Amy Shojai has successfully published 35 books (both dog and cat), and most recently published two new cat books and a dog book, so we thought it was appropriate to showcase her 20th Anniversary interview as the AKC and TICA joined together for Meet the Breeds in New York City.
Editor’s Note: Amy Shojai, publisher, author and co-founder of the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), holds a very special place with Goodnewsforpets.com. As then president of CWA, she was the first to sign on as our media partner in 2000. She has evolved her business as CWA and Goodnewsforpets.com has expanded to a digital platform.
As a co-founder of the CWA, the first media partner for Goodnewsforpets and a Germinder20 Power of Pink Honoree, there’s now well over 70 references to you since we launched in 2000. That’s because you are always doing something new. What is your secret to reinventing yourself?
Oh my goodness, I guess you could say I’m easily bored? I am endlessly curious and interested to learn from successful writers and publishers. Seriously, some of the reinvention has been out of necessity. It’s either find a new way to succeed or hang up the keyboard for good.
Today’s “solopreneur” must be nimble enough to change when the business model changes. We must be aware of the next-big-thing and savvy enough to figure out how that impacts our work. For example, I began writing for print periodicals (magazines and newspapers). When their serial-rights contracts wanted to add “online rights” for no extra pay, I negotiated separate deals for that licensing. Yep, I lost jobs over that in the short term, but because I retained those rights, I could leverage that content into future online deals—and did.
When many print magazines went away, I’d already transitioned to online writing. And when publishers allowed books to go out of print and argued that online information made any future pet care print books obsolete, I had rights reverted. And I decided to experiment with fiction. Because I’d partnered with a forward-thinking independent publisher for my thrillers, I learned about Ebooks.
Once I saw the success of independent publishing, I created my own imprint and updated my backlist pet care books, and released original titles as well. By the way, nonfiction pet print books still sell very well, no matter what New York publishers might say!
Because I’m a one-woman-show, I must budget for expense and time spent. For example, rather than pay others for each audiobook production, I invested in my own audio studio. That way, for the cost hiring one book produced, I can record all my own books. I’ve completed nine so far, with many more to record. Audiobooks are the fastest-growing segment of publishing, and I recouped my investment after the first two audiobooks were published.
I’ve always offered help to other writers and publishers when I could, sort of passing it forward in honor of those who helped me. Time has become a big issue, though, and so I needed to focus on my own projects. So I created the Write Schtuff online coaching calls, on-demand webinars to answer writing and publishing questions with examples from my own experience. I hope to have a Write Schtuff series of books sometime in 2020.
I also plan a PETS PEEVES series of pet coaching calls to answer and give advice about some of the most common cat and dog behavior challenges. These will be based on some of my award-winning Quick Tips guides (available also in print and digitally).
Can you tell us about your latest cat books?
I released two cat books in December.
The most recent published on December 22, 2019 and is one of my Quick Tips Guides. DOES MY CAT HATE ME: Improve Behavior, Boost Health, & Mend Your Bond With Environmental Enrichment. It is quite short, with very prescriptive advice to help cat lovers improve their cats’ well-being. It is available on all print and digital platforms but will be a free download for those who view the Cat-egorical Enrichment webinar.
I’m especially proud of the second cat book, CAT LIFE: Celebrating the History, Culture, and Love of the Cat. It is the first full color interior book I’ve created, with more than 150 images, and is available in hardcover, paperback, and on Kindle.
ASIDE: Now, here’s another lesson about reinvention. CAT LIFE is based on my very first book published way back in 1992. I wrote the text for the “work for hire” book that went on to sell more than 70,000 copies. I made next to nothing on the book, but it helped me get my agent and sell many more titles. When it went out of print, I got the rights back to the text but did nothing with it since I had no way to reproduce a quality color interior book.
Thirty years later, self-publishing technology allows for full color interiors. The old content needed LOTS of updating, reorganizing, and edits (a lot has changed!). More than half of the text is new, and all 150+ full-color photos are new. So it’s not a new edition, but a totally reimagined book.
