Kelly Notaras On Helping Authors Write Their Nonfiction & Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly:               Oh my gosh, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly:               Oh yes, totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly:               Totally. That's awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Key To Writing YA Horror: Chelsea Bobulski

Mindy:             Today's guest is Chelsea Bobulski, who graduated from the Ohio State University with a degree in history. As a writer she has a soft spot for characters with broken paths, strange talents and obstacles they must overcome for a brighter future. Her debut young adult novel, The Wood is available now. Her next release, Remember Me, releases August 6th. Chelsea joined me today to talk about querying for five years, the stress of breaking up with her first agent and the importance of maintaining a polite professional attitude while in the query trenches.

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Mindy:             My listeners are always interested in learning more about the agent hunt. A lot of my listeners are aspiring writers, so tell us first of all who your agent is and how you landed them.

Chelsea:           So my agent is Andrea Somberg with Harvey Klein and she is just amazing. She's everything that I could ever want in an agent and more. She's the perfect cheerleader. She always gets back to me right away when I email her with anything, whether it's like an irrelevant question or me just freaking out about some random author things, she's always right there to answer me. So I love everything about her. Very thankful to have her. But it took a long time to find her. The Wood, which is my first book to come out, was actually my fifth book that I wrote in pursuit of publication. And that happened over a span of five years. And so in those five years and those five books, I probably queried several hundred agents, at least with the first two books. At the time I thought they were really great for what they were.

Chelsea:           And now I'm like hoping no one ever sees them. But you know, I did get some agent interests with both that ended up going nowhere. But they would say, if you ever have another manuscript, make sure to query us again. And so I would keep track of those responses. And then with my third book, I actually never even queried it because I wrote it and I loved the whole foundation of it. I loved the story behind it, but I just knew from both, like a marketing standpoint of what publishers were looking for that it really didn't fit any mold at the time. And I also just knew that even though my voice was becoming stronger as a writer, it wasn't quite there yet. So I was like, instead of querying this, I'm just going to take it as a learning experience. I don't think I'll ever pull that one back out either.

Chelsea:           Just for the same reason as I don't think it really has a place and I don't know that I'd go back to it, but it was a good learning experience. And then my fourth book was a young adult steam punk romance that I still love and someday I might go back to it and try to do something with it. It got a lot of attention. I entered it into several different contests, one of which was Miss Snark's, First Victim Baker's Dozen, which I don't think she does anymore, but at the time I think I got like, I can't remember the exact number of agent requests off of that. I want to say it was like nine to 12 and then I also at the same time I did the very first Pitch Wars contest. I was a mentee in that and I got 12 full requests off of that as well and so really great responses.

Chelsea:           I did end up getting my very first agent through Pitch Wars and he was really great. But I noticed as we went on in our relationship that we had just different professional styles and also different visions of what I should be writing and how I should be writing and different things like that. It just didn't mesh well. He's a great person, just we didn't work well together and so we ended up splitting, which was very difficult. After four books in four years you finally have this and you think this is it, it's finally happening. And then to have to pull that plug and start again was really difficult. And at that time I actually was thinking that I was never going to be an author. It just wasn't in the cards for me. And so as I'm writing my fifth book, which was The Wood my first book to be published, I was at the same time like looking up law schools and like trying to figure out how to get my life back on track.

Chelsea:           I ended up querying only my top five agents at that point because I really was in this like horrible place where I just thought this isn't meant to be for me and I wrote this book because I had to, because the characters were there and they wouldn't let me not write it. Thankfully Andrea Somberg was one of my top five. I think she got back to me within like three weeks with representation. And so to go from my first couple of books, querying hundreds of agents waiting months upon months to hear anything to get an agent within like three weeks of leaving my previous one. I think it just goes to show the importance of never giving up first and foremost, but then also just keeping up professional demeanor with agents throughout and just being a nice person because they remember that and they'll want to work with you again in the future. Hopefully.

Mindy:             They absolutely do. I love your journey because mine was very similar. I also, my fifth written finished novel was the first one I got published. I also had hundreds upon hundreds if not a thousand rejections. I like what you're saying though about maintaining that professionalism because while it is true that agents receive two, three, four or 500 queries in their inboxes a week. If you have been at it for years - and you were and I was as well - they will remember your name. If you are in front of them often and I had multiple agents that would email me back and say, I remember you, you have queried me before. Thank you for your continued interest. This book is not for me, but please keep reaching out because they see your determination. They remember that you are professional and that you are trying to write a query correctly and you're really putting the work into it and you're paying attention to their submission guidelines. And if you are continuous with your attempts, it's not necessarily means that you will succeed, but it does mean that they will notice you and they will remember you. They also will remember you if you are rude and not in a good way.

Chelsea:           Yes, definitely. Never be rude because that doesn't help you at all.

Mindy:             I want to talk to you a little bit about rejections. I don't think I've talked about this on the blog before, but one of the reasons I kept writing, I was at it for 10 years. I didn't achieve representation, but I did come very close in that I had an agent respond to me. It was Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer responded to my query and said, you can really write, this is a great book. If you had queried me with this book (because it was urban fantasy) if you had queried me with this book four years ago, five years ago, I would have signed you and it would have sold. Right now, it's not going to, you need to keep writing and keep querying me. And that rejection made me keep writing. I was ready to quit. I was ready to say just like you. I was looking at masters degrees. I was getting ready to enroll myself to go get my master's of library science because I was going to throw in the towel and say, I've been doing this for 10 years. It's time to quit. It was a rejection that made me keep trying. And I want to follow up a little bit more on what you were saying about letting your first agent go because yes, that had to be terrifying when you had been trying to get an agent for so long you managed it, and then because of professional differences, just not meshing personality wise, you had to let that person go. Yeah, I mean terrifying. So how did you finally make that decision?

