This interview is part of a periodic series of interviews with successful indie-published authors, hoping to shed some light on the indie publishing path to book, and specifically middle grade, publication. I haven't reviewed his second book, Sol Invictus, yet but I've read it, after getting it from my library, and I'll post the review to my '22 Summer Sci-fi/Fantasy Readapalooza, June-July. By that time, the third book will be out and I can review both in one post.
10 Question & Answer with Ben Gartner, author
The Eye of Ra, Sol Invictus and soon-to-be released, People of the Sun (Feb. 2022)
1. What was your inspiration for writing The Eye of Ra?
Bonding time with my kids. I was writing an adult thriller at the time, but I couldn’t really talk about it with them over the dinner table. So one night my oldest and I started brainstorming a new story idea. It blossomed from there. It was just a fun exercise to do together, but during the process I realized we actually had something that would be fun to send to the cousins, and other people too.
2. What were your most significant challenges when writing The Eye of Ra?
Time. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it’s a story about time travel when I feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do. :)
3. Did the challenges change while you were writing Sol Invictus? What were some of the new ones with writing a book 2, if there were any?
Great question, and definitely “yes.” I was still promoting book 1 while working on book 2. And it’s compounded even further now while I promote book 1 and 2 and do all the prep work necessary for book 3 to publish in February. Plus, I have another work in progress that I’m passionate about too. I’m not complaining, I love it, but the time is certainly spread even thinner. (See my answer to #2…)
4. Your The Eye of Ra series is self-published. Did you pursue traditional publishing at any point? Why or why not?
Maybe it’s a silly distinction, but I prefer to say "indie press.” I’ve thought about my feelings around the term “self-publish” and I think maybe it’s the “self” in there that makes me squirm, like it’s egotistical or self-aggrandizing or something. Like I said, maybe it’s silly. But, from a business perspective and technically speaking, I do have an tax-paying entity, an independent press, that publishes my books (Crescent Vista Press), and maybe someday it'll publish others too…
I have not pursued the “traditional” publishing route for The Eye of Ra and that is 100% because of the time it takes to go through that process. Remember that this was a fun side-project for me and my boys to enjoy together. And I wanted to get some copies to the cousins, for example. If I had constrained myself to the traditional route of querying, then sub’ing, then the actual publishing cycle, it could be years until we had something we could hold in our hand. By then, my kids, and their cousins, would be out of the middle grade bracket. That didn’t make sense.
5. What led you to go the indie-publishing route, as opposed to traditional publishing?
I went the indie press route because I wanted to get something out much faster than traditional publishing would permit. This was a pet project. It has obviously grown and I’m loving it, but I do wonder how the experience would differ if I’d gone the traditional route. I haven’t ruled out hitting the query trenches for one of my books down the road. Of course it would be fun to experience that process and check that off the bucket list. We shall see.
On a side note, I think it’s interesting that the question is often “Why didn’t you go traditional?” and never “Why didn’t you go indie?” ;)
I also want to emphasize that going indie does not excuse the author from hiring professionals to polish their work and to treat it exactly as any publisher would. The editor I work with freelances for all the big houses. The proofreader I use can say the same. The cover designer and illustrator is amazing and works with some really big names. They are talented, experienced professionals. Just because this was a “side project” didn’t mean I wanted to put out something less than my best work. I think that attention to detail is a part of the reason for the success I’ve had to-date.
I care about these stories, and so I worked with a team that would help present them optimally, and imbue them with staying power.
6. What do you most hope The Eye of Ra readers will walk away with from John and Sarah's story?
I was speaking to my boys through John and Sarah. You will have challenges and tough times, but if you stick together, you will be happier for it. I also wanted to speak to anxious children, that it’s okay to be that way, and that you can deal with it and still do great things. I also wanted to speak to daredevil children, that it’s okay to be that way, and that you can still do great things. Just be careful out there.
7. Can you discuss, briefly, some of the challenges of the indie-publishing process? What was most difficult, and why?
An indie press is a business just like any other. Literally. Taxes, marketing, sales, hiring, project management, creative decisions, HR, all of it. Oh, and writing too. The thing is, I really like learning. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I often say that the day I stop learning is the day I die. I understand so much more about this industry now than I did three years ago that my hard-won knowledge will be an asset for the next time I do this. Or, if I sign with an agent, I will bring that experience, work ethic, and network to the table — earned through blood, sweat, and tears (mostly happy tears…).
8. My blog features books that kids can get through their public library. Many indie-published works, unfortunately, are not approved for library purchase. Did you make any publishing choices to consciously ensure The Eye of Ra could be bought by libraries? If so, what were they?
I didn’t want there to be any barriers to purchasing or acquiring The Eye of Ra, just like with any traditional route. So I went through all the hoops the big houses do. I purchased ISBN’s, acquired a Library of Congress Control Number, I made the book available on all ebook platforms, paperbacks and hardbacks available anywhere books are sold, full wholesale discounts for retailers, allowable returns, etc etc. You can get my book in Barnes & Noble, or at your local library, or via Amazon (of course), or through your school, even around the world in Italy and Japan and basically every country. Basically anywhere.
9. What middle grade books and authors inspired your writing?
This is an interesting question because it has evolved GREATLY over the last couple of years. I obviously read a lot when I was a kid, but then aged up like we all do. So I didn’t read “middle grade” books again until I had kids in that bracket. And, since then, and since becoming heavily involved in the MG community, I’ve read MG almost exclusively. I still mix in an adult book here and there, but I’ve been sucking up as many as I can. It’s fun. And fun is a primary motivator for me in all of this. I’m also getting a better grasp of the wider market, besides just my own kids’ interests (though that is still a big driver for me). I know I didn’t call out any names there, but for historical stuff, it was Roald Dahl, and Garfield, and Dragonlance, for example. Then closely after that Stephen King, who shook my world. I also wanted to be a movie director and Steven Spielberg was my idol. I even wrote him a letter and got a response.
For more recent and modern authors, I would refer readers to my Goodreads profile where I am actively rating the many books and authors I love.
10. Let's talk reviews. How important are they, and where / how can young readers help authors, if they can't buy your books?
Reviews are very important. They are “third party validation” that some other human liked the book, and so you might too. Ratings at places like Amazon also boost visibility of the product, which has a compound positive effect.
And how young readers can help authors? Just read. Talk to your friends and your parents and your teachers about the books you liked. Ask for the book at your local library or school library. Librarians are very friendly people and, to my knowledge, a request for The Eye of Ra has never been denied. I LOVE seeing my book on the library shelf (send me a photo!!). Tell authors you liked their book. That is a thousand times more valuable to me than a critical review. Because despite all the nuts and bolts we talked about here, the young readers are why we’re here.
11. If you have any words of wisdom for new / budding authors out there...please share.
Sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget. Especially as you get older. Don’t get wrapped up in a goal like “get published” or “get a review from Kirkus” or whatnot. It is wonderful to have those goals, and they do feel good to accomplish (!), but if your only drive becomes achieving something like that, then where is the joy in the process itself? It’s like climbing a mountain. You’re going to be spending a lot of time hiking up that thing and comparatively very little time at the top. The journey has to be the prize. The summit is great too, but if you’re not enjoying the trail there, you’re wasting your own time and you won’t be happy.
Thank you so much for having me, Anita! This was a blast to talk craft and process with you. If people want to learn more about The Eye of Ra series, including free samples and free Teacher Guides, they can check out my website. I’m also active on Twitter if anyone wants to say hi or ask more questions: https://twitter.com/BGartnerWriting.