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.
K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.
As an author of historical and speculative fiction, can you tell us a little about your research process for writing? How much of your novels are based on historical detail, how much on fiction? What helps you best to zero in on an interesting topic before you begin to work your fiction magic?
My research methods are usually similar for both historical and speculative stories. I start out with a historical setting in mind, gather as many books as I can find on the subject, and start reading. Most of the time, I’ll dedicate about three months to research, before beginning the first draft.
I don’t so much choose topics as I am chosen by them. Most of my ideas start out with an image in my mind—I see a character and I see a setting, and I try to figure out where they’re at. Sometimes I may decide the story requires me to take too much liberty with actual events, and so I’ll start working on alternative fantasy worlds. With other ideas, I find I need the grounded feel of realism found in real-life historical settings.
What inspires you most about the historical fiction genre? How is writing in this arena more difficult than in another?
I love history. I love the foreignness and the familiarity of different times and places, so debuting as a historical novelist was a natural first step. There’s an epicness about history, which is ironic, since, at the time, it was just day-to-day life, same as ours. But the weight of hindsight lends a sense of destiny to most historical events. Plus, the clothes! I love historical clothing, furniture, vehicles, you name it. It’s always a delight to explore lifestyles that differ from my own.
But those same details are also what makes historical fiction challenging. It can be difficult to dig up all the little facts needed to create a sense of verisimilitude about this foreign time and place—and if you get one wrong, you can bet some intelligent reader out there is going to call you on it.
Can you tell us more what speculative fiction is and why you chose to write it?
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for science fiction and fantasy—basically any type of story that includes supernatural or hypothetical elements. As much as I love historical fiction, I also love the flexibility that speculative fiction offers. Fantasy lets me start with a historical setting and then bend the rules. It frees me from the sometimes stifling and stressful constraints of getting all those details exactly right.
You have done a lot of fun giveaways on your website, from free downloads of your books to a Kindle Fire. How have giveaways impacted your followers? What’s your strategy in doing these kinds of contests?
I love giveaways! And I think I can safely say so do my followers. Most of my big giveaways are done as promos for book launches, and they’ve proven successful in drawing attention to the books and boosting their sales, particularly on Amazon. There’s also always a spike in blog traffic and followers and social media interaction.
It’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve in any giveaway. Site traffic? Book sales? More followers? Ideally, you can accomplish a little of everything. But I always design contests to funnel participation toward my primary goal. I often use a “point” system, in which participants can earn more entries by doing various things, including posting about the contest on Facebook and Twitter.
What are some of your tips for new writers looking to market themselves? How many hours a week do you spend on the marketing piece versus writing?
It’s hard to calculate how many hours a week I spend marketing, since it’s such an ongoing thing, especially with social media. My mornings are devoted to email and social media, along with other odds and ends. I then try to divide my afternoons in half, with two hours being strictly devoted to writing and the other two focusing on whatever other big project I have going on (right now, I’m reviewing the audio book files for Outlining Your Novel).
Except when writing, I leave my email open, so I can respond to emails and social media comments quickly. I believe the interactivity with followers is particularly important.
Marketing can be overwhelming, so I suggest writers start small. Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s book The Frugal Book Promoter is a great primer. Figure out a handful of things you can do now, then slowly start adding to them.
You have a well written website that is wonderfully designed, graphically appealing, and really draws a reader in. How important is it for an author to maintain a website? Blog? Social Media presence?
Thank you! I believe an Internet presence is vital to any author whose sales aren’t self-sustaining (and most of us will never reach that point). A static website is a good place to start, but to build a devoted following that keeps returning, we have to put in the time and effort to consistently produce new material. A blog is always going to give you more bang for your buck than a static site. And social media is the single best way to draw new readers to the material—and keep drawing them.
In your upcoming Jane Eyre: The Classic Annotated for Readers and Writers, can you tell us a little bit about what kinds of annotations readers will find? What made you choose Jane Eyre as a focus for this project?
I was actually approached by Writer’s Digest Books and asked if I’d like to participate in their new series of annotated classics. They’d already chosen Jane Eyre as the debut book in the series, so I wasn’t given a choice. But it was a great fit. I try to read one classic novel for every contemporary novel I read, and I’m a tremendous fan, particularly, of mid-19th century British literature.
This book was an awesome challenge. I think I can safely say I learned more in writing it than in any other book I’ve written. The annotations are varied, covering all aspects of writing, from character and dialogue to character arc and structure. When we read great novels, we’re always learning from them. But unless we’re actively studying and deconstructing them, as this annotated version does, it’s amazing how much we’re missing about what precisely it is that makes these eternal stories work so well.
Your blog, Helping Authors Become Writers, is frequently updated with many great tips for writers working on their novels. Where do you get some of your ideas for posts? How has running the blog been rewarding for you?
Blogging about writing has been an extremely rewarding experience for me. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that I’ve learned as much, if not more, from it than have any of my readers. They say, “Those who cannot do, teach,” but I don’t think that’s true at all. When you’re forced to distill thoughts into a teachable form, you learn so much more from it yourself.
I keep a running list of blog article ideas, and in over six years, I’ve never run out. Many of my ideas are based on the lessons I’m learning in writing my own novels; other posts are subjects requested by readers.
Your writing guide, Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, is an extremely helpful tool for writers. Why do you think structure is an important part of the writing process?
I would go so far as to say that structure is the most important part of the writing process. As with any art form, structure is what brings order and cohesion to storytelling. Without it, we’re too often left with a rambling mess of wandering characters.
The great thing about structure is that it so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that it’s largely instinctive for writers. Most of us are, more or less, properly structuring our stories, even before we realize there is such a thing as structure. But the frustrating part is that, although we may instinctively understand when something is off, we can’t always consciously recognize the problem—much less how to fix it.
That’s where a conscious knowledge of structure allows us to look at our stories, spot what’s gone wrong, and recognize what needs to change to make it right.
What is your writing process after you have finished the first draft of a novel? Do you use outside editors? Cover designers? Marketing assistants?
I use several rounds of critique partners/beta readers (about ten in all), before sending the book on to my editor Cathi-Lyn Dyck. The editing process usually takes me several years before I’m ready to move forward toward publication. I hire professionals to do the cover work, typesetting, and e-book formatting.
Do you have any upcoming events or projects coming up that we can keep an eye out for?
The next big event on the calendar will be the release of Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic on July 24th. I’m hoping to release an audio version of Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success soon, but I don’t have a solid date for that. And I’m also hoping to produce some workbooks for Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel sometime this year. My next novel Storming is scheduled for release in 2015.
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