1. Thanks for being here today, Staci! Please tell readers about your path from writer to published author.
So happy to be here with you all!
When I first began to write, it was purely experimental, but once I started writing it, I knew that it was something I would see through. I knew that the story would be fairly short, though I was determined to get the word count into a range that would be considered a novel. I researched traditional publishing and found a host of agents to contact, but in the end I decided to self publish. I'm so glad I did.
The most difficult thing about self publishing is that you have to self edit. I took advantage of the resources available online, from articles to forums, and I got a number of books (The absolute bible being Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Brown and King) and found that I really enjoyed the process. From there, I sought out several critique partners. That step was the most vital, and the most rewarding. At that point, I went into beta readers. I had a total of about 30 people read, edit, and discuss the book with me prior to publishing. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Once I received all of my feedback, I went through a final edit, and published through Amazon and the other self publishing outlets. The entire experience was enlightening, overwhelming, exciting, and really liberating.
2. Deer in Headlights, your first novel, is a modern day story about Greek gods, humans, love, and competition. How did the story come about? How many drafts did you write before publishing it? Is this the start of a series?
Like all great ideas, it came to me while I was lying in bed, trying to sleep. I had recently read a pile of paranormal romance, but was disenchanted with vampires and werewolves. A friend of mine asked, why not write one of my own? What would I write about? So, as I was lying in bed, I considered that. And it came to me. Mythology.
I've long been a mythology fangirl, and as I researched books that are out there, I found the genre sadly lacking. I love that each of them embodies some essential human qualities. As old as they are, they're perpetual teenagers when it comes to certain things. They're beyond passionate. And they've got drama, lots of it.
I sat down with my brother in law (aka basement dweller) about the book through the next day, made a loose outline, and started writing. It as surreal, but shockingly easy for me. The story sort of just wanted out of me.
Total drafts? Probably twelve I would say, in full, but every time I read through it, I edited. I did audio listens, used marked up manuscripts from my beta readers, printed up copies and marked them up.
Yes, this is the beginning of what will be a 12 book series, showcasing her competition with each of the individual gods, in alphabetical order.
3. What is your ideal writing environment? Do you start with an outline and notes, or do you let the words simply unfold on the page?
Ideally I would be locked in a cabin that was fully stocked with fish sticks, coffee, bagels, and a really great stereo system. The reality is that I have three kids (9, 7, and 2), and my house is quite chaotic. So, I generally write with ruckus thundering in the background. My most productive times, are when the kids are in bed, or at school. I crank some tunes, turn off social media (this is key haha), and get down to it.
I've realized as I'm writing book two that I heavily depend on an outline. I use Scrivener and set up all of my scenes, keywords, and days (chapters). I write out character sheets and research actors/actresses who are similar to my characters. I research places, things.
A lot of authors I know don't write that way. But I find the process much less frustrating to know my characters and what my plan is before I dive in. And, there's nothing more upsetting than writing a bunch of scenes you love, only to have to cut them because they don't work. That seriously hurts my soul.
4. In addition to being a published author, you are also an expert in graphic design, websites, and WordPress. How have these skills and abilities influenced your marketing plans for Deer in Headlights?
Wow, my job has prepared me so well for writing. I've been in the social media veins for ten years. I've been a copywriter for websites for the same amount of time. I was able to put together my own website, and design all of my graphics for the book. I can't imagine not being able to do that for myself, and I'm so glad that I have the skills to do it. I've also helped my author friends on their paths, which is something that I love. It brings me a lot of joy to share what I've learned. There's nothing more rewarding than to be a part of someone else's success, to have supported them through it.
5. So many self-published authors enter this new marketplace with little or no website or graphic design experience. Budgets are small, enthusiasm is high, and learning curves are steep. Social media is often brand new to them (us!) and blogging is something most intend to do, but often don't know where or how to start. What suggestions would you make to these authors? What is the best way to get a blog off the ground? Are there any WordPress or Blogger tutorials out there you might recommend?
The most affordable way to set up your website is this:
a) Get a web hosting account (this is like the apartment where your website lives). I like to recommend Hostmonster.
b) There's a one click install in the control panel of Hostmoster once your account is set up. Do that.
c) Browse the templates and find one that you like. If you have a small budget, you may consider buying one that you have more flexibility on. Keep in mind that things like fonts/colors/backgrounds are easy to change for a developer, and a lot of templates have the ability to change your own colors and add your own graphics.
d) At this point, you'll want to play around with it, and once you get to a point that you can't do anymore, reach out and find someone who can do some quick hourly changes for you.
