How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication by Mark Shaw is filled with information useful to authors in all stages of the publishing process. Although it’s aimed at aspiring authors trying to break into publishing, as a published author with an M.F.A., it gave me ideas and techniques to consider, as well. Shaw deals with the publication of fiction and poetry, as well as nonfiction. He touches on self-publishing as well as getting a foot in the door with traditional publishers, and offers a wealth of good reference materials.
Mark Shaw is a best selling nonfiction author, yet unschooled in the craft. He made his way into the traditional publishing world through the oldest method known to authors: good writing. And he practices what he preaches. Every book I’ve ever read by Mark Shaw has been well written, drawing readers in as his stories unravel in masterfully crafted ways which keep readers entranced to the end and make them think long after putting the book down. How to Become a Published Author is no exception, with the valuable information contained within presented in a clear and concise format that is easy to reference.
In this book Shaw walks us through the process for getting your books published, step-by-step. Sharing from his own experiences in traversing the pathways to publishing, using his own books and books of others as examples to illustrate his message, providing useful reference materials and links. This book covers practicle steps to becoming published from outlining in the pre-writing stage, all the way through to query letters and book proposals for those who aspire to be traditionally published. It offers marketing tips and advice useful to all authors, since promotion is a role which now falls on the shoulders of authors in many cases of both traditionally and independently published authors.
Much of Shaw’s advise could have come straight out of my M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, but he also offered suggestions for nonfiction publishing that wasn’t emphasized, or wasn’t offered through my program. It was helpful in getting me focused as I prepare to write memoir.
In How to Become a Published Author, Mark Shaw speaks from experience, delivering well founded advice on how to get your book published for authors in every stage of their writing careers. I give it five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
After writing an excerpt of Delilah for an assignment in grad school, I remember thinking, ‘this could be a book’. But I also remember thinking that a western by a female author probably wouldn’t sell. Women weren’t supposed to write westerns. After all, the western frontier was for rugged men. I knew there were women in the west, but I guessed that they weren’t protagonist material. Then, I wrote and published Delilah anyway. It was a story that wanted to be told. My character, Delilah spoke to me and the writing of the tale was too important for me to let the idea that it might not be a best seller stand in the way.
In the meantime, I was happy to learn that there are other female western authors out there. I’m pleased to have one as my guest today. Her books are set in the historical New Mexico landscape based on factual historical people and places. Western fiction author Loretta Miles Tollefson will share her thoughts on the matter of gender in the western genre and other aspects of writing and her books.
Please welcome Loretta Miles Tollefson.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Loretta: When I was fifteen I won a writing contest in a Sunday School paper and that triggered a deep desire to continue to see my words in print. I published a couple more pieces in that same paper, then branched into short stories and poetry in my 20s and 30s. I had a few things published and received a co-publication offer for a novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial resources to follow up on that. I continued to write and had some poetry published in my 40s and early 50s. I self-published a couple novels in my mid-50s and then The Pain and the Sorrow was published by Sunstone Press in 2017. I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to advertise a novel that had been traditionally published and went back to the self-pub route with Not Just Any Man.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Loretta: I was 15 but, because I come from a very practical family, I chose to take the pragmatic approach of going into newspaper and magazine work instead of stepping into the uncertain waters of fiction. Eventually, I became a Special Projects Manager for a regional planning organization here in New Mexico, a job which utilized both my writing and research skills. I didn’t realize my dream of writing full time until I retired about five years ago.
Kaye: What is the most enjoyable part of writing westerns for you?
Loretta: For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is finding ways to bring the historical details, my characters’ personalities, and the storyline itself together. It’s like weaving a tapestry. And then there’s always the sudden inspiration that seems to come out of nowhere, when my characters seem to be telling me what they want to say. Although I, as the author, always have control, I’m sometimes surprised at where the story takes me.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing western fiction for you?
Loretta: I think my biggest challenge in writing historical fiction set in the West is feeling like I need to double check all the details. Even though I grew up on a small farm and we had horses and cows and chickens and hung the clothes on a line and pretty much all the rest of it, there’s a great deal I don’t remember or took for granted at the time. And, of course, I didn’t actually live in the early 1800s. I have to be careful not to assume certain ways of doing things or specific pieces of equipment were common back then. I’m always concerned that I’ll slip into an anachronism.
Kaye: You follow the old adage “write what you know”, setting your books in areas where you have lived and are familiar with, yet you must envision those settings in another time period. It seems perhaps your own setting acts as inspiration for your stories?
Loretta: It does. Very much so. I’ve lived in New Mexico almost thirty years and was fortunate enough to travel all over the state in connection with my job. Then, after I retired, we moved to Eagle Nest, New Mexico, on the northern end of the Moreno Valley. We lived there five years and that experience really brought together my love of history and my desire to write full time. There’s so much history here in New Mexico that I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. We recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that will continue to inspire me and to provide me with great resources for my research.
Kaye: Your novel, Not Just Any Man, was recently released. Would you like to tell us a little about that book?
Loretta: Not Just Any Man is about a black mountain man in 1820s New Mexico named Gerald Locke, Jr. It’s an adventure story, as Gerald traps in Northern New Mexico and then joins a fur trapping expedition across the Arizona desert and up the Colorado River. The group includes Enoch Jones, the only mountain man in the West who seems to have an issue with Gerald’s skin color. Jones has a few other issues as well, and the conflict between the two men is a crucial plot element.
But this isn’t just an adventure story. Gerald has met a young woman in Taos who seems far above his station in life and he can’t stop thinking about her. Even if he can survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as Enoch Jones, can Gerald prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Kaye: Do you think western readers are more receptive to male protagonists?
Loretta: There certainly are a lot of male protagonists in the western genre. I think this is because the traditional Western initially reflected the cultural assumption that only men played an active role in events in the West. As we broaden our understanding of the historical West, both before and after the United States was the primary actor there, we’re realizing just how often women played critical roles on the frontier. Life was harsh. Any family that was going to survive needed everyone in it to be fully engaged. Women had to take on roles they hadn’t necessarily played before. If anything, I believe their experiences on the frontier helped to begin breaking down the barriers that we’re still disassembling today. As we do that, I suspect Western readers will become more and more receptive to all kinds of protagonists.
Kaye: You have wonderful covers with beautiful landscapes that cry out ‘western’! Where do you get your covers?
Loretta: Well, thank you! I’m glad you like them. I worry about my covers. Other than The Pain in the Sorrow, I’ve designed them all myself and created most of them using a combination of Publisher and Gimp. The pundits’ advice is to have someone else do them, but I tend to have very specific ideas about what I want, and I haven’t yet discovered anyone who can quite catch my vision.
