How NY Times Bestselling Author Terah Edun Charted A Wildly Successful Path Through Indie Publishing

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Every day we come across women who are charting their own path, creating opportunities for themselves that didn’t exist, and are not waiting around for the world to do them any favors. In the world of literature, we have seen a huge mainstream dominance of female Young Adult fiction authors who have claimed the genre in a powerful way, and using that popularity to transition into other creative avenues such as film and TV.

Names such as J.K Rowling (‘Harry Potter’), Suzanne Collins (‘The Hunger Games’), Veronica Roth (‘Divergent’) Stephenie Meyer (‘Twilight’), and E.L James (’50 Shades of Grey’) are just a handful of the authors who have collectively changed the fictional literature world for a generation of fans, the way authors like John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King and Michael Crichton did a few decades ago.

With the mainstream visibility of the aforementioned female authors comes the knowledge that the literature world has changed drastically with the digital innovation. Platforms like Amazon have made publishing a more democratic process where aspiring Rowlings or Collins’ can skip the “middle man” and capitalize on the Young Adult momentum craze to share their own fictional stories with the world.

One young woman who has done this quite successfully is Terah Edun. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has over 250,000 book sales and has done this as an independent author. Terah became interested in writing while she was working as an international development worker in South Sudan during college. Two years after graduating (while looking at the prospect of having to pay off her loans over the period of 10 years) she began researching self-publishing.

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Learning about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace, she recognized this would be the best way to have creative freedom over her high fantasy novels and deliver them directly to fans. Her first series is called ‘CourtLight’ (which so far has 7 book and will end with 9) and the first title ‘Sworn To Raise’ garnered more than 420,000 digital downloads. That is no small amount, especially for a relatively unknown author who is self-publishing.

Thanks to the royalties from her first 2 books, Terah managed to pay off her student loans in one year, buy her own house and car, and help her sister pay off her school fees – all before the age of 28! Terah is part of a new breed of successful and savvy young indie authors who have taken control of their own writing careers and forged ahead without the traditional means of getting their work out to the world. Her career path is what is going to become more and more popular, and for good reason.

“As a self-published author my dreams never die. My books have never been shelved as unmarketable or labeled as a dud because I believe in them enough to strive for the best. I reached these milestones knowing that the best is always yet to come and that there’s no reason I can’t do the same thing for my books that a traditional publisher could, because the tools and resources available to them are the same ones that are available to me,” says Terah.

With stories that center on the adventures of kick-ass heroines (inspired by the women and girls she came across while working in South Sudan), witches, warlocks, demons, and an evil High Queen, we had the chance to chat exclusively with Terah about how she managed to write her own rules for success.

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How did you start writing?

It was a bit of a cross between therapy for myself and a present for my best friend actually. I was living in East Africa and terribly bored after work so I started making up my own stories and never stopped! I never really imagined I would enjoy writing as much as I did reading, but it was like falling into my own private Narnia. I couldn’t imagine my life without that outlet now.

Who were some of the authors and books which inspired you growing up?

Oh! Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore. I could go on-and-on but I was always inspired by coming of age fantasy novels with kick butt female protagonists. One of my readers recently praised my books as “feminist revolutionary novels” and I believe that describes the tone of my inspirational authors perfectly as well.

Give us an overview of the ‘Courtlight’ series and what readers can expect to be introduced to?

The Courtlight series is the story of one young woman’s transition from her insular world to the pinnacle of power in the imperial court. It’s very much a traditional story in the vein of “farm boy comes to greatness” but I wanted to turn that on its head and make it a female who not only discovers talents within herself that she never knew she had, but also saves her whole world in the process…with quite a few mishaps along the way.

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There seem to be a number of women who are totally dominating the Young Adult genre. How does it make you feel to be a part of this growing influential group?

Proud. I’m very much a fan of empowered women and especially of the women who have carved the young adult genre out of nothing and made it a place for readers, teens and adults alike, to enjoy books with both a sense of wonder and strength.

As a female writer, do you feel the responsibility to craft female-driven stories and complex, interesting female characters?

A responsibility? No. But I do feel an intense desire to do so. There’s nothing in my mind like opening up a book and seeing yourself reflected there. To read about and write women who are dynamic characters with their own journeys is one of the most satisfying aspects of my life, because I know those very same character-types inspired me as a young girl and I hope to do the same for the upcoming generation.

Who are some of the heroines in your story and what can readers look forward to in your books?

Ciardis is the protagonist for the Courtlight series and she’s feisty, honest, and always getting into trouble. She would be the character a reader would love if they’ve ever seen Sailor Moon and thought hey, what if she was a fantasy princess and carried a sword? While Vana, the resident assassin, is a darker character more prone to an acerbic wit and a strong sense of justice. If you’re a fan of The 100, her practical mindset might be more likely to win you over.

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My books are fantasy for the readers who love magical adventures that grab onto them and transport them to another world where dragons walk among humans and emperors aren’t who they seem. The readers can look forward to never-ending twists-and-turns, romance that will curl their toes, and characters that aren’t quite what you would expect.

How would you encourage other writers who want to follow in your footsteps and who want to one day become a New York Times bestselling author, with hundreds of thousands of book sales?

I’d tell them to first get those words on the page! Because nothing happens if you don’t have the book. Then second, research your options. In 2013, I self-published ‘Sworn To Raise’, book one in the Courtlight series, via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace. I had to learn what went into publishing, which retailers would carry my books, how to present myself to readers, and do it all over again with each subsequent novel. Since then I’ve grown so much and so have my books, from a fan base of the one (the aforementioned BFF) to one of thousands. It wasn’t easy but I am so glad I did it. My path may not look like yours, but that’s the beauty of self-publishing, everyone forges their own destiny.’

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What are some of the best reactions you have gotten from female readers about your stories?

That’s a tough one! But let me dig into some of the fan mail that I keep stored for rainy days and I’ll show you:

“I am more of a Stephen King, Jane Austen, sometimes Dickens reader, but you lady turned me to the other side. I read all 6 Courtlight books in 2 days!”

“Your stories have female characters that…stay strong, stubborn and independent. I love it!”

It’s mail like this that makes me happy because it’s clear that my readers come from all walks of life, and yet they all enjoy these books that I wrote.

What makes you a powerful woman?

Personally I internalized being a powerful woman when I pushed to take my destiny in my own hands. If you would have asked me five years ago if I’d have imagined myself where I am today—an author of fantasy books in libraries and classrooms—I would not have believed you. Because I believed my destiny was set in my international career. But turns out destiny had other plans and it took the courage of a powerful woman to accept that new plan.

To purchase any of Terah Edun’s books, including titles in the ”Courtlight’ series, click here.

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