In 2011, the year I began this blog, I took part in a month of bloggers/authors connecting with one another through a whole host of activities. As part of this, I chose to participate in the book launch for an author launching her first indie title, MINDJACK, the first in a YA Sci Fi trilogy called Open Minds. I am no sci fi fan at all, but the book was gripping. And more importantly, I have been able to follow the author, Susan Kaye Quinn, going from strength to strength as an indie author. Since MINDJACK’S publication in November 2011, Sue has been making a living (as defined by “more than the average income in her state”) from her writing, and she supports and encourages many other new authors along the way.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an author, especially how you decided on the self-publishing route.
I was everything else before becoming a writer – engineer, scientist, politician, mom – then one day I typed, “Chapter One,” and it’s really been downhill ever since. Downhill in the sense of a headlong thrill-ride of writerly fears, an explosion of creativity, joy in the process, and most recently, trying to balance the addiction of that fully-immersive fantasy experience (this is what writing is for me) with having an actual life and a body that can go the distance. The decision to go self-publishing was a little more difficult in 2011 (when I took the leap) because there weren’t so many successful self-pub authors to follow as examples. Now they’re everywhere, but back then, I had to carefully weigh the options, and it really was quite simple. I’d already pubbed with a small press and that was a disappointment. I was in the midst of querying the book I wanted to launch with (Open Minds, which you can now download free! ) and agents were saying the market for Dystopian YA was cooling at the same time that I saw it ripping up the charts. I knew I could produce a better product and market it better than my small pub, and I was pretty sure I had a better sense of the market than the agents and large pubs. The only question was whether my book would actually sell. And there was only one way to find out… try it. (Spoiler: it worked out well.)
[JM] When you left your rocket scientist job to pursue your writing and entrepreneurial career, where did you find the most support, and how did you manage this huge transition?
[SKQ] I actually left my PhD research to be a full-time mom – that choice, while difficult, was one I wanted to make. Then, while my babies were still small, I was elected to my local school board and served for 4 years. I’d always planned to return to engineering once the kids were in school, but the writing bug bit me before that happened. I loved it so much, I had to find a way to make it actually pay – so that I wouldn’t have to work an engineering job to pay for my kids’ college. That became my first metric by which to judge the success of my selfpub career – could I make enough to keep doing it? Turns out, I could.
[JM] Most authors at one point or another have felt discouraged about making a living as a writer. As an author who works full-time on her writing, what would you say were the three key factors that got you where you are today?
[SKQ] I inadvertently did all the right things out of the gate. First, I got a lot of reviews for my debut ahead of time by liberally handing out review copies. Second, I published a trilogy in rapid (at that time) succession – three books in the span of about a year. Third, I happened to publish something that had a chance of selling (the YA Dystopian market was hot) – of course, I knew this going in, or at least heavily suspected. In other words, I was paying attention to the market. Those three things worked in 2011… and they work today. Marketing tips and tricks and techniques come and go… but the basics are still the same. The only thing I would add for a new author in 2016 is to launch in Kindle Unlimited – that’s going to give you the best visibility these days (there was no KU back when I started, but I’m using it for my new series now).
[JM] We read a lot about new writers building themselves and author platform, could you share what an author-platform is and why it is so important?
[SKQ] I’m going to be a complete heretic and say author platform really isn’t important. Did I say complete heretic? How about flaming, burn-her-at-the-stake heretic? 🙂 Seriously, you’ll notice my three things listed above (plus KU) have nothing to do with author platform (meaning social media, blogging, etc). I have a penname I write under that has almost no social media presence, but she writes good books, targeted to the market, and she markets them well (mainly through paid advertising) – and she sells very well. (Note: when I say I “make a living” from my books, I mean my Susan Kaye Quinn books, not my penname. The penname makes a whole separate “living wage” by herself.)
I generally tell authors to spend their time writing not worrying about platform. Platform doesn’t sell books. Selling books creates platform.
[JM] Do you have a favorite social media presence, and if so, why?
[SKQ] I’m on Facebook way too much, just because it’s fun. And it’s where I hang out with my writer friends (and readers too). We geek out about SF and robots and the Artificial Intelligence that will spell our doom. Also cats. And funny things my kids say. I have a FB Group (join us!) as well as a FB profile (friend me!), but really it’s just me goofing around. Don’t mistake it for a platform!
[JM] What are the most important lessons you have learned as a fiction writer between the publication of your first novel, # 1 in the MINDJACK series, and your most recent work,# 1 in the SINGULARITY series?
[SKQ] Mindjack and Singularity are both YA SF, but in between those, I dabbled in middle grade, future-noir, romance, steampunk… basically I sowed my wild creative oats! And learned a lot about the market, how it works, how to write for love even if it won’t sell, and how to write for money even if it’s not (necessarily) something you love. That in-between time was the basis for my book, For Love or Money, which talks about how writing for love and writing for money are both legit choices… and how you don’t have to choose. You can do both.
[JM] I know that you value the support of writing groups. Tell us a little about the communities you are involved in.
[SKQ] I recently started a group for authors who dictate – Dragon Riders (join us!). And I’m in lots of other collectives of varying types, either on FB or the monthly in-person crit group I have locally. It’s easy to spend too much time on these, so I have to be careful, just like I am with any social media. Support is important; key information about your business is important; but be careful not to spend all your time chatting with writers and not actually writing (this is a danger for me!).
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? [SKQ] Yosemite
[JM] Cats or dogs? [SKQ] Cats
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you? [SKQ] I applied to the astronaut program… twice. REJECTED! (obvs)
[JM] What word best sums you up? [SKQ] Driven
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices? [SKQ] Tea. Always tea. Black, no sweetener.
Susan Kaye Quinn, Speculative Fiction Author
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Sue, thanks so much for sharing with us today. I am so glad I encountered you at the beginning of my author journey and the beginning of your publications, and have been able to follow your career. We understand your discretion, but recognize the cats obviously deserve much credit in your creativity!
I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. Love her thoughts on writers not needing a writer’s platform. One of my friends frequently reviews her books and I believe she’s part of the Emblazon group. It’s encouraging for writers to know they can write for love and for money. Susan is so creative and has been successful at doing what she loves. She has quite a repertoire of books.
Yes, I was interested on how Sue responded to that question. I think part of her success is how supportive she is of other authors, too!
While I’m not at the “thinking about indie publishing” stage yet, I am always interested in reading how others do it. So, thanks for this fascinating interview, Susan and Joanna! Here’s to Susan’s continued success!
I love hearing success stories from real professionals like Sue!
Great interview! 😀 I like Ms. Quinn’s middle grade book series! 😀