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was strongly inspired by New Mexico history. Its characters actually existed and the primary incidents in the story are based on historical artifacts.
The plot of Not Just Any Man is also strongly situated in actual events. While the protagonist and villain are both fictional, most of the mountain men in the novel, are based on actual people—Old Bill Williams, Milton Sublette, Ewing Young, etc.—and much of the story line is based on their first-hand accounts.
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow has historical basis, as do all your books as I understand it. And it’s obvious that you strive to make your details as accurate as possible. Do you weave the history into your stories or is it the New Mexico history that inspires the stories?
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow is based in New Mexico history and a historical figure of legend, but the story about your female protagonist. Not all of your novels have female protagonists though. Was the female protagonist easier to write since you have a natural female perspective?
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was a very difficult story to tell because of the abuse my teenage protagonist suffers at the hands (and other body parts) of her husband. I think that writing Gregoria’s story may have been more difficult for me precisely because I am female. My emotions were very raw during the entire process. I might have found it easier to tell Gregoria’s story if I didn’t have a “natural female perspective” and felt less connection with her.
Kaye: Do you think it’s more difficult for a female to make it in the western genre than it is for male authors?
Loretta: I think it’s difficult for any author to break into any genre today, regardless of their gender. However, it seems to me that more women are writing Western-style stories and getting them published than has been true in the past. For example, of the fourteen authors showcased in Five Star Publishing’s recent The Trading Post and other stories, four or five are women. In early December 2018, the twenty top-sellers in Amazon’s Western category included at least two women. There may have been more, publishing under a male pseudonym. We’ll really know that women have made it in western fiction when no one finds it necessary to use a male, or male-sounding, pen name when they do so.
Kaye: My publisher slapped Delilah into the romance category, listing it as a frontier romance. While there is a romantic element to the story, I didn’t make it the major focus of the story. I guess they thought it was more marketable as a romance, and I do think that because my protagonist is female, the book might have a stronger appeal to a female audience. Do you think western readers are more receptive to stories with a male protagonist?
Loretta: That’s hilarious. I really liked Delilah and I enjoyed the romance element in it, but classifying it as a frontier romance seems to me to diminish its marketing potential. I never search for frontier romance. As a result, I would have missed Delilah entirely if that’s the only place it could be found. I feel strongly that the current way the market is being sliced into finer and finer categories does us all — readers and writers alike — a disservice because it makes it more difficult to find the well-written, well-conceived books like Delilah that transcend easy categorization.
Kaye: Do you feel that it is harder for women authors to be taken seriously in the western genre?
Loretta: To a certain extent, this may be true. After all, as I mentioned above, some women authors of Westerns apparently feel that it’s necessary to use pseudonyms to obscure their gender. But I think that as we persist, this will become less and less of an issue.
Kaye: You are also a poet and you have out several poetry books. Would you talk a little about what inspires your poetry?
Loretta: My poetry is very personal, especially But Still My Child, which contains the poems I wrote after a miscarriage over thirty years ago. The poems I wrote during that time and afterwards helped me process that grief and I hope publishing them will support others in that same process.
My other volumes of poetry were the result of an attempt to blend my interest in poetry with my love of story. For historical stories, now that I think of it. The poems in But Then Moses Was There and Mary At The Cross try to get inside the heads of Biblical characters to express what living their experiences might have felt like.
Kaye: You’ve also written other non-western novels. What other genres do you write in?
Loretta: I’ve written an urban fiction about coming of age/homelessness in 1980s Seattle and a chick lit novel about a New Mexico couple who wins the lottery. I’m not working in either of those genres now. I’m focusing my energies exclusively on historical fiction set in Old New Mexico.
That focus on historical fiction has also resulted in two short story collections set in New Mexico: Valley of the Eagles and Old One Eye Pete. Valley is a collection of micro-fiction. The stories are all 500 words or less. Old One Eye Pete contains longer pieces, with stories featuring the mountain man Old One Eye Pete acting as the narrative thread.
Kaye: What is the working title of your next book?
Loretta: It’s called Not My Father’s House. It’s a sequel to Not Just Any Man and (spoiler alert!) focuses on Suzanna’s struggle to adapt to living high in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’ve just finished the second draft, so it should be out by the middle of 2019.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Loretta: I research material for my upcoming books — or at least I tell myself it’s for my upcoming books. Hah! And I read fiction: historical, mystery, suspense, Westerns, and pretty much anything else that looks interesting to me at the moment. I review most of everything that I read, unless it has 100 reviews or more. I would love to review more historical fiction set in 1800s New Mexico and Southern Colorado, since Southern Colorado was part of New Mexico at one time.
Kaye: Would you tell us a little about your blog? What will readers find there if they visit?
Loretta: My blog is at http://www.LorettaMilesTollefson.com. About once a week, I post a short piece about a historical event or a flash fiction story set in Old New Mexico, which I define as anything prior to statehood in 1912. The site also includes news about, and links to, my books.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Loretta: I have so many favorites. This is a hard question to answer. I think right now, given the work I’m doing, the person I would most like to have lunch with would be Paulette Jiles. I really enjoyed her News Of The World and the way she brought actual events to life in that book.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Loretta: I read and explore the region with my husband. Ultimately, it’s all research.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Loretta: My writing process consists of writing the first draft, letting it sit a month, revising, letting it sit a month or so, then revising again until I feel it’s really ready. This process seems to be becoming more unusual in today’s fast-paced writing environment.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Loretta: At the moment, I’m doing all my own research, marketing, promotion, book covers, and so forth. I’m stretching myself pretty thin with all these different activities, but doing it all gives me a lot of control. I may have to start farming some of the non-writing work out as I move along in my journey.
Kaye: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Loretta: To tell you the truth, I watch so little television and so few movies these days, that I’m not sure who would be the best actor to play Gerald or Susanna in a movie based on Not Just Any Man or Gregoria or Charles Kennedy in The Pain And The Sorrow. I’d love some input from your readers on this question.
Kaye: I can and will reach out to readers for input on who should play your leads were your story made film, but now you have to answer another question: Since many of my readers may not have read your books, can you tell us what characteristics these characters would have so they can better imagine who would be a good fit?
Gerald: square forehead, gray eyes. Half black/half Irish. Late 20s.
Suzanna: slim, tall for a woman (about Gerald’s height). long black hair, dark brown eyes. Half anglo (WASP), a quarter french, a quarter Navajo. About 16.
