Sherri A. Wingler
Author of the Immortal Sorrows and Dark Woods Series
Author spotlight is about the beginning authors, the first novel, the first edit, and the first-time publishing experience. We will not interview writers for their second book because we lose the beauty of metamorphosis. By the second book, the caterpillars have become butterflies. BookPressed™ is designed to focus on the caterpillars.
~~ Let’s begin with a huge congratulations to Sherri and thank you for finding time in your busy schedule to answer some questions about you, and your book, and offer some helpful advice to those beginning writers out there in need of some inspiration.
First, let me thank you for this fantastic opportunity. It’s an honor and a privilege to connect with BookPressed™ in this way. We’re doing something fun with this interview, something I’ve never seen done before. You see, BookPressed™ interviewed me way back in 2014, right after I published for the first time. Back then, I was still all starry-eyed and scrambling madly to understand the publishing business.
Now, I’ve settled down quite a bit. I’ll be retaking this interview to see what happened to the caterpillar in five years. Keep in mind I’m not an expert, but I have real-world experience, which is worth gold these days. It kills me, but I’m letting my answers from 2014 stand. (I’ll be over in the corner cringing as you read, don’t mind me!)
~~BookPressed™ is all about authors helping authors. So let us begin, shall we – I will be asking you five simple questions and then five random fun questions.
1.) When writing a novel, many people either edit themselves or hire an editor. I understand you did the editing yourself. Please tell us some of the pros and cons of your decision.
(2014 *Insert eye roll from my older, wiser self.) I self-edited because the pros outnumbered the cons. For one thing, I saved several hundred dollars by doing my own edits. For another, I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi and control freak. (I’m only partially joking!) The only con was by the time I was finished with the edits, I’d gone over the manuscript a minimum of ten times. I felt like my eyeballs were bleeding, and I was sick of my own story. It wasn’t funny. I was fortunate to have two amazing people help me with it. Heather Thomas and Kim Wingler are my best friends and daughter-in-law, respectively. They would go behind me every few edits and point out the things I missed. (And there were plenty of mistakes!) For someone planning to do their own edits, I recommend getting a friend who will point out the flaws to help you. So many people will tell you, “It’s wonderful,” or “I love it!” That’s not helpful. Find a friend who will point out when your character is acting out of character. Find the friend who will point out that there’s a massive jump between one major event and the next. In other words, find a friend who will be honest and tell you that you look fat in the dress you’ve been dying to stuff yourself into. Bounce ideas off them. Pick and choose the good stuff. Heather and Kim helped me so much with this book. I will love them forever.
(2019) Oh, honey. I think I was high on the smell of my own ink when I wrote that! Here’s the thing, I was full of crap. Yes, edit yourself to the best of your abilities. Polish that book till it sparkles. Then do it again. Once you’re confident, it’s as perfect as you can make it; either find an editor or get a team of beta readers on it. Editing your work is almost impossible because the
brain is a sneaky beast. It will skip your mistakes, and you’ll think it’s all okay. You’d be wrong about that.
The book I thought was perfect came down three times to fix mistakes. Honestly, I could pull it down today and rewrite it simply because I don’t write the same way I did five years ago. I left it alone because I finally realized nothing was perfect, but it was as perfect as I could make it at the time. Believe me, when I tell you some readers love to bash books for the tiniest of issues. Most people will forgive one or two mistakes, but there are trolls worldwide, and they are waiting to pounce on starry-eyed authors.
2.) Looking at your ratings on Amazon, you are five stars across the board. Young YA readers can be very meticulous about their stories. Are you pleased with your welcome, or has it added stress to the second book?
(2014) I’m still shocked by my book’s reception. I hoped for them but never expected five-star reviews. It’s even picking up five-star reviews in the UK, which blows my mind. Regarding expectations, I wrote the first book in a vacuum. Nobody knew. My husband and my friend Heather were the only ones who knew what to start with. My daughter-in-law found out about halfway through the first draft. I told no one because I was afraid, I would choke halfway through and have nothing to show for it. Can you imagine the embarrassment? So, for several months, I had this incredible little secret. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The problem with keeping it my little secret was that I needed to catch up on marketing. Nobody tells you when you self-publish that you not only have to be a great writer, but you better be a marketing ninja as well. I am, however, catching up!
Now, for book 2, ‘Wings of Shadow,’ there are some expectations. Honestly, I froze up for a couple of months. I didn’t want to let anyone down. The sophomore slump scared the crap out of me. Then I remembered a bit of fatherly wisdom my dad used to tell me. “Brace both feet and pull your head out of your ass.” Dad was helpful like that. It’s excellent advice and always works. I realized that I wrote ‘Wings of Darkness’ to amuse myself. Book two is simply a continuation of that story, and I’m writing it as such. It has the same flavor as the first, and I’m keeping myself amused. I hope that other people will love it as much as I do.
