Author Interview, Meg Welch Dendler, Bianca: The Brave Frail and Delicate Princess
Author Meg Welch Dendler has lofty goals as a writer, but her biggest one is this: "Let’s make good books and raise a new generation of readers. I want kids to have 100 good books to read every year. Mine will hopefully just be a speck in that pile."
Check out her full author interview below!
1. List the titles of your published books, author website/Facebook Page links.
Cats in the Mirror Book Series
Serenity Mountain Publishing
Why Kimba Saved The World
Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge
Slinky Steps Out, 2016
(And the two companion books to the series)
Max’s Wild Night, 2015
Dottie’s Daring Day, 2017
At the Corner of Magnetic and Main
Pen-L Publishing, 2015
Bianca: The Brave Frail and Delicate Princess
Serenity Mountain Publishing, 2017
Author Website: https://megdendler.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MegDendlerAuthor/
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from? Include the synopsis.
My first published book is Why Kimba Saved The World. It began around 2010, when we still lived in Houston. Kimba herself was behind it 100%. We constantly joked that she was the weirdest cat ever. She must be an alien. I wrote a short story about that idea. Then it became an early chapter book. After I got feedback from some agents at SCBWI affiliate conferences and pondered the story more myself, I realized it would be much more interesting as a middle-grade book. As I brainstormed and “what-if” plotted, it ended up being four books and a whole huge storyline I never expected.
Here’s what ended up being Book 1 in the series: “How can a young cat pick between everything she has ever wanted and everyone she has ever loved? Kimba lives the care-free life of a much loved house cat, but what she really wants is freedom and the wild life for which she was born. Then she learns a secret that changes everything, including her destiny. Will she join this mysterious cat conspiracy? Kimba must choose between the freedom she craves and the human family she loves.”
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
The hardest part was wondering if it would ever see the light of day. I had a few picture books I had pitched and fussed with over the years, and I knew the uphill battle I was facing to find a publisher or an agent to help me get a publisher. Just continuing to work on the book and poke at the sequels with little guarantee, if any, that it would ever come together as a book was frustrating. Rejection letters came, though most publishers never respond at all. One agent asked to see the whole thing, but then it was not right for her. That’s hard: when you think you might have gotten a break but then it falls through. It’s difficult to keep your eye on the goal and keep fighting through and revising and making it better. I was used to writing articles and seeing them published. Writing with no sure end game was different.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
I guess that’s the point that self-publishing became a real possibility. I felt like the book was done. Complete. It was exactly as I wanted it. I could continue to spend another few years pitching and sending it out, or I could just publish it myself. In 2013, that whole self-publishing world was really opening up. It was a whole new ballgame.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
Since I was self-publishing, the editing process is a bit different. The writer has the final decisions, instead of working with a publisher that may force an issue or not yield on one subject or another. For Kimba, the editing budget was tight. I called on a former co-teacher to do that job. She was an English and grammar guru. I knew she wouldn’t let things slip, and she didn’t. This is not the route I recommend for authors in general. Don’t get your friend to edit! But this specific situation did work for me. She was really just doing the proofreading or “line editing” for me. I’d published over 100 articles over the years, so being edited and corrected was no big deal. I appreciate when someone helps make my work better.
6. Describe what rewriting involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
I LOVE revising and editing. I hear all the time that authors hate it, but it’s my favorite part. Getting the first draft done is painful. I slog along. But once I can start to mess with the story and the order of things and make it beautiful, that’s the part I love. It’s highly creative and interesting to me. That’s probably why I enjoy working as an editor for other authors.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback? What did you get out of that?
Absolutely. I submitted it to agents at conferences that had agreed to give feedback. Sometimes there were helpful, sometimes not. Sometimes you wonder if they actually read it at all. I had friends and family read it and give input. My husband has no problem telling me a story point doesn’t make sense or that he doesn’t like a particular word I used. He has great ideas too. He’s a big reader, so he understands how “story” works. All of that helped shift and form the technical parts of the story along the way. I also went to conferences where I just used what I learned to make the story better. Now I’m part of a critique group of talented writers that takes no prisoners. They always let me know if I’m doing it wrong.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
First of all, cover design is massively important. It’s so vital I don’t have a good enough word for it. If your cover stinks, readers will walk past and never pick the book up. They have to pick it up! And if it looks self-published, that will keep them away as well. You have got to have a good cover. I worked with a “book guide” on the self-publishing process for the first book because I had no idea what I needed to do or how to go about it. She had go-to people for the things she didn’t do herself, and she hooked me up with my first cover designer, Lesley Hollinger Vernon. Of course, since I was essentially the publisher, I had huge input into the design. But what I had in mind is not what we ended up with. I gave the guidance about books I wanted it to look like—with the real cat and cartoon or design elements with it. We used a real photo of the real Kimba. But I had an image of a mirror that Kimba was touching. Lesley came back with a different take on it, and it was much better. We spent a while tweaking some things, like changing the Earth image from cartoon to real and making the background more purple than pink. It’s a whole process. I still love the final cover and get positive comments about it all the time.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was the experience?
