Today I’m pleased to introduce you to R.K. Ashwick, one of my long-time friends on writeblr and the author of The Stray Spirit which I reviewed last week, thanks to an advanced reader copy. RK writes character-focused fantasy books with a cozy feel. I’m thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about her upcoming release and publishing journey! This was such a fun interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!
Welcome! Let’s start off at the beginning: How did you come up with the concept for The Stray Spirit?
RK: I wish I had a more inspirational story for you- I used one of Nanowrimo’s brainstorming guide packets to come up with the idea! Specifically, the guide that has you write down concepts, ideas, and tropes you like, then start to connect the dots between them. For me, the three ideas I threaded together were bards, caves, and possession dynamics. (Mainly influenced by Greed and Ling in FMA:B, though the TSS dynamics turned out very different.)
Etta: NaNo has such useful tools, I honestly can’t recommend them enough, that’s how I learned to craft stories, so it’s cool to see that you used the same thing! I’ve never seen Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood but I’ve heard it’s really good so that’s another big point in favor of moving it to the top of the to-watch list haha.The storytelling is so polished too, so I’m sure having that as a guide helped a lot.
RK: Definitely! I’ll always recommend FMA:B. I still want to cosplay those blue coats at some point…
Etta: If I remember correctly, didn’t you cosplay Emry’s outfit one time? I love the historical style you incorperated into the story. Regency, if I guess correctly?
RK: Haha it wasn’t an official cosplay- more of a closet cosplay. But yes, the style and level of technology in TSS is Regency-ish. (Mainly because I really like waistcoats. Doesn’t go much deeper than that.)
I am now sorely tempted to make myself a waistcoat
RK: dooo itttt
Etta: I bought fabric to make a pirate shirt the other day, don’t tempt me. “The Pirate and the Potioneer” AU cosplay here I come.
Anyway, back on track…
How long did it take you to write and revise?
RK: I technically started TSS for Nanowrimo 2019. Wrote it, didn’t like it, left it alone until Nano 2020, when I totally re-outlined and re-wrote it. After that, I continually revised it until June 2021, when I hit draft 5. Queried it (failed), started writing A Rival Most Vial, then made more revisions to TSS in fall 2021, up until winter 2022. Winter 2022 was the Season of the Editor & Proofreader, which took a few months. All said and done, I finished the final draft of TSS in Spring 2022! Total draft count: 8.
Etta: WOW that is such a fast turnaround for eight whole drafts. I am in awe of your power. That’s helpful to see the breakdown between the steps of the process, thank you for providing the dates and seasons!
RK: of course! I will say that draft 4 was my Dark Place. I got to draft 4, had SO many beta reader notes to address, and was convinced I’d never get it right. (am I there for ARMV draft 3 right now? …….maybe.)
Etta: I feel you there, side-eyeing Runaways as we speak. I hope you can get through the feedback quickly! It’s overwhelming to see how much work the story needs, but it’s also very satisfying to sift through the issues and scrubbing it into shape. Sending solidarity in the editing trenches.
RK: haha thank you!!
Etta: You kind of touched on this in your last answer about querying and the process of going through multiple drafts, but if you don’t mind elaborating…
Why did you decide to self-publish?
RK: I did start off by querying TSS. Looking back, I’m not surprised it didn’t get picked up- I like my query letter, but the first few chapters dragged way too much, and it’s not 100% to-market based off what’s popular in fantasy right now (grimdark, spice, etc.) After my failed queries, I had two options: either revise and query more, or self-publish. Querying itself can take a year, and even if an agent likes your work, they still need to pitch it to editors, which also takes months. If you do get a book deal, it’s still several years until your book hits shelves, and at that point, you’re also giving up a certain level of creative control over your book. So in the end, I decided to self-publish. That way, I’m getting my book out there in my timeline and on my own terms.
Etta: That makes sense! It’s a scary how much of publishing success comes down to timing and the whims of the book market, so I can completely understand why you quit that route. I for one am very happy that it’s releasing sooner rather than later.
RK: Me too!
How did you go about hiring your editor, cover designer, illustrator, formatter, etc.?
RK: For my editor and cover designer, I found them through Reedsy. Reedsy tends to be more expensive, but they also vet the people on their lists, so I felt more comfortable going there. And I don’t regret the higher price point- both my editor and cover designer were amazing!
RK: For my proofreader, I found them on Upwork, and was also happy with their work. I made sure to look for someone who had a strong completion rate and a lot of positive reviews. (I will say that hiring both an editor and a proofreader is expensive, but my proofreader did catch enough that I’m happy I did it.)
RK: As for formatting, I downloaded Vellum! Unfortunately, it only works on Macs, but I find it very easy to use, and the final product looks great. It was definitely an investment (this book was…unrecommendably expensive for a debut author), but I’ll be using it for hopefully many books in the future.
RK: And I found my illustrator on Instagram! Literally, I went looking through the pencil illustration tag. I knew I wanted a traditional artist who worked in grayscale and could do nature-based drawings. I found Luvamiart through Instagram, then contacted her on her website.
RK: I feel like I should clarify that this was a) a lotta people and b) a lotta money, and not everyone is going to have the time or financial capacity for all that. For me, I went into this willing to put out as good of a book as I possibly could, no matter if I made back my money or not, so it was worth it. But those are my own personal goals. Yours might be different!
Etta: That last point makes a lot of sense and is super important to keep in perspective. I know I want to put out the best book possible, but I simply do not have the funds for that right now, so it’s some peace of mind to know I’m making a responsible decision by waiting until I’m in a more financially stable situation to pursue that. All the same, thank you for the recommendations! I use Reedsy all the time for their writing advice and so it’s good to hear that their services are as high-quality as they claim to be.
RK: Definitely recommend Reedsy! I found their quote system easy to use, too. Made it easy to see all that info in one place and compare people.
Do you have any dos or don’ts for people considering this path to publication?
RK: Ooh, good question. I would say…
- Do: have an idea of your end goal as you get into it. There are so many different avenues in self-publishing, and so many people to compare yourself to, that it’s really easy to get lost and frustrated. Sometimes, you just have to go “that person is doing their thing and their goals are different from mine, and I’m going to focus on my own goal.” To give an example: I’m in a FB group that’s focused on the business of self-publishing. Many of the most successful authors in there (and by successful, I mean making a large, full-time income writing) do it in a very specific way: write in a niche, typically romance; write 10 books a year; get pre-made book covers; keep overhead cost low by skipping editors and/or proofreaders. And that is a valid way of writing for them, and career-wise, it works for them! Personally, that’s not the process I want to follow, so I have to consciously not compare my process and goals to theirs, even though they’re making six figures.
- Don’t: panic. There are so many self-publishing resources and methods out there, that there will be a path for you, and there are people who can help along the way. It will be okay!
Etta: That is extremely useful and grounding. The idea of writing 10 books a year is so intimidating, I have no idea how they do it, and it’s admirable to put out that much content, but it’s absolutely not for everyone and I appreciate that you mention defining your own metric of “success” as nebulous as that is.
RK: It’s incredibly intimidating! I know for me, if I tried to do that, I’d burn out and I wouldn’t be putting forth a good product.
Etta: I’m glad that you know how to pace yourself! And you’re still putting out A Rival Most Vial in another year-ish, which is impressive in and of itself for such well-written books!
RK: Thank you! It helped that I started draft 0 of A Rival Most Vial last summer, and have been working on it off-and-on in between drafts of TSS.
Etta: Procrastinating one project by working on another is the only reason I get anything done I swear, haha. Good strategy! More fun question this time…
What was your favorite part of writing and publishing The Stray Spirit?
RK: Okay, I’ve got a few:
- Getting encouragement from people on Tumblr when I started posting excerpts over a year ago! Very, very few of my irl people had read my work up to that point, and I didn’t know if my writing would actually connect with anyone or not. I can’t emphasize enough how much the Tumblr support got me to actually continue with and finish the book.
