Write, don’t just talk about it. Even if it’s only a few paragraphs, or a few pages a week, write. And don’t get discouraged, and if you do, ignore it. We are often our own worst critic. – Nancy C. Johnson
Author Nancy C. Johnson’s e-book, Her Last Letter, recently made the ranks on the New York Times Best Sellers Fiction E-Book List. The Write Agenda was fortunate to have the opportunity to have a Q & A with this amazing self-published author. This is also developing into a great success story and demonstrates the right mindset that authors need to have that choose to not go the “traditional” way.
TWA: Where are you from? Tell us about yourself.
NCJ: I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, where my mother’s family lived. My father was from New York, and we moved to Michigan a few years after I was born. I’m sure that was because of business opportunities. I grew up in Rochester, Michigan, located in the southeastern part of the state.
TWA: Tell us your latest news?
NCJ: When The New York Times recently established a bestseller list for e-books, my novel Her Last Letter appeared on the list in its second week. I was the first self-published author to be listed there. Since the NYT specifically stated they would not include self-published authors, I was very surprised. I was also dismayed because a few other self-published authors who should have been included were not. My guess was that at first the NYT did not notice I was self-published, because I formed my own publishing company. But then the news that I had sneaked onto the NYT list was mentioned at Publishers Lunch, a newsletter geared to publishers, agents, and others in the publishing industry. My agent called to tell me, and that’s how I found out. I’ve since been on the NYT list for e-books, and combined e-books and print books, a few times.
TWA: When and why did you begin writing?
NCJ: I have always written. I used to keep journals in high school, and write about anything and everything, but mostly about my fascination with the opposite sex, and particularly a guy named Jim.
TWA: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
NCJ: I think I considered myself a writer from the beginning, but an author once I completed my first novel.
TWA: What inspired you to write your first book?
NCJ: I had always thought it would be great to be an author, but considered it sort of a silly dream. How would I do that? But one day I read about the explosion of historical romance novels successfully published (then called Bodice Rippers) and read one my sister bought, and realized I could write one. Instead, I decided I was more interested in writing contemporary romance, which became more romantic suspense, once I began my book.
TWA: Do you have a specific writing style?
NCJ: I try to write simply, clearly, and without a lot of metaphors and similes. I do admire more poetic writing, but it’s just not my style. If I could pull it off naturally as some authors seem to do, I would be fine with it. I think it helps to read a lot of poetry, and then it finds its way into your writing. I used to read a lot of poetry as a young girl, but not much now.
TWA: How did you come up with the title?
NCJ: Not easily! I came up with numerous titles, and I still wasn’t happy with my title once I decided to keep it. I also checked various sources to see if the title had been used over and over again. I wanted it to be fairly original. My favorite title was Three Sisters, but that was definitely taken. I do think mine is better than I realized. When you see the words Her Last Letter, you immediately wonder who wrote the letter, and what did they say?
TWA: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
NCJ: I did not write my novel to convey a message, but subconsciously I think I wondered about abuse issues, sister issues, and infidelity issues, plus dealing with losing someone you loved.
TWA: How much of the book is realistic?
NCJ: My sister was abused by her second husband, and that was traumatic for me, and of course, for her. And I have dealt with the loss of loved ones. I also know women, and have read about women, who have dealt with infidelity.
TWA: What books have most influenced your life most?
NCJ: I really would have a difficult time answering that. I have read a lot over my lifetime. Three of my favorite books as a young girl were Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Little Women. I’ve read each numerous times. I also loved The Haunting of Hill House though it really scared me. I’ve reread it many times, though I might have trouble reading it now. A scarier book has never been written in my opinion, except possibly Pet Sematary. I’ve read a lot of the classics. I had a teacher who suggested we read the classics, so I went to the library and asked if I could read one. The librarian picked out David Copperfield, and I loved it. I kept going back to her and she kept suggesting. I became a classic read-aholic. I think it helped though. When you know what books have stood the test of time, you get a feel for what works, what type of stories people connect with.
TWA: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
NCJ: It would be difficult to choose, but I like to read Sue Grafton when I get off track with my own writing, and I give equal credit to Mary Higgins Clark. Both are wonderful writers.
TWA: What book are you reading now?
NCJ: I’m reading several at a time, but a Sue Grafton novel, an earlier one, Q is for Quarry, and Dead To Death, by D.B. Henson, a self-published author (also an online friend) who was recently picked up by a major publisher (her book isn’t available at the moment) plus a couple other novels by self-published authors. I’ve found so many talented new authors!
TWA: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
NCJ: Yes, D.B. Henson as mentioned, Vicki Tyley, Victorine E. Lieske, Christopher Smith, Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, and I’ve downloaded over one hundred others (all incredibly good) onto my Kindle. It would be heaven to have more time to read!
TWA: What are your current projects?
NCJ: I’m writing a new mystery romantic-suspense novel, and plan to publish one of my previously written novels. The other previously written novel I will do some rewriting as necessary before publishing. I’m also busy putting my books on various e-reading sites. Her Last Letter is in the Sony Reader Store now, and Kobo is next.
TWA: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. Why?
NCJ: My first agent, and my current agent. Both were and are extremely supportive of me and my writing. I respect them. They worked for years in the publishing industry, worked hard to achieve success in a very difficult business. I’m sure they endured a lot of rejection too.
