Do you write daily with a fixed routine or only when the mood hits?
Thanks for having me today, Edward!
Daily, I write what my mood dictates. I have several projects in the works right now. They include the Priya novels, beginning with Ava, the short stories collection, a standalone novel, and blogging, of course.
My Priya series, which debuted last week with Ava, is fully mapped out. There will be twenty-six novels in the series, all of which are fully outlined. That level of pre-planning took about a year. Going forward, I anticipate that investment of time and thought will enable me to publish three Priya novels each year.
I should point out that I don’t force myself to follow the outline if it doesn’t feel natural once I’m “in” the story, and “living” the life of a particular Priya. As a result, I make changes to my outlines all the time.
I do write every day, but I don’t put any barriers or restrictions on the flow of my creative ideas. When I sit down at my desk and set my fingers on the keyboard, I have no way of predicting which stories, characters, or plots are about to make their way from my imagination onto the screen.
When they rise up — and I know no other way to say it — the short stories grip me, hold me captive until the first full draft is out. That draft might take five hours, or it might take a week. I might rewrite it seven times, or forty-one times.
There is a spiritual element to each of the short stories, and they are all very short and very emotional. They are told in the first person, which is not my usual style, and I often feel as though the characters whose stories I’m telling are standing right next to me the entire time. It’s as if those characters are whispering in my ear, but I am not able to decipher the words, only to feel the emotion with which they are spoken.
Writing the Priya novels is an entirely different process. When I know something is missing, a bridge between two chapters or plot lines, I’ll simply start writing. It’s a bit like reaching out into the dark until I feel a character grab my hand and pull me in a specific direction. And then I know what to do, what to write. Sometimes, that opens the door to entirely new, unexpected characters who were sitting quietly by, waiting for me to extend a hand in their direction.
As for the standalone, I was a full chapter into that novel, typing like mad, before I realized this woman was not a Priya. Her story, fast and fun, is a modern adventure, a treasure hunt, and the characters were popping up almost faster than I could set them on the page. It was one of the most exciting creative moments I’ve had during this journey.
What do you edit for first, character or plot?
My first full draft of Ava was 165,000 words. In between that draft and publishing the final version, I rewrote Ava four full times. What I ended up with looked nothing like what I started with, thankfully. That first draft sat for months while I foolishly resisted the need to chop the dead weight.
When I was finally ready, on the day I decided to self-publish my series, coincidentally, I cut the first four chapters without a drop of regret, or a single tear. I knew then I had made it through to the next stage of the transformation from writer to author. I was ready to stop forcing my own ideas on the story. I was ready to listen to the characters, to let them lead me.
Suddenly, my writing was unleashed on the world! Well, on my pages, anyway. I found that as long as I was willing to be honest with myself, to pull out the parts that didn’t work, no matter how much I loved them, my future as an author was wide-open. My writing could stand on its own merits.
I set aside my novel for several months and invested that time in building a social media presence. When I went back to Ava to do the final, final read through before publishing it, I ended up rewriting a quarter of the book during the month of May.
It was a very intense time, and I was up every night until four or five in the morning, rewriting and rewriting. Those few months of separation from my manuscript had given me my first “reader” perspective on the novel, and I found there were chapters to delete, edit, and rewrite. I stayed with it, in one long stretch, until it was done.
One small negative that came out of that experience was the appearance of typos in the new material, because it had not yet been vetted in the same manner as the rest of the manuscript. It was like an arrow in my heart, seeing those mistakes after I had published the novel. The early readers — how exciting it is to say that — spotted them and kindly, gently made me aware of their existence. I’ve since reloaded an edited version.
Before that final read-through, if asked, I wouldn’t have said I have a specific writing style. I was simply too close to my own words to be able to see how they flow, page into chapter into novel. Now, I have a better understanding of my personal methodology when crafting a story. I believe having that awareness will help to guide my writing through the rest of the Priya series and other novels.
Did you create your own cover art?
