Exploring Themes of Motherhood & Sisterhood in Fiction with Gillian McAllister

Today's guest is Gillian McAllister, a British author best known for her bestselling debut novel Everything But The Truth. Her new US release, The Good Sister, is an electrifying novel about the unyielding bond between two sisters, which is severely tested when one of them is accused of the worst imaginable crime.

Gillian joined me to talk about how her background in law helps illuminate her fiction, writing for the American audience, and how she explores themes of motherhood and sisterhood in her thrillers.

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Mindy:             Welcome to Writer, Writer, Pants On Fire. Where authors talk about things that never happeend to people who don’t exist. We also talk craft, the agent hunt, query trenches, publishing industry, marketing, and more. I'm your host Mindy McGinnis. You can check out my books and social media at www.mindymcginnis.com and make sure to visit the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog for additional interviews, query critiques, and more, at www.writerwriterpantsonfire.com If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit www.writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar.

Mindy:             Today's guest is Gillian McAllister, a British author, best known for her best selling debut, Everything But The Truth. Her new US release, The Good Sister is an electrifying novel about the unyielding bond between two sisters, which is severely tested when one of them is accused of the worst imaginable crime. Gillian joined me today to talk about how her own background in law helps inform her fiction, writing for an American audience and how tapping into universal themes like motherhood and sisterhood were key to her newest release, The Good Sister.

Mindy:             Your new book is called The Good Sister. It is about a sister who has to question everything she thinks she knows about her sibling after the death of her child. So if you could talk a little bit just about what the book is about so listeners can get a feel for what kind of read they're looking at here.

Gillian:             Yes. So The Good Sister really is a character led family drama about two sisters, Martha, who is struggling to balance new brotherhood with being the CEO of a charity she's set up and Becky who she entrusts to look after the new baby while she has to work. Then the unthinkable happens and the book opens on the first day of Becky's trial for murder.

Mindy:             And you are also a trained lawyer, which I'm sure was incredibly helpful to you while writing this book.

Gillian:             Definitely I sort of was, although I wasn't a court lawyer, I was exposed to lots of different cases and I talked about them with lawyers and I was able to research things easily and I sort of know naturally the kind of language used in the law and in courtrooms. So yes, definitely it was a big help.

Mindy:             And when it comes to writing courtroom scenes, I know just because in one of my own novels I had written a courtroom scene that I thought was just riveting and it set my plot perfectly in the way things pan out, was exactly what I was going for. And then I shared it with a friend of mine who was also an author and a lawyer who was like, yeah, this is great for fiction. He's like, what you wrote would never actually fly in a real courtroom.

Mindy:             And the way you have your books set up is really smart structurally because we go back and forth between the past and some of the actions and the interactions between our characters and the actual courtroom scenes. So the vagaries of an actual court process can actually be really dry. A lot of the drama that we see on television and in movies and in books usually isn't the way it would actually go down. So if you could talk about that a little bit and how you kind of mediated the realities of a dry courtroom with the more tense and personal aspects of actual human interaction outside of the courtroom, for the purposes of your plot.

Gillian:             Like you say, for every minute of drama we see, there's hours of adjournments and juries falling asleep and witnesses not showing up. And although I wanted it to be authentic with no sort of shouted objections and no sort of pacing lawyers. In Britain, the courtroom is a little more sedate but no less dramatic. Um, and I think in toning that down, I let the human relationships come to the fore and really the novel structure where you go back to the past and you also get little vignettes of each witness that was born out of like you say, I, I didn't want to write a closed set book that only took place in a courtroom and was just reams and reams and reams of questions. So in The Good Sister, as each witness takes the stand, you get that own chapter in their own voice at the time, what they saw. So you're sort of taken out of the courtroom, via their memories.

Mindy:             And it works very well. I have to say there's a wonderful back and forth where the reader who doesn't know, of course, what actually happens on the day that the child passed away. Every chapter is leading you somewhere that you wouldn't expect, I would think.

Gillian:             Yes, I think that's right. I hope there are a few sort of twists and turns and the reader really is focused on whether or not Becky did it. That is the central question that the novel answers. But it definitely, there were all sorts of red herrings and you know, other suspects and all that that you would expect from a thriller as well as a character led drama.

Mindy:             So I want to talk just briefly about the fact that this is your first US release and because it does take place in a courtroom, and there are also other industries like health workers and people that are taking the stand that are speaking about things that they have noticed within the family. And it's not always using the same terminology that we use in the US and I noticed that as well in the courtroom scenes. You said yourself that in the British cart room that it's a little more restrained. The language is slightly different too. So I was just curious if you had any concerns about anything being lost in translation for a courtroom drama for a US audience.

Gillian:             Yeah, I mean I think when you're published internationally, you always hope your fiction will translate well. Whether that is in sort of a different kind of English languages, the States has from the UK or actual literal translations into other foreign countries. I know that Putnam, my publisher at Penguin have used a lot of proofreaders so hopefully they have all sort of, well I know that they will understand it and I think really The Good Sister deals with themes that are universal. So I mean the courtroom is fairly similar that you have witnesses who get cross examined, you have juries, you have the defendant standing there, you have, whether she would have been granted bail or not. There's so many similarities between the British and the American legal system and, but really The Good Sister deals with themes of sort of the price of forgiveness and sisterhood and motherhood. And I think those really are truly universal.

