Author Interview: Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson Photo

Tell me about yourself? And what made you want to be a writer?
My name is Ken Johnson. I live just a few miles outside of America’s first of Pensacola, Florida. I started college at the age of 16. Aside from an AA degree from Pensacola Junior College (n/k/a Pensacola State College), a BA in Social Sciences from the University of West Florida,  and an MBA from Saint Leo University; I also have specialized Restorative Justice facilitator training from the University of West Florida College of Professional Studies and special mediator credentialing from both the Supreme Court of Florida and the US Department of Agriculture. In 2015, I became a member of the Board of Directors for the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. I am also the president of the Johnson Institute, Inc. 

Born with a reading disability, the written word has always fascinated me. In middle school, my parents bought me a Brother AX-25 typewriter. I then used the Christmas gift to win numerous contests which offered cash prizes. Later, after high school, I wrote various columns. These columns provided steady income until the self-publishing and internet zine industries began to deflate the commercial value of the written word. Seeing this horrific trend in the writing industry, I became certified as a mediator and trained as a Restorative Justice facilitator. After a few years of trying to promote my school-based Restorative Justice system, a fellow author suggested I write my program into a book. The rest is, as they say, history. 

What attracted you to the particular genre you are involved in? And do you stick with it consistently or do you change it up?
I like facts and research. I favor deliberateness. So, for me, nonfiction was a natural choice. While I have a few fictional manuscripts I am working on, all of my published works to date are strictly nonfiction.

What is your writing process like? And how important is research to you when writing a book?
I never start writing a manuscript until I first have a marketing plan in mind. The marketing plan shapes what I write about and how I present the data.

From there, I draft an outline for the entirety of the manuscript. This outline helps me to stay on track, focus on areas of critical importance, and more. Eventually, the outline will become the table of contents for the finished work.

Through it all, nothing is more important than the research. Unlike most genres, a true nonfiction author, that is to say not a memoir author or a creative nonfiction author, is held to a very strict standard. If a single piece is not true, then you can no longer call your work nonfiction. 

This attention to detail can be mentally trying and therefore I need distractions to avoid burnout. For me, I accomplish this by having multiple manuscripts going at one time…as many as 12 total. Over time, I will add a little to each here or there until something moves me to focus on a single work. For example, I have a manuscript on the dangers of the sovereign citizen movement. However, due to changes in the political environment, I have stopped working on it. This work may languish for eight years or more until the market forces are right. In the meantime, I am putting out new works, some have even been previously laid dormant, because I now believe market forces are changing favorably for such a story.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? And do you have any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
I don’t get “Writer’s Block.” I am very deliberate in my writing with outlines and research notes. Ultimately, I am so prepared that I know what I am going to say before I say it.

I believe many new writers fall victim to “Writer’s Block” because they do not research out similar stories, they have no plan or structure to their writing, and they ignore industry standards. It is like trying to cook a gourmet meal with limited cooking experience, only half of the pantry items you need, and a sub-par kitchen. Good works come from a full heart, a full mind, and discipline.

So tell me about what you’ve written, and has it been published?
My debut book was Unbroken Circles for Schools: Restoring Schools one Conflict at a Time. Later, my companion book, Unbroken Circles for Schools: Training Scenarios came out. In 2018, I separated from the publisher of these two books. Presently, I am with Heritage House Books, LLC. 

My latest book is A Quick Guide to Archetypes & Allegory. I have a forthcoming book titled A Quick Guide to Plots & Plotlines in addition to another one called A. Scrooge’s Christmas Compendium. I am presently deciding whether or not to republish my two school-based Restorative Justice books either as second editions or to rewrite them under a new title and using a different marketing plan.

If you’ve had your writing published, how has it been received?
My books, in the Unbroken Circles for Schools series, both received a few awards. They both received huge international praise for being in such a small niche market. Schools, correctional facilities, college libraries, and more all purchased the book. I even did numerous Voxer book study chats with teachers and principals all over North America.

My A Quick Guide to Archetypes & Allegory book is a totally different market. While doing well overseas, it has yet to gain much traction in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand. I believe this to be more for cultural reasons than anything else. Western writers, especially ones from these countries, tend to deny Jungian psychology as being relevant to character creation and story development – despite all evidence to the contrary. For those who have reviewed the book, they have given it high praise and consider it an invaluable reference book for writers of fiction. The book is still fairly young in its print life and I am confident it will become a sought-after reference book for a new generation of authors. Already, I am in talks with one college about making the book into a class. Other writing conference groups have approached me to talk about maybe being a lecturer or serving on a panel to discuss my book’s core topics.

Is there anything you’d change or do differently now that it is published?
I never look back. You can only look forward. As I said before, I have a marketing plan in place before I write my books. Therefore, I owe it to my work to carry out the plan.

