Its another Author Interview Thursday and we have a very special guest with us today. If you remember, three weeks ago Matt Posner interviewed David Chuka on his blog. Well, today he returns the favor and we have him in the hot seat. Matt Posner is a writer and teacher from New York. Like I shared yesterday on my Facebook Fan Page, this has got to be one of the most insightful, controversial and honest reviews I’ve done. I love Matt’s brutal honesty on several issues and his passion for education is so clear to see. Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Matt Posner.
Tell us about the latest book you’re working on and when it’ll be published?
I have been held up for the past few months right at the brink of finishing. I have not used the school’s time travel abilities School of the Ages 4: Simon Myth for a plot-line since the first book, but what’s old is new again when Simon gets lost in time and winds up in ancient India and meets the heroes of the Mahabharata.
What can a reader expect when they pick up a Matt Posner book?
I’m big on characterization and conflict. You will find lots of sharply drawn characters, a dialogue-driven storyline, and plenty of trauma and confrontation. School of the Ages is about a magic school, but it has a real-world feel with genuine places in New York and the world as a backdrop, and a complex multi-cultural impulse. This is one of few series about magic that actually addresses world religion also, with characters whose identity as Jews and Hindus is paramount. Book V. set for 2014 I hope, will add another world religion to that equation also.
Yes, naturally it has, for a few reasons. First of all, all the teachers are good. There are no Snapes in this series. Second, my experience with learning disabled students caused me to incorporate autism into my second book, Level Three’s Dream. And third, teaching literature has made me better at writing it. People have asked me in the past if I am inspired by my students when I craft teen characters. I don’t think I am, though. My teen characters are more like my own generation as teens – me and my classmates from middle and high school – at least as I remember us.
Quite a few best-selling authors have a background in education. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of this?
Which best-selling authors have that background? Can I go hang out with them and be their friend? The disadvantage is that working as a teacher sucks you dry, intellectually and emotionally, and it is hard to go home and start doing creative writing. The advantages are that you constantly interact with people and learn more about human nature, and that you become aware of so much knowledge that can trigger you creatively. Oh, and you have time to travel, with the various breaks, which has affected me since I use places I have visited as settings for my novels. Some teacher/writers might also benefit from the summers off, but I work a summer job as an SAT trainer so I don’t get that full advantage.
Do you believe in writer’s block and what do you do to overcome it?
Surprisingly, I am asked this fairly often. I had writer’s block for many years. The cause of it was self-doubt and low self-esteem. The primary impulses behind those feelings were graduate creative writing workshop critiques and feckless literary agents. Neither is an issue in my life anymore except insofar as I reflect upon them as sources of psychic scarring. No one can be wholly free of self-doubt once it has come into play, but I am in a good place creatively and my only issue is lack of time and energy to write. The other cause of writer’s block is failure to prepare yourself to write. Many writers are blocked because they haven’t done the proper amount of outlining and notes and research necessary to make the creative process work for them. (Everyone needs a different amount; I’m just saying that blocked writers haven’t met their individual need for such prep. A person who is blocked needs to cultivate a positive attitude – with the help of some good people to talk to, be they past readers or mentors or fellow artistic people or psychological professionals – and to do some pre-writing activities in order to create a sense of structure and order.
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
I can’t possibly list them all as I was voracious. I usually cite as my all-time favorite The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I also add to the conversation Edward Eager’s magic books, Tolkien in general, DC and Marvel comics, and generally any book about monsters or dinosaurs, ghosts or scary movies that I could get my hands on.
Traditional publishing is the only way to get a chunk of money, but the advance is probably all the money you will ever see because of the way the deals are structured. Authors really get screwed by traditional and legacy publishers. Self-publishing may get you little or no money but you are in control of it. Those few self-published authors who have made big money are writing material comparable to best-sellers who are legacy published. I don’t advise aspiring to that position unless you naturally fall into one of those bestseller categories. Otherwise, the only way to make money is to have a lot of quality books that each bring in a little income. Many books with small income each adds up to better than small income.
What mistake(s) have you made while publishing your books that you would advise other authors against?
I have published short story anthologies but no one buys them. People would rather pay $2.99 for a novel than $0.99 for a smaller selection. I did review trading for a while but I found that readers really dislike when authors do it, so I stopped.
How do you deal with bad reviews?
