Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is e-Publishing for You?

by Heather Moore

Today, I’d like to share an interview with Maria Zannini, author, editor, and artist. I visit her blog regularly because she offers great writing and publishing advice. She also posts current writing contests. Maria recently had her first e-book published: Touch of Fire. Since e-publishing is becoming more and more predominant in the market, I thought we could learn from her.

Welcome, Maria, to our blog. Tell us a little about how you became a writer.
I had a couple of false starts actually. I had been writing the occasional nonfiction article on things I knew well, such as advertising, dogs and homesteading, but it wasn't until much later when I got bitten by the fiction bug. I had placed in the finals for Writers of the Future contest and that was all it took to hook me for good. It didn't take long to figure out I had a lot to learn, so I pored over every writing book and group I could find.

Perhaps the most unusual thing I did was give myself a deadline to become published. I had seen so many people who had been writing for years, but had never been published despite the fact they were amazing writers. I came to realize that not everyone has the same chances in this business, so I treated it the way I would any other challenge, with a plan, a goal, and a time limit.

I felt seven years would be enough time to see if I had the chops for publication. If it didn't happen, at least I can say I tried. Fortunately, it happened in under three years. (A happy dance ensued shortly afterwards.)

You are also a graphic artist. How do your two worlds of art and writing come together?
I started out as a graphic artist and illustrator almost 30 years ago, so I had some grasp of the publishing world before I became interested in writing. Art and writing have similar requirements. They are crafts that need to be honed and practiced. I like to think that good storytelling paints a picture and a good illustration tells a story.

What inspired you to write Fantasy?
I've always been fascinated by the mysticism of ancient religions, the paranormal, and conspiracy theories. Odd mix, I know, but I think it's the element of the unknown and misunderstood phenomena that enchants me. I started out writing science fiction, but somehow fantasy always crept in and took over. I love the arcane. I think there's a kernel of truth in every myth.

With the face of traditional publishing changing, tell us about your decision to publish an e-book.
It was an accident! LOL. A friend of mine, NY pubbed Maya Reynolds told me about a contest Samhain Publishing was holding for the best opening lines. The contest was unusual because it took five weeks to pick out the winners. You had to survive five rounds to make it to the finals.

At the time, I wasn't peddling anything to agents or traditional publishing houses so I was in shock when Samhain offered me a contract right away. My first reaction was not to sign TOUCH OF FIRE to Samhain until after I secured an agent, but the contract had a time limit and I felt Samhain offered reasonable terms, so I ran with it.

Looking back, I think it was a good decision. Not only is Samhain considered a leader in e-publishing, but their entire operation is exceptionally professional and well run. I'm getting a first hand education on how a proper publishing house is run, I receive personal attention and advice from my editor, and there is an entire legion of other authors at the house that go out of their way to help you with questions and promotional opportunities. It's a nice family.

That's not to say I wouldn't consider a traditional publishing house. If anything, signing with an e-publisher has made me more empowered to make intelligent decisions about contracts and deadlines. I highly recommend it.

Your publisher is Samhain Publishing, an award-winning e-publisher. What do they have to offer that specifically appealed to you?
I was pleasantly surprised and enormously lucky to have found Samhain. They have been very hands on, offering me direction from editing to promotion. They have a full staff that handles everything from promotion, reviews, cover art and editing. I am especially pleased with the editing. There are no shortcuts and I really appreciated that.

Many of our readers will be interested to know the process of submitting and working with an e-publisher. Describe the process of submitting, editing, and how your release date was set.
In my case, I got in with a contest win. Some e-publishers are not open to submissions all year round. Samhain at the time was closed to new authors. The contest was my ticket in.

After I had learned that my entry had been selected, I sent the editor a partial to see if she was still interested. She was. So I worked my tail off to get TOUCH OF FIRE as polished as I could get it. Within a couple of days of sending the full I had learned of the contract offer.

Once all the paperwork was done, the next step was the first edit. I was lucky to fall in with the senior editor at Samhain, Angela James. She was so patient, despite my incessant questions. And it was remarkably pain free. I had heard "horror" stories on how tough Angie was. LOL! I didn't want to disappoint her; neither did I want to be a burden.

We did two edit passes together and then she sent it on to a line editor who made sure all my threads were complete and there were no glaring technical issues on the sentence level.

Angie set my title's release date to a slot that she had available. Originally, TOUCH OF FIRE was scheduled for late summer, but Angie had an earlier opening and I grabbed it.

What inspired TOUCH OF FIRE? And describe the journey from inception to publication.
I adore post apocalyptic stories. I love the struggle and sacrifice necessary to live in such a world. But there had to be a love story too because I feel relationships are important. So I created a world 1200 years in the future where technology no longer exists and the Earth is divided between plainfolk and the fae, humans that have evolved to control one of the four elements, earth, water, air and fire.

A dangerous book has surfaced that threatens to restore technology to the wrong hands. Now everyone wants it, but not for the same reasons. My main characters have to set aside their prejudices in order to work together.

I did not want a sappy romance where the hero and heroine fall into formulaic love. Real life is far more complex than that. I wanted them to keep their differences and their prejudices to a point because that's not something you can turn on and off. I wanted to show you could still love someone and not agree with them a hundred percent of the time.

The opening hook sets the stage for the entire novel. We have two fiercely independent people who fall in love despite themselves.

As a graphic artist by trade, you must have an advantage when it comes to marketing. With the recent release of your book, what marketing avenues are you pursuing?
As it happens, I decided to create an entire series of blog posts on marketing that I will run every Friday. I find when I write things out they become clearer to me, so I'm listing every venue I can think of and listing the pros and cons of each. I'm calling it Killer Campaigns and you'll be able to follow along with the tagged posts.

Because of my day job as an art director, I have a strong sense of color and design and I think that helps enormously with website design and promotional collateral. I limit my promotional pieces to things that are multipurpose. Business cards are tops on my list. You can use them for so many occasions and people take them without a second thought. I use them as bookmarks myself.

Tell us about your writing methods with fiction. Do you plot, do you research? Also, what kind of writing schedule do you keep?
Oh, I am a big plotter! I always write an outline first so I have a good feel for the action and to make sure none of my threads gets lost. I also do a ton of research. You wouldn't think there would be so much research involved in fantasy, but I had to dig deep to see what kind of materials would last 1200 years. I also had to be part social scientist and extrapolate how people would perceive things centuries after an apocalypse.

What advice do you have for other writers?
Find thee good critique partners, people who want you to succeed and will tell you the truth, even if it's not pretty. I love my crit partners! They rock!

What are you working on next?
Well, there is the sequel to TOUCH OF FIRE, which will require feats of time travel and general mayhem when the future meets the past. I suspect there is going to be more humor in this one. That's the plan anyway.

Thanks for the interview, Maria. Best of luck with your new release!

Thank you, Heather! I always enjoy visiting you!

Maria’s new e-book can be found at:
My Bookstore And More
Samhain Publishing

More about Maria can be found on her website, blog, or MySpace.


Carol Burge said...

Setting a publishing goal was a great idea, Maria. Wish I thought of it. :) I didn't know you entered Samhain's First Line contest. I did too, but got booted the first round. LOL

J.K. Coi said...

Great interview Maria and Heather!

Maria Zannini said...

Thanks for stopping by, JK and Carol. :o)

Julie Wright said...

Great Interview!