Our guest today on Writing to be Read is a newly blossoming independent author of two very different books; the first a spy romance and the second a collection of inspirational stories, Chele Pedersen Smith. I recently met Chele through a Facebook book event in which I was lucky enough to win a free copy of her spy romance, Behind Frenemy Lines. After chatting with her, I see many ways in which she and I are kindred spirits, including that she also put off pursuing her passion until our later years, and also in her enthusiasm for the craft and the many creative ideas she has for getting her works into readers’ hands. I’ve enjoyed interviewing her and I hope my readers will enjoy it to as I share it with you.
Kaye: In On Writing, Stephen King talks about how he started his writing career with his brother, printing news on an old printing press, using grape jelly for ink. You have a similar start. Would you share the story of your author’s journey?
Chele: Sure! I’ve been writing since the bicentennial, which sounds really ancient and colonial. Ha-ha. In sixth grade when my best friend Debby and I won the school’s first annual hobby contest with our collaborated mystery booklets. We were totally shocked because a classmate entered her motorcycle and we thought for sure Annette would win. It just goes to show that sometimes the best things are simple and come in small packages!
In junior high, I wrote a teen mystery series my friends loved to read, sometimes before the ink dried on a chapter. I’d fold bunch of unlined white paper and staple it. The plots revolved around protagonist Sherri Whitman and her friend Anna Daine. Anna was more like me, the ordinary girl with ironic luck and Sherri was my alter ego— pretty, more daring and often accomplished what she set out to do. There are 17 books in this series, mostly short booklets until high school when I switched to writing on notebook paper fastened in folders. A bridging symbol between the booklets and the note books is book nine written in a blank journal. Now, that felt like a real book and I think it was the beginning of a serious dream.
With more room to write in the folders and a little maturity, the stories morphed into multiple, more complicated plots. In high school, I took all the writing electives and was on the school paper senior year as well as my first semester of college where I started to major in communications.
One day watching Romancing the Stone, Kathleen Turner’s character was a writer and I noticed she typed her books on a typewriter off the top of her head. I thought, “That is what real writers do!” so I started writing that way too. It was hard to think that way at first, and typewriters did not have the ease computers have today when it came to errors. Now it is second nature to write this way. I still use journals to jot down ideas and I have a separate document on each book called, “Notes for Behind Frenemy Lines,” etc. That way I can cut and paste dialogue if I want to save it for another place, or remind myself what I want to include in the story.
At 21, I tried my first stab at getting published. It was a Sherri manuscript about an amazing mystery that happened to me during my first semester of college. I sent it to a publishing house for young adults and got my first rejection! I was bummed but proceeded to send it to several young adult publishers who said it was too short. So I added other mysteries and back stories from previous Sherri books, but it still got rejected. Only Scholastic gave me detailed criticism and sent me two paperbacks to use as examples. By then I was a newlywed and put it aside to figure out later. I was focused on writing short stories and sending them to Redbook because they use to have contests. I never won but I still have those and other short stories from the 80s, as well as most of the Sherri series.
After years of hiatus, I got back into fiction writing the summer of 2013. An idea for a story kept circling my head like a vulture. It would not go away. Characters formed, names were tried on for size. The perfect first hook crafted itself. Finally one morning, I made coffee, opened a Word doc and then typed out that sentence. And just like that I was writing again! The story is called Confessions of a Goody-Goody and is a bit of a struggle at times because it is based on real life juicy events. I thought Goody-Goody would be my first book, but I got stuck halfway through. It got too personal and I didn’t know how to proceed.
In the meantime, I enrolled in college so I set aside. I took creative writing courses and the writing prompts helped me take Goody-Goody to a higher level. Plus I am adding in a lot of fiction, so I do plan to finish it! In fact, a chapter excerpt appears in our latest literary magazine to set my goal in ink!
Kaye: You gave up a promising career in the health care field to become an author. How do you justify that? Any regrets?
Chele: I had quitter’s remorse at first. I rarely give up on something, but after bailing after just one week in the dental hygiene program, I cried hysterically. What had I done? I felt lost. Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life wasting all that hard work, all those sciences, maintaining A’s to get in?( It wasn’t really a waste because exercised brain power and I made a great group of friends my age and we rocked!)
After waffling on other majors, I ended up in communication because it was the closest thing to a writing degree available. (It’s funny, coming full circle from my youth.) The electives included two creative writing classes, which I loved, and two journalism levels. I lucked out because the spring J2 involved a trip to NYC media writing conference and that was a blast. The good news is, just this the fall, the school branched communications into concentrations and voila–professional writing materialized! It was like the movie Field of Dreams: take writing classes and the degree will come! So now, I’m there with just four classes left.
