Anna Rodney Interview
Q: Why did you choose to go indie rather than going for the traditional publishing route?
For me, self-publishing was the quickest way to put my book under the eyes of the natural judges of all written work – actual paying readers. It meant that I didn’t have to wage months and years of battle with the publishing world’s gatekeepers to finally gain their begrudging permission to put my book under the eyes of actual paying readers. Unfortunately, digital publishing is a kind of a “good news/bad news” deal: you can now get your book to readers around the world quickly, but that new book of yours is part of a daily army of new titles. So, unless readers find out it’s there and decide to read it, your novel might just as well have died as a dusty manuscript in your drawer, like traditional rejected books.
Raises an interesting question. If your book is on Amazon but no one ever reads it, is it still published? Painful thought.
My background is script writing for television and motion pictures – that means I spent years pitching ideas, writing spec scripts, doing treatments and query letters, taking meetings with low level screeners, smiling at associate producers, romancing junior agents, running gauntlets of hostile secretaries and fighting legions of sullen script readers. YES is the rarest of words in Hollywood. Getting access to the people there who have sufficient power and fortitude to say YES is nearly impossible; yet absolutely everyone is empowered to say NO. Even the lowliest readers are authorized to say NO – especially those readers. That’s pretty much all they say to everyone, and for good reason; there’s no worries in a negative. Their jobs are only at risk if they say YES. So, with my grueling experiences over many years with the motion picture producers of the west coast, why would I begin a war with the book publishers of the east coast? Thus, self-publishing felt almost perfect to me.
Q: How are you getting your books out there?
My intention was to try and get my finished book in the hands of as many paying readers as possible. That meant I should try for as many sales channels as I could (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, Lulu, Bookbaby, whoever and wherever). Sounds straightforward, but it wasn’t. The first place I went was Amazon, and I reviewed their KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program. Well, right away, I was thrown a curve ball. They wanted 90 days of exclusivity in exchange for some free days (my book offered for free) and being a part of their Prime (book lending for an annual fee) program. I also had to decide if I wanted DRM (digital rights management) encoding on my upload. Okay, that threw me right back into more Google research.
After the research I decided to give the Amazon KDP deal a shot because of the free days; I could care less about Prime – nobody’s going to “waste a borrow” on an unknown author with a cheap book; and I decided against the DRM encoding (it just gets in the way).
So, now I simply needed to convert my Word file into something able to be uploaded. What a world of confusion that proved to be! I had researched all about the different formats required for different platforms (MOBI, AZW, KF8 for Kindle; EPUB, PDF for Nook and iPad). I had read numerous horror stories about the quality of the free conversions offered by KDP or Smashwords but, at the same time, I was repeatedly told how flawlessly easy it was to convert a Word manuscript into HTML yourself. A child could do it. Really?
I purchased a highly rated eBook that promised a foolproof step-by-step guide to perfect HTML formatting from Word to make eBook uploading a snap. Okay, let me be frank. All of that is bunk – every last bit of it – except that part about the awful free conversion. I mean, c’mon, if everything was so damn easy, why do so many indie eBooks have major formatting problems?
After much suffering, I hired a highly recommended format conversion company
http://www.booknook.biz/ and they were wonderful, quick and flawless. Their sliding prices are based on manuscript word count and whether you have a clean Word file. (It turns out that after a lifetime of using Word every day, I didn’t know the proper way to use Word!) I did a crash course on properly cleaning up my Word file (with their help) and got the lower price.
Currently, the book is available in digital or print format on Amazon until my first 90 day contract with KDP is complete. Whether I intend to renew the KDP contract is dependent upon my evaluation of the results of my free campaigns. If they have no impact on sales than it’s not worth continuing the exclusivity with Amazon.
Q: If you went for a print version, why? If you didn’t, why not?
I always wanted to have both a digital and print version of the book. My first reason to have a print version of the book was simply the physical experience of holding an actual book with my name on it in my hands. I know, that’s a quaint, throwback motivation, but there you are. Those of us who predate the eBook era can’t shake the feeling that somehow physical books are more real.
My second reason was that by using CreateSpace, a print-on-demand bookmaking subsidiary company of Amazon, it would be easy to offer a physical alternative to my eBook (many people still prefer physical books) and I could highlight the actual cost savings of an eBook download (you save $7.00!). Cool.
Q: Do you spend a great deal of time on Goodreads?
Until I became an author, I hadn’t even heard of Goodreads. After a few months of membership I think it’s a wonderful site for many types of readers, and it creates a fine sense of community for them with numerous opportunities to interact with each other. Personally, I’m not one of those types of readers. I don’t need help to find books, track books, review books, or discuss books. However, Goodreads is convenient and a great help to newbie authors like me. I find I am spending more time there than I expected – maybe up to 20 minutes a day. After all, it’s because of Goodreads that I came across Anna’s comments and my reply led her to review my book!
Just recently, I met another author who liked a book review I had written and we are now friends. The site is growing on me. I now have three friends. I belong to one sci-fi discussion group. I have reviewed several books on the site and I’ve run a successful book giveaway. I may become more active as I have more time.
