Making Art Even When You're Lost with Andrea Hannah

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Mindy:             Today's guest is Andrea Hannah, an award winning author, essayist and workshop leader. She teaches on living a healthy, creative life at her Wild Heart retreats and writes about making art on Twitter and Instagram. Andrea joined me today to talk about using the same process, whether she's writing fiction or nonfiction, and the constant hustle of being a successful freelancer.

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Mindy:             You have written both essays and novels. You are a staff writer for Bustle and your YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust released from Flux in 2014. So you obviously have some experience across the board with different types of writing. If you could talk a little bit about your own creative process and how you manage those different arts of writing with the essay versus fiction.

Andrea:            It's super interesting because when you think about it, all of those forms and structures are completely different, right? But when I start any piece, whether it's a long form piece or even a short story or a poem or even if it's something for myself personally, I always start the same way. I think of my creativity as a message of what I want to say and who I am. We work in ideas and we are putting new, innovative thoughts out into the world that hopefully catch fire. So I always start with what do I want to say with this piece? I have tons of interests and I could go in a million different directions at any time. What is it that's important for me to say and am I the person that should be saying it?

Andrea:            So once I have that down, then I kind of work in big ideas, big abstract ideas I might think of mood or tone or theme. And that's where I started getting some visual ideas. I have like a private Pinterest board where I start putting things together for that. I build a world around it, characters and plot. And that's true for both nonfiction and fiction. So even when I write essays about my past, you're still applying a narrative structure to a life - basically to chaos. The only difference with Bustle is that I'm projecting Bustle's message. So they have a specific prompt and they have a message and what they want to say. And I'm just making sure that I echo that.

Mindy:             As someone who is interested myself in freelance writing and that process of getting picked up to write smaller pieces as opposed to really burying yourself in something that's going to take possibly years to write and hope that it can turn into an income. Can you talk a little bit about managing those smaller pieces and turning those smaller pieces like an essay into a freelance income? How does one get their foot in the door at a place like Bustle?

Andrea:            It is so rewarding to just work on a piece for like a week and turn it in and see it get published and be done with it like it's off your plate and it's so satisfying because you know how it is with a novel. It's just years and years until you can really see the finished product. Security's a big issue. I have two small kids and if I wanted to make a freelance career, I knew I would have to have something that had some stability where I knew more work was coming just for my own mental health. Bustle is actually one of the best companies to freelance for because they often post job listings online and they will look for what they call staff writers, but they're actually freelancers. Like I have to pay taxes out of my... On my own. So they have staff writers that they are on staff and you get a weekly schedule and a weekly list of articles and you apply for the job like you would any other job.

Andrea:            Like I think I sent in my resume in a pitch, a sample pitch, and then they called me and we had interviews and back and forth kind of thing. So, and I get a trial day there, but it's been wonderful. I've been there for a year and a half. It's a great company to work for and I know that there's always work coming, so it's got the stability of a regular job. But then there's also the flexibility, which is great. A couple of my other freelance clients, I go straight for. They're people that I pitched directly where I liked their work online, like they might be small business owners or studios or different places that I've been to before that I really like and I had sent them an email just conversational, friendly, like, Hey, I've been to your yoga studio or I really admire your work or I've read this book and I follow your business on platforms.

Andrea:            If you ever need a content or a copywriter, I do both. Here's a sample of my work, please contact me. And that's worked out for me a few times as well. So I have a couple of stable ghostwriting clients that I meet with on the phone every week and I write blogs and different social media posts for them as well. So, and then I also place like the periodic essay in different places as well, like Thrive Global or MindBodyGreen or any of those. That's not where the majority of my income comes from, if that makes sense.

Mindy:             Every freelancer that I've talked to talks about the hustle involved because you are chasing down every job.

Andrea:            Oh, for sure. Absolutely. So for me, having those stable behind the scenes incomes are really important for me because it's enough money where I feel secure enough and anything after that is bonus. So if I can't hustle for a specific week because I have a sick kid or I'm sick, it gives me a little bit more leeway.

Mindy:             You also have extensive experience, not only with your own creative process, but nursing the creative process of others as well as their creative soul. You offer both workshops and retreats to assist creatives. So if you could tell my listeners about how you came to create these programs and what they have to offer to participants.

Andrea:            You know how you look back at your life and there are clues to what you should have been doing all along, especially when you were younger and you don't really see it at the time. But hindsight's twenty twenty. That's kind of what this has been like for me. So I was recently at lunch with a group of writer friends and we were chatting about writing stuff and all of them said, oh yeah, I used to come home from middle school and just open up my mom's clunky laptop. And all I did was write until it was time for dinner. And they all chimed in. They're like, yeah. And I wrote my journals and I wrote in this and I was kind of like, aw, I didn't do that at all. I never had that desire to do that. What's interesting is I was always kind of like a creative kid who liked to make crafts and, and do art, and I went to art classes and I did dance and ballet and I wrote funny stories for a period, but mostly I was a creative kid who wanted to be a helper.

Andrea:            Anybody who needed help. I was always like, oh, I'll help you. And I was always kind of like, everybody's unofficial counselor. And I loved it. So I went into teaching actually. Really, I was a special education teacher for a long time and that quenched that thirst to help people, but it didn't necessarily allow me a lot of leeway to, to explore creativity and others'. And then early in my career, my mom died and she was super sick for a while before that. And my mom was a really, really creative, wild woman person born a little bit too soon. Um, she was just born at the wrong time and didn't have a lot of chances to express as her creativity.

Andrea:            She was a single mom working a lot, that kind of thing. And so her passing away really lit something in me to help creative people create with less friction in their lives. And uh, it merged the creative part of myself and the helper part of myself. There's this lack of allowing in creative people, so many artists and writers and musicians I talk to say things like, I can't write that because that's not marketable or I can't write in the morning because then I might miss this. I can't miss a single basketball game or else I'll be a bad parent. Or, if I take time for my own writing, the house will go to garbage, kind of thing. There's so much resistance to just letting yourself be who you're going to be and allowing yourself to be creative in the ways that you were made to be creative and allowing your projects to be what they're going to be.

