Bling, Blog, Write: Shojai Says C’mon Down, Y’All! CWA Houston Conference June 7-9


#CatWriters #HoustonJune7to9 #BestCatwritersConferenceEver #LetsGo

Amy Shojai has written 30+ Pet Care Titles. She “plays” in both the traditional and digital space as both a writer and a blogger, so we wanted to check in before the CWA conference and are we glad we did!  Turns out there’s plenty to talk about, and she’s encouraging us to hurry on down to Houston, in her sweet Texas way of course! Read on and if you are an Amy fan like me, try for a free registration, but if you don’t win, REGISTER FOR THE CONFERENCE HERE and make your plans for Houston like she says. It’s be worth it. Don’t forget to bring your bling Amy!

Amy Shojai, Blogger, Writer, Speaker, CWA Co-Founder

Hello again! Amy, you are a legend in the pet writing and now the blogging world but most of all, you are as relevant now as you were when you co-founded the Cat Writers’ organization. How do you do it?

 Well, I’ve written and spoken before about “reinventing” myself. Times change, and writers must be nimble as a cat to keep up with the changes. We can have a pity party and quit — and I did that for a while! — or put on our big-girl-pants and embrace the present and anticipate the future.

Part of my success, I think, has to do with me being CHEAP! LOL! Seriously, I’m no different than many writers who must live on a budget and pay monthly bills. So when publishing went ker-flooey (that’s a tech term, ha!), I interviewed experts, took free or low-cost webinar classes and learned what I needed to know about blogging and self publishing. Yes, I made mistakes, but the beauty of today’s publishing world is that authors have control to change and adjust plans. It’s not like jumping off a cliff. 

 You are presenting a session at the upcoming CWA conference, “The Hybrid Author: Publishing Print, Ebooks & Audio” Can you tell us about it?

 The term “hybrid” refers to those of us who have published both traditionally and independently (indie, aka “self published”). Today there are many paths to success, and often the best choice is dictated by a combination of factors–the project, the audience, and the author, especially.

 For fiction authors, formatting Ebooks is pretty simple, actually. It becomes more complicated when images are included, so heavily illustrated nonfiction digital titles are a challenge. Print books require different kinds of formatting, especially if images and tables are included. Also, a physical book requires a different type of cover compared to digital versions.

Today there are also many ways to market, from DIY free promotions to pricey paid advertising, and I’ll discuss some of these options. There are many moving parts. The session covers the options available today, the pros and cons of each, and how print and digital (including audio) help build an author’s success.

Authors can hire professionals for some or all of the work involved, or they can be a one-stop-shop and do everything by themselves. The seminar will provide information about some of the DIY publishing platforms, publishing software options, and help folks decide what they can reasonably expect when launching their author career. I could probably speak for several hours on various aspects of being a hybrid author, LOL!

This session will provide an overview, and later during the conference I’m happy to answer further questions for those interested in more specifics. That’s the beauty of this year’s CWA conference, because much more time for networking has been built into the program.

When I started on this reinvention journey, I learned an enormous amount of information from those who had walked-the-walk and shared their successes (and failures).

Did you think when you started writing that authors would write without needing an agent or a New York publisher to be successful? How has social media impacted that traditional role?

Holy cats, yes! It’s amazing to me how much publishing has changed. Getting an agent in order to publish with New York was the brass-ring-goal of every wannabe author, and having an agent meant legitimacy as a writer. Today, I know many very successful authors who have left their agents to publish themselves, for the freedom that entails. They are able to publish what they want, when they want, update covers and content, and price their work as they wish–and respond immediately to market changes.

I published my first books without an agent, based on my work as a pet journalist and published magazine articles. That led to finding an agent, and we sold a dozen books together. After publishing changed and we parted ways, it was empowering to realize I had control over my own business for the first time in my life.

Many new writers believe that having a traditional publishing contract gives them the freedom to write–and that the publisher takes care of everything else. In a word–no. My publishers back in the day (Ballantine, NAL, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Rodale, etc), offered no marketing support. Yes, they paid for editing and book covers, but I had no say on the covers (one time they took my name off the cover and I had to throw a fit to get it added back on!). Today, the advice new authors get from traditional publishers is to “start a blog” to market their book.


Yes, social media has drastically impacted both traditional publishing and hybrid/indie authors. The difference is that traditional publishers may tell authors to “do social media” but they won’t explain how, or what works. Hybrid and indie authors know it’s all up to them, so they do their homework to learn what’s effective.

Social media is, in a word, SOCIAL. It is NOT a sales tool. No, it’s a water cooler where you meet/greet/learn about your audience, and they get to know you. Only then, once a relationship is established, will that audience be willing to take a chance on their “friend” who has a new book–and become potentially super fans.

When you say it takes work instead, what kind of work and how much work do you mean? Is it worth it?

Oh yes, I work harder now than ever before. I tell people that my “boss” always knows when I goof off and is a “witch” for making me work all the time. *s* But that’s what running a business means, and nobody cares as much about your work as you do.

 Researching and writing a book is only one part of the equation–a very important part, but it doesn’t end there. The author must then hire a qualified editor (and there are different kinds of editors, from “content” to “copy”); hire a book and/or cover designer; for Ebooks, create digital versions for each platform (kindle, nook, ibooks, kobo, audio); decide on pricing; schedule publication around marketing decisions.

