Criticism―How To Deal With It And Why It's Often More Useful Than Praise

Below is the transcript to episode 27 of A Book and A Dream.

Megan: [00:00:03] Now, if you choose something super weird, like spider shifters, you may not reach an audience, and that's your choice.

Announcer: [00:00:16] Welcome to A Book And a Dream with Megan O'Russell: An Author's Adventure in Writing, Reading, and Being an Epic Fangirl.

Megan: [00:00:27] Hello, my name is Megan O'Russell, and welcome to Episode 27 of A Book and A Dream. Now, I think we all enjoy it when someone says something nice about us, about our work, our art, us as a person. Some of us may have deep-seated psychological issues that, I dunno, make us hide from praise and like curl up in a corner for a while while trying to figure out if they're worthy of it. But in general, most people enjoy when someone says something nice about their work, especially their book. But with that comes the other side of the coin. What do you do when someone says something not so nice about your book or, you know, the song you wrote or sang or whatever, the negative reaction to what you've done may be?

Megan: [00:01:18] I wanted to talk to you about that, but to get to why we're talking about it, first, a little update about my little book world. So tomorrow, which is May 26, Feather and Flame, the final book in the Ena of Ilbrea series will be released. I am so excited to have this book out into the world because it is the end of a series and it's the first series that I undertook completely on my own. But it is not the end of Ilbrea. In fact, there are more Ilbrean series coming. I'm going to do a whole podcast about that next week to tell you how it came to be and how they interlock and all that exciting things. There's so much world building and maps and I'm really excited about it. But in the meantime, I wanted to announce that there is a book in the Guilds of Ilbrea series. The first book in that series is Inker and Crown, and it will be released in July. It's even up for preorder already. I'm so excited about this project.

Megan: [00:02:15] And because it is going to be the second series in the Ilbrean world, the book's done. It was actually done before Ena was ever written.

Megan: [00:02:25] But I started wanting to be more very particular for my fans. So if you've read the Ena series, you know a lot about Ilbrea, you know a lot about the Guilds, but then if you've never read Ena, you don't have to read it in order to jump into Inker and Crown. I want to make sure that there's a good balance between having not so much information that people who have read Ena are... Ena are like, "I already know all this. Why are you repeating it?" And people who have never seen the world before aren't like, "Wait. What are you talking about? There are guilds? I'm...I'm so lost right now." And that's a really hard balance to strike because I have five files of information, a lot of maps and so much data in my head about this imaginary place of Ilbrea. It's hard for me as an author to separate what other people don't already know. So I decided to actually get a professional beta reader, which is the person in the process who would go in before, like, your content edits and your line edits and all those things. They get basically, like, your finished draft that you would send to an editor and they give you feedback on it, which is great.

Megan: [00:03:33] I don't usually use a professional beta. I have other people who beta for me, but they've all read Ena, and I don't want to, you know, contaminate the sampling by having someone who's already familiar with the world. So I go online to one of my author groups and I'm like, hey, I need a beta. Do you have any suggestions? And they all gave me some excellent suggestions for where to find it. Someone offered to beta for me themselves, which, she's a fellow author, which is so generous.

Megan: [00:03:56] And one of the comments that was written about this one beta is she's very thorough, but she's very mean. OK, to which another author said, well, but like mean in a good way. OK. Well, she doesn't just say nice things about your book.

Megan: [00:04:18] And it really made me think about how we handle when someone doesn't like our work. Now, I'm pretty good with criticism. Sometimes I actually handle criticism better than praise.

Megan: [00:04:31] It's weird, man. It's... I don't know if it's like too many years in ballet and musical theater where, like, they ream you in front of everyone and give you notes about everything you've ever done wrong, straight up to how you smile. And then you walk back into the next room...into the room with the same people you were just criticized in front of the next day, like, you really get a thick skin because it's the only way to survive.

Megan: [00:04:52] But I know it's not that way for everyone. So I wanted to talk to you about how to use those negative comments and make them useful to you, your book and your artistic process. So, negative feedback can help you fix problems within your manuscript. For example, I have some lovely readers who get the final drafts of my books. And these ladies, they have an eagle eye. They will find a missing letter, a missing punctuation. They're amazing. And they give me all kinds of wonderful information about what they like, what they don't like, anything they're confused on. And it helps me clarify one more time before it goes out to my readers. So one of my lovely review copy readers emailed back and she was like, I don't know, it kind of feels like it's not the end of Feather and Flame.

Megan: [00:05:44] And it was said in, like, a very brisk way, like she was not being mean. But she even apologized, was like, sorry, I'm in a hurry and I hope I don't offend you. And she didn't. But I sat there and I looked at it and then I went back in to what she was talking about and I stared at it for a while, may have had a glass of wine.

Megan: [00:06:01] And then I went in, and I added three lines to the final chapter of Feather and Flame. And it made it so much stronger because in my head, because Ena lives in my head, I know exactly where she's at at all times. But it just needed a tiny little bit of clarification to make it stronger for the reader. And I sent that chapter back to her and was like, hey, just, you know, totally took your advice and fixed it.

Megan: [00:06:26] She loved it. It's so much better.

Megan: [00:06:28] But if she hadn't said, "oh, I kind of feel like..." I wouldn't have had that information. So when someone gives you something like that about your manuscript or whatever, just look at it. Take a second, take a step back and see if whatever they are saying could make your project stronger. Also, while talking about, like negative things, sometimes bad reviews can actually help your book. I know, it sounds absurd, and sometimes bad reviews are just nasty. Like, I will admit, there are some nasty people out there, especially Goodreads. People on Goodreads can be heartless, they can be cruel. But there are cases where bad reviews help. For example, there may or may not be a review on Girl of Glass that says, This book was awful. There was too much blood and vampires.

Megan: [00:07:22] Well, yes, Girl of Glass does, in fact, fall...involve blood and vampires.

Megan: [00:07:29] So by having that review on there, while it kind of sucks that it dinged my star rating, it helps other readers who don't like blood and vampires not to buy the book that has blood in vampires, which would, in turn, create more negative reviews, so it can be helpful. Accept it with a grain of salt. Take a breath. Eat a chocolate. It's going to be okay. Negative reviews and feedback can also help you figure out where your book should live. Back in The Tethering's traditional publishing days, it was often pushed into, like, a paranormal romance category, which, if you're an author familiar with the Amazon algorithms, sometimes you have to go into paranormal romance because it's the only kind of romance that fits. There's really not a fantasy romance for teens or like an urban fantasy romance. They push you towards paranormal. I don't know why it's the only category you can get into. But that doesn't mean you necessarily have to market the book that way. And that's what they were doing with The Tethering.

Megan: [00:08:32] And there were some reviews that said, hey, there is not enough sexy time in this book to be paranormal romance. If it's a paranormal romance, why does everyone have pants on?

Megan: [00:08:42] So then I knew when I went indie, that's not how to market that book. You know, Jacob and Emilia, it's heartwarming, heartbreaking, passionate romance with pants on a lot of the time. So, no, that story isn't going to fit in with the bare-chested books. And so that helps you figure out what readers are looking for and what readers do not, in fact, belong to your book. Now, if you're not as hard hearted as I am and you have a problem taking criticism, I get it. It can be hard. It can hurt your soul. It takes a long time to get to the level of I don't give a @#$# that I live in. And that's OK. I would encourage you to continue on this journey towards finding the good in the negative feedback in the criticism. However, I do want to caution you against toxic criticism. This is a huge problem. For example, let's say, I don't know, your best friend decides to read your book and then they come back out you with, Well, this is a problem and that's a problem. And this is a problem. Please consider the source. Does your friend even read in the genre you're writing in? If your friend only reads techno thrillers, and you're writing a cozy romance, they may be expecting, I don't know, blood and international travel that isn't required in your genre as they literally don't know what you're doing with your manuscript, with your art, with your life for that matter. Maybe take a step back and say thank you so much for your feedback, but I'm actually looking to other people in my industry for comments and criticism.

