interview by Michael McCarthy
A few months ago I discovered this wonderful thing called Bookbub. Basically, you sign up and tell them what retailers you purchase E-books from and which genres you enjoy and then every day – even on weekends – they E-mail you a list of books that are on sale. These books include everything from best-sellers to self-published books. Some are brand new titles while others are classics that have been pleasing generations for years. The first day that I received an E-mail from them, the debut book in Madeline Freeman’s young adult novel series the Clearwater Witches was being offered for free. The book is called Crystal Magic and I immediately downloaded it for my Kindle and started reading it. Now I’m on the third book in the series, of which there are six titles, and I’m finding them all to be highly enjoyable. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy then you can’t go wrong. They’re like a cross between The Craft, Mean Girls and the late television series The Secret Circle. Madeline self-publishes her books, which, as an author myself, was something I was quite curious about. I was also dying to learn more about the Clearwater Witches and her other books. In the following interview we discuss writing, self-publishing and her wonderful novels.
SPOILER ALERT: There are some mild spoilers regarding the Clearwater Witches series here.
MM: How old were you when you wrote your first novel?
MF: I started writing longer stories (often filling entire notebooks) around 11 or 12. By 14, I’d written the first draft of what would eventually become CRYSTAL MAGIC. It was very different back then, as you can imagine. But the characters always stuck with me. So after finishing The Naturals Trilogy, I decided to go back to that decades-old story and write the Clearwater Witches series.
MM: How old were you when you first started writing for enjoyment’s sake? Did you write as a kid? Did, or do you, journal?
MF: I think I was in the 5th grade when I wrote my first story that wasn’t for a school assignment–so I was about 10. But stories always lived inside me. I have journaled at times in the past, but it’s not something I often do now. The closest I come to that is my “brain vomit” stage of prewriting.
MM: Did you go to school for writing or are you self-taught?
MF: My Bachelors degree is in English, and my focus was creative writing, but so much of what I’ve learned has come from reading, writing, and studying books on craft in my own time.
MM: If I understand correctly, all of your books are self-published. Is that the correct?
MM: Did you start off simply publishing the books as yourself or did you form an LLC (or similar) before you started self-publishing? What factors influenced your decision?
MF: When I began, I published everything myself. At that point, I still worked a full-time job and writing is what I did in my spare time. When I switched to writing full time, I spoke to accountants and was instructed that, for my situation and in my state, I should set up a business. I highly recommend anyone who is self-publishing to contact a tax professional in their state to figure out what is best for their particular situation.
MM: Did you launch your author site and start a mailing list before you first self-published a book or did that come later?
MF: I launched my author site when I published. My mailing list didn’t come until a year later.
MM: What was the first book you self-published and when was it released?
MF: Awaking (The Naturals Trilogy #1) was published in August 2011.
MM: If it wasn’t your first book, when was the first Clearwater witches book published?
MF: Crystal Magic was published in March 2014.
MM: Do you upload your books individually to all of the retailers or do you use a service like Draft2Digital to upload them to most sites all at once?
MF: I go direct. Before I had a Mac, I used D2D to get to the iBooks store.
MM: Are your books for Kindle part of the Kindle Unlimited program? Why or why not? I’m going to start self-publishing my books soon and I’m on the fence about this.
MF: My books are not part of the Kindle Unlimited program. The Naturals Trilogy did a stint in KU, but I’ve since pulled them in favor of going wide. It’s a business decision. I’ve been wide all along, and I started gaining momentum in the Nook store in late 2015. In early 2016, I had my first BookBub ad and I was selected for a “Freebie Friday” promo on BN’s site, and my readership in that store exploded. My first 3-figure month came not from Amazon but from iBooks. If I pulled all my titles from other stores and went into KU, is it possible I could make more money? Maybe. But I would rather have traction at other retailers. However, if I were starting fresh today, I would probably begin in KU until I had reviews, a following, and–most importantly–2-3 books in the series published. After that, I would go wide, purchasing ads to gain traction on other sites.
MM: What program do you use to convert your books into epub and mobi files? I recently bought Scrivener because I was told that could do it, but so far I haven’t been able to figure out how.
MF: I used to use Scrivener. There is definitely a learning curve, and it seems all the video tutorials are for the Mac version, but once I figured it out, I was able to make epubs and mobis quickly. I’ve since switched to Vellum (Mac only). I still do my drafting in Scrivener, then I convert to a Word document for my editor. After the editing process, I import the Word file to Vellum and my ebook almost formats itself.
