Author Max Anderson specializes in writing adventure/mystery novels for reluctant boy readers. In this interview, Max talks about his work, what goes on inside the mind of young boys who hate reading, and what parents can do to change this.
I understand you were a very reluctant reader as a child. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I began about six years ago. It happened just after 9/11 when most of my professional video clients decided to wait on the sidelines with their marketing and promotion budgets, to see what would happen next. I was faced with either looking for a new career, or to wait out the storm. I chose to wait out the storm. During that time I wrote like mad, expecting that the video production business would return. My goal was to help just one other reluctant boy reader like I had been. Now I have a pile of manuscripts completed, and the video opportunities are coming back slowly.
You specialize in books for boys. What type of books do boys like to read?
Boys like humor, action, excitement, adventure, and mystery. That list would accurately describe the books I write. My film production background probably has a lot to do with how I approach writing a story, and young readers tell me that reading one of my books is like being in an exciting or scary movie. Notice that they don’t say it was like watching one. I believe they get very involved in the story and the action.
My books don’t spend a lot of time on details or long set up. Once we get through with introducing the characters, setting, and conflict, the story tends to take off and never look back.
Tell us a little about your books. What type of stories do you enjoy writing?
Newspaper Caper is about three boys who deliver papers together. Since they’re on the streets at odd hours, they see lots of strange things. Then one day they see someone trying to steal a car. That adventure lands the boys’ picture on the front page of the very papers they deliver.
North Woods Poachers takes place far up in the north country of Canada , on a lake where most fishermen have to fly in with float planes. Here, cousins stumble upon high-tech, exotic animal poaching.
Mountain Cabin Mystery has a plot line with a terrorist cell that is planning to hit the city of Denver.
Big Rig Rustlers is a modern day western with sophisticated cattle rustlers using satellite phones, all terrain vehicles, and eighteen-wheelers to haul off the stolen cattle.
Secret of Abbott’s Cave makes use of a police scanner that leads the boys into nabbing bank robbers when they find the loot in a private cave.
Legend of the White Wolf takes place in Wyoming . The main character has saved the life of a white wolf when it was just a pup. Now that adult wolf is shadowing his every move, and even saves his life twice. It’s a different twist on a boy-and-his-dog story.
Most of my stories would be like these, although some are quite different.
What goes on inside the mind of kids who hate reading? How do you think parents should approach this problem?
Each year, I have the opportunity to speak in several schools. I always ask the question, “Is there anyone who doesn’t like to read?” Immediately several hands go up. Most of these are boys. As other students look around the room to see how many hands have been raised, more go up.
Then I ask, “Why?”
The answers are pretty much the same no matter where I go. Kids tell me that books are boring, too slow, and not very exciting. When I ask what they’d rather be doing the responses range from video games, the computer, watching movies…ANYTHING other than reading.
After I’ve described how my books are written, and why they are that way, many want to try them. The responses I get back from parents and kids are astounding. Like this one:
“I can't believe it …. as the concerned mother of two struggling readers (boys ages 13 & 16) .. who is also the daughter of a children's librarian … I think I have purchased EVERY book recommended for reluctant readers HOWEVER, they have ALL fallen short UNTIL today. We were able to purchase Newspaper Caper from Amazon and we're hooked !!!
Any other titles out there ?? Any way to convince you that we need you to write faster ??
I can't thank you enough for your efforts ………. I actually think I caught my husband listening too!!!"
Reluctant readers are often easily distracted and their minds wander. So, excess noise, talking, and television should be eliminated while they’re reading.
Parents should strike a balance with the time their children spend, possibly using video games and TV as rewards for reading first. In some instances, parents need to start reading aloud with their children in order to get the ball rolling. Be very selective when looking for material that will attract and hold interest.
When working on a novel, what is your schedule like? How long does it usually take you to finish a full-length book? Do you edit as your write or do you cough up the first draft and leave the polishing for later?
Before starting to write, I’ve already done all the research. In addition, I tell myself the basic story, on tape, as if I were telling it to kids. I type those notes, but only look at them after the first draft is finished, in order to see if I left anything out. So far I never have.
I like to write in the evening, on weekends, and over holidays, when no one is calling or looking for me concerning video production or other business. I write and don’t look at the manuscript until I finish the first draft. A first draft of 25,000 words, on average, takes me two to three weeks at this pace. Often I’m very surprised by some elements of the story as I read it for the first time.
One manuscript, Legend of the White Wolf, was finished in just three days. The reason was because I just couldn’t wait to see how the story would turn out. I don’t work to an outline. Before starting, I already know the beginning, middle, and end. What I don’t know is everything else that’s going to happen.
Before sending the manuscript to an editor, I like to revise it into a third draft. Then I implement their suggestions in a final draft.
With so many books published, how do you promote your work and still have time to write, or vice versa? Do you follow a planned writing/marketing schedule? Any tips you would like to share with other authors?
I’ve completed a total of 35 manuscripts especially for boys 8 – 13. Seven of these are published. A little over a year ago, I stopped writing so I could concentrate on marketing, promotion, and building a platform.
My time is spent in speaking at schools, maintaining my web site and blogs, participating in interviews like this one, and marketing to the various mail and email groups I’ve built over the past few years.
I’m constantly looking for promotional and marketing opportunities on the Internet.
Any upcoming books on the horizon?
Right now I could begin writing any one of 12 additional stories, and it’s difficult not to start, but I take a long view concerning my books and the market. I’m still not very well known, outside the Christian school and homeschool circles. That’s where I’ve spent most of my promotional time. I would love to be writing, and it’s a real discipline not to at this time. When I’m writing, it is one of the most enjoyable things I get to do. As I tell people when I talk about books, writing your manuscript will be the easiest part of what you do. Everything that comes next, from finding an agent or publisher, establishing your platform, promoting your work, speaking, and so on, is truly the hard part of this business.
Do you have a website where readers may find more about you and your work?
Yes, my author’s web site. I have a blog with nearly 50 pages of reviews at and a few months ago I started a blog, Books for Boys. It’s currently ranked in the top 5 on Yahoo and the top 20 on Google.
What advice would you give to those young adult fiction authors who are trying to break into print?
Be patient and be willing to work hard. Publishers expect authors to get involved in helping their book(s) to become successful. Don’t try to write or sound like someone else. Study the market. Look for opportunities to write books that will be different than most others. I wish I could offer some type of a magic bullet, but there isn’t one.
Remember that J.K Rowling was rejected something like 12 times before a small press purchased the first Harry Potter. Even then, they only printed 1000 copies in the first print run. There are few, if any, overnight successes in music, the movies, or in publishing.
There is considerable debate about having an agent or not. Many authors will tell you they do just fine by representing their own work. But that is changing, and changing rapidly. Publishers want an agent to sift through manuscripts and proposals first, so the publisher knows the material will be good when it arrives.
Anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Don’t let anyone try to tell you that you can’t do it. But be realistic too. Make sure you’ve written the very best manuscript possible, and that you understand your market, and the publishing process. Don’t be discouraged. If a guy like me, who hated to read, can find a place in publishing, so can you.