Author Interview: Deborah Laurent, The Glass Table
Her first book, The Glass Table, inspired two episodes of the hit TV show This is Us. Now one of her other books, The Christmas Robe, is going to be made into a Hallmark Christmas movie. You could say author Deborah Laurent is a little excited.
But it definitely didn't happen overnight. In fact, she first started writing 42 years ago (before computers!). It was quite a process to bring that story to light. But her stories were meant to be told, and now her work is even helping to feed the homeless.
Read her Author Interview below. Be sure to leave a comment!
1. How many books have you published and when (month/year)?
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
I began Desires of the Heart at the age of 12, which was 42 years ago!
It was “roughly” inspired by the song Lying Eyes by the Eagles.
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
The 1,000-page epic, which takes place in the Civil War era, was handwritten as there were no computers at that time and electric typewriters were an expensive extravagance left for big businesses.
In the 1980s I was able to transfer the story from its handwritten form to hand-pecked typewriter.
In the later 1990s I was able to transfer it to Word on a computer, however the computer literally caught on fire. I foolishly had not saved it to hard or flash drive, leaving me to have to retype it once more when we were able to afford another computer. (I save it on hard and flash drive, and also send a copy of all my writings to my husband’s computer…just in case!)
And while this was tedious, the biggest hurdle I had was trying to find an ending. I had finished most of the story in the mid–1980s, but had yet to discover an ending that was worthy of the reader.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
At age 25 (1987), I allowed my mom, who was an avid reader of horror and mysteries, to read this love story, Desires of the Heart – recently typed on the hand-peck Corona typewriter and in a three-ring binder.
Not one to give unwarranted or unearned praise, my mother handed the three-ring binder back to me after she had finished reading the story, pointed her finger at me, and said, “Deborah Anne, promise me you will do something with this.”
However, this was the 1980s. There was no internet! While I did indeed promise her, I was raising children, and quite honestly, had no idea what to do with it.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
I am an English major. I did the first edits. I saw no reason why I could not adequately edit my own work. (Hysterical laughter!)
The biggest advice I can give anyone…while you need to review and adjust, and even fix some of the obvious errors, save your money, do a second job, but DO NOT attempt to edit your own story. You cannot be objective. Words for most writers are like their children. We don’t want to get rid of any of them! Find an editor. They will cost, but they are worth it.
The first thing my editor—Leslie Hoffman— told me regarding Desires of the Heart was that it was too long. It needed to be cut down by at least 400 pages. By this time my editor had already edited two of my other books.
I love this woman, she is amazing, but when my edits come back to me, she knows not to contact me, because I hate her and her red pen for a few days. As writers, our dream is to have our editor send us an email that says, there are no edits, it’s perfect! Well to that I would say, put that dream in a fiction book!
It was actually physically painful to remove that many pages from this story, however, now when I read it, I can honestly say, it is still the same story, but it’s perfect. Having a professionally edited story is like having a perfectly groomed diamond, beautiful, smooth, and…perfect.
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
Many writers I have spoken to HATE the process of writing the first draft of their story. There are even several negative quotes regarding this process. I, however, love writing the first or what I’ve termed –raw draft. I am taking this story that I see in my head, along with notes I have collected over time, and just free writing. For me, it is exhilarating.
Re-writing, fixing the edits from my editor, making adjustments, adding information, is all expected and exciting, but it never compares to the moment I’ve put in the first words to that new story.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?
I have three non-editors that I utilize for initial feedback.
First is my husband. From him I get immediate feedback, but because he loves me so much, he will tell me that my story is amazing. Writers, in my opinion, need that positive feedback before their editor takes it and tells you how much you need to change and fix.
Second is one of my dear friends. She is like a great big Pooh bear, sweet as honey. As my current three novels are tear jerkers, I look forward to her telephone call, where because she is bawling, she cannot speak for a few minutes. I then know that I have done my job!
