Posted in Fiction Writing

Interview with Author C.R. Richards

Richards-BIO I have known Cynthia Richards for some years and was so excited for her  when she published her first and then her second novels in quick succession. Publishing can be a long and tedious process for authors who are unprepared and I hope sharing author’s publishing experiences  helps struggling authors to persevere.  Recently, Cyndi and I spent some time together  and naturally we got to talking about her  writing  process. I am grateful for her  time and am always inspired by her dedication, professionalism, and hard work.

You have two published novels. You published the first novel  under a pseudonym. Why did you choose to use a pen name  for your first novel? What  are the pros and cons of using a pen  name?

 I think it’s very important to be consistent with your readers. When they  see an author’s name, they should associate it with the author’s brand (genre, quality level and style). My first novel – Devil Music (Co-authored  under the pen name Thia Myles Vincent) – is classified as a Horror  Romance. Because this is a genre I typically don’t write in, I chose to use a  pen name. I use C.R. Richards for my preferred genre of urban and dark  fantasy. The downside of having more than one pen names is splitting your  marketing time between two different brands. It can be overwhelming.

Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get  involved in writing? How long have you been writing?

I first started writing when I was in junior high school, joining the  newspaper staff as a reporter. Eventually I became Editor-in-Chief of my  high school paper. I went on to college with every intention of becoming a serious journalist. After working freelance for small presses in Utah, Arizona and Alaska, I decided I was tired of Ramen noodles and changed careers.

Several years later, I realized my heart really was in fiction. I started writing epic dark fantasy seriously about nine years ago and have released my first solo urban fantasy – Phantom Harvest – in February 2013. 41HQT2YHANL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

Some people think that writing is easy, but there is a lot of craft involved to create a masterful story. How did you go about learning your craft?

I attended several online courses from Writer’s Digest University to learn specialized writing techniques such as plot development and scene set ups. Joining writer’s organizations like Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers or EPIC helped me to learn the craft as well as networking with more experienced authors.  It is, however, when I submit my manuscripts to my trusted professional critique service that I learn the most. They expose my bad habits and offer suggestions on how I can improve my writing.

What do you feel is the most important craft element for aspiring writers to master?

Character Building. Make me care about your protagonist and his friends or enemies; you’ll have me hooked to the end of the book. If I don’t find your character(s) interesting or I can’t empathize with them, I’ll close the book and never open it again.

Tell me about your writing process. (Do you write daily? Do you plot? Etc.)

I write religiously every day.  If the muse isn’t with me on a certain day, I focus on flowcharting plots or other unpleasant, but necessary tasks. Most of my story ideas come from dreams, usually a single scene. I write down the dream. Then I outline the story that develops from the original idea. The outline helps me to write the rough draft in a few days. Like most writers, I edit my manuscripts and then edit it again until I’m satisfied enough to send it to my critique service.

What is the most significant change in your life since you have become published? Is it all glamour and celebrity?

My shrinking free time is what I’ve noticed the most. <Grin> Marketing my book often competes with the day job and writing time for my next novel. I’m still waiting for the glamour…

How much writing (how many novels etc) did you complete before you were published?

I’ve been writing epic fantasy for as long as I can remember. Two fantasy series with three to five books each are sitting up on blocks on my “to do” shelf.  Then there are the half dozen rough draft outlines of story ideas for books I have waiting for me as well. Writing a book takes commitment. A writer must be willing to invest the time it takes to write, edit and go through the publishing process with each book.  Sometimes you may find it isn’t a book’s “time” to be written. The story may have plot issues, etc and you need to take a step back before you can finish it. Or the market isn’t open to your book and you just can’t sell it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about the publishing industry that you did’’t know before you were published?

Finding out how subjective the publishing industry can be was a harsh surprise for me. You may submit your work to a publisher, editor or agent…even a reviewer after it is published…one person thinks it’s good writing, while the other hates it. The trick is to find someone who believes in you and your work. Those are the folks you want in your corner.

What is the most important piece of advice you could offer to aspiring authors?

Be true to your story. While it is important to consider the helpful criticism and advice you receive, no one understands the vision for your story like you do. You were given the story to write. Stay true to the story’s theme. Take the advice and criticism you can use to make the story better and throw away the rest.

