Cody Sisco, Allison Rose and Gabi Lorino are the authors behind the independent author co-op and anthology series, Made in L.A. Volume 2 of the series was released on May 31st. The three authors were kind enough to chat with L.A.L.A. Society founder, Sandra Ann Miller, about the landscape of literary Los Angeles and coming together to make a bigger splash.
Of the three, Allison is the lone Los Angeles native. Cody was raised in the San Francisco East Bay and moved to L.A. seven years ago after living abroad. Gabi hails from Tampa and just celebrated her fifth year as an Angeleno. [Editor’s Note: The interview has been edited for brevity. When four authors come together, it can get wordy.]
Sandra: How did the three of you meet?
Allison: Cody and I met three years ago at an Indie Author Day hosted by the Alhambra Library. We were both very new to the self-pub scene with one book each. The event itself was less than inspiring, but I ran into Cody months later and he mentioned he had a booth at the LA Times’ Festival of Books and asked if I wanted to join him. It felt like fate at that point. This was well before the Made In L.A. group was even a thought.
Cody: Allison and I clicked—both for our approach to indie publishing, and because we’re both drawn to similar science fiction ideas and dark themes.
Gabi: I first met Cody through the L.A. Writers Critique Group, which has gone through several names. It’s a Meetup group that meets twice per month at different libraries in Pasadena and Silver Lake. The original founder couldn’t continue the group, so we stepped in to keep it going, and we’re still involved four years after that.
Cody: It’s been four—maybe five—years and all is going smoothly. It’s now a place where writers’ talents are incubated and any writer can get feedback that will help them grow. At some point, though, critique becomes a smaller part of a bigger picture. After my first book came out, the reality settled in that there was more to a writing career than writing, and I started looking for authors who were in a similar place.
After Indie Author Day, which was the first time I sold books in person, I wanted more. Foolishly, I signed up for a booth at the LA Times’ Festival of Books thinking that I had six months to organize something and it would all work out. I think I started to panic in January.
Gabi: I volunteered to reach out to potential readers for the mix of authors who were sharing it with him. That’s how I met Allison and, after that, the members helped me get my first book finished and out in the world.
Cody: Luckily Gabi and Allison saved me from myself and the Made in L.A. brand. The group came together and it’s been rocketing forward ever since.
That’s pretty impressive. How many books have you published between the three of you, including the anthologies, in that time?
Cody: Two anthologies, my second book, Allison’s second book, and Gabi’s first—so, five. I’d never thought of it in those terms!
Five books and two writers’ groups. That’s a lot of caffeine.
Gabi: Due to medical reasons I can’t have caffeine or alcohol, which makes me wonder how I can call myself a writer anymore. [Laughs.]
Allison: It is pretty impressive that we have all published individual books in that time period. We are inspiring each other to finish work and publish books, and it is great to be able to be more transparent with each other about the challenges of writing and self-publishing. We encourage and challenge each other to push forward and grow.
Cody: Previously, it was so easy to get into a mode where I was mostly alone with my writing, feeling like every step in marketing my book was futile, and that I was kidding myself about where my career was headed. Now, I have a responsibility to my fellow writers to make things happen and things are happening, it’s a virtuous circle. There’s a huge benefit to working together.
There’s still somewhat of a ridiculous stigma to “self-published” authors. I prefer to use the term independent like you. What “traditional” publishers fail to see is how entrepreneurial independent authors must be. In a sense, the three of you started a publishing company with Made in L.A. How has that worked for you and why did you choose that independent path?
Allison: There is a lot of conversation to be had regarding the indie vs. traditional publishing route. Yes, there is a lot of stigma surrounding self-publishing, and a lot of that is due to how easy it is for Joe Schmoe to throw a quick draft version of a novel on Amazon and call themselves a published writer. As individuals, Cody, Gabi and I still face the challenge of proving our own expectations of professionalism and our ability to prove that to readers without explicitly stating that we hold our work to the same industry standard as traditionally published books.
The advantage to our Made in L.A. publishing group is that we can present ourselves as not simply one individual promoting how amazing we are, and instead we push for the visibility of each other. The three of us are putting our own credibility on the line in doing so, and I think that resonates with readers.
Cody: Regarding self vs. traditional publishing: I don’t think most readers understand the ins and outs of publishing and how much the landscape has and hasn’t changed over the past 10 years. On the whole, they probably don’t care. They want a good story. They want to be entertained.
