A few years ago, I met a fellow author at a writer's conference who shared the same dream I had. We even wrote the same genre and we were lucky enough to sit at the same critique table. Based on our first chapters, we caught each other's skills and learned a lot about writing together. Now she's the proud author of three novels and a 4th coming your way! I'm a big fan so she's no stranger to The Laire, but for the first time ever, she's come in invade our space! In honor of her awesomeness and helpfulness to fellow writers, I hereby dub thee, Amber Argyle: Knight of the Cosmic Table!
AA: Wow! Thanks. I'm honored!
BTW, do I have to slay a dragon? Cause I totally can. Just let me know so I can get my sword out of the trunk.
DPK: We're actually working very hard on a knight/dragon relations treaty, this being the 21st century, but there's been an explosion of trolls since this "Internet" thing started, so you're free to slay as many of those as you like. They're worth 5+ XP each, I think.
AA: Great. So I can officially come out as a dragon. But don't worry. I won't burn anyone to a crisp unless you try to save the princess.
Once again, in case you missed it - all princesses must now and forever save themselves.
DPK: All princesses? Even the really young ones?
AA: I don't rescue princesses. I'm a firm believer that all princesses should rescue themselves. Unless they're babies, then I'm totally in.
DPK: Whew! I was beginning to worry for a second.
AA: Oh, one more thing, can I be the Queen AND a knight? I have a hard time taking orders.
DPK: A queen for a knight and a knight for a queen?
Hmm. You might be onto something there, but you'll likely have to go through a screening process since we try to keep our table evil-queen free - not that you're completely evil, it's just protocol.
AA: What's your problem with evil queens? Without us - I mean - them, there's no one to push the hero onto greatness!
DPK: You got a point, there. Well, if you're willing to push my table of Cosmic Knights onto greatness, consider it done! You are now our first Evil-Queen Knight of the Cosmic Table!
Now to business - It's been years since we first met, but I don't know how long you've been writing before then. Tell us about your writing journey up to your first publication.
AA: It's a long (five years) and a dangerous journey (involving a rattlesnake-really). I'll try to keep it short. I always wanted to be a writer, but it never seemed like the write time! Bahaha!
So sorry. *clears throat*
Then I had my second son, who screamed for 16 hours a day. The fear of failing and finding time didn't matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was gathering what little shreds of sanity I had left (never did find them all). Writing became my one solace. The one place where my exhausted mind could go to escape the never ending demands and dark pit of emptiness that I had tumbled into.
Fast forward through the next five years. I found an agent. After a year we broke up. I found a publisher, but I refused to sign their predatory contract. I finally found my way to a small press, who published Witch Song. After that, I moved onto indie and haven't looked back. I love it!
DPK: That's a fairly common thing I hear, writing as a means of solace. I've been there, and in a lot of ways, writing helped me learn who I am and what I want to be. I'm glad that writing has brought out the best in you because, seriously, you're the life of any party!
AA: I know. I can't help myself. ;)
DPK: I'm glad you brought up predatory contracts. When an author gets their first contract, usually they're so excited they sign right away. I know I turned down some, too. What are the most important things to watch out for in a publishing contract?
AA: You can learn just as much by how they treat you when you try to discuss the contract as you can from the contract itself. I teach an entire class on the subject, but here's a few tips:
- Check for a reasonable date for publishing the work (otherwise they can just cuddle with your MS forever).
- Make sure THEY pay to publish it.
- See if you can get approval for the format and style, graphic material, and style of the dust jacket.
- How many books is the publisher giving you (usually negotiable, try to bump it up).
- What’s your discount for buying books (~40%).
- Out of print clause: Make sure it’s SPECIFIC.
- Bad ex: The said Work shall be considered to be “in print” if it is offered for sale by the Publisher in any edition.
- Good: When 50 (the higher the better) or less print copies have sold in a consecutive 12 month period.
- Don’t assume it’s gone out of print. You have to have it in writing from your publisher.
- Do they pay an advance? Most small presses do not.
- Is the royalty based on gross or retail? BIG difference.
