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It's easier to imagine a successful creative life when you have examples to model yourself on. Today, I'm thrilled to share an interview with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, one of my online mentors and creative examples. Yes, I'm a total fan girl 🙂
In the intro, I share news that OverDrive Reports Library Borrowing of eBooks Up 16%, Audiobooks Up 34% in 2016 and since they're owned by Rakuten, who also own Kobo, let's hope 2017 brings opportunities for indies to compete in that market. Also, Amazon releases a WordPress plugin for easier affiliate linking – remember multiple streams of income!
I share personal news about my switch to using IngramSpark and the visit to the factory this week, plus the launch of my new small press, Curl Up Press. It's just the beginning of a new phase and I'll share everything along the way, as ever.
In the futurist segment, it's the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone launch and I reflect on my initial incredulity that it could possibly be useful. How could I have foreseen the changes that having the internet in my pocket could bring? For indies, it specifically enabled the rise of reading on devices as well as the growth of podcasting and audiobooks. I equate the App Store to the new Echo Skills that are being included in a lot of the new tech at CES, and also mention a podcast interview on How Virtual Reality May Shape the Future of Digital Commerce. Fun times!
This show is sponsored by everyone who supports on Patreon. Thank you so much for your generous support of the show! I'll keep doing it if you keep loving it 🙂 If you'd like to support the podcast, you can get access to ask questions for the extra Q&A monthly audio for less than a coffee a month. Click here to support the show on Patreon.
USA Today bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes in almost every genre. Generally, she uses her real name (Rusch) for most of her writing. Under that name, she publishes bestselling science fiction and fantasy (including the Fey series, the Retrieval Artist series and the Diving series), award-winning mysteries, acclaimed mainstream fiction, controversial nonfiction, and the occasional romance.
Her novels have made bestseller lists around the world and her short fiction has appeared in eighteen best of the year collections. She has won more than twenty-five awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Le Prix Imaginales, the Asimov’s Readers Choice award, and the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award.
Her latest nonfiction book is Closing the Deal…on your Terms: Agents, Contracts and Other Considerations, which is a must-read for authors who are serious about a long-term career writing.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Kris's early beginnings as a writer, and her start in radio and journalism
- Kris's thoughts about pen names
- Dealing with self-doubt
- Why one book isn't really just one book
- On co-writing and the legal and copyright issues related to that
- Thinking of an indie author career in terms of decades not years
You can find Kris at www.KrisWrites.com or WMGPublishing, or on Twitter @KristineRusch
Transcript of Interview with Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I'm here with Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Hi, Kris.
Kristine: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction for anyone who doesn't know Kris.
Kris is an internationally bestselling and multi award winning author of so many books in a lot of genres under several different pen names and there's way too much to mention. She's also an award-winning editor, and her weekly Business Rusch blog posts are essential reading for indies who are serious about a writing career. Her latest nonfiction book, which I have here, is, “Closing the Deal…on your Terms: Agents, Contracts and Other Considerations.”
Now, there's so much to talk about, Kris, but I wanted to wind the clock back.
Did you always wanna be a writer, and can you tell us a bit more about the path to your success, because you're such a role model to so many people?
Kristine: Next thing you're going to do is tell me I'm legendary or something. I always wanted to be a writer. And from my earliest memory, and I actually think, honestly, it was just a bid for attention because I am 20 years younger than my other siblings. I was a surprise.
One of my earliest memories is of everybody sitting in the living room in the house I grew up in, and me going from person to person to person, all of whom were adults, asking them to play with me, and they were all reading, and they said, “No, we're reading.” So I think I just decided that if I wanted them to pay attention to me, I had to write something just so that they can read it.
It's pop psychology. Good heavens, the path. I was just dogged. I think, I mean, you could ask some more specific questions, but that was the ultimate path is I didn't do anything else. I didn't really try. Everything was geared toward becoming a writer from my whole life.
Joanna: I read that you did some journalism and radio. So you didn't just go, “Oh, I'm gonna be a novelist,” and that was it?
Kristine: No, because I had been raised to believe that fiction writers don't make any money. I figured if I was going to make a living as a writer, I had to do it as a journalist, and as a nonfiction writer.
And then that tumbled me into radio because there were jobs openings in the town I was in for volunteers, and they would train you to be a radio person. I went and volunteered, and eventually ended up running the news department for actual money. But it worked out that, I assume, at some point, I learned that fiction writers made money. And then I said, “No, I'd rather be a fiction writer than a nonfiction writer.” I'm encapsulating decades there, but that's how it worked.
