Episode # 99 – Kate Danley on Failing Your Way to Success

In Podcast by Angela McConnell27 Comments

katecovernewUrban/paranormal fantasy writer Kate Danley’s journey to bestsellerdom began in “the world’s worst anatomy class” 12 years ago, when she started writing The Woodcutter to amuse herself. Since then, she has written three different series, become a USA Today bestselling author, and sold film and television rights to her Maggie McKay series. This week I got to talk to Kate about how she went from failing at acting to succeeding at writing, and how luck has played a role in her career.


Kate Danley’s Author Website

Amazon Author Page



Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone

Reader Views Annual Literary Awards

Anniversary Come and Gone – Kate Danley’s Blog (lessons in indie publishing)


RSP #96 – Diversification and Dedication with Craig Schaefer

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron

Dannika Dark

SM Reine



Show notes:


Kate’s journey to success in indie publishing has been anything but a straight line. In fact, she jokes that her life has been governed by chaos theory, “one colossal disaster after another,” that has added up to an extraordinary experience. Indeed, anyone would be hard-pressed to follow in her footsteps in seeking out their own success…not unless they enjoyed acting, improv, and maybe even a little German folk dancing.

In fact, Kate attributes much of her success to her failures. Her award-winning debut novel The Woodcutter came about when she was “failing spectacularly” as an actor. She decided to pursue training as an x-ray technician to support her acting, but during “the world’s worst anatomy class,” she started writing a story to save herself.

And she succeeded…eventually. In November of 2010, after shopping it for five years with nary a bite from agents and publishers, she received an email from Destiny – or rather, Barnes & Noble, announcing their new publishing program for independent authors.

It was a moment of truth for Kate. She says, “That one decision to open up one spammy-looking email and actually read what was on the page changed my life, and I would not be here today as a full-time writer with everything that’s happened to me in the past 10 years if it wasn’t for that one moment.”

Since then, The Woodcutter has picked up three awards and sold over 400,000 copies. Kate eventually sold the rights to 47North, which republished it in November of 2012. In October 2014, AmazonCrossing brought out the German translation.

But The Woodcutter isn’t her only success. Kate is also the author of the popular Maggie MacKay series, which has been optioned for television/film; the Victorian gothic penny-dreadful O’Hare House Mysteries; and her Twilight Shifters fantasy series.

As Luck Would Have It…

…it takes a lot of work to get it to show its shining face. As Kate puts it, “I do know that, you know, you put in the work, you take control of what you have control over, and things just sort of happen. It’s that whole being-prepared-when-luck-comes-knocking-at-your-door.”

And Kate has put in the work. Since she published that first novel, she has written and published well over a dozen titles, as well as collaborated with other authors on boxed sets. So far this year, she has released two titles, with a third one due out in the next few weeks.

She notes on her blog that writers must write and release often: “The visibility search engines favor those who release a book every thirty days, but you can streeeeetch it to ninety days before crisis hits. Now, I know that many are concerned writing at such a pace might have an impact on quality. I only share this information as a reflection of a cold, hard truth we have no control over. It is just the way the world works and expectations should be adjusted accordingly.”

In order to keep up with the algorithms, Kate writes every day. She keeps track of monthly goals on a wall calendar, daily goals on a whiteboard, and uses a timer to write in 15-minute increments until she meets her daily goal. Any goals not met get added on to the next day. Monthly goals met are award with a genuine gold star. She says if it will work for a two-year-old, it will work for her. :) In this way, Kate is able to produce five or six pages a day, which adds up to a book in one month.

Kate also notes that Rachel Aaron’s “2K to 10K” was hugely influential on her. A Spirited Manor, the first book in her O’Hare Mysteriesseries, was actually a practice book to see if she could implement Aaron’s strategies. She went from page 1 to publication in a scant 10 days – including getting vetted by beta readers and an editor – a feat that she hastens to add was possible only due to good planning. Even still…wow!

The Magic of Boxed Sets

Luck also found Kate on KBoards in the form of a helpful and friendly indie community. She had been struggling with sales on Maggie MacKay when she was approached by S.M. Reine inviting her to participate in a group sale where authors put their books on sale at the same time and promote together. It was a good experience and generated lots of also-boughts. This led to other promotional opportunities, including the boxed set Magic After Dark that sold over 120,000 copies and hit the USA Today bestseller list.

“I think what’s so incredible about this indie community is that you can’t succeed unless you help other people out. If you’re not forming these relationships, you’re not getting cross-over fans, you’re not getting the also-boughts, you’re not getting the marketing expertise.”

The indie community has been incredibly generous and eager to help one another, and Kate urges writers to continue spreading the love.

“I think the best collaborations are ones where we respect each other as human beings, you know, on a very basic level, and like each other, you know, just as people. And then, helping someone else out — you know, it’s not that you’re just helping out a writer to help your career, you’re helping a friend. And that’s pretty huge.”

