Matt Sinclair is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. He works as a journalist in New York City covering philanthropy and the nonprofit sector in the United States and with increasing focus on international philanthropy. In 2012, he established Elephant's Bookshelf Press, LLC, a traditional publisher of fiction and (eventually) nonfiction. Since its inception, EBP has published fourteen books, including eight anthologies, as of 2020.
List of Books:
What is the first book that made you cry?
I think it’s A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I read it at a time when my father was hospitalized, and there was a scene that reminded me of him, and I just couldn’t control myself.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I have a pseudonym ready for if/when I decide to write something completely different from my usual interests. If I were to write erotica, for example. I won’t divulge it here, however.
Do you prefer writing series or standalones?
I have tended to write standalones, though I’ve started two Middle Grade series and have ideas for several books in both of them. I also have an idea for a series that began as bedtime stories I was making up for my daughters. I haven’t even written any of those ideas down yet as notes much less scratched out some scenes on my computer. Life keeps getting in the way.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It made me realize it was not a one-time deal. I had been thinking about creating a magazine before the whole independent publishing thing really emerged about a decade ago. And when some other authors from Agent Query Connect suggested we put together some short stories for an anthology, I decided the time had come. And then when I discovered how much it cost to buy ISBNs, I decided that it was time to invest and start a company.
The irony is, I’ve written less as a result, because I’ve had to learn how to be a publisher. I’ve enjoyed the publishing side of things and the learning, especially. But I’m glad that I’ve begun to write more again.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
A trunk full. I can think of at least ten off the top of my head that I intend to finish or give a much more thorough edit.
What does literary success look like to you?
At this point, my literary success will be developing EBP into something that I can let my daughter Cathleen eventually take over. She has shown interest, but she’s still in grade school, so we have a long way to go.
What’s the best way to market your books?
Word of mouth is what works best. If you can master that, then you’re golden. But what has worked best for me has been Amazon advertising, and I’m still learning more and more about it. I’m also starting to recognize the power of proper book packaging – getting the right cover for the genre, making the cover work as an ad for you. If you do that right, the rest should flow naturally: reviews, additional marketing opportunities, etc.
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Depends on how I approach that answer: I have been a full-time writer since I got out of college almost thirty years ago. I became a journalist while I worked on short stories and middling novel ideas. I wrote and performed songs for most of the 1990s, playing guitar in clubs in New York City, and Hoboken, New Jersey, both solo and in bands I put together. I loved it! But there was no money in it, and after I got married, my time playing guitar diminished. My wife was still my biggest fan, but available time simply got shorter. I still believe I’ll write music again. In fact, I was about to start up with a new group of musical friends when the pandemic emerged. I believe the opportunity will still be there when the world reopens.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
While I originally majored in math and ended up with a degree in English, I minored in education and graduated from college expecting to become a teacher. But I wrote at night and had a hard time waking up early. Oddly enough, before the pandemic, I was regularly waking at 5 to get into New York before the masses converged. I believe that if I’d continued in teaching, I’d be an administrator now. Or I might be running a YMCA. I worked at a couple Ys in between writing jobs in the early 90s and there was much I liked about it. But I always wanted to be a writer, so I kept pursuing that more ambitiously than I pursued working in education.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Yes. Perhaps too many. The first novel I ever finished and the one that keeps pulling at me to get it into shape has three primary characters. They’re a family, but they’re also a trinity of sorts. Their names will seem normal to most Americans – Brendan, Monica, and their daughter Bernadette. But they are named after saints, and their names are intended to be somewhat ironic to their character; none of the characters are saintly and their failings are very different from the traits of their namesakes. But I don’t expect most readers to pick up on that. Still, religion plays a role in that novel, so it’s not impossible a careful reader will recognize the secrets, and if readers enjoy it regardless of whether they pick up everything, I will have done my job. But that book just isn’t ready yet.
What is your favorite childhood book?
The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling. I loved that book when my father got it for me from the library. I’d ask everyone – my parents, my older siblings, my other relatives -- to read it to me over and over, and we’d renew it at the library regularly. We read that book so often that I learned to read on it. My parents were never ones to dumb things down for us. So even though I didn’t fully understand every word, I would read these multisyllabic words. Like the elephant’s child, I was filled with “insatiable curiosity.”
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Sticking to one project at a time. I have too many interests, and my company is small, so I need to do and complete too many things.
Are you a plotter, planster, or pantser?
Of those three, I’d say “planster,” even though this is the first time I’ve heard the term. Over the past few years, I’ve become much more focused on proper story structure and making sure I incorporate the expected genre conventions into a story or novel. As such, I find the need to map things out more than I used to. The novel I mentioned above was a total pantser work, and it took many, many years before I finally said to myself, “How much more is there?” And I was about two-thirds of the way through the novel when I finally mapped out the rest of it. Then I mapped what I had already written, and that’s when I discovered how much time I’d spent writing things that wouldn’t make the cut. But that lesson was important. I’ll probably never go to a complete “pantser” approach again, but at the same time, I love the discovery that occurs when writing.