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Interview with Christopher Zoukis, co-author of ‘Directory of Federal Prisons’

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Christopher ZoukisChristopher Zoukis is an impassioned advocate for prison education, a legal scholar, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and articles.  His articles on prison education and prison law appear frequently in Prison Legal News, and have been published in The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, and Midwest Book Review, among other national, regional, and specialty publications.

Mr. Zoukis is often quoted on matters concerning prison law, criminal law, prisoners’ rights, and prison education.  Recently, he was the focus of an article at Salon.com concerning America’s broken criminal justice system and potential solutions to the current crisis.

When not in the thick of the battle for prison reform, prison education, or prisoners’ rights advocacy, Mr. Zoukis can be found blogging at PrisonLawBlog.com, PrisonEducation.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com.

His latest book is The Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLaw.com’s Federal Bureau of Prison Facility Directory.

Directory of Federal PrisonsQ: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Christopher.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

I now have had two books published: Education Behind Bars (Sunbury Press, 2012) and the e-book the Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2014).  I am also currently under contract with McFarland and Company for my next title College for Convicts and I am engaged in discussions with both North Law Publishers about several nonfiction books and with Zharmae Publishers about my novel Hamish.  So, lots in the works.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go — mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

Education Behind Bars was published by Sunbury Press, a traditional publisher.  The Directory of Federal Prisons was published by Middle Street Publishing, which would probably qualify as a small press.  Middle Street Publishing owns PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com, three websites I regularly contribute to.  As such, when the idea for this e-book came about, they were a natural fit.  We saw the publication of the Directory of Federal Prisons as a natural outgrowth of our existing prison education, prisoners’ rights, and social justice advocacy efforts.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

For Education Behind Bars it was within 6 months.  The text was already fairly clean due to my retaining a freelance copyeditor even before submitting the book for publication consideration at Sunbury Press.  The Directory of Federal Prisons also took around 6 months to publication, but was different since I was heavily involved in the production, copyediting, and promotional processes.  I guess the difference is that while with Sunbury Press I sat back and let their team do their work, with Middle Street Publishing I took the reigns and really poured my heart and soul into the Directory of Federal Prisons‘ production and promotion, along with its researching and writing.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

Well, considering that I’m a federal prisoner, I called home.  My folks were thrilled.  My friends were supportive.  I think I even ate a honey bun and drank a soda, both bought from my prison’s commissary.  Not quite a book launch party, but a pleasant experience nonetheless.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for promotion when you were published for the first time?

I didn’t really do a whole heck of a lot for Education Behind Bars.  I placed a few ads in publications such as Prison Legal News, I sent out review copies, and I continued to write at PrisonEducation.com.  Sadly, back then I didn’t know a whole lot about book promotion and marketing.  It didn’t help the cause that the administration at this prison apparently didn’t like some of my criticisms of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, because right after the book came out, I was locked in the Hole for five months on false charges that I was running a business with my advocacy efforts.  Those charges were later expunged but I will never get that time back, and I probably could have done a lot more to promote the book if I wasn’t locked in a solitary confinement cell.

The Directory of Federal Prisons was a completely different story.  This time around, I was ready and had a plan.  I started by hiring Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book to manage a three-month blog tour.  I followed this with advertisements on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, a press release, an ongoing email marketing campaign, and extensive outreach to online bloggers and book reviewers.  Thus far, the promotional efforts have paid off very well.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

Getting over the hurdle of publishing a book seemed to help me overcome the idea that other books might be out of reach.  What I mean to say is that once I published Education Behind Bars, I realized that whatever I wanted to work on next, I could.  And that I could succeed at any book project as long as I put in the effort.  Now I have a different problem: what project to devote my time to.  That’s turned out to be quite a question.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

In many other industries, it’s all about who you know and the power you wield.  But in the book publishing industry — in particular the realm of online publicity and publication — it seems just as much to do with how well you can research, plan, and execute the plan.  Promotion and exposure has been fairly easy in this regard.  It seems as if a lot of what is out there is just mindless, low quality dribble.  So, when we’ve come out with quality, researched products, many doors simply open.  This has amazed me the most.  Even from the belly of the beast — the Federal Bureau of Prisons — a career as a professional writer can be had, and many doors can be opened with enough planning, dedication, and effort.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

Being able to make a difference in what I view as my constituents’ minds.  I view prisoners, their families, and their attorneys to be my constituents.  Not many others in prison are doing the sort of work we do at PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com.  As such, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help as many people as we possibly can.  I think we do a remarkable job at this.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

The way to become a better writer is to read and write.  It’s that simple.  But before you knock on publication’s door, it’s essential to be well versed in author platform building and effective book promotional techniques.  Just because a book is published, it doesn’t mean that it will sell or that anyone will know about it.  It is the author’s job to tell people and to market the text in a cost-effective manner.  Knowing how to do this prior to publication can make all the difference in the world.

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