Dr. Keith M. Souter interview with David Alan Binder
Keith Souter is from the UK. He writes: Health, general non-fiction and novels - children's fiction and historical novels as Keith Souter, crime novels as Keith Moray, westerns as Clay More, Ford Fargo and Remington Colt
A short bio from Amazon: KEITH SOUTER is a part time doctor, medical writer and novelist. He is married with three grown-up children and lives within arrow-shot of Sandal Castle, the scene of two of his historical crime novels. Using his own name and a couple of pen-names (Clay More and Keith Moray) he has published over thirty books, including twelve novels in four genres, with several more in the pipe-line. He is a member of the Crime Writers Association, the Society of Authors, International Thriller Writers, Western Fictioneers, Western Writers of America and the Medical Journalists' Association. He won the 2006 Fish prize for one of his historical short stories.
Crime blog: http://west-uist-chronicle.blogspot.co.uk
Western blog: http://moreontherange.blogspot.com
Western 19th Century blog: http://westernfictioneers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-doctors-bag.html
Amzon.com author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/Clay-More/e/B0034P9WDO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1461950957&sr=8-2-ent
1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?
Keith Souter – that is Keith, like teeth and Souter, like soot-er
2. Where are you currently living?
I live in England in the UK, within arrowshot of the ruins of a medieval castle
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
To get your facts right. A story can be destroyed for a reader if there is a factual error that you have assumed to be correct. If you make a mistake early on there is a good chance that the reader won’t progress further than that point. So, I strive to research the background, the history and the facts.
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I suppose this is a writing quirk. I have a high stack of assorted hats on the corner of my desk and I can often be found writing with one on. Different hats help me when I am working on a character in a novel. Similarly, I write Scottish crime novels which feature a bagpipe playing Inspector. I learned to play the bagpipes so that I can get into the mood. I am, however, only permitted to play if there is no one else in the house! Accordingly, these novels sometimes take a long time to get written.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
I don’t have any experience of self-publishing, so I can only speculate. As a reader, however, I have read many self-published books and the thing that can be glaringly obvious in some (but by no means all) is lack of editing. I suspect that authors are sometimes so keen to get their work out there that they charge ahead and publish without having a second person read through their work. A traditional published book goes through so many edits that errors (typos, etc.) are less likely. They still occur, but less often. I think that makes for a better reading experience.
And of course, going through the traditional route is far more of a challenge, since before your book can be published it has to be read and assessed as being worthy of publication. There is no such filter in the self-publication route.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
Ah, I have books published with about ten publishers, as I write in four fictional genres and in multiple non-fiction categories. So, I have publishers in London, New York and Delhi, for example.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
A lot of people vow that they will never go electronic, because they feel that a book is not a book unless it has a cover and good old-fashioned pages. I understand that. Books are wonderful things and it was one of my happiest moments to see my name on the spine of a book for the first time.
As a reader I buy lots of books, yet I love my kindle. I am on my second one, in fact. It is a fantastic device, since you can have hundreds of books on it and yet carry it in a pocket or bag. It is brilliant for the long distance walking trips I make with my wife.
As a writer I am happy to see my work in all formats, hardback, paperback or eBook.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
Study the market and have a clear idea of your audience. You may imagine that you have a book that is going to appeal to everyone or which everyone will benefit from. The reality is that people have ideas about the type of books they like to read. They may only read one or two fictional genres, so writing a fusion of genres might increase your chances of attracting two groups of genre readers, but paradoxically it may reduce your chances. So, study the market so see if there is a demand for a specific genre and focus on it. Read all you can, immerse yourself in it and then write.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
This is the age old chicken and egg question. People used to say that it is hard to get an agent without being published and yet it is hard to get published without having an agent. As I said, that used to be the case. Nowadays publishing is changing and with Amazon’s publishing programme anyone can self-publish. The problem is how do you promote your work. If you can do that well, then self-publishing is worth doing. Look at the phenomenal success of 50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James. She has sales and fame that most authors can only dream about.
