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Tag: author spotlight

Interview with Author Ellen Mansoor Collier

Red_Flappers_ebook cover_FINAL 11-28-2015 (4) copyRed_Flappers_ebook cover_FINAL 11-28-2015 (4) copy Indie AuthorsI am pleased to have Ellen Mansoor Collier join us here at Nothing Any Good. Ellen is the author of Jazz Age mystery series that has been called Boardwalk Empire meets Downton Abbey. The fourth book in the series—Vamps, Villains, and Vaudeville—was released last summer.  Welcome Ellen!

Happy to be here—so flattered!

 

You enjoy alliteration in each of your book titles. How did that come about?

FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY just popped into my head—the title says it all.  Obviously I like alliteration and wanted a memorable “hook” to separate my books from the crowded field of mysteries. Now when I try to come up with ideas, starting with a letter or a theme often helps—but I’ve also locked myself into a set pattern. Fun to brainstorm with friends and family—they’re always throwing out crazy ideas for stories.

I call my novels soft-boiled since I write about real-life gangsters, but they’re not gory or violent, and they include many cozy elements as well: an amateur sleuth, a small-town setting and some romance, no sex or profanity. I’d rate my novels as PG at most—at my signings, everyone from tweens to grandmothers buy my books.

 

Your writing career started as a magazine writer and journalist, with pieces published in a number of magazines, including Biography, Family Circle, Cosmopolitan, Modern Bride, and Playgirl. In your writing career you have had the opportunity to profile a number of well-known celebrities (e.g. Suze Orman and Nancy Brinker). I myself love profile pieces that expose a little tidbit about what makes that person tick. What was the most fascinating profile piece you’ve done?

After college, I first worked as a magazine editor and in public relations for an advertising agency. Later I wrote corporate communications for local companies—I even traveled to Washington D.C. and worked with a former LIFE photographer—which was great experience and pay, but I never got a by-line or any recognition for my work.

In my novels, I portray my heroine, Jasmine Cross, as a feisty society reporter who longs to cover real news and become an international correspondent like famed Victorian journalist Nellie Bly, but personally I don’t have the stomach for hard-boiled crime or war stories.

 

My advice for indies, young or old, is to identify the factors that make your books unique, then contact the stores that fit into those categories.

 

Since I didn’t have any NYC contacts, I began freelancing the hard way—old-school—sending in queries to national magazines and slowly built up my clips. I’ve interviewed everyone from garbage collectors for BFI to abused women and children to CEOs of national corporations.

For years, I freelanced for BIOGRAPHY, the magazine associated with the cable channel. I  suggested story ideas and profiles and got several assignments. Suze Orman was probably my favorite interview for BIOGRAPHY.  We talked for two hours over the phone, and she was so down-to-earth, warm and friendly. I felt as if I’d known her for years. She was quite candid and frank about her early struggles, very engaging, much like she is on TV.

If you ask the right questions in the right way, and treat an interview more like a conversation than a Q&A session, I’ve found people like to open up and talk about themselves.  I’m often amazed at what people will tell me, a complete stranger—I’ve had to keep some juicy secrets over the years!

 

Oh, do tell. Can you share just one juicy tidbit with us?

Answer   Wish I could but I’m sworn to secrecy. 😉

Too bad.

 

WritingYou and I have talked privately and I have read other pieces where you discuss what I would call non-traditional marketing strategies. You have found success marketing your books to luxury hotels and local souvenir shops. How did that come about? 

I found out the hard way that traditional bookstores are NOT interested in self-published books, unless you’re already famous. Hard to compete with thousands of books anyway, especially if you’re an unknown.  I’ve had bookshop managers compliment my books while shoving me out the door, figuratively speaking. Small book stores somehow feel that Amazon is driving them out of business, and the larger chains think indies are trying to sneak in the back way, without being “vetted.”

The fact that I’ve made my living as a professional journalist doesn’t matter to them. Sadly, they assume independent books mean low-quality or inferior writing and cover design. I’ve worked in publishing almost all my life—besides, my brother is an artist, my mother is a writer/editor. I thought, why not publish my books the way I want and retain creative control, plus all my rights?

To be honest, I wanted to see my books for sale on shelves in stores and various markets—not just online. So I tried alternative ways of marketing, and looked for area gift shops and outlets that also sold books.

Since my novels are about 1920s Galveston, I naturally approached shops and hotels in the area. First I started with small, independent business who were happy to accept my books on consignment. Sadly, the trouble with mom-and-pop stores is they often don’t have the budget or space to keep your books in stock and on display.  (Getting paid can be a tug-of-war, so now I require payment up-front.) Luckily the local bookstore often advertises regional books and sponsors book-signings for authors.

In Galveston, I noticed the luxury hotels on the Seawall sold lots of beachy items, but they didn’t have any novels for sale—so I left a couple of books with the retail manager. She told me to contact the corporate office, which I did, and dropped off my first two books a YEAR later. Long story short, I was too chicken to call them immediately but followed up after my fourth book—and got a call the same day from the regional merchandising manager! Turns out the retail manager read my first book and liked it so much, she wanted to start selling it in their hotel gift shops. The regional manager became interested later when he found out I had a whole series available. (Unfortunately he left the company soon after, so now I’m visiting more of their locations and leaving my book for their consideration. Fingers crossed!)

 

I love that every time I hear it. So innovative. What advice do you have for young indie writers trying to find a platform for their books?

My advice for indies, young or old, is to identify the factors that make your books unique: is it the setting, the theme, the characters, the storyline? Then contact the stores that fit into those categories. Most cozy mysteries seem to center around a hobby or activity—if your novels are about animals or food or fashion or sports or antiques, try pet shops, bakeries, restaurants, retail stores, sports shops or antique malls, etc. that cater to the clientele you’d like to reach. Is your book about a certain collectible or is it historical?  Perhaps a gift shop, museum or tea room or bed and breakfast may want to offer your books.  Find your niche and then broaden your scope. Once you get your foot in the door and word gets out, you can add bigger markets to your list. Better yet, try chains that reach a regional or national market.  Though I’m not shy, I’ll admit, it’s difficult to peddle your own books—but don’t give up.

 

Since I write about real-life gangsters and rival gangs, I had to be careful not to incriminate or accuse anyone of committing certain crimes, though I may imply that they were guilty.

 

A lot of research goes into you books. I’m sure your experience as a journalist has helped in your research. How do you balance researching your books—such as what Galveston, Texas, the setting of your books, was like during the Prohibition—with creating the fictional tale? Where do you draw the between the real and the story you are creating?

My journalism background proved to be both a help and a hindrance when writing fiction. I was so afraid to state something that may not be true, that it took forever to write and research my first book, FLAPPERS.  (My mother is a former World History teacher though, frankly, I had no interest in history in high school or college.)

I read everything I could about the area, its history and colorful past until I felt overwhelmed. At the Rosenberg Library, I even pulled out old city maps of Galveston, searching for old trolley stops and streets. Honestly, I put down FLAPPERS and didn’t work on the manuscript for years until I finally figured out that readers didn’t need a history lesson, they wanted to be entertained and informed.

So I had to let go of years of training and fact-checking and interviews and learn to “make stuff up” based on actual events, people and places. Though my verifiable information is historically accurate, my main characters and plot lines are fictitious. Plus I’m used to working on deadline and it’s difficult to keep on track without an editor waiting for your stories. (Now I have an editor friend who reads my chapters as I write—a big help!)

To research BATHING, BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS (about the original Miss Universe contest held in Galveston), I watched old 1920s videos showcasing the contestants during the parade: Dressed in over-the-top costumes, these poor gals stood up in the backs of cars holding onto flimsy straps while onlookers milled around the cars. Fascinating, not to mention dangerous.