Q: If it’s not too rude to ask, how are you feeling about the progress of your book?
You know, it is really hard to tell. I have no clear way to calibrate my progress since this is my first time and the experiences of other indie authors are so varied.
Here are the things that I’ve done so far. I worked very hard to secure reviews for my book, both from reviewers and regular readers, and I have so far gotten more than a dozen – all but one very positive. My book’s rating on Amazon and Goodreads is a 4+.
Due to Anna’s review and other people’s comments I reworked my story description to better entice the right readers. I redesigned my book cover for a better one. I have an author’s profile on Amazon & Goodreads and the book has a presence on Facebook. I promoted a 4-day free download campaign on Amazon and moved a lot of books (894) – I achieved a ranking of #558 in overall free Kindle titles during the campaign and rose to #8 in my genre for free titles. I created a giveaway of 10 autographed books on Goodreads and secured 721 entrants and over 310 of them now list my book as a “to read.” I created book business cards that I am constantly handing out to anyone I meet when they ask, “what’s new?”
Nevertheless, I am feeling pretty disheartened about the progress. I’m not selling many books – or not as many as I hoped for. And I had very modest hopes, but the actual sales so far are under performing those hopes. The book has been out now about four months and I’ve sold maybe a little over 100 books. Is that poor? Normal? Good? I just don’t know, and no one seems to know. If I include the paid sales, the free books, the giveaways and the ones I provided to reviewers, the total number of books in the hands of someone is around 1000.
Q: Would you indie publish again?
Absolutely! Hopefully, with what I learned from this first go around I would be smarter, make better decisions, design a better cover, hone my story description, pre-build a buzz before the book comes out, get book reviews started before the book is released, build an interest ahead of publication, etc. I believe we are living in a publication revolution and I’m having fun being a part of it. The publishing world will never be the same and I, for one, think that’s a good thing.
Q: Who has been the biggest influence upon your work?
Since college, it has always been easy for me to answer that question. The biggest influence upon my work was a teacher. He was a Jesuit priest and his classes were unrelentingly tough and unimaginably delightful. He taught me English and American Literature, Poetry and an introduction to Shakespeare. His name was Leonard A. Waters PhD, S.J. but to those of us who listened raptly to his every word and struggled tirelessly to win his grudging praise he was known affectionately by his initials: LAW. He had a great and powerful voice and commanded our best efforts. He treated us with the respect of fellow scholars, and almost despite ourselves, we lived up to his expectations. There isn’t a sentence I write, a poem I discuss, a movie I watch, or even an e-mail I type, that I don’t ask myself what the LAW would think of it. He is just a part of who I am and how I think.
Obviously, there are many, many other people who have influenced my work but if you ask, “who has been the biggest influence,” there is only one - the LAW. Interestingly enough, many of my classmates who are also in some type of creative art, say the same thing. A great teacher can be a powerful force.
Q: What upcoming project of your own are you most excited about?
My next book has me quite enthused. It’s called “Still Breathing” and it takes you along with Lizzie Warton, an older woman, as she navigates the last phase of her life. The story opens with the touching death of her well-loved husband from Alzheimer’s disease. In a final brief moment of clarity he makes an unusual request. “Lizzie, for once in your life, do something crazy, something big, something…without worrying about me or the kids, or…anything.”
The book is about what she decides to do next.
You see, Lizzie lives in a comfortable suburb in the soft middle of the Midwest. She is healthy, even though overweight. With the death of her husband, she has the life insurance settlement, social security, a paid-for-house, her own retirement benefit from years as a librarian with the local school district, and substantial investments. Her three children are grown and two are already married, with children of their own. She is active in her local church and has a loyal circle of friends. In short, she is well situated, well provided for, and well able to cruise in worry free comfort from here to eternity. But she stubbornly hatches other plans.
Against everyone’s wishes and advice she travels alone to Kampala, Uganda to help an itinerant African minister who needs a librarian at his mission school. In a story of humor and grief, beauty and despair, everything that can possibly go wrong, goes wrong; but everything that ultimately can go right, also goes right. As she learns to love a bewildering culture and a proud people, Lizzie finds new and unusual uses for every single life skill she has ever acquired, including deception. Accidentally embroiled in third-world politics and terror she manages to salvage young lives and create futures where none existed before. The final movement of the book takes an unexpected twist that leaves Lizzie once again with a painful choice.
Q: While doing research have you ever done anything really exciting or strange?
One of the strangest things I have ever agreed to do was to write and direct an independent American feature film in Vijayawada, India. When I say an American film, I mean that we were trying to pretend, on-screen, that we were in the United States, not India. I know, you’re scratching your head and saying, “Huh?” Right. You asked for strange, that’s what this was.
I headed up an independent film crew and an 11 member cast along with support people from the US and spent over a month attempting to make this film. My producer, an optimistic Indian, had the idea that we could save tons of money shooting in India, where prices were cheap and he had contacts in Bollywood. I arrived a week before the cast and knew we were in trouble. What sounded odd but possible in theory proved to be very bizarre and impossible in practice. Vijayawada is the third largest city in Andhra Pradesh and is located on the banks of the Krishna River, about 275 km from the state capital, Hyderabad. Nothing near us looked anything like anywhere in the US. We were partnered with an eccentric Indian Director of Photography and his Hindi film crew. The sun was blinding, the electricity was undependable, the cast became ill, few of our Indian workers understood English. We shot at numerous locations where we spent most of our time shooing away cows and monkeys, hiding thousands of Indian onlookers who, quite literally, appeared out of nowhere, and trying to teach our prop workers how to build American sets and artifacts. Every single “typical” shot became impossibly difficult for us.
Nothing worked, including the hope that we were saving money.
One of our oddest challenges was securing any vehicles that looked remotely like American cars to place in the background. In addition, even if you found some, the steering wheels were on the wrong side since India drives on the opposite side of the road from the US. Unlucky for us, the script called for a number of scenes with characters having dialogue inside moving cars. Imagine how you would film that to look American when the wheel is on the wrong side and the scenery passing by is water buffalos or auto rickshaws?
Desperation is the mother of invention. We pulled it off but I can’t even begin to explain how, except to say that it took much longer than was planned, required a lot of rigging, compromised our safety, and I would never do it again.
Did the film get finished? Yes. Was it any good? Not really. Did it look like it was shot in America? Kind of. The best I can say is that it did not look like it was shot in India. So, if that’s a plus, we accomplished something. Did you save money doing it this way? No.
Q: How long have you been writing? What made you start?
I have been writing all of my life. I started as a kid writing stories and imitating the stacks of books I read. Like all good early writers I would slave over my book title and my author credit for hours and then spend almost no time writing the story. Eventually, I got that sorted out.
Initially, I saw myself as a poet. Through college I tried my hand at that and, at some point, was swept into the visual poetry offered by motion pictures. I pursued that for many years both in college and in Hollywood. I learned that I had a knack for script writing and so that’s what I did on the side while I worked a real job to pay bills and tried to convince my long-suffering family that things would turn around.
Only recently did I try my hand at novel writing. Since I had given up on the Hollywood dream, I belatedly realized that writing a novel gave me the ultimate freedom. I wasn’t hemmed in by the restrictive screenplay form where descriptions are severely curtailed and the format and length is carved in stone. I could take my time with the characters. I could more fully develop the plot and fill in the story blanks with background information and additional characters. My imagination wasn’t limited to a budget. I could write my book any way I pleased, as long as the readers enjoyed it. To be honest, I never felt so free and I only wonder now what took me so long to do it.
Q: What are you enjoying reading at the moment?
I tend to read a lot of science fiction and then intersperse it with historical fiction and the occasional thriller or non-fiction work.
Recently, I read and reviewed “Poor Man’s Fight” by Elliot Kay and “Night of the Purple Moon” by Scott Cramer. I’m rereading “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and enjoying it immensely. In addition, I just discovered a historical character that I had never heard about named Mary Edwards Walker whose life spanned the American civil war. She was the only woman in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor for her work caring for the injured and endangering her own life – and then the medal was taken away from her because she wasn’t in combat. She refused to surrender the medal and wore it all her life. I’m reading a biography of her and think her life would make a terrific film.
Q: How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
My wife called me at work that day when the package arrived containing the first book proof. She is also a writer and knew how important the moment would be to me. I raced home and felt somewhat embarrassed by how giddy I felt slicing through the sealing tape and preparing for my first glimpse of an actual book with my name on it.
I feel silly even now writing these words but it was such an odd feeling as I held the paperback in my hands and felt its weight. Odd. Peculiar. Those were the feelings that bubbled around in me. I kept turning the book over and over, staring in different ways at the title and my name beneath it. I couldn’t resolve the sensation of the world being a little off because it now had to include a book with my name. I’m better now since I’ve gotten quite used to the idea but I have to say that it was one of the oddest moments I have ever experienced.
Q: Do you enjoy TV and movies? If so, what are your favorite shows/films? Do you find they inspire your writing?
I do enjoy movies a great deal (although it is getting ever harder to find well written films); TV, not so much. These days if I watch TV series at all it’s on a DVD with a whole season for my viewing. “West Wing” and “Band of Brothers” were the last series I truly enjoyed this way. The writing was terrific. I have to say I was initially captured by “Downton Abby” but grew fatigued after the second season and soon after gave up. I enjoyed the first three seasons of "Call the Midwife" and then gave it up when the main actor left the series.
In regards to motion pictures, regrettably, I am not someone you want to sit next to at the movie theater. In fact, my children often sit apart from me, if they let me go with them at all. You see, since I was a film editor, I physically flinch and groan out loud at bad cuts, inexcusable shots and audio issues. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself. And since I’m a recovering screenwriter, I wiggle in my chair and moan at plot bumps, inept dialogue, or unbelievable characters. On the other hand, if the show is good, I’m the best audience in the world.
Here is my short list (if you care) of 10 movies (current and older) that I sat still and silent as a statue from start to finish and highly recommend: “Arrival,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The King’s Speech,” “Source Code,” “Dear Frankie,” “Whale Rider,” “Searching for Bobbie Fisher,” “Glory,” “Braveheart,” “Inception.”