I have a wonderful agent in Isobel Atherton at Creative Authors, who has obtained numerous book deals for me. I could not have obtained those without her, since the traditional way of getting a contract is by sending a proposal with the first three chapters of your book. This gets put into the ‘slush pile,’ which may take months to be read and decided upon. An agent by-passes all that.
I had written over a dozen books; medical books and a few western and crime novels, yet wanted to publish a children’s novel that I had just done. I sent it off together with a CV to her literary agency and received a reply almost instantly. Yes, she would look at my children’s book, but she was interested in my medical and health books. She kindly took me on as a client and before I knew it, I had several book deals for health and non-fiction titles. The children’s book was published eventually, but only after several re-drafts and long after I had done about ten non-fiction titles. I think that if I had approached her with only the children’s book I would not have been taken on.
What I mean is that you must capitalize on what you have written, make a case for your value and potential as a writer and show boundless enthusiasm when you approach an agent. Really sell yourself.
If you plan to go through the traditional publishing route an agent is worth their weight in gold. If you are going to self-publish, you don’t need one. You just need to work hard to ensure that your write a good book and then work hard at promoting it.
9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
There is an old adage that you should write about what you know. I think that is a great start. My first books were written about health and medicine, because that is my field. If you know about philately and you are passionate about it, then a stamp-collecting book may be your foot in the door.
If you are planning to write fiction then the adage still holds true, but it doesn’t just mean that a doctor or nurse should write a novel with a hospital background, or a soldier should write a war novel. It means that you should capitalize on your areas of expertise and instill those into whatever type of fiction you are writing. My first novel was a western, but I utilized my medical background by focusing on the town doctor and dropping medical details into the story. That way you can give the book some authority and a sense of authenticity. Similarly, if you know about horses, put that all into your story.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned about your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
The fun of writing a book is the writing itself. The editing can seem a tedious process, because a good editor will highlight problems in the plot, show you where the writing needs tidying up, and so on. You then have to methodically incorporate those changes. I have recently written a novel in a genre quite alien to me and the editing has been a revelation. The needs of the readership are very different to my perception of what needed to be in the novel and the editing has been rather like polishing the roughly hewn stone into an actual statue. I feel that I have learned a great deal in the process. So, always listen to your editor and be prepared to rewrite, because the end product will almost certainly be an improvement.
11. How many books have you written?
About fifty. Half are fiction and half are health and non-fiction.
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Read other writers in other genres. But don’t just read them, study the way they write sentences, describe characters and tell the story.
The great Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a short essay called The Sedulous Ape, which I would recommend to anyone who wants to write fiction. Essentially, he always carried two books with him; one to read and one to write in. When struck by an author’s writing style he would try to write his own version of a page – playing the ‘sedulous ape’ to the author. To develop style this is a fabulous exercise. If it was good enough for RLS, the author of Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then it was good enough for me. I would suggest that as an exercise.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
I am a plotter as opposed to a seat of the pants writer. I need to know where I am going with a book, so I work out my skeleton plot first, fleshing it out as I go. It may sound mechanistic, but I always incorporate the twist in the tale into the skeleton plot. That is, I know that the outcome is going to be very different from the one that I am going to suggest as the reader makes his or her way along the trail I have given them. So, the twist comes first, it is already built into the plot.
This is the essence of all magic tricks, actually. The mechanism of the trick would be bland and not at all mysterious if you just showed the audience how you give the illusion of pulling rabbit out of a hat, sawing a lady in half or finding the card the spectator chose. Yet the way it is presented involves misdirecting the audience, which is what makes the mundane seem magical. So it is with the twist in the tale. You use misdirection in the telling of the story. Make the reader think you are going one way, when all along you have known that you were going to end up with the ending you had planned. The twist will only become apparent at the end, just like a satisfying magic trick.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
It has to be the way that it is written. For a book to be memorable it has to be a satisfying read. The cover may sell a book, but the writing is what brings the reader back to read a second one by the author.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I occasionally do book signings, but more often I use blogs and social media. If using the latter, be careful and don’t bore your followers with constant adverts of your books. People will stop readings them otherwise.
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I don’t know, I am still learning as I go and having lots of fun along the way.
17. What saying or mantra do you live by?
Never take yourself too seriously.
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