In this column I’m asking subscribers to share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing their books. I’m calling it “Ten Questions.” Thank you, Lori Lacefield, for letting readers know about your strong, flawed female characters. You’ve written novels that focus on justice and its opposite.–Marylee MacDonald
Lori Lacefield’s Author Tip: “I’d highly recommended taking Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula and/or Ads for Authors Course or Nick Stephenson’s First 10,000 Readers. Both of those courses take you through everything an indie author needs to know, from cover design to blurb creation to setting up your website and blog, integrating an email service, running ads, promotion and social media.”
Lori Lacefield (amazon.com/author/lorilacefield) is the author of the “Women of Redemption” Suspense Series featuring women who aren’t perfect, but perfectly kick-ass when given a second chance.
MM A book begins as an idea in the writer’s imagination. Eventually, this grain of sand turns into a pearl. What was the grain of sand that fired your imagination?
LL The idea for The Advocate came to me after reading a weekly court case update in a small-town newspaper in eastern Tennessee. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Several cases were simply dismissed, and others who were convicted of various crimes received minimal punishments. The one that really got me was a person convicted of child abuse whose punishment was a fine of $50. I thought “Child abuse?? $50?? What kind of justice is that?” That got me thinking about what a group of former victims would do to seek real justice for the crimes afflicted upon them after the system failed them.
MM How did you approach turning this idea into a manuscript, and eventually a book? Did you take classes, read books, or just plunge in?
LL I started attending writer’s conferences nearly twenty years ago and have learned most everything I know about the craft of writing fiction from those conferences, as well as books the instructors recommended. My favorites are Self-Editing for Fiction Writing by Browne & King and Writing the Breakout Novel and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. Maass, who is a well-known literary agent, is a phenomenal teacher.
As far as turning ideas into books, I always start with a basic premise then focus on character development. For me, no matter how exciting a plot or premise, without well-developed characters fueling those stories, the book will fall flat. I like characters who aren’t always overly heroic. They need to possess good ethics and show their true selves when push comes to shove, but I like them to have real flaws that affect their decision-making and choices, just like all of us do.
MM Authors today have many options when it comes to publication. Did you work with an agent, find a publisher through other means, or self-publish your book?
LL After examining my options, I decided to go the independent publishing route, mainly due to the extreme slowness of traditional publishing. It can take a good year to find an agent who loves your work and has an opening in their client list, then another year for the agent to pitch it and find the right editor. Once you have a deal, you’re still looking at another 12-18 months before publication. I had a limited window of time to pursue my writing full-time after leaving my corporate job after seventeen years, so I wanted to get my books out there as soon as possible.
MM What is the biggest single lesson you learned during the writing process?
LL Turn off the editor brain and just plow forth with writing the first draft! Yes, it’s going to be crappy, but that’s okay. (No, really, it is!) When I first started writing twenty years ago, I must have spent a year constantly reworking the first several pages. I thought I had to perfect the writing on every page before moving forward. Other authors kept telling me to just write the first draft without concern for quality. So finally, I took their advice and just plowed through. It’s amazing when you turn off the editor what your brain then feels free to put down on paper. Ideas, plot turns, a great descriptive phrase or zinger, all of which can be refined and tweaked later, but which you would never get without turning off the editor and getting to work. Get the guts on paper and worry about editing later.
MM What would you advise others who are still at the idea stage?
LL Try writing by hand to flesh out ideas. Ask “what if” questions and just see where the plot or characters take you. I find writing by hand taps into some other creative part of the brain that typing on a computer doesn’t do. And it’s so fun when a plot takes an unexpected direction or a character tells you, the author, who they are. For example, as I was fleshing out my latest series character, FBI Agent Frankie Johnson, it became clear she was of mixed-race heritage. Her mother is African-American and her father, Caucasian. That wasn’t something I planned. She literally revealed herself on the page, and it plays well in the novels because her heritage often affects her perspectives on cases as well as exposes vulnerabilities in her sense of self and identity.
