Writing romance, an interview with Clara Grace Walker

I'm excited to speak today with self-published writer, Clara Grace Walker, who is this week's Self-Published Writer of the Week. She's the author of the romantic suspense series Desire Never Dies, and I had a lot of fun chatting with her about writing romance and self-publishing. 

TL: So Clara, tell me a little bit about your background and your writing. 
CGW: My love affair with books began as soon as I could read, and blossomed into a desire to write by the time I was 9. I began writing as a serious pursuit some years ago, and started my first novel, GRATIFICATION  while working in a law office. My “day jobs” consisted of office work, including work as a secretary, legal assistant and a risk manager. I never considered any of those jobs my “career,” however. In my heart, my true calling has always been writing. But, hey, those typing skills come in handy when you need to bring in a paycheck. In between the writing and the “day jobs,” I have also been busy raising a family, and now I find myself in the enviable position of being able to stay home all day and work on my books. I can truly say I am blessed and living out my dream!

TL: What made you want to write romance? 
CGW: I love writing about relationships and human nature. Romance, to me, is the embodiment of human relationships at their strongest. Love is such a compelling force, able to overcome so many obstacles, and yet terrifying, (for some), in the strength of its attraction. Because I also enjoy mystery and a sense of danger, I write mainstream romantic suspense.

TL: What made you self-publish? 
CGW: Back in 2012, my mother passed away, quite unexpectedly. And while I was always aware that life is fleeting and can end at anytime, being smacked with that reality made me realized if there were things I wanted to do with my life, such as writing and publishing my books, then I needed to simply do them and stop waiting around for someone to give me the green light. By that time there had been a huge growth in digital publishing and self-publishing. My overwhelming desire to write met with a lack of excuses, and roughly a year later, I published my first novel, GRATIFICATION.

TL: What’s the hardest part of being a self-published writer? What’s the best parts? 
CGW: I have several friends who are traditionally published, so I’ve had a chance to see, up-close-and-personal, the differences between the two publishing routes. My friends who are traditionally published get a lot of support from their editors and agents. This support comes in many forms, from advice and encouragement, to professional editing and marketing of their work. One friend of mine has her own publicist and marketing person. Her publisher bought ads in publications and provided opportunities for interviews and book reviews. Obviously, this is a huge advantage for a writer, and having to do all of this yourself is, for me, the hardest part of being self-published. In addition to creating my own book covers, I have no professional editing service, unless I find and pay for one. I have no promotional/marketing budget, other than what I can afford to pay for myself, and I don’t have anyone supplying me with my own publicist and marketing person. Although, I do have some very supportive family members, including one who is a skilled photographer who did my book cover photos at a price I could afford and another who has been great with creating promotional pieces for me to tweet and post on Facebook. As for the best parts of being self-published: for me, that’s freedom. While all of the responsibilities associated with publishing and selling my book are mine, so are all of the rights that go along with them. This includes, publishing under the name of my choosing, designing and using the book covers I want, choosing the titles of my books, and even word count. The finished product really is my own vision for my work. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to each side of the coin.

TL: What makes a scene sexy versus cheesy? Great question! 
CGW: I have this little blog I barely write for, just some writing-related tidbits that occasionally occur to me. I have published exactly 5 posts to-date on this poor, neglected blog, and one of them was on this very subject. (You can find the post at www.claragracewalker.blogspot.com if you are interested). If I were to try and narrow the post down to its most important point, perhaps it would be this: sex scenes are not about sex, they are about emotion. If you stay firmly in your POV character’s head and really allow your reader to experience the intimacy through that character, you should go a long way in avoiding the cheesy.

TL: Who are some writers who’ve inspired you? 
CGW: I read a lot; many different authors from many different genres. My writing has been inspired in different ways by different authors. The most major influences would be: a) Ernest Hemingway – for his incredible prose and storytelling ability; b) Elmore Leonard – for his wonderful dialogue and unforgettable characters; c) James Patterson – for his riveting suspense and fast-paced storytelling; d) Jackie Collins – for her glitz, glamour & the sheer fun of reading her books; e) Sidney Sheldon – for his strong female characters and compelling stories; and f) JRR Tolkein – for his fantasy and adventure, and the way he is able to immerse the reader in another world.

TL: Thanks so much for the interview. Is there anything you’d like to add? CGW: I really, really appreciate my readers! It’s an investment of one’s time to spend reading a book, and I’m very grateful that they’ve honored me by taking the time to read my book(s). Also, I love hearing from my readers, and please feel free to contact me via my website: www.claragracewalker.com. There are links to all of my social media outlets, as well as to my books on my website.

