I interviewed Susan Kaye Quinn three years ago after the release of her first novel, LIFE, LIBERTY & PURSUIT. (You can read that interview here.) And again when she launched her indie career with OPEN MINDS. (You can read that interview here.) So much about her life and her writing has changed since then that I thought it was time for us to have another chat.
First of all can I just say that you’re the most intrepid of any writer I know. Releasing two books in two weeks right before Christmas?! Yikes!
Oh… I like that word, intrepid! Most of the publishing choices I make are part of my Grand Evil Plan, but really they fall out of the freedom that comes from being indie. That manifests itself in many ways.
After the huge release party for THIRD DAUGHTER, you kind of flew under the radar with FAERY SWAP. Why’d you decide not to make a big splash with your first MG release?
First off, I consider the releases of both THIRD DAUGHTER and FAERY SWAP to be “soft launches” – meaning release first, market later. This is an indie strategy, and pretty much the polar opposite of trad-pub launches, where there’s a lot of pre-launch buildup and an attempt to squeeze all the sales into that first launch-period. The difference is really a philosophical one, driven on the trad-pub side by physical shelf space – there’s a limited amount of it, and your book will get pulled if you don’t move enough copies in those first few months. There’s also a drive to get on the big bestseller lists by compacting sales in that first week. By contrast, indie titles aren’t on the physical shelves, and the main way indie titles are discovered is word-of-mouth – which takes time. It’s a slow build, but one that can be long-sustaining. Indie authors have forever to promote their books, and the attention span to do so (whereas publishers are necessarily onto the next “new release” title).
So both titles were “soft releases” for me – besides, right before Christmas is a lousy time to market (everyone is busy and lots of books are on sale). And yet it’s a great time to release an indie book (because you can catch that post-Christmas rise in ebook sales that comes with all those new ereaders being opened). The reason THIRD DAUGHTER’s launch was bigger (I planned prizes, held a Facebook party, etc.) was because the book was much-anticipated by my readers, and I wanted to throw a party in celebration of it for them. It was more about letting the people who had been waiting for it know and having fun with it, than serious marketing (which will come after the first of the year). With FAERY SWAP, I’m pleasantly surprised with the attention it’s getting, even with minimal announcements, but again, the marketing will come later, and over time.
Ah, of course, the Grand Evil Plan 🙂
You tend to write pretty fast but this one has been kicking around for a lot longer. Did you go back and revise it after you gained more experience as a writer?
It worked out that way, but that wasn’t my intention. I first drafted FAERY SWAP over two years ago, thinking I would submit it to traditional publishers. Shortly after, I indie published and my understanding of the industry (and the direction of my career) took a sharp turn. It became difficult to justify spending months revising that first draft of a story that I knew I couldn’t publish indie (especially when I had other titles that I knew would sell). After a while, I realized I had to finish for me – and worry about how to publish it afterward. Still, I struggled to find time to do it in between other projects. It was only when a publisher (Skyscape) came along with a nudge (they were interested in several of my works), that I finally did it. My experience as a writer at that point definitely helped with revisions, but it also meant I had to rewrite big chunks of the story. Which was fine – I’m very pleased with how it came out. In the end, Skyscape’s editor loved it but they had to pass on it. I decided the time was finally right for indie middle grade – or at least right enough. I’m savvier about how the market works now, and I’m hoping my readers will take a chance on FAERY SWAP for the kids in their lives.
You’ve covered just about every age range and a multitude of genres with your writing, including your non-fiction how-to guide on indie publishing, which probably would have been frowned upon by a traditional publisher. What do you think has been your biggest takeaway so far from these experiences? Which age range do you find it easiest to write for?
Indie freedom FTW! 🙂 I love that I can write the stories I want to write and know people will have a chance to read them – whether it’s just a few readers, trickling in over time, or a bunch, only time will tell. And I have time (see above). Indies live in the long tail.
As for the writing itself, I’ve always thought middle grade is the hardest to write for – getting the voice and the humor and the pacing all just right is a challenge. You don’t have the luxury of a lot of interior thoughts, exposition, or plot-driving sexiness and violence. You have to dig deeper – I think of it as a purer form of storytelling. That being said, I think THIRD DAUGHTER was one of my more technically challenging works, because I had to blend two different aesthetics (steampunk and east-indian) as well as two different genres (romance and action-adventure). Then there’s my 9-part serial, DEBT COLLECTOR, which is for adults, but was challenging just because of the format – again very condensed, fast-paced storytelling. I guess I like challenging work! I write across a range of ages primarily because I go where the story takes me.
As I mentioned, intrepid!
You’ve shared peeks inside that brain of yours and it’s brimming with amazing story ideas. How do you select which one you’re going to work on next?
This, actually, is one of my biggest challenges. The flip side of the freedom to publish is the agony of deciding which stories to write. DEBT COLLECTOR is a great example of a story that swooped in and forced me to write it – I literally couldn’t get the words out fast enough on that one. For 2014, I’m trying to force myself to be a bit more strategic about which stories I write next, because now I’ve got THREE series going at once (DEBT COLLECTOR, THE DHARIAN AFFAIRS, and a new one… SINGULARITY… that hasn’t published yet). I don’t want readers to have to wait too long between books/seasons.
So when will we see another MG book from you?
My 2014 schedule says I’m supposed to write/release two novels (SECOND DAUGHTER and LEGACY-SINGULARITY#1) as well as a nine-part serial (DEBT COLLECTOR Season Two) as well as three novellas. I tell my schedule that it’s crazy, but it refuses to listen. As for MG… FAERY SWAP is a stand alone, and I don’t expect to publish another middle grade novel in the foreseeable future. I do have another middle grade novel that I’ve shelved – a space opera that I could revise and publish, and maybe I will, if FAERY SWAP really takes off. But my expectation is that won’t happen, at least not right away.
You’ve challenged yourself by making the Mindjack video, and then writing the serial. I have no doubt you’ll be boldly going where no other writers have gone in the near future. How do you plan to challenge yourself in the coming year?
I really only challenge myself in the craft and in productivity – the other things (the video, the serial, translating OPEN MINDS to German) are really more opportunities that I accept as they come along rather than challenges I set for myself. But my 2014 schedule is definitely a challenge! And I’m taking a screenwriting class that is a definite craft challenge. Just last night, I was telling my instructor, “Um, I’m not sure if I can finish this script in the nine months we have for class.” She encouraged me to just rough draft it, get the story out using my strengths as a writer, and worry about coming back and filling in the weaknesses later. Great advice, and exactly why I’m taking the class from her. Because she’ll say, “You can do this, Sue,” and I want to prove her right. I’m really like Hermoine, that girl who lives in the library and always has her hand in the air in class. I need to rein that in a little! 🙂 But my joy has always been in taking on challenges and mastering them… or failing spectacularly and moving on to the next one.
I don’t think failure is in the cards for you. Thanks for stopping by, Sue!
Thanks for having me!