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, 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?


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,


Successful Indie Publishing With Aileen Erin

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Mindy:             Welcome to Writer, Writer Pants On Fire. Where authors talk about things that never happened to people who don't exist. We also cover craft, the agent hunt, query trenches, publishing industry, marketing, and more. I'm your host Mindy McGinnis. You can check out my books and social media at and make sure to visit the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog for additional interviews, query critiques, and more at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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