Sunday, September 22, 2013

Guest Posts for Templand/Permland Blog Tour 9/24-10/3

JILL ELAINE HUGHES is a journalist and playwright as well as a New Adult fiction novelist.  As a reporter, she has contributed to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Washington Post, New Art Examiner, Cat Fancy magazine, and numerous other media outlets. Her plays have widely published and produced in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, and many other U.S. cities, as well as in the UK and Australia. Before self-publishing New Adult fiction, she published many erotic romance novels under the pen names “Jamaica Layne” and “Jay E. Hughes” for publishers like Ellora’s Cave, Virgin Books, Decadent Publishing, and Ravenous Romance.

Guest Post #1: Author Q &A w/ Jill Elaine Hughes

Why do you write?
Honestly, because I have to. If I don’t, I’ll go nuts!

Who has helped you the most in your career as an author?
I have to say it was my high school English teacher, Mrs. Stevens. She was the toughest writing teacher I ever had, and I credit her with giving me the tools I needed to be a professional writer---both a journalist and an author. She was so tough on her students that most of them hated her (I did too, at the time), but I learned to appreciate what she instilled in me later on, especially when I got to college and then out on my first professional writing jobs.

When you write, what things do you want close at hand? (Coffee, water, chocolate... pictures of gorgeous hunks for inspiration...?)
Diet Coke, tea, and granola bars.

What other jobs have you held besides writing?
I’ve actually been a professional writer for my entire career, either as a journalist, corporate-communications writer, or as a novelist.  Though I have also worked odd jobs as a waitress, as a temp worker in offices, and as a custom art framer back when I was in high school.

Which of your books was the hardest to write and why?
I think it was probably my current New Adult paranormal release, ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED. The heroine of that book is 18 years old and it’s told in the first person, plus she is a very different kind of person than I am.  Stepping into her shoes every day to write her story was tough. Plus, this is not your typical zombie book. It’s more psychological. Instead of the zombies being in-your-face, blood-guts-and-gore, it’s all very shadowy and uncertain. You don’t know for sure who are zombies and who aren’t---which just makes it that much more dangerous! I had to spent a lot of time planting clues and subtext, and building a plot that resembles a psychological thriller (think old-school Hitchcock) more than straight horror.

If you could time travel what era would be your first stop?
Edwardian England!

Do you believe in luck?
I think you can make your own luck.

Do you play any musical instruments?
No, but I’m a classically trained singer.

Who are your greatest paranormal fiction influences?
I’m very into old-school, classical paranormal mysteries that was very language- and subtlety-driven. I love Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Daphne DuMaurier. I also love early Stephen King (not crazy about his new stuff, though), Jane Yolen, and Neil Gaiman.

Guest Post #2: Getting To Know Jill Elaine Hughes
1. I love pizza with black olives and sausage.

2. I'm always ready for a new episode of Breaking Bad.

3. When I'm alone, I read.

4. You'd never be able to tell, but I have a tattoo in a secret spot.

5. If I had a halo it would be orange.

6. If I could speak Swahili I'd move to Africa.

7. I can never be a beekeeper because I’m allergic to bee stings. (They can kill me!)

8. I wrote and illustrated my first horror story when I was in fifth grade.

Things you do to relax:
Watch British TV shows like CALL THE MIDWIFE and DOWNTON ABBEY on PBS.

Favorite sport to watch:
Figure Skating. Followed closely by track and field.

Place you’ve always wanted to go, but haven’t:

Breakfast drink:
Chocolate soymilk.

Favorite season ~ why:
Autumn, for the crisp clean air and bright colors.

What are your hobbies /past times (besides writing):
Exercise (especially running and yoga), reading books, painting/drawing, Zen meditation.

Jill Elaine Hughes’ favorites:
Mode of travel –

Beverage –
Sloe gin fizz.

Place you’ve never been and have always wanted to go –
India and Africa.

Guest Post #3: How ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED Came to Be
by Jill Elaine Hughes

The book started out as a short story. My now-former literary agent was putting together a Zombie Romance anthology to shop with major publishers. Zombie Romance in itself is weird---when was the last time you wanted to make out with a zombie? I thought hard about the concept and wrote a short piece that eventually became ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED’s final chapter. But the short story didn’t fit with the ones from other authors so it didn’t make the anthology cut, even though the anthology sold to St. Martin’s Press.  I still wanted to do more work in the world I created though. After I parted ways with the former literary agent who asked me to write it, my new agent encouraged me to expand the idea into three chapters and a book proposal, so I did. That book proposal also went nowhere, since the setting for the story involved an 18-year-old girl who was embarking on her first job in the adult world---not the norm for the zombie genre, but it is the norm for the emerging New Adult genre. But I just couldn’t let the idea go, so I wrote what is now the first installment in a planned three-book series.

