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9 1/2 Questions with J Bennett on the eve of release of her second novel

9 1/2 Questions with J Bennett, author of Girl With Broken Wings series

Summary of Falling – Girl With Broken Wings - FREE THIS WEEK ON AMAZON!

Maya, a college sophomore, was kidnapped and changed.

Now she must struggle to control the murderous appetite that fuels her new abilities and learn to trust her brothers as she joins them in their battle against a secret network of powerful and destructive beings that call themselves "Angels".  

On the bright side, at least Maya's oldest brother has stopped trying to kill her. 

In her debut novel, author J Bennett lavishes care on her characters as she slowly unwinds a story filled with paranormal action, wry humor, and terse family drama. Falling, is the first novel in the Girl With Broken Wings series. A follow-up novella, Coping, is available, and book two in the series, Landing, will be released TOMORROW. 

Summary of Landing, OUT TOMORROW!

Landing, Book Two
Will Maya's Nightmare Come True in Landing?

Fighting evil isn’t only high-stress, no pay, and uncomfortable as hell most of the time, it also doesn’t turn out to be quite as black and white as Maya would have hoped. As a hybrid angel struggling to control her murderous appetite, Maya should know better than to expect simplicity. With one half-brother still convinced that she’s an unstable threat and the other oblivious to the danger she presents, Maya struggles to find a balance between her diminished humanity and the darkness of the monster within.

The world gets murkier when Maya discovers a pair of angels who invite her into their lives. Now, she must choose between family or the promise of acceptance. The stakes grow higher when Maya’s greatest enemy returns. Vengeance may be within her grasp, but will Maya have to sacrifice one she loves to take it?

Landing is J Bennett's action-packed, darkly-humorous sequel to Falling, and the second book in the paranormal adventure series, Girl With Broken Wings Series. And yes, there will be plenty more Chuck Norris jokes.

 

1. How did you know that story burning inside you was a novel, and why have you chosen the series format?

Actually, I didn’t know at first that Falling would ever make it as a complete novel. At the time, I was actually working on a different manuscript that I thought out be “The One”. Falling started as a single compelling scene in my head, which would eventually turn into the prologue of the novel. I had to write it down, and then, well, I just kept writing trying to figure out how my protagonist had ended up into such a dire situation. 

The story flowed. The first draft was pretty terrible, but by then I had fallen in love with the characters. As I edited and cajoled my manuscript into shape, it became apparent to me that the story of Maya and her brothers demanded more than one book. They had a long journey ahead of them with many dangerous trials along the way.

 

2. The dreaded two questions that first authors hear: is it autobiographical? And is your spouse/best friend/coworker one of the characters?

I think there is a lot of myself in the protagonist, Maya, though, for the record, I am not a genetically-enhanced being who feeds off the auras of other living things. Maya is quirky and usually fumbles the witty comeback, which is definitely like me!

Gabe’s character is drawn in part from someone I knew for only a brief time many years ago. He was a free spirit, and it amazed me how happy, carefree and comfortable with himself he was. There was something very charming about that, and I never forgot it. 

 

3. Tell us about the success you had with obtaining professional book reviews.

When I first released Falling, I knew that getting reviews would be a low-cost method of generating awareness, especially in reader communities, so when I first released Falling, I focused on obtaining reviews from online book review bloggers. 

I did some online searching and found a few good directories of book bloggers. From there, I went to each blog and looked for three things:

Did they accept paranormal?

Were they currently accepting submissions?

Did they accept self-published?

If the answer to all three of these questions was “yes”, I put them on my own list. I would email each blogger using a template pitch letter, which I personalized for each blogger. I always included their name at the top of the email and tried to add something personal like a compliment of a recent post. If you’re interested, I’ve posted my pitch template on my blog HERE.

My response rate was about 20%, which is actually pretty good for general pitching. I ended up obtaining a handful of reviews, writing about ten guest posts and hosting a few giveaways on different blogs. Many bloggers who were swamped with review requests were glad to let me guest blog, which was a great way to reach their readers in a fun and interesting way.

Overall, I was amazed at how supportive and generous the book bloggers were. Imagine reading dozens of novels and posting reviews for free. However, the process was very time-consuming for me, and I started to struggle with guest post ideas. My second novel, Landing, launches in January, and I’ve decided to work with a company to put together a blog tour. This will save me many hours of time, which I think is worth the cost. I’ll probably blog about the results after the tour is over. If you’re interested, check back at www.ShyWriter.com

 

4. What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about becoming published?

 Honestly, I’ve been surprised by how much work it is to try and get noticed. I’m utterly and completely biased on this point, but I think my book is pretty good. Reading Lark said “As far as debut novels go, J Bennett has hit the ground running, and I can’t wait to watch her pick up speed and take off!” 

So, hopefully, I haven’t been pushing around a lemon this whole time. I kind of hoped that if I could get a handful of people to read the novel, word would spread. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m still searching for ways to reach readers and convince them to give me a chance. I work on it a little each day, but progress is slow. I’m still holding onto the idea that if I can just cultivate a critical mass of readers, the book will tip. 

 

5. Do you think it's possible to write books for a living in today's climate? If so, how do you plan to do it?

Yes, I do believe it’s possible to be a professional author, both through the traditional route and the self-published/indie route. With that said, I think that only a few authors will enjoy this type of success. The vast majority (90 – 95% is my guess) will not be able to write for a living. The authors who do make it seem to have certain traits in common:

They write high quality work in a popular genres (romance and paranormal YA sell like hotcakes)

They have a large catalogue of works (earning even just a dozen monthly sales each on 40 books really adds up)

They spend a lot of time and effort promoting their books and their brand (JA Konrath is one of the best examples I can think of. I encourage every writer to read all of the archives of his blog, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing to see all the work he did to become a successful author).

As for myself, writing fiction for a living is the dream, but I’m a pragmatist, which is another way of saying that I’m not quitting my day job any time soon (also, I happen to really like my day job). 

My primary goal is just to write the best book I can. I want every piece I write to be highly entertaining to readers with a strong mix of humor and drama. I figure if I can at least get this part right, then I’m not wasting my time or my talent.

I do work hard to market myself, and my hope is that eventually I will be able to build a strong and loyal readership that will help me earn an income. This is a process that will take years, not months, and will require me to continue to publish to build a strong backlog. 

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to make a living as an author, but if I can write and publish what I think are great stories, then I won’t have any regrets. 

 

6. Self-publishing is a hustle. Extrapolate.

Even though I have a professional marketing and public relations background, I’m still shy and introverted at heart, like many writers. It’s much easier for me to market the products and services of my clients rather than myself.

Honestly, I still haven’t entirely gotten over the “ick” factor of promoting my own work, and it bothers me greatly when I join new writing groups and communities and see that a majority of people are just posting links to their book and announcing sales like crazy.

When I market, my goal is to offer value and build relationships, not plaster ads (except if I’m explicitly advertising). I like to try new marketing tactics and then write blog posts about them. I’ll then try to share these posts to start conversations with other writers.

I’ve also worked to build a strong Facebook community for my author page, and I post random funny notes and observations a few times a week. Actually, what I really do is write a handful of posts at the beginning of the month and schedule them. Then, I’ll add a post here or there as the mood hits me. This is really convenient and saves a lot of time.

What else have I done? I invested a lot of time and not a small amount of money in building a website, www.JBennettWrites.com, where I feature the works I’ve done and little extras for my Girl With Broken Wings series. I’ve experimented with free press release services, joined Goodreads, Kindleboards and a few other community sites. I’ve also joined several Facebook and LinkedIn groups. It’s a struggle to find the time to manage all these different places and to try and offer value – not marketing – in each of these places. I know that I can be doing better!

 

 

7. What is different about writing for a YA audience?

While my Girl With Broken Wing series will appeal to older teens, I think my primary audience is “new adults”, which is the 18 – 25 age group. Writing for this group was simple – I was a new adult at the time I started Falling, and my protagonist, Maya, is also in that age group. With Falling and the other books in the Girl With Broken Wings series, I wrote from the heart in a voice that felt like Maya. Since she happens to sound a lot like me, it wasn’t much of a struggle.

One thing I’ve gotten a little flak about is using obscenities. My characters cuss. Gabe cusses a lot. I didn’t write it this way to be provocative or to turn people off. Maya is 19. Gabe is 23. That’s the way 19-year-olds and 23-year-olds talk. It always feels false to me when teenage characters say “darn” or “holy crow!”.   

 

 

8. What did you learn as part of writing this series?

I have a good story in response to this question. When I was first sketching out the lives of Tarren and Gabe, who live off the grid as vigilantes, I had to figure out what type of training and skills they had. They are fighters, so I did a lot of research on different forms of martial arts. I also decided to put them in yoga, but only because the pretty neighbor goes to yoga, and Gabe has a huge crush on her.

I also found out about CrossFit, which is an intense exercise regiment that focuses on full body movements (lots of pull-ups, box jumps, squats, push-ups, and running). At the time, I was looking for a way to kick my exercise routine into high gear. Since Tarren and Gabe were doing CrossFit, I decided to try it for myself.

I’ve been going for two years now, and it is a big passion of mine – all because of my book series. 

 

9. What is your writing routine?

I try to write or work on my writing every single day. I always write in the morning. It’s the first thing I do, actually after waking up. I don’t even brush my teeth first! I feel like this allows me to write with a fresh slate before all the different worries and inputs from the day start crowding in.

Each morning, I try to write from one – two hours. When I’m writing, my goal is to write a full chapter. When I’m editing, I usually edit two chapters at a time. 

Editing always takes a lot longer than the initial writing. I usually go through two drafts before I let my first reviewer see it. Then I do another edit and let my second reviewer see it. By the fifth draft, I usually feel comfortable bringing in a beta reading group.

With each new novel and novella, my editing process is getting a little less intense. I ended up going through 14 drafts of Falling, my debut novel. The follow-up novella, Coping, came out relatively clean from the start, so I only had about six drafts. Landing, which is almost done, is on draft eight. The third novel, Rising is on draft one, so it’s got a long way to go.

I believe very strongly in editing and polishing and reworking a book until the is prose is clean, the pace is crisp, and the plot is smooth (no holes). I’ve been reading a lot of self-published and indie novels lately, and I think many writers publish too early and don’t put enough value on a good copyedit. Even though I’m a professional copyeditor, I always pay an outside copyeditor to go over my novel. 

 

9 1/2. Tell us something zany, wacky or bonkers about yourself, unrelated to your writing.

As a young girl, I was a competitive gymnast. For some reason it’s really important to me that I retain some of these skills. Every once in a while I’ll still go out and practice my back-hand-springs, back tucks and aerials. I can still do kips on the bar too and left and right splits. While these aren’t exactly useful life skills, they do make good conversation starters at parties.  

***

J Bennett is a professional copywriter and copyeditor who lives in California. Falling is J Bennett’s debut novel and the first book in the Girl With Broken Wings paranormal adventure series. It is currently available as an ebook on AmazonBarnes & Noble, Smashwords. She has also published a follow-up novella, Coping, and the second book in the series, Landing, will be released on January 10, 2013. For more information, or to read an extended free sample of Falling, visit www.JBennettWrites.com or J Bennett’s Facebook page. She also writes the blog www.ShyWriter.com .