Claire Frank is a fantasy author from the Seattle area. She loves to write for the same reason she loves to read. It’s an adventure. She loves to be immersed in fantastical worlds where she can explore love, loss, heartbreak, fear, companionship, loyalty and redemption. She can walk with a character as they stumble, fall, fail, rise and try again.
Claire works closely with her husband, David, particularly in the brainstorming and planning phases. She says he has a great imagination and they love to create together. They have three crazy kids and by day, she is a homeschooling mom (fantasy author by night!).
Justin Sloan: I loved reading your book, To Whatever End. Can you give my readers your pitch on the book and tell us where this originated?
Claire Frank: Thank you! The book is about a couple, Daro and Cecily, who are trying to live a peaceful life together, away from the drama and politics of their kingdom. All that changes when they are attacked, and Daro is taken captive. The story follows Cecily as she struggles to find her husband, as well as Daro as he tries to survive his captivity.
It’s funny, I had this crazy dream a couple of years ago. In it, my husband and I had a flat tire and someone came to help, but kidnapped him instead. It was one of those dreams I couldn’t get out of my head the next day, and it occurred to me there just might be a cool story there. That’s where the seed of this story began. I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and definitely wanted to write in the genre; but I didn’t want to tackle an epic, coming-of-age, poor farmer or blacksmith’s son prophesized to defeat the source of all evil kind of story. Don’t get me wrong, I love that theme. But I’ve read a lot of fantasy that uses those tropes and I wanted to focus on a story that was more personal. Instead of writing about people trying to save the world, I wrote about a woman trying to save her husband. There are still magical elements, a fantasy setting, action and some familiar characterizations, but the story is focused on a smaller group of characters and events that affect them personally, but aren’t necessarily world-altering.
Of course, the events do set things in motion that become larger in scope, but that was part of my plan for this series.
JS: The book seems to be doing well for itself, as I heard of it through word of mouth. What are your thoughts and recommendations regarding marketing our books?
CF: I’d advise patience and managing your expectations. My book has been very well received by the people who have read it, but I’m not breaking any records or topping any genre or subgenre charts at the moment (yet!). Visibility is a huge challenge. The prevailing advice in the indie author world is that the best marketing is publishing the next book, and I tend to think that is true. I didn’t publish this book with the expectation that it would be an immediate hit. I’m planning for a slow build of readers, working diligently on the next book in the series, and planning some promos for when book two is either ready or possibly up for preorder.
I also think there’s a lot to be said for quality. Marketing a book that has a poor cover or obviously lacks editing is going to be a lot harder than marketing a book that is well done. And like you said, you heard about it through word of mouth. That’s a very powerful “tool” that the author doesn’t have a lot of control over, but can ultimately draw in a lot of readers. If a book is good enough that people want to tell their friends about it, it can gain momentum just by virtue of being awesome.
JS: In spite of being self-published, your prose is pristine and I did not catch typos (maybe there are some that I missed?). How long did you spend putting To Whatever End together, and did you work with an editor?
CF: I’m sure there’s a typo or two in there somewhere. Perfection is nearly impossible! But I am very focused on quality and doing everything I can to produce a professional product. Whether a book is self-published or traditionally published, mistakes, typos and bad grammar can pull the reader from the story. If there are any rules in storytelling, “don’t break the spell” may be one of them!
I spent about six months putting the book together, all told; and whether that seems fast or slow is probably relative. After finishing the first draft, my husband and I both did a full read-through and took copious notes. He’s always my first reader, and he’s very honest, despite being the guy who sleeps next to me. After doing a round of revisions, I sent it to several beta readers. That part of the process was a little painful, I have to admit. It’s tough to hand your hard work to someone and say, “Hey, tell me all the ways this sucks.” But it was worth it. Their feedback was invaluable.
Yes, I did hire an editor. After revisions based on beta reader feedback, and a round of self-editing, I sent it to my editor. She did a great job cleaning things up, making suggestions and helping point out areas where my wording or sentence structure could improve. She not only made the manuscript better, she taught me a lot as well and I hope my writing is improving as I go.
JS: Where should aspiring writers find editors and what is a reasonable price to expect?
CF: I worked with Eliza Dee of Clio Editing Services, and I found her through the Writer’s Café forum on Kboards.com. Kboards is a great resource for authors, particularly if you are considering publishing independently. They have a “yellow pages” area where you can browse through service providers, such as editors, cover artists and formatters. Plus, there are threads with author feedback and testimonials.
