Author Interview, Cassie M. Shiels, The Royal Spy
In 7th grade, Cassie M. Shiels got an idea for a book and started writing in her sparkly notebook. The idea seemed to come from nowhere, but she decided to just go with it.
So many of us never finish those 7th grade dreams, but Cassie stuck with it. Many years and edits later, Cassie published The Royal Spy. That first publishing experience didn't go perfectly, but Cassie values her learning experience. She has since published a sequel, and has a third book in the series in the works.
Her advice? Make it fun. And learn the value of Beta Readers. Read her full Author Interview below. And sure to check out her website and Amazon author page.
1. How many books have you published and when (month/year)?
Two books in "A Princess Tale" series, with one more in the works for 2017.
The Royal Spy
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
I actually started writing The Royal Spy when I was in 7th grade. I latterly marched across the hall to my brother's room and firmly declared that I was going to write a book! I then marched back to my room pulled out my purple sparkly notebook and a purple pen and wrote the first page. I think I got tired after that and went to bed.
It took me 15 years from that night to publication. Mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing in 7th grade. But that book does preserve my 7th grade mind, and how I saw that first story. I don’t know where the idea came from honestly. I think it started from the idea I had of a princess and a king getting in a mud fight and grew from there.
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
Keeping at it. I started The Royal Spy in 7th grade but didn’t finish a first draft until my senior year of high school. After that I rewrote it countless times. The biggest challenge was getting a story from I had no idea what I was doing, to a story that was worthy to be published.
One big hurdle was letting it go. I got stuck in a rut where I kept working on that story, and I couldn’t move onto the other fifty or so ideas I had. I just kept messing with it. I had to finally decide to let it go. That was hard. That was one of the main reasons I decided to self publish. I knew none of my other stories would get a chance if I didn’t let go.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
I made the rookie mistake and self-published with a vanity press. Whoops. But luckily since I still owned all the rights I was able to take it back and publish it a different way. I went with CreateSpace.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
For my first book, I learned that Beta Readers were a good idea after I published it and had to go through the editing process again and submit a second edition. Things you live and learn from. For Lady A I did it right. I finished my manuscript, edited it myself a few times, then sent it off to Beta Readers. They sent me feedback and I rewrote and edited it again.
I found two different editors to go over it at that point. Then I rewrote it again based on their suggestions. (Do you see the pattern forming?) Since I was self publishing, I then had to format my book and get proofs prepared through CreateSpace. They sent me proofs and myself along with two others proofed the book. I then, you guessed it, had to fix a few things. I sent it in for review and it was ready to be published.
I know it sounds a little grueling, but I actually love this process. You cannot be offended by people’s thoughts. It does you no good. I about had a heart attack when I realized I was going to have to cut about 50 pages and rewrite the whole thing to address some mistakes with my plot. That was really hard to do. But I am so glad that I did it. Editing is hard, but so worth it.
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
There is nothing better then typing the end at the end of a first draft, that is until you do it for the 4th or 5th drafts. I love to write the first draft because it is all new. I am a planster. I can only plan the basics but not the whole thing. So the first draft I am discovering the story for the first time. Super fun! Sometimes I write the story wrong. I did that with Lady A. But that is what the first draft is all about. I love love love to rewrite though because that where the beauty of the story comes out. That is where you take the basic idea and add the flavor. It is hard to cross out things and figure out how to fix things but so much fun. I love nothing better than to print out a new manuscript and attack it with my colorful pens.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers/Beta Readers)? What did you get out of that?
I had beta readers for Lady A. I got the story to the point where I liked it quite a bit and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing things. I sent it out to four people and then rewrote according to their suggestions. It was so nice to have others tell me at that stage where I went wrong.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
I designed the covers for both The Royal Spy and Lady A. I got to choose everything from the costuming, to the make up and hair. To where we did the photo shoot. I got to choose the final photo, the text, where things were placed. Everything. I loved it! It was so much fun to be fully in control of that. The cover is vital. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but we all know we do. I know a book first has to have an interesting title, cover, and back cover before I ever decide to open it.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
I decided to go indie because first I wanted to let go of The Royal Spy and because I wanted to be in control. I have some stories I will try and go traditional but I’m still working on them. I love doing the work of self publishing. It is a lot of work and I had to learn a lot of things. In fact I have a lot more to learn, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Its great!
10. How have you marketed your first book?
Mostly I have marketed on social media, and on a few people’s blogs. I want to try a few other things but I haven’t gotten the chance yet. The Royal Spy also had an announcement in the local newspaper.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
Pretty good. Some said they thought it was more for a tween then young adult. I can’t argue much there. So I usually say my books are for tweens but enjoyed by all ages. I only had one person say they though they wasted their money. So it has been really rather positive all around.
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
Sales have gone as I expected. I am a new author. I sold a bunch at the release and only a few here and there after. I would love to sell more but I know that means I need to put more into marketing. I have four kids 5 and under and I refuse to devote as much time to marketing as I need and more time to them. I am planning on focusing a little time here or there to help my sales go up as well. Sales help sell more books, like a 99 cent sale on Amazon.
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I get more ebook sales vs print but I like to offer both because I would always rather have a paperback then an ebook and I assume others are like me.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
Yes I did. I tried to look at what others were selling for and price accordingly. Both of my young adult ebooks are 2.99 and their paperback partners are $12.95.
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?
I decided to write more books because I have more stories to tell. I want to be an author not of one stand-alone but of a whole bunch of books. I learned a lot from my first book and tried not to make the same mistakes with my second. I hope to continue improving with each book. I went about the whole process differently. I made sure I had Beta Readers, editors, and proofreaders. I made sure I published in a way that did not cost me lots of money. I made that mistake the first time. I talked about it, announced it and trusted those who helped me make it a good book.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
It was easier this time because I had already figured it out. I went with CreateSpace and KDP like I did with my first book.
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
Not until I published my first book and even then I had a hard time saying I was an author. I feel much better now. But I know others would still say you are only kind of an author because you are self published. It’s sad but true.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
As a busy mom, I have to write when I can. I do the bulk though in the evening when my kids are in bed. I am my own best motivator. If I don’t make my own dreams come true, then who will? I gave up writing for about two years and during that time I found out why I needed to be a writer and I will not let that go!
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
Mostly about how to get a first draft done or how to stay motivated.
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
You have to set some good goals, not big goals, mostly small goals and to have a report person. I say find music that works for you, have snacks and know why you want to share this story. Why you need to write it. Also find someone you trust to read it when you are ready. Having others read your work before you declare it done is vital.
For editing, find a way to make it fun. For me I need colorful pens and highlighters. That makes me super happy! Also choose not to be offended by what others have to say. You are the author―if you don’t agree with something fine, no big deal but also listen to what they are saying and why they are saying it.
For publishing, study. Study self-publishing, and traditional publishing before you decide. Weigh how much control you want on the whole process and if you want your books in actual bookstores or not. Make your decision and then more forward. Study your self-publishing or traditional publishing options. IF you decide to go with an agent, then study different agents and agencies. This studying will not take you one day!
For marketing, save up. There are lots of marketing options, but sadly a lot of them cost a bit of money. And make friends. Author friends who are willing to share your work as you are willing to share theirs also helps.