- Literally any time someone tells me my writing made them cry.
- I got fan art of Aspen and cried. What goes around comes around, I guess.
- Getting that final cover design! It looks. So good.
- Weirdly, seeing my book on Goodreads? Like, it’s real? It’s for real for real? Wowow.
Etta: yesssssssssss I remember the very early posts that were Aspen’s newspaper column after Cal taught him how to write, and they were mostly plant facts and I loved them so muchI think you’re going to be getting a lot more crying comments and fanart soon though haha
RK: That would be great!!
Etta: The cover turned out so so so well, I am counting down the days until I get the paperback, I can’t wait to see it on my shelf
Now that you have the first book under your belt, how are you approaching the rest of the series? That is, if you can tell us without spoilers?
RK: The intent is for the Lutesong Series to be a trilogy! I have a detailed outline for the second book, The Spirit Well, and…mostly vibes for the third book, Spirit Rising. I know the inciting incident and the end result, but the middle is totally eluding me. I’ll get there eventually. But right now, I’m focusing on getting A Rival Most Vial off the ground, and then plan on alternating between the two series as I write.
Etta: I wrote this in my review, so at the risk of repeating myself, you left such a cool set-up for the rest of the books that I’m burning with curiosity about the world and the myths and the lore, I’m looking forward to see how you develop them! Already very at the titles. It’s hard to plan ahead that far but since you have an end in mind, I’m sure the payoff will be amazing. It sounds like a good idea to pace yourself between the two so you don’t get burnt out like we were talking about before.
Music is a big part of Emry’s life and the plot of the story – do you have any songs that inspired the book or a WIP playlist you could share?
RK: YES. I listened to a lot of Mumford & Sons, Osamuraisan, and Yoshihiro Koseki. If you want to know what I imagined for “Tree and the Stream” (Emry’s piece that Cal loves), listen to GROUNDIA by Yoshihiro Koseki or this song by him:
RK: And in terms of what Emry’s voice sounds like, I imagine a somewhat deeper, stronger version of Cody Fry (specifically We Dance, Dead Man Walking, and Underground).
Etta: LOVE Mumford and Sons, good taste my friend, I’ll have to check out the others! That song is so beautiful. I can see why Cal loves it. A related question…
Plants are also a big part of the book, so how did you decide on an Aspen tree for one of the main characters? Do you have any favorite plants and/or do you have a green thumb?
RK: Haha I thought of tree names I thought were cute, and went from there. One happy accident, though- in casually researching aspen trees, I learned that aspen trees grow as part of a clonal colony, which means that all of those trees are genetically identical, and grew from a single ancestor. I think that idea of connectedness really fits Aspen, and particularly the role they’ll take on across the series.
RK: Don’t tell Aspen this, but I absolutely do not have a green thumb. I’ve managed to keep my indoor plants alive, and that’s about it. Sorry, Aspen.
Etta: Awwwwwwwwwww I love how well that works with their character already! I’m sure they’d be happy to help with that, haha
RK: I wish they would come help! I can’t get my lantana to flower!
I know you touched on ARMV already, but do you mind giving us a short pitch for that and any other projects you’re working on? Where can people find you and you’re work on the internet?
RK: Certainly! A Rival Most Vial is all about two rival potion shop owners who are forced to work together on a joint commission. It’s a queer, slice-of-life, cozy fantasy romance. If you like rivals-to-lovers and Dungeons & Dragons, this one is for you. For TSS and ARMV-related short stories, artwork, & purchase links, check out https://rkashwick.com/. For pre-orders of The Stray Spirit, check out https://rkashwick.com/pre-order-the-stray-spirit/ . If you pre-order and fill out the form, you’ll get a cool lute sticker and a bookmark! (I designed both myself.)
Thank you again to RK for agreeing to do this interview with me and for sharing such thoughtful answers! If you enjoyed this, be sure to go check out her other work, and read my review of The Stray Spirit from last week. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Thank you so much for supporting my writing and publishing endeavors!
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly