Interview with Cathryn Grant


My latest interview is with the ever talented Cathryn Grant. Cathryn writes flash fiction, short stories, novellas and novels so has a range of experiences, is self-published and even created her own genre: suburban noir.

Cathryn Grant

Hey Cathryn, thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions.
Thanks for inviting me to your blog. I love “talking” about my writing.

So your self-published novel “The Demise of the Soccer Moms” has been out for almost a year now, would you rate it as being a success? What sort of response have you had from readers?
It’s amazing to have people read your work and respond to your characters and story. Responses have been more varied than I expected, but mostly positive. There were two or three “I didn’t like this book at all” reactions. I had told myself, when I get poor reviews it means that people who aren’t friends and family are buying my book! The reality was a little more difficult, but it really is true.

Okay, that’s the down side out of the way. What’s been a thrill that I can’t begin to describe is reading the reactions of people who loved the book. Quite a few said they couldn’t put it down, or stayed up late reading because they had to find out what happened. My two favorite responses were a comparison of the ending to Rod Serling, and another from a fan of dystopian fiction. The second review noted that I’d done something similar to dystopian authors who create a beautiful and terrible world and run you through it. I’d never thought of my novel in that way, but it does fit.

In terms of sales success, it depends how you define that. Since I obviously can’t control sales, I focus my goals on how much I’m writing and completing in a given timeframe, and how I’m improving my craft. I do have milestones for sales. My first was to sell more than the average self published novel. I passed that fairly early on, so I’m satisfied for now. My next milestones are dependent on having more books out, so right now 99% of my focus is on writing.

I believe you made the conscious decision to self-publish rather than pursue the “traditional” route of finding a publisher. What was the thinking behind this?
I was writing seriously for eight or nine years, pursuing traditional publication. I started by submitting to short story markets. I’d been told short story credits would help attract agent interest. When I finally had a novel I thought was ready for prime time (late 2009), I realized the publishing landscape had changed dramatically – can we say dystopian?

Two key factors made me decide to self publish. One was realizing that even with a traditional publishing contract, I would have to market my books myself. Marketing is the one thing I don’t enjoy about being a writer, and if traditional publishing could no longer offer that to new authors, what was the point? The other was an a-ha moment when I realized the goal is to reach readers(!), not agents/publishers/bookstore buyers, and with the internet and eBooks, writers can go directly to readers. I had an experience that really drove that home and it’s included in a longer answer to that question on my blog.

As well as the novel, you have two novellas and some short story collections on sale – are you noticing any difference in sales or reception between the three different types?
My novel has sold the most, but I promoted it the most (although I’ll argue against that being the cause in response to your next question! – I must be clairvoyant.) I haven’t promoted my novellas much beyond my website.

The one thing that fascinates me no end, and gives me a lot of optimism for the potential of self publishing over time, is the track record of the first book I published. Flash Fiction for the Cocktail Hour – Volume 1 was my experiment in self publishing: formatting, cover concept, uploading, etc. I put it up on Amazon and Smashwords. I never told anyone I published it. Until a few months ago, I didn’t even have the cover on my website. It just sat there in cyberspace. And it sold. It’s sold almost as much as Demise. It was reviewed on a book review blog that I didn’t know existed until someone told me my book was there. It’s sold on and off in the UK. I have no idea why or how this has happened.

When I published Flash Fiction for the Cocktail Hour – Volume 2 this fall, I started seeing sales of both at the same time.

I’ve concluded several things from this:
1. I need to be patient, and give it time. Cocktail Fiction v 1 has been out for 15 months now. It was available for about 5 months before I started seeing sales come out of nowhere.
2. There’s something to “series” because volume 2 is riding the coattails of volume 1.
3. There’s probably something to the US$ 99 cent price point. I don’t think that’s the right price for novels, but I’m okay with it for shorts. (I have a collection of two 5000-word short stories coming out later this month that will also be 99 cents)

Because of point #2, I’m doing very little to publicize my novellas until I have six or seven books in the series. If you read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog, she talks about making sure you have books out there for people to find before you do tons of promotion, in order to get the best results from your efforts.

How have you gone about promoting your work and which have been the most successful approaches?
Promotion has been hit and miss. I’m a fairly reserved person, I don’t like shouting “look at me”, and I’ve found book review blogs have quite a backlog. Not to mention the fact that the day job takes a lot of time, and given a choice between marketing and writing fiction, I know you know which one wins! So, I’ve settled into what feels comfortable, because when I was doing a lot of promoting I was not very happy, and worse, I wasn’t writing as much.

Here’s what I’ve done that did not work well enough to make it worth the effort: a blog tour, a Kindle giveaway, forum advertising, and tweeting. I gave away 11 paper copies of my novel on Goodreads and got 3-4 reviews from that, so that was worth the effort, and I’ll do it again for my next novel. I had a few blog reviews, and I think those worked well to build awareness.

After watching the changes over the past year, reading a lot of blogs about how publishing is evolving, thinking about traditional publishing, I’ve become firmly convinced that the best thing I can do to market my work is to write more books. At the end of the day, my fiction sells my fiction. Yes, I need to get that jumpstart, but maybe that can happen over time with a smallish effort. If you think about it, that’s exactly how it is in traditional publishing. How many times do you hear of a book that’s a hit and then discover it’s the author’s third or fifth or tenth novel? It takes time to build an audience.

