R.J. Palmer, whose books include Birthright and Sins of the Father, 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 don’t write on a whim or as a random afterthought. I am a writer because I once heard that when you wake up in the morning and all you can think about is writing, then you’re a writer. In my case, never were truer words spoken. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing and I wouldn’t change me mainly because I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am.
I’ve also seen the positive change in my family as a result of the way I speak (reflected in my writing) and I couldn’t be more proud. My children use words that should be beyond their reach as far as vocabulary is concerned and they sound intelligent and educated. My husband uses descriptive words he never would’ve used before and I love it. Every once in awhile (more and more often these days), he uses his words in the most perfect way talking to me about a book and I want to just smile and tell him, “Talk dirty to me…” It’s sexy for him to sound as intelligent as he is.
But back to the writing. I write as a compulsion and a need. I write to please myself and I’m happy that other people enjoy what pleases me. Even if the public as a general rule absolutely HATED my writing, I would still write because I can’t stop it and wouldn’t if I could. I was serious when I told my grandmother this past summer that when I don’t write, I don’t sleep.
Tell me a little about your books.
I have two out right now, one is called Birthright and it’s in the editing process. I didn’t pull it from the shelves while it’s being edited though. The reviews were coming in and people were basically saying the same thing, “Shut up, would you? We CAN read and infer, you know.” They were right though. I have an enormous vocabulary and don’t stop once I get started.
Sins of the Father is my current pride and joy. In it, I was bleeding my soul onto the paper. It was a story that I had to gain some emotional maturity before I could write because when the idea came to me, I was a twenty something with a seriously heavy chip on my shoulder. I had to do a lot of forgiving of the past (my own) before I could come out with something like Sins of the Father and still tell the story without being overly prejudicial or petulant. I’m not sure if this stuff is what you wanted, but it’s what I’m giving.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
There is the always obvious Dean Koontz because I’ve been a fan of his since I was thirteen. Madeleine L’Engle has written books with little or no regard for having touched on sensitive subjects like faith and religion (they’re cleverly disguised to a young girl) while firmly keeping herself within the realm of engaging storytelling. Steven Donaldson managed to write about Thomas Covenant and introduce me to the idea that just because the writing can be a little off putting, that doesn’t mean the work has no merit.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
If I had to make myself write, I wouldn’t be doing it because it makes me happy. That would make it a chore and I’m a thirty something who still doesn’t like to wash laundry. It’s my least favorite chore. I can say that I pray before I write and I know that may sound a little unusual or crazy to people but frankly, God gave me this talent and He knows how He wants me to use it.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
Yes and I have three words for you: FORTY REJECTION LETTERS. Every one of them with one sole exception said the same thing and they were all form emails. “Dear So And So, I don’t have the time but it’s no reflection of your work, it’s me. I’m too busy.” The only exception was the agent that had the sheer audacity to recommend OTHER books she was representing as an example of how I should write a “peel back the onion plot” as she called it. I was honestly torn between laughter and rage. Did I mention that I wasn’t impressed with her gall OR the books?
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?
I’m getting restless so it’s probably time a start a new work. I want to sell enough books to begin to gain some notice but that’s not a measure of success in my opinion. The reviews are gratifying, especially the five star reviews but they’re not what makes a writer a writer. Each time I finish a work and feel so absolutely drained of creative energy for…At least an hour…And then feel the rush, that’s success. Each time that I hand a work to my husband and say, “Tell me what you think,” and he reads it and smiles, that’s a success. One of these days, I’ll write something good enough for him to completely scrap the whole idea that he’s going to drop a star off the review to level the playing field, that’s going to be a major personal success. Do I want to write as a career and have it pay the bills? You’re darned skippy but I’m not going to disregard the little successes on the road to that goal. Sometimes, the worthier tale is in the journey, not in arriving at the destination and I intend to cherish every moment.
How have you marketed your books?
A large part of my marketing comes from my husband who does as much working like a demon to help me succeed as I do. I have to give credit where it’s due and I’m not anywhere near the marketer he is. By comparison, I’m fairly lousy at that aspect. When it comes to getting the work written, he lets me do what I do best and when it comes to the marketing, I do the author interviews he sets in front of me and let him do what he does best. It’s a workable arrangement for us because he’ll talk about how much work it is to get my writing out there, but he loves it and I’ll whine about doing the author interviews and such, but then I’ll happily occupy myself for hours with them.
I’m not paying for advertising right now because, quite frankly, I’m not exactly raking in the cash. I want to at some point soon, but that doesn’t mean right now. I can wait for the right time.
Have you signed up for KDP Select?
As a matter of fact, I have done KDP Select and I’ve found out that it’s not really helping a great deal with paid sales and I’ve also found out that it’s not really translating into getting my work out there, either. It’s not that it’s not a good idea, it’s just not doing for me what I hoped it would. Oh well, better to have tried it out and have it not go anywhere than not to have tried it at all.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
I have both my books published on Smashwords and it’s enabled me to participate in a few other avenues that I haven’t had the opportunity to try on Amazon. Other than that, I don’t really see much as far as sales are concerned. Amazon has the almighty Kindle but there are other ebook readers out there and Smashwords publishes in several different formats but Amazon still has the largest part of the market without a doubt.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
Not really, there are simply too many different people who like too many different options for any one company to gain an absolute monopoly. Granted, the overwhelming majority of people shop on Amazon and that’s undeniable, but there are the stalwart groups that choose to shop elsewhere.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
I’m finishing up an author interview right now and I know, that was a horrible evasion. I’ve not started anything new yet, I have to have the time first. I do have a couple ideas I’m building on for a new novel, I’m just waiting for the time and opportunity to present themselves. One idea is a continuation of Birthright because I have the twins’ story to tell. Another idea is for a somewhat dark and forbidding work I want to title Dreamweaver and no, before you think it, it’s not going to be horror or anything like that. I still have a difficult time understanding how people could’ve tagged Sins of the Father as both “occult” AND “religious” because they just don’t seem to go together in the same book but hey, I’m not the one that put the tags in there.