I recommend finding a few editors that look like they might be a good fit. Browse their websites, see what they have to say about their services, and find their price range. Most editors will do a free sample edit so you can see how they work. This is a great way to sort through your options and find an editor you have a good chance of clicking with.
As far as cost, it varies pretty widely. I paid around $1,000 for a very thorough copyedit of my 114,000 word manuscript. This included not only typo and mistake detection, but advice on word choice, sentence structure and she even made some content comments as well. You can pay less, or a whole lot more, but that seemed to be in the range of reasonable for a good quality, professional editor. The main thing here is do your research, know what you can afford, and get a sample edit.
JS: Have you studied creative writing? What programs on writing or writing books would you recommend to aspiring writers?
CF: I didn’t study creative writing in school. I majored in Communications in college, so writing was a big part of what I did, but it wasn’t my main focus academically.
I do, however, study the craft of writing and I think it is very important to do so. When I first thought I’d try to write a novel, I really had no idea what I was doing. I was well-read, but that in and of itself didn’t translate into great writing. Some people are probably that gifted, but it has taken practice, an open mind, and a willingness to learn for me to get to the point where I could write a good book.
I have several go-to writing resources. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks was a game-changer for me. I’d highly recommend any aspiring author read it, or a similar book that tackles the subject of plot/story structure. I know a lot of writers bristle at the thought that there is a structure to a good story, but there really is, and when you learn how it works, it actually makes writing a novel much easier. It did for me, anyway. Whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or something in between, knowing how to structure a compelling story is really important.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King is an excellent resource as well. It goes through a number of common areas that can hold back good writing, detailing why and how to fix them. I read through it with a highlighter and I refer back to it still.
I also learned a lot from Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham. That’s one I picked up ages ago when I first started writing, but I learned quite a bit and have referred back to it from time to time.
When it comes to publishing, anyone considering publishing independently should read Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran. It is a fantastic resource for the new author – highly recommend.
JS: I have to highlight your recommendation of Self Editing for Fiction Writers. That’s one of my favorites as well. Going back to your book, the cover is very well done. Where did you find a cover artist, and what advice do you have for aspiring writers in this regard?
CF: Thank you! I think the cover turned out amazingly well. I worked with an artist named Trevor Smith and, like my editor, I found him on Kboards.com.
I chose to do a custom illustrated cover, because that style tends to work in fantasy. Other genres can use photo-manipulated covers and do very well (and some fantasy books have photo-manipulated covers as well, I just chose to go with illustrated). Illustrated tends to cost more, but for the genre, I felt it fit.
Remember that people absolutely do judge a book by its cover. You want an image that clearly conveys your genre and something of what the book is about – not necessarily the entire plot, but the feel of the book. You want to give potential readers a visual taste of what they can expect if they take the next step and read your blurb. It’s a visual tease, if you will. Some authors do a great job making their own covers, but many of us need to hire this out, and it is well worth the expense to have a great cover as your “packaging.” And remember that the cover needs to look good at thumbnail size on a screen.
I suggest looking at the top ranking books in your genre or sub-genre to see what the covers look like. You want to fit in with that crowd, so watching what’s popular in your genre can give you a good idea of the types of things you want to do with your own cover.
Most designers have websites with examples of their work, and many even offer pre-made covers. There are a lot of options out there.
JS: Okay, let’s get down to the question of self-publishing. What led you to choose to go that route above traditional publishing?
CF: I would say I researched my way into self-publishing. I started writing years ago, and of course at that time the only legitimate way to be published was through a publishing company. I let my fiction writing take a backseat for a number of years, but last year, as I was hard at work on my first draft of To Whatever End, a friend of mine asked me whether I was going to pursue a publishing contract or publish it myself. I had this moment of, “Wow, I bet things in publishing have changed in the last 10 years. I should probably find out what’s happening in the industry so I can figure out what I want to do with this when I’m done.”
I spent some time pouring over blogs, websites, articles and author forums. I saw a lot of different arguments on both sides of the issue. But the more I researched and read, the more I was drawn to publishing independently. There were a number of practical reasons – owning the rights to my work; control over my publication schedule, content, packaging, pricing and promotions; no worries about things like non-compete clauses and other items in traditional publishing contracts that can hamstring an author’s career. But at the end of the day I looked at my goals. If my goal is to write the best book I can, and have the chance to put it in front of readers, and then do it again… and again… and again… which path to publication gives me the best shot at that? I decided self-publishing made the most sense for me.
JS: Have you had any regrets along the way? Learned any lessons that you would like to pass along?
CF: No, no regrets at all – except maybe that I didn’t get serious about my fiction writing sooner. But I’m here now and loving the direction life is taking. Writing books has been my dream for a very long time and it is still sinking in that I made that dream come true.
