Sherrilyn Kenyon On Letting Characters Drive Story

Mindy:             Today's guest is Sherrilyn Kenyon, best-selling US writer of the Dark Hunter series. Sherilyn has published over 80 novels under her own name and also under the pseudonym Kinley MacGregor who writes historical fiction with paranormal elements.

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Mindy:             One of the things that I really want to talk to you about today is the fact that you didn't have the most auspicious start, really came up out from poverty to achieve everything that you have done. I Would love to hear more about that. Tell my listeners about that struggle and that journey.

Sherrilyn:         My dad was a Sergeant in the Army and, and my mother put herself actually through school very later on. My siblings are 10 and 16 years older than me and I have a sister with cerebral palsy, so everything that my parents made kind of went to my oldest sister, her medication and everything. Once my baby came along, he was in ICU for the first few weeks of his life. It set us back.

Mindy:             I think it's important for writers especially, but also all creatives to hear these kinds of stories because I'm certain that there were moments in your life where you've felt hopelessness and helplessness.

Sherrilyn:         Nope, still do! That doesn't go away. I always looked at it... you know, when my mother was 16 she had my oldest sister with cerebral palsy. Given that, you know, we weren't really allowed to complain to my parents because my kids have autism but, they're mobile, they can speak. We're very fortunate. So I've always focused on what I have. To me, as long as I've got my kids and they're healthy and they're happy, I can deal with anything else. And my mother bred that into us.

Mindy:             I love that mentality. I think it says a lot. I love what you're saying about motherhood. I'd like to talk about that a little bit more when it comes to writing. Most of my listeners are indeed aspiring writers and I'm confident that there are plenty of mothers and fathers out there. And also I'm sure single parents that often feel like it's so difficult to find the time and make that time. We do have to remember that our children are the lights of our lives and the most important thing in our lives. So can you talk about finding that balance between your need for a creative outlet or even you having to hit a deadline for business reasons versus that care and that need that you have for your child and your family?

Sherrilyn:         Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was published before my kids were born. I didn't have to really make time because the work was always there. But unfortunately the writing did not take off immediately. I wasn't JK Rowling where I wrote one book and suddenly hit the big overnight success. You know, I ended up having to work two, three, sometimes four jobs while on deadlines. So the deadlines were nothing new. I mean, I had deadlines since I was a teenager, especially with my writing. I was a latchkey kid. And for people who don't know what that is, I mean my parents couldn't afford a babysitter so we got locked in the house while they were at work. So when I had my kids, I didn't want them to know that feeling of isolation or I didn't want them being raised in afterschool care and all that fun stuff.

Sherrilyn:         Cause I had horror stories from all my friends. the one time I went into one when I was real small it was, like, I'm not a very big person. And I always tend to find that one person who thinks they can steamroll right past me. And unfortunately I'm a Chihuahua who thinks it's a Great Dane. So I'll stand my ground and it's not a good idea, especially on the playground. My oldest was born, like I said, prematurely. So I brought home like a three pounds tiny little thing that would fit in the palm of my hand. To me the kids were always gonna come first no matter what. And in terms of the writing, it was always flexible. So I would wait until they were asleep. Sometimes I would sit there with them, you know, on my chest. One of those little snugglies, or sometimes when I didn't have a snugly or, I couldn't afford one. I'd have them wrapped in a blanket tied to me. They ever needed anything. And even now, I mean they're grown men, but if they need ramen at 2:00 AM they know they can come down here and go... Mom? It's like, okay, I'll go make your ramen for you.

Sherrilyn:         When I did have to work outside the home, that was when it became tricky and I'd have to do things like I worked for Ingram entertainment and I was very fortunate. My boss would let me go in at like three, 4:00 AM I could work while they were at school and then I'd be home when they got off and I'd pick them up, bring them home, make them a snack and then I'd sit with either laptop or... you know, pictures of my house shows that my computer was in a corner of, I had one in the corner of the kitchen, one in the corner of the bedroom and one downstairs where they were. So wherever the kids were playing, I could follow them room to room with my disk and insert it in a new computer and start working while I watched them.

Mindy:             That's wonderful. I like that idea. So when you were in this situation as a child, when you were a latchkey kid, as you were saying, did you always know that you wanted to write? Was that always a goal? For you?

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Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah. I was five years old. I told my mom, I'm going to be a New York times best selling writer, and my mother was putting on her makeup, doing the mascara, and she stopped and looked at me and said, honey, do you even know what that is? No, but it's on all the books you read, so I think it might be a pretty good thing to want to be. Since I wanted to be a writer. Right? My mother just kind of rolled her eyes, like, Oh my God. My Brownie manual has, when I grow up, I want to be a writer and a mother. I did it in that order.

Mindy:             That's amazing. Speaking of doing it in that order, your first book came out while you were still in college, which is very impressive. I wrote a book while I was in college, but it certainly didn't get published and it didn't deserve to be published, but can you talk a little bit --

Sherrilyn:         I don't think mine did either! Oh, I've apologized so many years for that. It's like, I thought it was great. I did. I did, but I was 18 and 24 please forgive me.

Mindy:             I totally understand. I remember when I was writing in college, um, just pecking away at my laptop and, well, it wasn't even a laptop. It was a desktop thinking that I was writing a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. And then of course going back and reading it later and just being like, Oh, this is actually just dreck. Like, this is trash.

Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I've got quite a few of those. But then others that I read, I'm like, that's salvageable.

Mindy:             I want you to talk a little bit about that experience in college because I remember, and I honestly, let's, let's be truthful. I feel like it is something that most of us still feel, or perhaps even as an adult, struggle with that idea that if I get published, everything will be okay if I get published.

Sherrilyn:         [Laughter]

Mindy:             So, I mean, was that your perspective as a college student? Just talk about learning that lesson that it's quite simply not true.

Sherrilyn:         I never had that perspective of it. I got published for the first time when I was 14. And my life really didn't change. Well I'd get a couple hundred dollars here and there off my writing. Really by and large what I got paid in were just copies. I'm not sure if they still have publications that pay you like that. I was just happy. It's like I've got a byline. What was I? Grade school when I started selling my own? My dad had one of those old um Oh God, what do you call them that-- the ditto machine. So, but dad had one of those so I would roll mine off and I would sell them to my friends for like a nickel. I was so happy to have anybody come up to me and go, do you have the next installment? What's going to happen to these characters next? And really that was all I ever concerned myself with. It wasn't, this was somehow going to solve all problems or just like - people like my characters! And that's cool!

Mindy:             Definitely. So when did that change? When did you hit a point where you were like, I think I would like to try traditional publishing?

Sherrilyn:         That ended as soon as I made my first sale at 14. I mean I saved up my babysitting money when I was 12 to get a subscription to Writer's Digest magazine. But to me it wasn't about making money. It was more, more people will read my characters and like them.

Mindy:             And now you've made this transition to where you've had more than 80 novels on the New York times bestseller lists. So you were right, you told your mom you were going to do it and you did it. Are you ever just set back by your own success?

Sherrilyn: :        Nooooooo. No. And I don't look back on that journey, unless they make me to, because it was really painful. Every time a book comes out, I'm giddy as a school girl to this day. I mean in the back of my mind is the old saying "neither success or failure are ever permanent." That monster stalks me everywhere I go.

Mindy:             Again, I know many aspiring writers and I was one, I was one too who really felt that if I hit that goal, if I got published, that everything would be okay. And obviously that isn't true. I have eight books out and am contracted for two more. Every day is still a struggle and I can't imagine having 10 times that out. Can you talk a little bit about retaining that drive and the energy and the creative spark when you are so prolific?

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Sherrilyn:         It's always the characters. Things will happen in life. Like, you know, most people know, I'm going through a divorce right now. So it, for me right now, it's really hard just because my attention is being drawn to everything but the writing for the first time in my life. I really can't write when I want to be and that, that's the most frustrating thing for me. Yeah, y'all have made it impossible for me to work. But you want to live off my work. And I don't understand this concept that people... I mean you know how hard it is and how time consuming it is. And the man was here for 27 years. Although in 27 years I never could convince the ex that magic fairies don't walk in and write the books at night while I, you know, the two hours while I sleep.

