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.
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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 know what I am thinking. But in my case I think part of it has to do with my having been extremely shy as a kid and even as a young adult. Many times my shyness kept me from speaking up when I did actually have something to say. Writing enabled me to express myself, in spite of the shyness. It’s the way I choose to interact with the world.
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 just 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?
I have always chosen to work with a publisher. This time around I am working with Booktrope, which has a very unique publishing model. Unlike many hybrid publishers, they do not ask you to pay for any part of production costs and they do not expect you to buy a set number of books to turn around and sell to your friends out of your car trunk. Once they accept your book, you view their lists of editors, proofreaders, book managers, project managers, and cover designers. Then you invite one person from each category to join your team. Sometimes the person you want will be too busy and you will have to scout around for a bit to put a team together. As the book sells, you get the lion’s share of the profit, Booktrope gets an amount slightly less than that, and the rest gets divided among your team members at percentages you have set from the start.
I don’t know how this will work out since my book is just coming out, but I can tell you that I love the concept. I was lucky to get fabulous people to work with me. It’s been a great experience to date.
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?
My husband works as an environmental inspector for our local school system, but his heart is in photography. He studied photography years ago, and he worked on film crews for years doing photography-related tasks. He spends a lot of his free time either taking photos or making adjustments to them on his computer. So he totally gets the time I put into working on my personal projects. In fact, we’ve worked on several travel stories together—my text and his photos. And we’ve had several pieces published. Parabola magazine published a 3000-word story of mine set within a ten-page spread of my husband’s photos. How much fun is that!
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.
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?
It seems insane to me that I’ve put two kids through college with my writing, and I’ve paid my share of the household bills for some years without ever having to leave the house. I never had a lot of extra, and I don’t have a pension waiting for me as do my friends who worked “at real jobs” over the years, but I’ve gotten by on my own terms.
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. To me it feels like entering a room where everyone is screaming and then screaming yourself. We are all screaming, Look at me! Look at me! I have been writing for quite a few years, so I had the joy of having my first four books published before the advent of social media, back in the days when a writer was only expected to write and her publisher took care of getting the word out. Of course those were the days when each newspaper had its own book reviewer, and you could count on your local papers at least reviewing your book. Those were the days when Kirkus would review your book for FREE, and you could count on getting a review in Publisher’s Weekly if you had a reputable publisher. Now you have to be a marketer as well as a writer, or you have to be published by one of the big five. Those are the choices, and unfortunately, they are not ours to make.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
As I mentioned above, the Booktrope method requires that you work with a book manager. My book manager is reaching out to book bloggers and reviewers and others on my behalf. Additionally, I have a book publicist who I have worked with for my last three books, and she will be creating a virtual book tour for me. So I’m hopeful that the book will get some attention.
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 is so perfect to be made into a 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 to play her, 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 my wonderful family and my dearest friends, there is nothing that makes me as happy as working on a project I feel passionate about.
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