Why have you decided to self-publish? Would you pursue traditional publication?
When it was time to decide about my publishing options, I was determined to land a traditional publishing contract. In my naivete, I thought a publishing contract mean all the things I didn’t know how to do—navigate social media, market and promote my books, develop a platform—were things my mythical publisher would handle for me.
After about 80 rejections from agents and publishers, I found a small press that seemed very excited about my book.
The first book launched, and it was kind of anti-climatic. Between the first book and the second, my publisher got sick, and the release dates for all the books in her publishing queue kept getting pushed back, and back, and back.
She had specifically said she wasn’t going to invest any money in promoting my second book because the first one hadn’t lived up to her expectations, so I’d hired a PR firm to handle the blog tour for the launch. I ran out of billable hours on my contract because of the delays, and in desperation, I asked to be released from my publishing contract for the second book so I could make sure it was released in time to utilize the bloggers who had agreed to promote it.
She gave me back the rights to the first two books, and after about an hour of panicking, I never looked back.
Handling all the details of the third book in the series has been enjoyable. I set my own time table, I handle the problems that come up. I’ve got print copies done and ready to go out weeks ahead of time, instead of three days before, like my publisher used to do.
I had to learn EVERYTHING about promoting myself. I still have a long way to go, but I’m much more knowledgeable than I was two years ago.
Do you have an editor? Did you edit your own manuscript? Do you have advice for other authors editing it themselves or hiring someone else?
I do 2-3 drafts of a book before I send it to my independent editor. I used her even when I was under contract with the publisher, and I trust her to steer me in the right direction. I believe everyone needs an editor. It’s impossible to catch every little mistake in a manuscript yourself, because you know what it’s supposed to say. Your eye can gloss over omitted words or verb tense problems.
Where have you decided to publish your books? (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc.)
I publish on Amazon. I’m taking steps through CreateSpace to have my books distributed to other bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Books A Million, too.
How does CreateSpace work with bookstores like Books A Million and Barnes and Noble to get your books on their shelves?
CreateSpace has standard distribution and expanded distribution options. To make your book available to brick and mortar stores, you can opt for expanded distribution. It doesn’t cost anything extra, and as long as you haven’t used your ISBN number with another printer/distributor (like Ingram) you can simply select expanded distribution. I switched from Ingram to CreateSpace a few months ago. I needed to create a separate listing for Counteract and Resist with a new ISBN for each book so they’d be eligible for the expanded distribution option, but because Ignite was always on CreateSpace, I didn’t have to take any additional steps to get the expanded distribution for that title. Of course, it’s up to the bookstores to order your book, but the channels are available.
Did you format your own book? Did you run into any trouble formatting it? Do you have any advice to fellow authors about formatting their books?
I hired a formatter. I’m hopeless at stuff like that, and I want it to look good. There are always formatting glitches, and unless you’re an expert, I’d recommend farming that out to someone else. It’s a lot less stressful.
Who created your cover art? If you did it yourself, could you explain how you did it? If someone else did it, how did you hear about their services? What was it like working with them?
I used Dane at eBookLaunch.com. He designed all three of the covers in my series. After I left my publisher, it was part of our agreement that I re-design and re-format Counteract, which was fine with me because my vision for the covers was different from the publisher’s. It was easier to work with eBookLaunch.com, because Dane asked me to submit several copies of other book covers from my genre that I liked. He asked for a synopsis of the book and any images I wanted to use. Turns out I knew exactly what I wanted for Resist, the second book in the series. I took the cover photo myself, and my daughter’s friend took the photo we used on the back cover. Counteract was still available in its first edition, so the new cover for Resist was my first priority. After it was done, I asked Dane to make it coordinate with the Resist cover, and sent him the image of the vial necklace that’s on the back cover of Counteract. By the time we got to the cover for Ignite nine months later, we knew what to expect from each other. I’m so pleased with the way the three covers look together, and can’t wait to see what we do for the final book in the series next year.
Who created those awesome illustrations?
