Some individuals in the Indie Author space rise to the top like cream on fresh milk. Perfectly rich in flavor and texture. This how I categorize my guest, Tj Mackay, today. An accomplish entrepreneur, Tj is the Founder and Publisher of InD’tale Magazine. I’m delighted she agreed to let me explore her rise to the top of her field and share the good, the bad, and the no kidding aspects.
I was introduced to her by an amazing voice actor, Richard Rieman, and met her several years ago. Over this time my respect for her and what she’s accomplished continues to grow. I hope you enjoy our exchange. Please feel free to comment and to share with your friends.
Welcome, and thank you for joining me Tj. I’d love it if you’d share a little of your background with my readers and friends?
Hi Rox! I am delighted and honored to get to visit with you today! So, let’s start with a little of my background. I was an English education and dance major in college. I started my career as a music teacher and freelance journalist, enjoying professional book reviewing on the side. I originally came up with the idea for InD’tale Magazine while working as the special features editor for a magazine in the traditional publishing world. It was right at the time that Kindle first made its debut and indie publishing was just starting to take off. There were SO many amazingly talented writers who just didn’t fit the traditional mold, whether because their books didn’t pigeonhole well or the publishers already had their quota of the type book one had written etc. Many were coming to me to see if I could help them get some attention because there really was absolutely nothing out there that allowed for independent or small press authors to gain a platform.
Around that same time, a dear friend of mine became the first self-published romance author to hit the NYTimes list. She called and, in her excitement, said, “Oh my gosh! You should create a magazine for all the indie and small press authors out there!” That seed took root and I dug in, researched, worked, sweated, and cried until we had our flagship issue ready to publish.
Tj, I know you used your professional background and extensive network of friends and associates to provide a platform and media voice for self-published or small press publisher authors. When you launched InD’tale Magazine in 2012 did you expect the success in your endeavor that you find today coming up on your 10-year anniversary?
Oh, I had big dreams. But I also had made a promise to my husband that I wouldn’t go in debt to achieve them. That meant promoting and marketing had to come by word of mouth alone. Which most people know, takes a lot of work! I knew from the beginning that there are SO many we can help, it’s just a matter of connecting with them. I will say a couple of years in when I realized the magazine had grown to the point that we were a worldwide name, I did sit back in awe. It’s so incredibly exciting to help people all over the world but the magnitude of it is humbling, as well.
You created a framework to share current information to old and new authors, deliver top echelon interviews, provide professional level book reviews, and deliver contemporary articles. Was this the original intention or has that grown since you began?
That was exactly the original intention. I also wanted a better way for readers to be able to find the perfect book for them. Up to that time, readers had no way of knowing exactly what was in the book as far as content advisories until they actually purchased the book and started reading. Everyone has preferences, triggers, and things they like and dislike. So, along with the professional ratings we give books, I also incorporated a “steam” rating that allows readers to know just how much sex, violence, etc. is in the book. We were the very first publication to include that! When we started, we also had to keep our focus a bit more linear, as we just didn’t have the budget or the staff to include all areas of publishing. The number of genres, for instance were kept to the basic, historical, contemporary, paranormal, mystery and suspense. In this area we have grown considerably. In genres alone we have added Fantasy, Young Adult, New Adult, Science Fiction, Inspirational, Audiobooks and more. And, as the magazine continues to grow, so does the amount of content we can include.
You also offer book promotional opportunities to broaden an author’s exposure. Of these offerings which do you feel are some of your best values?
Oh, I could go on and on with this! Because so much of our focus is to help indie and small published authors develop a platform and find readers, we do everything we can possibly think of to help achieve that goal. The problem we have found, however, is the very people we want to help, need our help because they don’t have the big budgets that traditional publishing have. So, the challenge is in keeping the costs low enough that our goal can be reached while keeping our doors open. Along with advertising in the magazine (the absolute BEST way to grow over time) We have developed the Rising Star Spotlight interview in the magazine that highlights a promising up-and-coming talent. We also have the “InD’Introduces” feature that showcases talented authors who are new. We also have our special features flyers that publish monthly. The “Book Bargains” promote books that are on sale and the “InD’tale Suggests” segment in our monthly newsletter. So, there really is something for every single budget.
Each time I see or speak to you Tj you are smiling and having fun. What aspects of delivering your magazine are the most enjoyable for you?
