A couple Fridays ago, I featured a book cover from a new author, Kasia James. She’s also a blogger, and I’ve been following her writing pretty much ever since I started this site. That gave me the perfect opportunity to reach out to her and ask about her experience, her creative process, the pains of self-publishing, and what aspiring writers can learn from it.
Kasia James: Yes, it is, although I have a couple more — which are quite different — in the pipeline. The Artemis Effect follows the stories of three groups of people based in America, Australia, and Britain as they struggle to deal with the breakdown of society sparked by mysterious changes to the moon. It’s fast-paced, character-based science fiction.
You’ve been working on this for about 9 years. During that time, you wrote the book, sent it off to publishers, and then finally chose self-publishing. To get started, let’s talk about your experience writing the book. What inspired you to write this particular story?
Well, to be totally honest, much of the science fiction I’d read up to that point dealt with ideas and technology very well, but rather shallowly with people. I thought that I’d like to have a go at doing something different. I read very widely and eclectically, so it seemed to be a possibility within the genre that could have been more fully explored.
What was your writing schedule typically like?
Schedule? What schedule? I have been lucky enough to work a four-day week for some time now, so when I was feeling particularly motivated, that day off really did help me to keep things flowing. However, I always imagined that I was only really writing the book for myself, so if I didn’t feel that I was enjoying the process at any time, I stopped. No doubt that’s one of the reasons it took such a long time to write!
What kinds of interruptions in life kept you from writing, and what kinds of things pulled you back?
My professional work gets in the way sometimes. I work as a landscape architect, but I also have other pursuits, like painting and playing the guitar, which I occasionally get faddishly involved in. I’m just about to have a baby, which is a huge leap into the unknown for me, but I fully expect that it will have a huge impact on my ability to write, at least in the short term. It’s rather ironic, actually, as much of the book deals with unexplained pregnancies, but at the time when I was writing it, I didn’t plan to have children.
How do you prefer to write — at a computer, with pen and paper, out of the house, locked away in a room, in total darkness/sunlight, etc? Also, what software and other tools do you use?
I write fiction on the computer, either at the PC or on my netbook. Poetry and flash fiction all goes into my little black notebook, which I carry around at all times — a terrific suggestion by my fellow bloggers! I’m terribly and easily distracted, so I need to write in silence — often on my own in the house — so that I can really hear my character’s voices. I’m generally a daylight writer, but I have been known to rise at the crack of dawn and bash something out if it has really inspired me. In terms of tools, I’m afraid that I’m pretty dull and just use Word. There is more than enough extra gadgetry in social media if I need the distraction!
Walk us through your experience with editing/revision. This is the hardest part for a lot of writers, including me — not necessarily the grammar stuff (that’s easy in my case), but polishing the book, cutting excess, ensuring everything makes sense….
Well, my first step was to put the book away for a while. I find it very hard to look at work objectively when you’re too close to it. There might be a scene that you spent a lot of time researching or that you particularly enjoyed writing, so it can be hard to see that those bits don’t necessarily fit into the flow of the story. After it’s been in the bottom drawer for a bit, it can be easier to see it with greater clarity. It’s also more possible to review it as a reader would so that you get a much better sense of the pace of the story than when you’re writing it, which is of course much slower.
In my case, I did the first edit myself after about a year. I always edit on a hard copy. For some reason, stories read differently on paper and on the screen. Afterwards, I took advice from other people and ended up editing about three or four times before I was finally reasonably happy with it.
When you started contacting publishers, what advice did you find most useful, and what did you find least helpful during this process?
I was always fairly realistic about my chances of getting published as an unknown author in what can be a fairly traditional genre. By that, I mean that you have to realize that every book a publisher decides to publish is a gamble for them, so they are more likely to go with established authors or work they can be fairly sure will be a bestseller. In these days of indie publishing, this is more true than ever. That said, I think it is important to research the publishers in question to find out if they have published work in the genre in which you are writing, and if so, to carefully follow their guidelines for approaches. They receive a great many manuscripts, so make it as easy for them as possible. I understand that your chances are greatly increased if you manage to have the book represented by a reputable literary agent.
