Author Interview, Aften Brook Szymanski, Killer Potential
She self published a few books, but her latest was picked up by a publisher. Now, Aften has entered the "hybrid author zone" and is trying to figure out what that means. In the meantime, she says ideas for new books come at her all the time. "Some stories come out like a freight train. Others slog like over-tired clichés...Every book feels like its own beast to me." Read her full interview below!
1. List the titles of your published books (include publisher and year published) plus your author website/Facebook page links.
Liar Lindly Brandt
Peter Holt is a Hottie
2014 (self published)
2016 by BookFishBooks
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
I’ve been writing since I was young. I started seriously pursuing a path to publication in 2013
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
My biggest hurdle with my very first book was the fact that I was writing a picture book and have absolutely no illustrating experience or talent.
For my first YA, KILLER POTENTIAL, the hardest part was trying to not sugar coat the main character nor make her so fallable that she was detestable. It was a difficult balance with a psych thriller.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
Revise. Edit. Revise. Get beta readers on it, revise some more. Submit to editors. Revise some more. Submit to contests. Submit to editors, and even after it was under contract, there was more revision.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
My favorite part is working with skilled editors. They helped me refine things that I hadn’t noticed. I loved the editors at BFB.
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
My book, KILLER POTENTIAL, after being contracted, required an 80% rewrite. There were certain characters that needed more page time, some that were deleted entirely. The ending was cut and reworked to fit better with the overall sentiment of the story (originally it had too happy of an ending, if that’s possible—we’re talking KILLER POTENTIAL here—there can’t be rainbow farts and caramel filled root canals).
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?
I had a good number of non-editors read the book for me. Many of my alpha readers are also writers themselves, so they give excellent feedback. I discovered some inconsistencies through reader feedback, as well as heavily used words (hello thesaurus, you magnanimous tome of vast loquaciousness; example of a sentence in need of changes. See I’d change all that to—Hi Thesa, how you doin’ loud mouth?).
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
For KILLER POTENTIAL, BFB has a cover artist that works on all their covers. Their covers are one of the biggest reasons I chose to publish with them. They are beautiful.
My self-published works were designed by myself with images done by myself, but I hired a cover designer to clean them up and make the fonts look pro, as well as do the full wrap for me because I don’t know how to do that technical stuff.
I chose to cut out fabric and arrange it into images and photograph it in order to create my art for my picture book O. Potamus, as well as the cover art for my Lindly Brandt books. I’m a cut and paste illustrator J
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
I researched, hired special services such as editing and design. I sought contests to enter and see which agents/editors were interested in my writing content and style and selected submission efforts based on that feedback.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
Here is where I struggle. I am not a good salesperson. I do not know how to praise myself very well. It’s difficult for me to ask friends and family to purchase my work, and living in a small town—there isn’t a lot of news exposure either. So far my biggest efforts to market myself have been a few initial posts when my books are released, a link here and there and a an occasional tweet about the book.
I have actually come up with ideas before and been very excited about how things might go, and then talk myself out of it—thinking that it will be dumb or won’t make an impact. I’m sad to admit these thoughts hold me back from trying something unusual—or investing in what might be a failed attempt to broaden my platform. Especially when I get excited about something and then remember I live in a population of 3K people and 20K cattle. It often feels like I’m too insignificant/unimportant, or won’t be received well, to make a difference in my book awareness, which is heartbreaking a little bit.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
I’ve had wonderful feedback. I guess the most surprising thing to me is that with KILLER POTENTIAL, there have been some lovely people who know me in real life who were a little shocked at the depth of psych-thriller aspect and found the content to be much darker than my general personality. It’s true that I am a highly energetic, bubbly, optimistic, and encouraging person in my every day life. My writing tends to be edgier than my personality. I guess I’m a dichotic personality ;)
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
I’m surprised that my self-published works have sold better than my small press book. I think having word of mouth about my books is what sells the most. And many people like my illustrations—despite the fact I have no actual talent in that area.
