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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Self-published author Hart Johnson

Hart Johnson aka The Watery Tart (is that not the best name ever?) is with us today, sharing her perspective on self-publishing…

Tell us a little about yourself, Hart...

I'm a social scientist at the University of Michigan by day and a raving lunatic the rest of the time... or something like that. I have a badly neglected family, though my kids are teens (14 and 18) so they prefer it that way, and my husband (HWMNBMOTI=He Who Must Not Be Mentioned On The Internet) has always been primary parent, while I was the career partner. We have two fur-babies, too—the feline one usually sits at my side, knocking things off my desk when I write.

I'm a bona fide geek, meaning I am way too excited about any number of fandoms. It began with Harry Potter (which also led me back to writing after many years of not doing much), but includes Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, and the latest to suck me into full squee fan-girl mode, A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. I love stories so compelling that they make me want to add my own imagination to come up with related stories and fully engage my brain in predicting what comes next.

Other favorites include periwinkle (the color), caramel, coffee toffee ice cream, and the Naked World Domination movement (I really think we'd all be nicer people if we'd just take our clothes off).

How did you get from being a writer to self-publishing?

I published traditionally first, and have long believed that the decision of HOW to publish is one that takes genre, personality and goals into account. And for a while, my books that were 'ready for prime time' were mysteries—a genre that sells very well traditionally, so it is easier to get agents and publishers to bite.

And I have to be honest. Traditional is a better fit for my personality. I'm not really a details girl. All that cover, copy editing, formatting nonsense. I'd prefer to not be involved. I have a day job and a family, and so my writing time is precious. I would rather ONLY WRITE. It's why I didn't decide to self-publish earlier with some of my other stuff (note I ALSO didn't take the time to query the other stuff—this not wanting to do the other stuff is an equal opportunity aversion)

Last fall, though, after having written most of a first draft of a story I REALLY loved, but was approaching 130,000 words and not done, I spotted something... Susan Kaye Quinn was beginning a serial release of her Debt Collector series. And it occurred to me that what I wanted for A Shot in the Light wasn't to rein it in to a 500 page book, it was to expand it to 1000—that my trouble finishing was that it wasn't expansive enough... that some extra points of view really added to the story I could tell. And the only way to do a serial, short Tardis and a deal with Reader's Digest, is self-publishing. I loved this story enough to face that steep learning curve.

Did you have a background that proved to be helpful or any experience? How hard was it?

I've been at this writing thing a long time, and I think my experience with traditional publishing has been important for really understanding all it takes to make a book ready for prime time.

For the serial piece, I also have a fan fiction history—deep in my Harry Potter geekdom I had a theory that Voldemort required the death eaters to kill their own fathers in order to be initiated into the order, and people kept facing my theory with skepticism, so I decided to write the book... it was about 180 pages in the end, but I posted it a chapter at a time over six months (to clamors of MORE)--this gave me the confidence to share, and also the lesson in persistence. And it made me very aware or the contract a writer really is making by sharing part of the story at a time. I saw a lot of abandoned stories and always felt cheated. I knew I couldn't be that person.

As far as the OTHER stuff, the primary lesson I learned is hire help. I KNOW I am not the polisher, so not only do I have my amazing beta readers do two rounds, I also have a professional editor making sure my comma fetish doesn't stay apparent and my love for ellipses and em-dashes is held in check (not technically interchangeable—did you know? *hides*).

What did you do wrong? Right?

Concentrated heavily on the writing. That is both to the right and the wrong. I didn't spend the time I needed to learn all the tricks and how to go about it. Both the really nice formatting and learning ALL the systems would have been good, AND setting myself up as an author in all sorts of places. All that is trickling into place, but because I felt like the BOOK was ready, I got in a hurry. I DO think my book is great, my writing is polished. The feedback I've gotten is wonderful, so I don't regret concentrating on the writing at all. I PROBABLY should have built more time in to do both, that just isn't me.