I found an artist on Fiverr.com to do the illustrations. His handle is Will No Name and he’s awesome! I knew what Tommy and Careen looked like to me–but Will said I needed to give him photos to work from, because he’s not a police sketch artist! I knew there were actors who looked pretty much like what I wanted, but I couldn’t use their images without permission. So I dug deep–literally–into an old box of family photos. I found a portrait of my paternal great-great grandfather that was taken in 1863, before he went into the Union army. I asked Will to give him “surfer hair” and the result was so perfect.
For Careen, I used a photo of my maternal grandmother, whom I loved so dearly. Her cheekbones were perfect–and again, I asked for a different hairstyle. The portraits of my characters mean all the more to me because they’re based on relatives.
Who created your book trailer? What was the process like working with either the creator, or doing it yourself?
I also found Rachel Bostwick, who produced my book trailer, on Fiverr.com. I wrote the copy and provided her with several images, and she went to work. I loved the result so much!
What have you found most helpful in marketing your book? What have you found least helpful? Is there anything you want to warn authors to stay far, far away from?
Marketing is hard. I spend more time marketing than writing, and that’s one thing I’d like to warn aspiring authors about. If you think you can just write a good book and the world will beat a path to your door, please give up that notion now. If you think you’ll be miserable because you have to talk to people and assertively promote yourself and your books, then choose another soul-crushing hobby. Don’t try to be an author.
I maintain a presence on Twitter, but I don’t sell books there. My publisher told me to “just Tweet!” without giving me any idea how to do it. Another author I talked to said “every time I post a tweet, I sell books!” Okay—they are liars. If you tell yourself that, you won’t be disappointed when your tweets seem to yield no sales. Think of Twitter and Facebook as ways to make people aware of you and your books, but not with a constant refrain of “Buy my books! Buy my books!” because that simply doesn’t work. It might have at one time, but the platforms are flooded with authors. You have to get more creative than that.
Unlike many authors, I like talking to people. I love talking to kids about writing and reading. I was a dance teacher for 20 years before I retired and started writing, so I’m used to being up in front of groups and holding people’s attention. It makes sense, therefore, for me to do as many live events like book festivals, school visits, and local community fairs as possible. I try to average one live event a month. I’ve got six book signings set up at local bookstores for Ignite’s release, plus parties and events at other venues where I can find teenagers in their natural habitats—like coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and libraries.
As far as marketing goes, you don’t have to do everything. I have no idea what Tumblr is, and right now I don’t have time to learn. I’m busy on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and my own website’s blog.
Stay away from what makes you genuinely unhappy. Otherwise, you’ll dread it. You won’t succeed at it, and you’ll be frustrated. You can farm out your marketing and PR. There are plenty of firms that are there to promote authors. I hired a really expensive one last year, and the results of their efforts were negligible. This year, I’m doing the bulk of the marketing myself, but I’ve signed up for a marketing group that meets via webinar once a week. Our coach gives us individual advice, and we can also learn from each other. Totally worth the small annual fee I paid to join. I show up at the webinar each week with questions prepared, and I think I get way more out of it than people who never come to the webinars and never ask questions.
I’ve also contracted with a PR firm that works with authors to help me with branding and also with the blog tour for Ignite—but on a much more limited scale. I can pay this firm for a year and still not spend what a month cost me with the other firm that basically did nothing. I’ve already seen better results and more action from the firm I’m with now.
What advice do you have for authors contacting their local schools, libraries, etc, to do author events? What was it like for you to do your first author event?
When you’re contacting schools, libraries, or other venues to do a live book event, it helps to have a contact. I started with schools where I knew a teacher, even if they didn’t teach English or creative writing. At one school, the choir director had been a student in my tap class, and she introduced me to the head of the English department. I’ve done three events at that school since.
