Urban/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’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.”
- 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.”
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?
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