I don’t have very many bad reviews. It’s best to ignore them. The worst thing an author when harshly criticized is to get into a wrangle with the critic. A rule in human life is that when someone is mean to you and you fight back, you look bad and the mean person wins. This rule is as inevitable as death and taxes. When I read in Salman Rushdie’s memoir that he got into public quarrels in the papers with other authors who had critiqued his books, I thought that was really stupid of him. Writers who duke it out with Internet trolls always wind up wrung-out and upset and often get banned from Amazon. Trolls always win, folks, because they are fundamentally amoral and so nothing holds them back.
What was the last film you saw at the movies and what did you like about it?
I saw Man of Steel and I liked the special effects and I liked looking at Amy Adams. I never get tired of looking at Amy Adams.
No one has asked me that question before! I love new questions!
I told my class at a private religious school where I was dean that I was going to teach Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. The students began to complain that it was boring and then to make fun of Indians, saying they worshipped monkeys etc. This bothered me tremendously because my wife is Indian and Hindu, although I could not acknowledge that because it would have caused problems for me in that single-religion school. It quickly became a major row and I gave the whole class a detention. The principal went in to the classroom later and cancelled my punishment, completely undermining me. I am now much more experienced and would not make such blunders in the classroom, but I still remember the trauma of the situation keenly.
What would you change in the education system?
Here in the United States education has been subject to a series of addlepated reforms conducted by a coordinated team of union-busting politicians and corporate profiteers. It would make me physically sick to describe here the details of the farrago* that is American public education. Now is the worst time American education has seen since I’ve been alive. What would I change? Schools should be run by skilled, trained, experienced professional educators AND NO ONE ELSE.
Which New York sports team do you support?
What 3 things should a visitor to New York experience?
Go to Times Square, walk around and see the Broadway theaters and Rockefeller Center; go to 34th-Street Herald Square, the giant Macy’s, and the Empire State Building; go downtown to the Wall Street area, see the giant metal bull, and make fun of the goofballs in suits going in and out of the Stock Exchange. Each of these has a clear subway stop, respectively 47-50 Rockefeller Center; 34th St-Herald Square; and Wall Street.
School of the Ages 4 should come out in July. In August or September, a how-to book called How to Write Dialogue. Then I will be working on another Teen Guide book with Jess C. Scott and a non-School of the Ages novel.
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the publishing industry?
There are three elements that lead to progress building a presence as an author. (I won’t say career.) They are quality writing, marketing skills, and luck. Quality writing isn’t always necessary (viz. E.L. James) but it is necessary for most people, and its absence will kill most aspirants’ prospects even though its presence guarantees nothing. Marketing skills are necessary because books don’t sell themselves. If you are on your own you have to market yourself, and even if you have a publisher you still have to market yourself because legacy publishers rarely market anything under their imprint except celebrity books. Luck is what happens when some random event favors your success. You can make tremendous effort and still get nowhere, or you can make tremendous effort and have luck cause that effort to pay off.
Overall, if you want to be a self-published author, I think you should do what my co-author and friend Jess C. Scott recommends. Publish a lot of quality books, diversify genres, and go for income by selling many different books rather than pushing a small number. If you can learn how to do your own formatting, that’s much better, because formatters charge a lot. As for cover art, most of us can’t do our own. Jess does, because she is multi-talented, but when I have done my own it hasn’t been successful. Find a self-published book whose cover art you like, write to the author to find out who the artist is, and go from there. (My current cover artist for School of the Ages is Mande Matthews.)
If you want to be a traditionally published author, I don’t have very much advice about how to make that work. I wouldn’t trust any literary agent who would take me on as a client. The big publishing houses are only interested in celebrities and guaranteed best-sellers. There are lots of small publishers out there and they are taking on authors, but you won’t make much money and most of them have limited budget. A lot of them supplement that budget by doing subsidy publishing, and so will offer you an option in which they produce and distribute and you pay. Even if they are nice people, that’s a deal with no profit for you.
I invite fans to connect with me in four places.
My website http://schooloftheages.webs.com
My fan page http://www.facebook.com/schooloftheages
My twitter: http://www.twitter.com/schooloftheages
My pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mattposner
My website has links to all of my books on Amazon. Or they are also here:
Thank you Matt for that interview. What really struck me was your brutal honesty and willingness to tell it like it is. Not many authors are willing to share their mistakes and you spoke from personal experience and not what you had read or heard from this blog or that author. Now I know many people will agree and disagree with what Matt has said. Why don’t you leave a comment or question for Matt who will gladly respond to it. One of the greatest gifts you can give a writer is feedback and Matt will love to hear from you. Go on…leave that burning question or comment below.