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Author Interview Series

Author Interview: Jeri Walker-Bickett

Author Interview: Jeri Walker-Bickett

Welcome, Jeri! Please tell us about yourself.

I’m a former high school English teacher and college composition instructor who has left the classroom to start a career as a writer, book reviewer, and freelance editor. The world of books has always been my passion. Plentiful scholarships enabled me to earn a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in writing, as well as a master’s degree in English education with additional graduate credits in rhetoric and composition. The reason I can make this huge shift in my life is because of my wonderful husband and best friend. We met when we were 19, got married in Vegas when we were 22, and nearly 14 years later his dream job has enabled me to pursue my dreams as well.

Do you outline your stories before writing them, or do you sit down at the keyboard and see what flows onto the page?

I keep a notebook where I jot down ideas. Experience has taught me that I can write a short story or piece of creative nonfiction without doing much plotting, but I struggled considerably when I tried being a panster when it came to writing my first novel. By nature, I am a perfectionist and a meticulously organized person, which means I am struggling to overcome the tendency to self-edit too much while still in the drafting stage.

I’m a big fan of pre-writing, whether in the form of freewriting, listing, or making cluster diagrams. Writing is a messy process, and at times, it can be very difficult to see how the story will end. It truly amazes me how some people say they can draft a book in three or four months, or publish two, three, or even four books a year! I will be happy if I am ever able to publish one book a year.

JeriWB Lost Girl Road Update 5 09

What factors did you consider when deciding whether or not to self-publish your short stories? Is the traditional route still something you would consider pursuing?

Beyond a doubt, the rise of self-publishing is what motivated me to want to write again. It’s quite enticing to be able to have complete control over the entire publishing process, but also quite scary. Self-publishing “Popular Poe Stories in Plain English” helped me get over a severe case of writer’s block and also practice eBook formatting and cover making. My collection of literary short stories helped gain more experience in those areas. Most of all, “Such is Life,” is a way to introduce myself as a writer and continue to build my platform.

I have decided to pursue the traditional route when it comes to trying to publish my first novel. Pros and cons exist for either choice, and all writers should carefully make an informed decision about the path to publication they decide to take. I’m still in the process of fully articulating why I feel querying agents is the right choice for me. If the traditional route doesn’t pan out, I will self-publish Lost Girl Road.

Have you considered being part of a short story anthology with other writers?

I would love to have one or more of my stories grouped into an anthology with other writers. Doing so is a great way to gain exposure, not to mention a fantastic way of meeting people involved at all levels of the publication process. I’ve also considered putting together such an anthology, but it will be years before I can see such a plan come to fruition.

Do you outsource any of the preparations for your e-books (editing, formatting, covers, etc)? Will you change any of those decisions next time you publish?

I taught myself how to format and upload eBooks to Amazon’s Kindle store. The directions provided for converting a Word document to a filtered HTML file are pretty straightforward, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of trial and error involved. When frustration sets in, and it will, it’s necessary to remind yourself that learning anything new takes time and each successive attempt will make the process a bit easier. I’ve also made my own book covers using photos purchased from iStock. I feel I have a knack for visual design, and am slowly learning how to use photo-editing software.

Four of the five short stories in Such is Life were written in fiction writing workshops while I was in college, so each received critiques and bits of editing from numerous people. “Not Terribly Important,” my most recent story, received feedback by my two awesome critique partners. We exchange up to 6,000 words with every two weeks. I also asked one of my critique partners to copy edit “For the Love of Dog” because I knew my sentences could benefit from another set of eyes.

The first two chapters of my forthcoming novel have been workshopped twice by Charlotte Writer’s Group, which I joined in June 2012 via the Meet-Up website. I often hear people complain about writing groups, how there isn’t time for their stuff to be critiqued very often. The point of workshop isn’t just to get quick and fast feedback. The more a person practices giving other writers valuable feedback, the better they will become at revising their own material.

JeriWB Home Page (640x271)

In addition to being a writer, you are a book reviewer. How did you get started reviewing novels? How has this part of your professional life impacted your work as an author?

Like many other bloggers, I went down quite a few different avenues in order to find my blogging niche. I blogged about my passions, food and travel, but eventually realized that wasn’t going to help me establish an author’s platform. I also drew on my teaching expertise and posted lessons for the secondary English classroom. It’s when I started to post reviews of books on teaching that I realized I should be doing so for all the books I read. I had also been posting short reviews on GoodReads and Shelfari for a couple of years, so it was a natural progression.

Writing reviews is second nature to me, and there is no reason an author can’t review books, just as there is no reason an author cannot also be an editor. I try to be very selective in the book review requests I agree to. I won’t post one- or two-star reviews for indie authors, but on two occasions, I’ve had to let an author know why I found their book to be lacking. I suppose I run the risk of alienating myself a bit, and in the future, I may gravitate toward doing fewer book reviews and more author interviews. Or maybe I will just review books by authors who are no longer living. Who knows?

I take pride in knowing I write fair, well-balanced critical book reviews. I’m confident in my qualifications. Plus, I want my reviews to speak well for my abilities as an editor.

How do you approach writing a review? Do you start with something structured (say, a checklist), or do you lean more towards evaluating how you feel at the end of the novel?

I use a holistic rubric to guide my reviews. I guess it’s the teacher in me, but I came up with a set of criteria based on the 6+1 Traits for Effective Writing: PRESENTATION, ORGANIZATION, VOICE, SENTENCE STRUCTURE, WORD CHOICE, IDEAS, and CONVENTIONS. Those traits are best remembered by associating each one with the first letter of each word in this sentence: People on violent swings will injure children.

