Updated: Mar 3, 2020
It's Indie Author Sunday! Every other Sunday, we're posting an interview with a different indie author along with posts about them on all our social media accounts. This week it's Rowan Rook, the author of Night Plague.
WW: Tell us about your experience with Indie publishing?
RR: I wandered into the world of indie publishing after finishing my first project in 2014 - a NaNoWriMo novel that had undergone several drafts - without doing as much research as I perhaps should've beforehand. I started submitting without fully understanding all of the differences between small press publishers, traditional publishing, and self-publishing. Still, I was lucky - the very first letter I got back was an acceptance from a small press publisher focusing on science fiction and horror called Severed Press. That might be one of the only times I've ever shouted with joy. It was all exciting and a bit overwhelming, and the process happened much faster than I'd expected it to. I enjoyed the way they worked with me throughout the process and allowed me to make the final call on the cover and the editing - definitely a benefit of working with a smaller publisher. The book was for sale just a little over a month after signing a contract. There’s still nothing quite like holding a copy of your own paperback.
Next came the part I wasn't quite prepared for - the marketing. After stumbling around on Twitter and Goodreads, doing a few giveaways, and setting up some advertising, some sales trickled in. It wasn't enough to make much of a profit, but seeing reviews come in and the simple realization that people were actually reading my book was rewarding.
Earlier this year, I got a letter from Severed Press stating the rights had reverted to me for financial reasons. This ended up being a good thing. I've been working on building a more solid marketing platform, so I elected to self-publish the book on my own with a low price point. I additionally offer the digital version for free as an incentive for signing up for my email list, which so far has worked surprisingly well in terms of building interest. I also like to think I've grown as a writer in the four years since it was originally published, so getting the rights back gave me the chance to put it through one more draft and bring it up to par with my current work.
Self-publishing required a bit more hands on work, but spending the time to learn the skills that go into it - like formatting and image editing - was worth it. I'm torn on whether or not I'll submit to publishers for future books, but I do know that I'll be self-publishing again.
WW: Tell us about your book.
RR: Night Plague is an apocalyptic YA horror novel about Mason Mild, a boy who’s only hope for the future is a comfortable death with what remains of his family. Due to a mysterious pandemic, humankind only has about four years left before extinction at the start of the story, cutting off all the plans he once had for his life. All of that changes when he witnesses a supposedly deceased classmate kill a man with a bite to the neck. He soon finds himself as another of her victims and realizes that the illness has some rather vampiric side effects. He has a choice to make - embrace the desperate and unknown, or fight for the peaceful end he'd accepted years ago. He's not the only one to face that decision, however - his entire town sits at the edge of violence, ready to ignite at the first spark.
The story’s themes explore finding hope and meaning in the hopeless, breaking out of passivity to take action, and the gray areas between being a good or bad person.
WW: Why YA horror? What made you want to write in that genre?
RR: I consider myself a speculative fiction author in general. I try to stay within fantasy, science fiction, or horror, but other than that, I follow my inspiration wherever it goes. YA horror is a genre I keep returning to likely because it was one I enjoyed when I was a teen, myself. Horror in general is still one of my favorite genres to read. As someone with anxiety - including a lot of end of the world angst - it's cathartic to overcome fear in fiction and explore some of the "what ifs" we all sometimes wonder about. I also enjoy horror for its intensity - the fear, the sorrow, and sometimes the relief...it all makes for potent emotional escapism. Even though the genre is sometimes seen as shallow, it’s perfect for exploring existential and psychological themes, too. It's always fantastic when I put down a book and let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. That’s the way I hope my readers feel.
WW: What has been your favorite part of being an Indie Author?
RR: I very much enjoy being my own boss. Even if it's a lot of work, it's fulfilling. It can feel frustrating at times too - like I'm adrift in a sea of other authors and books and not quite sure which way leads to the shore - but then I remember that there's always more to learn, new approaches to try, and new books to write. It's amazing to simply be able to do what I love without worrying about outside approval - no one except for myself can hold me back, and I can write and express whatever speaks to me without heed for whether or not it will appeal to publishers or agents. The freedom is empowering.
WW: What do you wish you knew before going the indie-publish route?
RR: I knew it would be a lot of work, but I underestimated just how much it amounts to when all the different elements are taken into consideration - the writing, the editing, the formatting, the publishing, the marketing. It's a full time job in its own right without the security of a scheduled paycheck. Marketing is still the most challenging element for me. I'm a very introverted person, so I don't necessarily take naturally to social media. At first, I spent a lot time reading articles related marketing and networking, but what I'm coming to understand is that, like the rest of the process, I can only succeed if I find what feels authentic for me. If I could do something differently, I wouldn't waste the first couple of years trying to conform to supposed best practices. Building a platform is an ongoing process, but leaning into what I do find enjoyable about it - meeting other authors and focusing on fiction, itself - has made it more manageable.
