Spotlight 41: Eileen Mueller
Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.
My name is Tom Ashford and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self-publishing resource kit at http://www.selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
Tom Ashford: This week’s guest is Eileen Mueller. She’s written nine books in the fantasy genre and she lives in New Zealand.
Eileen Mueller: Hello Tom, how are you today?
Tom Ashford: I’m pretty good. The time zone difference for us is a tricky one, but we’ve managed to make it work.
Eileen Mueller: That’s true. I believe it’s early morning when you are.
Tom Ashford: Yes, it’s nine o’clock in the morning, but it’s like 10 in the evening for you, right?
Eileen Mueller: That’s right.
Tom Ashford: Would you like to start by going into maybe some more detail about the different books that you’ve written?
Eileen Mueller: I have a young adult fantasy series. It’s epic fantasy with dragon riders. It’s called Riders of Fire. I managed to win a couple of New Zealand awards, which I was completely surprised about. Having them indie published and then scooping up a couple of literary awards.
Tom Ashford: Nice.
Eileen Mueller: And I’ve also written several other dragon-themed books for middle graders or chapter books.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Cool. And you said before we went live, you did a bit of dark fantasy as well?
Eileen Mueller: Yeah, when I first came out of my closet as a writer in 2013, I attended National Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference and met a whole lot of people that were doing horror anthologies. I got invited to participate.
So my first published work was actually a very short story about a boy with a dragon under his bed. It didn’t end well for the father, let me tell you that.
They sent me a sample of five of the stories in the anthology and invited me to participate and I was terrified, because the stories were so scary. I thought there’s no way I can actually enter this anthology. And here was a great opportunity for me as a brand new writer.
So I flip the page and there was another one. It was really, really funny, it was a hilarious horror. Really creepy, really, really funny story. And I decided that I could probably do a dark story if it had humor in it. I didn’t know I could write humor, but somehow I managed it. It was quite fun.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Okay. We’ll really dive into the five questions.
Question number one is: Why do you write? Was there a particular reason you started writing?
Eileen Mueller: There is. I write for the exhilaration of creating worlds, build characters I love and emotions that matter.
Tom Ashford: Nice.
Eileen Mueller: That’s a very succinct answer because we were in a workshop at Romance Writers New Zealand a few years ago and they asked us to list 10 different reasons why we wrote. A lot of people wrote down money. Cut off, money, cut off this. No. Why is it? What feeds your soul? Why do you write? We keep getting asked to strike reasons off until we only had one left. And that was the only one left on my list.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular reason that you write fantasy?
Eileen Mueller: Yeah. I believe that fantasy helps people process their emotions and experiences. I believe that reading books or any sort of fiction actually helps readers make sense of the world around them.
There have been studies done that show stories that have quite high emotional content develop empathy in readers. My stories are jam packed full of emotion and tension. All sorts of adrenaline-fueled adventures. I know that my readers are readers that love emotion roller coasters. That’s what I give them.
Tom Ashford: You’ve written nine books. Are they all self-published?
Eileen Mueller: No. Two of them have been published with a small indie publisher.
Tom Ashford: Okay.
Eileen Mueller: They started off self publishing their own work and you say which way you go, so it’s interactive fiction. Like pick-a-path stories when you read along then choose where you’re going. And the beauty of those with eBooks is that you just press a hyperlink, you don’t need to change page. You make a choice, press the hyperlink, then go on to the next part of the story. The version for kids, they’re really cool interactive ingredients.
The first one I wrote about was Dragon’s Realm. Which is set in my Riders of Fire world. But I made it for kids. I made it funny. You tamed the evil monsters with chocolate. But it starts off with the opening line, “Hey, fart face.”
There’s police chasing you through the park and you have to make a decision as to where you’re going to hide. And you end up going through a portal ending up in Dragon’s Realm. So it’s quite a cool book because it … It won a Sir Julius Vogel Award, which is a science fiction fantasy award from New Zealand. Because there’s 22 different endings and each of them shows you a different way of dealing with bullies. But none of it’s preaching, it’s just loads of good fun and a rollicking adventure.
Tom Ashford: Nice. And whatever gets kids reading as well.
