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In this episode, authors Xio Axelrod, TM Smith and Davidson King do a round of questions and answers with us, offering insights into their individual author careers.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Interview Transcript – Xio Axelrod

Jeff: Xio Axelrod, why do you write?

Xio: I write so the voices in my head will shut up.

Jeff: I take it they’re loud.

Xio: They’re very loud. Yeah, yeah.

Jeff: And how do you write, plotter, pantser?

Xio: I would say pantser, but I let my characters and my world live inside my head for quite a long time before I start putting them down on paper usually. So, I’m sure that’s a lot of, like, plotting going on up there before I actually write the first words, so I’ll say a hybrid. We’ll go hybrid on that.

Jeff: All right. What about Word, Scrivener?

Xio: I use Word. I use Scrivener to arrange scenes. I don’t actually write in Scrivener. I tried it and it doesn’t work for me. I use Word and then transfer it out into Vellum for formatting and stuff like that. So, it’s a process.

Jeff: Vellum’s the best.

Xio: Vellum is awesome.

Jeff: I think we’ve talked about Vellum, like, 5 or 6 times on the short, you know, 30 weeks of this show because it is the most awesome thing ever.

Xio: It is. It is.

Jeff: So, you’re a full-time author. How did you get there?

Xio: I was really lucky. I think, when I came into the industry, I didn’t know anything and I knew that I didn’t know anything, so I spent about a year watching and learning and sitting at the feet of other people before I published anything. And so, by the time I published something, I had this network of people that were ready to support my work and it just, sort of, blossomed from there. So, writing what I love to write, getting my name out there, building my brand, you know, falling in love with my readers and all that stuff. Just building it organically. There was no, like, splash or anything. It was just an organic process. Yeah.

Jeff: That sounds like a lovely way to go, because I think we get so caught up in trying to make the splash as authors, especially debut authors. To be able to just let it come up organically sounds lovely.

Xio: Yeah, I was fortunate that way.

Jeff: Everybody has mistakes along the way. What’s something that you’ve learned from in yours that really stands out?

Xio: Don’t announce a series if you don’t know what that series is going to be. The first book I released was supposed to be standalone novela, but it was so well-received, I thought, “Yeah, I could write more. It’s gonna be a series now,” and so I bought covers for it and everything and I was saying, “Book 2 is coming,” and then could not get book 2 together to save my life. It just wouldn’t go where I wanted it to go, and I had readers saying, “I really can’t wait to read book 2,” and I still get emails about that book. But yeah, just not planning ahead well enough, but I was new and didn’t know any better.

Jeff: And I supposed never say never. You may figure that book 2 out down the road.

Xio: I may figure book 2 out. Yeah, yeah.

Jeff: On the flipside of that, what’s something that you’ve done really well?

Xio: I think establishing my voice and my brand early on helped a lot. People knew that I was a reverend. They knew that I had this pop culture center. They knew what to expect from me, you know, even before the first book came out. And now, you know, people will follow me on social media never having read anything that I’ve written, but they know my voice, and so, when they finally get a chance to read it, it’s, like, in the back of their mind, you know what I mean, “I’ve gotta get one of Xio’s books,” or, “I heard her speak,” or, “I saw her do this.” They get what it is that I’m offering, so I think I established that pretty early.

Jeff: And I think it goes well with your covers too because, I mean, the thing that drew me to you initially was the cover of “Frankie and Johnny.”

Xio: Oh, cool.

Jeff: Just that music vibe that that gave off, which I think, you know, extends over your work.

Xio: I sometimes do my covers first before I start writing a book. I think I had that image in my head. I bought the initial image of him with the headphones on and started slowly building that cover before I, like, you know, decided what I was gonna do with that book. I was just, like, “This could work for that. I’ll just play with this for a while.” And some books just have covers before they ever come into fruition.

Jeff: Yeah, I’ve heard that from other authors too. It’s, like, “That cover, I can write a story for that.”

