March of the Sequels: Cat Rector
Cat Rector grew up in a small Nova Scotian town and could often be found simultaneously reading a book and fighting off muskrats while walking home from school. She devours stories in all their forms, loves messy, morally grey characters, and writes about the horrors that we inflict on each other. After spending nearly a decade living abroad, she returned to Canada with her spouse to resume her war against the muskrats. When she’s not writing, you can find her playing video games, spending time with loved ones, or staring at her To Be Read pile like it's going to read itself.
First of all, tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel(s).
The Unwritten Runes series is similar to books like Circe, The Witch's Heart, or Ariadne. I’d describe them as queer dark fantasy Norse myth retellings. The books have a splash of humour and a large dose of emotional turmoil.
In The Goddess of Nothing At All, we follow Sigyn, Loki's wife. After trying for decades to make her own place next to her godly family, she turns to the exiled Loki for help. Unfortunately for her, that choice begins the nine realms hurtling towards Ragnarok. The reader gets to witness the myths through her eyes, including what it's like to be attached to a trickster god who can't keep himself out of trouble.
The sequel, Epilogues for Lost Gods, is what it says on the tin. It’s an extended epilogue that aims to show what the cast’s lives are like after the final page of their stories. The characters are forced to face the devastating aftermath of the first book. For some, that means healing and moving forward, and for others, it means dealing with their guilt and devastation.
And finally, Threads of Fate is a short story collection that gives readers a taste of side characters and origin stories that wouldn't fit in the duology. It's bite-sized but satisfying, with stories that are dark, fun, smutty, and weird.
Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?
This is a hard question actually! Since I’m an indie author, I can see my daily sales, and my second book is absolutely selling, but it’s always hard to track how many readers you’ve kept along the way. I know how many first books I sold, but not how many actually read it. Personally, I have about 200 books on my TBR that I spent money on and haven’t read yet LOL. Some people have been very vocal about reading the whole series, and that’s always very good for my soul to hear.
I worked hard to make The Goddess of Nothing At All something that people could connect to, especially women and queer people. I made narrative choices that I thought would reflect some of the hardships in their lives and aimed to help people feel seen and understood. While that’s never going to be the case for every reader, I’ve heard from many who have felt connected to the characters or the misfortunes. It’s a running joke now that the books pair well with tissues and chocolate, and that people keep threatening to charge me for their therapy bills. The books that made me feel things were always the ones that I wanted more of, and I think that has a lot to do with my readers sticking around for book two.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
Very hard, at least for me! My cast was already very solid in the first book, especially since the majority of the characters were directly from Norse mythology. In Epilogues for Lost Gods, there are two new major settings and a lot of new background characters, which meant naming and creating them all from scratch. I only introduced one new major face though, and it was difficult to make sure that her dynamic fit the overall dynamic of the team. I knew what I wanted her to be, especially to a particular character, and it was a challenge to insert her without making it look forced.
Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world you have already built in book 1? Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with worldbuilding?
This is kind of a funny question, because the way that The Goddess of Nothing At All ends leaves a lot of room for creativity. At times I was cursing myself because I wasn’t using any of the same locations from the first book. It meant new worldbuilding and sometimes that was a hassle, but I’m proud of the new realms I was able to create. The nine realms of Norse mythology are complex in the first place because each realm has a theme or rules about what it would look like, but not enough from the source material to really help you build it.
Personally, I think my creation process will always be to choose the right location for the book, regardless of the work involved. I’ll drag myself through the mud to make the book good, even if that means abandoning all the worldbuilding of book one in order to create a superior book two LOL
The first book in this series got to the BBNYA 2022 finals. How did you feel about it?
It feels very surreal. More than anything, I’m grateful.
When I set out to publish The Goddess of Nothing At All, I told my friend I’d be happy to sell a few copies. Now it’s an award-winning book with over 500 Goodreads ratings, and the sales have paid back all the costs of the book’s creation. This book has already achieved more than I could have ever dreamed.
Specific to BBNYA, I wasn’t confident that my book would stand out. I’ve entered it in fantasy-themed book contests in the past, and it didn’t make any waves. I’ve always assumed that was, in part, because the book might be summed up as “queer feminist low fantasy” which isn’t the traditional fantasy book model. I didn’t think the book would make waves in BBNYA either. It was an absolute shock to me that I was in the top fifteen, and when I got the news that the book came in second place, I cried like a baby.