Mindy:             Nope.

Sherrilyn:         You know, really, I'm not goofing off the 22 hours I'm sitting in my chair working. I really am working. But in terms of finding the drive, it's the characters, it's always the characters. There's so many, you know, I write cause I want to find out where it goes. I'm not a plotter, I'm a pantser. I get these amazing people in my head and they start talking. It's like, what's your story? I got to know. And so that drive has never really gone away. But you know, unfortunately life will occasionally grind us to a halt. That's when it gets frustrating.

Mindy:             Definitely. I'm also a pantser and I feel that amount of anxiety is alleviated once I start writing cause I don't have a plot. I don't have a plan. I don't know what's going to happen. But I trust these characters to tell me their story and I just feel like they're kind of guiding everything and they're bright enough and real enough in my head that I believe that the story is there and it will unfold. Is your process similar?

Sherrilyn:         Both of my sons are actually writers. "Mom, am I doing it right? I don't know." And it's like just sit in the chair and do it. You spend so much of your day agonizing over the perfect structure of your sentence. Kid, just get in there and let them go. It may be written in blood but it's not carved in stone. You can always rewrite. My older son finally took him a long time too cause he was angsty about it and he finally got - Oh yeah, I can rewrite! Yeah. I get it now. It's like that only took 24 years. But okay!

Mindy:             It's true. Rewriting is writing. That is where I believe the real work comes in because I feel like a first draft is very much just me solidifying and moving an idea and a concept onto the page, so it's a physical object or at least a Word document that I can manipulate then in order to draw the story out, I think it's interesting you mentioned your son said your son asks you, am I doing it right? And I don't think there's any one right way to write a novel. I'm sure we all have different approaches even though it sounds like you and I are similar, I'm sure we still do things differently. Over the course of writing all of these many, many, many novels, has your process changed at all? Have you tweaked it?

Sherrilyn:         Mine hasn't, but you know, I've, I've been in the business now for almost 40 years of my God. Yes. It really is that long. Thousands of writers... well, tens of thousands of writers I've met over the decades. Yeah. Everybody has their own process and you know, one of the things that I tell when I teach workshops, if you have a beginning, a middle and an end, congratulations, you're a writer. Celebrate. Because you've got to where a lot of writers don't. Yeah, don't ever let anybody tell you how to write your books. I mean, that's... writing advice. It's like a buffet. You go in and you look around and you go, Oh, I like that. I like that, I like that. But if you don't like it, leave it behind cause you don't need it. What works for you works for you.

Mindy:             That's right. And I personally, when I have fellow writers that are friends that are very serious plotters and planners, and when I tell them about my process, they just break out in hives. They think it's crazy.

Sherrilyn:         They're horrified. Yeah. They're like, God, how can you get to the end of the book? You don't know.

Mindy:             Well, yes, exactly. They think I'm crazy. It's funny because I don't actually poke at my process a whole lot. I've been doing it for a while and I don't want to look at it too hard because I don't want to break it by examination.

Sherrilyn:         Exactly. And that's... you know my son, "Mom, explain!". It's like I can't and I don't want to like you said, I, you know when I do workshops and stuff I'll teach people - this is what a plotter will do. We're called pantsers Cause we set our butt in the chair and we go. We just go. But I can tell you all about how to plot one and how to do character stuff that I can tell you the mechanics of it. But I can't tell you what I do when I sit in my chair cause I don't know, I just daydream and type.

Mindy:             I'm so glad you say that because I am similar. I just daydream and type. I love that. Um, I feel often that I'm not even really writing something. I feel like I'm just kind of funneling or channeling something.

Sherrilyn:         Exactly. Yeah. Like I'm a medium. So the spirits are out there and they're whispering to me and they're telling it to me. I'm... All I'm doing is the conduit for it.

Mindy:             Yeah , absolutely. I feel, I feel exactly the same way. It's, it's interesting to know that someone else has that experience.

Sherrilyn:         Oh, there are a lot of us.

Mindy:             So you were saying about your characters and how your characters are, what draw you in and bring you back and keep you moving forward and keep that flame of interest alight. When you are as famous as you are. When you are as prolific as you are and when you are multi published the way you are, your characters are no longer yours alone. They have become the property of the public. So do you ever experience any type of push or pull with that concept when people have strong either positive or negative reactions to your books? Is it always just - hooray! You care! Or do you ever just have this, you know, this used to be just mine.

Sherrilyn:         I guess maybe because I'm from a really big family and we had to share everything. So I don't feel like they were ever just mine, but you know the characters have a life of their own. It's like -- get in there! I told you! What are you doing! Stop! Just Stop!

Sherrilyn:         One of the things I try to do, especially with descriptions is I write the characters so that anybody can relate to them. Criticisms I have taken is that they're like ambiguous when it comes to... I don't describe them usually more than once, maybe twice. And I do that intentionally because I want any reader anywhere to focus on their emotions because at the end of the day, we're all human. And so I want whoever the reader is to feel such a connection with that character. They can slide right into their skin, whoever they are.

Mindy:             Agreed. As a reader when I am reading something, I will put people that I know, especially when I was younger, put people that I know in certain characters skins and if there was too much physical description of the character, then it might actually knock me out of the story because I was picturing my friend or my enemy or whatever, and then they gave me too much info and it took away my mental picture.

Sherrilyn:         Yeah, exactly. It's like, no, I focused on, what the meat of the character is and what matters to that character and you know, their reaction to things more than I weigh this or I weigh that or I'm this tall. Unless it's something where I'm doing it to make a point. Like in the case of Ash, he's 9,000 feet tall and it's problematic for him. When you're unnaturally tall or you're unnaturally short, that that does become an issue. Or in the case of Bride, Bride's not the biggest heroine I've ever written. She's just the one who had the biggest problem with her weight. So, you know, unless it's something like that that I'm writing, you really aren't aware of their, their physical descriptions or limitations or not limitations.

Mindy:             So speaking then about fans identifying so closely with your characters. Do you receive a lot of, um, emails, tweets, DMs, people reaching out to tell you what the books have meant to them, or a character has meant to them?

Sherrilyn:         Oh, God, love them. Yes. Yes, I have. And I love it. Yeah. It's all about that connection.It's what I got into this to do. It's to make people care about my people. Although, you know, some of them... You're allowed to hate Apollo. Apollo, you can hate!

Mindy:             Well, that's why... I had an event last night and there was a girl there who told me, she said, I'm really mad at you about the ending of one of my books. And I said, that's awesome. I'm really glad that you're mad at me because I made you care deeply about something that never happened to a person that doesn't exist. It's a huge compliment.

Sherrilyn:         Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Mindy:             So tell us a little bit about Hex Life.

Sherrilyn:         Oh, that's the tiny little short story I wrote with my son. There are a lot of short stories in there from other writers. That was fun cause it was a, an idea that my son had and he actually wrote the first draft on it and he's like, I don't know how to finish it. Mom, can you help? And so I got in there, I'm like, okay, I gotta fix your grammar. And then I fixed a couple of other things. He's like okay, fine. It's our story now, Ma. We had a lot of fun with it and I'm like, well, can I put a Hell Chaser character in? And he went, sure, go ahead. Just take it over.

Mindy:             Tell us then about At Death's Door.

Sherilyn:        At Death's Door is also a Hell Chaser, Dark Hunter book. No spoilers cause it just came out. Oh my God. I let one drop real bad at Dragon Con. And I knew I'd done it the minute I said it. And everybody got real quiet. And I went "y'all didn't know that, did you?" No, we didn't. I, Oh God, no I didn't. Yeah, I did. Oh, it's about Belinda who was turned into a voodoo doll, living voodoo doll, really get to go into the Caribbean West Indies, folklore of which I've been wanting to do in the past two books but was trying to hold back so that I could really delve deep into it with the third book. Um, so I, you know, it looks at the loa, um, the hero is one of them. Uh, he's actually a psychopomp so it's, it's really different to me, and it was very cool to write.

