What's the story behind your debut novel, Beneath Claire's House?
About five years ago, I decided to shift from writing human-interest articles for Gannett newspapers to writing fiction. I began writing the novel as part of a six-month writing course. The story was based on a premise that I'd been kicking around inside my head for about a decade. In many ways, I just wanted the idea out of my head, but I also wanted to know if I could make it work. The class was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. After the class ended, I went on to edit and revise the story for nearly three more years.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I tried the traditional path first. When I knew the story was ready, I sent approximately three dozen queries and participated in a handful of face-to-face pitches with literary agents and publishers. Of those three dozen pitches, I landed three requests for the full manuscript. All were complimentary of the story and my writing, but they still declined representation. The whole process took about six months and cost hundreds of dollars in conference and pitch fees. I had to decide if I wanted to go through another round with the knowledge that the chance of landing a traditional contract was slim. More and more agents and publishers prefer literary and upmarket writers over genre writers, and they put the vast majority of their energy into maintaining relationships with authors who already have proven their ability to sell books. It's tough to break in.
Once I began the process of going independent, I found myself enjoying it immensely. It's literally a small business where the product is the story. All publishing aspects--choosing an editor, cover design, pricing, marketing, even book formatting--are up to me and only me. Don't get me wrong, the road ahead is still long and difficult, but it is uniquely 100% mine.
What does "clean indie" mean to you?
"Clean indie" is a term that describes an independent author who writes their stories without exploiting scenes of sex, graphic violence, and profanity. My novel is unique in that it is a supernatural thriller (perhaps even "horror") without over-the-top gore. Any graphic violence takes place off-page, leaving the majority of the details up to the reader's imagination. This results in a thrilling story that's suitable for teens as young as thirteen or fourteen.
How do you approach cover design?
Readers don't necessarily realize it, and even many authors don't know it, but the cover is the subliminal beginning of the story. For the vast majority of authors, a book cover is the only visual tool they'll ever use. Everything else must be done with words. Therefore, the cover must set the novel's mood appropriately before the reader ever sees a single word of the story. Being attractive and eye-catching is critical, but the cover must also, literally and figuratively, start the story.
What are you working on next?
I intend to release a spin-off series of stories that take place in the mysterious city of Mount Herod introduced in Beneath Claire's House. That being said, there are definitely additional standalone novels to come as well. The one thing that's important to me, even in a series, is that every book must stand on its own. I never had a strong appreciation for cliffhanger endings and endless character and story arcs. Readers put too much time into a book just to reach a last page that says, "Continued in my next book a year from now." Authors owe their readers more than that.
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