Sunday, June 29, 2014

Who’s Jeff Gunhus and what makes him a self-publishing success story? (a mini-interview)


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). 

image 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.

imageClearly 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.

The Interview

WriteKidsBooks (WKB):  How is a kids' book different from an adult book (the most important difference(s), in your opinion)?

image 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?

image 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?

image 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.)

Read Jeff’s success story on and visit his own personal page here.  Naturally, the Jack Templar books have their own homepage where you can watch a trailer and find out more.


  1. So glad to find you through the Kid Lit Blog Hop. I saw Jeff mentioned on Amazon but didn't get to read it, so it's great to see your Q&A with him. Thanks!

    1. I almost didn't click through and read it myself, because I figured it was more of Amazon's flashy promotional hype. Very glad I did, though. And glad you stopped by here!

  2. Great interview! I will be reviewing several of Jeff's books this summer and loved reading about his experiences as a self-published author. Thanks for sharing this on the hop!

    1. Stacie: I always love getting a peek "behind the scenes." I'll be posting his tips soon, too, I promise. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Yea! I've got Jeff's Jack Templer books on my Kindle for my trip to Mexico. Can wait to read! Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    1. Aren't those things incredible? Basically any time we leave the house, we load up our ereaders and it feels like we're travelling with thousands of books at our fingertips... with none of the weight. Enjoy!

  4. Great interview! I'm now a new follower of your informative blog. Thanks for stopping by Spark and Pook.

    1. It was fun. I love meeting new online "friends" via the blog hops... :-)

  5. I just came up for air three-quarters through the third Jack Templar book and I can't tell you how great it is - realistic, imaginative, thrilling, heart-aching... oh, I'll have to find the right words by the time I review it on my blog later this month. It's a real delight to hear from Jeff and also to get the message to keep writing those books (as I'm on number 7 at present).

    Thanks for posting on the Kid LIt Blog Hop!


    1. Sounds like they're not just for kids, if you're swooning. :-)
      I figured as much, given all his other writing credits, but haven't (shamefully) had a chance to check them out myself yet.
      I appreciate your stopping by!


As always, I love to hear from you.