Mindy:             And tell me a little bit about some of the research that you did on that. The culture and the, the magical systems and everything involved there.

Sherrilyn:         My mother's best friend was a Gullah woman. There's some hoo-doo involved. My aunt Berta would do a lot of hoo-doo, root work and stuff like that, which not necessarily all of them do, but Berta was a real big on the root work, grew up around it. And so, you know, as a little kid, it's like, one day I'm going to write about these. And she'd always make me little poppet dolls for different gifts and different things. And I've got... they're all over my house. That's what actually got me first interested in all the different kinds of poppets that were made because they're not all African or West Indian. They're also a lot were made in Europe, which most people don't realize that were done. Um, so just kind of been a lifelong interest of mine.

Mindy:             With so many books out there, so many series running. And you were saying that you actually let something slip before when you were on a panel. Do you ever hit a point where someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer? Cause you can't remember what you wrote?

Sherrilyn:         Knock wood. Not yet, but I have had people ask me things that they were mistaken and they'll argue with me and I'm like, no, I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Mindy:             So last question - what are you working on now? What do we have to look forward to here?

Sherrilyn:         Queen Of All Shadows. I don't have a date for it yet. I hope it's going to be out next fall. That's a book that I actually started a billion years ago. It was supposed to come out. Oh, was it after Zarek's? No. Um, it was the book that was supposed to come out instead of Unleash the Night. !hen I first sold Dark Hunter, I had, I don't know, 60 to 70 books that were in partial states of completion from, you know, my teen years. I've been working on Dark Hunter forever. Anyway. And so his was the one I was working on when Ren said hello, you don't want to tell his story, he's a loser. Put that manuscript aside, come talk to me. And so I'm finally getting back to it. It's only been, gosh, what, 15 years? 16 years?

Mindy:             I understand. The first novel I ever wrote, I wrote in college and 15 years later is when it got published and is actually my best selling book. But I do understand returning to something like that.

Sherrilyn:         Yeah. Yeah. And it's very different too because you go back and go, I hope I'm a better writer now.

Mindy:             Oh, for sure. Um, I, I definitely was. There's no doubt. If I weren't then something has gone horribly wrong.

Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah. Yeah. But in the back of your mind, you're like, maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I don't know.

Mindy:             So what you're saying is that imposter syndrome never stops?

Sherrilyn:         No, never. Never. Never.

Mindy:             That's good to know. And tell my listeners where they can find you online.

Sherrilyn:         I'm at mysherilyn.com Thank you, mom. Let me spell that cause my mother was unkind. I put her through 36 hours of labor supposedly, and that was her curse on me. Um, it's M Y S H E R R I L Y N.com.

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Kelly Notaras On Helping Authors Write Their Nonfiction & Memoir

Mindy:             Today's guest is Kelly Notaras, founder of KN Literary Arts, an editorial book studio, specializing in self-help, personal growth and spirituality.

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Mindy:             You are the founder of KN Literary Arts. Tell us a little bit about what your organization does and how your offerings can help authors.

Kelly:               Yes, so I am a book editor. I've been a book editor for 20 years and KN Literary is sort of my, the answer to the changes that have happened in the book publishing business as far as I'm concerned, since I got into it 20 years ago. Everything has gotten so consolidated and as you know it's not impossible, but certainly harder and harder to get published by a traditional house and especially in the world of nonfiction, which is where I specialize There's a lot of opportunity to self publish and build a platform using your book that then will make you of interest to a publisher down the line.

Kelly:               What I wanted to make sure was that the people who were doing that had access to the level of editorial services that the book publishers are giving, the books that are traditionally published. So we offer everything from helping you figure out what the hook of the book should be, the pitch, what your idea should be, what the specific story is you should focus on. If you're writing a memoir, we also do fiction, but our definitely our bread and butter is nonfiction. What's the storyline? What's the wisdom? What's the step by step process, et cetera. Building your outline, coaching you through writing it, which is obviously always a bear. We do both proposals and full length manuscripts and then we offer all the editorial services that a traditional house would offer. So content editing, technical editing, interior design, cover design, and also what we call self-publishing coaching. Because while it is actually easier for people to self publish today than any other day, many of our clients are confused by the options and don't know kind of where to go. So we will walk you through step by step how to do it.

Mindy:             One of the things I hear people talk about in the industry when they talk about self-publishing, and I've heard this multiple times, that the great thing about self publishing is that anyone can do it. And the horrible thing about self publishing is anyone can do it. That's exactly right. And that's because so many people do it badly. That muddies the market and it makes it harder for people that are attempting to do it correctly with cover design, with understanding marketing, with caring about content, and making sure that they even have things formatted correctly for the interior. All of those things are so important and you can't just throw something together, which many, many, many people do. And so it sounds like you're offering not only the ability to set yourself apart from the badly self-published pieces, but also how to rise above and get noticed how to rise above that murk.

Kelly:               Absolutely. And I mean it is one of the great benefits of being alive today, I think. I mean, it's just funny when you look at it historically speaking, it is astonishing that anybody can write and publish a book today. And I love that. I genuinely love it. Depending on what your goals are for the book, really anyone can do it, and some of my clients, their goal is really to have what we call a glorified business card. They want to have a book. They don't expect people to necessarily read it. They want them to just remember, Oh, this person took the time to write a book. They must be an expert on this subject. When I need this, I'm going to go to them. And that's for the nonfiction personal growth, self-help wellness books that we do, but when you're really wanting someone to read the book, you have to honor that person's time.

Kelly:               There's so many things we could be doing with any minute of the day. Why am I going to spend it reading your book if you haven't taken the time and the financial commitment to make it really good? Honestly being kind to your end user, your reader, to make sure that the book is in as good a shape as it can be in. That is what we try to do and again, depending on what we're doing, we do a lot of ghost writing and when we do ghost writing I can be like this writing is going to be great. When we are editing we can only say we're going to make this writing as good as it can be, you know, so there's different levels and we serve all clients with all goals and we're really honest as well. If someone's like, I really want to have a traditional publisher, we will say your ideas are great but your writing is not strong enough. We need to pair you with the ghost writer and people like it. People don't like it. Some people decide to take us up on it, other people decide to try it and we're really on the journey with you wherever you are.

Mindy:             One of the things that I see often is older people who aren't necessarily tech savvy, wanting to get some of their life experience out there, wanting to get sometimes family stories and history or their own life story, like a memoir out there and they don't know how to do it because they simply don't have those tech abilities. So is that like has, have you had that experience with having --

Kelly:               Oh my gosh, yes.

Kelly:               We have a wonderful admin at the company and one of her roles is to walk people through when they don't know how to use track changes. For example, on Microsoft Word, which is how we edit all of our projects because we do everything electronically. We have people that can't even fill out the form on our website, find a phone number and call us and we walk them through. We will help everybody wherever they are. The one thing we will not do, I'll just say this, we will not take your longhand manuscript. I'm sorry, I love you. You've got to find someone to type it up. You know, we get that question a lot. You know, people or they want to send us a box of the last 30 years of their journals and have us sort of somehow cobble a book out of them. We won't do it. It's just too much. You know, it's handwriting is just, you know, something we can't really work with. But if we can recommend transcription services, we can recommend people who will type it out for you. Get it type written and then send it to us and we'll do what we can.

Mindy:             I come to the question just from the experience of being a published author for uh, you know, eight, nine years and being at festivals and book fairs and working my own table and having people come up to me and say, well, I've always wanted to write a book and I'm just like, that's cool. You're talking to the wrong person. It's like I write fiction and you know, you don't want an agent, you don't want to be writing query letters. Like that's not what you're interested in. You are 70 years old. Like this is a long game. You need a different service than the process that I went through.

