Mike Kowis was born and raised in Southeast Texas, is a proud Christian whose hobbies include cooking and off-roading. He has practised as a Corporate Tax Lawyer for 20 years and taught Business Law & Corporate Tax Classes for the past 15 years.
Mike has published two award winning books:
‘Engaging College Students’ and more recently
Welcome Mike, and thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Thanks for having me, Ned. I’m just a newbie author with only two books under my belt, so it is a great honor to be chosen for this interview!
As a self-published author, would you recommend that route to unknown writers, rather than the traditional means of contacting agents, publishers, etc?
Yes, definitely. Like most things, self-publishing has its pros and cons. As for the pros, there are three. First, it can be much faster to get your book to market via the self-publishing route as compared to traditional publishing. To be sure, my debut book took a little more than two months to self-publish once I finalized the manuscript and my second book took only about a month. Compare that to several months or sometimes years that it could have taken had I gone through a traditional publisher.
In addition, self-publishing allows for full control over the final product and the timing of its release. This point hits home with me because I pitched the proposal for my first book to several traditional publishers last year, and the publisher that showed the most interest asked if I would be willing to delete all curse words. My debut book about college teaching tips contains a fair amount of mild adult humor and language (which happens to reflect my unorthodox teaching style). So I was not thrilled with the idea of censorship. Ultimately, they passed on my proposal because it was too edgy, and I ended up self-publishing the book with all the colorful language intact.
Last, the self-publishing route provides a unique opportunity to personally select and build a team that will create the best possible product, whereas traditional publishers usually choose the team without any input from the author. The vendors that the traditional publisher selects may or may not have the best interest of your book in mind (instead, they may be more concerned with the bottom line and how to make your book fit in with the rest of their titles).
For cons, the biggest drawback I found is that there is little to no prestige in self-publishing because, quite frankly, anyone can do it. In other words, the lack of minimum standards for self-published books means the quality of self-published books tend to vary greatly. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to self-publishing lives on, especially in the academic world. For example, the college where I teach as an adjunct recently held a book contest for all its faculty and staff who wrote a book in the past year. However, the contest was not open to self-published works. Sadly, that meant the book I spent nearly 4 years writing and thousands of dollars to create and market was not worthy of consideration in their contest.
I’d like to think that my award-winning debut book (which was professionally edited, peer reviewed by people who I hand-picked, etc.) was just as good as any traditionally-published book in the same genre. The only difference being that my book doesn’t have a traditional publisher’s name stamped on the spine. If prestige is your biggest concern, I would say stick to the traditional publishing route. If prestige is not your biggest concern, I would highly recommend self-publishing.
Are there any particular books or authors that inspire you as a writer?
Yes. For my first book, I hired Derek Murphy to design the book cover. He did a great job. Later, I discovered that he often speaks at writers conferences to help aspiring authors learn how to self-publish and market their books. He also posts free tips on his website and YouTube channel. Joanna Penn does the same thing and her website has a huge amount of useful tips and videos for aspiring and newbie authors.
I’m big fans of both authors, and I support them by buying their books and leaving honest reviews on Amazon. We need more helpful people in this world like Derek and Joanna!
If ‘Engaging College Students’ were published in audio, ideally, which famous actor would you choose to narrate it?
Jack Black. He previously played the role of a hilarious, over-the-top substitute teacher in the 2003 hit movie, School of Rock. So I’m quite sure his voice could capture the humorous and irreverent tone that is intended in my book about college teaching tips.
Your new book makes it clear that self-publishing is a business decision – and goes into great detail on how this is achieved.
Can you allay the fear that some first-time authors might have that the whole undertaking sounds rather too corporate for them?
Most authors write because they enjoy creative expression. However, if an author writes a book purely for artistic reasons, she will most likely never see a financial return from her investment and, more important, no one will buy the book except the author’s mom. It makes no logical sense to go through months or years of hard work to create a beautiful, innovative book that no one will discover or buy. After all, a book without readers is useless.
In addition to working on the creative aspect of the book writing journey, authors should also focus on marketing (so the book will be read by as many readers as possible) and keep track of the business investment (so the author can afford to write and publish more books). If you want to be a successful author, you have to take care of both the writing and business aspects of the book creation process.
One of your hobbies is ‘off-roading’ – what is that, and how did you get into it?
Off-roading is an adventure for folks who enjoy exploring the great outdoors, but are too lazy to hike. LOL
Okay, that’s not exactly true. In its simplest form, off-roading means traversing natural terrain (e.g., forests, hills, pastures, etc.) on all-terrain vehicles, such as side-by-sides, quads and dirt bikes.
My love for off-roading goes back to my adventurous youth when I spent my free time exploring the wooded trails and river-bottom areas of East Texas on my 1984 Honda three-wheeler. Good times! Nowadays, I compete in off-road competitions called cross-country racing.
For those unfamiliar, cross-country racing is usually an hour-long race set on a three-to-four mile marked course through tight woods, open pastures, muddy creek crossings, rocky hills, and other treacherous terrain. Whoever completes the most number of laps in the least amount of time is the winner. It’s a real challenge just to finish. The best part is that my teenage son rides along as co-pilot in our Polaris RZR side-by-side, and we tackle the course together. Yee Haw!