(2019) I’m still thrilled that ‘Darkness’ is getting good reviews. It still blows my mind that people pay me to do what I love. As for the rest of my answer, I like the idea of keeping a book to myself for a bit. I adore the feeling of having a secret. On the other hand, series books do bring pressure because every single one must be at least as good, if not better, than the one before. I don’t believe writer’s block is a real thing, but I’m the queen of procrastination.
3.) For a new writer, you have more than one or two twists and turns to your story. Are you a planner? Do you like to have an outline? Alternatively, do you slam your face and hands into your computer and bang out a story?
(2014) I’m both a plotter and a pantser. Would that make me a planter? I don’t know. I didn’t know what I was doing when I wrote the first book. I played it by ear and took notes constantly. When something seemed to stick, I used it. I’ve since learned the joy of a plotting board. Look it up on Pinterest if you need to know what that is. It is a giant Styrofoam board covered in sticky notes. And who doesn’t love playing with sticky notes? That being said, I’m entirely open to any possibilities. When I get a surprising idea, I add a new sticky note to the board.
Regarding the twists and turns in my plot, I was a reader long before I was a writer. What’s fun to write isn’t necessarily fun to read. A plot needs conflict, and lots of it! I like to think of the
worst possible thing I can do to a character and then up the ante. Remember, though, that the worst thing you can do to one character may not bother another in the slightest. I also look at the possible results of what I’ve done to them and discard the first few things that come to mind. If it’s easy to predict the plot twist, it’s no fun to read.
(2019) Wasn’t I adorable in my naiveté? Plotting boards, indeed! Okay, here’s the takeaway: Pinterest is a fantastic writing resource, but so is a large portion of the internet. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of free writing templates out there. I like to have a basic outline when I start, but I know I will not follow it to the letter. So let your subconscious mind surprise you. One thing I do find helpful is to have the ending done as soon as possible. Otherwise, I tend to ramble on with no clue about my destination.
4.) You probably had a quiet time when you began your book. Now that the first book is out and doing well, do you find it harder to focus on the second book?
(2014) People talk about being inspired to write. Inspiration is wonderful. There’s no better feeling than when a scene pops into your head and the book starts to write itself. If I had waited to be inspired to write, I’d still be in chapter one of the first book. I have a full-time job. I work anywhere from 12-19 days straight before I get a weekend off. I have a family. I’m tired, in other words. Like so many indie authors, I have to find time to write. I carry a notebook everywhere I go. I have Microsoft Office downloaded on my phone with a separate file just for notes. If I get a thought while driving, I can hit the microphone button on my notes file and dictate part of the story. Then I just cut and pasted it into my main document. It may sound easy, but I have a southern accent, and my microphone doesn’t understand everything that comes from my mouth. Sometimes when I move my notes over, it looks like I had a stroke in the middle of the sentence. Every night, even if it’s only for an hour, I work on my book. Some nights I get a few thousand words down. Some nights I’m lucky if I get 400. Eventually, though, all of those words add up. So don’t wait for inspiration. Park your hiney in the seat and start typing.
(2019) This is the one thing that makes sense! Five years in, and I no longer find time to write. So I make time to write. I commit to it. It’s a career, job, business… call it whatever you like, but I’m the only employee, and I have to show up if I want to succeed.
5.) Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement to the authors scrambling to start, finish, and publish their work?
(2014) Read voraciously. Study “The Elements of Style and Editing.” You don’t have to make every sentence grammatically perfect. People don’t talk or think that way. However, when you break one of the rules of grammar, be aware that you’ve done it, and do it for a good reason. Learn the difference between to, two, and too! (Grammatical mix-ups drive me crazy.) Avoid lazy writing. Try never to use the word ‘very.’ Very tired can become exhausted. Very pretty can become lovely, gorgeous, etc. You get the idea. The English language is beautiful. Explore the words that only get a little use. Make the Thesaurus your friend.
Learn the difference between showing and telling. Don’t tell me there’s a knife at the heroine’s throat. Instead, let me feel the cold weight of the metal as it settles against her skin. Make me smell that copper penny scent of blood as it trickles slowly from the wound. Let me taste the acid bite of fear on her tongue. You get the idea.
Think about what you want to write before you start. Which genre are you writing? I love paranormal romance. I love young adult literature, which worked out well for me because that market is selling well right now. I chose to write about Reapers and the Angel of Death because
it’s a niche category that hasn’t been saturated. Do not get me wrong, I love a good vampire novel, but vampires have been done to death. Pun intended.
