Friday, June 28, 2013
Q&A With Writer, Editor Jean Oram
Anyone who has spent more than a couple minutes on the online community for writers, AgentQuery Connect, quickly learns who Jean Oram is. Her title there says it all: Super Moderator. But in addition to her responsibilities herding hundreds if not thousands of cat lovers, keeping tabs on a wide variety of discussions that take place, and handling questions from worried queriers, she’s also a writer and editor. She graciously took a few minutes to answer some questions for us that we can share with you.
Elephant’s Bookshelf: You recently published your first novel, Champagne and Lemon Drops. Is self-publishing what you expected it to be?
Jean Oram: Honestly, I think it is even better than I expected. There is a certain expediency with self-publishing and an ability to make a direct impact on your book and see results. For example, I changed my book’s keywords on Amazon last week and its free rank immediately went from in the 1200s to the 600s. I love having the ability to tinker with things like that and experiment whereas traditionally published authors don’t have the access or control to tweak their book in the same way, and I think that lack of control—while freeing as it gives you more time to write—must also be frustrating at times. I like the feeling that any success is directly linked back to me and my efforts. (Same goes for any failures!!)
Plus, I am not afraid of a lot of hard work or learning and trying odd and unusual things, so self-publishing really suits me.
EB: What has been the biggest surprise?
JO: I think just how much going indie suits me—it really does!
I believe I expected the stigma of self-publishing to bother me more – the stigma that is not involving literary agents and publishing house editors and marketers and that somehow your work is ‘less’ because of that—even though many traditionally published authors are moving to the do-it-yourself form of publishing. The stigma is on the decline and it’s becoming clear that readers just want a book that makes them feel something.
That is the other thing that has surprised me—the number of downloads Champagne and Lemon Drops has had and its free ranking on Amazon.com—it has been better than I anticipated (and had secretly hoped for). It has also been better received in the UK. As well, the reader response has been incredible. I feel like a real author all of a sudden with readers either hating or loving my book and characters. (But luckily more connect with it than don’t. Whew!)
Oh, and apparently “spaz” is a bad word. (It isn’t where I reside nor where my editors or beta readers reside either, but two reviewers have been offended by the word—which is on the first page. Eeep!) That surprised me. A lot!
EB: Most writers find marketing a challenge. What have you done to market your novel?
JO: I think for me the marketing challenge started before my book was even released. I rewrote Champagne and Lemon Drops extensively due to the feedback I was getting from critique partners and editors. In its first drafts it wasn’t what romance readers expected (it still isn’t in a couple of ways). I was aiming at too broad of an audience which left it homeless in some ways—it wasn’t going to appeal to anyone. It had heavy women’s fiction content, a contemporary romance love triangle and a chick lit voice. That wasn’t working from a marketing perspective or even a happy reader perspective. In its new rendition it is a women’s fiction story of a small town woman trying to find her way, discover who she is, and figure out whether true love is something you can set aside in order to pursue your personal goals. So now it is a women’s fiction contemporary romance that would appeal to readers of Jennifer Weiner, Jane Green, and the like.
The next challenge was making sure the title and cover were something that would send the right message to readers. Cali MacKay designed the cover and I love it! I attribute a lot of the book’s interest in that cover as it is unique, appealing, and fitting. It also stands out and catches the eye of potential readers. It also matches what the story is about. It has a bride looking up like things aren’t quite going her way—that very much fits the opening scene. Tied to the cover and the title (which was also tweaked in the rewriting process) was creating a tight book description that would tell readers what to expect and let them know whether it would appeal to them or not. I think a lot of authors don’t think about these three things as marketing items but they very much are. Very, very much!
EB: I very much agree. How about after you published?
JO: After the release I made the ebook go free on a permanent basis. This is the first in the Blueberry Springs series. (The full title, by the way is Champagne and Lemon Drops: A Blueberry Springs Chick Lit Contemporary Romance—notice the keywords in the title—marketing!) The second book, Whiskey and Gumdrops (which will be $2.99), is due out late September 2013. So Champagne and Lemon Drops has a big job—get the series and my author name (Jean Oram) visible and gain recognition with readers.
