Why writers should support independent film companies, not just publishers

I’ve talked a lot this year about why it’s important for writers to support small publishers and how we can do that, but today I’d like to discuss why it’s also important for us to seek out–and support–independent film companies.

Here’s the thing: independent film companies and small entertainment companies hire writers. Sure, some of them are probably run by writers eager to make their stories come to life, but most of these companies are run by other industry professionals–in movies it’s often producers or directors–who have spent all, or at least most, of their lives studying and working in the industry.

These companies need people like us. Without a writer, there’s no script, and without a script, there’s no movie. They cannot do the amazing work they do if there is no story to bring to life.

They also need writers for a myriad of other things, unless one of the founders happens to be a skilled writer. They need somebody to write press releases, blog posts, web copy and other promotional copy. Many film companies, particularly in Canada, also rely largely on grants–and becoming a grant writer is a great way to make a living as a writer.

Whether or not you’ve ever written a script, I’m pretty sure we’ve all daydreamed about having our books turned into movies. A greater number of independent film companies means a greater chance you’ll sell your film rights. It also means more awesome movies, opportunities for newbie script writers and opportunities for other artists of all kinds. Many of the best films are a marriage of all the arts, with stunning visual effects, music and of course stories.

But here’s the thing: these companies need our support to create these opportunities. They don’t have the massive budget Hollywood does to send out a barrage of advertisements in every form imaginable. Of course any good film company will work hard to market their films, but these companies rely far more on word of mouth than Hollywood films do, especially because so many of today’s Hollywood films are already built on bestselling novels or comics.

If you watch a fantastic movie created by an independent film company, share it with the world. Review it, or just mention it somewhere on social media. If you truly loved a film, odds are you have a few friends who would enjoy it too, so why not mention it to them? Few people are upset when you introduce them to a good movie.

When it comes to an independent film company, every voice matters. They need every positive review, every share on social media so much more because there’s simply only so much money a small company can put into marketing.

So why do I have independent film companies on the brain?

Well there are a few reasons, including a course I’m taking and a film I’m actually working on–more on those will come later–but right now I’m thinking about it a lot because of an excellent independent film company I discovered recently, Arrowstorm Entertainment.

I’ve now watched almost all the Arrowstorm Entertainment movies and decided that they are, if not the best independent film company focused on science fiction and fantasy, certainly the best one I know of. I’ve loved every single movie I’ve watched by them, and I’m excited to watch the two I haven’t seen yet.

I’m also really excited about the upcoming sequel to their most recent movie, Mythica: A Quest for Heroes. The sequel is already completely filmed and they’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund all the special effects they need to pull off a great final fantasy film.

I’ve already funded the Kickstarter campaign for Mythica 2, and I’m eagerly awaiting my signed DVDs. And I’m already hoping to contribute more to their next campaign, because I believe they’re doing amazing work and because someday I hope to work with a company very much like them to make movies of my own.

Have you thought much about supporting independent film companies? Are there any small film companies you particularly love? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Why I submit to small publishers first

ereadersFirst off, let me confess that I have daydreamed about getting a contract from Simon and Schuster, Random House or another one of the big publishers. In these daydreams I get a five figure–sometimes six figure–advance and my book appears in every bookstore throughout Toronto.

I suspect you’ve had similar daydreams. What writer hasn’t? We might be satisfied with making a decent living from our work, but every writer at some point imagines what it would be like to make as much money from their books as J.K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin.

And yet years of researching–and working in–the publishing industry have convinced me that a contract with a big publisher is rarely as grand as one imagines it to be.

Big advances mean lots of time waiting for your first royalty check unless you’re a big name who can sell books like candy. If you go with a big publisher you’ll also be extremely lucky to get more than 10-12% royalties.

Small publishers often offer much higher royalties. Many small publishers offer 30-50% royalties on ebooks and a 15-20% royalty rate for paperbacks. Most of these publishers won’t offer you an advance or will only offer a small advance, but that means you’ll see your first royalty check sooner.

Another reason authors used to flock to big publishers is because they used to pay big bucks for their authors’ marketing campaigns. These days the big publishers have drastically cut their marketing and chosen to focus the remaining advertising budget on books they already know will sell, books by big name authors like Stephen King.