At this point, I’m mainly getting the degree to complement my novel writing. I’ve recently received fantastic validation through the English department via several professors and have just won two awards for my writing! So I definitely feel I made the right choice. But as for making moolah, if a job in the field isn’t feasible, I will probably fall back on my pharmacy technician training and write novels in my free time. I’ve kept up with my pharmacy certification just in case.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer for you?
Chele: The writing is the fun part, compared to formatting paperbacks and self-promoting. But I’d have to say it is a toss-up between finding time to write and my husband giving me a hard time about it. Since he went to the awards night with me, he seems more impressed and realizes it is more than just a hobby.
I mostly write during semester breaks which isn’t very long, unless it is summer. (Although most summers I’ve taken classes, too.) I have all these book ideas and half-finished projects. I’m afraid I’ll lose steam or the muse will leave me before I get them done. And I’m a revision queen so even after I do finish a book, it takes time to patch plot holes, paint in more details, and weed out never-ending typos.
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Chele: I’m corny and get excited over little things. I never lost my childhood wonder. I love word play so much, maybe I should’ve gone into advertising. The corniness may not come as a surprise to anyonewho reads Behind Frenemy Lines. Lee has some punny lines.
Maybe a more of a shock is that in the 80s, I wanted to be a radio DJ. 1984 was so “outrageous” as Lionel Richie exclaimed at the music awards that year and I remember thinking music would never be as good it was then! We had Michael Jackson at his peak, Kool and the Gang and Madonna, and the British bands! (Little did I know a guy named Adam Levine would arrive on the scene and swoon me in the 21st century.)
In my late teens, I’d play DJ in my room with my little brother, practice queuing up and spinning records and timing announcements with my stereo. Well, it paid off, because the first year at the college, they had an opening for DJ at the school radio station and I had a stint for about a month. It was fun to live out a brief dream, even though I’m not sure anyone actually listened.
Kaye: You have plans for a sequel to Behind Frenemy Lines, and several other writing projects for 2018. Would you like to tell us a little about what’s in store?
Chele: I’m working on a romantic comedy novella. I don’t want to give the premise away or the title just yet because it is a unique way to meet a date. When I needed character names, I turned to classic Hollywood starlets so that was fun. I hope to finish it this summer. I already have the cover made to inspire me! By the way, my covers are made by graphic designer Steven Novak. He has the knack of turning my visions into fabulous covers! I also have two other romance novellas started. Maybe I’ll offer them as a tri-pack.
As for the BFL sequel, Galaxy’s heritage has Russian connections and it falls nicely into current events. But I have some comedic moments and surprises up my sleeve too. And of course it will follow the trysts and trusts issue like the first book.
I write off the cuff, so I don’t know what will happen exactly in each work. In that novella, will Viv’s stalking of her crush win him over? Or will it make him mad? I have no idea yet. Maybe the characters will take over and surprise me. I also plan to revamp and publish the Sherri Whitman series, maybe as a whole unless I lengthen each mystery, and the one that got rejections—Will the Real Green Phantom Please Stand Up— is on my list too! Currently I am compiling the 80s short-stories into a speculative fiction book. So the muse needs to stick around.
Kaye: How did your blog start and what’s it about?
Chele: I have a blog on Goodreads. I’m still experimenting with to get it just right. I try to keep it about topics related to my books and writing, mainly romance, but have also ventured off into pop culture ponderings. It may just become the life of a writer.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Chele: I like the solitude of morning home alone with a cup of coffee and my favorite songs blasting. No one interrupting me except Penny, the golden. I love the night too; it is mysterious and brings out the muse, but it is not usually practical to write then. Except for an odd summer night last year I was not sleepy at all, so I got up to write in the living room. I sat in the dark by the glow of the laptop with a happy golden retriever curled by my side until 4 am! That was when I wrote the last scene of Behind Frenemy Lines—the prologue!
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Chele: I’d jump for joy and thank God. He gave me this talent and being able to make a living on it would be a pinch- me moment! Then I’d hire a housekeeper because I hate cleaning and clutter. It would be amazing to go a book tour and be a guest on Ellen. Being in the spotlight would feel awkward though. Being a writer, it would be nice to have my name known. But I don’t want to be famous exactly; I’d love for my characters to be. When I got my first review from a Goodreads giveaway and the reader fell in love with Lee, I was ecstatic! It was what I hoped would happen. When reviewers mention Galaxy, I’m thrilled. I made these guys up and now people are getting to know them.
