Thank you for tuning in to my second Literary Mary Chats, a series of interviews with authors.
I thought we’d close out Cupid’s favorite month of February with Vicky Holt, a reader, writer, and lover of all things romance related.
Vicky Holt was born to tell stories. One of her earliest memories is of trying to pull the wool over her father’s eyes as to who ate the Cool Whip for breakfast. She has been writing creatively from her youth, and first tried novel length books a couple decades ago. From historical romance to alternative fiction, Vicky is not afraid to try it all. This comes in part due to her love of reading in most genres. With unflagging support from her husband, Vicky has been published in obscure literary magazines and has also self-pubbed several books. She’s recently embarked on trying to discover what it means to brand and market herself as an author, but she’d really rather be eating chocolate and devouring more books.
Literary Mary Chats
Vicky, our paths crossed in the Mary O’Reilly Kindle World where you also have 2 stories, Missing Links and Safety Measures. With 9 publications total, varying from sweet, contemporary romance to alternative fiction, you seem to be influenced by many outlets.
1. What are you currently reading, listening to, watching, and writing?
First off, thank you Literary Mary for this splendid opportunity! I love talking about books, writing, and creativity, so this is super fun.
I am currently reading a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in an historical Celtic context (The Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm), but my TBR pile grows on a daily basis from Sci-Fi (Fear the Future by Stephen Moss) to a lovely contemporary called The Beau and the Belle by R.S. Grey set in modern day New Orleans.
For music, it’s nearly always Country in the car, eighties and classic rock at home, and my writing playlists consist of a mix of soundtracks (for some reason Oblivion‘s soundtrack is fantastic for background writing music) and some light pop like Ellie Goulding or Taylor Swift. I am ALL OVER THE PLACE!
I don’t watch much by way of television or Netflix. Sometimes I get sucked into funny animal videos on Facebook, does that count?
I have too many projects to list in my WIP pile, but you can count on every single one of them involving some form of romance. I have this problem. I occasionally “window shop” for cheap book covers, and then I buy them. So I actually have a handful of covers that need a book. It’s shameful, I know.
I have been working quite a bit on researching branding and marketing, and trying to discover how to do those things better. I have seen a tiny but measurable amount of success from that work.
In our discussion, you mentioned that you have an appreciation for the creative process and learning from others. You referenced the word “ingenuity”–I love that! I think I learn as much from what doesn’t work as from what does and find inspiration in sometimes unlikely places.
2. What specifically sparks your inventiveness and how does it influence your work?
I feel like I have an overactive imagination, and whatever part of the brain lights up when we dream or watch movies or read books is a phenomenal fireworks display in my head. I can’t go anywhere and see an expression on a stranger’s face, or look at an isolated snowy tree stand and not imagine a story behind it. I take notes at random times when a story idea comes to mind. I was recently at my husband’s work party and I saw a man standing to the side and I was immediately hit with the image of an entire story line. I whipped out my phone and began taking notes. My husband was shocked when he looked over my shoulder and saw me typing words like alcoholic, addiction, betrayal etc. He finally figured it out and sat back with a smile.
I am also inspired by other authors, either by reading their work or listening to them talk about their own ingenuity. I heard an NPR interview of Douglas Coupland, author of Miss Wyoming (a phenomenal read, btw), and got a tremendous thrill listening to him talk about naming his characters. It was thrilling because there isn’t a formula that we all follow, and his process sounded a bit like mine (throw a dart and see if it sticks). He said he was driving along and saw a street name, Colgate, and picked it for his protagonist’s last name. Turns out she’s a super model, so how perfect was that for her surname? I absolutely adore those writing coincidences, and have been the lucky recipient of many such instances in my works.
I am a creature of comfort zones. I seem to have had a bad batch of novel recommendations lately. When that happens, I return to what I find reliable–Yacht Rock Radio (Sirius XM channel 311), Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (a quick and satisfying read), and Overboard (the movie with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell).
3. Considering your many interests, when you’re disappointed in things or distracted from your own writing, do you find yourself circling back to the familiar or do you actively seek out new work for inspiration?
Great question, and can I say that Neverwhere was quite a surprising tale for someone like me who tends to view everything through the lens of romance. I recycle through my books all the time, but Neverwhere is a keeper. I definitely have old favorites I happily reread from time to time. Top five books I reread are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, my own book Beckoned, Cinder & Ella by Kelly Oram, Tied by Carian Cole, and Depravity by Melissa Haag. I’ve read all of these at least three times. Again, I don’t watch very much but I’ve seen Pride & Prejudice a number of times and always enjoy it as a rerun. I feel I should make a disclaimer about reading my own book more than once. For some reason, the story line and characters really scratch an itch of mine, and if I need a quick feel-good read, I totally read it. (*No disclaimer necessary! A good read is a good read! ML)
Being a published author is so much more challenging than just writing a book–which is a challenge all its own. Indy-publishing leaves a lot of boxes for the author to check including production, promotion, and marketing. You mention that your current focus is finding your brand as an author.
4. What steps are you taking on this discovery and what are you learning about yourself and the industry?
Deep breath. Okay well first I found a mentor, and her advice really helped me with a two-pronged approach to branding and marketing. First, she told me I needed to create a streamlined brand. Talking about it, it seems like it should have been obvious, but I needed it to be spelled out very specifically. So I have been trying to make sure my sites match my business cards match my Twitter profile match my social media images and what have you. It’s been taking a while because I have some social media crumbs littering the interwebs, and I have to go sweep them up. Second, she gave me some clear homework detailing how to manipulate the usefulness of social media. Something I am learning about myself is that I am a creative first, and a business woman second (more like fifteenth.) It’s been very challenging to put on an entrepreneur’s hat but also intellectually stimulating. I’m up for a challenge.
As far as the industry goes, it changes. Things that worked four years ago don’t work now. (Facebook book release parties, for example). It pays off to carve out time to read up on marketing updates, but at the same time, don’t throw money at every trendy book, marketing service or social media mover that markets to you. There really are a number of free methods for getting your book in front of faces. And finally, this might seem like the opposite of what I just said, but paying for reliable advertising pretty much always works. That was the most disappointing(?) thing I have learned about this industry. It’s the same as every other industry: you have to spend money to make money. I don’t know if disappointing is the right word, but I’m trying to convey that feeling of “it isn’t enough that you’ve created a piece of art, you have to actively play a salesperson role”.
With a lively interest in reading, writing, and world literacy, books are a huge part of your life.
They are a huge part of my life. From learning to read at a young age, to escaping into fiction as a youth and teen, to teaching my own children how to read and then volunteering in a woman’s day center, I can’t imagine my life without books of all kinds.
5. What advice would you share with developing authors regarding completing the work and finding an audience? Also, what do you believe is the best way to generate new readers?
For developing authors completing their work, my advice is simple. Keep writing. It’s so easy to get bogged down once you realize you need more editing, more proofreading, more control over your commas, but you just need to keep at it. As far as finding the audience, that is something I am still trying to figure out! If you can identify that your market group likes coffee shops and Ugg boots, then you might be able to put your finger on that pulse and use the cross section of social media that that market group uses. (Tumblr). In my case, I’m still trying to figure out who my audience is. I think they like cat videos.
Thank you so much, Vicky, for your time and insight. I know there are readers and writers out there who are hungry for the kinds of information you have offered. And chocolate. And cat videos.