7 Questions With Author Rebecca Maye Holiday
Rebecca Maye Holiday, born in 1998, is a Canadian author and student, known for her various literary short stories. Her most popular book, released in 2019, is Necromancy Cottage, Or, The Black Art of Gnawing on Bones, a large gothic occult fantasy novel. Rebecca Maye lives in Nova Scotia. She was the first student to apply for a Major B.A. in Law, Justice & Society combined with a Minor in Esoteric & Occult Traditions at Dalhousie University and The University of King’s College. She also has a diploma in Library Information Technology from the Nova Scotia Community College. Rebecca Maye spent most of her childhood on a large military base in rural Canada, and now lives in a small-town branch of the coastal city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
What were some major setbacks of this profession?
While I believe that writing is a great profession, I find that the industry is full of gatekeepers, and that the industry is increasingly competitive, contrary to popular belief. In the past, authors struggled to get their work accepted by the large traditional publishing companies. Nowadays, books are a wholesale commodity controlled mostly by Amazon and Ingram.
Offering book stock via mass ISBN import, and building public book catalogues in this fashion, has become commonplace. I’ve run into problems on Amazon where unedited galley copies of my books continue appearing there from third-party sellers. Trying to get Amazon to actually do anything about this is like trying to collect water in a pot full of holes. I no longer publish any of my work through Amazon at all, not since switching vendors.
Another issue I’ve run into is that I want readers to be charged a fairer price for print books, but publishing companies often automatically generate a price based on a variety of complicated factors. One of my print books, if you were to buy it from its direct source, costs roughly $50. I understand that books are priceless in their own right, and that materials and processes are increasingly expensive, that inflation has hit the western world, etc. etc. but at the same time, I value my readers being able to reasonably afford my books in print more than I value royalties. The only way to circumvent this issue seems to be to buy print copies of the books myself, and then re-sell them at a cheaper price, which ends up costing me money. I also sell my books as eBooks, but I find that the quality isn’t as good and that eBooks are hindered by proprietary format conversions from one market to the next.
What’s your definition of the first draft?
The first draft, to me, is the first thing I put on a page, however long or short it may indeed be. The writing process that I take in general is erratic and completely unplanned. While my books always undergo a great deal of editing, proofreading and revision pre-publication, they always retain a small flicker of their first draft’s kindling somewhere in the end. The first draft can be a few words scrawled down on a sheet of scrap paper, or it can be the bare bones of an entire novel typed up in a computer file. After that, they sort of take on a life of their own.
What are some common stereotypes related to the genre(s) you’re writing in?
Canadian fiction is very much a tourist-targeted market, owing in part to my country’s liberal government and arts structure, which is heavily dependent on grants and public funding. When people hear “Canadian”, they envision Anne of Green Gables, or The Handmaid’s Tale. I primarily write horror, gothic and occult fiction, three genres that run against the grain of what the Government of Canada markets to tourists.
The government wants quaint literary novels that promote Canadian culture in some form or another; writing allegorically about the darker aspects of Canadian life through horror and the occult does not appeal to the tourism market, or what tourists expect to find from the books of the locals, something which I find difficult to overcome. I also find that, as a horror author, people expect my books to be full of explicit content, which they’re really not. Even when graphic subject matter does arise, I usually try to handle it with some degree of subtlety. It’s a common stereotype that all horror must be blatantly explicit and even perhaps offensive, which isn’t necessarily the case for a lot of authors.
Authors vs. Social Media: How do you approach the tools you have at your disposal?
I used to use social media a lot, mainly for reviewing books written by other people, but nowadays I wish to maintain privacy and personal freedom between myself and social media. Social media also tries, for whatever reason, to make reading and writing a competitive practice. Goodreads, for instance, has become a place of annual reading challenges with higher and higher goal records, sock-puppet accounts being used to post thousands of negative reviews on the books of debut authors, authors sending out private messages asking readers to review their books, and reviewers trying to get as much praise as possible.
I used to get roughly 100 books, mostly self-published titles, sent to me by mail for review each year. The more followers I had, the more authors would want to send me things. I suppose I just got to a point where I realized that such practices kill the spirit of reading, as I had reviewed over 1,000 books in one year alone, but I could barely remember any of them. None of them had resonated with me because while I had read them, I hadn’t been given the time to appreciate them. If social media is going to be used by authors at all, I would hope that it be used for self-expression and connecting with genuine readers, whether this happens through videos, blogs, websites, photos, texts or anything else.
