Today please welcome author Rachel Starr Thompson to the blog. Thank you for coming Rachel. :D
NW: So how did reading impact your life as a young child and then into adulthood?
RST: My dad read to us kids when we were small (Narnia and A.A. Milne poetry, among other things), so reading was always a big part of my life. I read way ahead of my grade level all through the “school” years. Reading was a great way to escape, learn, and fuel my imagination, which was always pretty active! And it still is.
NW: Did you always love to write? When you were younger did you always know you were going to be an author – and a published one at that?
RST: I wrote picture books as a really young kid, and I wrote my first novel when I was 13 or 14 and dallied with the idea of being a writer. I fantasized about being published and famous. But I had a lot of other things I wanted to do too—be a singer, be a missionary, be a scientist. I wasn’t one of those writers who just “knew” this was what I would be doing.
NW: What are some of your favorite books, Christian or not? Who are your favorite authors?
RST: My favourite current authors are probably Jeffrey Overstreet, George Bryan Polivka, and Marc Schooley, who are all amazing with words. Stephen Lawhead was very influential to me as well. I love Annie Dillard, Charlotte Bronte, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, A.A. Milne, George MacDonald, and a lot of old English poets. And of course the Bible, which I really do love as a book and not just as the foundation of my faith, if that makes sense. I’m sure I haven’t named half. I read pretty eclectically.
NW: When did you decide to write Christian Fantasy rather than any other genre, and what made you decide that?
RST: Most of the stories going through my head were and always have been fantasy. But I do write other things—I write a lot of devotional nonfiction and essays, and I like more formal kinds of nonfiction as well. Even so, most of the stories that really grab my attention and want me to write them are fantasy. I think I’m attracted to the wonder, the beauty, and the “otherness” possible in such stories.
NW: Yeah, there's this sense of possibility that is really tantalizing that type of writing. I love it!
As you know, different writers have different ideas about how the writing process should work. Some people like to outline the entire story before they ever start writing, and others prefer sitting down and writing whatever comes to them first right off the top of their heads. Still other writers like to mix those two different approaches when they decide to write their books. How do you approach the writing process, and why do you approach it that way?
RST: I used to do it all by the seat of my pants, but that’s gotten really inefficient, so now I do something in between. I usually have an idea of the beginning and the end, plus a few touchpoints along the way. I write a few chapters to get a feel for the story and then outline the remainder of the book.
NW: I've started to outline a little bit as well; you're right. It really does help.
I haven’t read all of your first book yet – *sheepish smile* -- but I’m enjoying it so far. I was curious, though, about how this idea came to you and why you chose the characters you did. Are the names of your characters significant in any way, to you or to your story? Could you tell us a little bit about that?
RST: The names aren’t significant—names tend to jump into my head fully formed, along with some idea of the characters they belong to, so I just use them as they come. As for the story, it’s a composite of many stories I’ve been telling myself since I was a child. The story idea that eventually became Worlds Unseen was sparked when I was reading about the early Christian reformer John Huss and wondered how the Reformation might have played out in another world or time. But the story went pretty far afield from that original idea.
NW: You’re cover art is amazing, and I hear that it is the work of your sister. How awesome is that?! I was just curious; do you possess similar artistic abilities with a paint brush? And if so, would you ever want to paint your own cover for any of your future books?
RST: It is pretty awesome; and nope, I don’t. I’ll sketch sometimes just for fun but I have absolutely no talent at it. I do sing.
NW: Ms. Thompson, you are a published author who writes Christian Speculative Fiction. I understand you decided to create your own publishing company through which to publish your books, and that the company is called “Little Dozen Press”. Are there any specific reasons you chose to publish your books this way over publishing them through a traditional house? Did you ever try to publish your books traditionally before you decided to publish them yourself?
RST: First, I just wanted to experiment with publishing; and second, I thought putting some of my own work out would be a good way to start building readership. I have many, many manuscripts, and I couldn’t shop them all to traditional publishers at once, so I figured I would independently publish a few. I still intend to pursue trade publishing for other manuscripts.
And no, I never tried to get the trilogy published traditionally. By the time I was really interested in writing more seriously, Worlds Unseen was already close to ten years old.
NW: Is there a traditional publishing house you prefer to read from over any of the others?
RST: Well, I am pretty impressed with the speculative fiction being put out by Marcher Lord Press, WaterBrook, and Living Ink (AMG).
NW: Well, they have some good stuff coming out recently. Would you ever try to publish one of your books through a traditional house in the future? Why or why not?
RST: Yes, as I said above. And I would do it because I think I could benefit, as a writer, from the partnership. It would also be easier for me to reach readers in some ways—not that I would expect my publisher to “do all the work for me,” but that they could get books into places I can’t (or at least, I can’t without jumping through some pretty serious hoops).
NW: So if you could choose, which publishing house would be your preference for your books and why?
RST: I don’t think I could name a particular one. I would want a publishing house that really believed in my writing and was willing to work with me to get it out there. And I would like one with some reach outside of the Christian market as well.
NW: I think I know what you mean. All important things to consider.
So, this might be a hard question (it would be if I had to answer it. :D), but I was wondering about your outlook on the great publishing debate – self publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. How do you think Self Publishing and e-publishing effect the traditional market for Christian Speculative Fiction, and why do you think that?
RST: That is a big question. Indie and e-publishing are affecting everything right now—in different ways. Many Christian spec fic readers are online, so indie publishers have unprecedented ability to reach them. On the other hand, traditional publishers still demand a level of excellence from writers and command a level of trust from readers that self-publishers don’t necessarily have.
NW: How good do you think the chances are for a new CSF writer to self publish and “make it” in today’s market?
