Kate Danley: Writer, Actor, Playwright

I’m very pleased to welcome Kate Danley to the blog today. She’s a USA Today bestselling author, an actor, and a playwright. She shares sage advice about the business of publishing, including why being a writer can be easier than being an actor. Read on: 

Kate, tell me about Queen Mab.
Queen Mab is the story of Romeo & Juliet told from the viewpoint of Queen Mab. There have been a lot of fantasy authors recently who have been getting Mab (the fairy queen of dreams) confused with Maeve (the queen of the dark fairy court), so I decided to bring Mab back to her roots.  She was created by Shakespeare (much like Coke defined Santa Claus) and appears in only one speech in the entire play.  I posed the question: What if she was real and her love for Mercutio was, in fact, responsible for everything that happened to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers?  What came out was a dark, romantic fairy tale that I still can’t believe I actually wrote.
How did signing with 47North come about?
I had submitted my book The Woodcutter to publishers for about five years and no one would touch it. It KILLED me. I knew I had this beautiful story, but it was dying a slow death on my hard drive. Then one day, I got this email saying, “If you want to be a published author and have a manuscript, just click this button and you’ll be published.”  So I did. And it was the single most important decision I ever made in my life. The Woodcutter went on to win awards, including the Garcia Award for Best Fiction Book of the Year. It caught the attention of the team at 47North, and one day I opened my email and there was a message asking me if I might be interested in talking with them. I said, “Yes.”
You’re both an actor and a writer – which is the crazier business to be in? Do you find there is much overlap in the survival skills needed for one vs. the other?

It’s funny that up until recently, being an actor was a much sounder business decision than becoming an author. Bless this glorious digital age! I never thought I’d ever be published, much less be supporting myself full-time or sitting on the USA TODAY Bestseller list. It seemed much more doable to get a national commercial than have a national bestseller. How wonderful to be wrong!
The odds are not good for either career. As an actor, the reality of the business is that you have to wait for someone to write the perfect part for you, then have someone come up with some money, then get a director who likes your type, then have an audition notice posted where you’ll find it, all for an audition against twenty other people who look just like you, and then maaaaybe you’ll get the part. But if you can write and produce for yourself… well…  It makes things just a wee bit easier. Being a self-publisher mirrors that experience. I can either wait for an agent and publisher to have room on their docket for someone like me and hope that I get past the slush pile… or just do it myself.
But what acting taught me was work ethic. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life, the curtain will go up and you will go on, and an audience doesn’t care if you’re having a bad day or sick or just not “feeling” it.  If you’re not committed 100%, you look like the jerk. Showing up at the computer each day is a piece of cake compared to a cattle call. Promoting your book beats the pants off of mailing headshots and resumes. Getting a cover designer is very much like getting headshots done. The business of writing and acting are the same beast. You’re marketing your brain, but one is wrapped up in the package of your face, and the other is wrapped up in the package of your words.  
You’ve also given self-publishing a try and done well. Comparing the two experiences, do you have any advice for those of us who might want to try the hybrid approach and dip our toes in self-publishing waters in the future?

