Author Elsie Chapman on the Realities of Being Published

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel too hopeful dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now. 

Today’s guest is Elsie Chapman author of the YA novels Dualed, Divided, Along the Indigo, and Caster as well as the MG novel All the Ways Home, and co-editor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

Funnily enough, reading those old interviews of mine, I still stand by most of the things I said! I think the main difference is I’m just a bit less starry-eyed and a bit more realistic when it comes to the publishing side of things. I’ve also learned the importance of maintaining a healthy perspective in this business, meaning definitely keep hoping for good things to happen (and to celebrate them!), rather than playing the comparison game so that you come to expect them. That just leads to disappointment and it’s hard to keep coming back from that.

Let’s about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I used to feel so ridiculously adamant about sticking to your artistic vision regardless of trends and what publishers wanted. I figured it was just a matter of timing and finding the right editor. And while some of that is still true (timing’s never not going to be a factor, and it really does take just one editor to want your book), I don’t feel so strongly about the artistic side of things anymore, particularly because I want to stay traditionally published. There’s a happy medium, I think, between writing what you want and writing what might realistically sell, and if you’re lucky, those will be the same thing. 

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The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

There’s no guarantee an editor will buy another book from you unless sales and numbers back it up. I think this is one of the toughest aspects of the business, how an author can do all they’ve been asked to do but still have so much about publishing be out of their hands. But remembering there’s a huge difference between wishes and goals can help a lot. That’s really just being smart about the business, not negative.

I also don’t worry as much anymore about always being “on” when it comes social media. Having an online presence has become a part of the publishing landscape, but I’m better now about being more careful with my time and saving my creative energy for writing. 

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

This ties back to what I just said about social media which is, yes, I’m now perfectly happy being selfish when it comes to saving time and energy for myself. The word selfish has negative connotations, but sometimes it’s exactly what we need to be in order to keep going in this business, and for me, I’m more than okay giving up certain aspects of being a published author if it means getting to stay creative and having more time for things that matter (family, working on my own projects, etc).

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life?

It’s really taught me to love writing for the sake of writing, and how to see worth in my own work versus looking for worth in what others think about it. Easier said than done for sure, but I do think it’s important to keep checking yourself so that you’re still loving the creative process and to remind yourself that a lot of publishing—both good news and bad news—outside of that process is out of your control anyway. Getting to be in this business will always feel a bit like a dream, and key for me is just figuring out the reality of staying grounded and maintaining a good headspace so I can keep doing what I love.

 

Erin Bowman on Your Art As A Commodity

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, it’s actually called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest for the NOW is Erin Bowman, the critically acclaimed author of numerous books for teens, including the Taken Trilogy, Vengeance Road, Retribution Rails, and the Edgar Award-nominated Contagion duology.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

Once you put a barcode on your art, your relationship with it changes. It's inevitable.

I used to write only for me. I wanted to share those stories, sure, but the actual process of writing was a very private one. Now I write for publication and it's changed my entire relationship with the craft. I still love what I do, but it's work. I have to show up and punch the clock, so to speak, even when inspiration doesn't strike. Writing is now my job. Some days it's magical. Other days, it's like pulling teeth, but I do it anyway, because I signed a contract and hey, those bills aren't going to pay themselves.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I think of myself as both. I definitely approach each project with a commercial eye (Is this easily accessible for the average reader? Is this hook strong and compelling?), but at the end of the day, I'm going to have to read the book thousands of times before it pubs, so my heart better be in it. If I don't love what I'm writing, what's the point? So I write what I want to write, and I figure out how to pitch it and talk about it in a way that sounds super commercial—and I figure this out early.

Historical fiction westerns, for example, aren't really a hot genre in YA. But when my agent was trying to sell Vengeance Road, we boiled it down to a revenge story (always popular) set against a gritty landscape with a dash of mystery and romance (crowd favorites). Contagion's proposal leveraged two powerful comp titles: Alien meets The Thing (both well-loved commercial hits).

In short, when I was debuting, I let the pub figure out how to talk about my book. Now I like to know my book's marketable traits before I approach publishers. I'm still writing from the heart (art!), but I've learned how to zero in on the story's commercial appeal and pitch/market with that in mind.

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The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

I've come to accept that I have very little control over the success of my books. I can't control how many copies they sell. I can't control what readers think of them or how they are received by trade reviewers. I can't control lists or awards or movie options, or being sent on tour or invited to festivals. All I can control is the writing, and—this has been perhaps the most difficult truth to accept—I simply can't move the dial the way my publisher can.

I have invested tons of time and money into certain titles—fancy swag, preorder campaigns, street teams, commissioned artwork, hosting giveaways, sending myself on tour, etc. I'm not sure it's made any real difference. It hasn't hurt me, but it also hasn't made my books break out in any real way. Substantial marketing dollars behind a book, plus a bit of luck and timing is what can make that happen. Some days, I can feel this reality trying to turn me bitter and disenchanted. It's hard to fight that. It's hard to keep writing the best book I can, bleeding so much of myself onto the page over and over, knowing that every single time, luck and timing will do their thing and the stars might never align in a big way.

