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Interview, Interview Contemporary Fiction

Interview with The Usurper / Times of Trouble author Cliff Ball

Cliff Ball, author of books such as The Usurper and Times of Trouble, talks about his approach to writing, his influences, and his plans for the future.

Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?

I write because it’s something that I feel like I need to do. I have lots of ideas that come to me, especially when I try to sleep, so I have to write whatever comes to me down before I forget it. I’ve been writing since I was 10 years old, published a short story in high school, but didn’t publish anything else until 2008 with my time travel novella, Out of Time. I did enter a couple of contests in between high school and being published in ’08, like Writer’s of the Future and Star Trek: New Worlds, but didn’t really get anywhere with those.

Both The Usurper and Times of Trouble struck me as being in the alternate history tradition of writers like Harry Turtledove. Is Turtledove an influence on your work?

Turtledove is an influence, as a matter of fact. I enjoy alternate history a lot, and pretty much all of my novels have some kind of alternate history aspect to them. The first novel I ever read of his was “Guns of the South.” I read all of his novels after that which involved the CSA and USA, along with some of his “Crosstime Traffic” novels, and the “World at War” series, and “Ruled Britannia.” I’ve also read a few of the “1632” series by Eric Flint, and the “Novels of the Change” by S.M. Stirling.

Do you get much feedback from your readers?

Yes, from people who enjoy my works and those who don’t, but I mostly hear from the people who enjoy my novels through email or through my Facebook author page. Every now and then, the ones who don’t like my works, generally spell out specifically what I’ve done wrong, what they hated, and question my writing ability. There’s a certain online store that tends to attract that kind of feedback, and some of that feedback has helped me fix things that I might have missed otherwise.

You describe yourself on your website as, among other things, a Christian writer. Do you write for a Christian audience specifically, or do you hope your books will be read by non-Christians as well?

I hope my novels will be read by non-Christians too. Of my six novels, Times of Trouble is currently the only novel that I have written for a Christian audience specifically in mind, but non-Christians are certainly free to read it if they want. The Usurper is a conservative thriller, Out of Time is time travel, Don’t Mess With Earth & Shattered Earth are historical fiction/alternate history, and New Frontier is alternate history.

How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?

I used to hand write everything, but found it easier on me to use a computer. I don’t make myself write a certain amount of words, but I do try to write at least one page every day.

Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?

I’ve always wanted to self-publish, even before the internet existed, and I’ve never really thought about getting an agent. I tried vanity publishing twice with sites such as iUniverse at first back in ’08, but found that it took me a really long time to get that money back even using the most basic package. I discovered Createspace and have published my paperbacks that way ever since.

How do you define ‘success’ as an author? Do you have specific targets, e.g. a certain number of books you want to sell? Or is it more about personal satisfaction with the books that you write?

My current target is to hit 50k books sold and I’m halfway there, but its really about personal satisfaction. I never thought I had more than one novel to write, but I am very pleased to find that after six novels, I have at least three more I want to write.

How have you marketed your book(s)? Have you used social media (Twitter, Facebook etc)? Have you paid for any advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads etc)? And how did it go?

I have paid for advertising on Facebook, Google, Bing, Yahoo, Stumbleupon, etc., but I found that it doesn’t really work all that well. Getting hits on a website or the book page is one thing, but selling is another. I would probably have to have a degree in marketing to figure out how to target my advertising correctly. I’ve also done the sites, like Kindle Nation Daily, that get your book out in front of readers. Since I have a very limited budget at the moment, I use social media as much as I can, post on message boards, sometimes giveaway some ebooks on Smashwords, and paperback copies on Goodreads.

Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?

Since I’m not in KDP Select, I am. I’m gaining ground when it comes to selling on B&N & Apple, and I would really dislike it if they were to disappear.

What advice would you give to authors who are just starting out?

Be patient. Every piece of advice I’ve seen is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes, you can hit it big like Amanda Hocking in a short amount of time, but usually it takes 3 or 4 years to really get your novels seen. Keep working at your craft and you’ll get there.

What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?

I’m working on a parallel novel to Times of Trouble, told from a different family’s point of view in the same time period. I hope to finish it before the end of the summer, or maybe before. After that novel, I plan on writing the sequel to New Frontier.

Cliff Ball’s novels, including The Usurper, Don’t Mess With Earth and Times of Trouble, are available from Amazon, as well as from Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and a number of other sites. You can also visit his website and his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

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