Megan: [00:10:31] It's OK to say no to your friends when they're trying to be helpful if they don't know what the @#$# you're talking about.

Megan: [00:10:39] Also, be aware of the drama behind the criticism. Let's say that you do look to peers in your genre, in your art field, and all of a sudden you get this really nasty feedback. Take a look. Is there drama behind it? Is there some kind of crazy that you don't know that's going on? A good example: I once had an editor who told me that Jacob in The Tethering was abusive. Horribly, horribly abused Emilia.

Megan: [00:11:11] And I got a little mad because, no, no, this is not Twilight. There is no creepy abuse going on. What are you talking about?

Megan: [00:11:22] And then I realized that what she was talking about literally didn't exist. [I] asked some questions of my publisher, found out that there was lots of emotional trauma going on in her life. And she was taking it out on my manuscript. I'm not saying that's always the case, but if it literally hits you out of nowhere and you can't pinpoint where they're getting that point of view, maybe look around and see if there's some underlying drama.

Megan: [00:11:47] Last, but definitely not least, make sure that whoever is giving you the feedback, criticism, reviews, whatever, that they know what your end game is with your product. If they don't know where you're aiming...this is a little bit less for people who have bought your book, because if they read your book blurb, it should be telling them where you're aiming. But that's a different thing. Honesty and blurbs is like a a different podcast. I'll do it down the line. Don't worry, but make sure they know what you're trying to do with your book. Especially beta readers, editors, all of those people. Or, you know, maybe it's people telling you what to do with your life and they don't know that you just want to live on a cruise ship and be an international traveler and perform for all your days.

Megan: [00:12:31] And, you know, they're trying to push you to move into a farmhouse, whatever it is. Make sure the people you're taking advice from know what your end game is. Not every fantasy book is trying to be Harry Potter. Not every dancer wants to be a ballet dancer. Not every person wants to have millions of dollars. There is lots of advice out there for people who want those very streamlined paths. If that's not where you're going, then you just kind of have to shake off whatever criticism is trying to push you that direction and retarget. What is your goal with your manuscript? What genre are you trying to fit in? What readers are you trying to reach? Now, if you choose something super weird like spider shifters, you may not reach an audience and that's your choice. You can decide to write a weird book that may never sell because it's what makes you happy. Know that that's your choice and that you're probably not going to get big numbers. But if that's where you're going, own it. And when someone says, no, you can't write spider shifters. Everyone needs to be writing about the boy who lived. That's when you say Aragog is more my thing and I'm going with the spiders.

Megan: [00:13:47] That's fine. You do you. But just remember, take a breath, take a moment, absorb and either fling it away or work it into your piece. Now, I will do the Ilbrea podcast next week because I am so excited to tell you more about the world and all the things that are coming up. Take a moment. There will be a link below this video or in the podcast notes so you can check out Inker and Crown. I am so excited to share it and I am so thrilled that Feather and Flame is coming out tomorrow. So do me a favor. What is the weirdest random criticism you've ever gotten? Something like super inapplicable, like, you know, someone telling you your hair is blue when you you kind of did that on purpose. So you're aware and you like it. Things like that. Share it in the comments below. I would love to know. And don't forget to like, subscribe, whatever you have to do in order to make sure that you get to see the next video/hear the next podcast when we will talk more about Ilbrea. Because I am so excited. Until next time.

Top Self-Isolation Reads During Quarantine

Below is the transcript to episode 26 of A Book and A Dream.

[00:00:03] Don't be shocked that I don't know the title. I never know the title of what I'm reading unless it's like one word. I don't know. I'm weird like that.

[00:00:16] Welcome to A Book and a Dream with Megan O'Russell: An Author's Adventure in Writing, Reading, and Being an Epic Fangirl.

[00:00:28] Hello and welcome to Episode 26 of A Book and A Dream. My name is Megan. O'Russell.

[00:00:36] Now, normally with my job in theater and being an author, I am surrounded by storytelling. It is what I love. I love books. I love reading. I love stories. It is what I do with my whole life. And I am so grateful for both of my careers. Normally, you know, when social distancing and self isolation is not a thing that's going on, my time is basically all spoken for between being on stage, being in rehearsal, writing books, other little jobs. I don't have a lot of time to myself, so I don't get to do a huge amount of reading that isn't completely necessary research.

[00:01:10] So by that I mean scripts. Gotta read a lot of scripts because you gotta read the script to do the show or audition for the show or, you know, those important actory type things or marketing books or writing books or the latest book in the genre that I'm working. And I don't get to choose a lot of books just because I love the covers. I just don't have time.

[00:01:30] Every once in a while I'll go on a book binge, which is sort of like super unhealthy, where I just stop sleeping for a week and tear through an entire series of seven books and, you know, ignore my writing work and sleeping and showering, you know, things like that that you should not do. And then I'll be so behind on things I feel guilty so I don't get to read again for like another month and a half. And then I do it again, which is really kind of sad and scary. But anyway, because I'm not in theatre right now. I have in fact had time to read so many books because there's only so much writing you can do in a day before your brain turns to mush. And then, you know, you go on a walk and you do your exercise and you chat with family and look up the world news. And then you, you know, it's time to read and there's hours for it. It's freaky. There's so much time. So I wanted to share with you my quarantine reads and give some recommendations. Now, granted, a lot of these I had already read the first one in the series and like the second one just came out or it came out and was on my Christmas list and I just haven't had time to read it yet. So some of these I already read book one going into it like Muse of Nightmares, which is book two in the Strange The Dreamer duology. It's a very lyrically written, beautiful, beautiful piece.

[00:02:53] If you're someone who just like wants action and wants the next thing to happen, it's probably not for you. If you want beautiful, detailed world building and intricate storylines and like glorious mushy language, it's a really good series.

[00:03:10] It's great. You should try it out. So my first one was Muse of Nightmares.

[00:03:14] I also binged the full Lunar Chronicles, except that weird 3.5 book, or 2.5 book. I haven't read that one yet, but I did go through Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. I went through them so quickly.

[00:03:29] I read Cinder and then I was like, Okay, I need Scarlet.

[00:03:31] And this was like at the very, very beginning. So bookstores were still open. I went to the bookstore, got Scarlet, and then I was gonna order Cress online. And I finished Scarlet that night and I was like, I'm not waiting two days for shipping. That's ridiculous.

[00:03:47] I have an iPad. So then I, you know, did the other ones on digital, which is dangerous because you want the whole set, but it's OK.

[00:03:54] And they're really good at the you need some like fast moving, lovely storytelling that just pulls you into the world and is like, we don't need to stop for water breaks. We're gonna get to this in the end. It's cool. Then this is a great series for you. However, it does have a plague so if that hits a little close to home for you right now, maybe like wait awhile and then jump into Lunar Chronicles because...plague. OK.

[00:04:22] So after that, I read Grimm Lovelies. I'm on book two, which is Beautiful Nightmares, no, Midnight Beauties. Midnight Beauties is the one that I'm actually reading right now. Don't be shocked that I don't know the title. I never know the title of what I'm reading unless it's like...one word. I don't know. I'm weird like that.

[00:04:39] So they're really fun. It's a really interesting take on magic and witches and like, not like magic and witches like I usually write about, it's like political and creatures and different rulers and like. Yeah. And it all takes place in modern day society. And technology is bad and like different people have to do different things and consume life sources to make spells. So it's very cool and it moves fast.

