Interview #4 – C.L. Schneider (Epic Fantasy)
Self-published author C.L. Schneider, author of The Crown of Stones speaks to Brain to Books about her publishing experience.
Brain to Books: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us about your experience with self-publishing. How did you come to the decision to self-publish over traditional?
C.L. Schneider: It was always my intention to go the traditional route. Some of that was by default. I was sixteen when I started my first novel. E-books didn’t exist and self-publishing was not what it is today. When I was about twenty I submitted the book, a post-apocalyptic behemoth, to pretty much every publisher in Manhattan. Needless to say, I was naïve, the book was ridiculously long, and it didn’t go well. I kept writing after that, but the wind had been taken out of my sails and I submitted nothing for many years. By the time I was deep into writing The Crown of Stones, I was ready to try again. At this point, the self-publishing of e-books was on the rise. Both my good friend (who was downloading books left and right) and my husband strongly encouraged me to look into it. Their argument was, if I self-published with Amazon and the e-book sold, I might have better luck catching the attention of an agent or publisher. I knew they had a point, but I wasn’t sold on the idea. I’d dreamt of holding my book in my hands since I was sixteen. I wanted nothing more than to walk into a bookstore and see it on a shelf. I couldn’t imagine giving that up.
When I finished The Crown of Stones, I did what everyone else does: toiled over query letters, held my breath, and waited. As expected, the rejection letters started rolling in. There was some interest. Several agents asked to read the first fifty pages. One man, who was the agent for fantasy at the time, said he was intrigued. I danced around the room for days over that one. In the end though, while he liked my story, he felt “the writing wasn’t quite up to the level he needed for today’s competitive market.” I was disappointed, but I agreed with him. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t ready. I knew I could do better. I found the positive in his negative rejection and became determined to improve my story. I started revising, and revising, and revising, and revising with the plan to submit the book again when I was done.
Throughout the year that followed, while I was glued to my laptop, my friend was still relentlessly pushing the e-book. She loved The Crown of Stones story and thought I was crazy for not getting it out a fast as possible. While her supportive nagging meant the world to me, and I was well aware of the increasingly popularity of the e-book, I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. Holding a Kindle wasn’t my dream.
The day I decided to finally humor her was a warm July afternoon. There was pizza and daiquiris and lots of book talk. I pulled out the laptop and headed to Amazon, fully expecting to tell her once again that I wasn’t interested. That’s when I stumbled upon CreateSpace. I immediately saw their print-on-demand self-publishing services and Kindle conversion as the best of both worlds. I could fulfill my dream of having a physical book and publish an e-book at the same time. I was so excited I created an account that day. I felt a bit like a stubborn fool for not looking into it sooner. I also had to hear ‘I told you so’ from my friend a couple of times, but it was worth it. I haven’t regretted or second guessed my decision once.
Self-publishing has given me control over something that I felt I had no control over for many years. I love being able to set my word count, my price, and pick my cover. Would I also love to be on the shelf at Barnes & Noble? Sure. But I’m on my shelf. For now, that’s more than enough.
B2B: Please tell us about The Crown of Stones. You have a sequel due to release soon, is that correct?
CLS: The Crown of Stones is an epic fantasy trilogy that follows the trials of Ian Troy, a man born with an addiction to magic, living in a world where magic is reviled not revered. It’s the first person account of his struggles to understand and accept his abilities and their deadly consequences. In Magic-Price (the first installment), Ian’s tragic past comes back with a vengeance. He finds himself drawn into a fight for control of the realms and The Crown of Stones; an ancient relic whose power Ian knows all too well. His addiction raging, as he struggles to protect those he cares for, his magical abilities begin to develop in strange new ways. His battle to save the realms becomes a fight for his own sanity as Ian realizes the crown isn’t what he thought—and neither is he.
In the second installment, Magic-Scars (due to be released soon), Ian and his friends must deal with the aftermath of events in the first book. There were unpleasant consequences to many of their decisions and actions, and there’s some recovery to be done for several characters. As Ian wrestles to come to terms with the changes in himself and the world, he fights to reclaim what was lost. He endures a terrible turning point that pushes him to the edge and sparks a frightening transformation; leading him to uncover shocking secrets about the history of his people.
B2B: Being a fantasy fan myself, I took up your book and started reading it almost right away. The cover art for Magic-Price is what drew me to you on Twitter and the cover is what won me over to look more into your novel. Please tell me about the road you took to develop a physical picture of Troy. How did you find such a talented artist for the cover?
CLS: I put a lot of care and thought into creating the character of Ian Troy. It was important to me that some of his internal characteristics were reflected in his appearance. For instance, his white hair and eyes are a kind of contrast to the darkness Ian feels is inside him. There are some personal notes in there, too. The strong facial features the Shinree are known for is a nod to the Cherokee blood on my father’s side of the family. It was fairly watered down by the time it reached me, but it still shows in the high cheekbones of some of my relatives. Ian’s haircut is a little less symbolic. I modeled it off the lead singer of my favorite indie rock band.
