Last week I kicked off a 3-part blog feature spotlighting authors who are at various points in their writing careers. Part I focused on aspiring writers — be sure to check it out if you missed it!
PART II: Self Published Writers
For Part II, I worked with some fabulous ladies who took the self-publishing route for their work(s). They were tremendously kind in answering my questions and sharing some sneaks, which in turn, I cannot wait to share with you!
Like in Part I, everyone was asked to answer similar questions, as to demonstrate that the path to success is often different for everyone and certainly not paved! They have a lot of great things to say, and their full interviews will be compiled and added to the blog at the conclusion of the 3-part feature, along with the authors who have contibuted to Parts I and III. I am a fan and happy to support all of these talented writers. Meet the gals:
Christina Benjamin is an Award-Winning author who lives in Florida with her husband and character inspiring pets, where she spends her free time working on her books and speaking to inspire fellow writers. Christina is best known for her wildly popular Young Adult Fantasy series, The Geneva Project, and her bestselling Young Adult Romance novels, The Boyfriend series.
Her earliest memory of wanting to be a writer is from when she was in 2nd grade and would make up stories with her father on the rides to school in his old pick-up truck. “I think he probably did it to keep my mind occupied until the heat started working, but he would start a story and I would have to finish it. It was all out loud but knowing I had the ability to take a story anywhere I wanted to was so exciting. I was hooked.”
Christina is a full-time writer and feels blessed to be able to do what she loves. It wasn’t always like that, though. She recalls writing a lot on her lunch breaks at work every day. When writing first drafts, she tries to set daily word count goals and takes writing retreats in order to really crank out some work, upping the word count goals per day while away. She says “balancing life and writing isn’t always easy. Being your own boss while trying to remain creative is challenging. But ultimately I love what I do so the hard work is worth it. I just try to take inspiration from everything and take time to celebrate each tiny victory.”
Though she has an English degree from the University of Central Florida, she didn’t attempt to write a novel till ten years post graduation. She feels a background in writing or literature can be helpful but recommends reading! “Not reading for a writer, would be like a musician that didn’t listen to music.”
To aspiring writers, Christina offers this advice: “Read, read, read. And also just do it. There is no perfect time or perfect route. Put your butt in your chair and write. Even if it’s only 30 minutes a day. You can’t write a book if you don’t start. That’s the hardest part, I promise. (Also, don’t go back over what you’ve previously written until you’re all the way through. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.)”
Laura Hancock is the author of the Cruel and Beautiful World trilogy. She has been writing books for as long as she can remember and still owns several hand-written stories from her youth. She currently lives in Portland, OR with her cat Milo.
Though she can’t pinpoint when, specifically,she wanted to become a writer, she feels she has always been one — writing handwritten stories that she admits are probably horrendous. It wasn’t till after college that she began to think of writing as a career, though.
Laura is not currently a full-time writer but hopes to be some day. She doesn’t have a set writing schedule; fitting writing in at night. She explains: “I try to write every day but it doesn’t always happen. I write, have a full-time job and a side hustle candle company, so balancing all of that with a social life is sometimes exhausting. Sadly, writing is what often takes a backseat when I need to get out and enjoy myself, but it always works out eventually. Sometimes it’s good to take a writing break to clear your head and make room for new ideas.” *side note: Laura’s candle company, Three Knocks Candles on Etsy, is how I met her! I am currently a rep for her shop.
She has always been decent at grammar, so she does the majority of her own editing. Laura recommends working with a good editor if grammar isn’t your strong suit. Hiring a professional can be expensive, but she says it’s easy to befriend fellow writers who could act as beta readers for you — “there is no correct way to do this. I met some people during my fanfiction days and others on Bookstagram.”
So what advice does Laura have to offer writers? “Just keep writing. Your first attempt probably isn’t going to be very good. Like any form of art, it takes practice. Also, never stop reading. Once you start writing, you’ll start to pick up little things in books, like how to make conversations flow naturally or the difference between then and than.”
Rachel Higginson is the best-selling author of The Opposite of You, The Five Stages of Falling in Love, Every Wrong Reason, Bet on Us and The Star-Crossed Series. She was born and raised in Nebraska and spent her college years traveling the world. She fell in love with Eastern Europe, Paris, Indian Food and the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka, but came back home to marry her high school sweetheart. Now she spends her days writing stories and raising five amazing kids.