MM: What program do you use when you actually write the books?
MF: I use Scrivener. I like being able to separate my chapter into different documents, and I almost always have two windows open at once (right now, the current chapter and my chapter outline). I like that I can have a ton of notes/images/research contained within one scrivener file.
MM: How often do you write and do you do most of your writing in the morning, afternoon or evening?
MF: I write every weekday. Mondays are my short days. I start around 8:30 and can work until noon. Tuesdays I start at 8:30 and end at 3 pm. Wednesdays-Fridays, I can start as early as I’m able to haul myself out of bed and I can write until 3.
MM: What is the rest of your writing routine like? Do you drink coffee or some other beverage whenever you’re writing? Do you listen to music when you write?
MF: I always have water and/or Diet Dr. Pepper when I’m writing. My cat, Fat Baby, is almost always on my desk with me. I work fastest when I’m dictating–usually because it’s harder to stop and check Facebook when I’m speaking the story. I try to get up and walk around every hour. It’s good and bad that my office is in my house. There’s no commute time, which is nice, but there’s also often noise to contend with. I have two kids. On is in preschool most days, and the other spends his mornings with my husband and/or my father. I’m very fortunate to have the support, but it makes doing simple things–like going upstairs for any reason–take longer than necessary. Recently, my husband has been working on projects in the basement. One day, it was so loud I went upstairs with a voice recorder and dictated on my bed with a cat on my lap. I do what I’ve got to do.
MM: Is there a miminum word count per day that you make yourself write?
MF: I used to aim for 5,000 words per day. I had some setbacks last year and got very out of practice. Writing is a discipline, and when one slacks, it only makes getting the words out harder. I’m slowly getting back to my old word counts. Some days I wish I could just stay locked in my office until I got to my word count goal, but that’s not an option for me right now.
MM: Do you write on the weekends?
MF: Not typically.
MM: Do you write your books in a linear fashion or do you write scenes out of order?
MF: I write my books in linear fashion. I learned I work best that way. I also like to plan out books before I write them–although that doesn’t always work out. For example, in the book I’m working on now, I only ever know what’s happening maybe one chapter in the future. I still have a sense how the book will end, but getting there is an adventure.
MM: Given how many books you’ve self-published, I’m assuming that writing is your day job now. Would that be correct? If so, how many books did you have to release before you were able to quit your last day job? What was your last day job – or what do you do now if you still have one?
MF: I taught high school English for 10 years. I was able to quit at the end of the 2015 school year after the birth of my son. At the time, I had 5 novels and 6 novellas out. I was about to release the third Clearwater Witches book, Circle Magic.
MM: I know the first Clearwater witches book is free, which is how I discovered them. I believe it was a listing in Bookbub. Do you get a lot of readers by offering the first book free?
MM: I understand you have to pay to be listed in Bookbub. Do you get enough readers that way that it’s worth paying whatever they charge?
In my experience, yes, a Bookbub ad has always been worth the cost.
MM: As I’m writing these questions, I just saw that you’re selling books 1 – 3 of the the Clearwater witches for 99 cents right now. Do people who paid more for the books ever complain when they see them offered for almost nothing like that?
MF: No one has ever complained to me. Items go on sale from time to time in daily life, and I think people get that.
MM: I recall reading in the Self Publishing Formula community on Facebook that you have to apply to get on Bookbub. Was your first application accepted or were any of your books/offers declined before you had luck with them? When you just today had the first three Clearwater witches books listed as a special on Bookbub, did you need to go through the application process again or do you just have to pay the fee to get listed for the same title(s) again?
MF: I submitted Crystal Magic to Bookbub several times over the course of a year and it was turned down every time. I decided to switch things up and submit the 1-3 box set one month just to shake things up. I figured I’d get another speedy no–which was okay because at the time I only had 4 books out in the series. But they accepted my submission that time, which had me speechless. That was January 2016. In July, I submitted Crystal Magic, and they accepted it–again, to my delight. (They have a rule about not running the same book for 6 months; since Crystal Magic is in the box set, I waited until the time elapsed.) In December, I submitted the box set again, and it was again accepted. I know this won’t always be the case. The editors at Bookbub study data related to what their readers are actually buying in each genre. Maybe in 6 months, no one will want to read witch books. Or maybe their list won’t have grown enough for them to want to run my title again.
MM: Have you offered any of your non-Clearwater books on Bookbub?
