Back in 2008, I interviewed E.M. Tippetts when her novel Time and Eternity was published by Covenant. She graciously accepted my request for a follow-up interview about her next LDS-themed novel Paint Me True, which she chose to self-publish through Amazon.
I read the Amazon description of Paint Me True. Could you expand on it just a bit? Without giving out too many spoilers can you tell me a little more about Eliza and the scruffy video gamer?
Eliza is the last surviving daughter in a family cursed with the BRCA gene mutation, which makes the carriers susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. On top of this, the family’s had awful luck. Women don’t tend to see their fortieth birthdays and Eliza’s lost two sisters, two aunts, and a lot of cousins. Of all her female relatives on her mother’s side, only her Aunt Nora survives, so these two share a very close bond as survivors in a silent war. It’s Aunt Nora who suggested that Eliza follow her dreams and become an artist and who continues to give emotional support as Eliza struggles financially. At the opening of the book, Eliza is living rent free in her stepmother’s old house in Portland. She’s thirty years old, and about to age out of the singles ward. None of the daring life decisions she’s made have paid off. She’s broke, single, and there’s no end to either condition in sight.
Len, the scruffy nerd, works as a sysadmin at a law firm and likes to spend his free time playing video games. He’s had a crush on Eliza for a long time, but he’s aware of the fact that she’s only dating him because she has no other prospects. At the beginning of the book, he’s finally coming around to the idea that he doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. I assume most readers will identify with him in the first scene, as I think he is the most sympathetic character.
Your previous novel for the LDS Market has fairly strong Mormon elements, in fact it was about an LDS convert. How does Mormonism figure into Paint Me True?
All of the main characters are LDS, though not all are active. Eliza’s at an age (30) when she’s still considered young by American standards, but is verging on an old maid by Mormon standards, so she feels trapped in a netherworld. If she stays true to her faith, she’ll stand out as an unmarried woman in a family ward. If she leaves the faith, she’ll have to make her way in mainstream culture, and she doesn’t have the first clue how to do that. She’s never been on a date with a non-Mormon.
And as with all my LDS novels, there are prayers and revelations that let you know my character isn’t going it alone. It’s written from a religious person’s worldview.
Why did you decide to publish it as an ebook through Amazon Digital Services (ADS)? [Wm adds 1/23 at 11:10 am: the novel is also available on Smashwords and for the Nook at BN.com. I focused on Amazon because it tends to lead to the most sales, but don't forget those other platforms if you are thinking of self-publishing.]
My main goal in life and writing is to make it as a science fiction and fantasy writer, so if it makes sense, my LDS and romance books have been sort of a hobby, something else I did on the side for fun. The usual contracts offered by LDS publishers are not worth the hassle to me. They tend to be grabby, demanding way more rights than is good for either party, and in my experience these companies are used to working with people desperate to be published authors, and that isn’t me. As an attorney who’s worked with a lot of writers, I do know what a standard publishing contract from a national house looks like, and I’m not interested in settling for less in order to get published in such a small niche as the LDS market. The prospect of not ever getting published in LDS fiction doesn’t scare me.
When the indie publishing movement got underway, it looked like a lot of fun. I decided to join up with my romance pen name so that my science fiction and fantasy prospects wouldn’t be affected one way or the other. I also decided that I really needed to learn how to build a platform as a writer, as this is becoming more and more necessary, so again, I figured I’d try it out with my romance pen name so that if I failed miserably, the speculative fiction writer in me would escape unscathed.
Do you have any tips you could share for other authors who are interested in publishing through ADS?
Yes, I’d say first of all, examine why you’re doing this. If you have a huge stack of rejection letters, be open to the possibility that there is a good reason. Publishing is a business. You’ll succeed or fail based on the quality of your product and your marketing efforts. Secondly, I’d say be ready to work your tail off on marketing. Don’t expect to sell any copies if you don’t work for those sales. To put this in perspective: there are 1 million Kindle books* on Amazon. When I sold my first copy, I was ranked somewhere in the 100,000 range, which means that I outranked 900,000 million** other books by making one sale. When I say most Kindle books don’t go anywhere, I mean nearly all Kindle books don’t go anywhere. No one is going to trawl through all those titles to discover your genius, and someone who works harder will beat you, no matter how inferior their product. Last of all, I’d say enjoy it. Find what’s fun about it, because if you aren’t having fun, there’s little reason to bother. Even if you are ultimately a success, you’ll start out with months making little to no money and the very real prospect that It might not get better. I have a lot of fun designing the chapter headings and putting in graphics. I love being able to sell a book that looks pretty (to me, at least!) And I love seeing what kinds of outreach to fans move copies. It’s liberating to know that I can make some difference here.
What are you digging right now in terms of art? (Mormon-themed or not; fiction or not)
I read a lot of children’s books these days, and I love my Kindle Fire because I can display them in color and let my boys turn the pages.
What else you currently working on?
I’m writing another LDS novel, working title: Castles on the Sand. It’s starting to roll forward with its own momentum, but I’ve got some characters whom I really need to figure out. I’ll be spending the next few days daydreaming up a storm as I try to understand who they are and how they’re likely to behave in various circumstances — I need to understand that before I start trying to move the plot forwards.
And then I’m always working on a short story that I hope to sell to a good short fiction market. I’ve sold two stories to Analog and two to Black Gate and I’d like to maintain a relationship with both. That’s where, in the speculative fiction market, you’re likely to get noticed by editors and agents.
*/**: please note that originally this section said 8 million Kindle books. That number is actually how many print books were listed on Amazon at the time. The number of Kindle books at the time was actually 1 million. Emily wanted me to correct the number once she had realized her mistake. I was happy to do so and would point out that ranking higher 900,000 other Kindle books is still a pretty big deal so the point she is making is still quite correct. Thanks, Wm, 2.20.2012.