C. R. Richards is the author of The Mutant Casebook Series. Her literary career began as a part-time columnist for a small entertainment newspaper. She wore several hats: food critic, entertainment reviewer and cranky editor. A co-author of horror and dark fantasy novels, her first book was published under the pen name Thia Myles Vincent. Cynthia is the Publisher, Editor-in-Chief and head bottle washer for the Books and Banter Newsletter. She is an active member of EPIC and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Self-Publishing is Disrupting the Traditional Publishing Model

Many publishers have business models which look backward to the 19th century[1] rather than forward to the 22nd. The traditional book publishing process can take as long as two years to get a title from manuscript to print book. While this has worked reasonably well in past decades, publishers need to radically change their business models moving forward in order to compete with a huge disruption in the traditional publishing business model: the self-published author. Authors are content creators and are the foundation of publishing. Without authors, there is no publishing. As technology and society changes, publishers need to also change and look for new ways to attract authors in order to continue to sell books.

As self-publishing loses the negative associated stigma and becomes more acceptable to both authors and readers, it will be traditional publishers who will have a more difficult time acquiring best-selling authors, mid-list authors, and new authors. In 2011, 2/3 of the books published were self-published titles. E-books outsold print books. Twenty-five percent of books on the NYT Best-Sellers’ list are products of self-publishers. Traditional publishers are now losing significant revenue to some self-published authors. Self-publishing is also attracting established authors[2] lured by the possibility of greater financial gain and additional control of their work product. For example, Stephen King[3] was the first major author to self-publish and many additional well-known authors since then have dabbled in the self-publishing pool. Self-publishing is now so accepted and (can be) so financially lucrative that there are self-published authors who have refused even seven figure publishing deals with traditional publishers.[4]

As a result, some of the larger publishers are morphing business practices to include some kind of self-publishing revenue stream (Simon& Schuster, and Penguin for example) and are also seeking out and publishing books by self-published authors in order to boost sales. More than 250,000 self-published books are produced annually and 25% of the most popular titles sold on Amazon are self-published.

Self-publishing used to be a stigmatized operation for want-to-be authors who couldn’t get picked up by a traditional publishing house. Even the name “Vanity Press” held a negative connotation in the minds of both authors and publishers because self-publishing did not have a reputation for high-quality work. With new technologies, the growth of the e-reader, and the explosion of digital publishing, the successes of self-publishing and self-published authors are changing that negative connotation. Repeat success of independent authors means that many authors are no longer interested in signing with traditional publishers, especially if those have a fan base and can pocket most of the profits. This, for authors, is an appealing prospect even if the author only sells a few hundred or thousand copies. The end result is a greater profit margin.

Writers can digitally format their books with little effort by using a formatting program such as Calibre, buy stock photos as covers very inexpensively from companies such as Shutterstock, and sell them to readers through a variety of online retailers quickly and efficiently and possibly for a significantly larger profit percentage. Amazon pays indie authors 70% of sales for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Smashwords will publish the author’s book for free and take a mere 10% of the book’s sale price. Larger online retailers, like Sony or Kobo, take 30%

Traditional publishing is still very attractive to many authors who want the prestige of a traditional publishing house to validate their writing, but the number of authors needing this validation is dwindling. Traditional publishers promote best-selling books for a small period of time, while promoting mid-list and 1st time authors not at all. The result of this business model is that the previously self-published authors turn again to self-publishing. The author wants to take back the control and the money. Many self-published authors are making more money in a month than many debut authors are likely to receive as an advance from a major publisher. And, the self-published author still owns their rights.[5] With print-on-demand options self-published authors no longer have to print hundreds of books and warehouse them in the garage. There currently is no reason for new or mid-list authors to publish with a traditional publisher other than for the prestige of being “published.” There are still myriad self-published authors selling six copies to their family, but the author has a better chance of making money through self-publishing than through traditional publishing.

As self-publishing continues to grow and become more and more accepted as a standard author publishing practice, how are traditional publishers going to attract authors and continue to make profits? If the cost of publication and distribution for self-publication is effectively $0 (on Amazon and Smashwords, for example), and the copyrights are retained by the author, and the authors’ works will never go out of print, there isn’t much of a downside unless authors become aware of the benefits of going the traditional publishing route (such as marketing assistance, and editorial assistance).

So far, in 2013, a self-published e-book is No. 1[6]. Price may be a contributing factor to the growth of indie pub since self-published authors often offer their first publication free of charge to grow their fan base while charging low prices to sell more copies of their later works. This is a great marketing strategy. Traditional publishers tend to blame Amazon for low e-book prices, when the issue may actually be independent authors who lower prices to gain readers and sell more copies.

