Welcome! My name is Michelle Dalson, and I will be interviewing Christine Crawford, a co-authors of The Witching Elm. That’s right, she—along with her husband, Nick—is a co-author! Together, both have experienced the stressful process of writing, publishing, and most of all, marketing. And now, Christine has taken the time to share her author journey with her husband, along with some helpful tips for other writers and aspiring authors who dream of achieving that bestseller list!
Michelle: Christine, thank you for taking the time to interview today. It looks like you will be doing much of the talking for your husband and yourself! Let’s hear a little bit about your background. Tell us about yourself, your writing experience, and how you developed as a writer.
Christine: I’m from Boston, but I spent 8 years in London. While I was there, I took a strong interest in the quirky London street names. A lot of them described the former function of the streets – Ironmonger Lane, Poultry, French Ordinary Court (which described a restaurant). They layout of the city still reflects the ancient and medieval streets. I got in the habit of walking around, thinking about the past. When I moved back to Boston, everything seemed more superficial – it was harder to dig into the city’s depths. But my first book, which I worked on with my husband, helped resolved some of that. The world we created branched off from Boston in the Colonial era, so we spent a lot of time digging into some of the grim colonial history. I made a giant map of 17th century Boston, and I looked into a lot of the archaic folklore and nursery rhymes for inspiration.
It was inspired by this intersection of English and American history, and also by the stories left out from the traditional narratives. I noticed that in Boston there is a tendency to focus on the patriotic history, but the darker stories were left out. They also whitewash over the idea that anyone lived in Massachusetts before the pilgrims got there. There is a poem by Robert Lowell in which he sort of plumbs the deaths of the early “original sin” of our country. It’s called At the Indian Killer’s Grave. What gets left out from the Thanksgiving Story and the Founding Father’s story are things like the King Philip’s War, the massacre of the Pequots, or the hangings at the elm tree in the center of Boston (rebranded as the “Liberty Tree” instead of the Hanging Tree).
The Planning Process:
Michelle: Interesting! I find American and English history quite interesting, and have always been fascinated by all the rare or untold mysteries behind them. Let’s hear how such inspiration helped you develop as a writer. Pick one novel that you and your husband have published. Describe how you planned the storyline of this novel. Did you outline your chapters before you wrote them? Did you keep a document where you jotted down all your ideas as they came to you?
Christine: Our first book, The Witching Elm, will be out in early 2015. I would not recommend following our planning process. While we spent a lot of time on the world-building (for example, creating the giant map), there wasn’t much plan for the plot. I think this is why it ended up taking 4 years to write. We’d write ourselves into dead ends with the plot. For our second book, we have a really tight outline with each chapter planned out, and it’s already going so much faster. Both books required historical research, which is fun for me.
Michelle: That’s great that you’ve learned to plan better for your novels. Do you have any additional advice for authors about planning for a novel?
Christine: I think a lot of the time that people get stuck with “writer’s block,” it’s a result of inadequate planning. I would recommend that unless you’re writing some kind of Jack Kerouac style book, come up with a clear outline so that all the strands of the plot come together in a way that makes sense. Otherwise you’ll have to rewrite it for four years. You might also want to write in depth character profiles before starting. Our original drafts had two-dimensional characters, and by the final drafts they have much more depth.
The Writing Process:
Michelle: Let’s hear about those four years of writing and rewriting. First of all, how many drafts did you go through before you finally published your book?
Christine: I’m not even sure. The opening was rewritten so many times. I can tell you there were about 3-4 stages of beta reading that involved major rewrites. But there were also many, many smaller rewrites.
Michelle: I see. Well, no matter how adequately you plan, you will still have to go through some rewrites along the way!
Tell us about the editing process (copy-editing, line-editing, etc.). Did you work with an editor? Did you find him/her helpful?
Christine: After the beta-readers, I had a friend who is a copyeditor read it over to give more substantive feedback. She pointed out remaining plot holes. The last stage is sending it to an editor. We found someone who will do all aspects of editing over a month. He was recommended by another writer whose work I like (M.A. Ray).
Michelle: Great! It sounds like you’ve had some adequate editing for your novel. Now I know you said you had some beta-readers read your story beforehand. Did you have anyone read your story for feedback after the editing?
Christine: Yes – this was valuable. For one thing, since I’m working on the book with my husband, he reads through everything I write and goes over it. But it was crucial to have totally outside people look at it. I addressed every comment. The most important aspect was getting information on the parts that dragged. So our final rewrite was focused on making the book more exciting and getting the pacing right. We wanted it to be a page-turner.
Michelle: Of course, that should be the goal of almost every author! And based on your experiences, what important advice would you like to give to aspiring authors about writing, rewriting, and editing a novel?
Christine: I think my early drafts had a classic rookie mistake of over-focusing on plot at the expense of emotional development and expression. I would say my advice would be to come up with a clear outline before beginning, so you’re not expending too much cognitive effort trying to work out the plot at the expense of character development or sensory descriptions. The advice of “describe the five senses” has been helpful to me. Describe characters’ body language and physiological reactions to stress.
