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 Carole Cummings. Have a look at her profile and books here.
What inspired you to become an author? Everything inspires me to write. The ideas come and the characters metastasize like bossy tumors, and I have no choice but to write the story they need to tell. I can’t point to any one thing and say ‘It’s this, this is where it all comes from,’ because it comes from everywhere and at all times. There is a storyteller camped out in my backbrain, and it insists on being constantly vocal. It’s just how my head works. If I couldn’t write, I’d be rocking in a corner of a padded room somewhere. I’d like to stay somewhat sane, so I’ll take the writing.
Do you write full time? Yes and no. I don’t engage in the physical act of writing on an 8-hr-a-day schedule if that’s what you mean, or any particular schedule at all. I write what I need to get written and I do it at any opportunity. But my head is nearly always engaged, in one form or another, in creating a story. Whether I’m building the world inside my head before setting the story down on paper, or figuring out a better way to say what I’ve already written, I’m always writing. When I’m not writing I work as a Soccer Coach.
How do you fit writing into your routine? It’s more like how do I fit everything else in with the writing. Just because I’m not physically typing out a story doesn’t mean I’m not writing. There is a portion of my brain that is constantly growing stories, whether I’m paying attention to their evolution or not. When I can’t write on paper, I’m writing in my head.
Do you have daily word targets? No. I have particular scenes I want to complete, and other objectives that drive a day’s work—character points I want to get straight, a subplot I want to deconstruct/clarify, etc. But I don’t pay attention to word count until after a project is complete and it’s time to decide if I want to submit it somewhere or not. Daily word count, to me, just leaves you open to a false sense of failure or accomplishment. Who cares if you got 5K words down if they’re all crap? Who cares if it’s ‘only’ 500, if every one of them says something profound?
Before writing, do you plan your books to the last detail? No. My writing is character-driven, which means the characters do not exist to justify the plot; the plot exists to develop the characters. The characters, therefore, are their own people with their own opinions on what they will be doing and saying and reacting, and those opinions don’t always agree with mine. By the time I set down the opening sentence, the characters have already spent a great deal of time introducing me to the world, so I know them and the world pretty well by then, and I know the basics of the plot and the conflict. After that, everything depends upon where the characters take it. My characters decide what they will be like themselves. My stories always start with the characters, and from the first brain cell they commandeer, they are their own people. They show me who they are and how they’ll react to their circumstances and surroundings; my job is to craft the words around them.
How do you get over the fear of a blank page? It’s not fear. I suppose you’d call it drive, or maybe necessity. I don’t fear a blank page. I sometimes get annoyed by one, because writing is hard work, and when I’m starting something new, I know I’m in for the long haul. For me, the first blank page represents around 300 more I know are just waiting for that first keystroke so they can come rushing in, and every one of them is going to wring something out of me. But the need to get the story down and get the characters out of my head always wins.
How do you target your audience effectively? I’m actually still trying to figure that one out, when it comes to actively shouting ‘I’m here!’ into the Void. I honestly believe that the most effective promotion is word-of-mouth and readers recommending books to their friends. If you write a quality story and craft your words effectively, people will not only put you on their ‘authors to buy’ lists, they’ll also tell their friends about you. Then some of those friends will buy your book and recommend you to their friends, and so on….
How much time do you spend promoting yourself in social media? I do the usual, like most others. I have a website that I try to keep as up-to-date as possible; I have my blog and other social media; I sometimes do giveaways and contests and the like; I participate in things like this interview when I have an opportunity (thanks, Tim!). Mostly, though, I do what I’m comfortable doing and only when it won’t interfere with writing. I always figure that if I spend all my time on promoting, not only will people get sick of me, but I won’t have time to write anything to promote, so I try to keep it in perspective.
What’s been your most effective way of promoting yourself? Depends on what you mean by ‘promoting yourself’. I use social media for my writing persona in the same way I use my personal FB page—I interact with my subscribers when something they’ve posted catches my interest, and I post when I have something I want to say or to let them know when I have something new going on. For directly book-related stuff, I post when I have new cover art, a new release, or a particularly stellar review. I don’t SPAM with a blurb and a link once a week, because it drives me crazy when other people do it and nothing will make me go hunting for the ‘unsubscribe’ option faster. So I just try to be myself.
What made you decide to publish independently? I’m a voracious reader, and a lot of what I’ve seen coming out of mainstream presses over the past decade or so has been… disappointing. The bigger publishing houses seem to be more concerned about whether you can cram formula into 60K words or less than they are about whether or not a book tells a worthwhile story. Storytelling and characterization are what’s important to me and I’ve seen more of that coming from small presses and self-published books lately than I have from mainstream publishers. I want to be in the company of those who think Story and characterization are as important as I do, and not those only worried about whether or not they can Sell!Sell!Sell! 10K copies of a book before anyone figures out it’s crap.
What do you think the future of publishing will be? I think, with the advent of ebooks and more accessibility, the trends that have already started will only grow. Readers will be better able to choose what they want to read, rather than having to make do with what the Big Six tell them they can have. I’m already enjoying reading the benefits of the changes and finding some brilliant authors whose work, ten years ago, wouldn’t have made it past their own desk drawers. I don’t think anyone thinks mainstream publishing is the One True Gatekeeper of Great Literature anymore. And considering how slow they’ve been to recognize the recent trends and accept/adapt to them, I’m not sure I have much optimism for their future. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think they’ve been pandering to the lowest common denominator for a long time now, and anything that gives me access to higher quality, more intelligent books is okay by me.
Is it necessary for authors to have agents these days? I’m not sure how qualified I am to answer that. I’ve never shopped for an agent and don’t intend to. Personally, it seems to me that agents are being phased out of the equation, and since I view them as partially responsible for the drop in quality that mainstream publishing has been offering lately, I’m not shedding any tears over it. Tolkien would not be able to get an agent to even open his manuscript today, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to get one to shop it around to publishers unless he agreed to cut it down to 120K words. I shudder to think how many Tolkiens have been rejected by today’s agents and publishing houses. If someone writes easy-to-read formula in 60K words or less, sure, an agent might be helpful. But if, like most independent authors I’ve read, they’ve got a good story with involving characters and a plot that insists a reader think, I’m not sure spending time on submitting to agents is a good use of resources. An agent wants to know if a book will sell 50K copies in its first month, not if it’s actually good.
How do you keep yourself motivated? I’ve got entire casts of characters in my head at all times, and every one of them is constantly demanding that I tell their story right now. It’s not a question of motivation; it’s a question of OMG MAKE IT STOP!
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Don’t listen to other people’s tips—WRITE.
Thank you for being part of this interview.