Rachel clearly remembers writing a play in 4th grade; a sequel to Alice in Wonderland. “I had scene descriptions and a full cast of characters with an actual script. I gathered up all the kids in the neighborhood and put them to work making set pieces out of card board boxes, duct tape and Crayola markers. It was a legit endeavor on my part—well at least for a ten year old. I’m not sure we actually ever performed the play, but for me the thrill was in writing it and then seeing it come to life around me.”
She is presently a full-time writer who says the job has completely consumed her life, in the best way! She is always mentally working out characters, stories, and her next book in addition to the physical effort that goes into writing, plus the social media aspect. Rachel says she works anywhere between 40-70 hours a week. “The toughest part about it, though, is that I don’t currently have a set writing schedule. I give myself time frames, usually between 6-12 weeks depending on the genre of book I’m writing. My days never look the same though. I have five kids that are just everywhere. And I am desperate to not miss a minute of them growing up. So they always come first. As well as my husband and just running a house and what it means to be the wife and the mom. So some days I can write for eight hours (or more!) and knock out huge chunks of the first draft and some days I’m lucky to get a few sentences in.”
Rachel has a college degree that has nothing to do with writing, but her degree allowed her to travel a lot. She uses those experiences in almost every book she writes. Otherwise, she has learned to write through practicing and choosing editors who are also willing to teach as they correct her work. Regarding publishing, she explains: “I researched whatever I could find on how to publish a book, how to sell a book, how to write a book people wanted to read, etc. I was wholly dedicated to learning as much about the process and industry as possible. Blog posts, articles, interviewing other authors, basically whatever I could find, I inhaled voraciously…Knowledge is power.”
Rachel offers aspiring writers this advice: “My best advice is to write the book that you want to read—that you absolutely adore. Write the book that you can’t wait to find out the ending to. The one that gives you butterflies and makes you laugh out loud or hide under blankets because even you’re scared. The more in love with your own work you are, the easier it is to sell. Not just because you believe so wholeheartedly in your product, but because readers can sense that connection as they read it. It’s so much easier to sell a book that readers connect to immediately, instead of trying to convince them to connect with characters they don’t get. And if the author isn’t tied mind and soul to her characters, then the readers never will be either. Love what you write, so other people can love what you write.”
Christine Manzari is from Forest Hill, Maryland where she lives with her husband, three kids, and her library of ugly spine books (The first thing Christine does when she’s getting ready to read a book is to crack the spine in at least five places. She wholeheartedly believes there is no place as comfy as the pages of a well-worn book.) She is the author of the Hearts of Stone series and The Sophisticates series and co-author of the College Bound series.
Christine recalls attending a two week writing camp in the summers after 7th and 8th grades; probably her earliest memory of wanting to be a writer.
She is not currently a full-time writer — also a stay-at-home mom and helps with her husband’s business — but she wishes she could be. She often uses her nights after her children go to sleep to write or, if time allows, she sometimes goes to the library while the kids are at school to get some writing done. Christine shares “I’m a pretty routine-oriented person and I’m a master list maker so sticking to a schedule helps me find time to write consistently.”
She was a fine arts major in college. However, she took a few creative writing classes for fun. She considers the large amount of reading that she does training. She also finds it helpful to be part of writing groups; she is part of the Maryland Romance Writers who offer classes and meetings. Her best resources for writing and publishing, though, are Google and talking with other authors.
To aspiring authors, Christine volunteers this advice: “My best advice is to read. A lot. Great readers make great writers. Reading helps you find your style and it’s a fantastic way to learn what you like by seeing what other authors do. My other piece of advice would be to write even when you aren’t inspired. If you don’t know what happens next in your story, write a scene you are passionate about and then figure out how to connect that to what you’ve already written. You can always edit bad writing but if you don’t write, you’ll have nothing to edit. So write, even when it’s bad. And when you’re not writing, read.”
Jessica Pierce is the daughter of a Navy Corpsman and a librarian and has traveled the entire span of the United States. Currently, she can be found in Arizona with her Air Force husband, murderous devil cat, and three not-so-murderous goldfish. She is the author of the Cyber Crown series.
Jessica comes from a family of storytellers — entertaining themselves by gathering together and swapping tales. They couldn’t afford to go out to eat or go see movies often, so she turned to the library. She shares: “My very first story written in the first grade—which still exists in physical form—was about a ghost who would follow me home from the school bus. A few years, writing competitions, and one full-length novel later, and I’m officially a published author. It’s a bit surreal!”