Mindy:             Absolutely. Yeah, they are. And I want to come back to motherhood, which you mentioned. I love how you portray motherhood and it's not all glowing skin and happiness. There are ugly parts to motherhood and you're drawing real women here, you're drawing the actual mother, but also a caretaker. And they're not always the picture of the idolized, happy, glowing mother that is so thrilled to be up at 3:00 AM holding their baby and staring into their face with great love. These are stressed women, these are modern women with modern concerns, but they are still the primary caretakers for an infant and an event and a toddler need constant care and support. So I really liked what you were doing, showing the stresses of motherhood and especially on a mother that is also working and trying to balance their lives. So if you could talk a little bit about that, what your goals were there, and also if you've had any, if you had any sort of concerns about portraying motherhood realistically.

Gillian:             I mean, yeah, I think I always want to write real characters and not a single one of my characters is without flaws. They may not all be completely likable, but it was important to me that they would be real. Like you say, it would be easy to write a novel where somebody loses a child where they were in the idle of motherhood and they were loving 100% every moment of it. But I observed my friends and family who have had children and it just isn't the case. Of course, real life is just more complicated than that.

Gillian:             And motherhood is, from what I can tell, being childless, it seems like a huge life upheaval and you suddenly have to prioritize somebody else when you've had maybe 30 years of prioritizing yourself. And I think it's both fascinating how sort of willingly people manage to do that. When to me it looks so difficult. Um, but also how complex their relationship it really is. And you've created another human and you've got that bond for life and there's nothing like it. So I really just wanted to use the crime as a vehicle to sort of explore that relationship and, and put pressure on it too.

Mindy:             And the other thing you did that I thought was interesting, isn that we're not looking at a cherubic little baby that's always perfect and easy to take care of. None of them are. And I really appreciated that. Like you were showing a colicky baby. You're showing, you know, up in the middle of the night with a baby that won't stop crying and you can't figure out why to the point that it's like, you know, you're, you're understanding why some women do snap. Why that caretaker role is very much as you're saying, putting someone else first. You are second if not last in the consideration.

Gillian:             Yes, totally. I noticed that that is a particular concern for women that some women feel that they do come last in the pecking order. Um, and you know, The Good Sister does definitely explore that hierarchy and that inequality that sometimes women do feel like the martyr of the family and you know, rightly so, in some circumstances. And it was important for me. I see so many crime novels where there is a family but the children just sort of run off, you know, off stage left during important plot moments.

Gillian:             And really The Good Sister is about Layla the baby, and so I wanted to portray her as, even though she was eight weeks, as fully rounded. And I don't know a single person who has a baby who just sleeps in the corner all the time. So I didn't want to write a book where that happened either.

Mindy:             Right, exactly. No, even the baby is a very real character, which is lovely. I want to ask about why the uh, main character, why did you have her as being the head of a nonprofit? I was curious about that choice for her employment.

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Gillian:             Well it was born out of a plot problem really, which I spoke to a lot of my friends and my sister who has children and I said, what would compel you to leave an eight week old overnight? And they, they really said family emergencies. Some women may feel comfortable doing that and some not. But I wanted Martha to have an exceptional reason because I knew that her likability would be in question. And I, you know that rightly or wrongly because men do leave their children, generally speaking. I don't want to gender stereotype, but maybe they leave them earlier than than women do. Men might go away for a night earlier. And part of that is biological. I really wanted Martha to have a cast iron reason for doing so because I didn't want the reader to not side with her. So really that was born out of a crime writers plotting problem.

Gillian:             But then it opened up so many interesting questions about the greater good. And Martha's charity is dealing with children who are refugees and so they sort of arguably need her more than her own baby, or at least that's the way it works in Martha's hyper logical mind, although she obviously comes to regret it. And it actually sort of started a really interesting debate with myself about the morality of leaving your own child to care for other people's. Both Becky and Martha actually both do that.

Mindy:             And you're totally right about it being a likeability problem for your reader because you do have to have sympathy on the side of, of Martha in order for the book to work. And it is an unfortunate truth that in our society, a mother that is leaving her young child is automatically going to have a strike against her. She has to have a very good reason for doing that

Gillian:             In the same way that I turned the plot problem of the courtroom being kind of tedious in some ways into what I like best about the book - the witness vignettes - I have turned the plot problem of Martha's likability into something I explored and I actually, I began to address it in the text because I was thinking, well Scott was away that night too, which is Martha's husband. They both left the baby. But Martha is the culpable one in the eyes of society and the press and even the courtroom. And I actually then started to discuss that in the book because I just thought it was so interesting. I mean you see it all the time in the media, you know female sports people asked how, how they balance it with motherhood and men are much more rarely asked and that is something that women are beginning to question in the public eye, which is really brilliant. And it was sort of a way to explore that slight inequality that still exists.

Mindy:             Yes, it absolutely does. Which brings me to Becky who is the sister who is trying to find a way to support herself and the child that she has but having a hard time finding her own path and knowing what she wants. So in some ways you have the same struggle going on with Becky where there's a career need while also being a parent. Her child is older, she has a son, but there is that question again because she is a parent and because she is focused on her own career of likability and of course we have the title of the book, The Good Sister. The assumption is that Martha is the good sister. Becky is the one that has less of a positive trajectory. She doesn't have all of the elements of an upstanding comfortable sort of life that Martha has. So if you want to talk a little bit about that, about the squaring off of the two characters kind of against each other, the way it is used in the court, but then also how the title plays into that.

Gillian:   It was important for me to portray a kind of universal relationship and I think that the older in control, sensible sister versus the younger more volatile sister is such a universal thing and like not just in families but in romantic relationships. That sort of opposite pairing. Definitely. I see it all the time. That dynamic and I was really interested in, you know, if you've always known your younger sister had a little bit of a temper or she wasn't very good at holding a job down, how that looms really large when she's accused of a crime and all those fault lines in your relationship kind of become huge. And with The Good Sister I think. I mean ultimately that there is a strong thread of sibling rivalry running through the novel and I think each sister thinks the other is the good sister and in the conclusion they, I think they kind of come to a little bit of peace about that.

