Amber also has a blog at http://amberskyeforbes.wordpress.com, where she writes about writing and publishing and also about mental illness, her own struggles, as well as others.
M: Amber, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and for coming here from your home in Georgia. Please have a seat here on my couch and make yourself comfortable.
ASF: This couch is quite cozy. Feels like the one at my psychiatrist’s office, although I hope you’re not here to change my meds.
M: Nope, I don’t have a license for that 🙂 . Now, you have one cat of your own, correct? So you won’t mind my four keeping an eye on us while we talk? And can I get you anything to drink? And I do believe I’ve read that you have a sweet tooth … so I made some cookies as well.
ASF: Those four cats of yours might end up distracting me. I do love my cat to death, but I can’t help but to go insane every time I see a cat. As for the drink, I would like a spot of Early Grey. And cookies will go fantastically with Earl Grey.
M: Knock yourself out with petting them. They would argue that they don’t get enough. And I love Earl Grey so two teas coming up.
[A few minutes pass while Marie makes tea and Amber dotes on the cats.]
M: Now that we have our tea and cookies, let’s start by talking about your first novel, When Stars Die, which was recently published by AEC Stellar. Let’s talk a bit about this novel. What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
ASF: Amelia Gareth is an aspiring nun, one who wants to be professed so she can cleanse the taint of witchcraft from her family–after discovering her brother is one, of course. But there are shadowy figures following her, and they want her because, unbeknownst to her, she is a witch. They eventually reveal there is no redemption for a witch, but, determined, Amelia will not give up in her pursuit of Paradise, or world’s heaven. The only person who seems to be able to help her with this task is priest Oliver Cromwell, but even he may prove to be more dangerous than the shadows.
As for my inspiration, its sequel inspired it, as I started the sequel first, and then realized I needed to have a first book since everything was so concentrated in the second novel. So I drew elements from the second book in order to create the first.
M: Do you have plans for sequels or standalone novels?
ASF: Yep. When Stars Die is the first in The Stars Trilogy. I am also working on a standalone novel that I will sub to both agents and presses that don’t require agents, just to expand my options, while AEC has its hands full with The Stars Trilogy.
M: You’re also actively involved in several other ventures including an online literary journal, The Corner Club Press. Could you talk about a bit about Corner Club Press, how it came about and what hopes and plans you have for it?
ASF: My co-founder, Daphne Maysonet, and I started CCP because we noticed that many literary journals/magazines don’t publish an even amount of poetry and fiction, and we wanted to do that. It’s actually been difficult to do, but we’re eclectic and try not to be too restrictive in our word count, especially because short stories are allowed to be more than 5,000 words.
As for hopes and plans, I am basically stepping away from the magazine and becoming a sort of figurehead/president of it. I won’t be actively involved, but everything has to go through me. I like the ideas my new staff has. The magazine itself is getting re-vamped, we hope to have a personalized website, we’re hoping to get authors to pay for ads so we can accrue some funds, and I’m sure everyone wants to launch it into print one of these days. But it’s baby steps, and I like the new staff’s ideas.
M: It sounds like exciting times for CCP. You also dance and you are getting a bachelor’s degree in English. How do you juggle all these activities and still manage to produce a novel?
ASF: It’s actually difficult to work on my novel when I’m in school and doing ballet, because ballet is one of those things that feels more necessary than writing (mostly because I am paying monthly tuition for it, so I need to dance a certain amount of hours to justify the tuition cost). But I don’t pressure myself into writing a chapter a day. I may do half a chapter a day. Or three chapters per week. But I am moving to an online college, so my writing MAY become even more constricted. However, in between the quarter semesters, there are two weeks off, so I can throw myself at my writing that way.
M: What is a typical writing day for you? Do you set yourself goals like word or page counts? What needs to happen for you to say that you’ve had a productive and satisfying writing day?
