With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with YA and nonfiction author A.K. Taylor
A.K. Taylor grew up in the backwoods of Georgia where she learned about nature. She enjoys hunting and fishing, beekeeping, gardening, archery, shooting, hiking, and has various collections. She also has interest in music, Native American history and heritage, Egyptian history, and the natural sciences. A.K. Taylor has been writing and drawing since the age of 16. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a biology degree and she shares an interest in herpetology with her husband.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I guess in elementary school, when I was first introduced to creative writing—around 9 or 10 years old. I have always had a vivid imagination and loved using it. When it I found out my imagination could be used in writing, it was a match made in heaven. Publishing, though, was another matter altogether, and I had to be talked into that and find out how to do it years later.
You’ve written a few books from the time you were a teenager. How has your writing style changed? What is your process for going back to some of these past teenage works and polishing them for publication today?
Most of the changes I’ve undergone are a lot of the show vs tell scenario. I’ve also had to give a little more in the descriptions and setting, learning that fine line of having just enough without hitting the reader over the head with it. Sometimes I had to cut down on detail; the challenge of taking one art form and conforming it into another (visual into written). I also have come from reading books with longer expositions than they are now, so I had to undo what I have learned a little. I’ve also had to stray away from the 3rd person omniscient for the books since that, too, has gone out of style.
Now, when I go back through the story, I am implementing all of this before editors and critique partners get involved. Sometimes a new idea may surface that hasn’t before, and I want to add that in. Also, I have to go back and fill in where I skipped around to publish them in order which makes sense. That being said, other changes will incur downstream. Other times I laugh and say either: “What was I thinking when I wrote this?” or “Wow I remember when I wrote this and that came out of me as a teen? Where did that come from?”
I have the first two books out, but there are about eight more that need edits and rewrites and I started yet another this year!
Your latest YA novel, Neiko’s Five Land Adventure, won the 2012 IndieReader Approved Award. What made you decide to write in the adolescent literature genre? What are some of the rewards and challenges associated with writing to a younger age group?
First off, MG and YA books are what I enjoyed reading as a reader most of the time. I did try some adult books, but oftentimes I got bored with them since it took forever to get to the adventure plus all the adult baggage and/or the gratuitous descriptions. Sometimes I felt like I had to read some of them with a dictionary at my side to understand all the big words; words that I didn’t know existed in the English language or probably only seen on the SAT. However the adult-grade adventure was great once I got there.
Second of all, I WAS an adolescent, so I dreamed of writing the book I would like to read.
Some of the rewards: you can get away with a lot more than you can with adult readers—they like their rules and limits; you don’t have to spend as much time with romance—grown-ups have a cow if you don’t have enough or done a certain way; you can get away with much more slang and idioms, and not have to worry as much about the cliché police (as far as dialogue goes), but do avoid character and plot clichés though. Adults are also huge on “literary quality”. It is somewhat important in YA stuff to give it a keener edge, and I’m not saying it should be forgotten, but all a kid cares about if it’s a good story with an awesome character, world, and adventure! When I was that age and writing, I didn’t care about or know anything about “literary quality”. Kids “go with the flow” while adults seem to over-think things a bit much. So working in just enough literary quality and still creating a good, engaging, kid-friendly story is a challenge.
Now for challenges: you don’t have as long to grab their attention as you do with adults; it’s either cool or it’s not. Kids won’t stick it out as long as an adult, so you must “get to the point”. You must reach to your inner child, which isn’t as much as a challenge for me since I didn’t really grow up in the first place. Reviewers who review books for that age must reach their inner child as well, and that becomes a factor in choosing the right reviewers for the books. We must choose reviewers with the audience in mind in addition to the other elements, which is a challenge. Case in short, I have learned to ask more questions when contacting reviewers.
Some content can be a challenge too. Depending on how young you want your audience to go, you must be careful about how much language, violence, or sex (which is sometimes better omitted or implied) goes into it for their sake, and to be picked up by a library or other kid-friendly environment. Parents will also ask you, so be honest about what you have in there. Some kids can handle some things better than others. We always must remember even if we write for an older YA audience, there may be a possibility some younger kids could pick it up, and I can say that for certain since that was me at one time. Getting the books to the target audience is a bit more challenging, because we have to reach them indirectly though parents and other adults, so that makes marketing more difficult and more time consuming.
The YA audience is also a very broad audience and it can be subdivided into smaller groups (MG, New Adult, etc). You also must be aware of an intrinsic rating system (G, PG, PG 13, or NC 17, R/18+) sort of like how video games and movies are rated. You must make special notes about content, age range, or ratings when engaging in events, contacting reviewers, and marketing.
What made you choose the fantasy/science fiction genre?
