Ian Hocking is a novelist and experimental psychologist living in Canterbury, UK. Like Chaucer, he twangs guitars. Déjà Vu is his first novel. Flashback, the sequel, is due out in May.
[Photo Copyright Mimika Cooney]
Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, why science fiction and thrillers?
Ian Hocking: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Why science fiction? I had no real objective to set out as a science fiction author. I simply wrote stuff that I’d enjoy reading. I’m huge movie fan, and I’ve always that he most visceral reaction to intelligent thrillers. When done right – like The Usual Suspects – they are hard to beat. The science fiction creeps because I see these elements as interesting things to explore over the course of a novel. I might consider an intelligent computer, for instance, and think: What would it really be like to talk to a computer? In some ways, I’m doing that already when I chew out my MacBrook Pro over its failure to link with my Magic Mouse when it wakes up. But how would a computer talk when it has no body, no childhood, and no brain? These more interesting, philosophical questions combine with the thriller and I get a technothriller like Déjà Vu and its sequels.
CT: For unfamiliar readers, could you share with us what Deja Vu is about?
IH: Unfamiliar – I see what you did there. Well, I’d describe Déjà Vu as a fast-paced, hardboiled technothriller with science fiction elements. If you like near-future thrillers, you’ll probably like this book. If you like Bridget Jones’ Diary: run; save yourself. I can’t say too much about the plot without giving away some of the surprises – although it turns out the main character is a ghost.
CT: Deja Vu has had an interesting publishing history. Could you tell us how it transitioned from being published by a traditional publisher to a book now being self-published? What made you decide to take the latter route?
IH: One of the oddest things about the whole business is that I had intended to publish Déjà Vu and then the next book in the series, Flashback, within months of one another. As it turned out, there has been a five year gap between Déjà Vu’s original publication by traditional means (in 2005) and the release of Flashback (due out on Kindle next month).
Déjà Vu was picked up by a small press in 2004. The outfit was tiny and had no resources for marketing, but they did hire an editor. So, despite the experience not being a good one overall – the book was virtually absent from all book stores, and publicity was entirely off my back – I did manage to take away a vastly improved version of the book. And that version received kind reviews.
A few years later, I got an agent. Despite his best efforts, however, Déjà Vu and its two sequels remained unpublished. I grew steadily more disillusioned with the publishing business and retired from writing last summer. I made the announcement in this post, which seemed to thoroughly depress everyone.
I published Déjà Vu to the Amazon Kindle in early March.
IH: Writing the book was hard, but I had written two novels previously – two novels that were bloody awful (a prototype Déjà Vu and a shoddy Stephen King knock-off). Déjà Vu has changed somewhat over the years. The current draft – the one you see on the Kindle – is one I wrote for a major UK publisher on the basis of some interesting feedback from an editor there. Ultimately, the editor chose not to go ahead with the book, but the version is much stronger than the first, so I’m happy it went through that process.
Getting it published by the UKA Press in 2005 was straightforward. They took submissions as email attachments! The cheeky chappies.
The experience of having published…eh, not so great. My publisher used Print-On-Demand, so I had to pound many pavements, and hard, to get the book into shops like Waterstone’s. Those same shops would phone me up if ordered copies weren’t collected by their customers (I’m still not certain what they expected me to do about this). I went to science fiction conventions, various BBC radio stations, local television, and sent off a gazillion review copies (a British gazillion is, like, thousand American zillions). Many people tell you to bugger off with their eyes; some do it with their mouths. Meanwhile, you crawl back to the blank computer screen and try to remember why you put yourself through this malarkey in the first place.
CT: What are the challenges now, in re-releasing the book as an eBook, marketing it, etc.?
IH: Number one: I need to stop clicking that damned link showing me how many books I’ve sold. I feel like a pigeon on a variable interval reinforcement schedule – and that’s not good.
Number two: Superficially, the marketing appears to be easier because (i) I’m doing it mainly from my computer and (ii) it seems to have worked. The computer-based approach to marketing is attractive. These days, I simply don’t have time to walk into bookshops and try to convince managers to stock my book. That was wasted time, for the most part, anyway.
CT: What were your original plans when you decided to release Deja Vu as an eBook? How is it faring so far?
IH: My original plans are summarised in this long post. Short version: I wanted to ‘park’ Déjà Vu in a place where interested parties could get at it. Following that, I’d finally be able to release the sequel – which has been in a fairly advanced draft for several years.
It turns out that Déjà Vu has been successful beyond any expectation I had. It’s a best-selling book (i.e. it charted highly in the UK SF list and stayed there) and is on track to earn back the costs of editing Flashback, which is handy. If it could pay for the cover, too, that would be Peach Melba.
The main point of publishing it, however, was to get the thing off my hard drive so I could concentrate on other projects, and to have people read it.
CT: If you could go back in time, would there be anything during your road to publishing (traditional and self-publishing) that you would change?
IH: It’s frustrating to think that a book with great reviews and reasonable sales (remember, my marketing is mostly word-of-mouth) was turned down by so many publishers and lay in bits and bytes on my computer for so long. There’s nothing I can do about that apart from point to the sales figures and wonder what publishers really want.
CT: What’s next for Dr. Ian Hocking?
IH: I want to get a more important title. Vicar, possibly. Rear Admiral, at a push. Your readers can vote in the comments.
CT: What advice do you have for writers and consumers?
IH: If you’re a writer, learn from the masters – Hemmingway, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Melville, Chandler, Kafka, und so weiter. Write regularly. Get feedback. Be a perfectionist. All the questions you might have about a story can be answered by the story itself, if you listen.
Consumers – keep buying books, and if you like a book, find the author’s website and tell them. They’ll appreciate it. Then tell your friends.
CT: Anything else you want to plug?