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 4: Wandering with No Destination

We’ve grown up hearing the idiom repeated in our ear “Don’t judge a book by its over.”  When it comes to people, I wholeheartedly agree with what it stands for.  With books, however, I’ve always been guilty of falling into its temptations.  A distinct memory in my head is at SuperCon this past year deciding between two books (of the same author) to buy and choosing the one I did simply because the cover reminded me of a magical journal.  I had literally nothing else to go off of because the sales pitch from the author for each appealed to me equally.

We’re all guilty of it.  You walk through a bookstore or library, your finger dragging against the spines of books, until you see something – a picture, a font – that catches your eye.  It’d be a lie to claim you go through every single plot summary to make your choice; there’s simply not enough time.

The exception of this is when you have a specific author or series in mind.  You make a beeline for their spot on the shelf, buy what you went for, and possibly let yourself dally around that section for anything else that catches your eye.  Personally, I’m a user of Goodreads and have found it immensely helpful.

What does this mean for writers?  After we put our heart and soul into our imagined (yet so incredibly real) world, potential readers could pass it by on a whim based on our cover.  As previously stated, I’ve never published a book, so I have little insight on the workings of how a cover gets chosen.

There’s still a different market to consider, though.  In my first post I mentioned how my sister, Kristen, is an Indie author.  That term might’ve been new to some of you, so let me take the time now to explain: When someone is called an “Indie author,” it means that they decided to publish their book without going through the conventional processes.  Instead of querying to agents and publishing agencies, the author instead self-publishes via a large distributer such as Amazon.

It’s given authors a chance to get their books out there without anyone believing in them, which I think is just fantastic.  The trick, though, is that sometimes when a book is rejected, it’s because it’s not fine-tuned to its greatest potential yet.  So, before I go any further, I’d like to encourage you to let a book rest for a while after a few rejections.  Work on a different story – or possibly several – and you’ll naturally become a better writer.  That in itself is a simple concept; practice makes perfect.  However, patience is a struggle (at least for me).

The perseverance to let a loved novel sit on your computer untouched is a feat that I’m struggling with currently.  I’m almost done with writing a completely different novel, with my first novel seemingly neglected in one of my laptop’s many folders.  Why?  Because, I want to look at it unbiasedly.  My heart has been given a six month break of getting to know those characters day after day.  I can only hope that when I look back at it, I’ll be able to truly tell if it’s ready for the world to see.

As startup authors, the idea of an eBook provides us with an advantage when it comes to the idea of becoming Indie authors.  We only have to pay a freelance editor and book cover artist (mind you, those are several hundred dollars, so this isn’t a pain-free road) and then we can put our books out in the world no matter how many times an agent told us it was a “hard sell.”

Book covers and whatnot suddenly become less important, as a lot of the major buying platforms have a “based on recent purchases” tab where it suggests other books that you’ll probably love.  The cover is still important in that moment, of course, but at the very least our stories have the potential to be suggested by a different convention from us begging our family members for an extra sale.

This might sound silly, but I would suggest reading the poorly written stories with low stars that are sold for free (usually they’ll be the first in a series) by Indie authors, and then compare those to ones that have done well in the eBook world.  Why?  It’s easy to read a stranger’s book and go “okay, well they’re doing this wrong.”

It’s nice to then go and write notes about what you don’t like.  Then, go through your own story, and be honest about yourself with possible instances where you’re guilty of the same.  There are two sides to every coin, though!  You should also take note of authors who do something really well that you struggle with.  For example, I’m working on scene description.  I’m not quite an expert yet at setting the scene and depicting it in such a way that makes my readers feel as if they’re standing there, but yet not going on and on for paragraphs without losing the pace I want.

Personally, I’m a large fan of Erin Morgenstern’s book, The Night Circus (click here or below to purchase!).  It’s been my favorite stand-alone book for a while, and upon one of my recent reads (I’ve probably read it more than five times in the last three years alone) realized one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to it – the very same thing that I personally have not yet mastered.  Morgenstern is an expert at slipping in details throughout scenes – not just giving you descriptions to paint the picture with the correct colors, but also stringing together words in a way that grasp at your emotions.  Now, I’m about to read through it again with a specific focus towards those details.  How does she describe her characters?  Scenery?  Action scenes?  Magic?  Romantic tension?  These are talents of hers that I wish to possess, and plan to gain with her unintended assistance.

One helpful hint I heard once was to focus on the five senses: the flickering of the light that has your character on edge; the first taste of chocolate on his starved tongue; the air suddenly becoming hot with tension, your character sweating as she refuses to break; the buzz of bees becoming louder, or possibly everything becomes quiet as your character’s focus is consumed by anger; how her love interest strangely always smells of peppermint.

So, what’s the point of all this rambling?  Honestly, I don’t entirely have one, but here’s my final random thought.  Utilize multiple drafts.  Dedicate one entire draft to fixing your biggest weakness.  I literally am going through my current in-the-works and just adding small details here and there where I think it’s lacking.  It’s provoking new scenes altogether, because forcing myself to be this attentive to detail apparently stimulates my imagination.  Really, I think it’s just giving me a clearer lens to this paranormal universe.  Either way, it’s worth it.

Those beta readers that you hopefully found after reading my first blog post?  Ask them what your biggest weakness is.  Don’t be sensitive.  Use what they say constructively.  Denial won’t better your book.