As most of you know, Jen Talty is the co-creator of Who Dares Win Publishing, and her expertise has been an integral part of WDW’s success. Jen is also a very talented writer with a wealth of knowledge about the ever-changing publishing world. She was nice enough to answer all of my questions AND give us the scoop on her new book, IN TWO WEEKS. Welcome to Turning The Page, Jen!
You started out in Business Education and spent many years helping people develop various marketing skills. What made you decide to become a writer? Was it something you always dabbled in, or did you one day just decide to pursue your dream?
I was sitting on the shores of Owasco Lake watching my children frolic in the water. They were at the ages that they still needed a constant eye, but I could sit and read a book while they played. This one summer I read a lot. I think I read and re-read every book that Sandra Brown and Nora Roberts ever wrote and I thought I could write a book. We didn’t have a laptop or computer at the cottage, so I pulled out pen and paper and wrote In Two Weeks. When I had it all typed into my computer at home, I started looking up how to get published. I joined the Central NY Romance chapter of RWA and began to learn publishing. A few short years later I signed my first contract.
What was your path to publication? Did you pursue traditional publishing at all before partnering with Bob Mayer to create Who Dares Win Publishing?
I pursued traditional publishing, but got my start with an ePublisher. Unfortunately, they went bankrupt. My second contract was with The Wild Rose Press, another ePublisher. I published 4 novels and 2 short stories with them. I also have worked with two agents. I have a stack of rejection letters a mile high.
I met Bob at a conference many years ago. I took a few of his workshops and struck up a friendship after I took one of his day-long retreats. He was interested in my experience with ePublishing and I was still looking to break into traditional publishing. He had just gotten the rights back to some of his books and wasn’t sure what, if anything, he could do. The partnership developed when I made a mock-cover for one of his Atlantis books and told him how he could get an eBook edition on Amazon. At the time, our plan was to re-release his backlist while we both pursued contracts in New York. Things changed very quickly when we realized where digital was heading and what that meant for our individual careers as well as our business partnership.
You grew up in Rochester, New York, a city with a very high murder rate. What stories inspired your fascination with crime and suspense?
The first story that caught my attention was that of Arthur Shawcross, better known as the Genesee River Killer. Shawcross was in prison twice. First for arson and burglary. He was paroled in 1971. He was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years, but was paroled in 1987 after serving 14 years. I did not know this until much later, but he lived only a block away from one of my first apartments off of Alexander Street. He started murdering prostitutes in 1988. He was caught in Spencerport (another place I lived) on January 3, 1990.
I remember the reports on the news about the murders and I remember the day they captured him. I never thought anything like that could happen in my town…then someone told me about the Alphabet Murders. There was a movie called The Alphabet Killer that came out in 2008 that was loosely based on the Alphabet Murders.
The most disturbing to me was the murder of Kali Ann Poulton. Kali disappeared on May 23, 1994 and she was just 4 years old. It struck so deep because my little girl was about the same age. Kali had been missing for 27 months before they found her body submerged in a 30,000 gallon water tank. Mark Christie was eventually convicted of murdering Kali.
These stories, in many ways, broke my heart. The last one made me want to make sure all killers got what they deserved. In my books they usually are punished pretty badly. A little sweet revenge is always justified when loved ones are taken from us.
However, these stories and others like them lead me to ask one simple question: why would any human being kill another? Which lead to: what would it take for a seemingly normal person to be pushed to such an extreme? They started my fascination in crime stories and understanding characters. It is important to understand the antagonist of your story, even if you never show his point of view. In order to have him/her be real in the readers mind, they have to be real to you, so I dug pretty deep to try to understand something that is uncomprehendable to the “normal” person.
There is one story that led me to write a book (not published yet) called the Harvester. This book is based on a story that broke out a few years ago about local funeral homes harvesting body parts (such as bones for marrow) and replacing them with PVC piping. I’m hoping to release this story by the end of the year.
My books are romances, or at the very least, have a romance subplot, but my bad guys are about as bad as they can be, but the good guys always win.
How do you come up with your ideas? Do you write about experiences based on someone you know/news, or about events in your own life?
Mark Twain said, “write what you know.” Bob Mayer said, “write what you want to know or feel passionate about.”