I ALSO think this 'giving it away' is a right thing. I haven't sold many, but I've given away about 250, and since it is first in a serial, I am hoping that hooks people. I suspect with stand-alones this is a trick you want to use much more heavily once you have several things on your shelf... That way people read the freebie, then buy others. Giving a freebie when there is nothing to buy probably doesn't get you much traction, as even if they like it, they may forget before you have another book out.

Are you happy with your choice? Do you think you'll stick with self-publishing or are you still keeping your options over?
I will continue doing both. I have two other serials planned, and THOSE I will self publish. And I have a few stand-alone adult suspense I may point that direction. But I have a couple mystery series ideas, one I've written the first for, and those I will publish traditionally. I am, as yet, undecided on my YA stuff. One of my serials is YA, so I may let that determine whether a YA market is really accessible with eBooks. I sort of have my doubts that that is the strongest route for the genre, but I am open to be convinced otherwise.

A Flock of Ill Omens (Book 1, A Shot in the Light)

Deadliest virus in a century, or a social experiment gone awry?

Every year they warned about the flu and more often than not, it amounted to nothing. Sidney Knight, a young freelance reporter had certainly never written on it. But a trip to Lincoln City, Oregon cut short by a beach full of dead seagulls and a panicked warning from her brother the scientist catch her attention. This batch is different. Deadlier. And the vaccine doesn't seem to be helping. It almost looks like it's making it worse...

A Flock of Ill Omens: Part I is the first episode of A Shot in the Light, an Apocalypse Conspiracy Tale about what happens when people play God for fun and profit. There will be approximately ten episodes, each the equivalent of about 100 pages.

It can be purchased HERE
(or will be free October 10)

The second book in the series, In Short Supply can be found HERE

Hart Johnson writes books from her bathtub. A social scientist by day, Hart spends her evenings plotting grand conspiracies and murdering people on paper.

Like her on Facebook
At Amazon
Or Follow her on Twitter:  (not that she goes very far, not grasping Twitter's quest completely)


Johanna Garth said...

I was wondering how you came to the decision to self-publish your series. Interesting and I STILL haven't read part 2, but only because life has been ridiculous, but I know you get that!

Crystal Collier said...

Yay, Hart! That's such a tough decision to make, but I totally think you made the right one. Way to go!

Liz Blocker said...

I love reading your posts, Hart :) There's always great humor and sarcasm, and insights buried in amongst the laughter. Glad to visit and learn more about you here, too!

Hart Johnson said...

Johanna-well you need to tell life to take a breather, eh!?

Crystal-thank you! I can be a little wishy-washy, but I am pretty happy on this one!

Liz-*snicker*... yeah, no hiding the nuts. I'm too chock-full...

Old Kitty said...

Yay - The most NAKED Tart is here!!

All the best with your serials venture Ms Hart - sounds like you really knuckled down and under to get all the details, details, details perfect for your publications! Yay! Take care

Tina said...

You are always entertaining no matter where you are or what you are doing! Thanks for the peek into your brain! I wish you well with the series. I can't wait to start reading it. Alas, my TBR pile is ridiculous...
Tina @ Life is Good

Unknown said...

Nice interview. Good luck with your choice of self publishing and your book sales!

Huntress said...

I think all of us want our work to be acknowledged. That is why we send our beloved babies out into the world too soon.

A truly excellent interview. Kudos, Marcy. Kudos Hart.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You've been successful in both ventures Hart, and that's something!

Robin said...

So many new and interesting things are happening in publishing. I never considered taking a 1,000 page book and turning it into ten 100 page offerings. That is brilliant!!!

Hart Johnson said...

Kitty-wait... what are details again?

Tina-it's squishy in there, isn't it?

Siv-Thank you!

Huntress-I am hoping for worshipped *ducks*

Alex-well we are still waiting for judgment on this SP thing... thus far I've lost money...

Robin-brilliant if it WORKS... jury is still out on that one.

Huntress said...

I already have a small altar with candles and incense dedicated to you. Did you need a small animal sacrificed as well? There is that neighbor's dog that keeps barking all night...
*looking for shovel*

Liz A. said...

Very interesting and informative. Thanks.