Kelly:               And that is honestly our bread and butter is that client. So we do so much work with people who have a story, often times some sort of a triumph over tragedy, whether it was from childhood or the loss of a child or a spouse or some sort of a battle with an illness. And they've come through it and they want to share their wisdom. They may never have written a word in their lives. So they come to us and we help them figure out what are their different options because there are many, many different options for how to proceed. And this is one of the places where people I think get a little tripped up and they feel a little bad because they think, well, you know, everyone knows how to write. We all learned how to do it in school, so I should be able to write a book.

Kelly:               And the fact that I am not succeeding at doing it means that there's something wrong with me. And I always say no, that is completely not the case. Writers who are writing for a living being published by the traditional publishers, they have been working on their craft for a very long time. There is no reason why you who spent your life gaining this wisdom, doing something else should be able to sit down and just pound out New York times bestselling book about it. Get humble, ask for help. And then maybe you even need someone to do collaborative writing with you who can walk you through and who can actually take whatever it is that you are able to produce and rework it into something that's going to be digestible for a reader. Cause that's really the point when it comes to nonfiction, the information has to somehow get to that reader. And if your book is written in a non-traditional way, if your writing is an excellent, you're going to have a hard time actually allowing the reader to take in what you have to teach them. So you may need to work with someone for whom writing is their superpower. If you have a message or a story, there's a way to get it onto the page in a well-written fashion. And that's one of the things that we do.

Mindy:             I really have to tell you that I stand in awe of your patience and the patience of the folks on your team because I can tell you that my mother doesn't even ask me for help with tech anymore. It is not going to end well. Like it's just, it's such a struggle because, and it's not their fault, but it's, for example, my mother, she doesn't even have the vocabulary to tell me what the problem is, right?

Kelly:               Yes, yes, yes, exactly. 100%.

Mindy:             It's not working. And I'm like, what are you, what are you trying to tell me? Is there an error message? Like it's just not working. And I'm like, okay, I can't do anything with, it's just not working.

Kelly:               My Mom lives like 800 miles away and we definitely do FaceTime of her FaceTiming me from her phone to her iPad so I can tell her what to do to make the change. You know that. I totally understand that. Here's the thing that I'll say. All of the people who work for us at KN Literary, they are people who've had real publishing industry experience. You know that is one of the criteria whether they've been a writer, they're a published author or they've been a literary agent or they've been an editor. The thing that every one of them will tell you is that after working with highly successful authors who believe that they are entitled to help from an editor and it should be free. It is so lovely to work with people. You just tell them something that any assistant in the business knows and they literally think you're a genius.

Kelly:               It's really nice to be received with gratitude by our clientele. So that is something that I think that we, that all of the editors who work at my company really love, is that the people we work with are sort of ground zero, salt of the earth. They are so excited to have someone listen to their story and really, you know, reflect back to them that they, they do have something to share with the world. All of it is worth it. The tech et cetera is worth it to not have to work with the personalities that I used to have to work with. No names need be named.

Mindy:             I can tell you that I myself, like I said earlier when I am working at a festival or a book fair if it's slow and I don't have anything going on and I don't know the author that I'm sitting with, I don't have anyone to chat with. If you know an older person just stops and then they want to talk about their idea for a book, I will happily listen because I love to talk to older people because they're our history and they're our shared experiences.

Kelly:               We do a lot of memoir and right now. I'm actually doing quite a bit of sharing of information and you know, in terms of our blogs and my videos about memoir because we have so many people who want to write it and that is one of the things they don't get is like they might have an amazing story to tell, but for it to be a successful memoir that a lot of people want to read, it actually has to both be set up and to read like a novel. It truly does because it fits in the same category. It's entertainment more than it is cold, hard information someone's going to apply to their lives, although of course they're going to learn from your story, but it's not a step by step process. It needs to actually be compelling. And so that's one of the things that I'm trying to get people to understand is that you have to break down your life into scenes and you have to leave 99% of your life on the cutting room floor, which is really hard for people because their experience is precious. They want it all to be in there and I'm like, it's actually not about you.

Kelly:               Your book has to be about the reader. It just has to be about what their experience is going to be and that's one of the big mind shifts that our clients have to make if they want to write a successful memoir that might have a chance of being published by a traditional house

Mindy:             Coming up, the niche in the marketplace for a how to book on writing narrative nonfiction and memoir and how Kelly filled that with her release The Book You Were Born to Write.

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Mindy:             You've written a guidebook, The Book You Were Born to Write, which is focused on helping the nonfiction author get their transformational works onto paper. So we talked a little bit about memoir, et cetera. You mentioned that even nonfiction, if we're talking about memoir, does have to be working kind of in a narrative function. So I'm curious about why the focus on nonfiction. Did you see a niche in the marketplace that needed to be filled?

Kelly:               Yes, absolutely. So my career sort of started... I was in college. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I was doing a lot of writing. I was writing short stories, I was writing poetry and I was working at a bookstore and it was a bookstore that was highly focused on literary fiction, which doesn't even exist anymore - a bookstore that's focused on literary fiction. But anyway, we didn't even carry commercial novels. It was a gutsy move on the part of the owner, but at any rate, it was exactly my style. I was reading all the kinds of books I wanted to be writing and I decided to get into the book publishing business because I knew I needed a few years to just figure out what it was that I was going to write and I was gonna need a job during that time and I thought, well it would make sense for me to move to New York and figure out how this book business works.

Kelly:               I went to New York, got a job working at two imprints. One was a pop culture, but the other one was literary fiction and I was super happy. But as time went by I actually got less and less happy working in the big companies. It is a corporate America. I always said it was the coolest job you could have in corporate America, but it was so corporate America and it wasn't really my jam and I also was not happy living in New York city. I live in the country now. It's very quiet. There aren't very many people. This is really more my kind of speed. I was miserable and a girlfriend said, you know, you should read this book and it turned out it was the book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which is like one of the great best-sellers of spiritual books in the last 25 years.

Kelly:               It really changed my life. I mean I can genuinely say that and I started meditating and it was through my meditation community in New York that I got put up for a job at Sounds True, which is a smaller publisher in Boulder, Colorado that specializes in spirituality, personal growth, self-help, things like that. And so I was at the time doing fiction, I was doing celebrity memoir, I was doing all sorts of types of books at at Hyperion books, which is where I was working at the time and I had to make a decision, you know, am I going to take a leap and start working on the kind of books that I am reading? The ones that I actually am learning from and want to be learning from? I will be honest, it was a torturous decision. I took about a month to decide whether I was going to take the leap.

Kelly:               A good friend of mine, she was actually one of my first bosses in the business and she runs a division of Random House. She said, listen, I will hire you back if you don't like it, so you have nothing to lose. And that was what I needed. And so I took the leap and I will tell you I've never looked back and I still love reading literary fiction and I still probably will write a memoir someday that's a little more on the literary end of the spectrum. But in terms of daily satisfaction of working with clients who want to change the world in a positive way, it actually just feeds my heart. And so that is the reason why I focused on the nonfiction for the book. My clientele are primarily writing this type of book. This is another thing that I'm always telling my clients.

Kelly:               There really was not a book out there specifically for self-help writers for how to write a book. It was a niche. It was the niche that I already work in. It was the logical decision to make and again, like I said before at my company, we edit everything, we edit everything from wellness, cookbooks, children's books, YA fiction, adult fiction, all of it. But definitely our bread and butter is self-help, personal growth and inspirational memoir.

Mindy:             There are so many books out there to help people write fiction. Not like self-help nonfiction. No, it was definitely void needing to be filled, there's no doubt. When people purchase The Book You Were Born to Write, they also get a free course that is called The Organized Author. So tell us a little bit about what that is.

Kelly:               That is definitely one of the main complaints or concerns that I hear from clients is just like - I know I want to write a book. I cannot get my act together to do it. And so I personally am a highly organized type a person. It's a masterclass. It's about 90 minutes long and it really gives you my actual step by step process for what I do to get myself writing every day and comes as second nature to me because I'm an organized person. I'm a productive person. You can get that on my website. If you buy the book you just put in your receipt number and you can download it.

