Interview with Author Jessica Knauss

Jessica Knauss Author Photo“So much Talent can kill you.” So begins the blurb for Jessica Knauss’ new paranormal novel, Awash in Talent. A writer with a diverse publishing history, Knauss shared some of her insights with me.

I was looking at your Amazon author page and I see you have several books out already in various genres. Do you consider genre before you start writing or does it emerge during the process?

I only consider genre after I’ve told the story I want to tell. With my historical fiction, it’s easy to assign categories. With my fiction set in the present day, it’s always a little harder. I really found my contemporary voice when I started reading the magical realists, but that’s not a genre that necessarily attracts a lot of readers. For Awash in Talent, I went with contemporary (to distinguish it from my medieval fiction) paranormal (because some characters have supernatural powers). I’m also happy placing it in women’s fiction because of the sharp focus on female characters’ experience of this slightly strange world, and parts of it qualify as YA or New Adult because of the characters’ ages. I think I wrote about teenagers because their struggles are universal.

Do you plot it all out on note cards or does the ending come as a surprise to you, too?

To call them note cards would be an exaggeration. When I’m writing something that stays as close to the original inspiration as Awash in Talent does, I scribble scenes and character development dilemmas on whatever paper is at hand. It’s a raging mess by the time I get to the end, which, now that you mention it, is normally a mystery to me until I’m right up on it.

Often, in order to properly end a novel, I have to pause in the writing and review the entire story to consider what would be the best earned emotional experience for the reader. I ended Awash in Talent with a summary sentence that I thought might be cheating a little, but no one’s complained about it so far.

Can you talk a bit about your experiences with publishing and what got you to try Kindle Scout?

While I was shopping around my first novel, I considered submitting it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, but in the end, it wasn’t the right novel for that process. After an arduous journey through agent rejections and rewrites, I placed that novel with a small press. What a relief! By that time, I was ready to shop Awash in Talent, but the first novel had exhausted me. I thought Awash was the right kind of novel for the ABNA, only to find that program had been discontinued. Instead, I stumbled across Kindle Scout, which has many of the advantages of traditional publishing with a modern, almost crowdsourcing approach to the slush pile. I only had to receive two rejections of Awash in Talent to convince me that Kindle Scout was the way to go. I knew somehow that it would be able to attract the audience it couldn’t at a small press.

It was a dream come true to have Awash in Talent accepted. Perhaps the best thing about Kindle Scout is that the published books are called winners!

What are the challenges faced by your main characters in Awash in Talent?

Three novellas make up the novel Awash in Talent, each one narrated by a different young woman who is challenged by the role of the rare Talented people in a mostly un-Talented world. This includes the firestarters and psychics being more or less reviled, and all three types being under constant surveillance.

In the first novella, Emily faces smaller challenges in her fraught dealings with her family and her pursuit of a man who doesn’t return her affection. In the second, Kelly has to make a go of a school for firestarters that is more like a lockdown facility and deal with the ups and downs of friendship and love, all while figuring out a way escape the school to save her mother’s life. In the final novella, Patricia is a psychic in hiding. She must avoid revealing her Talent and remedy her failing marriage. On top of it all, she finds her most difficult psychological therapy client ever in Emily, who told us the story from her perspective in the first novella. While focusing on young women, Awash in Talent brings up a variety of social issues I hope will resonate with readers.

What inspires you to write? If you ever get stuck, what helps you get unstuck?

I love that juicy feeling called inspiration. It can come from just about anywhere, but Awash in Talent is based on a dream. I’ve written a lot of stories based on dreams, but I never thought a single dream could carry an entire novel. And indeed it doesn’t. During the writing process, new inspirations cropped up to keep the story afloat. Many of them came from my love of Providence, Rhode Island. Imagining the characters in that unique city, it sometimes felt like the story wrote itself.

I can’t afford to get stuck with writing often because I have so little time to do it. But if I’m really having trouble with a scene, I imagine the characters fully in the setting, as if it were a movie. Positioning yourself as a spectator to the story takes away some of the pressure and helps the action to be character-motivated. Watching in this manner, it’s easy to spot if a character does something unlikely.

The release day for Awash in Talent is June 7th. How do you plan to celebrate?

I’m planning a book launch party. I’m not sure it will be on June 7. If it isn’t, I’ll be sure to commemorate the day in some small way. My first book launch is certainly not like any other day!