The other thing I’m doing is submitting short pieces to eZines and traditional print markets. I’d stopped that in favor of “marketing” activities, but then realized it will get my name out there, and it’s doing what I love – writing fiction. If a piece is rejected, I can always self-publish it in a collection. Again, this approach was heavily influenced by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and others.

The Madison Keith novellas have a supernatural element whilst your other work tends to be fairly grounded in reality – why the change?
I write first drafts with just a brief character sketch or two and a few markers for where I’m headed because it’s so much fun to see what develops. Sometimes, that can be startling. In the middle of the first draft of the first novella, a pair of ghosts showed up. When I looked back at what I’d written so far, I saw that I had a good setup for the supernatural and hadn’t even been aware of it (consciously).

I struggled with it for a month or two, worried about confusing my “brand”. However, I’m very interested in philosophy, religion, attitudes about death and other things that lend themselves to the supernatural. In fact six or seven years ago, one of my short stories was rejected by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine specifically because their readers weren’t interested in the supernatural. (You can listen to the podcast on my website – The Healer).

Since my fiction deals with the disconnect between characters’ internal worlds and what they reveal to others, taking that concept to an entity being seen/unseen seems to fit (at least in my mind). Like my novels and short stories, my novellas focus on the “why” behind the crime and are set in suburbia. There’s also a touch of dark humor, so I think Suburban Noir fits.

You coined your own subgenre! Suburban noir – how did you come up with that? Are there other writers working in this genre (even if they don’t know it)?
About two years ago, I attended a Mystery Writers conference where I read the opening of my novel to the group, and was also given a chance to practice my agent pitch. People were confused because my book clearly wasn’t a “mystery”. One person said, in a bit of a snarky tone, you do know this is a mystery conference!? One of the authors who was giving pitch advice “got” what I was doing, and suggested Suburban Noir to make it clear my work isn’t traditional mystery/suspense.

I do think other writers are working in this “genre”. Anyone focused more on the “why dunnit” aspect of crime rather than the “who dunnit”, in a suburban setting, is in a similar vein. In some ways, Suburban Noir is my term for psychological suspense. From what I can tell, readers in the UK seem to understand psychological suspense the way I do (think of Ruth Rendell’s standalone novels as well as her Barabara Vine books), but in the US, most people tend to think of psychological suspense as a high-stakes thriller, with a PI or law enforcement protagonist.

So how long have you been writing and what got you started?
I wrote my first novel (a novella, really) when I was ten years old. I have no idea why I started. I was a bookworm, so I suppose one thing led to another. I’ve been writing seriously (meaning ~360 days/year, producing finished work on a regular basis) for about 12 years.

And what other writers do you enjoy reading yourself?
Joyce Carol Oates, Ruth Rendell, Ian McEwan, Lauara Kasischke, John Updike, Patricia Highsmith, Tom Perrotta, and Philip Roth are a few of my favorites.

Is print going to die out completely or do you think eBooks and traditional publishing can happily co-exist?
I really don’t know. I adore my paper books. I love the texture of matte-finished covers and nice paper and I’m a font freak. I read eBooks quite often, but find myself gravitating toward paper for my favorite authors. I have shelves full of books in every room and can’t imagine living without them. But I love the opportunity that eBooks have given to writers to create their own audiences, and to have control over what they write and what their books look like.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I believe we’ll eventually have a somewhat even split between eBooks and print on demand paper books.

Your next novel is going to be “Buried by Debt” which sounds very topical. Can you give us a taste of what to expect?
Buried By Debt is about a young, upwardly mobile couple trying to hide their huge debt from their friends. One bad choice after another eventually leads to violence.

You can read the blurb here.

That’s it – we’ve reached the end of the interview! Thanks again Cathryn and good luck with the next novel.
Thank you, David. You asked great questions. And thanks for your good wishes. I wish you the best in your writing. You know I love your flash fiction and I can’t wait to read The Thief of Sleep.

You can find out more about Cathryn and read her work over at: http://suburbannoir.com

Title image courtesy n0seblunt

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Published in: on December 2, 2011 at 8:15 AM  Comments (9)  
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  1. […] I have the pleasure of being interviewed by David Sharp at A Wee Adventure. David writes flash fiction with a strong and intelligent voice, great twists, and a regular […]

  2. This line made me very curious:

    “I do have milestones for sales. My first was to sell more than the average self published novel. I passed that fairly early on, so I’m satisfied for now.”

    What, pray-tell, are the average sales of a digitally self-published novel? I try to keep an eye out for definitive statistics on the world of self-publishing, but I’ve only ever run across a handful of anecdotal stats provided by a few writers. So I’m genuinely curious how Ms. Grant knows she’s selling better than average… Or, perhaps more to the point, what she believes the average sales to be.

    But thanks for the interview. It gives me some food-for-thought on what drives the digital self-publication decision.

