Some people have what can only be called a generosity of spirit, which is obvious even through the briefest or remote encounter. Jennifer Kincheloe is the author who created Anna Blanc, the flawed and feisty heroine whose flirtation and curiosity bubble from the page. Her rigorous research and mischievous descriptions, bring 1907 LA vividly into the room; but it is Jennifer’s kindness that always wins my heart. I have had the privilege of working with her several times, and she has the ability to put me at ease with a few empathetic words in an email. Talking with her is a truly lovely experience
One of the reasons that I love working with writers is that a writer is the quintessential solopreneur. An artist who then faces the effort of selling the art that she has created; of convincing others to buy and hopefully to love her art; to support what she does, so that she can keep doing it. Once a writer decides to become an author, that is her task; whether she is supported by a staff of publicists and editors, or goes it alone. Jennifer has been doing just that since she submitted her first book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, to the Colorado Gold Competition in 2013 (more on that in a minute.) And she has been doing it well. She has over 10,000 Facebook fans, 4,000 Twitter followers, and over 1,000 followers on Pinterest.
When I asked her about an interview (Tentatively. It is my first time) I hoped to gain insight into how she had done that so successfully. When I got her on the phone it was like she read my mind, and started pouring out tips for fellow writer’s faster than I could write them down. (No, I was not recording. First time, remember?) I sat down afterwards to write the interview and realized that I had nothing to hold it together. How did she get her publishing contract? What was her strategy now? And a question that has become very interesting to me, how did she define success as an author? I wrote down a few more questions, and made a date to get her on the phone again. This time I would be ready.
And I was. Kind of.
Me: Jennifer, I realized after we first talked, that I didn’t actually write down anything, and that I had no idea how you even got your publishing deal. This seems like a good place to start.
Jennifer: It’s one of those success stories that looks easy from the outside, but wasn’t actually easy at all because I rewrote the book so many times. I entered “The Secret Life of Anna Blanc” into this really big contest. There were 10,000 entries, and I won the mystery category. There were 5 winners in all, and I was one of them. Before I won, when I was just a finalist, they posted the first chapter of my book on their website, and my agent’s assistant saw it and contacted me through LinkedIn. I didn’t know who it was, so I just ignored it. But LinkedIn keeps sending you those updates, so I finally accepted the request. Turned out it was the assistant to Zoe King at the Blair Partnership, who also represents JK Rowling. They wanted to talk about representing me. I could not sleep, I was so excited. First, they wanted a chapter by chapter summary of my book. So, I made that. It took about two weeks to get that done. Then they wanted the whole book. Then I won, but my agent wanted me to step down from the contest because they didn’t like the contract. They had to help me get out of that.
Me: Wow. That definitely sounds like the kind of thing a writer would daydream about. It sounds like magic, but you told me before that you were writing like 14 hours a day?
Jennifer: I did, I just loved it. That was before it was work. I have over 100 versions of Anna Blanc on my hard drive. Well, it started out as a screenplay, so I have about 100 versions of that and then another 100 of the book.
Me: So, you are all ready if it gets sold to Hollywood?
Jennifer: Well, I am a much better writer now than I was when I wrote the screenplay. Plus in the screenplay, someone else ends up being the murderer. But, my agent IS trying to sell the dramatic rights.
Me: Then I just have to ask, who would play Anna?
Jennifer: There is a site called The Bookcaster where fans can cast your book http://www.thebookcaster.com/the-secret-life-of-anna-blanc/ and Anna Blanc is actually up there. I think Emma Stone is in the lead right now.
Me: I just popped over, there is some great casting going on. Not sure about Anna, but I am loving Melissa McCarthy for Madam Lulu, and Bill Conolly for the Police Captain! Also, I am bookmarking that site. What is that like, knowing that your book is being shopped to Hollywood?
Jennifer: When Anna Blanc first came out, there were actual movie producers reading my book, and my hopes were sky high. It got great coverage from Warner Brothers and I was holding my breath. One major studio had already bought all of their mid-budget projects for the year, and they actually said that summer blockbusters could not have a female lead. That may have changed thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, Gal Gadot, and other fabulous actors. But nothing has happened yet for Anna Blanc.
Me: Do you feel successful? How do you define success as an author?
Jennifer: My definition of success has changed since I started writing. When I first started, I did not even think anyone would read my book. And then it won awards and people were reading it, and I did feel successful. I do feel successful. But, now I think writing is about making art. I think you should write for yourself. That is my new measure of success, to enjoy writing, to put words on the page. So many writers think they are not legitimate unless they have a publishing deal. That is just not true.
