Friday Fiction – An Interview With Susan Helene Gottfried

I’m a little irritated with WordPress, because it won’t allow me to upload images. I’ve run through my entire repertoire of swear words, so we’ll just carry on, shall we?

I stumbled across Susan Helene Gottfried’s blog close to a year ago (or more — it’s hazy, time is, especially with everything that’s happened this year) through Entrecard. While I’m not a big fan of the traffic that comes via Entrecared (high bounce rate) I have come across many wonderful blogs through “dropping”. Susan’s was one of them that went on the Keeper List. I’ve reviewed The Demo Tapes, and today I’ll introduce you to Susan, which will explain why I’m such a fan.

Indies work their asses off. Not that authors who go the traditional route don’t, but I think because what an indie does is more transparent it’s easier to get an appreciation of the process of publishing and how much work goes into it. Susan’s been at it for a while, so I figured I’d pick her brain.

1. As an indie publisher, what do you wish you had known before you started? What would you have done differently?

Well, I went into it with my eyes as wide-open as possible, so I’m not sure there are any lessons learned or anything I’d have changed. It’s all been what I expected, including being shunned by various people in the writing community for having self-published.

However, let me stress that I spent a LONG time learning the book business. Both the self-publishing angle AND the traditional angle. I had a very good idea of the pros and cons of each method of publishing. Read on and you’ll see how that impacted my final decision to take my material to Lulu.

Any publishing is not for the faint of heart, as any of us in the writing industry knows. I’m always curious as to why a writer chooses the paths they do, because I’m nosy like that. Heh.

2. Why did you choose the indie route over the traditional publishing route?

Oh, a million reasons. It’s a bit of a convoluted story. I began my blog, the Meet and Greet, in April of 2006, when I began marketing my novel, Trevor’s Song. I figured I’d do something I hadn’t seen anyone else doing: using short fiction snippets that provided the background to my characters to help build my audience.

It worked. Sort of. No one wanted the novel — they said that no one wants to read about a man (Trevor), that books about rock stars historically don’t sell.

But I had these readers who’d been following along with Trevor’s adventures. I’d been posting the snippets, or outtakes (as I call them) in no particular order. My long-time readers wanted them in order. My new readers wanted an entry point, also in order.

The funny thing is that I created my own demand, and then had to fill it myself. The outtakes suffered from two more problems, which the publishers cite as lacking commercial viability: they’re short (no one reads short stories) and they’re available for free on my blog (no one will pay for something they can get for free).

But… I’m making a profit. I’m at work on The Demo Tapes: Year 2. And I’m considering my options with both Trevor’s Song and another novel I’m working on.

I hate it when people ask me a question like this, and I just had to share the torture. I’m evil like that.

3. What are your top five favorite books of all time, and why?

What? Limit it to FIVE?? Are you nuts????

Seriously, this is something that changes with my mood, with the song on the radio, with each breath. My bookshelves at GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari are made up of the books I loved enough to want to share with people. Go check ’em out; I’m West of Mars, or Susan, or some combination of the two, at all three sites.

Every writer has their own way of working it, and women with children at home have a lot to juggle without the writing thing going on. I wondered how this Superwoman pulls it all together.

4. How is your day structured, work-wise?

It’s not, especially now that the kids are out of school. Generally, we get up. I work out. I don’t sit down here at my desk until around 11 most days. And then I work until I have to stop to be with the kids. After they’re in bed, or after dinner, I’ll sit and work some more. But for me, working means writing AND marketing AND making sure I’ve got an eye on publishing industry news and trends and all that. It’s no longer the simple act of creating fiction.

I do miss that.

One thing I can say about Susan; when she has an opinion, she’s not afraid to share it. In this case, I’m in 100% agreement.

5. I know you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a tiny girl. Is it everything you thought it would be? What did you NOT expect?

No way is it what I thought it would be, and that’s because of the way the industry has changed. Now, a writer has to handle a big chunk of his/her marketing by him/herself. Even if I hire a publicist, I still have to write guest blog posts myself.

It’s no longer a profession where you sit in a room and create. It’s way more social, and that’s both good and bad. For obvious reasons — not so isolated, a distraction, blah blah.

Yet this is how the industry has changed. I’d love to see the major publishers change their business models and stop giving multi-million-dollar advances to celebrities even though they know they won’t recoup that expense. I’d love to see a large chunk of that money being given to smaller, less-well-known authors instead, so that the reading public is aware of the many, many choices out there. That’s one of the reasons I started my publicity blog, Win a Book. I’m trying to be the change I want to see, by getting readers aware of authors they may not otherwise hear of.

As writers, we love all our “children”. Still, one character may hold more of us than another, which may tell us more about the author.

6. Which character from ShapeShifter do you most relate to, and why?

Ooh, hard to say. I’m a good combination of the famous Kerri-Mitchell-Trevor triangle. Kerri’s cool, Mitchell likes to pretend he’s a buffoon and not as smart as he really is, and Trevor’s the part of me that cuts loose and says what’s on his mind. But I’m not as wounded as Trevor, nor as coddled as Mitchell. Or, possibly, as strong as Kerri. In Demo Tapes: Year 2, you’ll get to see her decide to pick up and jump a bus clear across the country for the fictional city of Riverview. (If you haven’t already seen that outtake on The Meet and Greet.) That takes the sort of guts I don’t have.

Oooh, she’s a slippery one, isn’t she?

7. Who are your biggest literary influences, and why?

You know, I couldn’t tell you. I earned both my BA and MFA in creative writing, from The University of Pittsburgh and from Bowling Green State University, respectively. Both are top schools in the creative writing world. But no one ever made me study this or that author, and break them down and use those elements in my own writing.

Hopefully, my writing is the best of all the authors I’ve read in my lifetime. That’s a lot of writers.

I found this to be a very interesting answer to this question.

8. If you could meet and hang out with just one band, ShapeShifter excluded, who would it be and give us a reason.

Wow. I’ve hung with a lot of bands in real life, and it’s always disappointing. No matter how into them you are, to them, you’re just a fan, intruding on their space. You never truly see behind the veils, so to speak.

So I’d rather hang with a bunch of friends and be part of their world. If those friends are in bands, great. If not, great, too. I don’t need to hang with a band to be inspired. Heck, I just wrote a Roadie Poet piece inspired by thumbprint cookies that we brought to a Stanley Cup Final party.

We all have watershed moments in our lives, and yes, it can be this simple.

9. Name one event in your life that was a watershed moment and changed everything for you.

Easy. I was pregnant with my first kid. I’d just broken up with my first literary agent, not sure what to do with myself — my husband’s company had been bought out and I’d retired from freelance copy editing to focus on my fiction — and watching Metallica’s S&M on VH1. I’d been watching their Behind the Music a lot lately, too (see that bit about being bored) and in it, frontman James Hetfield made a comment about how Metallica is always honest, always true to themselves.

I gave myself permission to stop trying to please the world, and to please myself. Just like that, just that easily.

Mitchell and Kerri followed, and Trevor stole the show pretty quickly afterward.

I can’t tell you how much this tickled me.

10. Have you ever been arrested, and if so, what were the charges? (Heh.)

Now, that’s not a fair question. No matter what I say, people will be disappointed. Maybe we should leave it with me admitting I’ve seen my fair share of the world, and it’s better where I am right now. Not to mention hard for my kids to pull one over on me.

I told you she’s fabulous, didn’t I? Do yourself a favor, and hop over to the Meet and Greet and introduce yourself. Get your copy of The Demo Tapes – Year 1 and hang with the band. For a lot of us, it’s like revisiting our youthful, wild years and it’s a blast. Thanks to Susan for her patience and for participating in my Friday Fiction Fest!


3 thoughts on “Friday Fiction – An Interview With Susan Helene Gottfried

  1. an entertaining interview, as always. and “the demo tapes” project sounds very interesting, and i shall be looking more closely. 🙂

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