MF: I thought I submitted Awaking at one point, but I don’t see it logged on my account. Maybe I did before that system was operational. Or maybe I just never submitted it.
MM: Are the Clearwater witches books your most successful? If not, which series is?
MF: The Clearwater Witches series is my most popular. Fate Bound, the first book in the Fate Bound trilogy, had a great launch this summer, and I’m hoping to pick up that momentum again with the release of book 2.
MM: Now that you’ve finished writing the Clearwater Witches series, will you be starting a new series now or will you simply focus on the other series you have going?
MF: I’m currently working on the second book in the Fate Bound trilogy, and I’ll switch to the final book after that. I also want to write the third installment of the Shifted series soon. After that, I’ll move on to a different series.
MM: When you write a series, do you write the books back-to-back or do you go back and forth between the different series?
MF: Usually I focus on one series at once.
MM: Roughly how many positive reviews have your books received on Amazon and Goodreads? Have you ever received negative reviews? Do you respond to negative reviewers?
MF: I really don’t look at reviews. I have a general idea of overall ratings, but I do my best not to read individual reviews.
MM: How did you go about getting reviews when you first started self-publishing?
MF: With my first book, Awaking, I believe I did a blog tour. I garnered a few reviews that way.
MM: I’ve read about newsletter swaps and blog tours, but I’m not sure I fully understand what they are. Have you done either of these things? If so, what exactly do they entail and did you find them to be worthwhile?
MF: I’m not 100% sure what a newsletter swap is, but I assume it would be when you send a message out to another person’s mailing list. Or perhaps when a group of authors team up and send periodic emails about sales/new releases from each of them. I think either of those ideas could be beneficial, provided the authors involved write in similar genres. If you can get your book in front of new eyes, there’s a chance it will result in sales and new fans. I have done a couple of blog tours in the past where blogs have signed up to post about me and my book (typically a new release). In certain genres, these may be very beneficial, but I never saw much of an effect from them.
MM: You’ve had time to develop a following since the first Clearwater witches book came out. Roughly how many people have followed the series?
MF: I have no idea.
MM: I know you have other series as well. Can you tell us a little bit about each of them?
MF: The Naturals trilogy was my first series about a group of teenagers who develop psychic abilities and must work together to stop a man who wants to enslave the “common” people of the world. Shifted is about a pair of hunters who keep people safe from all the things that go bump in the night. That one started as part of an 8 hour ebook challenge. The idea was to spend just 8 hours on a story to get back to the love of writing. I liked the characters so much I kept writing more of their adventures. Fate Bound is about a newly-turned werewolf whose unique qualities make her both desired and feared.
MM: When you write your books, do you envision mostly females reading them? I’m just curious since your book covers all seem to have female characters on them.
MF: My covers have females on them because my protagonists are female. I assume the bulk of my readership will be female, but I know plenty of men read them too.
MM: Are all of your books young adult books? What is it about the young adult genre that appeals to you?
MF: I’ve always loved the YA genre. Even as an adult, those are the books I like reading. There’s something so exciting about that age–a time when anything is possible. I always wanted to write YA because I wanted to produce books young people would enjoy reading. As a high school English teacher, I saw the transformation from non-reader to avid reader–and the right books were key.
MM: Have you published any books using pseudonyms? If so, if they’re not supposed to be secret, which pen names have you used? Is Madeline Freeman your actual name or is that a pen name, if you don’t mind me asking?
MF: Madeline Freeman is my actual name–although I wish I’d used a pen name when I started. I have a contemporary new adult romance out under the name Quinn Nolan.
MM: Do you think you’ll ever write a book that isn’t a young adult book, if you haven’t already done so?
MF: YA is really my love.
MM: If you wrote a quote unquote literary fiction novel with adult themes, would you publish it as Madeline Freeman or would you use a pen name to make it less likely that your young adult readers would read it?
MF: I don’t see me writing a literary fiction novel. I enjoy genre fiction too much. But if I were to switch genres to, say, hard Sci Fi, I would probably use a pen name–but mostly for branding.
MM: Have any of your books been turned into audiobooks?
MF: Yes. The first three Clearwater Witches books are available in audio, and the fourth is being produced. Fate Bound is also in the process of being produced.
MM: Have any traditional publishers approached you since you became a successful self-published author? I’ve read interviews where successful self-published authors have said that they make more money self-publishing than they would going with a traditional publisher. What are your thoughts about that?