[00:05:08] I honestly would probably recommend the Lunar Chronicles first, but if you're avoiding the plague like the plague, then, you know, Grim Lovelies would be a great place for you to start.

[00:05:19] Ok, so. Caraval, the trilogy. I read the first one before quarantine, got the second one, got the third one, and I just talked to someone over at the Prince Kai Fan Pod when I was being interviewed over there and we were talking about the series and she had heard that like book one was too... Book one was good, book two was meh, book three was amazing. And I can agree with that, except for book two being meh.

[00:05:48] It wasn't as good as books one or three, but it was definitely still worth it.

[00:05:53] It's very cool. It has some cool magic. It has some lovely storylines. If you're one of those people who is like, I love Frozen so much because despite how much the sister...err, Ana might like fall in love with a prince, really, like, Elsa is her anchor. It's about sisterhood. It's about protecting the family that you have, and like what you do for your family. And there's like romance and magic and other stuff.

[00:06:19] But if you're super into, like, sisterly love, there's a reason that these books are number one in the siblings category on Amazon, because it's really good.

[00:06:26] Totally. Check it out. All right, then.

[00:06:29] Ooh, the book that shall not be named. I like to keep things positive and being an author is hard, like you're writing and you're like, I hope it's good, but there's so much imposter syndrome and self-doubt. And then, you know, you put it out there. And, yeah, negative reviews are good in some ways, because it turns away people who aren't right for your book. But it... It hurts. It does hurt when people say nasty things about your book. So I don't want to do that here. That's not what A Book and A Dream is about.

[00:06:58] So we're not going to name the book because no one needs that negativity in their life. We don't need that stress.

[00:07:06] But the book that shall not be named was responsible for the Punctuation Soup, where it was just like whatever punctuation you want to throw on a page. We can have 20 em dashes. Who cares? Let's just have like six semicolons. It was so... Not relatable to speech.

[00:07:26] And one of the things that I enjoy about books and that I try to put into all my books―and it's probably because as an actor, we are oral storytellers―is that even if you're writing it to be read silently, it should fit in your mouth.

[00:07:43] You should be able to say those sentences without stuttering and stumbling. And I would say 80 percent of the sentences in that book would sound so weird if they were read out loud just because there was so much odd punctuation to make it work that you couldn't ever actually speak it.

[00:08:02] And the plotline was a little eh... And it kind of didn't wrap up well. It was not a great experience. But that's one out of like, how many have I read? So that's a really good ratio. Like, you'd bet on that in Vegas. Of those were your odds. You'd be fine. But yeah, the book that shall not be named.

[00:08:24] I'm probably actually going to donate that book, which I never donate books, I horde them. It's a problem. I have a problem.

[00:08:30] Oh. And then I read King of Scars. It's Leigh Bardugo. So super interesting right now because, of course, there's the Grishaverse, which is Shadow and Bone..? Smoke and Bone? Like I said. Really bad with titles. But if you look up Grisha on any bookstore on the web, you're going to find that series.

[00:08:48] It's really cool because that is like this first person, kind of angsty girl book. And then Leigh Bardugo also wrote Six of Crows, which is one of my favorite series. It's like a fantasy heist with unreliable narrators. It's super cool. And there's going to be a Netflix series that combines both of them. And trust me, we're going to do an entire episode just based on that when it comes out, because I have lots of opinions on lots of worries and I can't wait to see what actually happens. So King of Scars is about a character that touches in both of those worlds. It's not in them, but it sort of like, crosses them together and links them a little bit more than they were.

[00:09:30] It's very good. I was pissed because I thought it was a standalone. It is not a standalone. And now I really need the second book, but it's traditionally published. And so it's gonna take forever for book two to come out. Also, like I guess Leigh Bardugo's kind of busy because Netflix series and whatever, but yeah, I was kind of pissed when I got to the end of it.

[00:09:49] And then the final book that I read. Well it's not the final book that I read, but the final one on my list.

[00:09:54] I still have four more on my to be read pile that I'm going to bust through because, you know, isolation, man, you might as well get through your TBR pile.

[00:10:02] So then I read Language of Thorns, which is a... It's actually really cool because the Grishaverse, the Six of Crows world is so big that there's like all this mythology that comes along with it. And so Language of Thorns is some of those like folk tales from that world. And it actually put me in like a reading slump for a while.

[00:10:26] Like, I got the book. It's beautiful. The illustrations are glorious. But I just couldn't get into it.

[00:10:33] And I felt bad abandoning it. So I would read like two pages at a time and then run away to do something else, because I'd just... It's so rare that I don't finish a book. Even the book that shall not be named. I made it to the end. It was a slog, but I did it.

[00:10:47] So it was hard for me to get through it.

[00:10:51] However, it's very cool because most of them are like a twist on different fairy tales that we know.

[00:10:59] So like Gingerbread Man, Little Mermaid, things like that. So that was really cool. And if you're a big fan of the world especially, I would recommend it to you. If you're a big fan of, like, fairy tale retellings, it could be very interesting.

[00:11:12] If you just want, like, a book to breeze through and give you an escape from life, like... Maybe read another one of Leigh Bardugo's books instead. Because that's not really going to give you the escapism you're looking for.

[00:11:27] Yeah, so those are all the things that I have binge read. I have... Still on my list, I have Heartless. I have Ninth house. I have something else that I ordered and can't remember.

[00:11:42] But if you are hitting a reading rut right now and you need something to dive into, that is my quarantine reading list.

[00:11:49] Of course, also, purely selfishly, if you have not started the Ena of Ilbrea series yet, the final book in that series comes out on May 26. So you could, in fact, binge the first three books in the series and the optional prequel novella Wrath and Wing before book four comes out. They're on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, anywhere you want to get an e-book. It will be there.

[00:12:15] The paperbacks are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Wal-Mart. Weird, but true. So check those out. Start reading. I'm super excited for the final book in the Ena of Ilbrea series to come out. It's been with reviewers. It's all very exciting.

[00:12:31] And... And yeah. Get your quarantine binge on because escapism, man. It really. It helps.

[00:12:40] Shockingly enough. I'm actually getting to the bottom of my to be read pile. I know, it's crazy. Whoever thought that these days would come?

[00:12:48] But do you have any recommendations for books you've read in quarantine. Other book binges that keep you happy? Put them in the comments. Reach out to me on social media. If you have a beautiful bookstagram picture, then tag me in the comments so that I can see it. I love bookstagram. I love all those delicious, yummy pictures that make me want to be, like, in a library in Paris or something glamorous. So send me all the pictures. Send me your recommendations. And don't forget to like, subscribe, share or comment.

[00:13:16] All those things that make the algorithms happy. Let you know you'll actually see the video again next week.

[00:13:22] And yeah, stay safe. Stay sane. And don't forget to send me those recommendations. Till next time. Bye!

Smoke or Mirrors: When Should Art Reflect Life?

Below is the transcript to episode 25 of A Book and A Dream.

Megan O'Russell: [00:00:02] I think it's important to hold up a mirror to what's happening in the world. I think people need something, you know, dark to escape into to help them process what's going on. And that's true, too.

Announcer: [00:00:16] Welcome to A Book and A Dream with Megan O'Russell: An Author's Adventure in Writing, Reading, and Being an Epic Fangirl.

Megan O'Russell: [00:00:29] Hello, my name is Megan O'Russell, and welcome to Episode 25 of A Book and a Dream.

Megan O'Russell: [00:00:35] We've all heard the phrase art reflects life, right? For me, it's a little bit more complicated. Art bleeds into life and life bleeds into art, and it all becomes this weird, little loopy thing.

