For those of you who don’t know, Mike Wells is an American bestselling author of more than 25 “unputdownable” thriller and suspense novels. He publishes independently and I approached him for an interview. After a short back and forth we agreed to try something different to the traditional approach and set about having a conversation over the next couple of days. What followed was a fantastic conversation where I found a very kind, generous and knowledgeable man who really knows how to tell a good story. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed speaking with Mike.
A Conversation with Mike Wells
GJ: Looking back to the start of your career as a writer. As you publish your novels in ebooks only which highlights yourself as a self-published / indie author, did you encounter any significant snobbery from prospective readers you had to overcome before your work started to be taken seriously?
MW: I don’t remember encountering much of that. The fact is, the average reader doesn’t really understand the difference–when buying a book, most don’t check or care who the publisher is. If they browse the synopsis, the reviews, and maybe read a sample of a book by an author they don’t know, and they like what they read, they buy it.
However, the attitude you’re talking about definitely exists with book reviewers, particularly those employed by mainstream media. In fact I would call the barrier between indie and traditional in that space almost a brick wall. Many of them say they’re unbiased towards indies but I’ve found that to be mostly lip service. So, I think authors who are seriously considering self-publishing better mentally prepare themselves for their books to be excluded from reviews in major publications, from receiving major literary awards, all that sort of thing. The upside–the total creative control, the six times higher royalties, working at your own pace, etc. have to make up for it. For me, it does. But just barely.
GJ: On the upside I guess it excludes you from the bad sex award!
MW: Ha ha, true, the sharp sword of publicity cuts both ways.
GJ: I’m interviewing a very successful indie author whose sales are phenomenal, greater than most traditionally published authors can even dream of. He told me he’s lost count of the number of publishing deals he’s turned down just the reasons you mention. If you were offered a headline deal with a mainstream publisher, would you take it seriously?
MW: Good question. I would take it seriously, but I think the big publishers and book contracts are a bit like banks and loans–they only offer you one when you don’t need it. For me, though, it comes down to my character. I can’t work as an employee or deal with big bureaucracies, I learned that a long time ago. We just don’t get along. That’s the reason I was never traditionally published in the first place. I couldn’t even get on with them long enough to sign a contract! I remember with one big publisher–I won’t say which one– I asked (through my agent) to see their marketing plan and budget for my book. “How dare he ask that!” was the response, as if it wasn’t my place to even think of asking such a question. That was the end of the negotiation. I do make a living from my writing now, have for quite a while, and I seriously question if that would be the case had I gone the traditional route. The average traditionally published author makes less than ten thousand a year, something along those lines, and they usually have to supplement that income with a full-time job.
GJ: Or become a mainstream book reviewer I guess!
MW: 🙂 “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”
GJ: You studied Electrical Engineering at University, like myself, but you went on to obtain a PHD, whereas I finished with my masters. How long did you work in engineering before you found your love of writing and how long after that were you able to support yourself with your writing?
MW: I actually found my love of writing before studying engineering, back in secondary school, and tried to get some short stories published while in high school and college. I always knew I wanted to be a fiction writer–engineering was a practical backup plan and actually has helped in many ways with my writing. After I got my engineering degrees, I worked as an employee for three years, then started my own business. I sold that when I was 35 and started writing movie scripts, then novels. From start to finish, it took twenty years until I was able to make a living at writing. On one hand, I “wasted” a lot of time with the traditional publishing gyrations, but on the other, until the Kindle was introduced, it was nearly impossible to successfully self-publish fiction. There was no way to distribute, to reach readers. If that option had been available earlier I think I could have gotten here a lot faster.
Which brings me to a point I’d like to make – fiction writing is a serious profession, no different than engineering, law, medicine, teaching, or any other one. There’s a massive amount of knowledge and skill you have to learn and master, and if you self-publish, there’s the marketing expertise on top of that. So many people think they can just sit down and whip out a novel, with no idea of what they’re going, and post it on Amazon, and make millions. It’s not like that. You’re going to pay your dues first.
GJ: Yes, as someone who is only five years into a writing journey, I have learnt early on how difficult it is to produce a work of fiction and I’m only now trying to get to grips with ‘selling’ my fiction as I release my first novel In The End on 30th November. It’s been described as a compelling apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless. Readers can pre-order now from Amazon.
MW: That’s as least as hard as the writing part, maybe even harder. The greatest masterpiece in the world will just sit there, buried among millions of other books, unless readers know about it.
GJ: You have a large fan base that seem to sustain your new novels along with you growth through your social media advertising. Do you get a lot of feedback from readers? Do you get any requests for subjects or what they would like in new novels?
