Wednesday, November 02, 2011

REV UP WEDNESDAYS - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with JULIA SMITH

Hello world,

Today's author forms part of a growing breed of author-entrepreneurs that are spearheading changes in the publishing industry today. By personal choice, Canadian writer Julia Phillips Smith has come up with her own business model and strategy to self-publish her first novel. Rather than join the rat race and seek agent representation and traditional publishing, she decided to take her career into her own hands. She's written the book, hired a professional editor, researched the market and social media phenomena, got a professionally designed book cover, formatted her manuscript, studied the rules, earned an endorsement from award-winning Aussie author Anna Campbell (Avon, Grand Central Press), and at the end of this long road, her novel is due to hit the shelves next week - on November 11, 2011.

With the aid of new tools available today to assist authors who decide to self-publish, she's done everything a traditional publisher would do, at her personal expense. As a result, Saint Sanguinus will be available in both e-book format and trade paperback.

Not too shoddy, don't you think?

Want to know her secret? Here's how she did it...

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing with the intent to become a published author since I joined Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada in 2003, which helped to focus my writing habits into the equivalent of long-distance running shape. Prior to that, I’d self-identified as a writer since elementary school, when I wrote longhand ‘novels’ in school notebooks complete with illustrations.

When did you decide that you wanted to write for a living (that "aha" moment)?

I actually trained to be a filmmaker and was focused on that. Life threw a few curve balls my way, as life will do, and I couldn’t pursue jobs in the film industry after graduating from Ryerson in Toronto. Once a storyteller, always a storyteller. I switched mediums and set upon the path to learn how to write novels instead of film scripts.

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

Since my intention was apparent quite young, my mom used to put my poems on the fridge along with various kid-generated art work. After I’d moved away from home in my 20’s, my dad kept a poem I’d written specifically for him in his wallet. My family has always been supportive of my writing, as we all come from an arts background.

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

I’m drawn towards dark, psychological historicals, traditional fantasy and paranormal. I like sci-fi or urban fantasy to read, although I haven’t written anything from those genres since junior high.

Did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?

I started writing while I was still in school, already juggling a student routine with creative sprinting. I just proceeded from there to treat writing as my second job.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book?

Since I’ve always been drawn to writing, over the years I’ve taken part in playwriting workshops, as well as my screenwriting courses in university. Otherwise, my novel-writing apprenticeship has been with my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. We hold craft-of-writing workshops each month, given by the various members of our group. We all learn so much from one another.

Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?

Several years ago I belonged to a three-member critique group, which spanned a one-year period. I finally began to understand what to do with revisions as a result of these other writers. I highly recommend critique groups. What I’m doing now is having beta readers give my works in progress critiques at different stages of completion. I especially like getting feedback from both genders.

Do you use a/several pseudonym(s) and if so, why did you choose to have one/them?

I’m using a combination of my maiden name and my married name. Strangely enough, the late Hollywood producer Julia Phillips released a book called You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, while mystery writer Julie Smith has nearly twenty books to her credit. Using both of my names together leads to less confusion.

How long did it take you to make your first sale? What was your first thought when you did?

Since I’m by-passing the traditional publishing houses, I’m also putting to rest my own story of receiving The Call. The closest I have to that are the requests for partials of my manuscripts from the RWA conference I attended. They were pretty sweet.

Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?

The first real novel I completed still needs reworking. I’ve learned a lot since I first typed ‘The End’ on a manuscript. There are scenes in it that still resonate with early beta readers, however, so I’ll revisit that story in the future.

How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

That first novel is a first draft and remains in the same state, so I’ll refer to the novel that releases this month. Saint Sanguinus is the result of six different drafts. I did something different for me when I wrote this book – I followed the main character exclusively, then switched POV’s and followed the heroine. Then I had to merge their two stories together. I’ll be doing the same thing in future projects, because I like the intense connections I make with each character.

Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links?

I tend to read writers’ life blogs rather than industry blogs. A few of my favorites:

Alice Audrey, home of The Serialists, a hub for serialized fiction writers.

Melissa’s Imaginarium – she shares so many of my idiosyncrasies, including her edgy tastes in film.

Romance Bandits – raucous water cooler chat along with writer-centric posts from a group blog featuring a multitude of guest writers.

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?

When I went to the RWA national conference this past June, I was still determined to get myself an agent. But my decision to self-publish has lessened the need for one, so my agent search is currently on the backburner.

Did you ever get rejected? If so, how did you handle it?

I have a small collection of rejections which of course were not the best pieces of mail to open. The great thing about RWA is that they turned a negative like a rejection letter into the proof of PRO status. Gotta love it.

What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?

I attended an agent workshop at the conference, and together with what I know of my fellow writers’ relationships with their agents, the nebulous ‘something’ for which prospective sweethearts are always searching is the same ‘something’ for which agents are on the hunt. They need to click on a deep level with their clients in order to properly champion their books.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

I’ll share a moment that happened to me while awaiting other members of my writers’ group at a restaurant. We were hosting a visiting editor from a major publishing house, but I was the first to arrive at the table. The twenty-something waitress asked me which group we were, and when I told her we were writers, she asked, “Are any of them published through e-books?”

“Some are”, I replied.

“Good, cause that’s all I read,” she said.

And that’s where I see publishing headed.

Do you think writers should consider self-publishing?

I would make the analogy of being an entrepreneur as opposed to working for a large corporation. What suits you most as a writer? It’s an important question, because whichever business model you choose is going to be the one where you’ll be spending a lot of non-writing hours. Writing the actual book is only half the battle.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US? Do you think this trend is similar in other countries?

I’m in Canada, and independent bookstores here have already taken a direct hit from the boom in e-readers and e-content. Though personally I still enjoy picking up a 3-D paperback book in my hands, I know the generations coming along after me will be electronic-device oriented. Might as well go with the flow.

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

My debut novel will be available in e-format as well as print on demand trade paperback.

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

The biggest thing for traditionally published print authors is to keep an eye out for the rights to your backlist. If they have reverted to you, you can self-publish on Amazon and Smashwords.

For self-pubbed indie authors – don’t scrimp on the aspects which big publishing houses usually hand over to their creative departments. Make sure your cover looks as stunning as the top selling book covers in a bricks and mortar store. Make sure your formatting is correct, and that you’ve had the book professionally edited. Don’t knock your readers out of the story because you failed to present them with a professionally designed novel.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the first draft of my dark fantasy, which posts as serialized fiction every Wednesday. You can follow this storyline by clicking on the Works in Progress link on my blog:

What is/are your favourite book(s)? Do you read only books from the genre you write in?
Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

I love an older series of historical vampire novels following the Count Saint Germain, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I also love Jo Beverley’s historical romance series featuring the Malloren family.

I tend not to read too closely in my own genre. But I watch TV shows and films set in that time frame in order to get into a certain interior landscape.

What book inspired you to write romance (or whatever genre you write in)?

Jo Beverley’s Dark Champion showed me that there were dark medieval romances out there for me. That’s where the seed of my current harvest originated.

What hero/heroine/character was the most fun or challenging to write for you?

Tanwen, the main female protagonist, was a huge challenge once she lets go and embraces aspects of herself that she has crushed down for her whole life. I really had to set my inner editor aside and just push the envelope.

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

That’s still a big work in progress. While getting this debut novel ready from the summer onwards, for example, my garden morphed into an enchanted forest. Next year, garden – I promise.

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

I sit at the computer, put on my headphones and use the musical cue to inform my brain that it’s now time to create. Often I’ll fixate on a particular song list which delivers me into the heart of my emotional character arc in record-breaking time.

Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?

By that time I’d like to be a multi-self-published author with several series on the go. I also see a return to my filmmaking roots.

What's your website URL?

My blog -

Twitter - @apieceofmymind

Read excerpts from my WIPs here -

Are you on Facebook?

I love Facebook!

How do you connect with readers?

Because this is a debut novel, I have yet to discover how readers most want to contact me. I assume Facebook and Twitter will help a lot.

About Julia:

A love of the arts led to passionate participation in dance, choir, musicals and plays. My curiosity led to wearing as many hats as possible, from performing to stage managing and directing, from theatre to television and film.

After graduating from Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Film, I discovered there were stories bubbling to the surface that wanted to be novels.
I spent the next decade and a half learning the craft of novel writing.

Like many people in the arts, my jobs have run the gamut –from box office for The National Ballet of Canada, to small town dollar store. I’ve had the life-affirming adventure of being a live-in nanny, and the irreplaceable time spent providing elder care to my late Gram. I migrated into the 9-to-5 world of offices, morphing into records management for my Clark Kent job.
All the while, I’ve been telling stories.

Upcoming releases:

Releasing 11 – 11 – 11

Saint Sanguinus

An elite brotherhood stands between humans and vampires, preventing one side from annihilating the other. Who are called to this service? Only those warriors who curse God with their dying breath.

Welsh warrior Peredur falls to a spear before he can claim Tanwen for his bride. Raging on the battlefield, Peredur utters the curse that seals his fate and leads him to another life. Using the power of a saint whose bone makes up an amulet, Peredur takes on the trials to become a true member of the brethren. Yet his need for the chieftain’s daughter Tanwen still burns.

Tanwen resists her father’s command to take a husband. The only one who understands her sorrow is Cavan, the wise woman’s son. When he promises that he can reunite her with her beloved, she agrees to his terms. But does Tanwen truly understand the depth of the price that must be paid?

Will be available on Amazon and Smashwords, e-book and trade paperback

Book trailer Julia wrote and directed:

~ Angela ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.

"Mile High to Heaven" and "Mr. & Mrs. Foster" available at Whiskey Creek Press Torrid.