Many small presses will put more effort into marketing your book than the big five. They often publish fewer books, allowing them to devote a higher percentage of their marketing budget to each book. With the current popularity of social media small publishers now have a wide range of free tools to market their books, allowing their small marketing budget go much further than it would have thirty years ago.

If you sign a contract with a big publisher you also give up all influence on what your book actually looks like. You can push back during the editing process, but you won’t have much–if any–influence over what the cover looks like.

Many small publishers give you some power over your book cover. Some will even let you design the cover entirely yourself if you can prove you have the skills. Some small publishers do take complete control over the cover, but many will ask you for suggestions and actually listen to what you have to say. After all, nobody knows your book better than you.

Last but not least, many small publishers have a smaller slush pile. Certain large publishers only accept queries from agents, but those who do accept unsolicited submissions are usually drowning in them. As a result, your query could sit in the slush pile for three to six months. Small presses aren’t as well known and there are less writers attracted to them, so you might hear back within a couple of weeks. Most small presses will respond to your query in less than three months.

Thanks to the internet there are dozens of small presses. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages of course, but most small presses are more author focused and many even focus on publishing debut novelists or authors near the beginning of their career. They range from tiny non-profits to fairly large for-profit companies that publish a couple dozen books a year.

Big publishers still do offer some advantages–like getting your book into physical stores all over the world–but the advantages of small publishers hold more appeal for me. I believe an author-focused small press will treat my books better than a big publisher ever would.

What do you think? Small press or big publisher? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

The first page of my novel — Care to critique?

I was having a hard time coming up with a blog post for today, then I remembered that I haven’t posted any of my personal fiction or poetry here in a long time. I debated sharing some of the background work I’ve done for the novel I’m editing right now, Moonshadow’s Guardian–I’ve actually shared some of the work done on my main character–but then I had a brilliant thought:

Every writer needs critique, preferably from writers with varying skills and experience. And my readers happen to be writers, all with different skills and experience levels.

So today I’d like to ask you, my loyal readers, to critique the first page of the YA fantasy novel I’m editing right now in the comments below. If you want, I’ll even critique the first page of your current WIP–details below.

And without further ado, here’s the first page of my novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian:

Chapter One


Loki’s dungeon stank of urine and sweat. The toilet in my cell was just a bucket which gremlins—short, green creatures with screwed up faces and pointy ears—came to dump and replace every once in a while. There were no windows. No chairs. No bed. Just a small room made up of four stone walls that didn’t care.

Still, Loki saved me from a worse fate. Nobody escaped the wrath of the demons’ Head Family physically or mentally intact. The smallest crimes were punished as brutally as the worst. I had avoided my fate for almost a thousand years, and they would torture me for an equal number of years. Demons didn’t believe in simply killing traitors the way humans did.

Loki stole me from their court room and brought me here. He seemed to be punishing me with boredom. Time spent braiding my long, black hair—my shape shifting ability didn’t work here—or pacing around the room. Pacing kept the silence at bay. In silence my mind went wild, imagining every possible punishment Loki could inflict. After what felt like several days of contemplation, I had concluded the worst punishment would be sitting in this dull room for another thousand years. My kind couldn’t exactly kill themselves easily. It would be the worst kind of existence.

Footsteps. I stared hopefully at the door. The footsteps didn’t sound like gremlins. They sounded heavier, like a person’s, a genuine person, the lady with wings who came in occasionally to offer me scraps of food, or Loki himself. I hoped it would be Loki. The woman with the wings who fed me was silent and stone faced and the gremlins just giggled to each other, as though I didn’t exist.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Any and all advice is appreciated. I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

If you’re interested in having me critique the first page of your novel–or critiquing all of Moonshadow’s Guardian–email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com. I’m always on the lookout for new critique partners.

Author Spotlight: Matthew Munson

FallFromGraceI’m extremely proud to announce that I’ve partnered up with Inspired Quill Press to present a number of debut authors here on The Dabbler. Each author will share some of their journey to publication and advice for those of us still working towards our first book contract.

