Interview with David Estes

Published 2013-10-05.
Do you have any words of wisdom for potential authors wanting to make the leap into writing?
My biggest advice is to do it for the right reasons; namely, because you love writing. Although it is my career and livelihood, I write because it’s my favorite thing in the world to do. Don’t expect to become the next bestseller (although you might be), don’t expect millions of readers to flock to your books (although it’s possible), and don’t do it to make a quick buck (because you probably won’t!) DO IT FOR THE LOVE OF WORDS!

For those who are looking for more substantial advice for Indie authors, check out my popular blog post on Everything I Wish I Knew When I Started Writing:
Your lovely wife Adele shares the same name as your female heroine in your awesome Dwellers series. Are there any similarities between the two?
Adele and I were just talking about this with some friends the other day. They asked the same question! In short, no. I chose the name partly out of respect for my wife, partly because she inspires me to write, and partly because I just love the name and it felt right for the character. The Adele in the Dwellers is quite tomboy-ish, whereas my Adele is very feminine (which suits me just fine!). However, in some ways, like her spirit, loyalty to family and friends, and spunk, they are fairly similar.
Your popular YA dystopian series, The Dwellers Saga, was recently featured amongst 14 other bestselling series on Buzzfeed as a Series to Read if you Enjoyed The Hunger Games. How did that feel?
Wow. Just wow. Here's the article:

This was HUGE for me. Before this point, I was a fulltime Indie author, but not particularly well known outside of my core group of fans. This article made all the difference. The other 14 series in the last are all big published bestsellers, and then there's me, an Indie author, in the list. It was a thrill, to say the least, and really helped increase my sales and get my name out to a broader audience. It also opened some doors for me. In less than a month I'd landed an agent, and the other bestselling authors on the list knew my name! It even helped one of my Street Team members convince Veronica Rossi (author of Under the Never Sky), Dan Wells (author of Partials) and Mike Mullen (author of Ashfall) to read one of my books, The Moon Dwellers! Incredible!

So yeah, I owe Arielle Calderon at Buzzfeed a lot for finding my book and recognizing it deserves to be included along side big published books.
So you have an agent now? How'd you land you agent and what's the plan for your books going forward?
Yes!! The awesome Andrea Hurst & Associates made me a formal offer of representation in August of 2013. They now represent all 7 books in my combined Dwellers/Country Saga. Honestly, I've been trying to land an agent for a long time, but it wasn't until I made my own success in self-publishing that an agent found me! I had stopped querying agents and pretty much given up on the idea of getting one so I could focus on my self-publishing business.

Of course, that's when Andrea got in touch with me! She'd heard a film production company was interested in the film option for The Moon Dwellers. I'd networked with Andrea before, and so we started talking about the progress I'd made in my career in a short time, and then, out of the blue, she offered to represent me! I was shocked, to say the least. I didn't have to think about it at all, so we agreed the terms and I signed on right away.

Andrea and I are currently working together to increase the sales of the series even more, while continuing to revise and edit the books, in preparation to pitch to major publishers in early 2014. Finding a publisher for the series would be an awesome next step in getting the word out about my books!
You seem to churn out books so quickly! How do you do it? What’s your writing schedule like?
In short, CRAZYTOWN! In the 16 months since becoming a fulltime writer (June 2012), I’ve published 11 books (7 YA and 4 Children’s). That kind of production comes from spending a lot of time writing and having a very well-organized publishing process. First, the writing. When I’m working on a project, I write about four hours a day at 1,250 words per hour. So 5,000 words per day, usually in the morning. That allows me to finish a typical 90,000-word YA novel in 18 days. I don’t take days off, not even weekends. Every day, no exceptions. I treat it like any other job. And that’s only the writing part. Another four hours a day are typically spent on promotional activities, like interacting with readers, blog posts, interviews, giveaways, etc.

But to publish a book every two months or so, there has to be more than just time for writing. Once I complete a well-self-edited draft manuscript, I give it to my awesome beta readers. I usually give them 3 weeks to read it and provide feedback. During that time, I don’t look at my manuscript. I need time away from it, and that gives me time to start planning to publish, doing things like working with my cover artist to design an appropriate cover, planning a blog tour, drafting a release blog post, etc.

Finally, once I get the feedback from my betas, it’s time to spend some serious time editing and rewriting. I allow myself a week in the process to do this. It sounds short, but if you’re spending 7 days fulltime working on your book, you can accomplish quite a lot. Once the final draft is ready, I read it three or four times, at least once aloud, to ensure it’s exactly the way I want it to be. Then I prepare the ARCs and get them out to my Street Team members so they can read, review, and hopefully love it and start building hype.

