Michael Hebler, whose books include the Chupacabra series and The Night After Christmas, talks about his approach to writing and his plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I had trouble staying focused when I was younger; actually, that’s even true today. But in high school and some of college, my mind would often wander when I was bored and the only creative outlet at my disposal while stuck in a classroom was my imagination. I began think up scenarios and stories in my head then decided to put a few of them on paper. Then, halfway through high school, I got involved in theatre and that was when I really started concentrating on the importance of story and characters. My writing sort of blossomed from there.
Tell me a little about your books.
Night of the Chupacabra is about one man’s journey to reunite with his family, while the lethal creature that separated them, the evasive and ravenous chupacabra is never far behind. It is the first of a five book series that is quite eclectic: a little bit horror, a little bit romance, a little bit dark fantasy, a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll – just joking on those last two. Sometimes my sense of humor is like a runaway train and can’t be stopped, and the sad thing is, I don’t think anyone under 40 would even get the joke. Although the country is not too far off as it is a little bit western, too, since I gave everyones favorite cryptid a place of origin by setting it in America’s Old West. Of course, this is purely a fictional series and for those who believe in the chupacabra, I am not implying my version of the creature is how it was born or that it has all the same capabilities and mannerisms.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
I read more when I was much, much younger than I am now, and used to sneak Stephen King and Dean Koontz books off my mom’s bookshelf. Because of that, I’d have to say that they are probably two of my largest influences. Unfortunately, between writing, working, and other real life commitments, I don’t pick up a book as often as I should now. I have read the entire Harry Potter series and think J.K. Rowling is exceptional. I also enjoy Cormac McCarthy, J.D. Salinger, Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. Oddly enough, one of my least favorite Mark Twain books is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, yet that book influenced my writing of Night of the Chupacabra more than any other. I guess that’s the power of Twain.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
Not at all. So far in this career, and this is based on three novels, I divide my first draft into two creative stages. The first thing I do is write a comprehensive outline (about 120 pages) containing every scene, dialogue, etc. I do this to make sure every plot hole is filled and that the world I’m creating is plausible for that type of story. This usually takes me about a month since I only start this process once I’ve worked most of the kinks out in my head. The second stage is adapting my outline to prose, or as I like to call it, “the fluffing stage”, where I add the nifty words, comprehensive thoughts, and explain the history and backgrounds. This stage has averaged about two months, which may seem fast, but once I start writing the book, I’m like a plow and dig in, and rarely stop until the first draft is finished. I’m not one for leaving something unfinished. I think it’s an O.C.D. thing, or a fear that I’ll lose my momentum.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
Not really. The manuscript was given to one top agent in New York for shits and giggles, really just to say, “I tried.” He enjoyed the book, but it was far from the types of genres he typically handled, which I had known about him in advance. He was a friend of a friend, and I appreciated the chance and do not regret holding off self-publishing to give him the opportunity to read the manuscript, but I never really wanted to traditionally publish because I, myself, am a publicist – albeit film, not books. I am confident that between my job skills, connections, and the story of Night of the Chupacabra, it will find its readers.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
I am a goal setter; however, I will not set goals on book sales until the book is released. As of this writing, it’s an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) only for press, bloggers, and critics. I do have a marketing plan already in place and have generated a lot of interest, which is an excellent start. Additionally, I have some industry contacts standing by to do what they can. I feel like I am succeeding because I am utilizing all my tools and resources, which is the best I can do at this moment. However, if there is one prediction to make, it would be that a flux of sales for Night of the Chupacabra will come after books two and three are released.
How have you marketed your books?
I have not paid for any advertising, but then, I probably have a few more options than the average starting self-publisher. Still, I am utilizing all the free resources the internet makes available, such as Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and an author website (though not exactly free, but cheap). However, if I abide by my marketing plan, I will be paying some out of pocket expenses for postcards, bookmarks, and posters; all great marketing materials for book signings. I will also be approaching book clubs to offer distributor pricing if they make ‘Night of the Chupacabra’ a selection for their group.
Have you signed up for KDP Select?
I have not signed up, and I won’t. First, I will say that I think what Amazon has done is amazing for not only the epublishing world, but books in general. They have helped make it easier and more convenient to read. Instead of lugging that 800+ page Harry Potter book on a plane, you simply whip out your Kindle and have the whole series, at a fraction of the weight, at your fingertips However, I see the signs of a monopoly with Amazon and I want to do my tiny, little bit to keep that from happening. Competition is good, so I will keep my book available in all formats, including Nook, Sony eReader, and iTunes EPUB. Additionally, Night of the Chupacabra will be available in trade paperback. I am old school, at heart, and still prefer lugging around the five pound books, and I know a lot of readers who feel the same.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
I did publish a free short story called, ‘Hunt for the Chupacabra’ through Smashwords. It was written to be something of a prologue for the upcoming Chupacabra Series. Smashwords did a fantastic job of distributing Hunt for the Chupacabra to Barnes & Noble, Sony, iTunes, as well as a few others. They were wonderful and I would recommend them; however, my recommendation is with cautions: 1) it could take a month, or more, for your story to reach some booksellers – it took over a month for iTunes to receive ‘Hunt for the Chupacabra’; and, 2) you can only upload your book as a Word document. I utilize Adobe InDesign for my formatting, something that I create with as much intricacy as the actual writing, and it’s a shame that I cannot produce my formatted book the way I want it to look through Smashwords. Because of this, I have looked into other options for Night of the Chupacabra.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
Always! As mentioned, the Chupacabra Series is (currently) planned to be five books. Book Two, Curse of the Chupacabra and Book Three, Legend of the Chupacabra are already completed first drafts. And as I wait for my editor to finish editing the second book, which will be released in 2013, I am outlining Book Four, Dawn of the Chupacabra. Then, outside the Chupacabra Series, I have a completed the outline for a standalone book that is currently untitled, and a children’s picture book about one of my favorite holidays, Halloween. This is on the tail of my other, already published, picture book, The Night After Christmas, which was the book that began my new career.