With 26 novels under his belt and plans for many more, indie thriller novelist Jonas Saul is probably one of the most prolific, successful (and nicest) writers I know. In this Q&A, Saul shares his road to publication, his writing process, his definition of success and more.
Describe your road to publication.
In the summer of 2002, I sent several dozen query letters to New York Literary Agencies for my first novel, BAD VIBES. When that resulted in one rejection letter after another, I decided to write another novel. That’s when DARK VISIONS was born. By 2011, I had written over fifty short stories and three novels and still did not have representation. That was when my wife told me I could upload directly to Amazon as an indie author.
At first, I refused. I told her to give me three more months. If I couldn’t acquire an agent, I would go directly to Amazon. Three months came and went. Nothing happened. I succumbed and uploaded six titles to Amazon. Sales began immediately. Within two months, my wife left her job and we bought tickets for Europe in May, 2011 after being an indie on Amazon for four months.
We spent the next eighteen months touring Europe while I wrote from hotel rooms.
By 2013, my Sarah Roberts Series was optioned for a TV Series with a large Hollywood studio. I’ve since flown to Los Angeles several times pitching and working on bringing Sarah to the big screen. In April of this year, six days before THE SNAKE was to be released, it too was optioned for a motion picture deal by a different studio. It’s only a matter of time before you will see Sarah Roberts and Jake Wood on the big screen.
Lastly, this past August, I signed with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain, a literary and dramatic rights agency. Within days of signing the contract for representation, I was meeting with a publisher interested in a substantial print deal for The Sarah Roberts Series.
More details on that to come as soon as I can announce them.
What do you find most challenging about writing? Most fulfilling?
The most challenging thing about writing is just finding the time. Life is so busy with traveling and dealing with my day-to-day routine.
I’ve lived over three of the last five years in Europe. One year in Italy and two and a half years in Greece researching for my novels. Being on the go, touring ancient sites and cities often takes up my entire schedule. It can be a challenging task to get to the computer and type out the word count required to create a novel.
The most fulfilling things I find with writing are the reviews, the interaction I get with readers and the overall love from them. I recently received an email from a woman battling cancer. She wrote to tell me that she’s imagining a million tiny Sarah Roberts attacking the cancerous cells in her body.
Sarah has given her hope and strength. That woman will not only keep fighting, but she’ll fight harder because Sarah would. That email, along with others, have moved me beyond words.
How long does it take you to write a first draft?
[The] first draft takes me approximately five to six weeks.
I have a basic idea of where I’m going and I have an outline prepared. Most of the research has been done before I type the first word.
I write about four thousand words per day, totaling twenty thousand per week.
For me, first drafts are often longer, and after edits, my books come in under one hundred thousand words.
How many drafts do you generally write before your manuscript is finalized?
Quite a few, actually. I try to make the book as perfect as it can be. DARK VISIONS, Book One in the Sarah Series, went through six years of revisions. I completely rewrote that novel twice.
Now, after having written twenty-six novels, I only go through a few drafts that barely take a couple of months, or less in some cases.
What does a typical writing day look like?
Coffee in the morning (at least two), then in the office by nine.
Answering emails, updating social media and typing new words in the manuscript by ten in the morning.
Break by noon for coffee and lunch. My wife and I will often go for an hour’s walk during the lunch break. Then back to the computer for the afternoon.
Four thousand words are attainable without much consternation if I do a few thousand in the morning and a few thousand in the afternoon. Reading in the evening with a glass of wine and off to bed early for another day of creating tomorrow.
(I take weekends off to let ideas roll around in my head. I have found that works wonders.)
Do you have any advice on staying productive?
Stephen King once said something like, “A professional writer sits down and works every day whether they’re inspired or not.”
That’s what I do. Every day, whether I feel like it or not, I sit in front of my computer and produce material. I can edit later. I can delete later. When I’m creating, that’s what I do. My advice would be to focus on discipline.
You have to force yourself to sit down, stare at that empty page, and create. For me, it’s a passion and I can’t seem to get enough of it. I’ve written twenty-six novels and I have the next four outlined and ready to go.
I already have the titles for all four and the cover art completed for three of them. The rest of my year is swamped and that’s without coming up with another single story line during that time.
Where did you get the idea for your title, “The Snake”?
THE SNAKE had been roiling around in my head for over a year before I wrote it. In the outlining stage, THE SNAKE’S main character, Jake Wood, took on a life of his own and the story became what it is today. How Jake changes in the story, what he becomes, is pivotal for the rest of the series.
I love this character and if judging by the reviews on Amazon for this novel, my readers love him, too.
Book Two, THE TARGET is due to be released March/April 2017. I’m excited to see where this series goes as I’m always nose down in my Sarah Roberts Series which has Book 18, THE TERROR coming out on December 28.
After writing and developing eighteen book in the Sarah series, I’m anxious to see The Snake Series do well.
Describe your writing space. What’s your ideal writing environment?
Quiet, peaceful, calm.
Usually the window to either side of me looks out onto a gorgeous scene of some kind. There have been green Italian fields, the Aegean Sea in Greece and now, in Canada, I live on a golf course.
My office looks out onto Hole 9. People hit in to the hole and putt out as I type. Inside my office, I have bookcases lining the walls and a recliner for power naps and evening reading.
If you weren’t a novelist, what would you be?
I’d be in retail. Before I wrote novels for a living, I owned retail stores. I was in that business for twenty years. Retired from it and sold my last store off in 2010, then began writing full time.
Which novel would you recommend new readers start with?
If you still like me as an author, you’re in for a hell of a ride as there will be nineteen Sarah books in the series by the end of the year.
Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
The quote I’ve applied to my writing career is this one from Joe Girard: “The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs … one step at a time.”
I change the word “step” to “book” in my head.
A successful writer gets there one book at a time.
What’s your definition of career success?
Success is having a reader, or readers, take the time out of their day to stop what they’re doing, set down the vacuum, turn off the TV, stay home, and read your book. To stop everything. To pay hard-earned money to buy your novel, then sit and read it, that’s success. If that happens, you’ve done something right along the way.
Then, when they like it—or love it—wow, that’s really successful.
Career success is something a little different. It’s being on the bestseller lists. I also envision a movie deal and a TV series. That would sum up my definition.
Ultimately, the more people who know and read my work (and hopefully enjoy it), the better. That’s success.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Keep going. Don’t stop. Learn the rules of writing and then break some of them.
Always move forward. Edit later. Write for goose bumps and tears. If you’re moved by what you’re typing, your readers will be, too.
Resist flashbacks and dreams. They slow pace. Only use them if you have to. R.U.E. -> Resist the Urge to Explain. Never write for money. Make the story your focus. When you’ve done that, the money will come.
Lastly, minimize the time you’re on social media to ten percent of your writing time, otherwise it can consume you.
The best advertising for a writer is simply writing another book. Just write and it’ll all come together.
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