Hannah R. Goodman On Indie Publishing Without An Agent

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

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Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Hannah R. Goodman, author of Till it Stops Beating released July 8, from Black Rose Writing.

Are you a Planner or Pantser?

I have trouble answering this. I’ve been a writer for decades and have written everything from feature articles in magazines to young adult novels and every type of writing in between. So, depending on the type of writing, I would say I go both ways….Planner for more structured pieces, like articles and Panster for more creative pieces, like personal essays, short stories, and novels.

The method for Pants-ing I’ve been using for the last 6 or so years is NaNoWriMo. I use it as a way to bang out a first draft of a novel that’s been rattling around my brain. I work manically for 30 days, and then I leave it, sometimes, for a year. Then, I become a Planner when I revise, and for that, I use things like Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis to help me hone the structure and organization.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

This is another not so simple answer...It can only take a month to write an entire novel, but that version of that novel is usually crap. Revision has taken, at the most, a decade for one novel, and for another, 3 months. My book that is about to come out in the summer was actually two novels I wrote quickly but 8 years apart. When I decided to put them into one novel, it only took me a few months. Revising that novel took about a year, but then it went on submission via my agent at the time for a few years and was revised during that period.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

I like to have a few pots boiling. Recently, after two decades of writing non-stop, I’ve taken a slow, steady, and more focused approach. I think it’s just a product of age and time, though!

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

No. I was so young when I wrote my first complete short story that I didn’t have the wear and tear of rejection and criticism to create any fears. When I was in school getting my MFA, I found that I had a lot of fears when I sat down to write but it was a good fear, a kind of fear that I knew would disappear if I wrote my way through it. It was one of my most prolific times.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

Another complicated answer...so I have had two agents over the course of my writing life and they sought me out due to some publicity I had from self-publishing projects. I stayed with them each for 4 and 5 years respectively... unfortunately, they were unable to sell my books. Only when I didn’t have an agent did I finally get a contract.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Remember that you are vetting them as much as they are vetting you. don’t be desperate. In this day and age, you can do this without an agent.

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How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Again, this is a complicated response...my first published book was in 2004 and it was self-published. At my first book signing, I sold 100 copies of my book! When I saw people coming into the bookstore and looking to not only buy my book but have me autograph it...SURREAL!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Quite a bit! I selected the image and my BFF, who is a photographer, helped me edit it. We submitted it to my publisher and...there it is!

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

Indie publishing is my jam! Not that I know first-hand about working with one of the big five, but from what I have heard from friends, you get little say in a lot of the edits and in the cover art. Writing, for me, is purely about creativity and art—not making money, so I prefer to be very involved and collaborate with my publisher.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I do, all of it! I'm on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

Start now and today! The earlier the better because there is a learning curve involved in building your platform, so get started now and don’t be afraid to try different things and at the same time, don’t spread yourself too thin, across too many social media platforms.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Social media is the key to connecting to readers, and it helps you go beyond just the people in your neighborhood.

Liz Coley On Cover Input As An Independent Author

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Liz Coley, whose best-selling psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 has been published in 12 languages on 5 continents. Liz’s other publications include time travel romance Out of Xibalba, the Tor Maddox “pink thrillers” series, and her most recent sci-fi release The Captain’s Kid. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and print anthologies. She has ventured into playwriting and developing a YouTube serial, Undercover Reading, for young teens. You can also follow Liz on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Wattpad, and visit her website at LizColey.com

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

When I imagined the cover of The Captain’s Kid, it was important to me that the art depict the sci-fi genre very clearly and also show off the multiracial and mixed gender cast of buddies in this teen adventure. I wanted the focus to be on characters as much as our future in space. I figured the central image should be the main character and first person narrator Brandon Webb, of course, but I hoped the supporting characters could be as visible on the cover as they are in the story. The striking elements of Masuna’s eyes above and the villainous figure in silhouette were brought into play by my amazing cover artist—more about him below.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your artist?

Since this book was going to be independently published, timing was completely up to me. I looked for and signed a contract with my cover artist Joe Slucher four months before my target publication date (October 27, my oldest son’s birthday). Joe came recommended by another local artist I have known for several years, and I can’t be more grateful for the introduction. He was a joy to work with.

Did you have any input on your cover?

