I first began corresponding with Dan little over three months ago (well, ish), which was the beginning of a fairly lengthy conversation about his self-published debut novel. That, eventually, became this; and so I present unto you my interview with Dan Ladle, author of Jump.
So, first of all, can you tell us a little about how Jump was written? From when you had the idea, to the process of writing the book, and then the eventual publication, were there any major changes in terms of characters or plotlines?
The problem with time travel is that it can get extremely complicated very quickly, so I needed a way of getting my ideas in order. I discovered a thing called the Snowflake Method, devised by a guy called Randy Ingermanson. It is a way of planning your novel from start to finish and takes you through a number of steps to create a finished manuscript.
You start off with a single line summary of the whole story, then slowly expand it again and again. The most important part, for me, was the character profiling. I wanted the characters to be central to the storyline and this allowed me to write the plot around them, as opposed to slotting them into situations. The planning took me around six months. I actually started writing the novel in April of 2012 and finished it eight months later. I only wrote during my lunchtimes at work!
Apart from swapping a few scenes around here and there the story stayed pretty faithful to my original idea.
What would you hope is the main take away from Jump, for the audience? What are the most important themes and messages of the novel?
My family are a big influence on my life. I grew up with biology, archaeology, engineering and chemistry being discussed in the house. My wife is training to be a primary teacher and has worked in ecology and environmental management. We have a son who is mad on dinosaurs. All of these things influenced the creation of Jump.
I hope that my interest in, well…everything, comes across in the book and gets other people thinking about the way the world works and how the human race effects the planet we live on. I don’t think we need a time machine to make things better.
You’ve made twitter accounts for several of the characters in the novel [Peter James, Andrea James, Emily Harrison, Michael Cooke, and so on and so forth]. Do you think this sort of multi-media engagement with characters is going to become more prominent in future, with all novels?
If you are a new author and are thinking about creating Twitter accounts for each of your characters, my advice would be to book about six months off work to do so. I wanted the accounts to be as real a representation of the characters as possible, which meant I gave them different foibles. For instance, Jonny is not too hot with technology, so all his tweets have no capital letters or punctuation (some might argue, I wouldn’t have too much trouble mimicking this behaviour).
Of course, it also meant I had to Tweet (convincingly) about quantum physics, paleontology, saving the Earth, mechanical engineering and Information Security as well as the softer interests such as fashion, music, and art. Some of these were easy, some not so much, but a couple of the accounts have over 200 followers and they get retweets and references in online magazines, so they must be doing something right.
It’s a fun way to do marketing, but can easily take over your life.
[Just to note – you need to scroll down a little bit see the ‘in character’ aspects, as recently Dan revealed to the followers of those accounts that they were, in fact, fictional characters. Presumably that came as something of a shock to some people, but really, half the population of the internet is fictional to some extent]
Were there ever any points at which you attempted to have Jump published traditionally?
I would suspect that most authors, upon finishing their first book, think – “I’ll just send this to a few publishers and see what happens”. And this is, in fact, exactly what I did. There are several obstacles when you try to do this. The first of which is that the number of publishers accepting unsolicited electronic manuscripts is higher than zero. But only just!
Some of the publishers also take a long time to review the work. So long that, by the time I finally received any response I had already decided to try doing it myself.
Can you tell us a little about the process of self-publication? Merits vs drawbacks, and what led you to go down this route? Is there anything important about it you think aspiring authors should know?
There are obviously some positive things about self-publishing, not least of which is the fact that you can take a hundred thousand word document, upload it, then start selling copies almost immediately. It was a very positive thing from my point of view. When I came to create a paperback version of the book it was a little more difficult. You need to follow specific formatting guidelines, but again there is so much online help available that it didn’t really cause a problem.
The difficult parts are probably the ones that come afterwards, promotion has been an uphill struggle and I’m still doing my best to get the book noticed.
How do you feel about recent developments with Kindle Unlimited, and the way this changes the amount of money authors receive?