Eileen Mueller: Yeah. It’s been really good. I go do school visits and wear big dragon wings and I’ve got brightly colored rainbow hair and my dragon wings. So my New Zealand accent is shocking.
My dragon wings are all multi-colored, so we read that story and all the kids get to choose where they’re going, and they get awarded bloodstains or medals depending on their choices and things. It’s a really fun series to do so. It’s published by a small indie press, it’s about six years old and it’s quite cool.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is: How do you write? Do you tend to plot your stories out or pants them, as they say?
Eileen Mueller: I think a lot of people do things differently. I started with seeing a dragon’s wing tip in my mind’s eye and its multicolored scales, and I built a whole story around it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t write. I wrote 223,000 words in a year and my manuscript was finished.
I gave it to lots of friends eagerly, and I feel so sorry for these friends, because I didn’t know how to plot. My prose was probably pretty boring. Ten years later, nine years later, It’s been those books that actually … One book was split into two books, which is now Ezaara, book one. And Dragon Hero, book two in my Riders of Fire series. I learned to plot. I learned how to write. I learned how to layer in emotion and how to build more complex characters.
I tend to plot in Excel. I don’t know if you have met anyone else who plots in Excel, but I have these complicated spreadsheets. There are character arcs and things and things and I do that.
Then I have recently, my last two books, I’ve dictated. I dictated them really, really fast. Within a month I dictated two books. Then I sat down and rewrote them because my dictated drafts were a big hot mess. They’re fabulous but I’ll stop and talk to someone and forget to turn off the dictation, then I’m out mobile.
So I dictated my books walking for eight hours a day on the beaches and parks and botanical gardens, it was fantastic. Now I dictate and then go home and transcribe it and do it all in one day or two days, instead of actually dictating for six or eight hours a day.
I don’t know Tom, when you start something new, do you tend to leap in boots and all? Or do you dip in slowly in a measured pace?
Tom Ashford: I don’t even know, honestly. I know that Kevin J. Anderson, we’ve just had him on the podcast and he was talking about dictation because he uses it now for all of his books. He’s written like 165 books or something. Most of them he’s used dictation, because it means he can get out of the house, write a chapter on the way somewhere and then walk back and write a chapter on the way back. Clearly it works very, very well.
Eileen Mueller: Yeah. And mine works. I have a little dictaphone. The equipment I use in case anyone’s interested is, I use a dictaphone, which has a USB port, so you just plug it straight into your computer when you get home and open the app and it’s transcribing when you’re doing dishes or grab yourself a cup of tea, or whatever it is you want to do. Put on the laundry if you’re a mom like I am. Or someone working from home.
I get to dictate out. It’s just beautiful. You can hear the sea and things in the background sometimes. Not on the transcriptions of course, but on the recordings, but the microphone handles it all. There is a tiny wire that hooks over your ear and sits in front of your mouth and records everything and cuts out a lot of noise. It’s brilliant.
Tom Ashford: Nice.
Eileen Mueller: Yeah. It is dragon electricity making.
Tom Ashford: Question number three is: Are you a full time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
Eileen Mueller: I am a full-time author. I live at home with my husband, so we don’t have to rely solely on my income, which is quite good at the moment. I was a mom at home with lots of kids instead of writing.
Then I took on some part time work and I made sure when my part-time contracts finished that I had two books ready to go, so I could stimulate the release. That was the end of 2018. I knew I had a contract finishing.
I was working on a project for Sir Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition. He built a fabulous war museum here in Wellington. I had a limited contract. I did a lot of their PR and communications for the last year and a half. I knew that it was all finishing and I was launching my books two weeks before the contract ended and waited for the money to come in.
And they did really well, so I was very pleased. I was ready to see my record release. I released books one and two, four weeks apart. And then wrote a couple of magnets, so I did everything backwards, wrote my magnets afterwards. And then started publicizing everything. I’m crazy.
Tom Ashford: Whatever works.
Question number four is: What mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Eileen Mueller: I’ve made several mistakes. I think I waited a long time before finding a community of writers. If you’re out there writing in your closet and you’re feeling like you don’t know anybody, I’d say reach out online or in your local community and find people to work with.
