Today I’m very pleased to welcome indie author, T. K. Leigh (otherwise known as Tracy Leigh Kellam) to my blog. Tracy is a producer / attorney by profession. Originally from New England, she now resides in sunny Southern California with her husband, dog and three cats, all of which she has rescued (including the husband). She says she always had a knack for writing, but mostly in the legal field. It wasn’t until recently that she decided to try her hand at creative writing and is now addicted to creating different characters and new and unique story lines in the Contemporary Romantic Suspense genre.
Jane: Tracy, you describe the genre you write in as Contemporary Romance Suspense. In case readers aren’t familiar with this, what can they expect?
Tracy: It’s a bit of a combination of the contemporary romance genre and the romantic suspense genre. You’ll see a love story, pure and simple, a few steamy bits, as well as a suspense element intertwined with the plot at crucial moments to keep the reader wanting more.
Jane: Your main character in your novel “A Beautiful Mess” is called Olivia. Can you tell us a little about her?
Tracy: Olivia is a twenty-seven year old woman who lost her family early on in life. She was raised by someone she thought to be her uncle, although I use the word “raise” loosely. He pretty much sent her to a boarding school for her education and that was about it. Upon graduation, she moves up to Boston to be closer to her uncle and just a few years later, he passes away as well. She has issues with attachment after losing so many people she was close to. She cannot deal with all the loss in her life, although she’s trying to. When things get to tough or scary, she runs. Throughout “A Beautiful Mess” we see her struggling with her past and trying to resist the temptation to do what she usually does when things become too overwhelming.
Jane: You have already gathered an enviable number of reviews and the fact you have just found yourself on a readers’ recommendations list of self-published authors in the Guardian suggests that you have a growing readership in the UK. With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?
Tracy: I’m fortunate that I decided to venture into self-publishing in the age of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr have all been crucial to my semi-success as an indie author. I started a Facebook author page before I even knew I would publish “A Beautiful Mess.” I increased my fan base by posting teasers before publishing to get fans excited. I also made advanced reader copies available to bloggers before I published. It was one of these bloggers that asked if I had a street team. I had no idea what this even was. So now I have a group of over fifty women who loved my book so much that they help me market it online and in local bookstores.
Jane: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?
Tracy: There are three really. I wanted to be able to control the content of my book, the price, and the distribution. I have yet to receive an offer that makes it worth my while to abandon my desire to continue to self-publish.
Jane: Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Tracy: I travel a lot. I’ll never forget getting onto a flight from Burbank to Oakland on October 19th, which is maybe a forty-five minute flight, and once we were able to use our portable electronic devices, I saw a woman across the aisle from me open up her iPad. The cover of my book was sitting on the first page of the library on her kindle app. I had just run a promotion with kindle, making it a free download just a few days beforehand. I didn’t expect her to open it and start reading. And then she did. I definitely snooped to see how far into it she was and was surprised to see her close to the end. She had probably downloaded it during the free promotional period, but at that early stage in my career, it wasn’t about sales. It was about getting my book into readers’ hands.
Jane: That must have been quite a thrill. Can I ask, as a self-published author, how do you divide your time between writing and marketing?
Tracy: This is difficult. I love interacting with my fans on Facebook and Twitter. That’s all part of my marketing. I refuse to become one of those authors that only post occasionally on their social media sites, or who has someone else post for them. I do have a personal assistant who helps me with my social media marketing as well as an amazing street team that helps promote my work, but I do spend about 75% of my time marketing as opposed to writing. It really depends on what I have going on. For example, I’ll be getting a manuscript back from my editor in mid-December. At that point, I’ll limit my access to social media sites (which we all know has a tendency to be a time vacuum) and my personal assistant will be helping me keep momentum and excitement up regarding my works.
I also don’t like to force a story. I wait until a story comes to me. Just a few weeks ago, a story came to me in the middle of the night. Characters began talking to me at three in the morning and I had to get up and start writing. Just a few short days later, I was already up to nearly sixty-thousand words and the arch is still growing. I wish I had more time to just write, but I would never sacrifice interacting with my fans to do so. Without them, I would not have the readership and following that I do.
