Interview with Chris Finlan, Author of Not A Fire Exit

by Joel Friedlander on January 2, 2010 · 7 comments

My interview today to kick off 2010 is with Christopher Finlan, self-published author of Not A Fire Exit. Chris is a Temple University grad who works in the software business. He lives with his wife and children in Wayne, Pennsylvania. I worked with Chris for several months over 2009 to design and produce this book. Part of the profit from the book benefits a charity. But I’ll let Chris tell the story.

Author and publisher Chris Finlan

TheBookDesigner: Did you always want to be an author? Have you written a lot in the past?

Chris Finlan: Well, I never really thought about it a whole lot, honestly. I liked writing when I was younger, but never seriously pursued it as a career. I’d never written anything over 25 pages in Word until I sat down and did this book.

TBD: How did you get involved with SMA?

Earlier this year, I found out a woman I knew from high school, Hillary Dunlop Schmid, had a daughter named Zane in January who was soon diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I’d never heard of it until then, and once I learned more about it, I was horrified to learn what children who have this disease go through. Once Zane died in June, I wanted to help somehow, so I tied this book project to helping raise money and awareness about SMA from the very beginning.

I understand you actually wrote Not A Fire Exit pretty quickly. Can you tell us about it?

In May/June, I was diagnosed with ADD. Once I was diagnosed, two things happened when I started my treatment. I became very focused on specific tasks when I started them, and I was up late every night. The combination of these things made the writing go very quickly, so I turned around the first draft to the editor in 5.5 weeks, but didn’t expect to come to a final draft so soon. However, after I had a conversation with Hillary about some research they were looking to help get funded by early 2010, I wanted to have it done by the holidays so I could have it available for people to help raise as much money as possible. This lead to 6 drafts and god knows how many hours at night working on this basically non-stop.

When did you know you were going to self-publish the book?

Pretty much when I started I knew this, simply because of the time I wanted to turn it around in. I self-published for a very specific reason, and if I wasn’t tying it to helping to raise money to fight SMA, I doubt I would have gone this route. My editor told me after the first draft I could sell this to a publishing house if I shopped it around, but I declined, because again, I wanted to do this as quickly as possible and allow Hillary the chance to write the foreword while people were still focused on the passing of Zane.

How did you put together your publishing team?

The first thing I did was the only thing I knew to do right at the beginning – I hired Heather Goodman, who I knew from high school and acted as my editor. She pulled and pushed and prodded me through six drafts, and I can’t stress enough how important having an editor is when you set out to do a project like this. The next person I reached out to was Sarah McMaster, who I also attended high school with. She’s an actress and model who lives in Los Angeles, and I wanted her involved to do the audiobook and grace the cover. She agreed, and so the final step was finding someone to do the nuts and bolts of putting the book and cover together, and that’s where you came in. I don’t even remember how I stumbled across The Book Designer website at 3 AM, but thankfully I did!

Chris I know you organized a pretty big launch for the book. Can you tell readers about the preparations you made and how you coordinated the whole effort?

Hillary handled much of the coordination and getting the word out through her network of friends and supporters. She’d also worked at the hotel we had the book launch at, so that helped us get setup there. Taking pre-orders gave us some idea of how many copies to print for a short run, plus people paid immediately through Paypal, so the original 550 we printed were all sold. As far as having the paperback, e-book, and audiobook available for purchase all by the same date less than six months from the time I started, probably not the best idea but we got it done somehow, so it all worked out.

Not A Fire Exit

Click to Order (affiliate)

What other marketing have you done for the book?

None – we have the Facebook fan group which is up to 1450 people, and about 30 – 35 Twitter followers, but that’s basically been it besides a couple articles in local newspapers. We’re starting a larger marketing and PR push in 2010, but up till now we’ve done no true marketing of the book.

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had becoming a self-published author?

There’s been two big surprises – one is the ENORMOUS amount of work involved other than, you know, writing a book. The other is just how much of a stigma exists against self-published authors from anyone even remotely associated with the publishing industry. The best analogy I can think of is like Dr. Seuss’s story The Sneetches. Unless you have that star on your belly, they really want nothing to do with you, and that’s only when I’ve just had basic questions for a couple people I know in the industry. So I’ve basically ignored anything you’re “supposed” to do – maybe Sylvester McMonkey McBean will come along and everyone will figure out a star on the belly isn’t what’s important.

What’s the reaction to the book been like?

That’s been the biggest surprise – my editor told me all along it had a chance to be huge, and well, people seem to be extremely excited by it. I mean, you were the only person on the team who didn’t know me who’d read it, and you were very cryptic about your reaction, so I had no idea what to expect. Well, we’ve had around 600 units sold, and the feedback has been WAY better than I could have possibly hoped for. I haven’t sent review copies or done anything like that, yet I’ve had several book clubs approach me, people interested in doing a screenplay, etc. It’s different, so maybe people just weren’t expecting what they got, but in a good way. I dunno.

Tell us what plans you have for the future. Any more Chris Finlan thrillers on the horizon?

Well, I’d do a sequel to this story next if I have time, but no idea if I’ll get a chance to do that or not. I’ve been lucky I have some resources to put into this project, and I’ve certainly made some mistakes, but we’ve raised over $5000 so far and that’s in just a few weeks. I do have a real job at a great company that I just got a nice new position at, so while I’d love to write more, I’ll have to see this whole thing plays out before I can make any decisions about starting another book!

Well, Chris is off to a great start with his book, isn’t he? It shows how the support of a community of interest can help bouy a new publisher. I think there’s a lot to learn in Chris’ experience, and I want to thank him for taking the time to talk to TheBookDesigner.

Visit Chris’ website to learn more:

To purchase a copy of the book: (affiliate)

To learn more about Hillary and SMA: –

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    admin January 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Chris, thanks for the update, I’m sure the Kindlers will appreciate your generosity.

    Betty, do you see the connection here with my story? Having a community that supports the publication of the book makes it so much easier to get over the first hurdle of getting into print, or even paying for a print run or the expenses involved in getting the book ready.

    This is one of the reasons Seth Godin says the best time to start forming a community to support publication is 3 years before pub date. Of course, I wouldn’t take the 3 years literally for everyone, but the concept is pretty sound.


    AlexWong January 2, 2010 at 11:30 am

    This is a very interesting post and i also like your blog site designs, have bookmarked your site and will be looking for future updates.


    Chris January 2, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Thanks Betty – and I forgot to mention, for each download up to the first 1,000 for the Kindle version, I’m donating $1 to FSMA.


    betty ming liu January 2, 2010 at 7:56 am

    This is such an inspiring story! The pace at which Chris put this project together is breathtaking. And no joke — I’m sure being ADD truly helped him. Based on what I see in my loved ones who have ADD and ADHD, they have this brilliant ability to eyeball something they want to do and then hyperfocus on it with unrelenting energy. Wow. Congratulations, Chris. And thanks for posting, Joel. :)


    Chris January 2, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Joel. If people want to give the book a try, it’s only 99 cents on the Kindle this weekend.


    Leave a Comment

    { 2 trackbacks }