Kelly Thompson is a success story for authors out there looking for ways to get published without going down the regular path. Her new novel, Storykiller, is about a girl who learns that all the stories she thought were fiction are real — even the scary ones — and she now must embrace a destiny she never knew she had. The book is full of beautiful illustrations by about 20 artists, including Stephanie Hans, and combines the photographic support that a graphic novel offers, but with a more in-depth narrative. According to Thompson, it's "classic fiction meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a new generation." It was funded by a powerful Kickstarter campaign that allowed her to self-publish and have free rein with decisions made regarding the book. Though her project was successfully funded, Kelly admits that self-publishing offers both positives, like complete artistic control in most aspects of the process, and some significant obstacles. "The community and grassroots nature of it is both completely rewarding and invigorating while also exhausting and full of land mines," she told us. Read on to see what she has to say about National Novel Writing Month and to find out what advice she has for aspiring authors.
POPSUGAR: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Kelly Thompson: Self-publishing means so much amazing freedom. The ability to choose your own cover, and not be beholden to editorial whims and "marketing decisions," the direct connection to your readers, the ability to directly track your sales and to get paid very quickly. The transparency is wonderful, and doing it the way I have done it, through a Kickstarter campaign first, has really allowed me to connect even more directly and intimately with my readers.
However, self-publishing also takes you from being just a writer to being, essentially, a small-business owner. Now the responsibility of everything is on your shoulders. Finding cover artists and pro editors, affordable printers, dealing with schedules and shipping — this is all up to you now. Worse, funding all those things is now your responsibility, and even if you can manage it all successfully, you will find yourself writing a lot less. You also have to accept that your book will never be quite as perfect and polished as it would have been if it had spent more than a year running the traditional publishing gauntlet — a slow system that is designed to weed out every possible embarrassing typo. And when all is said and done, the system still favors traditionally published work, so getting significant people and places to review your book, as well as into physical stores, remains challenging at best.
PS: Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo?
KT: For the last five years, every year I "unofficially" do NaNoWriMo, which is to say that I don't register with NaNo officially or track my progress on their site, but just make it my goal to write 50,000 words on one of my ongoing novel projects, and when I'm doing it right, like in 2011, I track my progress on my blog. Storykiller was my only totally successful NaNo project. The book just poured out of me, and in the 30 days, I wrote more than 75,000 words. Other years I have put up good numbers but nowhere near the 50,000 needed to meet goal. I'm currently using NaNoWriMo 2014 to finish Storykiller book two, but I admit I am way behind and have not followed my own rules [see below] for success. Some of it is because I have been doing a lot of comics pitching and have an exciting new (high-profile but as yet unannounced) comics writing gig that have taken up a lot of time . . . But as anyone who has done NaNo will tell you, there are no excuses in NaNo!
PS: What are your tips for finishing NaNoWriMo?
KT: My two biggest tips would be [this]:
- You have to have a clear idea for you novel (and for me that means a clear outline). My most disastrous NaNo was in 2010 when I only managed to put down 20,000 words, and I blame it on simply not being far enough along when I began. I still had a good amount of world building to do, characters to flesh out, and a serious outline was but a naive glimmer in my eye. It all equaled disaster. As anyone that writes knows however, 20K is 20K is 20K. So that was still a good amount of words — some of them great and helpful — some of them awful — to put down on digital paper. Interestingly I revisited that same novel in my 2012 NaNo and failed again. Perhaps that book is just not supposed to be a NaNo book?
- Daily progress track for accountability. Even if nobody reads your blog or Tumblr or Twitter or cares that you're doing NaNo, make sure that at a minimum you do a daily word count post/update before you hit bed for the night. This not only keeps you accountable/motivated/aware of the days slipping past, but you'd be surprised how many times seeing that "zero words written" motivates you to stay up for an hour or so, so you can at least put some numbers on the board. The first rule of NaNo is an ass in seat, words on page. The second rule of NaNo is ass in seat, words on page. The third rule of NaNo . . . Well, you get the picture.
PS: How do you publish your NaNoWriMo novel yourself?
KT: I actually wanted to teach a class on this — how to turn your NaNo project in to a Kickstarter campaign and then eventually a self-published novel. Maybe someday it will happen! In the meantime, my best advice is focus on the thing in front of you. If you're doing NaNo, don't dream of Kickstarter; dream of NaNo! There are many steps before Kickstarter or even self-pubbing sans crowdfunding — building an audience and platform, finding beta readers or a writing group, finding talented freelance editors and artists; it's all a recipe for eventual success, but it all has its place and time.