Jane: Rather than use your first name, you have styled yourself as ‘T K Leigh’? Normally this choice is taken so that publishers don’t know if the author is a man or a woman, but having an on-line profile makes that difficult to conceal. Having had my articles published for years under my boss’s name, it was important for me to see my own name in print. I then discovered that there are three other Jane Davis’s with high profiles, one of whom runs the Readers Organisation, one of whom writes books on felting and crochet, and the last of whom has released a book on being a military wife. Do you think how an author styles themselves makes a difference to an author’s profile?
Tracy: I absolutely believe it does. I chose to use a pen name due to the fact that I’m a member in good standing of the California State Bar Association. I wanted fans to be able to search for my books and my website with ease and not have to navigate through hundreds of links regarding my lawyer-related activities.
Even if there were several people with my name, however, having a unique style makes you stand out, as is having a certain type of on-line presence. I’m known for being very accessible to my fans. I receive countless e-mails, Facebook comments, tweets, and comments on my blog each day from fans telling me how much they enjoy my work. And I try to respond to each and every one individually. So even if I shared a name with another author, I truly believe the fact that I’m known to have an open and bubbly online presence would absolutely set me apart from any other author writing under the same name.
Jane: Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?
Tracy: Yes. “A Beautiful Mess” is part of a series. I wrote the entire 325,000 word manuscript at once, thinking it would just be a stand-alone book. Based on the romance genre preferring books under 100,000 words, I chose to separate it into three books in a series. Each of the books is dedicated to my darling husband, Stan, who has supported me since I told him that I wrote three books. I sent him the kindle files and he read all three books in just a few short days. When I was getting “A Beautiful Mess” ready for publication, he made me breakfast, lunch, and dinner, carrying it up to my writer’s nook for me. He’s the most supportive and amazing man I’ve ever met and everything I write will always be dedicated to him.
Jane: I do hope Matt doesn’t read this. Despite being amazingly supportive, I have only dedicated one of my novels to him and I have so many people to be thankful to, I’m afraid that’s his lot.
You book covers have a very distrinct image. Who designed them?
Tracy: I chose to design my own cover. For the past few years I’ve been working as a producer for a post-production company here in California and have a bit of experience with graphic design because of this. I don’t like covers where I can see any faces. I like being able to see the character in my mind instead of what’s on the cover. That was a big factor in designing my own covers. For all three books in the series, there are no faces. It leaves it open to the reader’s imagination.
Jane: What was your first recognition/success as an author?
Tracy: Just a few weeks after I published “A Beautiful Mess” I became an Amazon Best Seller. I never thought I would sell ten copies so hitting that list was a bit overwhelming for me.
Jane: Author Debi Alper told me that the first job of an author is to develop the skin of a rhino. How do you deal with negative reviews and rejections?
Tracy: That first bad review definitely stung a little bit. Over the past several months, I’ve learned that not everyone is going to like what I’ve written. And not everyone should. Instead of focusing on the negative, I focus on my fans. They’re amazing. And they love what I do. So why would I want to focus on what one person thinks of my work when for every one bad review, there are ninety-five positive reviews? I choose to focus on those ninety-five people instead. Of course, there’s a song that always helps me feel better. “Sweet As Whole” by Sara Bareilles. (It has rather explicit lyrics and certainly shouldn’t be listened in the presence of children or anyone with sensitivity to profanity.)
Jane: (Make note to self to check on You Tube) I’m a fan of Churchill’s saying, “K.B.O,” which stands for keep buggering on. If it worked for him…
What are you working on at the moment / next?
Tracy: I’m working on getting the final two books in my “Beautiful Mess” series edited and ready for publication. “A Tragic Wreck” will be released February 4, 2014 and “Gorgeous Chaos,” the third book, is scheduled for a June 3, 2014 release, although I’m hoping to release early.