I did create my own cover art. For me, I found it was part of the creative process in mapping out the story of the Priyas. When I realized I was writing a series, I took time out to visualize that series, to understand its purpose and natural length. Holding the concept in my hands and studying it from every direction revealed to me the nature of the series, and the twenty-six book length.
The Priya novels begin with Ava and end with Zara. At first, the A-Z concept surprised me. The more I became accustomed to the idea, and the further I went into the outlines of their stories, the more important it became to have a tangible piece of the Priyas to reinforce this decision. That was when I decided to create the book covers. I chose each Priya’s color for a reason, and those reasons are revealed in the novels.
Once I was ready to begin using the covers, I realized they weren’t properly constructed. I connected with a graphic designer on Twitter, and he polished the design for the cover art. He is so talented, and I am thrilled with the final product.
Next up, I need to tackle the short story covers, which I made with an old and favorite family photo, one I’ve always loved, at the very beginning of my self-publishing journey. Bringing a piece of my family’s past with me into the future seemed a fitting marker for my first step into this new world.
What I realize now is that the covers don’t show the difference between each story — and the difference between them is substantial. I’m excited to see what a designer comes up with for the short story collection, and I’m excited to give the readers who are browsing the e-shelves a better sense of what those stories are all about.
How much marketing did you do in the months leading up to your books release?
I am only now beginning any real measure of marketing for Ava. I’ve dedicated a year to learning social media, e-books, self-publishing, the industry, the market, and blogging. I’ve loved every minute of this past year. The amount of learning I needed to do proved to be a test on several occasions, but I’m thankful for those challenges. This gained knowledge, these gained abilities — tweeting and blogging among them — has framed my existing business knowledge in a new way, and has impacted every aspect of my life.
I could have published Ava last year. In fact, I went so far as to set two different dates, but ended up scrapping them both. I decided it was more important for me to understand as many aspects of social media, and of traditional, self, and indie publishing as I could before setting my first novel on the e-shelves.
It was the right decision.
How often do you leverage twitter and other social media platforms to promote your work?
I’m on social media every single day. I think of my Twitter account and my blog as my PR team. They reach out into the world on my behalf. Communicating, networking, learning, growing — they do it all.
As Shark Tank member Daymond John says: “When it comes to sales, it’s all about the distribution channels.” For a self-published author, those distribution channels are primarily located in the realm of social media. In the beginning, at least.
I’ve come to understand what “distribution channels” means to a self-publish author. I need to be prepared to invest far more in marketing my book than I ever did in writing it — and I’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and creative thought in my novels.
Give readers every opportunity to sample your work. Blogging is the first and most important way to go about connecting with readers. Author interviews, guest posts, book excerpts are all strong, too. Remember to diversify the content on your blog, and to keep it positive whenever possible.
Find ways to cross-promote other authors. If you’d like to connect with someone in your Twitter community, reach out to them.
An unexpected side benefit of regular blogging has been the improvement in my creative writing. Constructing an original blog post is much like attending a writing boot camp, something I now do several times a week. The benefits are all on the positive side. I recommend that every writer and self-published author have two social media “agents” out in the marketplace: an active Twitter account and an active blog.
In my opinion, websites are not as important, simply because they are static. To a certain extent, modern readers want to know what they are getting before they invest in one of your novels or short stories. Provide them with regular opportunities to get to know you a little better.
What did you do to build followers?
I realized early on that I could not be all things to all my social media accounts. It would be simply overwhelming, and, with a series to write, I didn’t think pursuing social media nirvana was my best use of time.
Instead, I chose to focus primarily on Twitter. I studied what other writers and authors were doing with their accounts, how they connected them to their blogs and books, and then sat down and wrote out Twitter goals for myself.
I do not use auto-follow. I tried it once, for about two days, and did not appreciate being removed from the process of growing my Twitter community. I’ve personally pressed the button for all the people I’m following. I read the bios, the blogs, and the book descriptions (if applicable) of most every account before I follow it.
I don’t limit my @dcPriya follows to the writing world, either, as there are many different businesses and entrepreneurial types on Twitter. I tweet a lot from this account, and most of the tweets are not about me; rather, they are links to news stories, writer and author blog posts, interviews, new book releases by friends, special events, and more that relate to my Twitter community.