The main difference I have noticed with the new Kindle Unlimited payment scheme is that, about 90% of the Tweets from authors now say things like “read my super-fantastic wonderfully exciting bestselling (sic.) novel for free … … … on Kindle Unlimited”! Which just means that it isn’t actually free at all, as you have to pay a monthly subscription to access their books.
I suspect, like most changes, this new marketing model will be good for some authors but less beneficial for others. Only time will tell who are the winners in this, although my money would be on Amazon.
As a self-published author, what do you do to try and spread the word about your book? What have you found to be the most useful tool in promoting your book?
The internet is a big country, making yourself heard above all the racket is easier said than done. The best way to do it is to have constant updates on as many websites, forums and social networking sites as possible. The more you post the larger an audience you build up. But the posts have to be relevant and make sense, so you can’t go onto a steam engine appreciation society page and tell them how great your book about e.g. a horse named Phil is, unless it’s a horse named Phil who is intimately acquainted with steam engines.
Personally, I’m an active member of a number of online groups which celebrate the late great Sir Terry Pratchett. If you are part of communities like this, and the group rules don’t forbid such things, then it’s a great place to post links to your books and stories. You’ll also get feedback from people who share some of your viewpoints on life, which is incredibly helpful.
In what ways have you drawn on your own experiences when writing? I know, for example, you’re planning a novel called Pancreatically Challenged, which is about someone with Type 1 Diabetes – a condition you yourself have.
Pancreatically Challenged isn’t going to be a novel so much as a discourse on what it’s been like having Type 1 Diabetes for nearly forty years. The highs and lows (which may be the subtitle) as well as how technology and science have changed Diabetes management beyond recognition.
My life has actually been a very interesting one, growing up with three older brothers and parents who write, I’ve had jobs in science and technology and am interested in all sorts of things. As I built up a picture of all of the characters in Jump I assigned them certain traits or behaviours which were all, in some way, facets of my own personality.
Thankfully I have a really bad memory! So when I write I can’t draw on real-life conversations, experiences or arguments as I remember them wrong, so I have to create them all from scratch each time.
I know you’re a large Terry Pratchett fan. How would you say his writings – or those of other authors, like Asimov, Crichton, and Baxter – have influenced your own, if at all?
I’d say I’m more of a medium than a large!
Pratchett was and is my favourite author; I wrote a piece which explains a lot about what he meant to me when he died earlier this year. The one thing I would like to think his writing style has given me is an interest in creating multiple threads within a story, which all interweave and then come together to create a sort of oratory crescendo.
I also try to live by his writing advice which, to paraphrase, goes something like – “if you’re writing fantasy don’t read fantasy. Read about nuclear physics, read about basket weaving in the 15th century, read about breeding iguanas, but don’t read fantasy or you’ll just end up producing an inferior copy of what has gone before”.
Oh yeah, and I have a tendency to use too many exclamation marks!!!
If I had to liken Jump to any other particular author’s canon it would probably be that of Michael Crichton. Certainly the idea of a bleeding edge piece of technology causing catastrophic problems is a fairly standard plot device in his novels.
How do you manage to balance working on several different projects concurrently? I know from your Goodreads page that you’re currently writing three books (Devamped, Pancreatically Challenged, and the provisionally titled Getaway), so how do you make sure you balance the amount of attention you pay to them, as well as maintaining real-life commitments?
Sadly, the main project I have to work on is having an actual job. If this were not the case then I would be happily juggling my time between short stories, books and random posts on social media. However I do have a life and responsibilities, so I only really get to write during lunchtimes at work.
When I have the chance, I take my laptop, go sit in the kitchen and get on with whichever thing I am presently feeling inspired about. I’m just planning on restarting Devamped, which is going to be a comedy about a vampire who is involuntarily re-humanised. Getaway has changed into a short story called Pathfinder, which I have submitted for a competition. Pancreatically Challenged is going to continue whenever I’m not doing something more interesting.
I also have a number of other things buzzing about in my head, but when it gets to the start of lunchtime I just pick whichever one I’m in the mood for and run with it.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the people reading this interview?
My review of Dan’s book, which I gave a 7/10, can be found here. You can also buy his book from Amazon here, both in print and electronic formats.