Leia Shaw is a Connecticut author who has written three paranormal romances, with a fourth book being released in June.
Here’s something that might surprise you: the books are bestsellers, and Leia, unlike many authors, is making her living writing books that indulge her imagination and take her characters to new places. Recently she gave a talk at CT Fiction Fest, a conference given by the Connecticut chapter of the Romance Writers of America, telling just how she does it. So we wanted her to tell us, too.
First, tell us a bit about your books.
I have three books published in the paranormal romance genre – typical romance novels with a supernatural twist. My books are primarily character stories – a man and a woman who overcome insurmountable odds and fall in love. But they do it with sword in hand, fighting ghoulish creatures and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty. As far as inspiration, well, my first book came to me in a dream. But I’ve always been interested in the paranormal. My inner child claps and jumps up and down with anything to do with magic. I love my job because, even though I’m a grown up, I can still use my imagination.
Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?
Since my fourth book releases in June, I’ll answer for that one. Surprisingly, this one came pretty easily. It’s high fantasy and was a lot of fun to write. That being said, writing ANY book is hard work. I think non-writers assume writers get an idea for a book and we sit at the computer for a few weeks in a row and pound it out. That’s not really how it works. The first step is lots of thinking. Literally, just thinking. I do this in my car or while washing the dishes. Then comes plotting, character development, writing, rewriting, rewriting again, editing, and I’m sure I’m missing a few steps. The only book I’ve ever given up on was my very first writing attempt. And even that I plan to go back to.
Do you have a writing process that you can share with readers?
It probably looks like I’m staring into space, but I’m actually con-centrating very hard. After that, I might make a very poorly constructed outline. I’m not the most organized writer. Then I write my first draft – start to finish. Then I go through layers of revisions and use a critique partner. When I think I have the story and development down well, I load it to my kindle and read it through while I work out at the gym. I make notes and highlight sections that might need editing. After I fix those up, I send it to test readers. I make any last changes based on their feedback, do another edit (maybe use an editor) then ta-da! The magic is complete.
The wild ride to publication is always fraught with drama. Tell us about your journey to self-publishing. Had you tried to go to the traditional route first, or was this always the way you wanted to go?
When I finished my first book, I gave submitting a try. I had some interest from small publishers, but I didn’t see the benefit of going small publisher when they wouldn’t do much more for me than I could do for myself (except take more of my earnings). Landing an agent was getting harder and harder. Selling to a big publisher was even more unlikely, even if you have a lot of talent and a good book. Like most writers, my dream had been to see my book on the shelf when I walked into Barnes & Noble. Actually, I planned to stand in front of it like some kind of 3D cardboard cut-out and say, “This is my book” to everyone who walked by. But the more I researched the market, the more I realized I had to adjust my dream to fit the changes in the publishing world. For me, writing is a business – a fun, creative business (most of the time), but still a business where I need to earn money. It isn’t about notoriety or self-expression. Once I pinpointed that as my goal, it led me to my current path. A path that may never land me on a grocery bookshelf, but that still earns me a full-time income. The publishing world is changing. The field is leveling now that authors have more options. Being published by a large publishing house doesn’t guarantee you money, but neither does self-publishing. Like everything, it takes hard work and ambition to get there.
There’s my plug, now on with the story. I’d heard about self-publishing – this was before got to be as popular as it is now – and it sounded like a good fit. I was counting on writing as my career so I wanted to take control of it. I didn’t want to wait around for a publisher to decide when, where, and who – and how much I’d be making. So I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and made my own destiny. I know that sounds dramatic but I am a fiction writer after all.
I do have one book published by a small publisher and co-written with erotic romance writer Cari Silverwood. It’s releasing in July by Loose ID. I chose this route because it’s in a different genre – one I didn’t have much experience in – and I didn’t have time to market it. My paranormal romance series is paying the bills so I figured the traditionally published book was just a bonus. Plus, it’s good to have experienced both routes to publishing.
What service did you use? And what help did they provide—editing, design, distribution, marketing? Did you agree with their approach?
I’ve found editors through friends and I design and create my own book covers. Well, with the help of my husband and he’s very good at it. As for distribution, I go through Kindle Direct Publishing, which is the self-publishing route for Amazon. And Smashwords distributes to all other e-book retailers. In terms of marketing, I pay a promotion service to organize virtual book tours. These are just how they sound. A book tour online that stops at appropriate blogs and websites where I post character interviews, author interviews, information posts, excerpts, and sometimes a giveaway. These are a lot of fun and a great way to get my name out there.
What have been the best and the toughest parts for you?
Growing thick skin. In an industry like writing, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Books are like our babies. We put blood, sweat, and tears into them. It’s hard to hear negative things about your baby.
Where are your books available?
They’re available on all e-readers – kindle, nook, sony, apple, diesel, etc. Also on the e-book sales website All Romance E-books. And they’re available in print on amazon and createspace.
Would you go this way again, or are you wishing to break into the more traditional kind of publishing?
I plan to self-publish the rest of my paranormal romance series, which includes eight books total. After that, who knows? I’m the kind of person that keeps all doors open and is constantly looking forward.
Do some genres lend themselves more to self-publishing than others?
I think so. Romance is the biggest selling genre in fiction. Die-hard romance readers will go through 1-2 books per week. These are the people buying e-readers instead of stacking up so many print books their closets are exploding. These are the readers self-publishers (who rely mostly on e-book sales) should be targeting. Lots of women read romance novels, but those who read one every couple months are more likely to pick one up on a bookshelf in the drug store while waiting for a prescription. In which case, they won’t be exploring self-publishers. Sometimes a book that doesn’t fit well into one genre or another will have a hard time being picked up by a publisher. The author might choose self-publishing for that reason. But generally, series books in popular genres with serious fans do well in the self-publishing market.
Have you been published by traditional publishers before this?
How are you getting the word out about your book?
Sometimes I feel like I spend more time marketing than writing. I try to have a big social media presence. I keep a blog with book snippets and news and fun stuff. I participate in lots of contests where I give away my books to get new readers. I tweet and facebook just like the rest of the world. Other than that, I rely on my fans talking to their friends. Just like movies and music, most sales come from word of mouth. I also teach a fiction writing class at the Mansfield Community Center.