Since I write about real-life gangsters and rival gangs, I had to be careful not to incriminate or accuse anyone of committing certain crimes, though I may imply that they were guilty. What’s more, many of the ancestors of the characters—from the Maceos to the Moody family—still live on the Island. In my preface, I state that my novels are “inspired by” actual events, partly as a disclaimer. Most criminal activity wasn’t reported in those days so I couldn’t verify those facts anyway—safer, and healthier, for everyone!

 

Yikes! You’re going to need a bodyguard pretty soon if your books keep selling well! 

Thank you for your time, Ellen. It has been a pleasure. If you have a question for Ellen, put it in the comments section below. 

 

Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.

 

Author Bio

Ellen Mansoor Collier is a freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles, essays and short stories have been published in a variety of national magazines. A flapper at heart, she loves the style and spirit of the Jazz Age, but couldn’t live in Houston, Texas without air-conditioning. She graduated with a degree in Magazine Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin. FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY is her first novel (2012), followed by the sequel, BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS (2013), GOLD DIGGERS, GAMBLERS AND GUNS (2014) and VAMPS, VILLAINS AND VAUDEVILLE (2015).

 

Book Links

FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY

BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS

GOLD DIGGERS, GAMBLERS AND GUNS

VAMPS, VILLAINS AND VAUDEVILLE

 

Interview with Marie Lavender

Indie WritingIt is my pleasure to be interviewing Marie Lavender as the very first Author Interview for Nothing Any Good. If you do not yet know her, you should get to know her. Marie is the best-selling author of Upon Your Return and in her over twenty years of writing, she has authored and published 22 books. She has won countless writing awards—too many to mention in this small space.

Marie is a tireless supporter of indie authors on her blogs and on social media. Probably most dear to me, Marie has been full of bubbling energy and excitement anytime I have had the pleasure to speak with her.

Marie, welcome to Nothing Any Good. Let’s start with the Author Interview softball. Tell us about how you started writing and what inspires you.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, around the age of nine, but it really began before that. As early as I can remember, stories played out in my head, and eventually they needed a place to go. It just became natural to write them all down once I could form a decent sentence. As the years went by, my work evolved and well, as you can see, it’s taken on a life of its own. With regards to what inspires me, I think life does. I draw inspiration from the events going on around me, from people I meet or already know, and then sometimes ideas seemingly spring out of nowhere, drawn up from what I call the jumble of my consciousness.

 

The life of a writer can be very lonely at times. Was there ever a time when you thought, “This isn’t worth it. It’s time to give it up?” 

It is lonely, I agree. It’s easy to get discouraged on a long, harrowing journey like ours. But, I never gave up. When I’d even start to approach the idea of letting it go, either because people outside didn’t understand my drive or tried to deter me from my goals, or simply because the road became disheartening now and then, a voice inside would tell me ‘no’. Simply ‘no’. I learned that with persistence and perseverance, I got my chance. Every time I received a rejection from a literary agent or publisher, I picked myself up again and sent the manuscript to another five places. Or I did a few revisions and sent it out again.

So you weren’t going to let other people tell you that you couldn’t do it.

Failure was, as they say, not an option and I was going to keep trying no matter how long it took. I can be incredibly stubborn. I had to prove to myself, more than anyone else, that I could do it. I think that’s part of why I tried self-publishing before. I wanted to dip my author toes in the water to see what it was like. And after a bit, it just became a fun experience. I could control a lot of the aspects that go into it. Still, I never gave up my other dream, getting published traditionally. And my work paid off when I received my first book contract from Solstice Publishing in 2012.

 

Failure was, as they say, not an option and I was going to keep trying no matter how long it took.

 

You’ve talked before about the fear you experienced as a new writer. I think fear is a natural response for anyone putting themselves out there and trying something new. Help other aspiring writers understand the ways in which that fear was debilitating to you in realizing your dream of publishing your first book, and how it was a powerful tool when you learned to use it to your advantage. How can they learn from your experiences with fear?