Action Steps:

  • Don’t be afraid to change course if something’s not working. Although the O’Hare Mysteries is a series Kate loves and originally planned to write for four seasons, it hasn’t caught on enough for her to continue. So she wrapped it up, created an omnibus of the complete series, and moved on.
  • Make friends and make opportunities. “If anyone’s participating on forums,” Kate says, “find the people that you click with and then reach out to them outside of the forums and see if there are opportunities to help each other out.”
  • Enter contests. Awards get you eyes and deals.
  • Kate puts it best: “When people show up with opportunities, just say yes.”

Simon Asks:

What surprising opportunities have come your way as an indie author that you were ready for – or missed out on because you weren’t ready?


Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Angela McConnellEpisode # 99 – Kate Danley on Failing Your Way to Success
  • Great episode! So glad you got Kate on the show. She’s brilliant!

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks for the recommendation Brian, I loved doing this interview!

    • Kate Danley

      YOU’RE brilliant, Brian! YOU ARE! I had a ridiculous amount of fun doing this podcast and I swear that when I rule the world, a person won’t be able to flip on BBC Radio without hearing Simon’s voice. SO I SWEAR! *raises sword to the sky with a battle cry*

  • Lindy Moone

    Fabulous and energizing interview. Kate Danley is a great guest!

    While still listening, I dashed over to Amazon to buy her first Maggie McKay book — and found I’d bought it last year and it was still revving its engines on my Kindle’s tarmac. (Shame on me, but I have 2000 books and samples on there! I promise to read it NOW.) Speaking of tarmac, please do drive carefully in Turkey. Things have improved in recent years (I’ve lived here 19), but we drive on the right and Brits, during holiday season at least, are considered drunk unless proven innocent. One little fender bender and they will haul you off for a blood test, even at 10 AM! I am guessing you will be driving down to Antalya or thereabouts. (I’m in Bodrum, myself.) Much of your route is a beautiful but serpentine road. Glad you are not coming from the States — jet lag and long Turkish roads are not a good mix. (I know, I am the voice of doom. Sorry. Do have fun here in Turkey. Stop by any time. Bring single malt.)

    Funny you should mention “productive time” on this podcast, since right before tuning in I was thinking that unlike many other podcasts, Rocking Self Publishing just doesn’t count toward my procrastination quota for the day. It’s too damn useful and informative. So now I must seek out clips of baby pigs and fainting goats on Facebook, I suppose, and it’s all your fault…

    • Kate Danley

      Thank you for listening, Lindy! Glad you enjoyed. *licks stamps and puts them on the pony box*

      • I am confident that you punched the airholes!

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Lindy, I’m glad that RSP is productive time for you :D.

      We’re driving down to a place called Marmaris. A friend of ours from school is teaching sailing there for the summer, so we thought we’d go visit. Have done zero research. Should be a good adventure! And yes, I’ll be careful on the roads. I’ve biked some crazy ones (Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam…), so am familiar with getting run off the road occasionally :p

      • Simon, Marmaris is lovely; it’s a few hours drive southeast of us. I’ve been on a few “Blue Trips” from there — week-long, idyllic yacht trips in the gulf of Gokova. If you have biked in Asia, driving in Turkey will seem tame, no problem.

  • Really loved this episode, Simon. I love to hear more about people who experience a lot of failures before they make it big. I think that’s the majority of us authors, but so many times, we only hear the good (the aftermath) and not the bad (the struggles that leads up to the good), which is what I think is the most motivating because people like me can relate and learn.

    Thank you, Kate for sharing your story. And I agree about Kboards. There’s a wealth of information in that community.

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks for listening RM, I also like these episodes. I think when someone has made it, it’s easy to forget about the struggles of the past, maybe because it all seems worth it by then :).

    • Kate Danley

      My pleasure, R.M.! Truly, I was so honored to be invited on the show. There’s an old saying in Hollywood that it takes ten years to become an overnight success. 😉 Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Donna Glaser

    Loved this interview! Thanks, Simon and Kate. One of the things that really perked my ears up was Kate’s idea of “ranking thresholds.” I’d never heard anyone mention that low selling books bring your overall discoverability down. I’d love to know more about that.

    • SimonRSP

      Sure thing Donna, thanks for listening. I know Kate has been active in these comments, so hopefully she will jump in 🙂

      • Donna Glaser

        I’ve been asking around on Kboards and in the Mastermind group but nobody else seems to subscribe to that theory. I’d really love to learn a little more from Kate. Hope she’s still checking in. I didn’t chime in until late.

        • Kate Danley

          Hey Donna! Great question! So, I mentioned thresholds in two places and hope that I didn’t confuse people.

          The first was in reference to an internal decision I suggested if you’re in a boxed set (we made a group decision to pull it down at 10k. Some people chose six months. Some people month-by-month.) It was just for conflict avoidance and boils down to: “Have clear rules before you enter into these business situations. When does your boxed set end?” If you entered into a traditional contract, you would have reversion clauses and sales points when your book would go “out of print.” I recommend taking a page out of that book *nudge nudge* to keep your group happy and healthy. A side benefit is you can let your audience know these sets are for a “limited time” and sometimes that puts a bit of a fire under people’s tushies.