Kaye: In a story we are often asked to create images for the reader that we may not have experienced ourselves. When have you had to do that?
Chele: I write what I know, but I also Google a lot! There is a scene in Behind Frenemy Lines where Lee and Galaxy go to the White House to interview Anita, the communications director, about the threats made. I’ve seen the outside of the White House from a park gate, but have never been inside. So, I scoured virtual tours online and described it from there. After the meeting, the spies go rogue exploring the place, so I had to look up different rooms and recreate the experience the best I could.
I’ve also researched Russian Heirloom furniture, so I could describe some antique pieces in Galaxy’s apartment. Soon after, I received a brochure in the mail about Russian art and heirlooms. I couldn’t believe it!
Kaye: You’re a mom as well as being an author. What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?
Chele: My kids are grown now—my son is 27 and daughter is 19 — but they were still young when I was writing the spiritual stories. I only wrote sporadically then, mostly holiday newsletters, and I would craft those when they were in bed. When I got back into writing four years ago, my daughter was about to graduate from 8th grade. So it was easier then. I write while she sleeps in. As for writing around a husband, I like my free time during the week when he’s at work.
Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to have taught your children?
Chele: I hope they see I’m accomplishing my life’s dream, and dreams don’t happen by themselves. You have to put the effort in and seek out the opportunities and avenues to get you there. My daughter is an amazing artist and she is going to school for an art degree. I don’t tell her she has to be a doctor or lawyer. Art is good therapy for her. My son is great at math and has a business degree with a math minor. He’s still trying to find his degree job, but in the meantime is advancing in a job he’s had for 10 years. He likes to do creative writing as a tension reliever after work and my daughter just got public praise from her English professor for a creative angle in her final essay. As a writer and mother, that makes me both proud and relieved. I love that they have writing skills but mostly they are doing what they love.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
Chele: At a Disney resort three years ago, the maintenance crew knocked on the door and were swapping out tree plants. I hadn’t noticed ours and it looked fine when they carted it away, leaving a fresher one in its place. I thought, “how strange.” It seemed suspicious to me, but we were busy and I didn’t think much more about it until we got home. I knew I wanted to work it into a story someday. It happened to fit a scene in BFL, so in it went. What happens in the book is much more exciting than in real life. Also that summer, we received an automated call from our electric company about a 3 am power outage planned to replace transformers. I thought, wouldn’t that be a perfect cover-up to commit a crime? So it found its way there, too.
Every day events make me suspicious now.
Kaye: Your two published works are very different genres. How do you get from inspirational nonfiction to a romantic thriller? What other genres might be in store for your readers?
Chele: Behind Frenemy Lines, is a tasteful spy romance, and was my first published book in January 2017. Almost a year after I started writing fiction again, my husband was going to Germany for business and I thought it would be fun to test my writing out on him I decided to write a spy scene, since that was what he liked to read— Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, and all that. I hid it in his suitcase, so well in fact, after two days I had to inquire about it and give hints. He really liked it. I added back stories and a serious case to solve. The challenge was adding politics. I joke that I have political amnesia because I don’t understand it very well and I find it boring. I also wanted something unique since that is the genre he reads, he probably has heard every plot out there. So I came up with a unique premise, but it does veer off in other directions too.
Since he traveled often that year in 2014, I kept writing other suitcase chapters, just for kicks with no intention of publishing. About two-thirds done I knew I wanted it to be my first book. And the more I developed secret agent Lee Clancy, the more I fell in love with him. He’s a gallant gentleman, has confidence but is not arrogant, knows how to romance, but he isn’t perfect. He’s a real guy, flaws and all. He woos his spy partner, Galaxy O’Jordan, but isn’t sure if he wants to kiss her or wring her neck. The feeling is mutual.
Gal is complicated, beautiful, has body image issues and is klutzy like me, which adds light comedy. She is ruthless but vulnerable and has questionable connections with a shady past. I originally made her up in 11th grade journalism class in 1981 for the conclusion to a T.V script, but I added her multi-faceted personality in 2014. I’m not sure where her name came from. I wanted something exotic for her honey-trapping role, but maybe I was influenced by Star Wars or the space shuttle hoopla back then. I still love her name today!