Inside my book there is some marketing going on as well. There is a sneak peek for Whiskey and Gumdrops. As well, there is a link to sign up for my newsletter so I can contact readers when the second book is released as well as offer exclusive giveaways, sneak peeks, and other goodies for subscribers. (Anyone can subscribe, just go to: www.jeanoram.com/signup. I have also started a Giveaway Board for giveaways on my website.)
Also within the book is some cross-promotional content. I have a sneak peek of the first (free) book in Cali MacKay’s Highlander’s series, The Highlander’s Hope. In return, she has the first scene of my book, Champagne and Lemon Drops , in the back of her book.
In order to keep my book visible I have been submitting it to websites that list free ebooks. I have also been working with other authors with giveaways and other cross-promotional efforts. When I have a paid book then I may engage in more ‘traditional’ means of marketing as well as some paid marketing efforts.
EB: You were the copy editor of The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse and had a story published in the 2012 anthology also. How challenging is it to be on the editing side of the page?
JO: It was so much fun working with the other authors of The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse. Their stories were all so unique and fun! I really enjoyed working as the copy editor and enjoyed that opportunity tremendously.
The biggest challenge, for me, was not knowing several of the writers. In other words, coming in as an editor, you don’t know how writers are going to react to your feedback. Are they sensitive and new? Are they insecure? Are they overly confident? Are they going to take your comments to heart or blow them off? Which approach should you take for the best results and best editorial relationship?
The last thing I would ever want to do would be make another writer feel bad about their work or that they had to take my suggestions. I’ve been on the receiving end of that and it is awful! Plus a simple ‘change this’ without explanation neither opens the path of communication nor helps the author understand where the other person is coming from—it doesn’t lead to growth or the best possible collaborative effort.
Communication is key, and written communication can be taken the wrong way—there is so much room for misinterpretation. Therefore, I tried to convey that my suggestions were simply ideas on how I thought a piece could be tightened and improved—but that it might not fit with what the author was going for and they were welcome to do a bit of back-and-forth with me. So, for me the challenge was making sure authors knew I was more of a teammate than a dictator and despite time crunches, being sure that I took extra time to explain myself and let the authors know where I was coming from. In the end, I think the editorial experience was healthy and productive for the authors in The Fall and I’ve become Twitter friends with almost all of them!
EB: And you have another story coming up in Summer’s Double Edge. Which comes easier for you: writing short stories or writing novel-length works?
JO: “Gown For Sale” (the story appearing in Summer’s Double Edge) is the shortest short story I’ve written, weighing in at about 460 words. It’s almost like poetry in some ways! This particular short story came to me while I was trying to sleep. It was just there in my brain needing to be written down. The challenge in editing it before submission was making sure that the story ‘went somewhere’ and showed some change that occurred in the main character. However, it was a lot faster and easier than writing a novel-length book. It took me about five months to rewrite Champagne and Lemon Drops twice. “Gown For Sale” took me about an hour from start to completely finalized. There is a certain gratification in being able to finish a project that quickly!
The interesting thing for me is the whole short story thing. I had myself convinced that there was no way I could possibly write a short story. How can you put all that character growth and development and plot and climax and resolution into a few pages? It usually takes me around 85,000 words to accomplish that. But in reading J Lea Lopez’s story, “The Adventures of Sasquatch” (a women’s fiction story about a woman with large feet), in Spring Fevers I became inspired. I was wowed at how her short story felt like something so much bigger.
When submissions for The Fall came along and you, Matt, asked me to edit and possibly submit a story it was the impetus I needed to give it a whirl. To my surprise it was easier than I thought and I loved being able to wrap up a mini-idea in a couple of pages instead of figuring out the long-winded arc you see in a novel. But while I enjoy writing short stories, I still love the challenge of writing a full-length novel.
EB: Aw, thanks. And I know I’m looking forward to reading more of your works in both short and long form!
And for our readers, if you haven’t discovered her already, you can find Jean Oram online at www.jeanoram.com and at www.thehelpfulwriter.com as well as on Twitter as @jeanoram and on Facebook. You can also find her short stories in The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse and the upcoming anthology Summer’s Double Edge, both of which are from Elephant’s BookshelfPress, as well as download her book Champagne and Lemon Drops for free on all major ebook online retailers.