If you’d like more information about Jessica Knauss, check out her website!

Interview with author Erik Therme

Author photo Erik ThermeI love hearing from different authors about their writing process and road to publication. I find it reassuring that we all have different stories; there is no singular “right” way to do it. I recently got the chance to speak with author Erik Therme. His new YA thriller was selected for publication by KindleScout. Here’s what he had to say:

Your book sounds really scary. How scary is it and what is it about?

Resthaven, at heart, is a young adult novel, so I tried not to make it too terrifying. I have two teenage daughters (one that’s obsessed with horror movies) so I wanted to write something they would enjoy. The story follows a pack of girls who venture into an abandoned retirement home for a scavenger hunt, and everything quickly goes wrong. I’ve always wanted to tell a story that unfolds in a creepy, old building, and Resthaven fit the bill nicely.

When did you start writing? Have you always written in this genre?

I began writing stories in junior high, but it wasn’t until college that I began working on novels. They were all pretty lousy, but as most writers know, you have to write a few bad books to learn how to write good books. As far as genre . . . I never consciously think about it when I start a new project, but everything I write seems to gravitate toward suspense with ‘twinges’ of horror. I clearly enjoy making readers squirm.

What are some of your literary influences- books or authors?

One of my all-time favorite books is Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. I’ve often thought about trying my hand at literary fiction, but I’m probably not talented enough to pull it off. Stephen King has always been a huge influence, and I’m a big fan of Alden Bell, who wrote the brilliant novel, The Reapers Are the Angels. It’s a tasty bit of literary fiction, set in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies. Truth be told, I’ll pretty much read anything that catches my interest.

How did you go about getting published? What brought you to KindleScout?

Like many authors, I chased literary agents for years in the hopes of bridging the gap to a traditional publisher. After a very close call with Gillian Flynn’s agency, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and self-publish. Shortly after the release of my first book, I received an e-mail from Thomas & Mercer publishing, who had discovered the work and wanted to acquire it. Needless to say, I was thrilled. When I finished Resthaven, I knew the story wouldn’t be a right fit for them (they don’t handle young adult) so I submitted the book to Kindle Scout. Two months later it was selected for publication, and I was off and running.

What are you working on now?

I’m knee-deep into a third mystery about a father searching for his missing daughter. I’m also tweaking a short novel (written years ago) that I hope to release next year, and I’ve been outlining a sequel to my debut mystery, Mortom.

Erik’s new book was released April 12th. Check it out!

Interview with Carrie Crafton

caCarrie Crafton  is an author I met during my recent KindleScout campaign. She just released her fourth novel on Amazon and was nice enough to answer some questions for me about her process. I love to pick the brains of other writers.  Here’s what she had to say:

KO: How long have you been writing and what drew you to self-publishing?

CC: I think I’ve been writing since I was twelve, turning in extra stories to my teachers in the beginning, then taking creative writing classes at the local college when I was still in high school. I knew it was what I wanted to do by sixteen. But I was in my late twenties before I became really serious about it. I read somewhere you need to be in your thirties to have enough life experience to write a novel. I don’t think that’s true for everyone, but I was annoyed to find it held some truth for me.

I had written two books and was getting better and better rejection letters when a friend of mine in Ireland, who worked at a small, mostly non-fiction, publishing company, suggested I look into self-publishing. Without her to help me navigate the process I don’t know if I would have done it. But I’m very grateful to her for pointing me in this direction.

KO: What is the most rewarding thing about self-pub and what do you find the hardest?

CC: I love the control that self-publishing gives me. It’s all on my timeline and when things are going well I get to reap the benefits. However, learning to navigate my way through self-promotion has been a struggle that I feel I’ve only recently started to get the hang of. It was when I acknowledged that being a self-published author is a business, and that I had to put as much effort into the business end of it as the writing, that I finally started to get somewhere.

KO: How many books have you written an how long does it usually take you to complete a book?

CC: I have four self-published books: Something Found, Snow Soldiers, After Home, and Holding Back Daylight. I’ll admit Something Found took a few years. I was still trying to find my voice while writing it and I had to start over more than once. The other three were written in much less actual time. However, I had my two boys during those years and finding that time wasn’t easy. Now that they are both in school I would like to get to the stage of producing one to two books a year.

KO: What kind of writer are you? Do you have a workshop group or beta readers or are you more solitary?

