It’s Author Interview Thursday! Are you ready? Yes…then let’s dive right into it. Our featured author in the hot seat today is someone I met on the social networks. I believe I first connected with him on Facebook, then we connected on Twitter and most recently on GoodReads. His generosity and willingness to help his fellow authors is something I believe everyone who has come in contact with him will testify about. He’s served in the US Air Force and has so many stories to tell. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Paul R. Hewlett.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up being a children’s book author?
I am forty-two, live in Illinois, USA, and am a salesman by day. I live with my wife and adopted “senior” dog Jojo. I served four years in the US Air Force and have just recently returned to school to finish the Bachelor’s degree I never completed when I enlisted. My path to becoming a children’s author isn’t terribly interesting. I tend to have an active imagination. I love to people watch. There is always a character in a story waiting to be discovered out there. I loved books like The Three Investigators, when I was growing up. I wanted to take all the ideas I had and write something along those lines; books that boys, even reluctant reader types, will enjoy. The funny thing is, no matter what I try to write it always seems to end up being a children’s type book. I tried several times to write a true middle grade book and guess what? It didn’t work. I turned out to be more of a beginning chapter book writer, so I guess it was meant to be.
I think they can expect to be entertained and if they’re not careful, learn something too. Lionel is a loveable character. He’s a bit overweight, nonathletic, and short, but he doesn’t let that get him down. There is some magic, humor, fun, and plenty of high jinks to entertain.
What inspired you to write the Lionel’s Adventure series and are there any more books to come in the series?
I loved characters like Encyclopedia Brown and Beetle Bailey growing up and really connected with these characters. I set the book in the mid to late ’60’s and that’s because I love the simpler time. By that I mean no smart phones, computers, etc. I moved to a very small, rural town going into the 5th grade and a lot of things you see in the book were in that town. All these factors combined with a desire to get children to read led me to write Lionel’s Grand Adventure. I know I mainly read comic books (Beetle Bailey, Archie, and Sad Sack) growing up and my parents worried that I didn’t read enough. Funny they didn’t consider comic books reading, but that’s a different topic. Encyclopedia Brown turned me on to reading. Now I can’t go a day without reading. I hope Lionel’s Grand Adventure will have the same effect on kids that Encyclopedia Brown had on me. There are more to come. There is a Christmas book (Lionel’s Christmas Adventure) as well as two more that I am working on. In one, Lionel goes to summer camp, and the other he takes a field trip.
What in your opinion makes a great children’s book?
Enjoyable characters, humor and action. These characteristics, in my opinion, gain and keep my attention every time.
Most indie authors who exclusively sell their books via Amazon will testify to a significant change in the ‘post free promo bounce’ their books once enjoyed. How are you adjusting to this change to ensure your books reach as my people as possible?
I have gone the free promo route and have had some decent success, but the one thing I have noticed is that it doesn’t last. I personally have been unable to sustain the sales that free promos help generate, and that has led me to take a different approach. I have focused on reaching my target audience; children, parents, teachers, librarians, etc. The main adjustment I have made is to research bloggers and contacts that are in my target audience and to query them and/or connect with them. This is a slow, tedious process, but one that I feel will build a readership and following that is actually interested in my books, not the price.
What has been your most successful marketing method for promoting your books?
Writing. I know that sounds funny, but whether it’s author interviews, which you were kind enough to do, guest posts, or just writing more books, writing is what seems to be the best marketing tool for me. The more you write, the more people get to know you, and hopefully want to know more about you. I’ve tried free promos, paid ads, etc. and while they have had varying degrees of success, I believe that the path to real success is through writing, gaining exposure, and developing your craft.
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
My favorite childhood books were Encyclopedia Brown and The Three Investigators. I loved the detective aspect of them. The characters were ones that I could really relate to, and being a young boy, I loved their headquarters and all the neat adventures they seemed to get involved in. In case you didn’t know it, The Three Investigators’ HQ was in Jupiter Jones’ uncles junkyard, accessed through several secret entrances. How cool is that?