Chelsea:           It was so hard. I remember sitting in front of my computer, I had written an email to actually like terminate the contract and my husband was standing there and I had to like have him help me push the button to send it because it was terrifying, you know, to, to have gone so long trying to get an agent for me to decide to split ways that was really, really tough. You do it and you think, I have no guarantee that I'll find another agent. Like this could be the end of my career, right here. Is what you're thinking to yourself. Now, of course, if you're determined, especially in my case, like if you've built up those relationships that you can then reach out to, then that does help. But still you're thinking, is this the biggest mistake of my life? And thankfully when I had signed with him, I had had other agents interested at the time from those different contests, all of them including Andrea sent back to me, you know, because you have an offer of representation on this right now.

Chelsea:           I'm not going to offer just because I feel like it still needs a bit of work before moving forward. But they were like literally, if you part ways at any point, please contact me and let me know. So I think they may have even been interested in hearing from me just off of that steam punk romance. But I had already written The Wood at that point. So I sent that one out. I don't know that they would've taken it on, but they would have at least remembered and acknowledged and that would have also continued to give me that push to keep going, I think. Um, so that's why that professional demeanor and being nice and just maintaining those relationships is so important.

Mindy:             Yes, absolutely. That's why you don't respond to that email saying, well I found somebody else that wants this without the work, so ha ha, I'll see you on the New York Times bestseller list, you know? No, it doesn't work that way. I want to follow up to on what you said about contests. You mentioned Miss Snark's, First Victim. That was a very popular blog about 10 years ago and no longer in operation I don't believe. But I also participated with Miss Snark and the Baker's Dozen. I did get nibbles off of that. And of course you mentioned Pitch Wars, which is very popular. Talk to me about contests and how to use those and the boost that you get from them.

Chelsea:           I think the best thing about writing contests is the fact that you can so easily network with so many different people at different stages of their writing careers. Um, cause I think you have to go into it with that attitude. I think if you go into the attitude of I'm going to get in this contest and I'm going to get a bunch of offers of representation, something amazing, like you're most likely going to have those hopes dashed at some point. Not because it doesn't happen, but just because the likelihood when there's so many people trying to get in the same contest, I think it's better to just think to yourself, okay, I'm doing this with the hope that I'll be accepted into this contest and I'll get agent requests and everything. But even if all that happens is I connect with other writers who can be possibly future critique partners or just cheerleaders along this journey, like that's such an amazing thing all on its own. So I definitely think contests are amazing things do. Um, for both of those reasons that it can get you visibility, but it can also help you network in a career and where, you know, there's no water cooler that we all go to to talk. So it can be very lonely career. And so to meet those people online is amazing. You can talk to somebody across the country who is going through the exact same journey as you and they'll understand what you're going through in a way that your family and friends just can't.

Mindy:             If you want to have a community that actually understands what it's like to be rejected when you wrote a novel, yeah, it's gotta be another writer. That's all there is to it. Coming up, learning how to balance writing the next book against the time investment of marketing, your backlist.

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Mindy:             So Remember Me is your second book. Your first was The Wood, which you mentioned, and I had a guest earlier this month that I talked to about the phrase sophomore effort, which is often used when it comes to second books or second albums, whatever the medium is and rarely is it used as a compliment. So what do you find to be the specific challenges of the second book?

Chelsea:           It definitely is a challenge and it's across the board. It's something that you hear all the time. I don't think I experienced it quite in the same way as other people do just because since The Wood was my fifth book that I'd written when it got picked up, I had already kind of gotten into this mentality of just keep writing, like just keep working on the next one. So you don't think about what's happening with the one that's on submission. So even before The Wood was picked up, I'd had Andrea as my agent and she was shopping around, but it hadn't been picked up yet. I wrote a middle grade that I loved. It was very like Tim Burton esque. I may go back to it at some point and try to polish it up. I don't think it was quite primetime ready at the time, but that kind of got me to continue writing.

Chelsea:           And then even when The Wood had been picked up before it was published, I wrote, Remember Me, I wrote the next book before The Wood was published. So I wasn't thinking about how many copies did The Wood sell and can I ever do this again? Like I just kept that mentality of keep writing and I think that that has really helped. So if I did go through the sophomore effect, I think I went through it earlier, like even before I got an agent because I just told myself to not get too wrapped up in expectations of other people. Whether it's publishing, people are readers, you know, at some point you have to remember why you love what you do and just keep doing it.

Mindy:             When it comes to expectations. Also managing your own is a really big thing. Obviously you went through five years and five novels of trying to get published. So you, your expectations had already been managed for you, right? Yeah, and I think that's really healthy, you know?

Chelsea:           Yeah. I think I'd gone through so much rejection that to me just getting published was like I'd hit my dream just in that alone. So anything that happened after that was the cherry on top moment. So to me it was like I got published, I'm good. Even though of course you want your book to be like a New York Times bestselling book, I was at a place, I was like, if that doesn't happen, I'm just thankful that this dream came true. And I think that helped a lot with that too.

