Interview with Slava Heretz

I thought I’d try to do something a little different today: interview a fellow author and try to learn some things. Slava Heretz is a local author I’ve gotten to know a little bit.

Can you provide a short, 200-word bio of yourself?

I was born in southern Ukraine right before the fall of the Soviet Union. Once I came to America I fell in love with US culture – literature, TV, cinema, and music. That’s when I began writing stories. I just wanted to make my own contribution, and science fiction was really what my mind naturally gravitated towards. Interestingly, I really hated studying science in school, but was still fascinated by it on a conceptual level. I was especially drawn to astrophysics and theoretical aspects like relativity and quantum mechanics. There was something about the intangibility of those disciplines that fascinated me. People in the past have even told me that I sometimes have no grasp of reality – that I’m so off in the clouds I don’t function or fit in down here on earth. I think in the world of science fiction literature, a little bit of that so-called shortcoming is a required virtue.

You’re the author of the epic space opera series, The Outer Pendulum. Can you tell us a bit about the series and the hero, Eli Saffinger?

The Outer Pendulum is a space opera which I am releasing in monthly 10,000 word installments. The story is set in a galaxy where humans are the unwanted newcomers, escaping an oppressive life back in the Milky Way, only to find themselves facing another kind of tyranny: the seemingly endless stream of piracy and corruption in their new land. Our hero is Captain Eli Saffinger, a decorated former New Alliance Navy captain turned mercenary fleet commander. His mission, which he accepts reluctantly, is to escort a freighter carrying extremely valuable mining equipment to the only allies of the weakening colonial state. So his journey begins in Corsair (Outer Pendulum, Part 1), where he must immediately confront the most ruthless and dangerous privateer in the galactic region. Adventure ensues.

I found The Outer Pendulum to be very cinematic in its descriptions and scene presentation. What drove you to that stylistic choice? Would you consider film a big influence on your work?

Yes. I have to admit that the story is heavily influenced by film and computer games. In fact, the whole concept is a spattering of bits and pieces of some of my favorite films, shows, games, and yes, even books. Interestingly though, readers of the space opera genre are often looking for this type of cinematic pace and presentation. It’s my natural style of writing. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, but my philosophy is always to write with fluidity and without second guessing myself. As long as SOME readers enjoy my style, I’m happy.

What would you say is the one thing that you like the most about The Outer Pendulum?

The action scenes. I love to write them. I love to read them. Nothing gets me reved up like the tension of wondering whether that hopeless fleet will escape or get annihilated.

Reviews seem to drive the success of books on Amazon. A lot of novels and anthologies languish because there are no reader reviews. But The Outer Pendulum seems to be getting a lot of great reader ratings and reviews. What do you think were some things you did that led to this success?

There are two sides to Amazon reviews. I have seen books with dozens of rave 5-star reviews that sell no more than ten copies. I also see books with an overwhelming amount of negative reviews end up as bestsellers. I have found that there are four keys to having a successful independent eBook. 1) Does it have a good cover? 2) Does the product description have an informative yet engaging hook? 3) Is your sample (typically the first 20% of the story) appealing? Do you have positive reviews? If so, and here’s the key: do they look professional and written by apt readers? Or do they look like they were written by your grandmother who knows nothing about the genre. This is why when readers see an author who has twenty or so great reviews and is ranked in the hundreds of thousands on Amazon, they are typically weary. Yes, a few of the reviews for my books are from friends. But these friends are ones who truly enjoyed the work and are giving an honest response. I think readers sense that honesty and are willing to have a look for themselves.

You mentioned that reader engagement with The Outer Pendulum has played a part in your writing of the books. Can you describe how?

Interestingly, The Outer Pendulum began as just Corsair – a standalone short story. Once the story gained a bit of recognition, and since it ends in a severe cliffhanger, readers began to email me asking if there would be sequels. I thought about it, plotted out how the story could progress, and agreed to begin publishing a full novel in short monthly installments. So reader engagement was a very significant factor in the evolution of this book.

The covers for your books look great. If you were the designer, can you describe the process you used to create them? If not, can you describe the process of finding and working with the designer?

I am in fact the designer. Before publication of Corsair I was working with a budget of maybe $10. So I scoured the internet looking for good, inexpensive stock photos. Finding none I approached a desktop wallpaper designer and asked if I could use his image for an eBook. He was honored and gave me the go ahead. Then I tweaked it and added a title. Photoshop is the best friend of the self-published author.

What are the top five pieces of advice you would give to authors thinking of publishing their own works (say, as ebooks on Amazon)? How can they make their effort successful, reach more readers, and possibly even make a profit?

  1. Write a good book. It may seem like an obvious suggestion, but I am a part of a great big active Amazon author community. So many aspiring writers complain on the forums that they are pouring their hearts and souls into promotion and still don’t manage to sell any copies. They post a link and I find that more often than not, the prose is unfortunately sub-par. It’s a strange misconception that a book can be sold as though it were life insurance.
  2. Hire an editor if you are not one yourself. The biggest complaint I hear from readers is that even when a book tells an interesting tale, he or she will simply be too distracted by the plethora of grammar and spelling mistakes, improper words, omitted words, etc., etc. The hard part is telling a captivating story. Don’t let your good work be ruined by sloppy editing.
  3. Certainly use social media and the web, but don’t let it become your primary focus. Authors often get into a bad habit of dwelling on a blog or Facebook page and don’t spend enough time writing their books.
  4. Think outside the box. One of the most prolific space opera authors today, Nathan Lowell, began his career with a simple iTunes podcast of his work. I’m doing the same. The Outer Pendulum will soon be available as a free podcast. Passion and creativity are a must. If you don’t care about your work no one else will either.
  5. Reciprocity. No one likes to be bombarded with sales pitches and nothing in return. Be kind. Be generous. Offer to critique fellow authors’ work. Write reviews. Share experiences. The community of writers is a wonderful bunch of people and they can sense who is genuinely interested in the craft and who is just trying to make a buck.

Slava, thank you for doing this.