Joanna: I love that your path is so exciting, and we'll get more into that. I was trying to figure out what questions to ask you, because there's so much I wanted to ask you. One of the things that comes up over and over again for me is how you managed to be an award-winning fiction author and an award-winning editor, which, to me, seem so different.
Many people struggle with this difference between the sorts of creative mind and the editing mind. How do you balance those two?
Kristine: Story. It's all about story. If the story isn't good and if it's not memorable, then it's just not worth my time. And I don't care if that's a story I'm writing, or if it's a story that I'm reading.
I've always been very firm in my opinions and very confident in my opinions. I started editing quite young because I believed that I actually knew what I was doing even when I didn't. And so I went for story. I didn't care if the words were pretty. I didn't care if there were problems in the manuscripts. If the story was good, we'd work on it and make it more worthwhile.
I started reading at the age of three, so it seems to be something that's just really innate and down there for me, and in storytelling. And so by keeping a focus on story, which is what those two things have in common, then I was able to do both.
Although I have to admit that toward the end of my years as the editor of F&SF, I realized I had to choose between being an editor and being a writer. They weren't 100% compatible, especially at that level because everybody was seeing me as an editor and they never recognized my writing anymore. And so, I was just getting bombarded with the whole editing side of things. And I realized that in order to become known for my writing, I had to give up editing, which was hard, because I missed it.
Joanna: But you've recently done some other projects, haven't you, with editing? You've kind of got back into it.
Kristine: I did. I kind of crept back into it with my blog. I started doing a recommended reading list, which is just like editing in some ways, because when you edit a magazine, what you put in a magazine is the stuff you like the best. You don't buy stuff you don't like. My recommended reading list was the stuff I had liked the best out of what I read every month. And that was kind of creeping back in.
And then my husband, Dean Wesley Smith, and I realized that it was possible in the indie world to start up a magazine again, and do it in a way that we wanted to do it. We tested it with a Kickstarter first, and we figured if we didn't get any money from the Kickstarter, we wouldn't do it. That turned out to be “Fiction River,” and it's been really popular and really fun.
And then I got a bug up my butt about people kept saying there's no women in science fiction. And they say it to me, and I'm like, “What am I then, if I'm not a woman who write science fiction and has done so forever?” It would drive me insane. And I would start saying to these women, they're these people, it's usually women, which I thought was even weirder, I'm saying, “Have you read Andre Norton? Have you read C. J. Cherryh? Have you read Lois McMaster Bujold?” And they would say, ‘”Who?”
And I'm like, “Okay, there's a problem here.” And then I started investigating what the problem was and realized that a lot of the women who wrote science fiction wrote in genres that were not, “literally acceptable.” And the other writers, the historical writers, were not getting reprinted.
I put together an anthology, and I hope to do more, of writers that I feel, and I don't care if they're male or female, I feel that they should have been continued to be printed. And as I was going through doing that, I found a whole bunch of other writers — men, writers of color — that stopped being published because they weren't in the in-crowd, or they didn't have that one story everybody thought of as the classic story. They had several classic stories. They had a great story for one year, and then they went away, and I'd love to bring some of those back.
Joanna: Yeah, which is amazing. And I was just reading your business blog from today.
Kristine: I mentioned you.
Joanna: Yes, I know. It's just lovely. One of the things you said was, and I quote, “I have hundreds of projects I want to do right now and no time to do them.” And it's funny because you're talking about all the other things you want to bring back. And I know, of course, you write a ton of different series under all these different names and you've got the magazine, and you've got everything going on. And I know you've just written that.
This is one of the big problems I think, is what project do people do? When you get past the point of having no ideas, which I realized some people have that, once you get past that, then you have the, “I have so many ideas, I don't know what to do with them.”
How do you, with so many ideas, juggle what you're actually going to work on?
Kristine: I have learned, over the years, to trust my, what I call in the blog, “my muse,” but really, it's my subconscious. Whatever I'm the most interested in, I've learned to trust it. And it surfaces about three quarters of the way through whatever I'm working on. So if I'm working on something right now, if I'm nearly done, my little just back of my head voice is gonna go, “You know, this is kind of interesting and you should read that.” Or, “I miss writing this.”
If I pay attention to that voice, because it's really hesitant and quiet, that's the project to do next, because that's the one I'm going to be excited about. The ones that come out from my front brain, my critical brain, that say, “The fans have been waiting for this particular project, or I've been getting a ton of letters on this particular project,” I know midway through, I'm just going to grind down and I'm not gonna be interested at all, and it won't have that spark of life that I think is really important to storytelling. That's how I choose it.
I say that. It took a lot of years to become that writer and to realize that the quiet voice is the one to listen to, not the, “You must write this because people want it,” voice, much louder or much more powerful voice.
