Indie-Visible is pleased to welcome indie author J.A. Dennam, who discusses independently publishing her novels – Flesh of Angels, Flesh of the Father, and the explosively popular Truth & Humility – and how her hard work and dedication have led to the ultimate success story for many indie authors: landing an agent.
Interviewed by Tomi L. Wiley
IV: Let’s just start with the big news, since this series of interviews focuses on success stories in indie publishing. You published your first two novels – the Flesh series – before making a name for yourself with Truth & Humility (T&H). What are some differences between these three novels, and why do you think audiences resonate with T&H.
J.A. I try to make all of my novels as unique as possible. Though heavy on romance, my Flesh series has a modest amount of graphic sex. In T&H I experimented with some light erotica. I, of course, love all three books, but I think T&H caught more attention because of the feudal elements of the story. Everyone loves a good feud.
IV: There are so many romance novels and concepts out there– for those who aren’t familiar, how are your characters different? How have your readers reacted to that?
J.A. No matter how good or bad the review, most readers agree on one thing: they love my characters. I was told by my editor that I have too many POV’s in my books. I can’t help but wonder if this helps readers identify with many of the side characters as well as the H&H. I’ve kept this in mind during the editing process and tried to make sure the side characters keep their individuality through action and dialog rather than thought. As far as the H&H go, they are all hero-worthy, but they have their unique flaws, quirks and interests that we can easily identify with.
IV: As any hard-working indie author knows, it’s a tough gig: not only are you writing and editing, but many indies design their own cover art and have the reigns of the publicity and marketing machine. How much of that work did you do yourself? What was your marketing strategy in the beginning and how has that changed?
J.A. All of my books are about as homemade as you can get. I’ve done everything myself except the editing, which I gave to two family members. I didn’t give my stories the attention they deserved, but that is all changing now thanks to my wonderful agent. When I published my Flesh novels, I did virtually no marketing whatsoever. I was too busy with my art career at the time. When I decided to put art aside and pursue a career in literature, I ate, drank, and slept social networking. I built my online presence, joined writer’s groups, entered contests and budgeted for some advertising (though I’m not sure how much the advertising helped). The writer’s groups provide a wealth of information on how to get exposure.
IV: You were contacted by your agent on Facebook, which strengthens the argument that social media is a driving and imperative force in the success of an indie author. Would you share a bit about that experience – was this the first agent who approached you? What made you sign with this one?
J.A. Yes, Marisa was the first agent to contact me. I did my research, visited her website, read some interviews she’d done. Her resume was very impressive, there were no “red flags” and I connected with her personally. I had no idea social networking would do the trick where querying had failed, but it also took a ton of work on my part to get my book ranked high enough to get noticed.
IV: You mentioned that T&H is going through some edits and getting a new cover. Do you think your writing style or formula will also change now that you’ve been signed?
I’ve settled quite comfortably in my writing style, but I’m also learning a lot. During the edits, I’ve managed to keep the general feel while condensing the narrative and descriptive elements of the story. As far as formula goes, I’ll be careful from now on to keep my POV’s to a minimum.
IV: For indie authors, there is a lot of frustration with mainstream publishing. Combined with the changes and upheavals in that industry, as well as the rise of e-readers and decline in big-box bookstores, you’re entering the world of mainstream publishing at an exciting and turbulent time. Would you tell us how you feel about that, and your thoughts on the state of mainstream publishing today and your crossover as popular indie author?
J.A. I just want to write and entertain my audience (emphasis on my ;). If a big publisher can get my stories to more people, I’m pretty flexible as long as I’m not fleeced. I do think they will adapt to and survive any big changes that come to the industry. Unfortunately, indie authors may suffer for that, but I think the market will balance out over time. Amazon is holding some pretty big reins, there.
IV: What have been the three best aspects of being an indie author? What would you have changed about the experience?
J.A. The absolute best thing is the freedom to publish what you want. That can also be the worst thing, especially if reviewers find your material hard to read. I love that you control your own schedule. The deadlines you set are your own. I also find enormous satisfaction in earning 70%. Each individual sale feels more like your accomplishment, not someone else’s.
IV: Any advice for your fellow indie authors? Any websites, blogs or resources that you would recommend?
J.A. Join online writer’s groups. I can’t emphasize that enough. I gained more valuable information from groups like World Literary Café and LitPow’s than any other resource out there. You can get answers to ANY question and you develop camaraderie with other writers in the process. Also join some fun ones like 5 a.m. Writers for when you’re feeling ornery or need motivation.
IV: Your bio says you enter writing contests and join local writer’s groups. Do you think you’ll still do that now that you’ve been signed and your novels will be shopped to mainstream publishers? How has being involved in writer’s groups influenced your finished products?
J.A.I’m still pretty new to local writer’s groups, but I would never discount their value. I guess it depends on how often I get mobbed by adoring fans every time I leave my house. Until that happens I’ll always want to participate. As far as writing contests go, I like to enter books I’ve already written. If I get signed with a publisher, I think they do that for you. And that is fine with me J it just means more time to write more books.
IV: Let’s talk a bit about the craft of writing. You have described your writer’s beginnings as telling stories to your sister at night when you were a little girl as a way to ease insomnia. Do you still get into this trance-state to write? Do you still write at night? Share with us a little about your process.
J.A. I’m often found at my computer wearing earmuffs. LOL! Yes, I write at night a lot when I can’t sleep and when it’s quiet. The only difference now is my stories keep me awake, not the other way around. If I’m in the middle of an exciting novel, my mind is too restless. But my muse doesn’t respect any schedule, if I’m near my laptop all is right with the world.
IV: You seem to have interrupted your Flesh series by publishing T&H before the series finale, Flesh of Innocents – why is that? Did the characters of T&H tug at you so insistently? Will you publish the final installment independently or re-publish the entire series?
J.A. Yes, I tend to knock out whatever story is pulling at me most. T&H certainly did that to me! I didn’t plan on a third Flesh book until I published the first two. Then I was like, series! Duh! By then I’d already written T&H. Since that one has become so popular, I’ll focus on the re-launch for now. But I am getting more and more fan mail asking me about Flesh III, so if I can get it knocked out it my spare time, I’d like to self publish it just for them! If the series gets signed, though, I think it could only help if I wait for it to hit bookshelves.
IV: You’ve said that your fascination with romance, fast cars and adventure films is what structures your stories, making Romantic Suspense the genre you were “simply born to write.” What are some of your favorite independently published books in this genre? What are your favorite reasons for writing in this genre?
J.A. I’m new at reading indie-pubbed books. My brand spanking new Kindle is filling up with them now since I’ve been networking, but they are books of all genres from authors I have gotten to know. I’m looking forward to reading Crow’s Row by Julie Hockley because I’ve heard a lot about it, but I’m holding off until I finish my current projects.
I prefer as much suspense in my stories as romance. Sorry, I’m a junkie. I’m fascinated with love that develops against impossible odds. It feeds my brain as well as my heart.
IV: You also have a career as a painter of Western art. How do the two methods of expression – art and writing – influence each other? Are they ways to escape your life or enhance it?
J.A. Both are certainly a great form of escape, but art is more meditative. I’ve always been an artist. It feels old to me compared to writing which feels exciting and new–we’re having a torrid affair that satisfies the needs art can’t fulfill. I wouldn’t be complete without either one, but I keep them very separate.
IV: Okay, on to some fun stuff. You’re given a chance to spend a day with a resurrected dead, famous person. Who is it, why, and where will you have your rendez-vous?
J.A. President Reagan. I’d like to pick his brain about politics because he would make it entertaining enough for me to grasp the logistics of it. A meeting like that could only happen at the Reagan Ranch.
IV: You’re locked inside a mall during a zombie apocalypse. In what store would you set up camp and defend?
J.A. Barnes and Noble. If I have plenty to read, coffee and a light snack I can outlast any apocalypse. Bring it.
IV: If Truth & Humility were to be made into a movie, who do you envision portraying your characters?
J.A. Austin: Jason Momoa
Danny: Amber Heard
Derek: Andy Whitfield, but since I can’t have him, Paul Walker
IV: If you could pick the perfect setting in which to write, anywhere in the world, with any conditions, sounds, ambience, time-frame, what would this look like?
J.A. A cozy log cabin in the heart of the Cascades with the works: laptop and coffee in the breakfast nook surrounded by windows, fat snowflakes collecting gently outside, a crackling fire in the hearth, warm dog curled at my feet and my husband at my beck and call for as long as it takes to reach the last page.
Thank you for taking some time out to give our readers a glimpse into your experience and process as a successful indie author. We hope you blaze a trail into the mainstream publishing world and the best of luck with your future projects.