Kristy Makansi and her daughters, Amira and Elena Makansi, together wrote their popular self-published YA dystopian novels The Sowing, The Reaping, and The Harvest, which was published in April. The novels form the Seeds trilogy and incorporate ideas about organic agriculture, chemical farming, genetic modification, and biodiversity. The authors have been able to align themselves with the anti-Monsanto push. Writing books that stand out from the YA dystopian marketplace in terms of content has yielded great dividends for their self-published venture. The indie film studio Big Picture Ranch has optioned The Sowing and The Prelude, a novella that explores one of the writing team’s back stories. We recently talked to Amira about how she, her sister, and her mother decided to self-publish jointly under the author name of K. Makansi and how the trio decided to write together in the first place (they no longer write as a team but haven’t ruled out the possibility in the future).
Did all three of you write everything together for the Seeds trilogy, or did one or more of you jump in later? Also...why write together?
For that first draft, Elena and I went back and forth, alternating chapters, and Kristy would join in or just edit behind us. The first draft was very collaborative. We all did it together; it took about nine months. As to why we wrote together...I can't fully answer that. I can only say that we all wanted to be a part of a project we felt had real life and power to it.
How does the collaborative process work? Is each of you responsible for specific sections of writing? How do you sort out arguments? How do you make it all read seamlessly?
It varies from book to book. For the first one, it was very collaborative. We had no idea what we were doing or that it would turn into a real story, so we just kept working on it chapter by chapter. To some extent, the story works because we have dual narrators—Remy has one voice and Vale has a slightly different one. For the most part, I wrote Vale's chapters, and Elena and Kristy wrote Remy’s. We make it read seamlessly by editing tirelessly. As for arguments, let’s just say it’s a good thing we have three people instead of four—it means that there's always a majority vote.
Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route? How did that work out for you?
We opted for self-publishing for several reasons. The first, and biggest, was creative control. With three authors—and therefore three built-in editors—we wanted to dictate our own path, from storyline to character arc to book covers. The second was that our book is young-adult dystopian, and in 2013, when we realized we had a full-length, pretty decent novel, every agent on the market was saying they wouldn't touch dystopian with a 10-foot pole. "It's dead," they said. Well, with works like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as classic examples, we knew the subgenre would never fully be dead. Since agents wouldn't touch it and we believed passionately in our story, we knew we had to do it ourselves. Kristy also runs Blank Slate Press, a small award-winning press, so she knew how to put a book together.
What advice would you give to a new author who is trying to figure out how to publish his or her book?
Think strongly about what kind of artist you want to be. Are you comfortable focusing solely on the writing? Are you the kind of person who wants or needs the hand-holding that working with a publisher provides? If you’re an entrepreneurial thinker, self-publishing can be a very rewarding route, but if you’re not, then self-publishing may well end up being an exercise in frustration.
Looking back, if there is one thing that you would have done differently, what would that be?
One mistake we made very early on was to attempt to release the first book episodically. There were a lot of changing frontiers in publishing at the time, particularly with things like Kindle Serials, Scribd, Wattpad, and more. Coupled with the incredible innovations coming out of long-form TV storytelling, we thought there was a lot of potential in releasing the book in short, three- or four-chapter "episodes" similar to comic books or Kindle Serials. That was a bomb. It was really hard to hold a reader's attention when we didn't have a way to regularly "push" the new episodes out to the reading devices. After the first three "episodes," sales had declined markedly. The strategy stunted the initial growth of The Sowing. Fortunately, through some dedicated marketing after we released the first book—and with the help of a well-timed BookBub promotion—we were able to recover. I wouldn't recommend experimenting with such novel techniques unless you're an author with either a dedicated name or a major tech or publishing team backing you to help sort out the technical details.
How difficult or easy is it to self-publish in the science-fiction genre?
I think it's probably easier to self-publish genre fiction than, say, literary fiction, but I don't think science fiction is any more or less challenging than any other genre. It was just a matter of being very thorough and exact in our research to make sure all the science was correct or at least theoretically possible.
Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor with a passion for books.