When White House threats dredge up an old presidential cover up, the case careens a crazy corner into la-la land and it’s up to NSA’s Link agency to figure it out. Enter Galaxy O’Jordan, feminist crusader with a shady past. An agent harboring secrets, she’s sworn off love while mending a broken heart. It’s just her luck when she’s paired with chivalrous hunk Lee Clancy, surveillance specialist! It’s not long before they’re smitten, despite their best efforts to play it cool.
The Pearly Gates Phone Company was published in October 2017 and is an uplifting collection of mini-miracles that happened in my life as well as my family and friends. Remember those spiritual shorts I kept submitting to a Christian magazine? I realized I had quite a few stacking up. From there I wrote a bunch more. There are 33 anecdotal snippets to inspire hope, comfort and give a few chuckles. The title is from the main story in the book, about my dad calling a month after he died. This was 2002 but if it happened today, I think we would have a better explanation about technology. Still, it was a goosebumps moment that was so remarkable, I had to write about it soon after it happened. The original was too long and complicated, but it’s had a few revisions since then, 2014 being the most recent. That is when just the right title popped into my head. I knew it would make the perfect title for the book too.
Have you ever been wowed by the wonders of God? Or enchanted by an extraordinary event? This is a book of coincidental moments, those instances that stop you in your tracks, and you know deep inside it could only be explained by heavenly evidence.
Kaye: You have two very unique titles for your books. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the writing process for you?
Chele: Thank you! I love whimsy titles. Sometimes the perfect one just comes to me, even before I start the story, like the novella and Confessions of a Goody-Goody. But for the two books out now, the names did not immediately click until halfway through. Behind Frenemy Lines had the working title Spy Story as I chiseled away on each traveling chapter. Especially since I threw it together a day or two before my husband’s trip. It was just a place holder, really. Then my daughter was having trouble with a friend and we were not sure if this girl was a friend or enemy so I referred to her as a frenemy. With that word in my head, I suddenly had a title—a play on the movie, “Behind Enemy Lines.” And it was perfect since we don’t know which side Galaxy is on.
As for The Pearly Gates Phone Company, during the original writing, I had the title, “A Call from Heaven” and then with a rewrite, other titles like, “Hello from Hippie Heaven” or “A Heavenly Hello” materialized, but did not feel right. I knew I wanted something more fun. Finally, during the last revision, it popped in!
Kaye: What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?
Chele: Facebook seems to be the easiest and I like Instagram. Twitter seems mysterious to me. I’ve tweeted and try to use hashtags, but not sure how effective it is. The self-promoting concept is one of the most challenging parts of being an author.
Kaye: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Chele: Goofy, Creative, Lifetime learner
Kaye: What makes you laugh or cry?
Chele: I’d rather laugh than cry, so I enjoy comedies. There is no shame in crying, but for me personally, it is easier to laugh. Maybe because I “ugly-cry.” There isn’t anything lady-like about it. Everyday moments crack me up. I always say, “Life’s a sitcom.” And that usually refers to mishaps happening to me.
At orientation a few years ago, they played a little cartoon emphasizing students asking for help to do all they can to pass, rather than use excuses and blame the professor. The cartoon was drawn simply and used computerized, monotone voices, which sounded so funny. I was trying so hard not to burst into a fit and almost left the auditorium, but luckily I was able to keep it under wraps. Good thing, because no one else was laughing. I am easily amused and find if we don’t take life too seriously, we can have a good time.
Sometimes my laughter rolls into crying, especially if I am tired or needed a good cry and brushed it off. An episode of The Goldbergs had me laughing so hard, I was in tears. My daughter came home and I couldn’t even talk to explain what was going on. I could only point to the TV. In the ep, Barry was trying to make sculptures of his girlfriend, copying a cue from Lionel Richie in his video “Hello.” His attempts were hideous, and each one was funnier than the last. I just lost it.
As for crying, I am soft-hearted when it comes to children and animals, so I avoid movies with disturbing themes, but sometimes they sneak in a “feel good movie of the year.” I hate that!
I had big crying jags moving here and experiencing my first partially empty nest when my son stayed behind to move in with his dad to finish college. It felt so unnatural. Another big tears moment was a month later. Losing our old golden retriever, Buster was one of the saddest days I can remember, aside from losing my parents.
I’ve also cried out of sheer happiness, like when my daughter said she wrote about my mom as her favorite relative. I knew she would love to know that! Or when I was trying to track down a friend and finally got a letter from his mother. That was in the 80s, before internet and Facebook, so it felt like a true miracle.
Thank you for asking me all these wonderful questions.