Alright readers. Here’s your chance be heard. Who do you think would be good for the roles of Gerald and Suzanna? Please comment with your suggestions. Loretta and I would both love to hear the possibilities.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Loretta: In a nutshell: read, revise, revise again.
If you plan to write fiction, read fiction. Especially classic fiction: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, and so forth. Also, read contemporary fiction, and not just books in your genre. Some of my favorite authors right now are Louise Penny and Donna Leon. They teach me pacing and character development. I’m especially fascinated by the way their protagonists develop over the course of the series. Everything’s research, even the books you don’t like. And don’t be afraid to express your opinions and trust your instincts. It’s okay to not like a book even if everyone else is saying how wonderful it is.
Most of all, revise! As Anton Chekhov said, “rewrite everything five times.” Well, maybe not that many, but you see what I mean. I would add “but not immediately” to that advice. Take the time to let your work rest, and then go back and look at it again. When you start changing sentences back to the way you had them in a previous version, that’s when you should stop. But not until then.
Revise it, let it rest, then revise it again. There’s a popular saying that “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I am uncomfortable with that statement. While no work is going to be absolutely perfect, rushing to publication is the enemy of quality work. Try to get your story as well-written as possible. Producing quality work is what will keep your readers coming back for more.
I want to thank Loretta for joining us today and sharing a glimpse into the world of western writing from a female author’s perspective. I have admired her work since I reviewed The Pain and the Sorrow last May, and it’s a thrill to have the privelage of interviewing her. It’s a real treat to hear from another female author in the world of western fiction.
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Ask the Authors (Round 2)
Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.
Building in Conflict
For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.
How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?
I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂
I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before. It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later. I have four methods (so far): 1) the character tries to do something but fails. 2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse. 3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong. 4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.
I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!
If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha. Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict. I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation. Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.
In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?
In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.
If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.
But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.
If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.
What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?
Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.
I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.
In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.
I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict
In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.
Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?
Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.
I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.
Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.
Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!
The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.
Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.
I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources. The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common. I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift. Here it is:
“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two. The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.
I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films. Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!
When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up
Editing and Revision
In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:
What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?
I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.
I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like. Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about. I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.
This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.
A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.
At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.
I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose. I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!
I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.
I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.
Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.
Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?
We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.
Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.
What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?
I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂
Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.
The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.
Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.
For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?
I’m still submitting to short story markets. I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me. Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions. Got 125 🙂 I don’t track the number anymore, though.
I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.
My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.
I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.
But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.
The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.
In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand. I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling. I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.
Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”
I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.
Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.
During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”
This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?
I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre. What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk. I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay. I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective. It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.
I use the same brand for each of my books. It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.
Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.
Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.
There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.
My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.
Still working on this.
If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?
Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.
I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.
Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.
They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.
Marketing is my biggest challenge.
Building Your Author Platform
Have you ever used paid reviews?
Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”
I used one company once. It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews. I got 1. After that, I never paid for another review company.
No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.
No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.
No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.
No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.
Two. I believe they are unethical.
Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.
I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.
My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book. Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.
In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?
A) They’re not really honest. B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.
The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money. I think the service I used cost $60. $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it. I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.
Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.
I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.
No author should have to pay for a review.
How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?
I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be. If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great. But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book. I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed. The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost. It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.
Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation. No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.
I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.
Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.
Not effective at all.
Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?
Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.
Here’s the interview: http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da
Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.
I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.
This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.
Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?
I use WordPress. The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough. The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!
I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want. I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky. It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look. Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!
I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.
I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.
I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.
Marketing and Promotion
Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.
Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?
I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers. The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market. The artists produced what I asked for 🙂 A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology. But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist. You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Tales, here.
My covers are all made by the publishers. I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.
I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.
Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.
I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.
I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.
Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.
I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.
A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.
My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0
I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.
This may be my favorite cover. I use my own photography and do all the design work. I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book. It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve. The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV. There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going? Where have they been? This is a very cool book cover.
I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.
Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.
Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.
I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.
All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.
Just for Fun
Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.
What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?
I often wear other colors than black?!?
That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.
I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.
I’m terrified of people in costumes. Think Minnie Mouse at Disney. If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.
I used to do fitness competitions.
I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.
I have five, yes, five boys. Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.
They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.
Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”
When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.” And I did!
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.
Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.
I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.
Workout, paint, relax.
Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.
Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.
If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂 But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.
Live in the south of France.
I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing. I hate sending him to daycare. I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures
Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.
I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!
I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.
What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?
That other people have valid internal lives of their own. That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂
To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.
To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.
I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!
I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Please send cheese.
The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)
I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.” I guess I’m yucky!
I’m a warrior.
Cheerful, busy, project-driven.
Deep, very deep.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?
It wasn’t phrased this way, but: “Make someone else make you fail.”
Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready? Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent? Terrified of indie publishing? What’s the worst that could happen? You could be ignored. Oh well.
Never give up trying anything new
Its okay to take a rest. People need to recharge their inner batteries too.
This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.
So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.
Go for it!
You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.
What makes you laugh or cry?
Everything. One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.
When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.
Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.
Cute animals do both!
I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.
What is your favorite food? Color? Song?
Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.
Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine
My favorite food right now is cheese, haha. I love the color black, with blue as a close second. My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive. It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.
Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown
Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.
Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.
Favourite Colour – Red and Black
Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean
Cheerios. Blue. Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.
In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?
[Glares at interviewer.]
I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.
That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.
Audio books (lol).
Sit in an urn on the fireplace.
See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!
Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.
This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments. Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.
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Ask the Authors (Round 2)
The internet changed the ways in which we communicate with one another and opened up many avenues to publishing for unknown authors with rapid speed. And the publishing industry is continuing to transform on a daily basis, with many publishing platforms offering more and more publishing options for authors. But how do we keep up with this rapidly changing industry? How do we know which publishing platforms are right for us? And which route is the best one for individual authors?
Today on Ask the Authors, our author panel is discussing publishing options and the various publishing platforms available. Our panel members this week include DeAnna Knippling, RA Winter, Mark Shaw, Tom Johnson, Ashley Fontainne, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, Jordan Elizabeth, Amy Cecil, and Margareth Stewart. Let’s thank them for their willingness to share and see what we can learn from their experiences.
Are you published independently, traditionally, by small press or some combination?
By small and large press, plus now mostly self-published.
Combination. All of my titles are independently published except one with HarperCollinsUK.
I’m currently focusing on indie publishing.
I’m independently published; however, I do work with an independent publishing company for some anthology stories.
