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Interview with Portland based author Billy Garrett

Billy Garrett

Billy Garrett is the author of the children’s book The Secret Life of Tumkit and the autobiographical Behind Sight.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What is The Secret Life of Tumkit about?

Billy: "The Secret Life of Tumkit," is about a baby rabbit who was abandoned and left to die of starvation in a cold and dark burrow until Vella, a shrewd and fearless mockingbird, discovered Tumkit and brought him a magic berry. The berry came from a solitary bush that grows in a cave near the top of Laurel Mountain. Vella warns Tumkit the bush is struggling to survive and unless they act quickly the supernatural powers of its berries will be lost forever. Tumkit, Vella and Sully, a one year old buck and loyal friend to Vella, travel up the steep mountain in a desperate attempt to save the bush. Their quest takes a dangerous turn when they encounter Borwong, an angry and heartless grizzly, who refuses to allow anyone on his mountain.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What gave you the idea for the story?

Billy: The story came to me when my nine-year-old grandson and I spotted a baby rabbit resting in our backyard. Instantly, we both noticed that the top of his left ear had been torn off. "Grandpa, what happened to him, where's his mother, why is he so skinny?" My grandson kept firing questions at me. And then much to our surprise, the baby slowly hopped under our backyard deck. "Grandpa, Grandpa, I think he's living under there. What's his name, everyone's got to have a name?" "How about naming him Tumkit," I replied. He grinned from ear to ear and said, "Perfect Grandpa. Can you tell a story about him?" Well, that's how the adventures of Tumkit began.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What do you think are the critical elements of good children's literature?

Billy: What a great question that is. The very first thing I think about when writing a children's book is what age group I'm trying to appeal to. I wrote "The Secret Life of Tumkit," for ages six to twelve hoping to deliver an exciting, suspenseful and fun-filled adventure story. Reading a book is a wonderful form of entertainment for children if it offers elements that stimulate the imagination, has a good moral statement, keeps the reader engaged and moves quickly.

Portland Author’s Examiner: How does one get on Amazon's best?

Billy: It's much easier to get into the Amazon's Best Seller List than it is to stay there. A great way to successfully become a top 100 best seller is through a well planned book launch. Pick a target date, then encourage everyone on your email list, friends and relatives, twitter, face book contacts and others to purchase a physical book or ebook within a day or two of your launch date. Go on "Goodreads" and use their free giveaway program to generate new friends. Another super way of hitting the bestseller list is using Amazon's gifting program. Every time you gift an ebook or a print book it will count towards your ranking. Picking your correct Amazon book category is also vital towards your success. Using these strategies brought both of my books into the bestseller category. Actually, my children's book became an Amazon #1 bestseller in the first week it was launched. The challenge for me now is to keep in the top 100.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What is Behind Sight about?

Billy: Behind Sight is a true story about how I was able to overcome a horrific auto accident when I was eighteen. My best friend Jesse and I were driving along a two-lane highway, just outside of Bakersfield, California at one in the morning, when a drunk driver swerved into our lane killing Jesse. I spent the next several months in various hospitals recovering from multiple injuries but my spirit had been damaged beyond repair. I spent the next several years wandering the country trying to find myself again. Eventually I ended up living in Yosemite where I began to heal. When I published my memoir I was very unsure how it would be received, so I decided to use a pen name. That way if the book was a real bad read then no one would know I was the author. Much to my surprise it received great reviews, which gave me the confidence to continue writing.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What are some of the things you have done to market your book?

Billy: With my first book, "Behind Sight," I never did anything to promote it because I didn't have a clue as to how to go about it. It really didn't matter anyway because I didn't think anyone wanted to read about my life. So why did I write it in the first place? I just wanted to see if I could I suppose. But when I completed the children's book, gave it a trial run in some elementary school classrooms and heard how much kids really liked it, I thought I'd try and promote it.

It didn't take me long to figure out that every author on the planet was doing the exact same thing and that the competition was enormous. Since I'm a new author I decided to promote the children's book through Amazon using their KDP select program. I also hired a media publicist who taught me how to use the internet to gain reader interest. I also sent out press releases, scheduled readings in schools, signed up for the Goodreads giveaways, and utilized Amazon's book gifting system. By the way, gifting works really well to increase rankings. In addition, Barnes and Noble agreed to place the book in our local store because I met their requirements of a 55% discount and return policy.

Of course using Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest along with developing an extensive email list is also an important marketing aid for me as well.

Portland Author’s Examiner: Who are some of your influences?

Billy: Now that I'm writing children's books my influences are, of course, children. I totally love watching my grandkids play. Kid's have such a wonderful sense of imagination. I can't tell you how many times I've bought them presents only to later see them playing inside a large empty cardboard box believing, and that's the key, believing they're in a fort or a house they just built. Other influences are other great authors like Natalie Babbit for her masterpiece "Tuck Everlasting." Or how about Kate DiCamillo for her unforgettable story "Winn-Dixie". Actually, the list of amazing stories by talented authors is never-ending.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What kind of day job do you have and how does it influence your work?

Billy: I''m a retired general contractor living in Oregon. When my wife and I are not hanging out with the grandkids, we're salmon fishing in the ocean or playing our guitars.

Portland Author’s Examiner: What is your process for writing?

Billy: When I start a new book I make an outline of where I want to go with the story, on paper. Then, when the outline is done, I fire up the computer and start writing. For me, I'm not one who blasts through a complete story and then backs up and fixes things. I like to make as many corrections as possible with each chapter before continuing. After I've finished the book I download it to my flash drive and print it out. I'm always amazed how many errors I find once I see it in print. Once I've polished the book as best as I can, I then make five or six copies and hand them to friends for their reviews.

Portland Author’s Examiner: How did you go about getting people to review your book?

Billy: Reviews are so important and the more you get the better. I get most of my reviews by just asking. People like to know they're helping and so I just tell them how important it is for an author to get great reviews. Also, whenever I do giveaways I always ask them to go on Amazon and write a quick review as well. It doesn't have to be a long one, sometimes a two sentence review can be powerful.

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