What is needed is some tweaking of the traditional business model. Publishers should streamline the publishing process so that more titles can be published at a faster pace. Publishing templates should be created and used (if they currently are not used). Marketing plans should be streamlined and provided to authors to help self-promote. The profit percentages will need to be adjusted to entice new or best-selling authors. It will be a disruptive process for traditional publishers, but can work successfully. For example, Entangled Publishing utilized a new business model to bridge the gap between traditional and indie publishing. They implement an agency model across all departments so that everyone from the copy editor to the marketing director has a stake in the book. If the book doesn’t make money, the employees don’t make money. It sounds harsh, but it is successful. They have streamlined production in order to publish as many titles as possible as quickly as possible. Whiskey Creek Press has some similar features and requires that each author submit a marketing plan with their manuscript.

So, what must traditional publishers do? Publishers and authors must work even more closely together to ensure that each title is as successful as it can be. More time and attention must be devoted to helping authors help themselves. A streamlined process will allow publishers to publish more books faster thereby giving more authors opportunity to become traditionally published. Publishers also need to do a better job of branding the publishing house, and market the publishing house, not just the book titles, which will draw more attention to offerings and also to create a relationship with the reader. One example is to (a la Amazon) offer bundled books for sale. If the reader likes a specific author’s work, the publisher should offer recommendations of similar authors’ titles that can be bundled and sold at a discount to the reader. If the reader is happy, they will buy more books from that publisher. Publisher’s also must be more open to new technologies that will ease the production process, or those technologies that the reader finds attractive, as well as give readers a “browse” opportunity as a reader would have in a bookstore. Some Open Access options should be made available on some titles to draw in readers who will then purchase other titles. Publishers should also expand out into other markets if possible and should also find a way to work with libraries in order to offer more content. Publishers could also offer some kind of assisted publishing process which would give authors more support in order to encourage authors to publish with them. Granted, these are daunting tasks, but if traditional publishers do not address the author question, then the disruption of self-publishing could be detrimental to the point of failure for the traditional publisher.

[1] http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/309840-4

Posted in Fiction Writing, Interviews, Misc Topic

Interview with Ronald Malfi

I had the opportunity to interview Ronald Malfi, an award winning author of several horror novels, mysteries, and thrillers. Ronald is the winner of a Silver IPPY Award, a Gold IPPY Award, and has been nominated by the Horror Writers Association for best novel. Ronald has published eleven novels and six novellas, and will be a keynote speaker at this years’ Colorado Gold, the annual writers’ conference of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. You can follow Ronald Malfi on Twitter @RonaldMalfi. You can find Ronald’s works on Amazon.

Hi Ronald. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get involved in writing? How long have you been writing? 

I’ve always loved stories, and started writing at a very young age.  It wasn’t until I was maybe 10 or 11 that I started writing more seriously—setting aside time in the evenings to hammer out short stories on an old manual typewriter I think I picked up from a garage sale or an old relative’s house.  These early stories essentially just plagiarized whatever book or movie I was into at the time, but the writing helped me refine the basic elements of storytelling, not to mention grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Even back then, I wrote every day, and I still have all those stories stored in a steamer trunk in my basement.  I drew covers for many of them, and stapled them together so that they looked more like real books.  And then, of course, I pestered friends and family to read them.

I’m 36 now, the author of eleven novels, and I’m happy to report that my passion for the craft hasn’t lessened since those early days.  Necessity has forced me to trade in my old typewriters and word processors for the efficiency of a laptop computer, though lately I’ve been corresponding with a director in L.A. and we’ve taken to writing each other the way we used to write—in his case, by hand; and in my case, on an old Canon ink-jet word processor that smells like burning circuitry when it gets too hot.  It’s like settling into the worn cushions of a favorite chair.

Some people think that writing a novel is simply taking your characters from point A to point B, but there is much craft and skill involved in doing this successfully. How did you go about learning your craft?

Listen, I’m a compulsive, voracious reader.  I read everything—horror, sci-fi, mainstream lit, westerns, fantasy, you name it.  I’ve found most writers to fall into that camp.  So I think the “learning” is really just a natural continuance of that compulsivity—I’ve read so many great stories when I was very young, which in turn moved me to make up my own.  It seems natural to me.  All this reading lead me to understand how to use grammar correctly, how to pace your storytelling, how to establish and maintain atmosphere, etc.  It wasn’t active learning; it was simply digesting and comprehending what I was doing every day, which was reading.  You cannot be a good writer—or even a mediocre writer, for that matter—without also being a reader.

