I followed a tweet on Twitter that took me to an author who was experiencing something amazing. Her new novel entitled Him was high on the Kindle bestseller list after being out only one week. Huge publishers with large marketing budgets can sometimes engineer this, but this was a book published by its author. There she was in the top twenty-five books sold for Kindle day after day. Even now, a month later, it’s still well-positioned on a variety of bestseller lists.
I needed to know more and tweeted her. She wrote back, and I asked if I might interview her to discover some of her magic. She said yes.
First, she is not an overnight success. Him is Heywood’s fourth novel, and she’s built her brand of romance well. Don’t be misled that “everything is marketing.” Quality is paramount, and she’s worked hard at writing well. You don’t get such devoted readers as she has from marketing. It’s from her attention to storytelling. Download one of her books or at least a sample to see.
Second, Ms. Heywood learned early to hire an editor and a book designer, and she has an army of proofreaders. In short, she’s not a lone wolf, and she’s learned much from other writers. May you learn from her.
Here is the interview:
Christopher Meeks: Congratulations on your new novel, Him, doing so well. How did you get into writing romance? How did you get the idea for Him?
Carey Heywood: Since elementary school, I have always been a voracious reader. One evening I completed the final installment of a series I was reading, and when I went to purchase another novel, nothing immediately grabbed my interest. I had a random thought: what if I wrote something I, as a reader, would like to read? Inspiration for Him came from a conversation I had with a stranger on a flight to Tampa. We discussed reconnecting with old flames.
Some people new to publishing think all they have to do is write their novel as fast as they can, upload it to Kindle, and the money starts pouring in. People will see, in fact, that you uploaded your book a week ago and you hit the bestseller list on Kindle quickly—so it must be easy as that. What did it take for you to get here?
Him is my fourth novel. I have learned many lessons along the way. It is important to have a network to help share your work. When I published my first novel, I made my own cover, did not have it professionally edited, and had no network to help share my story. In a word it was an amateur attempt.
I truly enjoy telling a story. The other elements of publishing a novel I am learning as I go. My main goal with my first novel was to have a hard copy made so I could put a book, written by me, on my bookshelf. I hesitated with this step. I now knew my attempt was amateur. I unpublished my novel and contacted an editor and cover designer.
Much of my visibility I credit to the genius of my cover designer. Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations not only has a following of her own, she also has a knack of creating the perfect billboard to advertise an author’s story. I have also developed relationships with some book reviewers and blogs. I happily donate ecopies or swag to help with giveaways while they help share my covers or teasers along the way. I am honestly surprised with the level of success Him has achieved.
The personal goal I originally set for myself was to break the Amazon top 1000 overall. For Him to reach #18 overall was a dream come true. I’m not certain why it happened, but I have a theory. Because Him is my fourth novel in this genre, I have established a small degree of name recognition. I also believe the cover and vagueness of the synopsis increased interest. There was a level of “Who is he?” Lastly, so far, the majority of reviewers have enjoyed Him (I couldn’t help myself!).
You mentioned to me that you haven’t advertised this book yet. In this crowded marketplace, how did people find your book?
I will be participating in a blog tour for Him starting July 22nd. I love my cover and credit much of the attention Him received to it. Prior to release I put out plea for blogs interested in reviewing my ARC to contact me. I had thirty blogs respond, and the reviews posted to Goodreads and their blogs were amazing. Him seemed to grab their attention to the point where they made their own teaser pics to help create a buzz for his release.
Some now-noted authors such as Amanda Hocking and Darcie Chan, who first did well for themselves as self-publishers, wanted a good agent and a traditional publisher, which they then got. Is this your goal, too? I only ask because you seem to have found a way to be popular without a big publisher.
At this point, I’m not sure. I received an offer, from a small publisher for my third novel, Stages of Grace that I turned down. I won’t rule working with a traditional publisher out. The loss of control is my main concern. As time consuming as it is, I enjoy the process and having the final say on my work.
You’re married, have three children, and you work in finance. So how do you fit writing into your life when it’s not a college homework assignment and you have a lot going on? (Do you shovel snow, too?)
I joke that I sleep less these days. In truth I do actually sleep less these days! I wait until our youngest is in bed and write until 11 most nights. I also try and get a lot of writing done each weekend. Luckily, the area of Virginia I live in does not require much in the way of snow shoveling.
I happen to teach a class in children’s literature, which constantly reminds me how children have incredible imaginations, and many adults don’t—unless they’re writers. When it comes down to it, writing fiction is an odd job. How do you keep your imagination and writing chops in top form?
I still enjoy getting lost in a good book or movie. I’m pretty empathetic, so it becomes a full body activity from cringing to belly laughing, and there is no shortage of ugly cries. I think this helps my imagination. I like to imagine scenarios of all sorts of events. In life, when an event or conversation does not go how I may have hoped it would, I like to imagine alternate endings. Maybe the answer is as simple as I haven’t completely grown up. For a grown up I do spend quite a bit of time each day thinking about candy…
Where do you find your characters for your stories?
The main male character is loosely based on a mash up of every boy I ever had a crush on growing up. In each of my novels I lend a physical trait or mannerism of my own to my main female character. Sarah, like me, spins a chunky plastic thumb ring….All. The. Time.
Him is written in the first person and present tense. Do you consider point of view and verb tense before you write a story, or do you just stick to one way of writing?
Prior to Stages of Grace, I wrote third person. When I went to first person in Stages, I enjoyed being inside the main character’s head so much that I’ve written that way ever since. I don’t put too much thought into present or past tense. I don’t envy the work I create for my editor because most times I unknowingly flip between tenses. She does an amazing job of catching all my slip ups.
Random personal questions: Were your teenage years full of romance? What led you to join the Air Force? How did you get five screws in your jaw?
My teenage years were full of swimming. I was a late bloomer, and didn’t have my first real boyfriend until I was 17. I joined the Air Force as a way to escape Virginia and see the world. I saw Maryland, Texas, and Arizona and am now happily back in Virginia. My lower jaw never grew right. I had it broken (by a doctor!) and correctly spaced to line up with my upper jaw. I have a total of eleven screws in my jaw.
What things to you do to get your books to the publishing stage? How long does each book take, and what does it cost to get there?
I work with beta readers, an editor, a proofreader, and a cover designer. I have also in the past worked with blog tours. On average, my out-of-pocket investment on each novel has been between $500-$900. I wrote my rough draft of Him in January 2013 and reworked my file with my betas, editor, and proofreader until its release in June.
Goodreads baffles me. I like the idea of it, but I don’t know what to do when I get on Goodreads other than giveaway books. Does one just write book reviews? Any recommendations to how authors should use it?
Goodreads continues to confuse me as well. I’m probably not the best person to ask how to best utilize its features. I am certain there are tools available on it that I haven’t discovered yet. For now, I accept friend requests, like reviews of my novels, do paperback giveaways, and have my personal blog linked to my author page.
You have one of the best reviews on Amazon I’ve ever seen. It starts with, “I can honestly say I had to wait half an hour or more before even trying to write this review because I was a teary-eyed mess.” You had 31 reviews in less than a week. How do you cultivate such great readers?
Thank you! I feel so lucky to have found an audience that enjoys what I write. I consider my readers my friends and enjoy the ability to talk with them. There is a follow up to Him, titled Her that will be released in Nov. I offered to share the first couple of scenes once I hit 50 reviews on Amazon. That may have helped, I currently have 98 reviews and am so grateful for each of them.
You also interview authors. What’s something you’ve learned from that that’s inspired you?
I love forming connections with people. I’m inspired by learning each personal journey my author friends travelled that brought them to where they are today.