Could I ask you for a small extract from your book ‘Engaging College Students’?
Well, since you asked… Below is a short excerpt from the chapter called “What NOT to do!” Actually, I could have written a whole book on this topic. LOL
“PRO TIP 8: Don’t Pass Gas on Students!
This may sound like an obvious no-no, but I learned this embarrassing lesson the hard way. During a ten-minute break in the middle of a three-hour night class, I was walking back from the restroom when I saw one of my students talking on his phone in the hallway. I had previously joked with this particular student in class many times, and he always seemed to enjoy my playful banter and juvenile sense of humor.
For whatever reason, I suddenly thought it would be humorous to stop in front of this student and pass gas in a loud, obnoxious manner while he was still talking on the phone. You can imagine the look on his face as he witnessed his “distinguished and scholarly” college instructor cut the cheese right next to him. I laughed out loud and quickly walked into the classroom.
A few seconds later, the bewildered student returned to the classroom and announced to the entire class, “I can’t believe that Mr. Kowis just farted on me!” His classmates broke into hysterical laughter, and I was red-faced for the next five minutes. What I thought was going to be a funny, juvenile prank between just us guys turned into public humiliation and another hard lesson learned.
Lesson learned: What else can be said? Don’t pass gas on your students!”
If you wrote a cook book, what type of cuisine would it focus on?
Tex-mex. I love me some Tex-mex! Nom, nom, nom.
What is your favourite travel destination, and why?
Hawaii. I’ve been lucky enough to visit three Hawaiian Islands to date, and each one is gorgeous! Of course, their post-card perfect scenery is breathtaking, but they also have a rich history, interesting culture, and impossible-to-pronounce native language (can I buy a vowel?).
In addition, they have live lava flows that you can view from a helicopter (I highly recommend this), no snakes and their land contains ten of the 14 climate zones in the world. What more could you ask for?
You make it clear that you enjoy teaching, which aspect gives you the most satisfaction?
The money. It’s all about the fat paychecks, Ned!
But seriously, I love seeing my students learn and grow during the four months they spend in my class. I especially love staying in touch with them afterwards and hearing that they eventually became an accountant, death-row inmate, pimp, or whatever makes them happy. It gives me such joy to know that I played some small role in their success.
Do you have an ideal environment for the process of writing?
Oh my! I could have fun with this answer, but I’ll be good.
I prefer to be alone in my office or computer room with no distractions. My most productive time is late at night when I’m usually wide awake and focused.
Writing non-fiction is a rather specialised skill – which areas do you feel are most key in being successful?
I believe the most important skill needed to be a successful nonfiction author is communication skills. That may sound overly simplistic, but it takes years to develop a concise and clear writing style that readers understand and enjoy.
At this stage of my writing career, I feel confident that I can clearly write about anything that I have personally experienced, such as college teaching (my first book), self-publishing (my latest book) and off-road racing (I write race reports after each race just for fun). If I’ve lived it, I feel confident that I can clearly express it in writing.
You have said you have a good working relationship with your editor, Geoff Smith. Whom chose whom? – or was it luck?
I stumbled upon Geoff Smith on the internet when I had my first bout of writer’s block.
At that time, I desperately needed to find a freelance editor to review my unfinished manuscript and provide fresh ideas/developmental edits so I could complete my first book. After interviewing a few editors, I decided that Geoff was the most qualified, reasonably priced, and I felt comfortable working with him (this is probably the biggest concern I had). One year later, I hired him for more developmental edits because I came down with another serious case of writer’s block. Later, Geoff did an excellent job copyediting my first and second books.
Honestly, without his intervention and sage advice, my first book would still be an unfinished dream. I’m so grateful that I found him. I highly recommend Geoff to my fellow authors.
I’ve read that you like stand-up comedians – who are your favourites and do you have a gag you can share with the readers?
Right now, I’m in the process of studying a series of video lectures by Steve Martin on how to perform stand-up comedy and write comedy material. I’m a big fan and already read his hilarious and interesting autobiography. I think one of the main reasons Steve comes across as likeable and naturally funny is that he only makes fun of himself. Self-deprecating humor is the best form of humor in my opinion because it avoids alienating the audience. It is obvious that his only goal when performing or writing plays is to make people laugh, and he means no ill will towards anyone.
I love joking around with my students. I recently had a former student ask me to complete a letter of recommendation so he could apply for a job. I said yes. Then I paused and asked him if JACKASS is one word or two. LOL
Writing wise, are you working on anything at the moment?
As a new author (my first book was published only 9 months ago), I’m still researching and experimenting with different marketing techniques to see what works best for my nonfiction books. During this process, I’ve been taking careful notes to help me identify which methods are most effective and how much they cost in terms of time and money.
Once I complete a full year of marketing efforts, I’m planning to write about my efforts and their results so as to help other authors decide which marketing strategies they want to try. I haven’t yet decided if this work will just be an article for my book’s website or a book.
Where can the readers find out more about you and your work?
Is there anything else you wish to say to the readers?
My door is always open. If anyone has read one of my books and has a question, please feel free to contact me directly on this forum or through my website. I genuinely enjoy helping others, which is probably why I love teaching and writing nonfiction books.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. I hope we can do this again right after Hollywood produces a block-buster movie based on my book and starring Jack Black!