How did I find out about Jeff?
Well, his self-publishing success story was featured a couple of weeks ago on Amazon’s home page. And when a self-publishing kids’-book author is highlighted right up there in lights, I sit up and pay attention.
You’ll be happy I did.
It turns out that his Jack Templar Monster Hunter series of kids’ books aren’t the only self-publishing Jeff has done.
In fact, two of his novels have brought his AuthorRank up to #52 in Kindle eBooks for Horror, a very crowded genre (to give you some idea of who he’s up against, Stephen King is at #1).
Look, the numbers in self-publishing are scary. So, although it might not seem like an accomplishment that his adult book Night Chill is currently Amazon-ranked #25291, it’s a lot more impressive when you realize he’s up against basically every book in the world.
That’s why we need to pay attention to what Jeff’s doing right. Jeff’s done two things (at least) to set himself apart from the crowd:
- Written a lot. In our interview, he confirmed this, saying, ”write more books. It increases your discoverability and makes you a better writer.” He has done this, and he’s now reaping the rewards. Sweet!
- Written with passion. What could be more passion-inducing than our kids? That’s especially if we have a kid with a problem… and even more so, if books themselves – great, catchy adventure stories – can solve that problem.
Clearly a guy who doesn’t want to find himself in a pigeonhole, Jeff isn’t just writing for kids. Besides his top-ranking horror books, he’s self-published a number of career-oriented books and one for parents called Reaching Your Reluctant Reader (the Kindle version is under a buck right now!), in which he lays out his story of helping his son Jack transform from a reluctant reader to an avid reader.
Jeff was happy to chat with me and I’m glad he did, since he has a ton of accumulated wisdom and seemed thrilled to share it.
WriteKidsBooks (WKB): How is a kids' book different from an adult book (the most important difference(s), in your opinion)?
Jeff Gunhus (JG): I may be in the minority on this one, but I don't think there really are that many differences between writing fiction for adults or kids. I believe the real risk is thinking that there are significant differences and falling into the trap of "talking down" to younger readers. Kids are smart and they have amazingly strong radar when something is preachy or condescending. Certainly there are considerations about language, word choice, levels of violence, etc. but I believe both audience's demand and deserve well-built, three-dimension characters who face complicated decisions. For example, some children's books create a straight good versus evil confrontation. My opinion is that kids enjoy (and can handle) a more nuanced set-up where the hero has flaws and the villain can have redeeming qualities. Ultimately, an author ought to approach both groups of readers with care, focusing on interesting characters, a complex plot and a theme that doesn't sound like a school lesson.
(emphasis mine; for more on avoiding preaching, see Avoiding the Number-One Mistake)
WKB: What is your favourite children's book of all time?
JG: I grew up overseas and attended British schools (I'm American). I was introduced to Willard Price's Adventure Series and now have the full set for my five children to read [WKB: Yay, a fellow Canadian!]. My two oldest boys devoured them in a summer and the younger ones can't wait. I also loved The Famous Five books. As much as I loved these books, The Hobbit was life-changing for me. It opened up Middle Earth and had me reading enormous books when I was ten years old. I haven't stopped reading since.
WKB: Since Amazon's site includes your 10 tips to help parents reaching reluctant readers, what about children's book writers? Do you have any tips for us?
Actually, Jeff more than answered this question. He came up with a list of 10 Tips for Writers that I will be posting as a guest post sometime very soon. Check back here soon for the link!
3.5) Since you have already self-published many books, with great success, what would you say is the #1 piece of advice for any writer (in any genre, or specific to kids' books - you pick) hoping to self-publish?
JG: Hugh Howey (Wool, Silo series) [WKB: I love those books – and Hugh’s story, too!] recently spoke at Book Expo America. I loved his perspective about self-publishing. He said his initial plan was to write books for ten years and then come up for breath and see where he was. It was his eight book that took off and became an international bestseller. I think the best advice is simple...write more books. It increases your discoverability and makes you a better writer. If I can cheat and give a second tip, it would be to genuinely enjoy your readers. It's an absolute privilege when another human being invests hours of his or her life to read your fiction. Give that love back whenever and however you can.
(emphasis mine; I know I’m always really touched when readers get in touch to tell me how my books affected them or their kids.)