Matthew Munson is the first Inspired Quill author to join us, here to discuss his debut fantasy novel Fall From Grace. 

Please give Matthew a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Fall From Grace?

Absolutely. Fall From Grace is all about a trio of friends – Paul, Joseph and Lauren – who are caught up in the middle of a two-thousand-year old heavenly war. Paul is an ex-priest who is struggling to find his purpose in life, Joseph is a complete sceptic about anything otherworldly, and Lauren is the most spiritual out of the three, who wants to believe but also needs to know. During their exploration of what’s happening to them, they discover the secret truth about a very old rebellion.

2. When did you know you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

When I knew that I was allowed to! As a child and teenager, I always thought you had to have special qualifications in order to qualify as a writer. Well, that’s true, in a way, but the qualification you need is creativity, and you can’t necessarily study for that; you develop your creativity by reading, practicing your art through writing and discussion about books and words that you care about.

I discovered that this passion I had – that had always existed as a flame in the pit of my stomach – could be turned into a career by tenacity, hard work and creativity. I was in heaven!

3. If you could attribute your writing success to one turning point in your life, what would it be and why?

I was 10 years old, and I was in my final year of primary school. I hated geography, and I suspect that my displeasure was fairly obvious – so my sainted teacher, Mrs Cooper, allowed me to write a short story instead. It was about a cowboy who flew into space on the back of a dinosaur. When I’d finished writing it (and illustrating it too), no-one laughed at me or called me stupid; in fact, they encouraged me to continue and improve my writing.

Even before that, however, any moment that I was encouraged to read, voraciously, was a good time in my life; it showed me what I wanted to read, what styles I admired and what good writing looked like.

4. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

You know, I really admire people who completely plan out their story before writing the thing. I can’t do that – and believe me, I’ve tried. No, I’m far more of a “pantser” – I write and develop the characters and plot as I go. It feels more natural and creative that way.

Being literal for a moment, I like to write at the “extremes” of the day; usually between 7am and 8am and then again between 7pm and 10pm. I can usually pound out 2 or 3,000 words in that time, and I spend the time in between on other things – usually making notes, emails and everything else that pays the bills!

5. Your novel centers around the concept of a war in heaven. Did you do much research into mythology before writing it?

Oh, very much. I went to a Catholic high school, so can honestly say that I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and understand it from a textual point of view. I’ve also moved from a Christian to an spiritualist to an atheist, so I’ve been very much able to experience different points of view all within my own head.

I’m friends with people who are religious, spiritual and atheist, and they’ve all given me a lot of things to think about. I consider myself fairly open-minded and willing to accept other points of view, so it’s given me a lot of contextual information for the book and its sequel.

6. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

The ending, as I hate to see the back of characters I’ve grown to love and care about. Paul, Joseph and Lauren were all expressions of different parts of my own life and journey, so it was hard when I wasn’t writing about them anymore. I initially coped with that by writing a sequel, but now that’s over to, I’m having to write something completely different so I can try and move on with the end of my baby!

7. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

The blank page. Seriously, I love it. There are so many possibilities ahead of me there, and it excites me beyond measure.

8. If you could give an aspiring author just one piece of advice, what would it be?

Read everything. Don’t limit yourself to a particular genre just because it’s your favourite; I’m a sci-fi / fantasy geek, but I read thrillers, crime and adventure books as well; they help expand my mind and my writing ability. It’s how you learn.

9. What are you reading right now?

I’ve just started reading 11.22.63 by the sublime Stephen King; what a great writer that man is.

10. Are you working on anything readers can look forward to?

I hope so! I’m currently working on three books; a non-fiction book on dyspraxia, a condition I have, which is a collaboration with a friend of mine; a thriller provisionally entitled Darkness Falls and a sci-fi book – the first draft of which I’ve just had back from an editor I work with, Lin White. Life is very busy right now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

MatthewMunsonMatthew Munson is a book hoarder and inveterate writer. There have been times when he’s realised that he hasn’t been listening to anything another person has been saying because he’s been planning a chapter in his head. He lives in south-east England by himself, which is probably for the best, as he spends a lot of time muttering to himself to see if dialogue works …

Purchase your copy of Fall From Grace today!

