This week I want to welcome my friend and author Lynda Hilburn to our blog. Lynda has written two novels and a couple of novellas. By profession Lynda is a psychotherapist and counselor, so in writing her first novel The Vampire Shrink, she has some experience to call upon (hopefully only in the psychotherapy realm). Her professional website is here:
Lynda and I got to know each other through our mutual first publisher. Even before I read her first novel, I read “Undead in the City” and loved it. I’ll still waiting for a longer version or a sequel. Then I read “Diary of a Narcissistic Bloodsucker,” which was a real hoot. I highly recommend both. Although these were classified as erotica, I found them a pleasant departure from most erotica in that these–oh the horror of it!–actually had a worthy plotline to go along with the sex. They likely had too much plot to be classified as erotica.
Anyway, let’s meet Lynda.
Lynda, I’m curious as to how you got started writing vampire stories in the first place.
Thanks for interviewing me, Rick. Meeting you was one of the highpoints of our previous publishing experience.
I’ve always been a rabid vampire book reader. The first book I became obsessed with as a kid was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That’ll show you what kind of weird kid I was. I’d never thought about writing fiction at all until I discovered a new-to-me genre in 2004: paranormal romance. Reading about all those encounters with gorgeous bloodsuckers obviously motivated me, because I started jotting down ideas. I still like writing about the dark little dears.
What made you decide to go into novel writing and what were your inspirations?
Writing fiction never occurred to me. I was firmly in the non-fiction camp. I assumed I’d write books about various psychological, metaphysical and higher consciousness topics. Little did I know those would be the foundations of my fiction. I was motivated to try my hand at novel-length fiction by reading hundreds of paranormal romances. I thought I probably could eek one out. I’ve since discovered that writing a traditional happy-ending romance doesn’t come easily to me. I’m always tempted to add some weird twist at the end to confound expectations. But I’m determined to actually succeed at completing a HEA (Happily Ever After) before I turn off the computer for the last time.
[Rick adds: No offense to the Romance Camp, but sometimes knowing that the story will turn out happily, with the guy and the girl ending up together in the end can spoil the story. It’s kind of like watching a TV drama series where you always know that the main character isn’t going to die no matter how bad things seem. I appreciate stories where I’m not sure, where the character you think is the hero really isn’t, or where the HEA ending happens in an unexpected way.]
What approach do you take to developing a new story idea?
I usually start with a character and let the story write itself around her/him. I never know what’s going to happen in a story until it shows up on the screen in front of me. Sometimes, as with The Vampire Shrink, it was easy because I was writing about an idealized version of myself. I’d rather chew my leg off than do research, so I mostly stick to what I already know.
You’ve traveled an interesting and sometimes frustrating path in getting your vampire novels published. What would you like to share with other writers about your experiences?
If you’d asked me two years ago, I would have talked about breaking more rules, faster. Not giving my power away to agents and editors. Never signing anything I didn’t understand. Now, all those things are still true, but the publishing environment is changing so quickly that nobody knows what’s going on. Thanks to self/indie publishing, authors have more options than ever, and the power balance between the players is shifting. Today I’d say (as everyone always says, and it’s totally true) write the best book you can. Hire excellent editors in addition to participating in healthy critique groups (trust me, they aren’t all healthy). Then decide what you want. Is a print deal your dream? Pursue it. And, write some shorter things to put up yourself on Amazon and Smashwords, etc. I’m a “this/and” believer. I would never again put all my writing eggs in any one basket. Take more risks. Life is short.
Would you care to share any of your experiences with having a publisher? Positives? Negatives? How well your novels sold?
My first publisher was a small press. I knew nothing about publishing when I signed the contract with them. Seriously. I really didn’t know what distribution meant. Silly me. But, even with all the challenges I faced, I managed to sell quite a few books. I sold through right away and got several nice royalty checks before the company and I severed our connection. This new deal is a joint affair between a UK publisher (Quercus) and a USA pub (Sterling/Barnes & Noble). When the deal was offered to me, it seemed too good to pass up. That was right before the largest wave of self-pubbing happened (my two novels were on Kindle, etc., doing very well). Had the offer come even a few months later, I’m not sure what I would have done. At this point, I have no idea how my UK book has sold. The revised/expanded USA version of The Vampire Shrink comes out April 3, 2012. The new book #2, Blood Therapy, is supposed to be released September 2012. The likelihood that I’ll ever see any royalties from this deal is miniscule because they gave me a good advance. What I do know is that no matter what publishing route an author takes, the promo is on her/him.