I’m published by four small presses – Curiosity Quills, CHBB, Clean Reads, and Ellysian.
I’ve only remained with one publisher through the years, all the rest of my books are being self-published. Personally, I am not a conformist. I go my own way, and write what I want, not what publishers want me to write, and that’s the main reason I self publish today. The publisher I have kept allows me to write what I want, and royalties are good. They have my print editions while I have the rights to my eBook editions.
It was quite an honor to have a novel picked up by such a prestigious publishing house and something I will never forget. However, I do enjoy the independent route since it allows me more creative freedom and control. I love the entire artistic process from crafting the story to designing the cover and preparing the interior files.
I was previously published by small press houses and I found they didn’t do much more for me than I could do for myself. I may revisit traditional publishing in the future.
Impatience, lol. I wanted to share my first novel, and I didn’t want to wait for finding a traditional publisher. I like the control I have over my own work, and the flexibility I have to meet my own deadlines and move them as I need to by publishing for myself.
I don’t want to knock self-publishing, and in many ways I envy self-published authors for the freedom they have, but my dream was always to be published by a publisher. Self-publishing just doesn’t feel right to me, but I know it works for many people.
I felt it gave me more control.
- You get to decide all the things.
- You have to decide all the things.
- You’re less likely to get into bookstores and libraries.
- Sanity checks.
- Questionable people performing your sanity checks.
- If you’re not already a bestseller, they aren’t going to do a lot for promoting your book, as far as I can tell. They open a lot of doors, but they aren’t going to escort you through them.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH.
- The worst horror stories I hear are actually from the small press category.
- Some will do you better than a big, traditional publisher; some will run off with your money and your rights!
Traditional publishers take a large bite out of your profits. On the plus side, if you sign with a big house, they do the marketing for you and can get your books into stores easily.
Traditional much better with promotion and distribution depending on publisher. Traditional self-publishing can make sense tougher way to go.
Naturally, you have more control over your material with independent publishers because you can fight for your control. Traditional publishers will take the control away from you. Many of my friends have gone the independent route, while some keep both.
Pros of indie: Freedom/Total Control
Cons of indie: You basically have to be marketing 24/7
Pros of traditional: A fraction of the load is taken off of your shoulders
Cons of traditional: It’s very hard to get past the gatekeepers and alot of them aren’t willing to take a risk on a new voice.
I guess I’ve already answered the main pro of being an independently published author, I can set my own deadlines and I have full control over my own works and can make my own choices.
I think a traditional publisher most likely offers authors the benefit of their experience and can help a new author to navigate the ins and outs of publishing.
The independent community, however, is a fantastic place, and if you get involved in writer groups, and interact with other authors, they can all help you and provide you with advice. I have a great network of other independent authors, editors and publishers around me, and they all help me when I need advice.
Well, definitely as an independent I can publish what I want when I want. No deadlines except those I set for myself. I think the only downfall to that is marketing and promotion. A traditional publisher would have the resources available to offer a good marketing program
I’ve been a reader all of my life. I used to read by flashlight with my covers over my head on school nights, so my mom wouldn’t know I was up past my bedtime. Those were the days when a book was a book with a front and back cover and actual pages in between.
Today, there are many forms of reading. Although I still love the feel of a print book in my hands, I must admit that my Kindle Fire has made digital books convenient, and I now read books more in digital format than I ever did in print. Now days you can even read a digital book on your phone, I think. Also, the audio book is fast becoming popular, which I can see the advantages of because I have a long commute which takes up valuable time which could be spent in what I consider to be more productive endeavors. For me, audio books might be a valuable multi-tasking device.
As an author, it only makes sense to publish my work in as many different formats as I can manage, because different readers have different reading method preferences. I was thankful that my publisher put out Delilah in both digital and print formats, and they were looking at audio, but had trouble finding the right narrator. If I had published independently, I think I would consider doing my own narration. I recently had some experience in making audio readings that turned out quite well, but it isn’t my decision, since I agreed in my contract to leave those things in the publisher’s hands.
Those are my thoughts on the matter, but let’s see what our panel members have to say.
Which formats are your books available in? (i.e. ebook/print/audio) Which file formats for eBooks do you provide?
So for I use Kindle and print. I’ll be going wide soon.
New book Denial of Justice, hardcover, ebook, audiobook, large print.
Most of my books are both in print and eBooks.
Print, ebook and audio. I prepare both epub and mobi versions of my books to file electronically across several platforms.
I currently have both print and ebooks available with eyes on doing audio in the near future. It’s always best to have all your bases covered.
My books are all available in eBook, and my larger works, are also available in print. I use Instafreebie to help distribute outside of sales platforms for the purposes of giveaways or ARCs.
All of my books, save one, are available in print and ebook. The other is only available in ebook as of right now.
Ebooks and print.
- Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing (initially).
- Smashwords (initially).
- Nook Press (initially). This turned into B&N Press.
- Kobo (added after the first three).
- Draft2Digital (added after Kobo). I initially added this only so I could get into iBooks, because I don’t have an Apple computer for direct uploads.
- Stopped using B&N Press due to site issues (they were down and they were always slow), moved B&N access to D2D for convenience.
- Moved all Smashwords channels available on D2D to D2D, because Smashwords payments are slower and I like the D2D interface better.
- In process of moving titles from direct Kobo access to D2D, because I’m not making as many Kobo sales and it’s One More Thing that I don’t want to deal with for release prep.
- Initially used Lulu for print.
- Moved to CreateSpace for better sales.
- Now CreateSpace has folded into Kindle Direct Publishing.
- I want to add IngramSpark soon, so I can get better distribution. I can’t blame bookstores at all for not wanting to order from CreateSpace. CS doesn’t take returns, and even if they did, Amazon has been hell on bookstores for a variety of reasons.
Smashwords and Amazon.
Amazon and Lulu.
Amazon, D2D and ACX. I have used Ingram for a few titles but found their website too frustrating to navigate.
Amazon; Smashwords; BarnesandNoble.com
I have used Amazon for my eBook distributions, and for my print books, I use Ingram Spark. I also use Smashwords for wide eBook distribution of my permafree – Smashwords makes it easy to set books available for free.
The majority of my works are on Amazon. I also have paperbacks on Barnes and Noble.
Mainly Amazon. I did try B&N, Kobo and iTunes for a while and it was a waste of time.