Don’t forget to leave any extra questions or comments you have for Matthew in the comments section below!

Why I believe in celebrating life instead of mourning death

Sir Terry Pratchett, April 1948-March 12th 2015
Sir Terry Pratchett, April 1948-March 12th 2015

Mourning someone we care about is natural, and we have to experience it to work through it, but our eventual goal should be to celebrate life instead of mourning death.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, passed away last week. His long term struggle with Alzheimers was no secret, and although his death was premature and I do believe the world has lost one of its greatest minds, he died with dignity in his own home–not something a lot of Alzheimers patients get to do.

He also left behind a legacy of more than 70 books, most of them in the hilarious and yet deeply powerful Discworld series. His books inspired millions of readers across several generations. I don’t know anyone who picked up a Discworld novel and didn’t enjoy it–and I’ve convinced numerous people to pick up his books over the years.

I’ve read 10 of the Discworld novels, but I still have lots of Terry Pratchett to discover and plenty of world to explore, and I’m extremely grateful for that. Terry Pratchett himself is gone, but his extraordinary body of work remains for us all to enjoy.

Most people don’t leave behind that kind of legacy–even I’m not sure I have 70 books in me–but I still believe it’s important to focus on celebrating life instead of mourning death. The people we’ve lost might not have been successful authors and artists with a massive creative legacy, but everybody leaves something worth celebrating behind. There is something worth celebrating in every life.

Acknowledging death is important, but death–and the struggle of dealing with a long term illness–shouldn’t be the thing we remember about our loved ones. We should remember their lives, their smiles, their hugs and their accomplishments. The things that made you love them in the first place.

For this reason, I celebrate my dad’s birthday every year. I’m normally vegetarian, but on my dad’s birthday, I get a meal I would have eaten with him–usually a chicken dish from Swiss Chalet. Some years I also go to the movies, if there’s one he would have liked in theaters. Otherwise I go home and watch shows we used to watch together online. Either way, I spend the day celebrating his life, not cooped up in my house mourning his death.

Off the top of my head I don’t know Terry Pratchett’s birthday, but I do know how to celebrate his life: by reading his books whenever I have the opportunity and cherishing every one.

Death is part of life, the price we pay for the miracle of being born, the miracle of life on this planet. Everyone dies sooner or later, and it’s entirely possible to find yourself mourning forever, but a life spent mourning isn’t a life spent moving forward.

Choose to celebrate the lives of the people you’ve lost instead of mourning their deaths. If they made you happy during their lives, focusing on the happy memories is the best way to honour them when they’re gone.

Do you celebrate the lives of people you’ve lost? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Special Author Feature: Liz DeJesus

morganOne of the first books I ever read from Musa Publishing was First Frost by Liz DeJesus. I was thrilled to discover her unique twist on fairy tales and even more thrilled to interview her back in 2013.

Musa has now closed its doors, but the careers it started will continue for many years. Liz is one of many Musa authors who not only already had books published elsewhere, but has also found a home for the series she formerly published with Musa.

Today Liz has returned to share her accomplishments in the last two years and the lessons she’s learned as her writing career grew.

1. We last spoke in January 2013. Can you talk a little bit about where you were in your writing career at the time?

It’s hard for me to remember exactly where I was two years ago. But I believe I was working on the edits for Glass Frost and I remember being extremely excited for the sequel to be released. People were just starting to discover First Frost, it was getting positive reviews and people were enjoying the story.

2. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about writing since then?

Definitely write for yourself. I have to be sure I’m happy with the story and not focus so much on what everyone will think. I think that stops a lot of authors from moving forward with their work. Worrying about what other people will think, if it’s good enough or what people will say, all of that fear, anxiety and worry is a killer of creativity. So I ignore my inner critic and focus on what my heart is telling me. As long as I’m having fun writing the story that’s all that really matters to me. When I send it to my editor that’s when I worry, but by that point I’ve already worked on the story for a couple of years so it’s a matter of making sure everything makes sense.