The greatest delight of independent publishing is the control and input the author has over the whole process. Joe and I had a very collaborative approach to concept. I said stuff and he read my mind and turned it into art. We first met at Joseph Beth Bookstore after he had read the entire novel—which tells you all you need to know about his work ethic! I don’t think that’s typical. He came prepared with general ideas based on the setting, characters, specific scenes, and technology. We looked together at character-centric covers in the “tween” section of the store so he could get a feel for my taste and my vision as well as what appeals to boys in this age group. Then this happened:

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Joe prepared fifteen thumbnail sketches to narrow down the content and composition. My impossible job was to choose two for him to develop into more detailed black and white line drawings. After my focus-group-via-email weighed in, I picked the “walk on the moon” (#8) showing Audrey and Brandon, and the movie poster style ensemble collage (#15) showing Karthik, Audrey, and Brandon. At my request, we added the character of Con Liu, who was equally important to the subplots. And so we had:

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The next phase was choosing only one of these line drawings to take to the next level—fonts, faces, and eventually, full color palate. That was so hard! I loved them both, so I asked to buy #8 as an interior black and white illustration as a little Easter Egg for the readers. Font selection and color phases looked like:

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

I adored the final cover so much, it was very hard to keep it under my hat. I’d shared the development steps with my family and with one other YA sci-fi author along the way so they were all in on it. YA Books Central hosted the cover reveal and a giveaway on September 2, seven weeks pre-release. At that point, I also set up the cover on Goodreads and Amazon, with the Kindle edition available for pre-order.

What surprised you most about the process?

I’ve never worked with a professional artist on an iterative process where the final product is approached by small logical steps. Every file I received from Joe was like a birthday present, and his enthusiasm for the project was truly gratifying. The attention to so many little details made me really happy, as did the guinea pig on the cover. And Masuna’s eyes. And the evil weedbot! And…

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Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Sorry - this won’t help anxiety at all, but it’s true that covers are really important. My theory holds that people READ books because of recommendations, but people BUY books because of their covers.

From my authorial perspective, this indy-pub cover experience was entirely different from my traditional publishing cover experience. I’m sure the publisher’s production team goes through all of these steps, but generally behind a curtain, hidden from the author. When HarperCollins published Pretty Girl-13, my editor handed me a damp printout of my cover, fully and final-form rendered, and said, “Don’t you love it?” I did, in fact, think it was really cool, but that was the extent of my input. With The Captain’s Kid, the opportunity to be so deeply involved in cover design, except for the part involving actual skill, saved me any anxiety. At all phases, I knew my cover was in expert hands.

So, for a debut author setting out on a traditional pub experience, I recommend that you grab all your bravery and have a discussion with your editor ahead of time about how your cover will be developed and at what point you might put an oar in that water. For a debut author setting out on a self-pub experience, I advise you to think hard about how much time, effort, and money you want to invest in your cover. There’s a huge and visible difference between clip-art and original art, and a really nice, eye-catching original cover makes great postcards and other swag. You can also hope it makes your book hop off the table at signings and school visits.

Indie Success with Alicia Kat Dillman

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

We all know there are many different routes to success in this industry. Today on the blog I have someone who not only said, "Hmm... I think I'll go Indie," but, "Hmm... I think I'll just go ahead and start my own Indie business." That kind of spirit and determination is an amazing thing to see, and I've made room twice-over this week on the blog for Alicia Kat Dillman for that reason..

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Indie author & illustrator Alicia Kat Dillman is a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. Kat illustrates and designs book covers & computer game art by day and writes teen fiction by night. Her first book, DAEMONS IN THE MIST, features seventeen year old Patrick Connolly who has been hopelessly infatuated with Nualla for years, though he is all but invisible to her. Until, that is, he rescues her from a confrontation with her ex. Little does Patrick know he’s just set off a dangerous chain reaction that will thrust him into a world of life altering secrets and things that shouldn’t exist, because the fog and mist of San Francisco is concealing more than just buildings.

What made you decide to become an Indie publisher?

Most little girls play house or with dolls, I played store. I think I’ve wanted to own my own business since I was five. I come from a long line of people with that entrepreneurial spirit, so it was inevitable, really. I have nothing against traditional publishing, I have a lot of friends who work in the industry. But for me, it was more important that I do this myself, than hand my project over to someone else. I really like the idea that this is mine; that I made this. My words, my art, my design, my drive, moving it forward. That my readers get one complete vision, one story, one voice. Pure, the way it was meant to be.

Did you do a lot of research? What resources do you recommend?

