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 author and writing/book marketing expert, Melissa Foster
Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes contemporary romance, new adult, contemporary women’s fiction, suspense, and historical fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Her books have been recommended by USA Today’s book blog, Hagerstown Magazine, The Patriot, and several other print venues. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, a social and support community for women, and the World Literary Café. When she’s not writing, Melissa helps authors navigate the publishing industry through her author training programs on Fostering Success. Melissa has been published in Calgary’s Child Magazine, the Huffington Post, and Women Business Owners magazine.
One of your best-known skills as a writer is your ability to create characters readers can truly connect with. Can you tell us a little about your process for developing such characters? What are some tips you have for authors hoping to achieve the same level of character creation?
I don’t really have a “process” for creating characters, but a few things that I do remain consistent from one to the next. With romance, I like to have visuals so I can get a feel for the character and how they hold their body, facial expressions, etc. I accomplish this by first coming up with my thoughts on the character (name, job, family, hopes, dreams) then I scout for images for covers. I know I have the right cover when I connect with the couple and then the rest of who those people/characters are, and I develop their backstories from there. The most important aspects (for me) have to do with the way my characters deal with emotions. I spend a lot of time developing if the characters are open or closed emotionally, what caused them to be the way they are, and what it will take them to reach a point of balance. All of that is done in my head (taking notes on sticky pads, usually). I walk around the house talking aloud about them, fleshing them out with friends and family.
Tips for authors? I have a few:
- Gather inspiration from life. People watch everywhere you go. Watch mannerisms, facial expressions, gaits, etc.
- Be willing to change your thoughts on who your characters are. I find that my characters are rarely who I set out for them to be, and being flexible in my descriptions can also mean going back and changing an entire manuscript based upon what I find out about my characters late in the story. I think it’s important to allow for those changes.
- Remember that emotions are real—dig deep to bring them off the page so your readers laugh, cry, and feel for your characters.
You’ve recently released three different romance series. What does it take to write a series and keep a reader’s interest all the way through? I suspect it’s more than just compelling characters…
For me it takes my caring and believing enough in the characters to want to tell their stories. I don’t follow formulaic rules, and I won’t write a story just to fill a slot in the series. I’d rather set the story aside and work on a different one than produce a poorly written or poorly structured story. My stories have meaning and the families I write about have to be believable and more than that, they have to fit together as a whole.
Most writers struggle with writer’s block at one time or another. You have an amazing ability to write as much as 10,000 words a day. How do you do that kind of heavy lifting?
I’m obsessive about my characters. When I’m feeling them, I refuse to walk away from them. But I have my moments where they evade me, and when they do I tend to call friends to talk the issues through, or I walk away from the story and work on surrounding storylines. But when I’m in the groove, it flows and it’s painful to turn off. When I stop hearing my characters talk to me, I’ll stop writing. Maybe. Or I’ll hunt them down and beat them into submission. lol
Your website looks great! And, it gives you not one, but many platforms to interact with readers and share information to help aspiring authors. Clearly, you are leading the way on branding, social media, and web marketing. What has been the most helpful part of that process for you? What are the essential pieces for a new author to begin with?
Thank you. I think every author needs a “face” or a “brand” and a central place for readers to find them and learn about their work and who they are as a person. That’s what a website does for an author. I also think authors should use social media to meet readers and build relationships. For me, connecting with readers and aspiring authors is fun and exciting. It’s inspiring in many ways, and I like to include my readers’ ideas in my stories.
How have you found book trailers to be an effective marketing tool for your novels? Should every author consider making a book trailer or two?
Unfortunately, I’ve been remiss in creating trailers for my romance series (too busy writing). I think they are a very helpful and creative way to gain exposure for your books. They can be exploited on YouTube and various websites that feature trailers and videos, even gaming sites. Our society spends an incredible amount of time online, and having your books and or trailers, on as many online venues as possible is a great way to gain exposure to different types of readers.
What about audiobooks? Are they becoming more important? Any tips on how to remarket an author’s works as audiobooks? Who do you contract with? How do you pick voice talent? What makes an audio book work?
