Balancing Promotion & Creativity with Rory Power

Welcome to the SNOB (Second Novel Ominipresent Blues). Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie.

Today’s guest is Rory Power, who grew up in New England, where she lives and works as a crime fiction editor and story consultant for TV adaptation. She received a Masters in Prose Fiction from the University of East Anglia, and thinks fondly of her time there, partially because she learned a lot but mostly because there were a ton of bunnies on campus. Her debut, Wilder Girls, released this week!

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

I’ve actually found it to be something of a relief! By this point I’ve read my debut, Wilder Girls, so many times, and it’s refreshing to be diving into something new, where I can make as many mistakes as I like with the knowledge that I’ll fix them later. It is hard, though, to keep myself from comparing this new book to the first. I’ve found myself struggling with where to draw the line between keeping a consistent brand, so to speak, and covering too much of the same ground.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

I try to do these at the same time. They require very different parts of my brain, and for me particularly, it’s good to not let myself get too deeply entrenched in any one project. I can definitely go full tunnel vision if I allow myself to, so it’s nice to have two things to bounce back and forth between. The trick, I think, is making sure that you don’t let one distract too much from the other. I try to set aside some time at the beginning and end of every day to check in on social media, and keep the middle of the day for drafting, revision, and other work on my second book.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

The original kernel of the story is absolutely for me, but I find that some of the ways in which I’ve developed this second book have been more for the reader. Through editing my debut novel I learned that there are some things I don’t personally value all that highly in a story that in fact matter hugely to most readers. For instance, I don’t mind at all when books are ambiguous or not entirely clear, but especially in books with a mystery at the core, a lot of readers like solid answers. So while the original idea, or the question, so to speak, of this book is for me, the answers, and the clarity with which I express them, are for my readers.

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Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

Absolutely. There are so many things you don’t quite realize will fall onto your plate - emails, so many emails - when you’re starting out, and dealing with them can absolutely sap your creativity. But there are so many ways to make your schedule work for you, whether it’s reserving different days for different tasks or dividing up your time into blocks. I’ve found that changing my location around really helps. I try to draft in one spot and do other work in another, which helps me keep my focus.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I outlined in much more detail this time. With my debut, I had all the time in the world to rip it apart and put it back together. Nobody was waiting on it. But this second book is on a deadline, and I don’t have the time to make as many mistakes. By outlining, and re-outlining, and outlining again, I’ve cut down on the rounds of revision I’ll have to make later. Or at least, hopefully I have.

The First-World Problems of A Published Writer, Part One

My life is awesome, don't get me wrong.

When I was mired in the foxhole of query hell dodging rejection bullets while trying to reload with a better, more awesome query, I looked at published authors as people with no problems. Or at least, their problems were nothing in comparison to mine.

And I still think this is true. But...

Published authors have our own set of issues—marketing plans we don't agree with (Hey, at least you have marketing that you're not funding yourself!), a cover we hate (Um, an art department made your cover, not your cousin with her outdated Photoshop software!), a title change (Really? Because if a pub house wanted me I'd change my title to This Book Sucks & The Author is Ugly), or thematic battles with your editor (Hello!??! At least you have an editor!). 

And to be very clear, in case any of the fabulous people at Katherine Tegen are reading this (I love them all, along with every cell right down to its nucleus in every one of their bodies), these issues are not my issues. I'm culling these examples from years of conversations with other writers.

But the problems I want to talk to you about today are the everyday problems, little misunderstandings that crop up with people who don't understand the publishing industry—and you shouldn't expect them to. In fact, I won't even call them problems because they aren't. They're blips on the screen that have occurred enough times that you feel like it's a problem, like an eye twitch that happens one too many times in the afternoon. What's the remedy? Remind yourself to be grateful you have eyes and move on.

Examples:

1) Where can I buy your book?—Well, a bookstore is a good start. Just saying. Or this magical thing called the internet. Don't say that. Yes, they might be the 1000th person to ask you that—and essentially it might feel like a silly question—but it's not their fault they weren't the first person to ask you back when you had patience. If they're the 1000th person to ask—and you answer politely 1000 times—you might sell 1000 books.

