I am thrilled to be here on Writers’ Rumpus today interviewing my friend K.R. Conway. For those who don’t know her, Kate (who publishes under the name K.R. Conway) has been instrumental in helping me independently publish my YA novels FALLING FOR WONDER BOY and ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT.
I am so thankful to be a part of the Wicked Whale family and so excited for people to know another side of Kate.
Most people know Kate from her wildly popular UNDERTOW series, the bestselling, snark-ridden, Urban Fantasy YA, which follows 17-year-old Eila Walker, last in a brutal race of supernatural humans, and her outrageous allies, including a soulless hottie who becomes her bodyguard. But what people might not know, is that Kate is also the brain behind Wicked Whale Publishing.
Kris: Hi Kate—thanks so much for agreeing to sit down with me (virtually) and talk about Wicked Whale and your path to publication. Can you tell us how that came about and why?
Kate: First of all, thanks for virtually having me, Kris! Wicked Whale was born because I was being approached by other Indie / self-published authors who were interested in joining forces for tours and book events. I knew their work and some had hired me as a graphic artist for their covers, logos, etc. I knew that many traditionally published authors are grouped by publisher / release year and by doing so, the group pulls more publicity than going solo. So I formed Wicked Whale Publishing, which is a boutique imprint of talented writers (mainly YA and MG).
Kris: That sounds amazing—you’re so good at it, and I’m always in awe of your knowledge! How hard was it to learn all you needed to know about independent publishing?
Kate: Not hard, just time consuming. I’d basically track the evolution of a particular trade novel and learn where the publishing house was putting their marketing dollars. I also learned to read a market – to understand what the reader really wants. Because in Indie publishing, you don’t sell to the industry – you sell to the reader. If you are lucky, your readership will grow and strengthen to the point that the industry will take notice and your books will end up on high school reading lists and get nominated for national awards. Never underestimate the power of fans.
Kris: We’re all hoping for lucky (and fans!)—it’s nice to be a part of a community of like-minded souls. What made you decide to help other writers publish their work?
Kate: Well, some people just had it—that raw talent as a wordsmith and storyteller—but they were floundering in query Hell. They were loosing confidence with each rejection when I knew their books had the ability to sell into the hands of readers. Not wanting them to just run into self-pubbing without knowing what they were really doing, I offered to help. I’d say about 80% of my clients and Wicked Whale authors go on to rank as a #1 bestseller on Amazon in their category, and that says something about the endless potential of self-publishing when done well.
I think the traditional industry is seen as the gatekeepers of excellence. I think that it is assumed that you must have an agent or a large publishing house behind you to be worthwhile, but it’s simply not true. There are great and terrible books on both sides of the publishing wall.
And, quite honestly, there are many terrible self-published books, and there is no excuse for it – especially when you control every aspect of your publishing journey. A badly done self-published book tells me that the writer didn’t have the patience or respect for those of us who see this industry as a legitimate business. That tells me they didn’t honor the art of storytelling and marketing and readership.
I work for many, many authors as a graphic artist, building beautiful covers and interiors and helping them understand the craft and how to market like a pro. I appreciate my clients because they know the journey to self-publish successfully is not easy. There is time and money involved. You have to write with the understanding that the world is watching. You have to stand in a monster-sized bookstore like Barnes and Noble and remember that you will be judged against the New York Times bestsellers, even though that was never your intention. I tell everyone, “If you are going to self-publish, don’t you dare do it half-way. You need to be ‘all-in’ and committed to hiring editors, and using Beta readers, and swallowing down both the praise and criticism while the book is a manuscript. Fix it now, before it goes live, because you get only one chance for a great first impression.”
At the end of the day, I choose to help other writers publish their work because I want them to publish with an exceptional eye to detail, so that all of us in the Self-Pub category can be taken seriously.
Kris: I love that advice—and agree 100%. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. What was the inspiration behind the name Wicked Whale?
Kate: Wicked Whale is a nod to Cape Cod (where I live) and Boston slang, but I also have a habit of playing with words. Officially, I am Wicked Whale Publishing – Great Storytelling isn’t a Fluke. I know, I know . . . so cheesy, but I love that it is kinda ridiculous.
Kris: What is your favorite part of working with other authors on their projects?
Kate: Probably when they finally get to see their cover, or hold their book in their hands for the first time. I tell everyone to video record their unboxing. The other day I was on the phone with one client and happened to see that another client had hit #1 in his category on Amazon and had snagged a coveted orange bestseller tag. I called him – he was so excited. To me, that makes all the long hours in front of a computer worth it.
Kris: It’s so great to be able to share good news like that! Are you open for submissions? If not, how do you choose who to help publish? If someone wanted to learn from your experience, is there a place they could find you to take advantage of your knowledge (like any classes or workshops you might be teaching in the near future)?
Kate: There are two sides to Wicked Whale Publishing. One side is for any author who wishes to publish – a for-hire book artist, basically, which is me. In this vein, I don’t edit your story and I probably won’t read it, but I will make it look amazing. These clients have their own imprints and won’t be [listed] under Wicked Whale, but I will set them up to do the best possible job of marketing.
The other side of Wicked Whale is the imprint, which is by invite only right now, though I may open a submission window during the NESCBWI’s Spring Conference. Some of these people started off as clients, but their story and writing was so strong, that I invited them to be part of our boutique imprint. When I’m laying out a book for someone, I often DO have to read pieces of it as I work, however, and it doesn’t take long to see greatness in a manuscript. Those writers will often be offered a spot on Wicked Whale’s roster if I think their story is a good fit for us. A perfect example of this is Julia Tannenbaum’s book, CHANGING WAYS.
Julia is a senior at Hall High School in Hartford Connecticut. She had she had seen me speak at her school and, a year later, she reached out to me and asked if I’d take a look at her first chapter. She’d been querying the book but was getting nowhere and wanted to know if it just wasn’t that good. She sent it through to me and by the second page, I knew she had it. Strong story, beautiful writing, real characters. I called her back and offered her a spot on Wicked Whale the same day. Her book came out in September of 2018 and she’s done fabulous ever since.
My goal with the Wicked Whale imprint is to bring great stories together and enable our self-published authors to network online and in person so they may all sell better and reach a larger audience. We currently have many bestselling authors including one USA Today Bestseller. We also have authors who were traditionally published and who asked for their rights back so they could join us. Wicked Whale, the imprint, takes no money at all from the authors’ profits, but we share tips and tidbits on marketing between one another and join forces on occasion.
As for where to find me, I will be teaching at the Cape Cod Young Writers Workshop in Osterville, MA in February, the NESCBWI Spring Conference in Springfield, MA in May, and The Cape Cod Writers Center Conference and the 2019 Cape Cod Teen Writers Conference, both in August on Cape Cod.
Kris: I’m so glad you’ll be at NESCBWI this year! What would you like people to know about Wicked Whale?
Kate: Wicked Whale seeks great characters who live off the page. Vivid realms that put reality to shame. Scattered words that transform into poetry. And brilliant stories that become unforgettable legends.
Kris: That sounds awesome…LOVE it. Tell us a bit about what you’re working on now.
Kate: Oh snap . . . Well, now that the UNDERTOW series is finished (at six books), I’ve decided to step away from Urban Fantasy for a smidge (JUST a smidge) and work on a time-spanning novel which is basically two books in one, with a common thread that revolves around the idea of former lives. It’s proving to be a bugger to write, but once it’s done, I do intend to query it to agents. I think it is always smart to straddle the line in publishing and I strongly advise all authors to do so.