The wonderful, awful business of being an author. Ask me anything!

Karen Murdarasi
Sep 11, 2018

The thing people most often say to me, when they find out what I do, is “I’ve never met an author!” I assure them that there are lots of us about – just check out the #amwriting tag on Twitter! But if there’s no author in your life, either, then you can ask me whatever you want about any aspect of writing. Just please don’t ask me for the magic formula to get your book accepted by a publisher or agent! If I knew that, I’d be selling it on eBay for millions.

Let me fill you in a bit about my life as a writer. I’ve been writing professionally since 2007, when my first novel, Leda, was shortlisted for the Scripture Union New Fiction Prize (under its original title, Over the Mountains). I later went on to self-publish Leda, and my modest success with that led to my writing two novelised biographies for small-press publisher Christian Focus.

Since then I’ve produced a couple of ebooks of short stories myself, written an audio adaptation of The Snow Queen for an online audiobook company (Word of Mouth Productions), and I’ve written for magazines like History Today, Prima and Premier Christianity.

That’s a list of my successes, of course. I’ve also had disappointments and closed doors. I have a couple of novels still waiting to find a home, and, after some good feedback but no ‘bite’, I’ve recently taken the decision to self-publish my non-fiction book Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong. That will be taking up a lot of my time in the next couple of months because self-publishing well takes an enormous amount of work.

                 

Of course, I also have to balance my writing, revising, publicising and submitting around my other commitments. About 60% of authors need a second job to survive, and I’m with the majority here. I’m an in-demand Albanian-English interpreter, as well as an editor and proofreader for hire. And that’s before you even think about having a personal life! It’s difficult to balance everything, and difficult to organise your time since you don’t know if or when a magazine will commission an article or a publisher will want you to make changes to your manuscript.

So it’s a difficult, stressful job with low, insecure financial rewards. But on the other hand, the thrill of seeing my name in print has never gone away, and the idea of people reading what I wrote, stepping into worlds that I conjured up with just some keys and a screen – that’s magical.

So if you’re curious about this wonderful, awful profession, ask me anything!

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How is the process of making an audio adaptation of a book? How can you describe your experience with The Snow Queen?
Sep 13, 1:21AM EDT0

I very much enjoyed the process of making The Snow Queen , although I wasn't involved in the audio side at all. Word of Mouth Productions gave me a lot of freedom to freshen up Andersen's classic story, as they already knew they liked my writing style, so I had a lot of fun rewording it. (You can listen to a sample here.) 

I had nothing to do with the cover artwork or the choice of narrator, but in fact I loved both! The cover is gorgeous and atmospheric, and n the narrator was Sophie Aldred, who used to be the companion on Dr Who when I was a child, so that was a thrill. 

Sep 13, 3:10AM EDT0
Did you ever have questions on what to write about even when you knew you really wanted to write? How did you overcome the uncertainty?
Sep 13, 12:50AM EDT0

No, this was never really a problem for me, because it was the other way round - I have ideas I wanted to write about rather than simply wanting to write. Ideas are never in short supply, with me! Even if I did nothing else, it would take me years to write and research all the books I have ideas for already!

Sep 13, 12:18PM EDT0
Would you say is different to write a book than to write for a magazine? Which is more challenging?
Sep 13, 12:05AM EDT0

I would say that writing a book is more challenging because of the scale of the project, but the main difference in writing for magazines is how short the deadlines are. When am editor accepts your article pitch you might just have a few weeks, or even less, to research and write the article. (Obviously you do a certain amount of research before you even propose the article, if it was your idea, but you can't afford to fully research every article you propose, as many will never be written.) 

Also, because of the short deadline, editors may change things in your article, or make cuts, without telling you, which wouldn't normally happen with a book publisher. 

I've been talking about non-fiction so far; I've also written fiction for magazines, and here the process is more similar to fiction books. You submit, you wait forever to hear, and then when (if) you do hear back you are offered a payment and given plenty of notice about when it will arrive in the shops. Again, editors may make changes or cuts without consulting you, but they tend to be only minor things. 

The major difference after your work is accepted is that no one expects you to promote the magazine! With a book, writing and submitting it is only half the work, and the other half is persuading people to read it! 

Sep 13, 3:24AM EDT0
What are the main marketing strategies that you like for your books?
Sep 12, 5:48PM EDT0

I don't much like marketing at all, although I realise it's important. The method that I find most pleasant is public appearances - not so much the book launch, which is usually quite scary, but when you give a talk about your book, or a subject related to it, to an interested group.

I do school visits for my YA books, and I find schoolchildren particularly engaged. They ask great questions, and they love being read to!

The method I like the least is probably contacting complete strangers at newspapers and magazines with a press release about the book.

