Robinne Weiss—an entomologist and educator by training—has never been able to control her writing habit. She has been publishing poetry and short fiction since the 1970s and has been known to answer exam questions in verse. She has published several excellent novels for middle-grade readers: A Glint of Exoskeleton and The Dragon Slayer’s Son, with a third, Brisket’s B&B currently in the works. She has also published the teacher’s guide Insects in the Classroom which draws on her decades of teaching as The Bug Lady.
Greetings Robinne, and thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for us today.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about your books?
In A Glint of Exoskeleton, Crick (a girl who can talk to insects) and her cockroach friend Peri must save the human race from a deadly new disease engineered by mosquitoes.
In The Dragon Slayer’s Son, Nathan and his friends are dragon slayers in training, after the death of their parents. When they learn that Nathan’s father might still be alive, they mount a rescue mission that requires them to enlist the aid of the dragons themselves.
Outside of writing, you have a wide range of skills and passions. How have they influenced and inspired your stories? Any more than others?
I’ve always been a science geek, and I find it difficult to write fiction without injecting some science into it. Even my dragons, imaginary though they are, are based on science—shaped by the same evolutionary forces that shaped New Zealand’s bird and insect fauna. Other interests creep in from time to time; Brisket’s B&B involves a lot of scones, biscuits, and cookies, which I enjoy baking.
A Glint of Exoskeleton and The Dragon Slayer’s Son are independently published. Is there a particular reason you chose that route?
When I decided to close my science outreach business and write full-time, my plan was to go the traditional publishing route. But the publishing world has gone through dramatic changes in the past few years—indie publishing has become more professional, and big publishers have cut back on what they offer authors in order to maintain their own profitability. The more I learned about what I could expect from a traditional publisher, the more I felt it simply wasn’t a good deal for the author anymore. Once I realised that, the decision to go indie was a natural one—the amount of control it gives me over the process suits my personality. I can craft the book from cover to cover at my own pace, and without having to wait months for agents or publishers to get back to me.
Can you tell us a little about the indie publishing process?
I want my books to be able to stand side-by-side with traditionally published books—I don’t want them to smack of self-publishing. So, for me, the indie publishing process starts with a lot of revision and editing. My first draft gets put aside for a few weeks after I’ve finished writing. When it’s rested a bit, I go back over it myself and revise. My kids and husband then read it—often aloud so I can hear how it sounds and how someone else interprets it. I revise it again. Then it goes out to a team of beta readers (kids and adults). I do another round of revision after that.
At this point I decide whether the book is ‘publishable’. No, I don’t publish everything I write—as an indie author, I have to be my own gatekeeper. At this point in the process I’ve invested nothing but my time in the book, but from here on out, I’ll be putting money into it. I want it to be worthwhile.
My first monetary outlay is for the cover. I can’t draw to save my life, so I pay an illustrator to create my covers. A good illustrator will capture the spirit of your book. But to do this, the author needs to provide details. I send the illustrator a synopsis of the book, plus a detailed list of possible cover imagery—I describe the main character (physical and personality), the setting, supporting characters, and overall theme of the story. The illustrator does his magic and comes back with something that is usually entirely different from what I visualised, but absolutely perfect. I have the illustrator make me a front cover only, but I ask for the images in separate files. So I get a finished front cover, plus each component of that cover (text, background, figures) separate. With these, I can create a back cover for the print book, plus all my marketing material.
While the cover is being made, I edit the text. First, I make two editing passes to find as many errors as possible myself—the cleaner the manuscript is, the cheaper the professional editing is. When I think I’ve got a pretty clean manuscript, I send it to a professional copy editor.
Even a professional editor will miss mistakes, so after the editor has been through it, I make two more passes (forward and backward—yes, it’s tedious), trying to catch the last of the errors.
When I think the text is perfect, I create the files for upload to KDP, Createspace, Smashwords, etc.—one for e-book format, one for print format. Smashwords has a nice guide on formatting for e-book, which I follow, and Createspace has a guide on print book formatting.
Uploading to KDP etc. is easy—the websites walk you through the process and give plenty of opportunities to tweak things. Once I’ve uploaded my files and have addressed any glaring problems with them, I request my ISBNs. You can only do this 8 weeks from publication, so it’s one of the last things I do.
I always order a physical proof. There’s nothing like having the actual book in hand to help you find mistakes. And it’s better to take the time to find mistakes before publication than afterwards. I always find more errors after publication, too. It’s the nature of the beast. The great thing about indie publishing is that I can go in and fix the errors whenever they surface.
Do you have any advice for writers intending to pursue that path?
Indie-publishing requires a great deal of self-control. It’s easy to whip a half-baked piece of writing up on KDP or Smashwords. You’ve got to be able to control that urge and wait until the piece is polished. Also, the most difficult part of indie-publishing is what comes after publication—marketing. I don’t claim to have a handle on that. I’m still learning—getting better at that is one of my goals for 2017.
And lastly, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I have a kid’s guide to backyard bugs coming out at the end of July, and I’ll be releasing a new middle-grade novel, Brisket’s B&B, later in the year. I’m also working on the sequel to The Dragon Slayer’s Son and revisions of a young adult novel that I deemed not quite ready for publication last year.
