Frequently Asked Questions
When I decided to publish my first novel in 2011 and I started telling people I knew that I’d written a book, I got a lot of questions. Even today when people find out that I write part-time, they have tons of questions about my process, how I got into writing, and what inspires me. I decided to put the most asked questions below, just in case you’re wondering the same things.
How did you decide to start writing?
Let me start by saying that I never thought that I’d be a published author. It was a completely risky career move in my mind, and I’m not exactly a risk taker. But I’d always been intrigued with the idea of writing a book. I’ve devoured books my entire life, and I’ve found so much inspiration in the stories I’ve read since I was a kid. I’ve also always been a naturally curious person. In fact, I can remember sitting on the commuter bus in college or the subway when I lived in Boston after college, wondering who the people around me were, what they did, and I’d make up stories about them in my mind. But writing a book always seemed like it would be an unachievable goal. I mean, who does that. Well, lots of people these days. But for me, it really all started in late 2008. I was working full-time, and I’d gone back to get a Master’s degree. I’d just spent my first semester working and going to school, so when we broke for Christmas, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my time. I was so conditioned to go all day and night that I was bored. So I decided to write a book. I wrote what turned out to be Aftershocks. It was loooong (about 500 pages), it had way too many details, and the dialogue wasn’t all that spectacular. But I was super-proud of myself. And by that point, I’d fallen in love with the writing process, so I just kept going. I wrote three more books in 2009. But back then eReaders weren’t really available, so my only option was to convince a publisher to look at my stuff, and I just didn’t have the time or the energy (or the desire to get rejected) for all that. So I left it alone. I tweaked my four books now and then, and I thought about how much I’d love to get published, but I resigned myself to it not happening. But I’d written four books, and to me, that was cool as hell.
How did you decide to self-publish?
Okay, so if you read the post above, you know how I got started with writing. But deciding to publish was a whole other ballgame. It was during the summer in 2011 when I read Katie Klein’s book Cross My Heart – which if you haven’t read is really spectacular. I liked it so much that I went to check out her website. It was there that I learned about a relatively new movement called self-publishing. She had a really cool blog post all about it, and I was completely intrigued. It was the first time that I thought, ‘I can do this. I can publish my books.’ So I started researching the process and trying to learn as much as I could. And there was so much. From understanding how the process worked to figuring out about cover art and formatting my books and marketing. There was a ton to learn out. Fortunately, there is an awesome site called Smashwords.com that is completely dedicated helping writers publish their work. They have a style guide that ensure your book is formatted the right way, they have a ton of resources for you to leverage, and they distribute your books to all the eReader sites out there. It’s really a great site. I also learned about Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon.com, and now I leverage both sites. But what I really needed to do was make sure my first book rocked from a content standpoint. So I started looking at other books in the same genre, and I paid attention to things like the length, the way the plot flowed, and I read reviews of books I’d liked or didn’t like to hear what other readers thought. People are critical as hell, and they can sometimes be ruthless. When they hated something, I paid attention, and when they loved something, I took note. Then I edited and re-edited Just Watch the Fireworks, which was the book I decided to publish first. And in November 2011, I published it. It was truly one of the coolest days of my life, and I was so proud of my little story that was out there for the world to read.
How do you come up with the ideas for your books?
This process is a little harder for me to explain, since I pull ideas from everything around me – songs I hear, people I meet, things I see on TV or even read about. I find inspiration in the smallest moments, and there are other times when an idea just comes to me and sort of balloons from there. There are so many stories out there in the world, but it’s the unique way authors tell them that turn them into great books. That’s what I try to do with the stories I tell. I want to take something simplistic that my audience can relate to or at least understand, add a few compelling characters, bring the reader along for the ride, and turn it into a story that people love.
What is your favorite book that you’ve written?
This is a question I just can’t answer. I wouldn’t publish a book that I didn’t love, and I have things I adore about each of my stories. Just Watch the Fireworks will always have a special place in my heart, because it was my first. I had so much fun writing Work of Art, because the characters had darker pasts and issues than any of my other books, and I love how bad-ass Harper was as a female lead. The social issues and personal tragedies I got to explore in Paper Airplanes, Haunted, Promise Me, and in the book I’m writing right now, Pieces of Us, challenged me to write on a deeper level and really tap into the emotions the characters were experiencing. And I love how fun the Forcing Gravity, Broken Fairytales, and Westside series’ were – mostly because it’s cool to write about the worlds of the rich and famous, which are so far from my own. So I’ll tell you simply, I love each and every book I’ve ever written.
Who are your favorite characters in your books?
Harper Connelly, Work of Art: My favorite female lead. She’s a badass tattoo artist who doesn’t take shit from anyone but who’s faced a lot of tragedy in her life. She’s hardened around people, and she doesn’t trust easily. But she has a soft side for Ryan, the boy she loved back before she knew how cold the world really was.
