"Treat Self-Publishing as a Business" – Interviewing Elise Kova
We often hear that "the golden age of self-publishing is gone", so we like to use our blog to remind authors that, no, that's not true. There are many more indie success stories than the ones you repeatedly hear about out there, and Elise Kova's is one of them. She started writing in 2013, as a hobby, on Fictionpress. She now has 5 books out in her Air Awakens Series and the first one has over 500 reviews on Goodreads. In this interview, she shares more about her writing process, why she self-published, and some advice for newer authors.
Hi Elise! It’s such a pleasure to have you join us for the Reedsy blog. I want to start off by talking a bit about how you came to write the Air Awakens series. YA fiction has captured the heart of the public in the last few years – what is it about the YA fantasy genre that really appeals to you as an author?
I love talking about books, so thank you for reaching out to me for this interview!
I honestly didn't set out thinking that I was going to be a "YA Author". I've always loved writing, but I stopped doing it avidly for about four or so years during college and my MBA. When I sat down to write Air Awakens I didn't do so with the intention of being published, I just wanted to enjoy writing a story that I would want to read myself.
When I began looking into publication later I toiled over if Air Awakens was "Adult" or "Young Adult" and the young adult age bracket fit better. I think there is something timeless about the "coming of age" story that we see in so much young adult fiction and many, myself included, are drawn to that. So I'm not surprised Air Awakens developed in that direction.
Young adult readers can, and hopefully do, sympathize with and recognize the struggles of the protagonists. Whereas older readers remember going through those times themselves. Even more than that, I think people are constantly evolving and the questions of "Who am I?" and "What do I want?" may be more apparent during the transition into adulthood, but never really go away no matter how old we get.
One of the things the series is most commonly praised for is its worldbuilding. The Solaris Empire, the Bond, the elemental magic – all of it is so well-developed! Was this a world you thought up quickly when you started actually writing Air Awakens, or had it been living and growing in your mind before that?
I'm awful at planning, it's actually something I'm working on doing more in the future: pre-drafting. So much of the Air Awakens world was built as I went. As a result, there were a lot of things that didn't make sense when all was said and done; directions I thought I may take but never explored, or elements that didn't add anything.
The series has gone through extensive rewrites before publication and at that point I really sat down and investigated the world and its mechanics. I cut a lot and refined the rest.
What came first for you, world, characters, or plot?
For me, unsurprisingly given my last response, the characters came first. Air Awakens is a very character-driven story and a lot of the conflict centers around Vhalla deciding and discovering who she is as a person. When I sat down to write Air Awakens I said to myself, "You can have the best world ever crafted, but if people hate the characters they just won't care about it." I don't know if this was/is true or not, but I like to think it worked out overall for the story.
Everything else evolved quite naturally from being so character-focused. I knew characters would or wouldn't do things, which determined plot elements. Why they would or wouldn't do things came from their past, or upbringing, or other environmental factors, which determined world elements.
When did you come to the decision to publish independently? It’s clearly been a very successful path for you, do you have any advice for other authors who might be thinking about going down the self-publishing route?
Publishing independently was a terrifying prospect. I originally tried to go traditional with my work, queried over one-hundred agents, and received blanket rejections (including no replies). I ended up deciding that I didn't want to trunk my work because I'd originally drafted it on Fictionpress and had quite a few readers still expressing their interest in seeing it published. That helped give me the courage to launch into the indie-published world.
The best thing that I can say to other authors thinking of pursuing the indie-pub path, be it an author who's just getting started, an author who's currently traditionally published, or an independent author looking to improve, is to treat independent publishing as a business. For me, it's always been more than exporting a .mobi file and "seeing what happens". I researched the industry, my market, successful books, marketing strategies implemented by big houses and authors, and tried to dissect it all. I went into it like I was starting a business and that meant accepting that I may not see returns on my investments for a few months.
You have some absolutely stunning covers designed by Merilliza Chan. How difficult was it to find an artist who could make your vision for your books come to life?
I'm so lucky to have found and worked with Meril. Her art is amazing and she really captures the world.
When I was looking for an artist I started by hunting through DeviantArt for artists similar to the style I was thinking of for my covers. I narrowed it down to a handful, and then narrowed it down again based on first impressions and initial pricing. After that, it really was just feeling out what artist seemed to both be able take my direction while still having their own point of view. I know I can be very opinionated, but I pick an artist because I trust their aesthetic, not to just recreate a sketch I send.
Monica Wanat edited your series. How important was it for you to find and work with an editor?
Editors are amazing people. I think the jury is still out if they're part angel, have windows into Nirvana, or are the most sagely of sages. I'm a firm believer that you're too close to edit your work and you need an extra set of eyes. In fact, I think you need multiple.
Monica Wanat is my editor, but I also have a team of very close friends (the kind who aren't shy to say "this is awful") and family who beta read, help with content edits, and final proofing, etc...
Most indie authors struggle with getting their books discovered. What is the most important thing that you have done in terms of marketing that you think is responsible for your success?
Oh, questions like this are so difficult to answer, as it's all speculation. But I think, for me, I've tried really hard to be both genuine and available to my readers. I'm constantly on my social media outlets and I'm not really shy on them when it comes to saying what I think, what I'm geeking out about, or what I'm up to. The bookish community on Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc, is full of such amazing people that I've been so so lucky to meet.
Why did you choose to self-publish? What would be your advice for newer authors looking to become the next "indie success story"? Do share your thoughts, or ask Elise any question, in the comments below!