Being an author is such a weird ride. Some days you feel like quitting because you’re sure you’ve done everything wrong or lost your creative edge. Other days you get news that you’re an award-winning author. Mostly I’m still waiting to wake up from this wonderful dream.
I’ve heard you are working on a new project, could you tell more about it?
I’m currently working on a book that I’ve been affectionately referring to at Witch WIP. It’s witch trials-style book, but focuses on medicine, being an outsider, religious trauma, and menstrual health. Our witch Arden lives in the woods near a deeply religious village, and while the people there would love to see her dead, many of the women use her knowledge of healing in secret. Verity, our second main character, is a young woman who was given the short end of the stick. Her mother was burned as a witch years ago, and now Verity is trapped playing parent and housekeeper to her father and younger siblings. She also suffers from debilitating menstrual cycles, like so many women here in the non-fictional world. When Arden and Verity meet, they begin to unravel the deeply dangerous ways of the village, which may change both their lives forever. It also features a cast of forest spirits that range from cute and wholesome to deeply horrific, in case that’s your style.
The book is in final edits now and I’ll be releasing the title, cover, and preorder links soon! It’s due out Fall 2023.
Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books?
Absolutely. The nine realms of Norse myth don’t have a logical, set-in-stone map. If you Google images of it, some depict it like glass bulbs on a tree. Others are like disks, all connected by a tree. Some scholars think that the realms referred to actual places on a real map, like the north of Norway being Helheim because it’s cold and deadly.
I had to make up a cohesive map that could be traversed by travellers and made sense. It was DAUNTING. And attempting to keep all the locations clear and ensure that all the routes made sense? That was a hard part of my job, honestly.
Would you say your craft has improved with the subsequent books?
I think my craft has improved, and I’m still a newer writer. I’m still working out my process and the best way that things work for me. The first series was a breeze! I knew what I was doing the whole way through. Since then, I moved continents, changed my methods, and faced a lot of roadblocks. I think I have a lot to learn, AND every book makes my path clearer.
With The Goddess of Nothing At All, I wanted to tell a dark, painful story. By the time I reached Epilogues for Lost Gods, I was ready to put hearts back together. In Witch WIP, I wanted to connect with readers who have been ignored and harmed by health systems around the world. And now, as I develop the book that comes after that, I’m learning that my books may vary in subject and level of darkness, but overall, I want to make work that feels cathartic to someone. And knowing that goal is going to help me create better work with clear targets, and keep me from floundering in the creative process.
Do you have all the timeline planned for the full series?
The series is done! I’m not the kind of reader or writer who enjoys extremely long series, or at least usually. Someday I may feel compelled to revisit it, but I’m happy with where it is now. I think my characters would also likely appreciate being left alone LOL.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
I recommend accepting that it’s WEIRD. I try to make content where my second book is present in photos, but I have to be very cagey about the contents of the book. Book two reveals every important plot point of book one.
I’ve found it useful to continue marketing book one, advertise that it’s a complete series (or not), and make it easy for people to find the sequels. One recommendation for indie authors is to resubmit your ebook files with a new page in the back that links to the sequel. However, my Kindle pushes me out of the book as soon as I finish the main story, so it’s not a guarantee that people will see it.
Reducing the price of book one can help, because readers always appreciate a cheaper first book and are happy to pay full price for quality sequels. I’ve gotten a lot of success participating in larger sales with groups of other authors, letting new readers grab Goddess for 99 cents.
Oh! And giving away liberal amounts of ebook review copies has done WONDERS for me. It doesn’t matter if I say the book is good. It matters that the readers think it’s good. So every time someone adds it to their TBR on Goodreads or reviews it, they expose a bunch of new potential readers to the book. Nothing an author can do online is more impactful than readers vouching for the book, so be generous and win the favour of readers. I’ve had a lot of luck giving books to readers who have smaller followings, so don’t be afraid to take a chance on baby-sized Tiktokers! If you’re trying to hype book two, you can offer a digital review copy of both books! People love that and it costs you zero dollars.
I literally could talk about this forever, but I hope this helps!