Megan O'Russell: [00:00:50] So with everything that's been going on in the world, I've been trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my publishing schedule for the year. So things are very exciting right now. I have the final book and the Ena of Ilbrea series coming out soon. I'm going to finish up the Bryant Adams series this summer.

Megan O'Russell: [00:01:05] And then I was supposed to write the new series in the world of the domes. So there's the Girl of Glass series. And then there was going to be a completely new series in that world, different setting, different characters.

Megan O'Russell: [00:01:19] That was my plan. But everything's kind of gone a little bit crazy lately. And so I got to the point where I wasn't really sure if that was a project I wanted to work on. The question sort of started when I was talking to one of my friends about Cinder for the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, because I had the host of The Prince Kai Fan Pod on a book in a dream.

Megan O'Russell: [00:01:43] You should check out that episode if you haven't already. And through it, I, ya know, to be a mature, responsible interviewer, had to read the first book in the series. So I did, and it was really good and I continued with the series. I told one of my friends about it. She read it and she's like, it's really good.

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:00] But that plague concept is hitting super close to home right now.

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:05] And I was like.

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:07] Oh, like as a reader, I hadn't processed that as being so similar, and the more I thought about it, the more I was like. Ooh, this is a lot. This is kind of a lot that's happening. And I don't know if I want to bring something that, you know, is about.

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:27] a mid-apocalyptic world out into the world right now.

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:31] So I went ahead and I contacted my newsletter and I posted on all of my social media feeds saying, you know, what do you think I should do?

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:41] I do want to write another series in the world of the domes for sure.

Megan O'Russell: [00:02:44] If you have the Girl of Glass Complete Collection, if you've never turned to the very, very, very, very, very last page of the book, you should do that because there is a little teaser there for the other series that is definitely going to happen.

Megan O'Russell: [00:03:01] I didn't know if now is the time. So I posed the question.

Megan O'Russell: [00:03:05] Should I go into, you know, another dystopian or should I release like a light, fluffy fantasy heist book?

Megan O'Russell: [00:03:14] And I got a lot of emails from my newsletter, and I had sort of assumed that everyone would be like, go for the fantasy heist, ballgowns and vengeance sounds like real great right now.

Megan O'Russell: [00:03:27] And I get that I totally get that because there is so much like.

Megan O'Russell: [00:03:33] Escapism happening as we all stay safe at home or gradually work our way back into the world. I mean, why do you think Tiger King became such a huge thing? It was because it was this weird thing that had nothing to do with our actual lives. We all needed something weird to fixate on. And Tiger King provided that. That's how that became like this massive phenomenon. If we hadn't all been, like, hiding at home, probably would not have gained that much steam. And for me, it saw as sort of a chronic thing when I'm stressed that I just want to watch shows about serial killers like Criminal Minds.

Megan O'Russell: [00:04:11] All those different little things where, you know, they're stalking the killer and at the end they always get the bad guy because then.

Megan O'Russell: [00:04:15] Well, first of all, it makes me feel like the bad guy is always captured because on those shows, they always do. But also because no matter how bad your day is, you're like, well, I'm not victim number three on the slab.

Megan O'Russell: [00:04:24] So look at me winning at life. This is great. And I sort of assumed that that was what people would want. And I did get a lot of that. But the people who wrote longer emails and the people who were like really reaching out to get in touch wanted paranormal dystopian darkness. And sometimes they just got like paranormal darkness, exclamation point. And that was the whole e-mail.

Megan O'Russell: [00:04:46] And a few times I got really long emails that were like, no, I think it's important to hold up a mirror to what's happening in the world.

Megan O'Russell: [00:04:53] I think people need something, you know, dark to escape into to help them process what's going on. And that's true to.

Megan O'Russell: [00:05:02] With everything that's happened in the past few years, there are some times when I've been like sobbing over Handmaid's Tale really helps me process the world like that horrible dark mirror is super helpful sometimes.

Megan O'Russell: [00:05:15] And that's what people need.

Megan O'Russell: [00:05:17] People need to see the environment decaying and people need to see diseases ravaging cities and like horrible, horrible cures for them.

Megan O'Russell: [00:05:26] I can do that. I can write the other domes book like that is going to happen. My fear as like an author's slash artist is how much of the world world is going to bleed into it?

Megan O'Russell: [00:05:37] And it's happened in some of my series before where it's like, oh, look at all these current affairs that are now, you know, suddenly kind of bleeding into the book. And I feel like it would be more with the Dome series. The one thing that really stands out to me where it's like if I write this book within the next year, this is going in there because I do have an auto immune disease.

Megan O'Russell: [00:05:57] And so I am on hydroxychloroquine. And so when the pharmacy is, we're running out. There was this article going around about a woman in California who had gone to pick up her regular ments, hydroxychloroquine, and she got a note instead that said, you can't have it.

Megan O'Russell: [00:06:12] We're using it on other patients. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Megan O'Russell: [00:06:18] And so that hit really close to home for me because, "thank you for your sacrifice." You don't get the medication that keeps you healthy. Like what? How is that a thing? If you have insurance and dollars, like, you should be able to get the medicine that keeps you healthy. And so I know that, like, that's that's going to bleed into it. Fear of being in, you know, enclosed spaces with lots of people not being allowed to congregate inside. Those things are going to leak into it. So it isn't going to be the plotline exactly as I imagined it originally, because that's not where my headspace is going to be.

Megan O'Russell: [00:06:54] And if that's the mirror that needs to be held up that's cool, it is still going to be close enough to the original intention that it totally fits. But there are going to be those details in there.

Megan O'Russell: [00:07:05] And.

Megan O'Russell: [00:07:07] It'll be hard, but I'm willing to do it. And for the people who wanted the light heist fantasy ball gowns, that book is still going to happen. That series is still going to happen. I love it too much. The series with the pansexual half-mermaid is not dying. It is just going to be written slightly later. So I would love your thoughts on all of this. Is it too dark to include concepts like is misinformation as deadly as ignorance?

Megan O'Russell: [00:07:46] Is it too much to have something that, you know, looks like a flu become this horrible thing? I have another author friend who was writing a zombie series where it started off like a cold and then people became zombies. And she's already sort of squashed that for now. She was like, that's going away. We're going to hide that. And maybe in a few years it won't be too soon anymore.

Megan O'Russell: [00:08:07] So what are your thoughts?

Megan O'Russell: [00:08:10] Is another book in the world of the domes something that you're super interested in right now? Are you trying to turn completely away from that? I would love to know where your headspace is, because this is such a major event and it is going to be affecting the media that we consume the books, that we consume everything. This is going to be in there.

Megan O'Russell: [00:08:34] And going back to a lighter note, not really later, Feather and Flame is coming out on May 26. So that has already gone out to my reviewers.

Megan O'Russell: [00:08:46] If I owed you a review copy and you didn't get one, let me know.

Megan O'Russell: [00:08:50] But I am so thrilled for the final book in the Ena of Ilbrea series to be out in the world, hopefully fingers crossed by the time we have another video slash podcast episode.

Megan O'Russell: [00:09:02] I will be ready to announce the super secret project that's coming out this summer. Also, I was interviewed on the Prince Kai fan pod for their one year anniversary episode. So keep an eye out on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I will share when that episode comes out. If you haven't checked out their podcast, it does go chapter by chapter with the series. So you kind of and you have to be a fan with the series in order to keep up. But it's a great podcast. I have never gotten to deep dive into a book so much before.

Megan O'Russell: [00:09:32] It's so cool as a reader. I can't imagine how terrifying it would be to have that done to your work as an author?

