Polly Iyer, whose books include Hooked and InSight, talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I started writing in 2000. Before that, I was an illustrator, importer, and owner of a home furnishings store. I had an idea, wrote it, knew it needed professional help and got it. That started me, and writing became a passion. There are two reasons writers write, well three, but no one wants to admit they write for money because very few make enough to live on. One, writers write because they love doing it. They love living in a fantasy world that becomes real to them. Two, we write because we have to. I like to say we can’t not, but that’s using a double negative. Still, it really is the reason, and the double negative puts more emphasis on the reason.
Tell me a little about your books.
All my books have a murder or two – or three, a romance, and a main character who crosses ethical lines. I don’t think heroes and heroines have to be squeaky clean. In fact, I like when they aren’t. Elmore Leonard does that better than anyone, and he still makes his characters likeable. Not an easy task. But he’s Elmore Leonard, I’m not. I’ll still write my books my way, with messy characters stretching the boundaries.
Hooked is about an ex-call girl, Tawny Dell, who gets “hooked” into working undercover for the sex-crimes division of the NYPD. The feds find an offshore account she “forgot” to share with Uncle Sam while digging into the affairs of a mob boss, one of her ex-clients. Of course there’s heat between her and the sexy cop she’s forced to work with. The book is full of unethical characters, mainly the ex-hedge fund manager who now runs the high-class bordello. A couple of dead prostitutes connect to him, but the cops have no proof. That’s where Tawny comes in. A few reviews stated they didn’t think they’d like a main character who was a call girl, but they all liked Tawny.
Murder Deja Vu is about an architect, Reece Daughtry, who spent 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. There’s a woman, of course; her ex-husband, a DA who’d like to make his reputation convicting Reece for a local murder with the same MO as the murder that sent Reece to prison; and a few good and bad secondary characters. (I’m a firm believer in writing great secondary characters.) There are a few stories within the main story and some twists to keep the reader interested.
InSight (spelled that way) is about a blind psychologist and a deaf cop. I know, sounds illogical, but he lost his hearing in the line of duty, and he’s forced into counseling to keep his job because he’s not adjusting well. Someone is stalking her, and he’s determined to find out who and why. This is a story of abilities rather than disabilities.
Mind Games has as its main character a psychic entertainer. Diana Racine was famous as a child for her proven abilities, but finding missing people who usually wound up dead took its toll, and she told her father she’d lost her abilities. He devised her act. She’s been called every name in the book, charlatan, cheat, publicity hound—and genius. She’s all those and more. But when she’s touched by a masked Cyrano de Bergerac at a New Orleans masquerade ball and sees a dead woman in the water, she’s forced to come out of retirement. The killer is also psychic, so it becomes a matter of Mind Games. I have a second book in this series coming out sometime this year. Again, this character treads ethical lines, but that’s what makes her interesting, in my opinion.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Yes, two come to mind. Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke. If I could have written any book, it would be Mystic River. Aside from being beautifully written, the complex story held my interest from page one to the last page. It’s just a stunning book. No one else writes like Burke. His lyrical descriptions put you in that place. You smell the smells, see the visuals he describes, yet his stories are hard and raw. I can’t think of anyone else who can mix the two and do it as well.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I just write. My brain tells me when to stop, usually because I can’t think anymore. Sometimes I can go on for a few thousand words, other times a few hundred. I don’t write with an outline, so when I get clogged at a point in the story, I stop until I figure out how to get out of the situation I’m in. Sometimes it’s because the scene isn’t working and I have to rethink. I’ve been known to switch to another book when that happens. Lately, in order to finish a book, I’ve been making myself write 1000 words a day. I feel pressured, and I don’t like to feel that way. It takes the joy out of writing.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I had an agent for two years. I liked her very much, she liked my writing, but she couldn’t sell either of the books she sent out. They didn’t fit into any safe category, and because my heroines tread ethical lines, probably didn’t appeal to the editors who want safe, likeable characters in the lead. Mine don’t always fit the description. Also, the process of sending out the books, waiting for a reply, and sending them out again took forever. I’d be old and gray before, or if, anything ever materialized, so I decided to self-publish. Meanwhile, I did publish a few books in another genre under a pseudonym for an e-book publisher.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
Setting goals can only lead to disappointment. I set none other than to hope I sell more books with each passing month. So far, that has been doable.
How have you marketed your books?
I have to admit I’m terrible at promoting my books. Maybe it’s my mother’s words that rings in my head― “If you’re good at something, you don’t have to tell everyone. They’ll know.” She obviously didn’t know about the publishing business. I do have both a personal page and an author’s page on Facebook. I tweet. I belong to a few loops, but I don’t really use them like others do to promote my books. I find some of the writers annoying with all their promotional tactics. There’s a fine line between promoting and overkill. I haven’t taken out any pay ads except on the romance sites under my pseudonym because they’re relatively inexpensive. I’m not sure how effective they were since I don’t have control of the sales of those books and can’t measure.
Have you signed up for KDP Select? If you have, how has it gone for you? Do you think free promotions are helping with your paid sales? If you haven’t signed up, why not? Are you worried about the exclusivity clause?
Three of my books are on KDP Select. I’ve run two free promotions and found that my sales did increase. Strangely, the books I didn’t promote are selling better than the ones I did. Go figure. I think the reason for one of them is that it’s first in a series. I have a second book but haven’t put it up yet. I have no problem with the exclusivity clause. I’m perfectly happy to have Amazon as my sole publisher. The one book I have up under another program isn’t selling a fraction of the number it sells on Amazon.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
I haven’t used any other programs except Barnes & Noble, and that’s the one I spoke of earlier.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
From a writer’s standpoint, no. If I were a publisher, yes. There are a lot of good writers out there who would never be published because of a variety of reasons. Breakout books made it because one editor took a chance. If you check on how many rejections the writer had before that one adventurous editor/publisher went against the tried and proven model, most had enough rejections to put the writer in a state of depression. Amazon has given writers like me a chance to either sink or swim on our own terms. With a background in illustration, I created my own covers, so I’m pleased with them. Will I ever be in Amazon’s top 100? Unlikely, but my books are out there, people are reading them, I’m making some money, and I don’t have to wait months, perhaps years, for every step in the publishing process to hold one of my books in my hands. That’s a pretty good working model in my opinion. My success is up to me, and that suits me just fine. Since I’ve never been published by a big publisher, I can’t speak from experience. I have read other writers who’ve written about their experiences. Most with a readership and a large backlist are doing quite well on Amazon. That’s great.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
I’m always working on something. Right now, it’s another romance written by my alter ego and the follow up to Mind Games. If that last book is successful, I will probably write a third in the series. I have other books finished that need editing. I’ll try to do that too, but I doubt any of them will be finished for 2012.