I do a lot of research before I do anything, but yes, I did a lot of research before I decided to open my own indie publishing company. I joined a few online groups. Read a ton of articles, blogs and books. I started going to two twitter chats each week geared toward indie publishers. I researched and learned a few new computer programs. I studied books, not the stories in them, but the books themselves. The way they were constructed, the way they were laid-out, the way digital books are formatted, to make sure I could make something just as well put together as the big guys.

Books that were helpful:
Self Printed: A sane person’s Guide to Self publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard
Smart Self Publishing by Zoe Winters
The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing by J.A. Konrath

Twitter chats:
#IndieChat
#MBPA

The cover art for DAEMONS IN THE MIST is fantastic - and you did it yourself! What's your process?

I hit the books, analyzing what’s out there. Trying to design something that’s true to the story while at the same time something that will stand out from the pack of other new releases.

For the base of Daemons in the Mist’s cover, stock photography was used as part of a newer art form called enhanced photo-imagery. I head on over to the stock photography sites and browse for what I need. I then download their mock images and jump into InDesign to start mocking up a cover based on the template generated by the book printers. Because Daemons in the Mist is part of a trilogy, all 3 books were mocked up at the same time. When I get the cover design the way I like, I purchase the chosen images and head on over to Painter.

I then use my custom designed brushes and go to town. I tend to use what they call  “illustrative color” even though my process with the cover was a departure from my norm, my signature style and use of vibrant color and dramatic lighting is still present. Once the painting is complete, I head back over to InDesign and import the final art before exporting the file and sending it off to the printer. And that’s how my covers are born.

You want to know a secret? The photo-enhanced cover I did for Daemons in the Mist is only the second one I’ve ever done.

Your trailer is also very nicely done, and again - you did it yourself! You're so useful! :) What made you decide to take the approach that you did with it?

Daemons in the Mist is told in first person so I figured the trailer should be as well. I decided the trailer would be Patrick’s story, told from his point of view, so I chose two scenes from Daemons in the Mist as the base of the trailer. Why those two scenes? Because really, the whole story pivots on the decisions he makes in those chapters.

The Words
Most of the lines in the trailer were lifted from actual passages in the book and then edited to fit the format of the trailer. It gives you a taste of what you’ll get in the story and a look into the way Patrick thinks; his voice. The few lines he says speak volumes to all the conflict he’s going through in the story without giving too much away and spoiling the story like our modern movie trailers do.

The Music
I wanted a song that was quiet and dramatic like the rain because it is in those small moments we hear ourselves the loudest. Or at least I do anyways.

The Visuals
I wanted it to look like you were one of the people on the street watching Patrick and Nualla through a mix of passing cars, fog and rain. And I wanted that beautiful and dreamlike quality of mist and fog. It’s a metaphor for the whole story. Like fog, the things in it are never as they seem. The farther you go into it, the more you see, the more you realize that everything you thought you knew, was wrong.

What's your marketing strategy? How do you plan to raise awareness of yourself as an author and DAEMONS IN THE MIST as a title?

I’m easing into it so I don’t get overwhelmed. I’m new to indie publishing and I don’t want to take on too much and get burned out. That being said, I use all the digital tools at my disposal. If it’s high-tech and social media based there’s a good chance I’m there.

I have a FB page for my studio, my writing, and for the Marked Ones Trilogy. As well, I have a Google+ for me and a page for the books. A lot of authors are on FB but they completely ignore Google+ I don’t, in fact the tour wrap party will be on the DITM Google+ page on June 23rd.

I’m also a regular on Goodreads, Deviant Art, Pinterest, Tumblr and I participate in 5 twitter chats a week. Part of it is about being where my audience is, but mostly it’s because I spend 90% of my day working alone in the studio and I’m a very social person.

This year most of my marketing is internet focused. I’m only attending half the events I normally do because I’m getting married later this year. But that doesn’t mean I ignore the outside world completely. It’s all about a good balance of both. Aside from all the social media, I also exhibit at conventions and festivals and do events and signings at my local indies.

On top of all this I’m doing a two week 30 blog virtual book tour. Which of course you know because you’re on it.

Any last tips for those considering going Indie?

Learn to do as much as you can yourself and hire pros for the rest. I for example, am dyslexic, so editing and copyediting just isn’t in my skill set. So I hired people to fill those positions at Korat Publishing. You can skimp on a lot of things when it comes to running your own indie company but editing and a top-notch cover design should never be the place where you make your cuts.

Lastly, if you’re not willing to put in the work to deliver a professional product, then don’t even try to go it your own. There are plenty of publishers and indie presses out there still looking for talent. Do yourself a huge favor and work with one of them.