Mindy:             It's funny that you mentioned that because I was just thinking earlier today, for whatever reason, in my own publishing journey, because I was querying for like 10 years, my first book that got published was a post-apocalyptic survival novel, Not A Drop to Drink. I was fortunate enough that it just slipped into that tail end of a post apoc era, but it really did just squeak in. I was on submission for six months and people kept saying, yeah, this is great. But that genre is done, so we're not gonna pick it up. I was already having conversations with my agent about the next thing. We got to write the next thing because this one isn't going to be what gets published first for you. And at one point there was an indie publisher that had expressed interest, they no longer exist. They folded shortly after, but they had expressed interest and my agent said to me, well, So-and-so is interested, but I've heard rumors about authors having difficulty getting paid and it's in the wind that they're going to be going under. I don't think we should pursue this. My first reaction was just, I don't care if I don't get paid, I just want a book published. And my agent was just like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You get paid.

Chelsea:           Yeah. I think sometimes you can get into this mentality especially when you've been trying for so long to get published and you've gotten rejection upon rejection where maybe your expectations are too low. So it does help to have your agent be like, no, your work is worth getting paid for.

Mindy:             And I really was just thinking about it this afternoon because I just remember being that naive that I was just like, no, just put a cover on it, please. They have good covers. I like that company. Going back to that idea of the sophomore experience, what about marketing appearances, social media efforts? What did you learn the first time around that helped you on the second time or was there anything that you learned that you were like, okay, I'll never do that again. This was something that was a waste of my time or just didn't work?

Chelsea:           Yeah. I was really fortunate because I had several author friends who I'd met through things like those contests. They were 2015 debuts, so their books debuted two years before The Wood did. They were very open with me about their journeys, their experience especially with marketing. And so I was very fortunate in that I got to kind of learn from them a little bit before even going into my own. And one of them was very open about the fact that she worked really hard at marketing. Like she did literally everything you could ever think to do and more marketing wise and took on so much onto herself. And in the end she couldn't tell if there was really a difference. Like if she hadn't done everything under the sun, if it would've sold any better or any worse. And in that time because she was focusing so much on marketing, she wasn't writing anything new.

Chelsea:           And so she wasn't able to do the number one piece of advice, which I think is extremely true, which is nothing sells backlist like frontlist. She had nothing to put out there for frontlist cause she'd focused so much on marketing. And so seeing her go through that already put me in a mindset of marketing is important. It's not that it's not, but it shouldn't be something that consumes you to the point where you're not working on the next book. And so I already kind of was going into it thinking, okay, I'm going to market it, but I'm not going to go too wild with it. And then I think the biggest thing I learned from marketing The Wood is that there's a lot of advice out there on everything you should do, but I think you need to find what works best for you and what doesn't drain you.

Chelsea:           So for example, Twitter and Instagram come very naturally to me. Those are fine. Facebook, I want to get better at. I'm trying to get better at it for some reason. It just doesn't come as naturally to me to check Facebook, so I'm working on that. The one thing that I know from many authors is very important is the newsletter. I would love to be amazing at newsletters. Again, I'm going to work on this, but I learned that for me it just does not come easily or naturally and I can spend half a day or even a full writing day trying to put a newsletter together and I realize that's a full writing day I just missed out on. And especially now that I'm a mom, my time is so limited that I can not be spending writing time trying to put together a newsletter. You have to figure out what works for you and it's draining you, and if it's keeping you from writing the next book, then maybe that's not the particular thing you should be doing right now. As long as you have other things that you're doing that are working for you. Like don't try to do everything.

Mindy:             Don't try to do everything. I personally used to be on every single platform out there and for the life of me, I couldn't make Tumbler work. Nobody gave a shit about the stuff I was doing on Tumblr, it didn't matter. I don't know why I couldn't figure out Tumbler. Whatever I do, whatever works for me on every other platform. On Tumblr, no, it was just this big void for me and I tried for like three years and finally I was like, okay, you know what? I'm wasting my time. Tumbler doesn't work for me and I deleted my account because whatever the magic is that works on that platform, I don't have it.

Chelsea:           I haven't even tried Tumbler just because even as somebody like just looking at Tumbler, I don't always understand it so I just haven't even tried it. I'm sure it's amazing. I just, it doesn't come naturally to me.

Mindy:             No, me neither. And Pinterest is the same way. I don't have any interest in figuring out how to use Pinterest as an author. I know some people have luck with it. It seems to me like if you're going to do that, you're going to have to really lean into it and give it a lot of effort and I'm not going to do that. I have a really healthy Facebook page. I don't know why, but for whatever reason Facebook - cause I always hear everybody saying Facebook is pointless. Now I have a really effective Facebook author page and I guess it's just, I think maybe the librarian outreach that I've done and from being a librarian for so long, so it's not a teen crowd. It's an adult crowd that I have on Facebook. But Facebook and Twitter and I'm starting to understand how a wonderful Instagram is. So that is my bread and butter.

Mindy:             You mentioned newsletters and I'm going to tell you, I just spoke with another guest right before I started talking to you and we had a long conversation about email newsletters. I told her, and I'll repeat the story, that I have been doing it wrong for a very long time. For years and years I've been doing newsletters wrong. Everyone kept saying you have to have a newsletter, you have to have a newsletter, and my newsletters were just bombing. Every time I would send one out, my open rate was like 5% my click rate was like one, it was terrible and I'm like, why? Why do people say you need to have this? And finally a friend of mine who was a fellow author who is on my mailing list, emailed me back like off of my email, my promotional email list, and was like, Mindy, you are doing this wrong.