There is a little bit of my life in every book. For example, the hero Jared Blake in my novel In Two Weeks is a controlling freak. My husband is a controlling freak. In my book Jane Doe’s Return the heroine is terrified to fly. I’m terrified to fly. My current work in progress, I hate to admit, the hero has a couple of Bob’s traits and mannerisms and another character is based on someone I used know in high school that drove me absolutely bonkers. Are these characters based on the people in my life, but they aren’t these people at all. I use their language, their hobbies and their idiosyncrasies to develop rich three-dimensional characters, but they are far from “real”.
As far as ideas its usually breed from books, movies or things I see. I love the ‘what if’ concept for ideas. For my book, Jane Doe’s Return the idea was: What if the one person who could unlock the mystery of who killed your sister showed up in the most unlikely of places; in your office as your knew partner but you had no idea she was Jane Doe. My current work in progress the idea is: What if, while searching for the daughter you gave up, your patients were being killed one by one and your daughter is next? Once I have an idea, I have to really dig for characters. Character is key. There are times I wish I could start with character, but the plot idea always comes first for me.
Tell us about your latest book, IN TWO WEEKS. What’s your favorite thing about the book? Is it based on a true story or incident?
In Two Weeks is the first book I ever wrote, so that right there makes it special. My favorite part is the setting: Lake George, NY. I spent all my summers there as little girl and to me, its the most peaceful place on earth. There is nothing factual about the story, but the imagery is real. The house and carriage house that Jared owns in the story is the house my family rented when I was a child. We rented what I describe as the carriage house. The opening scene at the bar is a bar that was right down the road. The hotel that the heroine works at is a very famous hotel on Lake George, although I changed the names of all these places.
Is this ever-changing publishing world, what advice can you offer a new author about marketing?
An author has to have a marketing plan, but the key to that marketing plan is CONTENT. More books. I have three books out right now and I have not done a lot of marketing for myself until now because what does a reader do when they like your book? They buy everything you’ve ever written. But if you have nothing, they have nothing to go buy.
Another thing to consider with marketing is that it’s not always about “sales”. It’s more about building community and finding your readership. The hard part is making the connections. It’s easy to convers with other writers, but where do the readers hang out? I believe the best thing a writer can do is be consistent in their efforts. Bob and found that once we fully committed to what we were doing AND we were consistent in all our efforts (social media and other forms of marketing and advertising) things began to happen. I call it having an internet presence and that is part of the Write It Forward Author Branding Plan, which in a nut shell develops over time as you figure out who you are as a writer and how you interact best with the world.
Learn from those who are succeeding. Watch what they do and figure out what works for you. No need to reinvent the wheel.
There are so many options out there for marketing. I always recommend building a foundation based on what you do well and expand outward. For example, Bob is great on Twitter, Kindleboards and all the blogging he does. If he is consistent in those areas, he can then expand it out simply by posting information on Facebook and Pinterest, but those two things are not his strong suit, so its simply an extension. I’m good at Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. I use Timbre, Pinterest and LinkedIn as an extension of what I’m good at by simply putting the information out there. Once I get more comfortable, I can expand and create more real social circles, but remember, you can’t be everywhere all the time. Pick and choose and whatever you decide to do, do it well.
With so many social media forums out there, which ones do you feel are the most effective?
I sort of touched on that above. The first thing to consider is where you as a writer feel comfortable. Start there and then expand. Most social media sites don’t “sell”, but most have an effect in the long run.
I’d say pick 3 to really work and explore others when you have time. I use Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. Bob uses Twitter, Kindleboards and Blogging. I’ve expanded to Pinterest (love it!), Digg, Timbre and Google+ while Bob has expanded to Pinterest, other forums and trying to work Facebook.
What do you think the best strategy is for writers to reach READERS, meaning the ones outside our writing blogosphere?
This is the hardest question to answer. In any of the social media sites I participate in, most of the conversations are with other writers. The interaction I have with readers are through those that take the time to write reviews or email me. We make a connection with our readers through our books. This is one reason why I caution writers about spending too much time blogging etc before the book comes out. Content is king and it is the first interaction we have with our readers.
