G: Let’s get the elephant in the room really quick and take a fun ride: You and I know each other. We’re buddies, and I edit for you. So, if anyone asks if this interview is going down because we know one another…yeah, you busted us. Would you like to add anything?
K: Simply put, that you’re a kickass editor! No, really. I can’t possibly imagine how the series could’ve come together without the “Index Keepers”, as I like to call anyone who’s contributed to the series – you included. This isn’t just my writing; it’s Jenna’s artwork, and your editing. It’s a joint effort, from plot concept to publication. So go on, rail about being interviewed by my editor!
G: Now that we’ve made both our positions obscenely clear, let’s move on to the point of all this: You’re here today (by which I mean you’re across the country in New York) to talk about the third book in “The Index” series, which you self-publish. The Index: Mages, and The Index: Secrets are both available through Createspace in physical format and through Amazon and Barnes & Noble for electronic format. I’m sure you’ve got links for us.
K: Oh, of course.
For Book 1:
Amazon (hard copy): http://amzn.to/moZXdr
CreateSpace (hard copy): http://bit.ly/mixfJ6
Amazon (hard copy): http://amzn.to/kfzbk5
CreateSpace (hard copy): http://bit.ly/lahoJd
G: And The Index: Lineage, your latest is available in the same formats, right?
K: Of course.
G: And those links?
K: CreateSpace (hard copy): http://www.createspace.com/3426470
G: Let’s talk plot. Mages, Secrets, and Lineage follow a similar main cast through an ever-growing web of intrigue. Let’s see how good you are: Sum up the series so far in–let’s say–four sentences (simple, compound, or complex is up to you.)
K: By the simple virtue of going on break when they did, the main characters stumbled onto one of the biggest mysteries of their lifetime. They don’t see it; the only thing they know about is a series of events that are seemingly unconnected. By the time they’ll make the connection, they will have to fight for order on a much more personal scale than they originally thought.
G: Nicely done! I won’t throw you into a pit of vipers! You’ve got a big world and a big cast, and there’s magic, spaceships, police investigations, and explosions surrounded by a cast of characters who are trying to unravel a mystery on numerous fronts. How do you keep your storylines straight?
K: By reading and taking notes on Post-Its! I’m telling you, post-its saved my storyline more than once. Whether it’s the commenting feature on Acrobat, OneNote, or on paper, I found that quickly scribbling down a plot point…or, okay, 10…really goes a long way in keeping canon. I’ve seen series with wonderful long-term plotline consistency, just as I’ve seen series where canon got thrown by the wayside. The Post-Its work.
G: And every storyline you come up with has to make sense in your universe through multiple books. What’s the most difficult part about keeping the series on-point?
K: The hardest part is keeping every character engaged on a certain level. I studied criminal justice, and the most important thing I learned is that you literally never know what detail ends up cracking the case. In my story, you never know which character will end up cracking the case open – and, crucially, all of those tiny, tiny influential details have to make sense in line with the plot. I can’t afford to leave even the slightest detail, or the most minute character out, because that may collapse the storyline.
G: And amongst all the writing and my wonderful editing, you also have to market your books. How do you handle the marketing side of things?
K: I hit the Internet. I have a Facebook page for the books, and my personal twitter, @kgilraine, is quite active in getting the books together. I routinely tweet and hashtag tweets that contain my book links. Sometimes, I leave postcards with the series info around places visited by my target audience – cafés, book festivals, music clubs. It gets people’s eyes on the series, and from there on, I have to keep at it.
G: Now, if you were publishing through a house, say Random House or Penguin or even a small press, you’d be getting some help with all the marketing and general promotion. I know you shopped your idea around. What made you decide to go self-published?
K: The traditional route wasn’t happening, and that’s what decided for me. At the time that I was querying, I racked up rejections and compliments (simultaneously, mind). The tally got close to a hundred, and I said to myself, if by my birthday that year I will not have even one agent willing to take a look at the story in its entirety, then I will do it myself. After all, a CreateSpace code is a terrible thing to waste!
G: On that note, let’s get another elephant into the room and feed it some peanuts: There’s a lot of stigmas against self-published authors from the larger publishing industry and the reading public alike. The general stereotype is that self-published writers don’t want to put in the work or don’t have the talent to get published traditionally. Thoughts?
K: That’s one well-known elephant, and I assure you that this is the one stereotype that every self-published author loathes. The thing that traditionally published authors fail to realize a lot of the time is that their work was chosen because it can sell. It doesn’t necessarily have to be quality writing, but it can sell, and sell in large amounts. Case in point, we have Twilight. However, while Stephenie Meyer undoubtedly made millions off that series, take a guess at who made more than her. Ready? The publishing house. The agent. The marketing department. Anyone who’s willing to contract for merchandise. And know that in the unspoken law that money flows to the authors, then logically, Stephenie Meyer got the dregs, since everyone takes their cut of the money first. Think about it: she got the dregs, and those dregs are equal to millions. And the majority opinion is that Twilight is terrible writing. But she got picked up by an agent who had seen the potential to appeal to a massive audience, and it took off.