Publishing too soon. I thought I was ready, and I was wrong. Do your homework, research things. I ended up rewriting Lionel and the Golden Rule multiple times. I have just finally gotten it the way I think it should be. I unpublished a Lionel book (the one where he goes to camp) because, quite frankly, it wasn’t good enough. Find great critique partners, a professional editor, formatter, illustrator/designer, and the list goes on. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive either. The author community is great. I have made so many great friends that offer advice, are willing to help, you name it. If you do your research you can find some great editors that don’t cost a fortune. Same thing with illustrators. The great thing about the changes in the publishing industry is that everyone has adapted. It doesn’t have to cost you your life savings to have your book edited or paperbacks printed anymore. You just need to take your time.
How do you reward yourself on completing a book or achieving a specific publishing goal?
Great question; I’m not sure that I ever have rewarded myself. Well, I take that back. Once a book is done and I mean really done, I frame the cover image and hang it on my office wall.
Toy Story or Shrek?
Toy Story. I may be in the minority, but I have never really gotten into Shrek.
What is a typical day for Paul R. Hewlett?
Right now it is crazy. I work full time as a salesman so I get up and run my sales route all day. Then I do my homework since I have recently returned to college. I’m taking two classes this semester so it’s pretty busy. Then I try to write for at least 30 minutes to an hour. When all that is done I sit down and watch a TV show we DVR’d with my wife and then off to bed. In between, I take my dog on two walks a day and work out 3 times a week to keep my shoulders strong. I had two shoulder surgeries in 2012. I tore the rotator cuffs in both shoulders and it has been a long, hard road back so I have to keep up my strength training. The next day I wake up and do it all over again.
My most unforgettable experience in the Air Force was getting a ride in an F-15. I won an award and that was the reward. Now keep in mind that I can’t do roller coasters and I really don’t even like swings as my stomach drops too much. I had to take a flight physical that only lasted for 48 hours prior to flying. I did that and then when it was time for survival training (learning how to use a parachute basically) the next day, I chickened out. I made up some lame excuse which I can’t even remember now. I was scared to death. The pilot must have heard my excuse before because he called me about fifteen minutes after I hung up and explained to me that mechanics that spend twenty plus years in the Air Force working on F-15s most times don’t get a ride in one, and I would be missing the opportunity of a lifetime. I relented and proceeded to go on the flight. It was awesome, although I did get sick (multiple times). We simulated aerial combat and in doing so I was subjected to over eight G (gravitational)-force. I would even do it again. Something that most people don’t know about the Air Force is that many days it is just like a regular job. You get up, go to work, go home, and live a regular life like a civilian.
What can we expect from Paul R. Hewlett in the next 12 months?
You can expect a book tour for Lionel and the Golden Rule. I will keep on blogging over at Sher A. Hart: Written Art where I co-author a children’s/YA blog, and the release of Lionel Goes to Camp. It should be a productive and exciting year.
Where can fans and readers of your books discover more about you and connect with you?
They can head over to the Lionel’s Grand Adventure Facebook page for updates and fun posts. Sher A. Hart: Written Art is a children’s/YA blog that I co-author. You can find me over there blogging about all kinds of things. I’d also love it if you connected with on Twitter at @lionelsnod.
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the publishing industry?
Nothing too prophetic or profound; just remember that you’ve only failed if you’ve given up. If you love writing, keep doing it.
What a great way to end the interview. Thanks for spending time with us today Paul. I found it very interesting what you said about your best marketing method being writing. I believe that is so fundamental to the success of any author. Sometimes, I feel really proud looking at the first book I ever published, not because it was ground-breaking or the recipient of numerous awards but for the simple fact that I can see how I’ve grown as a writer since then. You really have to check out Paul’s blog as it’s a beehive of activity and you can sign up to his mailing list and get an autographed copy of one of his books while there. Simply click the link below.
You can also enjoy this video trailer for Lionel’s Christmas Adventure and click the link below to get a copy