Mindy:             The book is about so many things dealing with female relationships, the sister relationship, the relationship of mothers and also of course they have their own mother who is now in a way torn. Becky is staying with her and Martha is having to kind of juggle that whole idea herself where there is this strain within their family. What do the parents believe? Do they think that Becky did it? Are they on Becky's like quote unquote side? And the parents are trying to have to walk this line between what they should and shouldn't say, what they can even talk about to their own children when there is a court and a media circus around their interpersonal relationships

Gillian:             The parents deserve their own novel don't they? It's such a fascinating kind of moral dilemma. Like what do you do if your child is accused of a crime but the victim is your other child? Um, and I think really they, they try and sort of play it even handedly between the two sisters. Even though part of Becky's bail conditions is that she resides with the parents. They don't take sides. But I think in doing so, both Becky and Martha find it frustrating. Um, but neither parent will kind of come down on one side. I don't know what the answer is in that situation. There is no right answer really. The family is sort of fractured and changed forever regardless of the outcome of the trial.

Mindy:             Things are going to pass in between people that that can't be unsaid and can't be forgotten. When you're in a situation like that, it would change you regardless of the outcome. When you don't know what the outcome will be, you're going to be reacting honestly yet guardedly. What a tricky, tricky situation.

Gillian:             No, exactly. And the parents don't know if Becky... Becky has no alternative explanation only that she didn't do it, which is not a very compelling defense. So I don't think they can do anything but wait and hope that the justice system will provide the truth, which it doesn't always. The justice system answers the question of whether there's enough evidence to convict, which is not the same as the truth.

Mindy:             Very fine distinction. So talk to me a little bit more about Becky. She's also divorced, correct?

Gillian:             She is separated, yes. She's not yet divorced. She's separated from her husband Mark. Yeah.

Mindy:             That plays into then her character, the public assumption in the way that she is read because she is in some ways kind of judged for that. She has a failed relationship. And then we have Martha, who of course is in a marriage- outwardly happy marriage. Again, it plays into the assumptions that people make about, especially women in a situation where they are separated or divorced or there is some sort of non harmonious romantic relationship. And even though the separation is amicable yet perception is that something has gone horribly wrong and that she, Becky is the one that carries the responsibility for that.

Gillian:             Yeah. I mean I think I wanted to probe the sort of notion that Martha really has it all. She's a CEO of a charity, so she's a working mother. She, she had a baby a couple of years into marriage. Um, she sort of did it all in the traditional way, whereas Becky got pregnant, I think she was 19. She'd just gone to university so she dropped out and then she's a single mom and she's never really held a job down. But actually if you look at who's happier - taking out the tragedy - Becky sort of says in in one of the flashback scenes where she's still with Mark when they were hanging the wallpaper in anticipation of their baby being born. She actually said, I shouldn't be happy at 19 and pregnant and dropped out of university, but I'm so happy with this man. And I think it's so interesting the sort of stories we tell ourselves about how our life has to appear to the outside world versus the messy truth with it and where you can be completely happy within chaos.

Mindy:             And chaos is a good word for Becky's life. I particularly like her opening scene where she is running around trying to acquire a particular print of fabric for a chair that is needed for a TV set and they need it tomorrow. And so she's running around just insanely trying to make things come together and she's stressed and she's upset and she's calling Martha and saying, I can't believe my life. It's ridiculous. But at the same time, even though she does end up leaving that life, she's kind of thriving on it. She does enjoy it to a degree. It just becomes too much.

Gillian:             Exactly. She, she thrives on adrenaline or drama if you, if you want to kind of be slightly more judgmental about it. But Becky would tell you that she's a failure and she, oh, she can't secure the right sets for her job and she needs Martha's support. But actually what Becky can't see is that she's so resourceful. She found the zebra print at 11 o'clock at night. She found the chair, she went home and covered it. And Becky's real problem of her own self esteem and her own self perception. And I think Becky's great if only Becky could see it. I have a lot of sympathy for that character. I think she's my favorite character I've ever written.

Mindy:             Yeah. Oh Becky is fascinating and so much fun to read about. I think what you're saying about the problem of self esteem is also true of Martha to a degree.

Gillian:             Yeah. And in some ways that's why the title, I think it's quite good because they both think the other is the good sister and neither of them can see that own qualities. And because they're so opposite, they wish they were the other. But if only they could sort of see that they're perfectly adequate themselves.

Mindy:             And that's kind of true of all women I would assume. I mean, unfortunately part of society, how this works is that we're always measuring ourselves against one another, be it a sibling or a friend or even an enemy. We're trying to figure out who is better looking, who is more successful, who has the more uh, attractive spouse or the more successful spouse, whose children are smarter. Like all of those things. We weigh those against one another and it all ends up being about you and whether you have succeeded or failed as a woman and a mother and a wife and all of the different hats that women have to wear.

Gillian:             Exactly. And particularly, you know, with the modern invention of social media, I think we do constantly compare our, our interior to peoples exterior, when actually it just, it makes us all kind of feel bad about ourselves really. So I was kind of, I was also writing about that like you know, comparison is the thief of joy and all of that.

Mindy:             Either we suffer by comparison or even if we are quote unquote winning at the comparison. I think especially as women because we're always taught to be nice and kind, we then judge ourselves for comparing in the first place.

Gillian:             There's no joy really in winning a competition that you've set up because you feel insecure. And I think the, the healthy mental health point to get to is the point where you just please yourself and when we talk about, you know, wanting to appear like you have it all or whatever, I think is like the kind of comeback to that is, well, in whose judgment? Because everybody will have a different idea of the perfect life and really you can only please yourself. That's definitely the way to wisdom whether or not any of us achieve that is another question.