But I'm also still putting books into the world, and that's a miracle in itself. Seven books in, I'm still very grateful to call this my job. Way more grateful than I was one book in. Nothing is guaranteed in this industry, and I know how many people had to say yes to get each of my books into the world. Each new book deal feels like a monumental accomplishment.

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

I really love meeting readers and writers. I'm an introvert, so book events and festivals always drain me, but so much of this career is already done alone. It's very solitary. And being at a book event means being with your people. I love chatting with writers who get what its like to have a career in this industry and I adore meeting readers who have connected with my stories and characters. It's truly the best.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life?

It was my dream to get published, so in some regards, everything has changed in a big way. I've accomplished something huge, something I never really expected to happen. But on a day-to-day level, my life hasn't changed much at all. I still get up and go to work. I do the thing. I chase after my kids. My life as a writer is not glamorous like Hollywood might lead you to believe. Mainly, being published just means that most people think I make way more money than I do.

Liz Coley On Some Hard Truths About Publishing

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, it’s actually called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Liz Coley, fellow Ohioan who has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter's Regret, and You Are Not Alone.

In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career? 

Last time around this blog, oh back in 2012 or so, I wrote, “Relax and trust the people who’ve done this hundreds of times.” I don’t feel that way anymore. There’s a saying in author circles, that if you stick around long enough, eventually anything that can happen will happen to you or someone you know. Publishers have folded, contracts have been cancelled, the ever-revolving door of junior editors has broken up author-editor teams, and agents have betrayed their clients. I’ve kind of lost faith that anyone can predict anything in this crazy biz. And yet they keep trying.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I had a revelation about my brand: apparently, I write library books. Books that are empathetic and well-written, about interesting issues and interesting humans. They are readable and the kind of book a teacher or librarian or mom would want to hand to the kid in need. I also know this isn’t what the publishers are looking for. Not high concept or sensational. Not a multibook YA fantasy romance. I’ve seen my rejection feedback; the editors may praise the writing, but say, sorry this isn’t a breakout story for the market today. Yeah. Duh. I knew that.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to earn a cent. In fact, I pledged away all my first-sale income to a worthy cause. So I write stories I think are important, and that’s why it breaks my heart a little that no one wants to publish them. There are gatekeepers, and I don’t consciously write to please them, to my detriment, I guess.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

The year I sold Pretty Girl-13, a lot of things changed. I believed that my ten years of writing and attending workshops and reading books on craft and submitting short stories were finally paying off. This was the cusp. The threshold from Liz’s life part I to Liz’s life part 2. I was also on the cusp of a significant round number birthday. I said to my husband, “I’m really excited for this next decade.” I made a lot of valued writing friends, I spoke to marvelous kids at a few schools and a lot of festivals, I won a few awards, and I received letters from people who said my book had changed their path in life.

The energy of that launch period carried me through the unforeseen disappointments—my editor rejected two manuscripts for my option and released me; although I wrote three additional manuscripts after those, my agent failed to sell anything; there were betrayals of trust and financial shenanigans. And now, it wasn’t . . .

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a huge windstorm in Columbus that brought down a maple tree in our yard. My oldest son, about twelve at the time, very excitedly asked if he would be allowed to use an ax to cut up the tree. About ten minutes later, he came into the house and reported sadly, “That wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”

So, yeah. Publication was awesome. But the writing life? I’ve been hacking at that tree for almost twenty years. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.

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Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

In my dark night of the soul, with twelve and two half manuscripts under my belt, one sale, and five self-pubs that net me about $25 a year, I decided to try something different to fight the despair. I enrolled in a week-long immersive playwriting masterclass at the university. Changed my life.

Playwriting plays to my strengths—brevity, dialogue, character. The ten-minute plays that rolled off my laptop that week were deep, playful, engaging, and most of all, appreciated by the actors who voiced them, the instructors, and my first audiences. The immediate gratification of this art was an overwhelming experience, and I began developing another whole network of supportive friends in theatre. After three years of masterclasses, I became a TA, I’ve accumulated a small inventory of works to submit and/or self-produce, I founded Next Stage Cincinnati Playwrights, and my work has been performed in San Diego and Cincinnati.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published means that one of my tales swims in the eternal sea of story-telling, like an imperishable plastic straw among the millions. Even though to date, I haven’t replicated that success, I remind myself to be content with what I have achieved: the ongoing reviews from people who stayed up all night reading; the letters I continue to receive from people with Dissociative Identity Disorder in their own lives or those of someone close to them; the recognition of librarians and teenagers who call it a favorite book; and the simple fact that my kids have a copy of their mom’s book on their own bookshelves. The fans have been the greatest gift, and on top of that, there’s a beer waiting for me in Prague as thanks for mailing an autographed Czech edition to a man to give his girlfriend. 

In terms of changing my life, because I haven’t gotten back on the all-absorbing post-release merry-go-round, I have had the time to sing at church, watch Netflix while I exercise, write plays, volunteer in literacy, captain a tennis team, and work on political campaigns. I suppose, in that sense, it is better that my publishing experience didn’t end up consuming all of me.