For today’s edition of Debut Author Q&A, Elizabeth Barone tells us about Sandpaper Fidelity, her first foray into episodic literature.
Name of book: Sandpaper Fidelity
Book genre: Drama, Literary
Date published: I started publishing in June this year. It’s a weekly series; a new issue comes out every Tuesday. The current twelve-issue set will end in September, and the next twelve-issue set will start right after. A trade paperback of the first twelve issues will be out at the end of the year.
Publisher: I’m self-published for now, and it’s all under my name. I’ve entertained the idea of setting up my own publishing company, but so far haven’t had a need for it. I’m also not at all opposed to writing under a publishing house. If it happens, it happens. I like to keep one foot in each door.
What is your day job? I work part-time in retail at a huge department store. You can find me behind the jewelry counter. Previously, I was a full-time web designer. That took too much time away from my writing, though, so I changed careers so that I could pursue writing and build up a career as an author.
What is this series about? The series follows four characters in their twenties – as well as a few minor characters – as they pursue their dreams and deal with big life issues. Josalee is pregnant with her gay best friend’s baby. David just found out he has AIDS. Ingrid lost her second job in five months. Victor is addicted to sex but wants to settle down and have a family.
Why did you want to write this series? I’ve always loved sagas, but they either ended too soon, didn’t pursue the best storylines fully, or just dragged on and on. Someone once said to me that your twenties are the hardest, because you’re just getting started and figuring everything out. It’s so, so true. I wanted to write something that encompasses that, but also something that can be read in quick bites. People don’t have a whole lot of free time these days. I’ve always loved comics and their format: monthly pieces of an ongoing story.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing? For this series, keeping it all at 1,000 words. I love writing and am definitely a novelist; my mentor and writers’ group mates always joke around that my short stories could easily turn into novels. I wanted each issue to be the same size, though, and decided on 1,000 words because people can read a 1,000-word issue in one sitting (just like you can read a thirty-two page comic book in one sitting). I’ve had to learn how to “kill” extraneous words and details to get the manuscripts down to that word count (but I think it’s also taught me a lot about writing).
For regular novels, I have a hard time ending them. I’m currently editing a novel that took me two years to write, mostly because I couldn’t decide on an ending. (Even now, that’s up in the air!) I love reading novels that end openly, because as much as it drives me crazy – But what happens next?! – I can imagine so many different possibilities for the characters.
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this series? I had to do a lot of research on AIDS and sex addiction. I knew a little about AIDS, but didn’t know how it might affect someone on a daily basis, or how much medication someone would be on. For example, I know ten years ago someone with AIDS might have a plethora of pills to take every day, but now it’s down to only a few.
With sex addiction, I researched it as a coping method (rather than as a result of past sexual abuse, for example). Someone under a lot of stress would turn to porn or other things. In Victor’s case, he’s sort of going down the rabbit hole. By issue #8, he’s crossing into things that could constitute as cheating, potentially ruining his relationship with Ingrid.
Also, I had to do a lot of thinking on how I wanted to approach these things. I don’t want to be super graphic with Victor’s problem, but I want people to get why he’s behaving this way. I’ve been walking a thin line between drama and erotica, but don’t want to sugarcoat that he really does have a problem.
What motivates you to write? I’m inspired by a lot of things, but it’s hard to motivate myself to sit down and get it done sometimes – especially while trying to wear all of the other hats (cover image design, promotion, editing, etc). I’ve been writing a weekly To Do list. Every day, I have at least three major things that I want to accomplish. I try to keep it at three, because otherwise it all gets a little overwhelming, and I also try to prioritize.
My biggest motivation, aside from a huge love for writing and reading, is quitting my day job. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but never thought I could. I thought you had to have a big publishing company behind you and that the odds were way too low of being picked out of all the submissions. Then I started reading about self-publishing and a whole new world opened up to me. I decided, screw it, I’m going to try! I’ve set a goal to quit my day job by next August.
I think we, as people, have this notion that you can’t make a living off of things you love, that you have to be practical. I tried that route, and though I liked web design, I always felt that something was missing. I want to prove the naysayers wrong, and I want to show other people that they can make a living with their passions, too.
Do you experience writer’s block? All the time. I gave myself a tight deadline, though, so I think that helped. The funny thing is, this whole project came out of writer’s block. I sat down with a notebook and a pencil and started scribbling down things that I would like to write. Before I knew it, I had several issues planned and the weekly model all figured out.
The only way I’ve ever been able to overcome writer’s block, though, is to just push through it. Sometimes I do have to walk away and do something else, but I’ve found that if I do something completely unrelated – like embroidery, or playing video games, or cleaning – I can come back to it refreshed.
How long did it take you to write the series? It took me two months to write the first twelve issues. Now that I have a feel for my characters, what’s already happened, and what’s going to happen, I’m hoping it will only take me a couple of weeks for the next twelve. I’m getting ready to write #13-24 and have a pretty good idea of what those issues are going to cover.
Editing is another story entirely. Each issue takes several hours to comb through for continuity errors, typos, extraneous details, things I need to add, and then cutting it down to 1,000 words. Instead of the usual format that many books go through – write and then edit, both all at once – I wrote #1-12 all in one shot, let them sit, and then edited each one about a week before it was published. This gives me a solid deadline and no room for procrastination – which is my worst enemy – and has taught me a lot about workflow. I think I have a nice little system going.