You are better known for your cat writing, but you also write about dogs. Can you tell about your latest dog book?
I’m equally proud of DOG LIFE: Celebrating the History, Culture, and Love of the Dog. It is a companion title to the CAT LIFE book, and also available in hardcover, paperback, and on Kindle. Because there are so many dog breeds, the book has 215+ photos, making this new book far more complete than its inspiration.
DOG LIFE is based on my second work-for-hire book also published way back in 1993. This text needed even more of updating, reorganizing, and edits. Probably 65% or more of the text is new.
You have written over 35 books. Was there anything different about the process of writing these books?
These books were quite different in that the photographs chosen, and the layout and formatting, were so important to the finished books. I had an absolute ball drooling over gorgeous cat and dog pictures, and then choosing the ones that best illustrated the text. At times, the chosen image meant rewriting portions of the text to better coordinate the message.
The formatting of color pictures offered challenges, too. This time, I incorporated full “bleed” which basically means some images run to the edge of the page. Also, books required high-resolution pictures, which increased the size of the digital file, so much so that Ebooks (except for Kindle PrintReplica fixed format versions) couldn’t be created.
Updating the text made me smile. So much has changed in what we know about cat and dog care and behavior. New breeds have been accepted, and DNA and other research gives us better understanding of the way these companion animals evolved. I also have evolved as a writer, so hopefully the text now has a more mature, and authentic “Amy” voice that matches my other work.
Let’s talk about our collaboration. You signed on as CWA president to Goodnewsforpets as a media sponsor and then we collaborated together to promote CWA under Germinder + Associates. What did you hope to achieve?
Wow. Well, way-back-when, I recognized that CWA needed help getting the word out about our organization and programs. I also recognized that I knew diddly about promotion, compared to the professionals. Throughout my career, I’ve made it a point to go to the experts for help.
I knew about Germinder + Associates by reputation in the pet field, of course, and was impressed by the launch of Goodnewsforpets. The concept paved the way for many others, but was one of the first focused on pet news in a professional venue. For CWA, the partnership was win-win, giving us additional credibility in the pet space by being recognized as worthy of partnership. Our members were interviewed, books spotlighted, and in turn we loved sharing all the great information published by Goodnewsforpets.
I’ve been honored to speak to the Cat Writers about the evolution of communications in digital platforms. Instagram for example has become extremely important yet many people are still on Facebook. We’ve continued to collaborate on the website and on digital platforms. What digital platform do you consider most important for writers today?
The most important digital platform for writers today is the one (or two) that the writer feels most comfortable to use. Social media requires you to be authentic. If you HATE chit-chat on Facebook, don’t do it—your hate shines through, and won’t help your cause. It helps enormously to enjoy the digital platform you choose, so you’re eager and willing to regularly update status and interact with your “tribe.” If you feel forced to do something, your interaction will seem forced to others as well and eventually you’ll drop the effort as ineffective.
So my best advice is to choose one (maybe two) that you enjoy, and set up a schedule. Regular posting when your fans/followers/tribe knows to expect your interaction works much better than scattershot effort. And if you’re like me and go down the rabbit hole for hours when you enjoy something (I love searching google for fun facts!), then set a timer and limit yourself. Otherwise, you’ll lose out on time to actually write.
Have CWA members embraced digital promotion?
In the early 1990s, CWA had no digital footprint—er, pawprint? We had to be dragged hissing and scratching to create a website, at a time when very few individuals or organizations had such things. Today, of course, nearly everyone (even my 91-year-old parents!) have an online presence! And the CWA contest entries can be submitted electronically, mee-wow!
Like cats, CWA members and writers in general like the status quo, so it can be hard to change. But members also have access to CWA digital accounts that include a private (for members) and public platform on Facebook, a Twitter account, and an Instagram account. The CWA website also has a blog that is updated when needed, that goes out to members and nonmembers who sign up.
Many times, though, these digital platforms integrate together and so you can post to all from a single platform. I love to take video or photos on my phone, post them with message to my Instagram, and at the same time, they’re shared on Twitter and Facebook. Easy-peasy! But then, I also use Amazon Advertising, and just dipped my toe into Facebook Advertising.
You are a CWA Co-founder and still attend the conference. Why is it still important for you and why do you think it is important for other up and coming writers?
I still attend the CWA conferences because—well, its still sort of my baby. I’m like a proud Mom watching the grown-up organization continue to mature, move forward, and reinvent itself for the coming decade and beyond.
When CWA was founded in 1992 (the same year my first cat book launched), most of us wrote articles or provided photos/illustrations for print publications. A handful were published authors or hosted television or radio shows. Just as members personally had to reinvent themselves as publishing changed, so did the CWA. First, we found a place in the digital world with a website, our members learned to embrace online writing, and later social media opportunities. Most recently, we’ve opened up to self-publishing.
As the world changes, CWA must be nimble as well and like a cat, find new footing to continue treading the path to writer-ly and publishing success. There’s a reason they say cats have nine lives (hey, it’s in CAT LIFE so it must be true!). CWA is purr-haps on its third life, with lots of living yet to do! To register for the CWA conference click here.
I can’t do an interview with you and not ask about your other love, the theater. What is your latest project? Is it related to your writing?
I adore the theater, yes, and especially musicals. My degree was in music performance and communication, so it seemed natural to move from performance to creating musical theater productions. I found a kindred spirit in actor-theater teacher Frank Steele, and we’ve co-written and produced several productions together.
Most recently, we planned to direct our STRAYS, THE MUSICAL show, in which all the characters are cats and dogs that lost homes due to behavior problems. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending, when all are adopted! STRAYS had previously been produced by the Honey McGee theater in Sherman, Texas and at a school in Houston, Texas, so we wanted to bring the show back and have it benefit local shelters.
Unfortunately, too many conflicts meant we had to postpone the production. We are hopeful others will have interest in this new way of getting cat and dog behavior information out into communities, with an opportunity to fundraise for animal causes. Folks can learn more about our shows on this page.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to congratulate GoodNewsForPets.com on its 20th anniversary and am sure that the next twenty years will bring equally amazing changes and milestones. Something that all of us—GNFP, CWA, myself and Lea-Ann Germinder—share is that we relish experience, embrace change and move forward invigorated with positive plans for new beginnings. I suspect you’ll find that’s true of any successful person or organization.
Don’t be afraid of change. It can be a challenge, but more often than not, change offers bigger and better opportunities once you peer through that scary open door. Once you’ve pivoted the first time, it gets easier to recognize potential benefits.
Oh, and do you have a 30-year-old project collecting dust under the bed—or in the corners of your mind? Drag it out, dust it off, and polish that sucker. You may have a gem waiting to shine.
Thank you so much Amy!
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Thank you so much for this wonderful piece about one of my idols, Amy Shojai (oh and Happy 20th Anniversary!)
I am blessed to have read/reviewed a large number of her books and each and every one are superb! (In reference to mysteries, I am not normally a fan of mysteries, but Amy’s are so interesting and unique that I was on the edge of my seat!)
I had known about MANY of her accomplishments, but seeing them all listed here makes them even more mind boggling. Amy is modest, warm, caring, professional and she has never, ever hesitated to offer help/guidance to so many of us.
She is truly beautiful and brilliant……….her aura is as exciting as all of her accomplishments!
I love people (especially women) who are constantly re-inventing and Amy is definitely a role model for all of us!!!
Caren, what a lovely note! We definetly agree! Thanks so much for writing!
My honor to be featured in such a prestigious venue! And *blush* such kind words from respected colleagues makes it all worthwhile.
And we agree with all those comments!