- Average royalty for print in large presses is 10-15%. Small presses start at 6% for soft cover/8% for hard (you probably won’t get hard). If yours doesn’t pay a great royalty, ask to be paid on a escalating scale.
- 15% on ebooks. I’d fight for this one (the big presses give 25%).
- Editorial—make sure you get final approval on any changes to content.
- Copyright—publisher should take care of this (in your name).
- Accounting—make sure they allow you to do an audit. How often are they paying you?
- Author Warranties: You wrote the book and have the right to sell it (nothing libelous).
- Termination by author: you can terminate the contract if they fail to publish the book in the specified time. I know an author who was screwed on this one.
- No advertisements shall be included in the work.
- In case of bankruptcy: Agreement is terminated and rights revert to author.
- Get rid of any late penalty/deep discount clauses.
DPK: This is fantastic advice! You guys taking notes? No seriously. Take my pen. Take ALL of my pens. This is great information!
As an indie author, the covers for your books are among the most stunning I've seen. I end up asking myself, "who did that for you!?" Where does an indie author find an awesome artist for their cover?
AA: Writer's need to study the covers of the novels in their genres. Your cover is the single most important marketing tool at your disposal, so make it FANTASTIC. I have fantasy boards on my Pinterest page where I pin cover images and art I feel works well for my stories (you can check it out here: http://pinterest.com/amberargyle/boards. I take pieces of the images I like and use them in my covers.
I found the cover artist for my last two books on Pinterest. I found a piece of art Laura Sava had done, found her and asked for a bid.
deviantart.com is another good site, but I like Pinterest better because pinners have already waded through the crap and picked out the best images.
DPK: After scrolling around for a bit, I can see where you got your inspiration for Witch Fall. I just might start a Pinterest page now!
Speaking of Witch Fall, let's check out that cover, shall we?
Seriously, that's a nice cover, if not my favorite of all your covers! Now, this is the conclusion to your Witch Song Trilogy, correct? Tell us a little about it?
AA: It's the final novel - a prequel that tells Lilette's story.
Here's the back cover:
All things fall.
Supreme in their dominion over seasons, storms, and sea, the Witches have forgotten the unmatched destructiveness of mankind. And among the weapons men seek are the magical songs of the Witches.
Lilette is one of the few who see the decadence and decay weakening the Witches. As an outsider amid her own kind, can she help them survive the coming war?
I'm hoping to have it done by October, but my life isn't cooperating. At all. I have a short story that will come out at around the same time--Witch Something-or-other. Ideas anyone?
DPK: Witch Rise? Witch Dawn? Witch Way is North?
AA: *note to self, don't ask David for title ideas* ;)
DPK: *laugh out loud* That sounds great, and I can't wait to add Witch Fall to my "reserved for Amber Argyle" shelf (don't freak out - I have several reserved author shelves).
Congratulations on publishing your first trilogy! Do you prefer the vessel with the pestle or the chalice from the palace?
AA: The chalice - they usually come with a servant and I desperately need one of those.
DPK: Oh, I know, right? *ahem* One last question and I'll let you get back to your busy schedule: what does it mean to be a knight in the writing community? Or, your case, an evil queen knight?
AA: It's fabulous! I have little minions to do all my dirty work. Servants to cook and clean for me. There's always a disposable minor lord if I need to take my frustrations out, and I'm super powerful and feared by all.
DPK: Sounds like wicked awesomeness to me! There's just one catch. Since my Cosmic Knights have been trained to vanquish evil, we might have to tone down the "evil queen" bit - at least until they become more accepting of the idea. Now, how do we hook-wink everyone?
Hmm. I know! You can have this badge (to use however you like) and NO one will suspect a thing. Just be sure not to cast any spells, cause that's a dead giveaway. Sound good to you?
AA: So much prejudice against evil. You and your books would be nothing without our influence. Remember that!
* * *
Amber does make a great point. While we don't encourage real evil, our characters would be nothing without evil to face. So the next time you write a dark lord or an evil queen, make them awesome, so that your hero will want to curl up and die. What doesn't kill them only makes them stronger, right?
Did you guys know that Amber defeated me in a growling contest? She's just THAT awesome!
I'm David, and the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!