My five-star scale allows for quarter stars. I rarely give five-star reviews, but by gosh, if I give a 4.25 it stands for something! I dislike the discrepancies between the rating systems used on Amazon and Goodreads.

How do you incorporate social media into your marketing strategy? Does anything stand out as a “must do” for writers and authors?

I’ve met so many wonderful people via Twitter, and I’d say establishing a Twitter presence matters the most. A blog also offers a way for readers to connect, but as with all forms of social media, I often wonder how helpful any of it is in the face of Amazon’s mysterious algorithms. LinkedIn can prove invaluable when it comes to participating in discussion threads. Goodreads provides a great way to connect to readers with voracious appetites. Facebook and Google+ also enable writers to get the world out, but as with all things in life, moderation is best.

Social media is meant to be SOCIAL. I am honored to have made so many blogging friends in the last year and a half. I make a conscious effort to reciprocate all blog comments I receive.

JeriWB Popular Poe Stories in Plain English by Jeri Walker-Bickett (480x640)

Now that you have been through the publishing process a couple of time times, what recommendations or advice would you share with writers who are about to self-publish their first works?

Have a marketing strategy in place, but don’t be afraid to adapt the plan as needed. I’m definitely still making it up as I go along, but by the time my book does hit the shelves, I should have a good majority of the kinks figured out. So often, I’ve wished I had a degree in marketing. So much of being a good writer is about being a good business person and being able to understand the art of self-promotion. The more you know, the better off you will be in the long run. It’s as simple as that.

Is there a novel in your future?

I am currently drafting a novel titled Lost Girl Road. It’s a psychological suspense ghost story set in the woods of northwest Montana. It’s inspired by my grandparents and the property they owned in the Bull River Valley. I hope to have it ready to submit to agents in January 2014. If it doesn’t get picked-up in a year, I will self-publish. Plus, I have a few other book ideas kicking around and I am considering participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this coming November.

Do you have a favorite quote or motto that guides your professional choices?

What do I know? is the current name of my blog. The father of the personal essay, Michel de Montaigne, wore a medallion around his neck which read “Que sais-je?” In French, the word essai means to make an attempt or a trial. No person can ever know anything, so Montaigne lived by the motto What do I know? A skeptic realizes change is the only constant in life and that there is always more to learn. Which ties into my blog’s tagline: Let’s learn together!


Connect with Jeri Walker-Bickett

You can connect with Jeri’s social networks via her blog, JeriWB: What do I know? She also invites you to browse the selections on her Amazon Author Central page.

Blog JeriWB: What do I know?

Amazon Author Central:

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  1. Very nice Jeri! We are all on this self-publishing / promotion journey. Maybe one day we will get it all figured out. 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by Cheryl. At least we can learn from each other!

  2. Personally, I respect a review that is based on strong criteria. Arbitrary points just to make someone feel good does a disservice to the work we all are doing.

    • Jon, I wish more people felt that way about reviews. I’d much rather give and receive valid feedback any day then merely a pat on the back. Yet it does bug me that Amazon’s algorithm doesn’t view three-star reviews more positively. I’ve read a lot of perfectly fine “average” books.

  3. What I enjoyed about this interview was getting to know more about Jeri. As she said, writing is a messy process and one not to take lightly if one desires a good end product. Perfectionism can be a good thing in an effort to achieve that, however it can certainly slow down the process… LOL. 🙂

    • Susan, I’d say that at now that I’m more than a year into this whole process, the ol’ perfectionist tendencies are starting to be balanced by the greater sense of autonomy I am gaining in my new career move.

  4. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jeri — like Susan, I enjoyed learning more about your journey to achieve your dream of writing full time. You seem to be doing all the right things. It will happen for you, I’m sure. Thanks for letting me know about 6+1 Traits for Effective Writing. I hadn’t known about this formula. I think you’ve given me an idea for a blog post!

  6. Jeannette, I’ll look forward to seeing what sort of post the 6+1 Traits inspires. The rubric was developed by the NWEA some years ago, but I will credit a contest I had with my students for coming up with the mnemonic People on violent swings will injure children.

  7. Congrats Jeri on being interviewed! Definitely got to know more about you through this interview! I always wanted to be interviewed one day. =)

    • Thanks so much Tommy! I’m glad to have the change to be featured here on Ashley’s rockin’ new website and blog.

  8. Great interview, Jeri. You have become a blogger friend I aspire to. Your blog brings together many people, and your writing and teaching experiences are invaluable. I wish you much success with going the traditional rout with Lost Girl Road.

    • Denise, your level of writing is something I aspire to as well. Net Switch is definitely one of the best indie books I read in 2012.

  9. What a great interview! I was particularly interested in how you write your reviews. Mine always start with a gut reaction. Sometimes I know exactly why I react the way I do. At other times I have to dissect my own feelings. At the moment I’m mulling over a very, very good sci-fi book. The review should be easy to write and yet, something is holding me back. -shrug- No pain, no gain I guess. 🙂

  10. Meeks, I think my gut reaction is now hopelessly tied to my English teacher brain, which usually works out for the best, but not in every case.

  11. I agree with you about editing other’s work to help yourself better learn to edit your own work. As a writing major in college, I loved editing my friend’s work be it a business paper or a short story. Everybody always asked me why I enjoyed it so much and didn’t complain when people asked me to help and I told them the same thing. If I stumbled upon a question in somebody’s work, I would look it up and therefore learn more than I would have had I not edited the work.

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