Mindy:             I was just like, oh I am? And she said yes. And she recommended a book to me called Newsletter Ninja is by Tammy Labrecque. She's like, buy this, read it. You will be amazed. Read it in like an afternoon and applied the things that she recommended. And now my newsletter has like a 50 or 60% open rate and like a 20% click rate. Like it's insane and they're very, very simple steps. So I highly recommended to you. And once you learn the really simple steps, you're just like, oh, it really makes a difference. So I highly recommended that to you. Newsletter Ninja.

Mindy:             Lastly, the key to writing horror, especially for younger audiences.

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Chelsea Bobulski.png

Mindy:             So I want to talk to you for a little bit about genre and specifically about horror because that is the area that you write in. And I think it's a tricky one because I always see readers clamoring for it, shows like Stranger Things have millions of watchers. But horror has yet to be the thing in publishing. I've never seen it blow up the way that other genres have. And in fact I even see publishers veering away from it and commenting that it's difficult to market. So as a horror author, what is your take on that? Like specifically as a YA horror author? What's your take on that?

Chelsea:           Yeah, I'm glad we're talking about this cause I have so many thoughts. To use Stranger Things as an example because it is huge - I think the biggest thing is that horror, while it's at the center of Stranger Things, I don't think that's actually what draws people in. I think the very first people to watch it when it probably were for the most part fanatics who saw it and thought, oh great, like something for me. And then they told all of their friends about it, whether their friends were into horror, not, not because of the horror aspect. I think the majority of people pushed it as you have to see this show. I've never seen a better representation of the 80s. So it was the nostalgia of the 80s and how beautifully they captured it I mean down to every little detail that I think drew most of the audience in.

Chelsea:           And then the fact that horror was a part of it for people, whether they loved horror or not, they just went with it. They were like, this is great, I'm into it. You also have the human element that's so important of people relating to these characters and wanting to see where these characters go. But I think it is important to have something else that your readers outside of your horror audience can really grab onto. So for example, with Remember Me, we pitched it to editors as the horror of The Shining meets the romance of Titanic. So while horror is a big part of it, the romance is actually just as big of a part and so it can actually reach larger audiences in that sense. Another big thing in terms of marketing that genre that can be so difficult is I think you have to get your cover design right.

Chelsea:           So for example, The Wood, I love the cover, it's everything I could have ever wanted to be in more. But the thing that surprised me was when I was doing school visits, the number of middle school readers who were reading up, who tend to say this to me. They would look at the book cover and say it looks too scary for me. The cover, it's a white cover with an autumn leaf on it. And it looks like there's blood dripping off the leaf. The blood is actually kind of metaphorical. Cause if you read the book, you'll know that the wood is this magical place where instead of out of like the leaves just changing color in the autumn, it's almost like they're painted and the paint rolls off the leaves. And so it's red paint rolling off this autumn leaf. So that's like what it actually is.

Chelsea:           But it's also alluding to the fact that the wood has this sinister side. So I would explain to them, well it's more of an atmospheric creepiness as opposed to really scary. But that just opened my eyes to the fact that a cover in the horror genre can turn off a lot of readers who might think, oh that's too scary for me. Even if it's actually isn't. It was really important to me that my Remember Me cover convey the fact that there is this darker element to the book, but that that's not all there is. And when I actually got the first cover concept it was exactly the same as it is now. It has these beautiful chandelier's, it's a little dark, it feels very like gothic Romancey but the girl on the cover who is kind of see through, so you can tell she's kind of ghostly.

Chelsea:           She looked a lot more like the ghost from The Ring, which is very creepy. So I emailed my design team back and I said, this is amazing. I love it. I'm just worried that people are going to see it and assume it's like a collection of ghost stories or that, that the horror aspect is all there is because it really takes away from the romance aspect. My cover designer came back with five brand new covers including the same cover, but with the ghost girl changed to be less, less creepy. And that's the one we ended up going with. So I was very happy with it cause I love the cover overall. I just wanted to make sure it didn't turn people off who might think, oh that's too scary for me. So I think it's important to have more than just horror as a part of it.

Chelsea:           So for example, like Stephen King I think is the big name, you know, an adult horror that everyone knows. And I think the reason, there's several reasons he was so successful and I think part of it was just timing. When his first books came out, I mean that's when I'm pretty sure like The Exorcist and Poltergeist and all these huge movies were coming out. And so it was kind of perfect timing. But he's also very edgy and at the same time very literary. And I think that that drew a larger crowd into his books than maybe would have otherwise. And then on the opposite end, you have young adult in between, you have Stephen King on the adult end and then in the middle grade end you have authors like RL Stine who were very popular when I was a kid. I'm not sure if he's as popular now.

Chelsea:           I think he is, but I think that horror for younger markets works well because a lot of kids have a lot of fears. And to address them in a fun way is actually very appealing to them. I think the young adult market is harder because you need something special about it to really push it over the edge to reach those audiences who otherwise wouldn't pick it up just like Stranger Things did. It had this special nostalgia for the 80s that really captured audience attention and I think you need that in young adult market too. So I do think the next Stephen King of young adult is out there. I think they just need to figure out what makes their book special. Just like every author has to do that across every genre.