Third is one of my dear writer friends. She writes and reads fantasy—having no interest of any kind in the genre I write. Her responses to my books are filled with honesty—a little hard to hear at first—but required to make those early changes before sending it off to the editor.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
All of my covers were designed by a local professional artist by the name of Holly Hamilton. I initially found her through an email to all of my husband’s school district. At the time she was teaching art at the district and was glad for the extra money.
For me, the cover is as much a part of the story as the words I have written. I can see the cover in my head as clearly as the story itself. One problem however, I cannot draw a stick figure! Therefore, I take a blank piece of paper, and put sticky notes with arrows with a brief description of what that sticky note represents. She contacts me when she has completed the cover, and we meet.
Sometimes, like with the cover for Desires of the Heart, she nails it immediately, bringing me to tears. Other times, as with my first published book, The Glass Table, it took several redo’s for her to capture what I could only visualize.
It is very important for writers who wish to have input on their covers to spend whatever amount of money is needed. IT IS what will attract readers. IT IS your first marketing objective.
With a finally written contract, the artist and I decide on a one time amount to be paid along with one hardcopy of the completed book, and she relinquishes all rights. This means that while she can use the book cover to advertise her craft, she does not get compensated for any sales of the book, or any future movie or other promotional type sales.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
The Glass Table was my first published work. I self-published it, having had it professionally edited and cover designed. Due to so many writers skipping these two objectives, self-publishing has received great criticism. I, however, never thinking that being published by a company was even a possibility, saw this method as a way to get a finished, quality product. When the first copy arrived, I sat on the floor and wept next to it like a baby. Then I got up and walked around it for nearly an hour.
I have often said, that holding my book in its complete and perfect mode, well…was better than holding my children, whom I adore… for the first time. My children whine when they hear me say that. I point at them and say…”That’s why… my books don’t whine!”
A lady visiting our area purchased my book (because of the cover, and the fact that the story takes place in her home town–The Hamptons) from a local Christmas Craft Fair where I had. She loved the story so much, she sent it to a friend of hers who runs a publishing company. After reading the story, the woman called me, offering me a publishing deal.
Many publishing companies in the current trend require new authors to do most to all of their own marketing or hire a publicist, or do their own website, etc. So while getting the publishing deal was indeed affirming, the experience of getting my books out to the public has not changed from being self-published. I do all of my own marketing.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
Luckily for me, I have a degree in marketing as well as a true passion for the art of it. Part of marketing is comparing and contrasting the cost to profit ratio. Therefore, keeping that in mind, I have loved being out in the public and marketing not only my first book, but all my books.
The first step is to saturate your local market. I did all of the local “craft” sales. A booth or table should never cost more than 4-1 ratio. An example: if I am selling my books for $25 each, the cost of the booth or table should not exceed $100 for a two-three day event. If it is only a one day event, you have to compare cost to the amount of possible consumers for a ratio. Sharing a table with another author who has a different genre than yours is a great way to deduct costs. Also, I did our local radio and newspaper. I create my own flyers for an event, and saturate the area.
Taking the initiative, consumers purchasing an item which contributes to charity is another marketing aspect. Fifty percent of my profits go towards feeding the homeless of our area on Christmas Day. Last year, with the profits and charity of all those in the surrounding area, my husband and I were able to feed approximately 500 homeless people on Christmas morning in 2015. Because of this generosity, the newspaper puts my flyer in the newspaper for free.
I have “eye –catchers” such as a doll for The Christmas Robe, a bell and a large size (not large print) copy of Desires of the Heart, and a chocolate kiss dispenser. When consumers pass by, I ask them if they want a kiss! This gets them over, smiling, and open to hearing about my books. I make certain to thank every purchaser, not only for their support of my craft, but also for their help in feeding those less fortunate.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
As I had said, my mom read my first written novel when it was still in a three-ring binder. Between raising children, going to college, and having a full time job, I had set my writing aside for almost two decades. My mom passed away suddenly in 2005. In great grief, I stayed in bed for several days. My husband brought in an ad from our local newspaper.