TWA: Do you see writing as a career?
NCJ: Yes, I’ve always wanted writing to be my career. Happily, now it’s a career where I can actually earn a living.
TWA: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
NCJ: No, actually I wouldn’t. I like it just the way it is.
TWA: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
NCJ: I wrote a story, read it over a microphone to my seventh grade class. (I was outside the class in the hallway. That’s how my teacher set it up.) And when I walked back inside the class, everyone was clapping like crazy! I was thrilled!
TWA: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
NCJ: I’m writing a sequel to Her Last Letter. I debated doing so, leaving the idea of a sequel open, then my agent suggested I actually go ahead with it. So, you’ll see a lot of the same characters, and also some new ones. A few items, which were only briefly addressed in Her Last Letter, will be resolved, and there will be a new mystery to solve.
TWA: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
NCJ: The ending of the novel is always tough. I try to lead up to an exciting ending so as not to disappoint readers, or myself. Once I have the ending figured out to my satisfaction, the rest of the book is a lot easier. And I both love and hate research. It takes up too much time when I would rather be writing, but it is necessary. Plus I often get great plot ideas while I’m researching.
TWA: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
NCJ: Since I seem to read her the most lately, I’d have to say Sue Grafton. I love her style, her plots, her characters, they way she resolves her novels. I’m never disappointed. My sister liked her books and suggested them to me.
TWA: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
NCJ: No, not so far. I do a limited amount of book signings, and mostly locally.
TWA: Who designed the covers?
NCJ: My daughter Angie, a talented graphic designer, who also read my book. I think she did a beautiful job! I’ve had many, many compliments on the cover.
TWA: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
NCJ: The research, coming up with a good ending, and I sometimes get stalled in the middle and have to rethink the plot. I just have to keep moving forward and hope for the best. Usually the book turns out better than I thought it would.
TWA: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
NCJ: That you really can’t predict the future. I wrote Her Last Letter to please myself, my family, and hopefully a few readers. I worked very hard to make it the best book I was capable of writing. I never could have predicted that so many people would like my book, or the level of success it has achieved.
TWA: What led to your decision to self-publish? Did you try the “traditional” route first?
NCJ: I decided to self-publish as a last-ditch effort. I knew that my daughter, a graphic designer, could help me with the cover and put the book together, and her fiancé knew printers. I had totally decided I wasn’t going to die without publishing a book. I had tried so darn hard! I read that Amazon could distribute it, as well as Barnes & Noble, and Baker & Taylor. I was so excited, especially after so many years trying to go the traditional route. I formed my own publishing company, and I’m so glad I did. Of course, you don’t have to do that now. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, B&N’s Pubit, Smashwords, and all the other online distributors make it so easy to do and it costs practically nothing. And Print on Demand options are great too, like Amazon’s CreateSpace, for the paperback.
TWA: There’s many author blogs on the internet that warn writers, like you, regarding the pitfalls of self-publishing. Did these sites have any bearing or impact on your choices? Do you spend any time monitoring these sites?
NCJ: Yes, I rejected lots of choices for self-publishing. It’s wise to read and make your own decision. Personally, I think going the extra mile and doing it yourself is the best option, using Kindle Direct etc. as mentioned above. Find a graphic designer to help you, frequent Kindle Boards on Amazon. You’ll learn a tremendous amount, and get answers to questions.
TWA: What has been your marketing strategy? Can you comment on why you have been successful and why other authors fail?
NCJ: Get a website, a blog, visit the (Amazon and other) forums once you know the rules. Become a regular at Amazon’s Kindle Boards. You’ll learn a lot and it’s fun! Price your book low. No one knows you. Gain fans of your work, and then keep the price low on other books to stay competitive. And first and foremost, write the best book you can. Don’t take shortcuts. Find friends who will critique your work, and listen to what they have to say. Don’t get sensitive when you receive suggestions (or they will be afraid to tell you the truth in the future). It’s hard to judge your own writing. Join writer’s groups if you can. Critique Circle is a good online workshop. Read books on writing. Make sure to give readers your best shot. And don’t write a (let’s just get this finished) ending to your book. Readers won’t be back a second time. Also, be kind to yourself. Write the first draft, get it done, then go back and fix it. It doesn’t have to be perfect while you’re working on it. Lots of better ideas will come to you as you write. Just make sure the finished product shines.
TWA: Do you have any advice for other writers?
NCJ: Write, don’t just talk about it. Even if it’s only a few paragraphs, or a few pages a week, write. And don’t get discouraged, and if you do, ignore it. We are often our own worst critic.
TWA: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
NCJ: Thanks for being there for me. Without you, I would be nowhere. And thanks for proving to me what I thought I knew all along, that you would really like my book.
TWA: Thank you for your time and granting us this interview! We’re certain self-published authors will appreciate it as well. We wish you continued success and look forward to seeing more from you. You are certainly another author that exemplifies the need to have “The Write Agenda.” You certainly do! We appreciate your contribution to the self-publishing world. Your positive outlook is an example that more self-published authors need to model.
Readers you can learn more about Author Nancy C. Johnson’s e-book, Her Last Letter, on these links:
Nancy C. Johnson Website: http://www.nancy-cjohnson.com/
Copyright – The Write Agenda – 2011