Xio: Yeah. Exactly.

Jeff: “Boom, there it is.” What advice would you give for someone who’s just starting out?

Xio: Read. Read a lot. Read in the genre that you wanna write in. Read in other genres as well. I’m not a huge historical romance person, but I know that world building, you know, is really important in that genre and so I’ll read, sort of, romance to pick up some skills, some tips from that. But yeah, reading is fundamental, I think, for a writer. Not to be cliché, you know?

Interview Transcript – TM Smith

Jeff: TM Smith, why do you write?

TM: Because I love it. It’s a release of…instead of being considered crazy, all the voices in my head, I can take all that and put it on paper and tell these stories and make people happy.

Jeff: I like how condensed that is, that it comes down to just make people happy.

TM: I know, right? I think that I wrote, like, six sentences on the paper, but that’s the gist of it. You know, seriously, the voices in your head, you have to do something with them and it’s much cheaper than therapy and medication.

Jeff: And how do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What kinds of technology do you use? Do you have a common time and place for it? Tell us everything.

TM: I’ve heard people say that a lot, especially this last year, plotter, pantser? I’m not really sure which one I am, maybe a combination of both, because I will sit down and I will plot out a story, like, kind of where I want it to go and what these characters are presenting as in my head and then I will go and do research because, you know, where the story is set, the city, the state, restaurants they’re gonna eat at. Even if you only are gonna write one sentence in that book about this restaurant that they went to, you need to get that right, because if anybody reads that and it’s wrong, they’re gonna call you out on it. So, a huge research person.

And then, I just write on my laptop. I try to write chronologically as you’re gonna read it, but it doesn’t always work that way. I learned that very early on. When I was writing “Opposites,” my first book, I would write whatever chapter was in my head, and it was, like, “Okay, Chapter 1, Chapter 20, Chapter 9. ” And it was so chaotic and such a mess that from then on I started writing them in order as much as I could and that made the process so much easier.

As far as time, because I work full-time and I’ve got, like, kids and family and all this other crap going on, they don’t seem to understand that I just wanna sit here by myself and write, I only get to write on the weekends most of the time. Sometimes, I can sneak chapters in here and there during the week, but the bulk of mine is on the weekends. And I haven’t used any of the programs. I’ve heard…is it Srivener, is that one?

Jeff: Mm-hmm, Scrivener.

TM: Yes. Scrivener is one. I do have actually the Dragon software and headset. I’ve got it set up. I just haven’t used it. And I also have one of those little voice recorders that I can record again. I keep it in my purse, but I haven’t used it. I feel like if I ever do use one of them, then it will be easy to keep using it, but it’s just, I’ve gotta push myself for that first time.

Jeff: Makes sense. I’ve heard that, that it’s not just something you just dive into lightly, moving in that direction.

TM: It’s like, “What if it changes my process? What if it messes with the flow?”

Jeff: Yeah, of course. You just mentioned that you are working full-time, so you’re not a full-time author at this point. Do you want to be?

TM: Yes. I want to be.

Jeff: And what kind of steps are you taking to get there?

TM: Right now, what I’m doing is I’m paying things off. I want to be…well, I have to be actually, I have to be completely debt-free. So, the only bills I would have would be, like, groceries, gas, mortgage, you know, the basic bills. I don’t want any debt and I have to have a certain amount of money in the bank before I can just outright quit my job. Just in case it goes awry, I have this money and then I can go back out there and work. But that is my goal, within the next year, I do want to be writing full-time.

Jeff: Fantastic. Of course, everybody makes a mistake in their business from time to time. What’s something in your author journey that you’ve really learned a lot from?

TM: Not commenting on negative reviews. That was a hard lesson to learn. Everybody’s gonna get them. And I’ve honestly gotten some of the best feedback from two and three-star reviews. So, I would stress those two words, negative and feedback. If you did not like my book and this is specifically why, this is what rubbed you wrong, this wasn’t believable, whatever, and you want to put that in there, that’s fine. I’ve had several of those and learned, and actually, I think, gotten better learning from that experience. But then, there’s those crazy ones out there that leave these ridiculous reviews, you know?

So, several years ago, I was still getting my feet wet, learning, you know, what to do and what not to do and I commented on one of those negative reviews and I now call it engaging the crazy. Never engage the crazy. Because I’m literally blacklisted from a blog, and my comment wasn’t nasty at all. I can’t remember exactly what it was. There was something that she didn’t like about the character and the way that she wrote it in her review was like a bully on the schoolyard, you know? So, my comment was basically asking her to clean that up, something along with, “What exactly was it that you did not like?” Oh my God, that was a shitstorm.

So, that would be the thing that I’ve learned the most from, is, you know, you have to take it like water off a duck’s back. You’re not gonna be able to please everybody. Just read it, learn from it, move on, and if you are a very soft person, just don’t ever go to Goodreads. Don’t do it. Amazon…

Jeff: That might be a good recommendation no matter what your disposition is. Just don’t go there.

TM: This is true. I mean, Amazon, they’re a pain in the ass and, you know, removing these bloggers’ reviews and all this stuff that they’ve been doing, I don’t agree with, but one thing I do agree with, if there is any type of cursing, hate speech, name-calling, anything like that in your review, they wanna prove it, so that is one thing that they do that’s right, that’s good. Yeah.

Jeff: On the flipside, what’s something you think you’ve done really well over the years?

TM: It was taking the review, taking reviewers’ words and putting it back into the story, into the books. Taking their critique and using it positively. Yeah.

Jeff: And what’s a piece of advice you would have for someone who’s just starting out?

TM: Just make sure this is what you wanna do and understand that it’s not gonna happen immediately. It’s not gonna happen overnight, maybe not in a year, maybe not in two years, but you’ve gotta stick with it. You’ve gotta be resilient. You just push forward. You have to have thick skin too. That goes in with, like, the negative reviews, but not just that. Sometimes, there are a few authors here and there who are also quite confrontational and can be rude and not kind and you have to be able to navigate as well, because if you handle that the wrong way, then that can turn around and backfire on you. You have to be careful and this has to be what you want to do. You have to really want it, because if you don’t really want it, you’re not gonna succeed.

Interview Transcript – Davidson King

Jeff: Davidson King, why do you write?

Davidson: I write because it feels almost necessary at this point in my life. I’m a mom of three kids. You know, one of them’s autistic. As I said, he’s the oldest, so I was a stay-at-home mom. And, you know, it just, kind of…I needed to find something to do. I had the blog and, you know, when I started writing, it just…I have a job, so I have something for just me. So, I write because it helps me, you know? And I always say, like, “Even if nobody bought my books, I’m still doing it and it makes me feel good.”

Jeff: That’s awesome. It’s good that it makes you feel good.

Davidson: It does. It makes me feel good.

Jeff: Let’s talk about how you write a little bit and we’ll start that off with, are you a plotter or a pantser or something in between?

Davidson: I’m a plantser. What that is, is I have notebooks for each one of my books and a large, large one for series and what I do is I bullet-point. I basically say that, “These are…like, chapter 1, deal with this, this, and this.” But I will not…one of my biggest fears is writing myself into a corner, so I always, kind of, just lightly outline and just, kind of, see where it goes and that’s never steered me wrong yet, so that’s how I’m gonna stick with it.

Jeff: That’s good. You’ve got a process and it works.

Davidson: Yes.

Jeff: Most important thing. From a technology standpoint, Scrivener, Word, Google Docs?

Davidson: I’m probably, like, 90 because I only like Word Doc. And I just recently, kind of, found out about how to get it onto the cloud, which my husband, who’s an IT director for a university, like, cringed when he found out I wasn’t saving it on anything else but my Word.