Gabi: I personally chose independent publishing because some of what appeals to me hasn’t made it to the mainstream yet, and I don’t want to be told to write stuff that doesn’t come naturally by an agent or whoever who’s just trying to get something produced that can sell today. Fiction writing is a way of expressing myself and my Gen X worldview, and I want to be true to it. Besides, I got to set up my own imprint and name it Word Nerd Media, and that makes me pretty happy!
What has your reception been with local media on getting coverage for your book launches and events? With over 1,000,000 self-published books released last year, how do you go about building an audience?
Cody: I think we’ve seen that there are no shortcuts to building an audience. At a minimum, you have to have entertaining writing. Beyond that, with regard to finding an audience, there are as many approaches as there are authors. For Made in L.A., we knew from the start that our stories were in demand, so it became a matter of showing up in places where fans would find us. Thus far, we’ve done panel discussions, readings, and activities at libraries, bookstores, and other venues. For me, half of the strategy is to be visible and to create space in the literary landscape. There are other themed anthologies that put a focus on L.A., but they don’t have—as far as I can tell—the same approach. We’re committed to collaboration and engagement, and paving the way for more indies to find their own path to success.
Allison: There is also a lot of misconception from people that those who chose to publish independently have done so because they have failed to sell to a traditional publisher. I chose to publish my own material without even sending a single query to a publisher or agent. Not to speak for everyone, but the three of us have chosen the indie path for a number of reasons, but mostly for creative control. The gate-keeper mindset of traditional publishers is infinitely frustrating, so for me it comes down to creative freedom. Yes, the major downside is that the uphill battle of visibility can often make this choice feel pointless. Indie authors have to be more creative with visibility, more supportive of each other, more part of a collective and creative team instead of competing against each other like the big publishers do. I have hope that the indie community will find success in becoming a community instead of seeing every other author as an adversary.
Gabi: Independent bookstores are thriving. No one saw that coming but I’m so glad that’s the case. I’ve worked for one in the past and love to visit them. Any bookstore or library, really, but an independent business that’s part of the community is a place I’d choose to spend my money over a chain. And the ones here are willing to stock our books! It takes effort but there is a payoff in the end. Ultimately, you want to get people to read your work because it’s appealing and available, and you make it that way by getting out there and showing up. Bookstores want to host events to bring readers in, and writers want their work to be heard and seen. It’s a perfect pairing, if you’re willing to get out there and show up.
Cody: The media situation for literature is dismal all around. News publications, when they cover the arts at all, focus on film, music and performing arts. When they do cover books, they are so overwhelmed with options, they have to filter and by necessity they focus on the biggest names or the books that publishers are pushing hard with well-resourced and connected publicity campaigns. This landscape is not the one that indies inhabit. We’re in spaces that are DIY, hyper-local, niche-obsessive, and face-to-face. Rather than marketing dollars, our legitimacy is determined by our reputations and the strength of fandoms.
Which is why I think it makes sense to create something “bigger” than a single author, such as Made In L.A.—and that’s the main reason I started the L.A.L.A. Society. Power in numbers, creating a larger, louder voice for local authors in a city that sometimes ignores books until they come to a screen.
Gabi: Mass media is like traditional publishing, whereas social media is like indie publishing. There’s a lot of luck involved in getting coverage for serious issues like a child’s disappearance, let alone books. But on social media, if you make a meme and post it, it exists. If you communicate about an issue you care about or tell people about your stories and books, it literally puts the information out there. So that puts the power with you and your network.
Cody: I think it’s also important to recognize that the playing field for indies is not level and it’s up to us to find and work with partners who are interested in creating alternatives and supporting change. I’ll call them out here, in a good way: IngramSpark has created a path for indies to get their books, printed on-demand, in bookstores. We’re not limited to selling e-books or sending all our readers to Amazon.
Getting back to the collaboration aspect, how is it gathering authors together and then having to accept, edit or reject their work?
Cody: The three of us balance each other out. When we’re deciding whether or not to accept a submitted story, all three of us have our say. It literally would not work for one person to make that decision. I tend to be a “yes man”, and Gabi and Allison’s more discerning viewpoints are necessary to uphold the standard we set for ourselves.