I’d say the best way to engage is to offer free books when possible. Do an author Q&A at Goodreads. Do blog tours, this gives you exposure to other authors’ fans.
The biggest thing you can do is write more books.
You’re offering several workshops through Write It Forward – what’s one you recommend everyone take?
I recommend them all, but it depends on what your goals are and what you need currently. If you want to work on craft, take the Conflict workshop. If you want to learn about ePublishing, take our workshop on Digital Publishing. If you want work on you Internet Presence, we have a workshop for that. We also offer workshops on Time Management and Historical Research.
Let’s get a little personal now. You’re a hockey mom, right? What’s that like?
INSANE! You know you’re a hockey mom when someone asks how old your children are and you say, “I have a 91, a 93 and a 97.” I think at one point when all were still at home we were averaging about 170 hockey games in five states and two countries. My daughter now plays D3 college hockey and we don’t get to see her often since she is 7 hours from home. My middle boy is graduating HS and going on to play D3 Golf, so his hockey days are officially over (unless he joins his dad in men’s league) and the baby boy is a freshman in HS. We still have 3 years left of watching and traveling with him. He wants to try and play college hockey.
I have written many scenes sitting at an ice rink waiting for practice be over and if you ask any of the hockey dads on the team, they will tell you that they are the hero’s in my books! LOL.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing or attending one of the kids games?
I love to read and watch movies or TV shows. I just finished reading a fabulous horrorish book by Laura Benedict called The Devil’s Oven. I loved it. I also went and saw the movie Hunger Games. Very good. My guilty pleasures this season for TV are Dance Moms, Revenge and reruns of Friends. I also am addicted to Southland, Californication, Dexter and Nurse Jackie. I could go on and on. But that is what I do for fun.
Do you have any pet causes? Any charities you support?
I have two nephews with Muscular Dystrophy. Matt Klapp passed away December 29, 2008. His younger brother, Jordan suffers from the same disease. My niece, Shea Holbrook is a racecar driver and she races for a cure. We support her racing because it helps support many children and their families who are touched by this horrible disease. For information on SheaRacing and how Shea helps raise money to find a cure please go to shearacing.com.
What’s the best way for readers to contact you?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Jen! I’ve learned so much from your blog, and the success you and Bob have had is fantastic. Good luck with IN TWO WEEKS!
Thanks for having me!
Please take a minute to leave Jen some love. She works hard to help other authors, and I’m really excited she took the time to give us such great answers.
Jen’s Books on Amazon:
In Two Weeks
Jane Doe’s Return
Jen’s Books on Barnes and Noble:
In Two Weeks
Jane Doe’s Return
Jen’s Books on Kobo:
In Two Weeks
Jane Doe’s Return
Who Dares Win Publishing:
In Two Weeks
Jane Does Return
Loved reading all this about Jen and her journey! Fascinating where she grew up and the murderous history there. Congrats to her on her new book out soon! LOVE Lake George, I spent summers there too growing up near Albany. And if the famous hotel she’s referring to is The Sagamore – how cool! Went to a wedding there…amazing spot especially for a book. Congrats Jen!
One of these days I’m going to have to do a reunion tale from the girls at Holy Names….LOL. It is a small world isn’t it? And yes, The Sagamore hotel. I remember when they did the reservations to the hotel when I was little. It was fun to watch.
Oh yes, Jen! I can see our Holy Names reunion tale now – involving murder, mystery and some slutty, aging chicks who cant move on from HS! LOL! Let me know if you write it. We can share stories about the nuns. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed, Donna. Yes, where she grew up is fascinating, and I can certainly understand how she got into suspense writing. Thanks so much for stopping by!
It’s always nice to “run into” Jen on the internet. She and Bob are always so helpful. Loved hearing about your start with writing, Jen, and the part about killers in your neck of the woods gave me goosebumps. Great interview, you two!
Hi Adriana! Good to see you here. Rochester is a strange place to live. Like currently its snowing!
They’re both very helpful and approachable. Jen had some really great answers, and like you, I loved hearing about her writing inspirations. Thanks for stopping by, Adrian!