In the midst of getting these two books ready, I am also working on two other works in progress. One is a bit of a spin-off from my “Beautiful Mess” series. The male main character is someone readers will meet in “A Tragic Wreck.” It will be a stand-alone and they won’t have to have read my “Beautiful Mess” series to understand what’s going on. The other is a completely separate book that I’ve just begun writing when a few characters woke me up the other night speaking to me.
Jane: I see that you use Scrivener. Does this inform how you go about writing a novel?
Tracy: Oh, I love Scrivener. I’m a visual person and Scrivener helps me visualize the flow of my novel. Instead of being stuck in a word document, Scrivener allows me to see each chapter, and even move a scene from one chapter to another. I couldn’t imagine writing using anything else. Best $45 I’ve ever spent. I can also create synopsis cards for scenes, so if I have an idea but I’m not sure where I want it to go yet, but want to move on, I use my synopsis card to write my notes down. And the best part, it formats for .mobi and ePub for me. Yes. I certainly adore Scrivener. I may have to write it another love letter.
Jane: I think I may have to take the plunge and invest. Can I ask, where do you get your inspiration from?
Tracy: All around me. I can find inspiration anywhere I go. My family was a big inspiration when writing my “Beautiful Mess” series. I based a few of the characters off my two sisters. Music is also a big inspiration to me. I’ve had inspiration for entire scenes or events off one song. For example, I love Damien Rice. His song “Accidental Babies” came on my iPod one day, and it inspired one event to happen in my series. But for that event to happen, we needed a build up and a let down. Nearly 30,000 words later, I improved the manuscript with a more emotionally charged scene, all because of one song.
Jane: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Tracy: I need music just as much as I need air to breathe. I grew up surrounded by music and my need to always have music playing in the background has never changed. I remember sitting for the bar exam and having trouble focusing because of how quiet that exam room was. I also find music to be very inspirational. A lot of my scenes, I draw on the emotions of certain songs. I don’t think my reader’s would feel that emotional aspect of my books if I didn’t listen to music as I wrote.
Jane: As an aside, for more on how authors use music in the creative process, you might want to check out Roz Morris’s inspiring website http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/2012/09/12/the-undercover-soundtrack-roz-morris/ which has guest blogs from a number of authors you may recognise.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tracy: I don’t plot at all. I hate being married to something. I get an idea and just go with the understanding that anything can change at any moment. I have a rough idea of where I want the story to go, but other than that, I try to develop very strong characters and let them tell the story.
Jane: If your blog is to be believed, you didn’t tell your husband that you were writing books until the first three were already finished? How did you manage to keep it a secret?
Tracy: My husband travels quite a bit for work. We both work together at home and when he’s gone, I get bored sometimes. So one day, I decided to start writing. I had a rough story in my head that changed drastically to what it is now. Between March and July, he was gone for about 10 weeks. And in that time, I wrote the rough manuscript of the “Beautiful Mess” series. It wasn’t until I got a positive response from one of the beta readers shortly after the fourth of July that I told him about it.
Jane: Do you write your first draft on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Tracy: I prefer a computer. I couldn’t imagine writing anything on paper. I only look at a printed out manuscript of my book when I’m reviewing the final edits before publication. Sometimes a print out reveals things I’ve missed previously. Other than that, I am strictly a computer writer.
Jane: I see that you wrote “A Beautiful Mess” in the first person and then changed it to third person on the advice of your beta readers. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Tracy: I prefer third person. I initially wrote in first person because I had been reading a lot of novels written in that point of view so it came naturally. Then as I was adding the suspense element, I wanted readers to have a slight glimpse into certain things that my main characters couldn’t know about, so I needed it to be written in third person. I’ll read any book, whether it’s written in first or third person, but there’s something about third person, knowing things that not every character does, that I love as a reader.
Jane: You have blogged that your least favourite aspect of writing is writing sex scenes but that you think they’re ‘necessary’? With a booker short-listed author having just landed this year’s Bad Sex Award, I think all writers have good reason to fear. How do you tackle them?
