Thursday, December 15, 2011

Special guest author - Suzanne White

I love meeting new friends online. Recently, I met author Suzanne White on Facebook. Although I am not a proponent of astrology, I thought my readers might like to know about her fascinating life. So, here's Suzanne:

I live in France. Have done since 1961. I have tried once or twice to return to live in the States. But it doesn't work for me. I have become attached to Latin culture. In winters now, I travel to Buenos Aires where I have a lovely apartment and a garden. I usually stay here from November through March. In summer I swap my house in France for places in countries I want to visit. Last year for example I spent July in a nice apartment in Treviso, Italy. August in Portland, Oregon in a loft. September in a country house outside of Sacramento California. I went there because I wanted to take singing lessons. I did that. I have swapped my house 25 times. Never had a problem.

1) How would you describe your story/book?

For the most part all of my books are about Chinese and Western astrologies. Astrology was never my favorite toy. But during my early writing years I had an agent who, after selling first novel to a major NY publisher, decided that I should begin writing non-fiction. I said, "What is non-fiction?" I really didn't know. I was a budding novelist. I only wanted to write more stories.

Ms. Literary Agent warned that novels don't make an author much money at first, that one might have to write several novels before bigger advances would be offered. I was a single mom. The agent said, "If you continue to write novels now, your children will starve."

That was decidedly THAT.  She made me a list of possible non-fiction topics: cooking, religion, history, beauty, fashion, decorating, household hints, dating and, of course, astrology.

"Astrology?" I balked. "Me write about astrology?" I knew next to nothing about planets and only knew what I did know about astrology because I had recently divorced a wonky Californian playboy whose hobby was astrology. Because he had used astrology to attempt to ruin my life (more about that in my autotbiogrpahy) I really did not want to go there.

"What about Chinese Astrology?" she said. "You had a little book about animal signs in your briefcase last time we met. Where is that book now?"

I did have a tiny cloth bound book I had bought in a head shop in Paris. It was called "Asian Astrology". The twelve animal signs were succinctly described. I found it fascinating.

"Why not write about the Chinese Astrology signs?" she suggested.

"But I don't know anything about Chinese Astrology." I whined.

"So learn," she said. And so I did learn, and then I wrote a fat book about the twelve animal signs. But so as not to thwart what remained of the novelist in my heart, I told of the signs' behavior in story form. Each animal behaves in a certain manner. I knew enough people who behaved according to their Chinese signs that I was able to turn my Chinese Astrology book into a storybook.

The book "Chinese Chance" (the publisher's title) was a huge success. It was 1975. The paperback rights sold for $110,000. That was a chunk of change for a starving single mother whose wealthy astrologer ex-husband didn't pay child support. I only got half. But still... it felt gorgeous. I could feed my family and go on being a writer. No more part time teaching jobs. No more retail sales. No more employment agencies. Thanks to astrology, I was a now professional writer.

So next time I went to sell a book, the publishers were only interested in books by me about astrology. They embargoed anything else. I ended up writing four best selling books about astrology.  I learned as I went. Now I am an astrologer.

But soon I long to become a novelist again. I am 73. Astrology has run its course in my life. I want more of a challenge. So I have put all my astrology content on the market. I will sell it all with my name. Let's hope that by the time I am 75, I am back writing novels.

When did you start writing? 

At age 32. In Paris where I lived.

When did you realize that you were a serious writer?

In 1971 when New York Cosmopolitan accepted the first article I ever wrote. When I got the letter, I remember jumping around the house crying, "I'm a writer! I'm a writer!"

When did you decide that you wanted to write a book?

In 1973. I had written several articles for women's magazines. McCall's and Cosmo sort of thing. A friend came for dinner .  He is a professor of comparative literature at Cornell. I had sat for the NATO exam that very morning to become a simultaneous translator. I found it so boring I was in tears.  He said "Why don't you write a book?" I cried even harder and groaned, "I can't write books. They're too long."

He replied, "I know two women who write books at Cornell. They are both far stupider than you."