Megan O'Russell: [00:09:40] Because you're like on this podcast, we were going like a line by line and then this happens and then this happens and it's like.

Megan O'Russell: [00:09:49] As an author, sometimes the curtains are just green and it's terrifying that someday there could be a podcast where they're like analyzing my green curtains and the meaning behind it. And they're just green because I was wearing green that day and it seemed like a great idea, but it's a great podcast, so I will definitely post when the episode comes out.

Megan O'Russell: [00:10:12] In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane and let me know. Is a domes book what you want? Is fantasy heist what you want? Are you diving into dark media?

Megan O'Russell: [00:10:23] Are you like just watching Troll's World Tour over and over again? I would love to know where your headspace is because we are going to jump back out into the world and still be creating art together, whatever format it ends up coming out in.

Megan O'Russell: [00:10:37] So, yeah, let me know. And don't forget to like, subscribe, comment, link, whatever, or do all those things. And I will see you next time.

From Creative Outlet to Artistic Career: An Interview with Isabel Sterling

Below is the transcript to episode 24 of A Book and A Dream.

Isabel (00:02):
He was, it was, he was very proud of me. But he also was just like fiction: who reads that?

Megan (00:07):
Millions and millions of people.

Announcement (00:10):
Welcome to A Book and A Dream with Megan O'Russell: An Author's Adventure in Writing, Reading, and Being an Epic Fangirl.

Megan (00:27):
Hello and welcome to this episode of A Book and A Dream. Today. I am thrilled to have Isabel Sterling here with me. Now Isabel is the author of the These Witches Don't Burn series. Thank you so much for coming to chat with me.

Megan (00:41):
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Megan (00:43):
Now, one of the things that I didn't realize when I asked to talk to you on a book at a dream that I'm super excited about is that you were working in music in college music composition. Is that right?

Isabel (00:57):
Yeah, so I, I studied, um, we called it studio composition and basically it was writing music that was meant to be recorded. Um, so I did that for four years and, but I realized pretty quickly that I had come from a really small school, so I was sort of like a big-ish fish in a tiny pond. And then I went to a school near New York city and I was like, Oh no, I am not good enough to be doing this.

Megan (01:22):
that's, I mean, I'm sure you're amazing, but I, I can't understand the, the overwhelming nature of it. I love that you were in music and in composing because I am an actor. And so for me, the transition from acting to writing had so much to do with storytelling. I was miserable in a show and I needed it outlet. And so I turned to writing as a way to have that creative storytelling atmosphere. And we did a little pre-interview form. And from what I saw in there, it feels like your experience was very similar in that you, you are a storyteller and you were looking for other avenues. So how did that process begin for you?

Isabel (02:05):
Yeah. So I did the four years of music school, um, and it was very, you know, music, you know, especially music writing is very much a form of storytelling. Um, so I did that for four years and then when I left I had kind of burned out so hard from those four years of music school that I, like I have not honestly written a song or touched music since I graduated. Um, but then when I transitioned into a very like academically focused sort of like traditionally academic grad school program, I all of a sudden had no creative outlet. So my second year of grad school, um, I... I don't know, it was almost like the universe kind of intervened cause I was literally just driving to my grandmas to take my little head baby cousins. I was taking them trick or treating and I was on my way to my grandma's house and I was like, Oh, I should write a book. And then of course the next day is the first day of national novel writing month in November. And I started writing the next day and I just like have not stopped since.

Megan (03:02):
That's amazing. And it's such a, even for people who don't necessarily want to be an author who don't want to go through the full process, writing is such a healthy and convenient outlet. It's so, it's so amazing. And you don't need a guitar or a piano or tap shoes or a dance studio or a stage. It's so contained and easy. And so you were in grad school, you turned to this for an outlet. You started writing your first book. At what point in the process of writing that book did you decide that you wanted to go the author route and it was more than a just an outlet for you?

Isabel (03:42):
Yeah, I think it was probably when I was revising that first book. Um, I don't know actually if she's still around. Um, but this is back in 2012 there was an author, Holly Lyle, and she had this big like revision course you could buy and it, it walked you through. It was like a 13 week course. It was like a really intensive, like how to break down a book and sort of build it back up. And, um, I took that course and while I was doing that, I learned, I actually like revision more than I like drafting. So like wow, I recently actually, so right now I'm drafting, um, what is my ninth novel, but it'll hopefully be my third published book. Um, and so I finally have found a way to draft that I enjoy, but so for eight books, I hate drafting and then I love being able to like take something and it sort of becomes like a puzzle and I break it apart and I can figure out how to fit it together.

Isabel (04:37):
Um, but I think it was doing that for the first time and I had just had this moment of like, I love this so much. Like how do I make this something that I can do forever? And for me that was like, I want people to be able to read it and I want to share it. Cause I, you know, coming from music is a very sort of like performance based kind of area where you know, you write music for other people to hear it. That's kind of, you know, how you experience music. You can't just like me can play it for yourself. But that's, no, I think that happens much less frequently than um, you know, writing for yourself.

Megan (05:09):
Yeah. So you were talking about your drafting process and I think you're the first person I've ever spoken to who enjoys editing more than writing. I don't, I hate editing as much as some people, like we've come to like a happy understanding, like editing and I could be casual acquaintances who like hang out sometimes. But what, what is your drafting process and how has it changed that you feel more comfortable with it now?

Isabel (05:37):
Yeah, so I mean my process has definitely changed a lot over times. My very first book I just completely pantsed. Um, so my very first book I was like, I don't know what are all the things that I like in a fantasy. And I just kind of like threw it all together. And just wrote a book, um, with like no planning whatsoever. Um, and then as I've kind of gone along, I've gotten to be more and more of a plotter. Um, so from there, from that first book, I eventually learned about like the save the cat, um, book with a beat sheet. So I kind of learned to do sort of like the 15 sort of like major beats and kind of, I dunno, pants my way in between. So did that for a while. Um, but part of, I think my struggle was I almost never really knew the story until I got to the end.

Isabel (06:24):
And then I would go, okay, now I know what this book needs to be and I would basically rewrite the whole book for my second draft. Um, and so I don't know if part of it is just like growing as a storyteller. And I think part of it too is this book that I'm writing now, I did a lot more, um, character development. Um, I read, we find the book, I don't see it. Um, I think it's called story genius. Um, and it's the first book that I kind of craft book that I read that had a lot of information about like crafting characters and not just like what's their hair color and what's their whatever. Um, it's really dig, dig deeply into sort of like what are the major events in their life that created a person they are today. And you actually write those scenes out.

Isabel (07:17):
Um, and doing that for me completely changed how I interact with character. And I think knowing that I had a much, I kind of was able to grow the plot from the characters, which I usually kind of go a little bit more backwards or I'd have plot first. Um, so I think that's a big part of it. And then I just thought a lot more now too. So like, so what I did this time is, um, so I applauded the first, just the first act like kind of had the general beachy, but I applauded every single scene for the first half. And then I wrote it and then I got to revise it and I love revising. So that was sort of like my like, Oh, I get to do a little bit revision. And then when I did that I got to plot to the midpoint and then I drafted that and then I was like, Ooh. And I get to her by this chunk. So it sort of allowed me to like include the things that I love as I was going, but it was also much more character based too. Um, so I think I just, I don't know, I feel like I'd get story in a way that I didn't maybe two, three years ago.

Megan (08:16):
That's such a huge thing about learning from writing more books that you see a lot of people who are on their very first book and they're struggling so hard to get to the end and they're like, but you're, you're good at this and you just, you've written so much, it's a natural gift. And you're like, no, I've spent, you know, a few thousand hours slamming my head against a keyboard. Right. It's not like, yeah, there, there are some people who are more gifted at things than others, sure. In every aspect of life. But there is a lot of like keyboard head-slamming that people don't see when they get a pretty little paperback in their hands.