Joanna: I wonder then, because I discovered you and Dean through your nonfiction blogs and your nonfiction books, and then subsequently, I started reading your fiction. And this is, you know, those of us who are in this sharing what we do while we're doing it space, I know that's how people find my fiction as well, through the nonfiction.
Do you balance fiction and nonfiction in your…again, does that come from the muse?
Kristine: Well, no. I started as a journalist. And so nonfiction to me is something with a deadline. And it's something that I can — and I hate to admit this — I can write it when I have a migraine. I can write it when I have the flu. I can write it when I'm not thinking very clearly.
Occasionally there's weird mistakes in it, but I can just do it because I had to. It was my day job and it didn't matter. I used to put on a newscast at 7:00 at night and it didn't matter if all my volunteers, or all my new staff showed up, it didn't matter because I had 30 minutes I had to fill every night, whether I felt good or whether I was short-staffed or whatever. And so I'm used to doing that.
So having a weekly blog, I start planning it in my head, days ahead of time, sometimes write it days ahead of time, sometimes I stack them up. And that's easy because I know, this deadline, I have to hit it.
Fiction, on the other hand, that's something I have done for myself from… My goodness, my sister has a book I wrote when I was seven. And I'd love to get it back from her and she's never going to give it to me. But it's something I've done. I've told myself stories since I was a little, little, little girl and that's just something I do naturally.
Joanna: I was talking to someone about why is fiction so tiring to write. Because it feels like when you spend some time writing fiction, it's very tiring. And I wondered what you thought about this, because I wondered if it's because we make so many decisions. And with nonfiction you're pulling out of yourself, and the fiction is a different decision-making process.
Do you find that more tiring?
Kristine: I do, but for a different reason. I think nonfiction is like a conversation, like we're having right now. You can have a conversation when you're really tired and you can just give that information. It's factual. It has its basis. Sometimes, when Dean and I give talks, we call it, “You put the quarter in and let the machine run”, because some of them are just speeches you've given forever and you can do it when you're asleep.
But fiction, for me, if I'm writing fiction and I'm doing it well, I'm not thinking of making decisions. I'm actually living it. And so, when you're living an adventure, which I would hope that you're storytelling is, even if it's just somebody sitting in a room imagining things, it's an adventure of one kind or another, you have all that emotional reaction, and you have all of that other stuff going on. And so I think it's more akin to exercise, or running a race, or actually living a very difficult day of your life. And that's why it's tiring.
Joanna: Oh good. It makes me feel better to hear you say it's also tiring.
Because sometimes I feel a bit weird when I think, “Oh I've just spent two hours writing and I'm really tired.”
Kristine: Oh yeah. There are some days, especially like when I'm writing the Kris Nelscott's “Smokey Dalton” books which are very… They're set in the late 1960s, early 1970s. They're set in a very difficult part of Chicago, the south side. They're research intensive. And I like to say, and I think it's true, that Smokey, who's my African American detective, has no sense of humor. Everybody else around him does, but Smokey doesn't. You can joke about things and he'll get mad at you. He's one of those people, which when you're in his head, because it's a first-person book, most people don't even notice he has no sense of humor, but I, as the writer notice. Those books, I don't get as much done on them because it's so heavy. Everything is very serious for this man, and it's life and death, and it really is life and death for him, every day.
And so those books tire me out much quicker than something like, I usually follow that with a Kristine Grayson romance novel which are funny and light, and they make me giggle even if they're about serious topics. And I do that because after three months of walking around beating people up, and trying to solve the world's problems, I need to do something goofy and weird, and “I can't believe where that came from” kind of writing.
Joanna: I love that you do all these different series. And in the past, you've used more names, I believe, than you have now, which I've read several views on it. Either it's a vestige of traditional publishing, or now, with all the different author brands.
I use two different names, J.F. Penn for my fiction, and Joanna Penn for my nonfiction, which I like because it separates people on Amazon and the AI and the algorithms and all that, know who they're targeting.
What's your feeling on using different brand names at this point?
Kristine: I look at it from a reader perspective, because I'm a reader first.
Have you ever heard of the writer Barbara Mertz?
Kristine: Nobody has, because she was a nonfiction writer. But they know Elizabeth Peters, the mystery writer, and they know Barbara Michaels, the gothic romantic suspense writer, both of whom are her. I'm one of those people who would go into a bookstore, completely ignorant of the fact that Barbara Mertz was the person behind both of those and have that long conversation about the fact that I really like Barbara Michaels but I really hate Elizabeth Peters. And so I like having that distinction.