I have always gravitated toward this genre in other media besides books. The idea of going to another world and playing by different rules has always intrigued me. Also, I have been world-building even before I knew how to write words on paper. I could touch something and make something come to life. I also squish in other elements from other genres into this one since it’s easy to do!
Secondly, real life is just boring. Why do I want to read about real life and the real world? Bleck! Too many limits and rules. I deal with real life everyday and I want to escape from it, not immerse myself in it. Imagine that I did write a nonfiction book and will be experimenting with thrillers soon, imagine that.
In addition to writing novels, you also design all your covers and draw each character out. How is this helpful to your creative process?
This helps me a lot with the physical descriptions, because I am a very visual writer. I can see the person in my head as well as the setting. It plays as a movie in my head. I am able to dump their image out of my head and onto a piece of paper in full color. I do this the old fashioned way with pencil, sketch pad, and crayons/colored pencils. I hire professionals to put it all in a digital image. It’s also another way for me to show the reader what they look like and what’s inside my head. The cover design also forms itself in my head as well, and I can visualize what it looks like in general.
In The Newbie Author’s Survival Guide: How to Thrive in the Book Marketing Wilderness, you explore marketing books on a smaller budget. How can a new author successfully promote his or her book without breaking the bank?
There are a lot of things that go into this, but I can sum it up into three things: social media (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, G+, LinkedIn, etc), blog, and network (on and off the Internet). You need these three things in order to find free and cost-effective marketing tools, book bloggers and reviewers, groups, other authors, and ultimately readers. You need these to find out by word of mouth who’s reliable and who’s not. You need these to keep in touch with the industry. You need these to find and participate in online events.
It’s also worth saying to shop around for the best deal, and it’s not always the cheapest price. Look at the cost and what all comes with it, and ask around to see if the person/company is good. It’s basically the same concept at looking for the best deal for anything else in your life.
Also bear in mind that cost-effective marketing keeps you in front of people while saving up for a bigger promo, and it may be cheap on money, but not on time. It’s hard work and more of it has to be done yourself. Research is also key in how to do things correctly. Don’t slap it together just because you did it yourself. Asking for feedback also helps and here again your network helps you!
What are the biggest mistakes a person can make in marketing a book?
The biggest one of all is SPAMMING, and I am right up there on the soap box with Rachel Thompson on this one. I see it a lot, and lots of rants about it all the time. I am not just talking about email only; it’s on social media, and sadder still, discussion forums and groups. Don’t plug where it is unwelcome; you’ll regret it later. Follow group/discussion thread rules carefully. I would go with the rule of plugging sparingly. Plugging your book on your social media excessively doesn’t solve the problem either. Do not send book links in messages (DMs on Twitter especially) on any social media unless someone asks for it. Better still, most social media platforms have places to put links or books in your profile, and if someone is curious, they’ll look. Save your plugging for when your book is on sale, giveaways, release day, etc.
Another big mistake: submitting to a book blogger or a reviewer without reading the guidelines page. I know some reviewers would thank me for this one since I know quite a few of them and have read their rants about it. Not only will you get a bad review (maybe), you do not look professional. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, and bloggers are very busy people. If you still have questions after reading the page by all means contact them and ask.
Also, sending out a generic and impersonal email to reviewers is a big no-no. Reviewers like it when you do your homework. They like to be called by their name or blogger handle instead of “person” or “blogger”. I have heard this from some very significant reviewers.
“The Blanket Approach”. Every author believes his or her work is the greatest thing on the planet, but we shouldn’t be trying to market to everyone since there is no book for everyone. It’s a huge waste of time and money. You should have your target audience in mind, right? Market to them—carve a piece out of the masses.
Another mistake: marketing to other authors (unless you have written a book FOR authors). Yes, authors are readers, but they are doing the same thing you are doing. I am not saying not to share; just use common sense. It’s important to connect with other authors, and they can help you with marketing or forming a group, but getting them to buy your book when you first meet is not a good idea. It’s like you trying to sell your antique to another antique shop. Trade books or ask them about their work and vice-versa; develop a relationship. It’s basically asking a stranger where they are from or where do they work.
Do you have any upcoming projects we can look out for in the coming year?
I will begin working on getting Book#3 of the Neiko Adventure Saga, out hopefully this year at least as an ebook—getting illustrations and edits ready! I will be working on getting a YA thriller short story “Bloody Klondike Gold” in an anthology or as a stand-alone. Who knows what else I may get into next! I am writing book #5 right now, but it won’t be released this year.
Win a free copy of Taylor’s nonfiction title, The Newbie Author’s Survival Guide: How to Thrive in the Book Marketing Wilderness! Just leave a comment about this blog in the section below and we’ll randomly draw a winner for the free e-book!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is an English/Marketing major at Whitworth University. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.