Book Title: The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
Joan Schweighardt makes her living writing, ghostwriting and editing for private and corporate clients. The Last Wife of Attila the Hun in her sixth book to date.
Find out more about The Last Wife of Attila the Hun on Amazon.
Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
I always liked the Susan Sontag answer to that that question: I write to find out what I am thinking.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
Writing in these times is different than it was even a decade ago. Because the market is inundated—with books from the big presses, books from all the hybrid presses, and books from self-published authors—it’s extremely hard for a particular title to break out. NPR recently did an interview with a journalist discussing the candidates for the Booker prize. These are highly regarded writers, many of whom have won awards for years, but most have not been able to sell more than three- to five-thousand copies of any one book. That’s startling. You have the be a blockbuster name like Stephen King (he’s the example the journalist gave) to really sell a lot of books in these times.
Those of us who are not blockbuster names—or even Booker candidates—but continue to write anyway do it because we love it. That’s a very good reason to do something, don’t you think?
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
TheLast Wife of Attila the Hun has enjoyed a long and strange journey to this point in time. It came out in hardcover, under the title Gudrun’s Tapestry, in 2003 with Beagle Bay Books, a small traditional publishing company. It had a lovely run with Beagle Bay, garnering lots of good reviews and winning ForeWord and Independent Publisher magazine awards and even being translated into Italian and Russian. But when Beagle Bay decided to stop publishing and become a book packaging company about three years ago, the rights to the book reverted back to me.
I had no plan to try to get the book published again. I’d had three books published before the book that is now called The Last Wife of Attila the Hun and two afterwards, and I was working on two more. But I’d always had a special place in my heart for Last Wife, and when I happened to read a blog by a woman who had published with a company called Booktrope, and then learned not only that Booktrope published some reprints but also that they’d won prizes and venture capitalist money for their unique business model, I decided to contact them. They liked Last Wife and offered to publish it.
Booktrope could be called a “hybrid” press, but unlike most hybrids, they did not ask authors for production money. Their model was based on a team system wherein the authors they accepted reviewed the bios of the editors, proofreaders, cover designers and book managers who had signed up to work with them. Then each author would invite the people she wanted to join her team for the publishing journey. Booktrope staff members did layout, final approvals, admin and production. As books sold, profits were divided between the author, team members and Booktrope, with the author getting the lion’s share.
This is a publishing model for our times; you can see why the venture capitalists liked it. But the model failed, in my opinion because the principles at Booktrope tried to grow it too fast and didn’t do enough to support their front-liners. I was traveling through Ireland in mid May when I got the fateful email saying that the company would be closing its doors by the end of the month.
One thousands authors were orphaned in one fell swoop that day, and many were very upset. Some had only had their books come out days before the announcement. Many had spent their own money advertising, all for naught. Since this was the second journey for my book, I was probably less upset than some of the others. The Last Wife of Attila the Hun had had two lives, one long, the other shorter. In these times a book is lucky to have one life. I didn’t intend to push for a third.
As it happens, however, I received an invitation that made me think the third time, as they say, might be charmed. About a month before Booktrope closed its doors, I did an hour-long podcast interview with C.P. Lesley, an author and one of the founders of a book co-op called Five Directions Press. C.P. had really liked The Last Wife of Attila the Hun, and as she writes historical fiction herself, after our interview we stayed on the phone and had a long chat about writing and publishing generally. Later, when C.P. heard about Booktrope closing down, she emailed me and invited me to reprint with Five Directions.
I accepted this invitation enthusiastically. The Five Directions model is even more enticing than the Booktrope model that won so many awards. Basically, in order to be invited to publish with Five Directions, you must have written a book all the members really like, and you must have additional talents that you can share. For instance, in addition to being a fabulous writer, C.P. does great book layouts. Another writer there does great cover art. Everyone does editing and proofing. A few of us are doing PR, and so on. And, best of all, when the book sells, the author keeps one hundred percent of the profits. So bottom line, you get the benefit of working with professionals, and you get to keep what you make. As I said above, Booktrope got too big too fast. The Five Directions model works because the members are determined to keep it really small and highly selective.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
No one cares. My husband is a photographer; my older son is a musician and a sky diver; my younger son works in the business world but also writes novels and screenplays. I’m surrounded by people who “get it.”
This is for pet lovers. If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?
My dog is extremely bossy. When he wants something to eat or needs water in his bowl or wants to go out or just decides he needs my attention, he squeezes under my desk and uses his head to butt my arm up away from my keyboard. I have no choice but to get up and give him what he wants.
This is for plant lovers. If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?
Luckily my husband, who has a green thumb, waters our plants.
In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
I have countless personality flaws, but lack of discipline is not one of them. I am at my desk each day by 8:00, I do as much client work as is necessary to make deadlines for my clients, and only then do I work on my own projects.
What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
As noted above, my book has had three lives. That’s pretty wild and crazy in today’s book world.
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I’m not much for social media, but I do what I have to.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Five Directions Press has a PR team. I’m actually part of it.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
I think I’d like to scream this: “Attention super smart movie executives, producers, directors, screenwriters and actors: The Last Wife of Attila the Hun would make a great movie. We’ve had the Hobbit, Gladiator, Alexander, and so many other male hero movies over the years. This story has a female hero (you would be perfect, Mia Wasikowska), and a fabulously gory setting! Be the first to offer an option!”
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
I love to write. I love to write for my clients and I love to write for myself. Discounting the time I spend with family and friends, there is nothing that makes me as happy as working on a project I feel passionate about.