When author CC Mackenzie agreed to come and sit in our hot seat, I was very excited. She’s our first indie-published interviewee and I know she has loads to share with us. This well-connected author has received 5* reviews for her first indie-published book, has a wealth of valuable insight into social media and has lots of information for those of you considering the indie-publishing route. She’s also offered to give away 2 copies of each of her books! Let’s find out more…
Q: You’re a writer of contemporary romance and urban fantasy. What attracts you to these genres? Is there a common thread that draws you to them both?
I write sexy, contemporary romance and a sexy, futuristic urban fantasy. The genres have their own ‘rules’ but the themes are the same:-
During a life changing event in their lives, two people meet, are violently attracted, overcome external and authentic internal conflicts to fallen in love with ‘the one’. And the path to true love never runs smoothly for valid reasons. The internal emotional conflicts must ALWAYS take precedence over the external conflicts in a romance.
Q: You recently embarked on indie-publishing. What prompted you to publish your work this way as oppose to the traditional route?
I got cancer in October 2009.
After spending years mastering the craft (that part never ends) I submitted again to Mills & Boon in February 2010. I received a ‘good’ rejection in June 2010 which highlighted areas of weakness with a request to re-submit the story. I decided I didn’t have a year to wait for a response and then another two years before the book’s in print. Becoming sick helped me lose the fear of failure. After a couple of big operations I finaled in three competitions in the United States in 2011, two for Harlequin and the annual Romance Junkies competition which runs from January - May. I had amazing reader feedback and hundreds of emails, which gave me confidence. And all of this coincided with the digital publishing revolution.
But before I continue, I just want to say that my dream is to be published every single possible way and that’s because the reader wants it all. My motivation and focus at all times is The Reader. Change is being reader driven and the sooner we all work together to give them what they want the better.
Q: Reckless Nights in Rome is the first novel you’ve self-published and it’s clearly holding its own without any promotion from you. Can you tell us more about it as well as the process you went through from completing the novel to getting it out there?
I’ve sold over 400 in three months and don’t promote my books. I leave that for readers to do and they’re beginning to band together. I promote CC MacKenzie as a person and as an author, because I am the brand and my stories are a product of that brand. Does that make sense to you guys reading this? Because it is a very important distinction to make when you’re dealing with social networking. Social networking is... social. So I try to think of it as if I were attending a party or a big social function where I know no one. I asked myself how would I feel if met a person who was only interested in talking about selling their books, their issues or how wonderful they were. I’d soon move on to someone more fun to be with or more interesting. It’s a high concept to get our head around but very important imho.
Reckless is the first story in a linked series about the Ludlow family of Ludlow Hall and their close friends and acquaintances. Poor boy made good, gorgeous tdh Italian Nico Ferranti acquires Ludlow Hall and turns it into a luxurious Spa and Hotel. Bronte Ludlow has lost her parents, her home, her fiancé’s dumped her, and she’s moved to The Dower House where she’s set up her award winning wedding cake business. Nico wants to purchase The Dower House and surrounding land to complete the estate. Bronte’s having none of it and when they meet it’s fireworks between them.
Reckless was the story Mills & Boon turned down and I implemented their suggestions. I changed the theme, worked on character development and made a secondary character less intrusive.
As far as getting the book ready for publication was concerned, I have a team of eight people. Reckless must have been edited at least thirty times over its life cycle. But it was a fantastic learning curve, I can’t tell you how many times I thought ‘that’s it, all done!’ And then realised it needed something more. At some point we need to let the story go. The realisation that if anything went wrong, the buck stops with me was terrifying as well as exciting and very freeing. I have three critique partners that I met online in 2009 in the Mills & Boon Romance Is Not Dead competition (now known as New Voices), two of whom are editors.
I’ve three voracious beta readers of romance, who are not writers or friends or family, and they read the final copy. I will never publish a book without their opinion. Something every author needs to get her head around is to understand that once the book’s gone it no longer belongs to the writer, it belongs to the reader.
As far as self publishing is concerned, the challenge is to make the copy as ‘clean’ as possible which meant learning digital formatting. I’m lucky, I have two technological experts living at home. The Smashwords ‘how to’ book on epublishing is free and is a must for anyone, but there are excellent people out there who will do it for an author as well as a variety of editors/copy editors/graphic designers for covers etc. Apart from editing we did the whole thing ourselves. Scary. Any questions about the self-publishing process, please ask!
Reckless has done incredibly well, especially in the United States, where it’s received 5* reviews which came out of the blue. I never ask for reviews from other writers, friends or family. It’s a bad business ethic and it annoys readers (as can be seen by the conversations about reviews on some Kindle discussion boards.)
A core group of readers set up a discussion about Reckless on Goodreads – I had no idea and was alerted via another author. The author doesn’t participate in discussions and it was a real eye opener to see what they loved or thought was missing.
Q: Your next book, A Stormy Spring, has just launched. Can we have some insider information on that too, please?
It came out on Monday and is doing well! Stormy is a story I’d been working on for almost four years but didn’t have the skills required to tell the deeply emotional tale of West End theatre and film choreographer Becca Wainwright and the big, gorgeous Spaniard and PR Guru, Lucas Del Garda. Becca is a tortured soul who’s lost such a lot in her life under tragic circumstances and has thrown herself into work to forget. One stormy night with Lucas and.... well.... that’s all I’ll say.
I always fall madly in love with my hero, but Lucas has captured a big part of my heart. He’s a true hero in the very best sense of the word.
One thing I want to say is that it’s not until a self-published author has about five/seven books out that they gain a loyal following. Things are changing as I write and reader expectations are demanding. Trying to hit a moving target is not easy. So it’s crucial that a writer doesn’t launch until they’ve at least five completed works under their belt. I’ve at least that with others in the pipeline. To have those stories behind us takes the pressure off when social networking scrambles our brain. And my vampire books are written three at a time to keep me in the series and in the head of the characters. Need to start editing those soon, I’m a month behind at the moment.
Q: You’re also self-publishing another way by serialising your novel, Desert Orchid, live through your blog. You’ve said it’s taking shape as you write. First of all, where does your courage come from to do this? And second of all, why do it?
Ah yes, the story of Queen Charisse El Haribe and Prince Khalid El Haribe. Now there’s a tortured hero. Think a cross between a champagne swilling rock star, womaniser, world renowned painter and Arab Prince who’s rejected his family, culture and country. Boy, has he had it tough and Charisse is just the woman to sort this wicked bad boy out! His uncle dies and names Khalid as his heir to run the tiny kingdom of Onnur. In order to inherit he must marry the widow, Charisse, within weeks and get her pregnant within the year (nothing like a challenge). There’s a lot of adventure in this one since their lives and the country come under threat. She’s the first person I’ve ever shot - and it was great fun:)
After Reckless was sent out into the world and even though it was well received, my mood dipped. I’ve since learned that this is a common reaction to a book being launched. Writing each and every day is key to developing and improving our craft. So after speaking to another writer, I had this brilliant idea (to keep me focused) that I would serialise a story as it went along on my blog. I must have been touched by the insanity fairy. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But would I do it again? NO.
Q: Not only are you (clearly) constantly writing, you’re also heavily involved in tweeting, facebooking and blogging. How important do you think social media is for the writer? And how do you manage it all?
Indie writer, Diane Capri, writes legal thrillers and her eighth book has just hit No 2 beating John Grisham and she said that if it wasn’t for her WANA group’s support with guest blogging etc., she’d never have made it. It helped that Lee Child posted a link to her book and mentioned her on his blog.
Young adult indie writer, Jillian Dodd, has hit the top ten in her genre and has posted a full ‘how she did it’ interview with The Romance University (link below) and is talking honest numbers.
Both writers are part of my We Are Not Alone group. I can recommend Kristen Lamb’s ‘We Are Not Alone’ social networking group and blog. I’ve posted the link at the bottom. However, social networking is a steep learning curve for us creative types.
As far as social networking to connect to readers is concerned, it is true up to a point. But every single reader who’s contacted me wants to know when the next book’s out. That’s it. They might say they love our characters - Rosie went down well in Reckless and has her own book coming out in September 2012. But if they want to talk about a book, readers gather on the Kindle boards, Shelfari or on Goodreads and they do NOT want authors involved in their discussions. Having said that, never ever ignore a fan! These are the people who’ll buy your next book and the one after that, so the reader is my priority when it comes to responding to emails or messages.
Unless you’ve a book about to be published or published, the people you meet on social networking sites are other writers. And that’s wonderful for support and help and information gathering/sharing. The writer must find the area that works for them. The key is to find a balance. When I’m in the middle of a discovery draft, social networking is the last thing I want to do. However, there are messages to respond to and readers to acknowledge.
What works for me is to write first and then limit my time online.
I blog once a week unless something catches my eye and I never blog about my books or writing. But I will slip in that my new book’s out for example at the end (except serialising the story, but that’s on a separate page on the blog, not at the front). I need to blog more often (!) The blog is all about connecting and letting readers see how I tick. Having said all that, I am going to start a ‘Behind the Book’ weekly segment with a guest author to talk about their work. Just need to set that up. So anyone who wants a spot, email me.
But the key, the most important thing in your lives as writers is TO WRITE. So, the craft must come first, then the story.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of writing for you?
The joy of writing and learning everything about my characters and what’s made them who they are and why. They’re very real to me and when a story takes off there’s nothing like it in the world.
A big part of the joy of writing for me is mentoring and encouraging others that I believe have the talent to take the world by storm. I have four fabulous writers at various stages that I’m in touch with – one of whom is called Lindsay Pryor, you might have heard of her.
Q: Who or what has been your biggest influence in your writing decisions?
Two authors I found in my childhood Elinor M Brent Dyer’s Chalet School books and the incomparable Georgette Heyer. The late Jack M Bickham’s Scene and Structure, was critical in understanding dialogue, scene and sequence structure.
Today, it would be JA Konrath and Barry Eisler for nudging me off the end of the self publishing cliff. (They do not pull their punches on the state of publishing today.)
India Grey for her advice not to ‘over think it’ and support. Jane Wenham-Jones who’s insane and wonderful and told me five years ago I was a writer. James Scott Bell who said to keep writing, don’t read reviews and have goals. His Art of War for writers is a must - read his book and all will become clear, grasshopper!
Thanks so much for coming to join us today, Christine. And thank you for offering to give away four copies of your books! If you’d like to be in with a chance to win, all you have to do is leave a comment. Names will be picked out of a hat on SATURDAY. Be sure to come back and visit as I'll be announcing the winners then.
In the meantime, if you’d like to keep track of what Christine is up to you can find her in the following places:
If you’d like to purchase Christine’s books, they can be found here:
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stormy-Spring-Ludlow-Hall-ebook/dp/B008IJ9DU8/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341766483&sr=1-8
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Reckless+Nights+In+Rome&x=16&y=17
Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1/180-5150417-1168753?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Reckless+Nights+In+Rome
Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Stormy-Spring-Ludlow-Hall-ebook/dp/B008IJ9DU8/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1341766977&sr=8-9&keywords=A+Stormy+Spring
And finally here are those great links Christine told us about:
Kristen Lamb’s Social Networking groups http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/
Jillian Dodd interview at The Romance University http://romanceuniversity.org/2012/07/09/marketing-for-new-authors-jillian-dodd/