We had a previous chat with Jess Molly back when she was a fanfiction writer and aspiring author. Now, she’s taken the plunge and published her first book, Moms on Missions. Everybody, welcome Jess back to the blog!
Jess: Hi guys! *waves*
Lissa: Well, Jess, here you are on the Dark Side, and as you’ve discovered, we don’t have cookies. The cookies were a lie.
Jess: You’re so mean to me. *sobs* I was looking for the raspberry chocolate Mallomars. I’m starving here. I’m an author living in a cellar without cookies. How could you?
Lissa: You’re an author. You’re supposed to starve. And pose broodily in front of windows in an unheated garret in Paris. And write long, eloquent letters on a typewriter about how this torture fuels your writing. Didn’t you get the memo? It should have been in your welcome packet.
Jess: *grumbles* I thought it was just a directive on self-promotion.
Lissa: But I’m sure you’ve discovered some aspects of publishing that you’ve enjoyed. What’s been your favorite part so far?
Jess: It’s quite fun telling people I’m a published author. If I had a dollar for every time someone’s jaw drops I might be able to move out of the cellar.
Okay. I really enjoyed seeing my manuscript take on its professional form in Kindle format. There were so many things I wanted to add to my ebook and I got to try out most of them. For instance, Vince’s website, Mommageddon, links to a page on my website. If a reader touches the hyperlink, they travel to my site. Making that was fun.
Lissa: I’ve heard of the hyperlinks-in-books thing. It’s supposed to make the reading experience more fun and interactive. The younglings like it, or so I’ve heard. Look at you, all trendy and stuff!
Jess: Who woulda thunk, eh? But anyone who meets me will discover what a nerd I am.
Lissa: What’s been your least favorite part? For me, it’s a lack of time to write.
Jess: There’s never enough time in the day. I have to be hyper-organized and I always feel I’m not. I actually enjoy the marketing aspects of being an Indie, but they’re time consuming.
Lissa: I amend my previous answer: The marketing is the part I like the least. It’s so hard for me to approach people about my books.
Jess: I’ve actually rehearsed saying, “I’m a published author.” Now I’m over that hurdle, but I plan out my support requests to bloggers to a ridiculous degree. I’m hoping it becomes a habit and I can stop overthinking what I’m going to say. On the upside, everyone’s been lovely.
Lissa: Honest to God, I really thought when I first published that all I had to do was write the thing and the publisher would take care of all the rest. As I learned—much to my dismay— that isn’t really a thing these days, even with the big publishing houses.
Jess: Yes, everyone I know says that. They don’t do it anymore. The author must promote herself. It’s one of the reasons I decided to go Indie.
Lissa: Your success is directly tied to how much you work for it. Unless, of course, you’re one of those authors who gets hit by the mysterious and seemingly arbitrary lightning bolt of fame.
Jess: Wouldn’t you love to know the key to that? It must be possible, although I’d be happy right now just to earn enough to pay some bills. I was shocked to discover my book sitting at #155 in Comedy Romance on Amazon (which lasted about five minutes) because I only sold seven books that day. That means that out of 60, 000+ Comedy Romances, only 154 books sold more than seven copies. That was a real eye-opener and redefined the definition of success for me. Am I giving away author secrets by revealing that?
Finding time to write is quite difficult. I didn’t understand that before I had a book of my own.
Lissa: I imagine it’s even worse for you, because I didn’t have to worry about the myriad little aspects of formatting and coordinating pre-readers and such.
Jess: The formatting was easy because I hired out. Even though I have a substantial number of followers, getting people to read and review ARCs was unexpectedly difficult. I haven’t learned the trick yet for picking a good Release Day. I was basing it on my own calendar rather on what will get attention, and several of the people to whom I sent ARCs were just too swamped to review immediately. I think that’s probably par for the course, but just in case, I should learn to consult the web. The internet has answers for everything, thank God.
Lissa: What made you finally decide to take the plunge and self-publish? There had to be a single moment where you said, “This is it. I’m doing it.”
Jess: Yeah, a lot of considerations factored in. It took me a while to take the plunge because I didn’t think I knew enough about it to do a good job. Maybe it comes down to, “Why not?” Of course, I’ve picked up a lot of knowhow since I started writing MOMs in 2012. I had some interaction with publishing houses and I was planning to go that route. However, there’s a ton of waiting involved. If one’s book does get accepted by a house, it’s still going to take about two years to get the book on shelves. Plus, there were three major things that drew me to traditional publishing. The first is the amount of exposure a house can provide. One can’t really argue with that. The second was my belief that the house would take care of many factors for me—like covers, editing and marketing. But those things haven’t proven as difficult to do as I imagined. The third attraction was my erstwhile belief that a house would protect me and my work from plagiarists and take care of other legal issues. Unfortunately, I’ve heard from many friends that their houses haven’t succeeded in preventing theft. That was a huge determining factor in my decision.
Regardless, after major revisions to the story, I was going to resubmit to the house I favored. And then a friend who’s a popular author sat me down in 2015 and told me I should self-pub. I thanked her and said I didn’t think it was for me and then another six months went by with no progress. It got to the point where I thought the story was good enough to sell itself and I’d built a solid social media base. So, I finally listened to my friend and I’m glad I did.
The thing that appealed to me the most about self-pub was the total control I’d have over my work. I got to literally shape the book, choose my publishing date and market it. It hardly takes any time at all to self-pub. Once I applied for copyright, I had the book up in five weeks and it could have gone up sooner but I wanted more advance marketing. The two longest parts of the process for me were getting the professional edit done, and waiting for my cover artist (my daughter) to complete the painting used on the cover.
Lissa: You and I are so different in this respect. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to make all of those decisions about my book. And then here comes my publisher asking me to pick the cover art. With every book, that’s been an intensely frustrating process for me. The last time, I picked some images and my cover artist very gently suggested, “Um, why don’t we go with something entirely different?” and came up with this really awesome design on her own. Such a relief!
Jess: I love it when that happens. I actually have a short story prepared to publish but I decided it will wait until I’ve written the first book of the trilogy that follows it. One of my friends made three potential covers for me after she read it and I’d never have imagined anything so lovely.
Lissa: Did you go into MOMs with an idea of what you wanted for the cover image, or did your daughter come up with the design all on her own?
Jess: What a wonderful question. You know, I studied art in high school and loved it, but I have the worst time coming up with visual concepts. Some authors are so incredibly talented at making their own covers. T.M. Franklin is one. Vera Nazarian is another. I admire their talent immensely and I totally lack that kind of vision.
I had four years to play around with the idea of covers for the Mommageddon Series. I sucked at it. I naturally wanted something that would visually integrate the books in the series and could only come up with two ideas. One was moms knitting baby booties and young couples objecting. The other was the couple’s hands. I considered using Vince’s hand wielding a paintbrush and Dani’s wielding a drumstick as though they were having a swordfight. The thing I disliked about that was that I wanted to keep Vince’s love interest a secret. That’s a major spoiler for the book. I’ve come to realize that I can’t keep Dani’s name out of reviews. Reviewers love her and they use her name all the time. Hopefully, the misunderstanding at the beginning of the story still reads as funny.
It got to the point where I desperately needed a cover that could be altered to fit the entire series. As the MOMs are spies, I suggested to my daughter that a mother using binoculars to spy on her offspring might work. Conri came up with this wonderful cover, where the mother is spying on two young people. Vince is in one lens, looking ticked off, and Dani is in the other. I laughed aloud when Conri first showed me the rough work, and I think it hurt her feelings. But I am going to continue to use variations on this cover. The next cover will feature a glaring brunette MOM. The one after that will have a blond MOM with her mouth hanging open. It’s going to be fun. Of course, I have about seven plots in my head so this could go on for a long time.
