Kindle Author Interview: Tara Maya

Tara Maya, author of The Unfinished Song: Initiate, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Unfinished Song: Initiate?

TARA MAYA: Dindi is about to undergo the rite of Initiation. For her people, a clannish agricultural people, this moment in life determines your whole future. Only a handful of Initiates will pass the Test to become Tavaedies—warriors and dancers with tremendous power. Because dancing creates magic, only Tavaedies are allowed to dance, and Dindi wants to become one more than she wants food, water, breath itself.

The problem is that no one in her clan has ever passed the Test.


Her grandmother died trying.

Dindi discovers that if her grandmother had learned the end of a certain song, she could have passed the Test. Dindi is determined to find the secret that eluded her grandmother.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

TARA MAYA: I start with the question: What is this person’s biggest flaw? And what how does this person need to change to turn that weakness into a strength? Although there are people who do terrible, unforgivable things in this story, there are no real villains. Rather, each person is his or her own worst enemy. The main difference between those who will end up as villains and those who will end up as heroes is that the heroes learn to overcome their own flaws whereas the villains are consumed by theirs.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

TARA MAYA: When I was young and naive, I wrote for myself. So my ideal readership would have been an army of my own clones.

While I still think creating an army of my own clones is a great idea, now I view it more as a tool for world domination (same as everyday, Pinky) than an ideal readership. It helps that I have a variety of beta readers. I include characters with different kinds of life experience and I expect that some readers relate more to certain characters than others. For instance, in this story, Dindi is young and coming of age. The hero, Kavio, is also young, and though already a proven warrior because of the power of his magic, he has yet to escape the political shadow of his father.

I could have left it at that, and marketed it solely as young adult. But I wanted to show another side, so the supporting characters, Brena and Rthan, have a different set of problems. Both have suffered loss. Brena is a widow struggling to raise two daughters on her own, still bitter toward her dead husband, while Rthan is grieving the murder of his wife and daughter, and devoted to revenge. Their story is more of a “coming of middle age” story.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

TARA MAYA: I’ve been determined to become a professional writer since high school. I expected I would have to have another career in addition, but I chose that path too (historian) with an eye toward something that would mesh well with writing fiction. In my sf anthology, Conmergence, which is also available on the Kindle, I wrote a series of Author’s Notes for each story which show the steps I took to go from dreamer to published author.

I started submitting novels when I was still a teenager. In those days, self-publishing was a poison apple to a serious writing career, so I learned about agents and query letters, publishing houses and imprints. I went from a slew of rejection letters to frequent requests for “partial” and “full” manuscripts. I had two books published by a small press.

But just when I had reached the level of craft where I was ready to be published, the publishing industry began crumbling under my feet. By now I had been working on this fantasy series for a decade, and despite the many rejections it received, I still loved it. After being repeatedly told how wonderful my writing was but there was just no shelf space for epic fantasy—could I please write an Urban Fantasy—I realized I must either give up on this story, or self-publish it. I chose to stand behind my story.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

TARA MAYA: This may sound crazy but I visualize my story as a series of empty plates. The number and pattern of plates tells me how long and what variety of dishes will be in the final feast. My job as the author is heap delicious helpings of story onto each of the plates.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

TARA MAYA: Reading other authors inspires me. Before I was a writer, I was a reader. Sometimes, I feel jealous of how wonderfully other writers write, and I remind myself that not only am I not in competition with them, but I would not even exist without them. If I had nothing to read, I think I would shrivel up into a brainless husk. So writers inspire me by their words and their stories.

Other authors also inspire me because we’ve had to face many of the same obstacles. A lot of other writers out there know what it’s like to find that reject letter in you inbox, or to compulsively check your sales on the dtp site and be utterly dejected that you’ve only sold twelve books in the first month. Knowing that they went through that and kept going is what keeps me going.

And I guess I was supposed to name names, but I have hundreds of writing friends. I belong to the Online Writing Workshop, the Backspace community, I have friends I’ve met on the Kindle Boards and on Joe Konrath’s blog and at The Literary Lab blog and through Miss Snark’s First Victim and followers of my own blogs, Tara Maya’s Tales and 500 Words.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

TARA MAYA: I would gladly have written any book by Connie Willis, Ben Bova, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula LeGuin, Tanya Huff, Margaret Weisman, Robert Sawyer…. You know, I try not to think about it, because it just makes me realize how much I have still to learn!

DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?

TARA MAYA: I’m also a cover artist and my husband is a photographer. So I’m lucky in that. This cover was made starting with royalty free stock photos. The model is Jessica Truscott, who does her own work under the name faestock, at deviantArt. I paid her to use the image professionally. The pixie was done in poser, and the whole thing was then montaged and painted in Photoshop.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

TARA MAYA: I have grandiose marketing plans, which I ignore most of the time. I’m also in grad school, so I don’t have the hours a day I need to promote the way I would like. As a result, I chose the venues I do invest in very carefully. I look for sites that reach a lot of Kindle readers, since that’s where I expect to sell the most books…blogs, forums, the Kindle Boards, and review sites. I also have a Twitter and Facebook account.

My mom also tells everyone she knows that her daughter is a writer and waves my book in their faces. I’m not sure if that helps or harms sales!

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

TARA MAYA: The Golden Rule. I love reading on the Kindle. Even if I buy a tree book to have and to hold, so to speak, because I love it that much, I’ll still want a Kindle version to read.

And there’s the other Golden Rule too. The one who makes the gold makes the rules. Right now, Amazon is the cash cow for authors. The 70% royalty rate means that authors can charge the readers much less. Big publishers are doing indie writers a huge favor by overcharging for ebooks, bless their dull-witted hearts.

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

TARA MAYA: It’s easy. It’s hard.

It’s easy enough that you can do it, even if you’re not that technical, even if you have doubts. It’s hard enough, especially the first time, that you should not try to rush it.

Set a deadline, so you don’t endlessly procrastinate publishing your book. The market is hot and so if your book is the best it can be in terms of craft there is no reason to delay. Don’t build a platform first. Publish first, and build a platform as you go.

Set a deadline, but don’t make it unrealistic. Everything will take longer than you think. Take the time to research each step. Hire help if you need to, but keep track of your expenses. Write a business plan, and note your goals and sub-goals on a calendar.

If you are building your platform as you go, your sales will be small at first. Possibly miniscule. Nothing is more depressing than to put up your first book with a big flourish to the warm congratulations of all your friends and family…and then not make a single sale.

Don’t be discouraged. Make sure you have the Three Most Important Ducks in the Pond: Cover, Format, and Blurb. If those all look indistinguishable from “real” books (do some doubleblind tests if you aren’t sure), then you just need to spread word of mouth…and get working on your next book!

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books!


Tara Maya has lived in Africa, Europe, and Asia. She's pounded sorghum with mortar and pestle in a little clay village where the jungle meets the desert, meditated in a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas and sailed the Volga river. This first-hand experience, as well as research into the strange and piquant histories of lost civilizations, inspires her writing.

She writes fantasy, romance, and science fiction. She also designs cover art.

Visit her blogs, Tara Maya’s Tales, Tara Maya's Cover Art, and 500 Words.

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