When it comes to Goodreads, which many authors have a love-hate relationship with, treading lightly is the best course of action. Goodreads is ultimately designed as a place for readers, and authors who break any of the rules (written or unwritten) of the platform will be seen as an encroaching nuisance. This isn’t to say that authors shouldn’t have every right to use and find meaning in Goodreads, as most authors are readers too, but many authors fall into the trap of using Goodreads as a vessel for self-promotion, which can backfire. I’ve seen quite a large number of authors over the years who were banned from their author accounts on Goodreads.
How do you manage to juggle life and writing?
I don’t do that very well, lately. I try to set aside time for writing, but between my university classes and household errands and other things, writing often becomes that old friend begging me to go out in the forest and play with it, unaware that life in the modern world has become increasingly busy and interconnected. I think this might be why I was able to complete Necromancy Cottage, Or, The Black Art of Gnawing on Bones; set on a coastal island with very few residents, it was escapism to some degree.
I do plan to write another book following the same characters, though not a direct sequel, at some point in the future. With so much going on right now in life, most of what I publish lately are short stories. I like writing short stories, but it’s definitely not the same as being able to get completely lost in a novel and its world.
Many authors have experienced trolling or cyberbullying upon publishing their manuscripts. Could you share your experience & some useful advice for all authors going through this?
It may not appear to be the case, but authors today are on a brand-new frontier, the wild west of social commentary, an anarchist’s arena where quite literally anybody can post a review – anonymously, to boot – and unfortunately, with that style of system comes cyberbullying. I believe that this is partly to do with the minimalist approach that Amazon and its subsidiary companies, like Goodreads, take towards moderating content. The legal system was woefully unprepared for things like Goodreads, YouTube, Facebook or any other social media platform where reviews can be posted.
So, in many ways, authors are trapped in a system that hasn’t evolved beyond the 1990’s era when it comes to things like bullying and trolling in consumer reviews. I’ve known a number of authors who fell victim to bullying and harassment on Goodreads. Some authors even get people leaving 1-star reviews on titles from their Goodreads profiles that haven’t been publicly released yet, while other times, I’ve seen authors bullying reviewers.
Goodreads, I’ve found, rarely takes action on flagged content, and so really, the best thing an author can do is just ignore trolling and cyberbullying. This may sound like cliché advice, particularly when it can be so difficult to get harmful or defamatory content removed from the internet entirely, but in the grand scheme of things, the abuse will stop when the abusers get bored. They get a thrill out of pestering authors and other readers, or sometimes it’s not even an intentional bully, just some stranger on a phone or laptop somewhere who’s been paid to rate one author’s works highly, and other works negatively.
There are extortion scams and stalkers and all kinds of other known forms of harassment, bullying and scams that can target authors on the internet. The scammers go after debut authors, self-published authors and vanity press authors who don’t know as much about these things, and who can’t afford legal action in the event of evident harassment. Authors need to learn early-on to protect themselves by blocking the harasser, flagging inappropriate content, warning fellow authors, and never trying to engage with the harasser one-on-one.
Just how much research is there behind a novel? Tell us how it looks behind the scenes.
I suppose it depends on the novel. Most of what I write, being fiction, has very little research involved in the writing process. For Necromancy Cottage, Or, The Black Art of Gnawing on Bones, I had done some research on esoteric and occult magic, all of which was integrated into the novel. The story is set on a fictional island, but that island was based loosely on real locations throughout Eastern Canada: Plaster Rock, Glace Bay, Campobello Island, Grand Manan Island, and from an aesthetic visual standpoint, Bridgewater, Lunenburg and Pictou, various rural places near the sea in my province.
This required a certain amount of research, although most of the details came from memory. Canadians are eligible for ISBN numbers from the Government of Canada, but I had to research how to apply for one. In return, I had to submit physical copies of the book to Library and Archives Canada for legal deposit, and I had the book officially registered for copyright, as well. It’s not an easy process if you’re not knowledgeable of the publishing industry in Canada, so it was difficult, at first. Still, it was worth it in the end.
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