Welcome to my new author interview series! Each month I’ll be interviewing different authors about their work and their publishing journey. Today’s interview is with K. M. Alexander, author of The Stars Were Right, which just launched yesterday on Amazon Kindle and Kobo.
I was extremely privileged to receive a copy of The Stars Were Right before the release date and just fell in love with the magical world Alexander brings to life in it. In this interview he talks about his decision to self-publish, how authors can market themselves, and his creative process behind The Stars Were Right.
I’ve talked with you before about your self-publishing journey, and one of the things that really impressed me is that you’ve assembled your own team to assist you in different stages of the process. You mentioned specifically how much you love your editor. Can you tell us how you found a good editor and a little bit about the relationship between you two?
Contrary to popular belief I have yet to find the writer who lists only themselves in the acknowledgements. A book is a team project, even self-published books, and if they’re not, they should be. Sure, the author writes it, creates it, and does the bulk of the heavy lifting, but there is still a lot of hard work to be done. Cover design is a part of that. Layout is a part of that. Editing is a part of that. I have yet to find an author who hasn’t benefited from the services of editors, beta readers, or combined teams of both.
If you’re self publishing you should be ready to seek out and hire an editor. There are plenty of books on the market that haven’t seen the touch of an editor’s pen and it shows. Quality matters.
I was lucky that my editor reached out to me. However, there is nothing wrong with finding editors based on books you like, or books set in genres that are similar to your own. Check out who your favorite author thanks in their acknowledgements. Seek them out. Shoot them an email and see if they have the time and what sort of compensation they would need for their services. Also, decide what kind of editing services you want. Content editing is really helpful, but it’s a lot more expensive than just copy-editing.
Also consider getting yourself an army of beta readers. Have them go through the book and find the things that didn’t work for them. Have them keep an eye out for plot holes, and inconsistencies, and then make changes accordingly.
What are your top 3 reasons for choosing to self-publish?
First would be control. Control is a big one, but it also means a lot of work. The ability to choose my cover, decide my layout, and pick the audience to focus my marketing efforts on, is important to me. It’s hard to get that control as a new author. Since publishers are taking a risk, they will want to do things their way.
Second is speed. The old way of publishing is slow. Agents. Editors. Publishers. It can be effective but it’s a painfully and dreadfully inefficient process. I have a manuscript I have been shopping for a while and it boggles my mind how archaic the industry can be with new work. The submission process alone often feels like a relic from 1979.
Last would be rights. Being able to put my work where I want it, and when I want it, is a big deal for me. (See control.) Publishers foot the bill, but as a result new authors only get, like, 20% of the royalties and you don’t own the rights for a long time.
What’s the deal with getting your own ISBN’s? At first glance, this sounds kind of complicated. Is it?
Not at all. It’s not even that expensive. Just go to Bowkers and start the process. It’s about $250 for 10 ISBN’s. Each edition of your book—digital, hardcover, mass market paperback, etc.—needs its own ISBN. This also helps in getting your book listed in services like Goodreads.
What about the design of your book cover? How much input did you have on that?
A lot. I’ve been a designer for over 13 years now so the cover design was something I was very passionate about. A lot of self-published covers just look self-published and I really wanted to stand out in that regard. I’ve seen a lot of advice that says to buy a stock photo from some stock photo site and lay out some type and it’s terrible advice. Design matters. If you aren’t a designer yourself, hire one. The cover sells your book as much as anything else.
I had the idea for the cover of The Stars Were Right for a while and it took a few iterations for me to get what I wanted. I had a pretty set vision. I wanted to set a tone. When it came to the custom lettering I knew it would be a place where I would struggle. There’s an art to custom lettering that requires a lot of craftsmanship that most designers just can’t do.
I reached out to a friend of mine, Jon Contino, and he’s incredible. The guy has done work for Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Dockers, the EMP museum here in Seattle. Seriously amazing stuff. He liked my idea and we ended up working together. I have a rough concept I sketched out with a sharpie and he took it to the next level. I think he nailed the lettering for the cover. I couldn’t be more pleased with the end results, it really captured the mood I wanted in the cover.
Do you think the question of genre affects whether or not an author should choose to self-publish? Is the self-publishing market more receptive to certain genres over others?
I think certain fan bases are more receptive to self-published books over others. Nonfiction still seems to struggle a bit with self-published work but fiction seems to be thriving to various degrees.
Publishers are noticing as well. Every few months it seems we have more and more authors discovered through self publishing. I can’t see that momentum slowing. In the end, if you have a quality product someone out there will want it, regardless of the genre. Just be prepared to do a lot of work and be willing to spend some money. The old idiom: “It takes money to make money.” Yeah, that’s true.
What sort of marketing advice do you have for authors planning to self-publish?
Know your audience and be willing to spend money to reach them. When you self publish you’re not only taking on the role of author, you are also the marketer, the creative director, and the publisher. You need to research where you think your fan base is and then you need to target them. Ad buys. Interviews. Blog posts. Reviews. Be accessible and be real and by all means don’t be annoying.
You’re a pretty web-savvy author. For instance, you and I frequently connect over email, Twitter, and on our separate blogs. Out of all the social media options out there, which are your favorites? Which would you recommend for writers who are just starting out?
Twitter, by far. I have been active on there for years. I love the casual nature of it and the fact you can get into some great discussions. I would probably start there. Find people who love what you love. Curate your follower list to things you’re interested in, and most importantly get involved. Twitter is a discussion. If you’re just broadcasting away and not responding to people you’re basically sucking at Twitter.
Goodreads is also climbing my own list of favorites. I am starting to see why they’re growing so quickly.
You also write a kick-ass blog over at http://kmalexander.me/ Do you think every writer should maintain a blog as an essential part of their platform, or does it depend on the writer?
Thanks! Some of it depends on the writer but I think we live in an age where it’s important to give readers a way to connect to you as a writer. Accessibility is what is important. The wave of new readers we see every year have had the internet as an essential part of their communication growing up, and they are reading more.
I don’t think it matters where that “platform” is, be it a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account. Find a place and make it your own. My blog is sometimes about my writing, sometimes about things that interest me, sometimes about this whole journey. I try to keep it open and honest. I hope readers appreciate that. I know I do.
Are you planning any real-life events to market your book? Is this something you would consider?
I think it’s impossible to be a self-published recluse. As your own marketing team you’re going to be the one out there selling your work to readers. Being accessible and approachable is a part of that. I am planning a few things. It’ll really kick into high gear when I have physical copies of The Stars Were Right available. I’m hoping for before the holidays.
I’ve personally read The Stars Were Right and it’s fantastic. I was blown away by how genre-bending the whole story is—it really is a mix of Da Vinci Code meets The Fifth Element meets Star Wars. Did you plan that out or did it happen naturally on its own as you were writing the book?
Thanks again! I wrote what I wanted to read and I love weird fiction. Chine Miéville and Neil Gaiman are both huge influences on my work and both write weird fiction that doesn’t always fit into buckets and I think a lot of that crept into my own work.
A lot of the genre-bending just came naturally as I wrote. The weird tech, the strange races, the city itself, it all worked within the context of the story. In a lot of ways Lovat—the central city—was an organism that had a lot of moving parts. In a way, it’s a big character of its own with good and bad facets. My characters accept that, Lovat feels natural to them and as a result of that it feels natural to the reader as well.
I also noticed that The Stars Were Right is a total page-turner, and I get that question all the time from writers: “How do I make my story a page-turner?” What’s your secret? Did the page-turning momentum occur naturally as you were writing it, or was it helped along by great editing?
People wonder about this a lot. Some try to apply a formula to it, citing thrillers with short chapters and cliffhanger endings on every chapter. I use a little of that in Stars, but if the plot is flat and the problems are unconvincing and the characters aren’t engaging, then short chapters and cliffhangers aren’t going to work.
There are three things that I think are the key to making a novel a page-turner. The first is conflict (that doesn’t always mean fighting): Lovers’ spats, money problems, crisis of faith, mysteries, these can all be conflicts. Write to that and make your character struggle. The second is believable and relatable characters. Conflict only works when your readers feel connected to the people they are reading about. This is why it’s always difficult to write engaging fiction with unlikeable characters. It’s been done, but to do it right is very tough. Finally, the third technique I use is that I fight against info dumps. I try to keep information contextual to what is happening in the plot. I don’t go on long detailed descriptions about things that don’t matter. A little mystery is a good thing. Don’t bully your way into your reader’s imagination.
What are you are you working on now? Will there be a sequel to The Stars Were Right?
Old Broken Road will be the sequel to The Stars Were Right and it is done. It’s actually in the hands of my beta readers at the moment and hopefully it will be handed over to an editor sometime this fall. I haven’t slowed down, I always want to be writing something new. However, I am deviating away from writing another book set in the fictional world of the Territories. (I’ll come back to it, I’m sure. There are a lot more tales to tell in that world.)
In June I started working on a new manuscript. It’s quite different from Stars or OBR. It’s very much solidly rooted in the sci-fi genre instead of weird fiction, so it’s a change for me. I can’t stop thinking about it though. It’s a much grander story set in the near future surrounding submarines, undersea colonies, religious terrorists, and drones. I am currently writing it under the working title of Deep.
Okay lastly, what’s the best way for readers to purchase their copy of The Stars Were Right?
It’s available on Amazon and Kobo, as well as from my store as a DRM free ePub. I am in the process of rolling it out everywhere I can. Follow my blog at kmalexander.com for more info. I am sure I’ll be posting every time I release to a new platform. I’m hoping to have physical copies out soon.
K.M. Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native and novelist living and working in Seattle with his wife and two dogs. His latest novel The Stars Were Right is out now and the the sequel, Old Broken Road, will will be released in 2014. He is also currently shopping his earlier manuscript Coal Belly.
When not writing, he works as a user experience designer circulating through the Seattle startup scene since he moved to the area in 2008. He currently works as a designer at Attachmate. Previously he worked for companies such as Contour, Google, and Picnik. His design portfolio is located at kmalexander.com.
For more on K.M. Alexander you can: