My very first writing project eventually turned into my first published novel, "Beyond Perfection."
In 2002 I moved to Florida to mooch off my best friend and former roommate, Juli Hiatt Caldwell. She was married with a toddler at the time, and pregnant. I had no job or money. I don't remember why we thought it was a good idea for me to move multiple states away to live with her, but we did. I chased her naked toddler around and looked for work for a few months. Juli and I loved to watch "Pride and Prejudice" together almost every night. I finally got a job in a different town. A few days before I moved out we came up with this idea to write a story together. It was supposed to just be for fun. One of us would write a few paragraphs or pages, and then email it to the other one, and she would add on to it. I don't remember if we agreed to base it on "Pride and Prejudice" or not, but that's what we did.
For several months we sent our story back and forth to each other. We stopped writing it for a while, and then pick it back up again. We decided to go on a road trip to visit my family together, with her now 2 little girls. We printed up the story with big ideas that we would work on it while driving. If you have ever road-tripped with a 2 year old and an infant, you know that was a joke. At some point my mother found the manuscript in the car, and read the whole thing. She was the first one to read it and immediately asked us for the ending. We didn't have an end in sight. It was just for fun! But my mom liked it. So we started to take it seriously. We got back from our trip and started to put an effort into it. We cleaned it up and submitted it to some LDS publishers.
Right around that same time we got a free, volunteer, writing gig together, writing for Meridian Magazine about singles and dating. Because of our column an editor at Covenant Communications reached out to us and asked if we would ever consider writing a book. We wrote him back and said, "We submitted one to you already, and today is the deadline for you to get back to us!"
We had a contract in hand just a few weeks later!
We learned a LOT about editing and publishing through that process. But it was worth it to see our first ever attempt at a book become a real, published, printed novel! It has been out for over 7 years now, (it was published in 2005), but I still find it in bookstores occasionally. Whenever I see it, I take a picture of it and send it to Juli.
2. How do you think e-publishing has changed LDS literature? What do you see for the future of LDS lit?
I think it has changed it for the better. The 3 main LDS publishers did everyone (authors and readers) a huge disservice when they combined forces and bought each other out. They are all one big happy company now. To get published by them you have to follow some very certain rules. And if you don't fit into their tight little box, you won't get published. There are a few smaller imprints you can try to get in with, but I haven't heard of one truly well-selling book from any of those imprints.
So basically all LDS fiction, if professionally published by one of the 3 main publishers, is all the same. Change the covers and the settings, and all of the plots are pretty much identical.
And they control the prices of the books- which make no sense! If I look up my own book on Amazon right now, the paperback is selling for less than the e-book! Where is the marketing genius who priced that?
Self-publishing has attracted several of the bigger name LDS authors away from their publishing house contracts. Why? They wanted more creative control over their books, (no more having to fit into the tight little box), and they can make a lot more money- if the book sells well. Which would you rather make? 20% off the net price of the published paperback, or 70% off your self-published e-book? To give you an idea of how little you can make in the publishing world- "Beyond Perfection" basically sells around $9.99. After all is said and done, I basically make about 30 cents per copy sold, and I get the royalty check every 6 months. OR I can make 70% off my self-published e-book that I sell for $3.99 ($2.70), and I get paid every month. I'll take self-publishing, thanks!
I think LDS literature is about to get a lot less boring. A lot of authors are still writing in that same somewhat cheesy format declared by the publishers, because that is what they know. We will slowly but surely start to see more interesting plotlines and themes as authors start to think outside of that tight little box. LDS literature has never had a sense of self-awareness, and has always lacked a sense of reality. I hope that will be the next big change brought about by self-publishing- more realistic stories that readers can learn from, engage with, and relate to. And a little less "gee golly, Wally, that was neato" stories.
3. Have your volunteer work and professional lives crossed paths? Have you found that volunteering competes with your professional life or enhances it?
Absolutely, almost every single day.
To be honest, I wish I could trade places with myself most days. I wish things had gone just a little bit differently earlier on in my career. I had always intended/expected to go more of the humanitarian or non-profit route with my career. But just a few key choices early on changed that, and I got sent on a corporate journey. But my heart will forever be a volunteer's heart.
My volunteer writing gig is now my largest freelance, paid client. I've moved up from occasional columnist to paid editor for the site.
Volunteering on political campaigns has landed me real jobs.
Now, what I would really like to have happen, is that my work with orphanages and anti-trafficking efforts would result in me getting a paying job in one of those fields. Someday when I have a lot more money, volunteering for orphanages will be past tense for me, and I will own and operate my own self-sustaining, education-oriented, orphanage in SE Asia. Someday...
4. What has been your most challenging writing project? What was challenging about it? How did you overcome the difficulties?
I am writing a novel- very, very slowly- that is quite frankly above my own skill set. I once heard Billy Joel explain that he had written a piano piece that was too complicated for him to play. He had written it above his own skill set. At the time that made no sense to me how that could be. But now I get it. I've thought up this very elaborate story that is more intricate than I have the ability to actually write. I've had the story in my head for 3 years now, but I'm only maybe 50 pages into writing it out. I have yet to find a solution to my problem!
5. What do you enjoy most about social media marketing?
Because I work with social media in my career field, I don't enjoy it as much as I wish I could. I don't see Facebook, Twitter, etc. as a fun thing to do. I'm always looking at social networking sites as a communications tool or marketing tool. What I do enjoy about it is adopting new tools, or trying out the next big thing, before most people do, and figuring out how to make the new "tool" work for marketing.
6. What's next for you?
I have no idea.
Every single day of my life I think about picking up, moving to a Third World country (Haiti is my first choice), and just doing what I do from there. Make the same money with freelance writing, social media consulting, and website marketing, but live in a country where my money would go much farther. And finally get to work on building the orphanage I dream of.
But chances are slim that I will ever do it. But don't be surprised if I do.
In the meantime, I'll keep job hunting, writing novels for fun, and looking for my own Mr. Right.
Erin Ann McBride's You Heard It Here First
A year ago I wrote and published my first self-published book, "You Heard It Here First." The idea for the book came to me in a very specific instant. I was volunteering for a presidential campaign in South Carolina and had attended one of the big presidential primary debates. I very briefly met and shook hands with a famous TV personality that I had very briefly met and shook hands with 2 years to the day previously. (I didn't tell him that.) As I was driving home I took my real life scenario, twisted it, and had a little fun, and got the inspiration for my book.
It is no secret that the main character of the book, Haley, is very loosely based on me. She has much of my own personal backstory, and looks a lot like me too. (In fact, on the sequel book, "This Just In!", the graphic designer used a picture of me to create Haley.) Haley is a financial writer that writes about the stock market. I am a freelance blogger for the stock market analysis site, "The Motley Fool." There are a lot of similarities between Haley and me.
One of the details of the book is how Haley has to come to grips with the fact that people take her seriously and respect her work. She knows she has worked hard and done a good job, but she struggles to accept that people really believe in her and admire her for her work. And she has a few key moments where she discovers that people have taken her advice about the stock market, and that is a strange feeling for her.
Last week I had 2 completely separate instances where people emailed me to thank me for the advice I had given. In both cases they had (thankfully) made some good money off of stock market trades or purchases I had suggested. Not unlike Haley, I have been doing this a long time, but it still kind of freaked me out that people I know would take my advice like that. I called Juli (she's still my BFF) and told her what happened. She laughed at me and said I was having a "Haley moment." I realized it is no longer fiction imitating my life. But my life is imitating the fiction that is imitating my life. And that is a very strange feeling!
And just like Haley does in the book, I realized I have to start taking myself a little bit more seriously if other people are taking me that seriously!