Wednesday, July 15, 2009

interview with author Zoe Winters

As we continue our weekly author Q&A series, I hope you will join me in welcoming today’s guest. Zoe Winters has done what some may consider a risky venture: she’s giving away her first book for free. Yes, free. As a market-savvy writer, however, it’s all a part of her strategy to get readers hooked. Why? Zoe writes paranormal romance that she hopes reaches out and pulls you in, enough so that you’ll stay tuned for the next two installments of her series. But I’ll let her tell you all about her writing...

Hi Zoe. Can you tell us about Kept?
Hey Lori, sure! Kept is a paranormal romance novella about a werecat named Greta who finds out that she was born in her fur instead of in human form. What this means is that she's significantly more magically powerful. And there used to be a ritual to the gods where someone like this was marked for sacrifice on their 28th birth moon (full moon closest to their birthday). The tribe leader plans to sacrifice her and her mother gives her the name and address of a sorcerer named Dayne Wickham who is probably the only person in the city strong enough to protect her.

She can't just leave the city because the city of Cary Town is in the beginning stages of a police state. They have preternatural border patrols which keep preternatural beings like vampires and various shapeshifters from crossing the borders without permission.

Dayne has an unsavory history where he once massacred most of her tribe about thirty years prior (magic users in my verse age very, very slowly), so there is a lot of anxiety about going to him for help. To complicate matters the tribe betrayed him, and so he has to get over his fear that Greta is part 2 of a trap once set by the tribe. There is another complication, but I don't want to give that one away. Gotta read to find out.

What drew you in to writing paranormal romance?
I'd tried writing in several different genres over the years. Children's fantasy, mystery, thriller/action, and nothing really clicked for me. I discovered Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the TV show, not the movie), about a year after it had gone off the air, and I just fell in love. So much so that I started reading fanfic. I'd wanted Spike and Buffy to get together, and here was a fandom where people made this happen. Eventually I got to the point where I wanted to read something "kind of like it" but with different characters. I discovered paranormal romance from there, fell in love with it, and found it clicked with me writing-wise as well.

As Kept is the first in a sequel, can you tell us a bit more about what’s to come?
Yes, Kept is the first in a series. In fact, at this point I'm planning on writing everything in this one 'verse. Where each story (first three are novellas, after that will likely be strictly novels) is a self-contained romance, with a larger background story arc going on where everything sort of connects. I'm currently in edits for the other two novellas in the first print release, to be published with Kept. The second is called Claimed and the third is Mated. They're very thematically similar. Alpha males and situations where the hero and heroine get thrown into a very close living proximity. Claimed is a vampire story involving two minor characters from Kept, and Mated explores a romance between a girl we meet in Claimed who can "sense vampires," and a werewolf.

Then the first full-length novel involves an incubus. So what I'm really doing is introducing some of the different species that inhabit this larger world, so people can slowly start to get a sense of what's what and how it all interconnects while each is a fully contained romance. A hero in one book may be perceived as the villain in another, and vice versa, because so much is based on perspective.

What are some of the challenges you face in writing novella length fiction?
Length. That's the major problem. You can really only follow one story arc. You can't go chasing after secondary characters and so people feel like they aren't getting the full story. I normally write pretty tight anyway, not a lot of sprawling description or anything that slows the story down, but considering the world I'm wanting to write, novellas make it tough. So these first three stories are kind of like little windows or doorways into what I'm creating here, and hopefully it'll give readers enough of a taste that they'll want to follow me as I develop the world further in future full-length novels.

You have an incredible amount of reviews on your website. Tell us about your marketing and promotion strategies as an author.
You know a lot of it has happened really organically. I don't market nearly as much or as well as I should, which is something I intend to change when I release the first print release. (Hopefully late this fall, but that's only tentative.) I had a blog and had built up a little bit of a readership there. Then I made Kept available for free in several different venues and on Kindle for $1 (reduced by Amazon to 80 cents.) The pricing strategy of "free/almost free" I think has helped a lot since Kept so far has only been available in e-formats. It's been a bit of a test-marketing attempt.

What made you decide to give away Kept for free?
Ack, getting ahead of you there. Test marketing mainly. It's an issue of money is really the last thing a completely unknown writer needs to worry about. What you should worry about instead is obscurity and how you'll build reader trust. Well you can't build it by charging $14 or more for a trade paperback when no one has heard of you. And you can swear up and down that most of your Amazon reviews are not friends and family, but strangers who met you through your work (which is true for me), but... people are still wary. They don't really know that's the truth, and if they don't know someone personally who can recommend your work to them, or you aren't a name, they have no reason to trust that you can deliver a story that they'll enjoy.

