Carla has been writing a long time but was given the greatest gift by her husband in 2016 when he encouraged her to take a sabbatical from teaching special education in order to write her first book, Lily Barlow: The Mystery of Jane Dough. She enjoyed the experience so much, she resigned from teaching to start the second book in the series, Lily Barlow: The Mystery in the Mangroves. She also contributes an amusing, garden-themed column to a local magazine called The Piedmont Virginian. Word on the street is she writes a pretty funny FB post on occasion.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc. Does it differ for a novel versus essay?
If there was a gold medal for waking up early, I’d be on the podium. I get up between 4-5am, even on the weekends, even on vacation. I take the first dog out, and fix a cup of coffee. At that point, I sprinkle the fairy dust and the magic happens (meaning I open my computer). First I check to see if anyone left a review for Lily Barlow: The Mystery of Jane Dough on Amazon. It’s shocking the rush of adrenaline I get when I see that number tick up. I’ve been holding at 60 for the longest time, but I know #61 is out there!
After that, I delete all the junk mail from my inbox and fiddle around catching up on social media. I do check that stuff throughout the day, but it’s easier to get caught up first thing. I try to post something fresh for my Facebook friends who follow me there.
Then, I shift into the project of the day, which is generally either writing, editing, or promoting. It’s hard for me to multi-task. If I’m involved in an author takeover, I can’t write in between takeover posts. I try to interact with everyone who leaves a comment, and I like those days to include lots of threads so by the end a person has a sense of who I am both as a human being and as a writer. It takes my full attention to do that. So on those days, not much else gets done.
There’s no set schedule. I don’t know ahead of time that I’m writing on M/W/F. I let each week have a natural ebb and flow, and I just do what needs to get done on a day-to-day basis. So, some weeks I may write every single day, other weeks, not at all.
When the weather is cool, spring and fall, I love to write on the back porch. For a while, I worked on the kitchen table. Now I’m usually on the couch, with one dog laying behind my head and the other in the space beside me. When we travel, my husband sleeps a little later than I do, so I get up and write. I wrote large chunks of Book 1 in the lobby of a hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in the living room of a rental home in Moab, Utah.
When I’m struggling with inspiration, I have to ask myself a tough question — Am I truly uninspired or just lazy? Sometimes the inspiration wears thin, and I need to charge it up with a hike, a camping trip, a visit with friends. Other times it really is the trap of laziness. I may be in a scene that’s taking a long time to write, and I say I’m not inspired, but what I mean is that the scene is kicking my butt and I’m getting tired. Those times I just have to power through and get words on the page.
This is true for all the things I’m writing now—novels, essays, blog entries, articles. And interestingly, when I find myself in the middle muddle of whatever Lily Barlow book I’m working on, it’s a real temptation to put the story down to write essays. I think it’s because the essay is short and there’s an end in sight. When I’m writing, and writing, and writing, sometimes it’s just a relief to finish something.
Walk me through your publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author. I’m especially interested in how you chose your hybrid publisher, their responsiblities, and the cost.
My publishing process starts when I hand the final draft over to my publisher, Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press. I work closely with an editor I adore because she does not sterilize the voice of my characters, even when their grammar is questionable. Funny story about the editing process…with a degree in language arts, writing and editing, I was quite full of myself when I made the statement to the publisher that they wouldn’t need to spend much time cleaning up my manuscript. HA! We probably found over 200 errors that were missed by me, my husband, and a rack of beta readers.
While we’re editing, the publisher has an artist working on the cover. I have pretty specific ideas when it comes to the visual representation, but my ability to explain it is sometimes lacking. The artist who did the first cover also did the second cover. Both are awesome. He listened very carefully to what I was trying to say and captured the feeling so incredibly well.
While all that’s going on, I work on blurbs and info for distributors, and eventually I start recording the audio version of the book. That was hilarious. I recorded the first book in our teardrop camper because it was the only place in the house that was quiet enough—no dog collars jangling, no phones ringing, no air conditioner clicking on and off. I padded the camper walls with yoga mats, and each morning I’d head out before the sun was up to record a chapter. That’s about all I could do before it got too hot to work in there.