Andrea:            And so over the years between my teaching - I also teach a creative writing class at a community college - doing mini workshops, has really led me to distill that theory down to "let's teach people how to know themselves, how to allow creativity to come through them." That's basically what my retreats are about. That's what any of my newsletters are about. It's, it's about time to sit back, find out who you are and what works best for you, and I've designed some specific tools, like a mapmaking process. And we do use some esoteric tools sometimes, like we dip into Tarot and astrology and all that stuff as tools for self-reflection so that you can find your own path and what works best for you and and make some cool stuff.

Mindy:             One of the things that I really heard you talking about underneath all of that is guilt. Essentially it's a lose lose because we feel guilt if we aren't being creative because we do know that we are not fulfilling something that we are called to and also we are failing that project. Whatever that project would be. Whether you have one novel in your, if you have 10 it's like if you are not fulfilling that story, your story that no one else is going to tell, then you do feel like you're failing on that end. But then as you're saying, there is just a myriad of real life requirements that we have everyday. Kids, job, work, house, all of the things, social pressures, even all of the things that we are required to do to be a healthy functioning human being or at least socially responsible. And I think especially women, especially when it comes to the house and keeping the house clean and keeping food on the table and raising the kids. And it's not meant to be a sexist statement because plenty of men fulfill those jobs too. But I think women suffer more socially and personally if they're not doing those things and doing them very well.

Andrea:            I totally agree with you. I can't tell you how many people, women in my life have been or women identifying people in my life have been like, ah, I can't. I when the kids get older, I will make that website, write that novel, paint that painting. Women more than men, need somebody to stand there and pat them on the back for a second and be like, look, it's all right. You can get going on this. And I like being that encourager and I, even if that means I'm not in person encouraging them at a retreat. Maybe it's through Instagram posts or a newsletter or whatever. I just want women to know that what you make has value beyond and who you are has value beyond what you can do for somebody else.

Mindy:             I think it's really interesting too, you're talking about being a creative yourself yet, but many of your urges are directed towards helping others with their work. And I find that really fascinating to be honest because, and I say this as a creative myself, most of us are pretty self involved.

Andrea:            That's so funny. I, yeah, I didn't think of it like that.

Mindy:             I have never felt like, you know, I am going to help someone else make their work as good as possible because that is a drive that I have. You know what I mean? It's not. My passion is for my own work I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Andrea:            So you know what's so funny about that? I think that goes back to me as a kid being like, well what do you mean? Nobody? Like everybody else is sitting around painting and writing. Like I want to go help that kid on the street or something. And I'm not trying to say that to be like, look at me. I'm so awesome. It's just truly has been a drive within me my whole life. And I think what's interesting about that is I actually just quit teaching in a traditional school very recently and I had been teaching part time for a while. Up until then, and to be honest with you, I could have financially quit teaching a while ago, but I didn't for the reason that I didn't want to ever stay at home all day and write. That has never appealed to me. That kind of gives me hives. Thinking about it, I wanted to teach like I want to help people. I want to be interacting with people regularly. So I just started doing my retreats last year and I've booked a bunch of workshops and I'm regularly teaching at the community college by my house. I feel like I could leave that school setting. I wasn't going to be at home writing all day, which is so funny because people are so different.

Mindy:             Coming up. How Andrea's upcoming release A Map for Wild Hearts is designed to help creatives find their way through the obstacles blocking their artistic goals.

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Mindy:             So let's talk a little bit about how you do help people find their way to their art. Your newest release A Map for Wild Hearts: How to Make Art Even When You Are Lost, is designed to help the reader with a myriad of problems that they may come across in their creative process, but also their larger lives. So if you could tell us a little bit about that, what your goals are for that book and some of the things that you're hoping to address with that title.

Andrea:            A Map for Wild Hearts is one of the books in my heart. And I would say it's kind of a culmination of all of my life's philosophies wrapped up into this workbook. And it's part guidebook, it's part essay, and it's part research-backed philosophy on how to create with less friction. So the First Section of the book is titled How You Got Here. And it's very forest metaphor heavy, but it's all about how you may have gotten lost. Various ways that creatives tend to get lost. Everything from toxic relationships or showing your work before you're ready, or a comparison or lack of stability and structure in your own life or not dreaming big enough. And it talks through each section that way. And then the second section is How to Make A Map. Basically, how to get yourself out of the woods. You start with the idea and I walk readers through their creative process.

Andrea:            There are seven chapters where it starts with internal and it ends up being external. So the first three chapters are ideas and identifying your own voice and identifying your direction you want to head into. And each chapter comes with specific activities. Everything from prompts to mad libs style, fill in the blank to little quizzes. So they go through and do that. And once you've got your internal stuff together, you can kind of start to seek out relationships that are good for you or how to know when it's time to show your art to somebody. That's a lot about emotions. Like jealousy and anger and sadness. And then it also talks about joy.

Mindy:             I particularly like what you're saying about toxic relationships and also comparison. It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, someone is ahead of you. I know so many people and I was one of these that I thought, you know, if I could just get published then I will be happy. And uh, that's simply not true. You appreciate being published, but then you're like, well, I've got one book out now I want two. Now I want a movie deal. Why don't I have a Netflix show? You're never fulfilled. And then you're looking at other people going, well they have that. Why don't I?

Andrea:            So I'll tell you a little story. I'll be completely honest about this book as well. This is indie published and it's the first time I've done this and I've actually hadn't had any interest in indie publishing even though I think it's wonderful. I just, it hasn't been my avenue of choice until now. And I have an agent, we had this on submission for a long time as a proposal. And then I wrote the entire thing and had it professionally edited, which I don't suggest anybody does that, but I was so certain that this book had to be out in the world that I was going to indie publish it if it didn't sell. So it was an investment for me. We put it out and it got really close to being picked up several times. But in the end it was the marketing department at acquisitions that was like, I don't know, it's kind of this strange hybrid, like I wouldn't know how to market it.