I did complete the self-publishing process, and it was fantastic. I’m kind of a control freak, and that gives you total control over every aspect of your book. The book guide knew some things and helped, well, guide me along the way. She did the formatting of the interior and hired someone to do the ebook versions. I still use the same guy eight books later. It was expensive, so I quickly learned how to do the things that the book guide handled for me. But that’s about the only drawback. Not only would I do it again, I have. Several times. But you do things differently as you go and the system changes and you learn more of how to play the game too.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
With Kimba, I did a blog tour and contacted reviewers until my fingers nearly fell off. I went though the list of the top 1,000 Amazon reviewers and contacted everyone who did kidlit books. That was a massive waste of time. Maybe one actually posted a review, though many said they would. Bloggers are much better about following through. Most of my sales for Kimba come from face-to-face events where I set up a booth and meet readers. I do some marketing through Amazon (AMS) right now, but it’s fairly minimal. I’ve done one BookBub ad for a free day on Kimba, and I’d do that again in a heartbeat. BookBub is a site I’ve used twice since as well. Booths at events is still the best way I have found to connect and interact and have a reader gain interest in my stories. And I have a newsletter now so I can keep it touch with readers, usually about five times a year.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
It was really wonderful. Very supportive. Good reviews. I mean, there’s always a few weird reviews and ones that make you wonder what book they actually read because it doesn’t sound like your book at all, but overall readers enjoy it. Parents have told me about their kids reading Kimba over and over and carrying around the little matching toy cat that goes with the book. Kimba won a Bronze Moonbeam Children’s Book Award as “Best First Book” in the chapter book category, so that was massively encouraging. It also earned a Silver Mom’s Choice Award and is Story Monster Approved. Those kinds of things are great to help buyers feel like they are getting a quality book, but it’s also super encouraging to the writer. It lets you know you are on the right track.
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
Sales have been okay. Some folks will tell you that even selling 100 copies of your book is more than most self-published authors ever do. Okay. But I had much higher hopes than that. I’m not sure of the numbers to date on paperbacks. Several hundred. But I did a BookBub ad for a free sale day on the Kindle version of Kimba and had over 15,000 copies downloaded. So that’s copies and readers that are out in the world. We have covered the production costs on Kimba, and that’s always a goal. As I said, face-to-face is still the best way to start that relationship with a reader. Though, as I have more books out there, I am seeing online sales pick up and come from other sources and word of mouth.
13. Talk about print vs. ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I don’t know about except for free and sale offers, but definitely different sales. Grandparents want to buy paperbacks. They want a gift they can wrap and put in the child’s hand. Some parents feel that way too. There’s just something about a real, tangible book that is special. And the author can sign it and add a “To” personalization. That’s very important to some readers. Ebooks, of course, are easier to offer up cheap. You don’t have the printing fee. Once it’s out there, sending it to someone costs pennies if anything at all. I can do sales for 99 cents and catch new readers through Amazon. Or I can do free giveaways on Book 1 to let readers check it out before committing to the series. I don’t do free often, and really only on Kimba. There are different views on that in the marketing world. Some authors have perma-free books to grab readers. There’s also the theory that readers of “free” books will never buy more. They just jump to the next free one. I still prefer paperbacks for myself, so I will always provide them to my readers.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
As with any product, you check what the market is in general. If you publish with Amazon or other places like that, they will give you some minimum prices. Ebooks usually have to be $2.99 if you want them on Kindle Select to make higher profit percentages. They let you run a few sales throughout the year without hurting that percentage, and it works for me. Paperbacks have a base price based on size and length. Amazon isn’t going to lose money on the project. We have adjusted our paperback prices over the years. Sometimes I do sales if I have some I want to move. It’s like any business. You have to consider profit margins and what you are paying for product or a booth fee at an event. My husband is a finance/accounting guy professionally, so he is the business manager and handles most of that for me. Thank goodness!
15. What made you decide to write more books? How were those experiences compared with your first book? Did you do anything differently?
When I self-published Kimba it was with the understand that this was a path I was going to follow. It wasn’t a one-time thing. You can do that—just write one book and be done—but it’s not the same as being a professional author and doing a book each year and making a career out of it. Most publishers will be sure you have more books in mind before taking you on. I knew there would be four books in the cat series by the time we published Kimba. I didn’t plan on there being two dog books, but that evolved from readers basically asking for that. “Don’t you have a dog book?” Well, I had a dog. He is in the cat books, and he had a story of his own he could tell. Max’s Wild Night is often the best seller at events and definitely is the best seller consistently online. It earned official “best seller” status at Amazon during a 99 cent BookBub promotion.
Writing At the Corner of Magnetic and Main definitely snuck up on me. I had no intention of writing anything other than the cat book series, but the story was there and kept nagging at me. I thought it might be YA so at least close to my target audience, but that’s not how the story ended up. So here’s this women’s fiction book in the middle of all the kidlit books. That makes it hard to market and it often gets overlooked, but I love that book. I’m still glad I wrote it. Magnetic is one I shopped a bit and did sign with an indie publisher. Since it was totally different than my other books, I was happy to go that route. It was also a chance for some “street cred,” which other indie authors often give me a hard time for thinking I needed. But it was right for me. I wanted some proof that my writing was good enough for someone else to invest time and money into and publish. Beyond that, I’ve developed a relationship with Pen-L where I am now their editor for many of the books they publish. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. You know what really makes you a better writer? Editing other writers! It’s a huge learning and growing experience with each book. And now I’m working on second and third books with the same authors, and that’s amazing. It’s an important relationship.
