I’m thrilled to have indie author Marcus Emerson join us here at The Files. Within the indie community, Marcus is a bit of an inspiration. His books often top the charts and his Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series has over 2,500 Amazon reviews! I knew it would be invaluable to have him here as there’s much to learn from his success as an indie author.
Amie: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Marcus! We’re so excited to have you here. Your publication journey is inspiring and I’m excited to share it with our readers. So let’s start with the basics. What inspired you to want to write MG books?
Marcus: It started with Recess Warriors – I wanted to create a comic book, but I wanted to create a comic book that I wouldn’t have to hide from my 3-year-old (at the time) daughter, so that meant no realistic violence, foul language, or anything of the sort. I was working on it for several hours a day at the kitchen table, and she would constantly sit with me during that process.
Once that was finished, I realized that MG was where my heart was the whole time so I just kept going. I can’t see ever writing anything outside of that.
Amie: I believe writing is a calling. Once you find your genre, it almost feels like a betrayal to write outside of it. So you wrote Recess Warriors and had a finished manuscript. Why not find an agent or publisher? Why choose to self-publish?
Marcus: I love working, especially on creating stories. If I could, I’d work all day on just that and nothing else, which was the reason why I chose to self-publish. I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted people to read my stories so I got to work and put them out. I was never against finding an agent or against traditional publishing – I just wanted to work without thinking about anything but the work, and self-publishing allowed me to do that.
Amie: There’s a lot of waiting in traditional publishing and, understandably, there can be some lag time between book releases, so I can appreciate the desire to create and publish on your own timeline. Indie authors tend to sell mostly ebooks. Are your sales mostly digital or physical books?
Marcus: I’m selling a lot more physical books these days. I’m definitely not an expert on why that’s the case though. I suspect more people like having physical copies in their hands? Personally, I do. I’ve probably bought a handful of ebooks in my life, but I’ve got a thousand physical books on my shelf.
I like a book where I can jot notes down on the paper, tear out pages and pin them up for reference, stick post-its in the margins, fold an edge to mark my place, to toss on the couch and know it’s waiting for me when I need it, and to stack on my bookshelves as beat up trophies.
My first love is actually comics, and nothing beats a physical comic book in your hands.
Amie: Unlike other indie authors who write for older audiences and can market directly to them, middle grade readers don’t always purchase their own books. How were you able to reach this younger audience?
Marcus: Amazon.com takes care of all that for me. Parents shop the site, see that my books are popular or are recommended in the “customers also bought” section. I really don’t do much (if any) marketing at all.
Amie: That’s great! Amazon is essential to the indie author. Diary of a 6th grade Ninja is your first self pubbed middle grade book, correct? Ninjas are always popular for this age group, particularly boys. Do you think this has had some influence over the popularity of your books?
Marcus: Correct. NINJA was my first self pubbed book. Ninjas are timeless. I’m 37 years old, and I grew up loving the Ninja Turtles, and kids today are still growing up loving those same turtles. I’m sure being part of pop culture definitely helped my books connect with young readers.
Amie: I’m a *little* older than you but I recall my siblings watching TMNT. I can definitely understand the timeless kid appeal. From here you went on to write additional series, including The Super Life of Ben Braver. Was this also self-published? How did the popularity of your Ninja series affect the follow through sales of your other books?
Marcus: BEN BRAVER is not self-published. It’s published through Roaring Brook Press. It’s been out for a few months now and the response has been great, but I’m not exactly sure if the success of NINJA has anything to do with it.
Amie: You’re now represented by an agent. Tell us a bit about how you found your agent. Why’d you decide to seek representation?
Marcus: So one day I got an email from an agent (Dan Lazar at Writers House) who had read DIARY OF A 6TH GRADE NINJA. He thought the book was really fun and wanted to have a phone call with me. At the time, I was buried in my own work, writing and drawing another book in the NINJA series, so his email kind of slipped my mind.
Fast forward to several months later when I started getting inquiries from foreign countries about publishing the NINJA series in different languages. Foreign taxes and laws and all that was too staggering for my brain to understand, so I emailed Dan back for advice, which he generously offered, and I’ve been working with him and the awesome folks at Writers House ever since.
Amie: Fantastic news on both to your foreign rights interest and to your representation! Since some of your books have now been picked up by a publisher, what are your marketing plans? How have they changed?
Marcus: My marketing hasn’t changed too much, except that I’m trying my best to maintain a social media presence. It’s kind of exhausting for me and inevitably leads me back to burying myself in work because that’s what I love anyway.
Amie: Tell us a bit about your transition from indie to trad and what that’s been like.
Marcus: Self-publishing is a lonely process, for me at least. I outline alone. I write alone. I edit myself, then my wife edits, and then a third person edits. I make the final draft alone. I draw alone. And then I release the book quietly and wait for fans to start reviewing. This process takes 2-3 months per book.
Traditional publishing is much more friendly and a team effort. I outline with my editor and her assistant. I write a first draft. I work on illustrations while they edit. We have phone calls about the first draft and then I work on the second draft based on those notes. I work on covers with designers and the sales team while the second draft is edited. I sharpen the third draft. The book is laid out by the designer. We sharpen the layout until it’s nearly perfect. The book gets printed as an Advanced Reader Copy. The book is sharpened further until it’s perfect. The final book is ready and printed and released. This process takes almost 2 years, and I have a wonderful team of people at Roaring Brook Press working hard to make sure the book is the best it can be.
Amie: What do you like most about being an indie author? What’s the worst thing? Will you continue to self-publish?
Marcus: Most? I get to write what I want. Worst? The stress of writing what I want. There’s nobody to tell me “That’s a bad idea,” or “This part sucks,” or “This part is almost good.” I’m extra hard on my self-pubbed stuff because of that.
I think self-publishing will always be there for me, like my own playground for story telling experiments – nothing major – just small ideas and thoughts.
Amie: Any other books you’re working on?
Marcus: Right now I’m working on the sequel to Ben Braver (actually I’ve been working on it for the last year and a half).
Amie: Spaghetti and meatballs or bean burritos? Snow pants or swim trunks? Dinosaurs or unicorns?
Marcus: Bean burritos! It’s like a meal wrapped in a blanket. I can’t walk while eating spaghetti and walking while eating is very important to me. It’s the most important thing of all.
Swim trunks, because snow pants make too much noise when you walk in them, and I don’t need all those people looking at me when I’m eating my burrito.
Dinosaurs! Because how cool would it be to strap a saddle to one and fight crime while riding it?? But on the other hand, it could be pretty cool to fight crime on a unicorn, too. This question is too hard. Pass.
Amie: Haha! These are the best answers ever! I can’t help imagining you in noisy snow pants, eating your meal-wrapped-in-a-blanket while fighting crime from the back of a unicorn. Thanks for the visual. And thanks so much for joining us at The Files, Marcus. Best of luck to you with Ben Braver as well as all of your other titles.
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