‘I wasn’t going to let a bad experience be the end. It was only the beginning.’ Speculative Fiction and YA fantasy author Cherie Reich shares her harrowing tale of working with an unscrupulous publisher, the need to research your market and the challenge of being a perpetual student.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
I am a TV-obsessed bookworm who has more ideas than I can ever write. Unless someone can loan me a Time-Turner. I also enjoy the art of formatting books, cover design, and map-making. A library assistant living in Virginia, I write speculative fiction. My short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies, and my books include the paranormal horror collection Once upon a Nightmare, the fantasy short story collection People of Foxwick and Their Neighbors, and the young adult fantasy series The Fate Challenges.
What made you want to be a writer? How did you begin writing?
Growing up, I wanted to be a lion tamer, an archaeologist, an opera singer, and several other things, but a writer was never one of them. An obsession with all things Phantom of the Opera led me to online role-playing games. I fell in love with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter world, and I wrote fanfiction. My own ideas started keeping me up at night. When I became a library assistant at a small academic library, I found myself with free time on my hands, so I put those ideas to use and started writing my first novel. I haven’t looked back.
What inspires you to write?
Writing is my way to make sense of the world as well as a way to empty my mind of all the characters and stories in it. It can be a crowded place in there. Inspiration is all around us too. A snippet of an overheard conversation or learning a new fact can become the impetus for a new story.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
My first publishing experience was bitter-sweet. I wrote a short story in the vein of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “The Case of the Tom Cat” came in around 3500 words, and I submitted it to a small publisher recommended by a couple of my author friends. I wasn’t really expecting much. After all, it was my very first submission.
When I received my acceptance email, I was shocked. “The Case of the Tom Cat” was going to be published as an ebook. I went through rounds of edits, received cover art, and had a page on the publisher’s website.
Release day was on May 29, 2009. I spread the news of the publication and was excited to receive some five-star reviews as well as a few sales. Or I assumed there were sales because a few people told me they bought and read my story.
By July 2009, it had come out that the publisher was underpaying and sometimes not paying its authors, its cover artists, or its editors. No one had received any word from the publisher’s owner in several months. The co-owner disappeared. Less than six weeks after my first published story, the publisher’s website had been removed. The story was taken down. I would neither know how many copies I sold nor receive any payments for those copies.
Exhilaration transformed into confusion and anger. Some authors quit. Others continued on. I came out of the situation more than a bit wary about publishers, and the experience is one of the many reasons why I self-publish my work, but I also knew I needed to keep writing and publishing my work. For the first time in several years, I’d found my place in the world. I wanted to be a writer and a published author, and I wasn’t going to let a bad experience be the end. It was only the beginning.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Authors have so many options nowadays from self-publishing to traditional publishing and everything in between. Follow successful authors. Many are willing to share what has worked for them and what hasn’t. Of course, what works for one person might not work for the next and vice versa. Be willing to experiment and research the current market. By researching the market, you’ll get a sense where your books might fit in.
Any advice for approaching publishers?
Not all publishers are created equal. Do your homework. Be professional. Speak with their authors and ask questions. Contracts are meant to be negotiated. Don’t be willing to sign a bad contract. Being published isn’t worth signing your rights away.
What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge for new authors?
Readers have many choices from a multitude of fantastic books, so the biggest marketing challenge nowadays is standing out.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
Get thee a newsletter. Seriously. Newsletters are the easiest way to connect with your most ardent fans as social media posts tend to get lost more easily than emails. Also, consider buying ads. BookBub is the current king, but there are many other places authors can advertise their books to readers. Subscribe to a few newsletters, see how the books do in your genre and consider applying for an advertisement.
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
Rejection is hard, and it sometimes seems never-ending for writers. We can be rejected from agents, publishers, editors, and readers. We want everyone to love our work as much as we do, but that’s unfortunately not very realistic. I know I don’t love everything I read, so I try to remember I write for the people who love my work.
How do you deal with isolation?
I belong to an online group of speculative fiction writers called Untethered Realms. While we have a blog, participate in promotions, and publish anthologies (Elements of Untethered Realms), we also share successes and commiserate over writing and life challenges.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
Like Stephen King said, “Read a lot and write a lot.” Keep an open mind and always be willing to learn. Being a writer is being a perpetual student. Your best book should always be the next one you’ll write.