Self-declared ‘creative nerd girl’ Jennifer Wilson was formally trained in design but five years ago began dabbling with writing down ideas that had been bouncing around in her head for years. She had always loved the idea of writing but was a painfully slow reader and struggled with spelling. It wasn't until her twenties that she decided to put pen to paper. She is now the author of the New World series, a dystopian YA tale. We chat to her about being your own biggest advocate, finding the right agency for you and the value of networking.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
Born in Illinois, I migrated westward in my early twenties planting new roots in Colorado where I now happily reside with my supportive husband and our furry sidekick, Duke. I currently have two books published, with the final in the New World Series coming out later this year, and three half-written books sitting on back burners. Currently, all of my books are YA, but there is a possibility I may experiment in Adult Fiction in the near future. In short, I am a designer, writer, coffee addict, obsessive reader, and a master juggler of life, but alas there never seems to be enough time in the day to do it all.
What made you want to be a writer? How did you begin writing?
I have always loved the idea of writing, but never thought it was something I could do. I was a terrible speller, a painfully slow reader and had some issues with dyslexia. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I stopped saying “I can’t” and started doing it. I have been writing with fervent passion ever since. Sometimes we are the biggest thing holding ourselves back.
What inspires you to write?
Since childhood, I have had a bit of an overactive imagination. My mind tends to wander and being a very visual person, I generally get these flashes of scenes—a girl on a rooftop, an action-packed fight sequence or an impassioned kiss. From there, my mind melds around these moments and a basic plot begins to develop. As the plot matures, so do my characters. Also, listening to music definitely helps fuel my creative fire.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
If you choose to self-publish, make it the best version of your book you possibly can. Put together a Beta Group to help with spelling, grammar and storyline. (Friends and family are great, plus they will usually do it for a pizza and wine night.) Hire an editor, cover designer and format the interior of your book. These little things will go a long way. Many of my initial fans read the books strictly based on the cover design, remember that first impression is SO important.
Don’t quit your day job! Most authors work other jobs to pay the bills while they are waiting for their books to take off. Generally, first-time authors don’t become popular overnight. It can take years after they are first published for their books to become popular.
Lastly, you should always be your biggest advocate. Talk about your books, believe in yourself and put yourself out there. Get to know your potential fans, introduce yourself to bloggers, and send out complimentary review copies (not every review will be positive but that’s okay too). If being an author is your dream, don’t take “no” for an answer. Sometimes that first spectacular “yes” needs to come from you.
Any advice for approaching publishers?
Be passionate, be organized and be patient. Make sure you research every publisher and agent you’re querying. Getting the right agent is way more important than having any agent. Only query agents and publishers who: represent your genre, have a positive name in the industry and who are currently accepting queries. It is also important to know many publishers won’t read your pitches if you’re not represented by an agent. Research each place you approach before you reach out. Anything else is a waste of your time. Most importantly, you should never, NEVER pay an agent or publisher to read your pitch. If they ask for cash, shut the door right there.
The process can be slow and frustrating, so brace yourself. It can take up to three months to hear back from a query. Some will send polite pass emails, some may ask for your full manuscript and some you many never hear back from. They are not being intentionally rude. Agents and publishers get thousands of queries a week, so answering each one is just not realistic. That said, this is why it is SO important your query letter stands out. Generally, you only get to send three small paragraphs, a short synopsis and the first two chapters of your book. (I can hear a few of you panicking from here.) If that is all you get to snag someone’s attention, spend the time to make sure it does.
What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge for new authors?
The biggest marketing challenge for new authors is getting their names out there. The book industry is slow-moving by nature. Most successful first books don’t usually hit their stride until almost two years after release. So, it is imperative that you network, both with fans and with other authors. If you are traditionally published, your agent and publisher will help, but a lot of networking still falls on you. If you are self-published, then put your marketing hat on, it’s going to be a full-time job.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
I would love to tell you there is one magic tool for marketing, but there’s not. It also depends greatly on your fan base. For example, YA fans are immersed in social media so your best tools are going to be Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The same cannot be said for Historical Fiction or Romance lovers. Knowing your audience will help you greatly with finding the most effective tools for your marketing plans.
That said, there are a few marketing ploys every author should know and do. Get on Goodreads and utilize their giveaways. Send out free review copies to potential fans, focus on those who have large social media followings, 10K or more. (Do note, this doesn’t guarantee a good review.) Apply for a BookBub deal- yes, it is pricey, but you will make the money back in sales. It is hard to get accepted for a deal, but those books that do generally hit the Bestsellers list. Lastly, have a website, a good one!
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
Don’t get discouraged. For that one spectacular “yes”, you might hear fifty “no’s”. And that’s okay! Sadly, the book industry is not always about great stories and fabulous writing—it is also about trends, monetary potential, what an agent is looking for to fill their quotas, and sometimes just plain ol’ bad timing. If someone turns you down, be sad for about five minutes, then pick yourself and move on to your next option. My first published series is a great example of that. I was turned down by many agents strictly because it was a YA dystopian. The industry was coming down off the Hunger Games/Divergent high and they wanted something new. Instead of getting discouraged, I chose to self-publish. Two years later a small publisher reached out to me to pick up my series. Since then sales have tripled and I hit a bestsellers list. Rejection doesn’t have to be a hard no, it just means you need to find a new path to make your dreams happen.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
Take all of your reviews in stride. Haters gonna hate, plain and simple. When writing a book, authors pour their heart and soul into it. So, a bad review always cuts deeply, no matter how hard you try not to let it. I firmly believe everyone has the right to his or her own opinions and should be able to speak freely, but unfortunately, there are often readers who confuse being honest with being cruel. Take each one with a grain of salt. The beautiful part of being human is that we are, indeed, entitled to our own opinions. So, I must respect that not everyone will like my work, that’s life! Never call out a reviewer (especially another author) if they give you a bad review. Sadly, I have seen this happen a few times. The writing community is a rather tight knit group and in the end, seeking revenge for a bad review makes you look like the petty one. It’s good to vent, but never do it in a public way. Your fans and fellow authors will respect you more for it.
You can find out more about Jennifer and her latest work via her website and social media channels: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The New Worlds Series is available for purchase from Amazon, Book Depository and Barnes and Noble.