Sophie Perinot On Always Being A Writer... Even If You're Not Still Publishing

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel too… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Sophie Perinot. an award-winning, multi-published author writing stories set against the past but exploring issues and feelings so essentially human that they transcend any particular era. Her passion for French history began more than thirty years ago when she first explored the storied châteaux of the Loire Valley.  Sophie’s French-set novels include: Medicis Daughter (16th Century), The Sister Queens (13th Century) and the upcoming Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women (releasing October 1, 2019). She lives in the Washington DC metropolitan area with her husband, children and a small menagerie of pets. 

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

Yes, of course: that’s called professional growth and evolution. If I didn’t know more than when I first started looking for an agent over a decade ago that wouldn’t say much for my capacity to learn would it?

We all start out starry eyed—not just in writing but in life—and nobody should miss that part. It’s like first love, the crazy crush stage. But if you want to stay in this business long-term, or make an educated decision when a divorce from it might be healthier, than you have to know that a long term career in publishing, like a long-term relationship (to milk that metaphor just a bit more): 1) takes work; 2) will have as many rough spot to be worked through as it will peak moments (“oh look it is release day”) to be celebrated.  Maturity can lead to becoming a bit jaded (we all have our moments), but it also gives you the confidence (and thicker skin) you need to write through the lean times (either creatively or contract-wise). 

Let’s about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective? 

Personally, I continue to see myself as creatively driven.  But I am also, most definitely, a business woman, and it is the business-side of things that I think really only becomes fully visible once you dive into the industry.

For example, when I started out I had very little idea how much of the marketing heavy-lifting fell on an author’s shoulders. Then once I did, I had that crazy-newbie idea that if you tick all the boxes and follow a formula the results can be predicted and replicated like a science experiment. NOPE. If that were the case, every book whose creator was willing to do the lifting would see it skyrocket to every list.

Moreover, in the 7 years since I was first published the promotion machine has grown to a point where it can take over a majority of your time and strip your interactions with people on social media and elsewhere of authenticity (am I the only one bored by people who are constantly peddling something?) But with time in the industry also come perspective—you get to decide what you do in terms of marketing (or anything else) and how much you spend on it (money and time).

As far as “analyzing every aspect of a story for marketability”—by the time what you are writing now hits shelves (an average of 12-24 months from sale of the manuscript) what was marketable may not be, and what everyone said could “never sell” could be hot. I write historical fiction. When I got in, much more of it was set in England than America—at least the successful stuff—but now American settings sell really well.

No, I am not saying “just follow your bliss,” or “write a good book and it will sell,” those are platitudes to lull the masses. What I am saying is don’t bother picking the hottest thing out there and trying to write to that trend because that could be gone like a puff of smoke. How you balance what is “commercial,” or seems saleable with what you are inspired (or compelled) to write depends on many things. One is certainly how dependent you are on writing to eat and keep your electric on.  Ultimately I think the balance is very very personal and it is important to remember the priorities of others often do not make a good template for your own.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

I am not sure faded is the right word . . . for me transformed might be better.

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If anything I am more committed to my writing than I was in those early days, and that’s a good thing because I now realize how much of a commitment and how much time (often spent aspects of the business that don’t thrill me) are required if you are going to be a published author versus a writer. I’ve also realized the two are not co-extensive. That’s actually a GOOD thing, because there is a pure joy in writing that I can say confidently that survives for me no matter what slings and arrows the industrial side of publishing may throw at me.

I will ALWAYS be a writer, a story-teller, a hearer of voices. Whether or not I remain in publishing is far less in my control.

Finally one of the key things that never seems to fade in this career are the friendships. The collegial support in writing is extraordinary. The more time that passes the larger your network of fellow authors grows, and the deeper the roots of friendships within your inner-circle of sisters-in-words go.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published gave me (and continues to give me) the satisfaction of knowing the voices I hear in my head and the stories I tell to honor those characters are being shared and appreciated by others. Connecting with readers has been a tremendous gift. And, not going to lie, I’d like to think long after I am gone at least a book or two I’ve written will be tucked away on a shelf in someone’s personal library (or maybe laying on a table at a garage sale) waiting for new eyes to bring it—and through it me—to life again.

3 Genre Series Ideas Outside Of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery, & Thrillers

When you think of beloved book series, it’s fair to say that most of them fall into a few categories. While there are of course exceptions, it tends to be fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and thriller stories that warrant series - or at least popular or commercially successful ones. This is wonderful for countless millions of people around the world who love nothing more than to dive right into these specific genres. The Lord Of The Rings represents everything from foundational fiction to a moral code to many readers; Harry Potter helped shape a generation; something like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series can effectively lie dormant for years before exploding (as it has recently) back into popular relevance.