The ad from a local writer’s group was sponsoring a writing contest. Submissions had to be about a holiday and no more than 1,000 words. Every day my husband brought the ad in, letting me know that the due date was quickly approaching. Finally, with only three days until the deadline, he told me he was taking the children to the park, and when he returned, he was expecting a story.
I sat down and wrote a story called “The Christmas Robe.” With over 500 submissions, I didn’t think I had a chance, but low and behold, I ended up winning that contest. It was placed in the front of the anthology with the other top ten submissions, with me receiving a small commission based on sales. At the time I worked at our local school district, getting everyone there to buy a copy.
The following school year, when the district met for breakfast before the school year began, the wife of my boss sat across from me. My boss, although a very nice man, was tough…even scary. His wife reached across the table and took my hands and said, “My husband read your story to our family on Christmas morning. I have to see the robe!”
Keeping in mind this was summer, three things ran through my head: “My boss reads?” and “My tough boss chose to read MY story to his family on Christmas morning?” and “This lady thought my story was so good she remembered it after all these months!”
I looked across at her and responded, “I’d love to see the robe too!”
“What do you mean?” she asked rather confused.
“There is no robe,” I responded.
She was actually distraught and angry enough to go and buy me a sewing machine to make a robe! I cannot so much as thread a needle!
And while I was overwhelmed with the compliment of them reading and remembering my story, I think the greatest compliment and one she was not intending was that she thought my fictional story was real. In other words…job well done…I AM a writer.
The publisher of The Glass Table also read that short story, requesting that I turn into a novel. Someone who is well known in the publishing field also read The Christmas Robe novel. He was so overwhelmed with the story that he recommended it to Crown Media. Crown Media accepted it, and my short story is now with them to become a Hallmark Christmas movie. That process takes about three-five years, but WOW!
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
My sales have been huge! I bought a house, two new cars, a new truck, etc., paying for all of them with cash, not to mention feeding over 1,000 homeless people every year. This has all far exceeded my expectations.
What helps me the most to sell books is:
A) Having a professionally edited and professionally designed cover creating a product worth the cost I ask for.
B) Being passionate about my books.
C) Having a product that is considered so good that readers come back for my next book!
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I had one experience with ebook. I went with a large group to Hawaii for my brother’s wedding. Five of the ladies traveling with us had Kindles, which they paid a great deal for, as well as having purchased a great deal of books to store into them. While sitting out on the beach, three were stolen, and one was destroyed by the rain. The purpose of the Kindle was so that they wouldn’t have to bring a large assortment of books on the trip, however, that meant that they could never leave their seat. Few will steal a book from a chair or towel on the beach, but a Kindle…
I only have hard copies available as that is what my consumers wish to buy. While I offer my books on ebook, the profit margin ridiculously small. Also, unless you are a well-known author, which even with my small amount of success, I am not, you will get no publicity from it.
The truth of the matter is, until you become as famous as Nicholas Sparks, etc., if you wish to sell your books to earn a profit, print books are the only way to achieve that.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
Yes, I do set my prices on both print and ebooks. Ebooks, I went with my publisher’s recommendation. On my print book, I simply take the cost per book and double it. In order to make the selling price cost effective, I have to order enough books to get a great discount and free shipping. If I am flying to a book signing because of the distance, I have the books shipped to the hotel where I am staying so that I don’t have to pay to take them on my flight.
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?
After the success of the short story The Christmas Robe, another story popped into my head. Entitled The Glass Table, that story took just short of three months to write.
After my mom read my first story, Desires of the Heart, she made me promise to do something with it. After I cried and stared at the completed product of The Glass Table, I took it and walked over to a picture of my mom. Now mind you, I know that she’s not in the picture, but you understand the sentiment. I held it up, as I have with The Christmas Robe, and currently Desires of the Heart, and say, “As promised mom, I did something with it!”