 Once the book is published, updates may become necessary especially in the case of nonfiction. But even fiction books may benefit from updates. My thriller series has gone through 3 incarnations of book covers — the first versions were AWFUL! and the sales didn’t really take off until the 3rd (current) covers. 

 A book is never finished, because new readers constantly discover the author’s work as new-to-them. That first impression can either be fireworks, or a dud. So I’m constantly measuring success and adjusting for the next project to build on former books.

 Oh, and of course once an author begins to make a bit at the business, taxes are an issue. I’m fortunate that’s my husband’s profession, but other authors may need expert help.

If a writer comes to the CWA conference, what do you think they will get out of it by coming in person versus reading information online? Especially for a blogger!

The sessions at the CWA conference are always spectacular. This will be my 24th conference to attend and I’ve never been disappointed in the content. 

 That said–the BEST part of the CWA conference is one-on-one meetings with others who are as passionate about their work as I am. I learn so much over coffee or breakfast, or just chatting during breaks. Many CWA members have become incredibly successful as bloggers, monetizing their online presences and building relationships with pet products companies and services industries. 

 I’ve also gotten book contracts and speaking engagements from attending the CWA conference. Being there in person (in purr-son?) just takes “social networking” to the next authentic level. Bring pictures of your fur-kids, share your love of writing and pets passions, and discover your chosen-family where you belong. It’s so heartening and liberating to know that everyone can speak freely without those “looks” that maybe we get in other gatherings — at the CWA conference, everyone “gets it” and we’re all on the same page (literally and figuratively). 

 Oh, and this year we also coincide with a major cat show. So during Saturday, we can all head over and see some gorgeous kitties in the show ring and the cat-next-door adoption groups, plus BLING! Cat shows have the best jewelry ever. 

Your session covers print, ebooks and audio. Do you have a favorite format for your work? Is writing for each format very different?

Actually, I try to produce each book in all formats possible. That way, the widest possible audience has access to the work, including folks all over the world. Many of my books sell particularly well in Australia, for instance, and even though I’ve not (yet!) produce translations, I also have books sell in many non-English-reading countries. I think my books are distributed in a couple dozen countries now, and that wouldn’t be possible without Ebooks or audio versions.

 Of course, the heavily illustrated books probably are not a good fit for audio, since you can’t “hear” the pictures. *s* That said, some of my most popular audio books are nonfiction works. The fiction books can be a challenge in audio because the reader must “act” the story, and even change voices depending on characters. Yes, I have my own recording studio and “voice” my own books. 

 Probably the easiest and fastest books to produce are fiction Ebooks, and the most involved are highly illustrated print nonfiction titles. My Dog Facts and Cat Facts print books are each over 500 pages with dozens of photos and illustrations. They were a big challenge and I’m super pleased with how they turned out and sell so well. In fact, I also produced them in hardcover versions.

There has been a lot of news about social media’s infringing on our privacy, but yet social media is how writers and bloggers publisize their work . What do you think will be the impact of all of this? Will you cover that in your session at all?

Hmnnn. That’s a great question and I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer. There probably won’t be enough time to cover that extensively in my session (we’re given 45 minutes, yikes! will have to talk fast!). All I can say is — I don’t write anything, in email or on social media, that I wouldn’t want my Mom and Dad to read. *s*

I also steer clear of controversial subjects. Others may disagree, and that may be a personal platform for others. But any author who comes down hard on “one side” of a controversial topic or issue automatically may alienate the “other side” who might be potential readers. That’s something to consider. *shrug*

What is the most gratifying to you about writing about cats that you do?

I love hearing back from readers that something they’ve read helped their kitty-human relationship. That makes it soooo worthwhile! The other day I was at a book signing and met a gentleman who wasn’t interested in buying a book (that’s okay) but did take my card–and suddenly recognized my name. His face lit up, and he said he reads my weekly newspaper column, and wanted to shake hands…just WOW. Writers so often work alone at our home office, and rarely get to meet one on one with readers, and it’s so wonderful to connect and see we have made a difference.

Again, that’s the huge benefit of being at the CWA conference in person. I get to reconnect with people I only see once a year, or meet longtime online friends for the first time.


How many pets do you have now? I heard you have a new pet that makes you what our good friend Arden Moore (who you are on another panel with) calls multi-petual?

Karma-Kat and her new Playmate Bravo

After losing our beloved German Shepherd last September, and our (almost) 22-year-old cat last December, we weren’t ready for a while. But the house felt empty, and Karma-Kat (our 4 year old silver shaded tabby) really missed his friends.

One of my husband’s clients put us in touch with her friend who had rescued an abandoned pregnant dog and asked if we’d want a puppy. So on April 28, we brought home Bravo — he’s 12 weeks old and already weighs 40 pounds! According to those in the breed who should know, Bravo is a Bull Mastiff, so he’ll probably weigh close to 130 pounds as an adult. 

 Karma-Kat is fine with the situation, and Bravo (raised with cats and several other dogs) has great cat manners. And when I’m at the CWA Conference in June, I may look into adopting another kitty. My furry muses inspire me! 

Anything else you would like to add?

I encourage anyone who might be “walking the cat fence” to leap into attending the CWA conference and investing in your writing and publishing future. The organization keeps the cost as low as possible — we’re all on a budget, after all — but you will gain so much AND the cost can be claimed as a business expense on your taxes. When you come, please stop and say “hey” and introduce yourself. I look forward to seeing you there.


Learn more about Amy’s publishing work here.

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or Follow her on Twitter @amyshojai

Thank you Amy!


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