3. How do you balance your schedule between writing/editing/marketing?

I have kids and a hectic family life so there really is no ‘schedule’ per se. I steal little pockets of time here and there and that’s how I get everything done. I write the old fashioned way, notebook and pen. That’s easier for me because all I have to do is throw my notebook in my purse and I can write anywhere which is especially helpful if you’re in the car waiting in the parking lot or at the doctor’s office. So I’ll transfer those notes when my kids are napping or I’ll wake up a little early in the morning and get some work done.

As far as marketing goes, I’m always promoting my books. When I pay my bills (I still write checks) I’ll stick one of my business cards in the envelope, I’ll post on facebook, twitter, Instagram and tumblr. I schedule book signings, go to comic conventions, book festivals and hand out bookmarks. There is a lot that goes into promoting a book.

I’m extremely lucky in the fact that I have a supportive family that understands that being a working author is my dream and they go out of their way to ensure I have the time to do what I need to do. It’s not always easy but knowing I have their support means the world to me.

4. What’s your favourite social media network and why?

Definitely Facebook. I’m on 24/7. I love interacting with my friends, family and fans. A close second is twitter.

5. Of the marketing techniques you’ve tried, which have been most successful?

Purchasing ads at websites like bookbub.com and websites and blogs that are in the same theme as my books. I purchased an ad in Faerie Magazine’s website and that definitely boosted things for my books (specifically The Frost Series).

6. Where would you like to see your writing career in 5 years?

I would like to be signed with a traditional publishing company, but so far I’m happy with independent publishers and I’m happy with where my career is at the moment.

7. If this was your last interview ever, what would you really want to say?

That I’m thankful to Musa Publishing, Indie Gypsy, Arte Publico Press and every editor that has taken a chance on me and my work. I’m grateful to my fans for taking a chance on my books. To the bookstores that have accepted me with open arms and allowed me to have book signings in their stores. I’m thankful, and blessed to have the love and support of my family and I’m humbled by the fact that I get to write for a living.

I’m blessed in more ways that I can imagine.

Bonus Question: Would you like to share any last thoughts on Musa’s closure?

Musa Publishing has closed their doors. I am eternally grateful for everything they have done for me over the past 3 1/2 years. I am the author I am today because these incredible people believed in me and my work. I cannot forget to thank Kathy Calore Teel who was the Euterpe (YA) head editor at the time I submitted First Frost to Musa Publishing. So from the bottom of my heart thank you for seeing the magic and whimsy that so many others didn’t see at the time. And of course thank you to Celina Summers, Jeanne De Vita, Kerry Mand, Kelly Shorten, and Dominique Eastwick for all of their hard work and sacrifice in order to make Musa Publishing a success (because even though they are closing their doors they are doing it with grace and with their heads held high). So thank you so much for everything.

While I am heartbroken about Musa Publishing, I can’t help but be excited about the next chapter that’s opened up right now. My dear friends at Indie Gypsy have graciously accepted the Frost Series. So worry not, Bianca Frost fans, you will get to see what trouble she gets into next. They will release First Frost, Glass Frost and (the long awaited) Shattered Frost. Release dates, covers and other exciting news will be coming soon.

As one door closes another door opens…here’s to the next chapter for everyone. Looking forward to what the future will bring.

Liz DeJesus was born on the tiny island of Puerto Rico.  She is a novelist and a poet. She has been writing for as long as she was capable of holding a pen. She is the author of the novel Nina (Blu Phi’er Publishing, October 2007), The Jackets (Arte Publico Press, March 2011) First Frost (Musa Publishing, June 2012), Glass Frost (Musa Publishing, July 2013), Morgan (Indie Gypsy, July 2014) and The Laurel (Musa Publishing, November 2014). Her work has also appeared in Night Gypsy: Journey Into Darkness (Indie Gypsy, October 2012) and Someone Wicked (Smart Rhino Publications, Winter 2013).

Liz is currently working on a new novel and a comic book series titled Zombie Ever After (Emerald Star Comics, Fall 2014).


Do you have to wake up early to be successful?

I follow a number of blogs and newsletters, and lately I’ve been noticing a trend: a number of my favourite newsletters and blogs recommend waking up an hour earlier to get your writing done. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially because it was one of the key recommendations in COMMIT, the self-help book recently published by Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer.

