I am so excited to have my Bookstagram friend Natalie Sea on the blog this week for an interview about her journey in writing and publishing Burnish, her debut novel. I really enjoyed ARC reading Burnish, and I'm glad I get to share Natalie's story with all of you. She'll also be a guest on my podcast next week, so remember to keep an eye on my socials for when the episode is released.
Don't forget to Pre-Order Burnish before its release on December 13, 2022!
When Natalie Sea isn't writing, she loves making music, kickboxing, riding horses, playing Mario Kart, and spending time with her dog, Honey. She lives in central Utah, less than an hour away from the gorgeous Cottonwood Canyon and a bunch of ski resorts she never visits (but wants to one day--skiing is terrifying, okay?). Natalie also edits books for clients, coaches people with the Enneagram, makes educational content for kids through knowonder! (knowonder.com), and teaches students music. She creates educational content for writers at youtube.com/@nataliesea and fun Enneagram-centered videos at youtube.com/@chippernat. Burnish is Natalie's debut novel and the first in her dark fantasy series, the Broken Ocean stories.
Why did you start writing? What education have you had in writing, if any, or how did you learn?
I started writing as soon as I could speak; I would dictate my stories to my parents and make them write them down. I don’t have any formal education, which is the best part about writing – there’s no entry fee. You can start at any time, so that’s what I did.
I’ve been writing my whole life and going to classes and workshops wherever I could, and ever since I discovered AuthorTube, it’s been like my secret weapon. There are tons of awesome YouTube videos on writing that are so helpful and so easy to find!
And of course, studying the stories I love in books, TV shows, and movies has been one of the best teaching experiences out there.
What inspired Burnish, and why did you choose to write it?
Burnish was inspired by a TikTok! It was a compilation of the aesthetics of 6 mythical creatures, and I thought to myself, “It would be cool if there was a book with all of these creatures!” And then I thought, “That would be fun to write.”
I was writing another book at the time, so Burnish started out as a side project that served as a nice break sometimes. It was also an exercise in pantsing, kind of. The story unfolded in front of me as I wrote it, so the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write.
And then I started to discover the meanings and lessons in the story, which are so deeply personal that they kept me hooked until the book was done. It was really cool. It almost felt like it all downloaded into my brain from somewhere else. To this day, I read the book and I’m like, “How did I even think of this?”
So, what's Burnish about?
Ooh, how to even explain?! It’s so many things to me that it’s hard to boil it down, but I’ll do my best!
Burnish is a collection of short stories following five mythical creatures. These stories weave together in dark and mysterious ways as they explore themes of trauma, healing, belonging, and fear. The dreaded Enchantress looms over them all, but even more than that, their own fears and pasts haunt them. As the characters fight to heal, protect themselves, and survive, they discover who they truly are.
It’s pretty cool, if I do say so myself!
Burnish is a very character driven book. How do you write strong characters?
Character development is a really layered process, but I think it comes down to motivation and action. Does every character want something in every scene? Why do they want that thing and what will they gain from it? What happened that resulted in them wanting it? What do they stand to lose if they don’t get it? And most importantly, what are they doing to get it?
Some characters might have a different spin on this: something they desperately want to avoid and actions they take to avoid it. Really good characters often have both.
The plot, on the other hand, is external. Things will happen to your characters externally, but the way they interact with those things should always come from an internal place. The characters aren’t defined by what’s happening around them; their perspective defines what’s happening around them.
When I don’t know these things about my characters, I experience all kinds of crazy frustrating writing blocks. But when I know the answers to those questions, when I know what every character wants and why, there’s nothing left to do but tell their stories.
When a character has something they want, something they’re afraid of, and a reason they want and fear those things, it makes them real. Real people have their own wants, fears, and reasons – and more than anything, you want your characters to feel like real people.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Could you explain your process?
Usually, I’m a plotter all the way! It’s very hard for me to write a book if I don’t know where it’s going because I worry none of it’s going to matter, so I like to use Dan Harmon’s Story Circle and the 4 Act Structure to plot my books.
But Burnish didn’t listen when I tried to plot it, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was going to have to be a pantsing trust exercise. Rather than building the world and orchestrating the character arcs, it felt like I was stepping into something that already existed and discovering more of it with each writing session.
Eventually, I had a chapter-by-chapter outline for each character that was very helpful, but that took a while to get and it changed over and over throughout the writing process.
What made you choose to self publish? Did you query for traditional first, or did you always want to DIY?