Mindy:             So the thing that gets me about Stephen King is that yes, he is the iconic horror writer and I love him and I've read everything he's written, but his first book, the one that broke through is Carrie. And that is technically YA.

Chelsea:           Yes, very true.

Mindy:        And I think that's really funny because I hear so often - and I do think it's true -that why YA is a difficult place for horror and I think it's hilarious even though it is true because the iconic horror novel from the King of horror is a YA novel.

Chelsea:           Definitely. I think that, you know, at the time I don't think they even had the category of YA. And even today, I don't know. I mean it might get placed with YA if it came out today, but I don't know if it would have just because some of the content of it. Publishers might've pushed it into the adult realm. I'm not quite sure, even though it centers on a teenage girl.

Mindy:             No, I definitely think that, um, at the time adult was the place to go, but I think it could work as as YA today. The other thing I want to follow up on, you mentioned the covers for horror, which is very true. It is tricky when we're talking about marketing. Your cover is the face of your book. That is the first thing people are going to see and decide whether or not they're going to pick up and actually look at the writing and the blurb on the inside covers. I've always heard, and I don't know if this is true, but I've always heard that if you have a horror novel and it is a creature feature that you never ever put the monster on the cover.

Chelsea:           I haven't heard that, but it makes sense just for the same reason of you don't want to alienate those readers who might look at that cover and think, oh, that's too scary for me because there might be other things in the book that they would really love and then they would kind of jump onto the creature feature train, and be like, oh, this is actually kind of cool. So I can definitely definitely see that for sure. I mean I think it's totally fine if as long as you specifically want to hit that horror market, or like I don't care whether it reaches a broad audience or not. Like I want to take care of the readers who actually really love the genre, then I think it's great. But I think in order to cross over into other audiences, I could see why you wouldn't necessarily want to feature that. And for my personal writing, my horror aspects of my books tend to be more atmospheric than like jump out and scare you. I mean I certainly have a couple of those moments, but because of that it's really important to me that the cover conveys that it's, it's more of that atmosphere at core just so that readers know what they're getting.

Mindy:             What are you working on right now and where can readers find you online?

Chelsea:           I have a middle grade that's finished and then I also have one young adult book that I'm plotting, so it's in very beginning stages. Who knows if it'll go anywhere. And I have another young adult that I am in the beginning stages of drafting with a co-writer. Um, so that's really exciting and fun just to try something different. And then I have an adult Edwardian Romance, which is so different from what I typically write, but I'm really enjoying it just as something to just have fun with. I think sometimes you need a pet project that's just for fun and that's kind of what I'm doing with that one and we'll see where it goes. But especially right now I have one child and I'm preparing for my next baby to be born in August. And so I think it's good for me to have several different projects that I can just kind of pick up or leave because my brain is just not in that space to like really dedicate to one book. So I have several different projects up in the air right now. Where people can find me, they can find me at my website, https://chelseabobulski.com/ as well as on Twitter or Instagram and Facebook all under Chelsea Bobulski.

 

The Do's and Don'ts of Self-Marketing With Kelly DeVos

  Mindy:             Today's guest is Kelly DeVos, who's work on body positivity has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel Fat Girl On A Plane - named one of the 50 best summer readings of all time by Reader's Digest Magazine is now available from Harper Collins. Her second book, Day Zero, is coming in 2019 from InkYard Press. Kelly joined me today to talk about the sophomore experience in publishing, the importance of networking, and how not to market yourself.

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Mindy:             You've got your debut, Fat Girl On A Plane behind you. And really often whenever we're talking about anything in the arts, I hear the phrase "sophomore effort" when speaking about an artist's second work and it's usually not used in a complimentary way. So tell listeners a little bit about your publishing experience the second time around. What is different and are the pressures different?

Kelly:               Yeah, so for me anyway, the struggle of the sophomore novel was so, so real. The experience of writing my second book was so different. For Day Zero I wrote four sample chapters and a fairly detailed synopsis and the book sold based on that proposal. So it was my first experience writing and working on something that had already sold. And I found that the writing process, at least for me, was a lot more difficult in the sense that I really did not know if I was working on a good book or a readable book or a book that other people might want to read. I think when you're working on your debut, you know most people get an agent with their debut so they have that sense of validation that comes with like, okay, a gatekeeper has read this and thinks that it's good. But with Day Zero, no one had read it and I was working alone and it just felt emotionally anyway, a lot more difficult.

Mindy:             I know that when I was working on my second book, the pressures were slightly different because of the fact that it was a followup title. I was following up Not A Drop to Drink with not necessarily a sequel, but a companion book. So with you, you are changing over to something entirely different. I want to talk about that a little bit about the genre departure, but I want to ask you more about the whole concept of the "bloom is off the rose" - that debut experiences behind you. Anything that you took with you from that first experience in publishing that you were like, yes, I know to do that this time or I definitely want to make sure I try this.

Kelly:               In my writing process, early on I made basically like every mistake that you can make. So it's hard to kind of like pinpoint and say like, okay, there's the one thing that I'm, I'm not going to do because the reality of it is, I'm probably not going to do a lot of those things. I had improved my writing process. Like I had gotten a lot faster at drafting and editing and so forth in between books. Uh, so I felt like there was a lot of learning there, but I felt like what I really got out of debut experience was I had met a lot of really great writers along the way and I had people to turn to for advice, which I think was what was different from the debut experience where you're still kind of meeting people and kind of finding, you know, your crowd or like the table that you're going to sit at in the lunchroom. So I guess that that's what was different for me.

