Interview with Author Ashley Madau
Continuing with our topic for the past few weeks, author Ashley Madau has graciously agreed to share her journey from self-published indie author to traditionally published and on the brink of success. Ashley’s debut title, Morningside, is set to be released this November by Charles River Press. A Paranormal/Horror/Fantasy, Morningside features a fresh twist on the original vampire legends. Gone are the sparkly, vegetarian vampires popularized by the likes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, and in their place is a return to the roots of vampire mythology. With a uniquely positioned heroine who straddles the line between mortal and immortal, vampire and human, Morningside is poised to breathe life back into a mythology that is starting to get a little stale.
Much like the story’s protagonist, Morningside’s journey through publication has been rather unique, spending time as a self-published title before being picked up by a traditional publisher. Which gives us a rare chance to learn more about both sides of the process from someone who’s actually been there. But rather than listen to me paraphrase, I’ll let Ashley tell you more about it herself.
First, Thank you very much for joining us today and congratulations on the upcoming release of your debut novel, Morningside. Tell us a little about it; what kind of experience should readers expect?
Thank you for having me!
Expect blood, and a lot of it.
My main goal in writing from the protagonist’s first-person perspective started and ended with trying everything in my power to allow the reader to “fill in her shoes” as you learn more and interact with secondary characters. Since the Morningside protagonist is a woman, I imagine it’ll be more popular with the female reading population; of course there are strong male characters, and I hope it appeals to the guy who’s interested in a good adventure as well. And first and foremost it is just that: an adventure. I often stress how the romantic “dilemma” (as I like to call it) should fall into the background, as the main story– the one about adventure and a struggle with self-discovery– takes center stage. All-in-all readers should expect a good, suspenseful tale with the vampires of old.
“Vampires were myths, childhood stories, as were werewolves, mermaids and dragons. I believed none of it.” –Morningside, 2012
Coming from a Romanian background, how important was it to you to move away from the glamorized variations of the vampire seen in current popular literature and return to the roots of the mythology? What would you say to people who might instantly shy away from your work as yet another Twilight copy-cat?
I often cringe at the thought of mentioning Morningside is about vampires because of the Twilight phenomenon. Of course I have taken creative liberties in writing about a vampire’s lifestyle (being fictional creatures, it’s safe to assume authors should use their imagination), but there were also key elements of the mythology I made sure to follow close– one of those key elements being their blood lust. It never seemed realistic (and I use that term loosely) for vampires to deny themselves their one craving, the very thing that keeps them alive: human blood. I touch on this idea in one of the later chapters of Morningside, and think vampire fans should appreciate the comparisons I make. I like the thrill of the hunt, and I think future Morningside readers will, too.
I also talk a lot about the idea of the sun, and how it affects vampires. There’s no sparkling involved, of course, but if you look back at Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he’s able to walk in the sunlight without bursting into flames. There are always repercussions, and Morningside vampires have those as well, but no sparkles.
Definitely no sparkles.
“Death no longer frightened me, though I wasn’t sure it ever did. If anything, there was always a part of me which looked forward to the morning I wouldn’t rise with the sun; trapped forever in my dreams of nothing.” –Morningside, 2012
Morningside was originally self-published in 2010, correct? Please tell us about your experiences with self-publishing– what led you to that decision?
You are correct. Self-publishing was a great experience, and taught me a lot about the publishing industry. I went into it thinking that as a designer I could make my story as appealing as the big name novels, you know, the ones on the New York Best Seller list. I didn’t take much else into consideration, other than wanting to see my words in print, and entertain people with the story. I used Amazon’s service, Createspace to publish, since I knew it’d be available at least on Amazon, and then hopefully syndicated to all the other online venues.
The tricky thing about any self-publishing POD service is how you end up being paid. Many times you have to reach a certain benchmark to get a paycheck, with the lowest amount allowed being $25. Keep in mind, when a book sells for $12, you don’t make 100% of the $12 in any situation. So it takes quite a few sales to make that mark, and if you don’t, the printer keeps all your profit. You’re really in a catch-22 situation at that point. It can be discouraging at times, but it’s an experience I will never regret, and has given me a new appreciation of a publisher’s role in producing a novel.
As an advertising professional, you had a slight advantage over most indie authors. How difficult was it to market a self-published title? Do you have any advice for other self-published/indie authors on the best way to gain exposure?
From working in advertising I’m able to realize how many different elements and disciplines go into successfully marketing a product, and then quickly realize after that that one person can’t do it alone. I had the advantage of a design background, which allowed me to brand myself fairly well, but I’m absolutely clueless when it comes to press releases, media buying, etc… So while everything I did looked “pretty,” pretty wasn’t enough.
Going the self-publish route, you have to put in a lot of work, and a lot of time (and at the moment, time I didn’t have). Expect to have to search for and recruit each and every one of your readers/followers/fans, and know just because you have their attention, doesn’t mean you have the sale. People, especially nowadays, are more likely to save their dollar than spend it on an unknown work. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful; we’ve seen our fair share of self-published novels making it big, but those people didn’t gain that success by sitting back.