Isabel (08:53):
Oh, 100%. And I think it's funny too is I thought I had a pretty good process. I was like, you know what? It's okay that I hate drafting. It's okay that my book, my kind of draft two is typically almost a full rewrite. Like that's just my process and it works and it's fine. But then when I had to write my sequel, This Coven Won't Break. I had to write like I wrote a book and then threw it away three times. I wrote it from scratch four times.

Megan (09:21):
Oh wow.

Isabel (09:21):
Um, and that was such like a tough experience. Like it was so hard to have to like write a book and realize nothing about it worked, throw it away and just try something completely different. Um, and I decided that I never wanted to do that again. Um, so I was, okay, I'm going to figure out a way to write a book where like, I mean, it's always going to need revision.

Isabel (09:42):
Like, you can't get around that, but I want it to be able to write books where at least the first draft had real solid bones to it and it wouldn't have to be just completely thrown away.

Megan (09:51):
Yeah. I did your laptop survive that process of rewriting four times. Did it ever go flying out the window?

Isabel (09:59):
Oh my God. It was something, it was simple and I had written, so I wrote like I wrote one draft, um, and I threw it away and then I wrote a second draft and threw it away. And then the third draft was sort of like, I took a little couple of things from those first two drafts and then wrote it. And then I was like, okay, well this one has to be good enough to at least get me into the editing process. So I sent it to my editor and she very kindly, um, wrote back and had a letter that basically boiled down to absolutely none of this works. Um, please try again.

Isabel (10:37):
Yeah. That was, that was, uh, what was a good moment for my ego is right. She was definitely not wrong. And, um, it was also really helpful and she had really good advice. Um, and basically what we ended up doing was I kinda made what had turned into her as the end of the book. Um, which also the book was very, very dark, which was probably because I wrote it when I, my at the time day job was sort of imploding around me. So I was trying to write while just like the worst time of my professional career was happening. So a lot of um, despair ended up in the book and it didn't need to be there. Um, but we made the mid, the ending the mid point. And that helped me figure out how to actually build an interesting story because it turns out sequels are really hard.

Megan (11:22):
Sequels, sequels are so hard. They are, it's, it's a different beast altogether. And then the last book in a series is like a whole nother ball game that just makes the sequel look like easy. Like the farther in you get, the harder it is.

Isabel (11:45):
And this was hard, too, because it was a sequel, but it's also a series ender. It's just duology. And then you know, and when you're writing you of, you know, our first book, you throw everything in and do you want to make sure that it has, you know, big stakes and everything and then you have to write a book two and you're like, I have to do even bigger stakes now? I have to actually defeat the bit like the big, big deal and how do I do that? So that was part of it. As I had it, I never had a clear vision of like how to beat the villains until that fourth draft where I had my editor helping me kind of brainstorm and what her thing, her big note that really kind of opened my brain was, she was like, I think you need an additional bigger villain than who you think the villain is. And I was like, Oh, okay. And that helped me actually get to the right story. But no, that's okay.

Megan (12:34):
That's one of the really like interesting things about having a traditional publisher and having an editor who you yourself are not employing. And so I, I started in trad publishing. I dodged right out of there. I went the full indie route. And so how has your traditional publishing journey been? Like obviously it was very helpful to you to have this awesome editor on your side, like helping you figure out your way through this labyrinth for the book two. But what has your experience been like for the people who are considering whether they should submit to traditional or go more indie routes? What have the big moments for you in traditional publishing been?

Isabel (13:17):
Yeah, so I mean definitely having a good editor is a huge, huge benefit of traditional publishing. Um, you know, I had revised my first book, a ton of my own. I had two different agents I revised with my first agent had left the industry, so I had change agents sort of partway through that process. And then I still had two big rounds of edits. And so it's really, especially for me, um, who, somebody who's doesn't have, um, sort of like a natural gift for really compelling, interesting plots. Um, so to have somebody who kind of like , in a way that I answer to rather than her answering to me where she kind of pushes me like you need, you know, you can do better, you know, and push us to be as good as they can. So, you know, I've grown a ton as a writer kind of from that sort of pressure.

Isabel (14:05):
Maybe it has a negative connotation, but it is sort of a pressure of you want to please your editor and do a good job and um, and then thereby, hopefully then please readers and give them a really good reading experience. Um, so that's been huge. And then also just as soon as I knew I wanted to publish, it was always my dream to be able to walk into Barnes and noble and see my book on the shelf. Um, and when my book published by publisher never told me or didn't give me a heads up, but when I went to Barnes and noble, they had actually, um, placed the book in one of those sort of like tables at the front where the, the rack. So when I walked in there was just like a ladder of my books right in the front of the store. And that was like the coolest thing. So I didn't want to, wasn't expecting it. And it was really cool.

Megan (14:53):
That's amazing. That... having the nice little display is so cool. And I think that you bring up a really good point of, there is a lot of value. Even though, you know, a huge amount of the market is going indie. And I love being indie, I wouldn't have been able to do what I'm doing right now if I hadn't had my, you know, five or six years in trad publishing because I did learn so much. And so I think for people who are starting out, even if they may want to be in the, eventually there is something to be said for testing the waters with agents and going trad just so you can learn what's marketable by the big companyies So you know how to deal with that. And that's, it's a, it's a great lesson there. My first editor was like, "Oh honey, okay, here's what we're gonna do." And I like, I don't think I would be half the writer. I am without her. So it's amazing that it has delivered so much value to you. That's fantastic.

Isabel (15:54):
And it's been great too because I do actually also do some indie publishing under a different pen name. Um, so I am a little bit in that like adult urban fantasy world, um, co-write with a friend. Um, and I think the reason that we're able to do that and we can kind of put out, you know, so the way we work, you know, we're slow for by indie standards simply because I have to write those books in between traditional deadlines and my day job. Um, but basically what we do is like, I'll, I mean, we work together, we plot together, I'll draft the book in like four to six weeks. He edits it and I edit it. It goes to a copy editor and then it's, you know, put out with us so much quicker than traditional. But I think the only reason we can do that and put out a high quality product is because I know we both kind of cut our teeth in the traditional worlds.

Megan (16:43):
It's valuable. And I love that you have a separate pen name for it. So you can have like your two different identities. And one thing that I love about your pen name is that your books are YA fantasy that our LGBT community base. And I think that that's so important and so cool because it's from what I've seen, and I'm not an expert in any way, but the market for that is getting bigger. It's popping up more and more in my searches. You're finding more LGBT friendly, more LGBT based books for teens. But what has your experience been writing for that market?

Isabel (17:25):
Yeah. Um, so I, it took, when I kind of stumbled into, you know, writing, um, books for queer teens and part of that is I just kept writing books and they just kept getting gayer, and then all of a sudden I went like, Oh, Hey, there's a reason that I'm writing these books. Um, so like reading also kind of helped me come out and then then coming out and you know, dating my now wife and so that all fed into me writing and being able to revise the books to really reflect that experience. Um, so then when I went into publishing in that space, um, I don't know, it's just funny the way that life works out. You know, if had asked me five, six years ago, or not five years, I had been out for five years, but if you asked me 10 years ago, I, you know, wouldn't have known I wanted to write.