Award-Winning Writer Forgoes Traditional Publishing to Self-Publish

Barry Graham
For this week's Self-Published Writer of the Week, I'm excited to introduce Barry Graham, who had major success with traditional publishing before taking his career into his own hands and self-publishing. He is a novelist, journalist, poet, and Zen monk from Scotland, and his novel The Book of Man was an American Library Association Book of the Year. 

TL: You have had a very distinguished writing career. When did you decide to forgo traditional publishing and self-publish? What was your reason/s for doing this?
BG: I had long been disillusioned with corporate publishing, which I think is dying of irrelevance. I've been published by big, medium and small publishers, and had better experiences with the independents. Some years ago, I wrote my novel The Wrong Thing, which was better than anything I had ever hoped to write, but years went by and it didn't find a publisher. Two different agents represented it at different times, and publishers praised it, but they couldn't figure out what to do with it.

At last, I managed to place it with PM Press, a very small, risk-taking publisher who published it under their Switchblade imprint in 2011. They did a good job of it, and the book got good reviews, and was on some best of the year lists, but at that point I realized that there was nothing a publisher could do for me that I couldn't do for myself. All my earlier books were out of print, and I owned the rights to them, so I self-published them, and then decided to start self-publishing my new work too. That was in mid-2010. 

My novel When It All Comes Down to Dust was supposed to be published by one of the biggest houses, but they changed their mind when they signed a best-selling crime writer, saying that they thought he and I were too similar, and that he met their needs for that kind of thing. (He and I are not remotely similar.) My agent spent the rest of that year, and all of the next year, trying to sell the book to another publisher. The one who seemed most interested kept putting off making an offer, until a year had gone by. I told my agent to tell them that if they didn't make an offer by early January 2012, I was withdrawing the submission. They didn't make an offer in time, so I withdrew it and, a few days later, I self-published the book. It was chosen by Mystery People as one of the best books of the year. It gave me a wonderful feeling of freedom not to have to put up with publishers' arrogance. It's great to live in a time when you can just walk away and do it yourself, and do a better job that some publishers would.

TL: What are you working on now? 
BG: I'm finishing a very short, very dirty crime novel, called One for My Baby, about a musician in Phoenix, AZ, who moonlights as an armed robber. It should be ready in a few weeks. Then I'm going to write a cyberpunk thriller.

TL: What's the hardest thing about being self-published? 
BG: For me, the only disadvantage of self-publishing is that you don't get an advance up front. But advances have gotten lower and lower over the years, so that's not much of a problem. Everything else about it is better; the books are marketed properly, because I do it, the covers look the way I want them to, and they come out quickly. (My second novel, which was bought by a big publisher in 1989, wasn't published until 1991! I'm happy those days are over.)

If I got an offer from a publisher now, my question would be, "If I give you the rights to my book and to most of the money it makes, what, in return, can you do for me that I can't do for myself?" If the advance was big enough, I'd take it and consider the book a loss-leader. If they required me to agree not to self-publish other books during a certain period of time, I wouldn't sign.

That said, self-publishing isn't for everyone. You have to know what you're doing. By the time I self-published, I had decades' experience as an author and journalist and blogger, and I knew how to create a book and how to get the word out, and I enjoy doing that sort of thing. If that's not true of you, you might be happier going a more traditional route, and there are some good indie presses out there.

TL: You are a Zen monk who was named one of the best Buddhist bloggers by Tricycle. What advice do you have for people searching for happiness for this new year?
BG: My best advice is to give up the search for happiness, because it's self-centered, and there's no possibility of being happy while you're self-centered. Live at the service of life, not of ego, realize that it's not about you, and happiness takes care of itself. You'll still have pain, still have sadness, but that's okay. You can be happy at the center of that. Pain and sadness don't cause us to suffer - our self-centered reactions do.

TL: What inspired you to write Kill Your Self: Life After Ego?
BG: I had been teaching Zen for a few years, and people seemed to find what I taught to be helpful, so I wanted to do a book of Zen teaching in the hope that it would help more people, people I wouldn't encounter otherwise. That seems to be the case - the book has been a Kindle bestseller in the Zen Philosophy category (it peaked at #20), and I get a lot of nice emails from people who've read it.

TL: Anything you would like to add?
BG: I think this is the most important, and greatest, period in publishing history since the invention of the printing press. I laugh when nay-sayers suggest that such freedom to publish will lead to a lot of bad books being published. That's true - but a lot of bad books have been published the traditional way. Now there's a way for good, great, challenging books to be published. There's never been such a good time to be a writer or a reader.