Justin Sloan is a video game writer, novelist, and screenwriter. He studied writing at the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing program and at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Professional Program in Screenwriting. Additionally, he has published short fiction and poetry.
Justin was in the Marines for five years and has lived in Japan, Korea, and Italy. He currently lives with his amazing wife and children in the Bay Area, where he writes and enjoys life.
What inspires you to write?
I’m inspired to write by a strong desire to understand the world and the variety of people in it. I want to look at characters and see how they act in difficult situations, how they deal with each other, and what went into the development of their psyche to make them who they are today.
That and it is just plain fun!
Tell us about your writing process.
While I started out as a discovery writer, I soon learned how difficult that makes the rewriting and editing process. I started studying screenwriting at some point and that’s where I really began to understand outlining. A writer at the Austin Film Festival told us his process involves starting with the lone sentence version of what the story is (logline), then expands that into three sentences (one for each act), and then develops beats for each of the acts. This is now my style, but I also look at the main points from The Heroes Journey and Save the Cat.
Another aspect of my writing that I have learned from writing is that I do various drafts. My first draft is the discovery draft, then I go through and work on the characters and make sure they have strong motivations and backstories (if this hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet), and then do a pass for flow and voice.
I recently converted to Scrivener, and I sure wish I had been using it all along. If you are a writer, invest in the program and send me a thank you note later.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
To develop my characters, I like to do two things: (1) I write a detailed outline of their lives, the main moments in their lives, and how those moments emotionally affected them. (2) I like to write a short note to myself in the character’s voice, telling me what they’ve been through, and sometimes I update this as I write, so I can quickly remember where they are at when I sit down at the computer the next day.
Who are your favorite authors?
Although The Song of Ice and Fire books are quite different than mine, they are what inspired me to write in the first place. I loved the books and had read the first four before the fifth came out, and decided that, instead of waiting for other great books like these, I would try to write my own. Of course my voice was different and what evolved through the process of writing was a very different set of books, but I always look back at George RR Martin as my inspiration (and love the fifth book).
Brandon Sanderson is another great, and I love the fact that he runs a podcast for writers (called Writing Excuses).
How did you decide how to publish your books?
It’s been about two weeks now since I signed with my first fiction book publishing contract, and now I am preparing to possibly sign with a publisher for one of my non-fiction books. It is an exciting time, and I want to bring up some considerations for others at this crossroads.
1. Freedom versus collaboration
When self-publishing, you take on a lot of the risk, but you also have freedom. You can do price promotions when you want, decide on your cover and all that jazz, but you have to be serious about the details. Plus, you can publish immediately! Small presses take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years to get your book out there.
When working with a publisher, there is a risk that they may do something you don’t like, but it’s also more likely that they have a better idea of what they are doing than you would if you were to do it yourself.
2. Marketing and cross-discoverability
Having someone out there with a known name marketing your book will likely lead to enough sales to make up the difference in royalties you’ll be losing to your publisher. However, I have heard a lot of stories of small-press publishers NOT doing any real marketing – so make sure to know what you are getting into.
There’s a chance that, when publishing with a traditional publisher, someone may discover your book by clicking on another book by your publisher and going to their website.
3. You can always self-publish other books
Just because you go with one publisher, it doesn’t mean you always have to go that route. But beware that a lot of contracts will have stipulations, such as the right to consider your next book. Some authors prefer to be self-published, others traditionally published. Some, as is the case with me, like the idea of being a “Hybrid Author,” both traditionally- and self-published. It’s like splitting in Blackjack (is it? I actually don’t understand the game that well, but you get the point).
4. Traditional publishing still carries more weight
Some of us may not like to admit it, but traditional publishing still carries a certain level of prestige that self-publishing may not. Yes, most people just see your book on Amazon (Nook, etc.) and think it’s awesome you published a book, but if you meet someone at a writers conference or agent pitch fest or whatnot and they ask if you are self-published, you may see interest drop when you say yes. That used to be me (sorry!). My co-blogger here shared stories with me as well, where she met folks who said skeptically “Oh, you’re published?” and only showed real interest when they learned she wasn’t self-published. Unfortunately, a lot of people self-publish works full of issues, so you can’t totally blame the skeptics.
So if it’s the prestige you are after, considering going traditional with at least one of your books.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I look forward to seeing how interactive storytelling (such as that the work by Telltale Games) impacts ebooks and film. I wonder if a new hybrid style of ebook will become popular, as it doesn’t seem so difficult to do (and many apps are already doing it to some degree, I hear).
I also look forward to seeing where self-publishing goes. Will the quality increase, or will the market just become more and more saturated? How will traditional publishers be affected?
The interesting part is when you look at some of the very high quality self-published books, such as those by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant and David Wright, or Will Wight. There are plenty of other great self-published authors, but we have to find some way to differentiate the quality ones from the others, so readers don’t become jaded with self-published books.
What genres do you write?
Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Children’s, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Non-fiction
What formats are your books in?
eBook, Print, Audiobook