Here at Phenom, we had a chance to talk with independent publisher James Matlack Raney, author of the Jim Morgan series. His most recent novel, Jim Morgan and the Door at the Edge of the World has just received an award for First Place in the Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published Book Contest. After highlighting some excellent points on the independent publishing industry, Raney gave us his take on diversity in literature.
Phenom: Hi Mat, and thanks for taking some time to talk with us! So you’ve self-published heavily with the Jim Morgan series. What kind of inside scoop or tips can you give our readers about what it takes to become an independent publisher in the literary world today? Do you think this is different from where it was 5 years ago?
JMR: Well, the good news is that compared to several years ago, self, hybrid, or independent publishing is much more accepted as a legitimate path to selling your work. More and more writers, even those who have been traditionally published before, are looking into self-publishing for a variety of reasons. On the flip side though, the best advice I can give is to be patient and take your time with the writing and publishing process. Make sure you’re practiced and experienced enough at the craft to put something out in the world. Then try to find an agent and publisher first. After that, if self-publishing is your path of choice, take your time and make sure your book is a completely professional product before putting it on sale.
Phenom: Now Mat, as you’ve said before you come from more of a business background than a traditional literary one. Is there anything specific you would go back and “re-do” in your career as an independent publisher?
JMR: If I could go back in time I would tell myself to relax and take my time. Most of the first-time self-pubbing authors I meet or talk to are very much like I was when I started: in a rush to get their book out into the world. Slow down! Believe me when I say that you only cost yourself time, energy, money, and fans when you rush an under-prepared book into the marketplace. Publishing takes time. Ensuring your book is at its best, edited appropriately, and properly formatted both internally and externally, takes both time and money, but it’s worth it in the end.
Phenom: The main protagonist in your books, James Morgan, goes through a profound psychological and emotional change throughout the series, growing from the spoiled and bratty James into the compassionate and clever Jim Morgan. Does this change in Jim’s character stem from any personal change you experienced, and does it highlight any specific points you would like to get across to your younger readers?
JMR: When I was a young boy, I lost my father to cancer. Growing up, sometimes without a father figure at all and other times with a step father, was a challenging experience, and it took me a long time to figure out who I was. That’s really the central theme of the Jim Morgan novels, a young person discovering who he is, on his own, out in a confusing and sometimes dangerous world.
Phenom: If there was one encompassing, overall theme for the Jim Morgan novels that you wanted your readers to take with them and pass along to their friends and family, what would it be?
JMR: Besides self-identity, the love of friends and family is at heart of the Jim Morgan story. Jim loses his biological family, but he finds a rag-tag group of companions along his journey that become his true family. Family is a theme that never gets old to me!
Phenom: A 2012 study by Lee & Low Books has shown that while minorities make up roughly 37% of the US population—and those numbers are on the rise—only 10% of children’s books in the last 18 years have included multicultural content to address this. Why do you think this is, and what you do you think current writers of Child and YA fiction can do to remedy this?
JMR: While both of those genre umbrellas have shown some recent progress and the topic is on a lot of tongues, we clearly have work to do. We’re not where we need to be. I’m no expert, and I wish I had a greater solution, but a simple start could be for white authors to visit some primarily minority schools and libraries in their area. Living in Southern California, I’ve had the chance to do that. If nothing else, it’s really opened my eyes to the hunger these kids have for books and put faces to the need for more diverse literary heroes. That makes the problem more personal and urgent. I may or may not be the guy who can write those books, but it’s put me on the lookout for those writers who can, or for current books to recommend. And who knows? Maybe I can be someone who can help another author in even a small way to break through and reach their audience with the stories they want to tell.
Phenom: There are many different opinions about what is considered to be the writer’s duty when creating a new work. Some people believe that the writer must inform and persuade, while others claim the writer’s job is to entertain. What do you think a writer’s goal generally should be when writing Young Adult fiction?
JMR: I think a writer’s only duties are to write the truth and write it well. If you do that, it will come out as persuasive, informative, and entertaining all by itself.
Phenom: And finally, what can we expect to see from James Matlack Raney in the future?
JMR: I have a new middle grade book out on sub right now, so I’ve got all fingers and toes crossed that it will find a home and head for book shelves in the near future! Until then, I just keep writing!
You can check out all of James Matlack Raney’s books here, at his website.
By: J. Zeiders