I don’t personally listen to audiobooks but I’ve been asked to put my Love in Bloom series on audio by many readers, so I do believe they are popular. My agent sold my backlist audio rights, but many authors use ACX and interview various voice specialists. The process is not a difficult one, it is simply very time consuming. What makes an audiobook work, I believe, begins with the story itself, and if the story is strong, then the right voice can bring it to life.
What motivates you to share so much of yourself? Can you tell us a little bit about your annual Aspiring Authors contest for children? What made you decide to pursue such an endeavor?
When I was first starting out as a write I couldn’t find help from anyone. It was 2009 and self-publishing was frowned upon. I had to learn the ropes by trial and error and blaze my own path. It was a rough road. There is so much bad information out there, and so many people willing to take my money without giving anything in return, that I made a lot of mistakes. I’m a marketer by nature, and a social, caring person, but the lines in the sand were so deep between traditionally published authors and the indie world, that there was no safe way to cross them. Authors didn’t want to share information. I don’t know if it was out of competition, fear, or why that was, but I knew it was a silly approach to anything, much less authoring. I didn’t understand the need for creating boundaries between traditionally published authors and indie authors, and I still don’t. WE ARE ALL WRITERS. We should work together, share information, and help each other succeed. Readers are voracious; why not help them meet new authors?
I made a pact with myself in 2009 that no matter who successful I did or did not become, I would help aspiring authors, and experienced authors, in any way I could. I enjoy helping, and I realize I am not an expert. I make mistakes and I admit them and learn from them. I gather data from authors and track promotions, then share that information to keep authors up to date on marketing trends and such. My courses at Fostering Success provide authors with ways to gain exposure and learn about book marketing. I help writers across the board and I don’t care how they are published.
The Aspiring Authors contests idea was born from the idea of helping children learn to love reading and writing. I engage kids with things they believe to be true: Writing can be boring. Reading can be boring. Then I work with them to figure out how to change that—and then I give them a challenge to write a short story. It’s fun and every child who completes the project receives a certificate.
Another thing you do to pay-it-forward is mentoring new writers. How has mentoring other authors been a rewarding experience for you? What are its challenges, beyond the most obvious one of just finding time?
Paying-it-forward is a way of life and it goes across the board for sharing information, not just mentoring. There’s nothing more exciting than watching an author hone their craft. The beautiful thing about being a writer is that we are never “done” learning. We can always be better writers. We can always learn to “show” better or enhance our voices through the page. We can deepen emotions and learn different ways to create settings. Helping authors take a step forward in their writing is rewarding because not only do they produce better books and therefore bring more enjoyable stories to readers, but hopefully they follow my request that they pay-it-forward, and they help another writer. It’s a great cycle of community and partnership.
Your website has reader’s guides for book clubs for four of your novels. How often do you get to interact with book clubs regarding your work? What’s one of the most interesting questions you’ve been asked about one of your books?
I interact on a weekly basis with book clubs. I have a conference set up with a division of the State Department at the end of the month. The division chose Have No Shame as their book for Black History Month. I consider all of the questions I’m asked to be interesting.
What do you see for the publishing industry going forward?
Who knows! My guess is that, as we’ve seen, traditional publishers will continue to try to pick up indies after they’ve sold millions, and indie authors will be smart enough to see that giving up control and income to say they’re traditionally published isn’t a smart way to go. However, I think traditional pubs and indies can work together to capitalize on the paperback market. Indies aren’t quick to give up ebook rights, but if we want bookstores to remain alive, then giving them MORE of the top sellers is a better angle than limiting the inventory—and let’s face it. Many top sellers are indie authors. Therefore, I’d love to see a joining of forces in that regard. My hope is that traditional publishers will start to make more paperback deals. I don’t see it happening any time soon, as they appear to want all (ebook and paperback) rights or nothing. It’s a shortsighted vision on their part. If you want to play in the sandbox, you have to compromise.
Do you have any new projects for us to be on the lookout for?
Always! My third sub series in the Love in Bloom (Snow Sisters, The Bradens, and The Remingtons) series, The Remingtons, are releasing through mid May. One book will release every three weeks. Game of Love, book one, released February 17, and Stroke of Love is releasing March 11. I’m working on my next Braden series (yay! More Bradens!). Six hot, wealthy, and wickedly naughty cousins will join the Love in Bloom series this summer.
Thanks so much for the interview, Melissa!
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.