Indie authorFear is paralyzing, for sure. It took me nine years to write my first historical romance novel, not just because I had some problems with research and filling in the gaps in the book. I knew the plot through and through. I knew my characters. But, I think fear, fear of getting out there, of trying to get published, slowed me down a lot. Fear of failure. I remember buying a ‘Writer’s Market’ book every year. They were huge books, incredibly daunting for a novice. When I finally saw that my novel was done, I realized I could no longer put off the inevitable. I began to join writer’s groups to find critique partners. I majored in Creative Writing in college, so workshops were hardly a foreign concept to me. Suddenly, after receiving feedback for my work, it became so much more real. People were critiquing my work, the book that I wanted to see on shelves one day.

And when I knew the manuscript was edited to the best of my ability, I thankfully found some wonderful resources to help me navigate the crazy world of publishing. The big two I should mention are Query Tracker and Preditors & Editors. Query Tracker, which is free, by the way, not only helped me chart and keep track of the queries I sent to literary agents and publishers, it also assisted with finding the ones that fit my genre. I can’t stress enough that you must find an agent that “fits” you and your novel. Read up on the agent. Don’t be afraid of visiting their bio on the agency’s site. If they don’t like vampires or shifters, don’t bother that person with them. The same goes with publishers. Read the submissions guidelines carefully, and find out what they’re looking for. If you ignore simple instructions, you’ll just make an enemy in an already competitive industry. Now for the other tool. Preditors & Editors is a reputable site that I would hands-down recommend to a writer at any stage of his or her career, simply because you can do your homework on a publisher or agent, even a contest, in a rapid fashion and with little worry. Ever wondered if the publisher you’re submitting to was legitimate or at least had a good history? P&E will save you a lot of headaches. One thing to take into account is if you don’t see that publisher mentioned in their database, something is probably off or they are far too new to have gained any kind of status. I wouldn’t assume a place is trying to scam you, but you always want to be careful. If you can’t find the company listed and you’re still curious? When in doubt, contact the head of P&E and he will do his homework into the company and let you know his thoughts. I reached out to him once, and the guy was extremely helpful.

But, I digress. Although these tools can comfort you on the publishing journey, you still have to reach inside yourself and find a shred of courage to keep pushing forward. Fear can be debilitating, but it can also spur you to try something you might not have imagined. After my well over 30 rejections from literary agents, I began to get seriously discouraged, wondering if anyone would ever take my historical romance manuscript, Upon Your Return. Then one day I thought, “Hey, what if I don’t need an agent? I mean, not every writer has one.” So, I started doing research into publishers that didn’t require you to have an agent. I did receive one rejection from a publisher, but I kept pushing forward, with renewed energy. Something inside me was saying this was the right direction. And I kept submitting to different companies. Not too long after that, I received an email from Solstice, the one that would change my writing life forever. And the rest is, well, history, as they say.

 

As I mentioned in the intro, you really are a tireless supporter of indie authors. You have three writing blogs, one of which has over 18,000 followers. You have over 13,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve heard you say that you started your blogs in 2011 because you saw that aspiring authors needed help in their writing journeys, and there weren’t many outlets available at the time. What did you mean by that?

Thank you. It’s true that at the time, I couldn’t find many sources that were all that encouraging to writers in the beginning. Sure, I could find articles (writing tips) now and then, but none that reached out and simply said, “Hey, I know where you are at and I’ve totally been there. Let me show you what I did, and maybe that will help, or at the least encourage you to try something you haven’t.” One of my blogs, Writing in the Modern Age, was built on that premise. But, I wasn’t schooled in blogging, and I didn’t exactly know what direction to go. Once I got my contract from Solstice, I set about to making the blog a better place for writers. And after our first guest author in March of 2013, the blog just exploded forward. I have hosted not only author interviews and character interviews, but also allowed guest articles, poetry spotlights, reposted book reviews, service interviews (with resources for writers), mega book giveaways and our new feature, The Author’s Bookshelf. We have hundreds of new authors and writers visiting the blog as guests every year. The progress with Writing in the Modern Age inspired me to expand my other blogs as well. I also allow guests on the MLB blog and I Love Romance Blog.