Reggie Ridgway (@reggieridgway)
Hey Stacey and Jenn. I love your enthusiasm and great advise. I had heard something along with what you say which is just keep writing. Dont spend so much effort marketing if it takes you away from your WIP. That fits in with what I am thinking now. Also have two or three books out there before you start pushing so readers can get more of your work or they might move on to another author they fancy. People will find you if your writing is good. I am a fan and hope to read some of the books you write.
New blog post. Lucky. Story about a lost dog we found.
Thanks for stopping by, Reggie. I’m learning that very quickly with the marketing. It’s got to be done it’s also got to be second when it comes to writing the next book. No point in doing all that marketing if you’re not going to have something to follow up with. Thanks for the great tips, and glad you enjoyed Jen’s interview!
You have to find a balance. Content is King and Content equals Sustainability. Promotion is Queen and Promotion equals discoverability. You have to have both, but without Content you got nothing.
Wonderful post Stacy and Jen – great to learn more about Jen and some of her advice/suggestions for up and coming authors. Really wonderful. Wishing you all the success in the world Jen!!!
Thanks, Natalie. Jen does have some great advice and is always willing to answer questions. Glad you enjoyed!
Helpful info! I always find it interesting to learn what aspects of an author’s self they choose to put into their characters. I also appreciate being reminded that content is key, because I am gearing up to write a sequel, and it feels reassuring to know how important that follow-up book is to readers.
Me, too. I think it’s fascinating Jen was inspired by so many close to home incident. And absolutely. Without content, marketing is a waste of time. Thanks for stopping by!
Great info, I always love reading Jen’s advice and Stacy’s blog is must-read. Thanks to both!
Aw, thank you, Amy. So glad you enjoyed!
I loved reading this interview. I have Jen friended on just about every social media site on which I participate, but I’ve never gotten to know her. (Which I regret because she sounds like my kind of gal.) I loved hearing about her inspiration. At least I know I’m not the only one who studies real life killers to help create villains. Now I’m curious about her books. Oh, and I’d totally be interested in reading Harvest. 😀
Glad you enjoyed. She’s pretty great and is always willing to answer questions. Her inspirations are pretty cool, and yes, it’s good to know we’re not the only ones looking down the dark side.
Yes, Harvest sounds great, Jen. You need to get that one out there!
Hi Catie!!!! I see you everywhere too! We’ll have to make a point to connect more socially now!
I’d love to Jen. Really. 😀
Stacy, thanks for having Jen here today!
Jen, thank you for giving all of us this peek into your life, and for sharing your beginnings as a writer. Your insights into the writing/publishing world are always such a help. Wishing you much success with your work!
You’re very welcome. Thanks for stopping by!
What a great interview! Getting to know Jen better was so much fun and she has awesome advice. I especially like what she said about social media. That, and the dad’s at the rink being the heroes in her books. That was cute.
Thank you, so glad you enjoyed. And yes, she really does have great advice. I love how much of her real life has leaked into her books as well.
Those hockey dads—interesting people to say the least!
Great interview! Best of luck to Jen.
I’ve been away and it’s nice to be visiting your blog again, Stacy. 🙂
Thanks, and welcome back, Kelly. Hope things are good with you!
Fun and informative interview and an excellent blog!
Thanks so much, Candy. Glad you enjoyed:)
Thanks for bringing us such an interesting interview. I didn’t realize that Bob Mayer said, “write what you want to know or feel passionate about.” For me that’s a huge encouragement because as a small town girl who had a pretty quiet childhood, I don’t want to write what I know. I want to research and discover something new.
You’re welcome. Bob Mayer’s advice is something I learned with my first book. I followed my gut, and it paid off. I’m the same as you – small town with quiet childhood, so I’ve had to go outside my own life. I love researching and writing about what I don’t know, lol. Thanks!
My favorite: “Learn from those who are succeeding. Watch what they do and figure out what works for you.”
I see so many writers confused by all the “YOU MUST DO THIS” advice out there. There is a lot of good information out there, but I really think Jen hit the nail on the head with this statement. Figure out what works for YOU.
Great job! (And love that Jen is a hockey mom!)
Thanks, Amber! I agree – everyone is different, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for all. ANd I think it’s vital that we like whatever social media/marketing route we take. If it’s just a nuisance and a chore, we aren’t going to do as well. Glad you enjoyed!