Abendau’s Journey: Interview with Jo Zebedee

Northern Irish science fiction and fantasy author Jo Zebedee is not only an incredible writer, but a highly motivated one too, juggling numerous projects with a busy home and work life. Jo has had several short stories accepted by magazines and anthologies (some of them upcoming throughout this year), and her 2015 self-published post-alien invasion thriller, Inish Carraig, has been doing very well indeed and is garnering some fantastic reviews. Her dark fantasy novel, Waters and the Wild, is due out in 2017 with Inspired Quill.

But the reason that I’ve asked Jo to join me here is to celebrate the launch of the second volume in her space opera The Inheritance Trilogy, Sunset Over Abendau. Abendau’s universe is a special place for Jo; it’s one she’s been dreaming about since her teenage years. The first book in the series, Abendaus Heir, was published in 2015 by Tickety Boo Press. The story of a rebellion led against an evil Empress by her own son, Kare, Abendau dives deep into questions that speculative fiction doesn’t usually bother to ask: what is it really like to be the Chosen One? What are the pressures and consequences of taking on this burden?

Abendaus Heir, despite being a fast-paced space adventure, was often dark, which was one of the things I enjoyed about it. Jo wasn’t afraid to ask those tough questions, or take a good, hard look at the things we’d often rather sweep under the mat. Torture, both mental and physical. Post-traumatic stress. And how far a person can really go before they begin to snap. Sunset Over Abendau takes us a step further, to a place ten years on in the story and the inevitable fallout from the first novel. For a deeper breakdown of what to expect, check out Jo’s own post on the subject.

Jo often blogs candidly about the writing process and the ups and downs of the publishing world (find her posts on jozebwrites.blogspot.com). So I’m going to take this opportunity to peek a little closer into nitty-gritty of getting a new book out.

Juliana: Jo, congratulations on the launch of Sunset Over Abendau! How does it feel to see yet another piece of Kare’s journey set in place?

Jo: It feels really good. To get to the next stage of all my characters’ lives was fun. Also, my third book release (I have a standalone as well) is quite a big one, I feel – when people talk about writers getting established, they often say the third book is a good sign of that being the case. Certainly I feel more confident about the processes at this stage.

Juliana: Accepting an offer for a trilogy means committing to working with the same publishing house for a long stretch of time. How did you first feel when taking this leap? How about now, with Book 2 out and Book 3 approaching fast? 

Jo: I felt confident taking the leap in many ways, and less so in others. I knew my editor would be Teresa Edgerton who I’d worked with on a developmental basis before and had a lot of trust in. So, that fear – of not being able to work with the editor for three books – was allayed.

But my publisher, Tickety Boo Press, were very new and going with any new publisher is a risk. My contract was drawn up when I was agented, however, so I was happy the clauses were in place to protect me. So far, so good – I’m happy with my covers, I get good communication and my editing has been excellent.

I think that’s important for any writer, by the way, that they do have confidence in their contract – it protects both them and the publisher and makes for a better working relationship. 

Juliana: You had a full year between the launch of the first and second in the trilogy. However the third, Abendau’s Legacy, will be out later this year. How has it been coping with the tighter editing window? 

Jo: Well, I did manage to plonk a self published book between the two Abendau’s, so the two books a year model is established. But book three needs a little more work (it is finished but the polish depended on the edit of Sunset as the two are closely linked) so that will keep me busy over the summer.

Also – I’m promoting the books now. I have a lot of writing commitments on that I didn’t have last year. But I’m still working as writing doesn’t pay a wage. Which means producing new stuff is slower, and there may be more of a gap between books in the future. If I settled into the 9 months to a year model, I’d be quite happy and I think that’s doable.

Juliana: Following on from the last question, from your experience with Tickety Boo Press what sort of editorial support should a new author expect from their publisher? 

Jo: Editorial support is really important and something I think should be discussed at the contracting stage – expectations, who it will be with and, if possible, the vision for the book. At the very least, a story-editor and copy-editor should look at the script. A proofreader would be an additional tier, but many publishers now run proofing into the copy edit.

I think the relationship is important – I have to trust my editor. If not, the book could be worsened for it (not a problem I’ve had with Abendau but I had more difficulties with Inish Carraig and some of the direction I was advised to take it – although not by its final editor.) But I also need to have enough confidence to stand over things I believe strongly in and feel I can negotiate on them (I usually lose, though.)

Juliana: How many versions of the trilogy have you written, both before and after editorial input? 