Andrea:            Is it adult? Is it this? Is it a workbook? Is it a prose book kind of thing? And so it got turned down at acquisitions and for me that was heartbreaking. But I sat with myself a little bit there and I said, okay, what's the message, right? Do I think this is important enough to go out? Like I tell all these creatives, be brave, make without fear, put things out there, take chances. So I had to do that as well. And I am indie publishing this. It comes out on August 13 and to be honest with you, I'm, I'm happier with the publishing journey than I've been in a long time. It doesn't have a traditional book deal, but people are excited about it. People who read early copies have said that it's helped them so much that they can't wait to share it with other people. And that's really all I wanted for the book. So in the end, my goal is aligned with with what it is and I think that that matters more than looking at what other people have going on for them.

Mindy:             That's the truth. And I know just from having gone to acquisitions and been turned down quite a few times, that marketing, they're the ones that make the decision in the end and as a creative it is frustrating because I have zero control over what the market is doing. You have to look at it as a positive in that if it's the case that it made it to acquisitions, then that is an indicator that you're doing something right. It's not a judgment on your work usually. It literally is the market and the list at that moment and in that time that is making the decision about whether or not you're getting published.

Andrea:            Totally. And I say that in A Map For Wild Hearts too. There's a thin line between knowing when critique is valid and when you have to trust your own gut on something. And for me that was the line. If I had had editors saying, you know this part needs work, this doesn't make sense. If I had found some common threads, some common ground between all of what my agent was saying and critique partners and editors, then I would have really taken that to heart. There was no common thread and it was a marketing department decision for me that just meant well then I'll market it. Like, I'll do it.

Mindy:             Right. Absolutely. You know your audience and you know how and who to market it to. So strike out on your own for sure. And I like to what you're saying about how you had to take your own medicine, essentially you had to go and do the thing that you have been telling people to do for a long time and make that leap.

Andrea:            For sure. And I'm not going to lie, it was, it is and was super scary, but I am so glad that I've done it. So my advice to anybody trying to make anything is you go and you do it and try not to think about what other people are doing and just listen to your own true voice on it. And it might end up with an agent or it might end up with a publisher or you might be indie publishing it or you might lose passion for it and put it in a drawer. And you have to be okay with all of those results. You know how publishing is. You just don't know what's going to happen.

Mindy:             Oh, you don't. And it's entirely out of your control, which is freeing once you managed to embrace that.

Mindy:             Lastly, writing through chronic pain, illness, depression, and where to find Andrea online.

Mindy:             One of my most popular episodes on this podcast is with Hillary Jastram who is the CEO of SickBiz and she deals with chronic pain herself while being a creative. And so her episode about mental illness and depression and dealing with chronic pain while being a creative is my most downloaded episode. So in A Map for Wild Hearts is chronic pain, depression or mental illness something that you address as a block, as something that is getting in the way of the creative process for your readers?

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Andrea:            Oh heck yes. I am depressed and I also have generalized anxiety disorder and if you believe it or not, for all of my loving being around people, I also have social anxieties. And I have worked with different therapists and medications my entire life. So I address that a lot and I'm honest about that a lot. I offer suggestions, but mostly I offer grace. I want people to feel, especially people who are chronically ill, to feel that they are witnessed and seen and heard and that there is another creative out there that is doing her best to make cool stuff everyday. But that sometimes I just can't make it either. And one thing that I have that I think is helpful for anyone dealing with chronic pain as a creative is at the end of each chapter I have a Make Your Map exercise so people can actually make a visual representation of their creative process. And then if that is too hard for them and they're, you know, just struggling to get through that, there's something called a mapping modification where it actually gives you visuals or suggestions so that you can just plug them right in their map and it kinda takes the burden of figuring something else out away from you. So I think it is also helpful if you're really, really struggling. There's another like stepping stone to help you get there.

Mindy:             You've mentioned the mapping concept a few times. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that process works?

Andrea:        Sure. It is so fun. Actually. I just had a workshop on it and online workshop for a Woman Unleashed and it was so much fun. I provide you with a pdf of map paper, but you can make your own. It's mostly just a blank sheet of paper with a little box in the corner for a key and then another box for a compass. So as we go through each chapter and we work from internal to external, we add little things to your map and we kind of think of the map as one project at a time. So if I'm working on finishing my novel, I try to make this map to represent what I'm going through and what my creative process is going to look like just for this project. Because as you know, things change with every book and piece that you write.

Andrea:            I have this map and in the compass section I might think of a theme I want to go towards or a message I want to send and I write it down on my map. And then as I'm going along, I think of typical obstacles that might get in my way before I finish this thing. And for me that looks different with every book that I write. So this last book I just finished. I was in too many things, coaching too many soccer things, taking kids to ballet, just I had way too much going on. So I wrote that in my key with a little extension bridge as my symbol for that. And then another obstacle I had lack of rest and I put a little angry grizzly bear in there for that. And so you may make a key of all of your obstacles that, that you can foresee coming up and you also make the key of the antidote for those obstacles.

Andrea:            So, over extension would be rest and not resting would also be rest. And then also community and socialization or I'm trying a creative art that isn't writing, to kind of refresh my brain. And you just make a path through the woods. I walk you through in more detail on the book. A lot of people like to use the maps when they finish as like a vision board so that they can tack it up on their corkboard or on their desk so they can keep it handy when they're feeling really stuck. And a lot of people alter them as they go along, like and they come other obstacles and they can brainstorm with friends about what the antidote might be. And it just kind of gives you a really realistic picture, a bird's eye view of what it's going to take out of you and that you also have solutions to those things that you might come across.

Mindy:             Very cool. So it is a literal map of the obstacles that you envision getting in your way to your goal and how you plan to circumvent them.

Andrea:            Yes, totally.

Mindy:             So cool. I love it. Last thing, what is up next for you and where can listeners find you online?