I know this strategy works for a lot of people, but I resent the idea that in order to be successful, I have to wake up earlier.

Instead, I believe in a concept introduced to me by DIY MFAmagic timeMagic time is the time of day when you are at your best. It is the time when you can accomplish all your work in half the time it would normally take, the time when you’re most focused and productive.

Magic time is actually a different time of day for everyone. Many people will find their magic time happens to be in the morning, but for others, that time might be afternoon, evening or even the wee hours of the morning. My magic time happens to be between 6 and 10 PM, probably because I got really used to the routine of writing after school.

Getting up earlier isn’t critical to writing success, but determining your magic time and setting it aside to write is. Making sure you spend this time writing every single day allows you to maximize productivity while still producing the best work possible.

For me this happens to be easy: my boyfriend works evenings, meaning the house tends to be empty when I want to be write. For you this might not be so easy, but it’s still crucial to your success.

So how do you find your magic time?

Finding your magic time is easy, albeit time consuming. You have to try writing at different times of day: try staying up an hour later, then waking up an hour earlier, then blocking off the time immediately after you get home from work, then any other time you can reasonably devote to writing. You have to test each of these times for a two week period–or longer if you want–to determine which is best for you. Anything less than two weeks won’t give you a solid idea of how productive you are during that time overall.

Once you’ve found your magic time, protect it by any means off. During your magic time, turn your phone off, keep your office door closed and inform anyone you live with that you are unavailable. You’ll probably find that your magic time still gets interrupted once in a while, but if you deliberately carve it out, keeping that time free will get easier every week and you’ll find yourself producing more, better work than ever before.

Do you know when your magic time is? Let me know in the comments below!

The Power of Re-Reading

The book I'm re-reading right now.
The book I’m re-reading right now.

As a kid I re-read books fairly often, but eventually I grew to hate re-reading books. I have a pretty good memory so if I’ve read it in the last couple of years, I’ll only find surprises if it’s a really well written book. Besides, there are so many amazing books I haven’t read, and more being published every day.

I’ll admit, I have a more personal reason: some of the books I loved most as a child seemed awful when I re-read them. The characters were flat or I had simply changed too much to like them. For the first time, I noticed pacing issues and once in a while even realized the story wasn’t all that interesting.

If you re-read books regularly, sooner or later this will happen to you. Still, revisiting a book you loved five or ten years ago is often worth the risk. After all, you loved it for a reason, didn’t you?

This time around, you’ll  also be reading like a writer. If you’re not familiar with the term, “reading like a writer” means thinking critically about the work as you read, making special note of what works and what doesn’t. You can take notes or highlight as you go, but I find this detracts from the reading experience–and I hate highlighting books.

And here’s the thing: even if you read like a writer five years ago, your tastes have still matured. We learn something from every book we read, whether we know it or not. We also learn something from everything we write, and if you’re here, I’d bet you’ve written pretty frequently for at least a chunk of the last five years.

Here are some questions you can ask  while reading to analyze a book you love:

  • What about this book stands out most to me? Is it the same thing I originally loved the book for?
  • Do I feel the same way about the characters I did when I was young?
  • How does the writer tap into my emotions? You can even ask this one in every scene if you want to be meticulous.
  • Does the dialogue still seem authentic?

If you’ve waited long enough, there will be surprises. You probably don’t want to re-read a book you read last year unless it’s extremely complicated and there’s a sequel coming out soon, but if it’s been more than four or five years, you’ll probably have forgotten quite a bit about the story.

In the highest caliber books you’ll also notice extra layers in the world, the characters and the relationships they have with each other and their world.

Re-reading books you love allows you to fall in love with those worlds all over again. What could be better than that?

Remember: if you realize you hate the book, you don’t have to finish it. Life is far too short to read books you don’t like. Make a note of why you didn’t like it and move on, no hurt feelings.

I’m re-reading Sabriel by Garth Nix right now. Have you re-read anything lately? Are you planning to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Special Author Feature: EJ Newman

Planetfall_final coverToday’s author is another special guest who I interviewed here and had actually been stalking her on the internet–I mean subscribed to her newsletters full of short story goodness–for some time before I interviewed her. I was excited in that glorious fangirl way the first time I interviewed her, and now, several published books later, I am extremely pleased to welcome EJ Newman back to the blog.