Isabel (18:11):
I didn't know that I was queer. Um, you know, and I wanted to work on like a college campus and now like writing has brought me out. I met my wife, I now, not only am I writing for up peer team, they actually work at an LGBTQ center. Um, all that whole life is changed. It's so weird. Um, but the actual like publishing process in terms of then that market, um, I mean I have so far, I have had, a really good experience. I think I kind of hit into the market right as there was this big shift. Um, you know, so in 2016 when I was getting an agent, um, and we still see this sometimes, um, but back then it was very much, well books about queer girls don't sell. We don't, we know, but we can't really buy that cause they never saw it.

Megan (18:58):
That's horrible.

Isabel (18:59):
Um, yeah. So I never, I never bumped up on that in terms of rejections. And I think because of my book was kind of hitting the kind of agent market, quote/unquote, when I was trying to get an agent right. That was like really shifting. Um, cause I got an agent with the very first, um, DV pit, um, on Twitter, which is a pitch contest for diverse voices. Um, so I think I kinda missed some of that, but that definitely played into me. You know, as I was writing and revising and when I was on submission to editors, I was always thinking like, okay, is this going to sell? Everybody always says that, you know, these books don't sell. And then it's, you know, if I do sell, you know, am I not going to get as much money cause they just, devalue these books.

Isabel (19:44):
Um, and thankfully I don't think I've really like personally run into that issue. I think, you know, my publisher really values the work that I do. Um, I've had a pretty good response, you know, I mean, I don't read reviews anymore. Um, I did before I became out and then the book actually came out and I was like, Oh, I can't read these anymore. Um, but I think it's different. It's funny when my book was just out to like bloggers and stuff and it was sort of just the advanced review copies. I could read reviews and they didn't bother me whether they were good or bad. But once the book was out and just your average reader was reviewing and I was like, Oh, this is, this space is absolutely not for me. I cannot be here.

Megan (20:26):
Goodreads is brutal. Goodreads is so brutal.

Isabel (20:28):
It is, and I have seen, you know, um, I have seen the occasional like, Oh, this book isn't realistic cause there's too many, you know, gay people in this book, there's too many [indiscernible] in this.

Isabel (20:40):
But I was like, buddy, like eighty percent of people they know are queer, like, like I don't know what to tell you. Um, so I have seen some of that, but for the most part I've gotten a really good reception. Um, I've had people from teenagers up to, I had a woman email me after reading my book. I think she said she was in her sixties and she found my book and she was like, Oh, I wish I'd had this when I was a teen. And um, so it's been, that's been, I think the best part is, you know, really reaching like... I think the book is for everybody, but for the book to really reach those queer readers is like, for me the biggest thing. Um, and even just like I said, I work at an LGBTQ center, and a few of my teens there have read the book. And so when they would read it, read it, and come in and they talk about it, that was, I was thinking of their teens that I know and adore. So for them to like it, I was like, Oh yeah,

Megan (21:34):
Well, representation is so important. And especially in those formative years where if you're not having an easily accessible story that truly relates to your life and you're not having to like twist the characters in the plot to try and match your expectations or who you are, then it's really hard for teenagers if they don't have those role models in the kinds of art that they like to absorb. So I think, I think that's amazing that the publishing community is accepting it more. And so you said you had people from teens to their fifties come up to you. Have there been any really cool reader interactions? Any deep and meaningful moments with anyone?

Isabel (22:20):
Yeah, um, I think probably one of the coolest things that happened, um, was I had, so I was actually at work at my day job. Um, and um, we had a teen come in who I'd never met before. Um, she was coming in to see us for the first time. Um, and I was showing her around our center and I was like, Oh, we have this new library of books. Um, we have an LGBTQ kind of library. And I had put out a call to the community actually when I first got this job, cause they originally had like four YA books at this library. And I was like, Oh. And then it's because it's something that's, it's a nonprofit. We don't have a lot of money, so I can't just go buying books. So everything we have in the library that has been donated to us.

Isabel (23:02):
So I put out a call and I was like, you know, people, um, you know, Twitter, the book community, like we need books. And so we now have two full shelves of queer way LGBTQ YA, um, for them to choose them. So I was showing this girl, um, you know the stuff and she goes, Oh, you know what book you should add to your library? You should add These Witches Don't Burn to your library. I was like, funny story. I actually wrote that book. Um, and just like to see her eyes get huge. And that was like a really cool moment of one having basically a stranger be like, Oh, Hey, this book is awesome. And then you're like, Oh my God, I wrote that book. Like out of body kind of experience.

Megan (23:47):
That's amazing. Now clearly you've had a lot of success. You have two pen names going on, you have readers recommending your own book to you, which is super cool. How would you talk to, if we have new writers who are just starting out, how would you tell them to handle the setbacks that come back, that come even with the most successful author, there are always, you know, going to be those drafts that your editor bounces back to you and says, no.

Isabel (24:14):
Well yeah. Um, you know, I think, well I guess maybe the funny answer is, uh, go to music school and get critiqued every week for four years and then to get really good at dealing with setbacks and critiques all the time.

Megan (24:30):
I feel the same way because of being an actor in a room at rehearsal and they're like, these are the list of notes of things you did wrong. And everyone's there. And they're all listening to it. And then 9:00 AM the next morning you're back in rehearsal with the same people who know how much you suck now. So, it really thickens your skin.

Isabel (24:46):
yeah. Well, and it is funny cause we know when I was writing music in college, like it was literally we had a class that was every other week and every class you had to share what you were working on and get feedback and then you had to bring it back in two weeks having made changes. I think that's part of the reason why I like revision is because I spent so long like being taught to like, okay take that and I'll make it better. Um, so I think it was probably why I like revision cause it's, you know, taking what you have and getting it to kind of as close to your idealized version as possible. Um, but I think for people, um, who want to, you know, get into writing is whatever, however you can do it. Um, you know, get used to getting feedback and taking critique.

Isabel (25:33):
Whether that's because you're, you know, posting fanfiction on Wattpad and getting feedback, whatever, you know, or you're going to a critique group every week. Um, just get practice taking that feedback and taking that, you know, rejection because rejection never stops. Like, you know, since I have had my book published, I have had, you know, the time where my editor says, throw that book away and write a new one. Basically I have had, um, I had a middle grade novel that we submitted and then, um, just never found a home. So...

Megan (26:08):
That does happen.

Isabel (26:08):
Yeah. Um, and then, you know, even if you, every book you write sells, um, I may not sell as many copies as you want. Once it's published, you're gonna, you're guaranteed to have some readers who just hate it and think it's trash. Um, there are definitely people who think my books are absolute garbage and that's fine. It's just not for them.

Megan (26:32):
And sometimes the bad reviews are, are good 'cause they help steer other people away who would not be happy with your book. So in addition to all of your writing, you're podcasting now, is that correct?

Isabel (26:45):
Yeah.

Megan (26:45):
So what is your podcast about?

Isabel (26:48):
Yeah, so the podcast is publishing explained. Um, and basically what happens there is I explain it to my wife does not work in publishing and she's not a, she reads, which is not really a book person. Um, she's more of a scientist type. Um, and I, you know, we've been together going on five years, um, and I've been, you know, involved in writing that whole time. And even so she's still really has no idea how publishing works and it isn't really bizarre world. A lot of things that makes you would think, Oh, this probably works like this. That would make sense. That's rational. That's not how publishing works. Um, so every, every week I explain, um, another step on the publishing process to her and then she just kind of sits there and goes, "But... Why?"

Isabel (27:41):
So that is basically what it is. So we are still in the early days, we've got three episodes out. Um, the first episode we talked about kind of the, the pros and cons of, you know, Indian versus traditional. And I obviously I do both. And I think there's definitely a value to both. So we kind of walk through the different ways. And right now we're sort of working our way through how, um, publishing on the trad side works with what agents do and how do you get an agent and put a submission look like and all that stuff.

