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Authors Jesi Lea Ryan and L.C. Rosen join us for a round of question and answers this week, giving us a peek at why they write, how they write and what some of their mistakes and successes have been.

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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 – Jesi Lea Ryan

Jeff: Jesi Lea Ryan, why do you write?

Jesi: I write because I’m an obsessive daydreamer and I have like a really strong imagination. And when I’m not writing, I am still sort of writing in my head, I kind of have like an active fantasy life in different ways and so writing is my way of bringing daydreams to the table, I guess. It’s stuff that I would probably be thinking about anyway but I’m actually being productive about it.

Jeff: It’s a great way to feel productive about the daydreams.

Jesi: Yeah.

Jeff: And how do you write? We’ll start that off with like are you a plotter or a pantser or something in between?

Jesi: I am a notorious pantser. The thought of having to make an outline just, ugh, that’s like me. And when I start stories, I start with character, so I come up with my basic characters like these are my two characters and this is, you know, love interest one and love interest two and I figure them all out. And then I’m also kind of visual, so I always cast my stories, so I always get photos of like actors or whatever and I cast them so that I can visualize them and it helps me like, if I get stuck on something, I can pull up the pictures and like think about what that person would do. So I usually have like the basic premise, I usually have like the first two or three chapters in my head when I get started and then from there I just sorta let it flow. And then I get to a point where I don’t know where I’m going and I hate myself and then I have to like step away and think about it and come back.

Jeff: What about from a technology point of view, Scrivener or Word, or something else?

Jesi: I am a Word person. I bought Scrivener but didn’t take the time to, like, play with it or whatever. So I always have like a book Bible that’s an Excel document and I put all, like, the main character things, like their height, their weight, what kind of car they drive, their schooling, their relatives. I kind of like do sort of a character sheet on my main characters and I’ll do a little bit of that on some of the side characters too so that I can keep…and I keep, you know, track of like what I’m naming people and what their eye color is. And then I put my photos on there on like a board, so I use Excel for that. I like the way it does everything I need it to do, and I’m good with Word so I don’t see a reason to, like, mess that up.

Jeff: Have you ever tried the dictation path?

Jesi: I did. I have Dragon, it doesn’t work for me when I’m sitting there looking at the screen because when I see the…I’m also an edit-as-I-go kind of person, which I know a lot of people that doesn’t work for, but I’m an edit-as-I-go. So when I see all these messed up words and stuff, I want to fix them, and it kind of slows the whole process down for me to use dictation. But one thing that I’ve been considering doing once we’re back going to work outside the home, I have a monster commute every day and my commute is like 90 minutes each way to work. Yeah, it’s huge. So one I am practicing with is dictation in the car when I’m driving, which for me works because I’m very ADD about things. I’m good with multitasking so I can write and drive at the same time, so that’s something that I want to start doing once I’m back at work because I think because I won’t be able to see my screen, I think it’ll make the dictation go better for me.

Jeff: Do you have a favorite time and place to write?

Jesi: I generally write in my office, I generally write here but I find that coffee shops and public places work really well for me also. I think it might be an ADD thing but I need distraction so I always have, like, headphones on listening to music because it helps me focus. If it’s too quiet, I can’t deal. So yeah, for me, high distraction really works, I don’t know why.

Jeff: Now, currently, you are not a full-time author, is that something you want to get to?

Jesi: You know, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a full-time author? I, of course, would love to like make it big and make a lot of money and be able to support myself but I kind of am not willing to go that route yet at least. I have a really good career in my day job and it’s very successful and I’m very good at it and it gives me an outlet to a side of me that writing doesn’t fulfill. So I kind of don’t want to give that up, at least not yet. And frankly, money is an issue, you know, I am not somebody who’s very secure about the writing income being steady.

I know way too many people who are doing so good at their writing and then Amazon changes something in their algorithm and they notice their income go down, you know, by a third or whatever, and to me, that is way too much pressure. And I don’t want the joy sucked out of writing for me. So I feel like if I was writing full time, I would be under a ton of pressure to, like, produce…like Nora Roberts writes a book every six weeks, you know, I don’t think that every author can or should do that and I’m definitely not one of those. So at this point, I’m really happy just having this as my second job and right where I want to be now.

