Today’s Indie Author Interview is with Johnathan Johnson, author of mystery/fantasy novel, Mesto Accelerando!
Why have you decided to self-publish?
Nothing against publishers; I never even gave them a chance. I just saw the nature of my stories and knew that they’d never be accepted into the industry traditionally. So I began with seeking workarounds, with self-publishing being the obvious choice.
What is it about your writing that made you certain that the traditional publishing industry wouldn’t accept it?
A lot of small things like most of my characters taking a very raw/real or cynical approach to romance, or my abrasion to creating intellectually-stunted characters, but I think the (fair) nail in the coffin was the fact all of my stories are connected – and must basically become one by the very end of the timeline. What that means is something like my animated series “Parody of Affairs” directly influences the events in “Mesto Accelerando” and vice versa, with the final chapter in the timeline putting all the surviving characters into one final book/animation. With all these variables, I think it’s quite natural and okay if traditional publishing wouldn’t touch such a financial risk. Even if they did accept one series, they’d have to accept the other.
Would you pursue traditional publication?
Maybe for future works not in my current universe. Newer stories will be less congested and more be more “standalone” than literally any book before them.
Do you have an editor? Did you edit your own manuscript? Do you have advice for other authors editing it themselves or hiring someone else?
Oh heavens yes. Three of them. I know others can, but I will never be able to catch all of my grammar and spelling mistakes. From what I’ve seen of Indie works, I definitely, definitely recommend reading their works several times if they’re planning on editing it themselves. And by several times, I mean several times after you’re sick of reading it over and over again. For those with editors, just…listen to what they’re saying. They’re trying to save your story’s life.
Where did you find your editors?
Jennifer was, no matter what, going to find me, but I found Tomoyo online through Voice Acting Alliance and it was discovered she could format a book and make it a lot more polished spelling/grammar wise on top of some great voice acting, while Alys, the third editor (and descriptive writer for “Mesto Accelerando!”) came into my life about a decade ago! Through forums, naturally.
What was it like collaborating on Mesto Accelerando with another writer?
Easier. Absurdly easier. As I’ll definitely be hammering down during this interview, I am not the type to have the energy to give the medium justice. Not alone. Enter Alys, who is more than willing to do the details in characters and backgrounds that initially were never there. It allows me to focus on my strength: dialogue and storytelling. There’s no clash of ideals here as she came in specifically to give life to my otherwise soulless backgrounds.
Where have you decided to publish your books? (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc.)
Is there any reason you decided to publish exclusively with Amazon?
I am far too lazy to manage other sites, though Lulu’s stupendous prices were a good deterrent too. You can visibly tell Lulu’s business model is to suck money from an excited writer while Createspace/Amazon has a far fairer middle ground. (Lower book prices and fair enough royalties.)
Did you format your own book? Did you run into any trouble formatting it? Do you have any advice to fellow authors about formatting their books?
I couldn’t give anyone advice on formatting as I have Tomoyo handle it. On every occasion. Every year. For some reason I can’t wrap my head around it, so…I delegate the task.
I guess she’s totally okay with it if you just hand it off to her, haha. Does she ever give you feedback on what it’s like to format?
I believe she told me like, twice how to do it, and I just…blinked at her. She didn’t see said blinks because this was an online conversation, but I’m sure she felt it as I continuously asked her to format literally every book I’ve published. (Three now, four this year.)
Who created your cover art? If you did it yourself, could you explain how you did it? If someone else did it, how did you hear about their services? What was it like working with them?
Cat Lupango handles all of my cover art for books and soundtracks these days! I found her on a whim via DeviantArt several years ago, she agreed to join the team and haven’t let her go since. (Bless her heart.) For the most part, she’s a hard worker and has never been a waste of time or investment. I do believe she’s on her way to half a thousand pieces of art she’s drawn for me, so definitely, definitely pay her a premium if you’re into her art style!
Cat’s DeviantArt: http://catvilu.deviantart.com/
How do you approach Cat when you need a new art piece? Like, “Hey, here are the characters. Do something cool with them”? Or do you like to exert a little more control?
Oh I definitely exert a ton of control. She’s mad talented, but the simple fact of the matter is the art style conflict wildly with the traditional aesthetics when it comes to the references, various skin tones, races, clothing, and overall presence, and we definitely want the originality of the characters’ personalities to show. Even for the less visually striking characters, I want non-fans to be able to point and say “Yep, that’s John’s Kathryn!” So most of the time, she’s unfortunately pretty restricted. Fortunately, she seems okay with this!
I think you’ve mentioned several times that people draw one of your characters, Shara, way too light-skinned. How do you approach the topic with your artists?