I have used Lulu and Smashwords and they work perfect for me. I have had a wonderful experience with Lulu.com. This is the fourth time I am publishing an Anthology with them and both the Ebook and printed versions have great quality. The platform is easy to navigate and they offer free download template for book editing. Besides, they ship worldwide and we can choose from different mailing options. On top of all that, I can share the Ebook version for free and that has been just what I needed for the Anthologies. As they are collaborative editions, they are free for download and only the paper version is paid for. If you wish to take a look at the anthologies, they gather contributions from over forty international authors; some of them also bring photos and art, and they go yearly now. The titles are: Whitmanthology, Womenthology, The Pain that Unites us all, and The Brave and the Afraid. I am taking the lead with this project which started back in 2015 during a MOOC Writing Course from Iowa University, and more than glad with Lulu.com for making it happen at no cost.
Amazon is everywhere these days and many authors publish through them exclusively, like Amy Cecil. In fact, if you sign up for KDP Select, you agree not to use any other outlets for your book. Although this does give you access to Kindle Unlimited, where you get paid each time someone flips through your book, and makes you eligible for free and discounted promotions, it makes more sense to me to publish widely across as many platforms as possible. So, let’s see how our author panel members view the different platforms.
What are the pros and cons that you see for each platform you have used?
Kindle is the easiest format to use. I find print editions difficult to work, no matter which company you go with.
One major con I’m running into is that they don’t support each other’s formatting. So if you’re trying to upload to different sources you have to reformat your manuscript to publish which takes up alot of time.
I like Smashwords ability to run sales whenever I want to.
Amazon is obviously the publishing giant so you gain the most exposure there.
Because Barnes and Noble is one of the last book stores standing I really like having my work featured there.
Amazon is the largest available platform, but they also are a tricky platform to navigate when their algorithms change on a regular basis.
Ingram Spark is fantastic for getting the widest possible reach for paperbacks and ebooks, their only downfall is the need to purchase your own ISBN numbers. They do have a set up fee, but they often have a free set-up code, and if you ask around in writer groups, someone often has a code that’s valid for a year.
I really wasn’t with the others long enough to form an opinion on this. My books sell on Amazon, they didn’t on the other platforms.
I chose not to publish at Amazon, and I am comfortable in going absolutely against the tide. I wanted to have a high quality book, and I wanted it to go under the whole process of being accepted by a publisher—even if it is a small independent publisher, it had to undergo submission process, be edited and accepted by a publisher. Contrary to what most writers may think, I thought it was superb for my personal growth as a writer. For being away from Amazon, most readers and even writers who are readers are not willing to adventure themselves into an outside publisher, fill in a new payment file and have their Ebooks uploaded. “Oh, it is not in Amazon! Sorry, but I am not reading it, why don´t you upload it yourself?”, “Because I have signed a contract, and I am happy about it”.
Amazon is by far the easiest path to being published, and the most polluted as well – if I may say so. There is too much of everything in there! Basically, I am so much grateful to all my readers because they were really looking forward to reading my novel, and too all the efforts towards it. I may change my mind in the future, but I am quite sure the next two novels will go with publishers somehow. In the vast and competitive universe of getting published, do as you will; but quoting Marshall McLuhan: do not forget that “the media is the message”.
Even with traditional publishing, these days the tasks of marketing and promotion fall mostly on the author, and if you publish independently, it all falls on you. Advertising can get expensive, but inexpensive or even free advertising is out there if you look. Let’s ask our panel members how they handle these tasks and find out what has been effective for them.
All free areas. I’m suspicious of most of the outfits offering advertising services. I had a friend use one service that cost her a thousand dollars, and she basically got nothing for her money. And I’m the one who directed her to the service.
I have used BookBub and a few other paid sites before and they do generate amazing results. Unfortunately, the costs to advertise with the major marketing sites are outrageous so I try to only submit a title once per year.
I paid for a few ads, tours, promos, etc. but it really didn’t do much for sales or exposure.
I run off the smell of an oily grease rag when it comes to a budget, so, that means I advertise with free wherever I can. Occasionally I spot an offer for a more affordable paid advertising, but in all honesty I haven’t seen much benefit at this stage to any advertising – so maybe I need to review what I do, and review how I should advertise.
I do a mixture of both. I’m trying to not use money from my day job anymore (which isn’t working well) and just use royalties to fund ads.
My Kindle books have always made good sales, much better than my hardbacks and paperbacks, so I doubt very seriously that I will ever go back to print, except for small runs for book signings.
BookBub, hands down. If you want to reach a large group of readers in your specific genre, BookBub is the best tool. Readers sign up for daily emails for discounted books in genres they enjoy reading, so when you run a campaign with them, your target audience receives an email about your book with purchase links.
The Kindle Book Review seems to be a popular site, and I have just invested in a paid spot on their website for December, so, I’ll be watching to see what happens to my sales in December.
Facebook ads have been a dud so far. Robin Reads has been the most profitable. (I could include a list, by my computer crashed and I lost the spreadsheet with my list of ad sites! Argh.)
If you’re looking for a publisher, read the contract and make sure it fits your plans. If you’re looking for a printing service, check pricing from a variety of presses. And check them out.
If they ask you for money up front…RUN AWAY! You should never have to pay for publishing services out of pocket. Other than that look at their current client list and do a search online before signing anything. Absolute Write forums have alot of info on small presses.
How much money are they asking for and can they detail how they will be spending your money if you pay them to publish your work. You really should only be paying for editing, cover art and possibly some marketing.
Do they ask for you to submit your work or a sample of your work before they publish you? I have seen some new authors wanting to publish, but they need a little advice on how they can improve their craft, so they can publish a better story than what they originally have. I think a small independent press should be wanting to help develop an author that approaches them. Make their work stronger and shine like a bright star in a universe filled with stars.
See if you feel a connection. Talk to other authors in a safe, candid way. Read reviews online. Sure, some people want to watch the world burn, but if the majority of authors warn you to stay away, take heed. There might be some credence there.
A good marketing and promotional team.
For first time authors, I would highly suggest you go with a small press publisher to get your feet wet. But make sure they are publishing in your genre. I’ve been bitten at least three times by publishers interested in my manuscripts. They wanted SF and I obliged, only to see them all decide (after they had my contract) that they wanted to go erotica for the money. They had my books for three years and would not let them go; yet all they advertised was the erotica, so my books didn’t sell well. Traditional publishers may require an agent, or may hold your manuscript over a year before responding, and then you may be rejected. Get your book published so you won’t mind the long wait next time if you decide to go traditional. Agents are hard to get. Let’s face it they want the next Tom Clancy or Steven King. They’re not looking for untried writers. I’ve used two agents during my writing career, and neither did anything for me. You might find a good one, but the chances are slim. Good luck whatever you do.