Andrea:        Oh my gosh. I feel like I have a million disjointed parts coming out next for me. I actually just finished my first YA in a really long time. It's called Black Bear Wild and it's about black bears that lumber into this town and are attacking the town and people because they are, they're starving from climate change, which is actually a real thing that's happening right now. And about a girl who is, her father is like a famous wildlife biologist and then her longtime boyfriend goes missing and they think it was a bear attack and she's got to figure out all this. So I'm really excited about that book. It's still in the editing phase with my agent though, so it'll be awhile until anything happens to that. But I'm super pumped that I went back to YA after a long hiatus there. And then I am also working on a graphic novel and it's called Heroes of the Oak and it's about, um, it's a Jumanji meets Stranger Things mashup, which is really fun. I'm just doing my retreats and I'm doing some workshops. I'm doing one in New York City in October. And you can find me online on my website. It's just my name. It's Andreahannah.com and I'm on all the socials at andeehannah.

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Successful Indie Publishing With Aileen Erin

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Mindy:             Welcome to Writer, Writer Pants On Fire. Where authors talk about things that never happened to people who don't exist. We also cover 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 MindyMcGinnis.com and make sure to visit the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog for additional interviews, query critiques, and more at writerwriterpantsonfire.com

Mindy:             If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar. Today's guest is Aileen Erin, who is half Irish, half Mexican and 100% nerd. From Star Wars to Star Trek. she geeks out on Tolkien's linguistics and has a severe fascination with the supernatural. Aileen has a BS in radio, TV and film from the University of Texas at Austin and an MFA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. She lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles. Aileen joined me today to talk about how to maintain a reader's interest - and her own - while writing an eight book series,

Mindy:             So someone I know who is pretty much always right has told me that I should start telling some stories from my own life on the podcast. Because this person has been on multiple panels with me and she says that some of my stories should probably be used on the podcast. I'm going to try it out and if you would rather that I get right to you learning about the publishing industry, totally tell me. Otherwise I'm going to inform you about worm sex.

Mindy:             One of the things I do a lot is school visits. I've been talking about my first book, Not A Drop To Drink for eight years now, doing school visits and talking in front of age ranges anywhere from seventh graders to seniors. I usually don't go much lower than that, but there was one time when I was in a sixth grade classroom and I had been presenting for the entire day, eight periods on my feet the whole time, talking for 45 minutes nonstop about writing and publishing, and particularly my book, Not A Drop To Drink. And in the process of talking about Not A Drop To Drink, one of the stories I tell is about my own eardrum breaking, because somewhere in the book a character's eardrum breaks and I had to talk about the pain of that experience and how a person would deal with that in a world where there aren't any painkillers. And then I tell them, and this is true, that if your eardrum breaks, it grows back. Your eardrum will regenerate and about two weeks. But in the meantime you are deaf in that ear. You are deaf until your eardrum grows back.

Mindy:             It's a bizarre little thing and I always tell them it's just like earthworms. So when you've done a presentation a thousand times, usually you kind of do it rote. Your mind can kind of wander while you're doing it, which is typically what's going on with me. So my mind was wandering by the eighth time I had gone through my presentation on that day. I ended up talking about your eardrum breaking and regenerating and comparing it to a worm. If you were to cut a worm in half, which I don't encourage them to do, but if you were to cut a worm in half each section will go their separate ways, never to meet again. Which is how I usually phrase it But as my mind wandered and it was following what I was saying, I actually ended up thinking and saying, aloud, to a classroom of sixth graders, "but what if they did?"

Mindy:             "What if they met and they fell in love? What if they met and they fell in love and they had children? It's not even incest. It's me.-cest." At which point I realize I'm speaking out loud. Look up. See the teacher standing in the back of the room looking at me like - you have made it all day without talking about worm sex. What happened? I don't know, but I do know that as I was driving home, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I ended up going home Googling worm sex, and learning a lot. Also, first of all, it isn't true that if you cut a worm in half, that both sections regenerate. Only the section with the brain regenerates. The tail cannot grow a new brain. The brain can grow a new tail. So nobody needs to tweet me and tell me that I'm totally wrong about worm regeneration. However, I can tell you with conviction - don't Google worm sex.

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Mindy:             You are the author of the Alpha Girl Series an eight book series that began in 2013. So tell my listeners a little bit about how to maintain a storyline over that many books.

Aileen:             I think the key to maintaining a storyline over a larger series is all about making sure that the characters are still evolving, still developing. I've also changed up some of the POV for different books. I think that's also helped keep reader interest. Some of the side characters have taken over their own novels and stuff like that, so that's been really key in not only keeping the reader's interest but keeping my own sanity going through through eight books.

Mindy:             I was going to ask you that as a follow up. How do you keep yourself interested through eight books? And I love the idea of changing up the point of view because if you change the point of view, you change the story. If you see something from someone else's perspective, it comes off differently. So have you found that to be your experience then when you're working on a series that lasts for that long?

Aileen:             Yes, I really loved it doing the side characters. I originally did Bruja, that's from Tessa. It's the main character in the first three books. It's all from her point of view, but then I needed a little bit of a break, so Bruja from her cousin's point of view, and that really changed up how I saw the series and how I saw the world. It really expanded the world in a nice way and open up the possibility that then Tessa's best friend could have her own book and now another friend has their own book, Lunar Court Book Eight is, also dual POV, which is not something that I've done with any of the other books, but both characters in it that are going to fall in love and get together were big side characters from the series as a whole. So I was like, okay, they both deserve their own book, but this is actually just one story. So that was really fun for me to do. Some of them are witches, some of them are werewolves, some of them are fae. So kind of getting those different perspectives really keeps it fresh for me, which I think helps keep it fresh for the readers.

Mindy:             Personally, when I was a kid, I was always into the sidekicks. I always liked Robin more than Batman and so on and so forth. It just, it didn't matter what the show was or the book was. I was always interested in sidekicks and I wanted to know more about the sidekicks. So I think that that's really cool that you can go into the same world and expand the books and the world, but also at the same time you're shrinking it down more by focusing more intently on a character that before didn't have her own voice.

Aileen:             I used to be a big Buffy watcher when I was in high school. I love Buffy. I also wanted to know more about like Angel who eventually got his own show and then um, Willow. I wanted to know more about her and what she was doing with magic. And I always wondered what happened with Oz, who was a werewolf on the show who ended up leaving. I want to know more about what everybody else is doing too. So I get to do that in my own series, which is really, really fun.

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Mindy:             So you have a new series coming out. The first book is titled Off Planet. So tell us a little bit more about this series, the new one and do you plan for it to have as many books as your Alpha Girl series has?

Aileen:             Off Planet I started writing during my MFA. I had a really fun time world-building imagining a future earth and what it would look like, what would happen to the government and to corporations and their role in government. And I kind of really ran with that idea and I had a lot of fun writing this space opera. I have always planned on it to be shorter, three or four books I guess, depending on reader interest, maybe I'll expand it. I kind of want to keep it a little bit more contained so I can't decide if it's going to be three or four books yet. I'm in the middle of writing book too, so I'll have to see.

Mindy:             Sounds like you're more of a pantser than a planner. Is that true?

Aileen:             I'm a minimal planner. I'm like a plantser. I love Blake Snyder's Save The Cat, his little breakdown of story. So I do like 40 note cards and like 13 really basic ideas before I jump into the next. With my Alpha Girl series, I'm not really sure which book I'm going to do until I'm like towards the end of writing the current book that I'm on. I've got so many different side characters where I can go off and tell their different stories. In Off Planet Lorne and Maité, they're kind of so central to the story. I don't know if I would spin off and do the other ones, but I can't completely say that I wouldn't. So for their story, for Lorne and Maité, this story, I think it's like three or four books.

Mindy:             So you have dealt pretty deeply into urban fantasy, obviously with eight books in a series. And um, now Sci-Fi with three or, or four, is that where you're comfortable writing is in genre areas?

Aileen:             I'm more comfortable writing in genre areas cause that's what I like to read more. That's where my interests lie. Like write what you know, but I don't know anything about space travel. It's kind of more write what you love and that's kind of what I love. I always like a little, um, if I'm reading like a romance novel, I want it to have a hint of paranormal or Scifi or something or reading, YA, it's more likely that I'm reading something paranormal or Scifi or fantasy. I love epic fantasy. I hope to one day write an epic fantasy high fantasy series. So that's kind of in the backburner though.

Mindy:             I read widely, I love to read. I'll read pretty much anything. My writing then as you were saying, follows that vein. I will write anything because I will read anything. And you do tend to focus on the things that you love. I get frustrated as a reader and as a writer at how genre writing gets looked down upon often, not just from writers but also readers. Uh, you know, some readers would never touch a fantasy book or would never touch Sci-Fi because they think that that is just for fantasy readers, pr just for Sci-Fi readers and they're not dipping their toes into all of the different wells of books that are waiting around everywhere. So do you find that same experience that genre books don't seem to get the respect that non-genre writing does?

Aileen:             To some extent, yes. Genre tends to get a bad rap, not taken as seriously, I guess. I went to a genre fiction writing MFA. We talked a lot about genre fiction versus literary fiction. I kind of don't mind writing in genre. I think it's what's fun. I love it. I love the escapism of it. Somebody that reads only literary doesn't want to read my book, then I'm like, that's just not the book for them. Um, there's so many books out there, so many different kinds of readers out there, and if they like more literary stuff, then great. I'm glad that they're reading. I gravitate towards genre. I love genre. It's so fun

Mindy:             Being glad that they're reading. I'm with you on that. I've used to work in a high school in a library. We had drug dogs come through and one of our student's lockers pinged the dogs and they got upset and so they searched the locker and they did find drugs, but they also found a copy of 50 Shades of Grey and they brought it down to me for whatever reason and they put it on the counter and they're like, do you think it's appropriate for her to have this book? And I was like, oh, she had a book! Like I was just so happy.

Aileen:             Yes, they're reading fantastic. Who Cares? Exactly.

Mindy:             I was like, yeah, give that back to her. She is going to need that when she is in juvenile detention.

Aileen:             Oh yeah, yeah. I get a lot of emails from readers saying like, I hadn't really enjoyed reading in school. I didn't, I haven't been loving it, but now I've read your book and I'm back into reading and I love it. I'm like, that is the best compliment ever. I love it. Welcome to the world of magical books. I love it.

Mindy:             Coming up, urban fantasy is dead in traditional publishing, but a smart indie writer can make a decent living at it.

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Mindy:             When we talk about traditional publishing. that world kind of burned out on genre awhile ago with the vampire trend leading into an urban fantasy trend, and then just there was a conflagration. Everything was urban fantasy for so long and the traditional publishing world still hasn't recovered from that. They're still insisting that urban fantasy is dead. I have definitely heard whispers that maybe it's coming back, but I'm not seeing the rush for that genre yet, and I think it would be difficult to be querying with an urban fantasy right now. I don't think the traditional publishing gatekeepers are welcoming it yet. But your rankings, especially for Alpha Girl and the success that you've had with that series, which is urban fantasy, says that the readers are there, that they want it. So do you have any thoughts about that?

Aileen:             Yeah, I really don't think that agents and acquiring editors want to hear anything about vampires, werewolves, anything paranormal, urban fantasy, they're so sick and tired it. Which is why I did not ever even attempt to go traditional because back in 2013 when I was starting the Alpha Girl series and figuring out kind of in 2012 even figuring out what I was going to do with the series and this book that I had written in my MFA. I was going to RWA national convention and listening to different agents and editors talk about what they were wanting to hear, what they were needing, what they saw a market for and Twilight and all the movies had already come out. So they had seen so many manuscripts that were vampires and werewolves and teens, and they were like, if you send us one more of those books, I'm gonna vomit.