Ian had to be physically fit and strong enough to handle all the fighting I had in store for him, but not so overly muscular that he instantly overpowered his enemies. Where’s the fun in that? Instead of some big buff warrior that everyone would naturally cower from, Ian’s ability to intimidate had to be less obvious. The fear he incites needed to come from something deeper and more obscure, something he couldn’t so easily alter. The unpredictable nature of his magic, and the rumors of his misdeeds, prompts anxiety in those he comes into contact with in a far different way than a nice set of triceps would. Ian’s clothing on the cover represents his lack of acceptance and isolation (self-imposed and otherwise). The colors of the realm he was fighting for are mentioned several times in the book, yet Ian isn’t wearing them. Even surrounded by his fellow soldiers, he stands alone.
The image for the cover was in my head a long time. When I realized the book was about to become a reality, I never had any doubt who I would hire for the cover: Alan Dingman. I was very familiar with the quality of his work, as Alan and I have been friends for years. His wife and I met when our twelve year olds (then three) hit it off one day at a local play place. It was pure karma. I was working on The Crown of Stones. She was a graphic designer with quite a few covers under her belt. Her husband was a portrait artist by night and an illustrator/cover artist by day. Alan actually illustrated the pop-up book by Stephen King, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book.
Knowing how busy Alan was at his day job (Simon & Schuster) and with his portraits, I wasn’t sure if he would be agreeable to taking on another side project. Thankfully, when I approached him with my idea for the cover, he was nearly as excited about it as I was. We worked closely on it together, tweaking this and that. The first time I saw the finished product I almost cried. I have a pet peeve about covers that don’t reflect the story. I wanted mine to communicate the tone of the book and to recreate a pivotal scene, and Alan did just that. He brought to life the exact picture in my mind, yet with his own unique flair. He worked that same magic on the cover for Magic-Scars. I can’t wait to see what he does for the last book in the trilogy.
B2B: Last July/this July, you were invited to appear at Highland, New York’s first annual Comic-Con. How did that happen?
CLS: The Comic-Con was definitely a right-place-right- time situation. Last spring I went to the Highland Library to donate a copy of The Crown of Stones. When I was speaking to the librarian, the woman who was in charge of organizing the Comic-Con happened to be standing nearby. She overheard our conversation, introduced herself, and started telling me about this new upcoming event the library was sponsoring. Being a big fan of Comic-Con myself, I was impressed by her enthusiasm and desire to bring the talent and atmosphere of such a big city event to our little town. She did a wonderful job, too. The room was full of local artists, authors, and booksellers. They had quite a few panels, including demonstrations on creating a comic book and applying special effects make-up. There was a costume contest and raffles. I did a Cover Reveal for Magic-Scars and was interviewed by the Orange County Sci-fi/Fantasy Podcast, as well as a local newspaper. The event was a great success. Before the day was even over, options were being discussed for a bigger venue for next year. On a personal note, I was thrilled to be involved. Not only was it Highland’s first Comic-Con, it was my first Comic-Con as a published author. Being there that day, talking about The Crown of Stones, meeting so many great people, it was an amazing feeling I won’t soon forget.
B2B: One of things I noticed right away while reading your book was the quality. Not just of the story, plot development, and characterization, but the grammar and technique. Please tell us how you went about finding an editor for your book and proceeding with that stage.
CLS: If you are serious about self-publishing there are two very important elements you can’t skimp on: the cover and the editor. In finding one, I was lucky enough to find the other.
When Alan agreed to design my cover, he immediately gave me the card for his friend, Marco Palmieri, who (aside from his day job of editing fantasy and science fiction novels at Tor) had his own side business called Otherworld Editorial. The second I heard the word ‘Tor’ I knew I’d found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Simply the idea of having someone of his caliber—someone who specializes in Sci-Fi and Fantasy—not only reading my work, but offering suggestions, completely blew me away. I reached out to him that same day and he agreed to take on the project. He offered several different editing services. I wanted to get as much advice from him as possible on the story itself, so I decided to go with the Developmental Edit. This level of editing focuses primarily on characterization, pacing and flow, plot, world building, and narrative structure.
I submitted my manuscript to him and waited anxiously for his opinion. To be honest, I was more than anxious. I was scared to death. I kept thinking about all those manuscripts he read at Tor that were written by real authors. How could mine ever stack up? I was convinced he would think I had no talent, or he would recommend major rewrites that would really set me back. Neither of those things happened.
When Marco finished his review of The Crown of Stones he sent me a detailed report. Some of his advice and suggestions were issues that had already crossed my mind. Others, I hadn’t even considered. We discussed his recommendations at length, and Marco helped me to see the world I’d created in a brand new light. Not even for a second did I feel like I wasn’t a real writer. In fact, it was just the opposite. Not only did he like the story, working with a professional editor made my burgeoning career as an author feel far more real than it ever had before.