Jessica is fortunate enough to be able to write full-time, though her schedule varies. She admits that she never anticipated how detrimental an open schedule could be and that Netflix is her daily word count’s enemy. Generally, she gets up early then after some strong coffee, addresses some of the administrative side before really getting to work with writing.
She has formal education in the form of B.A. in English with a focus on teen novels from Middle Tennessee State University. She explains that there are resources for every phase of the writing process, including these favorites:
- The Emotional Thesaurus
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Writer’s Market publishes a yearly compendium of YA book agents, along with query tips and tricks
- Local writing groups
Jessica offers this advice: “Be. Patient. For those hoping to snag the NEXT BIG BOOK DEAL, know that it can often take two or more years between your initial agent offer and when your book will hit the shelves. For indie authors in control of our own brand, we sometimes have to wait and see if a marketing plan paid out in investment return. Either way you go, this game will test your patience. Be the judge of your own worth. You’ll have friends and family who will tell you that you’re the next J. K. Rowling, and you’ll have readers who will tell you they couldn’t stand your characters. I once had an acting coach tell me to ignore the praise as much as you ignore the destructive criticism. Try to find a home somewhere in the middle, and trust your gut. Keep Writing. You’ll have days you want to quit, and you’ll have days where you’re riding an unimaginable high. Try to keep a level head, but most of all, keep crafting better stories for your readers.”
So why self-publishing? And what are they currently working on? Keep reading to see!
Christina really enjoys the freedom and control she has through indie publishing. “My husband is a graphic designer. He took my first book, The Geneva Project – Truth, and figured out how to publish it through Amazon’s print on demand avenue, Createspace. He did it as a surprise and needless to say, when I held my first paperback in my hand I cried. And he created a monster, because I’ve written over 20 books since. We naturally followed the same formula since it was working for us, so I guess I was always destined to be indie.” They now have their own small press publishing company.
At the time of the interview, Christina was working on a book for her Young Adult Romance series of standalone, The Boyfriend Series. The Wedding Boyfriend published at the end of August. She thinks the idea for this story came to her in a dream. It’s set in Florida, after a reader inquired why she didn’t yet have a book set there despite living there. The Wedding Boyfriend is a friends to lovers romance with a dash of Jane Austen love angst. Here is the synopsis, as well as one of Christina’s favorite quotes from the book:
Sara Reed has four weeks to find the perfect wedding date or she’s stuck going solo, something her little sister, Katie, is determined not to see. If Sara doesn’t bring a date, then neither can Katie. So Katie holds bachelorette style auditions to get her bookworm sister a date. The trouble is, Sara’s best friend, Nick Atwood keeps sabotaging all of Sara’s suitors. Will Nick finally step up and admit he wants to be more than friends with Sara before it’s too late?
“Nick’s kiss had created a monster inside of Sara, clawing through her nerves, screaming through her veins, wanting to be heard above all other kisses.” – Christina Benjamin, The Wedding Boyfriend.
Laura was originally focused on publishing the traditional route, but it just wasn’t happening. She self-imposed a deadline of June 2016 to find an agent or do it herself. When the deadline hit, she looked into self-publishing, finding cover art, formatting her book, then she went for it! She says “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My fan base may be small, but it’s loyal and I love them.”
At the time of this interview, Laura was late in the stages of editing the third book in her series, which is releasing THIS MONTH! The first book was inspired in part by a dream and in part by Harry Potter (a world with Voldemort in charge, minus the magic). The book is set in a futuristic/post-apocalyptic world.
She is also working on another project — a Young Adult High Fantasy about a girl who dreams of becoming a Dragon Rider. Here’s a teaser for this project:
“Lady Paden watched them closely, her stomach twisting as her son laughed beside the girl with the pure soul. She focused her eyes and saw the auras emitting off the two of them, opposite in color but softening the closer they stood. And then Kaida grabbed Baines’s hand, positioning him where she wanted. The moment they touched, their auras vanished. Lady Paden froze, death feeling closer than ever before as she realized what she may have done. Their fates had been intertwined. It was possible that this was a good thing, but it was also possible that when her son was one day dragged into the darkness, he just might drag this innocent girl into it with him.”