Mindy:             Very true. All right. Anything lastly that you want to say about the book or anything related to the characters or your writing process for it?

Gillian:             Well, I just really hope people enjoy it. You know, I'm a UK bestseller and this is my American debut and it's, it's such a privilege to have an access to such a wide audience and I'm just, I'm thrilled and I really hope people enjoy it. And if they want to get in touch with me, I'm on Twitter as at GillianMAuthor and Instagram, actually as GillianMAuthor and on Facebook as Gillian McAllister, author.

Mindy:             Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire is produced by Mindy McGinnis. Music by Jack Korbel. Don't forget to check out the blog for additional interviews, writing advice and publication tips at www.writerwriterapantsonfire.com If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you, or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit www.writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar.

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Loss Leaders & Pre-Order Campaigns with Lori Goldstein

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Mindy:             Welcome to Writer, Writer, Pants On Fire. Where authors talk, craft, the agent hunt, query trenches, publishing industry, marketing, and more. I'm your host Mindy McGinnis. You can check out my books and social media at www.mindymcginnis.com and make sure to visit the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog for additional interviews, query critiques, and more, at www.writerwriterpantsonfire.com If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit www.writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar. Today's guest is Lori Goldstein, former journalist and current author, an editor who has a bachelor's in journalism and previously worked for technology publications in the East Coast, Silicone Valley City of Boston. Laurie joined me today to talk about how the query process actually works, even though we all know how painful it is.

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Mindy:             Listeners are always curious about how my guests got their agent. So the query trenches are really tough place to be. But I've found through talking to writers over years and years that the majority of my guests on both the blog and the podcast found their agents by writing those cold queries. So what about you?

Lori:                 I am fitting writing with the majority of the people that you've talked to. Uh, I've been fortunate in my career to have two agents. I'm on my second agent right now and I found both of my agents through the query trenches. The first time it still was through the query trenches, but it wasn't for the book that became my first book, Becoming Jinn. I had written an adult book, many problems with it. One of those was I didn't know how to write a query and I was fortunate to get help from some writers online. People that were very generous on Twitter and offered to read my query and give feedback on it. And without their help, I probably wouldn't have gotten an agent because I really just had no idea how to put that query together. So when I was querying that first book that I had written, I'd finally gotten to the shape where I thought I could, could query it.

Lori:                 I wrote that query and I started to get hits on it. Unfortunately, no one offered representation on it, but the agent who became my first agent had really liked my writing, said very complimentary things and said, send me your next book. So I did, I finished Becoming Jinn and I wrote the query for it and I put it out there to, you know, a wide array of agents. And one of them was that first agent who requested my first book and she became my agent. There were other people in the mix, but we had a great connection. So then the next time when my agent and I mutually decided to part ways - she was no longer going to be representing kid lit, and I was continuing to write in the young adult genre - so I found myself needing another agent and I did it again through the query trenches.

Lori:                 By that point I had been fortunate to meet a lot of other published authors and speak with them about their agents and what they liked about them and not liked about them and I got many referrals from friends, which is always a great thing. And I think people think that's how you get an agent. You have to network, you have to do it that way. And I did send queries with referrals and I sent ones I would just call cold calls into the slush pile and the woman who became my agent was from the slush pile

Mindy:             And it's amazing to me that the slush, it works. People hate it. I understand why they hate it. I was there for 10 years. I know that when I was an aspiring writer and I would see published writers saying," don't knock the query process, it works. That's how I got my agent." I'm sitting there going, "well that's easy for you to say." I was querying for 10 years before I got an agent. It was a decade. I have four novels that I queried and were rejected continuously. A lot of that is because I didn't know how to write a query or a book. I would just become so angry and when I would see people saying "the query process works, you just have to do it right." And I'm like, well, I don't like you because you're successful. You know? And then now I find myself in that same position where I'm telling aspiring writers, look, I know it sucks, but the truth is that it does work.

Mindy:             Even though it feels like the doors are closed and the windows are shuttered and the curtains are drawn, you can get in there. You just have to write a good query. And I want everyone to know that when I say those things I say at as someone that was just tortured for 10 years in those query trenches, I mean I remember, I know what it's like and I'm still telling you that it does work. I got my agent through cold queries. I like what you're saying too about having referrals. It is a business where knowing people helps. Any business is that way, but you do not have to. I tell people, I am a farmer's daughter from a tiny town in Ohio. I did not know anyone. I had zero references. Yeah, I sent a cold query into the slush pile and I got an agent that sold my book to Harper Collins and now I am a full time writer and it is because I took the time to learn how to write a query and write it well. And I also like what you're saying about finding people online to help you with that. I was a member of and a moderator for a long time of a forum for aspiring writers called Agent Query Connect. It's not as active as it used to be, but 10 years ago that was a really great place to be. If you were looking for people, other aspiring writers, and also people a few rungs ahead of you on the ladder to help you with that query. So you mentioned Twitter. Were there any other places that you looked online for help with that query writing?