In terms of lessons learned: do your research. I am a research junkie, so that part is easy for me. But I think some people might figure they can just write something, throw it up on Amazon and call it a day. It takes more than that.
The indie community is HUGE on helping each other. You can find authors sharing marketing and promotion information, sales figures, everything. When you embark on publishing your own work, you have to take on the role of not just author, but publisher. There’s a LOT to learn, but the resources are all out there. Take the time to learn from those who are doing well and you can avoid the pitfalls of trying to reinvent the wheel.
And focus on your craft. Just because you can publish something, doesn’t always mean it’s ready. In the end, you get to decide if your work is ready for the big time, and that’s pretty cool. Self-publishing has opened up opportunities for a lot of great writers to have their stories read by audiences who love them. But take your craft seriously and learn how to write great stories. We writers may be artists, but we’re also entertainers, and there are skills you can develop to be better at what you do.
JS: Do you have any favorite self-published authors we should be aware of?
CF: Hugh Howey is a huge name in self-publishing, and he was probably the first self-published author I read. I read Wool a couple of years ago and have raved about it to pretty much every one I know. I didn’t really know he was self-published at the time, I just knew I loved his books.
Will Wight is another author my husband discovered a while ago and we’ve both enjoyed his books. Lindsay Buroker is also great – she writes fantasy and steampunk. And I have a bunch of books in my to be read pile by indie authors, including The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M. Ross and Arcane by Sever Bronny.
JS: Indeed, Will Wight is on my list of favorites and was interviewed in my book, Creative Writing Career: Becoming a Writer of Movies, Video Games, and Books. I see on your Amazon Central page that you list The Princess Bride as one of your favorites. This should be the case for everyone, but what other books or movies have influenced your writing and creativity?
CF: Oh yes, I love the Princess Bride. I’ve been influenced by a lot of great fantasy books and movies over the years. Tolkien is my forever favorite. I have The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings up on a big pedestal in my mind. I don’t even compare other books to those ones because I love them so much.
I’ve also read a lot of the contemporary fantasy authors. Brandon Sanderson is favorite of mine. I think he’s a fantastic writer and he shares a lot of his knowledge through videos on YouTube and the Writing Excuses blog and podcast. There’s a lot of great stuff there. Other big-name fantasy authors such as Peter V. Brett and Joe Abercrombie are also among my favorites. Every time I read a great book or series, especially one that really transports me into that world, it makes me want to write all the more.
When it comes to movies, I’m a superhero movie junkie. I love a movie that can integrate exciting action with a lot of snappy dialogue. I also really loved Stardust. I haven’t read the book yet, so I’m not sure how accurately it portrayed the original story, but the movie is among my favorites.
JS: What can you tell us about your next project? Do you have anything in the works?
CF: I do! I’m about half way through the first draft of book two in the Echoes of Imara series (title still to be determined) and am working towards a release date in May. It is shaping up to be a four book series, I believe. As I said before, To Whatever End is a story that is fairly personal in scope, but my plan was for the story to get bigger with each installment. Book two has a bit of a wider range in terms of the stakes and the consequences to the wider story-world. Book three will up the ante a bit more, as will book four. I still plan on keeping the stories very character driven. I love writing about how events and relationships affect and change characters, as much as writing the events themselves. But the stakes will get higher and the consequences bigger with each book in the series.
I’m also kicking around the idea of a concurrent series that showcases a different side of this world. I’m still in the planning stages, but it may be something I work on while the main series titles are being beta read and edited. These will probably be slightly shorter novels and feature a younger protagonist. It would be a series that can be read separately from the Echoes of Imara books, but the two will have some crossover of characters. Like I said, still in the brainstorming/planning stages, but I’m really excited with how it is shaping up.
JS: We can’t wait! Thank you again for the interviwe, Claire. Do you have any last bits of advice for writers out there considering the self-publishing route? Maybe something I forgot to talk about or a summary of points you made above?
CF: I don’t know if there’s ever been a more exciting time to be a writer. Digital publishing, e-readers and print-on-demand technology have opened doors to writers that were closed before. Yes, there are challenges, but in those challenges I see huge opportunities. I’m still working on ways to gain visibility for my book, but what that really means is 99.99% of the people out there who might love my book, haven’t heard of it yet. That’s exciting! I’m only at the beginning of my journey as an author, but the important thing is I began and I’m enthusiastic about what the future holds.
For more advice and author interviews, see Creative Writing Career: Becoming a Writer of Movies, Video Games, and Books.