Blogging in general I find very difficult to promote. A blog is an island, it's floating out there in the interwebs. The trick is...how do you get people there? The answer: Social Media.
For anyone in books - GOODREADS. If you're not there, go. Now. Sign up and start finding friends. Follow reviewers (go to Explore > People > click one of the sub links on the right). Review books. Don't just *rate* books. Review them. Read through other reviews and comment on them. Have conversations with people. Real, honest conversations. Be yourself.
Twitter - I wish I hadn't come so late into twitter! I've recently discovered its full potential. If you're like I was and you're heavily resistant to Twitter - stop it. Go there now and find/follow people you like/respect/interest you. Comedians. Celebrities. Authors. Book reviewers. Editors. It's like a strange black hole - once you get started following people, you find more people that they follow, etc.
Facebook - I'm pretty sure most of you are doing this. My advice? Don't just promote yourself. Talk about an article that you found, something funny that happened to you while driving. Promote yourself, too, but give your followers a real connection to you.
Did you post on your blog? Post it on twitter, goodreads, and facebook too. Don't just post a link, post what it's about and/or something interesting about it. Use social media, these colossal collections of people, to get people to your blog.
6. What do you consider to be the most important marketing element for an author? What have you tried that you would recommend? What hasn't worked?
What a difficult question! I currently have a blog tour set up for the end of next month and I believe that will be the most valuable thing that I will have done. I would also recommend really getting into twitter. I've made some really wonderful connections there. What hasn't worked - you can't just blog. My reach for my blog is small, but my reach on social media is exponentially greater, and immediate. Social media is a crucial component to blog success.
7. Do you spend a lot of time on social media? How do you gauge the success of your efforts? And which social media options to be consider the best meeting places for authors and readers? Why?
I spend an unspeakable amount of time on social media lol. I covered some of this before, but Goodreads is the place to be. If you're an author, reader, blogger, or a combination, and you're not on Goodreads, you're missing the boat, big time.
In terms of gauging success, it's difficult. Some days I get retweeted like crazy, and loads of likes on facebook. Some days, it's crickets. I think that's the nature of it though, so I try not to get discouraged and just keep on putting myself out there.
8. Which was harder, picking a title for your novel or choosing a cover? At what stage in the writing process did you do these two parts: before, during, or after the manuscript was written?
Shockingly, neither! The name came to me as I was writing, and I wrote that line. It worked perfectly, because one of Apollo's sacred animals is the deer. I sketched out the deer girl in about ten minutes, and fell in love with it. So, the cover is Lex (the human female player), she's the deer (hence the antlers). The headlights are Dean. There's a line in the end where she stands in the dark, and her dark hair cuts negative space into her white skin, which is where I got the idea for the negative space. The stars are the gods. It was about half way through the process that I had completed the graphics and had them on facebook and my blog.
I go around and around about my cover. My novel is a romance, and most romance covers feature humans, usually making out. That's not my speed, at all. While I don't mind going against the grain, I wonder at times. I do think that it opens the book up to a wider audience though, which is good because I don't feel that my novel is a typical romance novel.
9. Please share five songs in your iTunes or music library and tell us why they are special to you.
I actually have a full playlist for the book on spotify: deer in headlights
I am a HUGE music junkee. I'll choose 5 that are book centric:
Aphrodite's anthem: Everything goes my way, Metronomy
Apollo's anthem: Modern Man, Arcade Fire
Dean's anthem: No you girls - Trentmoller remix, Franz Ferdinand
Inspiration for Dean's band: Everlasting light, the Black Keys
Ares and Dita's anthem: Four Letter word, Gossip
10. What's coming up for you - both as an author and a designer - in 2013, and beyond?
Book 2 of the series should be available in May or June, and Book 3 in the fall. I also have a set of companion stories that I plan to write, through events of the past (like Apollo and the Shakespeare competition). I love these characters so much, and I'm so excited to share them with you all!
Deer in Headlights: .99c
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deer-in-headlights-staci-hart/1114769473?ean=2940044334700