After losing her job, Jenn Sterling decided to explore three of her dream jobs: working as a photographer, selling cupcakes, and writing books. Though she gave each one a try, her books hit it out of the park. Jenn is now a USA Today best selling author with a strong base of loyal fans. Incredibly active online, Jenn maintains an open dialogue with her readers through her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
Below, Jenn shares her thoughts on writing within Young and New Adult genre, choosing traditional publishers versus self publishing, and factors that contribute to a book's success, plus elaborates on her approach to social media and interacting with fans online.
What drew you to the young adult and new adult genres in particular?
Honestly, I like to write what I like to read. Even though I'm technically a real "adult," I don't feel like it. lol No, really. I'm super silly and immature. I have more fun at the kids table at Christmas than the grown up one. And I found myself really enjoying the stories that were meant for Young Adults. So when I first started writing In Dreams, there was no New Adult category- I felt like it was either write an adult book, or a young adult one. The choice for me was easy- especially considering the style of my writing and this particular storyline. My characters were college aged, but the story itself is very innocent.
Each book after In Dreams has grown more and more into the New Adult genre and I am finding my voice more clearly. New Adult suits me. 🙂
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors about choosing between self publishing and trying to sign a contract with a traditional publisher?
HA! That's a loaded question! 🙂
I can give you all the advice I want (and I will), but writers will still follow their own paths. I can tell everyone that I think querying is a waste of time and that time would be better spent actually writing or formatting your book for self publishing. But you know what? It doesn't matter what I say if someone thinks that being traditionally published is the only way they'll feel validated. And I totally understand that.
I tried to get a traditional publisher before I self published. I queried, reached out to literary agents- all of that stuff. I felt like doing that was what you were supposed to do. It was still the correct order of things. At the time, self publishing had this stigma of being the home to crappy writers with even crappier stories. It wasn't true then. It certainly isn't true now.
Publishing is a business- a hard, impacted, crowded business. It's not as though publishing houses can take on an unlimited amount of authors and books. So in order for them to be interested in your story, you'd really have to stand out (or be famous, or know someone). That's a hard enough thing to do. Factor in the rising sales of E-Books and you have a somewhat shrinking marketplace in terms of those pub houses.
So when that last "no thank you" response came back, I considered myself a failure and looked seriously into self pubbing. Because I would rather be a traditionally published failure, than not published at all. I don't say that to be mean. And I don't consider myself a failure AT ALL, but at the time when you're going through it and experiencing it, failure is the fleeting feeling that surrounds you. But even in the midst of all that, not putting my book out was never an option. Ever.
My advice is to self publish. We have such an amazing opportunity right now to write our books the way WE want to write them... to tell our stories the way WE choose to tell them... and then we can still release them to the public- on OUR timeline! 🙂 We get to control the pricing, have a say in the way the cover looks, the formatting of the interior, etc. It's really exciting to self publish. The control you have over your product is comparable to nothing else.
Plus, if you self publish your books and they are a huge success, those publishing houses (and agents) will come to you. Just because you didn't publish with a house right off the bat doesn't mean you never will. But when that time comes, you might not even want to anymore. It just might not make any sense for your business (which is what you are the second you hit publish on that manuscript). 🙂
Why do you think you were able to make it as an author (that is, support yourself from book sales) when so many others fail on that front?
It's a good thing I don't ask myself that everyday, or I'd never write again. LOL It didn't happen overnight. I think that's the biggest thing I'd like for people to know. My first book was a failure. It didn't make me any money and people didn't like it. But I didn't stop writing. And I also learned a lot from those negative reviews. As an author, you have to learn the difference between readers simply expressing an opinion based on the types things they like to read versus their opinion on how it was written. Those negative reviews can have hidden nuggets of gold in there and it's up to you to either accept them and grow, or stay in the same place forever.
Also, I never stopped trying to find an audience for my books. We are our business, so in that sense, we are responsible for all of the marketing, the advertising, etc. It's up to us to reach out to readers, bloggers, reviewers, other authors, to grown our brand. My second book did far better than the first and actually made me money (nothing to write home about, but it was still better than nothing). But while people enjoyed the book, they were quick to forget about it and rarely, if ever, recommended it to others to read.
I'm not sure what made people fall in love with The Perfect Game so much. There was anticipation for it before I'd even released it. I knew when I was writing TPG that it felt different. And I also knew that the buzz around the book was different than any of my previous releases. Before, I had yet to hit the Amazon Top 100. That was all I wanted. That was my goal for TPG. I wrongly assumed that getting into the Top 100 was all it would take for my book to become a huge success forever! Yes, it's GREAT exposure for sure and absolutely helps fuel sales, but it's not the biggest factor. The biggest factor, hands down, is word of mouth. TPG stayed in the top 100 for almost 3 months. That was all due to word of mouth- something that no amount of advertising could ever do.
As you considered different career paths (e.g. photography, cupcake baking, writing), what details did you consider with regard to financial viability? In other words, when contemplating a dream job, how can someone determine if that dream job will actually support him or her?
When I first got fired from my job, I sat down with myself and said "self, what would you like to do everyday for the rest of your life? What things do you ENJOY doing that you would like to turn into a business?" It's funny, because I never wanted to work for someone else again. I sort of knew that already. All my thoughts were about how could I be my own boss, you know? So I took the three things that I enjoyed doing- baking cupcakes, photography and writing- and created a business for each one. It's funny how quickly things become clear. Almost immediately I knew that writing was the thing I was most passionate about and wanted to do the most. Of course, it was the one thing that A- took the most amount of time. B- was the most work. and C- made me the least amount of money up front.
I think that if you follow your heart and you do the things that you truly enjoy doing, the rest will follow. I also think that there are two kinds of people in this world... those who will do anything if the money is there and those who don't care about the money, but just want to feel good about what they do. You need to find out which kind of person you are first. 🙂
How effective have you found contests or other internet-based promotions when it comes to driving sales?
This changes so much on a monthly basis. What worked for me six months ago doesn't work anymore. This business is ever changing and constantly evolving with the saturation of writers, bloggers, etc. BUT, with that being said- I just ran a HUGE giveaway for getting 10,000 likes on my Facebook page and I involved some other authors whose books I loved in the contest and it was an enormous success. Getting other authors (who write in the same genre as you do, but might not share readership) involved in cross-promotion is a great way to introduce readers to one another. It's hard to say if "likes" on a Facebook page truly translate into "sales" on your books, but it's worth a shot!
Given that you are so active online, how do you keep your online engagement from getting in the way of your writing process?
Holy cow, it DOES get in the way! I spend entire days just being active online and not doing anything else! But it's my choice to do that. Obviously each writer can create their own schedule and their own level of social media interaction. Personally, I enjoy talking to my readers. I enjoy being accessible to them. It's all about balance since you're one person trying to literally DO IT ALL, but you find it. You make it work.
In what ways does your engagement with fans online influence your writing?
This is a great question because when I wrote The Perfect Game, it was meant as a stand alone. But after so much reader feedback and emails and INSISTENCE that I write another book for the couple, I seriously considered it. The last thing I ever want to do is give my readers a crap book. Or write something that sucks for the money. I worked through if I had another story in me for the characters and the second I realized that I did, I started writing it. The Game Changer was the follow up book that was never meant to be. I wrote it for my readers. And now I'm writing a novella for Dean & Melissa (secondary characters in the story) because almost every review on Amazon asks for it! I don't always know what they'll want, but they never hesitate to tell me. And I love that.