By Iola Goulton
Today I'd like to welcome Ninie Hammon to Australasian Christian Writers. Like me, Ninie is a member of the Mispronounced Names Sisterhood—her name is pronounced "nine-e", and you'll see her on various websites as "9e".
Ninie has recently regained the rights to her seven published novels, and is now in the process of self-publishing them. She approached me to review Five Days in May, which I did, and I think it's one of the best books I've read this year (you can read my review here). I also interviewed her on my blog, and am reposting that interview here.
Because I think Ninie is doing a great job at promoting herself and her books as a indie author, and we can learn a lot from her. She's started with an excellent product—seven books, with another on the way (as Narelle has posted, the best marketing in the world can't save a sub-standard book). She's invested in cover design and branding, so all her books have a similar look and feel (physical look and emotional feel).
She's been strategic about getting reviews and interviews from bloggers, so her Amazon book pages look good. And she ran an extremely successful free period for Five Days in May, which resulted in her getting to the top of several Top 100 lists. As she says on her blog, what's important about the "bestselling" tag is "it symbolizes what really does matter. People are reading my book." They are—and they're reviewing it. Five Days in May has over 270 Amazon reviews.
Anyway, enough from me. Let's hear from Ninie.
First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?I grew up in Muleshoe, Texas. And no, I am NOT making that up. (You get points if you can come within 500 miles of locating Muleshoe, Texas on a map.) It is on the West Texas High Plains that my grandmother used to say were “so flat if your dog ran away you could see it for three days.”
Which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?Agggh. That’s like asking which of my children is my favourite.
Perhaps Sudan…because it is so gut-wrenchingly true. Perhaps The Memory Closet…because it’s in first person and has so much ME in it. Perhaps Home Grown…because I ran the newspaper in the small town where the real events fictionalized in the book actually happened. Perhaps Five Days in May … because the book was “hijacked.” The thematic elements in it were not planned. Perhaps Black Sunshine…because I fell in love with Eastern Kentucky coal miners. Perhaps The Last Safe Place because it is my first true “thriller.” Perhaps the book that’ll be released this fall: When Butterflies Cry. It might just be my favourite because I always like the one I just completed best.
It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?My favourite genre is mystery, thrillers and suspense. Favourite authors are …duh!... Stephen King and Dean Koontz. They inspired me, but my work took a different trajectory. Unlike most of their books, the unexplainable (paranormal) elements in mine are forces for “good,” not evil.
I think that's why I've never liked King. On Writing was brilliant, but scared me off reading any of his novels!
What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?The last ten books I’ve read were marketing books. And no, I wouldn’t recommend any of them unless you absolutely MUST learn how to sell books. Which I did. Right now, I’m listening to the audio book of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when I run and I’m enjoying it tremendously.
There are a lot of marketing books out there, and some are better than others. If anyone wants my view on what to read (and what to ignore), check out this post: Recommended Reading.
What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?I write suspense—inspirational suspense and psychological suspense, thrillers and one (Sudan) action and adventure. My target audience is adults who like clean suspense fiction, who want values-based, right-and-wrong stories with exciting plots, believable characters, twists, turns and surprises. People who enjoy the unexplainable elements in Dean Koontz and Stephen King but are drawn to supernatural forces for good.
Taking the “write-what-you-know” advice, my books are set in small towns—in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kentucky.
Tell us about Five Days in May. Is this all fiction, or are parts of the novel based on historical events?Though several of my books were based on or at least inspired by real events, Five Days in May is pure fiction. I grew up in Tornado Alley, where we stood on the porch on spring afternoons and watched twisters drop out of the clouds onto the prairie. So the twister was the starting point and then “what if?” took over from there.
Wow! I honestly thought the tornado was a real event—which shows how convincing the story was.
Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?The characters and story came right out of the old noggin. Home Grown and The Memory Closet were based on my journalism days, Sudan came from a story in Christianity Today. But Five Days in May bloomed from “what if … a twister were about to hit a town where four people were already planning death in some other form that day?”
Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?My favourite character is the death row inmate Princess! She bloomed so pure I could almost touch her. All I have in common with her is dialect—it’s one of my great strengths as a writer—and I could hear every word she said perfectly in my head as she spoke. During her meetings with the minister, I felt like I was not so much writing dialogue as transcribing a conversation.
You are a Christian but your books are aimed at the general market. What made you choose this rather than the Christian market?I wrote three books before I finally figured out what I was called to write. The first ones were entertaining, moral, clean stories—though they were realistic and gritty! Then I wrote Five Days in May and I’ll always believe the Holy Spirit hijacked the book. I did not plan for it to become the allegory it did! I watched it unfold on the page in awe and wonder.
The book was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly by a totally secular reviewer—who quickly picked up on the Christian themes. But he DIDN’T CARE, wrote that even though I “beat readers over the head” with Christian allegory, the book was “a fine story of love and sacrifice that will hook readers to the end.” That’s when I knew what God had called me to do—to write books with Christian themes that are so engaging secular audiences are drawn in to hear the message.
This relates to how Francine Rivers defines Christian fiction: if you pull out the Christian thread, the plot unravels. Five Days in May is definitely Christian fiction, yet clearly resonates with the general market.
How does your faith influence your writing? How would that be different if you were writing for the Christian market?My writing is all about my faith. After the Holy Spirit “planted” the Christian theme in Five Days in May, my story development process changed. In the next three books, I selected a Christian theme first and then wrapped a story around it. In Black Sunshine, I wanted to write about the healing power of forgiveness. I wanted to explore the Prodigal Son and the older brother and the difference between Peter and Judas--who both betrayed Jesus. Peter sought forgiveness and was restored; Judas didn’t and died. All of that is told with the story of a coal mine disaster in Eastern Kentucky.
I wouldn’t write any differently if I were marketing to Christians. And I actually plan to turn some of my efforts there in the future because the Christians who’ve read my books have been very moved by them. I don’t enjoy in-your-face Christian fiction. I much prefer a more subtle approach and that’s how I write.
I'll be looking forward to reading more!
Have people suggested you should write for the Christian market? What is your reaction?All my Christian friends have clamoured for years that I ought to market my books to Christians and, as I said, I do intend to do that in the future. But I will never write “for the Christian market.” I’ll be faithful to what God has called me to write.
Isn't that all any of us have to do?
You’ve recently regained the rights to your books and are now self-publishing. How is self-publishing different from working with a publisher? What made you choose the self-publishing option?Self publishing is MASSIVELY different from working with a publisher because I get to make all the decisions. Working with a publisher, I spent all my time pushing a rope, trying to influence marketing decisions. Now, I don’t answer to anybody but myself. I will succeed or fail under my own steam and that’s the way I like it.
From what I've seen, you're doing a great job.
What’s next for you?What’s next for me is marketing, marketing, marketing. Other indies write a book, market it, then write another and do the same. Their marketing activities have been spread out over the whole course of their writing careers. But since I purchased my book rights, I’ve had to play catch-up. Every marketing activity any indie publisher has to perform (prepping manuscripts, formatting, writing book descriptions, figuring out categories and keywords and launch strategies, etc) I don’t do just once. I have to do everything SEVEN TIMES. Yes, it is totally overwhelming!
But I’m excited that after I start the book launches, I will get back to my WIP, The Knowing. I set aside my eighth book in February to work full time on designing a marketing plan for the other seven. The Knowing is the first book in my very first series! Writing a series is exciting and I’m itching to get to work on it again.
If you'd like to know more, check out Ninie's website (where she has first chapters and links to Amazon), and some great blog posts (like the one where she hit #1 on several Amazon Top 100 Free Lists with Five Days in May). You can also check her out on YouTube, where there are eight videos in which she talks about each individual book, along with book trailers for four of the books.
Here she is talking about her next release, When Butterflies Cry: