Welcome to the latest edition of my occasional interview series “How Tho?!” in which I ask cool writers breaking traditional career molds and doing amazing work about their writing path and process.
Today I’m chatting with my good friend and #SelfPitch project partner Shoshana Rain, author of STRIFE’S APPLE is a modern fantasy romance the Greek pantheon that explores an enemies-to-lovers relationship between sun god Apollo and Eris, the goddess of discord. It’s out this coming August. Check out this gorgeous cover!
A lover of mythology, sexy romances, and heroines who give as good as they get, Shoshana knew she wanted to write fantasy romance since reading Kushiel’s Dart. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her cat and trying to keep her garden alive in the harsh desert summer.
I asked Shoshana to discuss her thoughts on hybrid publishing, what it’s like to self-publish for the first time, and how her cultural heritage influences her take on Greek mythology. I’m so excited to have her on the blog!
Shoshana, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview on relatively short notice. I can’t wait to learn more about your book and get your thoughts on hybrid writing career models, so without further ado, let’s get into the questions! 😊
Erin Fulmer: Talk to me about your decision to pursue a hybrid path in publishing. What influenced your decision to pursue self-publishing while sticking with traditional publishing for work in other genres?
Shoshana Rain: I always knew I wanted to write more than what I thought the trad market would publish. I have a lot of stories, especially my Jewish ones, that are best going through traditional publishing, with wider exposure and a better chance for success.
But, I have a deep, abiding love for the romantic arc, and I prefer when it takes center stage. Trad isn’t particularly interested, from what I can see, in publishing anything but contemporary and historical romance. There isn’t room for paranormal or fantasy romance right now. That’s fine, it just means that to write something outside of that narrow lane of marketability meant going on my own.
I read extensively in the indie romance sphere, especially in PNR and Fantasy Romance. I love the focus on the romance. I love the high heat. These books can be exceptionally popular too, so it’s not as though the things that traditional publishing aren’t being read. They are! So making the leap made sense.
EF: You’ve elected to keep your writing identities separate for traditional and self-publishing. How did you go about selecting your pen name and what are some pros and cons of maintaining separate writing identities?
SR: A lot of name scanning for something that resonated! I wanted something Jewish, and I wanted something that evoked what I thought of as my brand, romantic and magical. Shoshana Rain clicked when I put it together.
I think the biggest con is not having as big an audience to promote with. I decided very early to keep them separate and never let them combine, and it is a drawback to start completely from scratch, but honestly, the audiences are also very different. People who would read my traditionally published books would probably not read Strife’s Apple and vice versa, so I’m at peace with it.
As for pros, it really is a whole new perspective, having a feed and other spaces that are almost entirely indie. There’s a very different mindset and methodology between the two camps, and I think it helps to see things from both sides and gain a greater understanding of the whole.
EF: How have you gone about learning the ropes of self-publishing, and would you share any important tips or lessons you’ve learned that are specific to the self-publishing production process?
SR: Hands down, shutting my mouth and listening to people with more experience than me. I have spent the last year or so in indie author discord groups, first as a reader, and then as a writer, and the things I have gleaned just from listening to authors who are further along than I am are invaluable.
I think the biggest things I can pass along at this point, advice wise, might seem a little obvious, but if they help someone then it’s worth pointing out.
- Don’t skimp on editing or your cover. A good editor is worth every penny. You cannot go it alone. I was fortunate to have people with editing level skill willing to help me out, but I know that’s not always the case. Just as important is the cover, which I commissioned from the incredible Moorbooks Design. The old adage, don’t judge a book by its cover, is absolutely false. We know this on the trad side, but I think it’s doubly important on the indie side. Unless you have design skills and training, pay someone.
- Community. Trad writers are bigger on this, I think, because trad publishing is such a lonely road without people to talk to, but indie also needs community. Like I said, I credit everything I’ve learned to listening to other indie writers and reading posts in groups like 20booksto50k on Facebook. Find whatever community you can, make friends, and be prepared to listen.
- Don’t hate the game. Look, we all get it. Social media is exhausting. We all hate putting ourselves out there, and it’s really easy to look at sensations on Tiktok and get discouraged. Yes, the algorithm is against you if you are not white, cis, attractive, but that doesn’t mean you get to throw in the towel and take your ball home. You still have to play the game. Make page flip videos and aesthetic videos. Your voice/face is not required, and they sell books!
- Embrace a “good enough” mindset. I have pretty high standards for my own writing, both trad and indie. I want to tell a story and have it be as well-written as possible. I think that’s true for most of us, no matter the publishing path. But these standards have to be balanced with the fact that I have to put out books quickly. It’s the reality of indie. It’s not a book a year, it’s three to four if you can manage it. I know some authors doing a book a month. It’s not that they are just putting words into some sort of trope grinder and publishing what comes out. A) no such thing exists and b) they work very hard. It’s just that earning money is a long term game. You have to build a backlist. That means you can’t get lost in the endless revision trap. This is also true for trad. At some point you have to chuck the book at people. Whether it’s agents, editors, or just your audience. No book is perfect, no matter how many times you edit. Get it out there and move onto the next one.
EF: Tell me more about the central romance in STRIFE’S APPLE. As the goddess of discord, Eris is such an intriguing choice for a romantic heroine (anti-heroine?)—what made you want to write about her in particular? How would you sum up her dynamic with the original golden boy, Apollo?
SR: I’ve been wanting to write about Eris since I was just out of high school. I think I’ve tried to tell her story four or five different ways, including one as a villain where she is actually out to destroy the world, but these all inevitably fell apart even as the voice remained. She’s always fascinated me, both by what is and isn’t written about her. She’s described by Homer as The Abhorrent One. She’s the first on the battlefield and the last off it, defiling the dead along the way. She started the Trojan War by tossing the Golden Apple into Thetis’ wedding, because she hadn’t been invited.
We have so many anti-hero figures in fiction. Romance especially loves an alpha personality that’s also an asshole. They call it alphahole. I really wanted to apply a lot of those tropes to Eris, who has one of the worst reputations in Greek Mythology and not only let her be her morally grey self, but see if I could take a character that is basically a personification of strife and make her dynamic. I didn’t want to redeem her. I don’t really like redeeming characters. But I did want her to grow, and I think I succeeded.
Apollo was sort of the natural choice when I finally landed on him. I went through a lot of potential love interests for Eris over the years, from Thanatos, to Deimos, to Ares, and none of them fit. Apollo is her polar opposite on the surface. He’s the god of reason, music, poetry. He’s absolutely the golden boy, the most beloved god in the Greek Pantheon, but he’s also an asshole. His tales are filled with what happened to goddesses (and gods!), nymphs, and women who spurned him at their own peril.
So from Eris’ point of view, there’s this level of unfairness. He’s exalted, and she’s reviled, and it’s an incredible source of conflict for them both, especially since he’s the one who had her locked away for 700 years. They also come to understand each other more deeply than anyone else as they peel back the layers and realize they’re not so different after all.
EF: That sounds amazing. You’ve also mentioned to me how, as a Jewish writer, you deliberately subverted Christian perspectives on the Greek mythology that inspired STRIFE’S APPLE—can you share more about that and about how your cultural heritage influences your storytelling?
SR: A lot of fantasy and romance is steeped in Christian hegemony, this idea that Christianity is default, and its ideals are universal, and that’s simply not the case. I see this everywhere, but it’s especially irksome in stories where it’s explicitly not Christian, like Greek Mythology. There are a lot of Greek Mythology stories right now, especially in indie, where Christianity is heavily featured, whether it’s books where Zeus has angels, or the gods are expressing Christian ideas.
Hades is my favorite example. He gets a lot of treatment in modern portrayals as this almost devil figure, but the Underworld isn’t hell and Hades isn’t associated with eternal punishment. Honestly, if the gods wanted to punish someone for tricking them, they usually did it themselves. Take Sisyphus and Zeus, for instance.
The Greeks have their own understanding of goodness, and yes, Aristotle inspired a lot of later Christian thinkers, but it wasn’t the other way around. The Greek gods were never meant to be paragons of virtue. They’re petty and capricious and just as feared as they were worshipped. They were part explanation for a world not entirely understood, but especially as time went on, they became behavior tales in their own way. Don’t fall in love like Apollo! It ends badly for him every time. Marriage is an economic partnership, that sort of thing. They weren’t meant to be emulated, but more cautionary tales.
So, my goal when writing is keep Christianity from creeping in. No one in my book is wholly good or bad. None of what they do is really examined through a moral lens. The book opens with Eris on trial for tricking Apollo into starting the Black Death and a war between the gods, but she never expresses any remorse for her actions, and the book doesn’t judge her.
I said before I don’t like redeeming characters, and part of the reason for this is I see redemption arcs, especially in Romance, as Christian. They usually follow a similar pattern, someone (usually the Hero) does something wrong, grovels to the heroine, and they are forgiven. But rarely is that accompanied with changed behavior or any actual reparative action. Part of this is the part of the book is usually the all is lost moment leading into the notorious third act break up, so there isn’t always room to explore it, but it also ties back into forgiveness as a Christian ideal. You are supposed to forgive when asked.
It doesn’t work that way in Judaism. In Judaism, you are meant to atone for your wrongs. Asking for forgiveness isn’t enough if you haven’t actually taken actions towards repairing the harm you’ve done, and you are never guaranteed forgiveness. You need to do the work for its own sake, for your own sake.
This isn’t the way I approached Strife’s Apple. I might never write Jewish for my self-pub works, but I do make sure I’m not writing Christian either. Neither character ever really forgives the other for the wrongs done to them. They don’t have to. These are deeply flawed, amoral characters, and that’s ok. They don’t need redemption, and they don’t want it either.
EF: Everything you say about this book makes me want to read it even more. Tell me about your creative process—are you a planner, pantser, or somewhere in between? Did your writing process for STRIFE’S APPLE differ from your process on other projects, and did you find you had to learn new skills while writing for a different audience?