Do it!  Listen, this is just my experience, and if you’re given a hammer everything looks like a nail, but man… self-publishing changed my life.  It was the single best decision I ever made.  Your manuscript is doing you no good sitting in a drawer gathering dust.  The self-publishing lists are the new slush piles.  In a best case scenario, if your manuscript was picked up by the first agent who read it, shopped around and picked up by the first publisher they pitched it to and goes through the entire publishing process, you’re looking at least a year and a half before your book gets on a shelf.  Or you can be earning money (70% royalties) that entire time.
So, what I recommend is lurking around in the Writers Café.  It is where all the cool indie authors are hanging out.  We share marketing information, advice, encouragement, etc. all for free.  You’ll find information on cover designers, editors, aggregators, you name it, again, all for free.  And when you’re ready, I thoroughly recommend (for publishing your ebooks) and CreateSpace (for publishing your paperbacks.  They print a book when someone buys it, so you don’t have to buy 1000 copies and try to sell them out of the trunk of your car).  Both are free to use.  You just upload your manuscript and they take care of the rest.  They list it on all the sites, they send out your stuff to anyone who buys it, they collect the money, and deposit it in your bank account.  They take a small percentage (I think 6% of each ebook sale and around $5 for each book), but no other money is exchanged.
Do you outline your books in advance or are you the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer?
I’m both.  I feel that my books are better when I “pants” it, but I’ve had the privilege of getting some contracts this past year.  In those situations, there are people who want to know where you’re going with your story and they want your book churned out in a certain amount of time.  So for those, I outline.
Where do you get your best writing done? Home, coffeehouse, other?
I love writing at home, but I’m a coffeehouse junkie.  The gently hum of humanity and the white noise of garage rock in the background gets my Muse boogie-ing.
Do you have a daily word count that you aim for?
I write for fifteen minutes every day no matter what (and I set a timer).  I find my biggest hurdle each day is just getting started.  So, if I tell myself “just fifteen minutes”, I can usually write for hours.  There are times I do need to set daily word counts, though, and that is usually determined by deadlines divisible by how many days I have left.
Just because I’m curious about how other authors function — do you read your Amazon and Goodreads reviews?
I used to read everything, but I have a tender little soul and now only read my good reviews.  Haters gonna hate.  *insert mental picture of me strolling down the street with a big dumb grin on my face*
Favorite social media site and why?
I love Tumblr.  I started off blogging during the golden age, and when that era died, all of my online friends migrated to Tumblr.  I have online friendships there that have lasted over a decade.
E-books or paper ones?
Can I pick “C- All of the Above”?  For me, heaven smells like the pages of a leather-bound book and I will always love paper.  But I adore my Kindle.  I travel internationally and there is nothing like being able to tuck an entire library into my bag as I catch a train.
Finally, what are you working on now?
I have a fun little urban fantasy series called Maggie MacKay: Magical Tracker.  The first book is in a boxed set called Magic After Dark which has been on the USA TODAYbestseller list for the past four weeks.  It has also been optioned for a television series.  So, I’m working on Book IV: M&K Tracking and hope to have that out in the next few months.  I’m also working on Book III in the O’Hare House Mystery series.  A detractor described it as a demonic Clue.  I was like, “And the problem is…?” Between those two series, I should be kept busy for the next year.
But as far as what’s coming out next, I have a short in an exciting anthology coming out in January that I am very proud of (can’t say much about it, but it is really, really cool).  And I also worked with Lee Goldberg (co-writer of Janet Evanovich’s latest book), William Rabkin (Psych), Lisa Klink (Star Trek), and Phoef Sutton (Cheers) on the new Dead Man: Reborn serial, also coming out in January.
USA Today bestselling author Kate Danley began her career with the novel The Woodcutter(published by 47North). It was honored with the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year, the 1st Place Fantasy Book in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and was the 1st place winner of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her other titles include Queen Mab, the Maggie MacKay: Magical Tracker series, and the O’Hare House Mysteries.

Her plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, and DC Metro area. Her screenplay Fairy Blood won 1st Place in the Breckenridge Festival of Film Screenwriting Competition in the Action/Adventure Category. Her projects The Playhouse, Dog Days, Sock Zombie, SuperPout, and Sports Scents can be seen in festivals and on the internet. She has over 300+ film, television, and theatre credits to her name, and specializes in sketch, improv, stand-up, and Shakespeare. She trained in on-camera puppetry with Mr. Snuffleupagus and played the head of a 20-foot dinosaur on an NBC pilot.

