Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interview with Susan Bischoff

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?
The Talent Chronicles series is set in a world in which some kids are developing supernatural abilities. Because of a fear factor in the general population, enhanced by government propaganda, when a kid is discovered to have one of these abilities—Talents—they’re removed to a State School where most are never heard from again.

In Hush Money, the first book in the series, Joss is a teenage girl who has always been very focused on keeping a low profile and keeping her secret. Kat, a new girl at school, decides to make a project of bringing Joss out of her shell, and when Kat gets into trouble with a guy named Marco, Joss gets pulled into a situation where she has to decide between her father’s strict, don’t get involved training and her conscience. Meanwhile, Marco’s friend Dylan, on whom Joss has had a crush since, like, forever, finds himself caught in a similar dilemma, between the habit of a friendship that’s dying, his conscience, and his developing feelings for Joss.

A short story, Impulse Control, introduces a different set of characters and takes place in one of the State Schools in The Talent Chronicles world. It’s available for free at many sites that allow free ebooks as well as in the Kiss Me, Kill Me paranormal romance anthology.

The continuation of Joss’s and Dylan’s story, Heroes ’Til Curfew, is my current work in progress. A release date for that is not yet available.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
I never went that way. I became aware of the current trends in self-publishing at a time when I had, essentially, given up on writing this series because the attitudes around me regarding traditional publishing—especially for series work—were so negative that it no longer seemed reasonable to put so much time and emotional effort into the project. Indie publishing gave me the spark to start writing again.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
I don’t belong to a critique group, but I do have a long-time critique partner, Kait Nolan, author of the Mirus series. She and I have been working closely together for…four years now. Without a doubt, it has been the most important relationship in my writing life. I’ve learned so much through working and learning with her, things I never would have come to sitting in a room by myself.

I think some kind of critique relationship, whether it’s with one person or a group of people, is the best thing you can do for your writer’s education. That said, a bad fit can do you more harm than good and it’s important to feel that the relationship is helping you grow rather than discouraging you.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish to Amazon?
I loved the idea of being able to work on my own schedule, and the knowledge that I could continue the series, in any direction I wanted to go, as long as I wanted to write it. To me, indie publishing is very much like indie crafting. It’s about creating what you’re moved to create and then finding those readers who are like you enough to want that.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
I didn’t know whom to hire, so I did have a dozen people I knew review the manuscript before publishing it. Kait and I had been over it quite a bit by the time it got into the hands of the beta readers, and I got little back in terms of editorial feedback. Kait does copy-editing at a professional level for her day job, and also on a free-lance basis for authors and a few publications, and some of my beta readers were fellow authors. So I felt I was pretty covered in that respect.

I think I got pretty lucky with Hush Money in that it did come out to be a very tight manuscript that accounted for the lack of editorial comments. I believe in a good critique and would love to see more content-editing options readily available to the indie community.

What have you’ve learned during your self-publishing journey?
Seriously, that could take all day. It feels like I’ve learned everything, and then I turn around and learn something new. Two highlights:

Everyone’s here for different reasons and with different goals. Assuming everyone wants the same thing often leads to bad feelings. 

Everyone’s path is different because of how they got here, where they want to go, and a whole host of other factors. There is little to be gained by comparing your numbers, or other earmarks of success, with someone else except a whole pot of crazy, because it’s really apples and oranges.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
In ebook at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, iBookstore, Scribd, Borders AU.

In paperback at Amazon US and UK, B&N, Book Depository, CreateSpace, Books-a-Million, Borders. (At some of these it’s available via third-party vendors only.)

I think limiting yourself in terms of vendors and formats is a mistake and it’s one I really can’t get my head around when I see it. I know that when I was getting started I was finding a lot of work available on Amazon only. I hope we’re getting to a point in the indie community where we’re keeping everyone informed about available vendors and how to work with them.

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
I’m at a point now where I’m really not actively marketing (and it shows in the sales and rankings, I’m afraid). I never did much on forums, and while I have a presence on Facebook and Myspace, I never really mastered those. I blog and I try to show up on Twitter. I had some luck generating interest via Goodreads in the beginning. (Not by spamming discussion threads, though! See the Increasing Kindle Rank series on my blog if you need details.) I think the best thing I did was to try to get reviews in the beginning, especially from book bloggers who have been very kind to me. Those early reviews helped me achieve visibility and good word of mouth.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Totally. And it might not be so much time as frame of mind. In general I seem to be the kind of person who gets involved completely in one thing at a time. When I was heavily into learning about indie, marketing, etc., my writing really suffered. So right now I’m trying to put that aside and focus on the writing again. I envy multi-taskers.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
Be certain that you and the work are ready before it goes out
Get the best cover art you can afford
Keep the price on your first book as low and impulse-level as you can
Don’t be afraid to give away lots of review copies
Learn to think like your customer

What’s next for you?
I’ve just been approached by and signed with literary agent Jane Dystel. She’s very enthusiastic about my writing and about the commercial appeal of the series. As I finish up Heroes ’Til Curfew, the next step for me may well be traditional publication, something that fills me with terror and excitement at the same time. The concerns I have about the industry are still there, but somewhat mitigated by things I’ve learned this year and an understanding that everything is not black, white, and, like, graven in stone. Regardless of some of the mathematical formulas that have been floating around and the possibility being able to make more money as an indie with higher royalties, it’s impossible for me to ignore the potential for reaching a larger audience. And probably more importantly, it would be hard for me to turn my back on the learning experience such an opportunity might provide. That’s the part I get really excited about.