Again, this is wonderful for fans. There are few things as rewarding as it can be to dive into a series that simply plucks you from the real world. But what about people who simply don’t relate to those genres? Again, there are some exceptions here and there - series that have made it in other genres - but there really aren’t many of note, which is why I thought it would be fun and interesting to put forth some ideas.

Who knows? Maybe someone will be inspired to write something like one of the following….

A Family Through History

There have been various books and series to chronicle multiple chapters in history in sequence. Some have even stuck with individual narrators, or versions of them, through time. Perhaps the most famous example would be David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas - a novel that is many things (most of all extraordinary, despite its widely-panned film adaptation), including a chronicle of history through (in part) reincarnation. But it’s hard to think of a series that follows a single family through history in one cohesive story.

One could imagine something like this taking the shape of Forrest Gump but stretched longer such that multiple generations highlighted the significant moments of sequential eras. Or perhaps it could be arranged like so many fantasy histories (Game Of Thrones being a relevant example), but set in the real world, in real kingdoms and countries and surrounding actual historical figures. Such a tale told with the same magical quality of a great fantasy would undoubtedly thrive despite being grounded in the real world, and it would give those who prefer history and reality to pure fantasy something to fall in love with.

A Fictional Sports Team

Needless to say, sports are popular all over the world. But those who don’t pay close attention may not realize how close society is coming to embracing purely fictional sports. People use video games to customize leagues and create entire rosters’ worth of imagined athletes. Millions build fantasy rosters to compete with real players in artificial circumstances. Some of the latest online sportsbooks, many of which are now available in some American states, include simulated activities (typically horse races or tennis matches) among the things people can bet real money on!

Given all of this, would a fictional sports series be too far-fetched? It’s something that to my knowledge has only ever been tried in the form of a children’s series or one-off book, but might a whole, sprawling collection of stories detailing a made-up athlete’s journey inspire something close to fanhood? Might people, indeed, even speculate about sporting outcomes in books to come, or even bet on results, the same way they wonder who might perish in a fantasy? It may sound strange to fans of more typical genre fiction, but for countless sports fans it may be a delight.

A Real Science Adventure

Finally, there’s real science to consider as well! Some science fiction certainly comes close, or at least touches on real concepts and principles. Indeed, a few years ago Barnes and Noble wrote up a very nice list of thriller writers who don’t cheat when it comes to science - and that was only a start. But has there ever really been a truly science-based fiction series, written to entertain and engage?

As far as I’m aware, the closest thing to such an idea might actually be the often-mocked works of Dan Brown. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Brown is a scientist, nor that he’s a flawless storyteller. But he is somewhat unique in that he’s used real academic disciplines to create a brand of thriller based at least loosely on knowledge. I suppose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could be another example. Whatever the case, something similar in which real, fascinating science were at the core of a series of thrillers, or a detective’s methods, could make for a wonderful series.

Melissa Landers Looks Back on Debut Thoughts... Seven Years Later

It’s time for a new interview seriesa… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel a little… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest for the NOW is Melissa Landers, a former teacher who left the classroom to pursue other worlds. A proud sci-fi geek, she isn’t afraid to wear her Princess Leia costume in public. Her books include the YA Sci-Fi series beginning with Alienated, the Starflight series, and the middle-grade title, Blastaway.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

Yes and no. Looking back at my first interview with you, I made some suggestions that I still stand by, but find a little difficult to follow. For example, I said the best way for an author to deal with anxiety while on submission is to “put it out of mind and get to work on the next book…Do whatever it takes to keep writing.” It’s good advice, but the simplicity of it feels naive to me now. Seven years ago, I had no idea how much my creativity, confidence, and motivation would be affected by publishing. I still try to “do whatever it takes to keep writing,” but it’s not as easy. 

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I still write the stories that excite me, but I also do my best to maximize the marketability of each book. I’ve learned over the years that some things make a book harder to sell than others…and because publishing is a business, strong sales numbers are the key to staying in business. 

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

 Hmm… I think what’s faded for me the most is my wishful “anything can happen” attitude when I release a new book. I used to think that if I worked/promoted/marketed hard enough, my books would hit the lists, but now I know that sort of thing isn’t likely to happen unless the publisher makes it happen. I do what I can to stay connected with my readers, but I don’t put pressure on myself to “move the needle” in unrealistic ways.

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Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

I’ve grown much more accepting of my lack of control regarding cover design. I used to HATE that other people had more say than I did when it came to choosing my covers, but looking back, I can see some times when my instincts were wrong and the publisher’s were right. So now I keep an open mind and trust their judgment…at least more than I used to. 

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published completely changed the direction of my career. When I started writing, I was on extended maternity leave from teaching. I loved my job in education, and I had every intention of returning to the classroom someday. But then Alienated was published…and Invaded and United…and Starflight, Starfall, and Blastaway. Now I write full-time, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Despite the challenges of publishing, I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.