Lori:                 When I was querying, it was around the time of 2012 2013 and at that time we had some very unfortunate natural disasters. I believe that was Hurricane Sandy at that time and a couple of other things that happened. And what happens around these unfortunate incidents and still happens now is often there are auctions that writers get together and sometimes there are agents involved as well to raise money for, to help support the cause. And a lot of times people will give away critiques and query critiques. And that was something I remember being a part of my learning process, was participating in some of those auctions, donating some money, which was great. And then in return I was able to get feedback from other published writers as well as agents. And I made it a priority to get that feedback on my query because I knew that was where I really needed to get the right work done and I really needed it to shine, to represent the book in the best way. And that was a great resource for me and I know those kinds of things still exist

Mindy:             And follow agents, follow editors, follow published writers on Twitter. There is a lot of good advice out there. I mean Twitter can be a quagmire sometimes, but if you are active on Twitter you can find a lot of good advice on there. I also want to add that I do free query critiques on the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog every Saturday. It's called the Saturday Slash. Those are free, so if you want to check that out, go to writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click on editorial services and that will pop up and that is free. Coming up. Lori's first book series, writing loss leaders like prequel novellas and preorder campaigns. Are they worth it? Also creating swag that works.

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Mindy:             So let's talk about your first book that was Becoming Jinn. It is part of an urban fantasy series that deals with the magical world of Jinn. It was followed by a sequel and then a short story prequel. The short story is free and it's available as a download. When you are creating content like that, is that a strategic marketing choice and more importantly, does it work?

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Lori:                 It was absolutely a strategic marketing choice. I had seen other authors doing short stories. Sometimes they were part of preorder campaigns. Especially when you have a series and you have the sequel coming out to offer a short story in the world or maybe deleted content or something like that. I had seen a lot of other authors doing that at the time and I said, well, you know, I love these characters. I'd love to write more about them and why don't I do the same thing and create some extra bonus content. And it was something I could have just put on my website and pointed to. I decided with Macmillan's approval that we could make it a short story and have it as a Freebie online that people could download. Whether you're an existing fan of the series and you want more or you're kind of browsing through the free content on Amazon and come across this story and see if maybe it whets your appetite for the full series.

Lori:                 So that was definitely a marketing decision in order to write it. I had a lot of fun doing it. It was fun to return to the girls and put them a couple of years earlier. So it's set a couple of years before Becoming Jinn begins and I had a lot of fun doing it. Does it work? I don't think it works. I don't have hard numbers because you can't get hard numbers for ebooks. In this free category, at least in in my current situation, I can't get hard numbers for it. But I can see the Amazon rank and you can compare that to the book's rank and look at it that way. And also, you know, look at numbers on Goodreads and how many ads it has on Goodreads. So there are some metrics that you can kind of use and I don't think it gave a bump to the series. So that is the honest truth. I have met people at festivals or at book events asking if there was going to be another book in the Becoming Jinn world. And I said no, but there is this free little short story and they were excited to get, you know, another glimpse into the world. So for that purpose it's enticing readers to go back to the story world and read it when they're existing fans. But I do not see it as a way to garner new fans.

Mindy:             Well and that's something that we're all still looking for. That magical key that brings people in and grabs their attention and FREE makes people click. But the audience that you are attracting when you use the word FREE as an advertising or marketing ploy typically is not the audience that is going to shell out money for a book.

Lori:                 Yeah, exactly that that was some of the problems that some authors were finding by putting content on Wattpad, which I think is just a great resource for young writers and new writers and teen writers. I have an author friend who put in a complete story, a novel, you know, week by week uploaded chapters hoping that that was going to drive content to her existing books. And for the exact reason you said it did not, she had a lot of reads, but there was absolutely no correlation to the books that were published because if someone is looking to read in a certain way and a certain format and that format being free, it's not a good translation to purchasing a book. It doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. If you love doing it and you'd like to get different kinds of content out there that perhaps you wouldn't publish with your publisher. Strict marketing is much more involved and something to really be thinking about to understand what works and what doesn't.

Mindy:             It's very true. The free audience is out there and they are ravenous but they typically are not going to pay for their content. There is so much content out there, you can read for free for the rest of your life if you want to. But you know one thing that I have done - for my listeners, when you are talking about marketing and you have something that you're offering like that for free, it's called a loss leader - and what I have done is created a short story that is tied into my newsletter. And so if you sign up for my monthly newsletter, you get the free short story and that has boosted the newsletter subscriptions. So I'm accessing that free audience by offering them a short story and then they will get my newsletter and hopefully something in the newsletter will catch their attention, perhaps draw them into something more.

Mindy:             Or at the very least, I use the newsletter to advertise when I have a kindle daily deal or a 99 cent offer on one of my books, whatever the case may be. And maybe some of that audience will translate into a dollar 99 deal or something like that. Something else that I want to add is that when we're talking about marketing, a lot of people use giveaways to drive adding people, or getting people to sign up for things like a mailing list or subscribing to a podcast or a blog. I have found that when you do a giveaway, you are getting the same audience. You're getting that free audience. So you might get a sudden glut of followers on Twitter or additions to your mailing list, but they're just there for that free whatever you're giving away. And then over time they're going to trickle away from you.

Mindy:             So they're going to unfollow you on Twitter, so that they can follow you again with the same account when you have the next giveaway. So it's actually not benefiting you at all. And then the other thing, especially with a mailing list, once you reach a certain level of subscribers you are paying, I use MailerLite. I just switched over from MailChimp and I started using MailerLite. And right now I've got room for about, I think maybe 500 or a thousand more before I get bumped up and I have to pay a higher rate because my subscriber list is decent size. It's about 1500 right now. But I did a giveaway a very large giveaway twice in this past year. I did one in December with another group, a large group of YA writers and then I did one in March with a group of Sci-Fi and fantasy writers and I got a ridiculous amount, something like 2,500 new subscribers each time.

Mindy:             It was insane. And then the next time I sent out a newsletter I had like a thousand people unsubscribe, as soon as the news letter went out and then people forget. I mean that's the other thing, they forget that they signed up. So I would send out a newsletter and then I would get the stats on my site, people were marking it as spam. People were marking it as "I didn't sign up for this". And it's like, no, you did. You just don't remember doing it. And now I've got like a flag on my account that I'm a spammer. So it's something that I have definitely rethought about how I want to market and who I want to market to when you're working with giveaways because you are attracting a pretty large audience there that may or may not actually be interested in what you have to say.