Lissa: Did you have moments where all of the myriad aspects (formatting, editing, cover art, etc.) made you say, “Man, I’m not sure if I can do this after all?”
Jess: May was interesting. LOL! My son had an angioplasty and a stent put in (his fifth heart procedure—he’s now 20) AND my laptop was away for repair. I published my debut novel while out of town and without a computer. Who does that, really?
I knew from the get-go there would be too much for me to do so I hired a formatting service to pop the manuscript into Kindle format and I hired a PR person to do a Cover Reveal, Release Day Blitz and Review Tour. Well, I’m sure I drove my formatter nuts because I wanted these special bells and whistles in the book. There are 54 chapters and 44 are the standard maximum. There are little picture symbols placed before each change in Point of View, representing the main characters. There are different fonts and several hyperlinks. It took a while for the poor soul to find a way to make it all work. She did! But there were a few worrisome days there where I was sure I’d bitten off more than I could chew. And then, when I was certain the book was ready to roll, there was a glitch with the Blog Tour and it took some time to work out. I was really biting my nails. At first, there were no sales and I thought I’d run away from a traditional job and joined the wrong circus. But as a dear friend kept telling me, this business is a marathon not a sprint. I think I’m going to do all right.
Lissa: I’ve likened it more to Sisyphus, eternally pushing his boulder up a hill. Because for Indies, it doesn’t really stop. With traditional publishers, most books have a shelf life. If they don’t become successful, they don’t stay in print. For us, we’re living with our books long-term. And we have to keep supporting them and building an audience, one reader at a time.
It’s good in some ways, because we don’t have a small window of time in which we have to “make it” in order to keep going. We have the luxury of time, but on the other hand… We have a long road ahead of us.
Jess: I agree. The upside is, we can keep our books in view and available if that’s our desire. People who rely on traditional print books and bookstores must rely on their next best book in order to survive. If you look on a bookshelf in a store, how many authors do you see with multiple books? It’s a small percentage. Not a ton of those authors make it big. They sell the book once and then if the buyer resells it (second hand), they don’t see any profit. It’s a one shot deal. Print books are more expensive to buy for just that reason. As well, it bothers me that unbought print books are returned to the publishing house or destroyed. I love print books, but I find ebooks to be more environmentally responsible. I only buy my very favorite books in print format.
Indies can produce an ebook for much less money and we can make more profit per book, even though the books are cheaper to buy. We who make ebooks can not only reissue books whenever we want, we can edit them, discount them and even make them free in order to draw readers to our other books. It’s a renewable resource. I like that.
Lissa: Most important question: What do Tonka and Molly think now that their human is an author?
Jess: They think there should be more sessions of Play Fetch. And more Greenies. Aside from that, they’re singularly unimpressed. I guess they’re keeping it real for me.
Lissa: My Little Dog was happy about it, because his favorite activity in the world is sleeping at my feet, so more keyboard time means more feet-sleeping time, but the Big Dog comes by every now and then to lay her head on my lap as if to say, “I’m alive. Remember me?” She loved to cuddle up with me in my reading chair, but there’s no room in my office chair. It’s an unsatisfactory situation all around, as far as she’s concerned.
Per doctor’s orders, I’m now going outside once in a while. I’m taking walks in the woods with them, which they both like.
Jess: A-ha! Your doctor’s orders or the vet’s? I’ve been noticing you’ve been leaving your cave a lot more often of late.
Lissa: Human doctor. She's concerned about my bones and Vitamin D. She actually asked me if I could take my laptop out into the yard and sit under a tree or something.
Jess: I am also under orders to get off my backside. I’m a stress eater and I’ve managed to pack on a substantial amount of weight in the past couple of years. It’s not going to be easy to break the habit. I can’t do any intensive exercise without falling over due to vertigo. And I’m allergic to healthy food.
Lissa: Are you planning on doing any live events, like book signings?
Jess: That would imply I had something made out of paper that could be signed. Someday, I’d love to do that. Right now, I’m sticking to e-books. I don’t even have any swag yet.