I used to be very set on traditional publishing, and I’ve queried agents and submitted to publishers in the past. But I did that because I thought that was the only “real” option, and that thought process changed for me when I found Abbie Emmons on YouTube. She and her sister have a podcast where they talk indie publishing A LOT, and that’s been a huge resource throughout this whole process.
One of the biggest game changers for me was learning that, out of SO MANY submissions, traditional publishers only pick 20-25, and then they only market their top 3. On top of that, they get so much control over how your story ends up, even down to the fonts on the cover!
So I figured, since I’m a graphic designer and I know how to do all of it, I might as well. Self-publishing is more daunting for sure because you don’t have a publisher holding your hand the whole time, but it’s comforting to know how much the indie terrain has changed. Indie authors used to be looked down on; now, the market is beyond saturated with indie stories.
It’s easy to make a book that looks completely professional, and you get to decide everything about it! To me, that kind of creative control is priceless – and so, so fun!
What has been one of the best parts of your self publishing journey?
Design and formatting, hands down. I can’t even express how much I’ve loved everything about designing this book. Making the cover beautiful, making every line fit the page and the margins in a satisfying way, putting each gorgeous chapter sketch in the InDesign document, all of it was so enjoyable. (Thanks again to my cousin Chelsea for the sketches!)
I think the design aspect of the process made it feel really real; you can’t help but picture holding the book in your hands when you’re doing all that fun stuff.
And this might be against the rules, but getting good feedback gets an honorable mention – I’ve absolutely loved hearing from readers who enjoyed the months of hard work I poured into Burnish.
What has been a difficult part of self publishing, or an unexpected hurdle?
Hands down, the most irritating part of the process was uploading files to IngramSpark. I thought I had everything figured out, but there were specifications I hadn’t known about, so I had to re-export and re-upload things a few times. I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but it took a bunch of time and it was really bothersome.
Another hurdle I didn’t expect was my ARC readers giving me such good advice. I told my ARCs just to look for nitpicky stuff like typos and formatting errors, but a couple came back with really good content suggestions. The tough part was that it was too late to change some of that stuff.
Thankfully, they didn’t find huge plotholes or anything like that, but I would’ve liked to include more of their edits. Even though I was able to reformat some of the book to incorporate a couple edits, I still felt disappointed that I hadn’t had that feedback earlier.
So with the next book, those people are going to be beta readers, and I’m going to move up the whole timeline so I get ARC edits back way earlier.
Do you plan to be a career author, or is this your only planned book/series?
This is definitely not my only planned series, and I’d love to be a career author! I’m not putting all my eggs in the author basket because I want to do too many things (like literally 50 things, it’s so overwhelming). But I absolutely love writing, I don’t see myself running out of ideas anytime soon, and the publishing process has been surprisingly fun, so I think I’m going to be publishing books forever!
How have you marketed your book? What have been your most successful marketing methods so far?
The biggest, most powerful marketing method I’ve ever used is word of mouth. I love telling people about my books! A lot of the time, telling someone you wrote a book results in them asking for a link, following you on your socials, or telling you about their family member who would probably really like it. People love to share what they like, so I think word of mouth is always the best way to market.
Aside from that, Instagram ad campaigns are very affordable and surprisingly effective! I’ve also done blogs like this (as you can see), and I plan to offer popular Bookstagrammers free copies of the book, too. Often, you don’t even have to ask them to promote you; people who receive a free copy will post a review or tell their followers to read your book anyway!
What advice do you have for prospective self publishers?
One of my biggest tips is to own your own ISBNs and start a publishing company – which is super easy! When you use an Amazon-assigned ISBN, Amazon automatically becomes the publisher, so people who want distribution rights or have questions about your book don’t really have anyone to talk to.
When you own your own ISBNs and put your own publishing business’s imprint on the book, people know who to contact about it. Plus, it looks more professional to have a publishing imprint than to have your book say “independently published.”
I’d also give the advice of using IngramSpark to publish your book, and if it’s within your budget, pay for professional cover designers, editors, and a formatter. If it’s not within your budget, DIY it until you’re happy with it – and start as early as possible. Incorporate feedback as many times as possible until you’re totally satisfied with the end result.
Anything else you'd like to tell us regarding writing/publishing?
I’ll just say that when it comes to both writing and publishing, it’s a learning process. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because as long as you keep going, you’ll keep learning and you’ll keep getting better. And don’t be afraid to publish your book because you know you’ll be a better writer next year – there’s no time like the present!
Thank you so much, Natalie! And remember, Pre-Order Burnish before its release on December 13, 2022.