My talented and clever friend AMANDA BRICE is here and we’re pirouetting over the release of her brand-spanking-new YA novel, CODENAME: DANCER. Heroine Dani is centre-stage in a reality TV show but soon finds herself embroiled in a sabotage plot…and she’s the prime suspect. I loved the story’s fast pace, and there’s plenty of fancy dance action to go around. Gemma Halliday says it’s “a must-read for every girl who ever danced — or wanted to!” Amanda very gracefully stepped away from the barre to answer my questions today.
1. Amanda, you’re one of those amazing people I look at and think, “How does she do it?” You’re a mum, a wife, a Ruby-Slippered Sister, a writer, and an attorney in Washington, DC. What’s your secret? And are you going to patent it?
LOL, I’m not sure I’d describe myself in as glowing terms as you are, but hey, I’ll take it! And now that you mention it, yeah, actually I am pretty busy. I’m tired just reading that list! But I’ve always found that I do best when I’m running around like a crazy girl. It’s when I have a ton of downtime that I get twitchy and don’t quite know what to do with myself.
2. Like your heroine, Dani, you’re a dancer. (See the evidence here, folks!) Apart from providing the backbone for Codename: Dancer, how has ballet enriched your writing life?
Dance has always been a part of my life. It sounds cheesy, but it’s in my blood. I don’t think I could ever not dance. Not only is it a wonderful creative outlet, but it also instilled a sense of discipline and confidence. And being a performer taught me that I could be any different character that I wanted, which helps when I’m trying to really get into the head of my heroine.
3. Dani faces some pretty daunting threats to life and limb. If you could whisper in her ear, what advice would you give to keep Dani on her toes, so to speak?
Honestly, I’d tell her to butt out and stop snooping! Sure, she only gets involved because strange things are happening all around her, but it’s her nosiness that escalates the situation. But of course, we wouldn’t have a story if she listened, would we? Like any self-respecting humorous mystery/romantic comedy/chick lit YA author, I like to torture my heroines. LOL.
4. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
This was the first YA I ever wrote, so I wasn’t certain whether I could do it. I was more than twice Dani’s age! But I guess I never grew up, because it turned out that I was able to channel my inner teen pretty effectively. I ended up writing the first draft in just 6 weeks….but then it was time for the revision stage. And um, it took longer than just 6 weeks. LOL
5. Codename: Dancer was a Golden Heart finalist in 2009. Tell us about its journey to publication.
After I finaled in 2009, my former agent shopped Codename: Dancer widely, and we actually had a lot of positive feedback from editors. They loved the premise, loved the writing, loved the characters, loved the voice. It even made it to the final acquisitions meetings at a couple of publishing houses. Sounds great, right? Only problem was that marketing didn’t know how to characterize it. The YA imprints all said it was Middle Grade, but the Middle Grade imprints all said it was YA. And since traditionally published books can only be shelved in one place in a bookstore, ultimately they passed.
In reality, it’s kind of both. I consider it “Younger YA” and I think there’s a whole segment of kids out there in the roughly 11-14-year-old age group who aren’t being served by the current classifications. They’re ready for something meatier and hipper than MG, which they consider to be too babyish for them. (And let’s face it. It is.) But they’re not quite ready for the more mature emotional themes of, say, Twilight.
So I decided to take a chance and do it on my own. The publishing houses deemed this a niche book, but I can afford to market it to a niche readership. That’s the beauty of indie-publishing. In a virtual bookstore, I can cross-shelve it and I’m not tied to what bookstore buyers say.
6. Who should consider indie/self-publishing, and what do authors need to be aware of when striking out on their own?
I think if you have a niche book, indie-publishing is perfect for you. Or anything out-of-the-box. I do love NY, and I hope to have a traditional contract one day, but sometimes the definitions are a little too rigid. And I can understand their reluctance to take a chance, because that’s their risk on the line if a book doesn’t sell out its advance.
But I don’t think you should simply bang out a book and put it up on Kindle. Ultimately it’s your professional reputation at risk, so just like a traditionally-published book, you must put forward the absolute best product possible. And that’s the problem. The best thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. The worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it.
I hope I don’t sound elitist, but unfortunately, there are a lot of self-published books out there that never should have been published. It’s not that they’re not good books, or their authors aren’t good writers — they’re just not ready. But there are also a lot of really excellent self-published books, and the revolution of the last year has shown that it’s a viable career choice.
So I guess my advice is that if you’ve gotten excellent feedback on your manuscript (and not from your mom!) and you think that NY is not quite right for it for whatever reason, then indie-publishing might be for you. But please do yourself a favor and give it as close to a traditionally-published experience as is possible.
Invest in a professional cover. Hire an editor (or at least utilize multiple critique partners and beta readers…as well as a qualified proofreader). Teach yourself formatting or hire a freelancer. Set a “launch date” and build up buzz ahead of time by giving away copies in contests and undergoing a blog tour. Send it to published authors in your genre for a cover quote. And send it to reviewers. Call on your networks. Were you in a sorority in college? Ask them to feature your book in their alumni magazine. Is there a particular hobby or activity featured in your book? Contact the various magazines or organizations for that activity and ask if they would help you promote. You never know unless you ask!
But remember that for every Amanda Hocking or Victorine Lieske, there are hundreds or even thousands of indies who will struggle. And it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even the indies who have hit the NY Times list in the recent months started off selling just a handful of copies. On average, it takes 6 months or more for a self-published author to find a readership.
7. What projects do you have waiting in the wings?
I’m working hard on a Codename sequel, which I’m calling Pointe of No Return. I hope to release this one in late fall, probably November. I already have the cover, and I love it just as much as the first one. I heart my cover artist so much! (Shout out to the uber-talented Amy Lynch of Pens & Needles.)
I’m also writing a cozy mystery featuring a very pregnant heroine. (This one’s aimed at adults, not teens.) I’m having a lot of fun writing it and it’s cracking me up. (Hopefully other people will find it as funny as I do.) My goal is to hit up NY with this book. We shall see!
Amanda, I have no doubt NY is yours for the taking! Thanks so much for performing today’s blog pas de deux with moi.
Amanda is generously giving away an e-copy of her debut book, Codename: Dancer. For your chance to win, leave a comment and tell us what your favourite dance movie is. Amanda’s also happy to answer any questions you might have — she promises not to charge by the hour. The winner will be announced on the auspicious date of Friday, May 13.