Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Interview with Willow Polson

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?
Triune is first and foremost a story of discovery, and with that in mind, I purposefully left out a primary antagonist. It's about three brothers who, one at a time, find that they're not quite as human as they thought. They're angels, but not in the traditional "white robes and halos" or "dark angel on a motorcycle" types of cliches. The appeal of the Mason brothers is that they're pretty much ordinary men who just happen to be able to do extraordinary things, and we readers get to go along on that journey with them.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
I did, mostly because I had already sold five non-fiction books successfully to a New York publisher and didn't see why a novel should be any different. Turns out I was totally wrong, and in talking to some of my colleagues, one with over THIRTY books to her name, it became obvious that my growing string of rejection letters was a familiar story to them, too.

Even with that publisher's "right of first refusal" clause in my contract, they didn't give my novel more than a passing glance. That was right when I started to learn more about how successful self-published authors have been, how agents and publishers choose the books that they do accept, how the antiquated New York publishing model isn't keeping up with the times or the market (especially regarding e-books), and the wheels began to turn.

My fancy New York publisher had done very little to sell or market my books, so why should I let them continue to rake in the profits? Add into that the idea of "exclusive submissions" with response times of at least three to six months each, times however many agents or publishers you're submitting to... it's just laughable. I'm not Methuselah, and I need to make a living, something they don't seem to care about in the least.

Snooki gets a pass, but Jane Yolen gets snubbed. Everything's coming up vampires and zombies. There is something very wrong with that picture, and none of that accurately reflects what the market wants, it's only what an agency or publisher thinks the market wants. And guess what? Snooki's book is selling like crap. People are flooding the internet with rants about how sick they are of vampires and zombies. What a shocker. But just try and sell any other kind of book to an agent or editor right now.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
Yes and no. I use beta readers, some of whom are fellow writers and editors. They don't catch everything, even after six pairs of eyes have been over it all, but it's every bit as good as paying one pair of eyes, if not better.

What have you learned during your self-publishing journey?
There aren't really any wrong ways to self-publish, but there are definitely some right ways: For one thing, have a great cover that doesn't look like every other amateur effort out there (and there are far, far too many). The market and the methods of how books are being published changed drastically in 2010 and will continue to change rapidly, so it's critical to keep up on the news and technology of how it works.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
Yes, Triune is available on Barnes & Noble as a downloadable e-book.

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
Yes. The only things I'm not doing are print ads and exotic fan dances.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Absolutely. Part of my problem is that I'm usually working on more than one project at a time, and the other issue is that I need to be about five people to get it all done. Comics, short stories, novels, scripts, plus marketing, plus working as ghost writer and personal assistant for a client, plus going out to the occasional movie with my family, eating, sleeping... it gets very overwhelming some days.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
If you haven't written anything before, get tons of feedback from everyone you can. Don't just show your stuff to your Aunt Mabel who you know will love everything you do -- try to find people who will give you helpful criticism so that you can improve. Writing groups and classes can be a big help with this too.

Whatever your experience level, research everything you can about self-publishing, including articles, blogs, podcasts, whatever you can find. Check out the market and see what others are already doing. Is it good? Bad? Ugly? Join the message boards for your genre and see what readers and other authors are saying about the type of story you want to write. Or, maybe you'll find a big hole in the market that you can fill with something new and unique. Again, it's all changing so fast that your job is to figure out not just where the market is today, but where it'll be in six months.

When you're self-published, you're the CEO, CFO, VP, the entire marketing and publicity department, the product inventor, and chief cook and bottle washer all rolled into one. Unless you're independently wealthy and can hire people to proofread and edit your manuscript, design your book cover, handle the technical aspects of the various e-book formats, and do all your publicity and marketing, you'd better have some grasp on how to do it all yourself and be one hell of a self-starter.  This is especially critical for marketing and publicity.

Self-publishing is no place for slackers. Yes, please do print that out and put it above your desk. That'll be $50, please.

What’s next for you?
Right now I'm working on the next Triune book (don't have a title for it yet, but I do have a cover idea), a couple secret projects, a four-issue comic book, and a couple of collaborative sci-fi novels.