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A fun discussion-Rox Burkey

Deena Rae Schoenfeldt

Authors who have published a book or more realize it takes a village. The members of the village are talented support professionals with specific skills to bring your manuscript to life. Some writers can do it all, but they are few and far between. The expertise required isn’t a tool downloaded from the internet, but experience in the industry.

Today I am delighted to bring you the no nonsense, unvarnished truthteller Deena Rae Schoenfeldt. She is an author, computer wiz, avid reader, and guide to authors with a variety of services to help authors see the results of a collaborative experience.

Welcome Deena Rae and thank you for spending a little time with me. I’d like to share with my readers how you became involved with publishing services.

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about myself, I am awesome! LOL

Your mother wanted you to follow in her footsteps in her publishing company. It wasn’t until the role of Digital Director piqued your interest. Was this one of those perfect storms of time and opportunity that sent you down this path or something else?

It absolutely was… after I had lost a job and then left the father of my daughter, I had to do something. As my daughter was only 18 months old, had never been in daycare (her father was the stay-at-home-parent) I needed to do something where I could work from home and take care of Wee Bossy at that same time. In 2010 most WFM jobs were either scams or in the adult entertainment industry, neither of which I was willing to do. My mother and I decided to publish her author’s books as ebooks. At the time, ebooks were relatively new and most of the books her imprint published were non-fiction or had intricate styling, we thought the best way to accomplish those titles was with CSS and HTML so that the design elements from the print edition could be adapted for all ereading devices.

You have 91 titles on Amazon, most appear related to helping authors. Can you tell the readers a few of the top ones for new authors to consider and why?

I would love to say that my 91 books are actual fiction but the truth is they are either workbooks for “pantsers” authors to “plot” their novels – with forms for character traits, locations, the plot or other helpful forms I made up for some of my author clients. What I am most proud of is the Book Promotion Directories. I have compiled an extensive list of book blogs, promotion companies and podcasts geared towards authors and readers that are open to having reviews, guest posts, and guests. I still have not published the 2023 edition because to be honest, I got so busy with things related to TopShelf Magazine I just haven’t had the time to do the book design and ebook adaptation of the newest edition. I also published a few coloring books which I love.

I noticed the covers are unique and eye-catching. Do you do your own cover designs? If yes, then at one point does the idea for the cover design hit you?

I do some cover design but I am not a cover designer by any stretch of the imagination. Mainly I do covers for non-fiction which are completely different than the blending, layers, type treatments that a “real” cover designer has to implement depending on the genre. I would never attempt to design a Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Paranormal cover. I couldn’t do a book in those genres’ justice. So why would I take hard earned money from an author, most of whom don’t have money to burn on something that is not the best.

You have worked with authors all over the world. Do you find the same challenges for authors regardless of where they live?

I have had clients in Australia, Germany, Britain, Scotland, Canada and of course America. I have also had clients whose books were translated into German, Spanish and French – those books not clients – had their own set of issues, but I have to say 99.9% of the clients I’ve had, no matter the nationality, have been spectacular. I think all authors, no matter their location or genre, face challenges that are similar.

Do you prefer working with fiction or non-fiction authors and why?

I love working with both for separate reasons. Fiction books I usually get to have some creative license with typography and styling. For instance, I did the book design and ebook adaptation for some dark romance books, for those I utilized black pages with “white type” to keep the aesthetic from the cover and plot on the pages.  For non-fiction, it is always clean as far as the typography, paragraph styling and chapter headings. There might be hundreds of graphics, images, links, footnotes, etc, but the overall design is straightforward and clean. Fiction authors are more adventurous and non-fiction authors usually “color inside the lines”.

What do you hope to bring authors that others providing similar services may miss?

I hope that because I grew up being involved in the industry and helped my mother with her various publishing projects, I have a more robust and technical background than most “formatters” (how I hate that word – I design books and adapt them for e-readers, formatter is not an industry specific term). I have been involved in publishing in one way or another for more than 30 years. I have learned from some of the best and brightest; I am proud of that. At the same time, I don’t tell an author I can do something if I have no idea how to do it. Hence, it’s why I don’t call myself a cover designer or try to take on cover design projects if it’s not something I think I could do justice to.

What is the funniest experience you’ve had with an author?

OMG, I have some hysterical experiences, well, I have to laugh about them now. One time I had an author who wrote a Christian sex manual with pictures…3 photos in various degrees of explicit views. That didn’t faze me at the time. The majority of my clientele were BDSM and erotica authors. Really nothing offends me. I did have to tell that author that Amazon would not allow one picture that he wanted included, no way would the all mighty ’Zon allow a close up of female genitalia more suited to a gynecological textbook if you could get over the pink sheets.

Have you ever taken on a project and halfway through wished you hadn’t? And what was the situation that made it so difficult?

Absolutely, I think every freelancer has taken on a project and either the work dragged on or the client was an issue. Usually, the problem with the client is because they are listening to too many “industry experts” or they change their minds multiple times, usually because someone told them they should do something other than what was already decided.

You work in several aspects of the publishing industry; do you have a favorite part you are most passionate about?

I think I am most passionate about making sure that authors publish the best manuscript they can. That includes following industry specifics for book and cover design, having the best editor they can engage, and treating the process of publishing like the business it is. Too many people are willing to publish a 1st draft and consider it publication ready.

I know you like to read, Deena Rae. Do you have a favorite genre? What about this genre draws you in like a moth to a light?