CC: These days I’m more of a solitary writer. I have one or two friends that are probably sick of reading my rewrites, but they are people I can trust to tell me if I’m headed down the wrong path. However, I would love to be part of a writer’s group again. I was part of one when I was eighteen and I loved the input and the emotional charge of being around people with the same passion.

KO: Who are your favorite authors and influences?

CC: I’d like to expand my reading horizons more, but two authors I always come back to are Elizabeth Berg and Pat Conroy. I love stories about the relationships between people, especially friends and family. Which is why I’ve also enjoyed discovering Katie O’Rourke’s books.

KO: Tell me a bit about your most recent book.

CC: Holding Back Daylight is my most recent book. It takes place in Chicago, a city I love, but was waiting for the right time to write about. Claire, the protagonist, has lost both her parents and an uncle she was very close to, and in the process inherited his bar. It’s about someone who cares deeply about people, but doesn’t want to get hurt again so has taken a step back from relationships. However, when a friendship begins to form with her new neighbor, cracks start to appear in the walls she worked so hard to build.

What I learned from my KindleScout campaign

will_be_publishedAbout a month ago, I wrote an article about KindleScout and how to know if your book is ready for their program. Since then, my book, Finding Charlie was selected for a publishing contract through their imprint. I can’t pretend to have completely figured out how the system works, but I’ll give you my sense of it.

My book spent 248 hours in “hot & trending”. What this amounted to was the entire first week and a few days in the last week. It seemed to take 25 page views a day to hit it. If my nominations had been spread out more evenly, I’d have made it into the chart every day- but besides saving me from pouting on the days I didn’t make it, I’m not sure it makes a huge difference.

There are books that spend the majority of their campaign in “hot & trending”, but are not selected. I think it really needs to be stressed that the crowd sourcing element of this program is only one factor. You need to show the editors that your book can get readers’ attention. But then it will come down to the quality of your submission.

When the 30 day campaign ended, I received an email telling me my book was under review. During this time, I came to realize that my campaign had been successful. I got an editor to read the book and the rest was out of my hands the same way it is when you query an agent. It comes down to whether they like it and think it’s marketable, whether they think you have a platform, whether it’s a genre they know they can sell. It can feel very arbitrary.

After three days in review, they sent my acceptance email at the exact same time as they sent an email to notify everyone who had nominated the book. My boyfriend knew before me. He said: “Honey, have you checked your email lately?” and before I could call my mom, the phone was ringing.

I’m really excited. This will be my third published book and it’s different each time. They will be sending me the suggested edits November 26th and I’m hoping it will be out in time for Christmas! For more updates on the KindleScout process, you can follow me on facebook.

How to know you’re ready for KindleScout

KindleScout is a program run by Amazon that allows you to submit a complete novel for a chance at a contract. The campaign runs for thirty days during which time you use social media and whatever connections you have to get votes. The goal is to show Amazon editors that you have a product worth selling. If your book attracts enough attention, they’ll read it and if they like it, they’ll publish it.

I’m running my own campaign this month for my women’s fiction novel, Finding Charlie. There’s a lot that I considered before going this route and I thought it might help other writers to share the process.

To start with, there are important things to consider before you sign the contract that’s required at the beginning of the campaign. Signing means that if they select you, you agree to their terms – there’s no contract negotiation and for the course of the campaign, you can’t enter into any other publishing agreement.

In some respects, this is not a great contract. The advance of $1,500 is (unfortunately ) more than most self-pubbers make, but it is not a lot of money for the kind of control you’re giving up. I would not recommend this program for writers with a first book who are hoping to build a career. As a hybrid writer with one traditionally published book out already, I see KindleScout as one of several ways I can get my work out there.

Before submitting your book to KindleScout, here are some things to think about:

  • Is the book complete and edited?
  • Do you have a professional cover?
  • Have you tried other avenues for publication and determined this is best?
  • Has the book been read and enjoyed by more than just your mother?
  • Do you have some sort of social media presence?

I’ve written and rewritten Finding Charlie over the course of the last two years. It won the crowd-sourcing competition at Authonomy.com in September and I have dozens of beta readers who have given helpful and encouraging feedback. I queried many literary agencies and had several positive responses that ultimately went nowhere. In the process of self-publishing my second novel, I’ve started to get a hang of this social media thing.

So, I feel ready. We’ll see if it works! Check out my campaign where you can read an excerpt and decide if Finding Charlie is worthy of your vote: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB