I’ve been following Jesi Lea Ryan on twitter and asked if I could interview her for my blog. Happy she said “YES”! She was born and raised in the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, Iowa. She graduated from Loras College with degrees in Creative Writing and Literature, and is now working on her MBA. She currently lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin. When not reading or writing, she spends her time working for the Indie Book Collective and talking to random people on Twitter. In addition to her debut novel, Four Thousand Miles, she has published several short stories and maintains a book blog.
So I always start with this question: When did writing become such a part of your life?
Books have always been a major part of my life. I began reading at three, chapter books by six. I wrote my first book when I was eight. My school librarian helped me publish it locally and it ended up being placed in dentist offices and such. I don’t even have a copy of it any more. J Anyway, that experience sparked a love for writing in me, but I never believed I had the talent or connections to make a real career out of writing. I majored in Creative Writing and Literature in college, but only because I was interested in the classes, not because I planned to work in those areas. Instead, I set writing aside for the exciting world of insurance. In 2009, I and a few other million people in the U.S. were laid off from our jobs during the recession. I decided then that I felt confident enough to start writing seriously. I had never written novel length before, and I wasn’t even sure I could do it. Four Thousand Miles was women’s fiction / romance. I had a great time writing it. The reviews have all been very positive, so I’m thrilled with that. My current novel, which is in the revision stage, is a young adult paranormal—the first in a trilogy. I have also written a few short stories which fall into literary fiction. I guess since my reading tastes are so eclectic, that shows in my writing.
What different routes did you try as far as publishing (traditional/Indie/Self)?
My first attempts were to try to find an agent for Four Thousand Miles. That was a colossal failure! No one wanted to touch women’s fiction. In May of 2010, I attended the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention, hoping to get some face-to-face time with the agents, but when I got there, the agent appointments were all booked. So, I changed my strategy and scheduled appointments directly with the editors from the publishers. The response I received from them was very positive! In fact, the first editor I met with was from DCL Publications, and within two weeks of receiving my sample chapters, she bought the book. While my novel was published by a small publisher, I published my short stories myself. This gives me experience on both sides of the industry.
When/what/how? (Release dates/what books/how can we read ‘em?)
My novel was released in e-book in October 2010, but due to distribution problems, it didn’t make it onto Amazon until May 2011 and STILL is not on Barns & Noble. (No, I am not happy about that.) Also, my publisher holds the print rights, yet has no intention of releasing it in print. I asked for my print rights back so I could self-publish the print version, but they refused. I’m stuck until the end of my contract. I chalk that one up to learning experience. My short stories are also only available in e-book. I suppose it I ever accumulated enough of them I could put together an anthology, but honestly, I don’t write a lot of short fiction.
I can see there have been definite issues in your journey. Can you elaborate on the experience?
Honestly, there are pro’s and con’s whichever way to go, traditional or self-publishing. I like the control I get from self-publishing. I didn’t encounter distribution problems because I handled it all myself. I also could set the pricing, give away as many free copies as I wanted. On the other hand, the editing services that a publisher offers are nice. Diane Davis White was my editor, and I can’t say enough good things about working with her. My suggestion when signing with any publisher is to know exactly what they are going to do for you. Ask questions about distribution, promotion and money. If you don’t have an agent, you should probably have a contract attorney familiar with publishing review your paperwork. There can be a ton of loopholes in these contracts that you need to be aware of. A great resource on contracts is http://www.thepassivevoice.com.
Thanks for sharing that! Tell us a little about your marketing process and thoughts on social media.
I don’t think I could have done any of this without Twitter. It is seriously the single most important tool in my writing toolbox. I knew how to write a book. What I didn’t know was what to do with it when I was done. Writers on Twitter are just wonderful about offering advice and support. As a natural extrovert, Twitter also adds a social component to writing that I desperately need. Marketing via Twitter and other social media can be a bit tricky. On one hand, it is an affordable way to get the word out on your products. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to go over board and turn your Twitter stream into one long commercial for your book. Don’t spam people with links to your book or blog, just talk to them. People want to get to know you, and when they do, they are more likely to check out your stuff. I guess the best thing I can say is to advertise on social media in moderation. The best promotion is word of mouth generated by someone other than you. Use your social media contacts to talk about your work. It’s free and provides lots of benefit!
Really great advice as I know we authors get excited when it is ‘book launch’ time and it seems as if that’s all we discuss. Looking back, is there something you would have changed?
I’m not sure. I mean I guess it would have been cool to score a huge publisher with a hefty advance, but since I didn’t want to wait for something that might not have ever happened, I signed with a small publisher. I’m happy with that decision and have no regrets. I do wish I would have gotten a little more guidance on my contract before I signed it. Not that I have found anything particularly wrong with mine or anything, I just think I should have been a little more diligent before signing.
Anything else you would like to share before leaving us today?
This is such a fun and exciting time for publishing. The technology is moving so fast that it is revolutionizing the whole industry. If you are a struggling author who is having trouble getting the attention of agents or publishers, consider self-publishing.