Speaking of publishing, how did you go about getting your book(s) published, and what was your publishing journey like?
I spent two years trying to get my first book published. I think every vanity press and scam artist in the country had tried to milk me of my money. Academic presses also tried to get me to sign on. However, in truth, most of them are run no differently than a vanity press. I had a British publisher say that only good authors live in New York, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, or Las Vegas and therefore they wouldn’t consider my work unless I moved. Another said, because I used the word “verily,” I must be a Christian author and therefore they wouldn’t publish my work. Quite frankly, the rejection notes became a source of amusement after a while.

Ultimately, I settled on a small indie publisher in Tallahassee. As an odd side note, after choosing this publisher, I had three other publishers contact me wanting to take on the book.  

Within a few months, my book was out and I was at the largest book fair in the Southeastern United States, the Decatur Book Festival.  After placing in a national book awards contest, I was asked to speak at a national conference on Restorative Justice. Then, my book was sent to Book Expo America. In the meantime, a school psychologist picked up my book and was giving speeches about my work to numerous school counselor conventions in the Southwestern United States.

Success after success came with me eventually getting on the Board of Directors for the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. I also was asked to join forces with the Florida Restorative Justice Association and others. People were now quoting me in their books! Then, things took a surprising, but inevitable, turn.

Without going into detail, or trying to point fingers, my publisher and I no longer saw eye to eye on several key issues. I was unhappy with how things were going and left. Without knowing it, over half the authors in the stable saw my move and left as well…many asking me to start up my own publishing company and become their publisher of record. Out of respect, I turned down their kind offers. But, I did take their sage advice by starting up my own publishing company. I also helped a few with the creation of their own publishing company. For now, my company only publishes my work. However, in the next year or two, I plan to take on a small handful of authors.

Where can potential fans find your book(s)?
A Quick Guide to Archetypes & Allegory is distributed through Ingram. So, you can get it on Amazon (UK/US), Barnes & Noble, BAM!, or wherever fine books are sold.

Did you do your own artwork for the book cover etc, and if not, how did you go about getting it done?
Though I am an artist, mostly painting pictures on feathers, I do not do my own covers. Cover design is a specialized field. For that reason, I always suggest hiring this process out to a professional.

Have you taken on board anything from a review (good or bad) that you’ve later incorporated into your writing?
My consulting company, the Johnson Institute, does paid consulting work for authors. Sometimes, this means I must review an author’s work and either critique it or do specialized edits for cultural usage or proper implementation of character archetypes and allegory. As a professional, I would never incorporate their work into my own since that would be immoral and highly unethical.

However, with that said, I specifically wrote both A Quick Guide to Archetypes & Allegory and A Quick Guide to Plots & Plotlines because some of the manuscripts I’ve read were so atrocious that I felt the market merited writing these resource guides.

Are you working on something new at the moment? And can you tell us anything about your current projects?
I am always writing something. As I said before, I keep a multitude of manuscripts going at all times. However, since market forces determines what I put out, it would not be beneficial to anyone to divulge my latest works.

How active are you on social media? And if you have social media as an author/for your books then please share links?
Regretfully, I am on social media far too much. Frankly, the glory days of social media marketing are gone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others are now nothing more than a time suck. They have become more “thought police” and regulators of free speech than platforms for social interaction. Truly, face-to-face engagement has proven to be a time-tested form of marketing. 

However, I can still be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for those that are interested in looking me up.

Tell me about some writers you really like and/or admire?
I have always liked William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, and other classical writers. However, for stimulating reading, I would urge readers to break away from the bookstores and start looking at award-winning indie authors. For example, the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards has numerous indie listings which should be in every home library. The same can be said for the National Indie Excellence Awards, the New Apple Award, the Ben Franklin Awards, the Eric Hoffer Award, the American Book Awards, and others. Find a book awards program you trust and read their winners!

What advice would you like to give writers who are struggling with their first novels?
Take a few classes on English literature, grammar, and creative writing. As much as I love indie writers, there are about ten bad writers for every good one out there. It is just a sad fact of our times. At every turn, strive to be the exception and not the rule by having a firm foundation in the elements of grammar and good writing.

For example, I was just recently at a conference for writers and I simply hung my head in disbelief at how few knew the four primary points of view in fiction. They didn’t even know how to articulate what they were trying to say. They’d say silly things like “third person from above” rather than “third person omniscient.” Most didn’t even know the difference between a plot, a plotline, and a story arc. And, when I spoke of archetypal allegory, many didn’t have a clue. 

Far, far too many writers today are rejecting the core basics of fine literature. They relish calling themselves “pantsers” and other trendy titles meant to cover up their apparent lack of form and acumen.

If you are struggling, there is a reason for it. Find the help you need. Get the knowledge! Great writers are always learning and developing their craft. As you learn, keep writing. Never stop writing. You can always go back and edit/rewrite/reorder later. Ultimately, you have to value you and your work to see it through. 

And let’s end with something a little different…Which of your character(s) would you take with you to spend the night in a haunted house? Why?
Again, I am a nonfiction author. So, I really don’t have characters in my book…even though my book is on character creation. With that said, if I were not already married, I would choose a seductive vampiress. Why? I guess you will have to read A Quick Guide to Archetypes & Allegory to find out!


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