Now Bianca is taking things off in a totally different direction. Dragons. Fairy tales. A whole new audience and marking plan, though my current readers have totally embraced it, thank heavens. I have four new books going on right now, and I have no idea which will reach a finish line sort of place first. I also have two books that are different from anything else I have written so far in with a publisher for consideration. At any moment that call could come and it’s off in another direction. You just have to go where the stories lead you.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
The biggest difference is that I have taken over every aspect of the publishing process. No more book guide. During Book 2, we started to look at what was the most expensive part of the deal and what I could learn how to do on my own. The formatting was a big thing to pick up. It’s very time consuming, and therefore expensive. By Book 3, I was totally doing it on my own. I hired the same cover designer and ebook design company, but it was all me in charge. Magnetic was different because there was a publisher involved, but Pen-L is great at working with their authors and listening to your input. I got to help with the cover design and had veto power in the editing process. It was very harmonious. I have used their cover designer, Kelsey Rice, for two of my most recent books as well. One big change for Bianca was that I bought my own ISBNs instead of getting them from CreateSpace. I didn’t realize the implication and publication ownership that using CreateSpace ISBNs involves. They own you and that book a bit. Bianca is mine and I publish with them and IngramSpark for the hardcover version. It’s much more a position of power, and if a publisher wanted to pick up Bianca and I felt it was the right move, I could do that. The others are committed where they are through those ISBNs. Things you learn as you go.
17. When did you consider yourself a “writer”?
I joke that it really started in 5th grade when a picture book I wrote won a merit award at the University of Illinois. That made me think it was something I am good at. I wrote on and off my whole life after that. I started publishing in magazines in the mid-90s. Books are just the newest form the writing has taken, and I never really know what tomorrow will bring because the world changes so fast now. Blogs are coming up in the world, but I prefer my books for now.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
I prefer to write first thing in the morning. I’m fresher and there is less of the baggage of the day in my head. I’m not great at making a routine of it. With eight books now, there are so many other things to do besides write the next book. Marketing and events and tinkering with formatting and updating what is out there. It never ends. Don’t even get me started on the demands of social media. That can suck away a morning before you know what hit you. I try to budget that and keep it organized so I don’t get overwhelmed. I guess my main motivation is that writing is my job. It’s not my only job. I edit part-time as well. But if I don’t do my job and make a career of it, I will have to get another job. And I really don’t want to do that! If you want writing to be your career, you have to treat it like a career. Sit your butt in the chair and write. Make deadlines. Give yourself days off. It is an art, but it is also the job. You aren’t always going to feel like doing it. Do it anyhow.
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
Hmmm. I don’t know. They usually want to tell me things. Like about how they could write a book too. I always tell them they should. Do it! I rarely get asked for advice except in interviews like this. When I do talks to specific groups, that’s when the good questions come. It almost always veers off into self-publishing and how that works. I share as much as I can. We are all in this together. I never see another author as my competition. The ones I aspire to be like are so far ahead of me they don’t even know I’m in the race, and the rest of us are just in it together. Let’s make good books and raise a new generation of readers. I want kids to have 100 good books to read every year. Mine will hopefully just be a speck in that pile.
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
Well, that’s a huge question. First, go to conferences and learn the craft. Listen to the experts. Second, write! Start. Write something. It may be crap, but it’s a start. I did NaNoWriMo 2017 to work on a memoir on our years running a guesthouse that I knew I just needed to pound out and get on the page so I could figure out what to do with it. That was amazing. I had all this material at the end. Over 50,000 words worth. You must have that mess to start with so you can make it something. Get the words down! If you are self-publishing, for the love of God, hire an editor. A real editor. Not Suzy who says she is an editor. I see so many people advertise their editing and proofreading services, but they have dozens of errors just in their promo page. So frustrating! Be sure they really know what they are doing. Talk to the authors they work with. I work professionally as an editor, but I still hire one for my books. It is biologically impossible to properly self-proofread, much less self-edit. Get help. And hire a cover designer. Covers that come pre-made usually look that way. Genre doesn’t matter. If you are taking on the role of publisher, which is what self-publishing really is, you have to take it seriously. Be a publisher. Hire out the work you can’t do. Make your book totally indistinguishable from one that a huge publisher would produce. Be professional. And for marketing, you are always going to be the best person for the job. You care hire people to market for you, but that will only get you so far. You are going to have to pound the pavement, shake the hands, do the blog tour, contact the reviewers, be the face of your book. That’s often the hardest part of authors. We tend to be introverts who would rather not brag about ourselves. Tough luck. Get yourself out there and throw your book around. There are literally millions and millions of books in the world. What makes yours special? Why should someone buy it instead of another one? Have those answers ready and tell everyone!