Jeff: Which is perfect. I mean, you can’t really ask for more than to be where you want to be.

Jesi: Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of pressure on writers to make a ton of money and to, you know, produce all this. And you see these people who are like, “I wrote 20,000 words today,” and you’re like, oh, sitting there with your 500 and berating yourself. I don’t choose to do that. And I feel like sometimes writers need to give themselves permission to prioritize quality over quantity, and I feel pretty good about that.

Jeff: What’s something of a mistake that you’ve made in your author journey that you’ve learned a lot from?

Jesi: Okay. So the first book that I ever wrote was a pet romance and I published it through a small press, I was so excited that this small press wanted to publish my first book that I ever wrote, which by the way, most people should not publish their first book they ever write, it’s usually crap. And they took my story and like pretty much every horrible publishing experience happened all on that book. They didn’t post it, what they ended up doing is they released it on All Romance. Remember that All Romance books a few years ago?

So they put it on there and then they didn’t put it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for like a year. So it’s like I have this book that nobody is buying because it’s gone, you know, and I had done all this promotion around it. Like, I put together a marketing plan and everything and like all of that was like, it went nowhere. So like it was just a pretty horrible experience all around and I decided at that point that I was going to self-publish because if I wasn’t gonna get anything from a publisher, I was gonna do it myself.

And I have a business background, I have an MBA, and for me, self-publishing was perfect because I had control over everything, I knew how to market things, I knew how to pick good cover, and I knew where to invest my money to get the best bang for my buck. So like my “Arcadia” series, this is my young adult series and that was all self-published and I did really well with it, that’s so great. When I came to write my first male-male romance, I felt because I was switching genres, I really wanted a publisher behind me and a publisher who knew the market better than me and so I ended up publishing through Riptide and that’s been a great experience. So I thought the editing was a wonderful editing job they did. So I’m pretty happy with that. But my biggest mistake was just going with a small press that said all the right things and just didn’t have any follow-through.

Jeff: At least you got that out of the way early.

Jesi: Yeah. I mean, it was the first book, if I’m gonna fail, it’s gonna be on that first book and that’s fine. And then I also discovered that I didn’t really like writing stuff that didn’t have paranormal in it, so that kind of like it’s a throwaway.

Jeff: What’s something on the flip side that you think you’ve done really well?

Jesi: I think after that experience, I really studied the market well. I learned the craft and not just the craft of writing, I sort of feel like I read so much and I have a college degree in writing that the craft of writing was there for me. For me, I needed to learn publishing, so I went out and read everything I could. I started self-publishing in 2010, I think, and I read everything that Mark Coker from Smashwords put out. I don’t know if you remember how detailed his books and stuff were. I read all of his stuff, I got really into reading blogs by other authors and their experiences.

And I feel like I did a lot of legwork and took a lot of time to educate myself to learn who the major players are to be able to position myself next to those players. I always invested heavily in cover art so that my stuff looked professional. I invested in good editing and formatting, so I think the best thing I did was really take that time to educate myself on the market. I think one of the mistakes that a lot of writers make is they write a book but then they don’t know what to do with an after that point. And that’s okay if you’ve got a really strong, like, agent-editor team who’s gonna prop you up and publish it and stuff like that. But that’s not really the way the world works these days, the publishing world, even if you go with a good publisher, you have to understand marketing, you have to understand this stuff. So I think it really pays off benefits to do your homework.

Jeff: What’s a piece of advice you would give to someone just starting?

Jesi: Take a business class or two even if it’s at a community college for zero credit, learn how to manage your money and your accounts, understand how marketing works and distribution, and that kind of stuff. So I think just some basic business classes are important and, you know, like a lot of writing types like me, I didn’t take a lot of, like, math and things like that in school, like in my undergrad and stuff like that. So I didn’t have any business courses in my undergrad, it was only when I went to grad school that I got that foundation but that’s been just invaluable to me and so that’s what I recommend, take some business classes.