2) How much is your book?—This depends entirely on who is selling it. Seriously. Amazon is selling it cheaper than Barnes & Noble, and both of them are selling it more cheaply than the local Indie. It all relates to the magical Amazon algorithm and overstock and price gouging but Indies count on support and... oh wait, this person doesn't care about the politics behind everything. Just answer the question with the jacket price. If this launches them into a long story about how they found it cheaper on eBay, fantastic. Listen to it. Don’t launch into a diatribe about how the secondary market hurts you. It does, yes. But it’s only going to make them feel bad, and they just supported you… or at least they thought they did.

3) Can I buy it from you? - Technically, no. In order to do that I have to have a vendor's license and charge tax and declare it as income. Also, I don't carry my books around in my trunk like I'm selling roses on the corner or meat out of coolers. If fact, this is one of the major reasons why I went the traditional publishing route—I don't want to handle sales myself. Again, just answer the question. They want to buy the story that's published, not the long boring one you're telling in response to a simple inquiry.

4) Hey, I wrote a book too! Will you read it?—Here's the thing, 200 million Americans have written / are writing / want to write a book. Chances are you know a few of them, and if you don't already they are going to seek you out. The quick answer is no, however it's also a fairly rude answer that will make people think you are too big for your britches now that you're a fancy-pants published writer. Definitely say the no part, but say it nicely and with encouragement, along with a list of writing blogs and podcasts (this one is a good start), and suggestions on how to find a critique partner more suited to where they are in the journey. You might be passing on a chance to usher in the next Margaret Atwood, but that's not your job. Your job is to write, and you can't do that when you're mentoring someone else.

5) My cousin in Tucson bought your book! How did you get it in bookstores out there?—Yeah. Here's the thing, the general public doesn't know the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Remember, 200 million Americans want to get published and they now have the opportunity to do exactly that (and more power to them). So those authors are selling their books themselves, they are hand delivering their stock to bookstores, and this is the average person's concept of how books get "out there" now that they probably know someone who is doing exactly this. Your publisher did all this for you, and you sank a third of your lifetime into getting the deal that made that possible. Explaining this will make you sound elitist, even if you're not. So what's the best answer? The simple one: my publisher. Period.

These are some of the tiny, silly, nagging little problems of a published author. It's not the questions, it's the repetition. And there are days when none of these are asked, followed by days where I get all five multiple times each and I want to drink bleach just to see how it makes my intestines smell.

Then I say to myself, "Mindy—you get paid to make up stories about things that didn't happen to people that don't exist. Shut up."

NJ Simmonds on Marketing Yourself

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is NJ Simmonds, writer of YA fantasy, romance, and historical stuff that she totally makes up. A tiresome feminist killjoy, she's really bad at sitting still or keeping quiet. Her first book, The Path Keeper, releases today!

Are you a Planner or Pantser?

I’m a Planner Plus – because I’m also a dreamer. I spend months and months thinking about my stories before putting fingers to keyboard, imagining them like a movie in my head. It’s not until I’ve ironed out every little detail and plot-hole that I plan it chapter by chapter, and then write. It means that I don’t have that dreaded messy first draft so many people battle through, filling in gaps and spotting plot issues.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

A lot less time now that I’m on a deadline for books two and three. My first book, The Path Keeper, took three years, but back then it was a hobby and I re-wrote it dozens of times. Book two took about nine months to final draft and the last in the series will have taken me about five months. Less I hope. I’m nearly at the end of the first draft. I did take just three months to write a YA contemporary once, but so far no publisher wants it – so maybe I should have taken more time with that one haha.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

I’m a multi, multi, multi tasker. I am currently planning the launch of book 1, editing book 2, writing book 3, planning my next series, subbing my standalone novel, I have five half-baked book ideas in note form – oh, and a job and two kids! This may explain my tense shoulders and insomnia.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

No. Mainly because I was doing it for cathartic reasons. I had absolutely no expectations of anyone reading it or of taking it all the way to publishing. My two children were under three years of age when I started, and I was very exhausted, unhappy and unfulfilled. I started writing as a way to express myself and to escape, it became my savior.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

None. But that’s because I knew nothing about the publishing industry or agents and someone I knew, who was a small-time agent, snapped up my first novel and offered to rep it. I was very nonchalant about it all and said ‘OK, let’s see if you get anyone interested in it, if not I’ll self-publish’. I had zero expectations. After a year of rejections, she folded her business anyway, so I was left unagented. At that point I should have started from scratch and got another agent – but instead one of the publishers showed interest, so I continued solo.

