Chapter 8: Questions on Questions

Hello again, my dear readers!  I am so terribly sorry about my lack of posting these past few weeks.  My internship has exhausted me far past what I originally expected.  But, the hiatus is officially ended!   I sat here thinking how best to kick back off my writer’s blog, and then realized: I have a sister who just so happens to be a published authors.  As to not overwhelm her, I kept this interview short; but, I thought you’d enjoy hearing some responses from the beloved Kristen Brand.

Question #1: What were the biggest factors in your decision to become an indie author rather than traditionally publish?

I’d been thinking about self-publishing for a while, as Hero Status had gotten rejection after rejection from traditional publishers and agents. I thought Hero Status was great, but part of me still worried I was biased and the book wasn’t as good as I thought. But then it happened! A small but respectable publisher was starting a digital-first imprint and acquired my book. Success at last!

Three months later, I got an email from the press saying that they’d acquired too many books and unfortunately had to drop some authors—including me. Now, they were a class act about the whole thing and returned my rights (You hear horror stories from authors where less reputable presses did no such thing), but it was still disappointing. And yet. And yet, these publishing professionals had deemed my nerdy little book good enough to acquire. That was the outside validation I needed, and I decide to go ahead and publish Hero Status myself.

Question #2: How did you decide on your editor?  Cover artist?

There are loads of freelance editors and cover artists out there whom indie authors can hire, some good, and some not so much. The key is research. There are online resources out there with lists of recommended editors, but instead of taking the word of some random person on the internet, I think it’s better to look at some of your favorite indie authors and see who they hired. Authors will usually thank their editors at the end of the book, so this isn’t as hard as it sounds. I approached my editor because she worked on one of my favorite fantasy series, and I didn’t remember seeing so much as a single comma out of place when I read those books.

As for cover art, I went with an artist recommended by a friend and fellow author. That’s another great strategy: hang out on forums with other indie authors and see who they had good experiences working with. And of course, look at other covers the artist has done in your genre.

Question #3: What has been your biggest challenge as an indie author?

Definitely marketing. I think I’m like most authors in that I like to write, not sell things. Figuring out how to get more people to buy my books has been a challenge—but a fun one. The indie author community is great about sharing strategies and helping each other out, and I’ve learned so much since I got started. I read plenty of blog posts and listen to podcasts on the subject (The Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast is a favorite), and while I’m better at it than I used to be, I still have a long way to go.

Question #4: You’ve a two-book superhero series with one set to be published later this year.  What’s it been like to try to take over a genre that’s considered to be an “unmarketable” genre?

It’s funny that superhero fiction doesn’t have a bigger place on the shelves of bookstores. With superhero movies being so popular and profitable, you’d think there’d be a ton of superhero books out there, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Still, there are definitely readers who love the genre. It may not be as popular as something like paranormal romance, but plenty of indie authors have found success by serving a smaller niche.

Question #5: Do you have any advice for people considering self-publishing that you wish you knew?

I’d probably advise people that if you’re writing a series, wait until you have two or three books finished before you publish the first—at least if you’re a slow writer like I am. Putting books out three or so months apart can help give your series momentum and keep it selling well. Being able to publish so fast is one of the major advantages indies have over traditionally published authors, since it keeps your books fresh in your readers’ minds.

Compare that to me, who publishes one book every year or so, and…yeah. It’s an area where I have definite room for improvement.

Question #6: Where can these readers find you and stay updated on your writing whereabouts?

You can find me at my author website, KristenBrand.com. It has information about my books plus free superhero fiction you can read online. I’m also on Twitter at @BrandedKristen, where I talk about writing updates, comic books, and other randomness.

Chapter 7: 5 Myths about Keeping a Deadline

There’s something strangely intimidating about the word “deadline.”  I mean, after all, the first four letters spell out “dead.”  Then, there’s the fact that most indie authors are such (rather than choosing the traditional publishing route) because of the independence that comes along with the choice.