Jeff: Oh, dear, yeah. That’s dangerous.

Davidson: He’s, like, “What’s wrong with you?” I’m, like, “I don’t know.” So, because of him, it all, kind of, connects itself and I don’t know more than that. I’m, like, if it’s broken, I hand it to him, I go, “It’s not working,” and he fixes it.

Jeff: Have you tried dictation at all?

Davidson: I did and it didn’t work very well for me. I didn’t realize you had to say things, like, “End sentence,” or things like that and I’d have, like, a run-on sentence that was, like, 225 words.

Jeff: Yikes.

Davidson: Yeah. It just ended up taking more time for me. I’m quicker when I type.

Jeff: Is there a particular time of day and a place where you, you know, settle into to do the writing?

Davidson: So, BP, before pandemic, it was 9 to 1. My kids would go to school and I would write from the second they left and I’d stop at 1, have lunch and my son would come home. Monday through Friday, it was perfect. Now, it’s usually whenever I can, but because they’re older, they have been really, really good. They sleep until, like, noon, so I can actually write from 6 to about 12 now and then they get up. So, I don’t even wake them. I’m, like, “You know what, just let ’em sleep. They’re sleeping. I can work.”

Jeff: So, you are a full-time author. How did you get into that spot?

Davidson: Probably not so typical because I could never find a job after…So, with my son being autistic and I was home all the time, I couldn’t get a job because I would always have to tell them, “I have to be able to go with the drop of a hat for my son,” and no one wanted to hire me. So, I worked a bunch of overnight jobs in truck stops and it just wasn’t working. So, because my husband would be home and I would go out and work, we’d never see each other. And then, finally, it just came to the point where my son got real bad and I had to be home all the time. So, my husband works, so, like I said, with my first book, my friends, everyone, kind of, invested in it, and I’m a full-time author basically because I have a husband who has a full-time job with salary. So, I mean, if he didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be a full-time author. I would probably be doing another job also.

Jeff: It’s great that you get to be the full-time author though.

Davidson: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jeff: You certainly got two full-time jobs there between stay-at-home mom and being an author.

Davidson: Yeah. So, I always say, “I’m a full-time author with exceptions.”

Jeff: Everybody has a mistake or two or more potentially in their author journey. What’s one in particular that you learned a lot from?

Davidson: I learned even if you’re sick of reading your story the, like, 11 billionth time, before you publish it, you have to. I didn’t do that when I first started because I was stupid and trusted. And I think I was just so tired of reading, I’m like, “No, it’s fine, it’s fine,” and then I had to go back and, like, reload because there was…you know, human beings are human beings, but, you know, you catch things. And I would always tell, “Editors are great, proofreaders are great, betas are wonderful, everyone’s fabulous, but you have to be the last set of eyes on that book before it goes out into the world.” Absolutely.

Jeff: On the flipside of that, what’s something you think you did really well?

Davidson: I think, to this day, and I say “I think,” I took my time. When I wrote my first book, I didn’t say anything to anybody about, but I also became familiar with the MM world with my blog. I always joke around when I say, “I did, like, five years of college before I wrote a book,” because that’s what it, kind of, felt like running the blog, learning about promotion companies, publishing companies, authors, editors, cover artists. I spent five years, kind of, learning how it all worked in this community, so when I was able to release it, I knew who to contact who would know how to get it out there. So, I tell people, you know, writing a book, that’s awesome, but familiarize yourself with this particular…with the MM world. It’s not the MF world. It’s totally different.

Jeff: Do you have one piece of advice for someone just starting out?

Davidson: Yeah. Don’t skimp on an editor. Grammarly is not an editor. Please, for the love of God, break open the piggy bank because, and I know that it hurts your soul just a little bit when you’re paying that bill, it’s so wildly important. The first thing people will attack you on is your editing, and bad editing will make a person stop reading the book altogether. It just will.