The one advantage of being a commuter is I have the opportunity to listen to podcasts on a regular basis. These include, among others, NPR’s “Fresh Air,” “This American Life,” “Self-Publishing Podcast,” and “Creative Penn.”
A few months ago, I began listening to “Kobo Writing Life Podcast,” which is geared toward writers who want tips marketing their books on Kobo’s website. Michael Rank’s September 16 interview on “Writing Life” caught my attention.
Not only was I interested in the subject matter, but it was refreshing to listen to a discussion by an indie author – currently working on his Ph.D. at Central European University in Budapest – who is not writing fiction or a “how-to” publication; he’s writing social and cultural history, fully documented. Author Michael Rank, who is a PhD student at Central European University in Budapest and host of “History in 5 Minutes.”
This is not easy, especially without a publisher providing an advance to supplement the research-related expenses (e.g., travel, copying, archival assistance, etc.).
So, I wanted to know more about Michael Rank, and he agreed to participate in my recently launched Q&A series, “From One Author to Another.”
Most self-published authors are novelists, and, therefore, do not need to cite sources or fact-check the text. With no on-site editorial support, is it more difficult for a non-fiction, research-based author to self-publish?
It depends on what you are comfortable with. I am getting a PhD in history so I am used to working with historical sources, bibliographies, textual citations, and Chicago-Style footnoting. Other novelists may dislike that, but they can craft plot lines and do world-building in a way that would be almost impossible for me. Any aspiring writer should do what comes easiest to them. Writing is hard enough. Why make it harder on yourself?
Before you self-published, did you attempt to go through the traditional publishing process? If so, what did you experience?
I was spared the process because my mother wrestled with that industry for three decades before ultimately abandoning it for self-publishing. She wrote over a dozen books and sold hundreds of thousands of copies for her publisher. Did her publisher bother promoting her books? Hardly. Did they gladly keep nearly all her profits? Of course. When I discovered that self-publishing was now a respectable way to work as an author, I jumped in and never went back.
Podcasting helps me connect with future readers in a way that no other medium can. I tried blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and all that other social media stuff. All of those things are good, but they only hold the attention of a view for a few seconds, if that. But with podcasting I have somebody’s undivided attention for 5-10 minutes. They get to know me. If they like what I have to say, they will probably buy one of my books. I can’t think of a better way to connect with an audience than podcasting.
Your podcast covers an array of subjects–from the Ottoman Empire to modern day Iowa. Which period do you enjoy writing about the most?
I like any period of history that is widely misunderstood because I want to explain those misunderstandings. Not because I want to be a boor and correct people, but because these eras reveal lots of hidden treasures. Take the Middle Ages. Everyone assumes that it was a time when toothless, dirt-faced peasants believed in any religious superstition that came along. They were at the mercy of the church, which spent all its time keeping the public illiterate and burning witches. It turns out this view is completely false. Enormous scientific advancement happened in the Middle Ages. Scholars read the Greeks and Romans long before Renaissance thinkers discovered them. Nobody even believed that the earth was flat. But if this “common knowledge” about the Middle Ages is false, why does everybody assume it to be true? These are the sorts of misconceptions I like to debunk.
What is your next book about?
It’s called How Iowa Conquered the World: The Story of a Small Farm Small State’s Journey to Global Dominance. The book is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it chronicles the outsized influence that a quaint little farm state of 3 million has had on the world. Iowa saved billions of lives in the 20thcentury, created the global university system, started Silicon Valley, and even standardized the American accent. I figured all those accomplishments were worth a book. But I am from Iowa, so of course I am biased. If it sells well, I am not opposed to writing 49 books for all the other states. Look for How North Dakota Conquered the World at a bookstore near you!
To read more about Michael Rank, visit his website, http://www.michaelrank.net. To listen to his podcast, “History in Five Minutes,” click here. Read the previous From One Author to Another Q&A with author Alysha Kaye.