I went to lots of writing workshops and connected with these email addresses and formed a massive critique group of about 30 people, which didn’t work. Shortly thereafter abandoned that and pulled two or three people out of that critique group that worked well. We formed a critique group that worked for years.
And I joined another one as well. So I was actually in three critique groups a month. Which was critiquing 40,000 to 50,000 words of each other’s writing between those groups. An amount which is crazy at times.
Probably meant I wasn’t writing as fast, but I was learning a lot about how to write and how to layer things. When we’re all doing workshop together, we’re lifting each other’s games, it was great.
Another mistake I made was, we launched our first e-book. We put out an anthology called Twisty Christmas Tales in 2013 and sold two or three handfuls. And thought, “Oh, indie publishing sucks.” We didn’t sell anything.
So we then decided we’d launch a different version next year. I think whenever you make a mistake we could learn from it. We took that and launched a local version. Got two top New Zealand children’s authors into it and we hit number two on the independent bookstore chart in New Zealand. A small market, but we actually did a modest print run and had to do two more reprints in six weeks and we sold everything before Christmas, so it was absolutely brilliant.
But that was local indie printing, it wasn’t big online stuff like Amazon. I felt a little bit like I didn’t know how to market. She had actually submitted a story to our anthology and liked the way we finished it and said, “Would you be interested in writing for us?” And I realized, I knew her.
New Zealand is tiny. We only have two or three degrees of separation. So I had known her. I’d actually flatted with her. It would be her roommate for the American listeners. When I’d been at university. We knew each other and we hadn’t seen each other about 10 years. Now were best of buddies. She’s brilliant at Amazon ads.
When I decided to do my own middle-grade dragon fiction, I knew I was going to publish my stories. So I decided everything I did would be dragon-themed for a few years, so I would get readers that would cross the genres, which has sort of worked. I thought the children would grow up and read my young adult stuff, but no, the adults and young adults read my kids stuff. Interesting isn’t it? That they didn’t find the young adult market for the middle grade ones.
So they read down, because it’s the same world. So going to her was a great thing. So it was something I could watch. One thing I did wrong is that when everything changed, I was busy writing a book, and busy running around doing other projects for New Zealand, I got too busy to go back and tweak all my Amazon ads and assign those actions. So I’m just waiting right now and working my way back.
There’s always things, you can enable things. I’ve been really lucky, I’ve won four national awards in New Zealand for my writing.
Tom Ashford: Nice.
Eileen Mueller: Yeah. It’s been quite something.
Tom Ashford: Question number five is: What’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Eileen Mueller: To work on something you love. That readers will love. People love dragons and I happen to love dragons. So that’s been a really good match.
I mentioned to you earlier before we went online, that I was actually writing another manuscript and everyone had critiqued everything I’d done right up to that date, so I was desperate to go to some critique groups and hunted through more manuscripts and pulled out all my dragon stuff and said and there was a woman that loved dragons who said, “You’ve got to publish this.” And everyone said, “We really think this could be successful.” I actually didn’t believe them until I launched them and they raced up the charts and did pretty well.
I think finding a market is quite important.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Definitely.
Eileen Mueller: The other thing is work on your craft. It takes a while to become good at writing. You say you’ve got to write half a million words to get good at it. Some people do, some don’t. But work on it with other people.
Don’t beat yourself up in isolation trying to improve on what you think is wrong. Don’t be afraid to swap names, go have a look at someone else’s. Reach out to some people, work with others. But I think that’s really important.
In terms of finding those people, you’ve got fabulous communities on Self-Publishing Formula and 20books, they’re a UK group. There are a lot of different writer’s groups online, on Facebook, and there’s some forums.
Tom Ashford: That’s good advice. And those are your five questions. So thank you very much for coming on.
Eileen Mueller: Thank you. If anyone would like to test drive my Riders of Fire fiction, they can get my free books at EileenMuellerAuthor.com. And there’s a tab there that says free books, so they can pick up Bronze Dragon and Silver Dragon and see if they like dragon adventures as much as I do.
Tom Ashford: Awesome.
Eileen Mueller: Thanks a lot Tom. Bye.
Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s self-publishing spotlight. Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit at http://www.selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
If you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at http://www.selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest.
I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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