Zack Easton, Broken Fairytales series: Zack is basically my dream guy. He’s a musician, he’s broody and deep, but he also knows how to have fun, take risks, and he’s funny. Not to mention that he’s completely hot.
Phillip Lawton, “Lost to You”: I didn’t like Phillip much when I was first writing the series, because he was a self-centered, inconsiderate, spoiled party boy, but as I wrote Lost to You, I got to craft his backstory. I knew I had to make Phillip more relatable and dip into why he is the way he is. I loved the emotion of his character and how lost he really was, and everything else was just front that he portrayed. In truth, he loved the people in his life more than anything, and that was endearing.
Brandon Cooper, Love is Madness: Brandon was the most fun character to write. He was unapologetically himself, and he would be a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with. But I loved that he had a soft side too – one that he didn’t even know about. He was a good mix of hard and soft.
Haley Brecken, Dancing With Monsters & Monsters in the Closet: Haley was the cool girl I wished I was back when I was in college and after. She had her shit together, and she was laid back and fun. She didn’t think to much about consequences, but she was level-headed enough that she didn’t have to. And she was willing to take risks for the people she cared about. I liked how unselfish she was and that she’d do anything for someone she loved.
Which authors inspire you?
This list is really divided into the authors that inspired me for years and the authors that I admire today. I also have a ton of respect for authors that don’t write in the same genre as me. I gather inspiration from them all. Years ago, it was Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, Lauren Weisberger, Megan Crane, Sarah Mlynowski, Melissa Senate, and Sarah Dessen. Today I love reading anything by Cassandra Clare, Karen Lynch, Olivia Cunning, Katy Atlas, Cherrie Lynn, M.J. O’Shea, Piper Vaughn, Lexi Ryan, and Richelle Mead.
Why do you include playlists with your books?
I love music. It’s that simple, and I love the feeling that a song can inspire. When I’m writing, I see my books play out like a movie. It’s how I imagine scenes unfolding and character’s expressions and the way a dialogue exchange happens. I’m very visual. So usually there are songs that elicit the same emotions that a scene does, or there are lyrics that have inspired the scene or that just fit what I’m trying to convey. Music is just another way for me to tell my story, and the playlists I create are a venue to do that.
When do you find time to write?
Because of my day job, I’m totally a weekend warrior when it comes to writing. I have a hard time sitting still and just relaxing. I don’t feel productive when I’m doing that all weekend long, so I create a healthy balance between having fun and writing – which quite honestly is also fun for me. I’m kind of a nerd that way.
What’s your least favorite thing about writing?
Rejection. I absolutely hate it. In fact, I tell people I know that if they read my books and they don’t like them, I don’t want to know. Books are so personal, and you’re not going to please everyone. I’d rather not know if someone didn’t like my stuff. I also hate mean reviews. Giving a book less than three stars is already a blow to the author. You don’t have to dig the knife in any deeper with harsh words. I also feel like if you don’t finish a book, you shouldn’t get to rate it. If you haven’t invested the time to read the whole thing, it’s not fair to share your opinion.
Who designs your covers?
I design my own covers. I took a few graphic design classes in high school and college, I was an Advertising major and I worked in that field for a few years. I also have a pretty strong visual eye, so I’ve always designed my own covers. I buy the artwork from Shutterstock.com or Fotosearch.com, and I create the image you see from there. It’s not very complex, but I try to create compelling covers that grab attention and that invoke a feeling of wanting to know more about the people in the picture. That’s half the battle when selling your books. The cover can draw someone to your book, then they have to like the description, and good reviews can only help.
What advice to you have for aspiring writers?
Write. A lot. You have to practice. I feel like my style is evolving all the time, and as time goes by, I feel like I get a little better at telling my stories. It’s also important to understand your voice. I don’t write the same way other authors, and that’s okay. Trying to emulate someone won’t work if you’re nothing like them. Use other authors for inspiration, but write in a voice that is truly you. And when you decide to publish, do your research into the genre your book is in – what do successful books in that genre have in common, what should you avoid, what do readers want/hate, what should your cover look like, etc. I also think it’s important to have an editor that you can trust. My mom is an ace at English and grammar, and she also reads a ton. She’s critical as hell, and she has been an amazing support partner for me for the past few years. She started editing my books about a year into the process, and I’m so glad to have her on my team. And lastly, do it because you enjoy it. Writing is a creative process, and it’s not always fun or easy. If you’re not passionate about it, you won’t stick with it. Writing isn’t something you can do halfway. You have to be all-in, and you have to be okay with the fact that it’s going to be hard. But at the same time, it’s so rewarding to see your finished product available for the world to purchase. It’s even cooler when people you don’t know buy your books, and when they like them, well, that’s everything we all hope for as writers.