Also, conduct research on your idea or topic. Often, true cases or recent stories can spark new ideas or directions. When I was plotting The Fifth Juror, I was researching death penalty cases in Colorado history, and I discovered a little unexpected gem of information when I learned that death penalty inmates were moved a few years ago from the max security prison in our state to a much smaller facility on the Colorado plains, because of all things, a lawsuit brought by one of the inmates on the lack of outdoor exercise space. That one detail ended up playing a large role in the book. (No spoilers though!)
MM Were there any writing tools you’d recommend? Did you use apps like Grammarly, Scrivener, or another outliner to help you structure your book?
LL I haven’t tried any of those apps, but I do get a fresh Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook to use with every new book I write. The author, Donald Maass, takes you through a series of writing exercises that I have found to dramatically improve my writing. Some involve plotting techniques, like the importance of developing subplots and combining roles. Some involve character building, like reversing motives or developing delineation in dialogue. And then the best one–and the hardest–adding conflict to every single page. It’s tough, but I think if you take the time to refine your work, it pays off.
Also, for indie authors, I’d highly recommended taking Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula and/or Ads for Authors Course or Nick Stephenson’s First 10,000 Readers. Both of those courses take you through everything an indie author needs to know, from cover design to blurb creation to setting up your website and blog, integrating an email service, running ads, promotion and social media, and all kinds of good stuff. It can seem overwhelming at first, but like anything, if you take it one step at a time, and enact the steps after each video, it’s manageable. Joanna Pence and Chris Fox are also popular teachers/advisers for indie authors.
MM Was it hard to decide on a cover, or did you or your publisher hire a professional designer?
LL For The Advocate and The Fifth Juror, I hired a designer to do the covers. Cover design is extremely important, and I would advise new indie authors–unless you’ve been working as a graphic artist for a couple of years and really know what you’re doing–to hire a designer. Cover and blurb are the two things that really make readers decide to buy or not buy a book, so make them count. Also, I would never overlook hiring a good editor. The other stuff–web design, email marketing, creating Facebook and Amazon ads–I think if you have the time, you can do that on your own by taking a few courses and learning from other authors, but cover and editorial are vital. All that said, I designed my own cover for my psychological suspense novella, The Rumor, and it’s been well received, so I’m happy about that!
MM Who is your ideal reader? Who would particularly enjoy your book/s?
LL Fans of Lisa Gardner, Tami Hoag, Catherine Coulter, and James Patterson seem to particularly like my books. If you like short, quick chapters, plot twists, and characters you can root for despite of their flaws, I think you’ll like the Women of Redemption Series. My books are a little darker than cozy (some language, some sex references, a little violence) but not in-your-face gory detail. The upcoming FBI profiler series will be a little more of a thriller. The Women of Redemption Series is more suspense.
MM How do you connect with readers? Do you like to do live events, such as book fairs or library talks, or have you found readers through social media, Goodreads, or Amazon?
LL I do like live events, especially smaller, more intimate events. I’m a classic introvert, so when I walk into a room of one-hundred people, I want to dive under a table (laughing). But I love small gatherings. For example, this month I’m joining eleven other authors for a Mystery & Mistletoe evening where each of us will be reading from one of our novels and sharing wine and appetizers with readers. I love events like that, where there is some time to mingle and get to know readers and other authors alike. Teaching and speaking at writer’s conferences is also a great opportunity to meet new authors and readers and “pay it forward”. Social media wise, in 2019, my goal is to really get active on Goodreads. When I was working full-time, it was difficult to find time to post reviews and be active on Goodreads in addition to carving out time to write, but I think in hindsight, that was a mistake. As authors, we need to connect with readers and avid readers are on Goodreads – 30 million of them!
MM What has been your greatest reward in undertaking this publishing journey? (This doesn’t have to be a financial reward.)
LL The biggest reward definitely isn’t financial. For me, it’s that satisfaction of seeing your book in print for the first time. Holding it in your hand, seeing it on a library shelf or bookstore – it never gets old. And when a reader sends you a personal message and tells you how much they love it or posts a review that says the book made them stay up all night or made them think about a situation differently, I absolutely love that. It makes my whole day.
Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection, and THE RUG BAZAAR, a chapbook. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers’ Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.