Interview with a Writer: Gail Z. Martin

Gail Z. Martin is a New York Times Bestselling author who generously shares her time and expertise with the members of the Charlotte Writers Group. Individual members and the group has grown with her mentorship. We asked for little more of her time to learn a little more about her.

Question: What role has Charlotte Writers Group played in your writing journey?

Answer: I got to know CWG through Darin Kennedy, who came to one of my signings at Park Road Books. He hung out with me and we talked for a long time, and I told him about my Thrifty Author Meetup group. Next thing I knew, Darin had invited the CWG gang to the Meetup, many of whom have become regulars in the years since then. I count all those folks as friends, and we’ve all grown and supported each other.


Question: What propelled you into the world of writing? What/who was/is your inspiration?

Answer:  I always loved to read. The first story I remember ‘writing’ was when I was five—I had to dictate it to my grandmother because I couldn’t spell, and it was about a vampire (I loved the TV show Dark Shadows). Then I acted it out, complete with rising from a cardboard box ‘coffin’. (Other kids made boxes into cars. I made a coffin. Go figure). I was probably about 14 before I realized that writers didn’t somehow get tapped by the fickle finger of fate—they were previously regular people who became writers by writing a book. And then I realized that the writers who were currently writing the books I liked wouldn’t live forever and would need a new crop to replace them when they died off. I decided that I would be one of that new crop.


Question: Describe your writing process. (How do you begin? What comes first–character or plot? Do you outline? Is your process the same for every project?)

Answer: It depends on the book. Some books start with a clear character in mind, others with a plot, and others with a world. I work out in concentric circles from whatever I start with. So if it’s a character, I need to know motivation and what the danger/conflict is, skills, friends, and what type of world. If it’s a world, then there’s some aspect of that world that is unusual, and I start by wondering how that aspect would affect an individual and what kind of individual would be interesting. If it’s the plot, then I poke at it until I find out who does what to whom.


Question: Describe your routine as a writer. (Is it daily or weekly? How you structure your day/week? How many hours of writing versus research? How much time is spent on “business” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?)


Nothing like publisher-driven deadlines to kick your muse in the ass. I write almost every day except for a little vacation time (and even then, if the deadline is looming) or when I’m traveling and can’t type (even then, I’m plotting in my head). My husband, Larry N. Martin, is co-author on several projects and is a very important part of the process for all the books, so it’s become a team effort. We pass the manuscript back and forth until it’s finished, and he does the covers and formatting for our indie stuff. We’re planning to bring out more indie books or long novellas and fewer short stories, so with that on top of the publisher-driven projects, we’re looking at hopefully six books a year. That means I need to be consistent at getting 3,000 – 4,500 words/day.  I spend an hour or so on social media each day, and probably another hour or so doing email, applying to cons, etc. Research happens during the writing process, or takes over the reading time that is otherwise my personal down time. (Considering that I enjoy the stuff I read to research, the line there between business and personal is very squishy.)


Question: What resources are essential to your writing process (software, writing tools, research sources)?

Answer: I love my computer and Word, and a fast internet connection. I have an iPad for traveling so I don’t have to risk my laptop. I also have a smartphone that has an internet hotspot that has saved my butt on numerous occasions for either social media or research. And I have a pretty extensive personal library of weird books. Plus I have the most amazing and brilliant friends who are a hive mind on Facebook to help me when I get stuck!


Question: Talk about your perspective on representation (pros and cons of having an agent) and any attempts you have made at securing representation.

Answer: I have a wonderful agent. If you’re going to pursue publisher-driven writing, I think you need an agent to represent your interests, provide knowledgeable advice, negotiate contracts, play good cop/bad cop with publishers, and give you insight into what’s going on in the publishing world. To get those benefits, you need an agent with experience in all those areas, so you need to choose very carefully. It’s as much work to land an agent as it is to land a publisher, but with luck, a good agency relationship will last your whole career. The cons of having an agent are that you give up a percentage on the work they sell for the life of the work, and if things go south, it’s harder to split up with an agent than a spouse.


Question: Share your experiences interacting with publishers (query letters, the editing process, cover design, marketing/sales). If you have self-published, describe the pros and cons to this process.

Answer: Overall, my experience has been very good. Since I have an agent, he handles the query process and negotiates the contract, discussing everything with me. Sometimes you get a great editor who understands and loves the work and adds a lot of value by helping you fine-tune your prose, and sometimes you have to work around a not-so-great editor to get the job done. I hire a second editor and use beta readers to get early feedback so I can turn in the best manuscript I can create. Cover design usually solicits minimal author input, but I have had the chance to make suggestions and provide descriptions of characters and provide feedback on the art preliminaries. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing cover art. I’ve worked with Top 5 New York and London publishers, a lot of small presses, and done indie projects. We indie publish short stories/novellas that extend all of our novel series, so there’s a pretty large body of work that will be growing with some all-new, all-indie book/long novella series coming up this year and onward. So we really embrace the ‘hybrid publishing’ paradigm. As for marketing, I did an MBA in marketing because I knew that someday I wanted to be able to help promote my own books, so I have always been very active with social media, setting up conventions and signings, doing media interviews, etc. When I’ve had publishers that have marketing resources, it’s wonderful. In those cases, we try to leverage each other’s strengths and build off what we’re each doing.



Gail Z. Martin is the author of Scourge: A Darkhurst novel, the first in a brand-new epic fantasy series from Solaris Books. Also new are: The Shadowed Path, part of the Chronicles of the Necromancer universe (Solaris); Shadow and Flame the final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit); and Iron and Blood a Steampunk series (Solaris) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.


Facebook: The Winter Kingdoms

Twitter: @GailZMaratin