RST: You would have to define “make it.” Can you self-publish your work and make a few hundred dollars a year, or even a few thousand? Yes; I’m doing it. Can you self-publish your work, quit your job, and retire to Hawaii? Probably not. But it depends on how hard you work and how savvy you are at the business end of things.
NW: It seems to me that it can be difficult to find good Christian Speculative Fiction books in today’s traditional book market. Many people already know that traditional publishing houses are struggling against the economy, along with this new demand for e-books and digital downloading, not to mention the rise of POD publishing and self-publishing. And of course there is online shopping with Amazon, B&N, and the e-book store “Smashwords”. Just out of curiosity, what do you think is going to happen with Traditional Publishing houses in the near future? Will they make a comeback, or fall to the ease of POD?
RST: It’s actually a misnomer to pit “POD” against “traditional publishing houses.” POD, or Print-On-Demand, is a technology, and many publishers—even major ones—already use it. (Marcher Lord Press, which I mentioned earlier, is able to exist as a small, extremely specialized press for Christian spec fic only precisely because they use POD technology and untraditional methods of distribution.) Likewise, e-publishing is not a threat to them; rather, it’s another way for them to put out their titles and reach readers. I think there is going to be a lot of change, but I don’t think the “traditional publisher” will disappear. The lack of quality control among self/subsidy-publishers is one of the reasons for this. Readers and reviewers, for good reason, trust big publishers.
NW: Hmmm.... very true. What is your outlook on e-books? What do you think will happen to the paper book trade in the near future?
RST: I don’t think paper books will go away. Even if most people switch to e-reading (which could happen), POD makes it possible to keep paper books cheaply available for those who want them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get more expensive over time. And yes, I think we’ll see a lot more people e-reading in the next few years.
NW: I’ve heard different views on Self Publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing. One common myth around the writing world is that it’s a bad idea to self publish because an author would be starting at the very beginning without a way to build a following. I’ve seen strong evidence against such a claim and your books easily suggest such evidence, but I was curious about your point of view on the matter?
RST: Actually, if you put out good work (and plenty of it), I think self-publishing is an excellent way to start building a following. As I’ve already said, that was one of my key reasons for publishing my trilogy. I can find readers and get my work into the world this way. However, self-publishing WELL requires business savvy and commitment. Mind you, those things will be really helpful to a traditionally published author as well.
NW: If it’s not too bold to ask, how are your books doing in today’s market?
RST: Not too bad :). But it depends on what your expectations are. I certainly don’t sell in anything like major numbers. But I make a bit of money, connect with readers, and get good reviews, so I think they’re doing well. Sales and readership have steadily picked up each year.
NW: I know that marketing is an important part of publishing a book, and it’s especially important if you decide to self publish because then you are almost solely responsible for marketing and publicizing, not to mention editing, formatting, and deciding on cover art before the book even goes to print. While this amount of responsibility may seem daunting to some writers, there is certainly an alluring sense of freedom and control that can also come with such responsibilities. Is there any advice you can give writers contemplating self publishing that would help them in these areas of the publishing process?
RST: Yes: Do Your Research. And if you can’t do something well, hire someone to do it. Your book is your business card. It’s your public face. Make it something you wouldn’t be ashamed to have a major publisher look at.
NW: Is there anything you did while publishing your books that you regret?
RST: Well, when I first got started, I didn’t do my homework! So I wasted a bunch of time (and a little bit of money) because I didn’t know what I was doing. Education is always worth the time it takes.
NW: Is there anything you did while publishing your books that you ended up being proud of or surprised by?
RST: I requested endorsements for my book on the Lord’s prayer and got a really good one from Michael Phillips, who is a pretty well-known Christian author. He said “This book is not merely a job well done, though it is that, it is truly a significant contribution to the devotional literature on the Lord’s Prayer. I thought it was one of the best things on the Lord’s Prayer I have read–not a study or an exposition, but a true devotional experience based on Jesus’ prayer.” So that was pretty cool.
NW: That is cool... and that's a truly epic review! :D Is there anything you feel able to talk about that you are planning to do in the future to further your books in the publishing market?
RST: As I’ve said, I’d like to get into trade publishing at some point. Right now, I’m concentrating on getting the trilogy out to more readers via online marketing and relationship-building.
NW: What is your outlook on social networking and blogging in furthering the market for your books? How does it affect your following? If you could start from the very beginning again, would you do anything differently than you are now?
RST: In the Internet age, “marketing” is just a fancy word for “building relationships.” And social media makes it really easy to do that. If I could start over again, I would concentrate on my Facebook PAGE, a separate entity from my personal profile, much sooner. And I would find the right stride for my blog—I still don’t feel like I’ve hit that.
NW: Right now the publishing world is precariously teetering between digital and Pod publishing, and the traditional venues. Which way do you think the dice will fall? Why?
RST: I think I’ve pretty much expressed all I have to say on this one already—I think trade publishers will get more savvy about technology, and quite possibly the decades-old distribution and pricing models will change. I don’t think trade publishers will disappear completely. I DO think smart, hard-working indie authors will be able to get a lot further than they could in the past.
NW: Last question, I promise. :D Is there any advice concerning writing that you can give other aspiring authors out there? Is there any other advice concerning publishing that you feel you can share with us?
RST: If you want to write, read and write as much as you can. Pay attention to what you read and apply it in your writing. If you want to publish, read industry news and blogs and learn about the world you’re entering before you enter it.
Thanks you Rachel for doing this interview!
You can find out more about Rachel Starr Thompson, her books, and her publishing company at http://www.rachelstarrthomson.com/