Thank you Chele, for joining us and sharing today on Writing to be Read. It obvious that you really opened yourself up and spoke from the heart. It has been great to interview you. I hope all my readers will thank you as well, and remember to watch for my review in the near future of Behind Frenemy Lines. You can find ouot more about Chele and her books here:
Facebook group: Chele’s Galaxy
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/chelepedersensmith
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16337551.Chele_Pedersen_Smith
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I recently had the pleasure of virtually meeting this charming author when I did a review of her thriller, Zero Balance, earlier this month. This woman is an award winning, muti-genre, best selling author with over twenty books on the bestseller lists. Her genres include: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Coming of Age, Addiction, Romantic Suspense, and Short Stories. She’s an independent author, who founded her own independent press, BSMW, and one of her books has been turned into an independent film. Please help me welcome Ashley Fontainne to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: You brand yourself “The Dark Southern Belle” on your website. Where does this title come from?
Ashley: A fan coined the phrase in a review of one of my books. It made me smile. I knew as soon as I read it that it was the perfect catch phrase.
Kaye: Would you share a little about your own author’s journey with us?
Ashley: It has been a crazy ride! Seven years ago, I had no clue how my life would change when I hit “publish” on Amazon Kindle with my first title. I had no idea what I was doing or getting myself in to, and though the road has been rough at times, wouldn’t change a thing!
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Ashley: I am a huge crybaby. In fact, I refuse to watch certain movies or read particular genres of books because, despite the subject matter of most of my books, I have a very sensitive side. I still tear up at the end scene of Homeward Bound when Shadow appears on the hill.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
Ashley: There have been a lot, but the one that stands out the most is for my zombie series. I am a huge fan of the genre and of course, The Walking Dead. I wanted to add a different take on how the zombie apocalypse starts. The rampant abuse of drugs in our society was the perfect fit and the second the two ideas connected, I started writing.
Kaye: You have some really interesting titles. One of my favorites is Fine as Frog Hair. The title makes me want to read it and I haven’t even read the description for the book. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?
Ashley: Fine as Frog Hair is a saying my grandfather was fond of using when asked, “How are you?” He liked to say, “Why honey, I’m fine as frog hair.” It’s a cute southern expression and since the short story is loosely based off his life, I thought the title fit perfectly. Like the stories, the titles appear out of thin air.
Kaye: You write in multiple genres. What are the differences for you as you write each one?
Ashley: Nothing really. I refuse to pigeonhole my creativity into just one genre. A story is a story no matter the backdrop. A character and/or idea pops into my head and I just let the words flow.
Kaye: You’re an award winning author. Which awards have you been the recipient of?
Ashley: Number Seventy-Five won the Bronze in Fiction/Suspense from Readers’ Favorite. The Lie won Gold from the Illumination Book Awards.
Kaye: Would you tell us about One of a Kind Covers?
Ashley: As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know a thing about epub, mobi, formatting or cover design when I first jumped into this crazy world. Over the years, I taught myself how to do all of those things out of financial necessity, and in the course of doing so, other authors came to me, asking if I would design a cover for them, which is how One of a Kind Covers came about.
Kaye: You’re the founder of your own independent press, RSMW. Tell us about RSMW. ; What does RSMW stand for? What’s the story behind it?
Ashley: RMSW Press stands for Rambling Mad Southern Woman, which is also the name of my blog. While learning how to design a website and blog, I was so frustrated I almost gave up. I was complaining about it to my husband and said, “I feel like a rambling mad southern woman,” and poof! There was the title.
Kaye: Your latest release is Fatal Agreements, which came out April 23rd. Would you tell us a little about that book?
Ashley: Whispered rumors tickled the ears of the residents of an entire town for decades about the disturbing secrets of the old Halstead House, dating all the way back to the early 1920s. Most people didn’t believe them. Several people will soon discover they should have listened.
Three years after struggling to cope with the death of her beloved father and escaping an abusive relationship, Samantha Chapman decides it’s time to return to her hometown of Hot Springs. She buys the ramshackle Halstead House, eager to transform the dilapidated, abandoned piece of history into her new law office and residence, hoping it will be the start of a brighter chapter and a safe haven to escape her personal demons.
Instead of newfound freedom, things take a dark turn when the resurrection of the old home reveals the disturbing secrets hidden within its walls. When youthful transgressions of numerous people come to light, including ones some members of the Chapman family are desperate to contain, it reveals the sins of the past. They collide with the grave mistakes of the present, creating a perfect storm of chaos and death for not only the Chapman family but others as well.
Some will survive.