Mindy:             So it sounds like KN Literary is pretty full service. You also offer marketing advice and assistance, which you talked about before. A lot of authors know that writing the book is only the first step, but there are plenty that don't. They think that once you have written the book you're at the end of the journey and really it is just the beginning. What are some common misconceptions that you see first time self-publishers making when it comes to marketing? What are those mistakes that you see tripping people up constantly?

Kelly:               Well the number one is they think if they write it, the readers will come and it's just not the case. As you said. Really, I say 20% of the work is writing the book and 80% is getting the word out about it. If you want the book to sell beyond you, which honestly some people really don't mind that much. They want to put their wisdom into a book so they can hand it to people. So they don't mind that it's not going to be sold to people who've never heard of them before. They're okay with it being sort of hand to hand. If you do, there are so many people out there who can help you. There is excellent information. My book has a chapter on building your platform. You can really do it in your spare time. You do it like an hour a day.

Kelly:               Just you know, write yourself a Facebook post or write a blog. Start building an email list. One of my good friends from the publishing business has an amazing website. It's called pub-site.com. Literally a turn key website building application specifically designed and geared toward authors and ones who are not tech savvy. Anyone. Really, anyone can build an author website on this site and the only fee is your small monthly hosting fee. So basically it's one of the least expensive, least intense ways to get a, you know, a home on the web and then from there, your side hustle, you're just getting out there letting people know, Hey, I've got good information to share, I know the problems that you have. I have this amazing story that you would love. Directing people toward it. And so you will have to do that if you want it to sell beyond the people who already know you

Mindy:             And that's something that I see a lot of people immediately balking at when they talk to me about wanting to be published and they're like, yeah, I've got this great idea for your book. And I'm like, yeah, that's really cool. But you need a website and you need Facebook, you need Twitter and you need all of these things. If you don't want to do that, then you are in the wrong business.

Kelly:               You know, I feel bad for people because I think we're in an interesting transition point of culture where in the past, it was more true that the publisher would be able to get your book into brick and mortar bookstores and that's kind of all you needed in order to get it sold. They paid a little money, got it on the front table. Someone came in having seen an author that they love has published their next book. They walk in looking for that book. They walk out with yours too. That was kind of sum total of the marketing efforts of publishers for a really long time. Nowadays, the way to market books is personality marketing, direct to consumer. It's like you're building friendships. You're building relationships with people. You're building your fans and then you're building your super fans and your super fans are the ones who love you so much that they are doing your marketing for you.

Kelly:               They're posting about your book, they're talking about you. They're like inviting you to their hometown. They're inviting you to their readers circle, whatever it might be. They're the people that are so passionate about you that they would do it for free because to them your book is that good and that's what you're trying to sort of start a hot burning fire. Just a couple of hundred of people like that and then it grows from there and yeah, if you don't want to do that, listen, I understand not everybody wants to step up to the mic in that way, but unfortunately the way that you are expecting it to happen, unfortunately times have changed. So there is a sort of like a wake up call that many people have to have and then I just send them away to sit with it and then if they're like, you know what, this book is yearning to be born in a bigger way, I'm going to do it. And I'm like, great, we can help.

Mindy:             I want to follow up on a couple of things there. One of the first things that you said was about the brick and mortar bookstores. Even as a traditionally published author published by Harper Collins, I have eight books out now. I have friends that'll be like, Oh my gosh, Mindy, I was in Atlanta in the airport and they had your book, how did you get there? And I'm like, I didn't get it there. I'm like, no, that's my publisher's job. That's what they do. And I'm always like, I'm a published author guys!

Kelly:               When someone knows you and you publish a book, this has been my experience with my book - they just assume you self-published it. Like they assume you couldn't possibly be published by a publisher. And I'm like, I'm actually, I was. People are quote, "launching their books on Facebook" all the time. And you know, in most cases they haven't done what they need to do to make it a good book. That's been one of the things I've noticed is that a lot of people that know me haven't bought or read my book because they assume it's probably not very good. So my fans are people who don't know me personally. Okay.

Mindy:             Totally. That's so true. That's so true. And I even had someone say to me, and I don't take it as an insult in any way whatsoever because I understand, but I had someone say to me one time, "I was really surprised that you're a local author and you are actually good." And then I have the other end of the spectrum where have people say to me, Mindy, I went into Barnes and Noble and they didn't have any of your books. Why not? And I'm like, well that's because publishing works as a season and I don't have a new release right now. And if you don't have a new release, you only have a shelf life of about three months. And sometimes they don't order back in. Like they'll get eight copies, all eight copies sell. They don't order it back in because they're keeping room on the space for the new releases that'll be out in a month. I explain all of that. And they're just kinda like, okay. And inside they're thinking she's actually self-published.

Kelly:               Also one of the things that was always interesting when I was working at the big houses, Barnes and Noble and Borders at the time -so RIP Borders- did a lot of what they called chick lit. So I was working with like kind of urban stories of women, you know, and the ups and downs of dating life and things like that. They almost always only put those in the big cities. So you could walk into a Barnes and Noble in New York or Chicago or LA and you'd find it, but if you were going in my hometown of Indianapolis or smaller town, maybe Houston or something, you wouldn't actually find the book. And it doesn't mean that Barnes and Nobles not stocking it means that that bookstore isn't, they go really based on what they think is going to sell out of that bookstore.

Mindy:             Yeah. And it is fascinating the way all of that works. I track my geographic markets and it is amazing, I sell in Ohio, Ohio is always my biggest seller. Hometown support is the best. And then New York because I'm known obviously in Ohio. Um, I was a librarian for 14 years, so I have all this educator and librarian support, which makes a huge difference. And then I am known in the publishing industry. I'm not like a household name by any extent, but I am someone that the publishing industry knows and that people in the industry like to read. My selling goes Ohio, New York and then Texas because of the library market.

Kelly:               Oh yes, totally.

Mindy:             I tracked the geographic because you can see the difference when you do an appearance. So when I go do appearances, my sales spike in that area, whether or not they actually bought it from me at the event, because I can do an event and maybe only sell six or seven books, but my sales spike in that geographic area because the bookstore has me sign books that are left behind. Uh, there might be an article in the paper, this author was here, people see me, I'll do a Facebook post and people are like, Oh, I didn't make it to that event, but what is this? Then you get out there and putting yourself in front of people, which I know is scary to a lot of people, but that shit works.

Kelly:               I know it really does. And people love other people. I have a friend who always says, if you don't like someone, it's because you don't know them yet. And there's a way that like people, they grow to love you. If they have taken the time and made the commitment to come and see you, or even to read your blog posts or to watch your video or whatever it might be, they grow to feel an affinity for you as a person and then they want to support you getting your word out. You don't have to touch every single person individually if you just touch a few people, but you touch them deeply. They again do your marketing for you.

Mindy:             No, absolutely. I agree. And I wanted to follow up with what you said about super fans as well. One of my books, A Madness So Discreet won the Edgar Allan Poe award in 2015 which is super cool and it's totally awesome. Yeah, it's huge in mystery circles. Beyond that, it doesn't matter because it is the only mystery I've ever written. I have so many super fans that are fans of that. I do have an idea for a sequel. That book was published in 2015 so as far as the life of a book, that was a long time ago. It is still being printed. It is still being churned out in paperback even though the hardcover sales were very disappointing. Those paperbacks keep moving and that is greatly due to the fact that I had so many super fans for that book.

Mindy:             They email me and they're like, Hey, I want a sequel, and I am totally honest with them and I tell them, this is how it works. You only have 40% of your readership move on from the first book to the sequel, and I have not sold enough copies of the first book in order for the second one to be greenlighted. I have an idea. I have an outline. It's not going to be traditionally published until I hit a certain mark of sales and they're like, great, I'm going to go tell all my friends.

Kelly:               We're going to do it for you. Exactly. Exactly. Yes.

