screen, but how does the world see the real actor? That’s one of the things that I’m interested in. In some ways, Jack’s not really all that tough, but in others, he is.

Down the road, in This Is Life, the superlative serialized sequel, he’s faced with the bigger decision of whether he’s ready for a real career as a Private Eye, or something that comes as close to that as today’s world will allow.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
HARWOOD: I always read in one form or another, usually whatever my parents weren’t suggesting: I went through a big comic book period and then in high school I couldn’t read enough about sports, basketball especially. After college, I went out and read everything I could get my hands on. Because I didn’t major in English, I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do!

I started writing stories when I was really little. My father’s been sending me these little books he’s found in his house lately, things from before I could even write or spell. I’d basically dictate the story to my babysitter and then add my own pictures. So I’ve been making books in one form or another for a very long time. When I could first write I started creating stories about aliens and dragonslayers. I used to fill up little journals. Then, in fifth grade, my teacher actually sent one of my stories to a scholastic magazine as a submission. They wrote back to say it was too violent for them. My first rejection! I guess that’s as good a way to get started as a writer as any other.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
HARWOOD: The best part of being a writer for me is feeling like there’s a demand for my work and being able to throw myself into it, just going for broke on the page, trying to find my story. When I’m in my writing mode, just trying to do my 1,000-1,500 words a day, I find those are some of the happiest days I have. Especially with the Jack Palms stuff I’m writing now.

The worst part, or I should say the hardest, has been the rejection; getting into the print publishing world has been a very hard nut to crack for me, for whatever reason. And hitting my head up against that wall for a long time has taught me a lot, but it’s also offered a lot of tough times, small setbacks. Part of the reason I love podcasting is because it means that my endpoint isn’t just the agent or editor query letter and waiting with my work on the shelf. Now I have a way to bring it out to a real audience myself.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
HARWOOD: I’m still working on the second part of This Is Life. My idea is to podcast it in two segments, two parts. I’ve got part 1 done, but part II is still in the works. I’ve struggled a little with the line between podcast fiction being similar to a show like The Sopranos, where everything doesn’t get wrapped up at the end of a season, or like a more traditional novel, where all the big stories get tied up. Right now, my compromise is to do the book in two parts. In the first, some of the questions get answered but not all. In the end… we’ll have to see, but my plan is to wrap them all up so I can still keep the project a novel.

Beyond that, I’ll be podcasting more of my stories in the fall, after Part I of the podcast is done, and next winter I’d like to start working on a book that I’ve shelved for a little while, something I consider my cross between Rowling and Carver.

And of course, I’m always looking for a publisher, hoping the next thing will be to get Jack Wakes Up into print.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
HARWOOD: For a long time all I wrote was short stories. I’d written a few attempted novels and just knew that the long form was more than I was ready for. So I started to go small. In this time, for about three years, all I read was short stories. I wanted to know as much about them as I possibly could. In this time, I read all of Raymond Carver, as you might imagine. And it was his first book, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? that really did it for me. This is the book that touched something inside of me and said you can write about this (whatever this was) and really opened me up to do what was probably my first good, legitimate writing. It helped me to realize how to write something that had meaning emotionally, and that made me realize what would really have meaning as fiction. I think it’s the book that really got me started as an adult writer.

No comments: