It isn't every day that you get to interview one of your writerly cohorts, but today I was able to interview one of mine! K.L. Schwengel is a member of the Fellowship of Fantasy writers (alongside me and some other wonderful fantasy authors I hope to interview one day!) at There & Draft Again. She just self-published her debut novel, First of Her Kind. You can find the book on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
Mara Valderran: You've posted some very insightful thoughts on why you decided to self-publish. Can you give the readers a brief overview of what led to that choice?
K.L. Schwengel: It basically boiled down to belief in my book and a desire to get it out in front of readers. Time-frame and control both played big parts in my decision. First, following the traditional route would have meant, in the best of worlds, at least a year to two years before First of Her Kind ever saw the light of day. Between finding an agent, an agent making a sale, the publishing house scheduling, it takes about that much time. I found I wasn't willing to wait. Second, I'm somewhat of a control freak. (Those of you who know me, pipe down.) To be able to have full say in every aspect of my book was very appealing. Of course, that means I have to accept the consequences of its success or failure as well.
MV: You tried traditional publishing first, which can be a very exhausting and discouraging process. What was your experience like and how did you keep it from discouraging you from moving forward?
KLS: Frustrating. Following the traditional publishing route can be likened to a crap shoot, winning the lottery, or finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Agents, or mainly their assistants, read hundreds and thousands of query letters every week. You have a few hundred words to catch them in just the right mood to like what you're pitching. What they don't like one day, they might the next, but once they pass, it's done. The main thing that kept me from becoming discouraged is that I have a very thick skin. If you're putting yourself out there, no matter what venue, you need one. Chocolate helps. I also knew that I had written a good book, and it wasn't my manuscript being judged and passed on, but my query letter. Two very different things. And seriously, I had my moments of doubt. I still do. But then I get a note from someone who says they read something I wrote and they loved it. Nothing beats that.
MV: I love the cover! I feel like that is one downfall of self-publishing: It's hard to find a good cover artist you can afford. How did you go about getting your cover designed?
KLS: I designed and created the digital painting for the cover myself. I have an art background, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and I've worked as a designer and freelance artist off and on since -- well, a long time. So I'm fortunate in that regard. I agree that one of the biggest problems I see in self-publishing is lack of a good cover. In some genres you can probably get away with a stock photo cover. Fantasy has a long history of awesome covers, more so than other genres in my opinion. Fantasy buffs demand it. I know as a reader, it's the cover that grabs me first. If I like that, I'll look closer at the book.
I would suggest to authors on a tight budget, contact art colleges in the area, or possibly on-line. See if you can get a student to create your cover as a portfolio piece. It's great experience for them, and gives them a piece they can use in their professional portfolio.
MV: Another downfall to self-publishing can be the urge to publish too soon, which I've talked about in some of my other posts. As an advocate of self-publishing, I feel we need to discourage the idea of publishing as soon as the first draft is done. There's a lot more work that goes into prepping a novel to be published. What can you tell us about your process leading up to self-publishing? How did you know when your novel was ready?
KLS: I was already pitching my novel to agents so I was pretty confident it was ready. *ahem* However, over the course of the year I was pitching, I was still tweaking. Every time I read the ms, I found something else. I could probably go over it again and find things. But that's just nit-picking at this point. I wrote a first draft, had it read just to make sure it wasn't tripe, then started rewriting. I wrote another draft. Edited. Fine-tuned. Added. Subtracted. Had it read again, by different readers. This time they were looking at continuity, character development, plot structure, tension. Another draft, more editing, more editing, another draft. Beta readers. Now we got down to the nitty-gritty, the push to tighten up this section, make that scene more intense, learn how to properly use a comma (which I'm still really bad at, by the way). And then? Yeah. One more time.
Anyone who writes a novel, quickly edits it, has maybe one person read it, and the puts it out there, better be the most amazing writer on the face of the planet. Not that every manuscript needs what mine did. I'm hoping book two won't need quite as much. But if it does, then it does. I don't want to put something out there I'm not sure about. All it takes is one bad book, and are you ever going to trust that author with your investment again?
MV: What is your writing process like? Are you more of a pantser or a plotter? Soundtrack or absolute silence?
KLS: Pantser all the way. Well, okay, pantser who has some idea of direction. I have a rough sketch of where I want the story to go. That is always subject to unruly characters deciding it's going somewhere unintended. I usually know the beginning and the ending. Both are written before I fill in the middle. And definitely soundtrack. Always. Music helps me visualize, feel, immerse myself in that different world. If it's a bright, sunny day and I'm writing a dark scene, the right music will put me there.
MV: What was your inspiration for First of Her Kind?
KLS: Honestly, it all started with the line, "There was nothing for it, in another turn of the glass Meriol would be dead." That line didn't survive editing, but that was the seed to the whole series. I had no idea who Meriol was, why she was dying, or where it was leading. I just went.
MV: What can you tell us about your main character, Ciara?
KLS: She has a lot of growing up to do. But she's in a tough spot. She comes from a line of woman who have always been simple country healers. Unfortunately, she not only has a healer's earth magic, but another wild power as well. A power that she has a hard time controlling. A power that others want. It means she can't live a simple healer's life. It's hard because she loses a lot and she's very niave in the beginning. She's been sheltered her entire life, and is in no way prepared for what's coming her way.
MV: If you could turn your book into a movie or television series, who would you cast?
KLS: I really hate to put images in the reader's minds, but . . . okay. Bolin is, without a doubt, Gerard Butler. *sigh* Donovan has to be Richard Armitage, clean shaven, not scruffy. Ciara . . . wow, I don't really know any 20 something actress's I would cast. We might have to do a casting call for her. She would need to have a quiet beauty, an innocence about her but not necessarily soft.
MV: How do you feel like the process of publishing has changed you as a writer?
KLS: I'm not sure it's changed me as a writer. I think, if anything, it's pushed me to be a faster writer because I can't devote all my free time to penning my latest manuscript. There's marketing, social networking, editing . . .
MV: What is ahead for your writerly future?
KLS: Well, I'm roughly 21k words into book two in the Darkness & Light Series, I have a short story due out in an anthology coming out in April (I believe). There's another project that's still under wraps that I'm excited about. And, if time permits, I have an urban fantasy that's been languishing for several years, half written, that I'd really like to dust off and put out there.