Though you may not know it by the prevalence of clickbait headlines sounding the death knell about author careers, successful authors are out there. Lots of them. And I’m not just talking about the ones who top the bestseller lists week after week. I’m talking about the authors whose names you may have never heard, who are quietly writing and earning income from their books.
And while there is no formula for becoming a successful author, or even a consensus about what defines “success,” there is much that can be learned from studying authors who are already where we hope to be one day. I’m fortunate to know several of these authors. I’ve had the benefit of their wisdom and expertise for years and wanted to share some of that wisdom with you. So this year, in my posts for Writer Unboxed, I’ll be sharing Q&A’s from authors I think we can all learn from.
My series, Author Up Close, will include Q&A’s with two of Writer Unboxed’s own: Anne O’ Brien Carelli, whose middle-grade novel was published by Little Bee in 2018; and Linda Seed, a contemporary romance author who had so much success self-publishing, she was able to leave her 9-5 to write full time. The series will also include interviews with Roger Johns, a traditionally published author who found himself in the enviable position of having to find an agent after being offered a publishing deal, and Vanessa Riley, a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering who writes multi-cultural Regency and historical romances in an industry that (falsely) believed there wouldn’t be a large enough audience for her work.
Author Up Close begins with a Q&A with Fiona Zedde. Fiona is the author of several novellas and novels including the Lambda Literary Award finalist Bliss. Her novel, Dangerous Pleasures, won the About.com Readers’ Choice Award for Best Lesbian Novel or Memoir of 2012. Fiona lives a location-independent lifestyle, traveling and sometimes living abroad for months at a time. As you’ll discover from our Q&A, her ability to adapt to changes in the industry has been key to her success as an author.
GW: You’re what the publishing industry considers a “hybrid author.” Was this an intentional strategy you adopted when you first launched your professional writing career or is this something that evolved?
FZ: This “fingers in different pies strategy” slowly took shape over the years. I started off working with a single New York publisher back in the mid-2000s and stayed that way for a good ten years while also working a corporate job. After a few changes and setbacks, which included leaving my 9–5 and being released by my NYC publisher, I realized I needed to do things a little differently if I wanted to continue writing and publishing.
Luckily, I soon received the opportunity to work with another NYC-based publisher (different genre and different name). I also eventually regained the rights to my backlist. At the suggestion of new author friends, I republished these novels myself. Once the backlist books became available again, readers began asking for sequels, and so I wrote and published a collection of short stories, some following the characters from the previously published books. That led to a full-length novel published last year.
These days, I work with a few different publishers as well as self-publish.
GW: In many respects, you’re living the dream as a writer who makes a living writing and who is location independent and travels the world. What are the key decisions/choices you’ve made in your career to make this lifestyle possible?
FZ: I think one thing I’ve done is remain open to different opportunities and open to change. The business of writing and publishing shifts quite a bit. Strategies that worked two years ago may be completely useless now, or vice versa. If I see that—despite marketing efforts and other factors—a writing name of mine is no longer doing well, I’m willing to scrap it and begin a new name, explore a new genre, and/or submit to different publishers. I also submit to short story anthologies every once in a while in hopes of finding a new audience or coaxing back readers who’ve lost touch with my work over the years.
GW: What are some of the challenges you’ve run across in within the publishing industry?
FZ: One of the biggest challenges for me has been gaining readership outside of my black, female audience. Black readers dive into books of whatever genre they enjoy, despite the race of the author. Black writers aren’t afforded that same courtesy by a majority of non-black readers. At general, multi-author book signings, it’s interesting to see white readers move like water around a rock past the tables belonging to black writers, their gazes fixed on the next available white face.
My other challenge is marketing. I need to get so much better at that.
GW: Finally, what advice would you give a newbie writer who one day wants to be doing what you’re doing?
FZ: Network. Talk to the people already working the way you dream of working. Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. At the beginning of this writing thing, I felt like I was doing everything on my own and didn’t think I had a community to turn to. Now, I’m better at asking for help and advice as well as taking part in community, but it took me a while to get here.
You can learn more about Fiona and her writing, by visiting her at FionaZedde.com. Many thanks to Fiona for allowing me to interview her for this piece.
Over to you: what is some of the best advice you’ve received from your successful author friends?