I'm also a very sensitive reader. So before I go to bed, if I read something about people being murdered and horrid things happening and true crime stuff, or a horror novel in which limbs are being ripped off and everything else, I don't sleep. I'm reading romance or certain kinds of YA, or light young children's fantasies before I go to bed.
I tell this story a lot, but when I was driving home, my father was dying, actually. So I was driving across country to go see him, and I was reading Nora Roberts, this romance writer. It was an early Nora Roberts. And I got to Denny's restaurant in somewhere in the Dakotas. And I'm sitting there, reading it and all of a sudden — and I'm sorry, folks. I can't remember the name of the book — but the baby dies. In the middle of the book, and this baby, who's been cute and lovely, he gets murdered in the middle of this book. And it's not what I needed at the time, and I'm a fairly passionate reader, and I threw it across the restaurant, nearly hitting an old lady. And I'm was off Nora Roberts for a long time. I stopped reading her at night, because I couldn't…it was my relaxation reading.
So as a pen name, I would never have the same name for Kristine Grayson as I would for Kris Nelscott. I just wouldn't because of those readers. They would have to approach it really cautiously. Is this one of the funny books or is this one of the books in which children die?
I really value that protected space of the happy-ever-after ending, and that sort of writing. All that said, I would probably have a lot more stuff under a Kristine Kathryn Rusch than I did because I got started in traditional publishing, and I have three established names, pen names. And they're human being pen names and they're all right. And if I abandon them, it will take more work to separate them out.
But if I was starting today, I would put similar books in mood and tone under similar names. And it's mood and tone, not genre for me.
Joanna: I think that's actually a really good distinction. I'm glad I have mine under two, because they have very different voices.
And talking about voice, that's something I don't think I discovered until about book five, fiction book five. And when I was like thinking about everything you do and what I've read of yours over the years, it seems that your mission is empowering authors, as your nonfiction side, it's empowering authors with knowledge and skills.
I think one of the biggest issues with authors is this self-doubt in both the writing voice, in the business, in all of that.
Why do you think authors in particular have an issue with self-doubt, and how can people deal with that?
Kristine: I think writers are a unique kind of creature. I don't know if other artists have this same thing, but it's this incredible self-confidence and incredible self-doubt mixed up together. Because we all believe that our voices are strong enough and important enough to be worldwide international bestsellers, and that our stuff is good enough to be out there. And once we publish something, everybody should bow at our feet.
At a certain point, as a writer, you learn, once you become successful, not to say that. But every beginning a writer says that, “When my book is published, the world is gonna fall on my feet.” And then it doesn't happen and we get horribly disappointed.
But, on the same token, we are completely frightened of what we've done and where we lack confidence and everything else. Some of that comes from being an introvert. Some of that comes from, if you're a good writer, you're writing from the space where you live. You're writing your real self, and you're afraid that you're going to get caught with your real self.
I like to compare it to parents and children, because we all learn the critical voice. And your real self is that little two-year-old. If you've ever watched two-year-olds, they're running around and they're just insane, and they do all this stuff that you're just not allowed to do. I watched a two-year-old take off, on a very hot day, take off all of his clothes and throw them down a sewer drain. And then he ran around screaming through a parking lot. His parents weren't very happy with him afterwards.
But that's storytelling basically; you peel off all of your clothes, you throw them down the sewer drain, you run out screaming in the parking lot. And then your parents come over to you and say, “Don't you ever do that again,” and probably, “You know how much money that costs?” And all of that stuff.
Or you've seen little kids screaming, screeching at a restaurant, and the parent will take them outside and train them that you don't do that. So when you're writing, you're writing out of that two-year-old. You're writing out of that screaming in a restaurant, and you're waiting for somebody to come to you and say, “You know, that's just not allowed.”
And a lot of writers, especially the ones who are good students, the ones who are well behaved human beings out in the real world, they have more problems with this than the rebels. The rebels learned somewhere along the way, “I don't care. You can do whatever you want to me. I'm still gonna write this.” But the people who were straight A students, who graduated at the top of their class, they're gonna have a heck of a problem with this.
Joanna: Yeah, that's me. I always have the good girl problem. Still do, really, wanting to be a good girl and behave and everything, which is why I think I have problems with self-censorship.
Have you ever struggled with finding that two-year-old? Or how do you access that when you've been a good girl all day with your business stuff and nonfiction?
Kristine: Well, my two-year-old's a lot closer to the surface than most people's. I was a good girl too. But I was a good girl as a mask, because my home life, growing up, was not very good. And so in order to have a better life, I would go out into the real world and be this straight A student and do all the stuff so that my parents never paid attention to the fact that I was dating the guys that you really shouldn't be dating, and going out and doing, you know, stealing cars, and doing all the bad kind of lovely stuff.