Megan (28:09):
That's very cool. So what are some of the biggest misconceptions you've found about writing and in searching for these holes of what people don't know?

Isabel (28:17):
Yeah, so there's a lot of things. I think one of the big ones is money. People assume that if you have a book deal, you were all of a sudden the super wealthy.

Megan (28:27):
They really do!

Isabel (28:30):
It's like, no when I do school visits, but do some school visits. Um, which is part of the thing I love about writing way and being traditionally published. It kind of gives you the creds to go into schools and talk to kids. Um, but I tell them, talk to the kids about like, you know, how much money do you think you make on a book? And they throw out all these numbers and then I say, "So for hardcover, which sells for about $17, I get 10%, that means I get a dollar and 70 cents every time someone buys a book." And they're like, "that's it?!" And that's obviously the highest that we earn. And you know, I think on a paperback I make like 40 cents or something and they're like, "Oh my gosh!" So, um, that's fun to talk through with people and also just explaining, you know, the, I'm looking forward to doing a podcast episode on, um, like when you actually get paid with an advance and what an advanced actually means.

Isabel (29:25):
Um, people assume that you just get like tossed. Let's say that's a year, one of the lucky people who got, you know, a hundred thousand dollars for your book, which almost never happens these days. You just get a hundred thousand dollars. You don't just get that money. Like, you know, that's, that money is going to come apart, you know, maybe four years if it was a multi book deal or something. Um, so when I do that math or people are like, Oh, so it's like we might make like 10 grand a year or something? And I'm like, If you're lucky, you know, that doesn't even cover my rent for a year.

Megan (29:58):
It's definitely such a strange little world and it's weird because even people who aren't readers like you know books. You know what books are. You went through school with books and then the actual how of they get to people. People just don't, there's so much disconnect, which is weird. And it's even with indie where I have more control, there are so many things where people are like, "Oh, see you're just gonna ____?" No, no. I'm not just going to make Amazon make a TV show of this. Yes, I understand the book is sold on Amazon.

Megan (30:33):
No, there's not. Amazon's not making an Amazon prime TV show of this. That what?

Isabel (30:40):
Yeah, that's a lot is noise and you should, you should. You know why you should translate it into French. I'm like, well, I don't speak French, so someone in France needs to buy the rights to my book, I can't just make that happen. I would love to have a TV show. I can't just "poof" and make that a reality. Um, that's really funny. I also think another big common misconception for sort of like people who aren't at all involved in the business side. Um, so if someone's like, Oh, I have an agent now, they're like, cool when's your book come out? And the getting an agent and getting a book deal or different things and then it's like, okay, I got a book deal! They're like, awesome. What can I go to the store and get it? And it's like, Ooh, two years, two years from now. Well, don't understand like why books take so long to produce in like the traditional sphere. Um, especially cause people, if you look at indie, he can, you know, write and edit and put out a book relatively quickly. Um, and then traditional, like I sold the book, well, I'll tell you, but in 20 years it's very dense.

Megan (31:43):
And so much can happen in two years. Who's to say if it'll actually be released.

Isabel (31:46):
Right? Right?

Megan (31:48):
It's so strange. So where could people find your podcast and your books?

Isabel (31:56):
Yeah. So, um, you can basically find everything on my website, isabelsterling.com. It has, um, the books. It also isabelsterling.com/pubexplained that we'll have links to all the podcast episodes because we're still early. We're, we're still working on getting into iTunes and stuff. Um, but it'll take you where you can listen online and it is on Spotify. Um, but it's, it's coming. Um, but yes, isabelsterling.com will get you all the things. And then I'm also on Twitter at isasterling and then Instagram at isa_sterling.

Megan (32:32):
Very cool. I love, I love how the platforms make you have the slightly different name. So is there anything else you'd like to share with people quick before we hop into the final four questions?

Isabel (32:40):
Um, I think that's just about everything. I will just say if you are somebody who likes your YA with some queer witches, These Witches Don't Burn is out now. This Coven Won't Break is out May 19th. And there's also a prequel novella that's ebook only that is actually out, uh, April 28.

Megan (33:03):
Amazing. You have a very busy spring right now.

Isabel (33:05):
Oh yes. A lot.

Megan (33:07):
Thank you for taking the time to join me. Alright, so for our final four questions, if you could only recommend one book, which would you choose?

Isabel (33:16):
So I think right now in the world that we're in, I would say red, Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston because it's just a book that makes you just feel good and happy and there's so much romance and sweetness and I love it.

Megan (33:30):
That's amazing. I, we all need a little bit of sweetness in our lives right now.

Isabel (33:35):
Yeah.

Megan (33:35):
Okay. So what song can you count on to pumped up--to pump you up, lift your spirits? What, what music do you love having in your life?

Isabel (33:43):
It's so funny. I'm not good at like, even though I was have a music degree, I'm so tune with me, but I do currently have a Spotify playlist that is Emo AF and it was just like songs from the early two thousands like my chemical romance and stuff. So that has been my current life playlists while I've been working.

Megan (34:03):
You know, sometimes you need that like early 2000 music. It gets you through. There's nothing wrong with that. I have a lot of friends who are on a 90's binge right now. So if you had to choose a tagline for your life, what would you want the tagline of your life to be? Uh, so another one, this is just so hard.

Isabel (34:25):
Again, I'm a writer, but I can't do taglines. It's, it's silly.

Megan (34:27):
Taglines are the worst. So I get it.

Isabel (34:29):
I would love though to like leave a legacy of just like writing tons of like queer girl, a paranormal way. Like if that could be like the thing that I leave behind, that'd be cool.

Megan (34:40):
That would be amazing. And such a huge contribution to an area that, you know, is, it's on the up and coming, it needs more and you're doing so much to help. And I think that's great.

Isabel (34:49):
I want witches, and vampires, and ghosts and werewolves--I want to do all the things.

Megan (34:53):
Amazing, and what is the most inspiring thing anyone has ever said to you?

Isabel (35:03):
Well, I don't know if it's inspiring, but it does just make me laugh. Um, my grandfather, before he passed away, so he, I don't think he ever actually read my book. Um, but he always used to tell me that if I really wanted to, you know, write some cool stuff, I should write nonfiction because nonfiction is stranger than fiction. And I don't know why, but for whatever reason that just made me want to write the most ridiculous fiction I could think of. Like, Oh, real world's more interesting? Well, I have to make fiction that actually makes sense. The real world doesn't have to make sense, but you know what?

Isabel (35:38):
I'm going to write witches now I'm gonna write some vampires. Um, so that always made me laugh cause he was, he was, it was, he was very proud of me, but he also was just like fiction who reads that?

Megan (35:48):
Millions and millions of people.

Isabel (35:51):
He was a funny man.

Megan (35:54):
Amazing. I love that so much. And I love the, the little bit of defiance that comes with it, that the little like, yeah, I'm going to do it. That's exactly how I am. And I feel like a lot of authors are like that because there is so much hardship that a lot of us who like make it to the publishing phase are the ones who are, like you said, I couldn't, and now I will, and that's--

Isabel (36:15):
"Just you wait!"

Megan (36:15):
Yeah, it's great. And it's one of my favorite part about... Parts about the community is that as hard as it gets sometimes there is this like "never say die" like group of people who just keep plunging forward. And I, I love it. I love it so much. Well, thank you so much for joining us on A Book and A Dream. I am going to make sure that all of the links to your website and your books and your podcasts are all with the episode. And yes, congratulations. And good luck on your upcoming releases.

Isabel (36:44):
Thank you.

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Megan O'Russell

Fantastic Worlds. Unlikely Heroes.

Megan O'Russell

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