Lissa: One of the authors I met signed postcards that had her book cover on the front. I’ve seen people sign thumb-drives that have their ebooks on them, too.
Jess: What a fantastic idea. I’ve considered getting postcards. I may actually have to do it! And I love the idea of the thumb-drives but I’m actually attempting to do this publishing thing on the cheap. It’s definitely an attractive possibility. See? I learned something new! Thanks.
I’m a bit scared of conferences as I’m so introverted. Someone would have to walk me around and introduce me to people. Also, I would be scared to death to do a panel. Oddly, I wouldn’t mind reading aloud to people. I used to do that all the time in high school and I loved it.
Lissa: I’ve never done a reading. Which is good, because I’m not very good at reading aloud. I have a tendency to skip ahead and read the next line and then get lost in the story until I suddenly blink and say, “Oh! Where was I?”
Jess: It’s the one thing I can do. I auditioned for plays in high school but I’m miserable at memorizing dialogue. I’m good at reading aloud. I read the Potter books aloud to my kids and used over 30 different voices.
My husband, just so you know, hates it when I act out voices. I read one of the early drafts of MOM aloud to him and he got mad because I kept doing male voices. He finds it really irritating and I can’t read characters’ words in my own voice. It stops me cold.
Lissa: What has been your favorite review so far?
Jess: I honestly can’t pick one. I have this small but beautiful set of insightful, eloquent reviews. I sent some of them to a friend who made me pic quotes I could use to market the book. I love to look at them.
Lissa: Come on… Pick a favorite! We’ll put the image right here so everyone can enjoy it.
Jess: I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings by picking one, but if you’re gonna twist my arm…
Lissa: Do you think you experience anything different as a Canadian author as opposed to an American?
Jess: I dunno. I’m in the closet. I don’t want to be written up as a local author. I’m still terrified the kids from the high school will come knocking.
Lissa: I didn’t want to be written up as a “local author,” either. I still don’t have any of my books in the local store. It was hard enough admitting to my family what I was doing, let alone the community at large.
Jess: My parents have each bought a copy of my book. *hyperventilates* I am bluffing my way into flaunting myself but I really want to die whenever I think about them reading it. My mother-in-law wants a copy but she doesn’t own a computer or phone to read it on. I’m going with that excuse not to provide one. *shifty eyes*
I imagine there are a lot of American authors who feel like hiding under rocks, too. I suspect I will pay more taxes. Yeah. That’s it. Higher taxes. And if I meet a psycho fan, there’s a smaller chance I’ll get shot. Win!
Lissa: I imagine a Canadian psycho fan might bring maple syrup and hockey pucks for their dastardly deeds, but they’d do them very politely.
Jess: The maple syrup is a dastardly plan. It would attract bees, resulting in a gruesome death. As for the pucks, I’d be more afraid of somebody holding a hockey stick. Anybody can whack someone with a hockey stick, it’s an almost unavoidable occurrence. But it’s hard to aim a puck. While it would be deadly, it takes talent. Plus, I might just be able to reason with a hockey fan. Anybody who loves hockey enough to carry a stick around is going to care more about talking hockey than doing me bodily harm. Hockey rules, eh?
Lissa: How do you think this experience made you grow as a writer?
Jess: How many hours do you have to hear my answer? First, there were the Beta readers and pre-readers. Three of my Betas have English degrees. One has her Masters. Then, I got feedback from professional editors and acquisitions people. Plus, I write with friends. Plus, I get feedback from readers. Everyone I meet teaches me something. Rejection hurts but it can teach one things. I think being open to feedback is hard at first. You have to be mature in face of critique. I am eager to learn because that hones my voice.
Lissa: That’s a tough one. You have this innate urge to clutch your “beautiful baby” and shout back “How dare you? My darling is perfect!” I remember in my very first book, I had this long section on the anarchist bombings of 1919. I really liked it, but my editor told me it had to go. It was an “info dump.” A historical one, yes, but an info dump just the same. I argued with her. I said all of that historical detail was necessary so the reader would understand the time period. But eventually I had to admit she was right. It slowed down the story, and there was no real purpose for it. I was able to get the same plot point across in a single sentence.