This isn’t to say that traditionally published authors’ writing is of lesser quality – not the case at all. But the primary motivator for an agent to choose it is sales, not quality. Which is why we have authors like Meyer.
Self-published authors have every bit as much talent as traditionally published authors, except that they only thing they’re doing by going the self route is cutting the publishing house out of the equation and doing the legwork of printing, publishing, and marketing their work on their own. This is a commendable task, because what a lot of people don’t’ realize is that self-publication is a lot tougher than traditional.
In the self-pub world, there is no one else doing the work for you. There’s no marketing team, there’s no cover designer, the only editor you have is either yourself or, as in my own case, a close friend that you have an agreement with. It’s just the author, the manuscript, and the world. Believe me, it doesn’t seem difficult at first, until you actually begin the prep work. There’s a lot to be said for the patience and attention to detail that it requires to turn an idea in a text file into a print-ready book, or e-book as the case may be.
G: What advice would you give to self-published authors?
K: Whatever you do, keep at it. You’ve written the story; you know what it’s supposed to say, and you know what the end result is supposed to look like. Make it happen.
G: You mentioned earlier that your books are a collaborative effort between your writing, my editing, and a collection of other people. Tell us about some of those other people and how they’ve helped you along.
K: Oh, it’s definitely a story of influences! I’ve written characters based on people, and one of the characters ended up getting based on a close friend, who never fails to make me bristle. Another close friend, with a seriously offbeat sense of humor, was a great help with plotting. And then there’s the cover art.
I really, really have to hand it to Jenna. I met her when she was 14 and I was only thinking about getting Book 1 out. She’s now 17, and I don’t mince words when I say that she gave the characters a face. On The Index’s facebook page, you’ll see some sketches, some concept art – all of that was her doing. She gave the characters a face, which was instrumental to my writing, every step of the way. I can’t write what I can’t see, and Jenna bridged the gap between just my imagination and something a little more – for the lack of better words – real.
G: If you’d gone through a publishing house, you’d have been working collaboratively in a similar manner. Do you think you’d have gotten to make such big decisions as your cover artist in that model?
K: I severely doubt it. Publishing houses usually have the final say, and while I can definitely arrange an idea for a cover, I severely doubt that I would’ve had the freedom that I’ve had as a self-pub. Jenna had progressed tremendously since that first cover, and I am beyond happy that she got the opportunity. I also have a guest artist for Book 3 – somehow I doubt that this particular guest artist would have ever tossed me a cover, had I gone traditional.
G: Do you find the responsibility of making decisions like cover art to be daunting, or do you enjoy it?
K: It’s daunting in some ways, but I enjoy it immensely. I also give my artist – whether Jenna or a guest – absolute freedom in how they interpret my ideas. I give them the idea – and the idea alone. What happens from there is entirely up to them. And that’s the best part!
G: Going back to your detailed answer on self-publishing, you mentioned that authors don’t make much per book. The average for new author royalties from a publishing house is about 8%. Not be entirely crass, but you’re making more than that per book aren’t you?
K: Not crass at all. I get anywhere from 25% (print) to 70% (ebook) per purchase.
G: Let’s be blunt: You’re not making a living off of your writing right now, but there are very few authors who actually are, and you’re getting better royalty percentages than agented authors at big-name publishing houses, partly because you don’t have to pay an agent or the publishing house, but also partly because of the rise of e-publishing. What are you thoughts on ebooks as a form?
K: Simply put, where have they been all my life?!!! I’m an avid reader as well as a writer. There’s nothing I love more than to be able to read multiple books when I’m on the go, and as a New York resident, I certainly am. The Kindle, the Nook, Kobo, Sony reader, etc – that right there is a new revolution, especially considering how busy people are in this day and age. That and it allows the readers to explore – you guessed it! – little-known authors easily.
G: Has the rise of ebooks made it easier for you to find an audience?
K: MUCH. It’s a lot of legwork in finding an audience, but I found that the increased access helps immensely.
G: Switching gears back to the creative, what’s your next step now that The Index: Lineage is up for sale and put to bed from a writing and editing perspective?
K: The next step…take a break, dammit. I’ve not slept in weeks. And then, double duty (and I’m sure you’ll upbraid me a bit for it): retool The Index: Revival and wrap up the halfway-finished manuscript of Book 5. Book 5 is a whole new arc, which is going to take a while to cook up, to boot.
But first! Sleep. Market Book 3. Enjoy living for a bit. J
G: As a grad student, I mock your lack of sleep! But seriously, congratulations on the latest book, and I hope your audience keeps growing.
K: Thank you! And I remain immensely grateful for your editing mojo. I would be a mess without it.
And I’ll take your grad school any time of day.