Grow thick skin. You’ll need it. 😊
If you’re going traditional, do your research on agents and publishing houses. Find out what they represent, write a killer pitch, and stay consistent. Don’t give up after a few rejections. Traditional publishing takes time.
If you’re going independent, treat it as a business. Hire a cover designer, an editor, and set up a website and social media channels where you can connect with readers.
Ask for the feedback of someone already in the industry. See what they have to say about the strength of your story, your craft. Be open to the feedback and listen to the constructive information you are given. Use an editor, a proof reader. Get the most professional looking cover you can for your budget. Get your head around keywords, and blurb writing. Set up a newsletter, social media pages and have a presence online. Interact with your potential new readers, be seen – after all you want to be found.
Please don’t give up. Rejection letters can cut deep. The authors who keep trying are the ones who succeed. Also, if you are going to self-publish, make sure to hire an editor! A family member might be able to notice typos, but an editor for your genre will be able to help you shape characters, setting, and plot.
While traditional publishers may help authors out with things like editing, book covers, and marketing and promotion, they also take a bigger piece of the pie for their efforts. Also, it seems to me that the rise in independent publishing has shown them that authors are capable of advertising their books effectively, so they are offering less help on promotional fronts than in days past, and traditionally published and small press authors are expected to do more of this today. Small presses may offer a bigger share of royalties, but it varies greatly as to how much publishing support each one offers. While independent authors taking control of their own publishing processes, they also must take responsibility for turning out a quality book from start to finish by either hiring work out or juggling all the author hats required themselves.
I think many authors are scrambling to keep up with advances in digital media which enable us to bring our writing to more and bigger audiences through the different formats. While it makes sense to offer our work in as many formats as possible, many of us are still in the learning curve as far as how to go about it. Audio books are becoming increasingly popular, but this is still relatively new territory for many. The good news is there are also increasingly more publishing platforms available to help us explore our options, if we choose to publish independently.
That wraps up our discussion on publishing platforms and as always, I want to thank our author panel for their willingness to share. Be such a catch next Monday’s segment, when our panel will be discussing author platforms: what they are, why we need them and how to build them. See you then!
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I recently made the acquaintance of the energetic, sassy author, R.A. Winter. She writes in several genres, including fantasy, magical realism, dark fantasy, , time travel romance, contemporary Native American romance, and paranormal Native American western. And it seems she never rests when it comes to writing. Please help me to welcome R.A. Winter to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: Hello and welcome. Would you start by sharing the story of your own publishing journey?
R.A.: I started out writing genealogy nonfiction books under my married name. I love research and old libraries! I also love reading romances. With so many ideas flirting around my head, I thought I’d give creative writing a go.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
R.A.: I write the raunchiest first draft, the humor is way over the top. Then I cut it down, and my crit circle cuts it down further. My editor slices more. They say that a bit of humor goes a long way.
Kaye: You have sites on both WordPress and Wix. Can you give us the advantages and disadvantages of each? Which site do you prefer? Why?
R.A.: Wix is easier to deal with, super simple to navigate and change. WordPress is a bit of a pickle to deal with, and every time I change something, I mess up the page. I do prefer WordPress because I can easily share review and pages on a whim. Wix doesn’t give you that option.
Kaye: You’re on the review team at The Naked Reviewers, where authors can submit a book and request an honest review. Would you like to tell us a little about that site and what the review process is?
R.A.: We have a group of published author on Scribophile.com who formed the group. Right now, I think there is twelve of us. When someone submits a book, we all read the first chapter, the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon. Then we rate the writing, the blurb, and the cover. If two of us agree, we review the book. Each Wednesday, two of us leave our review as a feature, if anyone else read it, they leave their thoughts in the ‘comment’ section. It does mean that most books that we review get a 4.0 or higher rating, usually. We wanted to show off the best books.
R.A.: I ordered products from Amazon.com. A coffee grinder, a milk frother, and a small coffee taper, they just happened to be from the same company in China. Now, I review every product I receive, but when I went to upload my reviews, Amazon wouldn’t allow it. After contacting them, they said that I had a ‘relationship’ with the company in China and that I’d violated their terms. Apparently, I ordered too many things from them. I just don’t understand. They ask you to review, you review… then they’re like… you review too much! They banned me for LIFE for writing any reviews.
My point to them was- IF I was screwing reviews, wouldn’t my books have like 300 hundred reviews instead of each of them having less then 10? I mean seriously. THAT’S what would have benefited me!
Kaye: What is one thing that your readers would never guess about you?
R.A.: I have five children… all boys. I’ve lived in 5 different countries too. I don’t know which one was harder to live through. And all my boys look like my husband.
Kaye: What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?
R.A.: My kids are older, so they don’t need me. I like to write at night, when the house is quiet and no one interrupts. My earbuds are essential, and a song list that corresponds to my writing mood.
Kaye: You have some really great covers, some of which you’ve shared here. What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab? Do you have a great cover designer you’d like to recommend?
R.A.: Some are creations of Kayci Morgan, from KreativeCovers.com. A few I did myself, which you can probably tell. Kayci is wonderful to work with and very reasonable. I am learning Photoshop and I’m doing my own teasers. I’m getting better but I just don’t have the finesse to do covers well.
Kaye: You have a paranormal romance fantasy novella, Twisted, which I’m excited to be reviewing here on Writing to be Read. (So watch for that review on Friday.) What can you tell us about that story?
R.A.: Twisted is a novella, and one of the hardest things I’ve
It’s a Freaky-Friday, body switching piece… full of adult humor. A witch’s land is cursed. Males are no longer born to the vampires, nor are females born to the wolves. To end the curse, the witch must solve a riddle, and she has to have the cooperation of the vampires and the werewolves.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
R.A.: My Spirit Key series was a way to keep my cat alive in my memories. He’d just past away, and Dingle had the oddest personality for a cat. He always reminded me of an old man, you know the one. The spunky old guy in the nursing home who’s constantly bugging the pretty nurses and running behind them with his walker, never able to catch them. Occasionally, he’d pinch their behinds, but act like he didn’t do it. I taught Dingle how to wink, but usually he had this grumpy look on his face. He used to love to jump out and scare me, then give me that ugh, you’re-stupid-to-fall-for-that-again look. He’s now a ten-thousand year old spirit who has a bit of trickster in him.
Kaye: Your Spirit Key series are westerns with a bit of a different twist to them. Would you like to tell us about them?
