McKenzie Austin Talks Fantasy, Editing & What Not to Do for Self-Publishing Writers

McKenzie Austin is the one-and-only award-winning, self-published, Wisconsinite cheese-enthusiast author of the highly successful ‘Panagea Tales’ series, a four-part fantasy epic set in a dystopian world where steampunk pirates battle to save the future. Yes, that’s quite an elevator pitch.

Today, McKenzie answers our questions on writing, editing, and how to avoid the pitfalls of self-publishing. Be sure to check out her website and follow her on Twitter: @thepanageatales.

How did you discover your passion for writing? 

I was a bit of a loner as a child, certainly not by choice (at first). Other children my age were a bit aggressive when it came to allowing others into their social circles. I gravitated toward activities I could do by myself, writing and drawing being chief among them.

It was probably about age 8 or 9 when I realized I had a preference for spending more time with fictional characters than the flesh and blood children who taunted me daily.

And what drew you to the fantasy genre? 

You can be anything you want in fantasy worlds.  I think I was drawn to it because it spoke of places I would rather be. Adventurous landscapes and charming characters and large scale journeys built by camaraderie … I wanted that. And I certainly wasn’t finding it in the real world. 

Do you have any dos and do-nots for self-publishing? 

So many. Show of hands: who here has released an unedited manuscript with a cover that didn’t represent the genre? Just me?

Let me tell you, I know how much of a punch in the gut it is financially to invest in a great editor … but have you ever felt that mental/emotional punch in the gut from a review that chastises your grammar and punctuation?

Invest in the editor. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Which brings me to cover art… I bought a pre-made cover because I thought it looked cool. And it did. Very cool, for a YA fantasy. The problem? My book is geared toward adults.

Imagine the horror when teenage children were reading about a man ripping a skull and spinal cord from a soldier’s torso. Yeah. Not great.

My other advice would revolve around marketing. These days, just writing the book isn’t enough. You also have to be your own biggest fan, and for some people, that’s hard.

Take marketing courses. Absorb all the information you can find. Make sure it works for your genre, or you may find yourself blowing a lot of advertising dollars like I did in my first year.

Which authors would you recommend for budding fantasy writers?

Where do I begin? I don’t know if he’s reserved strictly for fantasy, but Neil Gaiman is just the freaking best, isn’t he? I’d also recommend Brandon Sanderson. Those men are powerhouses, of course, but don’t forget you CAN find great literature in the indie world as well.

It’s incredible to support people who want to walk the same road as you. Review their work. They’re not your competition. They’re your colleagues. 

When it comes to editing your work, do you trust only your inner circle for advice, or is all feedback good feedback? 

All feedback is good. That’s not to say all feedback is useful. Anything someone tells you can shed light on how others may perceive a situation in your book, and you should recognize that, but if you don’t have an issue with it, why change it?

I think the most important thing is to separate your emotions from the comments and look at them logically. I realize this is difficult, as our books are our children, but it’ll help you weed through the less-than-valuable comments when it comes to editing your work. 

Also, do be wary about friends and family unless you’re certain they’ll be honest with you. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being a cheerleader and not a helper. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. I know, because I’d never be able to hurt the feelings of my loved ones either. The best part is, if you keep writing, you WILL get better. No doubt about that.

Written by McKenzie Austin and Michael Conroy.

The Panagea Tales

Enchanted pocket watches, vengeful gods and goddesses, and a world built by iron and steam: it’s the award-winning fantasy series you’ve been waiting for, all wrapped up in one digital box set. This collection includes the completed tetralogy of the Panagea Tales:

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