What kind of responses and feedback did you receive from publishers and people who looked over your book?
When I first tentatively started showing my book to people, I was really surprised at the honest and positive responses I received. They were critical of a few things, which I was able to address during the editing process, but what astonished me most of all was the comment that kept coming back: “It’s a real page-turner!”
I didn’t approach that many traditional publishers and literary agents, but they were generally courteous, and in one case quite positive. However, it was evident that they had not read the manuscript in much detail. Considering how much more polished the work became after this time, and also how many manuscripts they receive, I was a bit disappointed but not really surprised by this.
At what point did you decide to turn to self-publishing? What was that like — going down that route?
As I mentioned earlier, when I was writing the book, I was doing it largely for my own personal amusement rather than to try and become the next J.K. Rowling, so I confess that I didn’t try as hard as I might have to get published traditionally. We heard about the revolution happening in e-books, and it sounded like an easier way to get it out there and hopefully have a few more people enjoy it. I also liked the sound of having greater control over the cover art and pricing.
There have been a few people I’ve encountered who have been a bit snobbish about what they call “vanity publishing,” but usually when you talk to them about the revolution of indie books happening out there in the publishing world, they come around to understand why an author might go down that path.
So what does it take to self-publish? What steps did you go through, how much research did you do on the subject, and what did you learn? How can others accomplish what you have?
Self-publishing can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it, depending on how professional you want the final product to be. I’ve heard of people turning out and publishing a novel in a month, but I’m not able to do that to the standard I’d be happy with. For me, there was a lot editing, proofreading, rewriting, re-editing, etc., which took a great deal of time. While some of the that was going on, I was talking to my cover artist so that we had time to get something good together without a rush. When it was all complete, another person on my team, Robert, did a lot of research into formatting and HTML to make sure that the book was formatted as well as possible and would perform as smoothly as possible on an e-reader. After that, it’s amazingly fast to upload it all. Then the big job of letting people know that it is out there begins!
I did a lot of reading on the net and on different people’s blogs about their tips and tricks. There is a vast amount of information out there, and much of it very helpful. I also purchased a book, which helped with the formatting aspect: “How to Format Perfect Kindle Books,” by Steven Lewis.
Tell me about that awesome book cover! Who did the design, and how did you manage to get something so awesome?
Glad you like it! I worked with an artist called Richard Morden at Mordenart, whom I have known for many years. He is a great sci-fi fan, so he had a strong background in the amazing history of sci-fi cover art. We had a long discussion about who the anticipated audience for the book was, about imagery, and about colors, and also tried hard to give it a bit of a pulp feel. Richard was very aware that being for an e-book, the cover displays at quite a small size and needed to be clear at this scale and also [presented] in black and white.
What are the most important things you’ve learned from this whole experience?
I think to do it as professionally as possible, you have to be prepared to do more than just write a great story, although that’s obviously an important first step. It takes time, diligence, and a thick skin to edit, re-edit, proofread, format, and promote the book. If I’d known quite how much time at the start, I might have had second thoughts, but it’s been a terrific journey. I certainly hope to do it again soon! I’ve also really enjoyed discovering other people out there with similar interests and reading their work, which I might not have found if was locked away in my room, just writing for myself.
Where can readers find your book?
It is available on Amazon, with hard copies — paperback and hardback — coming soon on Lulu. If anyone is good enough to read and enjoy it, I’d be most grateful if they could leave a short review on Amazon!
Do you have any favorite books on writing that you can recommend?
Good question, but I’m afraid I can’t help there. Sorry — being a bit of a maverick in this regard, I have always felt that taking someone’s advice on how to write might stifle my natural approach to things.
What’s next for you? How are you following up with the release of The Artemis Effect, and do you have any current plans for more writing projects/books?
I’m working on a few things. At one stage, there was talk of doing an illustrated version of The Artemis Effect. I’m also writing more speculative fiction short stories, which one day I hope to compile into an anthology with some scraps of poetry and my own illustrations. Also another novel, which is more of a ghost story. I’m even having a stab at a bit of romance, just for fun!
Big thanks to Kasia for taking the time to chat!