Friday, January 14, 2011

Interview with Ruth Francisco

Author bio:

Ruth Francisco worked in the film industry for fifteen years before selling her first novel Confessions of a Deathmaiden to Warner Books in 2003, followed by Good Morning, Darkness, which was selected by Publishers’ Weekly as one of the best mysteries of the year, and her controversial third novel, The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  She now has four new novels, including Amsterdam 2012, up on Kindle. She is a frequent contributor to The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and currently lives in Florida.

Briefly describe your journey in writing your first book.
My first book, Confessions of a Deathmaiden, was published in 2003, and my path was very ordinary—sending out query letters for one book, many agent rejections, writing another book, trying agents again, getting a little interest, then finally, after about a year, getting an agent. Then it was the waiting game all over again as my agent tried to find a publisher, another six months. Then a year after signing the book contract with Warner Books, the book was published.

Are you currently under a traditional publishing contract for future books or do you have manuscripts that you will publish directly for Kindle?
I published my first book to Kindle as an experiment.  My publisher turned down Amsterdam 2012 for being too controversial, and after a year of shopping it around and subsequence rejections by other publishers, I decided to put it up on Kindle.  I didn’t know anything about epublishing. I actually posted it because I was afraid my aging computer would crash, and I would lose the novel. Or the house would burn down. I figured at least if it were up on Kindle, it would be safe. I set the price at .99 cents. What the hell.

I sold 1,000 copies the first weekend, and soon my book was number 30 on the Kindle best seller list. And readers were responding—immediately—in reviews, on forums, and in emails. I had written the book because I wanted people to discuss a difficult topic, and they were; I was having an active and open dialog with my readers unlike I ever had with DTB publishing. I was thrilled.

After the success of Amsterdam 2012, I uploaded two backlist titles, Good Morning, Darkness, and Confessions of a Deathmaiden, the rights for which my publisher had recently returned to me. Then three original titles.

Why did I do that rather than submit them to my publisher?
For one thing, waiting a year to get published, even if my agent could sell my manuscripts tomorrow, seemed antiquated. Who has time for that? If I write about fresh, relevant issues, I want the stories published now. I was also selling more books on Kindle, reaching more people, all over the world, than I had with DTBs. If I set the Kindle price at $2.99, I make $2.04 per book, about the same as I would for a hardback.

While the ebook market is still only 9% of the total book market, it is a growing market.  The market for DTBs is shrinking.  I chose to go with the growing market. 

What lessons have you learned being an indie author vs. being traditionally published?
Self-reliance, self-promotion, self-evaluation.  I think this is a lesson I would’ve benefited from greatly as a DTB author as well—that you really have to do almost everything yourself.  For my last traditionally published book, “The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis”, my publisher asked me to hire a publicist, which would’ve cost at least $10,000.  I was astonished.  I had assumed publishers did this, but not any more.  I’ve worked with fine editors, but editors are doing less and less.  The idea of an editor developing talent, of engaging the author in discussion, in character and plot line choices, is pretty much gone.  This makes me sad.  Writers need support, they need a team, especially if they are writing about something controversial or thought-provoking.  What I’ve learned is that you are on your own in both worlds now.  The author has to rely on herself, her friends, and the editors and PR people she hires.  You have to bring together your own team.   This begs the question: If you have to do most of the work yourself, why give 85% of the profit away to a traditional publisher? 

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
I really enjoy doing my own covers.  I had quite a hissing fit over some of my publisher-designed covers that I had no control over.  I remember calling my editor and crying, “You’ve made my character look like a blood-sucking bag lady!”  There are a number of websites that offer rights-free photos, several which are listed at:

If you are designing your cover yourself, remember that you want the title and author name to be really big, with a single intriguing image. A light cover, letters 1/3 to 1/4 the size of the cover, lots of red. Yellow is good for title.   While you are working on your cover, reduce the image at times to 1-1/4 inch high—this is about how big it will appear on the computer. If it doesn’t pop out at you, or isn’t easily read, change it.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner publicity for your book(s)?
Since epublishing is relatively new, venues for promotion that carry critical weight—such as The New York Time Review of Books—have not been established. But they will be soon—people need help sifting through the huge volume of available books to find what they want. I’ve done little more than promote on Kindleboards, and on writing forums such as and Building a presence through a blog, participating in other people’s blogs, book trailers, Facebook, twitter, targeting topic-specific audiences relevant to your book, are all great ways to go. They are, however, time-consuming. You have to be a bit of a huckster at this point.

I think the challenging thing is not to get completely sucked in to all of the social media and still find that quiet place deep within from which you can be creative and original.  For me, it’s best to not even go online until I am done with my writing session for the day.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
I have books up on Smashwords and PubIt, but have only sold a handful on those venues as compared to thousands on Amazon.  Others have done well on those venues, but I haven’t broken in yet.

What is the best advice you can offer new authors?
Don’t wait for an agent.  I don’t think this traditional, time-consuming process is a good option for new writers anymore. I think there are much better ways for new writers to enter the marketplace: 1) Polish your novel and get it up on Kindle and Smashwords; promote it; 2) Write several short pieces of fiction and sell them. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is very open to new writers in that genre; 3) Write a blog that will draw in readers; 4) Use the internet social network to make writer friends; join writer websites such as; 5) Then, send out query letters to a few New York agents; 6) If you have time and the money, go to at least one writers’ conference in your genre.

With all this self promotion, don’t forget that your writing comes first. Set aside at least two hours a day for writing—six days a week. Don’t even think about checking your emails either before or during this time.

I would also advise thinking very strongly about what you are going to write before you get started. If fiction, I would suggest writing a book that can be the first in a series. A book that has a built-in audience. I would think about how I was going to market the book. Being truly original is difficult, perhaps impossible, but displaying your true authentic voice is unique. That sounds easy, but like good acting, it requires self exploration, and a certain amount of despair. And time—don’t be in too much of a rush.

What’s next for you?
I wrote Amsterdam 2012 originally as a blog.  It was written as a diary, so that worked well.  I’d like to explore the blog novel further by having a couple of authors write from the perspective of different characters—for instance a detective and villain.  I think that could be really interesting and fun.  Later it could be edited and posted as a Kindle novel.