7 Questions With Author Rhonda Smiley
After earning a BFA in Film Production from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, Rhonda Smiley began her career as an assistant to Academy Award winner Zoran Perisic (the man who made Superman fly) while also freelancing as a story analyst for several production companies. From there, she went on to write and story edit television shows, including the Rick Springfield hit, “High Tide,” as well as “Tarzan: The Epic Adventures,” “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation,” “Born Free,” and “Rescue Heroes.”
As a freelance writer, Rhonda dove into animation, scripting for numerous series, including “Maggie & the Ferocious Beast,” “Little Bear,” “Totally Spies,” Gwen Stefani’s “Kuu Kuu Harajuku,” and the Emmy-nominated “The Stinky & Dirty Show,” to name a few.
Her passion for storytelling led her to become an author, and her first novel, the young adult fantasy “Asper,” was awarded the BRAG medallion. Her recently released second novel is the humorous yet heartfelt middle grade adventure “Monty and the Monster.” Visit her website to learn more about her TV shows, books, and upcoming projects. Or just to say hi.
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Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Oh, I’m an avid plotter. Seriously. I might have a problem. I used to hate outlining, but when you write for television, you have to do them. It’s part of the job. Over time, I realized how helpful they were (especially on the longer-form one-hour shows).
Now I couldn’t imagine writing 200-300 pages of prose, trying to weave together a substantive and coherent story without an outline to keep me on track. It’s so easy to get lost or go off on a tangent that’s not integral to the story. I know a lot of people find outlines confining, but for me there’s a freedom in it. If I know where I’m going, I can have so much fun getting there.
I don’t have to worry that I’m writing myself into a corner I can’t get out of. That’s not to say that I don’t get inspired into a different direction sometimes—characters can develop in ways you never imagined when you first set out to create them—but I can go back to my outline to make sure it fits in with where I need to go and what I ultimately want to say.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your journey?
The first advice I’d give myself would be to create a brand. My biggest hurdle is that I write in many genres. My first novel, “Asper,” is a dark young adult fantasy with a female lead, my second novel, “Monty and the Monster,” is a humorous middle grade adventure with tween boy, and my upcoming release, “Blowback,” is a sci-fi crossover graphic novel geared for an adult audience.
It’s very difficult to build an audience that way. I don’t recommend it. The other piece of advice I’d give myself would be to have my second book in the wings as I’m releasing my first one. It’s all about building an audience and you don’t want them to have to wait too long for your next release. It’s especially helpful if you’re doing a series, because you can offer your first book in the series for free when you’re releasing your second book, and if they like the first (free) book, they’ll probably buy the second in the series.
How do you manage to juggle life and writing?
Well I drop a lot of balls. Then I roll them into a corner and let them gather with the intention of getting back to them. Truthfully, I have a hard time dividing my attention when I’m in the thick of writing because I like to be immersed in the story.
Sometimes if I don’t have the amount of hours I think I need to get into it, I don’t even open my draft. I’ve tried to figure out various approaches to be more productive—blocking out a specific time each day or writing on specific days of the week—but life rarely cooperates with my good intentions and I’m always back to winging it.
What should readers expect from your next novel?
Lots of pretty pictures! My next book is a graphic novel and the artwork is awesome. It’s about a group of present-day marines who crash-land in 1776 Bermuda where they battle a stranded WWII British Destroyer bent on stopping the American Revolution. I collaborated with my oft-screenwriting partner, James Hereth (who also happens to be my life partner).
It was quite a different experience than our usual writing efforts. Even though it begins with a script, it’s a much different format than the scripts we write for shows. You break it down into pages and further into panels on each page. And there’s planning in terms of how you want to reveal certain panels, so it can be a bit tricky. Luckily, we had a great team.
Our artist, Kev Hopgood, has done everything from comics to book illustrations to storyboards, but is probably best known for co-creating the character War Machine for Marvel. He also did my chapter heading illustrations for “Monty and the Monster.” Our colorist, Charlie Kirchoff, has worked on countless comics, including “Doctor Who,” “Judge Dredd Classics,” and “Marvel Universe Guardians of the Galaxy” to name a few.
We all know the industry is full of surprises. Can you share an unexpected experience?
Every day there’s a new surprise, but my most recent one involves royalties. For my first book, I set up and published on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. It was pretty easy to do. But for my second book, I wanted to list with more retailers so I used Ingram Spark to get wider distribution.
I think because Ingram knows that Amazon is such a huge market, they allow you to exempt Amazon so you can publish directly through KDP and still use Ingram for all the other retailers/distributors. That’s what I did. I used KDP for Amazon and Ingram for all the other world-wide retailers. The surprising thing is that several of the retailers through Ingram priced my book on sale. I guess it’s their way of competing with Amazon.
And because they’re the ones who put it on sale, they didn’t lower my royalty amount; they still pay the royalty based on my original price. Sounds great. Except Amazon price-matches other retailers, and since those other retailers are through Ingram, Amazon doesn’t keep the royalty based on the original price. They lower the royalty to coincide with their new listing price. So yeah, I was surprised to find out that I actually have no control over my pricing or my royalties, even though I set them up.
What’s the best way for authors to approach self-promotion?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that there is no shortage of ways to self-promote. The bad news is that there’s no shortage of ways to self-promote so it can be a full-time job. It’s difficult to juggle promoting and finding time to write new books. But marketing is essential.
You can write a Pulitzer worthy book but if no one knows about it, it won’t get read. For those who are outgoing and love public speaking, there are plenty of resources. Local (small or family-owned) bookstores, libraries, and schools will often have author readings and Q&As. If you have a following, book fairs and cons can be worth the cost.
If you’re not the outgoing type, there are blogs, interviews, twitter, and facebook. You can also contact your local newspaper or neighborhood magazine or even your college if they have a magazine or newsletter to see if you can submit a write-up about your book or ask if they would do an interview or review. And of course, if you have the money, there are some noteworthy contests. The main thing is to find a balance between self-promoting and writing because one without the other is like doing half a job.
How do you deal with negative feedback and negative reviews?
If I’ve asked for feedback from fellow writers or beta readers or editors, I’m not too bothered by negative criticism if it’s meant to be constructive. As a TV writer, you get a lot of notes because you’re writing for someone else, so I’m used to having many eyes with many different opinions commenting on my work.
A negative review (or unasked for criticism) of a finished work is harder to take. I put so much thought and effort into my writing and go through rounds of notes and beta readers and editors, so my knee-jerk reaction to a negative review is frownie-face. My goal is always to write something heartfelt, regardless of the genre, because I want it to resonate with readers after they’re done. If they one-star it, I feel especially bad.
How could all my hard work disappoint them that much? Of course, after I get over the initial pouting, I remind myself that readers are entitled to not like a book for any reason, whether or not it’s well-written or has captivating characters or great dialogue or whatever. It can simply not appeal to them. I’ve read many best-selling books that I didn’t enjoy. You just hope your audience finds you.
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And check out Lost in Amber: An Out Of This World Paranormal Romance if enjoy girl power, adventure & a toe-curling love story.
She just wanted to mope over her breakup but the universe had other plans for Zoey Mills.
Read the full blurb here.