For about 20 years I only read romance, mainly bodice ripper historical fiction. Then I just got burn out. I had so many choices of what to read due to my client’s publishing projects that the last thing I wanted to do with my free time was have a “busman’s holiday” and pick up a book. I would be nit-picky on the layout side of things. “Why isn’t the first paragraph flush left? Why is there space between the paragraphs when they have indents” I will admit reading just wasn’t fun because I couldn’t shut off my work brain. I didn’t read anything for about 6 years until I was undergoing cancer treatment and didn’t have the energy to do anything but lay in bed.

Do you always write reviews for the books you read? What do you try to convey with your reviews?

For years I didn’t write reviews for anything I read, but when I started working for Indie Authors, I realized how important they were so would review a few each year. Last year when I started reading a wide variety of authors and genres, I decided to review everything I read since I was stepping out of my comfort zone as a reader. I have found some books that I never in a million years thought I would read much less enjoy. I wanted to share that experience with other people that usually stick to just one genre.

You’re a Texas girl born and raised. How has this influence your life and career choices?

Texas born, bred and proud. I think being a Texan is awesome. Since my business is with people all over the world, I notice everyone has a good reputation. Around the world, people in other countries know the Lone Star State, the slogan and the shape.

I get the sense you are crazy busy, so can you share what is a typical day for you is like?

Usually, I wake up at 4:30 or 5:30 a.m. to take my son to work, come home, go back to sleep ’til 7am to take my daughter to her prep school. Then back to bed until about 10 where I immediately start work. I do the magazine design and “Mind of a Reader” article in TopShelf every month so I might spend a few hours working on that or writing the article. Two days a week I have Google Meets with the peeps from TopShelf or with some women in the industry that are sort of a co-op. We do business together, help each other with things and in general brainstorm ideas for “World Domination” and gossip and joke around. We are each other’s sounding boards, cheerleaders and comic relief.

At about 2:30 I start afternoon pick up for the kids. I usually use that time to set grocery pickup and other errands as well, hoping I make it home by 4pm to catch some news, eat dinner and then work for a few more hours if I need to. Sometimes I take a nap waking up at 8pm to make sure my youngest gets her shower and reading until I watch the “King of Late Night” at 10pm. Then I usually read and/or write book reviews until about 3am when I go so sleep. Don’t get me wrong there are always times when it all catches up and I sleep all the way from dinner until early morning drive time.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

My bestie and I joke that in 5 years I will have a self-sustaining “cult compound” with small houses for all my kids and friends. Cult compound sounds hipper than “Compound”. But I will still be working, being busy is good for the mind and soul.

You stay on top of marketing trends in publishing, what are the key changes you see impacting this industry in the next few years?

I think with the early adoption of AI there will be some changes. I think that with the government making noise about making TikTok “app non-grata” we will see Reels become more important. Video is going to play an even bigger role in the marketing of books, which to me is insane – using video to sell words, when the purpose of words/books is that the reader’s imagination plays a huge role in the consumption.

How do you feel AI will impact the creative energy of people and why?

So many authors have started releasing “I WILLL NEVER USE AI TO WRITE MY BOOKS” lately. I honestly think that there are those who have been using ghost writers for years to put out 5-12 books a year under their author’s name, that will use it for plotting or writing specific scenes. They won’t say “Hey, check out the book I wrote with the help of AI” but they will do it. A lot of people are always looking for the easiest way to do something no matter the moral ambiguity of it.

What sort of author and reader groups are you involved with and why?

I started Badass Book B!tches about 8 years ago, it’s mainly author-centric. We have a private FB group where we bitch about stuff, ask each other for help sharing, ask questions, share info we have found out regarding industry trends, and of course share NSFW memes. At one point we had about 70 authors, we have members come and go. To be honest in the last year or so I have culled it down to about 25 core members. I’m ready to bring in some new blood again. I will say only one member has ever been kicked out because we are grown women not middle school girls and I expect people to be adults. We consider our group “Las Vegas” what happens in the BaBBs stays in the BaBBs. If someone shares what happens in the group they’re booted. We’re women helping each other not there to stab each other in the back. Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other women who have her back and offer encouragement.

Deena Rae you’ve been invited to an important publishing conference in Paris. You’ve been asked to speak on the top things first time authors should know. Can you share your top three bullets?

  • Build a tribe of those who support you and give you honest information and feedback. Anyone can blow smoke up your skirt. You need people who will support you and tell you when you are veering into the ether.
  • Take care bringing together your production team – editors are indispensable, cover designers bring eyes to your work. If you cannot afford a professional book designer learn how to do it the correct way yourself.
  • Be careful about following trends and getting involved in online drama. As for trends, as a friend says, when you think you are jumping on a bandwagon you just might find yourself in a hearse. That goes with online drama as well, there are 3 sides to every story – usually 10 sides to something you see online. Be careful about who you side with because it just might be the side that is doing the sketchy stuff.

At the Paris conference you are seated between two of your all-time favorite authors. Who are they and what one question would you like to ask each of them?

All-time favorites – well I would normally have Virginia Henley in that but as I have met her and been able to fan-girl in real life I will mention some I have not met.

Nora Roberts because I love her JD Robb In Death series. She is a prolific writer who publishes multiple titles under multiple pen names each year. I would ask her how she is able to keep the energy up to write all those storylines and series.

JK Rowling because she’s been the middle of a firestorm of controversy for her views on women and transgender women. Whether you agree with her or not you have to understand that she took a POV that was not widely spoken and did not let fear of the repercussions stop her. I would ask her how she was able to stay true to herself and if she ever had doubts about her stance.

Where can people find and follow you on social media?





Amazon Author Page


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Thank you for taking the time to share parts of your story. It’s been a delightful.

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