Gabi: If you write and want to get better, you have to learn to accept criticism. You also have to rely on your gut to sift through the advice you get in a critique session from multiple people around a table or via online input. Working on the anthologies steps this up a bit, but the general guidelines are the same. You provide feedback; you share the responsibility of choosing stories because one person’s tastes and preferences shouldn’t set the whole tone, and you offer what you think is the best advice/changes/edits, then see what the writer says. It has to be a collaboration between you and the writer. And if it isn’t a match for what you’re working on, you have to let them know this gently, because there may be a great match for their work elsewhere and it’s not a personal slight if their work isn’t a fit for your collection.
Allison: Authors are an odd bunch. We all want individual success, to be praised for our talent. But as we have all learned, one person makes a pretty small splash. A group of authors has the advantage of presenting more professionally because in order to be a part of said group, the individual has to first prove their worth. The same goes for the anthology acceptance and rejection process; we want the anthology to showcase compelling stories from strong authors because we are the ones presenting this publication and asking readers to spend their precious time and money. Gabi, Cody and I are quite picky about the stories we admit into the publication, not only because we have high standards for quality, but because it is our own personal credibility on the line. That said, we have thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic collection of stories from authors all over the greater Los Angeles area, and are excited to showcase in our anthology series just how vast and interesting the city can be. We as authors also have to remember we are asking strangers to spend their precious time and money on something they know little about. How can I prove that my book is more worth their attention than someone else’s? What makes my book special? So many authors can’t answer that question. Personally, I’m still struggling with that as well.
It’s probably a little early for this question, since Volume 2 was just released, but what’s the feedback been from authors, readers and bookstores on the Made in L.A. anthology series?
Cody: At the Festival of Books this year, we had a bunch of readers who told us they enjoyed the first anthology and were excited to buy the second. Our readings draw both people we know and people who’ve recently heard about us. “I’ve seen your Instagram,” is something we hear a lot. We’re in more bookstores than we were before and have four events coming up at Skylight Books, Stories Books & Cafe, Gatsby Books and the Last Bookstore, and we’ll likely schedule a few more, so it feels like we’ve crossed a threshold.
That has to feel really good.
Allison: Readers in L.A. are excited to read stories about L.A., and it has been pretty amazing to be able to tap into that. The fact that so many readers enjoyed Volume 1 enough to come back for Volume 2 speaks to how we may actually be doing something right!
Gabi: The bottom line is that many people feel a connection to L.A., which can be played out in a million ways. We’ve managed to tell a small fraction of stories set here, and each year there’s more. Something about this place soaks into you and becomes part of you no matter where you might move next, so the people who read our work are generally pretty excited about L.A. stories.
Will there be a Volume 3 for Made in L.A.?
Cody: Yes, absolutely. We have not yet nearly exhausted the great stories and authors who could contribute. And the three of us are an efficient and effective team, and it helps that we like and get along with each other. The timeline is something we’re always seeking to stretch to make it less of a crunch. Good luck to us! I’d like to put out the call for submissions in July before our events ramp up. We’re always making little improvements. This year we’ve talked but haven’t yet made any decisions about possibly involving more readers and using Submittable to manage the process.
What’s next for the three of you?
Allison: I think it is safe to say we are always working on something! I will spend this year completing my third young adult sci-fi novel of The Tick Series, as well as wrapping up some other unfinished works. Writing and storytelling is a never-ending process, but it has been an amazing experience to continually strengthen my skills.
Gabi: I got really inspired last Christmas and wrote a song called “Single in December.” My band, the Ukuladies, plays it every time we get together. I always get inspired to write at the holidays, about the holidays, and I’m compiling a short story collection of interconnected characters, with all stories set at Christmastime, same title. Just sent it out for peer review last week. I’ll record the song with my husband—he has an at-home studio—and make a book trailer (which I have to call ‘music video’ to get excited about it) to be released in November, one hopes.
Cody: I’m working on the third novel in the Resonant Earth series and hope to publish late 2019/early 2020. BookSwell is taking off thanks to a team of contributors and a biweekly podcast. I hope to be able to add an educational component for indies to the mix later this year.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the Festival of Books was being a few booths down from Made in L.A., and kind of sharing that space with you, sending authors and readers back and forth to each other. It made our first time there that much more special. It was nice having that collaborative feeling between similar groups. I wanted to thank you for that. And thanks for taking time out for this interview.
To learn more about Made in L.A., click here.