Fortunately, it’s just Cat these days who draws characters (who knows better,) so it’s been almost a year since I dealt with it. For the artists that don’t, it depends on the context. If the directions explicitly didn’t state that the afro-centric character is indeed afro-centric, I try to understand that they just generally don’t have the experience with such a diverse cast. If the directions state it very clearly and they still do it, I do sort of dip into the “How professional did you say you were again?” attitude that you’ve seen in the past.
What have you found most helpful in marketing your book? What have you found least helpful? Is there anything you want to warn authors to stay far, far away from?
I can’t tell you what has helped other than having more popular people hype your book up as it seems most will more or less turn a blind eye until said book becomes a hit. But I can tell you what isn’t helpful! Facebook ads or ads in general, it seems. Stay away from that unless you have both the budget and strategic genius to make use of an otherwise useless system.
How do you connect with your readers?
I leave links to my Facebook pages and post my email that allows anyone to ask or talk about anything related to me or my projects. I also, though pretty rarely, make small contests and showcase fan art!
Could you show us some of your favorite fan art pieces? 😀
Yeah! Funny enough, Cat did some fan art of her own, so I’ll be hyping that up too. XD I’m also a huge fan of Sam’s pudgy character designs he did a ways back for Kattis & Company (I swear he has a soft spot for her.) Lastly, Tomoyo did some fan art of some of the characters reacting to a little quiz/poll that I gave to my Facebook feed where friends more or less voted on their favorite leader from the book. Lady Kathryn won, of course.
What do you love about being an indie author? Do you hate anything about being an indie author?
There’s no rush or deadline other than the one you set for yourself. And most importantly, no one is forcing you to change your vision into something else. Yeah, there will be critics who strongly encourage you to do things that better fit their tastes under the veil of objectivity, but the moment you see that others under the same veil have clashing ideologies, the pressure really is pretty vapid compared to what I hear being a traditional author is like!
I think the two biggest things I hate about being an Indie is that my fanbase reach depends heavily on Facebook friends – so vastly smaller compared to the more traditional route where they have a budget just for marketing by guys who know marketing better than I ever will. Second being having to do a lot of work myself. I am an inherently lazy creature. It’s from pure determination alone that I pushed myself to finish these books (or in my current situation, polish them for commercial release.) And for someone who has to keep up his ego by literally never missing a deadline on top of manage other projects, the extra work I do to get my books ready for release are things I definitely don’t want to deal with.
What have you heard what it’s like to be a traditional author?
You don’t get to keep all of your ideas, and there is an undying love/hate relationship with your editor. Financial politics, having to be more careful on social media. All the little things I would do poorly in as I am now!
Would you like to see your book in another medium? Audiobook, film, TV series, video game…?
Oh, definitely! Animations and games, primarily! Both of these are actually the mediums I’d best excel in as book writing is my weakest skill of the three.
Do you have a “dream cast” of who’d play your characters?
Not ‘cast’ per se, but I do have fleeting ideas on who’d make a good voice for some characters. For example, I think “Liam O’ Brien” would make a great Staccato or “Natalie Van Sistine” (all hail her name) would make a very fun Kathryn. (Don’t hold me to that, guys; any voice for the MA cast will indubitably have auditions!)
(Follow ProjectTrinityStudios on Facebook to get news on upcoming auditions!)
Have you written any video games?
Technically, yes. “Mesto Accelerando” believe it or not used to be a game. In fact, it used to be a game with a sequel! Both games were completed in “RPG Maker XP” and done before I began work on the series “This Crazy World” and because of that, the writing is so terribly dated and inferior to all of my more recent works by leagues and miles. They’re also using copyrighted art, but if I decide to ‘remaster’ them, I’ll definitely use Cat’s art assets she’s created over the years and get some custom sprite art.
Do you have the means of creating either an animation or video game, or both?
Another technically yes! I could start either one with full force if I wanted to. Or at least I think I can. And if you count the upcoming visual novel “Women of Xal” then I actually am creating a video game again. However, when it comes to starting up another animation, say, a “Mesto Accelerando” one, I would much, much, much rather dedicate my resources into finishing “Parody of Affairs” first, or “The Perjurer: Liar’s Game,” which is so close to done it’s painful at this point. (Both are 3D animations.) But in short: Yes, I have the means and the amazing staff to pull it off – after we’re done clearing these current projects. 2D animation however? Nope! I happen to like not living in poverty forever.
Check out John’s motion comic “Can’t Say Can’t,” featuring voice talents from the aforementioned Tomoyo Ichijouji!
How have video games influenced your writing?
Not as much as people think it does, though it does inspire harmless references like calling different books “Discs” instead of “Volume/Part/Saga/Ect” or if you read “This Crazy World” or watch “Parody of Affairs” when part of the entire meta theme seems to be about structures akin to JRPGs.
