I saw Mr. Stackpole for the first time ten minutes after I arrived. He was talking to a convention staffer about Tucson smoking policy. I waited to talk to him (it was very, very hard!) but he was having a conversation, so I waited patiently. (Well, not really) I was feeling "antsy", so I went and looked around the art in the gallery (I recommend Liz Danforth's work - very nice!). I saw him again, about an hour later, and finally asked him for an interview - we agreed to talk after the opening ceremonies. I've been reading his stuff since the first X-wing novel he wrote, so needless to say, I was excited! (this website stuff is pretty cool )
So, after the ceremony, I walked outside, and he reminded me (very cool for an author to do) about the interview.
And, like a moron, I left my pencil somewhere, and had to go run to get another one.... Next time you see me... smack me.
But, the bar was nice enough to lend me a pencil, so here it is, as it was originally transcribed with a "loaner" pencil.....
SFH - Now, I'll be quick, as it's cold outside. I have a few set questions, and we'll see where we go from there.
MS - Great, it's not a problem.
SFH - All right. I know that getting your Star Wars series published has been a big boost for your career.
MS - Yes, it has
SFH - Money and recognition wise, a great deal of a boost; but has writing for Star Wars hurt your writing in other ways, like boxing you into one genre?
MS - No, not really. Many people ask me if Star Wars has been constricting, since I have to write in someone else's universe. I don't think that's the case. Star Wars is a big place, and there are a lot of things to do in it. In addition, Star Wars exposes you to a whole new group of readers. For example - a 6th grader sends me an email, saying I'm their favorite writer. I'm sure I won't always be their favorite writer, but when they turn 25, and are sitting in an airport somewhere, looking for a book to read...
SFH - Your name will be in the back of their mind somewhere.
MS - Yes, as a safe author, or even a favorite author. Those are the readers Star Wars gives you. And not just my Star Wars books either.
SFH - How much work/research do you put into your average novel?
MS - That's a complex question to answer. Well, everything a writer does is research, really.
What the book is about makes a difference.
SFH - Like the subject matter?
MS - I put an average of 20-80 hours of prep research into each novel. Then there's the spot research; say I need to know what naval warfare was like in the Middle Ages. Then I go to the library, find a book on the subject, and read up on it, to give me an idea.
SFH - Ok, now we're going into a subject of particular interest to me. E-publishing. When you go into the writer's newsgroups, they almost unanimously say "don't do it - it's a waste of time. Your focus should be on what makes you money"
MS - Well of course you need to pay the rent, but at the same time, you have to market yourself. The web is a good tool for that.
SFH - What I do on my website, is publish author's short stories, as they work on their larger novel size work. Then I work with them to find a publisher, whether it be print or E-publishing. Of course there are those who write as a hobby, and I welcome their work also.
MS - I myself have a novella up on my own website, using characters from a previous novel. I get mayb 5 hits a day on that story. Maybe some are people who have read the novel, and see that I have more about these characters. For them, it's a bonus, and I'm glad to make them happy. Others may not have read the novel, and in that case, I have a link on my page to buy the book....
SFH - So it's a good strategy for you.
MS - E-publishing is in it's infancy. Until California or Texas begin distributing E-books to students in the classroom, E-bboks may not take off. My prediction would be 2007. But then again, there are always people who say it can't happen. I'm sure there were monks in the Middle Ages that said moveable type would never work.
SFH - Gutenberg proved them wrong.
MS - Exactly. It brings readers in to perhaps look at more of your work. And as an aside, Random House just said they were increasing E-published author's royalties to 50% of book sales. The industry standard had been 15%, and they were trying to keep it that way, but now everyone will have to do it.
SFH - Big name!
MS - You could say that. (laughs) Pretty soon they'll own them all!
SFH - So what would be the cons of e-publishing?
MS - Oh yes, well, piracy. But then, I have three years to track the bas**** down for 100,000 dollars. What they should be doing, is getting the old books that would be lost if not for the web. For example, Ephraim Tut. I have spent *years* tracking down all of his books. Written in the early part of this century, and very well written mystery novels. I finally found all of them. But the pirates should be going through microfiches and old books, and scanning them in, instead of what they do now.
SFH - I completely agree!
SFH - Ok, on to the next question. How would you suggest a writer market themselves in today's market?
MS - Another complex question. It's a fine balance. The web benefits those with an established "paper reputation" the best. Take Stephen King - he has the paper reputation to make E-books work. A writer like myself can market himself using his website, and make it pay off. Maybe not in direct sales, but in indirect ways. It's fine to put your work on the web to show what you can do. Just don't become a feedback junkie. The type that writes for the web because they get the emails saying "I love your stuff" and never get past that point. If you write as a hobby, that type of thing is great! But if you want to write professionally, treat it like a business.
SFH - I know you have a variety of pursuits. Writing, of course, game programming, webmastering. How do you divide your time among them all?
MS - Well, of course, you have to pay the rent. And that means I have to prioritize. A writer today has to maintain a website, and I think it's worth spending 4-8 hours a week on that. Then there's the "business of the business" , which includes researching, conventions, signings, all of that. But it's all in prioritizing, watching for opportunities. I went to a Decipher photo shoot with Timothy Zahn to take a look at the models they had selected to depict Corran Horn and Talon Karrde in their upcoming Reflections II cards for the Star Wars collectible card game. I put up a short essay about my experiences there, and it got over a thousand hits in the first two days it was up. The portions of my site where you can buy my books experienced higher than normal traffic also. So there are always opportunities.
MS - As an aside, many people have told me they appreciated the fact that someone other than Luke, Leia or Han saves the universe in my books. I just think that is another example of what all you can do in someone else's universe. Also, people have asked me why I made Corran a Jedi later on in the X-Wing series. My answer is always " How can I not have Corran be a Jedi? There has to be a Jedi somewhere in the Star Wars universe! I always intended to make Coran a Jedi. I just didn't flesh that out until later on.
SFH - Thank you for your time, Mr. Stackpole. It was great to meet you!
MS - Thank you!
Michael A. Stackpole is the author of the X-Wing novels, set in the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, as well as other installments in the Star Wars universe, such as I, Jedi, and Dark Tide: Ruin. Mr. Stackpole also has a complete bibliography at http://stormwolf.com/data/worklist.htm
For a complete overview of Mr. Stackpole and his accomplishments, please visit http://www.stormwolf.com
Thank you to BASFA for the opportunity to cover their great convention, TusCon 27.
Note: Decipher, Star Wars, and all character names from aforementioned works referenced are the property of their respectful owners.