Subject: Inside a Best-Selling Author’s Mind (Interview with Michelle Weidenbenner)

All of her other books were just practice for this one, says Michelle in an interview with a Chicago newspaper. The practice definitely paid off. Michelle is an inspiration for us authors but an even bigger inspiration is Kelly, the girl she wrote the true story about.

I'm honored to have been able to interview Michelle, who is one of us and whose newest release "Fractured Not Broken" is on top of the charts.
BIO: Michelle is an award-winning and bestselling author who lives in Warsaw, Indiana—the orthopedic capital of the world where engineers design hips, knees and shoulders every day.

She’s a Random Girl who writes in Random Genres and blogs at Random Writing Rants. At home, she’s called the Random Subject Generator by her husband of 35 years. 

When she’s not writing she’s golfing or playing ugly on the tennis court, where she’s known as the Queen of the Rim Shots. No joke. It’s ugly.

Let's pick Michelle's mind now:

Why do you write?

I write because I enjoy telling stories, creating emotion for my readers, and showing them different sides to the same story.

How long have you been writing?

I decided to take writing classes about 18 years ago, after we adopted our 25-month-old daughter from a Russian orphanage. (Olivia is almost 20 now.) I wanted to be a stay-at-home and work-from-home mom. Initially, I wanted to write for magazines. I thought, how hard can that be?

It was hard. It was difficult to get published. I didn’t expect that. Seeing my name in print became an obsession. I went to writers’ conferences and met other authors. I took nonfiction and fiction writing courses, and I was hooked. I wanted to create more and more stories. And I wanted to sell my work.

How long have you been in the self-publishing business?

I published my first novel in July, 2013. Two years ago.

Is writing/publishing your full-time job? If not, what is?

Full time, all the time. But it doesn’t feel like a job because I enjoy what I’m doing. Don’t get me wrong though, even though I write often, I take time to enjoy life, too. I play tennis and golf and belong to a book club. We read a different book every month and discuss it.

What is your daily work schedule?

It depends on what I’m working on. If I’m in the throes of writing and creating, I typically arrive at my desk treadmill around 9:00 am and write until I’ve met my goal for the day. Sometimes I write a chapter, sometimes more, but during NaNoWriMo my goal is 1200 words a day. Other days I might edit three chapters. I like to have a weekly goal so I can measure my progress.

Walking on the treadmill while I write helps me feel doubly productive. I can measure how many miles I’ve walked too. Yes, I write and walk at the same time. Sometimes, especially if I’m editing, clicking my mouse and walking at the same time is a challenge.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten (or read)?

Cec Murphey (90 Minutes in Heaven) was my first nonfiction teacher. He said, “Don’t beat yourself up if you look back at something you wrote ten years ago and think it was awful. You can only do the best you know how to do right now.”

I’m my own worse critic. I never think my writing is good enough. Cec’s comment stays with me. I will always want to improve my writing, make it richer. But today I can only use the knowledge I have to write the best I know how to write. Five years from now I might think my writing was terrible, but for today it has to be good enough. (Actually, it might not take five years. I might think it’s not good enough tomorrow.)

What is the best marketing advice you’ve ever gotten (or read)?
  1. To be an author-preneur and treat my writing career as a business, which means having a budget to promo myself, and my books. 
  2. Finding a really, really good cover artist. (She cost around $300-$350). Let’s face it, people judge books by their covers.
  3. Hiring an editor and an oops editor to perfect my prose.
What has been your best marketing decision so far?

I bought Melissa Foster’s course titled, “Fostering Success,” which taught me all about pricing, marketing, media releases, and cover secrets. Because I bought the course, I was invited to join a closed FB group with other authors. Melissa and other the other authors have been immensely helpful. They’re all independently published authors struggling with the same issues, so it’s wonderful to help each other along the journey. We learn from one another and encourage each other. Melissa and the team continue to show me marketing ideas that work.

What has been your worst decision as a writer and how did you bounce back?

The worse decision was hiring the audio book narrator for my first novel. It was a fiasco which is too long of a story to share here, but I paid half of the cost and discovered the voice I thought I bought wasn’t the voice I got. Also, there is SO much work in editing the narration. The narrator expected me to review it all, and it was poorly done. It was the worse money I ever spent. It was easier to abort the project.

You recently published “Fractured Not Broken” together with your niece. How was this experience different from publishing your own books?

This book is nonfiction, so I couldn’t make anything up. (Darn!) I have a vivid imagination, so I love to make up stuff. I had to wait to gather the information from Kelly and the other people who were involved in the story. It was different research and a totally new endeavor. Asking the right questions made all the difference.

Also, Kelly is a quadriplegic. She can’t use her legs or arms. Fortunately, she has some use of her left arm, but she types with a mouth stick—very slowly. So all our communication had to be done through voice-to-text or voice-to-email responses. (We live five hours from each other.) There were times when I chuckled at Kelly’s responses because it was obvious that the voice activation system hadn’t worked. Sentences came out silly and unpredictable.

In an interview with a Chicago newspaper you said: “I think all my other books were just practice for this one.” Can you please elaborate?

Fiction doesn’t always have the same impact on readers as real stories.

I’m often writing several books at one time. So, I have to pay extra attention on which book to focus on, which one will have the most positive impact. Prayer helps me. I ask God to lead my direction, to show me where to spend my time for His will.

I was working on a young adult novel with an editor when I decided to temporarily stop and work with Kelly on her story instead. Her book has a more important message than my YA novel.

Some readers have said Kelly’s book will make a great movie. I don’t know, but I think it will change lives, and that’s important to me. I wonder if God propelled me on a journey to learn how to write so I could tell her story.

“Fractured Not Broken” is on top of the charts! Congratulations! How did you achieve this?