Sep 13, 11:56AM EDT0
What are your thoughts on the monetization options offered to self-published authors in platforms like Radish and Wattpad?
Sep 12, 4:44PM EDT0

I'm afraid I don't have any experience of them. I did look into Wattpad but I wasn't sure it would pay off my investment of time. I'd be happy to hear about other people's experiences, though. Have you used them yourself? 

Sep 12, 5:50PM EDT0
How long does it take you to write a new story? How is the process behind?
Sep 12, 4:42PM EDT0

It varies so much! Some short stories I knock off in one session, although that's unusual. I would normally take a few days to a week for a short story, several months for a novel. For non-fiction (and sometimes for fiction) you have to factor in research as well, which adds a few weeks or months.

My novelised biographies of Patrick and Augustine took 6-8 months each. The novel I'm working on at the moment has been ongoing for over a year, but it will be finished in 2018. (I have promised myself!) 

I'm a comparatively slow writer, but the advantage is that I have time to think about things, solve problems and do extra research as I go along, which leads to much less editing at the end.

Sep 13, 12:02PM EDT0
What was the best advice you ever received when you started writing?
Sep 12, 1:43PM EDT0

The best bit of writing advice I've heard is that a professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. I find that very encouraging when I feel like giving up. 

Sep 12, 5:48PM EDT0
More authors are today self publishing but frustrated with the marketing process. What are your marketing plans for your book?
Sep 11, 10:38AM EDT0

For the first time, I'm thinking about making a YouTube trailer video for my book, as YouTube is one of the most-searched sites. I'm also hoping to get some articles published which will identify me as the author of Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood is Wrong, but that's not a certainty.

As well as that I have my usual methods of using my website, blog and author newsletter, sending press releases to local papers, and using my personal and social media networks to spread the word. I'll also approach local bookshops, write to local libraries and I may try local radio, too.

But any further suggestions are welcome!

Sep 11, 11:09AM EDT0
Have you ever suffered from the writer's block? How did you overcome it?
Sep 11, 10:23AM EDT0

No, I've never had writer's block, although I've had writer's disinclination plenty of times!

Sep 11, 10:40AM EDT0
How did people receive your first book "Leda" and how did you feel about your own writing skills after that?
Sep 11, 8:24AM EDT0

It was nervewracking sending my first book into the world. My family are very supportive, but family opinions don't count! When Leda was shortlisted for the Scripture Union New Fiction Prize, it felt like my work, and my ambition to be an author was validated.

Leda only had a small print run and only a handful of reviews, but they were very positive, which was really encouraging. I do find that self-doubt is a problem for me as a writer (which is fairly common), and good reviews are a massive help.

I feel that my writing has improved since I wrote Leda, so it's good to know that I'm producing work of a suitable standard to be in the public realm.

Sep 11, 10:03AM EDT0
Despite all the challenges, would you say you are a fulfilled author?
Sep 11, 6:29AM EDT0

Fulfilled, yes, but satisfied, no. I love my job and I'm grateful that I am a published author, but I would like to be more successful, more widely read, and better at writing. Fortunately this is a job you get better at with time. If I was a footballer, I'd probably already be retired! 

Sep 11, 8:02AM EDT0
Your first book Led was an exciting YA novel and reflected a lot about Albanian history? What drew you towards writing on such a touchy subject without making it look sad and depressing?
Sep 11, 6:23AM EDT0

It's great to hear from someone who has read one of my books - thanks! 

At the time I started writing Leda I was living in Albania and had been for a few years. I'd heard all my friends' stories about what it was like after the fall of communism and during "The Chaos" of 1997. I'd also come across girls who'd been forced into marriage, or not been allowed to practise their faith, and I'd heard about the trafficking problem, which wasn't as well known back then. When I heard about the Scripture Union New Fiction competition, I decided I wanted to combine all of these things into a story that would also glorify God. 

I suppose forced marriage and trafficking are heavy subjects, but YA fiction often deals with serous themes - look at The Hunger Games! I think that if you tackle the subject sensitively and subtly, more mature readers will understand but younger readers won't be upset. For example, in Leda , the character Suela says her fiancé is planning to sell her as a slave. Older readers will realise that probably means being trafficked into prostitution, but younger readers will take it at face value. 

I think what keeps Leda from being depressing is the strong theme that a loving God is watching over Leda, but also the fact that it has a happy ending. (Spoiler!) 

Last edited @ Sep 11, 10:57AM EDT.
Sep 11, 7:51AM EDT0
What have you found to be the advantages of self-publishing? Are there are certain aspects you are glad to be able to do by yourself?
Sep 11, 4:38AM EDT0

What I like about I self-publishing is knowing exactly what is happening when, rather than waiting and waiting to hear from the publisher. I also like being able to choose the cover, and getting the 'look' of the book the way I want it. 

