Interview with James R. Wells

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It’s James R. Wells on the blog today. He is the author of The Great Symmetry. And just so you know, he happens to be the great grandson of H. G. Wells! You can visit his website at www.thegreatsymmetry.com/

1) Give us a bit of an introduction about yourself. Where and with whom do you live?

I live in Washington State with my wife and daughter. We get to go skiing and hiking in the mountains as well as being close to the ocean. I’m happiest when I’m out in the natural world.

The only problem is there are very few caves. I love caving, and it’s a long was to get to my favorite cave: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

2) Tell us about ‘The Great Symmetry

The Great Symmetry is a science fiction adventure. An exoarchaeologist named Evan has made a great discovery from a long-extinct alien race, and plans to share the news with everyone. But Evan’s expedition sponsor realizes the discovery is worth more than the entirety of all human assets currently in existence, and that leads to all kind of problems. At the start of page one, the chase is on.

The setting of The Great Symmetry is a future where people have found a way to travel to other star systems through portals called glomes. The problem with glomes is that until you go into one, you don’t know where it will go. Once at your destination, you can’t go back through that specific glome. So exploration has been a slow business.

The book is also very thematic and hopefully gives readers a few things to consider about our world today. It especially explores themes around the freedom of ideas and information. In The Great Symmetry, one idea in particular seems to work of its own volition to be free of control.

I recommend The Great Symmetry for people who enjoy thoughtful science fiction, and like to consider human questions about our world and relationships to others. It has action, but if you want an arcade game full of battle scenes and violence, move on because you won’t find that here.

3) What motivated you to write in the first place? Did it have anything to do with being H. G. Wells’ descendant?

I have always wanted to write science fiction, and I partly completed many projects over the years. Three years ago I finally decided it was time to complete at least one full novel in my life, and published in May 2015. But now there’s no escape – a prequel and also Volume II are in the works, because there’s more to tell. The series will be at least a trilogy of full length novels plus the shorter prequel. We might not make it to Earth in Volume II, and that’s a must-do.

H.G. Wells was always a fact of family history (my Dad knew him, and told me about conversations they had). But I really got a lot more inspiration from classic science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. In style, The Great Symmetry is an homage to a classic style of science fiction.

4) Did you submit to trad publishers? Why did you choose to self publish?

When I first completed a draft of The Great Symmetry, I submitted to trad publishers, and it was declined because it wasn’t good enough. Then I spent a year on revisions, working with a professional editor through several passes.

By the time those changes were done, I had come to realize the potential of the indie market. I’m now convinced that for a lot of genre fiction, unless you can get a great deal from a trad publisher, indie provides the best pathway. You control everything, and you’re not hostage to whatever a publisher may decide to do or not do. And for the eBook market, there’s not much a publisher can do that you can’t.

5) How did you prepare your book for publication? What about marketing?

Let’s go right back to editing. I was fortunate to find an excellent editor based on a referral from a friend. For any indie, if you don’t get great help on editing, it’s a huge obstacle to success. Readers expect a professional product – as they should – and it’s your job as an author to deliver that.
For marketing, the biggest single thing is a great cover. Mine is custom art by Jeff Brown (http://www.jeffbrowngraphics.com/). The cover needs to be striking, and needs to clearly convey genre and perhaps a core idea of your book, at both thumbnail and full size. That’s not easy to accomplish.

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6) Did you make any mistake while first starting out in the indie world?

I didn’t recognize the importance of eBooks. These days eBooks are 90%+ of my readership. An indie novel should be designed from the group up for eBook, first and foremost.

When I first published, I thought the book would be a success if I sold out a couple of print runs. These days I think of print as something whose main purpose is to prove to my mom that I wrote a book. It’s great to have print copies to sign at events (and I do sell print from my website), but here’s the funny thing: First thing I ask readers to do if they said they enjoyed the book is to post a review on Amazon – yep, the main place where people buy the eBook version.

7) I agree reviews on Amazon are important, but what do you think about reviews on other places, like goodreads? Have you found them as important as those on Amazon?

Amazon is definitely the most important place, although I expect it’s helpful to have reviews on Goodreads and at any other location where your book is for sale such as Kobo, Apple, and B&N.

That said, many indie authors spend way too much time worrying about reviews – time and energy that could be spent on the next book. The best way to get reviews is to write something that people will be moved to review.

8) What is your opinion on author networking and author cross promos?

I do a lot of author networking to exchange ideas about writing and marketing. An excellent author site is KBoards Writers Cafe (http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html) – I have learned a huge amount there. Any indie author who isn’t reading KBoards regularly (and contributing, if they choose) is missing out.

Author cross promotion can be helpful and I’ve done a little bit of it, but you can get sucked into promoting books you don’t know about. That just turns you into a book huckster and can harm your relationship with readers. I would far rather read the entirety of a book and tell readers it’s great if I really think so.

9) What is your typical writing day like? Do you set daily word goals?
I still have a day job (boo!) so writing has to happen around that. [Actually I can’t complain, my employer treats me very well and has provided some flexibility on work schedule to accommodate writing and author events].

I wrote The Great Symmetry mostly from 9 to midnight, which was difficult. These days I’m more likely to set up a full day to write (like today, being a Saturday) and see how much I can accomplish. I’m deep in the prequel and planning to complete it very soon, so the pressure is on. I need to write at least a couple of thousand words today.

10) Do you ever think about getting your book turned into a film, like the books of H. G. Wells? Any plans in that direction?

My wife has clear ideas about the cast of the movie version.

It’s a great fantasy, but I can’t wait around for it to happen because it depends on vast forces way outside my control. I’m concentrating on things I can affect, which especially means writing further volumes.

Which brings up a key idea about being an indie: You do things you can control. If you do it well, you succeed. You don’t have to wait around hoping to be discovered, or mope along begging agents and publishers to deem your manuscript worthy. Make the best, most professional product you possibly can, publish, and then let the market decide instead of some gatekeeper.

11) What about translation to other languages?

I’ve never evaluated this. Maybe someday.

12) Besides a professional cover and editing, with what attitude do you think a newbie author should approach self publishing?

I would say: Write what you care about.

If you don’t care deeply about the people and situations in your book, nobody else will. It won’t matter how well the book is written, or how well it matches genre expectations, or how great the cover looks.

One exercise is to write a description, in just a sentence or two, why your ideal reader will strongly connect to your book. If you can’t do that, something is seriously missing.

13) We have come to the end of the interview now, would you like to add anything?

I’m grateful to readers, who make it all possible. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, and to find out that something I wrote had meaning for another person. I encourage all readers to write to authors whose work they enjoy – you’ll be surprised how often they write you back.


A. J. Chaudhury is a young author from India writing mostly in the fantasy genre. His historical low fantasy short “A Song of Blood” releases shortly. Click here to download his fantasy novella “The Drabird” for free.

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About A J Chaudhury

A. J. Chaudhury is a young author from India of fantasy and historical fiction. His short story "A Song of Blood", set in historical Pragjotisha, has released recently, and more tales are following soon.
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