SR: I think I define myself as a reformed pantser. I pantsed my way through the very first draft of Strife’s Apple, and I thought I’d banged out this incredible book I’d be able to edit lightly and query, and I was so incredibly wrong. Once I started getting feedback, I thought it was this irredeemable trash fire, and I stuck it in a drawer and wrote a book that ended up setting me on my trad pub path. But, I never forgot about Strife’s Apple, and having learned so much about writing, and more importantly, revising, I decided to take it out and see if I could fix it.
Turns out, I could.
Now, for new projects, I try to plot them out as much as I can. This isn’t as thorough as some people, I’m sure, but I try to have character arcs and a loose beat outline done before I start a new project. I still definitely discover new things along the way as I write. There are some twists in Strife’s Apple that didn’t occur to me until I was half way through the revision. But I think it helps to have some guard rails, to keep you from getting lost. Not sure where to go next? Yes you are, you wrote it down.
At the end of the day though, I think the most important thing is revising well. This means being willing to rip up all the writing you’ve done at this point and really look at each scene critically. Ask yourself, is this advancing my characters goals? If not, it probably doesn’t need to be there.
As for indie, I don’t know if there’s anything incredibly different for me. I still wrote a book the same way I would for trad. I did allow myself to break a few rules along the way. The dual POV is not an even one-for-one exchange, and I wasn’t at all concerned with trad word count constraints. Romance is shorter in trad, but indie doesn’t mind longer books.
EF: Let’s talk about #SelfPitch for a moment! What was the inspiration for creating a pitch event for indie writers, and what’s your vision for the future of the event or those like it?
SR: FOMO. I am out of the pitch game, and I really enjoy pitching. I love sharing my projects, and am not immune to the need for attention and validation. I think we’re all like that.
There wasn’t a pitch event I could find for indie writers. Every other event is geared toward finding an agent or a publisher, but that doesn’t really matter to self-pub writers. They want to connect to their audience and to each other, so that was the inspiration of #selfpitch.
I’m hoping there will be a nice turnout this round, but I am mostly hoping everyone has fun and a good time and comes back for the next one. It really is going to be dependent on authors boosting each other to find new audiences. Readers aren’t going to find this unless the authors they follow show them. The most we retweet and boost each other, the better this event will be. The better the next one will be too. Events like these grow over time as buzz and word of mouth spreads.
EF: What advice would you give writers considering a hybrid publishing career that includes self-publishing and traditional publishing? What are the pros and cons of this path?
SR: Keep them separate. Don’t write in the same genre/age-category, because if you do sell a book, you will probably have a contract for another book in that genre/age-category, which could stall your self-pub career. More than likely, your audiences will not follow you anyway, and you don’t want to hurt your chances with trad pub.
I think there are a lot of crossover skills, especially as far as marketing. It’s worth listening to advice on both sides and picking what’s best for you.
The main con for self-publishing is you are entirely on your own. It’s your own money, your own marketing, your own time. There’s no advance. No marketing team, and if you dream of seeing your book in a bookstore, this probably isn’t the path for you.
You also have to be very willing to write to market. I think a lot people have this idea of self-publishing as putting up your big passion project up on Amazon and hoping people buy it, but self-pub writers treat this very much like a business. They are examining trends and trying to give readers exactly what they are asking for.
No one is going to do this for you. But by the same token, you have ultimate say in everything, which is a lot more control than you’ll in trad pub. If you can figure out how to build your audience and write books people want to read, the payoff can be huge, and you can make your own destiny that isn’t tied to the whims of publishing.
EF: It seems the hybrid career model is becoming more popular these days for writers looking to go full-time—what do you think is behind this trend, and how do you see it influencing the larger publishing industry in the near future?
SR: A couple things. This is just what I’m seeing, mind you. I am not an industry expert. First, for Romance especially, there is a large and voracious readership that will read 200+ books in a year no problem, and they are reading a lot of genres that are considered dead in trad, like PNR and Fantasy-Romance. We all want to be where the readers are.
Second, and I think most importantly, it’s not currently sustainable to be a full-time trad-pub writer. Advances are getting smaller, and broken into more and more pieces. Unless you have another source of income, like from a job or a spouse, it’s not a livable wage. Self-pub is a gamble, like all things, but it’s more likely I’ll be able to write full time if I do both of these things.
I think we’re seeing some of the reverberations in publishing, and not entirely for the better. There are several self-pub TikTok sensations who have leveraged that success into trad pub deals, which is fantastic, and all the power to them for the hustle it took to get there. However, TikTok is not the solution for everything wrong with publishing. I would love to see more recognition for what self-pub authors are putting out, and more commercial success, but not at the expense of the push for diversity in publishing we’ve been fighting for, for so long.
EF: Yes! I agree and you make fantastic points about how challenging it is to make a living with traditional publishing. Anything else you’d like to share today? Where can readers find you and your book online?
SR: If you like steamy romance, Greek Mythology set in the modern world and a fast-paced fantasy plot with an amoral anti-heroine, enemies-to-lovers, let me be your monster (but gender flipped), and some light D/s dynamics in the bedroom, STRIFE’S APPLE might be the book for you.
Thank so much for agreeing to chat with me today, Shoshana! Best of luck with your pre-launch month and I can’t wait to read STRIFE’S APPLE!