I LOVE what I do–That is the long and short of it. I love to read, I love authors, I am in awe of the talent and hard-work it takes to write and create an entire novel. I love getting to know each and every one. And I love actually creating the magazine each month. I think when your passion is your job, it is easy to smile.
You have an awesome staff, several of whom I have met in person or exchanged email with. Have most of your staff been with you since the beginning?
I do have an awesome staff. I can’t even express how deeply I appreciate these amazing, selfless, wonderful people who work at InD’tale. Most people don’t realize just how incredible they are until they discover that our staff really does run on a shoestring budget, so every single person is literally giving so much of their time just because they are passionate about helping authors and readers, as well. As far as how long they have been with me, it is a mix. We have people who have been here since InD’tale’s very inception, and we have those we have hired in just the past few months.
What is your philosophy for keeping your staff excited to work on your rigorous schedule?
I honestly think it is their love of reading and helping authors and readers that ultimately keeps them excited. When our editors see an author who came to us with their very first book become a bestseller, there is nothing better! When our reviewers see one of their quotes printed on a book or in an author’s promotions, there is a jolt of pride and accomplishment that just can’t be explained. And, when our columnists receive letters thanking them for helping and enlightening them, it is a satisfaction that makes the work all worthwhile.
If someone decides to write your biography, what would you like it called and what areas would you like highlighted?
Yikes! That’s a hard one! I think “Finding Joy in the Journey” might work as a title. And I would really highlight how never giving up but persevering no matter what, truly does bring success. When someone asks me how I built a successful worldwide magazine with no budget, I often respond “It’s amazing how much one can accomplish when they are too stupid to know better.” It’s a joke but it is also very true. Any accomplishment worth its salt takes pure determination along with a positive attitude, so that is what I would highlight.
You deliver a monthly magazine packed with information, variety, and dare I say it, fun. How grueling is your schedule to meet those dates?
This is totally going to date me but do you remember a TV show called “Lou Grant”? It was set in a newspaper office where everyone was always frantic and the boss was always yelling, “I need your article, now!” I remember watching it as a child and wondering why everyone was always so crazy. Well, I now know. I am living that life.
How did the pandemic impact your business?
Like so many other businesses, it was a challenge. Since most of our staff live all over the world at this point, we were already used to virtual meetings, digital correspondence etc. So, in that way nothing really changed at all. But all the people we help were affected and as their budgets suffered, things became tight here, as well. I am incredibly grateful that we were able to keep our doors open and the magazine publishing.
Are there steps along your ten-year journey that you wish you had approached differently?
I can’t think of anything I would have approached differently because I really did the very best with the knowledge, I had every step of the way. I do wish I had a better grasp on marketing, though. I still wish that. I am great at all the creative aspects and thoroughly enjoy the inter-personal aspects but all the constant changes in online marketing make my head explode.
Can you please share a couple of anecdotes or surprises that have occurred along the way?
Goodness, there are so many! One that was also a huge learning experience for me happened just a year after we began publishing and I was still completely green in all aspects.
But, I had agreed to co-host what would eventually develop into InD’Scribe Author and Reader Con, with the understanding that my responsibilities would be to procure the presenters and teachers, along with hosting and running the awards. I was supposed to meet our co-sponsor at a very famous hotel in Las Vegas to look at the meeting rooms while he worked out the contract with the head of the hotel. About an hour before the meeting, however, I received a phone call from our co-sponsor who had an emergency and was still in LA. This meant I was the only one able to meet with the head of the hotel! I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m just a mom who is trying to make a magazine. There is no way I can pull off ‘professional’ enough to fool this hotel owne.!” Needless to say, I stood in that hotel room freaking out. I called my dear friend to, talk me off the ledge. She listened to me, then calmly said, “Well, Teej, it’s time to pull up your big girl panties and become the head of a very prestigious magazine. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby!” I hung up and stood in front of the mirror repeating, “I am the founder and publisher of InD’tale magazine” over and over. Then, pulled up those proverbial panties and went down to meet the head of the hotel, I shook his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Tj Mackay. I’m the founder and publisher of InD’tale Magazine and we are interested in holding our conference with your hotel.” My stomach still gets knots even thinking about that experience. But I now chuckle and realize we really can do anything we set out minds to – we just have to fake it well.