MF: I have not been approached by any traditional publishers. If someone were to approach me with a sweet print-only deal that would get my books on store shelves, I might consider it. Or if someone wanted my audio rights, I might consider it.
MM: What do you say to authors and industry people who say self-publishing is ruining the business?
MF: I disagree entirely. Readers read. In the event there are no new books to pique that person’s interest, they’ll re-read something they love. Having more books and more options doesn’t hurt. In a lot of ways, indie publishers can fill holes that traditional publishers cannot. We can try niche genres that wouldn’t be profitable enough for a trad pub house. We can also put books out faster, which makes readers happy. Are there some people who publish low quality material? Yes. However, buyers are savvy. They naturally move toward authors who do everything they can to make their work indistinguishable from trad pub works. The authors I know go for quality covers, comprehensive editing.
MM: On a related note, I’ve often read things where people in the publishing business claim they’re not impressed by self-published authors because anyone can self-publish a book. I know a lot of agents feel similarly as well. What are your thoughts on that?
MF: I don’t really give much thought to it.
MM: Do you have an agent? If so, what does the agent do for you that you can’t do yourself?
MF: I do not.
MM: Have any of your books been published in foreign languages? Do you sell a lot of books in foreign countries? If so, what countries are you most popular in?
MF: None of my books are available in foreign languages. (That’s another thing I’d consider letting a publisher do for me.) I sell consistently in the UK, Australia, and Canada, and I have regular (though few) sales in many European countries and India.
MM: I’m currently in the middle of the Clearwater Witches book three, Circle Magic, but I know you recently released the final book in the series, which is called Dark Magic and it has an ominous cover. Would you say the series ends with a gloomy ending then? I’m also dying to know – is Krissa evil in Dark Magic? It looks like she is on the cover, at least to my eyes, hence my asking.
MF: The Dark Magic cover is my favorite! I don’t think the series has a gloomy ending. It was bittersweet for me because I love those characters so much. Many of them have new paths at the end. And as for Krissa being evil… 🙂
MM: In book three, the witches and psychics are dealing with the fallout of things with Seth and I’m sure he returns at some point in the book. Is his storyline resolved in book three or is he in any of the other books, too? What other antagonists do they face as the series continues?
MF: The storyline with Seth is wrapped up in Circle Magic. But events in that book propel some characters into action in Moon Magic and we meet a new group of antagonists–the Amaranthine.
MM: This question is a bit of a spoiler – I’ll put a spoiler alert at the beginning of the interview – but at the end of book one Krissa and Crystal wind up in an alternate universe and they’re still there through book two and into book three. Do they remain in this universe for the rest of the series or do they return to their original universe at some point?
MF: The alternate universe becomes permanent.
MM: When you’re writing a series, do you sit down before you begin writing it and plot out what’s going to happen in each book or do you just kind of wing it and make it up as you go along?
MF: I’ve found I do best when I know where a book is going. Sometimes I’ll have a chapter-by-chapter outline. When that’s the case, I fly through the first draft. Other times–like now with Death Marked–it’s like I’m on a dark highway. I can see as far as my headlights shine (usually a chapter or two in advance). I know where my ultimate destination is. But what the road will be like between here and there is a little murky. It’s slower going, but I’m enjoying the process.
MM: Who is the girl on the cover of all the Clearwater Witches books? Did you have to have all of the covers made at once in order to have the same girl on each of them? If you don’t mind me asking, who did your covers?
MF: The girl is a model. She has about a billion photos on stock image sites. The poses from Crystal Magic and Wild Magic are on several other covers. When Crystal Magic and Wild Magic were first published, they had different covers. I decided to change the look before Circle Magic came out. I bought the covers in batches of 3, I believe. Steven Novak (http://www.novakillustration.com) is the artist. In fact, all of my current covers are from Steven.
MM: Did you have editors for the first couple of books you published? That’s my dilemma – I’m disabled and living below the poverty line, so I can’t even afford to pay an editor 300 to edit one of my books.
MF: My first couple of books were proofread. I got feedback from friends, but none of it was particularly substantial. I believe those books would have been better if there had been more in the way of developmental editing–but what’s past is past. I know many writers benefit from the help of beta readers who give specific feedback about the plot and characters. In my experience, professional editors do a better job cleaning up the writing (line edits) than people who are just good at grammar do, but that isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker.
Buy Clearwater Witches books 1 – 3 on Amazon for just 99 cents (at the time this interview is published)