B2B: What steps are involved in making a manuscript and turning it into a book?
CLS: CreatSpace offers package services (with various levels of interior design, editing, cover, promotional materials, Kindle Conversion), or you can purchase their services individually based on your needs. I already had an editor and a cover designer, but I needed the manuscript formatted so I went with the a la carte option. You can format the manuscript yourself if you have interested in that part of the process or are looking to cut down on the cost. I’m not that computer savvy, so it was better for me to let CreateSpace handle the interior design.
Once you upload your manuscript, one of their representatives will contact you to discuss what services you require. After payment is made you’ll be assigned a Design Team. They will schedule a phone meeting with you to discuss, fonts and fleurons, image placement, or any other needs you might have. After you make decisions on the interior design, your team will send you a digital proof within ten days. After reviewing your PDF for errors/typos, you either approve it or request changes. CreateSpace allows you up to 200 changes (typos, spacing issues, etc.) at no charge. There is a fee if you go over. If you request changes, they will re-format and send you a corrected proof to review. When you are happy with your interior and approve it, they will then send you a physical proof of your book. It is an unbelievable feeling when that physical copy comes in the mail!
There are other minor steps and information that needs to be entered for them to proceed (bank information for royalties, distribution channels, promotional text), but the entire process takes about 60-90 days. However, if you are on top of it, proofread quickly, and no changes are requested, you can make it happen in 30 days. The Kindle Conversion takes place after your physical copy is available for sale.
B2B: Platform, promotion, and marketing today are the three highest worries of an author today. What advice do you have for new authors on these subjects? Where did you find your help?
CLS: My advice is simple: start now, ask questions, be yourself, and make a schedule.
Even if you’ve only written one page, it’s not too early to make your online presence known. Connect with other authors, new, experienced and aspiring; they are a wealth of information and all have something different to offer. Everyone I’ve reached out to has been more than happy to answer my questions. Many have gone above and beyond to point me in the right direction and I’m extremely grateful. I’ve tried to return the favor whenever I can. It’s a great feeling to know I might have made someone’s days just a little bit easier. Building a platform or brand isn’t just about you ‘the author’. It’s about you as a person. Instead of shoving your book down everyone’s throat, show them who you are. Be yourself. Share the knowledge you gain.
The schedule is self-explanatory. It’s also immensely important if you don’t want to drive yourself crazy. Set time limits for each social media or marketing vehicle. That way you touch them all in a week and still leave time for writing. It’s much easier said than done, though, and it’s something I still struggle with.
As far as help goes, I didn’t really have any. I did attend a self-publishing expo that offered a lot of good information. Other than that, I’ve pretty much been learning the marketing/promoting end of things as I go. It wasn’t a conscious choice, really. I was just so focused on realizing my dream and finally seeing my book in print that I didn’t give much thought to what came next. It was poor planning on my part and the trial and error method is not something I would recommend. My lack of preparation was also due in part to my comfort level. I find it much easier to talk about my story than myself. Needless to say, I should have been promoting long before I did and there are still many avenues I have yet to explore. While I have come to genuinely enjoy the social side of marketing and promoting my work, there is a sense of definite pressure that comes with it. The feeling that you aren’t doing enough, that you aren’t as visible as you should be, that you need to write one more post or one more tweet, or find one more website to list your book—it doesn’t stop. Sometimes I really stress over it. It eats into my writing time and my sleep. Other times, I remind myself that the writing has to come first or there’s no product to promote. Ultimately, I believe it comes down to finding a balance between the two that you can live with.
B2B: What authors have inspired you and your series, The Crown of Stones?
CLS: When I was in the early stages of developing The Crown of Stones, the story definitely had more of a ‘high fantasy’ slant. I was heavily into the beautiful writings of C. J. Cherry, Andre Norton, Jennifer Roberson, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. In particular, Cherry’s Gate series (The Morgaine Saga) and Roberson’s Song of the Cheysuli series struck a chord with me. There was a long stretch then where family and work left me very little opportunity to write. By the time I was able to really sink my teeth back into The Crown of Stones, I had discovered the likes of Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Simon Green. Butcher and Green fed my fondness for the strange and sarcastic, but my real love was still the epic. My writing style with The Crown of Stones has been described as epic fantasy with a modern voice. I think of it a mashup of those more traditional stories that captivated me years ago, and the more contemporary urban style of today.
B2B: I really enjoyed this. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us.
C.L. Schneider’s The Crown of Stones: Magic-Scars is due to release Christmas week. You can purchase her first book, Magic-Price, Book #1 of The Crown of Stones series, at Amazon. Magic-Price is also available in paperback and e-Book
To learn more about The Crown of Stones or C.L. Schneider, you can visit her website at http://www.clschneiderauthor.com/. She is also on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.
The views and opinions expressed herein are solely the views and expressions of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Brain to Books. Brain to Books makes no claim as to the truth or accuracy of any claims expressed herein.