Jo: Ha! I’m renowned for this on some forums… For Abendau’s Heir I did something like 18 re-writes, mostly substantive. I once lopped 70,000 words off the start – losing most of the Ealyn point of view in the process – to reshape it.

I have improved! Sunset will have had about five writes and Legacy the same. That’s usually first draft – writing group feed back – second draft – beta feedback – third draft – editorial – fourth draft – high-end edit – fifth draft, the polish.

On the plus side I do have the makings of a nice prequel already written…. 🙂

Juliana: Could you lead us through the basic steps to publication, from acceptance of submission to holding the finished book in your hand? 

Jo: Normally the cover is in place before the edits, so that’s the first stage. I then like to have a last check over the manuscript before forwarding for editorial.

I get a first edit back, consisting of two documents: the manuscript with notes and, more importantly, a document with overview comments in it. That’s my first read through, and it usually starts my cogs whirring. Then I address the full mss.

I work from the beginning to end. I’m a quick editor and rewriter, and it usually takes me 4-6 weeks, depending on the amount to do. If I have any scenes I’m desperately struggling with, I’ll run those past my writing group.

Once finished, I send it back to my editor with the changes highlighted. I hear back a couple of weeks later and that feedback normally looks at chapters or scenes that are specifically needing work. I amend those and send back and forth until my editor is happy and I’m begging not to have to look at that scene again, and then it gets forwarded for the copy edit from Sam Primeau.

The mss comes back from copy editing with changes marked, and usually a few comments seeking clarification, all of which I review before accepting the mss. And then it’s over to my publisher for formatting and release, and out of my hands.

Of course, in here there are things like Advanced Review Copies being sent out, and cover quotes sourced. There’s more to it than it looks!

Juliana: I know a lot of writers worry about their book covers, and whether they’ll love or hate them. Did you have any sort of control over your own cover art?

Jo: I don’t have control per se – which is good as I’m not a cover designer! – but I do get input. Normally I get to put in an idea of what I’d like – with the Abendau covers that has been around the central colours recently – and get to see an early mock up. Gary from Tickety Boo does the covers and I think there is a distinct style for the trilogy with a nice space opera feel. They’ll look good on the shelf together!

Juliana: A little bird (okay, Facebook and Twitter) told me that Abendaus Heir is in process of being recorded as an audio book. Have you had any involvement in this process? What’s it like to hear your words out loud? 

Jo: I haven’t been involved, which is fine, but I have heard the opening section. I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product – Ravenwood audio are doing a great job.

It’s odd listening to it, but enjoyable. I’m well aware my names can be hard to pronounce so am easy going about that sort of thing, and am happy to enjoy the outcome rather that critique it.

Juliana: You’ve tried different paths, traditional and self-publishing, and are doing very well on both. With more and more writers opting for the apparent ‘ease’ of self-publishing, what can traditional publishing still offer the author? 

Jo: I think this concept that self publishing is easy is misleading. To do it well is a ton of work (and I try not to put anything out under my name that is shoddy) and you’re doing that work on your own. For a book or two I think I could manage but, as more come out and I’m trying to manage promotion and offer periods etc etc, I think it would eat into my writing time too much.

For instance, today a reader contacted me to let me know the paragraph indents are missing in my self-published book. Yet they’re there in the uploaded version and on my kindle app, plus in the sample. So it’s not a formatting issue. Which means asking Amazon and all that rigmarole, and there’s an hour chasing all that when I could have been writing.

So what does Trad offer me? (And I’m continuing to make that choice) – time to write. Writing is where the income will come from. If I don’t have time to produce more, things become unviable. Plus, it’s the bit I love and want to do more of. So, for me, the lower margin/royalty is a trade-off to have the time I need to go onwards and to write the stories that are eating at me to get out.

Having said that, I’ve enjoyed the self publishing and would definitely do it again with the right product.

Juliana: Any words of advice for new authors starting out on the submission path, or perhaps contemplating their first publishing deal?

Jo: None of the journey – the rejections, the knocks – are personal. Try to be thick skinned, if you can. And enjoy it – we worry so much about every sales and reviews and acceptances and whatever it is you seek we don’t leave enough time to savour everything. 

Juliana: Jo, thank you very much for sharing Abendau’s journey to publication. I’m looking forward to reading the new book and, of course, the conclusion Abendau’s Legacy later on this year. 

You can find Abendau’s Heir and Sunset Over Abendau at the Tickety Boo Press shop and on Amazon, both US and UK. For those in Northern Ireland, the books will both be available at Easons and Blackwell’s

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