So by giving away some work free, you can start to build that trust and platform/fan base. I haven't decided 100% yet, but my pricing strategy for the novella trilogy right now looks like it's going to be: free PDF, Kindle version $1.89, Print release around $14-$15. Probably this will be the last totally free thing as far as an e-format available. This is the entry point to the series for people who want to read it in order, they can read the first thing free if they like, and then future work will give about a 3-5 chapter sample. Or however long until we get to such a strong cliffhanger you just have to buy. *Insert evil laughter here.*

Tell us about your current work-in-progress/upcoming projects.
Right now like I said a bit earlier, I'm in edits for the first print release which will combine Kept with two other novellas in the series. I've got a fabulous cover artist that I'm very excited about working with. I've also got the first full-length novel completed except for edits, which will come out after that. But probably not for a year after this release, I want to really make sure my edits/rewrite is strong, because I believe it's a strong novel and don't want to rush releases and risk putting out less than what I can do.

Tell us a bit about your journey as an author.
I started writing around junior high or a little earlier. I wrote some short stories, but even then I mainly focused on trying to write novels. Took me awhile to get there, but I've written 6 novels now (most of them I won't be publishing... they were practice novels I don't think are publishable.) For a long time I considered self-publishing but I shied away from it because there is just so much stigma surrounding that choice. But I'd bought hundreds of dollars worth of books on the topic so I finally just decided to plunge in. I made friends with several wonderful indie authors who helped give me the courage to take that step myself. It's really important to me to maintain creative control and do my own thing for a while without a larger publisher's influence.

So many people want to denigrate self-published work as trash, and a lot of it is, but that's not the full story. There are many indie authors who consider creating their work from start to finish and having control of the full process to be an important creative choice. And publishing your own work doesn't necessarily mean putting out an inferior book. Cover art and editing are available on the free market. I think interior layout is a learnable skill and I did the interior of Kept. (Also did the cover for that one but I acknowledge it's not up to the professional level my cover art for the print release will be because I'm not a cover artist.) It's an author's choice how much they put into the work. And each indie really needs to be judged on the merit of their own work, which is why freebies are so important. NY didn't "vet" me, so I understand a reader needs to feel confident that my work is worth their money.

As a reader, what are some of your favorite books?
I'm a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I remember reading the first couple of books thinking "This would be great on TV" and now it is. I really enjoy Kresley Cole's work; "A Hunger Like No Other" is one of my favorites by her. Another favorite is a book called: "Nice" by Jen Saks (I think that's how you spell her name), it's about this woman who it's hard for her to break up with men cause she doesn't want to hurt their feelings so she kills them instead. Then she meets up with a contract killer. It's a satire, but it really makes some interesting statements and I love it. It's not a well-known book, but it should be.

What advice do you have for writers starting out?
Well I'm still "starting out" but I'll say read everything you can both in the genre you want to write, and about the business of publishing itself, and figure out what's right for you. The publishing world is changing significantly and I think it's getting even harder and more competitive, so go with your gut. But remember there isn't a lot of money out there for most fiction authors, so if you're doing it for love, there is a way to connect with an audience with or without someone else's permission (i.e. a contract.) And hopefully if you cultivate the fans, the money will follow. I really believe in the "1,000 true fans" model.

How has social media and technology changed the way you connect with readers?
I think social media is tricky because you never really know what's going to annoy someone. It's difficult because on the one hand you want to connect with people, and on the other hand, it's hard to know where the lines are socially. And I think it's something we're still figuring out. But it's definitely important because it makes you accessible, and that accessibility makes it possible to form a grassroots marketing effort and cultivate "true fans."

How can readers learn more about you and your books?
They can right now go to my blog at: It's a temporary website right now and there is a link for the free download of Kept at the top. If they have a Kindle and would like the Kindle version they can of course find me on Amazon. I hope to have my full official site up by the print release date, and it will be at: (right now that redirects to the blog).

Thanks, Zoe! I appreciate you taking the time to talk about your latest news.
Thanks for having me!

If you have any questions for Zoe, please post them below. Of course, you can also visit Zoe at her website where you’ll also be able to download a free copy of Kept.

I’m really enjoying the author Q&A series and I hope you are too. You can always feel free to post comments and questions for the guest authors, as they all love to hear from readers. So don’t be shy. And if you have a specific genre you love or an author you’d like to see featured here, leave a comment below or send me an email with your suggestions.

Next up is the phenomenal author Erica Orloff who has written far too many books to list. So check back for Erica’s Q&A next week!

Until next time, happy reading…

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