This is all well and good, except for the fact that it can lead to laziness.  With no agent/editor/publisher demanding you finish so much by a certain day, it’s easy to decide writing a certain amount each day isn’t that important.  The inspiration will hit when it hits, so to speak.  Here are ten myths about keeping a deadline as an indie author:

 

Myth #1: There’s no consequence to missing a self-imposed deadline.  To put this into perspective, simply because your parents can no longer ground you for a poor report card in college doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have adverse effects.  Companies still look at your GPA and base you on such; you just see this fact much later.  In writing terms, I’d like to bring up a fact I did in an earlier post: certain websites have algorithms set to do free marketing on your eBooks based on the dates published.  You waiting too long to publish a sequel in a series could hurt what I like to call the Mountain Effect (your first book sales will increase again upon the publication of a second book and so on).

Myth #2: Editors will drop what they’re doing to work on your novel upon demand.  Believe it or not, editors are just as busy as authors.  They have a client list, and your book will be put into a waiting list upon contact.  You should be prepared for the wait.  Email them early on, requesting a spot in November (for example).  This will give you your own timeline to meet, and will force you to write more accordingly.

Myth #3: Sales aren’t affected by publication date, so you can simply publish the book whenever it’s complete.  As said in my last Tuesday’s post, the best time to publish is very dependent on the genre.  Why would people want to read your romance book in August, as opposed to the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day?  What about your adventure book in February, as opposed to the summer months when they’re most likely on vacation in their own sort of adventure?  Timing is everything.

Myth #4: It’s better to write no words at all than write when you’re not feeling inspired.  In truth, an author spends more time re-writing than writing.  With that being said, the initial draft is obviously the hardest, as it requires the most creative juices.  What’s easier?  Piecing together an already complete puzzle, or designing the puzzle itself?  It’s true that you might rework the plot later based on a burst of inspiration, but at the end of the day it’s easier to do so when there’s more of the story already written down.

Myth #5: Schedules are always changing, so it’s pointless to set a deadline when you know you won’t be able to keep it.  This is best explained to be false with a common cliché:  Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.  It’s important to note here that your deadline should be reasonable.  That’s actually one of the pros to it being self-imposed.  With that said, even if life gets in the way and you honestly can’t complete it in time, still work like you’re trying to.  Don’t just give up simply because you’re a few weeks off schedule.  No matter what, you’ll be in a better position if you work to keep up with the deadline.

 

These myths seem obvious, and we often believe them when we’re going through a spout of depression (ironically usually about missing a deadline).  People often forget that being an author is really like being an entrepreneur.  That means treating your work like a business.  Enjoy the creativity of the job, and don’t rush the art.  (Again, deadlines aren’t meant to be stressful.  Set it to be reasonable.)  In short: eat, sleep, write, repeat.

Change of Scenery

Today my family is off to visit the Smokey Mountains for a few days.  Even if I wasn’t a nature-lover, I would be happy.  For three weeks, I’ve been stuck in my house.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed using the time to both write and catch up on my reading.  Still, I’m going a little crazy here.  Hopefully the change of scenery will be inspiring and spark my imagination!

Chapter 6: Marketing Strategies

This chapter is dedicated to the part of my character that you’ve yet to read about: my inner businesswoman.  I foreshadowed this event in an earlier post when I mentioned my major in Finance.  The degree required marketing classes, and as such I’ve come up with a list of suggestions for authors who choose the self-publishing route.  I should note these items are in no way guaranteed to work.

~ If a multi-book series, publish books about three months apart. This is when big websites greatly lower their advertisements of your book unless sales have done remarkably well.  Although it may take you longer to finish a novel, simply wait to publish the first until you feel comfortable that you’d complete the second in time and so on.

~ Once Book #2 sales decline past your personal desired level, donate only the first book to libraries. This will force them to buy your other books once they’ve fallen in love with your series.
* Choose cities you donate to based on the population demographic (look for your books’ target group)
* You can add more books to the library once

~ Optimal dates to sell eBook by genre:
* January-April: Romance, Self-help, Business books, Cookery
* May-August: Adventure, Fantasy, Travel
* September-November: Academic, Horror, Paranormal
* December-January: Children, Cookery, Illustrated, Quiz, Dictionaries and quirky fun books [1]

~ Every three books, offer a deal for set.
* Example: You’re selling each book for $2.99. Sales are starting to steadily
decline for Book #3.  Offer Books #1-#3 for $4.99.
* Example: You’re selling each book for $2.99.  Sales are starting to steadily
decline for Book #6.  Offer Books #4-#6 for $4.99.