Eventually, the publishing team and I shift gears and start prepping for the book launch. I reach out to people to encourage them to buy an introductory copy of the book and leave a review. Reviews are really important, and they’re surprisingly hard to get. I think people feel like they have to write some critical PhD thesis, but really a few simple sentences is all it takes. (As my husband is famous for saying, he only reads the short ones anyways!)
I have support from the publishing team, but I do a lot of marketing on my own. I’m out there pounding the pavement, working to get indie bookshops to carry the book. I try to get myself invited to author events where I can sign books. I look for opportunities to do interviews (like this one) and author takeovers. The next goal is to get on somebody’s podcast. My publisher turns up bigger opportunities like the chance to sign books at Book Expo in 2018 or the American Library Association in 2019. Those were both incredible opportunities for a new author with a debut novel.
Like everybody, I have a story of how I went from an unpublished writer to a published author. First I tried the traditional path, but I couldn’t get a press interested in my story. Then I approached agents but had the same problem. Not interested. That left me with self publishing as my only option, but I was as interested in that process as I am in understanding the physics of inter-orbital space flight. In other words…well, you get it.
I found a hybrid publisher—basically I hired a company to be the “self” in my self-publishing initiative. I interviewed a series of candidates before I settled on Lifestyle Entrepreneurs. They offered the most complete package of services, but it came at the highest price. It was, however, an investment I was willing to make in building my brand as an author. I can say that not every author will realize a return on investment if you go this route. And it remains to be seen if I’ll fall into that category or not. But I am prepared to follow through because I believe in the Lily Barlow series.
Before I committed to LEP, I hired a literary attorney to review the contract, which is just good business sense. He asked that several small changes be made to protect my interests, and the company agreed.
What do I get for my investment? The publisher provides formatting and art. They print ARCs. They distribute to all outlets including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the independents so I don’t have to store or ship books. They produce the e-book and master the audio. They create opportunities for exposure. If I’m trying to reach a blogger or some other influencer but just can’t get in, they’ll take a swing at it. We’re working on a marketing plan now to help Book 1 gain traction and create a foundation for the release of Book 2. They created a “landing page” and are connecting it to my website.
Talk about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?
I’m fortunate that I have a lot of friends and family who cheer me on. My husband leads the parade with his love, praise and check book (let’s face it, this initiative has definitely been a considerable financial investment up to this point). In addition to Ricky, there are a few very close friends who always pick up when I call or text. I use these three or four people as sounding boards to keep me grounded on multiple fronts. First, since I’m my own biggest fan, I sometimes need a voice of reason who can tell me straight out “Nope, that’s not gonna work.” Secondly, while the writing part is definitely my specialty, all the other parts are most definitely not my specialties. That means the contracts and the sales and the promotion and the social platforms and the technology. My support team rises to the occasion where all this stuff is concerned.
I love learning about your life through your essays and the inspirations for your novel. How does your writing influence your life?
Like a lot of people, I write what I see and hear. Sure, I might tweak it, or jazz it up, but it all comes from a source out in the world. I spend a lot of energy gathering these tidbits, so, I’m kind of on safari all the time, hunting for the next thing I can incorporate. Sometimes these safaris take me to exotic destinations, like when we drive Jeeps off road in Moab, Utah or hike the Escalante Staircase, but sometimes they’re way more ordinary than that. It could be a greasy spoon on a road trip somewhere, or a market where I have a few minutes to talk with a farmer, or that six seconds of silent eye contact when I connect with a complete stranger pumping gas.
Since I’m always in search of these moments, I like to go places, even if it’s just up the street. My fear is that my next great idea is happening somewhere right now, and I’m not there to memorize it.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I like the freedom it gives me to explore. I’m a pantster, so I write from the seat of my pants. This is different from a plotter, who outlines a storyline and knows where it’s going from the first word. I like following the characters down rabbit holes, and I like being surprised when they do something I wasn’t expecting.
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