WW: What books or authors have inspired you?
RR: My favorite author as a teen - the author whose work really made me fall in love with the idea of writing novels - was Kenneth Oppel. I particularly loved his Silverwing series (I’m still a little depressed about Firewing), along with the Airborne series and later The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. More recently, I've really enjoyed the horror novels by Dawn Kurtagich and Ambrose Ibsen, along with a few favorites from Stephen King and Dean Koontz of course. I tend to find inspiration outside of the literary world, as well, particularly within video games. Maybe it's because I'm also majoring in game design in college, but I see games as an underrated storytelling medium. The NieR series, Lost Odyssey, and a little known indie horror game called The Cat Lady are some of my favorite pieces of fiction ever, and are definitely sources of inspiration. Similarly, there are a lot of great stories told through manga and graphic novels - Hunter x Hunter, +Anima, and Psycho-Pass to name a few - which I'm sure have influenced my writing.
WW: Are you working on anything now?
RR: Honestly, I'm probably working on way too much at once. I'm preparing the final line edits and publishing materials for an epic-length adult dark fantasy novel named Paragon, which should make its way out into the world by the end of the year. I'm also currently drafting two other YA horror novels - these ones with heavy LGBTQIA+ and paranormal elements - planning the first book in a YA fantasy series, and editing the third draft of a YA science-fiction novel. I'm also a bit of a poet, so I'm hoping to get two chapbooks self-published this summer. This is on top of building my platform, participating in short story contests, designing indie games projects, and attending college. Still, even though I've always got tons of projects in various stages of completion, I try to pick one each month to focus on.
WW: What does your writing space look like?
RR: I'm a bit of a writing nomad. I've got a table with my desktop computer and a bunch of books and planners piled up on top of it, which is especially nice at night when my roommates are asleep and the dorm is quiet, but sometimes it can feel a little stifling. I like to take my laptop to sit in the park or by the sea, or to spend long afternoons at local coffee shops. Sometimes I'll curl up on the couch with my laptop, too, and just write the day away. I do fantasize about designing a private home studio - complete with crowded bookcases and gothic décor - if I own a house one day.
WW: What is your writing process like?
RR: I've done a lot of experimenting to find the process that works best for me, but it seems to vary a bit for each project. I'm definitely more of a planner than a pantser - I like to know the major themes and events prior to writing, as that helps me push through any blocks that come later. I also prefer to write linearly, starting with the first line and writing until “the end”.
I aim for at least 10 minutes of writing - as in actual drafting - daily. If I'm struggling to get words down after that, I call it good for the day, but even then those few hundred words daily add up. On other days I'll write for hours when I have particular inspiration or time to focus.
Editing is an entirely different process. It's actually my favorite stage of storytelling - it's so rewarding to see the book come together. It takes a lot of concentration and care, so I try to section off several hours for revisions a few times a week. I don't start working on edits until after the first draft is complete, and I don't show any of my work until it's gone through at least a second draft.
WW: What advice would you give writers looking at indie publishing?
RR: You have to love it - you have to love writing itself, as well as whatever project you choose to work on. It's not a particularly reliable way to make money and it takes hours of work before you arrive at even your first book release. You have to keep on growing, keep pushing yourself harder, keep creating content. You need to have a passion for it to keep yourself going through all of that. The personal and creative freedom, though, are incredibly rewarding. Use that freedom to your advantage by being authentic to yourself in everything that you do, from which stories you elect to tell to how you market them. Any writer is going to have to deal with rejection, doubt, difficult first drafts, and the occasional burnout, but if you honestly believe in what you're writing, none of that will be able to hold you back.
WW: How connected are you to the indie publishing community? What is that experience like?
RR: I feel like I'm becoming increasingly connected to the indie writing community as time goes on, and it's easily the most enjoyable part of networking. Writers seem to be a very supportive group - we're all in this together and we celebrate each other's successes because we all share the same love for stories. Maybe we all share a certain madness, too, which is refreshing when it feels like the rest of the world doesn't quite get what drives us to keep on writing. I've made several close online friends through speculative fiction groups in particular.
WW: What platforms do you use to promote your work?
RR: I'm still experimenting with different platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, but Twitter is definitely my favorite so far. I also run a blog - it's been challenging to maintain a regular schedule for it amongst all of my other projects, but it is nice to have as a home base, alongside a more traditional author website. Some other ideas I want to explore include Medium and a new blog for a serial fiction series. It definitely comes down to trial and error at times, but when I focus on what I’m hoping to share - that love for storytelling - it’s also exciting.