Thursday, February 4, 2016

Five-Q with Josh Viola

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on the Academy Awards. To summarize my position, I believe that every award has an identity. If you want to win one, you need to find the award that has an identity that matches your own. You don't want to be the "best of the best." You should do what you love, carve out a niche, and strive to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Today's guest is Josh Viola, a bestselling science fiction author who has mastered his niche. Not only has Josh created a popular novel series, but he has also developed unique ways to expand his brand into multiple entertainment platforms.

Josh and I talked about his award-winning novels, as well as his views on marketing and building a transmedia entertainment franchise.

Josh Viola, author of the award-winning
Bane of Yoto franchise
Aaron David Harris: The Bane of Yoto (TBOY) has won thirteen book awards. Tell us a little about the book, and why you think it connects so well with fans and critics.

Josh Viola: TBOY is a tale of two brothers from very opposite ends of the social spectrum. One is leading an underground revolt to free his people, the other is working with their captors to make his life a little easier. It's about the selfish and the selfless coming together in unexpected ways.

I think TBOY resonates with readers not because of the weird sci-fi/fantasy elements, but because of character relationships. Most notably between Yoto and Eon. It's really their story—a story about brothers. I drew from my own relationship with my brother. There are a lot of universal parallels I tried to explore on a deeper level than I ever really did in real life.

ADH: Your work branches into books, comics, music, phone apps, video games. Was it your intention to create a transmedia experience for your fans?

JV: Transmedia is the way to go, in my opinion. I have plans to expand on those concepts for future projects. I love branching out into other forms of media to tell the same story. It makes the world feel that much more real. The written word is the most important to me, but bringing in visuals, animation and music deepens the experience.

ADH: What is your approach to book promotion?

The Bane of Yoto has won a grand total
of thirteen literary awards.
JV: I have a master's degree in marketing and it's something I've done professionally for more than a decade now. I like finding new ways to rope people in. It's both fun and educational. There's a lot of risks involved and, unfortunately, too many writers and publishers prefer to play it safe. Clearly, when money is involved, you want to avoid risks. But you're never going to get very far if you aren't willing to take chances.

I've worked with some great publicists—that's key—they know the market better than anybody. I just throw my crazy ideas at them and they find a way to make it work. Whether it's finding a way to release a book soundtrack, a PlayStation 4 Dynamic Theme or an animated comic book app to promote a product, we develop a strategy to reach as many potential consumers as possible.

ADH: What creators (writers, artists, and directors) have inspired you?

JV: I love a lot of indie work, especially in film, music and comics. I'm a fan of films by Richard Kelley, Jennifer Kent, and Kim Jee-woon. Music by Celldweller, Scandroid and Blue Stahli. Comics by Ben Templesmith, Rick Remender and Scott Snyder. Books by Stephen Graham Jones, Hugh Howey and Ellen Datlow.

ADH: What advice would you give to aspiring creators, be it in writing or in art?

JV: Research. Dive into what makes content you like appealing to others. Dissect it. What works and what doesn't work? Why? Then find content you don't like and examine it from a new perspective. Learn to appreciate things you don't like. Open your eyes and find a broader perspective. Then give your project your all. Take criticism. Don't be offended. Listen to what others say and why they said it. You don't have to agree, but you can't say they're wrong. If you do, you shouldn't be in this biz.