Michelle: Yes, it is crucial that a novel has well-developed characters. It is almost, if not, equally, as important as having a well-developed plot. I’m sure you’ve learned to focus on both, based on the feedback you’ve received from your beta-readers and editors.
Christine: I think the most important thing is to listen to other people’s feedback. The first drafts of a first novel are going to be awful. The writing process is mostly rewriting. I see people talking about being “good” or “bad” at writing, and I think that perspective ignores the required effort. It’s not about being naturally good – it’s about working on something until other people like it.
And of course, the last bit of advice is to read within your genre, and read reviews within your genre. You’ll find out about what readers are bored of at this point, or what they find exciting.
The Publishing Process:
Michelle: Great advice! Now let’s discuss the publishing process of this novel. What route are you and your husband taking to publish your novel? Large press, small press, or independent publishing?
Christine: We’re going to self-publish. We never considered any other way. It seems to make the most financial sense. As a self-published author, you keep 70% of the profit.
Michelle: Good reason! I’m sure you are aware of the pros and cons of this publishing route. Tell us why you would still favor this route over the other publishing options.
Christine: As mentioned above, there is the attraction of the 70% of the profit with self-publishing. Also, I think you end up putting the same amount of time into marketing whether self-publishing or traditional publishing.
The pros to traditional publishing are that you get the benefit of their expertise. Self-publishers are at the risk of ending up with a terrible cover and not realizing it, for example. We were lucky to know someone who works in publishing PR who vetoed our original cover. A lot of self-published authors end up with awful covers and blurbs. It’s not really our area of expertise.
The other advantage to traditional publishing is that you don’t need money up front. You don’t have to hire your own editor and cover designer. You might even get an advance.
Finally, traditional publishing can open doors in terms of getting reviews from blogs. There are bloggers who won’t review self-published books. However, you can go through the process to create a company name yourself. Then you’ve got a “small-publishing house.” There are other financial reasons to do that also.
Michelle: So what would you say are the key factors a writer should think about before choosing one of the three publishing routes?
Christine: I think do the math on how much you’re likely to make from each of the routes. Consider if you have the resources to fund a cover design and editor out of your own pocket. I do think people need to hire professionals for those things.
The Marketing Process:
Michelle: Now although you have not published your book yet, I’m sure you and your husband have already developed marketing plans for your book. So how you plan to draw people to read your book?
Christine: We’ve been compiling a lot of information about marketing. Our book will be fully edited at the end of November, and at that point we’re going to send out a ton of ARCs to Goodreads and Amazon reviewers. We’re also going to pay for a blog tour to help get the word out.
Michelle: Sounds like you both have a great plan! It’s great that you’re coming up with these ideas before your book is released.
Christine: I think it’s important to lay the groundwork a few months before the book is released. Once it’s released, we will run some sale promotions – dropping the book to $0.99 and paying for email blasts. I have a list of some of those if anyone’s interested. We’re also working hard to get book 2 out, because there are a lot more marketing options open when you’ve got a second book out.
Michelle: Yes, gaining early exposure is effective for authors of a series of books.
How do you plan to use goodreads to promote your book?
Christine: In addition to sending out ARCs, we’re going to do a Goodreads Giveaway. I’ve been reading lots of Goodreads reviews (the YA reviews can get quite heated, so it’s interesting reading). But I haven’t spent any time connecting with others yet. Maybe I should be doing that, now that you mention it.
Michelle: I’ve heard lots of good things about goodreads, so I’m curious to see how other authors have used it, or at least plan to use it.
However, I have seen that you’re quite active on facebook. How are you using facebook to promote your book? How much time are you dedicating to connecting with others on facebook?
Christine: I have a Facebook author page, but I’m not sure how much that will help get the word out. But using Facebook writers’ groups has been a very helpful resource. I found beta readers through Facebook, I got an editor recommendation, and I got a lot of marketing advice.
Michelle: And what about twitter? How are you using twitter to promote your book?
Christine: I have something like 800 twitter followers but I don’t know that any of them will click on my book once it’s ready to promote. Twitter seems like a bunch of people shouting into a void.
Michelle: That’s the way I see twitter at the moment. So many authors seem to love it, though, so I’m sure it has its advantages!
What other websites did you use to promote and sell your book? Any websites you recommend for other authors to promote/sell?
Christine: I think arranging for a blog tour can be helpful. It’s also a way to get reviews for your book.
Michelle: Hmm, I’d like to look more into that, then. It does sounds like a helpful strategy.
Is there any additional advice you’d like to give to aspiring authors about marketing?
Christine: I keep hearing that having a good cover and blurb are the two most important things. So I’d say run both of those by as many people as possible. Kboards is very helpful for getting advice on those things – they will give you helpful, sometimes brutal critiques. They’re good for marketing advice in general.
- Website address: cncrawford.com
- Facebook contact info: https://www.facebook.com/cncrawfordauthor
- Twitter contact info: https://twitter.com/CN_Crawford
- Goodreads contact info: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8587788.C_N_Crawford
If you have any questions about Christine and Nick Crawford, their books, or would like to know a bit more about how they are handling the planning, writing, publishing, and marketing processes, leave your question in a comment below!