MW: I do get a lot of feedback from readers, most of it good, fortunately. Requests and suggestions for where they would like to see the story go are not very common, actually. Most of their suggestions are kind of obvious, as are most of my initial ideas. For me, good plot ideas come from working on an obvious idea over and over, asking “what if?” such as such happened instead, and then repeating that process until it morphs into something absolutely unpredictable and surprising. When you get it, you know it – “Oh, man, that’s IT!” This is how I come up with twists as well. I don’t do this kind of work on paper–it happens by daydreaming about the story or bouncing ideas around with my wife.
GJ: Did you bounce the idea for the start of Lust, Money, Murder Book 1, around with your wife? On second thoughts, best not answer that one!
MW: Ha ha. Well I’ve got a 22 month old daughter bouncing around the floor right now, so guilty as charged.
GJ: How many books are you typical working on at any one time? Do you plan a release schedule for the coming year and how long after you finish a book do typically release?
MW: I usually only work on one book at a time with the exception of some outlining that I do ahead, just loose plot ideas for the next one or two books I intend to write. I don’t have a formal release schedule. For me, that has become almost trivial, anyway–it’s just a question of when does the next Lust, Money & Murder book come out? Readers have shown that they will gobble them up as long as the quality does not drop and the story doesn’t become repetitive. For example, I’m working on Book 13 right now, struggling with it. I tell everyone it will come out “near the end of the year,” but in reality it will take as long as it takes. That’s one big advantage of being indie, as I touched on before. I never release a book until I’m one hundred percent satisfied with it, and if that means it will be out a month or two later than I said it would, so be it.
GJ: Correct me if I’m wrong, but your novels are faced paced and intriguing thrillers, the likes of which a Lee Child fan would enjoy, but have you ever thought of writing in another genre, or like Lee Child, you just prefer to stick to what you know and do best?
MW: I’ve published and co-published books and series in quite a few other genres (YA/coming of age, YA/Fantasy, romantic comedy, horror, romantic suspense, police procedural, political thriller, etc.) All are available and sell pretty well and have their fan bases, but they are not nearly as popular as the Lust, Money & Murder series. This may or may not be because LM&M is the “entry” series I have promoted since 2011, when I started indie publishing, but that one seemed to be the most popular at the start, so I stuck with it.
GJ: That’s very kind of you not to tell me I was wrong!
MW: My wife often calls me “Mr. Diplomacy,” but I detect a trace of sarcasm in her tone.
GJ: If you could talk to your younger self, any age, what age would that be and what advice would you give yourself?
MW: I guess my advice would be “Continuously find and focus on the positive in your life.” I would give myself that advice as soon as I was old enough to really grasp it and take it in. I have spent too much time complaining and being frustrated about things I have no control over. What would yours be?
GJ: I would be very nervous about tinkering with my past! Not to say everything has gone my way, far from it, but I’m very content with how my journey in all aspects of my life is progressing. I’m driven and ambitious but not at all cost, but I have a feeling if I was asked this same question in ten years time I may have a different answer.
MW: I feel the same. I have no regrets about decisions I’ve made.
GJ: I’ve read your blog post, ‘The Crucial Importance of “Candy Bar” Scenes in Your Writing’ and I agree with you. My new novel is written in the same way, my candy bars include action, intrigue or a lifting the veil of the underlying story line just that little but more, with at least one of the components in every scene. They may not lead to award winning literary fiction but they make the novels so much more enjoyable to read and keep the pages turning. Do you have any other great advice for writing the kind of fiction you enjoy writing?
MW: Only this: if you’re not having fun with it, something is wrong. Take a fresh look at those parts of a story that are giving your problems and work on them until you’re having fun again. That’s really my barometer–am I liking this story and having a blast writing it? Or not? If not, fix the parts that don’t work for you.
GJ: Thank you Mike.
MW: Thanks so much for the opportunity, GJ.
Mike Wells is an American bestselling author of more than 25 “unputdownable” thriller and suspense novels, including Lust, Money & Murder and Passion, Power & Sin. He is also known for his young adult books, such as The Mysterious Disappearance of Kurt Kramer, The Wrong Side of the Tracks, and Wild Child, which are used by English teachers in high schools and colleges worldwide. Formerly a screenwriter, Wells has a fast-paced, cinematic writing style. His work is often compared to that of the late Sidney Sheldon, with strong and inspiring female heroes, tightly-written scenes, engaging action/dialogue, and numerous plot twists. He currently lives in Europe and has taught in the Creative Writing program at the University of Oxford.