Michael Embry is the author of 11 books — three nonfiction sports, seven novels, and a short story collection. A journalism graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, he spent more than 30 years in the media, working as a reporter, sportswriter, and editor.
His latest novel is “Old Ways and New Days,” a coming-of-old-age story for baby boomers, published in October 2015. He is currently working on a sequel.
Embry enjoys reading, writing, travel and and photography. He is listed in the latest edition of “Who’s Who in America” He and is wife, Mary, live in Frankfort, Ky., with their two chorkies, Bailey and Belle.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book(s), but nobody has? Write it out here, and then answer it.
Why do you write in so many different genres?
I suppose because I read many genres, from contemporary mainstream to murder mysteries to young adult. And being a former sportswriter, I suppose that’s the reason I’ve written three nonfiction sports books. I do like variety, in my reading and writing. I like the challenge that comes with writing in different genres as well as in different voices. All of my adult novels have a journalism backstory since I spent more than 30 years as a journalist. So that’s probably a long-winded answer to a short question.
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?
My writing process is pretty straightforward. I prefer writing in the early hours, before daybreak. I put on a pot of coffee and turn on the computer. It’s quiet and peaceful and I can concentrate on the story. I don’t worry so much about the words, descriptions and scenes. I can do that later. My focus is to finish the novel. I generally write for two or three hours. When I’m finished with the first draft, my routine changes and I’ll do the rewrites and edits in the afternoon or evening.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I’m not sure if it’s writer’s block. I subscribe to Toni Morrison’s view — and this is a general paraphrase — that when you’re blocked, it’s because what you’re writing isn’t working. I don’t force the issue and try to continue on a path that’s not leading to anywhere. But I continue to write, taking a different path, or paths, and that opens the “block.” And occasionally, I’ll step away from the work in progress for several days and return to it with fresh eyes.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
I think it’s important to write every day, if at all possible, especially when working on a novel. Each day will get them closer to the goal of completing their novel. It’s also a good habit to get in front of the computer screen, tablet, or whatever, and produce words, be it in 30-minute increments or eight-hour increments. It keeps the writer focused. And it’s been said by quite a few authors, and I’ll say it as well — writers write. That’s the only way to get the job done.
What are your current/future projects?
I’m currently working on a sequel to “Old Ways and New Days,” my coming-of-old-age novel that was published in October 2015. I enjoy the characters and want to delve deeper into trials and tribulations as well as the joys and jubilations of aging in the 21st century. It’s my intent to have a series.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I like many genres. I find it challenging and rewarding to write in various genres. I don’t have a problem in balancing them because they are written separately. I’m not sure if I could work on several novels — especially different genres — simultaneously. It’s one at a time for me.
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’s a crazy world out there for independent writers. My guess is that one day that it may get difficult to self-publish, much like it was before Amazon, Smashwords and others got into the game. But it’s competitive right now for those companies, which will benefit authors until they change the rules.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
My nonfiction sports books and novels are through traditional publishers. I will add that the publishers of the sports books were strictly print (e-books hadn’t been invented when the first two were published) and my first two novels were published by traditional publishers. My last five novels have been published by an e-book publisher that offers a print option for authors, which I chose. I also self-published a short-story collection because I know of the difficulty of finding a publisher for short stories. As for the process, I submitted query letters before acceptance by the publishers. And I’ve had my share of rejections but that’s part of the publishing game.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
When I had my first two books (The Touch and A Long Highway) republished by my current publisher, we went through a process that required some minor edits but no changes to the content. It was something I welcomed since I want my novels to be the best they can be. And I had the book cover changed on the novels as well. I worked with the publisher’s art director and was very pleased with the outcome.
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)
I have been on writing panels at conferences through the years. For two years I was one of three judges for the Kentucky Literary Awards, presented at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival. That was a intensive time since I had to read about twelve novels in a short period of time. I gained exposure to some authors I’d never read before so that was enlightening and entertaining. I’ve also participated in discussions at the Kentucky Book Fair, various library groups and social clubs. I like meeting the public and talking about books.
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?
On my sports books, the publishers did some advertising in print media. All the books sold relatively well. In the digital age, I’ve done promotions through Facebook, Twitter, print advertising, web sites such as Author Shout, and review sites such as Apex, Enas and Midwest Book Review. I think they’ve all been effective to some degree. The beauty of Facebook and Twitter is that it keeps your name and title out there for extended periods of time. I suppose I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I think word-of-mouth is the best promotion.
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?
Inspiration can strike at any time and anywhere, so I try to be prepared for those occurrences by carrying a pen and paper with me to write it down or by using my smartphone to record those thoughts. If it’s something where the muse slaps me across the face, I’ll generally remember that and let it simmer a bit.
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
I used to try to write 2,000 words or more at a setting. Nowadays, I generally know when to quit. That could mean at 400 words. Sometimes I’m really on a roll and will go to 3,000 or 4,000 (a rare occurrence).
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?
I believe writing makes a person more thoughtful. With the written word, we generally put more thought into what we want to convey than when we open our mouths. I’m not sure if my writing has helped others. However, I’ve had parents tell me how much their children enjoyed my young adult novels so that’s gratifying.
How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?
While I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, there’s no doubt that a great cover will lure potential readers/buyers. And I think page numbers have an effect as well, especially if a short book carries a big price. I think it may have something to do with folks wanting more for their money. Of course, there are exceptions to those. Some well-known and successful authors have such a large following that their readers will pick up most anything they write.