How involved were you in the promotional aspects of your novels?
It feels like I’ve been doing 24/7 promo since 2006. Well, except for the months I gave up and stopped writing/promoting. After being told it was “impossible” to move a series from one house to another (in 2009), I figured I’d had the shortest publishing career in the universe. But putting my novels up as e-books on Amazon, etc. gave me a second (tenth? hundredth?) wind. And it brought back the need to re-enter the Constant Promo Zone. My first publisher did a few ads for me, which was nice. Since I am on the other side of the pond from my UK publisher, I really don’t know what they’re doing for me (I hinted like mad how great it would be if I could COME TO LONDON, LOL). I’ve pretty much held off on doing a lot of promo for the UK version, waiting for the USA edition to arrive. But in the meantime, I’ve continued to promote myself as an author, which is always the best thing to do, anyway. Name recognition is the ticket.
I know that you landed a deal with a German publisher. Care to elaborate on that and what was involved?
That was easy. I didn’t really do anything. My previous agent (we parted ways shortly after my first publisher and I called it quits) received an inquiry and simply passed it along to me. There were two German publishers who wanted to publish my two novels. They went through a mini-auction, which I negotiated myself (surprised me!), and I chose one. Those advance checks were really nice because of the exchange rate between German and US money. Woo, boy!
After your novels were declared out of print by your first publisher, what were your next thoughts and steps?
Actually, I had to work really, really hard to make that happen. I was very upset to discover that perhaps my series had come to an end. That is why I was so pleasantly surprised to be successful with the digital versions of my books. When my current agent announced that he was certain he could sell my series, I was over the moon. Even if my current arrangement doesn’t go beyond the 3-book contract I signed, I am very excited to keep the series going on my own.
How has the rise of self-publishing affected you? Do you have any sage advice for would-be self-publishers?
One of the biggest criticisms of self-publishing is the quality of some of the books. It really is important to hire good editors, to have high-quality professional covers and excellent blurbs. As with any form of publishing, some authors are wildly successful, some moderately successful and some not. That’s happening with self/indie publishing. Regardless, prepare to promo your buttocks off.
What’s your next project and where do you see yourself in several years as an author?
I just turned in the draft of the new book #2 in my series, Blood Therapy. At this point, I’m imagining my editor sitting in her office in London screaming and pulling her hair. Of course, she’s a very nice lady and probably wouldn’t do that. And generally she has been very kind about my writing. But one always worries. Next I’ll have to try to salvage some of the pages from what used to be book #2 (formerly called Dark Harvest), which will now be book #3. Maybe. If enough of it can’t be used (I made a lot of changes to the series direction in the new book #2), I’ll have to write a new book #3. That gives me loose bowels, because they want to put book #3 out in early 2013. Uh-huh. I’d really like to keep on writing and selling stuff. I’ll admit that I’m not one of those writers who writes because I am driven to write. Nope. I like to make money. If I stopped making money at writing, I’d seriously consider a new plan. Hopefully, I can flesh out some ideas for a couple of new series, while continuing with the current series and many short works. Maybe I’ll win the lottery? LOL.
Any other thoughts?
As everyone else says: Never give up. And take all advice with a huge grain. Nobody really knows what’s happening in publishing, even if they say they do. Be brave! Explore uncharted territory! Make this your mantra: Yes I can!
I just uploaded a free, tiny story in Kismet Knight’s professional world (“Until Death Do Us Part”) to Smashwords. It will be available on Kindle in a couple of weeks. If you read it, I hope you’ll post a review!
Thanks for having me, Rick!
Thanks for joining us, Lynda. Since our blog is all about selling your writing, it’s nice to hear about the successes of other authors and to have their advice reinforce what we’ve already said here about writing well as a key to those successes.
Lynda Hilburn’s contact info: