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Interview: Science Fiction Author Joshua James
We talk about his failure to fly, space battles and a lack of alien invasion preparedness.
Please join me in welcoming full-time indie science fiction author Joshua James for our first interview. He recently released Awakened, the fourth book in the Saturn’s Legacy series. James has written more than 50 novels, and I quickly learned is a disciplined writer who enjoys crafting an entertaining thrill ride for his readers.
It says on your Amazon author page that you've been both an accountant and a graphic designer, and now you're writing. Those are all very different fields. Is this what you imagined you would end up doing, or did you have other plans?
I'm pretty sure I wanted to be Superman when I was kid. Also at some point I got obsessed with hot air balloons and decided I wanted to fly those for a living (sort of Superman adjacent). I'm not sure that I ever thought about writing as a career, although I was a voracious reader of science fiction as a teenager. That love of reading science fiction is probably the common theme that I've carried through my adult life and all the various careers I've had. Self-publishing is just my latest career (at nearly 50 I've had a few), and it only makes sense that if I'm going to write anything, it's got to be science fiction.
I step into an elevator with you, we strike up a conversation and you tell me you're an accomplished science fiction writer. Ooh, I love science fiction. What book of yours should I start reading first?
Hopefully it's a slow elevator so I can get you to narrow that down a bit. Science fiction is a big tent! If you like Star Trek-style stories with lots of action, I'd probably point you to Fleet Ops, which is a series I cowrote with another self-published science fiction author. But honestly, the chances that my specific brand of science fiction lines up with a random person I run into in an elevator is incredibly small. And that's good! I'm not writing for most science fiction readers. I'm writing for my weird little band of specific fans.
All of your books involve spaceships. Can you give us the lowdown on why that is? As a follow up, do you believe in life on other planets?
I write the stuff I like to read! I grew up with cheesy, bombastic science fiction. Big ships. Big space battles. Big action. That's my bag. I read cerebral science fiction from time to time, but I've never been inclined to write it. I get bored easily as a writer. When I write, I want to have a big stupid grin on my face. I need my space battles!
(A side note that James did not answer the question about life on other planets, and we must assume he is either an alien himself or is part of an intergalactic collective trying to keep it all a secret.)
Most science fiction and fantasy books run as a series in a larger epic. You have a few as well. Is that done at the request of your readers, or is there something attractive about that as a writer?
I definitely planned it this way. It allows you a lot of flexibility. For example, you can discount the first book, or make it free. You can run sales on the series as you release new books. You can make decisions based on sales as to how long you want to make it. And you can box them up into a box set later. Just lots of upsides to series writing and my genre lends itself to series writing.
What do you think makes for great science fiction?
This might be a cop out, but I know it when I see it. Otherwise... it just feels like SF can be almost anything. Like I said earlier, it's a big tent. I'm just hawking my wares from a tiny booth in the corner.
Like many indie authors (me included), you mention that the traditional publishing route dampened your enthusiasm. What would you say to an aspiring author who wants to self-publish for the same reasons?
Learn everything you can from the self-published authors in your genre. Reach out to them. I've seldom met an author that wouldn't chat with me when I was starting out. Go to self-publishing conventions, join self-publishing Facebook groups, learn about courses you can take. There is a TON to learn about self-publishing and just writing something and throwing it out into the world and thinking it will find readers is a terrible business plan.
You have quite a bibliography of published work, and on your Substack About page you mention that you're sharing works in progress, about 10-20k words per week. What does your daily writing routine look like?
I should update that! I stopped doing that after a while because nobody seemed to care, which is just as well. I usually need plenty of editing. I write in 30 min sprints every morning, Pomodoro-style, usually along with a buddy of mine who also self-publishes. We take turns timing and share our word counts after each sprint. I usually pump out 4k words or so after a couple hours. I'm a relatively quick writer. Back when I was first starting out, I'd write 10k words a day! I don't do that anymore. 5k words is a big day now and I mostly take weekends off.
What does your publication process look like, start to finish, for your books? For example, do you use beta readers, editors, proofreaders or cover designers? If so, where do you find them?
I use all those things! Beta readers just came naturally as I gained readers. And I hired all the others based on word-of-mouth recommendations from successful self-published authors when I was first starting out. That's the best way to do it in my opinion. If you don't know enough self-published authors in your genre to get recommendations ... well, you need to get to know more self-published authors in your genre! My process is pretty simple. Write the story as fast as I can. Have a lot of fun with it. Take a couple editing passes to clean it up. Send it to my editor. Send it to my beta readers. Create the ebook and blurb and get it uploaded to KDP. Tell my readers. Set up my ads. Let it rip and stop thinking about it. Get on to the next book. Have fun. Repeat.
Marketing is very difficult for a lot of indie writers, and social media has become a huge drag. Getting genuine reviews proves to be even more difficult. What does your marketing strategy look like, including any paid advertising?
When I was first starting out the landscape was pretty different. But even then, I found that using paid advertising was pretty critical for me. Nowadays, I set aside a marketing budget for everything I release. I always have a release plan. It usually starts a few weeks out with beta readers and I'll schedule a few slots in paid newsletters that focus on my genre, then maybe check in with a few author friends in the genre who might be interested in promoting to their readership. When I release, I tell my list. I typically have ads running on a few platforms like Amazon and BookBub, to direct genre readers to the book. Then I usually turn off my ads after a couple weeks and let the Amazon algorithms kick in and carry the book from there.
Where do you find conventions, author fairs or events to sell your books? Do you have any favorites?
As far as conventions go, I'd recommend 20books as the best one for aspiring indie writers. It's also the best FB group to join. From there... well I think you just have to dig into your genre and you can find other stuff going on. There's always something.
Thousands of alien spaceships show up in Earth's orbit. What's the first thing science fiction author Joshua James does?
Nothing useful. Probably wish he'd developed more valuable skills in life.