Joanna: Playing poker.
Kristine: I didn't play poker because I wasn't any good at it. But I was the one who was riding shotgun with a group of drunk guys. So who's the dumb person in the car? It was me. But yeah, so I had those two sides.
And I have this, always, have had this, what I call, forgive me for using this language, it's an oh-fuck-it gene. And I've had it since I was really, really young, which is at my very first job, midway through, I realized that I thought, at the age of 16, it was a highly stupid job. And midway through the first day, I said, “I'm not doing this anymore.” And I quit and walked out. I've always had that side of me of…it's easier for me. I think that's why it was easier for me to break all those rules because I had those two sides.
I can play the good girl on TV. I'm not the good girl. That's the problem. Our friends kept trying to hire me to work in Hollywood, because at the time, I was much younger and I was very pretty and that was a great way of getting your way into the work.
Then they would say, “You're really smart, you know the story, and you could do all this stuff.” And then I'm like, “I won't last six months.” And they're, “No, no, no, you won't. You will be fine.” And I'm like, “No, no, you don't understand. Six months in, somebody's gonna come to me with a completely reasonable request like, “Hey Kris, you're holding a pen. Could I have it please?” And I will jump down their throat and I will kill them. Because I've been that good girl for six months and it suddenly boom, snaps, and I can't deal with it anymore.” So I know I can't work in that confined environment.
I have really good friends who are the straight A students who live the perfect lives. They have a lot more trouble with this than I do.
Joanna: That's really good to know. I really enjoy hearing these stories about the different sides of your life. Because I think, especially those people who, say, only read your business books or your nonfiction books might think you're just very, very serious.
Kristine: I'm not very, very serious. I can get really goofy.
Joanna: Yeah. And I want people to read some of your other books. But let's come back to this very serious book on “Closing the Deal…on Your Terms.” Now, I keep telling people to read this book. And I wonder why people have an issue.
Why are authors so resistant to reading and empowering themselves with knowledge about intellectual property, copyright, contracts? Why do all these terms scare authors so much?
Kristine: They're artists. And artists, we seem to have this idea in our culture that artists are delicate flowers who need to be taken care of. And somebody will come in and take care of you once you become an artist, and they will make sure that your work gets properly presented to the world, and all of that wonderful stuff.
It doesn't happen. They will take care of you, and they will take care of you and line their own pockets at the same time, which just is heartbreaking to me. But it happens over and over and over again.
I hear writers all the time say, “I don't want to be bothered. I don't want to think about any of this other stuff. I'm a writer, so that I don't have to learn this stuff.” And what they don't understand is they're only gonna be a writer for a couple of years if they don't learn this stuff.
It's harder to be a freelance artist. I don't care what art form you're in, they maybe used to have a day job and to do all of that basic good girl stuff that we were talking about. It's a lot harder because you don't have a set path, you're on your own, you have to figure this stuff out yourself, and then you have to take responsibility for what you're doing.
That's why you find the book empowering because you're one of those people who does do that. A lot of people find this whole thing scary. I understand that.
Joanna: It's such a great book. I'm rereading it. My husband's reading it. And I say to people, “This type of information can save you a lot of money and also make you a lot of money, if we just get down to money.”
One of the things I think people still don't get is the idea of intellectual property.
I know it's a kind of basic level, and huge, in a way, but can you explain why when an author says, “Oh, I finished my one book,” why that one book is not actually one thing?
Kristine: It's many things. Learning copyright isn't really hard. In fact, I have a free blog. The book that you're showing is also on my blog for free. And if nothing else, go read the post called “Knowing Your Rights” or whatever it is, something along those lines. It's under the Business tab, and it is one of the posts in there and it has the word “rights” in it. And it's free.
It just explains copyright in a really quick way. And that will help people understand, because what I'm going to talk about right now is that your copyright, Dean calls it, “A magic bakery,” and that the pie just keeps renewing, which my brain kind of has trouble with.
I think of it more like when you write a book you can sell, what are called derivative rights. So that's where movie rights are and gaming rights, and all of a sudden… You can license them, actually. You don't even sell them. If you sell them, you're making a mistake.
I think of it more like real estate. When you finish a book, you have built a house. And so that house, you can rent the house, you can rent rooms in the house. Eventually, that house, it can, grow, and I use the word magic, can grow in to a hotel, and you can have people in various rooms in the hotel. It can grow, that one piece of property can become an entire subdivision, if you're creative enough.