Aileen:             I can't read one. I don't like it. I don't want to read it. I'm tired of it. I was like, okay, that's all well and good, but there's this whole readership of people that hadn't been reading urban fantasy before. I had been reading urban fantasy for a while, but they hadn't been, and were introduced by Twilight and now this ravenous mob were wanting more urban fantasy, more werewolves, more vampires. The publishing powers that be just said, no, I don't want it. Well, what about all these people that were reading it? They didn't all of a sudden go away. That desire to read that kind of fiction didn't just disappear. I decided to do it my own way. I formulated a business plan, release schedule, researched indie. I got a distribution partner that would help push my books to retailers and help represent me a little bit.

Aileen:             I found it the case that there were so many bloggers, so many readers, so many fans of werewolves in particular and urban fantasy in general that I was pretty much welcomed into the space and I found a tremendous readership that slowly built over the course of the first three releases. By the time I hit the third I made the USA Today list. So I do think that there are a lot of readers out there that still want to read it, but it's interesting that like the gatekeepers kind of get tired of a genre and then just call it done. There's plenty more out there to be done with the genre and plenty of readers out there that actually still want that genre.

Mindy:             Twilight and everything that came after created monsters and they're still hungry. They want to read those books and there are people that that's all they want to read. And like we said earlier, that's fine. You read whatever you want to read and people like you are perfectly happy to write it and get it into their hands and you're rewarded for that. And I think it's wonderful. I myself have an urban fantasy that has been under my bed for 15 years because I'm just waiting for the traditional market to come back around to where they are welcoming it again and I do think that it will happen, but in the meantime I think there's a lot of opportunity out there for people like yourself that are writing what they love and you're going to give it to the readers that love it.

Aileen:             I think there's a market out there and it kind of opened me up to like a waiting audience that were ready for me and built the way so that now when I switch off to a different genre, they followed me over there and I did pretty well with that one. And then I'll grow that. And then um, I have like this audience and this fan base readership that is ready to read whatever I want to write, which is an amazing gift. Just by going in through urban fantasy, I was able to kind of like unlock a little door and get my foot in. I guess I'm against traditional a little bit. I'm like, you're not the boss of me. I'm gonna do what I want.

Mindy:             Yeah, and that's totally fine. That's totally fine. Obviously you've had tremendous success with it, so good for you. I personally am just terrified at the idea of setting up your own business plan, but let's talk about that for a little bit. You are the CEO of Ink Monster, which is your publisher, and I know a little bit from reading online about how the company came to be with your fellow authors. If you can tell the listeners a little bit about how Ink Monster came to be.

Aileen:             I finished my MFA. I had heard all this news about how nobody wanted anything that was urban fantasy, so I had this manuscript and I was like, well, I don't know what I'm going to do, But all the while I was in my MFA. I was researching publishing. I got Publishers Weekly, I got Writer's Digest. I was reading the emails that I got every week from Publishers Weekly about the latest in Indie and there was this big push of indie authors that were making it big, making a very, very good living by going and doing it themselves. So I started to put together an idea of how I would kind of go outside the box and I saw that there were a lot of indie authors that were not kind of dealing with the business side. If you're going to go indie you have to have the business locked down.

Aileen:             What's Your Business Plan? What's your structure? How are you going to break even? What are you going to spend on marketing? What's your release schedule? What you know, when are you going to do cover reveals? Who's going to do the covers? Are they gonna look good? Who's going to do the graphic design? What's your social media plan like? All of these like millions of things kind of create this bigger image that is your, your business and your branding. I got together with another author who has since left Ink Monster. She had a business background in marketing. So we got together and she was like, look, you have a lot of knowledge about the publishing industry. I have some about marketing, let's give it a go. So we got together, we kind of worked back and forth for about a year on our business plan before we entered into a deal with our distributor.

Aileen:             We gave them our business model, what we were planning, who our niche audience was going to be, how we were going to reach them, and they took a chance on us. That kind of evolved into what became Ink Monster. We added on some other authors for a little while and then my business partner left, started her own thing, and I've kind of weeded out a little bit of my authors because it ended up being so much time to develop other authors and it was taking away my writing time and kind of the reason why I decided to go into is because I love to write and I wanted to write whatever I wanted to write. I loved all that control. I wanted all that control of the covers and kind of the marketing and that kind of thing. I found myself to be a total control freak, but it is a lot of work. So it's not for everyone. Everything that you would want to publisher to do everything that you would expect them to do. You have to do that when you're indie.

Mindy:             So you're talking about getting a distributor and things like that. Is that to ensure that your book ends up on the shelves of bookstores like Barnes and Noble or chain?

Aileen:             At first I started with just digital distribution with Inscribed. They eventually got bought out by IPG. IPG does now handle my print. I went into a bigger print distribution to be in stores and Barnes and Nobles and stuff like that with Off Planet. I didn't do that with any of my Alpha Girl books. I'm such an e-reader. I've found most of my sales with the Alpha Girl books have been at least 90% e-readers. E-books, various devices. I'm giving print a try with Off Planet and we'll see how it goes, and if I keep doing that. They handle all of that. They also handle with e-books, they have weekly meetings with iBooks or I guess now Apple Books, Amazon get us good placement there or deals, kindle daily deals and stuff like that. We're allowed to like apply for those kinds of things. Having that person that has that connection that "in" with those retailers and can get you good placement and good spots, um, get you in banners and stuff like that. Those are the, the keys.

Mindy:             I'm interested in what you're saying about e-reading versus print. My own experience through talking with other authors, the Indie market readers are traditionally going to be e-readers and that is good news because that's less overhead for you. You don't have to worry about printing, you don't have to worry about buying the physical copies and flipping them. You don't have to worry about that overhead. So have you found that to be true then that it's the uh, the e-books is where your money is gonna come from?