Please give EJ Newman a warm welcome.

1. We last spoke in May 2012. Can you talk a little bit about what your writing career was like at the time?

It was a little bit strange. You know, it’s hard to think back to that time – I measure my life in books written now, rather than dates. I think I had finished the first Split Worlds novel then and had written many stories set in that world. If memory serves, I had met Lee Harris, then of Angry Robot books (now with Tor) and he was in the process of deciding whether he wanted to buy the series and it was terrifying and thrilling and nerve wracking in the extreme. It really was a critical turning point in my career; I had a short story collection and one novel published by micro presses and I was all set to self-publish the Split Worlds when I met Lee and he fell in love with Between Two Thorns. Everything was changing and I felt that my writing was actually going to turn into a career at last.

2. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about writing since then?

That no matter how many people tell me they love my work, and no matter who they are, the self-doubt never goes.

There was a time, really, really early on when I was desperately trying to get my first novel published, when I thought that if I got a book deal, the doubt that I had what it took to be a professional writer would magically disappear. I thought that someone investing thousands of pounds in my work would finally quiet that voice at the back of my head that I’m not a real writer, or at least, not a good one.

The thing is, that feeling of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and inadequacy doesn’t go away so easily. I’ve learned to live with it and write despite the doubts. I know now that they will always be there and to be honest, I fear the day they truly disappear, as that would be when I stop trying to write better than I have before.

3. How do you balance editing/marketing existing projects and writing new things?

Writing the new book has to come first. When I’m in a first draft phase, I prioritise that over all other things in my day. The internet connection stays off until something between 2,000 and 4,000 words get written (it depends on the project). Then I do all the other stuff. I try not to schedule a first draft writing phase at the same time as the month of a book launch, but of course, sometimes that doesn’t work out – especially when you are having three novels published in one year like the Split Worlds novels were!

4. You’ve also narrated a lot of audiobooks. How did you get into that?

By accident! I podcasted my very first novel a chapter a week when I was trying to get a book deal and had no idea if I could actually write or not. I hit upon it as a way to get feedback without jeopardising any first publication rights.

Unexpectedly, I got lots of great feedback on my reading of it and a couple of people asked me to narrate short stories for them. I then recorded a few things for free, to build a portfolio and then auditioned for a royalty-only project and got it!

Since then I’ve recorded several audiobooks written by other people, over 50 Split Worlds short stories, all three of the novels (which was such a relief as I really wanted to narrate my own work!) and most recently a wonderful novel called Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran for Ghostwoods Books.( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Those-Rosy-Hours-Mazandaran-Unabridged/dp/B00TTLNFV2) That was the most technically challenging as there are lots of words in different languages and even some singing. It’s a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

5. Of the marketing techniques you’ve tried, which have been the most successful?

In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea! I get fan mail from all sorts of people who describe lots of different ways that they’ve come across my work. Sometimes it’s my podcast, Tea and Jeopardy, sometimes it’s Twitter, sometimes it’s just pure luck and they stumbled across my book in a shop somewhere on the other side of the world.

I think the main thing is to say yes to every opportunity, be it appearing on a convention panel, or on a podcast or being interviewed somewhere – whatever comes your way – and, if you can bear it, Twitter can be great too.

Ultimately though, the books have to come first, as does trying to improve one’s craft. Otherwise all that hard work trying to find readers does nothing – if the work isn’t good enough once they’ve found you, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

6. Where would you like to see your writing career in 5 years?

I’ve just reached my first five year milestone: to get a book deal with one of the big five publishers. I’ve just signed a two book deal with Ace/Roc for two standalone science-fiction novels and I am absolutely thrilled.

As for the next five years… well, I’d like to have several more Split Worlds novels published as it’s pretty crowded in my head and they need to go somewhere. I want to branch out into another genre but I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I want to write more science-fiction. I’d love to feel more financially secure but that’s pretty unlikely, given the nature of creative work.