Me: At what point in the process did you start building your online presence?
Jennifer: After I submitted Anna to the contest, I spent about a year building my website, and a social media following. I had done a lot of research that didn’t overtly go into the book and social media was a great place to share it. I spent a ridiculous amount of time finding photos to post, and figuring out how to present what I do to the world. But, now that I have built all of that, I am able to only spend a couple of hours a week on social media. When I started, Facebook was totally different. One of my posts would be seen by tens of thousands of people. (70,000 is my all time high) Now they don’t send your posts out to all of your followers, so it is much harder to get the same exposure.
Me: Do you have a Goodreads profile? Is that valuable?
Jennifer: Goodreads is a tremendous distraction. Every new review is like a little reward. It is really addictive. But I have it set up so that fans can leave questions, and I love that.
Me: Having a publicist definitely opens doors, what marketing do you do yourself?
Facebook, Twitter, I have an email list. I’ve arranged radio interviews. Both my publisher and I have done Goodreads giveaways to generate reviews. Reviews are very important. If you look in the back of my book, at the end of the acknowledgements, there is actually a pitch for reviews. They are the number one way readers find new authors.
7th Street Books arranges readings with big stores like Barnes and Noble, but they don’t do independent books stores, so I have arranged my own book tours.
Me: So how does that work? Do you just call the bookstore manager?
Jennifer: Yes. It works best if you can get a few authors together. So, then you can contact the store manager and tell them, “Hey I have have a panel of authors, can we do a reading?” Everyone on the panel invites their network. It’s great synergy.
Me: Can you do the same thing for big stores like Barnes and Noble, or does it only work for indie bookstores?
Jennifer: Absolutely, but again it works best if you can get together a group of authors. You can also ask to do a table during the shopping day and just hawk books. I have sold a lot of books doing that. I am not shy. There are lots of things you can do. My debut book release event was just a party for friends and family at a local bookstore because no one knew who I was yet. I made awards for different people who had helped me and handed them out. That was fun. I have done many readings at independent bookstores and Barnes and Noble; I did a slideshow with music and had a cake with the book on it. At my upcoming release party, I’m sharing the stage with authors Barbara Nicklass and Cynthia Kuhn. Barbara’s character is a railroad cop with a working dog, so she’s bringing a working dog. Have fun with it. It is great if you can form relationships with booksellers.
Also, go to conferences. Apply to be on panels. You will probably get one. I have been on panels with really well known authors, and then you have a bigger audience. And conferences have awards and prizes which are a really big honor and great exposure.
Me: Do you enter competitions when you sign up for the conference?
Jennifer: No, other people who attend the conference can nominate you for awards.
Me: I can’t think of a greater honor than being nominated by people who are in your field.
Jennifer: I am going to Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, this year in Toronto. It‘s half fans, half authors. So, you can connect with fans, which is totally fun. And connect with other authors. I didn’t know any authors when I first started. Writing is so solitary. I think writers really benefit from the camaraderie and support of their peers. Maybe more than with any other vocation. Being around other writers is so helpful, and I know that I will leave inspired and ready to sit down and write!
Me: Any other promotions that have been really successful?
Jennifer: That is really hard to measure. It is difficult to know where sales are coming from. But I would say Goodreads giveaways and Bookbub can be great for exposure and reviews.
Me: Thanks, Jennifer! You are the best!
Jennifer Kincheloe’s much anticipated new Anna Blanc mystery, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK, comes out November 14th, in both print, ebook, and audiobook. The pre-release reviews are in and Kirkus says, “The feisty heroine's sleuthing abilities and tricky love life make it hard to put this fast-paced historical mystery/romance down and leaves you wanting more.” I am excited to see what Anna Blanc thinks of Chinatown, and to hear Moira Quirk’s new narration! Say 'hi' to Jennifer on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or visit jenniferkincheloe.com.
Takeaways from Jennifer:
Success is writing, not publishing or sales. Make art!
Create your own book tour. This works best if you can get together a few authors to participate. Invite friends and family!
Do book tables at bookstores during the shopping day. You sell a ton of books in person.
Make friends with other writers. The camaraderie and support is awesome.
Develop relationships with booksellers.
Go to writer’s conferences. Apply to be on panels. It is great exposure.
Apply to Bookbub
Do Goodreads giveaway
If you enjoyed this interview, sign up below to get free updates!