In which Kate Milford talks about self-publishing, Bluecrowne, and working with young artists

For my 2,500th post (!)  I have the pleasure welcoming Kate Milford, sharing her adventures in self-publishing.   Her latest venture, Bluecrowne (Arcana Project #2) takes place in and around the world her traditionally-published novels The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands (which I loved; here's my review), and the forthcoming Greenglass House (Clarion, August 26, 2014, and I can't wait!) and The Left-Handed Fate (Holt, 2015--this is the first I've heard of this one!  Exciting!).  

Kate is self-publishing Bluecrowne with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, which runs through tomorrow, April 25th.  Here's the description over at Kickstarter:  "Bluecrowne is a work of moderately frightening historical fantasy rooted in folklore. In it you'll meet villainous itinerant peddlers, young fireworks prodigies, privateers, and even the odd immortal or two. You'll learn why ship's biscuit is awesome, especially if it's stale (spoiler alert: WEEVILS). You'll learn the properties of cald-fire and lyke-fire, and the Chinese term for red massicot, just in case you ever need to know."

It sounds great.  And now, here's Kate, explaining more about it, with illustrations by some of the young artists involved in the project.

What I Learned While Self-Publishing (and it isn’t what you think)

            There are a lot of reasons to self-publish, even if you already work with publishers you love. But whatever the reason or reasons, you learn things in the process. Here are some of the things I learned with the first volume of the Arcana Project, and the reason I decided to do it again.   

            I wrote The Kairos Mechanism in February and March of 2012 and published it in September after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Part of the project was the reader-illustrated edition, which was something I’d added to the whole thing as sort of an afterthought. It turned out to be my favorite part of the project. The idea was that I’d find young artists to illustrate the book, one per chapter, and with their work we’d create a special ebook and that edition would be free or pay whatever, and that way the artists could share their work with their friends and family at no cost. Any money made from folks who did buy the edition would go toward the next volume of the project.

            I spent half of 2012 assembling the group of artists. Some I had known through social media, some were referrals from teachers and librarians, from friends and friends of friends. The youngest artist was eleven; the oldest had just turned twenty. The rest were everywhere in between. I sent each a copy of The Kairos Mechanism and asked them to send their top three choices for chapters they’d like to illustrate, then I went through and made sure I had each chapter and each scene covered that I felt really needed to be represented.
     We corresponded on and off throughout the summer. Some of that correspondence was for purposes of clarification about practical details. Sometimes I got communications that weren’t about input, just about excitement. I decided to use this style, and I did research about it. I picked this moment to illustrate because I wanted this character to have something beautiful. And, of course, I got a few emails asking for feedback about what they’d done. I learned a lot about my own shortcomings, artistic and otherwise, as I tried to be cautiously helpful.

            My feeling is that it’s my responsibility to be as clear as possible about whatever needs to be clear in the text for purposes of the story, but details beyond that are up to the reader. I don’t want them feeling like they have to fill in the blanks just to make the story make sense, obviously; but I want them to feel empowered to make interpretations and create mental pictures for themselves—to own the story as they read it and afterward. The last thing I wanted to do was have any of the artists involved in the illustrated edition not follow his or her instincts because I had weighed in and changed their minds or made them question their own interpretations.

            But in at least one instance I caused just exactly that situation to occur. The artist had emailed me a draft and asked my opinion, and although I loved it I’d posed some food-for-thought questions anyway, and taking those questions for instructions, she re-did her work. Both versions were wonderful, but it hadn’t been my intention to make her second-guess her first instincts. I learned my lesson and tried to do better after that. I wanted the art to reflect the text accurately, but beyond that, I wanted the artists to make their own choices.

           Another thing I learned is that everything takes longer than you anticipate. A dozen-plus kids and young adults having to work around summer travel, summer reading and summer projects of their own? (This is not a complaint.) But the point when art started arriving was up there with the highlights of 2012, which had already turned out to be a good year. Some sent their pieces by mail, others emailed them. They were all so different from each other—of course, it couldn’t be otherwise, with so many different people at work, but it was still fascinating. There are several variations on Natalie, the main character, and several different versions of the villain, Trigemine; but each interpretation reveals something unique and special about those characters.

            The original plan was to have one illustration per chapter, but some of the artists lobbied to be able to do more than one (and some just went ahead and sent more than one), and since a couple folks had to withdraw due to scheduling issues, that worked out well. Still, as the project neared its end, I had to find one more kid. That last artist to join was a referral from my cousin, who works with inner-city Baltimore youths. Hassan, who was twelve at the time, is a gifted artist, but my cousin had hinted that he might not be a big reader. When I asked him how he’d like to work, what we settled on was that I’d mark suggested scenes in the book, then he could pick which ones he wanted to do and I’d clarify as needed. My first set of notes involved highlighted sections in the paperback and post-it notes with what amounted to TL;DR summaries. Old-timey bar; a man sits with his head on the bar. Statues: an African man with a candle, and old woman with a harp, a young woman with long hair and a ring on one hand. Hassan’s was among the art that just showed up, and I wound up asking him a couple of times to redo one of the scenes he’d settled on, for the sake of accuracy. We wound up doing research more or less together in order to get Hassan the information he needed to be able to complete a piece that matched the text, and the result is one of my favorite images, the statue in Chapter Ten, which he signed along the ragged edge where he’d torn the page from his sketch book.

            By the time I finished the first completed draft of Bluecrowne, I had enough in the bank from sales of The Kairos Mechanism and from royalties from an anthology to know that even if the Bluecrowne Kickstarter failed, I could afford to pay the cover artist, designer, and editor. But what I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford was the illustrated edition, and it was that more than anything that made me decide to attempt crowdfunding for the second time. Now that the campaign has reached its goal, I know I have another illustrated edition to look forward to, and I absolutely cannot wait.

 Thank you Kate!  Though the Kickstarter has been fully funded(congratulations!),  contributions are still welcome, and will allow Kate to keep working on more awesomness.


  1. I very much cherish my copy of the first volume in this series -- the whole thing is so very imaginative. Great interview.

  2. I knew most of the story, but it's so nice to read it all again in one place, and hear about the *process* of it all. I'm so glad I backed these projects!


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