Once you’ve been to one school or library, leverage that to get into other schools. Ask teachers to put you in contact with teachers at other schools. I once had a signing at the Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas. They were so great, and the signing went well. When preparing for my next book’s launch, I called all the other HPB locations in the Metroplex;
“Hi! I’m a local author. I did a signing at your flagship store for my last book, and now that I’m getting ready for the next launch, I’d love to do a signing at your store, too!” I got six book signings with very little effort that way.
Think outside the box, too. I write YA, so in addition to bookstores, I’ve scheduled events at the coffee shop where my writer’s group meets, and also at a local ice cream parlor. You gotta find your audience in their natural habitat…
Book festivals can be really fun. My first book event was the Ohioana Book Festival, a premier event in the Buckeye state. My nonfiction book was selected for the festival. I was nervous, and I didn’t realize that every other author in attendance was bringing a suitcase of “swag” like bookmarks and key chains, plus table decorations and candy! I didn’t even have book easels. Now I have my suitcase packed full of business cards, bookmarks, stands, tablecloths, etc. I bring my Kindle with the book trailer loaded up. I’m not shy and love to talk to people.
At another festival, my table mate was the perfect stereotype of the introverted author. She brought a Beanie Baby–a husky dog–and placed it in front of her on our signing table. People who came up to speak to her were directed to talk to the dog.
She’s a sweet, sweet gal and we got to be friends that day, but you could tell she was suffering every time someone approached our table.
I’m the complete opposite. I hand out bookmarks to everyone who passes my table because they’re a great way to get people’s attention.
“Hi! Have a bookmark for my books I wrote!”
“Sure! Do you like The Hunger Games?”
“Hey, great! You might like my series, too. Here–wanna read the back of the first book?”
How do you connect with your readers?
I connect with readers at live events and through social media. Whenever I’m appearing at a group, I pass out bookmarks and cards, and tell them that if they have a question later, they’re free to contact me via email or through my website’s contact page, and that I will always write them back. I’ve forged penpal like relationships with a number of high school kids that way. I also encourage them to follow me on Instagram, and I follow them back. If someone feels a personal connection with you, they’re more likely to become a fan.
I think young adults like to classify themselves, whether through “In Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong” or “Which Character Are You” quizzes. Why did you create your quiz? For fun? To help readers identify with which character they are most like?
I created the quiz for fun, and also so people who were unfamiliar with the series would find common ground with one or more of the characters.
Take the quiz here! http://counteractbook.com/which-resistance-series-character-are-you/
What do you love about being an indie author? Do you hate anything about being an indie author?
I love being in charge. I also hate being in charge! But seriously, I’m such a control freak, it’s much easier for me to take responsibility and blame for anything that goes wrong or doesn’t work out than it is to feel like someone who’s supposed to be advocating for me didn’t put in enough effort or just plain doesn’t care.
Would you like to see your book in another medium? Audiobook, film, TV series, video game…?
My books are currently available in audiobook, and it was a whole new experience to have my story read to me! I love my narrator and enjoyed the entire process of creating the audiobooks. If there were ever the opportunity to make the books into a film or TV series, I’d be thrilled, but I’d want to be involved in the development process.
How did you find a narrator for your audiobook? Through ACX? What was the audition process like for finding a narrator? Does hearing your writing in someone else’s voice change how you perceive the characters?
I found my narrator on ACX. Authors submit an “audition script” which is about 4 minutes of an exciting part of your book. There is a checklist of what you’re looking for: gender, accent, age, style, etc. I wanted a female who had a midwestern accent and was versatile enough to do some accents for the characters that required it. You can listen to samples of the different narrators and ask them to audition for you, or wait to get noticed. When I heard Sarah read Careen, I thought, “she nailed it. That’s how Careen sounds.” I loved the whole process. It was so cool to have my story read to me!
Do you have a “dream cast” should your books be turned into a live action film or TV series? Do you have a director in mind?
I’ve been so busy writing the books I haven’t had much time to think about a dream cast or director, but I would love to see my story come to life in some other medium.
How much of yourself did you write into Careen?