Mindy:             They just want what you're giving away. And when you are paying for their email information through a service like MailerLite, you're paying to have them on your list. You don't want to be paying people that aren't ever going to open your emails, are going to unsubscribe immediately or are going to mark you as a spammer because they forgot they signed up. It's such a difficult tight rope to walk because you want to grow that list really fast and giveaways are a great way to do it, but it may not be the most actual productive way for a healthy and interactive list.

Lori:                 I agree and I think the one problem is, even in the time that I've started - you know before publication, through publication and awaiting my next book being out - the the market of authors and especially the market of authors promoting themselves on social media and on Twitter and on Instagram, I feel like has grown exponentially and early on doing a preorder campaign or doing a giveaway, you seem to be engaging more real readers or bloggers or people who really had an interest in the books. And with the proliferation of more people entering and more people marketing this way, that has gotten worse for the author in being able to promote to their actual readers through giveaways and through promotions and retweet and follow kind of things. I feel like it's very different now than it was back in 2014 or 2015

Mindy:             Very, I used to host a giveaway every Friday on my blog. I would have a giveaway. The entrants would be just like you're saying, follow me Twitter, subscribe to me on Youtube, you know, all those things. And I would get like a healthy, it didn't really matter what the book was, I would get healthy entry numbers and now it's like 14 or 20. So many people doing it that you've got to have a book that everybody wants. Like you have to have the eighth Harry Potter book, You know, cause it's like you gotta be giving away something that people are going to beat each other over the head for. Or you have to be part of a large group giveaway where somebody is going to be receiving 15 books, you know, something like that in order to actually get attention. You're also totally right about preorder campaigns.

Mindy:             I started doing some, just to kind of experiment. I think I got maybe 12. I mean it was just, it wasn't worth it. It's just not worth the effort that you put into it, the organization, everything that you do. There's so much free content and there's so many extra special bonus lists and things that you can be a part of that it's so hard to make your voice heard in the echo chamber anyway. The amount of effort you're going to put into something like a preorder campaign or a giveaway, it's going to get lost and it's not going to be worth your time. That's my current opinion.

Lori:                 I agree. And I'm actually in the middle of a preorder campaign right now for, for my new book, Screen Queens. I did a preorder with Becoming Jinn. That was quite successful and it was a lot of work. It was a giveaway of gift cards. It was a reader and writer preorder campaign. So if you're a reader, you could be entered to win gift cards to various places. If you were a writer, you were able to enter it and you automatically got either a query or a first page critique if you preorder it. And then I picked one person and I did a full manuscript critique. So that was a lot of time to put together and quite some time after the fact, because I, I forget my exact numbers, but between the two, I know I had at least 125 preorders and there were probably split equally between the editing and the gift card giveaway.

Lori:                 And so that was a lot of work after the fact for me to edit all these queries, first pages and then a full manuscript critique for free. That's something that I don't even know if would still work now. I didn't have the time to kind of do that kind of promotion again and my preorder campaign now, it's just started. My expectations are reasonable along the lines of what you're saying. But I think the benefit for me at least is, it was content to put in my newsletter and my newsletter is made up of readers and librarians and teachers who signed up that I've met at places. But it's also a lot of family friends, older acquaintances who wanted to be updated on my books and my book going on. But they're not actually that active on social media. So they needed a way to be aware of that, I have a new book coming out and so that was content for my newsletter to kind of reach that segment that will want to hear from me and will want to know I have a new book. So it was a combination of let me run the preorder campaign, get it out there, but also have content and have a way of reaching a segment of audience that I don't have another way to reach. So depending on where you are, you can evaluate if something like that is worth it. Or you just do the newsletter announcement without the preorder campaign attached that that's a way to do that as well.

Mindy:             That's super smart. I'm impressed. Back to your Becoming Jinn preorder giveaway, you said you mentioned you were giving gift cards away to readers. How much money were you investing then in gift cards?

Lori:                 You know, I, I should have looked back on it. I don't remember specifically. I think I had a variety of a couple of in like the 15 and $25 and I think my biggest one was a hundred so it was certainly probably $200.

Mindy:             Wow. So you had not only your time with the critiquing, but you also had quite a bit of your own money wrapped up in the preorder campaign.

Lori:                 Yes, definitely. It did help with my preorders. The question is how many of those people would have preordered without the giveaway. I don't know. That's something we'll never know. So it's a decision that each author has to make.

Mindy:             Marketing's a pot shot.

Lori:                 It really is. And you know, what works for one book might not work for another. One thing I did want to say that was actually a helpful marketing tool that again, was not used as much early on when I did it with Becoming Jinn and I've seen it a bit more now. First chapter booklet. And a lot of times publishers are putting these together for their biggest lead titles. They'll put a little package together. It's like, oh, like a pamphlet. Sometimes they're smaller size of the first chapter or the first couple of chapters of a book that they send either to bookstores or they have out for promotional purposes. And I created one with the designer of the first chapter of Becoming Jinn. The first chapter had a good first page and it ended on a nice little cliffhanger at the end of the first chapter. Chapter one was about eight pages when it was laid out.