Jess: It’s necessary to maintain forward momentum at all times. Anything nonessential must go. Deciding what needs to be cut is the challenge.
Lissa: Did you have to kill any “darlings?”
Jess: Absolutely. Remember that major rewrite? I took out a fantastic villain because he was too dark for the story. Vince would have been a true hero, had I left the climax in. Pre-readers loved it but professional editors didn’t. They knew the subplot was too nasty for this book. I’ll use it in something else someday. A thriller perhaps.
As well, I had a scene where Vince and Dani’s moms show up to put them through the Italian Inquisition, but it had a lot of similarities to the scene that takes place in his studio later. It was redundant so it had to go, but wow did it hurt. I was very attached to that scene.
I also cut the majority of a scene about Vince’s ex. Although it highlighted the fact that she was a horrible person, it was backstory. An author probably knows every second of the character’s life from conception to death (and beyond) but readers don’t need to know all of it. Detail’s awesome but it must be pertinent.
On the subject of growth, I know how to say things I couldn’t have said five years ago. I still train young writers. I want to remain connected.
Lissa: I truly believe we have a solemn duty to nurture and encourage “baby writers.” Starting out is such a fragile time. A few harsh words may snuff out their light, make them give up on the whole thing. Yeah, we’ve all read the quotes about how So-and-So had 1,452 rejections before they were able to publish and got these horrible, scathing critiques of their work. The lesson you’re supposed to take from this is that if you’re a “real writer” you can take any amount of rejection or harshness, but I don’t think that’s true. We’ve seen in the fanfiction world incidents where very talented writers walked away because they were beat down by the criticism they faced. And the world lost those stories, and whatever stories the writer would have given us in the future. That breaks my heart.
So, yeah, I think we do have a duty to try to take care of the “nestlings.” They may eventually grow to the point where nothing can faze them, but when they’re taking their first tentative steps, they need support and encouragement.
Jess: Absolutely. I’ve had such awesome training—free of charge—from my Betas. The only way to pay back the favor is to train someone else. And you’re right, it is extremely easy to break a writer’s heart. Our characters aren’t just make-believe, they’re a very real part of our lives. Some people tell their stories very well and others haven’t acquired the skill. I see a lot of people state that they refuse to read a story that isn’t grammatically pristine. That’s a shame (not that I’m suggesting authors do less than their best to ensure their art is clever and legible). I know authors who do exhibit the occasional mistake, but the world without their story would be less shiny.
When I began writing fanfic in 2009, I didn’t know how to express what I wanted to express. I had to learn. Fanfic was a great school. An unbeatable education. That’s why I still train newbies.
This can be a lonely profession and yet at every turn I’m reminded that I’m part of a cultural mosaic. It all develops the voice and the inner character. Does that make sense?
Lissa: Totally. Because it’s true: this is a symbiotic relationship. A book doesn’t live until it’s in the mind and heart of a reader.
Jess: I love talking to you. Thanks again for hosting me.
Lissa: Always a pleasure!
Don't be fooled by the seeming tranquility, Jess is scheming. There are a lot of characters in her head and all of them want out.
She edits for professional authors and is always tutoring somebody. She got her start six years ago, in fan fiction, and is proud of it.
Four great kids, one husband *coughbiggestkidofallcough* and two dogs ensure that the house is always messy. The garden's overflowing with blooms, but weedy. The grass always needs cutting, provided it's not buried beneath snow. She lives in Canada, eh? The dogs are walked, the kids get fed, the hubbs hasn't killed anybody yet, the books Jess reads she reviews, and somehow, the people in her head manage to make it into stories. Occasionally, she embarrasses her kids by doing Zumba in front of their friends. It's just how she rolls.
Come join her quest for world domination at jessmollybrownauthor.com