Mindy:             Yeah, the networking changes entirely and it continues to change. I can tell you two of my closest friends in the writing world are in my debut group and we actually met because we are members of the Class of 2k13 and we've just stayed in touch and we do appearances together and we get together as often as we can. We work together, we talk pretty much every day, at this point, online. It's a lovely experience. I really do feel like through this process of publication, I've definitely found my people.

Kelly:               I feel like I always sound so cheesy, but I'm like make friends, you know? I mean every time people are like, what's your advice for writers? I'm like, make friends, you know, find the people that whose work you like and tell them that you like their work and you know, network in the sense of being an engaged member of the community and you know, get out there and support other writers. Because I feel like ultimately that's what helps you so much. I mean, as you probably know, like a lot of promotional opportunities come from other writers. One of the things that writers get in terms of like going on tour, oftentimes it's like one writer advocates for another. So it really is important to make friends and meet people and find your people.

Mindy:             It's very true and it's one of those situations where networking is a business term, but it's also like fun and friendly. It ends off coming out like it's who you know, but that's not really what we're saying. Just having those connections in those terms of having friends makes a huge difference. Um, so like for example, just a couple of weeks ago, and in fact I think it was just last week, I drove to Pittsburgh and back in one day because Kit Frick was having a launch party for her newest release and she asked me to come. Then I was like, yes, I'll be there. So you know, it was like I had the opportunity to go into an area and a market that I hadn't necessarily been to before and Kit wanted to have another author there beside her in order to launch her new title. And I was like, yeah, I'll totally do that.

Mindy:             So I drove down to Pittsburgh, we did an event together, it went really well. And while I was there, the staff of the bookstore was like, Hey, we've got this event that goes on a citywide event called Bookish in the Burgh. You really should contact the organizers. We would love to have you. Came home, sent the email, the organizers like yes, if you're driving distance you're in. And I'm like, cool. Kit asked me to do this, like as a favor. I said yes. And now I've got a whole event planned for the winter that wouldn't have come about otherwise.

Kelly:               I think that the important thing is that it's like you make friends, you know? Where I always see people getting kind of derailed, they get on a blog and they get like networking advice, which is oftentimes like go in Facebook groups and post 10,000 things about your book. Go to an authors' meeting and get everyone's email address and then spam them with stuff about your book. Like that's not the same thing as making friends. You know, making friends is about human engagement. Being a member of the community, which is a lot different than just like the way that you would go into a scenario, like a sales person.

Mindy:             Some of the advice that I see sometimes about like go to an author's signing and promote your book to them and it's like, no, don't do that because it's like that's happened to me multiple times. I did at one event where I was presenting and I was actually like doing it for free in order to promote an upcoming event. I showed up and they were like maybe seven people, which is fine. I mean I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it to promote this larger event over the weekend and I show up and of the seven people that were there, three of them were self published authors that brought their own books to hand to me to ask me to read.

Kelly:               Oh my gosh.

Mindy:             And I was like, cool, good for you. That's awesome. Self-Publish. Get out there and make those connections. But it's like, you know, I was just handed 12 hours worth of reading material and I tell them, I'm very honest. I'm like, look, I'm not going to have time to read it. If you want to give it to me, I will take it and there is the off chance that it may catch my eye and I'll pick it up and read it. But more than likely this is going to go in the free little library in my hometown and I'm very honest about that. But I'm always like, hey, feel free to email me. I have like a Word document that's like 10 pages long with advice for aspiring writers. Email me, I will send this to you, listen to the podcast, follow the blog. Like I'm happy to help. But when you're in a situation like that, it's like there... I use the word supplicant but I don't mean it in a negative way. I just mean that it's like we're not on an even footing, you know, they're asking me for something. I don't feel like they're, they're wanting to meet me and talk to me. I feel like they want to use me to their own advantage.

Kelly:               Well first of all, like so much love for people that self-publish. Like that's a completely valid authorial choice and it's got the difficulties of you have to do your own marketing.

Mindy:             Absolutely.

Kelly:               There's so much bad advice out there for self published authors. You just know those poor people probably read some articles somewhere that was just like go to an author event and give them a copy of your book so that they can go on their channels and talk about it. And it's kind of like, I mean, I feel really bad about that whole thing because like as you know, just among your writer friends who are publishing, like if you just read every book from writer friends and tried to just keep up on that, it's almost like a full time job.

Mindy:             Yeah.

Kelly:               If you've got somebody who's coming in and they're a stranger to you, it's like, it's a pretty big commitment to say like, okay, I'm going to put somebody that I, that's I really care about as a person on hold so that I can read this thing that like you just handed to me and we don't even know each other.

Mindy:             Right. And that's the thing. I totally agree. I have absolute respect for self published authors. Um, my friends Kate and Demitria, we do indie publishing with anthologies. We put together different anthologies and we know, I mean, I know how much work it is and how hard it is to get noticed and I know what the hustle is like and how very, very small the rewards can be. Asking someone that you don't know to read your book in the hopes of them promoting it for you? It's not the best approach because I mean, like you said, I don't read all of my friends' books like good friends, very good friends. I don't have time to read all of their books. So, no, I'm not going to read a stranger's book.