Another advantage is that I can have as many author copies as I like, without having to order them through the publisher. 

The other major advantage is speed; partly it depends on how much work you're prepared to put in, but you can get a finished book to market much more quickly when you self-publish than when you have a traditional publisher. That was a major consideration for Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong, as the new Robin Hood film comes out in November. 

Sep 11, 8:11AM EDT0
How long have you been associated with Christian Focus Publications? What was your experience like working with the publishing house?
Sep 11, 4:04AM EDT0

I first published with Christian Focus in 2014. They're pretty far north, in Tain, so I've never had personal contact, but through email and phone contact they seem like a small, friendly outfit. The main editor also writes a lot of their books. 

Communication isn't a strong point, but that's probably true of most publishers. Theologically, because they publish a lot in the US, they are more conservative and Calvinist than I am personally, which has occasionally caused a tiny bit of friction, but nothing to speak of. 

Sep 11, 8:00AM EDT0

What keeps you writing? Where do you get your inspiration? 

Sep 11, 12:01AM EDT0

I mostly keep writing because I keep having ideas. The lure of fame and fortune is always there, of course, but I realise it's not very likely!

Ideas come from anything: an ear-catching phrase that would make a good title; an intriguing situation; a first line; sometimes a character just pops into my head fully formed.

The idea for my work in progress (The Sarcophagus Scroll) came from an ancient story about some scrolls that the ancient Roman government burnt because they considered them too dangerous to exist. I came across that story by chance while I was reading Augustine's City of God, and it just captured my imagination and set me off on "what if"s!

Sep 11, 11:22AM EDT0
Do you think many writers have to rely on other jobs for financial security because readers are yet to realize what that one purchase means to a writer?
Sep 10, 10:29PM EDT0

I think that's part of it - many people don't realise that writers need actual sales and believe they can survive on exposure!

But I think the real problem is the narrowing of the publishing industry. In the UK we have the 'big five' publishers, whom you can't submit to without an agent, and they take the lion's share of the market. Small publishers are more open, but they don't have the same reach and clout as the big publishers. The result is that a tiny fraction of all books published on a year account for the majority of all book sales. 'Mid-list' books are being pushed out; it's bestseller or tiny print run, and very little in-between. 

Sep 11, 4:15AM EDT0
What do you think is the main reason people choose to self-publish?
Sep 10, 3:07PM EDT0

I think the main reason is that it's so hard to get published with mainstream publishers. For the 'big five' you have to have an agent, and in my experience agents are harder to get than publishers! This means that a lot of good books won't get published at all unless they're self-published.

Of course, it also means that a lot of bad books, that wouldn't have been published at all, are self-published, which is why it sometimes has a bad reputation, and why bookshops and distributors are unwilling to take them. The gatekeepers of traditional publishing are probably too strict, but there are no gatekeepers at all in self-publishing - not even to check you've had the text proofread!

Sep 11, 10:15AM EDT0
What is it about writing that you find frustrating?
Sep 10, 11:20AM EDT0

Often the reality of what you've written doesn't match the conception you had in your mind. I can imagine things better than I can describe them.

Apart from that, the most frustrating thing is rejections!

Sep 11, 10:52AM EDT0
What challenges have you faced taking the self-publishing route? Were any of them unexpected?
Sep 10, 10:07AM EDT0

I think the biggest challenge is distribution. Unless you buy a package (which is more expensive), this is always the struggle. Do you buy your own ISBNs and do the distribution yourself? It's lots of work and it's harder to get bookshops to take you seriously. Do you hire a distribution company, and give up most of your profit? Or do you just distribute via Amazon or Smashwords, and limit your market?

For Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong, I am plannin to use a number of different routes for distribution: KDP (formerly CreateSpace) for Amazon sales and .mobi, Smashwords for .epub and private printing for other distribution methods. This provides a wide reach with a relatively low cost, but it certainly increases the amount of work to be done!

Last edited @ Sep 11, 2:42PM EDT.
Sep 11, 10:12AM EDT0
Even though you have tried both routes and will be self-publishing your next book, but considering the advantages, if you have to pick between self-publishing or traditional, which one would you choose and why?
Sep 10, 6:59AM EDT0

I think it really depends on the project. For mass-market fiction, you stand a far better chance of success with a traditional publisher. On the other hand, if your book is for a niche market, with which you already have contacts (e.g. Leda was YA Christian fiction, a narrow field), you can do well with self-publishing. It just depends who your audience is, how large, and how easy it is to reach them. 

Personally I'd prefer to publish traditionally if possible, because it's so much less work - but it's not always possible, or even preferable. 

Sep 11, 8:20AM EDT0
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