I have never been a plot-oriented writer.  I’m big on character and atmosphere, and utilize those tools in constructing the story, which is the most important thing.  Strong characters will guide your story, and the right atmosphere will set the tone.  I’ve little interest in mapping out that so-and-so uncovers such-and-such in chapter 10, and so on.  Let the characters breathe while wandering through the landscape and see where they take you.

What do you feel is the most important craft element for aspiring writers to master?

Honesty.

Tell me about your writing process.

I guess I’m fairly unorthodox in that I don’t outline my novels, nor do I really know everything that happens in them along the way, to include the ending.  I write as if I’m the first reader, and decide as I go where I’d like to see the story end up.  And, of course, if the characters have been fleshed out enough, they will often dictate where the story will go.  I find that enchanting, and it still makes me giddy when I see a particular character act out something that may steer the story in a different direction but is just so true to their personality.  That means I’ve gotten it right.

I’ve attempted to outline in the past, and have had to write a semi-outline for just one of my novels, Shamrock Alley, due to the collaborative nature of the book (I wrote it with my father), but overall I find that process stifling and restrictive.  I’m probably a little ADHD when it comes to this stuff, and I’m certainly compulsive about it, so to me an outline slows the process then ruins the joy of learning about a story as it unfolds by rushing you right to the end.  It’s like Cliffs Notes for the author, or an abridged audio book, and what fun are those?  The times when I’ve written outlines, I am quickly bored by the story—after all, I now know how it ends, right?—and find that I never actually get around to writing the book.

I used to write daily, and recommend that any writer trying to hone his or her craft do so.  After I became a parent, with my daughter taking up much of my attention, I find it’s a little more difficult to write every day, although I still try to.  For the past year or two, it’s more like I’ll let a few days go by without writing and then sit down to an all-day writing marathon, where I’ll compose anywhere from 20 to 40 pages.  Doing it this way still ensures that I will have a manuscript completed in around the same timeframe.  It takes me around three to five months to finish a novel, including my first round of edits, which I make as I go.

Some people believe that writing is easy and the writer’s life is a glamorous life. Is this true for you? 

Maybe for some it is, but for me it’s neither easy nor glamorous.  It’s often not as rewarding as people might suspect, too, and I think that’s an important thing to highlight for anyone who’s just getting started in this business.  I’ve attended writing conferences where I’ve spoken to folks who are just out pedaling their first manuscript to publishers or agents, and when they meet me, they assume I live in some big castle on a bluff somewhere, and after I eat a big meal I wipe my mouth with hundred-dollar bills.  This is not true.  I find time to write between mowing the lawn, taking care of my daughter, spending time with my wife and family, paying bills, and fixing the garbage disposal.  Often I’ll stop in mid-sentence to take care of some household emergency or just to show my face around the house so my family knows I’m still alive.

Writing is easy when the story is going well, and really moving along—when the hours flit by like seconds and you blink and it’s suddenly midnight or four in the morning.  It’s glamorous when you hear from a reader who loves what you do.

How much writing (how many novels etc) did you complete before you were published? 

Maybe around six.  These were manuscripts that totaled around 80,000 words each and they were written just before and during my college days.  Upon graduating from college, I was determined to take what I thought was the best of these manuscripts and get it published.  I submitted it to countless publishers, most of them small press since I didn’t have an agent at the time.  These were publishers I had found in the latest copy of Writer’s Market, and based on the undeliverable packages I received in the mail, quite a few had already gone out of business between the time that edition of the Market was published and when I’d sent them my query letter and three sample chapters.  Ultimately, the novel was sold and published by a small press, and although I would become disenchanted with that publisher and, frankly, with the book itself, it was my first real experience of what it meant—and what it didn’t mean—to be published.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about the publishing industry that you didn’t know before you were published?

I’ve learned a lot.  I guess the most interesting thing is the realization that editors generally look for reasons not to publish a book, which means you’ve got to convince them straight out of the gate that this novel is something they do not want to pass up.  It seems counterintuitive to their professions, but you’ve got to realize that there is a lot of money riding on the publication, promotion, and release of a book, and if that book fails, then that editor is accountable, particularly if they’re taking a chance on an unknown author.

What is the most important piece of advice you could offer to aspiring authors? 

It’s quite simple: you must read and you must write.