Interview with Katherine Franklin,
7th November 2021

Katherine Franklin's photo_edited.jpg

I’m excited about interviewing Katherine Franklin today. Katherine and I first got to know each other throughout 2011, while we were members of The Poetry Forum, and later through emails. For a few months, we attempted to co-write a rather strange book based on a dream I’d had about the consequences of an NHS doctor attempting to clone himself. I think work might’ve taken over and we lost contact, only to reconnect on LinkedIn last month, when I messaged with poetry news. It was great to catch up and I was delighted to learn that, far from being put off writing for life by my Octodoc, Katherine had been making impressive strides in the world of self-publishing. That’s what we’re going to talk about now!


So, Katherine, welcome! I feel I should start by apologising for the Octodoc era. But you’re still writing, which is excellent. I think you were writing a book when we first met, over a decade ago. Did you always want to be an author?

2011, wow, that was a while ago. I think the book I was writing then was either my climate fiction trilogy or the political-ish book I started for a school project. They would have been the latest in a long line of book ideas I’d had since I first decided I wanted to be an author when I was eight. Maybe I wanted to before that, but I can’t really remember. In any case, eight was when I started writing my first book. I’m not sure if I ever wanted to do it as a career, but I certainly wanted to write.

I started pretty early too, but not in earnest. And short stories at that; tiny things about koalas for the most part. Did your interest in writing emerge from anything you were doing at school or did it take root elsewhere?

I remember enjoying a lot of the creative writing stuff I did at school -- the first I recall was in Year 6, but I can’t be certain where my extracurricular interest began. Since eight also happened to be the age when I read The Lord of the Rings, though, and the book I started writing then was somewhat derivative, I can hazard a guess at that being the root cause. (Well, I don’t think the plot was derivative, but I did name a dragon ‘Smaug Junior’, which wasn’t exactly subtle.)

You’ll probably find this horrifying, Katherine, but I’ve never read The Lord of the Rings! When I was little I was put off by the length of it and the names I couldn’t pronounce. And somehow it's never made the top of my reading list since then. But I think early influences are important. Did your writing tastes change as you entered the teenage years or did you stick with the fantasy genre on the whole?

Fantasy was always my fallback. It was very natural for me to write and imagine, and I’d say ninety-five percent of the books I read (and I read hundreds of books a year back then) were fantasy. That said, all the books I made any progress with after those first ideas were science fiction. Looking back, I think it’s because I watched more science fiction, and being more easily influenced by visual media, that was the direction my imagination and writing most frequently took. I have a fantasy series lined up that I want to work on, though, so I hope I’ll find time to revisit the genre soon!

I do too! So let’s talk about the science fiction you watched and how it influenced your imagination and writing. Dare I hope that you’re, like me, an X-phile?

Actually, I didn’t encounter The X-Files until much later, though when I did, I binge-watched every series over the course of a month or so. My early sci-fi influences (in rough order of how influential they were) were Torchwood, Primeval, Doctor Who and Star Wars. I’m not sure why Star Wars is so low on that list, as it became a much bigger influence later. I guess the films never sparked as much interest in me as the games and extended universe. Pretending to be daleks on the school playground led to role-playing games on a forum hosted by friends, led to fan fiction, around the same time I was still writing fantasy. I was always interested in space and science, so bringing that interest to fiction was a fairly natural step. And I’m not sure if I’d agree now, but I always felt that fantasy needed a lot more worldbuilding behind the scenes, so my fantasy ideas floundered under the weight of having to prepare things for them, which wasn’t a problem my sci-fi ideas had. I was a pantser back then, but not an effective one, as my plots were rubbish.

Katherine, I think few things are better than an X-Files binge. I’m surprised, but I remember parts of Torchwood, particularly that John Barrowman’s character was described as ‘omnisexual’. Intriguing! So it seems you’ve enjoyed, perhaps still enjoy, various levels of engagement, from books to television to role play. I love the word ‘worldbuilding’; I relate to that. So a ‘pantser’ is an author who’s quite spontaneous with writing; is that right? Has your approach changed?

Yes, there were a couple of Torchwood episodes I wasn’t allowed to watch until I was older, unsurprisingly. I think ‘pantser’ comes from ‘seat of the pants’, in that you go into your writing without a hard plan. So less that the writing itself is spontaneous (you can still schedule your time), more that you don’t necessarily know where it’s going to take you. I became a plantser (halfway between a planner and a pantser) when I realised that approach didn’t really work for me. It’s possible that I wasn’t a pantser to begin with, just someone with the plot in their head who made the mistake of not writing it down. In any case, now that I’ve dabbled a bit and found out how useful planning is, I’m trying to move fully onto the planner end of the spectrum. The snowflake method seems pretty useful for that. It’s also helpful for documentation across a series, because you end up with a big encyclopedia to refer back to that isn’t just worldbuilding details.

