Within the Indie Author Hub, you can learn about other authors, their thoughts and opinions, what makes them tick and how their writing process works for them.
This week I interviewed Barbara Schnell. Have a look at her profile and books here.
What inspired you to become an author? I always enjoyed writing little stories for myself. And everybody raved about my Christmas letter–as a matter of fact, my husband uses them as a way to keep in touch with business associates (he says they’re good marketing). I was still pursuing an acting career (although I’d lost interest in the acting business by then–actually the business lost interest in me) when I mentioned to a cousin that I was thinking of writing something. She seemed surprised. She said, “But I always thought you were a writer!” All it took was one positive comment and I started my novel. I’m always amazed at what can grow out of a kind word. If I couldn’t be a writer I would probably be an architect or building designer. I learned a lot putting my old house back together. It’s satisfying work that clears you mind.
Do you write full time? Not yet but I intend to. I was project manager on the house construction–which means I was the drywaller, woodworker, painter, wallpaperer, floor finisher, etc. I also edit reports for my husband who is a technical writer.
How do you structure your day? I’ve decided to set aside an hour a day to write. I’ve managed to get the chapter summaries, character breakdowns, and all the background work done. Now it’s time to write. I think writing is like exercise; start small and do what you can. Work up to longer periods of writing. The trick is not to kill yourself starting out. That’s just discouraging. Writing is hard enough without putting unrealistic expectations on yourself.
Do you have daily word targets? Starting out I only try for two pages a day. As the story takes shape I get excited and write more.
Before writing, do you plan your books to the last detail? I know where I want to start and where I want to end up. In terms of structure, I start out with three acts (that’s the acting background); exposition (characters and plot introduction), plot furtherance (conflict), and resolution. Then, as mentioned above, I figure out the chapter breakdowns and character backstory. I usually throw stuff out the window as the story takes on its own life but at least I have a starting point. All my characters are amalgams of people I’ve met. Their behavior influences what happens in the story and the story dictates what happens to them. It’s very symbiotic.
How do you get over the fear of a blank page? I don’t think you ever get over the fear. But now I understand that a first draft is basically ‘vomiting’ out a story; it’s not supposed to be a finished product, it’s a place to start. That takes some of the pressure off.
How do you target your audience effectively? I haven’t figured out how to target my audience effectively. I’m just learning. I’m always open to suggestions and advice. I write romantic comedies so I always considered my work chick-lit–which I consider a good thing. I read that 70% of book buyers are women so that’s a good-sized target. But I’m surprised that men like my book too. Maybe it gives them insights to a feminine mind while giving them a good laugh.
How much time do you spend promoting yourself in social media? I don’t spend enough time promoting because it gets it the way of writing. I think I’ll get a few more books written before I spend the time (and money) to advertise. Maybe I’ll look into hiring a publicist.
How were you published? I originally published my book through iUniverse but I haven’t been pleased with Authors Solutions (they bought iUniverse and took the name). When I put the book in ebook format they took the Editor’s Choice designation from me (why, I don’t know). When I objected they said they’d give me back the designation but I haven’t seen anything yet. KDP does a much better job of marketing books. They actually seem to want to sell books. Authors Solutions just seems to want to separate me from my money. Now I know why they have such a bad reputation. I have a collection that I’m going to put on KDP and see how that goes. Wish me luck.
What made you decide to publish independently? I felt that I had to. I had what was considered the top agent on the West Coast. She accepted my book because she said she’d never had her top reader talk about a book the way he talked about First Year(I think at the time I called it Our First Year). She said he was ‘over the moon!’ She sent my book to the top six New York publishers with a ‘gentlewoman’s agreement’ so they could read it over the Thanksgiving weekend. She also told me that Creative Artists wanted to represent the film rights. There was much excitement although I remember telling my husband, “After all this, if the book doesn’t sell, I’ll just die”. Well, nobody in New York had ever heard of me, I had no sales record, and the first few pages were flawed; they all passed. Then the agent fired all my white knights within her agency and sent my book back. She said she’d never really been behind the project. That’s when I learned about being ‘shopped’–that’s when your book has been around and rejected. No agent wants a loser. So I fixed the bad pages and published it on iUniverse. I’ve managed to get some really good reviews and am trying to sell the thing myself. It’s been tough but I still have the rights. And I didn’t “just die”. I learned a lot.
What do you think the future of publishing will be? I don’t think anyone knows that. Publishing is in such flux. I find it interesting that Penguin bought iUniverse. Apparently, self-publishing is where the money is. I read in the Wall Street Journal that Penguin management wanted to put successful indie writers (like the author of the Shades of Grey books) under contract. So many best-sellers start out as indies. Is there a place for the traditional publishers anymore? Yes. People still trust traditional publishers. And they seem to have a lock on the review process. I think traditional publishers are working to discover new writers (that’s their business after all) but it costs so much to really push a book, they wait for a clear sign (sales, for instance) that they’re not wasting their money. On the other hand, ebooks seem to be leading in sales. Traditional publishers don’t have to stock inventories so the 12 1/2 % royalty seems stingy. They have to learn to share the profits with the writer. Until they do, I know some writers who prefer to go it alone with the ebook format–they make more money. There aren’t very many bookstores to worry about anymore.
Do you think that Indie Authors are still looked down on by their traditionally published counterparts? I think a lot of indie authors like to think so. It seems to fuel some indie authors’ sense of righteous indignation… or maybe it helps obscure their insecurity; I’m not sure. But no, I think most traditionally published authors don’t care one way or another what indie authors are doing. Ditto editors and publishers.
Is it necessary for authors to have agents these days? It’s the only way to get to a traditional publisher. And if you’re a writer starting out–and without a following–traditional publishers can get you noticed. One interesting note: I went to a writers conference that had an agent as the luncheon speaker. He said he knew he was in a dying industry and but claimed that agents had it coming. Agents had been insulting and abusing writers for years and they were just getting their due. Of course, another agent in the audience got all red in the face and raised his hand to argue. Unfortunately for him, he was ignored. I don’t know if agents are a dying breed. Maybe the herd is just being thinned. I know I’m glad I don’t have to pay someone 10-15% of my earnings for what seems to be an introduction.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Don’t jump off a bridge; keep writing.
Thank you for being part of this interview.