After dinner, he and his wife left in a bit of a snit. I sat and thought and then I dragged out the portable Olivetti and wrote fifteen pages of my first book."

I stayed up all night. At dawn I went to their house and slid the fifteen pages under the door with a note saying, "Here's your #*&!@ book!"

That became by first book.  Ladyfingers. The one we sold in New York in 1975.

What is your writing process?

Tedious. I need utter silence and nobody in the house. Then I begin thinking up distractions. Once I get down to it, I write for hours. No matter what, when I am working on a nook, I must write at least four pages. Sometimes that takes eight hours. Sometimes it take four hours. Depends. .

Why did you publish on Kindle and other e-readers?

Because of Joe Konrath's blog. "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing." He is my guru.

What do you think of electronic books versus “real” (hard copy) books?

I have had a Kindle for four years. It was one of the first Kindles. I read almost exclusively on my Kindle. I know that e-books are the future. I have always had a hunch about this phenomenon. My first publisher, back in 1975, wanted to buy my electronic (they called them audio-visual) rights. I refused. I have never sold a single electronic right. I own them all and have been selling my books as e-books from my web site for almost ten years now. I just had a hunch it would one day be useful to own those rights. And I was not wrong.

Can you please tell us a little-known fact about yourself?

I am an excellent jazz singer.

How has your writing journey been so far?

Fantastic. Being a bonafide writer is a passport to everywhere. People find writing very complex and they are amazed you can do it - especially for a living. No social class or intellectual circle or any normally closed group will close the door on you. Everybody wants to know a writer. That part is fun. But the most fun is the actual writing.

Why did you self publish?

Because classical major publishers are old-fashioned, slow, obtuse and greedy. They take 90% of an author's earnings. Amazon gives us 70%. Amazon pays every month. Publishers pay twice a year. Amazon runs a daily tab on sales that we can consult. Publishers never divulge the real sales figures. They cook the books.

Self-publishing is more challenging, because you have to format and learn how to make covers and design the book. Then you also have to market it. But you have control. Handing over a manuscript to a publishing house is like giving up your baby for adoption. You lose all touch with your product. It's a helpless feeling.

Do you read other independently published authors works? Any favorites you would like to plug?

I have 190 books on my Kindle. Where to begin? Moses Siregar is a pal. So are you Chicki. There are too many to mention just one though.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to be an Indie author or publisher?

Courage and determination. Also, do not be flattered  if a standard publisher wants to publish your books.. That is one of the biggest dangers we all face. It is flattering to hear that Simon and Shoestring want to print and sell your books. But that flattery lasts about the length of time of a wedding night. From then on in it is slog and drudge and no money for the work you are doing. Plus they are picky and maybe slam a title on your book that you hate or a cover that wouldn't sell ice to a Caribbean hotelkeeper. It's very frustrating. Once I published a book with Harper Collins in San Francisco. I wrote 400 pages. The proofs came back as 100 pages. I said HUH? They said the designer liked it better that way. Then I read the proofs. My editors were lesbians. They had taken out every reference to man/woman sex. Everybody was IT. I shrieked blood murder. They said if I wanted it put back the original way I would have to rewrite the book myself. I rewrote the book myself. It was a book about romantic compatibilities  in astrology. I called it The Astrology of Love. They re-titled it. Suzanne White's Guide to Love.

Thanks to their incompetent handling of that book it sold very badly. Why? Because it was never shelved in the astrology section of the bookstore. It was in self-help as a Guide to Love. I got the rights back last year and will be publishing it through Amazon Createspace.

Do you have any new works coming out soon that you can tell us about?



It's all the horoscopes for every month for all 24 signs of the two zodiacs. It's a big book.  It's available on Kindle and on my web site. It will soon be a print book too. Again thanks to Createspace

What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

First, write a good book then read all the KDP directions carefully as though you were taking a new, dangerous medication and need to know everything about the side affects before swallowing one milligram. Next, do as they say and you have a book to put on Kindle and hope it will sell.

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