I think it’s interesting that you said that you feel that your book writing is your weakest form of writing, yet you’ve written a book. Do you think novels are the easiest medium with which you can release your story?
Maybe not the easiest, but definitely the cheapest! There is so much skill needed to properly convey your story and retain an audience that I’ve legitimately had an easier time writing for comics like my “Can’t Say Can’t” short. I just had to write the words, Cat drew everything perfectly, Jeremiah, Sanchita, and Tomoyo voiced over it, and voila! All the praise for the tense writing without the criticisms for not writing perfectly for a novel.
You and I have a pretty big circle of voice acting friends. When you hear someone else portraying your character, does it change how you think about your own characters? Does the portrayal make you rewrite your characters, whether it’s adding or changing something to their personality or quirks?
Sometimes it does. In small ways. It’s usually to make up for an emotional range they lack due to not having the same inspirations as I have (which is bound to happen, a writer’s inspiration and a VA’s will differ. Breaking Bad is my usual ‘go to’ for emotional range, which relies on subtle nuances that anime and cartoons have yet to touch, and it conflicts with the more anime-styled characters I have on screen.) On the other hand, if a VA is absolutely killing it in a way I never anticipated, I tend to add in lines or maybe even give them more scenes.
Who’s your favorite character, and how do you want your readers to feel about that character?
Sonatina Kathryn. I’d like the readers to feel the same way the main character, Jasmin, feels about her at any given time. At the moment, that means consistently annoyed at her, but does respect aspects of her personality.
I’m going to pull the feminist card here and say, you’re male, but your favorite character is female? Now, this has nothing to do with her gender, and you like her because she’s a fun character, right?
Yes. There are probably some sexist MRA dolts who also have favorite characters who happen to be female. I don’t think the concept is much at all unique or different. In my case, if I was going to pick a favorite character based on gender, I would have instantly chose Jasmin because of how “deep and complex” she is. She, objectively, has several more layers than Kathryn, more or less an underdog, and is undeniably intelligent. …And the main character of the entire series. But Kathryn’s deadpan pranks and hubris are extremely fun to write as it juxtaposes her trope of being a cold-blooded leader. I don’t think I’ve ever written another character that could realistically pull off being a troll while simultaneously being hated for being a controlling stick in the mud that can’t have fun by both Jasmin and readers. I think that extra layer of her being misunderstood regardless of how there’s obviously a fun person underneath the cold eyes is just… odd, yet so fun!
I may however have to give second and third place to the men: “Staccato” and “Dhaj.” The latter is immeasurably more complex than 99% of the cast, but the former shares my love of having fewer layers of complexities, but subverts the right things.
What cliches are you tired of seeing in your genre?
Casual, accepted sexism from both writer and reader and justifying it under ‘historical context.’ I mean, it’s a -fantasy- story, you don’t have to show that fantasy stops being fun when women are no longer constantly victimized and ignored.
Are there any moments within MA that could be considered misogynistic for the sake of characterization? Like, say, Game of Thrones style, Ramsay Bolton.
Yes. I can’t spoil it as it’s not even released yet, but there are characters that behave like certain types of men in real life. A spectrum of sexism, entitlement, and outright hatred/disrespect. This includes “The Nice Guy” and the “I just don’t like women” type. It’s a fantasy series however, so there’s plenty of (actual) misandrists there too, especially once an entire, madly dangerous society of women who have a birth ‘right’ to own men. That group has its share of flippantly sexist comments and entitlement. (Fun fact: Once this group of women comes in, my male readers have indeed expressed discomfort!) On the bright side, unlike Ramsay, every action both misogynistic and misandrist have weight that affects the entire series with ‘shock value’ playing third fiddle. What I’m hoping is that everyone who reads realizes that I don’t aim to shock; only make you curious to know how it all ties together. …Or to give you a hard lesson in not paying attention to the clues I set in a mystery novel.
Would you like to add anything else?
Not much. Mainly big thanks for the opportunity and doing all this for authors. I’m sure they appreciate it just as much! And for those who read everything without actively wanting to throw mental daggers my way, thank you too!
by Johnathan Johnson and Alys Hannum
When Jasmin’s mother dies fighting a rogue Angel, Jasmin is chosen to take her place as one of the four Sonatinas that govern Accelerando. Amidst a crash course in politics, combat, and leadership, she must also attempt to identify the mysterious forces that have begun to threaten her country with annihilation. And when the opposition includes cultures with vastly differing values, conflicting views on race, gender, and sexuality make for rising tensions at home.
Buy Mesto Accelerando here!
Cynical overthinker with a love for creative stories that can stick out from the rest. Composes music, directs comics and animations, and frequently considered the batty writer.