Interview Transcript – L.C. Rosen

Jeff: Lev Rosen, why do you write?

Lev: Why do I write? I mean, it’s not even about why. It’s like, how do you not? And I know there are a lot of people who can like tell that one story but I have so many ideas for stories and to not somehow try to make those happen, it would just throw me into a pit of despair. So I write to not be thrown into a pit of despair but also writing sometimes throws me into a pit of despair, so nothing really works, it’s always despair.

Jeff: Hopefully at least when you’re writing, you’re climbing out of the pit of despair relatively quickly?

Lev: Yeah, that’s a better way to say it, writing is the act of climbing out of this pit of despair.

Jeff: There you go. Let’s talk a little bit about how you write, are you a plotter, a discovery writer, or something in between?

Lev: Discovery writer? What a fancy term, I’ve never heard that one, plotter or a pantser is all I’ve ever heard. So what I like to do is I like to map at least a few chapters ahead. So it’s funny, I’m not a math person, but I very much think of books as equations and scenes as like little sort of numbers that you have to put in. So it’s like this information has to come out in this scene and when I get there, I can write it, but I try to map out what information and what actions need to happen four or five scenes ahead.

And I’m also someone who I don’t sit down to write until I know what the character wants and generally what the climax is gonna look like. Not specifically, I don’t have the whole thing mapped out in my head because then it becomes very difficult for me to finish but I know what that character wants, what they’re aiming for, and sort of where they’ll be, let’s say, when they get it. And from there, I just sort of map out a few chapters ahead in terms of what needs to happen and sometimes then as I’m writing and following that things will veer off course and they will go in surprising directions.

But generally, I do end up where I thought I was gonna end up just maybe not the character doesn’t always end up the way I thought they were gonna end up if that makes sense. But sometimes also, you know, if I’m writing on spec, I have to submit the entire outline. So I’ve gotten better at just full-on outlining. But in my ideal world, here I can show you, this is how I write, I have these little yellow notepads and it’s just checklists of scenes. I’m a big checklist guy, I love a checklist.

Jeff: Let’s talk technology a little bit, Scrivener, Word, Google Docs?

Lev: Word, I like Word, you know, stick with the classics but also it was the only thing that people, sort of, accepted when I started out in the business and people still accept it and I haven’t felt any particular need to change, so it works fine for me. And what I really like about it is I love creating a title page for a book. I download a free font that feels right, I find images and I just create a really nice cover page, title page, that sort of gets…so when I open that document, it immediately puts me in the headspace of what the mood of the book is.

Jeff: That’s cool. Have you tried dictation out yet?

Lev: No, I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid of…like, I feel like it would be amazing if it worked, but I talk very quickly and my consonants are not always crisp. So, you know, I know enough from directing theater in college to know that if something is taking dictation from me, it’s not always gonna look right. And my brain moves so quickly and my mouth moves so quickly that I’m afraid I would have like 20 pages and then I’d go back and, like, look at it for errors and I’d be like, I have no idea what that is supposed to be, I have no idea what I said there.

Jeff: Yeah, I’ve had that problem myself sometimes with dictation, like what?

Lev: Yeah, no, that’d be my big fear. But if you know a really good dictation software, please let me know and I will find a test run of it and I’ll see if it understands me without my consonants.

Jeff: Is there a particular time and place that you tend to write?

Lev: I am good first thing in the morning, “morning,” when I wake up and I write for a while and then usually I will work out, shower, and then spend some time editing or doing other paperwork or figuring stuff out, plotting. And then I’m really good after my husband comes home and we have dinner and he goes to sleep, I get a lot of writing done, like, you know, 1 in the morning, normal stuff.

Jeff: So you are a full-time author and you, as we talked about a little bit, also teach creative writing on the side. How did you kind of get to that spot where you can embrace that writer/teacher life?

Lev: It’s very compartmentalized. Like I say, I’m like I’m a full-time writer with a part-time job. And the teaching, I teach creative writing, so it’s related and I think it kind of keeps me on my game a little bit for the writing, keeps my editing skills sharp, but I also do book doctoring and stuff like that independently. But when I’m teaching, I always compartmentalize it by making it one day, usually Monday because then it’s like three compartments, it becomes like weekend, day of teaching, and that’s the day I read all my students’ work, I read pennant, I write them letters, I go teach, that is everything in one day, and then Tuesday through Friday is writing day, and I keep it very cataloged like that and that’s how I keep focused generally.