Kelly:               It serves them because then they get to live in that universe. Having people really understand how it works. They are actually the ones who drive it. They are the ones that have the power, you know, if they can help you get the word out about the book. It's like anything is possible. When I was working at Penguin, I was working in the Plume division, which is a paperback division. You're not considered to be as flashy as a hardcover division, but we paid everyone's salaries. You know, like our backlist was so deep and so what we were always looking for, and this is what I always say to people is like, what I would like for you is for you to be selling 250-500 copies shipping a month. If that's happening in the background for the longterm, like three, four, five years out from your publication date.

Kelly:               The publisher loves you. I mean loves you. We would sit and look at those reports every week and be like, wow, that book just keeps fricking selling. We are so lucky to have that on our back list. So that is one of the things, obviously I wish everyone a New York times best seller slot. Great. I hope that happens for you, but it's actually better to miss the list entirely and be a backlist bestseller than it is to go the other way around, than to have a flash in the pan and not sell anything after that moment. So people don't really realize that.

Mindy:             No, it's a long game. It's a long game. And that's a career. That's a career when you're moving paper backs. Lastly, untangling the baby steps toward creating your author platform.

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Mindy:             So you've mentioned platform quite a few times and people are terrified of platform. And I get that. I actually wrote an article for Writer's Digest and it was all about platform and how to go about starting it and don't even use the word platform sometimes because people are so frightened by the word. And you already mentioned a website and a great place to go for people to get started on building a website, but what are some other first move baby-steps platform building steps that people should be taking?

Kelly:               Absolutely. Number one being the website because you need a place for people to come back to a home on the web where they can find you and find out more about you. So that's just first step, but it does not need to be expensive and it does not need to be fancy. It literally just needs to have information about you. If you offer any services behind the scenes that you'd like to help. Like I was looking at your website, Mindy and I saw that you offer editorial services and that's all on your website. So that's great to have that there. It's obviously where people are going to come to look for it. So if you have services like that, make sure they're on there. Have a blog and I always say this is like the first step. This is the first thing when people come to me and oftentimes I do marketing consultations and people will come to me and they'll send me all of their stuff in advance.

Kelly:               I review it and then I talk to them. The first thing I look for is do they have a really awesome giveaway, free giveaway on their website that's either in a popup or at least above the fold as they say, so you don't have to scroll down to see it and is it something that's genuinely valuable that people would pay money for otherwise because they're making you a valuable exchange. When they give you their email address, they need to be getting something back that's worth money cause that email address is actually worth money to you. That's like the first thing and that could be whatever you love doing. I saw you actually, didn't you have a short story or something that you giveaway?

Mindy:             Yes, I have a short story. You get a free short story and then the mailing list is monthly and you also get pictures of my cats and when I say free short story and people are like, okay, cool. And then I say pictures of my cats and they're like, sign me up. I'm signing up.

Kelly:               Totally. That's awesome.

Kelly:               I mean, people love to know people intimately and if you're really revealing yourself in your email newsletters, et cetera, then people are going to be more likely to read them. That is for sure every single time across the board. Every time I reveal myself in my newsletter, more people read it. More people click through. When I'm just giving information, it's less. So it's an interesting dynamic there. But yes, I want to make sure people have that thing that people that are coming to their website are gonna want. You know, folks who know you, they want to know you, they want free writing from you. Mostly they have to pay for it, right? So they want something free. For me, for many of my clients, it's like a guidebook, a short ebook. For us on KN Literary, we have two different giveaways. One is 25 publishers in the self-help personal growth wellness genre who will accept your book proposal without you having to have a literary agent.

Kelly:               Because so many of my folks are putting together a book proposal but they don't necessarily have a literary agent, don't want to go through the process of finding one they're with going with a smaller indie publisher. This list gives you all the submissions guidelines of my favorite top 25 indie publishers, and by the way, that information is not proprietary. You know, I took the time to go through and find submission guidelines and put the links into a PDF. It's not like it's hugely hard to do, but it saves my person a lot of time. One of our giveaways on our homepage of our website, literally since inception of the company in 2013 is three outline templates, for different styles of books. Because so many folks come to us again, they're like, I know I want to write a book. I don't know where to start.

Kelly:               So this has one for what I call prescriptive nonfiction, which is kind of how to self help wellness. That kind of thing. One for something that I made up, I made this up, it's called a teaching memoir because so many of my clients, they have a story they want to tell, but they also want to be able to speak directly to the reader in that sort of how to self help kind of way. So this outline bridges the gap between the two of them. And then the third outline is based heavily on the writer's journey or the hero's journey of, you know, Joseph Campbell fame. Um, that's really suitable for either a novel or a memoir. Now of course when you come to novel or memoir, everyone is radically different. So you can mix and match these different elements in whatever order you like them to be in.

Kelly:               But at any rate, those two giveaways, I can't tell you how many people have come back and said, Hey, I found a publisher, thanks to your giveaway of the 25 publishers or people who've said, I never felt like a writer until I was sitting with your outline in front of me. Those are experiences people would have paid for, but I'm giving them away because I actually want people to be incentivized to join my list and get the information and maybe someday down the line come and work with us at KN Literary. So when you're talking about content marketing, you're talking about building a platform. The website is number one and the awesome giveaway in exchange for email list is number two. As you know, I'm sure Mindy, what publishers are looking for is an email list. Happy if you have an Instagram following. Happy if you have a Facebook following, but they want to know how many people have accepted you into their inbox. These days it's a very intimate thing, you know, to accept you into their inbox. I continue to open your emails that that shows that they are really super fans and so that's what they're, the publishers are looking for

Mindy:             The email list for a long time, very long time. I was doing it wrong. I was doing it so wrong. I would only send out, when I had news cover reveal, release day, I was only asking for things. I was only saying, Hey, you need to go look at my new book or you need to go preorder this book. And I wasn't getting anything and I had just shitty, shitty, shitty open rates. Like they were awful. I had a healthy list but it was terrible, terrible open rates. And I was like, Oh my gosh, email lists don't work. I don't know why people push this. So then finally, I had a friend who's a fiction author, she just responded to one of my emails cause she was on my newsletter list and she emailed me and she was like, Hey, so you're doing this wrong.

Kelly:               Give four times. And on the fifth you can ask. But I do want to say, Mindy, the fact you were sending out a newsletter is a huge first step for most authors. So even though you weren't doing it right or wasn't necessarily generating the kind of return you were hoping for, just having a newsletter is a huge thing. And I just want to send kudos to anyone who's listening to this who has one. And there is a time that usually comes and for me it was knowing that my book was going to be coming out a year later when I realized I have to start sending a newsletter every single week. And even though I had no idea what I was going to write about and my first ones were a little bit like a little baby deer, that's like just trying to get his legs under it. I am a writer, I can write one of these every freaking week and I did and that has changed everything. I really will say now I actually do a blog alternating with a video because I also really love video and everyone should be doing what they love to do. I love to write and I actually love to talk on camera. Those are two things I'm really good at. I really liked them and so that's what I use for my content marketing. So that would be sort of the next step that I would suggest is figure out what you love doing and then do that.

Mindy:             I highly recommend the book Newsletter Ninja by Tammy Lebrecque. Seriously turned my newsletter around. My friend told me, she was like, buy this book. I got the book and I followed her advice. My open rates had been like 5% my click rates have been like 1% and now because I listened to what she said in this book, my open rates are 50 to 60 and my click rates are like 17.

Kelly:               Holy moly. That's huge. Yeah. That's like unheard of. I can't wait to find this book.

Mindy:             Newsletter Ninja man. I was just like Holy shit. Very last thing- tell listeners where they can find you and KN Literary online.

Kelly:               Yes. So we are KN and that's my initials, Kelly Notaras, KNliterary.com. All the info is right there. We also have a YouTube channel which you can just go to YouTube and search for KN literary and you'll find us. We are of course on all the other social media platforms at kn literary on Instagram, on Facebook, all the different places. And, um, yeah, we also have a really cool thing that where we will talk to you about any questions that you have and if you're interested in working with us, we can quote services, et cetera, but we have three editors. They are career book editors and all three of them are also published writers and they will talk to you about where you are in your process, what your next step should be, what genre you're working on, all the things. So you can just sign up for a call really easily on the website.