There’s a lot of me in Careen. There’s actually a lot of me in all the characters, except the truly evil ones! Careen has some of my undesirable traits, like my lack of patience. But I also gave her an inner strength I think I lack, and she’s not shy about standing up for herself.
Is there any part of you that you write into your evil characters? Do you think it’s easier to write them evil if they’re not like you at all?
My evil characters…wow. This is tough because sometimes characters that seem evil at first turn out to be decent people–and vice versa.
I do think it’s easier to write evil characters when you’re disconnected and they’re not much like you. I do tend to assign characteristics I find annoying in people I know to the characters the reader is not supposed to like. I chuckle when I do that.
On your sign-up form, you wrote that cliches that you’re tired of seeing in young adult fiction are insta-love, love triangles, and girls who need saving. What have you done to break these cliches in your own writing?
I tried to buck some of the stereotypes we see in females in YA literature. When Careen first met Tommy, she wasn’t interested in him at all. She’s strong and in control of her impulses. She knows what she wants–until she’s under the influence of the antidote that’s supposed to protect her from the poison in the air. But when she gives up control, even if she can’t help it, that’s when bad things happen to her.
Careen is in control of her own sexuality. She doesn’t let herself get pressured into anything she doesn’t want to do. I did give my readers just a taste of a love triangle, but Careen didn’t encourage the other guy. When things ended badly, she felt remorse, but she didn’t leave either Tommy or Wes hanging while she dithered about making up her mind.
I know lots of readers like the romantic notion of being swept away and rescued by a knight in shining armor. I didn’t realize how much that annoyed me until one of my nieces asked me to read a short story she had written. Sweet Alex was a HUGE Twilight fan, and so of course her story had a paranormal twist. Her main character had just found out she was a shape shifter and she had wings. She didn’t know how to use them yet, and tears oozed out of her beautiful blue eyes as she waited for her boyfriend, also blessed with some paranormal thing, to come over to her house and sneak in her window to comfort her.
Barf. Yeah, Alex was only twelve at the time, but barf. I sat her down and, without hurting her feelings, explained that we were a family of strong women. We didn’t cry and wait for boys to solve our problems, so we should write stories about strong women. I suggested her character might decide to jump on the bed and try out those wings until she was brave enough to take flight out the window. I think she got the message. I hope I didn’t scare her too much…
Do you think that the media young girls consume has a strong affect on how they perceive their own roles? Like, if they’re more likely to fall in love with fairy tales where the princess must be saved, do you think they wouldn’t be dependent young women?
I do think the media young girls consume has a lot to do with how they perceive their place in the world. Recently my mom asked a neighbor girl what she wanted to be when she grew up, and the girl, who is about ten, shrugged and said, “I just figure I’ll be a princess.”
Here’s how that conversation played out!
Mom: “But honey, you can’t really be a princess when you grow up.”
Girl: “Why not?”
Mom: “A princess is the daughter of a king and and a queen. Your parents aren’t royalty. Your mom is a nurse and your dad drives for Uber.”
Girl: “That’s how you get to be a princess? Huh.”
I think our girls need to read about as many strong, independent women as possible.
What was most difficult for you writing a series as opposed to a standalone novel?
I think the hardest things about writing a series as opposed to a stand-alone are continuity and making sure your story arc gets more explosive with each successive book. I’ve sometimes wished I could go back and alter details in an earlier volume, but I can’t. If I’ve painted myself into a corner, I have to power through and come up with a solution.
Is there anything you’d like to say to close off the interview?
Adelle, thanks so much for the opportunity to talk with you about Tommy and Careen and the Resistance Series!
Who do you trust when your world unravels and everything you believed is a lie?
For the past fifteen years, The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense has guarded the public against the rampant threat of terrorism. Teenagers Tommy and Careen have never known life without the government-approved Civilian Restrictions. For them, there’s no social media. No one is allowed to gather in public places or attend concerts or sporting events. Only a small, select group of adults have driving privileges. It’s a small price to pay for safety.