Jeff: Everybody makes a mistake or two in their writing career, what’s something that you learned a lot from?

Lev: You know, I think what I’ve learned over the years is to be…oh, my agent won’t like this, is to be more aggressive in what I want and just like more upfront about…you know, there’s this idea, and I had it very early on that, you know, that as a writer, I worked for my publisher like I should be ever so grateful, they’ve given me this opportunity and they are the boss, no. That is the thing that I feel like I have learned over the years is that it’s a partnership and they have to take me as seriously as I take them. And it’s not…like, as much as it is a pleasure and an honor for someone to want to publish your book, it is also a pleasure and honor for them, for you to want to let them publish your book, it is not a one-way street, it is absolutely about a partnership.

And as a writer, you have to be vocal in what you want and what your vision is for the book instead of letting someone else, sort of, tell you what the book is, you have to figure out your own talking points, you have to figure out who this book is for, how it’s gonna be marketed. And you have to go to them and be like, “This is what I want.” And they won’t always listen to you because they have their own ideas and those ideas, you know, might be wrong but they might be right too. I’ve been wrong, whatever, but you have to go to them because they have to hear what you’re thinking to do the best that they can do and you have to hear what they’re thinking to do the best that you can do. And I think that that’s really important, this idea that it’s a real partnership and it’s not just you, sort of, obeying them.

Jeff: And I think that’s true for indie publishers too, you can’t let your editor totally dictate, you can’t let your publicist, anybody who’s working on your marketing team or is beta reading for you, it’s definitely partnerships across the spectrum that you’re working with.

Lev: Yeah, and that’s why, you know, choose your editor carefully, right? That’s something I was…like, I’m so lucky in that I have had some amazing editors like all through my career. I’ve had just a staff…like, I’m truly lucky in that regard. But as I’ve gotten better at this, and as I’ve gotten more like, “We got to work together on this,” they’ve been very, sort of, receptive but I feel like if they weren’t receptive, that would have been a horrifying experience to me. And that’s why I think it’s important to, sort of, talk to this potential editor beforehand and be like, “So how do we work together? How is this something we do together? How do I work with a publicist? Like, where do we come together on these things? How are we a team,” as opposed to just being like, “Yes, editor, I’ll do whatever you say?” It really is about you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you when you talk to them essentially.

Jeff: What’s something you think you’ve done really well in your career?

Lev: Oh, nothing. I’m good at ranting, does that count? I feel like, you know, I don’t know if I’ve done it, I like to think I’ve written some good books but, you know, not every book is for every person and good is subjective. I like to think that I have written books that would…especially my YA, I’ve written books that I would have loved to read, I have done that well, and that’s all I really wanted to do, that’s all I really wanted to do to begin with and I love being able to do more than that.

But to me, that’s the most important core thing is that these are books that I, had I not written them, I would love. And obviously, having written them, I have a more complicated relationship with all of them but I know in my heart of hearts that if someone had just handed me any of my books at the appropriate age, at the appropriate time, I would have been like, “What a fantastic book,” and I’ve done that and that’s what I’m really proud of.

Jeff: Cool. What’s a piece of advice you would have for someone just starting out?

Lev: Just starting out, learn to take critique. Like, it’s not just as a professional, sort of, like you’re gonna need to learn to take critique from…Like, critique is something you should be addicted to and that doesn’t mean you should take all the critique and do everything everyone says, being good at critique is also about parsing what’s really good out of what other people say, but learning to love the taking of critique is going to serve you in every aspect of this career. Workshopping with friends, talking to an editor, talking to an agent, talking to publicists, all of this has to be about getting better. And if you don’t want to get better, or if when people are trying to help you get better, you get really defensive, you are not going to be turning into the best version of yourself as a writer. So learn to love critique, that’s the best piece of advice I can give you.