 

Tess Gerritsen on Her First Foray Into Gothic Fiction

Mindy:             Today's guest is Tess Gerritsen, whose books have been bestsellers in the United States and abroad. She has won both the Nero Wolfe award and the Rita award. A Retired medical doctor, Tess joined me today to talk about her newest and first Gothic novel, The Shape of Night.

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Mindy:             Your newest, The Shape of Night is a dark and sexy psychological romance thriller set in a haunted house. So tell us a little bit about the new one.

Tess:                 It's about a troubled woman who rents a mansion on the coast of Maine. She's running away from something she has done and so she hides out in this house, which she soon realizes is haunted by the sea captain who used to live there which becomes this Ghost and Mrs. Muir set up until she discovers that every woman who's lived there has died in that house. And now the house takes on this threatening tone. So the question is, is it the ghost that's killing people or is there somebody else who is a murderer?

Mindy:             Fascinating. I love it. It almost feels like with this sea captain and the dead women there's a blue beard feel to it.

Tess:                 I think the readers are gonna have a hard time trying to understand whether this ghost is friendly or not.

Mindy:             Interesting. I like it a lot. So speaking of the ghost and bringing a ghost into it, you've got sexy and psychological and it's a thriller and it's a romance and in some ways it is a ghost story. So that is a lot of genres packed into one book and a lot of my listeners are actually aspiring writers. They're very aware of marketing and how marketing operates and works and how it's really helpful to find a niche that your voice fits into. And you are just throwing everything at the wall with this one. Lots of genres. I think it's fantastic. I love it. I'm a genre blender myself, but do you worry at all about genre blending drawling some readers in while others might be turned off by that?

Tess:                 Well, I think there's always a risk when you make an abrupt change in the kind of book you're writing that you will lose some readers. But it also means you're going to pick up new readers as well who've never come across you or maybe weren't interested in crime novels. Yeah, I wasn't really aware I was blending genres when I wrote the story. I thought of it as being an updated Gothic novel. You know, when I was growing up, I loved Gothic novels. For those who aren't really familiar with what actually goes into a Gothic novel, it generally has a mysterious house with secrets. It has an innocent heroine and it has a brooding hero. So those three elements go into a Gothic novel. Now, Shape of Night has the mysterious house, but the heroine is in no way innocent. And the brooding hero happens to be a ghost. It's a Gothic novel. But, uh, I just updated it.

Mindy:             I love it. I love it. You speak about reading Gothic novels, uh, growing up on them, I was a big fan of Mary Stewart.

Tess:                 Oh yes, yes and I, yes. And you know, Victoria Holt and Daphne DuMaurier and actually if you want to go back all the way to uh, to Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, I mean, I think that may have been one of the original Gothic novels.

Mindy:             Absolutely. Absolutely. And you mentioned DuMaurier. Rebecca has probably the best opening line in the history of Gothic literature. You can't argue with that.

Tess:                 No. Yeah. Absolutely. Right. And in a way, Shape of Night, there is an echo of Rebecca in this particular book.

Mindy:             Then the romance angle, is that something then that is developing with the ghost?

Tess:                 Yeah. Well, I mentioned that Gothic novels have a brooding hero and yes, that is absolutely what happens. She starts to fall in love with this other resident of her home. He may not be alive, but he is a perfect lover. And in some ways, when you think about what makes the perfect lover from a female point of view, it's somebody who knows what you want, fulfill your needs. And the case of this heroine, she has very specific needs. She needs to atone for something she's done that was very bad. It's also kind of convenient to have a ghost as a lover. You don't have to cook them breakfast. He doesn't leave his clothes strewn all over the place. He doesn't mess up the bathroom. It's almost like the perfect lover who comes in, gives you his attention and then vanishes.

Mindy:             That does sound nice actually. So is this your first official foray then into the Gothic world?

Tess:                 It is. Well, I'm trying to think about, you know, I've written 28 books now and I have to go back and think, did I ever write anything like this? It is the first time I have delved into the Gothic world. Now, I used to write romantic suspense. My first 10 books I would consider romantic suspense novels and I have not done that for a long time. It's very backwards and full circle to my roots.

Mindy:             You mentioned your career, which is longstanding. You've been publishing since 1987 you have 28 books published and you've got three decades in publishing. So for my listeners who are also writers, can you talk a little bit about staying invested in the craft and ways to keep your imagination firing over that long a period of time?

Tess:                 I think it's most important to be curious, to be curious about a lot of different things and to be aware of what's going on around you. So I make it a point of reading multiple newspapers every day. I subscribe to a lot of magazines from wide variety of subjects, from archeology to forensics to nature, and I travel a lot. I think that travel really opens your mind to new possibilities. A number of my novels were started because of something I saw on a trip. I was on a Safari with my husband in South Africa when we had a little run in with a a leopard, and I came away thinking, wow, it's really a dangerous out there in the Bush. And the writer's mind is always going to - what could be even worse? And my mind went to what if the most dangerous animal in the Bush is not a lion or a leopard? What if it's actually the two legged ranger who is there to protect you? What if he is actually the person you should be most afraid of? And so that turned into a book called Die Again and I can recite case after case where being away from home got the creative ideas going.

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Mindy:             I think that's very true. I think when you are living your day to day life, you get stuck in those day to day cycles, dishes, laundry, dusting, food, all of the things that are never finished, especially if you are a female author and if you are also having to work, raise children or take care of your own home. Not that men don't do those things, they do as well, but the onus is usually landing on the female, right? You do get stuck in those cycles and those cycles are literally mind numbing. It's hard to think outside of the box when you are in the box and you're, your day is the cycle of things and then you're exhausted at the end and it's time to sit down and be creative. So I agree completely. Getting outside of your comfort zone, doing things, seeing things, interacting with other than the daily is always very healthy

Tess:                 And pursuing your interests and your hobbies. That really helps to have a hobby that you're passionate about. I've long been interested in archeology and particular Egyptology and that led to a book because I had just never stopped reading about Egyptian mummies. I was in Italy when I had a nightmare and that nightmare became a book about Venice. Be aware that dreams are fantastic. They're sort of these, these ovens in which we are baking all these ideas without our even being aware of them. And sometimes I'll wake up and I don't know what that exactly what the plot is, but there's a thread from a dream that you can play with and eventually weave into a story.

Mindy:             I agree with that completely. There may not be a plot because it's a dream, but there might just be a visual that gets you

Tess:                 Right or an emotion, you know, waking up scared. Why was I scared?

Mindy:             Waking up scared is the worst and multiple times I have posted on Twitter and no one has backed me up on this, but I have, you know, a reading lamp attached to my bed and the kind with a bendable neck and I can't tell you how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night trying to figure out what the hell that is.

Tess:                 A good writer's mind. It's never still, it's always moving around, whether it's working on the story that you should be working on, incubating something that's about to happen. And it's a problem being married to a writer and my husband has often complained about that. He'll often say, you're not in the present, you're off somewhere else. You're thinking about something else. And yeah, that's the way we are. It's, it's tough being married to us.

Mindy:             We are not the easiest people to love, but sometimes we pay the bills. So, so speaking of writing and the publishing industry, technology has changed publishing in many, many ways. Even when I was first querying, which was back in the late nineties I was still sending out physical self-addressed envelopes with my query letter trying to get an agent and I'm sure that you dealt with that and also any number of different scenarios that I will never be familiar with, but technology has not been the death knell of paper books that everyone predicted. But I am curious from the perspective of a writer who has been doing this before we had the internet before we had cell phones and technology. How do you feel that tech has affected appearances? Because I feel like I am so accessible to my readers and my fans and I don't mind doing it at all, but I feel that I am very accessible online and people can get to know me that way and that's wonderful. I'm fine with that, but I'm curious if author appearances aren't what they used to be because now all anyone has to do is shoot you an email or tweet you.

