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 Tracey Garvis Graves
Tracey Garvis Graves lives in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa with her husband, two children, and hyper dog Chloe. She is the author of On the Island, Uncharted, and Covet. She blogs at www.traceygarvisgraves.com using colorful language and a snarky sense of humor to write about pop culture, silly television shows, and her suburban neighborhood. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. She is hard at work on her next book.
For readers new to your books and author career, can you give us a quick overview of the biggest challenges and successes you went through trying to get On the Island published before choosing to self-publish your novel?
I queried fourteen agents and received fourteen form rejections for my debut novel, On the Island. I was devastated because I couldn’t even get an agent to agree to read part of the manuscript. Six months after deciding to self-publish the book, it hit the New York Times bestseller list, made it as high as #7 on Amazon, and was optioned for a feature film by MGM. To date, there have been over half a million copies sold.
What kinds of changes did your debut novel, On the Island, go through once Penguin picked it up?
Penguin puts any books they acquire through a light copyedit. There were no other changes made.
Do you have any updates on where MGM would like to go with the film rights?
A script is currently near completion. I’ll have much more to share on this front in July. My fingers are crossed.
How has your life changed since becoming a best-selling author? In what ways has it affected you as a writer?
When I wrote On the Island I was working full-time. Now I’m a full-time writer. This means a lot more flexibility for me (and a little more sleep). It’s actually been wonderful for our household. Mom is no longer burning the candle at both ends!
What draws you to write contemporary-romance in particular? Have you ever thought about dabbling into other genres?
I am drawn to love stories and anything I write will have a romantic element. However, my latest novel – Covet – is women’s fiction and the book I just finished writing will probably be categorized as romantic suspense. The one I’ve just started outlining is part coming-of-age and part romantic women’s fiction. I’ve always said that I will never write the same book twice. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, because my readers may never know what to expect from me.
Can you describe your writing process a bit? What inspires your writing? How do you come up with such compelling characters?
I usually start with an idea, choosing the one that starts speaking to me the loudest. After that I write a loose outline, name my main characters, and start doing the preliminary research. I’ll sometimes have up to five-thousand words in my “notes” document before I even start drafting.
I try to make my characters act in realistic ways, so that their actions ring true. I feel like readers identify with, and connect well, to characters who act in relatable ways.
What is the most important ingredient you have learned is necessary to create a bestselling novel? Are awards important? Social media marketing?
Truly, I think the most important thing is to do something no one else is doing. The “lost on a desert island” premise has been around for a very long time, but I don’t know of any other books that are like On the Island. And On the Island is very different from a lot of the books that were released around the same time. If you look at the books that make a splash, a lot of them sold well because they were fresh and not derivative. I don’t think awards are important at all – you’re still left with the task of making sure people know you’ve won it. Social media is important, but if you write a good book, and can harness the word-of-mouth recommendations that are so important, that’s worth more than any time you spend on Facebook or Twitter.
What prompted you to write Uncharted, an On the Island novella? Do you see yourself writing more novellas in the future?
My publisher asked me to write a short story involving another character from On the Island. Uncharted quickly grew into a novella and probably would have become a full-time novel if there had been time. I felt really restricted by the word count and will probably not tackle a novella again. I really like the freedom of writing a story in its entirety.
In order to self-publish a novel, you have strongly recommended writers work with professional freelancers. How did you go about finding them?
I found my freelance editors and formatters on Twitter and through recommendations from other writers. An author should make sure they’re hiring someone who is qualified, not someone who has decided to call themselves an editor (without the credentials to back it up).
What should an author look for in a freelance editor? Cover designer?
Authors should view a sample of a freelancer’s work to make sure they have an idea of what to expect. As for cover designers, I’d look at their portfolio to see if their style is a good fit.
What is your best advice for writers learning to break into traditional publishing?
Don’t give up. Expect rejection. Don’t let it influence your confidence in your ability (although at times, it will). Keep writing!
How has your background in business helped you in your writing career and marketing your books?
By far, my business degree has helped me in planning for the future, financially. My husband also has a degree in finance and accounting, so between the two of us we’ve been able to put ourselves in a situation where we are not dependent on book revenue. I see many writers hitting it big and upgrading their lifestyles. We have chosen to save and invest instead, with an occasional splurge here and there. Publishing is a fickle business and knowing I don’t have to write makes all the difference when it comes to my creativity.
As for marketing, I think I’m able to quickly discern whether something is likely to have a return on investment. I was willing to spend money on paid advertising after seeing the results it had produced for some of my peers. My advertising dollars have always been well spent, and my ads have more than paid for themselves.
Do you have any upcoming projects or events we should look out for? We are excited to follow you on your bestselling journey!
Yes! On May 12th there will be promotional event with some exciting news regarding my latest book. Please look for it on Facebook and Twitter!
Thanks again for interviewing with us, Tracey!
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 currently pursuing her M.A. in English at the University of Idaho. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. 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.