Let me give you an example. Ian Fleming was a very gregarious man. And when he was doing the whole James Bond thing, he would license the rights to Bond, or to a particular book, on napkins in a bar. So when Albert Cubby Broccoli decided that he wanted to make movies based on the Bond books, he found out that Fleming had signed these napkins to a bunch of people, many of whom he could not remember.
And so that easy, legally binding contract, and so what Broccoli and his cohorts did was invite them all to a major hotel in London, I'm thinking the Savoy, but I'm not sure, and he rented the entire hotel. He kept them separate from each other. And he went from room to room to room to room negotiating with these people to get the rights back so that he could make, I think, it was “Dr. No.”
He negotiated all this stuff. There's a really neat book on this, so I'm working on some of this on my memory and some of it may not be really accurate, but I remember the hotel and him going from room to room to room trying to get little snippets of the rights together and figuring out what he did. Because it was such an illustration of one property and one way of doing it, and it was a real life example, he was doing that.
If you learn how to leverage your copyright, then you can make a ton of money, even if your books aren't selling at Stephen King levels, you can do that. And the other thing that you can do when you leverage your copyright is it helps you as an artist, because as an artist, when you write something, it's your baby. But if you start thinking about the copyright on it, that's a thing. And once you're done with the baby, then you can turn it into a thing, and you can worry about selling the thing without touching the baby at all.
Joanna: Yeah, switching your creative mind into that kind of business head. And I think one particular question I wanted to ask about this copyright stuff and properties is the current trend for co-writing, and I've started doing this too.
I didn't even realize until I'd read your stuff that this could be a major deal. So if someone asked me, “Could I write a book with one of my major characters in their world so that my character and their character are in the same book?” Now, reading your stuff, I'm now like, “No, I shouldn't do that, because that would somehow tie my character rights potentially with theirs, as an entanglement in some way.”
What do you think of this co-writing trend?
Kristine: You can do that, but here's the thing.
You have to have a very firm legal agreement drawn up by an IP attorney.
If you're worried about tying your character to that particular project, then that agreement has to state, “This does not do that,” and it has to be in existence before you guys do the writing. And that's where the problem usually comes in. It's because people are not doing that ahead of time, and then the problems come up and then you're in court, and yuck.
Joanna: I think this is why the book is so important. Again, I'm going to recommend it to people because I think people are so scared of making a contract. But me and my husband have made a contract between us for the things we do together. Me and my mum have a contract, me and my dad, for projects that we're doing together, because of the potential downside, even though the potential upside is good.
I just want encourage people not to be scared. That's probably the main thing, right?
Kristine: Yeah. And the other neat thing about contracts, and this is the thing most people don't think about, is that it gives you clarity. If you're talking about it ahead of time, then you find out where these moments of problem could be. And you get to them before it becomes charged and before it becomes a certain issue.
You'll find out that you don't necessarily agree on how you're going to market a book, or what you're going to do with licensing that particular character versus this property and everything else. So you can solve it before it even exists, and then it's easy. And when there's a problem, you can always go back to the document, and say, “No, no, you agreed to this.” And again, it becomes easy or easier.
And it will save your relationships. That's the really big thing. If you really value the relationship, then you want to have this, in stone, ahead of time.
Joanna: Which is great. And it's never too late ether. When I saw you in Oregon, after your talk, I went, “Oh dear, I don't have a contract with the person who's writing a treatment and a screenplay based on my book.” I immediately went and sorted that out based on what you taught then.
I think that it's certainly important for people to realize that you can still sort this stuff out later on as well, as long as things haven't gone bad.
Kristine: Yeah. And you can even sort it out when things go bad, once you calm down. But that's the harder place. I mean, there's always a solution, but it gets progressively harder, the more emotions are involved in it. And that's the real problem.
We're human beings. And so we're going to end up having an emotional response to the stuff that's going on around us. Better to do it ahead of time, when it's an idea than when you're in the middle of the throes of the project.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Okay, so that's one thing the indies, I think, are doing wrong, which is not taking their rights seriously enough, and not protecting things early enough.
You've seen every side of publishing and you've been in publishing a long time. What do you think are one or two things that indie authors are doing wrong right now?
What would you like to fix with the indie community?
Kristine: I think the indie community is great. And one of the things I absolutely love about the indie community is unlike the traditional publishing only community, they're much more business-minded. A lot of the problems that indies have are less severe than the problems that traditionally published writers have. So I just need to put that out there.
One of the things, I think, indies need to do is they need to think long-term. And they're not. They're thinking next week, or this sub-genre is hot right now, and “I'm gonna write it, I'm gonna sell a million books on Amazon,” not thinking that everybody's writing that sub-genre and people are gonna eventually stop reading it because they're not writing from their heart.