Now a new, more deadly, terrorist threat looms: airborne chemical weapons that can be activated without warning. The OCSD is ready with an antidote to counteract the effects of the toxins. Three drops a day is all it takes. It’s a small price to pay for health.
Tommy and Careen obediently take the antidote; neither considers stopping when strange things begin to happen. The day the disaster sirens signal the dreaded attack, Tommy shares his last dose with Careen, even though doing so might hasten his death. It’s a small price to pay for a friend.
Follow Tommy and Careen as they uncover a web of lies and deceit reaching to the highest levels of the United States government and join an underground resistance group that’s determined to expose the truth.
Purchase Counteract here!
Knowledge comes with a price.
Tommy and Careen are no longer naive teenagers who believe the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense’s miracle antidote can protect them from a terrorist’s chemical weapons. After accidentally discovering the antidote’s real purpose—to control citizens’ thoughts and actions–they join the Resistance to fight back.
They soon realize that being part of the Resistance brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Not everyone working for change proves trustworthy, and plans to spark a revolution go awry, with grave consequences. Tommy and Careen’s differing viewpoints threaten to drive a wedge between them, and their budding relationship is tested as their destinies move toward an inevitable confrontation with the forces that terrorize the nation.
Where does love fit in when you’re trying to overthrow the government?
Purchase Resist here!
The Greatest Risk is to Take No Risk At All.
Nationwide food shortages have sparked civil unrest, and the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense’s hold on the people is slipping. The Resistance’s efforts to hasten the OCSD’s demise have resulted in disaster, with Tommy Bailey and Careen Catecher taking the blame for the ill-fated mission in OP-439.
Both teens struggle to survive the circumstances that force them into the national spotlight—and this time, they’re on opposite sides. On the run and exiled from the Resistance members in BG-098, Tommy makes his way to a Resistance safe house in the capital.
The OCSD is preparing to monitor all under-eighteens with the Cerberean Link, a device that protects them against hunger and sickness and can even locate them if they’re lost. Tommy’s now living in close quarters with Atari, an operative who’s been assigned to sabotage the Link. But does Atari plan to use it for his own purposes?
Through it all, Tommy refuses to believe Careen’s loyalties have shifted away from the Resistance, and he’s willing to assume any risk to reconnect with her. Will they be able to trust each other when it matters most?
Purchase Ignite here!
Once upon a time, Tracy Lawson was a little girl with a big imagination who was obsessed with telling stories. Her interests in dance, theatre, and other forms of make-believe led to a twenty-year career in the performing arts, where “work” meant she got to do things like tap dance and choreograph musicals.
Her greatest adventures in musical theatre included creating disco choreography for forty middle schoolers on roller skates in Xanadu, building cast members’ endurance during an extremely aerobic jump rope number in Legally Blonde, and wrangling a cast of amazingly enthusiastic teenaged tap dancers in Crazy For You. She can also spin plates on sticks while she tap dances. Just ask her. She’ll be happy to demonstrate!
Though teaching dance and choreographing shows was a great outlet for her creativity and boundless energy, Tracy never lost her desire to write. Faced with her only child leaving for college and her husband’s simultaneous cross-country job relocation, it seemed she’d found the perfect time to switch her focus. But fear not— she has maintained her ties to educational theatre by returning to choreograph a few shows a year at Bexley City Schools in Columbus, Ohio, so she can continue to nurture students and share her passion for putting on a great show.
In addition to the first three volumes in the YA dystopian Resistance Series, the Cincinnati native also has to her credit an award-winning nonfiction history book, Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More: Explorations of Henry Rogers’ 1838 Journal of Travel from Southwestern Ohio to New York City (McDonald & Woodward, 2012), based on the writings of her great-great-great grandfather.
In her spare time, she blogs about YA and classic dystopian books and hosts Between the Covers with Tracy Lawson, an author interview program on the Liberty.Me network.
Tracy, who is married with one college-aged daughter and two spoiled cats, splits her time between Dallas, Texas and Columbus, Ohio.