Many thanks for your time, Robinne.
If you wish to check out Robinne’s writing yourself – they might be aimed at the 8-12 market, but they’re excellent for all ages – you can find them here: The Dragon Slayer’s Son and A Glint of Exoskeleton
Christopher Keene’s first novel, a LitRPG adventure, Stuck in the Game, was published by Future House Publishing in August 2016 with the sequel, Back in the Game, following in 2017. Christopher has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature with Honours in Creative Writing. He has received two honourable mentions in the Writers of the Future competition and won first place in a creative writing competition for the University of Canterbury Gazette.
Christopher recently signed a contract with Solstice for his grimdark/epic fantasy trilogy, A Cycle of Blades. The first book in the trilogy, Gods of the Mountain, is scheduled for release later this year.
Welcome Christopher, can you please tell us a little about your books?
Stuck in the Game and Back in the Game are my first two books in the LitRPG series, Dream State Saga. As their titles imply, they are the usual ‘stuck in a video game’ story trope, but with a bit of a twist in that the protagonist must stay in the game to help him recover from a car crash which paralyzed him and put his partner in a critical condition.
Aside from that I also have an epic fantasy trilogy in the works, a dystopian sci-fi novel under contract with Lang Publishing and am currently under negotiation with a few publishers for a fantasy story that uses New Zealand and Māori mythology as the basis for its setting and magic.
What exactly is LitRPG, and what inspired you to write in that genre?
According to the Facebook group LitRPG is a sci-fi or fantasy story that follows two rules: 1) It involves some type of explicitly stated progression (ie leveling, report of item finds, quests, etc). 2) It involves a game-type world of some kind that the main character has been involved in. I’ve had feedback that Dream State Saga is a decent gateway series for anyone wanting to give this genre a try.
When I first wrote Stuck in the Game I didn’t know LitRPG was even a thing, and I doubt many authors whose books fit into it (e.g. Tad Williams and Ken Catran) know about it even now. I was lucky to find this niche market after my book’s release. What inspired me to write the book was when a friend of mine (who the book is dedicated to) bet me I couldn’t write a story as good as anime like Sword Art Online, .Hack/Sign, and Log Horizon after I criticized their stories. I want to say I succeeded, but anyone who has watched these shows are free to let me know whether or not they concur.
You chose to take the traditional route, and went with the Future House Publishing, can you tell us a little about the process of seeking a traditional contract?
I’ve always found the traditional publishing route to be a lot like fishing. Through much trial and error, I finally found the right formula for writing a good query letter or as I like to call it, the bait. Querying is pretty much the bread and butter of submitting to agents and publishers and once it was pitch perfect, I started throwing out some lines; submitting it to agents and publishers alike in the hope of getting a bite. I actually got two bites at once, one was from Future House for Stuck in the Game and the other was from my agent for another book. I decided to race them to see which would get a book out quicker. Needless to say with two books to zero, Future House turned out to be the bigger catch.
The covers are beautiful! What is it like to work with a publisher? What are some of the advantages? Disadvantages?
Thanks! A word I would use for what it’s like working with a publisher is motivating. Knowing that other people are going to be waiting on your input and suggestions really encourages you to work hard and think about things you might not have if you’re self-publishing. For the other advantages you pretty much hit the nail on the head, they supply the cover art that you want, as well as the many stages of editing and marketing.
The disadvantage is that once it’s released you have to go through a proxy to fix any errors that might be found. Luckily there’s only been a few of these. As a poor student at the time, the biggest motivation to traditional publishing was that it cost me nothing. As a novice to publishing I didn’t want to spend money I didn’t have on something that professionals could do for me.
Do you have any advice for any of our members who might be seeking a publisher for their own books?
There’s no dancing around it, traditional publishing is a competitive industry. Unless they’re trying to scam you, no publisher is going to choose you out of the thousands of other people submitting unless your writing is good, and the only way to be a good writer is to be honest about how bad you are now and dedicate yourself to improving.
The other side of the coin is resilience. More often than not, you will get rejections. I received hundreds before realizing what I needed to make my query letters stand out. Learn from them, second guess yourself, get a second opinion, and remember that you’re selling yourself as well as your writing so try to be professional.
And finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future?
More books! As mentioned above, a dystopian story is coming out soon as well as my first adult fantasy book, not to mention the Dream State Saga is getting another sequel. It’s a big jump for me going from a smaller publisher to a larger publisher and I’m hoping to catch one of the Big Five in the future. I’m always juggling several projects at once so who knows which one is going to help me break into the big time.
Either way, both the goal and the process itself is enjoyable to me, so I feel I win either way.
Thanks Christopher! It’s been great chatting with you.
If you wish to learn more about Christopher’s writing, please his blog: https://fantasyandanime.wordpress.com/
Future House Publishing publish Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, and Middle Grade books, with distribution in ebook and print in Barnes & Noble, Costco, Amazon, and through independent retailers. They have published 40 books since their formation in 2014, but are not currently accepting submissions.