Indies need to be realize that if they're in this, they're in this for the long haul. And the long haul isn't 2 years from now. The long haul is 20, 30 years from now. And their planning needs to be based on that.
And that's hard to do, especially as you're just starting out, or you need money, or you took that plunge and you dumped your day job, and now you're trying to earn money every day, that's a hard position to be. And you have to balance that day to day with the long-term view of, “Yeah, they're gonna pay me $50,000 right now for this particular project to make it into a treatment of a movie,” but a) that's not a lot of money, when it comes to Hollywood; and b) they want to buy everything, so I lose that entire property. “Yeah, I could use $50,000 right now. It would pay off this, and it would pay off that, and maybe pay off my student loans, but how am I gonna feel when it becomes the “Harry Potter” of its generation and there are theme parks and there are all these other stuff and I'm not getting a dime? How am I gonna feel about that?” And that's where indies fall down.
And a lot of indies would then say, and I've had them say to me, in the middle of that description, “Oh, that will never happen to me.” Guaranteed, the person that happens to is the person least prepared for it, guaranteed, because that's just the way karma works.
Joanna: That's a shame, because I'm preparing.
Kristine: Yes. Well, you're gonna be the exception to the rule.
Joanna: Fantastic. I love the idea that things might take a while. I mean, it's really interesting right now. We're seeing projects that were written in the '70s suddenly being made because technology is better, and also people are liking the darker stuff. Like Netflix is doing a lot of darker stuff.
It can take that long to do these things.
Kristine: What didn't happen before was traditional publishing did not, and they still don't, know what they're back list is and what their back inventory is. And not the back inventory that they published two years ago, the back inventory they published 20 years ago. So if something becomes hot like the dark stuff, like you mentioned, or the '80s, I mean the '80s, with “Stranger Things” and everything else, have become really big, and disco stuff has become really big, because of some of the stuff that Netflix is doing.
If you were writing in the 1970s and you have the ultimate disco novel but you traditionally published it, it's never gonna get reissued. But if you're an indie and you find out that this trend is going, you can just say, “Hey, put a new cover on it, make it a little more modern, put it out there with some fresh advertising.” And suddenly you have something that everybody is gonna want. And the thing is you can't predict this.
I mean, “Stranger Things,” I listened to an interview with the Duffer Brothers, the guys who wrote it, and they took it to every single network before they took it to Netflix. And they said they were rejected 63 times, something like that, because everybody said, “The '80s are so passé and nobody cares. And this looks like you're taking bits and pieces of all of the '80s movies and putting it together, so we don't care.” And that's what people love about it. You can't predict it.
And so these things are gonna come up and you can't say, “Oh, well, 10 years from now, this is gonna be the hot thing.” You can have a guess by looking at what little kids are reading, and what the little kids think are the best things. You can absolutely have a guess and it will probably be correct from 15 to 20 years from now. Because if little kids liked dark stuff, they did, they liked R. L. Stine, that was 20 years ago, and now dark stuff is back. But it's not R. L. Stine dark stuff, it's adult dark stuff and very different. You can kind of guess some of it, but you're still never gonna hit it exactly.
Joanna: Yeah. “Stranger Things” is awesome.
Kristine: Isn't it great?
Joanna: So we are almost out of time. And I have one more question for you which is you also write science fiction. So that's one of your many talents. And I wondered, again, if we look forward to the next few years, so like, where we're speaking just after Christmas, in 2016, when the Amazon Alexa has gone nuts, which to me means massive shift in audio books, for example. Like my husband is just listening to audio in Alexa all the time, and stuff like that.
What do you see coming in the next couple of years, short-term for publishing, the publishing industry, and what indie should be looking out for in the next couple of years?
Kristine: I do think audio books are going to be really important. I also think, oddly enough, beautiful paper books. The books, to everybody, have always been somewhat disposable. You trade them, end of use bookstores, you do all that other stuff, but then you have what the romance writers call ‘keepers', the books that you absolutely love. And if you're an indie, try to do as many of your books as possible in a beautiful hard cover edition so that the people who want the keeper volume are going to be able to keep it.
I don't know quite how to say this, but I think it's going to become more and more important to have your network, your tribe, your group, because people love to rally. Musicians call them their fan base, and you have that whole range of fan bases. You have the people who follow the Grateful Dead all over the United States, concert to concert. And then you had the people would see the concert when it was in town, if they could afford it. They were all fans, but there's that spectrum of fandom.
And writers have that, we just never had the opportunity to cultivate it. And now we do. And you can spend too much time cultivating it, but you do have to be aware that it exists, and be appreciative of it and not be dismissive of either end of the spectrum. There are people who are willing to give you thousands and thousands of dollars for a particular item, and then there are people who can't afford to buy anything, and they still love you, and they're gonna go out there and they're going to be your best advertisement, because they're gonna cross promote your stuff to other people.
