January 11, 2013

Casual Friday: Interview with Indie Author Elle Beauregard

Through the magic of the internet, I discovered awesome and talented indie author Elle Beauregard in a rather round-about way. The lead singer of one of my favorite bands (shameless plug for The Classic Crime) tweeted about attending a book signing and I was, of course, intrigued. I looked up her first book, SHIFT, on Amazon, read a sample and couldn’t stop. Elle writes the kind of books that make you ignore your children so you can finish reading. Wait. What? I’d never do such a thing. 

My bad parenting aside, I just finished the third book in the Shift Series and I still can’t get these characters out of my head. Because she’s so awesome, she agreed to answer some questions for us about her books and self-publishing. A big Misfits’ welcome to Elle!

1. I’ve had the pleasure of reading your books, but for those who haven’t, tell us a little bit about your books.

First off, thanks for having me! I always love being a guest on great blogs!

But okay, about my books...

 The Shift Series (SHIFT, RECAST and DRIFT so far--STAND will be coming out later in 2013) follows Leah Brayton as she discovers she is a shapeshifter, and then as she traverses a rather harrowing journey, along with her more-than-a-boyfriend, Drake King..

The Mythologicals Saga (Harbinger so far--Augury is due out in early 2013) is a generational series (where each book follows a different character from a new generation, all in the same family.) It takes place in the same universe as the Shift Series, but begins 150 years later. The first book, Harbinger, follows Matra as her and a band of friends hide in the dark tunnels below future Seattle. In Harbinger, readers get to see many of the long-term consequences of events that occur in the Shift Series. 

2. Let’s talk about your journey to publication. What made you decide to publish your books independently?

Like so many indie authors, I had originally had the dream of going the traditional route--of finding a literary agent and landing that legacy deal. I sent lots of query letters, and was lucky enough to get requests for partials and fulls, and receive tons of great advice and insight from agents (advice I never let go unheeded!) While I was doing all of this, however, I was also researching indie publishing and learning more about the publishing industry as a whole. I learned that even NYT bestselling authors are doing their own marketing via social media, and (in many cases) are scheduling their own book signings, etc. And all the while, indie authors were gaining credibility in the marketplace (while getting to maintain the rights to their work no less!) So, in the end, I decided to go the independent route and I couldn’t be happier. (I give a fuller account of all this on my website: http://ellebeauregard.wordpress.com/about/ )

3. I love that you use the term indie author. More and more artists – musician, filmmakers, etc – are opting for the indie route and reaching their audiences directly. Do you think more authors will bypass tradition routes for indie publishing? Are readers becoming more accepting of independently publish books?

I think more and more writers are going independent so they can see their work come to life. The unfortunate thing about traditional publishing is that publishers have to make money so they can pay their employees and authors, and otherwise keep the business afloat. In order to do that, they have to sell lots of books. And in order to sell lots of books (and make a good return on investment) they have to stick to safe bets. In other words, traditional publishers can’t afford to take risks, and we can’t really blame them for that.. But independent authors can take risks--we do it all the time! And with increasing frequency, readers are turning to indie books as they look for “outside of the box” ideas that traditional publishers can’t deliver. I absolutely believe in traditional publishing, and I sincerely hope it does not disappear, but I also believe that indie publishing will continue to flourish and grow.

4. Even indie artists need help. Tell us about the editing process for you. 

I have not formally hired a professional editor in the past. I don’t necessarily condone this (putting out a high-quality book should be the #1 priority of an author) but I have been lucky enough to have 3 excellent beta reader/editor friends who are not afraid to tell me when something sucks. That being said, I still find errors in my stuff after release (but then, I routinely find errors in NYT Bestsellers as well...)

Here’s my process:

a) Write the first draft, send to Beta Reader #1

Beta Reader 1 reads for story development/arc, character development, pacing, plot, plot holes, etc.

b) Apply revisions suggested by Beta Reader #1. Re-read.

*If revisions are significant (rewrites, etc.) I send to Beta Reader 1 again.

c) Send second draft to Beta Reader #2 for grammar, punctuation and word choice editing.

Beta Reader #2 also tells me if things are confusing, etc. as Reader #2 is less intimately involved with the development of the story arc itself.

d) Apply edits suggested by Beta Reader #2. Re-Read.

e) Format for ebook.

f) Release!

5. One of my favorite parts of books are the covers. Did you design yours? Tell us about that process – and maybe a little about what they mean to you.

I have designed them all, and then had help executing them. I like to say that I have the vision, but not the technical skills of a designer. It’s like I went to design school but then didn’t finish in that major so I never learned the technical stuff...oh wait--that’s exactly what happened! :) 




For SHIFT, I knew I wanted the cover to include a hand mirror, since Leah’s appearance is a huge part of the story. I made the mirror reflecting a desertscape to give a nod to the book’s setting. Then, for RECAST, DRIFT, and STAND, I knew I wanted each cover to include a reflective element so they are all following a similar vein. So RECAST has the car side mirror (which is also a nod to the copious hours they spend in the car in that book) and DRIFT has the puddle with the reflection of the light post in it as a nod to the rain in Seattle. The STAND cover will have a reflective element as well. Each cover also has its own accent color: SHIFT = green, RECAST = red, DRIFT = Yellow.