Tracy: Boy, do I hate writing these. I tackle them bit by bit. I don’t write sequentially. I’ll move on if I don’t feel up to the task of writing a particular scene, whether it be a bit steamy or more mundane. I make little notes regarding what I want to happen and I’ll revisit. Regarding the sex scenes, I write a basic scene and I probably revisit it at least a dozen times until I’m happy. And that’s just a rough draft version. Once I get the basic “what’s happening” down, then I can go back and add emotion and what not. I get overwhelmed trying to tackle the steamy bits all at once. The most difficult part of writing a scene like that is to make it believable and keep character in mind at the same time. And of course, making sure the reader sees the connection between the two characters as well.
Jane: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Tracy: Just start writing. Who cares if it’s good at first? The more you write, the better you’ll become. If you hit writers’ block, revisit what you’ve written so far. Nine times out of ten, there’s something in the story that isn’t working that’s causing that writers’ block. Remove it and re-write that section. You’ll be surprised how the story will flow once you remove the blockade.
Jane: What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Tracy: I read a little bit of everything. Ken Follett, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac. My absolute favourite is John Steinbeck. I love the classics, which a lot of people find odd considering I write contemporary romantic suspense. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love a steamy romance novel, particularly when I’m sitting on the beach, but there’s nothing like the writing style of some of my favourite authors. They’re all different in their own ways.
Jane: My favourite books when I was growing up were The Owl Service by Alan Garner, Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. What were yours?
Tracy: I loved reading the Anne of Green Gables books. I hate to admit this, I adored the Baby-Sitters Club books when I was in elementary school. Those books really got pretty much every girl aged 8 – 13 interested in reading in the late eighties / early nineties.
Jane: I’m interested in your take on the shift from paperback to digital books? Will the trend continue to go upwards or will it plateau?
Tracy: I definitely think we’ll keep seeing the shift from paperback to digital books. Most of my paperback sales are from fans who have already read the e-book version but are buying the paperback in order for me to sign it at one of the signing events I have coming up next year. Until a few years ago, I swore I would never make the switch to digital. I was wrong. I travel at least once a month or so and I now have the convenience of not having to pack books. I have my kindle and my iPad (just in case a battery dies on one, I have a back-up) and can now download my next book at the click of a button. I will admit that I probably went a little “one-click” crazy a few weeks ago and downloaded almost fifty e-books onto my kindle. So I now have far too many books to read in between trying to finish up the second book in my series, “A Tragic Wreck.”
I welcome the shift to digital. Americans tend to be impulse buyers. We don’t want to have to wait for a book to be shipped to us. We want it yesterday. So the move to digital e-books is a boom for us self-published authors. We can offer our e-book for purchase before we even have the proof of our paperback approved. And instead of customers contemplating whether to buy it or not, thinking about whether they’ll still want it when it arrives several days later, they purchase the e-book with satisfaction of knowing they’ll be reading it in just a few seconds.
Jane: Is there a phrase or quote about writing that you particularly like?
Tracy: “As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says ‘you are nothing’, I will be a writer.” – Hunter S. Thompson (I actually have this quote hanging in my writing nook.)
Jane: That’s quite a mission statement. What can we find you doing when you’re not writing?
Tracy: When I’m not writing, I try to spend time with my husband. I’m a very avid runner (Jane: Tracy has run over fifteen fulls and too man halfs to recall), so I can be found training or running for my next marathon, which is in a month. I should probably start training.
Jane: Then I should let you get on! Tracy, thank you so much for taking time out to talk to me. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Wendy: Facebook: www.facebook.com/tkleighauthor
Jane: And just to finish, what do you think the future holds for writers?
Tracy: With the ease of self-publishing these days, I think we’ll continue to see a large amount of aspiring authors out there. However, what these aspiring writers should be aware of is the vast number of books out there. Make it good. Don’t be lazy. Hire an editor. A really good editor. Self-publishing is an investment; one that you may never see a return on. But don’t write to make money. If you do, you’re in the wrong business. Write to make yourself happy. That’s what I do. And I couldn’t be happier with my decision to leave the ivory tower of a law firm and write.
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