You need to have that whole range when you're thinking about your career, and you need to think about the people who can't afford it, but they're the people who are gonna tell their friends, “Buy this book,” or save up and buy a copy to give to friends. And then there are the people who want the beautiful hardcover edition with this slipcase and the LP in the middle of it, because you can have some rock star write something for you, and all of that cool stuff.
Joanna: Yeah. I totally agree with you on that print, the renaissance of beautiful print. I think it's really incredible how that's happening. And I'm looking at hard backs, some beautiful stuff for this year as well. Yeah, good, excellent. I'm glad I'm going in the right direction.
I would just mention on the marketing, you have a book called “Discoverability” which is all about that kind of stuff. It's more than marketing, but I want people to check that out too. Because what I love about you and Dean is you're not just, “Write all the books and they will come.” You also have a lot of techniques for marketing.
Kristine: You can also get it on my website, which is free. It's just out of order, because I write at a boarder. So you're not gonna get it edited and cleaned up, but you'll at least get it.
Joanna: Yes. I think everyone should buy it, actually.
Kristine: I think that.
Joanna: Exactly. So tell people where they can find your books and everything you do online.
Kristine: Okay, my books are available in all of the various stores. You can also find information about me at kriswrites.com which is K-R-I-S, writes, W-R-I-T-E-S-dot-com. WMG Publishing publishes a lot of my work, not all of my work, and that's wmgpublishing.com, and you can order books directly from them if you want to.
I have hunch that will be more important when we start doing some of these more limited editions that they were starting to branch into the really beautiful books and stuff. And those are harder to sell on Amazon and stuff, not because Amazon won't sell them, but because when you're doing a limited edition, if you run out, you run out. So yeah, you can find me pretty much anywhere.
Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Kris. That was great.
Kristine: Thank you, Joanna. I really appreciate it.
Rachel Morgan says
Congratulations on Curl Up Press! I love the idea behind the name (and the cat on the logo 😉 ). I’ve been waiting eagerly over the past several podcasts to hear more about your small press, so it’s cool to finally discover the name and see the website, and I’m looking forward to your mega blog post detailing more about your move from indie author to small press.
P.S. Also cool to put a face to Jonathan!
Joanna Penn says
I’m so glad you like it 🙂
Henry Hyde says
Great conversation with Kristine – I don’t mind your ‘fan girl’ approach at all, it’s so refreshing and Kristine is an enthusiasm bomb as well! Lots of sensible business advice, which is so critical not just for indie authors but also, as I know well, for trad published authors too.
In fact, having listened to you and Kristine in the past, I have gone back to my publisher to discuss previously signed contracts for books I’m in the process of writing – nerve wracking, but necessary! As a result, they are willing to make concessions: there are two books that I shall now be self-publishing, whilst I’ll be writing two more of a different kind for them instead. (All non-fiction, in the military history/hobby sphere.)
Also, many congratulations on launching Curl Up Press and I wish you and Jonathan every success for the future.
Joanna Penn says
Congrats on getting those rights back, Henry – that’s awesome 🙂
Prasenjeet Kumar says
Hi Joanna. I was eagerly waiting for you to interview Kristine Rusch. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks to you, I follow Kris and Dean all the time now. And many congratulations for Curl Up Press.
That was a great podcast. I consider Kris Rusch as one of my mentors as well. (Also, I have become an evangelist for her Retrieval Artist Science Fiction Series. I love those books!) I love the idea of seeing a book as a piece of real estate. That was a great visual in getting us authors of thinking more business. We writers need to learn more about intellectual property and acknowledge our fears about it…..but learn anyway. Thanks Joanna.
Sue Hollowell says
Joanna, thank you for leading the way. As I’m writing my non-fiction book I have already decided that there will be a workbook version and a companion journal to go along with it. Very much going to be following your experience with the journal project.
Bradley Charbonneau says
Another great episode, this one while searching for LED lights in the hardware store (it was a long search … ). 😉
Kristine really helped me out here when she said that she listens to her subconscious about which projects to work on. I’m completely with you (both) when you talked about having too many projects, but choosing which one(s) to work on is the key.
I’ve been listening to my subconscious and it’s usually been right, but of late, I’ve let it choose where I’m “having the most fun working on it” as I believe that then the reader will also be living/reliving/experiencing that same fun as well.
Congratulations on the Curl Up Press! (I worked in branding, specifically naming companies and products for years and appreciate names that “tell a story” and your does just that–well done!)