One additional point, as an avid reader, I do tend to judge books by their covers (I know, we’re not supposed to), but I don’t think I’m alone in this thought. My suggestion if you’re self-publishing and wondering what or what not to invest in, do hire a design professional to make you a publishing-house quality book cover. Pulling images into Paint, or incorrectly using Photoshop to do it yourself is a disadvantage to your story. A poor book cover instantly makes people think: self-published, and they may soon overlook everything you’ve worked so hard on.
I noticed that you don’t have excerpts from Morningside on your Deviantart profile. How do you feel about sharing literary work for free on sites like Wattpad, Deviantart, Fictionpress, etc? Do you think that’s a wise move for self-published authors; an excellent way to grow your reader-base, or is it a detriment to potential sales?
I think writing communities online are a fantastic way to grow as an author, learn about the industry, and progress towards publication. In fact, in 2009 I had Morningside on the popular website Authonomy, and my story found its way to the front page, #3 in the “Weekly Book Chart.” Then, later on in 2010 when the young adult version of Authonomy– otherwise known as Inkpop– debuted, Morningside reached #2 on their “Editor Desk” ranking, and the first few chapters were read by Harper-Collins Publishers Limited. Both stints on those website proved a huge asset in honing in on my story, fixing inconsistencies, and growing a fan-base. I would encourage any new or old authors to join one of these many communities; I promise your writing will improve exponentially.
When you posted your work to Authonomy and Inkpop, was it the entire manuscript, or just a few chapters/excerpts? There’s a lot of debate about how much is too much to post online. But when building a reader/fan base is so important, if you had a piece you could “sacrifice,” would you post the entire thing for free in the hopes of generating more exposure and possible sales for your other titles?
On both websites I put my whole manuscript for the public to read. I felt it would be a good platform to advertise my story, especially for those agents/publishers who actively search for authors. The incentive with both those sites, too, was for more and more people to read, then push your story up to the editor’s desk to be reviewed by Harper-Collins. After publishing, I don’t think it’s fair to my publisher to post more than a couple chapters online for potential readers to have access to. There is such a thing as too much, and especially if you’re selling your novel, giving too much may deter people from spending the money.
Most potential writers fear that once they’ve self-published their work, they won’t be able to be published traditionally, but you’ve done exactly that. Tell me, how did you manage to snag a traditional publishing deal after already self-publishing Morningside? Were you able to leverage its success in the indie scene to gain the attention of a publisher, or did you continue to submit your manuscript via the traditional channels even after publishing Morningside yourself?
Great question! It’s scary to take the step towards self-publishing, when all you’ve ever been told is once you do, your chances at traditional publication go out the window. Not just scary, it’s terrifying! I went the self-published route after receiving a couple offers from small publishing houses, and being unhappy with their process and contracts. I did start with the traditional route, querying anyone who would listen, and after that long year, I hired an editor with every intention of making it big on my own. That’s great ambition to have, and even if you have a contract with a publishing house you should maintain that drive, but as I said, it’s damn hard work. I didn’t go into self-publishing expecting to be picked up by a traditional publisher, though I did continue the querying process until I found my home at Charles River Press. They said they were drawn to my characters, and the interesting twist I incorporated through the vampire mythology.
How has it differed working with a traditional publisher? What made you decide to go that route instead of staying self-published?
I made the switch after realizing I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t devote the time and effort necessary to make a self-published novel work. I had just transferred universities, and in my third year of studies I knew where my priorities had to be. It was a bittersweet moment when I pulled my book off the proverbial “shelves” and signed the contract with Charles River Press. Looking back, it became the best decision I ever made. My experience with a traditional publisher has been an adventure in and of itself. I’m able to give input where I have the experience to, and at other points sit back and watch as those areas where I’m less experienced are taken care of. And I realized it takes a small village to bring a story to publication, something I don’t think I had the knowledge or energy to pull off on my own; I’m determined, but sometimes you have to admit defeat and work with a team of professionals looking out for the greater good of your story.
After having experienced both methods of publication, what advice or recommendations do you have for aspiring authors confused about which path to take?
Self-publishing is a great option for aspiring authors to have… keep it in your back pocket. It’s true that publishers tend to shy away from novels that have been previously self-published, which is why I’d recommend start with querying, querying and more querying, to both publishing houses and agents. If, after some time, you’re not finding any traditional luck, you have the fall back of self-publishing without the doubt of asking yourself, “what if?”
The self-published version of Morningside is obviously no longer available, so when can we expect to see it released, and from where?
Right now the release date is November of this year, and you’ll be able to find it at all the popular online outlets, Barnes and Noble and Amazon are the two big ones. And of course it’ll be available for purchase off my publisher’s website, www.charlesriverpress.com. Morningside will be available for wholesale order, so it has the potential to be shelved at a bookstore near you– be sure to stop in your local store and request a copy!
There will also be pre-release digital copy giveaways on the official Morningside Facebook page for fans, as well as post-release hard-copy giveaways.
“When he whispered my name, that’s when I knew– this was how death felt.” –Morningside, 2012
After the whirlwind of releasing Morningside has subsided, what’s next? Can you tell us anything about your next project(s)?