Debut Revue with Jessie Harrell
We are so, so thrilled to present to you the first Debut Revue! Jessie Harrell works as an attorney by day, but in legality-free hours she dons her writing super cape as a first-time, self-published YA author. Her supernatural romance DESTINED is hitting the shelves November 17th! We asked her about the writing and self-publishing process, and here’s what she had to say…
First things first—you’re getting published! WOOHOO! How does it feel to reach that milestone?
Thank you! *gushes* Since I’m the one doing the publishing, it probably feels different for me than for most authors. I jealously imagine other authors sitting on their hands just waiting for launch day while I’m still working out cover glitches and fighting with Amazon over my merchant account. (And I’m sure that’s not at all accurate — traditionally published authors are out there marketing their tails off, I’m sure.) But for me, it’s this combination of excitement and terror that I’m going to mess something up in a big way.
The glorious title of “Published Author” aside, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a wife, mom of two girls, and appellate lawyer. I don’t eat seafood and most green veggies and I love to travel but I don’t get too that often. Destined is my first novel but has been rewritten SO MANY times to get to the publication stage that it feels like my third or fourth book!
DESTINED is a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth. It’s set in ancient Greece, but I use very modern dialog and societal notions so that today’s teens can more easily relate to ancient times. Those modern notions aside, most details in the book are historically accurate, which took loads of research.
View the book trailer here!
The Writing Process
Very often first books seem to be an idea that sticks with a young writer, or a series of ideas that need to be exorcised before new inspiration can be found. Was that true for you?
That pretty much hits the nail on the head. Even though I’ve co- authored a second novel (that’s still looking for a home), I couldn’t leave Destined sitting in a “trunk.” After much soul searching and several “near misses” with agents and publishers, I decided to put the novel out there on my own. The way the pieces fell into place, it really felt like it was destined to be. (Sorry, you may groan at the pun.)
How long did it take you to write your first book and reach the “publishable” stage?
Years. I don’t have a consistent writing schedule and would eke out writing time where I could, but often waited for inspiration to strike. I also took some long pauses to work on my craft, attend conferences, learn about the industry, etc., so that by the time I got to the end of the book, my writing was WAY better than when I started. Hence, the multiple re-writes of the beginning.
The Publishing Process
What have been some of your biggest setbacks/breakthroughs during the writing and publishing process?
Most recently, dealing with Amazon has been a huge setback, primarily because of my own ignorance going in. I wanted people to be able to pre-order Destined, primarily so my countdown widget could link them to an Amazon page. It made me feel more legitimate. Problem is, Amazon takes an industry standard 55% discount off the cover price (if you use Amazon Advantage), but it costs me more than 45% of the cover price to print the books POD. So, I will actually lose money on all the pre-sold novels. I guess I just have to consider it a marketing expense — part of getting my name out there. But along the way, seeing my book on Amazon, getting added to TBR lists on goodreads and having people make Destined their Waiting on Wednesday picks have given me the feeling like it’s all worth it.*Amazon Advantage POD GoodReads Waiting on Wednesday
Tell us a bit more about self-publishing. What has that experience been like? Would you recommend it?
Well, you can see from the last question that it hasn’t been easy. I think the folks who make it painless probably aren’t doing it right, frankly. I hired a professional cover designer, hired a professional editor, hired a copy editor, hired a typesetter. All of that was financially painful, but made the book so many millions of times better. If someone has a novel that they really believe in and that just can’t find a traditionally published home for whatever reason, self-publishing is an option they should consider. But only if they’re willing to put in the time, effort and energy to do it right. Why would you want your name associated with a sub-par product? I see too many self-published novels full of typos and plot holes, that the bad reputation of self-publishing is understandable in many instances.
Based on your websites and involvement in the writing community online, it looks like you think the web is an important part of networking and publicizing your work. How important do you think it is for writers to utilize the net?
Absolutely critical. This was the first piece of advice I took from an SCBWI conference years ago – I got on twitter and facebook and joined #yalitchat. I never would have made the connections I’ve made over the years without this networking. Plus, it gives you built in support. Writing is hard. Writers need other writers to keep their spirits up and stories polished. As an added bonus, the people that I’ve connected with online are now helping to spread the word about my novel. I wouldn’t have nearly the same reach without them.*SCBWI YALitChat
How about in “real life,” how do you promote your work and connect with the literary world offline?
I have one close critique partner I live near and she and I exchange work and talk YA over lunch. Aside from that, my YA world exists solely in my computer. I am a little more limited too, since being a lawyer, I don’t talk all that much about having written a YA novel in those circles.
What are some challenges unique to writing/publishing in your genre?
Young adult (YA) is awesome. There’s so much tension and angst in those years, but trying to stay “current” with teens isn’t easy since I don’t have much exposure to them (aside from babysitters).
Do you pay attention to trends in the YA community, or keep them in mind while you’re writing (i.e. the huge trend in supernatural series right now)? Where do you see the genre moving?
I do not pay attention to trends, but instead write what I enjoy. I was working on Destined WAY before mythology became a hot topic in YA. I like the supernatural series and so it’s probably not surprising that my second book as some of those themes, but I certainly don’t think my character’s supernatural abilities will ever be the next big thing.
I cannot predict where it’s going. I think contemporary will always have its place though.
A budding writer wants to self-pub. First step?
Hire an editor. Seriously. You do not want to publish a book that’s not ready.
If you could give an aspiring, unpublished author any piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Keep working on your craft. It doesn’t have to be every day, but take some time each week to read articles, get refresher tips. There are SO many blogs, tweets, websites out there to help you. But you’ve got to understand industry terms (like show, don’t tell) and how to implement them. Also, read, read, read. The more good books you read in your genre, the better your writing is bound to become.
You’ll be hearing more from Jessie and DESTINED soon–Jessie has promised us more information about self-publishing, and we’ll be giving you a sneak-peek at the book!