R.A.: Contemporary Native American’s in a western setting with magical realism is the gist of the Spirit Key Series. In book 1, we follow young Sara, as the ghosts of ancestors haunt her days and try to keep her away from young RedHorse. There’s a new spirit in town, a nefarious one who has his own agenda. The Old One wants the land for the dead and he’ll do anything to have it, including taking away what Sara loves most.
Kaye: There are two books in The Spirit Key series: Painted Girl and Redhorse. What type of research did you do for these books?
R.A.: The first two book are contemporary, set in modern day Kansas on a farm. Books 3 and 4 (which are almost finished) go back to 1950, and we delve into Grandfather’s life, and that of the ten-thousand year old spirit who watches over them. My research centered on the old Indian Schools, and the horrors that the children underwent. It’s all to stop the spirits from invading this world, and to give grandfather his happy ending. The Native American research is from my family.
Kaye: You also write contemporary romance with a Native American twist. What about Little Sparrow, A Kiowa in Love or Red Dress, Two Wives?
R.A.: Those were my early books. I’ve taken the ebooks down, and now I’m writing those into the Spirit Key Series. Everyone is related, so it made sense to do that. I kept the hard copies up because a few people really liked them the way they were. My writing evolved, and I thought those two would be great as part of the Spirit Key Series with some rework.
Kaye: What is the attraction for adding a Native American element to your writing?
R.A.: Two fold. My grandmother was ‘found’. It was assumed that she was Native American. This was in the 1880’s, a time when the tribes had to travel west and were forced onto reservations. Our family farm was near one of the routes and my grandfather brought home a baby girl one day, saying that he’d found her. My cousins are Sioux. I barely remember the eldest two girls but I do remember their beauty. One day, when I was only six years old, they disappeared. Just up and gone. Our family went nuts, as you can imagine. It wasn’t until twelve years later that we learned that they had been taken west to different orphanages and divided up. (This was the early ’70’s when the government still took NA children on a whim.) Anyway, my stories revolve around finding your identity when you don’t know who you are, when you have no memories of your family. My Native American family is rooted by my life stories. You know that you’re different, but you feel the same as everyone else. You just have to find your own special, because it’s there, you don’t have to go looking for it. It just may be hiding in plain sight.
Kaye: I’m also very interested in your time travel romances, As Long As I Have You and Always With You. What can you share with us about them?
R.A.: These were part of an anthology, and part of a series inside the anthology. The rules are simple, Cupid owns a bar, and his mate has a special tattoo that glows when soul mates are touched. In book 1, Ann Paolo comes to the bar with her dog. Unbeknownst to her, the dog, Han, is the spirit of a long dead Native American, who has been cursed to follow Ann through time, always to love her, and be loved, but never to be with her. Cupid sends them back in time, so Han can erase his curse. In book 2, Ann’s back, because so many lifetimes couldn’t be rewritten. This time, Cupid calls on the fates to bring Han to life in this day and time. The fates have a bit of trouble writing him into time-line, so they turn to Netflix for ideas. Han is now, Dan Winchesty, from the TV show Super-Unnatural Killers and Revealers Suckers for short. You know, Dan Winchesty- the one with the perky nipples? It’s a spoof on Supernatural, and I think it’s hilarious, but that’s just my opinion.
Kaye: What is your favorite genre to write in so far? Why?
R.A.: I love magical realism and fantasy. Creating my own world, and rules, takes a lot of thought and design. You just can’t pop something on paper, it has to make sense, have rules, have life, and you have to bring a reader into your world and make them happy.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
R.A.: I do all my own marketing, which isn’t much. Word of mouth is my best friend, because lets face it, my works are different. I just had a review from a guy, who said that someone at work bullied him into reading it and he loved it, even with the romance in the book. I think that was a compliment.
Kaye: If one of your books was made into a film, which book would you want it to be? And who would you like to play the lead?
R.A.: Hmm, I’d love the Spirit Key to be a series on Netflix, but for a movie, I’d chose Twisted. Sam Witwer and Meaghan Rath. They had great chemistry in Being Human. Now, however, Meaghan would be a vampire, and Sam would be a wolf.
Kaye: What’s next? What does the future look like for R.A, Winter?
R.A.: Oh, I have at least six books in various stages of completion. Twisted will be turned
into a series, readers have asked for that. I’m also writing a series about Death Takers
coming alive and finding love. It’s a dark romance series that takes the reader on a
journey to Tartarus and the bowels of hell. Book 1 is finished, book 2 is halfway. Once
book 2 is ready I’ll publish.
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
R.A.: I’ve done a lot of things on my bucket list. I’ve traveled the world, lived in five different countries and enjoyed most of my life. If I had a lot of money, I’d pay off my family’s student loans. Right now, it’s around 200k, and I’m serious. It would be life changing for them to pay off their debts. BTW, I have one family member, with 100k debt who graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s in psychology. Anyone have any job prospects for him? E-mail me.
I want to thank R.A. Winter for joining us today and putting up with my interrogation. Seriously though, she was really a good sport about answering all of my questions with open, honest answers. You can find out more about her and her writing on her website, her Spirit Keys site, or her Amazon Author Page.
Everyone talks about how the rise of digital publishing has impacted the book industry and the effects it may have on authors. Some think these effects are good, while others view them as having a negative impact. It is true that digital publishing opened up opportunities for would be writers, making it so just about anyone can write and publish a book with no need to be discovered by an agent or publisher.
But, it is equally true that many brick and mortar bookstores have had to close their doors due to the competition from eBooks and the rapid growth and expansion of Amazon. And, it’s also true that because it is now so easy to publish a book and authors who publish independently are able to circumvent the traditional publishing gatekeepers, there are no gauruntees that the books we purchase will be of good quality writing. There is nothing in place to be sure the books we put out have been edited. So, it would seem that digital publishing had had both positive and negative effects, depending on which area of the business you work in.
One area of impact that many authors don’t realize or appreciate, is the fantastic promotional opportunities the digital era has supplied for us. Due to social media promotion and email, we are able to access direct communication with fans and followers that via means which weren’t available in the pre-digital era, and this is a great plus for us. We need to take advantage of these great opportunities and listen to our readers, when we’re fortunate enough to get a comment or a review. I try to respond back to every comment readers leave me, and check my reviews for new ones frequently. And yes, these days posted reviews can make or break a book’s success, influencing potential readers, so reviews do matter.
