When my friend Aida visited me this summer, she gave me a few tips about marketing my books. She is not an author, but unbeknownst to me, her husband John Monteith is an award-winning and best-selling author of the Rogue Submarines series, which pairs an arms-dealing Frenchman named Pierre Renard with a renegade American ex-naval officer, Jake Slate.
John recently released the seventh book in the series. The book will have a public release announcement at a submarine veteran conference September 11th. Having graduated from the Naval Academy in 1991, John worked abroad a nuclear ballistic missile submarine and as a top-related instructor of combat tactics at the U.S. Naval Submarine School.
I decided to interview John to learn how he manages a full-time job as an engineer and yet be such a prolific and successful author.
WN: How did you start your writing career?
MONTEITH: It was all a matter of self-expression. It was never a business decision. I was going through a very dark time, had a lot of issues to deal with and feeling lost and angry. I didn’t want to yell at people, so I yelled at the paper. My main character, Jake Slate, a naval officer, was very angry. He wants to understand his anger and get over it. He has a drinking problem and his wife tries to introduce him to religion while he tries to figure out where he fits in as someone who kills people.
WN: Was writing therapeutic for you?
MONTEITH: Psychologists say to figure out what’s bothering you and write it down. I picture Jake Slate as me, the invincible invisible me. He is ten years younger than me. Then there’s the international arms dealer, Pierre Renard, and he’s ten years older than me. He’s part of the therapy too. He has a heart, but he just can’t stop manipulating people.
I think that Jake Slate is not with me, nor in front of me. He’s a retrospect. He’s the sanity check, looking through the rearview mirror. At the same time, he’s filling the gap on some lessons I didn’t learn – he’s there to solidify the lesson.
WN: What was the writing and publishing process like for you?
MONTEITH: I started writing the first novel in 1996. It took nine years until it was published. I lost count of the number of revisions it went through. I realized later that I needed that time to learn to write. I had two mentors and I took a class and a few workshops in creative writing. I also read a lot of books.
I was very disappointed when it came to publishing the book. I approached over 120 agents. Two offered to read the manuscript and nothing came of that. I figured this is a dead end. It’s self-destruction. Still, I started writing the next book because I couldn’t help it. I wrote the first draft to that book in two months, and I felt that at least those years of writing were an investment in learning the craft. Now I know how to do it.
I went on to write the third book. But I hated losing money and not getting published. In 2005, I had decided to publish with Author House. In 2007, my second book was published by iUniverse. I went that route just so I could see my books in hard copy, but they were money losers.
WN: What did this do for your writing career?
MONTEITH: Well, one day I called a friend of mine, an author, for a blurb for my book, and he asked, “How are you publishing this book?” When I told him, he said, “No, no, you’re doing it all wrong. Nowadays it’s all about Kindle and eBooks.
He told me how much he was making and I was surprised. At that point, I changed the title of my first book, to make them all alphabetical, and published them as eBooks in 2010. I did this for the rest of my books as I continued writing the series.
WN: Your seventh book in the series is coming out September 11. What is that book about?
MONTEITH: Book Seven is a continuation of the series. The people in my books borrow, build, and steal submarines. They always do something that the US allies may not take risk to do, not for moral correctness, but for other factors. Book Seven continues that theme in a conflict between North Korea and South Korea.
WN: You’re a full-time engineer, working ten to eleven hours a day. How do you find time to write so many books?
MONTEITH: I write nights and weekends. I’m married, but I don’t have any kids, and that allows me for the extra time. I’ve done this enough times to know how to fill out an entire manuscript. I can just start writing and know what direction it will take. I don’t start writing until I have a story arch. The skeleton is already there. I already have an idea for book eight. I’m going to take the Rogue Submarine book series as far as I can.
WN: What advice would you give writers?
MONTEITH: Make sure you do it because you have a burning desire to express yourself. Don’t do it for money and to be famous, because there’s much better ways to do that.