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
Since I have a background in media and as a public information officer, I’ve written all the news releases for my fiction. I’ve been able to have the releases in newspapers and other media so I guess it’s been somewhat successful. I also believe it’s wise to have a news release on hand in case you hear from a media outlet, reviewer or interested party.
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
I think there is value in a review. I always urge readers to leave reviews and/or ratings at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other websites. I always leave reviews. I think reviews help the author and the reader.
What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?
I don’t those swaps. I think readers would probably find them phony or out of place.
Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?
I’ve never experienced deliberate bad reviews but I know it happens. I think it’s unethical, perhaps immoral, for people to do that, especially competitors.
With self publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an over abundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?
Maybe there is an overabundance of books as well as copycats. I’d rather have too many choices out there for readers than not enough books. I do think that the best books are the ones that rise to the top of the bestseller lists, although we know there are exceptions.
What is your biggest fear about having a book published?
I’m always a little antsy right before a book is published. I fear a misspelling of the title or something something I may have overlooked in the galley proof. After that, I suppose I wonder how the novel will be received by the public.
If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?
I would have to say that “Old Ways and New Days” is my greatest since I believe I improve with each book. However, I get a lot of positive feedback on my second novel, “A Long Highway,” since it struck a chord with those going through midlife crisis.
If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?
Be true to yourself and honest with others. That’s something I’ve tried to convey in all my novels.
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?
Technology probably makes it easier to get the word out but I must say that meeting readers at book signings, book fairs and other similar venues works the best for me. Social media seems so unsocial at times.
What makes a good story, why?
Conflict makes a good story. It draws the reader into the story. And a conflict begets conflicts so you can turn the story into a page-turner. I think it’s also important to have believable characters regardless if they’re good, bad or evil. They have to come alive on the page.
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?
I go on the Internet and try to come up with names appropriate to the characters’s ages. There are websites that show popular names from various years and decades. I also look at the obituaries each day in the newspaper to come up with names. I have used names to connote meaning but not try to be too obvious about it. More than anything, it keeps me focused on the characters and their traits. One thing I avoid is giving the person a name of someone I know or know of. No doubt that all the names of characters in my books have real-life counterparts, probably many times over, but I don’t know them.
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?
I read some reviews. I never respond to them. That’s part of the process for a writer. You put something out there and you have to take the good and bad. And some say a bad review is better than no review. I agree somewhat unless the author gets a string of bad reviews. That could prove fatal for a book.
What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?
I’ve attended the Kentucky Book Fair and the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. For six years I served on the executive board of the Kentucky Book Fair, which was a positive experience because of working with other volunteers, authors and readers.
What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)
Fight scenes can be difficult because you don’t want to overdo them to the point that they sound comical.
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?
In my planned “Old Ways and New Days” series, I’m thinking about bringing in some characters from earlier novels since they all have similar journalism backgrounds.
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
My characters are generally made up but they do have characteristics of people I’ve known through the years — more like a compilation of traits. But I’ve never based one character on a single individual. However, I don’t think that would be a major problem because I don’t think anyone really knows another person. It’s kind of like an iceberg; we only see the tip.
What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
Other than good grammar, I believe authors need to understand mechanics such as point-of-view.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
A book is a book is a book, regardless of the format. I purchase both. I do prefer print books when I’m reading at home but when I’m on the road, it’s great to load several books on my Kindle so I don’t have to load them around in a suitcase.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
I see my writing as a creative outlet and part-time career. I’ve always needed ways to express myself, and since I can’t paint, sing, or play an instrument, writing was something I could do. It’s a creative endeavor that you can do alone, at least until the final editing process, and you control where it leads and how it ends. Everything, for the most part, is under the control of the writer. Most people know me as a writer, and since my first book was published in 1983, I suppose it’s been a part-time along with my time as a reporter and feature writer in the news media.
Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) in bringing your book to life?
I always do research before, during and after writing a manuscript. I want everything believable and true. I don’t want to get called out by a reader for inaccurate information, especially if it has to do with a medical problem. And I also read personality profiles in order to show rather than tell about the actions of characters. Research also is involved in descriptions and scenes throughout a novel.
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 proofread and edit my novels during the rewrite stage, which usually involves around ten rewrites. I often let some trusted friends read the drafts. My wife has already proofread some of the manuscripts. After that, it’s sent to an editor for final edits.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?
For self-publishing, you’re in control for the most part. The book sinks or swims on the author’s decisions. The author participates with the publisher in traditional publishing, from editing to book cover design. I’ve found that promotion is about the same regardless of self or traditional, especially if you write for a small publishing house. I’ve been told by some authors who have been published by the large New York houses that they’re also expected to do a lot of self-promotion as well. It’s more than simply writing a book anymore.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
I wouldn’t write porn or any genre where I wouldn’t want my name. I probably won’t write any sci-fi since it doesn’t hold that much interest with me, although I admire those authors who compose those stories.
What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?
I write since I find that is the best way I can communicate. I get motivation and inspiration from reading and being around other authors and creative people. There’s a synergy there that energizes and moves me to write.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
I would like to think my books are original. I’m not retelling another story. I try to have twists in the plots and some straight and quirky characters to grab the reader’s interest from page one to the last page. Also, for the most part, my novels are a bit on the dark side but do have humor, be it dark humor at times, to keep things unpredictable and interesting.
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
The publisher has an art director who designs the books. I give her information and ideas about the books, then she sends me several drafts. I get final approval.
What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?
The least favorite is the galley proof because I’ve written and rewritten the story many times and worked with the editor on edits, and then to have to read the manuscript again can get a bit tiresome. While I may love the story, do get tired of reading it one more time.