ASF: My typical writing day consists of procrastination, first and foremost, mostly blabbing away with my writing partner (we have not co-written a book yet, but she is my go-to person for everything). I also watch anime on Youtube *nods*. I may read. Screw around some more on the internet, AND THEN GET TO WRITING! So I suppose I have to drain myself of the procrastination bug, but, yes, I do manage to somehow get in a chapter a day. And once I throw myself at that chapter, it’s generally hard for me to stop.
M: I believe we are sisters in procrastination. Seems like I have to do a lot of procrastinating before I settle down to write as well Now, many of the authors I’ve interviewed and reviewed are self-published. You’ve been published by AEC Stellar Publishing. How did you come about to choose AEC Stellar as your publisher? How was it to work with them?
ASF: I somehow stumbled across Shannon Thompson’s blog and found out she’d been accepted by them. Her book is a YA paranormal romance, as is When Stars Die, so I gave them a look over. The website wasn’t anything to gawk over, but I discovered they only wanted a blurb, and I had a solid one ready through the help of a writer experienced with the querying process in general. Keep in mind that I knew what to look for in a publishing house because of my being a member of AbsoluteWrite at one point, and being a voracious member at that for a year before I got tired of the close-mindedness of the overall community. The YA community was fine, but step outside of that and you’d find yourself in a hurricane. Granted, they want to help authors, so I’ll give them that, but they haven’t exactly moved beyond the mindset that there are a myriad of ways to publish now. This isn’t all members, but that place wasn’t my cup of tea. YALITCHAT, on the other hand, is, because they accept everyone, no matter the path to publication.
So, really, subbing to AEC was on a whim. I didn’t expect to get anything. I really just wanted to know if my book had potential or not, because they said they did a detailed assessment for all books, rejected or accepted. Lo and behold, within a day, they wanted a partial and a synopsis, so I spent the next two days creating a solid synopsis and copyediting/proofreading the entire manuscript so that way it’d all get equal attention and not just the partial. Then I sent that off, and a few days later, I got an offer of representation.
Now, I was super excited, but I also knew I couldn’t let that excitement cloud my judgment, because I didn’t want to be some amateur author who finds herself a victim of a company that doesn’t do much for her novel, other than publishing it and expecting her to go on her way with no help. So I rode the wave for a few days before sitting down to really assess the contract. A friend of mine on Tumblr sent me a link about contracts and what clauses could raise red flags. There were no clauses that raised red flags. I can’t speak specifics on it, but overall, I knew to expect solid partnership in the creation of my novel, and the royalties are really good, too. And, of course, the fact that the publisher wanted to talk to me over the phone about the contract is a good sign, too, because that means transparency. Obviously I should have submitted more to more than one house, but I was tired of not even trying to seek publication because I was always holding back, so I just decided to do it, and I’m glad I did.
So, in spite of diving in headfirst, which I admit was an amateur move, I lucked out. Now my sales aren’t anything to throw a party for (not yet, at least), but they’re better than most start-ups. I do know of one small press that has been out for 2 years now. One author has had his book published since this March, and it has only sold 14 copies. Period. They’re a digital imprint only, and I can tell you my print book outsold those copies.
Overall, the transparency has been amazing. They do marketing, and the contract manager/publicist tries to e-mail us once a week on the marketing plans for each book. There is an online publicist, and you can e-mail her about what you want done, and she will do it, even if it can’t be done immediately. There’s also another social media mogul who seeks out connections for the publisher, so I know stuff is getting done that will ultimately lead to long-term success for me as an author.
M: Thank you so much for this great information, Amber. I’m sure my readers will really appreciate learning about your experience. Also on your blog you provide a lot of guidance for writers trying to navigate between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Do you have any advice for writers who aspire to be published authors?
ASF: I used to just say ignore the rules and write, but I’ve come to discover that there is one rule far more important than anything else, and that is to research the crap out of the company you want to submit to. This experience didn’t come about because of AEC. This experience came about because of self-published authors who couldn’t wade the waters alone, and decided to sub their books to small presses that turn out to be crap, mostly small presses that don’t mean to function as author mills, but basically are author mills, and spend little time on the books they accept before launching them into publication. And because they release so many books, they can’t devote the necessary marketing tools for themselves and their authors. So if you want a small press, you need to do some serious research. Look at the books published, the quality of the cover art, and the quality of the editing. The first page alone should tell you what kind of editing has been done–or at least the sample available on Amazon should tell you.
I say stay away from worrying about what kind of sales the authors are making at the presses you research, because there may be one day where an author has sold 100, but because that author is not used to seeing 100 sales a day, the ranking could rise faster than normal, so Amazon’s ranking isn’t an exact measurement of what an author has sold. Plus, there is more than just Amazon, even though Amazon is primarily where sales are made for many small presses.
I would just look at the reviews of those books and how many reviews there are. If a majority of the books have good reviews, go for it (also cover art and editing, as a pretty cover art is the face of a book and will entice readers to check said book out). Small presses are about long-term success. Don’t compare one to a large traditional publisher. Small presses are for those writers who write niche things that bigger publishers may not know how to market, but small presses do. I’m sure that if I had subbed When Stars Die to an agent, gotten one, and was swooped up by a big publisher, they may have edited out much of the misery present in the book. I say this because I was reading a tweet on Twitter from an agent reading her client’s manuscript. The tweet basically said that there was just too much sadness in the book, and she planned on editing, or watering down, that sadness. I didn’t want that for When Stars Die.
Tragedy exists in this world, and I do not want to dilute it for the sake of marketability. The reviews for the book have been good so far, and a lot of them have said it is not your typical paranormal romance found in the traditional market.
M: Finally, Amber, you have been incredibly honest on your blog and elsewhere about your struggle with Bipolar Type I. I think, through your writing, you do a great service to everyone who suffers from mental illness as well as those who have loved ones who suffer. Could you talk about why you decided to share that part of yourself? Has it helped you, not just as a writer, but as a whole person, to share your experiences?
ASF: I want to be open to my readers so that they know that just because I’m an author doesn’t mean I’m sipping Moscato while eating a house made of cake. Recently, Ned Vizzini, author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, took his own life, which was an enormous shock to me because I am very sensitive about suicide. It made me realize even more that I need to talk about my struggles so people, even on the internet, can reach out to me and keep me going. Ned, unfortunately, didn’t do that, and I have talked to him on Twitter before. I sometimes wonder that if I had just said hello to him after the last tweet he made, if it would have made a difference. But I know Ned used to hospitalize himself when he felt something bad was about to happen–just from what I’ve read on the internet. I don’t know why he didn’t this time.
Ned’s suicide honestly has me scared that my life will end in that way as well. I have been told that maybe Ned’s purpose was to give hope to people like me, and he no longer needed to serve that purpose, but I can’t look at it that way.
Ned was too young. He still had so many years of inspiration to live, inspiration that could have ultimately changed the face of mental illness itself, and the way it’s treated. I hope to, essentially, pick up Ned’s legacy and fight through it, because I don’t want my life to end in suicide. I want to show those who suffer with mental illness that you can live through it, no matter how unbearable it may be.
M: Amber, that’s such an important message. You truly are an inspiration, and it’s been my great pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you again for taking the time for this interview. I know I am one of many others who are look forward to reading more of your work.
ASF: Thank you. I feel like kidnapping your cats. One looks like it wants to go with me. If you’re missing a cat tomorrow, you know why.
M: Ha ha, that’s for the warning. I’ll be doing a cat check every morning and night now for a while 😉
Thanks to everyone for reading my interview with author, Amber Skye Forbes. Be sure to follow her blog at http://amberskyeforbes.wordpress.com/ and pick up a copy of When Stars Die.
You can purchase When Stars Die on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0989312879?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0989312879&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2
For more info, also visit Goodreads.