          The second was a decision to pull down my books when they sit over 500,000 (or whatever number I threw out in the podcast) in the rankings. I actually just pulled a Christmas book that wasn’t selling (shocking!), which I will re-release in November. My sales and rankings have been flat for all of my other books, and about six hours after that decision, it popped my author rankings into the top 100 fantasy authors with no other action on my part. I’ve done this three times over the past year and it happened each time, but it could just be a fluke. Who knows how things actually work inside the machine! I very well may have been throwing people into a volcano to stop an eclipse. There are much smarter people out there who study and understand these things far better than I do, and I would say listen to them. But I, personally, have seen this boost.

          In addition, there is some long term benefit, too. If I have a book sitting normally in the 500k+ rankings, it means something about that story isn’t inspiring people to rush out and tell their friends to buy it. And it could be issues with covers, it could be blurbs, it could be keywords… I believe we all know in our gut what is the problem. If all those things have been addressed and it still isn’t selling, it means this story isn’t connecting. And that’s okay! No harm! I have plenty more words I can put down onto paper! By taking it down, it means I am funneling readers towards my stronger books, the ones that DO have a track record of inspiring enthusiasm. As authors, we may only have one opportunity to hook a new reader and if they chose one of my “meh” books over one of my “wow” books, that is how they will judge me. My “wow” books have a better chance of converting into a second sale, which, extrapolated out, can add up to quite a boost. Your mileage may vary.

          • SimonRSP

            Wow, thanks for such a lengthly (and awesome) reply Kate. Much appreciated :).

          • Donna Glaser

            Thanks, Kate! It seems to make great sense in an anecdotal way. I hope someone much smarter than me with analyzing data takes a look at this specific question soon. It fascinates me. I did take down a non-fic 99c booklet that I’d had up on arguing. I never expected to make money off of it; it was mainly from a workshop that I’d done years ago. But if it’s pulling down Author Rank and *if* that rank is used for the algos (which makes perfect sense) than it’s not helping me. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll see how it does.

          • Kate Danley

            Please report back and let us know if anything happens! I would love to hear if my results were repeatable or just the desperate ramblings of a madwoman (which they very well could be…) We just unpublished a boxed set that hit the six-month mark. It was sitting in the 5k rankings (oh, such a pretty ranking to disappear…), and I’m seeing a dip down.

  • mtr amg

    Gosh… so much information! I don’t think Kate can be just lucky – she’s obviously worked hard as well.

    • Kate Danley

      Shhh! You’re going to give away my secret! 😉

  • robertscanlon

    Great interview, thanks Simon & Kate!

    I’m also a big fan of Impro (and taught aspects of it as personal development in the early nineties). I’d dropped by to second Kate’s recommendation of Keith Johnstone’s book, “Impro”, and was about to mention he actually HAS a book out aimed at storytellers, but you’ve already found it (in the show notes!). Impro (the original book) is brilliant, and I actually think it’s a book that can change your life. Certainly great reading for writers!

    Thanks to Kate for sharing the “failures” along the way – it helps me keep going 🙂

    Thanks again – I just had to binge-listen (4 shows in a row – I’ve been busy with no audio time!), and you keep proving what a great show this is.

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Robert, appreciate it, and I’m going to check that book out now 🙂

    • Kate Danley

      Hooray for Team Impro! *throws Robert the secret Johnstone gang sign*

  • Greg Thomas

    That was great! It’s amazing that the TV/movie option came from accident while Kate’s book was permafree. For everyone saying free doesn’t work anymore, here’s another reason to have it in your portfolio.

    I’ll have to tag this one as, “Tho One Where Simon Sings.”

    • SimonRSP

      Oh dear ;). I really did consider editing out my singing 🙂

      • Kate Danley

        Meanwhile, I’m lining up recording contracts for Simon in Nashville. 😉 Thanks for listening, Greg! You are spot on! I’m going to totally bungle this because I can’t find the book on my bookshelf, but in this book, it said you don’t have kill yourself chasing down success, you just need to do 3% more (or 7% or some low percentage… ) than what you’re doing now. The margin between success and failure is so often that finely balanced. I’ve found this to be true in my life. I never could have lined up this movie deal if I went knocking on all the doors in Hollywood. But by taking control of what I could take control of – a nice cover, editing, proofreading, permafree – and doing just a little bit more, I got to be at the right place at the right time. I was dead set against permafree, but when I finally decided to give it a shot, it turned the corner in my indie publishing career. I love permafree so hard!

  • Tj Knight

    Kate’s story really resonated with me. I trained as an actor — and spent 20 years working in offices. Pretty soul-sucking and I’m sitting here thinking “what’s next”. This was an inspiring and wonderful podcast to listen to. I’ve seen Kate around on Kboards before and read and enjoyed the first “Maggie” book not so long ago — but I had no idea what her life-story was. This was refreshing and inspiring. Thank you Kate and Simon!