She lost on Hollywood Squares.
Find out more about Kate Danley and her books:

Don’t Be a Hog and Other Rules for Coffeehouse Writers

True story. The other day I went to my out-of-home “office”, the neighborhood coffeehouse (henceforth known as Coffeehouse). Usually I come mid-morning, when there are plenty of free spots — Coffeehouse serves pastries and sandwiches, so at lunch time it can get pretty crowded. This day I was a bit late, so I was happy to get the last free table next to an electrical outlet, by the Coffeehouse fireplace. I put my stuff down, my jacket, research materials, mango smoothie, bagel, and laptop… and reached to plug in my laptop cord. Only to discover that the person at the neighboring table had taken both sockets, top and bottom.

I live in the Twin Cities, so trust me when I say that people usually go out of their way to be nice and act un-hoglike (when grocery checkers ask, “Morning, how are you?”, they really want to know.)  The socket-taker had a laptop and an e-reader — hence the two cords — and also a long-drained cup of coffee and a thick anatomy textbook. A pre-med student? She must have noticed me arrive, I think, but didn’t look up from the textbook or offer to unplug one of her devices. My battery was low, so what could I do? Uncomfortably (as I kinda try to be, as much as I can, one of those nice and un-hoglike people) I interrupted her studying and mumbled a polite inquiry as to whether she really needed both things plugged in. She proceeded to unplug one of the cables, grudgingly, and I was able to get some work done.

The incident (yes, in Minnesota, this counts as an incident) got me thinking about how there should be a set of guidelines for writers and others using public spaces as offices on a regular basis. So this is what I’ve come up with:

A Coffeehouse Writer’s Guidelines:

1. Don’t take a 4-person table if there are 2-person tables available. Yes, you need room for your laptop, e-reader and/or books, cellphone, coffee mug, etc., but the coffeehouse has to stay in business (see Rule 2). It’s enough that you’re using their physical space, their electricity, and their Wi-Fi.

2. Help keep the coffeehouse in business. Don’t assume the staff is okay with you buying a lone cup of coffee and staying for four hours. Buy a pastry, a fruit salad, lunch. Don’t sneak in your own food. Really.

3. Don’t be a hog. Electrical outlets are there for everyone to share. Don’t take more than one socket. Invest in a dual outlet adapter. Don’t block outlets with your backpack or briefcase or winter coat.

4. Invest in a pair of headphones. It’s a coffeehouse, not an office or a library. Don’t throw mean looks at the loud party chit-chatting about holiday travel plans or the stay-at-home dad who came in with the boisterous toddler just to get out of the house. They have as much right to be there as you do.

5. Be nice. By now the staff probably knows you by sight, so get to know their names. Ami, the manager of Coffeehouse, took the trouble to learn how to pronounce my name, and the rest of the staff, Carol 1, Carol 2, and Tracey always ask me how I’m doing. This is their workplace. You are, after all, a guest.

6. Don’t base characters in your screenplay or novel on the people who work at the coffeehouse. It just seems rude for some reason. Also, if you ever hit it big, they might recognize themselves. Customers, on the other hand, are okay to use for inspiration. Some of them are probably doing it to you in return.

7. Know when to leave. If the coffeehouse gets really busy and your latte or cappuccino is long gone except for a thin, cold puddle on the bottom of the cup, it’s time to pack up your stuff and leave. Again, you’re a guest. Guests should know when to leave.

8. Finally, the miscellaneous stuff: Don’t leave a mess behind, Don’t talk loudly on your cellphone, and No, the coffeehouse might not be the best place to play that violent video game you’re addicted to. These seem like common sense (though you’d be surprised).

One more thing. Though the above guidelines are meant for writers, most apply to other coffeehouse regulars — like students, website designers, etc. As to the premed student so wrapped up in her studying that she was oblivious to the needs of others? Well, who can blame her? I’ll be the first to admit that the rules can be hard to stick to. Lunchtime crowds and empty coffee cups be damned, who wants to pack up and leave if their creative/academic/entrepreneurial juices are flowing? Been there myself.