For Harbinger, I knew I wanted Matra to be on the cover, but I didn’t want the  cover to be a portrait of her, or to fall into the current trend in YA covers where a girl is gazing off into the distance with a thoughtful/serious/curious look on her face. I also wanted the cover to give a nod to the literal darkness that is pervasive throughout the story. Little known fact: the person on the cover of Harbinger is actually my sister--she had dyed her hair Matra-red on a whim. I took the picture in a dark room using only a flashlight to highlight what I wanted to see. It turned out stellar so I used it on the cover. No Photoshop required!



6. I discovered your books through social media and I know you’re very active on the web. How do you think the internet, and social media in particular, has change things for authors looking to connect to their readers?

Quite simply, social media makes the once inaccessible, accessible. That goes for information, music, literature, people, etc. Yes, it’s great to have a platform through which to tell people about my books, but the best thing about that platform is getting to “meet” people (readers and otherwise) that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. And just as often as readers are reaching out to me, I’m reaching out to the authors I admire! I love that I can go on Cassandra Clare’s tumblr and see what she’s thinking about (sidenote: if you dig Cassie Clare, do check out her tumblr--it’s amazing. She is my social media role model.)

7. One of the things that intimidates me about indie publishing is marketing. How have you spread the word about your books? What works, what doesn’t work?

Social media works, if you do it right. And by do it right, I mean don’t use it with the sole purpose of spreading the word about your books. :) Unfortunately, I think that many indie authors are guilty of what I call “the push” : Only talking about their own work, only pushing content that asks readers to buy what they’re selling. There is no quicker way to lose followers, but more importantly, that isn’t how social media is meant to be used. If I want to see a commercial, I’ll watch TV. Nobody wants their twitter timeline to be full of nothing but “XYZ book is free for the next three days on amazon!” or what have you. But having real conversations and posting interesting content really does work. You have to care about your social media outlets like you’d care for a prized orchid: regular watering (posts), TLC (post about real stuff that you actually think/care about.) and maybe even a song or two every once in a while (things like contests and giveaways can be great, if done right and used sparingly.)

What also worked for me was telling EVERYONE I know about my first book. My friends and family, obviously, (which was easy via facebook!) but also my co-workers! Believe it or not, my co-workers have been hugely supportive! That said, if you work somewhere that would frown upon such a thing, don’t follow my lead there (at least not until you’re making so much money as an indie author that you don’t need your day job!)

If you can hook up with a local indie bookstore and really develop a relationship with the store owner and other employees, that can be HUGE! A good indie bookstore can help push your book to brick-and-mortar shoppers who aren’t liable to purchase your e-book, or even your paperback online. If the bookstore owner/employees like you and you’re top-of-mind for them, they are likely to suggest your book to shoppers/readers who are looking for suggestions. Plus, you’ll have an easy time lining up signings at indie bookstores who know and like you already.

Book signings have worked for me, and they’re a lot of fun.. I’ve made sure to invite all my friends, family and co-workers so there is a small crowd at the signing, which in turn draws other shoppers to the area (which is the whole goal!)

8. How has publishing your books compared to your expectations? What surprises have you met along the way?

In general, this crazy indie-publishing ride hasn’t held a whole ton of surprises for me so far--at least not unpleasant ones. :) I was very pleasantly surprised by the good reactions/reviews that SHIFT has received. The series has a small band of very loyal fans, and I absolutely love that! I’d hoped something like that would happen, but I never expected it.

One thing I didn’t know was that if Amazon pushes your ebooks as part of a marketing campaign, they do not alert the author/publisher, etc. I found this out when, over the course of two months, my books sales on Amazon quadrupled! Then, three months later, they went back to just about the same as they’d been before. I never figured out why that happened exactly, but I can only imagine that Amazon was featuring SHIFT somewhere on the site, which had a positive impact on my sales. However it happened, I was grateful. :)

9. Any advice for authors considering independently publishing their books?

Go for it! You’ll never know how it will go unless you do it. That said, realize that you get out of it what you put in: if you deliver high quality stories that are well written/edited, you spend focused time every day on social media, and you constantly look for opportunities to get your face and your book out there, you will see some really amazing results.

Also, I think it is VERY helpful to have a short backlog of books that are ready, or nearly ready for release. This way, you can release two or three books in the first year, which will a) keep readers interested, 2) keep you top of mind with readers and 3) make you more searchable/easier to find, which will, in turn, increase your sales. It will so give you time to focus on building your brand and platform while still releasing quality work.

10. Any advice for aspiring authors in general?

Write every day, or as close to every day as you can manage. Even if what you write is horrible one day, you still worked out your writing muscle by going through the exercise. If you commute on public transit, invest in an easy-to-transport laptop (I personally do all my writing on a tiny little netbook that comes with me to and from work every day on the bus.) Then you can spend your commute creatively, instead of staring into space (which, granted, staring into space also has its benefits.)

11. Enough about the business of books. Let’s talk about your stories! Based on all the amazingly detailed extras on your website (character boards, floor plans, etc), I’m guessing you’re a plotter. Tell us about how you approach writing your books. Do you know how they end before you start? (I’m a total pantser and am astonished by those who know what’s going to happen before they write it).

Oh gosh. I’m a little bit of both, to be honest. I always have a general idea about a the plot of a story, and I usually have a fairly solid vision about the main character before I begin writing in earnest, but other details often take on a life of their own. Using SHIFT as an example, I knew Leah was a shifter, and that she would go visit her aunt to learn more about being a shifter before I started writing. I also knew the kind of person Leah was, as well as the kind of person her Aunt Cecelia was. I didn’t know, however, that Cecelia lived in Tubac until I did some research. And I didn’t know Drake King and Leah would share the bond they do until the moment I was writing their meeting. Their relationship took on a life of its own as I wrote it--it was undeniable and refused to be written any other way. There has been some evolution, and I’ve made strategic decisions as the story has developed (especially as I plotted out the rest of the series after SHIFT,) but the core of it was a total surprise to me. So, in a nut shell, I plot, but sometimes my best laid plans are completely run off course by developments I never saw coming.

12. Your romances are – often literally – hot. I love the Shifter world and your twists on vampires are so unique. Where do you get your ideas from?

Thanks! That’s nice to hear! I got the idea for my shifters after reading a number of books where shapeshifters played a supporting role. I realized every time I read that a book included shapeshifters, I hoped they were human-shifters--able to change their human appearance--but that was never the case. Well, that got me thinking about all the ramifications of a person (or group of people) being able to look like anyone else, and the rest is history. I actually wrote a guest post on Book’d Out about my theories behind why we don’t see more human-shifters in current fantasy. I go into more detail on the ramifications and considerations, as well as other random thoughts on the topic. <http://bookdout.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/giveaway-and-guest-post-elle-beauregard-author-of-shift/>

As for my vampires, I actually created them first! I wrote the first version of Harbinger--which features a couple choice vampires--while I was in high school. (More than ten years before I wrote SHIFT, even though, in the overall story arc, the events in the Shift Series happen long before the Harbinger and the rest of the Mythologicals Saga books.) Anyway, my vampires have undergone some evolution over the years, but their core details remain unchanged from my original idea.

13. All of us here at YA Misfits are huge fans of writing playlists. What are your go-to albums and artists for inspiration?

Music plays a big role for me in the writing process. I wrote a blog post about it a while back: <http://ellebeauregard.tumblr.com/post/6327388387/music-and-writing-the-shift-playlist>

I find myself including Paramore on my playlists fairly regularly, as well as Classic Crime, Moby and Blue October. I also find a lot of the music on the various Twilight movie soundtracks to be both excellent, and good to write to. Say what you want about the books/movies--those soundtracks rock. :)

14. I just finished DRIFT and I felt like I was in Seattle the whole time. It actually made me a little home sick and I’ve only visited once! How much do you draw on places you know when you’re writing?

That is a very interesting question! I live in the Seattle area, so I definitely drew on my knowledge of downtown Seattle--Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, the financial district, etc.--when writing DRIFT. And I was inspired to write Harbinger by a visit to the Underground Tour in Seattle, so yes, I definitely draw from my surroundings when I write. That said, I’ve never visited Tubac, Arizona (or any part of Arizona for that matter,) where SHIFT is set. It’s amazing what Google Maps and Google Earth can show you. I hope to take a trip to Tucson and Tubac later this year with my best friend. I’ll take lots of pictures and post them on my blog when I go!

15. Tell us about what’s next for you. What books do you have coming and any projects you’re working on?

Augury (Mythologicals Saga | 2) will be released next, though I’m not certain on a date yet. It is currently in the first read-through phase with Beta Reader #1, and there’s no telling what kind of edits will need to be made to it once I get it back. I have my fingers crossed that they will be quick and easy.

I’m also working on the DRIFT paperback, and hope to have it up and available for purchase by early February. Formatting is really giving me a headache on this one, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out!

I get lots of questions about when STAND (Shift Series #4) will be released. Apparently Amazon.com says somewhere that it will be released in late 2012--obviously this is inaccurate. I’m not certain of a date, but I do plan to have it released in 2013. I currently have a first draft nearly complete. I will likely re-write most of it when I begin working on STAND with more fervor, but the first draft will give me a good construct from which to work.

As always, I’ll post updates on all this on my facebook page and blog as I go along.

16. I already have all four of your books, but where can everyone else buy them?

Wonderful!

All my books are available in e-book through all the major ebook stores (Amazon, BN, Kobo, Sony, Smashwords, iBookstore, etc.) Additionally, you can purchase SHIFT and RECAST in paperback on Amazon and through Creastespace.com.

17. Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much for having me! I love guest posting, so any bloggers out there who’d like to swap guest posts, shoot me a message on facebook or twitter. Also, if you’re a book blogger and think you might like to review any of my books, I’d be happy to hook you up with a free e-copy--just let me know!

Thanks again for having me! This was lots of fun!

Now everyone go check out Elle’s website, tumblr and pinterest boards. Then follow her on facebook, goodreads and twitter because she’s just that cool.

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