Author Interview: Shanna Hatfield, Hearts of Clay
Forty-two books, people. Forty-two! Shanna Hatfield may be a self-proclaimed “hopeless romantic,” but she is also a hard worker. She wasn’t quite sure what she was doing when she started writing her first book (what author really does?) but she kept with it.
Boy, did it pay off! Three years ago, she quit her day job and started writing full-time! She really is living her dream of being a writer. Check out her website and Facebook page to keep up with all her work:
1. How many books have you published and when?
Book number 42 releases Sept. 27, 2016, as part of a holiday boxed set of novella length romances. I belong to a group called Sweet Romance Reads and this is the third year they’ve done a collection of sweet Christmas-themed romances. Last year, the boxed set hit the USA Today Bestseller list.
Since she has so many tiles, we won’t include covers and links to each of them in this blog post—be sure to check out this link to all of them!
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
I began writing my first book, Heart of Clay, in February 2010. I’d been toying with the idea of the story for a while and I finally decided to sit down and see if I could write it! The idea was one of a realistic couple struggling to hang on to their marriage instead of letting it go.
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
The hardest part about the first book was the figuring out how to write my first book. I’d never written anything longer than a feature story for a magazine, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to write a full-length novel. It is the only book I’ve written a chapter at a time. (By that I mean I’d write a chapter then get stuck and jump ahead a few chapters and write that scene, then come back. Not the most cohesive way to write, but I made it through!) The second hardest part was working up the courage to tell others I was writing a book.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
I reread and rewrote it a dozen times. Once I’d done that, I shared it with some friends for feedback. Their positive responses encouraged me to start sending out query letters to agents. I did that for six months and continued refining the book.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
That one set of eyes would catch every error. I learned that no matter how many people edit, proof, or beta read your book, there will always be a few things that slip between the cracks.
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
For me, the initial writing is full of fun and excitement. It’s the time when you breathe life into your characters and create the world where they live. Then comes the re-writing. It’s not my favorite part of the process, but a very necessary part. I often roll my eyes at stupid mistakes I made in my haste to write that first draft of the story.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?
When I first started writing, I had three people who read my books for me: one is a retired English teacher, one reads for technical issues, and the third I refer to as my reality check. She’ll tell me, “a guy would never say that,” or “she’s acting too witchy in this scene.” Between the three of them, they help keep me on track. I’ve since added two more solid proof readers and I have a street team that beta reads for me.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
Cover design is so, so important. No matter how much we might like to think otherwise, people do judge books by their covers every single day. Make yours unique and different--at least that’s what I try to do. In an ocean of similar covers, why not be a little island that stands out? I have complete and total input on my covers because I do them myself. In one of my past careers, I did a little graphic design and I also dabble in photography.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
After receiving more than sixty rejection letters for Heart of Clay, I decided I needed to do something different. I reached out to a friend who had a writer friend-- a lovely person by the name of Jane Kirkpatrick. Jane became my mentor and gave me a piece of advice that became life-changing for me. She told me to look into self-publishing. So I did. The more I researched, the clearer it became I should pursue that path. One of the things I learned in my research was to build your bookshelf wide and deep (have a variety of books, including series). If people like your book, they’ll immediately want to read another. Instead of releasing Heart of Clay right away, I wrote two more full-length novels in a series then a short-story prelude. I tied the four stories together as The Women of Tenacity series and released them together in June 2011. It was frightening, exhilarating, and one of the best decisions I’ve made.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
When I released that first series, I didn’t “go big” with marketing. I sent out emails to every person I could think of, begged family and friends to share the news, and then priced the prelude for free. Within days, it hit the top #25 on Amazon’s free bestsellers and that really helped gain exposure for the other books in the series.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
For the most part, it was very positive. The initial feedback held enough encouragement I decided to keep writing!
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
Sales were much better than I anticipated of my first series of books. I truly think it helped to have more than one book out there. The very best marketing tool I’ve used is BookBub featured deals. They always give my sales a big boost.
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I love both! My first half-dozen books I only did as ebooks. Then someone introduced me to CreateSpace, which allowed me to create print on demand paperbacks. All of my books (except for the entertaining series) are available in both formats. And a few are even in audio. About 98 percent of my sales come from ebooks.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
I do set the price for my books. For the paperbacks, I price them just high enough to cover costs. I generally make far less on them than I do the ebooks, but I want to keep them as affordable as possible. The ebooks, I try to keep at a low price, too. If the book is full-length, I generally price it at $3.99. Novellas are $2.99 and short stories are 99 cents. When I first started though, I priced all my books at $2.99.
15. What made you decide to write more books? How were those experiences (writing/editing) compared with your first book? Did you do anything differently?
I love writing! Absolutely love it. I fell in love with it while I was writing my first book and knew it was something I not only wanted to continue, but I had to!
I have more proofreaders in place now, and beta readers, than I had when I first started. I also use an editing software program that helps improve my writing. Although I continually fine-tune the process, the basics are really the same.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
My first book was a contemporary western romance. Since then, I’ve written historical romances, romantic comedies, and even a romance full of murder and mayhem. Each genre requires a different process, because you’re reaching out to a potentially different group of readers. It is a continuing learning curve to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
When I sold the first copy of Heart of Clay.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
I was very blessed to be able to leave my “day job” three years ago and write full-time. I treat writing like a job (although it is one I’m ridiculously excited to do!). I’m usually in my office by seven in the morning and am often still working at nine in the evening. A big chunk of motivation comes from the fact I no longer have the safety net of a “regular” job for income. Writing has to pay the bills and that only happens if I sit down every day and write something. The other part of the motivation is that I truly love writing. It is such fun for me to give the characters in my head a story of their own.
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
How did you get started? Why did you self-publish?
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
Find what works for you. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. Plotting isn’t for everyone. In-depth character worksheets aren’t for everyone. Find what works for you in every part of the writing process. That’s the best way to find your happiness.
My other key piece of advice is never give up. Never.