Kelly achieved this. She knows and has inspired so many people! Plus she’s a teacher and a speaker, so her reach is far. I built her a Facebook page months before we launched the book and invited people to LIKE the page. Then I started posting little blurbs about our progress. I shared quotes from the book, photos of the people in the book, and questions about who to pitch for endorsements. Within a few weeks of building the FB page, we were interviewed, and an article appeared in her local newspaper. Her FB page continues to grow because we included a link to it at the back of the book. Readers care and want to stay current in Kelly’s life.

One reader bought Kelly a pineapple bracelet and wants me to deliver it to her. (The pineapple symbol is a part of the story.) She’s never met Kelly, but bought several books to give away as inspirational gifts. 

Do you think of yourself as an author or as an entrepreneur?

I call myself an author-preneur: an author and an entrepreneur. Not only do I need to write a compelling story, but I have to be a savvy business manager and know how to market, sell, and tackle the bookkeeping end of the business, too.

What have been the key factors to your success?

Stories sell. I think my best selling book will be Kelly’s book because it’s a true story, and people seem to migrate to real stories of everyday heroes. I also believe that success (like other things in life, unfortunately) is about whom you know. Kelly has a huge platform of people who are inspired by her teaching, her attitude, and her strength to persevere in the midst of tragedy.

We launched her book a few weeks ago and she’s sold over 2000 books already. She made the #1 Hot New Release in several categories at Amazon. My phone dings from Facebook comments every hour about how readers love the book, how they are recommending it to everyone. Kelly has been on the radio and television. She’s a poised and articulate speaker too, which helps her platform.

Fiction is different. I don’t have a huge platform. Yes, I have lots of friends, but spamming friends and family isn’t a great way to gain followers. Instead, I rely on BookBub ads to spread the word about my books. Every quarter I feature a different book and offer it for a discount. I’ve sold over 3000 books each time I’ve placed an ad with them. The books sell well after the sale too, because the sale places the book in a higher-ranking status; thus it gains more visibility.

Also, my creative marketing has helped a ton! I sent CACHE a PREDATOR, my geocaching mystery to geocachers all over the US and Canada to place as a trackable in geocaching sites. It was hours of work to mail the book to fifty readers/cachers, but well worth the time and money. This book sells four times as much as my other fiction because it has more visibility. Geocachers share it at events. They talk about it and recommend it to other avid cachers. Writers have to find creative ways to get in front of readers and make fans. This worked for me.

What do you think traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers?

Self-published bestselling authors learned how to sell their books and how to market them by relating to their fans, their audience. They engage in conversations, real human chats at Twitter or FB. They care. They mingle. They aren’t afraid to show their human side.

How often do you find a large publishing house “relating” on a personal level with readers? They’re too formal. They need to be more human, show their daily lives, and share their company’s journey. The publishing houses need fans—not just reader fans of the books they publish—but fans of their publishing team, the people and face and lives behind their work. They need a “company” personality that readers love and care about.

What should self-publishers learn from traditional publishers?

The large traditional publishing houses have more creative talent—people who know how to design a great cover, editors who are better at giving a developmental edit, and editors who know how to edit for grammatical errors and verb tenses, point of view, and typos.

Self-published authors need to take time to learn from their expertise and not be in a hurry to launch their product. More time needs to be spent on editing their book and ensuring that their covers sell. Self-published authors need to establish a budget for their books. In any business, you have to invest money to make money.

What do you think the publishing landscape will look like in 5 years?

Great question! One thing is certain—it won’t be the same. It’s changed immensely in the last five years, and I anticipate that it will continue, but I love change. I enjoy watching movers and shakers (like you, Alinka), learn how to mix up the industry.

The paradigm shift began a few years ago. Writers were frustrated with the rudeness of the traditional publishing industry—they had to wait months to find an agent, then they waited months to find a publisher. Agents didn’t call them back. Publishers rejected their work, but didn’t say why. Authors had to rely on someone else to sell their books. Their life-clocks were ticking. They wanted to leave a legacy, and they were anxious to share their work.

But who spent years creating the book? Who knew the book baby? How could they expect someone else to have the same passion for their work?

Many agents are so busy they’re poor communicators. They don’t have time to write to authors, to send them updates, to send them reasons why they won’t accept their work. Some writers are so eager for an agent or publisher they sign deals they shouldn’t and find themselves stuck with unsold books in their garage. They give up on their dream and quit writing.

In five years, I think we will see many more self-published authors and less small presses. More authors will learn how to self-publish, but traditional publishers will still be around. Their “model” will change though. Their book prices will be higher than self-published authors because their overhead will be higher. They will have the manpower to find more creative ways to spread awareness for their books. Academia will continue to support big publishers because overall the quality of writing is more monitored.

But big publishers will find bigger ways to brand themselves. They’ll have to if they want to survive.

I love that writers and readers have options though. Don’t you?

I think we’ll see the birth of a new kind of agent, too, —one with a team who understands writers, who’s designed to help market creative ideas, one who’s able to help authors self-publish and teach them how, one who’s different from the others. (Hmm, this sounds like something you might like to do, Alinka!)

The writers who become successful bestsellers will know how to market and sell their books and find people like you, Alinka, who will show them how.

Please share some words of encouragement to authors who are still struggling.

You can do this on your own! My mother taught me to believe in myself. Keep your eyes on the prize. What is your goal? Believe in yourself.

If you want something bad enough you will work to attain your goal, you will find the knowledge that will give you the power to exceed. There is free information on the web that can show you how to do write, edit, market and sell your books. Surround yourself with successful people who are helpful, encouraging, and positive. Read books and ask yourself why you liked them, what you would have done differently.

And above all else, never give up. This is your dream. Follow it.

Thank you!

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