I always wonder whether, had I subbed to top agents from the start, whether my journey would have been different or if I would have trunked the first book after a few No’s.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Oh lots, but in my mind they are just little buds that have been put on ice. When the time is right, I’ll tend to them properly and watch them bloom. Most are only 5-10k words in - nothing major, just a few chapters. The only reason I stopped was because I had publisher deadlines with the series so had to focus on that, or because other ideas came along that were more exciting.

My unfinished books are all YA contemporary. I plan to focus on fantasy for a bit longer so may revisit them at a later stage. 

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

I’ve had a complicated route to publication, as The Path Keeper was first published by a small UK publisher who dropped YA after a few months – so I had to find the series a new home after being out just four months.

When the first edition hit the shops back in 2017, the entire experience was overwhelmingly surreal. I was in a London Waterstones, my book all over the shop, and a queue of people waiting to have it signed. I couldn’t believe it was my life – especially when it was beside other YA greats such as The Hate U Give and Caraval!

How much input do you have on cover art?

The first time around, with my first publisher, it was quite a lot. I filled in a form, hated their first attempt, and they basically did what I asked and I loved it. Now that I’m with a new publisher, and the book is hitting the USA and the rest of the world, I’m very very nervous. My background is in branding and marketing, so covers are so important to me – in fact a lot of the negotiations before I signed with my new publishers was about positioning, to ensure that they saw the future of the series the same way I did. They’ve been amazing, listening to my ideas, research and suggestions…so we’ll see. I’ll be seeing the cover soon. It should be beautiful, it has to be, we are definitely on the same page.

What social media ISN’T is a sales platform. It’s there to build your brand, connect and interact. It is not successful when all you do is sell yourself on there..png

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

I’ve learned so much the hard way. Having been signed by an agent in 2015, then losing her, then signed to a publisher in 2016, published 2017, then leaving that publisher and not getting a new one for nine months (unagented) has been a really steep learning curve.

Even though my series is finally getting the attention it deserved first time around, I have definitely been subjected to all the highs and lows. My biggest lesson has been that authors are expected to do a huge amount of self-promotion, and you earn very very little to begin with. I wasn’t prepared for either. I was also shocked by the fact that it’s not that easy to get into a bookshop, so don’t think just because you’re signed that your book will be in the Barnes & Noble store window. It probably won’t be.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

A huge amount. Marketing is my day job, so I have a website, a blog (although it’s not as active as I’d like it to be), Twitter, Instagram, a Facebook page and a number of groups. I’m regularly guest appearing on book club groups and other people’s blogs too, plus when the first edition of The Path Keeper came out I managed all my own PR so organized TV, radio, press and events myself across four countries.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

As I mentioned before, I knew nothing about writing and wasn’t even on Twitter when I began the book. Had I set out to be a published writer from the onset, and what I tell people, is start building your platform NOW. Start a Twitter account and blog and document your journey. People buy people. I can’t tell you how many books I have bought because I like the person on Twitter, and they finally got published. So do it pre-agent – you’d be surprised how many agents are on there watching too.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

100%. But then I lecture on corporate storytelling and self-branding as part of my job – so I’d be crazy to say otherwise.

What social media ISN’T is a sales platform. It’s there to build your brand, connect and interact. It is not successful when all you do is sell yourself on there. No one likes that. Is there a correlation between sales and followers? No. But it IS great brand exposure/PR and it will encourage people to take you seriously, and remember you/give you a chance when they’re in a book shop.