Lori:                 It had the cover on the front and information about me and, and blurbs and things on the back. And that was something I paid for. It is not an inexpensive item of swag, if that's what you want to call it. But I found that was one of my most successful marketing efforts. I had gone to a lot of festivals. I did a lot of bookstores, I did a lot of events with fellow authors that we had books coming out at the same time. And you're sitting there at a table and someone might be buying the book of the author next to you, but they're not buying yours. And you know they may only have money to buy one book that day but they're interested in yours. Or maybe they just don't think your book is interesting for them. When you have the chance to hand them something that has actual content, not just a bookmark but they can take that home, read through and you might entice people who ordinarily weren't going to buy your book.

Lori:                 I've even been at festivals where I handed it out at a, at a table and someone comes back later that they read the first chapter and they wanted to buy the book. So that's a tool that I feel like was actually worthwhile to do and to spend the money on.

Mindy:             That's a good tip. I like it. I've never done that myself, but I've seen a lot of people do it. Maybe I'll try that for my next one. I like the Idea. You mentioned Screen Queens, which is your next release. It is pitched as a teen girls invade Silicon Valley story. So what made you interested in telling this type of tail?

Lori:                 I have to say probably the first thing is that I am married to a huge tech lover, so he infuses that into my life, whether it's appliances that turn on and off, a voice activated or the latest new device or gadget that he wants. The side benefit of that is when I have computer problems, he's always around to fix them.

Lori:                 So it's a good thing that he's this into tech and this tech savvy. I kind of developed my own interest in in the tech world and one of my favorite podcasts to listen to aside from yours is called Startup. It detailed starting a podcasting company. It was very meta, but the second season of that podcast was about three women starting a dating app and it followed them from the time that they were coming up with the idea, through launching it, through going to what's called YC, which is a technology incubator, very, very coveted place to go. And it followed their whole process to the unfortunate end of the company dissolving and the founders leaving. Listening to that podcast really affected me because these women put so much into this and what they were finding when they reach the stage where they were going after funding was offers of funding offers to invest in their company and take this app that they've been building to, to the next level often came with an invitation to drinks or dinner and these were things that they were talking about openly on this podcast, their male counterparts in the tech field were not experiencing these same things.

Lori:                 So that was one of the things that really kind of stuck in my mind as I was thinking about what I would like to write and kind of the the story I'd like to tell, the message I'd like to tell, and translating that down to an audience for young adults. It got me really thinking about my own experiences with science and math and technology and I was always the English major. I loved English and writing and down through high school. Junior high science and math were never my strong suit. But as I thought about it, what's interesting is that was okay with my parents. It was never expected that I would do great in math or science. When my SAT scores came and they were very low on that side, but sky high on English, that was okay and I never was encouraged nor had the confidence to kind of pursue anything like that.

Lori:                 Yet now as an adult kind of into this tech world and learning a little coding on my own to do my website or things like that, I realize it's something I probably would have been interested in. If I had either the encouragement or the confidence to pursue that. So all of this kind of was swarming in my head and came out in these three girls who have very different backgrounds but are all very much into tech, into coding and into wanting to create a new app or a new business or found something that is going to have a significant effect on the world that we live in now, which is obviously very tech driven. So that's kind of how what influenced me putting this story together.

Mindy:             That's fascinating. I love what you're saying about the inferred sexism of course in technology. Also in, of course, we all know the gaming world and math. My father, he is a farmer. We're ninth generation farmers over here, but he did teach math for a period of time in the 70s when he graduated from college. He graduated with a degree in mathematics education and he did teach math for quite a while and then ended up just deciding that farming was where he fit best and has of course been doing that for his entire life. And that's not a profession that you ever retire from. I can tell you that. It's so interesting to me now as an adult because I struggle with math. I'm just, it's just not there for me. You're talking about the tests, like your graduation tests and all those things and, and I was the same.

Mindy:             It's like I was happy to pass my math ones, you know, and everything else, would be like, yeah, you're ready to go to college. As an adult, I look back at my dad helping me with my math homework and just being like, Mindy, you can do this. You can do this. Like never ever referring to my gender as being an impediment. Never ever inferring that there was a reason why I couldn't. I can appreciate that so much now as an adult because it's like he was, you know, a teacher in the 70s it wasn't exactly the least sexist time. You know, that was never anything. He never ever referred to my gender being an issue in my math capabilities.

Lori:                 Good for your dad.

Mindy:             Yeah. He's a good guy. I love the title Screen Queens.

Lori:                 It's great and I can't take credit for it. There was a period of about two months of my editor and I going back and forth with ideas and list them and nothing was hitting. There was a couple, we floated Girls Club for a little while because a play on the idea of Boys Club. And as we were kind of talking about that and I was testing it out on the, on some friends, girls teens, the age of who will be reading the book and they had no idea what we were talking about and I realize that's not translating. I just don't know anymore. The team at RazorBill got together and had several meetings to come up with a title, so I give them all the credit for it. They worked hard and they came up with something great.

Mindy:             I find it encouraging that teens today don't know what Boys Club means. That's awesome. You were talking before about your giveaway and your preorder campaign for Becoming Jinn and how you offered editing services. That is something that you offer still through your website. You have a background in journalism and you have been an instructor at Grub Street in Boston. So all of that obviously boosts your editing credentials. So tell us a little bit about the services that you offer and where listeners can go to find that.

Lori:                 I've kind of come 100% full circle, and one of the things I love to do most is help people with their queries. I have worked as an intern at a small local children's publisher in the Boston area, and through that I was reading the slush, that was part of my job and I saw a lot of the same mistakes I would make in queries and things that could have been done better. Combined with working as a Pitch Wars mentor, the big contest, Pitch Wars, I was a mentor for three years, and over the course of that, I have read, and I'm not exaggerating, 500 queries. I've given feedback on almost all of them because as I'm mentoring Pitch Wars I said, if I'm going to do this, I want to help people like people helped me. And so I would give feedback on everybody's query.