Mindy: And then also just because of who I am and the way I was raised, I have total guilt about the fact that they handed me a book because I know for a fact that it costs them money to have this book printed. It probably costs them at a minimum 10 to $15 to have it printed. And it's like they're just, they're handing me something they might be able to sell and make money on and they're giving it to me for free. And then I feel awful because I'm like, dude, I, I should read this, but I'm always completely honest. I'm like, more than likely I'm not going to read this. If you want to give it to me, you can. I never refuse anyone, but I'm telling you 99% I, I'm not going to get to this.

Kelly:               That's like a marketing don't

Mindy:             Actually, I do think putting your book in a free little library, if you want to give away a book for free and just see if you can get someone to read it and like it and maybe give you a review. Free little libraries. Man, I love them. When I'm driving through a town and I see a free little library, I have boxes of my books, in my car, I will just stop and sign a book and stick it in there and you know, see what happens. You never know those little ripples can really matter. And so that's what I do when someone hands me a self published book, I put it in a free little library.

Kelly:               Yeah. But the other piece of the puzzle too is that like oftentimes if you haven't done any self publishing, you don't know a lot about it. Like I myself have never done any self publishing and so if people asked me for advice or promotional advice, I really don't know. I mean it's a totally different game in terms of what self published authors can do and you know, because they can do a lot of things that traditionally published authors can't do. Like they can do price promotions on Amazon or advertisements, like the things that we can't do because like we don't actually quote unquote own the distribution channel of our book.

Mindy:             Right.

Kelly:               A lot of times I don't know what a good thing for them to do would be. I really just don't know.

Mindy:             No, I don't either. You're right. It is a completely different animal. It's like asking a ballet dancer to show you how to do break dancing. Like it's, it's the same world where they have a body and they're using it to dance, but that's it.

Kelly:               I will say though, on the marketing don'ts, like also if you go to a conference and they give you a distribution list of everybody's email, do not subscribe those people to your email, your eblast list. I've had probably like three or four people do that to me recently and it's kind of like that is just not the way to market to somebody. I'm not even sure it's, it's a dubious legality actually. If they haven't opted into your communications.

Mindy:             That's very true. They have to actually opt in specifically to your list in order for you to add them.

Mindy:             Coming up, jumping genres, but still remaining true to your author brand.

Mindy:             So let's talk about your new book Day Zero. It is a genre departure from your debut Fat Girl on a Plane. So talk a little bit about Day Zero.

Kelly:               Yeah, so Day Zero is a young adult thriller. It's set in a near future quasi dystopia and follows a teen hacker Jinx Marshall who believes that her father is responsible for triggering a political and economic crisis. So she's pursued by this group of shadowy paramilitary types. And while she's on the run with her step siblings, she tries to learn the truth about her dad.

Mindy:             Why the name Jinx? I'm just curious.

Kelly:               My mom had a friend in high school and that was her name and so she was doing something for her high school reunion or something and she was like, and my friend Jinx will be there. I'm like, Jinx? Her name is Jinx? I'm like, I'm using that. That's going in a book. So, hi to the real Jinx. Hopefully I'll get to meet her.

Mindy:             It's so cool. So it is very much a genre departure. It's very different from your first one, which was a contemporary more about like a culture reflection than anything. So I'm really curious about the audience that you have drawn to yourself with your first book or do you have any concerns about them following over to the second since the topic is so different?

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Kelly:               I'm really hoping that readers of Fat Girl will like it. What happened was like it was 2016 and I was trying to pitch all of these companion novels to Fat Girl on a Plane to my publisher. And so I had been trying to write this road trip book with these two characters from Fat Girl on a Plane. Cookie and Piper. And they were going to go on this road trip across America because kind of like we were talking earlier, I really love small town America. So they were going to stop at all these little small towns and kind of go across the country. And then the election happened and I was just so mad all the time and I couldn't work on this funny book that was supposed to be kind of like light in tone. And so I started working on the proposal for Day Zero and I'm lucky that my publisher decided to back it.

Kelly:               And I guess how I'm approaching it is what really interests me is girls and women who are trying to perform in roles that are traditionally dominated by men. So in Fat Girl we had Cookie, and even though fashion is perceived as a business that is for women, most of the decision makers are still men. In this particular book I have a teen coder, like a computer programmer. That's something that really, really dominated by men. And so I wanted to kind of have her trying to perform in this environment. And as you know, they talk to us a lot about our author brand. And so I guess that's mine. It's fierce female characters who are for the feminist in all of us. And I think Day Zero aligns with that. So I'm hoping my audience will, will follow along.

Mindy:             Besides your novels, you've written essays for Bustle, Salon, Vulture, and even the New York Times. So talk to me a little bit about that because that's some freelancing on a pretty high level. How do you go about placing those pieces?

Kelly:               Well, I'm so lucky at InkYard Press to have an amazing publicist. Her name is Laura Giannino. She's amazing and she secured those opportunities for me. What we did is a couple of times prior to Fat Girl coming out, we had some calls where we discussed my experiences as they related to the book and what might be topical and interesting to editors, and then what I'd be comfortable about writing about. Then she went out and approached the editors with the story ideas. I don't know that stuff like that moves the sales needle. It's really, really hard for us to track that as authors. I hope so, but I've gotten some good feedback about the articles and I think it's helped me create more awareness of myself as an author, which I hope will be helpful overall as time goes by.