Tess:                 I am not finding that the audiences are shrinking when I do go on tour or when I make a special event. Um, and I think it's because when you appear before an audience, you're giving them special, you're giving something extra. I mean, yeah, I can do Skype interviews with book groups and I have done those. But when you get in front of an audience, there's something that turns on inside you as a performer. And I'm up there and I'm telling stories, I'm telling the stories behind the stories and I don't normally speak about when I'm doing a Skype interview. So you have to give your audience something special if you're going to appear before them. And that's, that's what I try to do. I just don't read, I don't like to go to do a reading because I figure they can do that themselves. So I try to tell the secrets behind where this book came from.

Mindy:             I agree. I have a hard time even reading when they do ask for a reading because I sometimes will actually see people like following along and reading along, which is fine. I mean everyone has their own processing, but I'm just like, why am I reading to you then?

Tess:                 I will read like a couple paragraphs sometimes just to get them into the mood or to introduce, um, what the story is about. But other than that, I mean the idea of standing in front of an audience and reading for 20 minutes is it bores me to tears and I would think it would be for them as well.

Mindy:             Oh, definitely. And I am a performer. There's no doubt about that. But I'm not an audio book reader. Those are two different, well, audio book readers are performers, but I can't do voices or anything like that.

Tess:                 Yeah, they're very special. It's a very special talent and I would never do it myself.

Mindy:             Oh no. It's definitely a skill. So speaking of audio books lately that has been the delivery system that has just caught on. Audio book sales are through the roof. People are using them, people are buying them, people are invested in audio. I mean, I personally love it, especially when I'm traveling. It's a fantastic way to filter my environment. It can be on a plane. I can read, you know, two or three books on the road, catch up with my TBR. When you are reading, do you prefer a physical book, an ebook or an audio book?

Tess:                 I don't listen to audio books very often because most of the time I'm sitting at my desk and I'm too impatient to wait for somebody to read a story for me. I just want to get the words in front of me and read myself. When I'm traveling, I go to eBooks because they're just practical and when I'm at home, I prefer a physical book. I'm consuming books in multiple ways. I think that's the way readers are doing it these days. If they have long drives, yeah, audio books are fantastic, but if they're home in bed, a lot of us still like to have a physical book.

Mindy:             I do too. I like to have that physical book. There's been research done about that tactile experience of touching the pages and turning the pages, but then you're also smelling the book like you are interacting with that object that you don't in a way when you are holding an eReader or listening to an audio book.

Tess:                 Well I love being able to flip back and forth and that's where a physical book is superior to everything. Being able to just go back to another chapter and say what? What was that name again? And it's particularly true for nonfiction. I would much prefer a physical book for nonfiction.

Mindy:             Oh, definitely. When reading nonfiction, I am usually making little notes and highlighting and writing inside of the book. That is definitely a physical book genre for me. You write thrillers featuring female protagonists. Do you find your readership to be mostly female or is that a dividing line that doesn't really exist as much these days?

Tess:                 It goes by country. Strangely enough in the US my readers are primarily female and they're primarily 40 years and older. And I think it has to do with the life cycles of women. When we are below that age, we are so busy raising children, we don't have the time to read a book. I have noticed that when I do my tours abroad, when I'm in Germany, my audience tends to be much more, you know, 50/50. And it also depends on the, on which book we're talking about. I wrote a book some years ago called Gravity in which everything was flipped. It was mostly men reading that story. I think it has a lot to do with the genre. What calls a particular member of the audience. Unfortunately it does seem there is some prejudice against female writers among male readers. There are a lot of men who will just not read a book by a woman.

Tess:                 They don't trust us to tell a good story. They don't trust us to write what they would be interested in. So I was on tour once, so one of these warehouse clubs signing books and there was a man nearby picking up thriller novels. My publicist said, why don't you come and get a book by Tess Gerritsen? She'll sign it. He'd said, Oh I don't buy books by women. And I looked at the books he was holding and I knew that some of those books were ghost written by women. They just had men's names. He was already reading books by women. He just didn't know that.

Mindy:             To follow that up. Because you are writing crime thrillers that is a male dominated arena. Do you run into any type of sexism inside the industry?

Tess:                 Not that I'm aware of. I think the industry from my perspective has been very friendly to me. It doesn't seem to care whether I'm male or female. It may be because I do have a technical background. I am a medical doctor. They respect that knowledge base and I could write about medicine more authoritatively than any guy thriller writer who's not a doctor. So I think just having that background probably puts me in a special category.

Mindy:             Yeah. More than likely it does. I am curious then quick follow up, what do you think is the cultural difference that you have men showing up in your audience and in your readership in a place like Germany and not in the US?

Tess:                 Yeah, that's a good question. I never, I was never quite sure about that. I wonder if German men are just more open to books by women. Are they more liberal as readers? Is it that American men are more sexist? I have no idea why. It's an interesting puzzle and I think I probably have a larger percentage of male readers in the UK as well. It's America seems to be peculiarly sexist when it comes to choosing which author you're going to read.

Mindy:             My very first book is a post-apocalyptic survival and it was suggested to me to try to do it under a pen name. My numbers would be better.

Tess:                 I understand why they gave you that advice. I mean it makes a certain amount of sense because who reads post-apocalyptic thrillers, it tends to be men.

Mindy:             So you mentioned your medical background and you do write medical thrillers specifically. So as a person with your MD, you are obviously highly qualified to write about that subject matter. So when you're reading or you're watching a TV show or participating in that genre, as a consumer, do you ever come across something that just makes you shake your head or roll your eyes or just want to cry?

Tess:                 Oh all the time. It's just, you know, it's funny cause my husband and I are huge fans of this TV show called Midsommer Murders set in England and just about every other week we encounter a mistake on that television show and just shake our heads and laugh. It just happens. And I'm certainly guilty of making mistakes. I have made mistakes about cars. For instance, I made some mistake about what year this particular car was made. It didn't make a difference to the story. It was just a throwaway detail. And yet I got caught out by several men who wrote to me and said that particular car was not made that year. There are people out there who are experts in their own little spheres of knowledge and you are always going to make mistakes. You just can't avoid it. The mistakes you make are not in subjects that you don't know because you're careful to research those. They are in subjects that you think you know, you just assume you know this and so you don't even bother to look it up and that's when you make errors.

Mindy:             That's interesting. It's very true. My first book is about post-apocalyptic survival. Like I said, it takes place in a world where there's very little water, very little drinkable water, and I researched water like crazy. I could tell you so many things about water because of the work I did for this book. Yet at one point I have people driving cars and using gasoline and this book takes place like 30 years after the world ended. Gasoline stops being viable after about five to seven and I didn't know that because I worked so hard.-

Tess:                 I didn't know that either.

Mindy:             It's true. It stops being a combustible product because the chemicals break down.

Tess:                 Let me guess. A guy told you that? The funny thing is you were probably 100% correct on everything to do with water and your story, and it's the throwaway detail that you did not know you did not know where the mistake was made. You know, as writers, we have to be forgiving of other writers and that's all I can do.

Mindy:             Very, very true. I always am forgiving as well. For me, my hangup is corn fields. I am a farmer's daughter. I live in Ohio. Movie and TV producers - and my listeners know this because I've gone on this rant a few times - but they never get corn right. They never do it right. It's very beautiful and it's very mysterious and it has all these elements that they like visually. The actors are never interacting with corn correctly. They'll be saying, well, we got to, you know, get those harvest in. The corn is green. It's bright green. That's my area. Farming in the Midwest and it's never right.

Tess:                 Well, the only way I know to interact with corn is to eat it with butter.

Mindy:             Butter, and salt. That's good stuff right there. Last question. Let my listeners know where they can find you online and where and when they can get The Shape of Night.

Tess:                 You can find me on my website . The Shape of Night comes out in the United States October 1st just in time for Halloween, which is sort of the perfect season for it.

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