Welcome to Em T. Wytte’s Third Author Q&A, featuring the fabulous Jeanette Watts! I say fabulous because anyone who can manage to work, sew, run 5 dance groups, and write multiple books is pretty amazing.
But as Levar Burton would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”
An Interview with Author Jeanette Watts
1. What was your first finished book?
2. How many books did you start or work on before finishing that book?
I wrote countless fan fiction books when I was a kid – I don’t think there WAS such a thing as fan fiction in those days! But my friends and I loved Star Wars, and I had my own characters, and told stories to my friends in installments.
3. If it wasn’t the first book you worked on, what made this book different? What made you finish this one?
Love. I love these characters! Thomas is a decent man surrounded by flawed and selfish people. He’s flawed, but lovable. And he loves Regina the way I think every woman wants to be loved: wholeheartedly.
4. What was the biggest challenge you encountered when finishing your first book?
Finding an agent! I spent five years looking for an agent, before my friends finally convinced me to publish straight to Kindle. I should have listened to them a year earlier than I did. Agents are crazy. They ask you to rewrite your book to their specifications, and then they don’t like your book anymore…
5. If you’ve written books since then, was writing them easier/harder? How was the experience different?
I’d heard that “the first book is the hardest.” It’s true. Somehow, once you’ve completely written one, something changes in your brain, and you know HOW to complete other books. My first book took 10 years to write. When my readers insisted I write a sequel, it took maybe two years.
6. Have you published your book? If yes, what medium(s) did you publish it in and why?
I started on Kindle, and then I had people clamoring for a hard copy. I published through CreateSpace, and Smashwords, and now I have people asking when the audiobook is coming out. Demand is a good thing.
7. Who did your cover art? What was that experience like?
The words “cover art” always make me laugh. When I published on Kindle, I had followed the instructions, proudly hit the button, and it said “congratulations, your book is on Kindle! Now upload your cover art.” I stared blankly at the screen and said, “Oh. Yeah, I guess I should have seen that coming…” I am a Vintage dancer, all I had to do was sort through 3 years of vacation photos and I had several options I could use. My husband is a marvelous graphic artist, he chose a photo, tinkered with it, and I’ve had people tell me I obviously spent a fortune on my cover art.
The story doesn’t end there… once I published hard copies, I uploaded my novel, proudly uploaded my cover art saying “Ha! I’ve got this.” Then I was asked to upload the BACK cover art. I slapped myself on the forehead and said, “Wow. I REALLY should have seen that one coming.” I told my husband I need a back cover, without missing a beat he told me I needed a photo of a woman’s gloved hand on the chest of a man in a tailcoat. Which is exactly what’s on the back cover of my book…
8. How are you marketing your book(s)?
In the most haphazard manner possible. I love getting to book fairs as much as possible, and I should really do more of them! I’ve done virtual book tours, book signings at independent bookstores, done podcast interviews, and bought various packages through AmericaStar.
9. What is your next step?
Finishing my next book, so that I can get on with writing the one after that! Just one more round of proofreading, and Jane Austen Lied to Me is ready to be released. I took a mental vacation from historic fiction and wrote a contemporary satire. I thought that would be “easier,” not having to do all the historical research. I was wrong.
10. What is your favorite part of writing?
Writing just feels good. Getting the words out of my head, and onto paper (well, computer screen…). Having the characters blossom under your fingertips. You start with an idea, and it grows into something more powerful than you. Your characters take on a life of their own, and even when you have a preconceived notion of where things are going to go, when you’ve done it right, the characters stop doing what they’re told – they tell YOU what is going to happen, what they are going to do.
11. What is your biggest struggle with writing?
Keeping all the distractions away! I am also a dance instructor, and I have started five dance groups at the same time I’ve been writing, publishing, and promoting books. The writing will get set aside for a cancan dancer who needs a new costume. Or a dancer who needs some emotional support because of family drama, and instead of an evening of writing, I’m out being a girlfriend and there’s alcohol or chocolate involved. Then I step on the scale, groan, and I have to spend more time in the gym or out on a bicycle, working off the extra calories from the night out.
12. What do you consider your weakest writing skill and what have you done to strengthen it or make up for it?
Well, I have a weakness for ambiguous endings… I got in trouble with that with my readers. So Brains and Beauty has a more traditional, wrap-up-all-the-loose-threads-they-lived-happily-ever-after ending. I don’t like it as well, but it made people happy, and they forgave me for the first one. Except of course the people who thought the first one was perfect the way it was, and now they’re disappointed in me! So I think the moral of the story is, “Never forget that you can’t make everyone happy.”
13. Do you now or have you ever done writing prompts? Did they help?
Nope, and nope. I’m having trouble keeping up with my brain, which has all these stories in there, and I don’t write fast enough to suit it. I don’t need a prompt to give me something to write about. I would just like to be able to catch up to everything I want to write!
14. Have you take any writing classes? Which ones? What was your biggest take-away?
I am an English major, so I had quite a few writing classes. Two professors left an indelible impression on me, and my writing. One used to hand out writing assignments, and then he’d say, “Just be brilliant!” And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t. He told me “if you treat people like idiots, they will perform like idiots. If you treat them like geniuses, they will perform like geniuses.” I have lived by his philosophy ever since. The second professor taught me how to ignore that evil censor monkey that sits in our brains, forcing us to rewrite every sentence as soon as we’ve written it. His technique was to spit out the words, all of them, and then go back later and edit. It’s always easier to edit words that are already on the page than it is to find the right words in the first place.
15. What is your writing background?
As I mentioned, one of my bachelor’s degrees is in English. I double-majored with Cinema-Television; I thought I wanted to write soap operas for a living when I grew up. Never got to the soap operas, but I’ve worked in marketing departments and for marketing firms, I’ve written television commercials, screenplays, one-act stage plays for a festival with a wild west theme, a textbook on waltzing, and skits for a local history museum.
16. Have you ever written in a writing circle? What did you think?
I tried that once. You were supposed to pay $20 a visit, and bring ONE page in for everyone to critique. Besides being expensive when we’re talking about a 400 page book, people were “critiquing” minutiae, because you can’t get much character development in one page.
Since then, I’ve developed a large stable of proofreader/editors. I give out rough drafts of the entire manuscript when I think it’s “done” enough, and then I get 10-12 insightful read-throughs who give me wonderful feedback!
17. When and where do you write?
I love to write in pretty places. I have gotten so much done in hotel lobbies while my husband was at a conference. Friends of mine have a cabin in Canada that is the BEST place to hide and write, with Lake Erie in front of me. One time I took a few days before a dance weekend and hid out in a cabin in the Allegheny National Forest. Creek burbling away to my right, a giant hill covered in trees to my left. Found a really, really good winery on that trip when I stopped to take a break for a while…
18. Who are your favorite authors?
Margaret Mitchell and Louisa May Alcott
19. What is the #1 advice you would give to people who want to be writers?
Just do it. Stop making excuses. You are going to have to make it a priority – but think about it. What’s more important, getting the laundry done, or getting some writing done?
What do you think? Did you learn something?
Personally, I’ve gotta say that I am loving the author Q&A series so far – seeing the overlap in our feelings toward writing, learning about our differences and their causes, and, best of all, getting to know so many creative people better!
The authors’ candor and humor are what make these interviews both fascinating and useful. So a big thanks to Jeanette for being this month’s author!
Want to be the August author? Fill out the author Q&A form!