And of course, the final step is formatting it for print and the various forms of ebook so I publish! It’s a lot to accomplish in two months but I try to stay ahead of schedule, and to avoid getting burnt out, I occasionally build in three months between book to give myself a break.
How did you meet Adele, the love of your life?
Awww! I could talk about Adele all day. (Yes, I’m a hopeless romantic.) Boringly, we met at work! However, the story is much better than just that. A couple funny things:

First, I took a random photo with Adele at a company party only a month after I moved to Australia (July 2009). I didn’t know her or even her name, but it was the only photo I took with a female the entire night. But we didn’t get together for another 8 months…

Second, I taught her training course in November 2009, but still we didn’t really have a chance to talk as I was too nervous about teaching a class of 30 students! But fate was already working her magic…

Third, Adele tried to resign from our company in January 2010, but someone talked her out of it! Wow! I might have never met her if she quit at that time…

Finally, in February 2009 we started talking at work while working late. We both ended up attending the same housewarming party and I managed to gather up enough nerve (after talking and laughing with her for over an hour) to put my arm around her. We had our first kiss before she jumped in a taxi to go home. In two days we had our first date. Six weeks later I moved in, and six weeks after that, I proposed. Surprisingly, she said YES!

Eight months after our first date, we eloped in Malaysia. Adele is my soul mate and the biggest supporter I have. I’m lost without her. True story.
Your readers know you prefer writing on the beach or by the pool as opposed to writing at a desk. Do you have any other oddities when you write?
My whole life is an oddity! Yes, I like lounging and chilling out when I’m writing. It helps me find a quiet, inspiring place to let the ideas flow. It also makes it feel much less like work!

So what other oddities? Well, I don’t work from an outline. I have a bullet list of random thoughts and ideas, and then I just start writing, occasionally referring to the list and trying to piece everything together. It’s hard, but the thought of using an outline makes me cringe and want to run away from my laptop screaming.

Also, my characters are REALLY LOUD in my head sometimes. Like scary loud. Like I hardly even have to think to let their voices spill out through my fingertips. It’s weird and cool and very funny.

I have a touch (OK a lot) of OCD and I’m obsessive when it comes to hitting my minimum daily word count. It really helps me write a lot of books, but it also stresses me out. Depending on the day, my word count goal ranges between 3,000 and 5,000 words, and I pretty much always exceed it.
You have mentioned that you wanted to write a book for a long time before you actually did. What were some of your first story ideas? Did any of your published books originate from these first stories?
So this was my biggest problem, and why I didn’t start writing earlier. I always believed you had to have a BIG IDEA to be a writer. You know, something on the level of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. I had ideas, books about humans evolving into angels, books about kids with superpowers, books about teenagers that could only use one of their senses. All kinds of crazy things. But I never thought they were good enough to spend hours and hours writing about them.

Then, between jobs, Adele told me to quit talking about writing and just write. Don’t worry about whether your idea is big enough, just pick what you think is your best idea and start. So I picked the idea about angels and demons evolving from humans. Angel Evolution was born! It’s definitely not my best book and I made a ton of mistakes, but that started it all. I also ended up writing and publishing the Children’s series about kids with superpowers (Nikki Powergloves, 4 books so far), as well as the idea about a teenager who had an unusual condition where he could only use one of his senses at a time (unpublished).

But I’ve found that the best ideas are the ones you get while in the midst of the creative process. The Moon Dwellers and Fire Country didn’t come to me until AFTER I’d started working on all my other ideas. And they’re by far my best and most successful series. So I always give aspiring authors the advice to just start somewhere and give your creativity the chance to blossom!
If you had a movie made of your (to date) life story, what would the title be?
Ha! As if! IF, and that’s a big IF, someone ever made a movie about my life so far, I think it’d be called Broken Road. For one, Adele’s and my wedding song was God Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts, and it always makes me cry. And two, it really is true that my road to becoming a full time author has been full of potholes and wrong turns and fallen trees. But in the end, that road was always leading me to Adele and to being a writer.
Do you know how to do the Macarena? What about the Electric Slide?
Wellllll, I can Macarena reasonably well for a six-foot-three guy with gangly arms and legs and two left feet. It’s a fairly straightforward dance and once I get going, I can’t really stop. The Electric Slide not so much though. I have my limits!

This might be too much information, but I much prefer the shopping cart, the lawn mower, or the sprinkler. And if my wife’s across the room from me, I’ll definitely try to hook her with the good ol’ fishing dance.

And this really might be too much information, but Adele made up a dance called the sideways dance, which is simple and really fun, especially when you get multiple people doing it at once. Basically you just gallop sideways for maybe five or six hops and then turn and gallop back. We had a little house party at her cousin’s once, and we had the two of us, her cousin and her husband, and their two kids going all at once, every other person going in different directions, and it was way fun.
What is one of your favorite fanmail stories?
Hmm toughie! I get a fair amount of fan mail, and quite a bit from other aspiring authors. But one of my favorites was from a teacher in California who said that he and his students (as part of a reading program) had stumbled upon my books because they were getting good reviews and they were reasonably priced, and they were really enjoying the Dwellers/Country Saga. So much so that he was able to use part of his yearly budget to buy a whole bunch of paperbacks of the series. That was a really big WOW moment for me, as not only did it mean that my books were getting into the hands of teenagers, but that teenagers were reading! That’s huge for me. In this world of gadgets and video, my biggest fear is that the new generations stop reading. It’s amazing to hear that the opposite is happening and that the written word is only getting stronger. It was also incredible to be recognized and appreciated by an educator, as I value what they do for kids more than almost anything.
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