I don’t want to sound mercenary, but money is a valid reason to publish. I can write for myself and enjoy it, but having your book become a success is a huge thrill. I could have written a book on bottle-feeding kittens. But, unfortunately, there’s no market for it or not much of one.
Think about your cover, too. People say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all know we do. So, when I went to put a cover on my book, I decided to do the opposite of what so many books have done. Eight or nine of every ten books on the market have a half-naked couple on the cover. My book has a doorway. A gothic-looking doorway that represents the grey area between life and death. It’s an excellent cover for a book about Reaper angels, and I love it.
Most importantly, finish what you start. When you begin a new book, it’s like a new love affair. You’re brilliant! Your story is fantastic! You’re having fun! Then you reach the middle and realize you need to figure out what you’re doing, or people will hate it. The urge to give up and move on to the next big idea is so strong you need to force yourself to move forward. Even if it means skipping the middle and writing the ending first, you can always tack it all together later.
(2019) Study your market. That cover I was so in love with. It didn’t sell well. So, I found a fantastic cover designer and rebranded the whole series. Sales jumped immediately. The moral of the story is to be flexible. If your book isn’t selling, try a new cover. Rewrite the description. Get fancy and have a professional format the book. The beautiful thing about being an indie author is there are no rules. If something doesn’t work, change it.
Here’s some marketing advice I wish someone had given me… don’t spam your friends and family by repeatedly throwing book covers and links up on Facebook and Twitter! Eventually, people will get sick of it and block you. For the love of all you hold dear, do not direct message someone with your links. I’ve had this happen, and it’s an automatic block. Spamming makes you look desperate and unprofessional. Nobody wants that.
What is the best way to get your links to spread for free? First, spread around other authors’ links. See a book you like and share it. Believe me, they’ll notice, and then they’ll track your links down and return the favor. Next, make friends with other writers. Indies are incredibly supportive of each other. Of course, there are a few exceptions, but they wash out fast in this business.
Once you have a little money coming in, pay to advertise. Bookbub, Amazon, Facebook, and thousands of smaller sites… all sell ads. Spread your advertising dollars around till you figure out what works for you.
In the meantime, give away your book occasionally. Oh, I can hear the shrieks and gnashing of teeth from here! You read that correctly. Give away your precious book, especially the first of a series. Think of it as your calling card. If your reader likes it, they’ll buy anything you write after it. Once you get a few books under your belt, consider making the first of the series permanently free. Let it work for you. Only put up a free book if you have something behind it. There’s no point.
Now, a word on reviews. You’re going to get bad reviews. Everyone does. Please do not respond to them. Ever. Getting anyone to review takes a lot of work. It averages out to about one review for every one thousand paid downloads. So, for someone to sit down and write the review, they either really love or hate your book. There are only so many middle-of-the-road reviews. Before you get uptight, look at what they’re saying. You can learn a lot about your work from someone else’s perspective. My favorite review was only a three-star. She didn’t like my snarky characters but said the book was well-written and well-edited. I’m not even mad about that.
Sometimes you have a troll on your hands. (Thank you to the guy who bashed my book all over Goodreads after saying he hates young adult, paranormal romance. He snapped it up during a free promotion, and guess what? It’s a young adult paranormal romance. This is a fine example of getting trolled.) Do not engage the trolls. I’ve seen authors’ ratings tank because they tried to defend their work and the troll brought their friends into it who all gave one-star reviews to a book they’d never read. While I’m thinking of it… do not engage in reading for reviews with other authors. Amazon will smite thee down, for one thing. For another, chances are the other author will expect a glowing review and the book may not be as fantastic as they seem to think. They may get defensive if your opinion isn’t what they hoped for.
Conversely, you may be the author getting defensive. This isn’t a business for the thin of skin. If you don’t like criticism, I suggest a different career path, but I digress.
The best to get out of a read for review, from even the pushiest of the pushy, is, “I’d love to do this for you, but I can’t for legal purposes.” Which is entirely accurate. If you read a werewolf novel from Pushy McAuthor and someday find yourself writing one, what’s to stop them from saying you copied their idea? That’s right, nothing. Stick to authors you trust if you’re going to beta read for them. Ignore the random, direct messages from authors you’ve never heard of before. See desperate and unprofessional above.
Finally, do make yourself available to readers who love you. Leave a link in your book for your website, Facebook page, Twitter account, etc. If someone goes to the trouble of tracking you down to tell you how much they love your work, love them back. Those are the people who will stay with you. Start a beta group, get to know them, and ask about their families. In other words, you’ve found your people. Treat them like gold because they are!
Five Fun Questions!