Others will get burned.
Sam and her loved ones realize some family secrets should have remained buried.
Kaye: Your book Ruined Wings was turned into an independent film. Can you tell us how that came about? Who wrote the screenplay?
Ashley: I wrote the screenplay along with the Executive Producer, Sabrina Stewart. We have been a tight duo since the first day we connected years ago when she auditioned to narrate Number Seventy-Five. I sent her the book and she loved it. Opioid addiction is a major crisis in our world and we hope through this movie to help stop the plague.
Kaye: What was it like to see your characters come alive on the screen?
Ashley: Life-changing. Humbling. Terrifying!
Kaye: You also have a GoFundMe campaign going to fund the film. Would you like to tell us about it and how readers can contribute?
Ashley: The film will be shared at no cost to educators and organizations to be played at schools, churches, civic meetings and youth organizations where it can target those most vulnerable to fall into the pit of abuse and addiction. Donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/independent-film-ruined-wings
Kaye: What is the working title of your next book?
Ashley: Blood Stain
Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Ashley: Edgar Allan Poe.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Ashley: Grow a thick skin. Never give up. Hone your craft. Write from the heart.
I want to thank Ashley Fontainne for joining us here on Writing to be Read. You can learn more about Ashley at the following places:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ashley.fontainne/
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Freedom’s Song, by A.K. Lawrence has all the elements of a good romance wrapped up in the plot of a top notch thriller. It is obvious that this is book 2 of the continuing saga of Baldwin series, (novels set in the small town setting of Baldwin, Michigan), but Lawrence offers just enough background to keep me from being in the dark on the first one, without actually reading it, yet doesn’t bog you down with backstory. The characters feel realistic enough to make me care about what happens next, and that’s a good thing.
Hunter and Anna found each other last summer, during the life or death events in the first book, when he became the knight in shining armor for both Anna, who was kidnapped and Nancy, who was married to Anna’s kidnapper, an all-around louse of a guy, named Dock. Now Nancy’s divorce is almost final, and Colby has plans to make his move for Nancy once she is a free agent once more. But, all is not as it seems and a blast from his puts the brakes on his anticipated romance, when his college stalker girlfriend reappears on the scene to claim her man.
The only complaint I had with this story was I felt the dwarf subplot and the proposal pool were left unresolved, and we really didn’t get to see them through to the end. If you read the book, you’ll see what I mean. The romantic elements carry the story as we get to know the characters and sets things up, but when the thriller elements join the party things start hopping with good tension and suspense. I give Freedom’s Song five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out. Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.
I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.
Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.
The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?
1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends
2. Characterization is key
3. Have fun with world building
4. Think outside the box
5. And of course show don’t tell
1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.
1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.
2. Work on making the language sing.
3. Submit like crazy
4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.
5. Don’t ever give up!
One, be yourself. Write to please yourself. There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.
If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain. Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice. I pay special attention to writing my villains.
Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything. Emotion is the fuel of story. Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes. The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization. All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction. What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil. Things aren’t always simple.
A good book has three attributes. It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring. I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight. Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.
That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.
Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.
Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.
1. There ARE no rules.
2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.
3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.
4. If you truly love to write, never give up!
5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.
1. Write. Don´t stop.
2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.
3. Craft your stories.
4. Be humble. Be proud.
5. Keep it up.
P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living:
“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author.
- Never give up on your dreams.
- Write what you know. Write a book that you would want to read.
- Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
- Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.
The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.
The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?
Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.
Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.
Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.
Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling. Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles. You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation. If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught. Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable. So…be a psychologist.
Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).
Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.
Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.
Jordan Elizabeth: I rely on my own experiences when writing. Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart. If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud. If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.
DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion. You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”
If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.
Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.
The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.
Reader Ken Hughs said:
Lots of excellent advice there.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:
Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?
How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.
Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.
DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing. Huzzah! Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.
To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:
- Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers). When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.” Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project. Any element of a story can have pacing.
- Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
- The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
- I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.
Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?
Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.
Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.
Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.
Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies. They’re great for offering templates for action sequences. Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters. I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer. Does this look reasonable? Can my characters do this-and-that?
In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan. It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs. There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation. A mini-climax occurs early in the scene. But it doesn’t end there. A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers. Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears. The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold. This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.
Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.
Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.
Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.
Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.
Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write. I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind. Pacing falls naturally into place.
In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting, where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)
Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art Rosch, Chris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet Garber, Chris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.
I have two follow-up questions for this segment:
Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?
Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.
Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.
Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.
Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture. It takes money to market books. I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income. I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books. I did the same at Amazon. An author can publish digitally for free. I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.
I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon. I have no illusions about getting sales. I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.
Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.
Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.
Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.
Jordan Elizabeth: Both (except for Kistishi Island. I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print). I like having a combination of formats. Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook. I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems. Print books are great for book signings.
DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes. See writing rule #5. I really ought to be working on audio as well. Readers should be able to read conveniently.
Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?
Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.
Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.
Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.
Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great. There’s all the support and information you need. Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.
Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.
Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.
Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.
Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace. I can’t speak to the ease of use.
DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use. I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers? Are the readers happy with the experience?” Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers? Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting? Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”
Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.
In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.
For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform. Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.
The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?
Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.
Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.
Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault. I must have social media halitosis. There are billions of people who don’t know about me. I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet. I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox). That’s Mark Dawson. He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to. He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.
Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.
Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.
Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.
Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews. I haven’t had luck that way. I usually reach out to bloggers. Most of the time, they are willing to review.
Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.
DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely. I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model. What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table? Not as many as the authors themselves had brought. I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”
I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid. At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more. Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies. I have an ARC list. Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers. At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that. Go for it when you see it. But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.
In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.
The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?
Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.
So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.
Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.
Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.
Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.
Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events. The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents. Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts. Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation. You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.
DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople. I am not. That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything. I’m learning. But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se. If a sale comes out of it, great. And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!” To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things. Interesting things. Gossip. Rumors. Scandalous lies! And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk. I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down. That’s it. I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.
To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.
It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.
Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers.
Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.
Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!
I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.
Gyre, by Jessica Gunn is the first book in her Atlas Link series. It is the story of Chelsea, a descendent of Atlantis, who is just discovering her amazing powers and Trevor, a Lemurian descendent, who should be her mortal enemy, but instead falls for her in a big way. See? Boy meets girl, but there is no way they can be together, yet they will fight against all the odds, and even against family to prove them all wrong. Now if that isn’t the recipe for a perfect romance, I don’t know what is. As they are traveling aboard a top secret naval submarine complete with cloak, I think Gunn has the science fiction elements and Lemurians and Atlanteans with super powers pretty much covers the fantasy realm. If it sounds confusing, read the book. It’s actually a pretty good genre combination.
Chelsea is discovering her powers. First super strength, which she was able to ignore, or deny, but now she keeps teleporting to a location near Trevor any time she gets stressed. The problem is, Trevor is on a top secret U.S. Naval Sub cruising the ocean depths, but on that vessel also may lie the answers to Chelsea’s unasked questions about who she is really and she might learn to control her newfound powers. Unlike Chelsea, Trevor is aware of his heritage as a Lemurian, but he refuses to get involved in the war his people are wageing with the Atlanteans. He just can’t believe the girl he’s falling for is his innate enemy, and he’s able to keep it all under control until they find an Atlantean outpost filled with valuable artifacts on the ocean floor. It seems everybody wants those artifacts for their own reasons, and we can only guess who will get them, and where Chelsea will end up.
This story is well-written, with minimal telling of the tale. The characters are likeable, except for Trevor’s friend and fellow Lemurian, Valerie, who is a bit difficult to figure out, but I think that’s done on purpose to throw readers off the trail. I give Gyre four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
My first semester in the M.F.A. program at Western, we were assigned to write an excerpt in a genre outside of that in which we normally write. I was assigned the western genre, and while I’d never really written much in the western genre, I learned from that exercise that I was pretty good at writing westerns, and that excerpt became part of my first published novel, Delilah. Now I’m working on the sequel, and even though the western genre is not as popular as it once was, I enjoy writing westerns, and for me, that may be more important than how many I sell. (But, how many I sell is important, don’t get me wrong. I want ton be a best seller as much as the next author.) I could never be a literary writer. Hell, I can’t even read all the way through some literary novels. While I have a knack for the western genre, I also have available Last Call, which is a sci-fi short and my paranormal mystery, Hidden Secrets. I guess that makes me a multi-genre author.
Today Ask the Authors is going to talk about some of the genres and what makes them different. We’ll also look at what kind of things we do differently when writing in more than one genre, regarding the writing process, research and marketing. Without further ado, let’s see what our panel members have to say.
Which genres do you write?
Tim Baker: I really don’t know what my genre is – or if I actually can be placed into only one. Generally speaking I write fast-paced, tongue in cheek, semi- humorous crime novels. I have also taken that description and coupled it with supernatural themes. My latest novel is pretty much a suspense-thriller, but it is still fast-paced with very small doses of humor.