Another embarrassing but somewhat humorous experience came while I was still building the InD’tale name and attending another large book conference. I had landed an interview with my all-time idol, Julie Garwood (she is the reason I loved reading so much growing up). I was so excited and nervous when I met her but wanted to come across as a professional and not a giddy fangirl. I pulled it off quite well until we got to the room where I would interview her. At that point, my key wouldn’t work! I tried everything but could not get into the room. She patiently stood and waited and waited (ultimately for over a half hour) while I became more and more frantic. Finally, I had to call hotel security to come let us in. But I was a hot mess by that time. The very best part was that Ms. Garwood ended up being one of the most amazing, kind, gracious and FUNNY people I have ever met. She joked throughout the entire humiliating experience and told stories that had me laughing so hard I had tears.
You honor outstanding author achievements with the RONE awards. How did this this aspect get incorporated into your business?
Man, looking back, I can’t believe I bit off so much so quick. Just a few months after we launched our flagship issue, a few indie authors came to me and asked if we could create an award for excellence in the indie and small publishing world. All of traditional publishing had awards galore for quality writing but at that time there wasn’t a single award that honored indie-published books. I thought it was a great idea but if we did it, we needed to stand out and become the most comprehensive and fair awards in the industry. So… we narrowed down the three main aspects that are required for a book’s success: 1. a book must review well. 2. Readers must enjoy the book. 3. The book must meet the standards of quality from industry professionals. Then we incorporated those aspects into a three-tier judging process. Since that time, the RONE awards really have become the most prestigious and comprehensive award in all of indie and small publishing today.
Educating authors, both new and old is one of the pillars for the magazine. How do you achieve this and why is it important to you?
It is one of the pillars of the magazine because it is so very important! Authors can be incredibly gifted writers, but they still need information and the ability to be able to accomplish their goals and present their stories to be successful. That isn’t an innate ability, especially in this ever-changing world. We work very hard to keep on top of the latest tools, trends and information that will give great writers every chance available for success. For instance, right now, we have two separate series of articles running – one researches each of the writing suites and tools out there and gives readers the specific plusses and minuses so that people can make an informed decision on what works best for them without having to spend a ton of money on things that won’t work. The other column now running instructs authors on everything from setting goals to book marketing to how to pick a publishing team. And this column comes with a monthly roundtable online where authors and readers can participate and ask questions to learn more about each topic. Honestly, there isn’t a resource out there that gives authors and readers more valuable information than what we find and deliver.
You have met many authors throughout you career. What are some of your more fun recollections of those meetings?
Well, I already mentioned one of my most memorable with Julie Garwood. Honestly, I could go on for days recalling meetings with the most famous and interesting authors in publishing. Interviewing is truly one of my favorite things to do in this job. I remember every single author I interview.
A few that stand out, however, are Diana Gabaldon. I sat in absolute awe with her. She was so warm and friendly but so jaw-dropping intelligent (she has multiple doctorates) that I remember thinking I could just keep quiet and listen and never stop learning from whatever came out of her mouth. Another favorite was with Ilona and Gordon Andrews (Ilona Andrews). She was very shy and so reticent that it took me three years to get them to agree to the interview. But they are one of my all-time favorite authors, so I wasn’t going to give up! When I finally met them, however, and we sat down to talk, she relaxed, warmed up quickly and before I even knew it four hours had passed. It was AWESOME.
Then, of course there are the many goofs I make. When in-person interviews were still the thing, we used to create a video snippet to put on the website as a teaser. When recording this snipped with the amazing Denise Grover Swank, I was so nervous I kept calling her Hillary Swank! We went through SEVEN takes of that one-minute video. And each time I screwed it up, she would start giggling harder. And, the harder she giggled the worse I got. By the end, we were both in tears we were laughing so hard. I doubt there are very many celebrities in the world that would have been so gracious when someone gets their name wrong – repeatedly, as sweet as she was. She will forever be an author I absolutely adore and admire if for nothing else than that. See? I could go on all day on this topic.
Have you met an author (no names please) who is so annoying that you wished you’d never heard of them? Why was that the case?
Oh hecka yeah. Luckily, they are few and far between. But there have been some that made me want to pull my hair out! A few gave only one-word answers (a fate worse than death for an interviewer) and a couple that would give celebrity prima-donnas a run for their money. One in particular was so cranky that I wondered why they even agreed to the interview in the first place. Still, it makes for some great memories.
