Welcome to the second installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
There are a lot of different paths to breaking in.
Once upon a time, self-publishing was stigmatized as being the last resort of cranks, chumps and terrible writers. If that was ever true, it sure isn’t true anymore, as the image of self-publishing has completely changed over the past few years. Now, new technologies and new avenues of distribution have made self-publishing a vital and viable career path for excellent writers, whose skill and success rival anything coming out of the big publishing companies.
Today’s Breaking In interview spotlights Katrina Archer, who represents an excellent example of an author breaking in through self-publishing.
As she notes on her website, Katrina lives and works on a sailboat in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has worked in the aerospace, video game and film industries. Her debut novel is Untalented, a self-published YA fantasy.
Saroya: Untalented, a stain on her family’s honor. Orphaned and barred from the Guilds, she has nowhere to go when her Talent fails to emerge.
Loric: Brother-in-law to the king. Thwarted in his ambitions, he’d do anything to usurp the throne. And he finds just the scandal he needs when he unearths Saroya’s hidden pedigree.
The Kingdom of Veyle: Where all power flows to the Talented, and where the Guilds and the Order of Adepts control the destinies of Talented and Untalented alike.
When calamity strikes the capital city, with Untalents blamed and on trial, Saroya knows that proving her Talent and parentage means saving more than just her own life. A tangle of lies hides secrets that force Saroya to choose between her future and Veyle’s.
Untalented is available as an ebook or via print-on-demand from all major venues — see http://ganachemedia.com/books/untalented/ for more information.
And speaking of being talented, Katrina is also a gifted photographer, and has self-published a book of her work, Shorescapes of Southern British Columbia.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Katrina! So, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[KA] Hi Stephen, thanks for having me today. I don’t know that I feel I’ve broken in even now. It’s lovely to have a book available to readers, but it’s too early to know how successful it will be. I do remember the first time I felt I’d done my job properly as a writer: I had several advance readers of a story report back to me that they couldn’t put the book down. That felt good, because it meant I was really dialling in on how to create a great story.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
My initial strategy was to query a large number of agents, and if that didn’t pan out, try to submit to publishing house editors directly. I very quickly discovered that there are only a handful of agents in Canada who handle genre fiction, so turned to the American market, because there are simply more opportunities. Agents are easier because most of them get back to you relatively quickly (sometimes within days, but usually no longer than a few months). Editors at publishing houses are more difficult, because it often takes six months to receive a reply. I once waited twenty-two months for a rejection. The entire process is excruciatingly slow, which is why it took me years to decide to self-publish—it simply took that long for Untalented to work its way through the system. I’d gotten enough encouraging replies to know that there was some interest in the novel, but ultimately, Untalented didn’t fit in a traditional publisher’s list. While I was submitting Untalented, I wrote another novel, and gained more confidence in my abilities. So when I started submitting that second novel, I decided to take Untalented off the query circuit and try my hand at self-publishing. I’d tested the waters with Shorescapes of Southern British Columbia, which was a great learning experience on getting set up with online publishers, understanding tax implications, etc.
I also try to attend at least one writer’s conference or workshop a year. I’ve made a number of great professional connections at these, and collected a good number of new friends as well. Having a strong support network of my peers has been invaluable. Most writers are wonderful people, generous with their mentorship and advice, and I really appreciate how many have gone to bat for me. I hope to be able to return the favour.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
I doubt I’ll publish another full colour print book. They’re simply too expensive to print, and thus very niche. For fiction, I will also time limit my query period to traditional publishers. I’m not getting any younger, and I suspect if I can’t find a home for a story after two years, I’ll come to a much quicker decision about whether to self-publish it to see if it can stand on its own. Over the time I’ve been submitting, I’ve found more and more agents seem to be looking for people who are already proven successes, which becomes a chicken and egg problem for a writer. You can’t break in without having a hit under your belt, but you can’t get the hit without breaking in somehow. I’ve decided to try controlling my own destiny a bit more.
Now that you’ve broken in, is like or unlike what you expected? How?
I knew it was going to be a lot of work. Some of the ins and outs of distribution are a little byzantine and opaque to an indie publisher like me, but I’m learning how to work through them. I’m still feeling my way around the promotion angle: how much to do, and how much to spend doing it. Like many writers, I’m a bit of an introvert, and not a natural salesperson, so tooting my own horn often feels awkward. But I’m learning! It takes me outside my comfort zone, which is a good thing in many ways. I’m also very gratified by how much support I’ve received, from family and friends, but also complete strangers: people asking for interviews (like this one!), offering ideas for getting the word out there, etc. And of course, people actually buying the book.
What are you working on now?
I’m at a strange point in my writing career where I’ve got more than one draft on the go. Until recently, I’ve mostly focused on a single work at a time. I’ve started the sequel to Untalented, I have a NaNoWriMo draft that’s sitting in a folder waiting for me to figure out how to polish it, and I’ve got another project specifically designed to be self-published, an episodic science-fantasy of interrelated novella-length stories. I have to be careful not to bite off more than I can chew and give myself the proper focus to shepherd each of these to completion, but it’s a fun time in my brain right now, with so many ideas simmering.
How can people keep up with you online?
I keep a blog at www.katrinaarcher.com/journal. My Twitter handle is https://twitter.com/katrinaarcher, and my Facebook page is www.facebook.com/katrinaarcherauthor. I’m also on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/katrinaarcher, and Google Plus at https://plus.google.com/+KatrinaArcher
One thing I know from my own time in the self-publishing trenches: Nobody works harder than a self-publisher! Untalented deserves your attention. Thanks to Katrina for generously sharing her thoughts and experiences breaking in.
COMING UP NEXT: The next Breaking In interview will appear on Tuesday as I welcome Gemma Files to the blog. But first, back to Ulysses. Yes, for real this time!