I completed the manuscript and my literary representation still showed little to no interest in a New Adult zombie series.  But I know readers are demanding New Adult paranormal books even if publishers aren’t putting them out, so I just went the self-publishing route instead of waiting for publishers to catch up with readers.  The worldbuilding and character development for this series is substantial, and Book One ends on a cliffhanger as the heroine’s zombie romantic interest finally makes his first appearance.

It’s ironic---I couldn’t get editors or my own literary agents to read the book because it was so outside the zombie norm (it’s a New Adult psychological thriller!), but reader response has been fantastic. Readers love the book and are demanding more, more, more!  My agent is now very interested, and has even asked a New York Times bestselling author (I’ll announce who it is later) to do a cover blurb for me. Goes to show that a good book will always find an audience, no matter how different it is!

10 Things You Didn’t Know About TEMPLAND

1. The author Jill Elaine Hughes wrote the book ten years ago during work breaks at — you guessed it — a temp job.

2. The book landed the author her first literary agent, circa 2004. Said agent shopped it all over the New York publishing houses, who liked it but turned it down because they said it lacked “shelf category” (i.e., there was no “New Adult” genre back then.)

3. The book was written before the Great Recession, but given the struggles today’s youth has with unemployment, underemployment, and a lack of good permanent jobs, TEMPLAND seems even more relevant today than when it was first written.

4. The author modeled the heroine Melanie’s grandfather on her own grandpa---or “Papaw,” as she likes to call him.

5. TEMPLAND contains a murder mystery subplot.

6. The heroine Melanie Evers’ sleazy ex-boyfriend Phil is fluent in Farsi. This is integral to the plot.

7. The book depicts many real locations and establishments in the city of Chicago, including the now-defunct Zephyr Ice Cream Restaurant.

8. The author had given up on getting TEMPLAND published until reader demand for New Adult titles about starting your career led her to give it new life through self-publishing — and reader interest has been amazing!

9. If you’ve never heard of Green River Soda before (a cult favorite in Illinois), you learn about it in this book.

10. Several of the wacky bosses and co-workers Melanie encounters on her temp assignments were inspired by real people the author met during her own temp-work stints.

Why Book Covers Are So Important

by Jill Elaine Hughes

I recently hired a graphic designer to do new book covers for all three of my current self-published titles — TEMPLAND, THE DOMINO EFFECT, and ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED.  I did this after first trying to do it myself on the cheap. While I’m very computer-savvy, I’m no graphic designer — and the results of my half-hearted efforts to make my own covers looked reeeeally bad.

Here is the original cover for TEMPLAND, created by yours truly using PowerPoint (yes, PowerPoint)and a cheap stock image I got from Shutterstock for three bucks.

See, I can admit it. I have no design talent. I’m a writer, not a visual artist. And when I tried masquerading as a visual artist, the result was like something out of a fifth-grade computer class. But I really didn’t think a cover was all that important for an ebook. As a writer, I naively thought it was the words behind the cover that really mattered. Boy was I wrong.

I self-published the ebook over the Christmas holidays with that godawful cover. Sales were nil. I sent it out to bloggers for book reviews, and even did a free promo. The reviews that came in were good, but sales were still almost nil.

My literary agent, Marisa Corvisiero of the Corvisiero Agency — who has an excellent track record helping her clients boost sales for their self-pubbed ebooks and later landing them big New York publishing-house deals — sat me down for a straight talk.

“You need new covers,” she said. “I don’t want to be mean, but the ones you’ve got are awful and they’re hurting your sales. Ebook buyers are very visual, and an eye-catching cover can make all the difference. Oh, and you need to make sure you put a sexy guy on it too. Sexy guys sell books.”

Marisa connected me with JB McGee, a talented indie book cover designer — as well as a bestselling New Adult indie author herself — to get new cover designs made for me. JB had me fill out a detailed questionnaire about my books, get her copies of them to read, and also just spent some time chatting with me. She’s a very talented designer who also wasn’t afraid to share her creative process. “Like with writing, sometimes you have to wait to be inspired when designing covers,” she said.

We went back and forth for a couple of days on how best to create an eye-catching cover for TEMPLAND that captured its corporate workaday mood, the inherent precariousness and uncertainty of the heroine’s tough career and financial situation, AND had a sexy guy on the cover. (TEMPLAND has a love-triangle subplot, so we had TWO possible sexy guys to choose from — yay.) The result was this:

What a difference! And well worth the time and money invested. Shortly after I posted the new cover to Amazon and other ebook sites, I noticed a slight uptick in sales.  The blog-tour companies who are hosting this and other tours in support of TEMPLAND also said they saw an uptick in the number of blogs interested in participating. Plus, the new cover is just damn pretty to look at — and as professional-looking as anything coming out of New York.

It’s times like these I’m grateful to have a savvy literary agent who understands and supports self-publishing, while having the understanding of what sells books, and the connections to people who can make sales happen. So folks, make sure you do whatever it takes to have a good book cover — EXCEPT doing it yourself.

Jill Elaine Hughes

No comments:

Post a Comment