 

After  well over 30 rejections from literary agents, I began to get seriously discouraged, wondering if anyone would ever take my manuscript. Then one day I received an email from Solstice, the one that would change my writing life forever. And the rest is, well, history.

 

It seems that blogs supporting indie authors have exploded in the last five years. This seems to coincide directly with the rise in prominence of ebooks. As an early influencer, how have you seen things change in the blogging world? What do you think is missing or needs to be improved to better support the indie author community?

I agree, things have changed quite a bit. There are more helpful articles for writers out there. There are a lot of guest blogs. There is a great “authors helping authors” trend going around right now. And that’s wonderful! We all need encouragement. As you mentioned before, it’s a pretty lonely road. The aim of my blog, Writing in the Modern Age, is to create a place for writers of any stage to come to for advice, and for readers to find new favorite authors.

As for what could be improved, I think more bloggers these days need to be open to accepting guest writers of “any stage”. And I mean that literally. I know some supposed experts believe that beginning writers have little to offer at that point, but I disagree. We all have journeys, backgrounds that we come from. We all have gained a kind of experience, just in different ways. We can learn from each other. If writers have something to say, then why not let them? I’ll always be grateful to Nicole Galloway, who, in 2012, let me come to her blog and talk a little about my journey thus far. This was only a month after I’d received my first book contract, so before that, I’d only ever self-published. Nicole has since closed her blog down, but you can still catch a copy of the article here on the MLB blog. Anyway, she still gave me the spotlight for the day, and you know what I learned?

That I could do it. Personally, I was always the fiction girl, and writing articles wasn’t a strength I’d ever list. I avoided majoring in Journalism for that reason. But, that day, I learned that blogging really wasn’t as hard as I had made it out to be. It was a good way to dip my feet in the blogging waters, and it opened up enormous opportunities for guest blog articles I wrote in the future. Suddenly, it wasn’t as scary as it seemed.

 

So, every writer has to start somewhere and you’re prepared to support writers at all stages of their career?

Yes. Every writer has something to offer, and more bloggers need to see that. They need to accept not only famous authors we always hear about, but writers at the start or middle of their careers. I find it absolutely refreshing to hear about an author’s journey, but why not any writer’s journey? What obstacles did he or she overcome? Why do they care about writing? What drives them? I wouldn’t mind hearing about this from a writer at any stage of his or her writing career.

 

Thank you for your time, Marie. As always, it has been a pleasure. If you have a question for Marie, put it in the comments section below. 

 

Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.

 

Author Bio

Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series and The Blood at First Sight Series.
A list of her books and pen names are as follows:

Marie Lavender: Upon Your Return; Magick & Moonlight; Upon Your Honor; Second Nature; “Lovers Like Us” (featured poem from the book anthology, Poets & Writers in Action); A Little Magick; Second Chance Heart

Erica Sutherhome: Hard to Get; Memories; A Hint of Scandal; Without You; Strange Heat; Terror in the Night; Haunted; Pursuit; Perfect Game; A Touch of Dawn; Ransom; Leather and Lace

Kathryn Layne: A Misplaced Life

Heather Crouse: Express Café and Other Ramblings; Ramblings, Musings and Other Things; Soulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things

Social Media and Blog Links

​http://marielavender.com/
http://iloveromanceblog.wordpress.com/
http://marielavenderbooks.blogspot.com/
http://marielavender.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/marie.lavender.58
https://www.facebook.com/MarieAnnLavender
https://twitter.com/marielavender1
https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarieLavender/posts
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/marie-lavender/27/187/10a
http://amazon.com/author/marielavender
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6938764.Marie_Lavender
http://authorsdb.com/authors-directory/1578-marie-lavender
http://www.pw.org/content/marie_lavender
http://manicreaders.com/marielavender/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJu8HjRVYCFOqcIoX6ZxdqQ/videos

Book Links for latest release, Second Chance Heart

Amazon Universal link

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

 

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