After writing the short story for The Christmas Robe, it was if the gates to that part of my brain opened with a flood of stories. Currently I am marketing the completed, newly published book (Desires of the Heart) a story that I began over 40 years ago, I have one story (The Christmas Robe) that’s going to be a Hallmark Christmas movie, and another, The Glass Table, which has inspired two episodes of the acclaimed new series, This is Us.
In addition I have just finished what I term the “raw version” of my fourth novel. I have three more adult novels, as well as a children’s book, a children’s 5-part series, and a 5-part spy series, in my head waiting for me to have enough time to get out.
What made me decide to write more books, honestly I would say the fans of my work, the inspiration of my amazing husband, and the spirit and support of my first fan…my mom.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
After what I would consider in the whole realm of things, as my minimum success, I decided to change the back cover of my books. Instead of having it being only a synopsis of “about the author” inspired by my hero, Nicholas Sparks, I chose to change the back cover to only a photo. However, unique to me, all of my bio pictures somewhat match the theme of the front cover, and are always with my husband. Nothing says that YOU are the author of that book, like turning it over to see your face on it.
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
I get asked this question a lot. I could practice for 15 hours a day, and I’m never going to be a rock star. I can learn to play the piano, the guitar, and another language, but I’m never going to be one with it like some people I know and admire.
I was born a writer. It is the gift I was given. I wrote stories that shocked and surprised all my elementary, junior and high school years. And even when I went back to college, my papers had a flair and exuberance that is embedded in me.
However, while I was always a writer, it wasn’t until my boss’s wife who sat across from me, angry that the robe written in a fictional short story was not real, that I considered myself a writer.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
I set Tuesdays and Thursdays aside for writing. For me, I have to have complete silence and no distractions of any kind. I turn off my phones so not to be disturbed. Sometimes it is the actual art of writing, sometimes it is creating or marketing, preparing for a book signing, or updating my website. Other times it may be simply taking notes regarding the next story, or having comments regarding what the cover and back bio picture may be.
Songs often times inspire a part of a story, and sometimes are the theme for a whole book. The ending result will have nothing to do with the story, but still that inspiration or motivation is there.
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
I have been honored to be the featured author at several local author events, which includes visiting local schools. I have been asked, how much money do I make, or in other words, can one make a living off of being a writer?
I tell them, that like all other arts, there is a great deal of competition. I give the example of shows like America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and The Voice. Viewers will see great talent, but only one will win. And out of those who have won, few such as Kelly Clarkson, make it huge. It’s like winning the lottery…so plan another career that you will love and be passionate about. For me, I went on to become a mental health therapist, who just so happens to also be an author whose had some pretty cool MINIMUM success.
The other frequented question I get is: How long did it take to write your books? One took 40 years, one took three months, one took a year, and the current one took three weeks. There is no rhyme to it. Life, children, job, life, friends, house, life, all interrupt the flow. For me, it’s not how long it took…but the awesome product those words in my head became.
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
I don’t care how much experience or education—get a professional editor. Not your friend or friend of a friend. It may mean saving some money, maybe having to get a second job but don’t lessen your work’s quality.
Most people do not have much desire or experience for marketing, but in today’s world, part of having success in the publishing world is the ability to sell your own product. Ask to interview marketing executives in your community, absorbing all of that free advice. Make contacts. Create what is termed in elevator speech for your books. Consumers don’t have the desire nor the time to hear everything about your story. An elevator speech helps not only with creating writer contacts which may help to locate a possible publisher, but also in selling your books.
Learn how to create a query letter, and make certain that you forward that to your editor for quality control as well. Research publishers in your genre, and ONLY send what they ask for. For instance, if a publisher asks that you submit ONLY a query letter, do not send the entire book. They will disregard. If a publishing company says that they are not accepting submissions at the current time, do not waste your time or money sending to them, but check back in case their load changes.
ALWAYS choose quality, NEVER be impatient, APPRECIATE every step in the process, DON’T expect…yet DREAM.