Tonya Cannariato, author of Dust to Blood (Red Slaves), talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I’ve kept a journal for decades; writing has always helped me process events and find a certain kind of mental / emotional equilibrium. Since High School, people had been telling me I should write books, too. I never figured I’d have the kind of expertise that would qualify me to write non-fiction, and I have always been rather terse with my written language, so didn’t think I could have an idea that would stretch over the course of a whole book. Then, a few years back, I read an interview with Stephenie Meyer, where she said her Twilight cycle was based on one scene of one dream. That’s when the light went on for me. I have dreamed vividly since I was a young child, and figuring out how to explore characters and motivations based on those scenes sounded quite intriguing to me.
Tell me a little about your book.
My book is intended to be the first of a trilogy exploring the mystery of how Communism survived for as many years as it did. It’s based on the crypto-historical thesis that maybe those in control had figured out how to drain the mystical beasts of their country to tap into powers they were never meant to have. It’s told from the perspective of an American researcher sent to investigate the history of post-Soviet Russian amnesiacs who claim to be dragons. She’s an intentionally bookish character who’s thrown far outside her very rational comfort zone and has to come to terms with the transformation these men bring to her life.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Anyone who writes a good book inspires me! The focus and drive to work through the slog of first drafting a book, then revising and editing it, then publishing and promoting it is more work than the average reader is aware of; in fact, the authors who make their writing flow easily and convey the impression that there is an easy flow to it all are their own kind of illusionists. I still have to pinch myself sometimes at the thought that I’ve joined ranks with others who have been published. My favorite authors are Anne McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Jo Rowling. They managed to build worlds that provide a space to retreat to on a regular basis and sustain them in all their minutiae over the course of many books.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
The tools that finally forced me to sit down and draft my first two novels were NaNoWriMo and #wordmongering. I love both the widget that counts down your progress as well as the community of authors out there doing word sprints on a regular basis. This year I tried Camp NaNo to see whether I could manage two novels in a year, based on my publisher’s request… But something about summertime led to too many competing priorities, so now I’m going to try ROW80 to set workable goals. My current plan is to do two daily writing sprints five times a week, to produce a minimum of 5,000 words / week. We’ll see if that is more realistic.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
No. I met my publisher on Twitter and developed a good friendship with her while learning about all the pros and cons of going the more traditional route versus the indie route. I decided I’d rather have the control (I didn’t know traditional publishers had final say on titles and cover imagery, for instance) and the responsibility (traditional publishers are much less likely to promote new authors) than waste a lot of time banging my head against the walls of very limited access. The other thing I was surprised to discover regarding the traditional publication route: The time it takes to get a new book to market. Even after all the years of submitting, it still takes 2-3 additional years to shepherd a manuscript through all the wickets that result in a book in the bookstore. I’m at the age where that sounds like a lot of wasted time.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
This is a interesting question to me and one I still struggle with; in a certain sense, just having written the first novel felt like a major success to me. Repeating the process with the second made me feel justified in thinking it wasn’t a fluke. I could call myself a novelist. I like my publisher’s measures of realistic success: Enough book sales to be able to support myself. That means I need to keep slogging through the production process so I have enough books out that this is more of a probability than a possibility. Then there are those wild-eyed dreams that pop up periodically when I get a particularly enthusiastic review that someone could option my stories and I could be set for life. It’s definitely an interesting journey, and I suspect my goals will evolve as my life unfolds.
How have you marketed your books?
I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook for over 4 years, and have a pretty good following built up there, so naturally, that was my first focus for promotion. I’ve paid for advertising via IAN, Grub Street Readers, and WLC, as well as having printed author / book cards with a QR code to take people to the Amazon location to buy the thing. My publisher says my first months’ sales have out-performed most of her other releases. On the one hand that is nice to hear; on the other, averaging less than one sale per day will never get me to full-time author status, so I have to take the advice of other authors who say the best thing I can do is to release another book to help push sales for all my titles. The thing that I hadn’t considered, even though I work in a marketing department, is how much time coordinating all these marketing efforts would take. So while I have additional ideas for spreading the word, balancing that against the time it takes to write my next novel creates a definite tension in priorities for me.
Have you signed up for KDP Select?
I did not sign up for KDP Select – primarily because this is my first novel, and there would be no lift for any other titles. I’m also reading that authors are finding this less valuable as time goes on, so with the exclusivity clause as an added consideration, I’m not sure I would pursue this in the future, either.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
I did release through Smashwords, with distribution from them through all the other available options. However, for some reason, even more than two months after its release, I’m still not seeing my book on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc. I also haven’t seen nearly the volume of sales on Smashwords as I have on Amazon.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
Because of how Smashwords is growing, that doesn’t seem like a realistic concern at the moment. I suspect authors themselves will find and create additional options that don’t have some of the more onerous restrictions the boilerplate publication agreement with Amazon foists on them, too. Just consider the evolution of the eBook; now that those are outselling paper-based books, I’m confident additional options will start showing up, given our culture’s focus on capitalism.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
I’m in the middle of writing the second in the Red Slaves series, as well as in the editing phase for my second novel, Dementional. I submitted a short story for an anthology about stalkers as well, so if everything lines up right, and I don’t get distracted, I could have three novels released by the end of the year, as well as the short in the anthology. It sounds ambitious even as I say it now, but it feels right to push myself a little. In the future, I think two novels a year is more realistic; I’d really like to continue to participate in the NaNoWriMo madness each November, so I think I’ll have the third of my Red Slaves trilogy written this year as well. That would be the first of my new releases next year. I have a list of ideas for other novels, too, so I’ll keep going as long as I have time and enough money coming in to justify the production costs to deliver a professional product.