Today’s author doesn’t have a fan base of faceless readers. Today’s authors have the opportunity to make connections with their readers. Some authors have found ways to take advantage of this by gathering their followers together in Facebook groups or put together street teams who actively promote their writing or go out and get reviews for them.
I can see how beneficial these practices are, because I know how much time and energy I have to put into marketing and promotion. But even though I don’t harness my fanbase as a promotional asset, I still appreciate the chance to reach out and chat with my readers to find out what works for them and what doesn’t. And while I don’t have a gazillion reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, the ones I do have are good ones, making Delilah a four and a half star read. It’s all because of you, my readers. So, I can appreciate the impact that digital publishing has had in this area.
The negative impacts, the fading of brick and mortar bookstores, the increase in the number of poor quality books put out. They are still there and likely will be for time to come, although I’ve heard the trend for print books is rising again. Unless digital publishers implement some type of quality control system, or all authors act professionally and create quality writing that’s been edited before publication, a poorly written or unedited book is liable to pop-up here and there, being generally unavoidable.
I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t change trends that I feel are negatives on the industry, but I can appreciate the positives that digital publishing has brought with it. I like getting to know my readers. So, before I sign off on this post, I’d like to urge you to reach out and let me know who you are and what you like, or don’t like, about my writing. It only takes a moment to leave a comment, and I promise to respond to each and every one.
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing an old hand in the writing and publishing business, author Tom Johnson. Tom has written stories from a young age. He has been publishing his writing for more than twenty-two years and has over eighty books in publication. He grew up reading comic books and pulp fiction, becoming a collector in adulthood and his stories reflect the fascination that those books held for him. He has also written numerous nonfiction books and is currently involved in writing children’s stories. Please help me welcome Tom Johnson.
Kaye: Hi Tom. Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.
Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.
Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?
Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog Storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.
Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?
Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.
To get a better idea of what Tom’s children’s stories are like, you can get a free copy of one here. They are short and can be read in only a few minutes.: Wire Dog Has An Ugly Mood Day – Or The House of 1000 Mirrors https://wiredogstories.com/2016/01/19/story-40-wire-dog-has-an-ugly-mood-day/
Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?
Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.
Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?
Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.
You can get the Wire Dog books here:
Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.
Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”
Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?
Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.
Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?
Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.
Kaye: You have written since you were a young man, for fifty some years, and you had your own small press for many years. Always, your life seems to have writing at the center of it. Looking back on your life, what does writing mean to you?
Tom: I think writing was always an escape to other worlds, other realms, and other dimensions. We could be anyone we wanted, go anywhere we wished, and experience great adventures. We create those worlds and people we want in them, and our heroes and heroines are who we want to be, or the friends we want beside us. We choose those things that mean the most to us. Whether we’re a cowboy or cowgirl, Conan or Xena, we bring the characters to life. That’s what writing means to me, to give life to my characters.
Kaye: How do you see the rise of digital publishing affecting authors of today?
Tom: Publishing has never been easier. When we were publishing the small press magazines, it was hands on. We did every aspect of the business, from reading, approving or rejecting, editing, set up and printing, then mailing to subscribers and bookstores that carried our magazines. Today we have Lulu and Amazon for all that. We just write, they publish. Anyone can be a writer or publisher now.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
Tom: I had a dream one night. A young boy was in the woods dying when a strange being found him and comforted him as he passed. The strange being was an alien and I saw the saucer-shaped craft behind him. When I woke the dream stayed with me. Did the alien kill the boy? Why was the alien there? What was the boy doing in the woods? It wouldn’t let go of me. I wrote What Goes There from that dream. The boy was dying from snakebite and the alien took his pain from him so he could pass more easily. Then I made a mystery with the plot. The story is part of my book, These Alien Skies.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Tom: When I write, I don’t want to be disturbed. No music, no background noise at all. My work computer is in my bedroom. I close my door from all outside communication, telephone, wife, neighbors, etc. I have to be alone when I write.
Kaye: You’ve written over eighty books in many different genres over the course of your career. Which of your books would you say are your favorites? Why?
Tom: If we’re speaking of my fiction stories I would probably say my favorite is Guns of The Black Ghost, as it is my homage to Walter Gibson and his character The Shadow (remember him). The Shadow was one of my favorite radio dramas as a kid, and I met the creator of the character, Walter Gibson, in the mid-1970s and we were friends until his passing. I always wanted to write a Shadow novel, but copyright protection kept me from it, thus my own character, The Black Ghost came into being.
However, my non-fiction research books are probably my best sellers. I’ve written over half a dozen of them. A lot of work went into them. A lot of reading and studying, and I think it paid off, as fans have all bought the huge books for the data. These are books that don’t get thrown away, but have a special place on their bookshelves.
Kaye: So, tell us a little about your nofiction books. What is the subject matter and how did you come to write them?
Tom: As a pulp collector it was natural for me to become a historian. I had completed runs in many of the lead characters, thus had the opportunity to study the novels for research, identifying authors, plots, etc. At the time I was writing fiction and Introductions for ALTUS PRESS books, and the publisher wanted my research put into books. Some of those series were Secret Agent X Companion, Operator #5 Companion (History of The Purple Wars), The Phantom Detective Companion, The Black Bat Companion, Dan Fowler’s G-Men Companion, and Echoes 30. Several ran for twenty years, and 171 issues. Some not so long, but just as popular to the fan and collectors today. There may be others, my mind is slipping, but these were the big volumes. They covered the complete pulp series of each title. Echoes 30 covered conventions, pulp books, authors, artists, and publishers. All are in demand and have been good sellers.
Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?
Tom: I’m a pantser. I never could understand why you needed to write a fifty-page plot outline, just write the darn book. Once the words start flowing you don’t want them to stop. And they will, if you’re outlining.
Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?
Tom: Characterization. Make your characters come alive. You want readers to connect to them, feel for them, and be drawn to them. The plot will work itself out, but if your characters aren’t real I don’t care how much of a plot you have, it will bomb.
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Tom: I don’t know that I would want to be rich and famous. What would be next? I want to always be reaching, always trying to entertain. If I set my goal for rich and famous I might forget about the entertainment and pleasure we get from writing. If I entertain one person, then I am already rich. Besides, we already have money, and fame is fleeting at best.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Tom: Write what you know. I’ve read a lot of books where the author is writing about something s/he knows nothing about, and it shows. I know information is at the tip of one’s fingers today, but if you haven’t truly experienced something you will come off as unbelievable if you try to write about the subject.
I want to thank Tom for joining us today on Writing to be Read and offering up some really great answers to my questions. I have really enjoyed having him. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Johnson or his books you can check out his website or his Amazon Author Page.