Thanks for explaining ‘pantser’; I’d got as far as finding ‘seat of the pants’ and then there seemed to be lots of different definitions, at which point I retreated in a state of confusion! I like that midway term; hope your move to the planner end goes well. With the snowflake method, is that building on ideas, themes, and so on?

I encountered the snowflake method on this site: How To Write A Novel Using The Snowflake Method (advancedfictionwriting.com). It builds on a few principles of software design, which fits nicely with my day job, but the best thing is it’s really simple. You start with something encompassing and basic (one line), then build that up in steps until you reach a point where you’re working on the manuscript. So far I’ve found I slow down a lot when I reach the character steps, as I have to think a lot more about their individual journeys than the plot as a whole and linking those together is still something I’m trying to get the hang of. I’m looking forwards to taking some full snowflake notes and turning them into a first draft for the first time, though!

Katherine, thanks for that link! I’m sure it’ll be of interest to a lot of readers. Yes, I’ve just remembered you’re in software design. Thanks for the summary too. I tend to make quite a lot of notes while establishing characters, which I really enjoy. Did you use the snowflake method for your latest book project?

I didn’t, no. I used a deck of cards called Fabula, from a company called Sefirot, to help me lay out the key bits of the plot. Actually for The Empyrean, I used that along with a bunch of other tools like Word templates that you plug your word count into to see where your story beats should fall. So I experimented a lot with different techniques with that book, and mostly after I’d written the first half-draft. It was in the sequel that I set out using the cards from the beginning. I think I might keep using it alongside the snowflake method for reference, but it’s definitely the snowflake method I’ll be using as a primary driver for my next book plots. There are a lot of helpful reference articles on K. M. Weiland’s website as well, especially for character arcs, but you can really fall into a rabbithole there and it might be too much if, like me, you’re not a full-on planner.

I have found K. M. Weiland’s website! It’s here. Yes, a lot of articles; I’ve also looked up Fabula cards, which look like they’d be useful with plot structure and development. Now, The Empyrean is your current book project, I believe. What’s it about? 

The Empyrean is the book I’ve just launched on Kickstarter, and I’m actively working on its sequel. It’s a space opera about a galaxy where emotions can be weaponised using a power called the Empyrean. Palia’s son died to the Empyrean, and she teams up with a couple of people who would normally be her enemies to find the person responsible. The way the galaxy has reacted to the weapon’s existence has shaped the societies within it in different ways, which leads to conflict between Palia and her newfound allies – they come from the Protectorate, where emotions have been banned for the people’s own safety.

That sounds fascinating, Katherine! And would you recommend Kickstarter to persons interested in self-publishing? How does it work?

Kickstarter’s process is quite simple, so my viewpoint is that there’s no harm in trying it. I’ll cover how it works, first. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform where creators (in our case, authors) can launch projects/campaigns. Each Kickstarter campaign has a main funding goal it needs to reach, and this should be enough to cover costs and get the product into the hands of backers. Backers are the people who pledge money to your campaign in exchange for rewards. Their money is collected only if the main funding goal is met, after which the creator must send them their rewards. (These rewards vary depending on the amount of money an individual pledges, and these reward tiers are defined by the creator.) And there can also be stretch goals, which are additional rewards unlocked either for all backers or as add-ons once further funding goals are met.

This is very interesting, Katherine! So why did you choose this route?

For one thing, I really wanted an audiobook and would prefer to release one around the same time as the print book, but couldn’t afford the up-front cost (around £3,000 for a 120,000-word book). Kickstarter meant I could offer that as a stretch goal to raise the funds. Also, Amazon is a very big marketplace. Going straight to it as a first-time author without a platform, there are probably millions of other books you’ll be fighting to be seen over. Kickstarter maybe has a few hundred publishing projects going at any one time. It’s a smaller audience, but you’re more likely to get noticed.

Yes, Amazon does look pretty massive, daunting for a first-timer, I suppose.

Exactly. With Kickstarter, the benefit I had was that I’d already paid for services like a manuscript assessment, design and formatting, so I didn’t have much left to fund. Some people have tried to use Kickstarters to fund editing, but that doesn’t always come across well. Especially if you add it as a stretch goal, that could leave backers with an unedited book if it’s not met, and no one wants that. Then again, you don’t want to post something unedited straight on Amazon either, so it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario.

If you needed to fund editing, I’d personally make that part of the main goal. What is fairly essential is having good-looking graphics to promote your campaign, so it’s definitely worth arranging that first. Campaigns with bad graphics sink right down the Kickstarter listings and are unappealing to potential backers. My campaign wouldn’t have been featured by the Kickstarter team or been funded within twenty-six hours if it weren’t for the gorgeous graphics I got from Design for Writers.

