This article is the first in a series that catches up with the finalists from last year’s BookLife Prize.
Readers have writer’s block to thank for Kate Jonuska’s debut novel Transference—a finalist for the BookLife Prize in 2017. The author had been working on a different book for years and was stuck. She decided to switch gears and try writing something new. That something became Transference.
This twisted, darkly comedic superhero story about a disgraced psychiatrist with a telepathic patient was praised by author and BookLife Prize judge Tim Pratt. Of Transference he said, "[It’s] a riveting tale of telepathy and suburban angst, with characters who reveal unexpected depths and challenge reader expectations as the story unfolds. Despite some powerful forays into darkness and despair, the book is ultimately about hope, redemption, and making human connections in a difficult world."
We caught up with Jonuska to see what she’s up to now and what advice she has for aspiring indie authors:
What has happened as a result of you being a finalist in the 2017 BookLife Prize?
For me, the most valuable result of my finalist status was the wonderful blurb by my category judge, Tim Pratt. I am always chuffed when someone connects with my work, but with his notoriety in the sci-fi community, Pratt's kind words about the book have opened doors. I use the blurb on my cover, which makes a huge difference in terms of readers' reaction to Transference, lending a credibility that makes them more likely to give the novel a chance. That initial impulse to open the book is vital, especially when you're self-published. I know that the story will hook them from there, but I never get a chance to hook the readers who won't give my book a shot.
My BookLife Prize finalist status was also wonderful confirmation to me that I'd succeeded in telling the story in my head and in my heart. Traditional publishing is often lambasted for its so-called gatekeepers, but the bonus of those gatekeepers is that an author has cheerleaders and people who validate their work along the way. We self-publishers don't have that professionally sanctioned person or people telling us when the manuscript is ready, that it's not utter crap. Being a finalist refilled my reservoirs of ego so I could go out in the big, bad world and stand up proudly for my work.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a near-future, food-scarce dystopia, a world in which disaster has ruined the soil and people survive on tasteless nutrients. The main character is a tabloid journalist with a dark past who is pulled into the black market of illegal, soil-grown food. In comparison to Transference, this novel is longer, more complex and has more mass appeal...I hope to finish that book by the end of 2018 and don't yet know if I'm going to self- or traditionally publish.
What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors?
The most important but difficult piece of advice I have for other indie authors is to not get sucked into the marketing machine. Granted, we all need to pay our rent and put food on the table. I wish our culture had better ways to support artists and entrepreneurs—and we writers are both these days—reach for their dreams. Since that utopian vision is not yet a reality, writers must focus a percentage of their work on making money with their books, often at the expense of the quality of the writing itself. We can't forget that we are storytellers. We are creators of both fictional worlds and our shared culture here in the real world, for what is culture if not a story we tell each other?
Finding the right balance between the art and the business of writing is tricky and, admittedly, not something I've yet mastered, but I believe striving toward that ideal is still important. Don't push your stories to market before they're ready. Don't change the bones of your vision to suit current market trends. Don't get caught in the keep-up games of author rankings and earnings. Instead, tell the stories only you can, as artfully as you can, no matter how long that takes or what it looks like. Polish your story until it shines. Some marketing techniques work better than others, but all of them work better when the book is good.