Tell me about the self-publishing process. It’s a lot easier than I thought it’d be, but in some ways it’s harder. It’s been hard for me because I’m wearing all of the hats. I’ve always been a do-it-myself kind of girl, but it does get exhausting when you’re up until 2 a.m. several nights in a row because you’re trying to get all of the things done, and then still have to wake up in the morning so you can earn a paycheck. I’ve learned a lot about time management, though.
For a while, I was consumed with promoting my existing short stories and the series. I was trying to edit a novel and keep getting Sandpaper Fidelity out on time, but also convinced that I needed to be tweeting, Facebooking, etc., constantly. I kept getting burnt out, though, and then it occurred to me that I wasn’t doing the one thing I’d wanted to do when I set out in October 2011: write.
I don’t have the overhead to hire cover designers and editors yet, so I’m doing most of it myself, while also wrangling guinea pigs to read through things for me and let me know if they see any big errors. I have a background in graphic design, but quickly realized cover images for ebooks are a whole different ball game than website headers and business logos. There were a lot of learning curves!
There were also a lot of good surprises. I thought self-publishing would be expensive or would take too long, but everything is so low-cost, and relatively fast. There are so many resources and people out there willing to share their knowledge. We truly have a lovely community. I also thought there would be negative connotations with self-publishing, but have learned that readers just want good quality content. They don’t care about who published it, as long as there aren’t typos left and right, the story keeps them entertained and makes them think, and the cover design is nice.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about writing a book? Before I wrote my very first novel – something that will never, ever, see the light of day – I thought authors banged out a couple hundred pages, their publishers nodded, and it went to bookstore shelves. I learned pretty quickly that there are a lot more steps between (and learned even more when I started self-publishing), but I think people in general think that a book is made relatively quickly. I also think we all have this image of authors hunkered over their desks, sipping coffee, and joyfully typing away, when in truth it can be a grueling process. I often find myself asking my computer screen, “Why is she or he doing that?! I didn’t tell her or him to do that!”
Myth: Authors enjoy playing god. Truth: We have no control. None.
What is your favorite aspect of the writing process? I love how, because each of the characters and their problems are slightly intertwined, everything just kind of fell into place. As I scribbled down ideas and synopses of each issue, I kept having “aha!” moments: “A is X, and B is Y, so of course Z has to happen, because that would be fun to write, and evil!” My main goal has been character development, so messing with them and seeing how they grow has been a lot of fun for me.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? Up until recently, I used a lot of social media, blogging, and my email newsletter. I realized I needed to stop focusing so much every day on promotion, though, so I decided to create a list of promotion tools and methods that I’d really like to try out; I have been trying to tackle one every day. For example, I really want to make business cards and leave them at local shops (bookstores, comic book stores, coffee shops, etc.), rather than only concentrating on the internet. I’ve been trying to take it one step at a time and think outside of the box.
Twitter has been huge for me. I’ve made a lot of connections there, and I think a lot of my initial sales came from tweeting things. I also think my blogs – both the one at http://elizabethbarone.net and at http://sandpaperfidelity.com – are valuable tools. My email newsletter rocks.
I think that you have to find what works for you. I’m still trying to find my rhythm. I was shocked to realize that promoting and selling ebooks is not the same as promoting non-profits and selling tickets to events. As a web designer, I did a lot of that using social media and had really good results. It’s a totally different game, though, and I’ve had to wiggle around priorities and keep trying different things.
I think it’s important not to give up. I think it’s also super important to look at what other people are doing, and be willing to give those things a shot, but without comparing yourself to those other people.
How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? I now have a weekly deadline. Heh.
Nothing has changed dramatically – at least, not yet. It’s started to pick up, so we’ll see. While I want Sandpaper Fidelity to be my main project, I also want to keep working on other things. I’m still trying to find that balance, but I’m okay with that.
Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? I used to check my sales reports all the time. I got into the habit of checking them at least once a day. It was motivating to see sales come in, but Amazon’s sales reports take a while to catch up and synchronize, so I spent a lot of time being confused and frustrated. I’m determined to only check reports once a month now, for my own sanity, but also for the sake of productivity.
What else are you working on? I have two novels I’m working on. One, Sade on the Wall, was a quarterfinalist in this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It’s in its second-almost-third draft; currently, it’s being read by several beta readers. It’s a YA about a fifteen-year-old girl, Sade, whose best friend starts doing Ecstasy.
The other novel, Secondhand Mom, is in its first-almost-second draft. I’m working on the second draft now. Gigi gave up her son Owen for adoption, but three years later, she wants him back. I’d like to have it released at the end of this year or early next year, but really want to hire an editor for it. I’m starting to realize I can’t possibly do it all myself. I’m hoping to either utilize the sales from Sandpaper Fidelity to do so, or find another way.
My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I truly believe that success requires a lot of hard work and dedication. I’m starting to become a big believer in serendipity, though; I’ve found several times that, after opening myself up to an idea, an opportunity arose.
I think there is some luck involved, to a certain extent, but I don’t think one should rely fully on getting lucky. It just might not ever happen, whereas if you make things happen yourself, you have the power to accomplish your goals.