Author Interview: Stephanie J. Cress, Gilded Shadows

"A great editor does not change your voice, she helps you bring it out and polish it." Amen, author Stephanie J. Cress.

It's amazing how much the editing process can teach you, as well as the writing process. Stephanie had heard writers were supposed to write a certain way, and became disillusioned... until she realized that everyone writes differently. And that's a good thing.

Learn more on her website at

And definitely check out her Author Interview below!

1. How many books have you published and when (month/year)?

Gilded Shadows

Mystic Publishers/NewLink Publishing

July 2015

It is the first in an upcoming 5-book series called “Elements of Discord.”

I also have two short stories published in

Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories

August 2010

2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?

An author friend challenged me to participate with her in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where you write 50,000 words in 30 days) in 2007. At that time, NaNo asked that your novel be all original, no fan fiction, which was all I’d ever written. It “forced” me to come up with something all my own.

The idea came to me in the shower one day: the idea of an assassin who is sent to kill someone innocent...and instead he falls in love with her. The seed of that idea grew like a weed until not only the characters, but the world itself swirled inside my head.

3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?

After NaNoWriMo finished, I still hadn’t completed Gilded Shadows (though I did get the 50,000 words done in the 30 days). I got severely burned out from it and I thought I might never finish. In the end, though, I just had to know how it ended, and the only way to learn that was to finish it myself.

Another hurdle: I had a writer in a writers’ group talk with great enthusiasm about how when she writes, the story plays out “like a movie” in her head...the way it does for all writers, she said. This froze me. I thought I wasn’t doing it right. I tried everything I could to picture the story in my head, to play it out, but I couldn’t “see” a thing, no matter what. It wasn’t until some researching, much later, that I discovered that I have a condition called “aphantasia.” I do not possess a functioning “mind’s eye.” Not when I write, not when I read. Instead of images, I write using emotion and a very strong impression. Or intuition. It’s hard to explain. What I do know is that this “condition” has been a blessing in disguise because it’s given my stories a unique and compelling voice.

4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?

I played around editing it, researching what I needed to do to make it shine and find a publisher. But it wasn’t until about 2010 that I started getting serious. I attended the Las Vegas Writers’ Conference, pitching it to the attending publishers. The first one I pitched to was the editor-in-chief for Penguin Books. Talk about sweating buckets! Turned out the story was too short for them. The second person I pitched to was Jo Wilkins at Mystic Publishers, and I ended up sending them the entire manuscript. The rest is history.

5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?

I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. I know what I was afraid of, though: someone who wouldn’t work with me, someone who would do what they wanted with my manuscript, no matter what I said. I needn’t have worried. Traci, the editor Jo assigned me, first contacted me via email. She said she was prepared for me to hate her. I told her I knew what she did would help make my story better. And it did. 6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?

The initial writing, the rough draft, is the harder part for me. It’s the heavy lifting, you’re gathering the materials and stacking them in the lot. Rewriting, editing...that’s building the house, making it pretty and livable.

I remember getting my first edits from Traci. My finger hovered over the mouse button. I chanted over and over to myself, “She’s just helping, she’s just helping…” and closed my eyes as I opened her file. It was covered in MS Word’s comment bubbles and “highlighter.” She made suggestions; she didn’t straight out change anything. Some changes I did, a few I didn’t, and a few we discussed. Mostly what she suggested were rewording issues, clearer explanations, adding/deleting words, and in one place, a section needed moved to make chronological sense.

I know the outside editing is something a lot of new writers fear, so let me tell you this: a great editor does not change your voice, she helps you bring it out and polish it. Don’t settle for less.

7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?

I posted it in a private writers’ forum for critique. These were mostly the folks who wrote with me on the Birth of a Unicorn anthology, so they provided some valuable input.

8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?

The publisher chose the artist, though they did ask for my ideas. I chose a scene from the novel and sent the excerpt for them to work with. The anxiety I had for editing was nothing compared to the anxiety I had over the cover. I think because I am a completely non-visual person (as mentioned above) and I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, I loved it. Your cover is the window dressing, the “face” of your story. It’s the first thing readers see and often, it’s what gets them to pick it up and look at the back or flip through the first pages (even in the electronic version).

9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?

I think I covered some of this in question four, though one thing I didn’t mention was the preparation. I researched publishers and what they wanted (it often differs from one to the next). I learned how to write a synopsis of my book (the hardest thing I ever wrote!) as well as a biography, and how to write query letters.

10. How have you marketed your first book?

For the physical copies, I get tables at local events and sell there. I was even a featured author at the local book festival and spoke to an auditorium full of high school children.

For ebooks, I have a list of websites that run promos. I try to run one or two every couple months while staying within my budget.

For all-around marketing, I’ve been interviewed for newspapers in two towns (the one where I live now and the one where I graduated high school) and a friend and I filmed a creative and slightly irreverent “interview” to put on YouTube and on my personal website. I also keep an electronic folder full of promo pictures and articles as well as a trunkful of physical promo accessories, such as signage and little freebies like bookmarks.

11. How was the initial feedback from readers?

Positive. I get four and five star reviews on Amazon and one reviewer called my writing “ the best possible way.” I still get all warm and fuzzy thinking about that one.

12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?

Sales are all right, not huge. The ebook promos help sell a lot. As for the rest, well, marketing has one heck of a learning curve but I’m getting better.

13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?

A lot more with ebooks. Like, TONS. I don’t know if this is due to the price difference or because I’m more comfortable away from a crowd. Probably a little of both.

14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?

The publisher decides the price but it’s a fair one.

15. What made you decide to write more books? How were those experiences (writing/editing) compared with your first book? Did you do anything differently?

Well, it’s a series, so I have to finish it or I’ll go crazy from the curiosity (plus I signed a five book contract with the publisher)! I’m about ¾ of the way through the rough draft of book two. Every book I write, every story of any kind, is a different process. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes I’m beating my head on the keyboard. I don’t completely “pants” my stories (write without an outline) but I don’t completely plot them either. It’s a process, you have to keep trying different things to see what works for you. Don’t give up. It can take a lot of trial and error.

16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?

The process for the Birth of a Unicorn anthology was a bit more time consuming because it was with a smaller publisher who had to organize all of us first time authors and get us to get our edits in on time (a process which I believe she referred to as “herding cats”). In the end, it was a positive learning experience for all of us, I think.

17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?

I read some advice from author, Jeff Goins, that said you become a writer when you start to call yourself one. So I ever since I read that I have!

18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?

I write when I can. In the evenings, usually, or when I have a day off work. Or when I’m on a break at work. And what motivates me is the next word. I want to know “what comes next” and the only way to know that is to just keep writing.

19. What do aspiring authors ask you?

Something I hear a lot is, “Would ____ be a good a story?” To which I invariably reply, “Yes!” Because it’s not what you write, it’s how you write it that makes it good.

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Don’t chase the trends. Write what you love because when you write what you love, it shows.

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