For the purposes of this segment – let’s just say I write crime novels.
Cynthia Vespia: I write speculative fiction for adults and teens. For those who don’t know what speculative fiction is, it is a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. Often described as the ‘What if?’ genre, speculative fiction is distinguished by being based on unusual ideas and elevated imagination.
I write a combination of urban fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, supernatural, paranormal, superhero, and dystopian. Which is why I started to go under the umbrella of speculative fiction because it encompasses all of that. I’ve dabbled in horror, and I’m trying my hand at space-opera, but those aren’t my main genres.
Janet Garber: I’ve written and published in multiple genres: journalism, non-fiction book, book and movie reviews, essays, short stories, novels, poetry, sci-fi/spec, humor. About the only thing I haven’t tried yet is screenwriting. I’ve also got a number of children’s stories and I would love to put them together in a book someday.
Chris Barili: I write in every genre. I think the story and the characters dictate the genre, so rather than starting out to write a fantasy novel or a western short story, I set out with a character and a problem and let things go from there. With the acceptance of a story of mine to a new crime fiction magazine, I have now sold fiction in all the major genres: Fantasy, SF, Horror, western, romance, and crime. I write most of my stuff in the speculative fiction genres of fantasy and horror. In the end, a story’s a story, no matter the label we stick on it.
I think clumping everything under just “YA” is pretty limiting and doesn’t tell the reader much info. Technically, as many editors and agents point out, YA is simply an age category, for readers 12-18 (and up) and involves main characters who are usually between the ages of 14 to 18. The actual GENRE is a dividing into things like steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, historical, graphic novel, etc. But it’s very handy to have labels like “YA steampunk” because then you get the age category listed as well as the genre.
Each genre has certain elements which readers pick up a book expecting to find within the story. Romance tropes are probably some of the most familiar: there are two characters, they often start out disliking one another, to spite all odds they fall in love, but there are obstacles to overcome for them to be together, and of course, there must be a Happy Ever After. These are the elements of romance, and without them we don’t have much of a story. This is what romance readers expect to get when they pick up a romance novel. Its what they want, and if you don’t deliver, your reader following is liable go find another author who does.
I’m sure you’ll all recognize the tropes for the western genre as well: you have a lone character who stands up for what’s right against high odds, and must battle against the environment to complete their journey. There is a certain time period in history in which the western must occur, after (1700s?). I optioned to go against a trope of the genre when I made my protagonist female, but by giving her a romantic interest, I crossed over into the romance genre, therefore widening my audience scope. Let’s see how our panelist handle the tropes of their genres.
If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.
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Leaving Eva and its sequel Losing Eva, by Jennifer Sivec, are a sad and tragic tale that evokes strong emotional response in the telling. This touching story may be true to life, covering the lives of not one, but several dysfunctional generations of women and the men in their lives, over the course of time. It is a tale where one tragic action by one self-centered girl dominoes into many heart-wrenching losses in a saga where nobody wins. While each book easily stands alone, together they tell a story of loss and tragedy that will bring all but those with hearts of stone to their knees. There is so much heartbreak within these two stories that they left me longing for a sequel, one titled Loving Eva, where at least one woman of the Harper family might finally find happiness.
One spoiled rich girl, Ellie, and a series of poor choices, leads to a life of abuse and neglect for her daughter, Eva, whom she abandons at a very young age. Losing Eva is the story of that young girl’s life, spent searching for love that seems to be just beyond her grasp. Losing Eva is the story of how once found, she constantly struggles to keep that love, and how it always seems to slip through her fingers. In addition, these books tell the story of all the others who are effected, both directly and indirectly, by Ellie’s initial decisions and the lessons, both learned and missed, from them.
This is a story you won’t want to put down. Sivec’s characters are well developed and she makes you care about them. You will hope for positive life experiences for them and root for them when they succeed, especially for the main character, Brynn. The plot is full of surprises and rivets you to your seat to find out what will happen next.
My only problem is the head hopping. In places it gets to be so bad that I had to stop and go back to figure out who’s POV I was in. At times the viewpoint changed mid-paragraph, which really made me have to stop and reread. Regardless of the recurring confusions that this caused, and the fact that it is one of my biggest pet peeves, this story was so powerfully told that it brought me to tears on more than one occasion. The Harper generational saga is woven like an intricate narative tapestry through the lifetime of one hauntingly tragic Harper woman.
Grab a box of tissue when you settle in to read Leaving Eva and Losing Eva. I give this story set four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.