Lori:                 So through that I've really kind of gotten this down of like what a query needs to do and more importantly what a query shouldn't do. So query editing has become one of my favorite things to do and I offer what I call a submissions package. That's your query, your synopsis and your first page to kind of get those things that get right in front of the agent right away in the best shape possible. And because I think it's important to grow and not just get feedback once because you don't know if you've implemented it in a way that is working. So I always offer two passes on that. So you get an edit on each of those pieces twice. So you get to see if the way you reworked it is resonating. That's one of my favorite things to do. The submission package. And I also do manuscript editing for all genres, including adults. I just finished a spy thriller. I've done several memoirs and I do copy editing, line editing or big picture editing. If somebody wants all three, I do all three and I have packages for each of those and that's right on my website at www.LoriGoldsteinbooks.com editing services.

Mindy:             That is awesome, especially the submissions package offering. That is incredible.

Lori:                 It's great and people, they love the fact that they get to see if what they've done works and I will say by the time we get to the that final second pass, people are well on their way to having like a great query. It's great to see people be able to hone in on really what their story is about, just by asking a few key targeted questions. No matter how many queries you read, if you read success stories online and you read queries on Writer's Digest, I believe has queries that have gotten agents, it's hard to apply it to your own story because we're so close to our own stories and talking about what are the stakes and consequences that really must come through in a query. You know them in your head and they're not translating to the page, but when somebody from the outside is pointing that out, you can see it and you can get to it in a way that would be really hard to do on your own.

Mindy:             Absolutely. It's called manuscript blindness and it is the truth. Putting together a new website for myself, I've been going back through my appearances and my guest posts and my interviews that I've done all over the internet. I will see an interview or a guest post that I did in 2013 and there's a typo like in the first line and I'm like, oh my God. You know, and it's so hilarious to me because I had read it so many times in 2013 that I didn't see it. And in 2019 I go back and I'm like, boom, oh my God, there's a typo in the first line. Sometimes you need either space or the long period of time to be able to get the distance, to actually see the words. And then also of course just fresh eyes, fresh eyes. If you don't want to wait six years to make sure you got it right, just you know, fresh eyes. Hire Lori.

Lori:                 Fresh eyes are really important. Another tip that one of my journalism professors had said was when you're trying to do that final edit on something, read it backwards. So then you're reading every word individually for itself and your brain has this tendency to insert missing words or you know, go over that Typo that you couldn't see. But if you read it backwards, you've tricked your brain into looking at it a different way and you'll often find the mistakes that way. So it's hard to read a full manuscript that way, but you can definitely do it with a query letter.

Mindy:             I have heard that before that that's a copy-editing trick to read it backwards and it'll really help you catch those little mistakes. I'm working right now on putting together just a little a loss leader to get people to sign up to follow the blog. I'm putting together a little quick printable of, you know, how to write a synopsis. I was just kind of scrolling through StoryFix and looking at some of the information that they had out there and there was a typo in highly trafficked article - Beat Sheet 101 - writing up a beat sheet and explaining what a beat sheet is and using bulleted points. And then it said "your bulleted points once you begin to flush them out will quickly become a synopsis." But it said "it will quicky become a synopsis." They didn't mean quickie. That's not what they mean. It just, the particular font that they were using, that the lower case "l" was just lost and I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't been, I highlighted the paragraph, you know, like to copy it so that I could post and then of course credit them, because I copied and pasted it and went into a different font. I saw it right away and I was like, oh my gosh, look at that. So I've heard that. That's another trick too that you can, if you change the font, it can help you see things.

Lori:                 Definitely a trick. And you can also do it if you, if you have a device, a tablet or a kindle or something. I always read my manuscript in different format, so I read it on screen, I read it printed and I read it on my kindle. And you'll see things each way that you wouldn't have seen in another format.

Mindy:             Yup, that's absolutely true. Last question, tell us about what is up next for you. What are you working on and tell us also where listeners can find you online.

Lori:                 I'm working on my next young adult novel that I cannot say all that much about, but I am on deadline for it. So that probably tells you a little something that is going to happen with it, but I cannot really give details. It follows in the same vein of the idea of Screen Queens of capturing something that is timely, putting it into the world of young adults. I get to use some of my journalism background, and we were looking at politics and the intersection with the media, social media and journalism, what journalism isn't, what journal journalism is becoming. So that's kind of the little, the little nugget, but I can't share details as of yet, hopefully soon. So my website, which I just redid it, so go check it out and let me know what you think, is www.LoriGoldsteinbooks.com and I am most often these days on Instagram. Was a huge lover of Twitter and I still enjoy the format, but with less time I'm finally, I only have time to really focus on one. So while I can be found on Twitter, not as often. Instagram @LoriGoldsteinBooks is where I am and I think it's partly when you're so in this world of words you need a break and the visual break of of Instagram, whether it's posting my own pictures or reviewing the people I follow is actually a nice mental break to go into a different kind of creative world that I'm really kind of enjoying lately.

Mindy:             That's very cool. That's a wonderful way to think of it. I like that a lot.

Mindy:             Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire is produced by Mindy McGinnis. Music by Jack Korbel. Don't forget to check out the blog for additional interviews, writing advice and publication tips at www.writerwriterapantsonfire.com If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you, or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit www.writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar.

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International Bestselling Author Jeffery Deaver On Using Setting as Character and His Newest Release - The Never Game

Today brings a special guest to the show. Number one internationally bestselling author Jeffery Deaver dropped by to talk about his newest release - The Never Game - which introduces a new series character, Colter Shaw. Also covered: character as setting, blending the world of survivalism with gaming, and writing a message without hitting your audience over the head with it.