Aileen:             Absolutely. Ebooks have been, I want to say more than 90% of my income. That's great because it is very low risk. I mean I don't even need anybody to make my files for me. It's no overhead for that print. For Off Planet there was, I, I had to buy a couple thousand copies of the print book, had to get them printed. That was like a whole rigmarole knowing my history of really selling well through E. I'm not sure how the print is going to pan out, but it's a Book One. So it's something to try for sure. So, and I am in Barnes and Noble and other bookstores throughout the US. I am always testing things and trying out new ways to advertise to market. New formatting and stuff like that. Being indie means I get to try all those kinds of things.

Mindy:             One of the things I noticed right away about your Alpha Girl series was the number of reviews that you have on Amazon. Um, and that's, that's a big factor. People look at that, they look at that number of reviews, whether they're good or bad, it's that number and they say, oh, people are reading this book. So how do you go about getting that amount of reviews?

Aileen:             We started out from the very beginning using Net Galley to send out arcs. For whatever reason, that first Becoming Alpha, my first book, I put it on NetGalley and we had to shut it down from NetGalley after just like three days because it had so many downloads. And that was really, really fantastic because we did get a lot of reviews from that first few days on NetGalley. From that we built our NetGalley email list. So, um, when you are on NetGalley, you're allowed to capture emails of those reviewers and those bloggers. So I have built an extensive list over the course of all these series. Anybody who has requested an InkMonster book, I can email all of them. "Hey, we have this new release here is your instant download code on NetGalley. You're pre-approved code, click on it, please download it and we'd love your review, you know, good, bad, whatever."

Aileen:             And then we remind them because you can't post a review on Amazon before release day. So on release day we email everybody that we go through and download the list of who requested and got a copy of the newest release and we email that whole list saying, "Hey, you downloaded a copy of the book, today's release day. We would absolutely love and appreciate if you would post your review." And we provide links to every retailer and GoodReads. A lot of people take us up on that just by saying please and thank you. You get a lot of response from that.

Mindy:             That's incredibly smart. I love it. I'm listening and I'm taking notes.

Mindy:             Lastly, the Indie experience at BookCon and how to market without big publisher push behind you.

Mindy:             You had told me you just got back from BookCon. So what are those big events like when you're an Indie, what are your purposes when you go there? What are your goals and how do you go about achieving them?

Aileen:             This was the first time that I've done anything like this I have to say and it went so well, much better than any of my expectations. Um, I haven't been able to go because I have a three year old and my husband works in movies. So we're constantly on location, moving all over the place. But this time the timing worked out and I was able to go so I was super stoked. My main goal from going to BookCon was to gain new readers. Um, I took Off Planet with me. I took a hundred copies. I set up in my distributors booth. IPG has this giant booth with a thing hanging from the ceiling. I don't go and get my own separate little booth that's in the back. I am working out of theirs because I feel like that gives you a little bit of a boost.

Aileen:             I brought 100 copies just to give away and to sign just to gain new readers. I had a little stack of download codes for the first book and my Alpha Girl series as well and little mini books that are like almost index card size of Off Planet that I printed for anybody that wanted to take one for a friend. It's just a sample. It's got like five chapters in, it looks like a teeny, teeny tiny bitty baby book. It's cute. So I took those as well. And Ink Monster pins, enamel pins I just want to reach new readers. I've got this great fan base for my Alpha Girl series and a lot of them crossed over with me to read Off Planet, which is phenomenal and amazing because it's a totally different genre. But I knew that there was a lot more readers that I could reach.

Aileen:             So just by having that one person that's going to take my book, then might tell their friends, oh, I read this new book. And so then they'll tell their friends and they'll tell their friends. So that's kind of the goal. I didn't know how many people were gonna show up for my signing. You just never know with that, so I left and walked away. As soon as I got there, I saw one author that was doing a signing and it wasn't going so hot. So I walked away. I was not going to worry about it. I'm going to come back. So then I came back about 20 minutes later and there was this giant line. My reps were opening up all the boxes and like running around like crazy and I was like, what's happening? And they were like, there are so many people here for you.

Aileen:             I don't think we have enough books. I'm going to start handing them out and then telling the rest of them that they can go because your a hundred books are up. 15 minutes before the signing started, all the books were gone. Hopefully a lot of those readers were new to me. They hadn't read any of my books. A couple of them said they had read all of my Alpha Girl books, which I was like, fantastic. I'm so happy to have met you. And gave them an Off Planet book. Most of them are all new. So that's readership that's growing. And that was kind of my goal was to show some new readers some love and gain their attention.

Mindy:             And when it comes to something like that, when you're at an event and you're letting people know you're going to be signing, so you had a great turnout and I'm sure the distributor was helping to make sure that people were aware that you were giving away free books, but to have a line like that, that's really good. So what did you do to raise awareness of the fact that you would be there? That you were there at that time and you were giving away free books?

Aileen:             I posted on social media of course tagged the event, #BookCon and hashtagged it like crazy. I had been telling everybody across social media for a while that I was going to be there. I had a few people contact me ahead of time. I had zero expectations. I was like, it could be 10 people that show up and that's 10 readers, so that's great. I was also, I think printed in the handout and my distributor also printed all the signings that were going to happen at their booth in a little flyer. So they were handing that out and had my time on there. We had a sign printed, but it was, I think they put it up maybe an hour before. It wasn't like a ton. I guess they saw the cover, they liked the cover. A lot of people were asking me about the Latina main character. My mother is Mexican, so a lot of my series, both Off Planet and Alpha Girl has a lot of like Latin influences, so they were really interested in that. Somehow. All of those things I think work to my advantage and got me a really great turnout

Mindy:             And that's how marketing works. Sometimes you really don't know why it worked. You're just really glad it did.

Aileen:             Yeah, I kind of threw everything I could at it and then hopefully something sticks. Then you cross your fingers and like that's kind of marketing. You just try all the things.

Mindy:             So talking about marketing, you started in 2013 with your first Alpha Girl book, so are there things that you did in 2013 that worked that you don't think would work today?