The exception to having good graphics is if you know enough friends and family will back your campaign that you don’t need art on your side. But if that’s the case, don’t expect to get many backers beyond the people you know. Personally, I’d prefer to engage as many new readers as possible. Kickstarter backers tend to stay more engaged with creators than readers encountered elsewhere.

This all makes sense! You mention you’d already paid for MS assessment before setting up on Kickstarter. This is something I’m looking into at the moment. Where did you go for that?

I contacted an editor who I thought covered science fiction. Turns out she didn’t, but she did recommend Kate Gallagher (nerdgirledits.com) to me. Kate’s feedback on my manuscript was incredibly helpful, so I’m glad to have been put in touch with her!

Hooray! So it sounds like you’ve lined up a lot of book-ducks, so to speak. Well, I’ve just taken a look at your project on Kickstarter here and you’ve exceeded your financial goal! Shrieky voice! What happens next? Market time?

A Kickstarter runs for a fixed length of time, so there are still twenty-one days left for me to raise funds there (at the time of writing) before anything else happens. Because we’ve surpassed the main goal, that just leaves the stretch goals to aim for. At £1,500, each backer who pledged for a paperback or hardcover gets a folded poster of the cover sent to them as well. At £3,000, I’ll write and send a digital galaxy guide to all backers. At £5,000, I’ll get an audiobook produced, and all backers will receive that once it’s complete.

 

Obviously the audiobook goal is the one I care about most, but having small goals leading up to it gives some nice rewards to unlock along the way. I’ve also just started work on the first stretch goal we unlocked, which was for two extra short stories. And here I was thinking I wouldn’t have anything to do over NaNo!

 

Once the campaign is over, I have a list of things I need to do. First, send all the digital rewards to all backers and put in an order for the number of print copies I need. When that’s underway, I’ll open up preorders on Amazon KDP and enable distribution on IngramSpark (which essentially does the same when the sale date’s in the future). I’ll only launch the book in those locations when I can be reasonably sure all Kickstarter backers have received their rewards (excluding stretch goals, where those are delivered separately like any potential audiobook).

Katherine, this all sounds great. And how will you direct people to your retail outlets? Will you use social media?

Alas, yes. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t touch social media with a bargepole, but it’s pretty much the only way to get in front of readers these days. Facebook is okay because I can get a lot of interaction from friends and family, which then brings in a few new faces. Its ad manager is also fairly nice to use and puts your ads on Instagram as well, so it kills two birds with one stone. I’m still getting used to Instagram, but I find I end up having more natural interactions there.

 

Twitter, on the other hand… if it weren’t the best place to connect with other readers and writers, I’d delete it without looking back. It’s such an abysmal void. The algorithm hates promotional posts and their ads are more expensive, too, despite the fact that you can’t even target them beyond age, gender and location. I later discovered further options hidden away on a special ad site, but Facebook’s offering is still cheaper and easier to set up.

 

I’ve just paid for my first Twitter ad to see how it goes. Given I got a random angry face on my Facebook ad when I set my target audience wrong, and given how much more toxic Twitter is, I’m fully expecting to get some rude comments. I saw a promoted post for someone’s book once and there was a comment berating them for daring to show up in that person’s feed. It’s sad how uncaring people are.

I think social media is a challenge in many respects and I wish you all the best with it. Let’s link! And what about the future beyond The Empyrean; any plans?

Well, I’ve set myself up for at least one sequel! I plan for it to be a trilogy, but I received the sensible advice to call it a series on anything printed just in case I change my mind. There’s also a spin-off (I call it 2.5 in the trilogy) set between two of the books, featuring a side character as the protagonist. Honestly, I’m more excited about that book than the other two combined. Of course it’s still space opera, but I’m going to draw heavily from westerns in it. It’ll be great fun.

 

Besides this series, I’m actively planning a zombie detective series featuring a lot of magic and (hopefully) funny shenanigans. I have plenty of other ideas knocking around. I’m sure if I ever run out of ideas, I’ll be long retired and happily surrounded by piles of my own books. I can but dream.

Yes, it’s good to dream! Katherine, I wish you every success with The Empyrean and sequel or sequels and spin-off; and many thanks for providing such useful information for aspiring authors today.

Thank you! It’s been great chatting with you about all this. I’m planning to put together a guide for self-publishing on my website as well, with everything I’ve learned through the process. There’s an awful lot to cover, so there’s not much there yet, but anyone interested can bookmark Self-publishing guide – Frankly Writes.

You’re welcome, Katherine! I’m going to take a look at your guide right now.