1.) You have a sense of humor, which shines through in your writing. Would you consider yourself this humorous in real life, or does it just come out in your writing?
(2014) Thank you for the compliment. I’d love to take credit for my charming personality, but it’s genetic. Dear old Dad, again. I try to find the funny in everything. If I can’t, I can at least see the irony, and that’s almost as good. Do I put humor into my books? No. Does it end up there anyway? You bet. I could cover it up and behave myself, but I have more fun this way, and my readers do, too.
I have thought about toning it down, but I’ve made the conscious decision to let my freak flag fly. (Kidding.) Seriously, if you can make your reader laugh, cry, or fall in love, they’ll love you forever. And that’s priceless.
(2019) I’m hilarious on the inside. Unfortunately, the outside has a resting bitch face, and it looks like I want to stab someone.
2.) We all read the back of the books, which say the big THANK YOU TO: I noticed not very many say thank you to my incredible best friends, work, or high school friends. Instead, they always say, ‘Thank You, Spouse.’ Always followed by a ‘for putting up with me’ kinda thing. Why ‘thank you’ to the spouse… aren’t friends as supportive?
(2014) That’s a great question. The spouse gets recognition because living with someone who walks around talking to themselves can’t be easy. My husband, bless his little heart, actually brought me noise-canceling headphones. (The kind used on a shooting range.) I can’t hear
anything but my heartbeat with them. For that, if nothing else, he deserves all the credit in the world.
As for everyone else… the minute you publish your first book, you will find out who your friends are. Seriously. Don’t be surprised if you proudly tell your friends and co-workers about your new book, and their eyes glaze over.
It’s a tricky spot for them to be in. They might legitimately love your book or hate everything about it. How will they tell you without hurting your feelings if they read and hate it? Most people want to avoid the issue altogether. So don’t take it personally.
(2019) I like to keep my books separate from real life, but you do you. If they ask about them, I only bring up my books to family or co-workers. Having someone constantly talk about their books to people who may or may not care is like spam in real life. It can get ugly.
3.) Think of a question you would ask one of your favorite characters in your book if you had the chance to meet face to face. Tell us how they would respond.
(2014) I’ve asked them everything I possibly could. The one that comes to mind, though, is Grim. Up till the eleventh hour of the book, I didn’t know which way he would go. I kept asking him if he would betray the main character. And up till the very last minute, he always responded with a sly grin. “I might,” he would say.
(2019) Talking to my characters is like opening the door to my subconscious. I never know what lurks in the depths, but it’s guaranteed to be unexpected.
4.) Think of your favorite book ever and name it. Now, if the main character from that book were to go to a party where all your characters were, what would the outcome be?
(2014) My favorite book ever? Hands down, it’s “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve read it more times than I can count and have memorized entire passages. Edward Rochester was my first literary love, and he ruined me for all others. How would Rochester handle a party with the Angel of Death and the Grim Reaper? I assume he’d tell them both to go to the devil. He’s feisty like that.
5.) What is something you would never write about and why?
(2014) I would write about something other than sports because I find them boring. I know…I hear the hissing and boos, but it is what it is. Also, I don’t think I’ll ever try to write erotica. I would hate to explain to my grandkids someday why Granny made a living writing about heaving bosoms and ripped bodices.
(2019) Never say never, kids! I did break that glass ceiling in the book I’m currently writing. Feral Moon has some sexy stuff in it. I had no idea writing erotica would be hard (see what I did there?). Ahem, I shall be hiding when it publishes.
The last question – Do you have any teasers you can give us on your 2nd book, “Wings of Shadow”?
(2014) A girl never writes and tells before her release date!
(2019) I still don’t like dropping teasers before the book is out, mainly because something might change.
A huge thank you to Sherri Wingler. We here at BookPressed™ are excited to see you starting so explosively. We wish you the best of luck and will hopefully receive updates on your next book.
This site is in its infancy. The excitement of what we are creating for writers will grow as it grows! Here’s to the beginners, guys!
Questions about this author? Please feel free to visit her website, and Sherri will be glad to answer any questions you may have. www.sherriwingler.com
~~I enjoyed this article because what I originally thought would happen –did happen. By her second novel, and all subsequent ones, Sherri had different problems – different roadblocks because she had grown so much as a writer. I wanted this interview to inspire other beginning authors – to get a true, raw feeling of how it felt to do this the first time. Different jungles we walk through, but the same monkeys we must deal with. By the second novel, the writer has changed – grown and learned so much more. We all must start somewhere, and it’s nice to see we are not alone.
These interviews are for first-time novel writers only.
Author Sherri Wingler we thank you!
Writing for BookPressed.com Heather Lea Ryan
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