I am not a salesperson. I get anxiety when I see someone pedaling anything in a five mile radius, and that same anxiety attacks me when I think of trying to tell someone I have a product they can purchase—key point being “give me a very small percentage of the money you put toward buying this thing I made.” I might be better off starting a GoFundMe page. My cause could be “to learn how to sell things without feeling like I’m trying to sell things.”
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I’m a print type of gal. I prefer to read print—to hold a book in my hand and turn the pages myself—to have the actual object waiting for me to return and heft it. I’m not sure if some kind of cosmic karma comes into play in my book sales, but my print booaks seem to do much better than ebook.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
I do not set the prices of anything through a publishing house. Self-pub is based on sales of books in a similar genre and word count.
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 am haunted by ideas and characters and conversations. There are lots that slip through the cracks of my thoughts and never make it to paper. There are also a great number of written pieces to grand puzzles that never get fit together, and go to their digital tombs. I don’t know if I’ll resurrect those old notions, but it is a relief to put them somewhere and categorize them. Some stories come out like a freight train. Others slog like over-tired clichés. There are so many stories that were brighter and shinier in my head and come out dull and rusted—sounding like post cards instead of a mental escape. Every book feels like its own beast to me.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
I’m still figuring out how to be a hybrid author. Since I started on my own—living in a rural town and having no idea how to connect to agents, publishers, or other authors—I did the best I could with anything I could get in my hands. I wanted to build my skill set and continued a pursuit of learning and growth from there. It’s possible that my journey to publication has already dictated itself based on my start, but I tend to think that there is no hard and fast cage for a writer. Everything has been different. Every time. I keep growing and expanding. My network of friends and professionals compounds with my efforts and investment into conference attendance, support of fellow authors, reading works by diverse and broad writers. I haven’t had a stagnant moment. Even in the ones where I wasn’t moving due to my personal life derailing—the writing world and evolution doesn’t stand still—so it’s different. Always.
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
I thought of myself as a writer when I was a kid. Then I grew up and thought I was a nothing. Then I thought, “I’m aspiring.” And someone said that’s a bad thing to think. So I went back to a nothing. Then I decided I’m just me. And me writes. Call it whatever. I don’t have huge deals and no one inquires after my name in libraries throughout the nation. But, I still write.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
I used to write every day. Any five to ten minutes I could get, I’d crouch in front of my screen and jab out some words. Things went off track as my husband and I endeavored to renovate an old farmhouse in the valley where we live. It turned out to be a completely consuming experience. I can’t say it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. So now, I’m building back my writing stamina. I hadn’t realized it was an atriphrical muscle (pretty sure I invented that word just now).
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
They usually ask me how they can get published. A lot of people ask me to read their work. I have a great writers group, beta readers, and published friends whose works I read as regularly as I can, along with my own reading for research as well as pleasure. It’s sometimes difficult to fit in extra (How do agents/editors survive)?
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
My experience has taught me that it’s an individual game. Don’t compare yourself to others (if you can help it—there is so much talent out there it’s sometimes difficult to not wish you could write worlds like so and so, or action sequences with the clarity of whoseit, or deep character POV like whatsamahoosie, or revise with the deft of delete control like yoyomahana). There are a lot of people with strengths and skills. Instead of wishing you had their skillset, maybe set goals on how to build your skills in those specifically coveted areas. Take care of your health the best you can, and pursue writing to the extent you want to achieve.
If you’re only in it for fun—then relax and enjoy yourself without concern for a dang thing.
If you’re in it for sharing something with the world—find out the best audience for the thing you want to share—how it would be best received (POV and tense perhaps come into play here—maybe structure) and practice the art of expression and imagery until you have a product that accomplishes your desire.
If you want to write a best seller—read the live-long-day all the bleeding best sellers you can get your hands on, and figure out how you can create a rich story with the elements found in those stories in order to appeal to the same audience you’re targeting—the ones who pay for books. ;)
Let’s face it, all book advice isn’t golden. Forge your own path if no advice rings true to your gut.
But, most of all, give me a holler and I’ll cheer you on (even if I can’t fit the reading into my list of reads) I’ll still happily encourage and point to resources and say things like “Do you need a ring pop today? How about a Pokemon for your desk?” Because those things help.