If I were to give advice to someone just starting out in social media, it would be to create a marketing plan, and to stick to it. Follow-through can be the hardest part of achieving any goal. Work with yourself, not against yourself, and be realistic when you set your goals. Developing a social media presence is a long process, and six months to a year is a reasonable timeframe.
As you’re building, don’t get hung up on people who unfollow you, or who don’t respond to your tweets. People unfollow for every reason under the sun. Sometimes, and I speak from experience here, people get busy and tweets get missed. A lack of response is not always intentional. Don’t spend any time trying to guess why there hasn’t been a response, or pestering anyone with a tweet asking why you were unfollowed.
Instead focus on what you bring to the process. Focus on building your Twitter community with new follows, retweets, #SO, #WW, #FF, and all those networking tools that are an important part of engaging with this emerging market we call self-publishing.
Do you belong to any particular writer/critique groups?
I didn’t know anything about publishing, self or otherwise, when I began this process. As a part of my self-education goals, I tried to participate in at least one of every type of local networking option for writers.
It was very helpful to be at these events in person, to talk to other writers and authors, and find out their experiences. Those networking activities weren’t, however, something I wanted to get involved with long-term. Unlike printed books, items that can sit on a shelf, e-books exist only on the Internet, and I determined social media was the right place to focus my marketing plan.
I did attend a few meetings with a writing group downtown, and it was a great collection of people. Very diverse and friendly. For me, ultimately, deciding not to participate was a question of time management.
What do you foresee as the biggest change to Indie/self publishing in the next 12 months?
I believe that change is going to come fast and furious in the months and years ahead. There is a lot of untapped gold in this emerging market. Those who saw that potential early – think Smashwords and Amazon – have already staked their claims. We all know how that’s working out them, and for us.
So far, they’ve benefitted from the “stigma” of self-publishing, because that unfounded fear of being perceived as “less than” has kept potential players out of the game.
But big business will clue in at some point, and the more resourceful members of their internal teams will find ways to weave in new revenue streams using some aspect of self-publishing. They will invest in mining these opportunities, and, through their actions, new paths will open to entrepreneurial-minded, self-published authors.
What advice would you offer to writers on the verge of self publishing to help them boost their sales?
Keep adding layers. You never know which interview or blog post or excerpt will connect with a reader, and inspire him or her to purchase your novel. Offer readers as many ways to get to know you, and your writing, as possible. You don’t need to get personal and tell your private story, but it is helpful to share some of those small details of your personality and history, and your motivations for writing, in your blogs post and interview answers.
Keep building your communities. Reach is what it’s all about, and that’s a two-way street. Buy the novels of fellow writers that you interact with most closely. Read those novels. Pay attention to what the people you consider to be leaders and stars are doing to earn their success. Be open to new ideas, new methods.
Give people time to come around to what you are doing. If you are self-publishing, you are ahead of the curve. Be patient while the rest of the world catches up. We all have our own ways of doing things, and the traditional business community is no different.
Also, if you come up with a unique, wacky, or inspired way to connect with readers, share that idea. Blog about it, tweet about it, get it out there. Be involved.
Pearl S. Buck is my favorite author. A close second is Jane Austen — tied with Pat Conroy, Nora Roberts, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Walker, Michael Shaara, Sir Walter Scott, and about a hundred others. But Pearl, she’s number one.
I read The Good Earth for the first time at nine years old. Oh, how I cried over that story. I was a little too young to be reading that beautiful, painful, complex novel.
As I was growing up, my parents had an impossible time keeping me away from books I hadn’t emotionally grown into yet. From the earliest age, my need to read every novel I could lay my hands on created challenges for them. They had to find the words to explain adult emotions and situations to me in ways that were appropriate and digestible for a young girl.
I thank them, eternally, for the patience and care they took with helping me grow into the literary world.
I understand, now more than ever, that it’s in the blood. Reading is an art, and readers are born, not created.