Eliot Baker lives in Finland. He teaches communications at a local college and runs an editing and translating business, but would be content singing for his heavy metal band and writing novels full-time. He grew up near Seattle, got his B.A. in World Literature at PitzerCollege, and got his M.S. in Science Journalism from BostonUniversity. He was an award-winning journalist at the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, and before that he wrote for the Harvard Health Letters. He spent four years pursuing a career in the sciences while at the HarvardExtensionSchool, during which time he spun old people in NASA-designed rocket chairs and kept younger people awake for 86 hours at a time in a sleep deprivation study. He likes good books, all music, and bad movies, and believes music and literature snobs just need a hug.
His latest book is the supernatural thriller/historical mystery, The Last Ancient.
Visit his blog at www.eliotbakerauthor.blogspot.com.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Eliot. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
Thanks for having me! I am a debut novelist, although I’ve published extensively as a print journalist. And I wrote the obligatory semi-autobiographical first novel right out of college that I never published.
I went the small press route. I didn’t really consider self-publishing because I don’t have the social platform to pull it off, and because, honestly, I wanted the validation traditional publishing and the comfort of having a great editor, which I received in Nikki Andrews. The large house option would have been nice, but I just didn’t see a good fit. I pitched my novel at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in 2012, and got interest from some New York agents and indie publishers. BURST Books was the one house who wanted my book as-is, without substantial changes, and they praised my writing and story right off. New York was worried the book was too long and combined too many genres, and recommended pretty invasive surgery. I went with the house that believed in me.
Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?
I signed the contract in mid-April, 2013, and The Last Ancient was published digitally in December, 2013 after three rounds of edits and a final line edit. Every deadline was met and I had a good, professional rapport with my editor. The print run of The Last Ancient kicked off in April, 2014
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
It was like finding the grail, to be honest. I’d wanted this for a long time. I had a failed attempt fresh out of college twelve years previous, and it was so surreal to finally get the acceptance. My wife and I had a bottle of champagne and then we had a party at our house later in the summer. My friends and family have been ultra-supportive. Lots of people were getting mad at me for not pursuing this over the last decade, so there was relief all around.
Q: What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?
First I approached local media outlets around Cape Cod, Nantucket, and my hometown suburb in south Seattle. That actually worked out pretty well. I got some really nice write-ups in local papers. But living in Finland, most of my promotional efforts are online, which is too bad because I get a lot more out of face-to-face contact.
Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?
I now look at writing with professional eyes. Cold eyes. Dead eyes. Just kidding. But not really. After having my work scrutinized, reviewed, and criticized by strangers and friends, I am able to distance myself from my work enough to look at it as a product that I’m trying to refine for my readers. I don’t have any problem killing my darlings. I just don’t believe in their genocide. If I believe in the fundamentals of a story, I won’t restructure it because someone says, “Meh, it’s okay, but I hate stories without animals, can you make this about animals?” But I am fully open to something nearly as heavy, if intelligently proposed, like: “Are you sure you want to go first person on this story? It’s really crying for third-person, multiple POV.”
Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?
How much time, effort, money, and skill it takes to market and promote your book effectively. My second step in marketing and promo was to read Amazon and Goodreads reviews of every book that was similar to mine and approach the top reviewers about receiving a free copy. I’ve written dozens, maybe hundreds, of queries to blog critics and amazon book reviewers, but the turnaround time for a review can be 6 -12 months, if you get one at all. Which I understand. There’s just so many indie and self-pub authors out there; anyone with a website is getting inundated with review requests, and the more established sites are basically drowned in them.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?
The validation. The never-ending feeling of accomplishment. Not everyone can write a novel. Even bad ones take persistence, skill, time, and courage. You can feel like a real idiot for putting so much time and effort into something for which you aren’t getting paid. You go a little nuts living in an imaginary world while your friends are firmly in the real world and getting paid for it, maybe even dating. But getting your book published makes it all worth while. And getting good reviews is just red carpets and flashbulbs and rose petals. It’s like spending the whole year sitting on the bench of your football team and then scoring the winning touchdown in the state playoff match. All that work pays off as the crowd goes wild.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Absolutely. If you’re just feeling the first tingles of writer’s itch, then my advice is simple: scratch until you bleed. Don’t worry about the challenges or the hardships. Those come later. First, strap on your snowboard and throw yourself down writer’s mountain. Either you’ll love it or you won’t. And you’ll passion love to get you up and down that mountain. It’s a steep, bumpy ride. But if you’ve already done that first ride, and you’re looking for a bigger mountain as an aspiring author, now you have to balance your passion with your devotion. Learn to view writing as a craft. Master your craft. Start from the beginning: memorize Strunk and White’s Elements of Style so you’ll know what the rules are in order to break them successfully. Read widely, not just in one narrow genre; you’ll get more ideas and see a wider variety of word combinations. Experiment. Find your voice, your strengths and weaknesses, by trial and error. Write every day, be it by penning fiction, blogging, or crafting thoughtful emails, or keeping a journal (which I don’t do, but many swear by); whatever can get you closer to 10,000 hours of writing practice. And live well. Meet as many different people as you can, and have as many adventures as possible. A well-rounded life can engender a wider perspective, and provide more material to use in fiction. And most importantly, keep loving the act of writing, even when it doesn’t seem to be paying off. Be patient. You’re never too old to write. It’s a dream that never has to die.