~ Use every avenue to promote Publishing Date. Examples:
* Twitter
^ use trending hashtags and relate to your story
^ create unique hashtag and try to get it trending
* Facebook
^groups
* Instagram

~ Reach out to freelance book reviewers. The standard is that you give them a free copy for an unbiased review.
* Continue going back to the same reviewers each book. Build a
professional relationship with them.  They might eventually let your books
“cut lines” when you reach out to them.

~ Listen to feedback.  If your readers tweet or ask a lot about a certain character or pairing, take note. Use that popularity and see if you can create a standalone about them.
* Do not sacrifice quality to try to force a sale. This will only anger your
readers, especially since it was one of their favorite characters you just
ruined, and you may lose loyal regular buyers.

~ Create and/or utilize website. Your author persona should already have one of these, so now use it.  Post about the books.  Ask your followers questions.  Give them something to interact with where possible.
* Subscribers List. Once they sign up, you’ve got them trapped for any news that you feel is relevant about the series!

~ Hold fan art contest about book’s characters. Offer appropriate monetary rewards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
     * Utilize social media to promote

~ Post a serial/short stories on your website in the same world/universe as your series. Again, do not sacrifice quality.

 

[1] Rooney, Mich. “Reaching Readers: Best Timing for Book Launches.”  SelfPublishing Advice Center.  N.p., 22 Nov. 2014. Web. 31 May 2017.

Chapter 3: Me Vs. Them

We’ve all heard it.  “Oh, you’re an artist?  Draw me.”  “You’re a singer?  Sing something?”  “You’re an author?  Make me a character in your book.”  If I’m being honest, the closest I can offer is killing a character that reminds me of you.  (That sounds quite graphic, but if you’re an author, chances are you understand.)  Then, there’s the somehow even more popular one to hear: is the main character based on me?

Now, I think it’s safe that George R. R. Martin is not quite as murderous as his set of characters, and as far as I know he doesn’t have ambitions to claim any thrones.  Nor can J. K. Rowling relate to the “Chosen One,” and I sincerely doubt she has the stomach of Ron.  However, I would be rather big-headed if I compared myself to the king and queen of modern literature.

So, what do I do?  I take a part of myself and morph it into its own person.  For the book I finished last year, I had four main characters.  Their names will mean nothing to you now, but for the sake of clarity, their names are Logan, Abigail, Trevor, and Makenna.  I have Logan’s sense of always wanting to do what’s right, Abigail’s need to always be right and be the smartest in the room, Trevor’s dorky awkwardness, and Makenna’s inability to completely open up to anyone.  I started from there, and then worked towards creating them into their own three-dimensional characters.  However, that’s as close as it gets.

Otherwise, I have to take the time to get to know my characters like in any relationship.  They’re as real to me as anyone else.  There’re characters I naturally click with, and then there’s one who I have to put in effort to open up to me.  A good portion of the time, when I have writer’s block, it’s because one of my characters is being difficult.  I need the plot to go a certain way, but they’re not reacting how I want them to.  Some people might say, “You’re the author.  They’ll do whatever you tell them to do.”  But, they won’t.  That’s the start of a very poorly written novel.

Something I struggle with is the male perspective.  They’re like a whole different species to me.  I understand them as much as I understand quantum physics, or in other words not at all.  All I have is observations I’ve made throughout my lifetime.  I don’t really think my male characters are girlie or anything, but I always feel like I don’t make them as strong as they could be.  As a feminist, I believe in equality.  But, that means that I want all of my characters to be strong – not just the females.  (With that said, you will not find a single of my works without a strong female lead.)  Whenever I want to develop them more, I’m always hesitant.  Do their minds work anything like ours?  Hell if I know.

I’ve an entire world in my head – multiple actually, thanks to a long history of unpublished work.  They’re worlds that I want to share with this one.   However, anyone I share it with can never see it quite like I do.  It’s basically like they’re looking through a window that hasn’t been washed; they can see enough to connect some dots but everything’s still a little blurred.

So, no.  I’m not my characters, and they aren’t me. I’m merely the person in between, trying to make the window that much cleaner.  Maybe one day I’ll even be talented enough to open the door.