Who are some of your top, long-time supporters that you know you can always count on and why?
Oh, I can’t even list all the amazing people who have been such incredible supporters… like yourself. I’m sure if I start, I will surely miss one and I would never want to offend our dearest of friends.
Authors reading this might want to know your book review process. Can you share a bit of that and perhaps the online links they can use?
Getting a professional book review from InD’tale magazine is really very easy. All an author must do is pop over to our website at: www.indtale.com , click the “Submit a book for review” tab at the top and voila! It is important to read our guidelines, however, so one is sure that the book they are submitting is actually a book we accept. If the book meets our guidelines, all one has to do is upload a digital copy, cover graphic and pay the $20.00 service fee that will cover the formatting and purchase link cost. Easy. Also, it is important to note that every book that receives a 4.5- or 5-star rating upon review, is automatically nominated for a RONE award.
Do you ever add reviewers to your staff? How does one go about applying with your magazine and what qualifications do they need for your team to consider them?
Oh yes. We periodically have openings for professional reviewers and are always looking for more as the magazine grows. To qualify to become a professional reviewer, one must be able to write concisely yet creatively and follow the guidelines we provide. It is very important that we maintain the high quality and the overall consistency in our reviews in order for readers to trust and rely on InD’tale. Therefore, we provide very specific judging sheets for each reviewer that they must follow as they determine the rating of each book they read.
I know you are an avid reader. What is your favorite book to curl up with at night and do you have an eBook, paper, or audible format preference?
I read upwards of 300 books a year, so… Yep, I have to love to read. Because of the number of books I read, my favorites change with my mood. I will go for a while bingeing on fantasy books… then the mood will change, and my favorites will be contemporary, or historical or suspense. Still, I think I prefer a good variety overall. I enjoy most genres so I’m an easy target. I like reading hard copy books but they would break the bank so I read mostly digital. Digital is also the easiest with a busy schedule. I haven’t really gotten into audiobooks yet. I still love the actual words on a page. If I were commuting, I would absolutely pick them up, though.
Is your magazine available in multiple languages?
Not at the moment. English is it. I would LOVE it if we could, however.
Imagine, please, you are invited to an author’s luncheon in London. What two authors living, or dead would you like next to you? What questions would you like them to answer?
That’s a really hard question because I have been blessed to interview most of the authors I dream of interviewing. I still haven’t gotten to visit with Patricia Briggs and I would love to ask her all kinds of questions. Of course I would love to sit by Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien… oh the list of deceased authors could go on and on.
At this same luncheon, the host invites you up to the podium to share a few words of encouragement for up-and-coming authors. What would that message be?
NEVER GIVE UP! If you love what you do, learn, grow, and persist until you get it done!
Where do you want to take InD’tale in the next ten years? What do you want to achieve for yourself and authors?
I would really like to take InD’tale to a much wider audience. Introduce those who may not already be big readers of fiction to this wonderful world. I believe in a lot of circles, reading fiction is considered a waste of time, but, it is the most effective way to educate, teach valuable lessons and inspire. Where people may not accept a lecture or a lesson, they can read a story of someone that doesn’t even exist and by seeing their struggles and triumphs, grow and learn so many valuable and enlightening truths. I would also love to find new and better ways to promote and help truly talented authors gain success in writing as a career.
You are an inspiration to women and entrepreneurs everywhere. What do you think helps drive success that folks can emulate?
Why thank you, Rox! My deepest dream and desire would be to inspire and help others find their passion and happiness, then help them to be able to succeed in those areas. I sincerely believe that if you truly, deeply believe and want something that it will show in both your work and in your countenance. It’s the sincerity and the love of what one does that others see and want to emulate. Unfortunately, that can’t be faked and the drive for money isn’t enough. It must be a heart-felt desire and a focus on others. That way true success can be achieved alongside true happiness.
Where can folks find you and follow you.
Wow, Tj, I want to thank you for spending time with me. I enjoyed every second and I think my readers will too.
Please feel free to comment below and Tj or I will make certain and respond. I also encourage you to subscribe here for book reviews, author interviews, and amazing guest specials. Thank you for stopping by. Rox