New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon charmed writers and alumni at Jody Lynn Nye’s Writers’ Workshop with tales of her writing, publishing, and marketing trials, travails, and ultimate victories. Kenyon was first published in a magazine in 1978 although she wrote her first story for her mother when the author was only in third grade. Becoming an NYT best-selling author has been her goal since before she understood what was printed on the covers of her mom’s books.
Kenyon answered questions from the writers in attendance with wit and candor consistent with her charm and obvious affection and regard for her fans.
Question (Q): Do you outline? What is your writing process?
Sherrilyn Kenyon (“SK”): I try to write every available minute. My word count when I’m in the zone is over one hundred pages on a really good day. On average, I write twenty to thirty pages a day, but they are not all gold. On a bad day, I will write maybe one page. We post out-takes on my website.
Q: What about outlining?
SK: I don’t. Some writers write the ending first. I write to find out how it will end. My son is a hybrid. He outlines parts, but goes wild in the middle.
Q: You are well-known as a marketing [wonder]. Tell us about how you approach marketing your world.
SK: As I was growing up, my sixteen-years-older sister majored marketing at Troy State University. Dianna Love, a co-author with me, is also big in marketing. But I have had to deal with a marketing department that did not understand what a tag line was.
Jody Lynn Nye (JLN): What would be your one tip for new authors?
SK: Start now. It is never too early to start your brand. In the early 90’s Paradise City sold out at its first signing. I announced on Prodigy, Genie, and AOL that I had a book coming out. I also used these to connect with readers.
Develop and maintain a website on your world, characters, what is unique about your work. Give what they need to LARP. I have dedicated readers who will storm the publisher if they do not get a book out.
JLN: The Authors Guild has free websites and templates for members.
SK: Use wix.com to set up a blog.
Q: Do you outsource any of your marketing? What are your priorities?
SK: I outsource on occasion for news media. For radio, you may have to buy to get access. I outsource to a public relations (PR) company. When I hit a radio or blog circuit, the PR company gets involved.
Perhaps on venue choice, you can decide what would be better. Some people should not be online, but it’s okay to express snarkiness through a character.
JLN: Never punch out fans.
Q: Do you continue a series that fans love or what new work you want to create?
SK: I have to respond to the “character screaming out in my head.” Then I can get back to other series.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent versus traditional publication?
SK: Traditional publication pays up front and makes it easier to use funds for marketing. I have done some hybrid. You have to ask yourself what you are comfortable with.
Self-publishing media do not have persons who can get you in stores or build a relationship with chain buyers. If you can’t get it, would you rather not write instead.
My question is, “How lazy are you?”
If you have to push your stuff, if you feel awkward, you are an introvert. Dianna Love is an extrovert.
Be honest. What are your skill sets?
Q: On world building, when can one share and what will work?
SK: I do not know. If you create for money, if it goes over, you are stuck for years doing something you don’t love.
JLN: Or have an exit strategy like Charlaine Harris (Midnight Texas) who stopped after 14 books [of the Sookie Stackhouse series].
SK: Sometimes you have to slice or backdoor your ideas in. When vampires were out, I called them daemons.
Q: What can you tell us about creating characters?
SK: Look at your favorite characters. Spock, Gandalf. They are iconic.
Q: How many books did you write before characters clicked more easily?
SK: In college I made my living as a writer. There was not a definitive moment but there was when I suddenly knew voice. (She described an internal dialogue with a rude sales girl, and figured out narrative voice.)
Q: How do you get over embarrassment if you write a story that family or society do not approve?
SK: Don’t be ashamed. A little [Southern] town was ready to burn an author at the stake for writing erotica. Do be sensitive about your YA work. But not, don’t hold back.
My books are like kids; whatever they do, own it.
Q: If you feel burnout, how do you break the cycle?
SK: I do get frustrated with other things that do not have anything to do with writing.
For example, she mentioned copy editors, who are wonderful, but recalled an instance when a copyeditor made a change that ruined her credibility in the first chapter.
As a solution to burnout, she suggested, “Step back. Begin a new project. Take a shower or go swimming.”