    • Hmm. Let me restate that with a less snarky-sounding attitude. Which is to say… I’m not presently aware of a good metric for what average sales expectations might be (and based on actual stats, I suspect what we’d actually be talking about is median sales, since heavy-successes like Amanda Hocking are likely to throw the averages off). I’ve seen a little bit of author-by-author data, but only from a small handful of authors willing to share the details of their sales.

      I don’t know that it’s possible at this point to develop a true statistical analysis of the market without a lot more data, but each little piece helps… so… would Ms. Grant be willing to contribute to that body of knowledge (which helps those of us who are on-the-fence, as it were, on digital self-publication, make that decision) by sharing her sale stats? (I checker her site/blog but couldn’t find anything of the sort, but that could be only because it wasn’t recent.)

      Anyway… I know some authors are very reserved about sharing that data, and I can understand that… but I do think sharing helps other authors make informed decisions about how to build their own careers.

  3. Stephen, I can tell I was quite misleading in that statement! I have no idea what average sales are for self-published writers. You’re right, it’s impossible to do a true statistical analysis of the market, and I’m not sure that will be possible ever because there are so many non-quantifiable factors: “genre”, “quality”, “timing”, “platform” … those are only a few of many.

    I apologize because I was too coy, which I’ll explain in a minute. What I was referring to was two figures I’ve seen, and they set the bar quite low. One is that the “average” self published book sells less than 100 copies. The other was that the “average” self published book sells less than 300 copies. Those are the milestones I’ve passed.

    If you read my blog post for 11.29.11, you’ll see that I’m a pathologically private person. I feel very uncomfortable reporting sales or revenue because, to me, it feels like I’m posting the salary for my day job on the internet. I do think it would be valuable at some point if a third party arose that collected sales data. Similar to what we have in my day job industry where independent analysts collect and report computer, mobile phone sales, etc. Although that’s for public companies, which an independent author is not. So perhaps they could report by genre etc.

    Although I appreciated others who’ve shared sales data, that wasn’t a significant factor in my decision to self-publish. I’ve blogged about those factors, but I’m in danger of clogging the comments already so won’t go on about that. What did influence my decision was that “most” traditionally published novels reportedly sell less than 1000 copies. I figured I could do that on my own — I’m not there yet. (For example, I saw some figures for Edgar winners and what their sales were post-award, and they were less than impressive.)

    In traditional publishing, it’s the corner case that has explosive sales with her/his first novel. I’m in this for the long haul (I was planning/preparing to pursue traditional publishing for ~10 years before the market changed and I took the self pub route).

    Since I’m too reserved to contribute to the body of knowledge, if you haven’t already, check out Kindle Boards. Other indie authors are very forthcoming/generous with sales data.

    Back to the coyness …. I should have said I wouldn’t answer the question and in my attempt to dance around it, all I did was create frustration. I’ll post my “decision to self publish” links in a follow-on comment.

  4. Here are links to my decision factors: Why I became an indie author and entrepreneurship (if that’s a word).

    Thank you, Stephen, for urging me to clarify.

    • Thanks, Cathryn, for the clarifications. (Also, yes, “Entrepreneurship” is a word.)

      I’m curious, though, where you got the 1,000 copies statistic. I’m guessing that it’s probably true – within the constraints of certain genres, but not necessarily true for others (similar to your thought on aggregated data for self-publishers across genres, which sort of implies that the averages might differ across genres, which I agree is likely).

      As for the idea of a self-publishing data aggregator… that’s a great idea, I think. You wouldn’t get a business model out of it, really, because there’s probably not a lot of revenue potential (who’d pay for the data, and why?), but there’s quite a bit of potential cost to acquiring the data. I’d even be willing to do it myself (I’m something of a data wonk in my day job), but I don’t have wide enough contacts in the self-publishing world to pull together a lot of wide-spread information to make the aggregation useful. Ideally, real and complete data would have to come from the datamines of Amazon and B&N and other big players in the e-book markets… but since that’s not going to happen, such data collection would still have to be on a self-reported basis, meaning the only data collected is from parties who are willing to share that data with the aggregator (and share it in a format that is common across all parties, so that the aggregator can compare apples to apples).

      I respect that you’re a private person about these issues…

      Anyway, thanks again for responding.

      • Hi Stephen,

        I can’t recall where I got the 1,000 copies statistic, I’ve heard it cited multiple times over the past few years (although I didn’t state it correctly, that figure was for debut novels). Hearing stats that are passed around, such as declining advances, the majority of books not earning out their advances, etc., helped influence my decision, but I haven’t diligently tracked the sources. I picked up info reading blogs, talking to traditionally published writers, attending conferences, etc.

        I did a quick search and came up with this regarding average sales:
        http://stevelaube.com/what-are-average-book-sales/

        At the end of the day, what I was trying to say is that from what I’d heard about the industry and the changes taking place in 2009 when I took the self publish route, I decided I had better opportunities and more creative freedom on my own. With the changes since then, I believe that even more firmly.

  5. “At the end of the day, my fiction sells my fiction.” Great statment, great way to approach it.
    ALl the best with your work, Cathryn!
    Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks, Jennifer, and I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.


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