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Aileen:             I don't know. I think everything that works then works today and I think there are actually more things that you can do now, In 2013 there weren't really Facebook ads, you couldn't do that. I use those now and get a lot of clicks through those. There's also Amazon ads here. Some people it works great for, but I actually don't get a great rate from the ads I spent on Amazon. There's not a lot of clicks. Not a lot of clicks to buy. You do get to see how many clicks lead to buys when you're doing an ad on Amazon, which is very interesting to see and you don't necessarily know that with your Facebook ads.

Aileen:             I feel like there's lots more ways to to reach a reader now. Lots more marketing that you can do with like Instagram, which I don't know if it was around back then or if it was, it was maybe newer, but now it's, Instagram is such a huge influencer on what people are buying and what people are interested in and so Bookstagram and that kind of thing didn't exist back then, but it does now. So there's all these different ways that you can reach a reader. So I think that's not, there's not anything that worked then and wouldn't work now. I think now you've just got so many more options and ways to reach them, which is fantastic.

Mindy:             I know from my own experience as a writer, that back when I was getting ready to prepub and people knew I had a book coming out that there was a lot more blogging going on, a lot more presence on blogs, a lot more readers for blogs and as a blogger - I have a blog that goes along with this podcast where I have interviews with published authors and feature, all kinds of different elements about publishing in the writing industry. I keep doing it, but my numbers are definitely not what they were like in 2011, 2012. That reading audience just really isn't there anymore. People want to smaller bites. They want the easily digestible social media posts. They don't want to sit and read your blog post. So do you still do blog tours or anything like that to promote newer books?

Aileen:             I still do blog tours. I almost only do them for the content that then I can repost it on social media. It's just creation of content, you know, by doing these interviews and by doing these blog posts. And I have something else that I can post about on social media. So I don't know that it, that blog tours though are fantastic. They're not the bang for the buck that they used to be, but I still do them just so that I have that kind of content and daily new kind of thing that I can do leading up to a launch. I can say, oh, I did this interview, I have this other piece of content. Oh, there's this other thing that you can look at. Um, so I'm not ever posting like buy my book, buy my book, buy my book, because nobody wants that like hard sale pitch in their feed.

Aileen:             I don't like it when somebody starts posting, buy my book, here's my book, here's my book. I would instantly unfollow, right? Hide. You know, I don't want to see that. I want to know more about like what they're doing, what their life is like, I want to know more about what their interviews are and that kind of thing. It's kind of changed a little bit. Blogs have kind of gone a little bit away, but you can still use that content as something else to post about that, will keep readers interested in knowing and seeing that there's a book coming out. Keep their curiosity piqued while you're trying to promote and not kind of be too pushy about your book.

Mindy:             Last thing I want to ask you about when it comes to marketing is newsletters. Everyone has been saying for years you need to have one, you need to have one and a lot of people don't, or if they do, they're not doing it right. I was not doing it right for a long time and finally one of my friends sent me down and was like, Mindy, you're not doing this right. Ended up going out and actually learning how to do a newsletter and how to do it well and I restructured everything. I did some research just like you're supposed to do for anything you want to be successful at. So tell me about your newsletter, how you use it and what you use it for.

Aileen:             I love the newsletter. Firm believer in it. I have different lists for my newsletter. Um, different people that I email. I have a separate like reviewer ones as I was talking about with the NetGalley list, which has helped get um, reviews early on in, in a release, which is key to getting it kind of kicked up in lists and bestseller lists. Those reviews really, really sell books. I can't tell you how many times I'm like, just put it on NetGalley. Get those emails, email them and say thank you for downloading. Please post a review. That's really key - keeping reader's attention to telling them like what's coming up, giving them a little peek into your personal life. Fun reasons to open the newsletter. I give them selective content. Put up a blog with like an excerpt for my newest book and only the people that open that newsletter will get the password exclusive content for the newsletter. Exclusive giveaways. Those kinds of things are really, really key for, for keeping those newsletter readers engaged and keep them opening and clicking. I'm kind of on the team - Yes, you need a newsletter. You should be getting emails, give them away, something for free to get their emails. Because once you have that reader and you have their information, you can keep them engaged, keep them interested.

Mindy:             Now that I know how to do them right. Yes, I agree.

Aileen:             Yeah. It takes a little bit of work and like trial and error. Oh, this one didn't open. Why not? What did I put in it that I put in the other one? So it's always like looking at it, being strategic with absolutely every marketing thing that you do. You have to be strategic with your releases, with your business, with your marketing, with your newsletters, everything. You have to be pretty strategic when you're doing it indie because nobody else is gonna do it for you.

Mindy:             Last thing, what are you working on now? I know it's probably, uh, more in your Off Planet series, but tell us what you can about that and where listeners can find you online.

Aileen:             Right now I'm working on Off Balance, which is yes, the sequel to Off Planet, it's going to be dual POV. So I'm really excited about that getting more Lorne in there, which readers had been asking me for it. I love to listen to what my readers are wanting. There was a high demand for Lorne in the next book so I added him in. Um, so I'm having fun with that right now and I'm also working on Alpha Erased, which is book nine of the Alpha Girl series and going back to Tessa, but to keep it interesting, I'm putting her mate, it's dual POV so she's actually going to get kidnapped and her memory wiped and so it's going to be Dastien winning her back all over again. So it'll be pretty romantic. I'm excited about that one. And you can find me online at AileenErin.com Or on Facebook and Instagram.

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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Robert Mellette: Pros Of Indie Publishing

Today’s guest is Robert Mellette who has written, directed, designed and acted in theatre, film and television for over 30 years. His credits in various jobs include XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, BLUE CRUSH, and his own JACKS OR BETTER, which won Dances With Films Best Screenplay award in 2000.Robert's novel, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, is available on Amazon from Elephant's Bookshelf Press. For novelists, Robert blogs for From The Write Angle.

Robert joins host Mindy McGinnis to talk about how working in film and television taught him skills that translated over to novel writing, and how working with small, indie publishers can be beneficial, writing your story for the sake of the story, not a micro-targeted audience, and advice for aspiring writers on how to process critiques without sacrificing their voice.