Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Author Interview: Kae Cheatham
Kae Cheatham has published more than a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction. Her juveniles' biography, of American Indian activist Dennis Banks, was a SPUR Award Finalist. Kae has written for newspapers and national magazines, including American Cowboy and Pro Rodeo World. For several years she was an assistant editor at Athlon Sports Communications. She has also edited for Thomas Nelson and Falcon Press. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals.
When did you begin writing? At what point did you decide you wanted to write professionally?
Linda, first of, I want to thank you for offering this interview to me. Authors such as you do a great service to the rest of us by providing these opportunities.
As to your question, when did I begin writing? It seems I’ve been writing for most of my life. In a scrapbook, I found a story I had scribbled out when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. My mother had saved it. I have a lot of imagination, and fabricating tales and “what ifs,” both in fiction and poetry, has been a big part of my life.
For the professional part—it wasn’t a decision as much as a happening. I made half-hearted attempts in high school and college to have my poetry and a few short stories published, with small successes; but writing was my aside. I used it as an outlet—an escape from my regular life that became so very typical and boring: Wife, Mom, Wife, Mom. At that time, I was part of a once-a-month writers group and read to them a children’s story I’d penned. One member was well published, and she encouraged me to send the story to her editor. I did. The result (after many rewrites—this was back in the era when editors would work with an author and not expect a finished product on first read) was SPOTTED FLOWER AND THE PONOKOMITA. I’m happy to say that 32 years later the title is still in print, garnering sales and positive comments.
You have been published traditionally as well as independently. Can you tell us a little about your books?
When my first book was published, there weren’t many options for independent publishing—at least I didn’t know about them. Submitting proposals and manuscripts was standard operating procedure for most authors.
My traditionally published titles are: SPOTTED FLOWER AND THE PONOKOMITA and LIFE ON A COOL PLASTIC ICE FLOE (Westminster Press [a Presbyterian press]). I was, at this point, thinking, “I can publish books!” and had started on a historical fiction piece. My writers group suggested I get an agent (much easier back then than it is today). I queried with my WIP and within a few months was agented. BRING HOME THE GHOST, and THE BEST WAY OUT (my third YA title) came out from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
THE ADVENTURES OF ELIZABETH FORTUNE was first published by a small indy press (that went out of business in an inglorious manner when the book had been out for only 8 months). I sold DAUGHTER OF THE STONE (speculative fiction) and BLOOD AND BOND (contemporary western) to online publishers, but they didn’t do well.
Westminster Press stopped selling secular material, and when the remaindered copies I’d bought of the Spotted Flower book were running low, I decided to go indie. I started a little company, bought a block of ISBN numbers, and reprinted the Spotted Flower title (and the reprint is in its second printing). I republished DAUGHTER OF THE STONE and THE ADVENTURES OF ELIZABETH FORTUNE and published CHILD OF THE MIST (the second SF) and KANSAS DREAMER: FURY IN SUMNER COUNTY (historical fiction).
Now I’ve jumped into the e-book industry and offer most of my titles as e-books through Nook and Kindle. This also includes a collection of poems and short stories, LOST NEWS, and an historical novella ON PROMISED LAND.[More complete info at Kaios Books.]
Out of all your books, is there one that gave you the biggest challenge, and why? Is there one that you could say “wrote itself?”
The title that gave the biggest challenge was KANSAS DREAMER: FURY IN SUMNER COUNTY. In my first writing, the character was too young, the story sort of frivolous. I wanted this to be an adult title and not have it categorized as YA. I liked my premise and the situation (my protagonist is clairvoyant and helps to solve a rustling and murder mystery). I wrote and re-wrote that story several times during 5-6 years. I am satisfied with the results, and Books-In-Motion accepted it into their audio book line in 2004.
The title that “wrote itself” was the historical fiction, BRING HOME THE GHOST. A voice just popped up and said, “I’m Jason; you have to tell my story.” Even with research (1830s in the southeast and the western frontier), I completed the first draft in 3 months—a draft that was good enough to entice my first agent.
How do you feel about the new rage in e-books? Do you have any advice for authors who would like to independently publish their books in either that format or paper?
E-books are surrounded right now by a lot of hype—both from producers and the indie authors who are putting up mega-numbers of titles each month. But I know many, many people who are “faithful” to paperbound books. I don’t think traditional books will disappear. I do think the e-book represents an astounding change for the book marketplace; and I see print-on-demand books as a big part of future publishing, from traditional publishing houses as well as indies.
My advice to authors who are considering the various publishing options:
• Be certain what you write is the best it can be. Edit, rewrite, and seek help from others, be they beta readers or professional editors.
• Don’t “give away” your hard work just to be published. Research all the possible means of getting your work to the public. Once you decide on a few, do comparisons and read all the contracts well; ask advice from others, know what the printers (such as Create Space and iUniverse) or publishers are offering. Don’t get gulled into big promises from these companies; they usually benefit the company more than the author.
• Be prepared to do a lot of marketing. Your marketing should begin 8-9 months (for print) 3-4 months (for electronic) before your product is released, with an active website or blog, and a page on one or more social networking sites. Find honest reviewers both on line and off.
• Don’t expect overnight results. Posting a link to your new title isn’t going to garner sales within one or two days. Although e-books give the immediate reward of seeing your work out there for others to find, the book sales and reviews might take weeks or months to become satisfying. One key is not to become disillusioned. The biggest key is to keep writing.
Much has been said about social networking as the new way to promote one’s books. How do you feel about it, and do you have any particular suggestions for writers? (What works, what doesn’t?)
Social networking is quite important in book promotion, especially for an indie author. It is a way to advertise on a grand scale, and if effective planning and techniques are used, this advertising can produce good results. The options are many, and, unless an author has a PR person or a family member to keep track of it all, it’s important to choose the sites where you’re comfortable and can manage it without suffering a significant cut in your production. For authors, I stress the importance of a regularly updated blog and/or website. Book site (such as GoodReads and Library Thing) and Facebook author pages as beneficial. Book forums, especially those geared toward e-books, can be helpful if you keep your posts interesting and not just hype for your book.
Besides writing, you also own your own company, Get It Together Productions. Can you tell us more about it?
Get It Together Productions is the umbrella company that houses my KAIOS Books publishing and the other freelance work I do. I started out developing flyers and websites for authors and rural industry (farriers, horse trainers...). It has morphed into a book production company, where I edit, do layout (print and electronic), and design book covers.
GIT Productions Blogspot and GIT Productions Facebook.
Are you currently working on a new writing project?
I plan to finish the rewrite and reprint BRING HOME THE GHOST (originally published in 1983) during 2011-2012 cold weather. It will have a new title and some expanded material. I guess that isn’t really a “new” project, however, since it’s a reprint. On the NEW category, I have the third book in the SF series flopping around in my head. Hopefully, I can get that more structured and written.
BLOOD AND BOND