Please introduce yourself.
I am an award-winning author and artist who also happens to have Asperger's Syndrome (a kind of high-functioning autism). I live in Dayton, Ohio and am married with no children, although we do have six cats that are like children to us (Jack, Einstein, Spyder, Mao, Icky and Rosie).
How long have you been publishing?
My first book was published in 2011 (a children's picture book entitled "Ode to Icky"), but even prior to that I was getting stories, poems, articles and essays published in various publications.
Tell us about your latest book.
My most recent book is entitled "Searching for the Truth: Poems & Prose Inspired by Our Inner Worlds". It is a collection of short writings inspired by my love for subjects like spirituality, philosophy and psychology. The book covers a wide variety of subjects but is all written in an honest and thoughtful manner. The book is not about any particular religion or belief system, but instead explores those mysteries and questions about life that we all ask at one time or another. With this book I wanted to celebrate the emotions and experiences that make us human.
Your new book deals with life and the mysteries surrounding our existence. What have you learned from exploring those issues?
Probably the biggest lesson I have learned is that there is very little that is actually black and white. So much falls into the gray areas of life. I've also learned that anyone who claims they know the absolute truth about everything is someone I definitely don't want to follow or emulate. Honestly, no one knows the exact answers to questions about life and existence. We may have come up with good theories and ideas, but none of us know for sure...at least not while living on this side of the veil. I've also learned to embrace mystery and the unknown. There is something beautiful about not knowing the answers and being humble enough to admit it.
Do you think that there is a general answer for everyone, or is the "meaning of life" more specific to the individual?
I think there are some general themes (like the virtues we should strive for - love, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, etc.) However, I believe that we each have an individual journey too. We are here to learn and experience different things, so you have to be careful about judging others too harshly or without knowing the whole story.
Who are your major influences?
The authors who really inspire me are some of the classics - Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, etc. I have also been greatly inspired by authors of the novel-in-verse form. Other inspirations include musicians, visual artists and humanitarians.
Is writing your full time career?
Somewhat. I also make money selling the visual artworks I create (primarily drawings and paintings) and from blogging/vlogging.
Tell us more about your visual arts.
I love to draw and paint. I didn't start doing it to make a career of it or to sell my artwork, but it just so happens that people have liked it enough to want to exhibit it or buy it. My artistic style is generally expressionistic and abstract. I also love naive or child-like art. I believe that kids are honestly the world's most creative artists and I strive to recapture that innocence and joy in creating art. I generally make smaller artworks, anything from ACEO trading cards (which are the size of baseball cards) to around 9" x 12" or so. Anyone interested in seeing or buying my art can check out some of my newest pieces on the "Art Gallery" page of my website www.marandarussell.com or search for MRuss art on Ebay. I try to keep my prices affordable so that anyone who likes my art can own a piece.
Do you see writing as a hobby or career?
I try to see it as something I love - a passion rather than a hobby or a job. I am proud to be able to say that I get paid to do what I love though.
What made you decide to become a self published author?
I have self published and published traditionally over the years. I prefer self publishing because I like having so much control over the projects I do (I'm a bit of a perfectionist). However, marketing can be harder without a traditional publisher.
Do you feel that your material is different than traditionally published authors?
I think it is more open, honest and raw in some ways. However, I always make sure to edit my writing carefully. I can't stand self published books that are hard or painful to read due to shoddy editing. If I could change one thing about the self publishing industry, it would be the overall quality of the genre because poorly edited books make all indie authors look bad.
Who does the covers to your books?
Some have been done by the publishers in the past, but for my last few books I created the covers.
What are you willing to spend money on, as a writer? What aren't you?
I don't spend money on much other than copies of my books for events. I refuse to spend money on reviews or to spend much for award entry fees. I will sometimes pay a reasonable award entry fee (up to $40-50 at most) if I really want to enter one of my books. I have also spent a little money on business cards, promotional materials, setup for events, etc.
What is your favorite part of being self published?
The freedom and being in control of everything related to my book. I have also learned many skills just by being forced to do certain things myself, such as formatting books, creating book covers, marketing, etc.
What is your least favorite?
Actually going out and doing events in person. I have some social anxiety and that can be scary to me, although when I force myself to go out and do it I am always glad I did. I prefer online marketing, but there is definitely power in the personal touch of meeting face to face with customers.
What has been the most productive tool for promoting your book?
Probably word of mouth and free Amazon promotions for my ebooks available in Kindle format.
Do you have Facebook/Twitter? How effective are they as promotional tools?
Yes, I have Facebook and Twitter. I find they are helpful as promotional tools, but only if you have a good, high-quality product to begin with. I find social networking most helpful in soliciting reviews of my work or networking with authors and publishers.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give someone just starting out in self publishing?
Make sure you present the best work you can before releasing it. Edit, edit, edit! If you aren't a good editor, hire someone or find someone willing to help. Know that marketing is hard and takes a lot of time and work...often more time and work than actually writing.
If a publisher came knocking, would you make the switch? Why or why not?
It depends on the deal and how attached I am to having the book exactly as I envisioned it.
How do you deal with bad reviews?
They used to really bother me but now I just kind of shake it off. However, if someone is truly rude and mean for no reason, then I tend to get annoyed. I write lots of book reviews myself and although I strive to be honest, I also believe in being respectful and trying to encourage other authors as much as I can.
What changes would you like to see in the self publishing industry?
Besides better editing as mentioned before, the main change I would like to see is bigger chains willing to host indie authors for book signings (like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc.)
If you could talk with the people who run the large bookstore chains, what would you like to tell them about indie publishing?
Probably the first thing I would say is that they are missing out on some great promotional opportunities by refusing to work at all with local indie authors. I would also ask them to judge each indie book on its own merits instead of thinking all indie books are lacking in quality because they have come across a few here and there that were not written or edited well. In dealing with the big bookstore chains myself, I have noticed that often their attitude changes drastically when they find out you are an indie author. It is almost a kind of snobbery. Unfortunately, some library systems have the same kind of attitude. I think one way bookstores and libraries could find the good indie books is to pay attention to reputable awards for indie books.
Do you write to music? If so, what kind?
Yes! Some of my current favorite musicians to listen to include Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, The Beatles, Queen and other classic rock bands from the 60's & 70's.
Do you have any certain ideas or ideals that you try to instill in your work?
Just respect for humanity, individuality and empathy. Having Asperger's Syndrome kind of gives me a unique view of the world and I like to share that with others whether it be in my books, art or my vlog/blog.
Why do you write?
Because I love it. Even if I never sold another book I would still write often.
What have you learned from reading other people's work?
To take chances and not be afraid to try new things even if some people won't like them simply because they are new.
Do you read more ebooks or physical copies?
I prefer physical copies myself, but I sell more ebook copies...so I guess it evens out. I don't truly believe that the traditional book will die out because too many of us love the feeling of a real book in our hands.
For More About The Author:
My blog/website - http://marandarussell.com/
YouTube Vlog - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXCpAM_Bo151m9iICwLQE5A
My Facebook Fan Page - https://www.facebook.com/Maranda.Russell.writer
My Twitter - https://twitter.com/shojobeatgirl