Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Author Mark Jeffrey transforms Max Quick from podiobook to smash hit

Max Quick: The Pocket and the PendantMark Jeffrey is the author of the Max Quick Series and podcast audiobooks. His first podiobook, 'Max Quick 1: The Pocket and the Pendant', has received over 2.4 million downloads to date. He has co-founded four internet companies and written two novels.

When not writing Max Quick books, Mark is CEO & cofounder of ThisWeekIn.com, a new web tv venture with Jason Calacanis and actor/comedian Kevin Pollak.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Mark Jeffrey and learn more about the Max Quick Series and how it has transformed from podiobook to a smash hit. . .

Tell us about your path to publication.
I wrote the first draft of Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant in 2004. After I finished, I spoke with a few people familiar with publishing, most notably Michael Crichton's editor. He told me that it would take about a year to land a Literary Agent and then another year -- best case -- to get published. That was two years!! And that sounded like an eternity to me. I wasn't willing to wait. So I self-published the novel on Lulu.com.

But it didn't do very well. I was just another self-published book in a sea of self-published books. Nobody had heard of me. So I started promoting the book any way I could think of. I tried Google Adsense, I tried Amazon's 'paired with' program. Nothing seemed to work. Finally, I attended the World Fantasy Conference with the hopes of finding an agent. That didn't happen, and if you had asked me then whether the trip was a success I would have said no.

But I did meet a guy named Evo Terra who suggested I give the book away for free in mp3 format online, and he would promote it in his very popular scifi podcast. I resisted at first: there was no possible way to get paid. But I quickly realized my problem was not collecting a nickel every time someone read my book; my problem was getting people to read my book, period. So I did it.

And it was a smash hit. Over a few years, I amassed 2.5 million downloads and built a huge audience.

During this time, I actually landed an agent. But not the right one: this person was not connected enough to get me reads. After a few years, we parted ways and I was agent-less again. Then I caught another break: Abigail Breslin (star of 'Little Miss Sunshine') did a nationally syndicated interview where she was asked about her favorite books and she mentioned Max Quick -- she had listened to the mp3 version I'd put out there, and apparently really loved it.

Well, that endorsement combined with the 2.5 million downloads landed me a very good agent, who got me a book deal within two months. The right agent makes ALL the difference.

What was the inspiration for Max Quick?
The character himself? Several sources, I would say. I always loved the idea of a long-lived character who was a witness to history: Highlander's Connor MacLeod, Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat and Heinlein's Lazarus Long were some of my favorites growing up. But nobody's ever done that with a kid -- unless you count Peter Pan :) So I liked the idea of a kid who had a very long and deep past -- but couldn't recall it. If he COULD recall it, he would essentially be an adult and thus unrelatable to young readers -- so the amnesia was actually necessary.

He is kind of wisecracking which I would say comes from Thomas Covenant and Peter Parker / Spiderman. I love a character who delivers snarky lines at key moments.

He also suspects the worst of himself at all times, which probably comes from my own Catholic guilt complex :) But it also makes for some introspective drama that I think adds to the narrative -- it gives Max some layers to explore.

Lastly, he is a pickpocket and vagabond. He is rough around the edges. He does some shady things now and then -- but only to survive. But I like the fact that he's a little gray, that he has a little shadow to him.

What was your reaction when you realized that the original online audiobook received over 2.5 million downloads?
I was fairly stunned. I didn't think the numbers were correct. I re-checked them several times until I was satisfied that it WAS in fact correct.

I have to admit that we -- that is, the two other authors who were the first to do this, and me -- got a bit lucky in that iTunes added podcast support at the exact moment we started putting our free mp3 audiobooks out there, so we all benefited from the timing. Nonetheless, even with this development, the numbers were just way beyond anything we would have anticipated.

What can readers expect from the series?
Well I have the second book entirely written -- it is called MAX QUICK: THE TWO TRAVELERS -- and the third book is half-written (and it is called MAX QUICK: THE BANE OF THE BONDSMAN). The first book is about 60,000 words; the second book is currently 180,000 words (so three times as big) and the third book is about the same. I am not sure a) whether HarperCollins will allow me to publish it all as one book or b) whether they will publish it at all -- they have not yet committed one way or the other.

So the way I see it is like this: 'Pocket' is sort of my 'The Hobbit': it's short and fun and gets things going. But 'Travelers' is where things really kick in -- it's my Fellowship of the Ring in some ways, in other ways it's my Empire Strikes Back because it's a lot darker. The stakes are MUCH higher, and the details are much richer. And 'Bondsman' is where things go very dark, but basically everything is revealed. There will be two more books -- each about 180,000 words -- after that. I am not sure how they will be divided up though. If I get to do it my way, they will all be 180,000 words and there will be a total of 5 books. But we'll see how it works out :)

The Max Quick Series has been experimenting with some fascinating Facebook applications that allows readers to check out free chapters and win free copies. Do you think social media is changing the way authors interact with their readers and what facet do you like best?
I am SO happy that I am an author in the age of social media! Can I tell you how lucky I feel that I have this feedback loop? In the old days, authors hid behind their typewriters and threw their stuff out there, and wondered whether anybody cared. Now, people update their Twitter and Goodreads feeds as they progress through the book! Its amazing! I can watch people as they read my book -- and then talk with them afterwards!! For me, it's incredible to see what works plot-wise -- and what doesn't. It becomes very obvious pretty quickly.

I'm also very interested in WHO is reading the books -- where are they from? Who are they as people? And I've been very gratified to find people who are extremely different from me in terms of beliefs and lifestyles still enjoy the books -- and that actually surprised me at first. But it's been awesome to experience, I have to say.

So yes, we are giving away free chapters and free signed books on our Facebook page (http://facebook.com/maxquickseries) so I invite everyone to come check that out. We will be innovating on book promotion inside Facebook in the coming weeks as well -- Facebook apps are very fun and interesting ways to get the word out.

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A big thanks to Mark Jeffrey for sharing his fascinating path to publication with us. To learn more about the series, please check out the official website.

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