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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview with comical fantasy novelist, Clark Nielsen

You have a blog that is called Clark Nielsen for the Win. Is Clark winning? And if so what? It sounds like you are a fan of game shows.
I'm not really a game show fan as much as I am a fan of gamer culture and Internet memes, which adopted the phrase "for the win" for its own purposes. That's why it popped into my head when it came time to name the blog. I also started the blog the same time I was preparing to leave for China to teach English, so using "for the win" was like giving myself a small confidence boost.

Did I win in the end? Well... that's where I met my wife, so I think I did okay!

The description for your book, The Second Page says it is a comical fantasy adventure where boats get stuck in clouds, leftover food turns into monsters, and life-sized teddy bears get in fights with buffalo. Sounds like a nightmare after a night of too much drinking and eating spicy foods. How did this story really evolve?
During a family trip to Lake Powell, we were floating through the canyon in a boat, and the water was so still and reflected the canyon wall and sky so perfectly, it felt like we were flying through some bizarre mountain in the air. That imagery sparked a series of ideas about other crazy things that could happen while on a journey on a boat. Then it took off from there and turned into a full-length story! That canyon scene is still in it.

What type of reader is the audience for this book? Is it satire or merely whimsy? How does the title relate to the book?
The Second Page is intended for anyone who likes unusual adventure stories, kind of like Alice in Wonderland. It's not necessarily for kids, though, as there is mild swearing and death in it. The book started as a flat-out whimsical journey, but as the main character developed, I realized it was just as much about him growing up and coming to terms with losing his younger sister. Their last name is Page, so one thing the title refers to is his sister, the "second" Page.

The cover was done by Jared Nielsen, how are you related? Who came up with the idea for the cover? Have you worked together before?
Jared is my brother. We've done several video projects together in the past. Stuff like us running around the desert in suits. For the book, I told him what I had in mind for a cover, he sent me a sketch, and I traced and colored it in Photoshop. The design was intended for the e-book release only, which came out first, and it was a pretty rough final image. When The Second Page went paperback, I "re-shopped" the original drawing to make it look nicer.

You’ve also written two other books about teaching English in China based on your personal experiences. What made you decide to take on that career path?
I went to China, because I was bored out of my mind. I needed to have my own adventure for once. I wasn't at all qualified to be a teacher, but at the time, you didn't have to be! I would definitely have prepared better if I could do it over, because it took a long time to reach a point where I felt like I knew how to teach. Those first few months were horrible.

What was the most jarring / cultural shock you experienced in moving to China?
The most jarring cultural difference was how acceptable it was to stare and point at foreigners. A lot of areas in China still don't get many foreign visitors, and they don't try to hide the fact that they find Westerners fascinating. Every time you go outside, a bunch of people gather around just to have a look at you. It really makes you feel out of place. But the more I got to know my students and co-workers, the more I understood that, hey, we like and hate a lot of the same things and can get along just fine!

How did you decide to write the first book and then to continue on with the second?
The main book, Yes China!, is about my personal experiences in and out of China. I knew I was sitting on a lot of useful information, though, like what visas and certificates a teacher needs, that wasn't going to make it into Yes China!. So I put together a small "handbook" and released it exclusively on Kindle. They're very different books. Yes China! is casual and funny and tells a very long story whereas the teaching guide is more of a how-to pamphlet.

What’s the best advice you could give someone who wants to start a new job in a foreign country to prepare for the cultural shock?
Bring a friend! Culture shock is a lot easier to adjust to when you have someone to share it with. A good portion of my time in China was spent by myself, and it was incredibly lonely at times

You’ve now indie-published three books. What pitfalls have you hit in the process?
I knew, as a self-published author, I would have to do all the marketing myself, but I never considered just how futile some marketing attempts would be. There's always the possibility that you've planted some seeds along the way, but when you burn through $75 in Google Adwords and only see one sale that week, it can feel like a losing battle.

Publishing my books was a very straightforward and painless process, though. I would definitely go the Kindle/CreateSpace route again for my next project, whatever it may be.

If someone told you they wanted to do a book through CreateSpace what advice would you give them?
For those who want to self-publish their own work, by all means, do it! But keep in mind that the people you know won't necessarily be your biggest supporters. Don't rely solely on family and friends to buy your book and spread the word.

What is the most profitable way you’ve learned to promote your books?
Sales of The Second Page haven't been great, but I knew upfront it was hitting an over-saturated market. I was just happy to finally have it out there. Yes China! received more of a publicity push, and it shows. It's done a lot better and has at least covered the cost of publishing/marketing both books.
I wish I knew what was working well with Yes China!, but I'm honestly stumped as to where most of the sales are coming from.

One thing I've found interesting, though, is how e-book sales are beating paperback sales by about 6:1. It's made me re-think publishing paperback versions of future projects.

If you would like to learn more about Clark and his writing, here are some helpful links...

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