Rachel shared her experience when she first set out in writing over ten years ago: “I first started writing back in 2007. The first time I tried to query was 2008, right about the same time the publishing industry nearly collapsed because of the economy. Over the next four years I was rejected hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I queried my butt off to get two separate books sold, but it never happened. It could have been the struggling market at the time or it could have been that I didn’t have anything publishing houses were interested in. Either way, I think I wrote a letter to every single literary agent available and they all turned me down. Or at least that’s what it feels like. That led to my journey of self-publishing.’
‘My husband is the one who introduced me to the idea and at the time, I thought he was so sweet for believing in me, but obviously that was a complete dead end and I wasn’t ready to give up on my career. Then I got a Kindle for Christmas and the box I had put self-publishing in exploded into a new world of possibilities. I self-published for the first time March 11th, 2011 and I sat back and waited for the world to download my masterpiece. That didn’t actually happen. And my first book went through a lot of work, even after it was published, before readers were interested. But slowly it picked up steam and then providence hit and suddenly it was a big deal. It took six months though. And it still takes endless hard work even today. I don’t regret my journey even a little bit. It helped shape me into who I am today. I will be forever grateful for that early struggle, because now I can’t take a single second of success for granted.”
In June, Rachel released the third book in The Opposites Attract series of standalones, The Problem with Him. She loves this series not only for its focus on the food industry but also because each book focuses on an issue women experience today. The Problem with Him follows an up and coming sous chef as she fights to be an executive chef in a premier dining restaurant and her struggles as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
For Christine, all of her books published to date have been self-published because, admittedly, she was not patient enough to go through the process necessary for traditional publication. She simply wanted people to read her books. She explains: “Self-publishing is hard but I’m glad I’ve had this experience because I’ve learned a lot about marketing.”
With her WIP, though, she plans to finally take that traditional route for publishing. Christine offers some information about her WIP, including a sneak:
“[The book] is a YA fantasy about beings who have magic (Emberlings) and those who don’t (humans). Overcome with jealousy, the humans find a way to not only enslave the Emberlings but to steal their magic and use it for themselves. So there is stolen power, elemental magic, and gladiator tournaments between enslaved Emberlings and their owners. I was inspired to write this book because fantasy has always been my first love and I wanted to create a world with elemental magic. I found the idea of magic wielders being at the mercy of regular humans to be intriguing. I also really like the idea of strong female leads and in this story, the main character is a female Emberling who has been enslaved and forced to fight in gladiator tournaments against men. I can share the first few lines of the manuscript:
‘My father has three daughters. I am the oldest and although I am not the son he might have wanted, I am the warrior he needs.’”
Jessica shares in honestly that her decision to self-publish was a combination of bravado and cowardice. She submitted her first book, Atlas Fallen, to agents and received quick responses for full reads, which she felt wasn’t quite real and made her question everything. She shares: “In the end, I trusted my gut and declined to send the agents my full manuscript (if you’re an aspiring author, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS). As an indie, I get to control my entire author brand, which is an aspect that really appeals to me. Indies also make a greater percentage of royalties, meaning we have to sell far fewer books than some big name YA authors in order to make a living, but this comes at the expense of time. Most self-published authors don’t have a marketing team, branding team, personal assistants, etc, so you end up doing all the hustle yourself.”
Now for some super exclusive info — Jessica has only shared this with her newsletter subscribers! The sequel to Atlas Fallen is entitled Rogue Moon. She is happy with everything about the sequel; the title, the plot, and returning to Tesla’s world! Here’s what else she had to say about Rogue Moon: “**SPOILER ALERTS INCOMING** Now that we’re on the moon and the monarchy has become corrupted, we really get the chance to see a lot of tension rise between Tesla and Daxton. We also see a brand new hate-to-love interest for Jasmeen! There are double-crossings, epic battles, and hopefully some unexpected twists that will keep you on your toes. The tagline of the book is RESISTANCE IS DEATH. I recommend bringing tissues, because at least one character will die by the end. #SORRYNOTSORRY For more updates on Rogue Moon, you can always check out my website at jessicapiercebooks.com”
AND, here is a look at the gorgeous cover:
These ladies have shared some amazing insight. I am so thankful to have such generous writers working with me on this feature. Thanks again to Christina, Laura, Rachel, Christine, and Jessica!
Check back next week for Part III of this feature! Follow my blog so you don’t miss a thing.