Jim West was born in Killeen, TX in 1977 and grew up mostly in central Louisiana. For over 18 years he has worked in the Cyber Security field and came up with the ideas and concept for the Magicae Mathematica series about a decade ago. His first book of the series, Libellus de Numeros, is one he hopes will resonate with its young readers. Jim is a father of two SMART and beautiful girls whom he loves dearly and when he himself is not away ‘saving the world’ they live in Dubai, UAE with his wonderful wife Eman.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book(s), but nobody has? Write it out here, and then answer it.
What is your dream for this book?
My dream is to have adults later in my life come up to me and tell me it was my book that inspired them to study math and science. It was my book that led them to their career. That is my dream.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
I usually sit down with some chillstep music playing, and just start typing as it hits me. Sometime it will begin with a thought I may have had earlier that day. A thought I put to paper and try to expand upon it. As for weird/funny habits, when I do write something that captures exactly what I have in my mind I get very excited and stand up and pace around rehearsing what I just wrote.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Yes of course! I used to let it frustrate me, but now I either jump to another section of the book or I just walk away from the keyboard and get engaged in something else. Sometimes trying to force something is not the best way to get the words out right.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Finish the work you started. Sounds simple, but the world is full of people who have ideas and stories to tell, but many will never begin and far fewer will finish what they start. Getting to ‘The End’ is one of the most significant accomplishments you can make. Don’t quit.
What are your current/future projects?
Currently I am still heavily engaged in promotion for Libellus de Numeros. As a self-published Author it really falls squarely upon my shoulders to carry the burden of trying to get my story the attention it deserves. The next project is completing book two of the series, Circulus de Potentia. I expect to have it completed by summer 2015.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I love fantasy. I love history. It was great being able to blend two interests in my story.
What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?
It will be easy to publish, maybe even easier with the advancement of technology. You see a lot of people now taking content from their social media and using that for books. Great stuff on that front. Easy-Yes. Will it become harder to promote in the huge sea of other trying to promote…yes.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
Amazon’s KDP program is how I self-published. It was a straightforward and easy process.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
Yes. My book had some errors identified by readers which the great thing about ebooks is you can modify and update in a very quick time.
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)
First I have made new friends who have published both independently and traditionally. Their advice and guidance has been tremendous. Second, the fans have been super. Some fans take selfies with the series logo and post online. Others share, retweet, post about my book.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
Leverage social media to the fullest of your ability. Learn how to connect with influencers in your genre. Immerse yourself in the genre to know what fans of it like/dislike. Target your advertising efforts. Find the best hashtags to utilize that align with your stories message.
If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?
Well Amazon is the behemoth of online book sales. With their online presence and fast turnaround of paperback delivery, it was an easy decision to use them. I do utilize Smashwords for the regions Amazon doesn’t operate in (e.g. Middle East).
What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?
Middle Grade Fantasy. YA Fiction is such a broad age range, yet most YA Fiction is really targeted towards teens. Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent, etc are all geared towards the older kids. I wanted to gear my story towards 8-14. That the age range I was when reading was magical to me.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
Smartphones are great because they all can record. Even if it’s just a quick voice note. Yet most of the time if the idea is inspirational it stays with me the whole day.
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
Yes. I try to stay within the confines of what most publishers are aiming for word count wise. Yet that is more of an afterthought. The story comes first and whether I am writing to add details, or editing to trim the word count, there is always a good balance.
How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?
It is really too early to say as I have been an official author for about 5 months. Yet I have learned a lot and everyday learning something new. I do hope I can help others and share the knowledge I have gained as a way to pay it forward. As for my book helping others; that is my ultimate goal to motivate and inspire an entire generation of kids to pursue STEM studies and careers.
How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but with books ‘they’ of course judge almost solely by the cover. That is unfortunate, but that is quite frankly how we all are. Ideally we want to believe in the first line of don’t judge, but with books we often judge harshly upon the cover image rather than the content inside.
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
I did issue a press release, and honestly found no value in it. Social Media was much more efficient and faster IMHO.
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
With over 200 five star reviews online, I must say I tremendously believe in the power of reviews. Those reviews are what ranked me #1 in many categories on Amazon. The ranking gives me more visibility to potential buyers, and eventually fans. What is great is when professional reviews like Kirkus and Midwest Book Reviews gives my book a fantastic review that coincides with the same remarks I am getting from other Amazon reviews.
What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?
Whatever works best for an author. With 5 months experience I would say do whatever works. There is no one ‘right’ way to gain success.
Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?
I had one person give me a three star review on Amazon. Not sure if that fits the question. What I did do was look at his other reviews to see what he liked that he gave a five star to. In short I was amazed to see prior to my review he had given Akira a two star review. I will definitely take a three star review from a guy that gave Akira a two star review!
Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?
I did an unexpected video interview with VMH magazine. I originally thought it was going to be a Skype phone call. Next thing I know I am on the side of the road in Kuwait on my phone doing a video interview with the headlamp of the car as the only lighting. The interviewer was very understanding of the setting, but all during the interview you can see car headlights passing by in the background.
