Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Ellis Shuman author of Valley of Thracians and The Virtual Kibbutz. As a hobby, Ellis began writing on the Internet. He wrote extensively about life in Israel in his position as the Israeli Culture Guide at About.com. He designed and maintained websites for the Neve Ilan Hotel and for Indic–Independent Israeli Cinema. For two years he was webmaster for Yazam, an international financial firm that provided support for technological start-ups. Ellis served for three years as Editor in Chief of Israel Insider, an online daily newsmagazine that developed new technologies as it posted the latest news and views, from and about Israel. Starting in 2004, Ellis began working in a marketing company servicing the online gaming industry. In the years 2009 – 2010, his job was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria. During those years, Ellis and Jodie traveled extensively in Bulgaria as well as in the countries of the region. Today Ellis continues working at this job, based in Ramat Gan.
Hi Ellis, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
My suspense novel, Valley of Thracians, takes place in Bulgaria, and when I mention this, most people say, “Bulgaria? Why did you have your novel take place there?” Bulgaria is a country that my wife and I fell in love with when we lived in Sofia for two years. When my job was relocated back to our permanent home in Israel, I couldn’t stop thinking about Bulgaria. Through my writing, I continue to experience our Bulgarian adventure and I hope that my novel will encourage people to visit Bulgaria.
- Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I was born in the United States and moved to Israel with my family at the age of fifteen. Even before that, I was inspired to write by my father, who was a journalist. Following in his footsteps, I learned to appreciate the ability to tell a story. I began to write stories, and then afterward to write manuscripts with hopes of turning them into novels.
- What was your life like before becoming an author?
I finished high school in Jerusalem, served for three years in the Israeli army, and with my wife, was a founding member of a kibbutz, in Israel’s southern desert. Later, when we began raising a family, we moved to a small community near Jerusalem. I worked in the hotel industry, including a position at the Jerusalem Hilton. Since then I have been working in the online gaming industry, and this is the job that was eventually relocated to Bulgaria.
- When did you decide to become a writer?
As mentioned, I have wanted to become a writer ever since I was a boy. During summer vacations while in grade school, I wrote and edited a neighborhood newspaper, reporting on my neighbors’ summer activities. And then I would sell them door by door for ten cents a copy.
- Which comes first? The character’s story or the idea for the novel?
With my novel, Valley of Thracians, it was clear to me that I wanted to write a suspense novel taking place in Bulgaria. I envisioned the entire story, more or less, and then began to create in my minds the characters that would play roles in the plot.
- Why do you write? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I write because I feel a voice inside wanting to express itself. My advice to aspiring writers is not to imitate others, but rather they should write as themselves. Finding your writing voice may be hard, and certainly it is a task that can only be achieved over time, so new writers must continue to practice. And most importantly, they should write the kind of book that they would want to read.
- So, what have you written?
My years of living on a kibbutz and working in agriculture, and a desire to share these experiences with readers, gave me plenty of ideas for this book.
The Virtual Kibbutz was published in 2003. My novel, Valley of Thracians, was published in January, 2013.
- Where people can buy or see them?
Both books are available in paperback and e-book editions and can be purchased on Amazon and at other online retailers.
- Give me an insight into your main character from your last novel.
Valley of Thracians has a number of main characters. A young man is a Peace Corps volunteer who goes missing while serving in Bulgaria. His grandfather, a retired literature professor, arrives in Bulgaria to search for his grandson. He is assisted by a Bulgarian academic who specializes in Thracian history. It was important for me to include Bulgarians as characters in the book.
- What sparked the idea for your book?
During my two years in Bulgaria, I fell in love with the country, its culture, history, and people. Bulgaria is a fascinating country, with something for everyone – mountains, beaches, unique architecture, picturesque villages, and good food. It shocked me to discover that Bulgaria is rarely visited by tourists from countries like the United States. Bulgaria is very affordable and there is so much to see. This was an impetus for me to write a book about Bulgaria.
- Are there any character traits in your book that are based on someone you know?
All of the characters in my book are fictional, not based on anyone I know.
- Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I read a lot, and I enjoy writing book reviews. In particular I enjoy suspense novels (including the books of author Dan Brown), but I also enjoy reading Israeli authors whose books have been translated into English.
- Where is your favorite place to read and write?
I read at home, but I write not only at home, but also in coffee houses. In order to find time to devote to writing in my busy daily schedule, I leave my home one hour earlier in the mornings, park at my office, and then sit in a coffee house for one hour’s writing session on my laptop. I find that I can easily concentrate on my writing despite the hubbub of the setting, the grinding of coffee beans, and the hiss of milked being seamed. One hour a day is not a lot, but over time, I make good progress on my writing.
- How do you market your books?
I am very active on Twitter, but mostly tweet with other authors and not with prospective readers. I also maintain a blog and post book reviews on The Times of Israel. My biggest successes marketing my books have been when I ran promotions offering the books at discounted prices.
- Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Authors need to be proactive with regards to marketing their books. They must invest a lot of time and occasionally some money in the effort. Marketing is much harder than writing or editing, but it is a necessary task no matter who publishes your book. I sold quite a number of copies of my book after advertising in BookBub. In addition, creating a book trailer so that readers can visualize the book can be very helpful.
- What do you do to get book reviews?
The number of Amazon reviews is very critical in determining the success of marketing a book. I gave away a lot of copies of my book for free to book bloggers and prospective reviewers. Not everyone who read the book posted a review, so I needed to proactively contact a lot of people with a very engaging letter suggesting that they read/review my novel.
- What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
First of all, you need a manuscript that is professionally edited. There is no excuse for having grammatical mistakes in the book. New writers should try to get their books published traditionally by sending out query letters and contacting literary agents, however, in today’s world, authors can achieve huge success by self-publishing their books.
- Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
My first book was set in Israel, and my novel was set in Bulgaria. My current work-in-progress will combine my love for these two countries. It is still a long ways from being ready for publication, but I work on it every day convinced that it will be published not too far in the future.
- How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I invite readers to visit my blog, where I write about my books, Bulgaria, Israel, and other things that interest me.
Ellis Shuman Writes = http://ellisshuman.blogspot.com/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Ellis-Shuman/e/B00B68OVJ6/
Valley of Thracians = http://www.amazon.com/Valley-of-Thracians-ebook/dp/B00B68J114/
Valley of Thracians (UK) = http://www.amazon.co.uk/Valley-of-Thracians-ebook/dp/B00B68J114/
The Virtual Kibbutz = http://www.amazon.com/The-Virtual-Kibbutz-ebook/dp/B00ASK6VA0
It was a great privilege for me to get to interview Ellis Shuman, who has inspired me in many different ways. Thank you Ellis!!! Good Luck with everything!