One of the most fascinating people I have met online is Mike Pettit. His nightly “Goodnight America” is worth waiting for. His books covers are wonderfully nostalgic, reminding us of an earlier age of publishing. His comments are a bit too amusing to be truthful (except for his political comments, which are a bit too truthful to be amusing.) I’ve wanted to interview Mike for a long time, and now he has finally agreed to answer some of my questions.
PB. Mike, Thanks for meeting with me here in Key West today. This is a lovely venue and the Cuba Libra’s are delicious. I know you like to pose as a shy reclusive author hiding from the world coming out only as various characters in your books, but I suspect there is more to the real Mike Pettit that I’m talking with today.
MP. The truth is, I have always been shy and felt inferior around others. I am from a large Irish family of seven children, five girls, and two boys. With five sisters life was not easy, (especially when it came to hand-me-downs). Rather than take the brunt of blame and abuse for real or imagined dirty tricks, I would hide where I couldn’t be found and read…and dream.
PB. So you started reading at an early age?
MP. By the time I was twelve I had absorbed The Yearling, Huck Finn, Red Badge of Courage, and Treasure Island. From there I jumped to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s, Captain Carter Of Mars, and Tarzan, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe…I would read anything I could get my hands on .
PB. Were these stories the basis for your writing today?
MP. At the time I didn’t realize how much these stories would influence my life. They gave me a sense of adventure, a worldly awareness that you don’t find in a textbook. I developed a boldness from many of the characters that helped me grow out of my shyness and go forth with confidence.
PB. Has your adult life’s experiences helped with your writing?
MP. I have been very fortunate in my life. I spent most of my working life outside of the U.S. working in developing countries like China, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia…and a hundred little backwater ports across the region. I look back now and shudder at some of the things I did to make a buck.
PB. Then your early years of reading what many consider the American Classics and your lifetime of foreign adventure is the basis of your writing.
MP. Yes and no. The key ingredient to my writing is that I am a good storyteller. Sitting in closets and under shade trees as a boy reading gave me an unusually hyper imagination that has stayed with me all these years.
PB. That gave you all the tools to move forward as a writer. How and when did you start writing?
MP. I was on a flight to Hong Kong to finish up a project several years ago and had a heart attack somewhere over the Sea of Japan. The plane landed in Tokyo, I spent two days in a Japanese hospital, and then flew home. I knew if I continued at the pace I had been keeping I wouldn’t last long. I sold my business to my Chinese partners and retired and haven’t been back since.
PB. Is that when you started writing?
MP. Within two months I was ready to cut my wrists out of boredom. One afternoon I sat down at the computer and started writing, that was the summer of 2008. I wrote my first John Locke Suspense Thriller, Honorable Revenge in ninety days, I wrote five more in that series within the next year. By then my main character, John Locke, was so beat-up shot up, scarred, burned, and tortured that I retired him, he couldn’t have survived another thrill. I took a couple of weeks off then jumped into my Sam Nash Hard Boiled Mysteries series. Then I rolled out the Jack Marsh character in my Key West Action series.
PB. That is quite a feat, eleven novels in four years.
MP. Writing comes easy for me, as I said I am a good storyteller. My weakness is not in the plot or character development, or dialogue, not even narrative. My Achilles heel is basic grammar and punctuation, I mean, when over the course of working and making a living was I able to do any sentence diagramming? To help I bought an eighth grade scholastic primer on grammar and punctuation that helped as a quick refresher.
BP. What about publishing? Are your books available?
MP. I went through the same hoop jumping that thousands of other writers have gone through with agents and publishers. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. I have a perpetual glue taste in my mouth from all the stamps I have licked sending out query letters. After months of dealing with these people I felt soiled and used and decided to take my new career into my own hands. Amazon had just started pumping up their publishing arm and I jumped on and haven’t let go yet. I love Amazon; I can’t say enough good things about them. I would encourage all writers that are tired of the bums rush to come over to Kindle
PB. Do you ever feel like you are lost among the thousands of other Kindle authors?
MP. Absolutely not. I treat my writing as a business. Here are my steps to selling books. I call it the Three P Plan (I should publish this and make a fortune…oh wait, that’s been done).
PRODUCT: Write the best book you can, edit the best you can, have the best cover you can.
I consider myself a good storyteller, but I am not a five star writer. If stars were grade averages I would be a C+ or B- writer, and that‘s OK. So, be realistic with your expectations. Average authors sell books, trust me.
I use the Flisch-Kinkaid comprehension scoring method to determine my writing / reader comprehension. I write to a reading audience at the 8th to 10th grade level of comprehension. This by the way is what the F-K scoring states as the reading level of most fiction-reading adults in America today. As a comparison, Obama’s State of the Union address was written to the 7th grade level of comprehension, The Wall Street Journal just dropped their Comprehension level from 12th grade to 10th grade level.
It might make you feel better knowing this the next time someone writes a bad review on your baby and gives it a two-star D rating. This does not mean you did badly. It means the reader should have read something on a higher comprehension level. That’s why I say you must know your audience …and write to them.
PRICING: To thine own self be true. You must price your book at a reasonable price. The big guys that work for the Big Six publishing houses command $25.00 and up per pop. That’s nuts, but they get it.
E publishing is growing with more and more readers coming over to the light, soon the big publishing houses and agents will be begging for us little guys to sign up with them.
My strategy is that I write and price my books to fit my audience. I am not greedy nor am I swollen headed. I know that I am a C+ writer and what I have to offer is a damn good quick read for a couple of bucks. The reader is happy with the read and the price and he’ll come back for more. You’ll make your money on volume sales
PUBLIC RELATIONS / MARKETING: Never stop pushing your book. I sell on Kindle and Nook. I use every social network platform I can find. I have Face Book, Twitter, Google +, a large FB and Twitter friend base. Look for “Friends that fit your target audience and talk to them…constantly.
This is just me, but I don’t spend a lot of time talking with other authors. If you aren’t talking to your customers, someone else is.
PB. Uh Mike, can we wrap this up. I know you’re a lonely guy and don’t get out much, but I think we can cut this off about here…
MP. But…but Pat, I was just getting warmed up. Let me tell you about my plan to ….
PB. Thank you Mike, goodbye…sheesh, glad that’s over.
Mike Pettit’s newest book is The Key West Bounce. Check out Mike on Amazon, Facebook, and his action/mystery blog.