With self-publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an overabundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?
I think this is where Author recognition come sin. I am still, myself, trying to break into the ‘known’ author’s arena. I do get comparisons of my book to others, but in the end I hope it stands on its own.
What is your biggest fear about having a book published?
Fear? Perhaps general fear of not being good enough. I am sure every author goes through the ‘will people like it’ phase. Yet the real fear comes when you have a growing fan base, and now you must try to knock it out the park with the next book. The bar gets raised in a way. Now that is a fear going into book 2. Book 1 was just a relief when it was done.
If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?
Only one book now, but will get back to you on this when all four are published. J
What is the intended audience for you book?
8-14 year old readers. Adults can also read and enjoy, but the intended audience is young readers.
Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?
The main character of Alex is a blend of both of my daughters, Mya and Tia. My oldest used to wear a red hoodie which became part of Alex’s wardrobe when writing the story.
If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?
Change the equation; change the world. We need future generations of mathematicians and engineers to solve the problems of today and tomorrow.
Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?
I prefer Facebook, but I can see that Twitter is much faster at getting news out.
What makes a good story, why?
Characters. Good characters will connect with readers. A good story with boring characters is just mediocre.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
So a little secret, which I hope kids will or have discovered on their own: many name sin my book are backwards. Adam-Mada, Nosaj-Jason are two examples. I used names of close friends and family. Not for character purposes but only for the names.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
Yes of course! I love reading what other think about my work. As for the bad, yes I read them. I wish I could reach out and ask questions to get more of the why they felt that way (my 3 star review for instance). Yet in the end you have to let the negativity go. You can’t please everyone out there in this great big world.
What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?
I attended the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival in Dubai in March. I had hoped to win the First Fiction Award, but due to not being a current resident of UAE I believe I was disqualified. Yet being there and seeing other authors and their works did inspire me to keep working on my series so that I may one day be behind the booths signing and greeting my fans.
What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)
Easiest, Honor and Punishment; that was the first complete chapter I wrote over ten years ago. Hardest scene; the last chapter in book 4 that ends the entire series. I actually wrote that while waiting for my flight from Dubai back to Kuwait after the Emirates Airlines Literary Festival.
What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?
I would eventually like to write my autobiography. My life has been filled with such amazing stories, and I often get told I need to write about my life. It is on the back burner.
Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?
Day dreams yes. Night dreams no. I usually write down the scene or the lines they spoke. Then try to use that in a chapter somehow.
Do you have any characters you would like to introduce in other books or a combination of characters from multiple books you would like to write about in one book?
No. Not at this moment.
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
Some characters are based upon real people, and some were made up. I will let the readers decide which is which. 😉
What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
Pacing. Show the action, don’t tell it with dialogue. I still am working on this myself. It is far too easy to just have the character say what is going on than to reveal through descriptive writing so the reader ‘sees’ what is going on.
What book(s), author(s), or significant life event(s) have had a positive or negative influence in your life that inspired you to begin writing?
Jules Verne, Lloyd Alexander. Their books were favorites of mine when I was young. Books were my escape while living in the country of central Louisiana. Books had the magical ability to take me places far beyond the city limits. The direct inspiration to write these books came the day my first daughter was born.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
Ebooks are great because they give instant access to your work. Yet you cannot deny the experience holding a paperback feels like in a devote readers hands.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
All of the above. Depends upon the day and what is going on. Every writer knows what I am speaking of.
Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) in bringing your book to life?
The biggest challenge, or roadblock, was my insistence that having a math teacher or professor to collaborate on the series was important. I allowed that to be my excuse for a decade. Then when a writer read my draft and told me to drop the math, I felt free from the excuses to not finish the book. It was one of the best decisions I had ever made and it allowed me to finish what I started. In the end, I was the one holding back the story. I had to get out of my own way.
Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?
I do both. I have found it is great to have a good beta readers group. Book 1 has been edited twice by a writer, and proofread four times by various people.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?
Advantage for self-publishing – speed to get your content out. Disadvantage-established market place presence.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
Erotica. Adult Fantasy. Not interested in one, and not up to the challenge for the other.
What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?
My two girls. I write for them, and all of the other girls in the world.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Not many books geared for preteens are addressing gender equality in the way I am. It is not heavy handed or pandering. I feel a lot of women are appreciative of that.
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
I help with the concept and overall what it should look like. The abstracts were done by a digital artist, and I love the entire series set I have. The special illustrated edition cover by Dean Harkness from the UK was a wonderful collaborative effort. His patience dealing with me on the numerous phone calls is astounding. In the end I feel we achieved a perfect cover.
What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?
Editing. Having to gut out or rearrange chapters. Deleting what I originally wrote for sake of pacing issues or to move along the story. Yes definitely editing. I am certain if I work with a traditional publisher this would only become a much heavier burden.