Mindy:             Yeah, exposure is exposure. Plus you have a New York Times byline. I mean, wow.

Kelly:               I wish I could write for the New York Times all the time. Hello, New York Times. I'm available to The New York Times, if anyone would like to call me.

Mindy:             I'm here for you.

Mindy:             Lastly, researching for her prepper novel and where to find Kelly online.

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Mindy:             Let's talk a little bit more about Day Zero. What kind of research went into this? I'm sure that you had to learn about some kind of sketchy areas of the human experience.

Kelly:               Yeah, I did a ton of research. Like, first of all, I had to go to computer camp and do like tons and tons of programming research just so I could get that part of it right. Because I felt like if I was going to have this character that was really serious about being a coder, I had to know something about it myself. And then the family is this family of... Were like a prepper family. So I had to do tons of research about like prepper food and like survival gear. We did like taste tests of those self heating ration meals, which are like oatmeals and stuff like that. So a lot of it was fun and some of it was difficult.

Mindy:             Okay. Tell me about the food. What was that like?

Kelly:               Okay. Like the self heating meals are actually really good And so basically what that's like, it's like in a foil pack and it's got an apparatus in it that kind of rapidly heats it up and they're stuff like oatmeal and stew and those are really good. And we got some of like the buckets, they're basically like everything's powderized and then you'd re constitute it to eat it. And those were of varying quality sometimes. Like it didn't exactly have the right texture of like whatever it was supposed to be. But I guess if you were really gonna starve, it would probably be fine.

Mindy:             Well, yeah, that's the thing. Whenever people talk about those, how they taste or whatever, it always comes down to if you're starving, these tastes great.

Kelly:               Yeah, you wouldn't order it off, you know, if you were at a restaurant and it was like regular food or this reconstituted meal, I'm sure you'd order regular food, but you could survive on these bucket type things.

Mindy:             I've looked before at those types of like all in one's survival kits and things like that just at various times in the past with recent news and the things have been going on because I have a really, um, a very nice old basement. Um, you know, underground, it's a full basement, but it was built in like the 1850s. So this is not like a finished element type of basement. But if I had to live down there for some reason I could. And, um, it's something that I had serious like conversations with myself about. I'm like, well, should I be putting food down there? Should we be doing this? Should we be doing that? Like how concerned should we be? You don't want to get concerned too late, you know?

Kelly:               You know, like they have that 20 year emergency rations for a family at Costco.

Mindy:             Yes.

Kelly:               But, and that thing comes on an actual pallet, that I'm like, if I got that, where would I keep it? I don't even think like we have room in our house for it so we're not prepared in the event of an emergency, we're going to have to come live in your basement.

Mindy:             Okay, well I'll tell you what I tell everyone else. Then you will have to have skill. You will have to, it'll be like the Paper Street house in Fight Club. You'll have to come to the door. You're going to have to prove yourself before you can come in.

Kelly:               Actually, I feel like I have no skills. I mean like does knitting count? Can I? I can knit socks.

Mindy:             I think knitting counts. Actually. I think knitting is a survival skill.

Mindy:             Okay. Then I'm in, I'm in the basement. Sure.

Mindy:             That's something that my friends tease me about all the time because I'm... where I live, where we're situated and the different elements that I have around, you know, I have a water source and uh, the boyfriend is a very accomplished hunter. Um, and I'm very accomplished gardener and canner as like, yeah, we could probably probably make it like, you know, assuming that we can still go outside. If we can't go outside the note, we're screwed.

Kelly:               Yeah. Well this is sounding better and better. I'm liking the idea of the basement. Now my husband actually has a skill and it's indoor gardening, like with the little like hydroponic lights and stuff.

Mindy:             Oh, but he has to have electricity.

Kelly:               That's true. He'll have to have electric. He would need that.

Mindy:             So if your husband can find a way to generate electricity, like just on his own, like maybe out of his body or something, then he's definitely in.

Kelly:               Yeah. But if we can generate electricity out of his body, I'm not sure. No offense, but I don't think we would need you. He'd just basically be a superhero.

Mindy:             I know, but I'm just trying to get you to come here now.

Mindy:             Last thing, tell us about what you're working on right now and where people can find you online.

Kelly:               So right now I'm working on the sequel to Day Zero, which is called Day One and it should be coming out in late 2020 and then I'm also working on a zombie novel, which is like zombies at a fat camp. So I'm super excited about that.

Mindy:             God that sounds hilarious.

Kelly:               I just finished it and I'm super proud of it, you know with Fat Girl on a Plane and there were a lot of things about the predatory nature of diet culture that I didn't really get to talk about because otherwise the book will be like 10,000 pages long. So I got to put a lot of that content in this book and I'm super, super excited about it.

Mindy:             I am super curious about it. So can you talk about it much like is it campy, like what's it, what's it like?

Kelly:               It's got some funny parts of it, but it's, it's basically, it was kind of like my feeling that a lot of elements of diet culture essentially turn people into monsters. And I kind of thought like, what if it turned them into literal monsters like zombies? And so that's kind of like the concept of the book and it's got some funny moments in it and I think it's got some good characters, so it's just awesome.

Mindy:             Alright, so tell people where they can find you online.

Kelly:               Well, so I'm hanging out on Twitter I'm @KdeVosAuthor and over on Instagram I'm @KellyDeVos and if you want to check out my website, https://www.kellydevos.us/