You know, what I really would like to have in 5 years is more books under my belt and for them to have found people who love to read them. Of course, like every other author, I would love to have one of my books optioned for film or TV, but that’s such a lottery it’s very much in the “that would be fabulous” day dream box, rather than career milestone.

7. If this was your last interview ever, what would you really want to say?

Hmm, that’s a tricky question. There are things I’d like to say if it was my last day on Earth, but not necessarily my last interview. I guess I would just beg writers who are constantly searching for that secret to writing a book and getting a deal to stop doing that and just focus on writing as much as possible and reading as much as possible (and not talk about the story in your head with anybody, otherwise the desire to tell it evaporates before you reach the page).

All any writer of any level of success can do is talk about what worked for them and it won’t necessarily be what works for anyone else. I really do believe that you just have to figure out how to write the most productively, and the best you can, by yourself.

Back when I was desperate to be published it felt like I was banging my head against the biggest, most unfair iron gates in the world. Like everyone with a book deal must have done something and then just wouldn’t share it with anyone else. It’s not like that. I promise. It’s just hard work and a tiny bit of luck.

Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer awards. Emma’s next book, Planetfall, will be a standalone science fiction novel published by Ace/Roc in November. Emma is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk.

Please leave your thoughts and questions for Emma in the comments section below!

Passion cannot sustain art

Writing2I’ve been planning to write this post for a while, but it became even more relevant to my life–and the lives of a few hundred other people–last week when my beloved publisher, Musa Publishing, announced that they are closing their doors. Despite publishing the highest quality books that earned four or five star ratings everywhere they went, over the last several months we’ve suffered from reduced sales.

Combined with the rising costs of doing business, this has brought about the end of an incredible publishing house devoted to empowering authors. Musa truly was a publishing house like no other, and everyone involved is mourning its early demise.

This is a common problem in arts-based businesses. With more and  more free content available, more distractions, and a higher number of people struggling to survive on crappy minimum-wage jobs, people simply aren’t spending the same amount of money on art as they used to. This causes arts based businesses of all kinds to fail.

Most people in the arts are struggling to make ends meet. And this isn’t necessarily limited to the artists themselves. Theatre directors, owners and editors of small publishers, pretty much anyone involved in a small arts-based business. I would argue that this problem is created by an increasingly popular belief that art isn’t essential.

Artists know the truth because to us, the arts are essential in a much bigger way. I write like I eat. I can’t imagine my life without writing. Well, actually, I can: I would be another soul drifting through life without any passion, working boring jobs I hated and wondering what the point of life is on a daily basis. My stories are a vital part of who I am, and any dedicated artist feels the same way about their art, whether they’re a painter, a custom jewelry artist, a photographer or another writer.

We work for almost nothing because we have boundless passion, but passion does not sustain art. A healthy human body and a clear mind sustain art. The freedom to stop worrying about whether you’ll be able to pay rent next month allows you to create art. The ability to take care of yourself and your family if you have one sustains your ability to create art, and in the end, artists sustain art. They can’t do that if they’re starving.

Have you ever stopped to think about what the world would look like without art? What if art simply ceased to exist a few hundred years ago because nobody could afford to create it? How would we connect with past generations? How different would our world look now? How dull would it be?

What about if you never had the opportunity to read a novel? Or a book of poetry? What if those things simply never existed? Books provide a crucial chance to either escape from reality or connect with another person’s reality. Can you imagine how boring life would be without them?

If you believe a world without art or books would be awful, take a moment to think about how you can support the arts. When was the last time you bought a book or an art piece? Even if you can’t afford to go out to buy some art today, there are always things you can do to help an author or artist you love sustain their career. You can review books you enjoy, share your favourite artists on social media, bookmark fantastic artists’ websites for when you do have money.

Here’s the thing about the arts: you might not see the arts as necessary, but your life without  them would be incredibly dull. And even the most talented, most passionate artists can only create top quality work for so long without making some kind of money from it. Sooner or later day jobs suck the creativity out of people and depression slips in. Seeing your friends’ careers advance around you and failing to see your own do the same is pretty soul crushing.

How do you support the arts? Can you do something–even something small–today to support an artist or author you love?