We are starting to put together the transcripts of the podcast. Of course, Jennifer Leeland's funny and informative interview came first.
In this episode, Jennifer Leeland helps us launch Women and Fiction with a witty, honest conversation about writing and publishing fiction. Whether you are a woman or not, if you write fiction, you're going to want to listen to this!
Jennifer Leeland's bio:
New York Times best selling author Jennifer Leeland has been telling stories since she was very young. Most people were so small minded as to call it lying until she was able to put her stories on paper. Now they call it fiction.
To know what she writes, you have to know that the first question she asks about a book or movie is "Does it have a happy ending?". If it doesn't, she's not interested. Her love of kinky people and kinky stuff has led her to write about relationships that are slightly bent and probably flawed. You can always count on two things with a Jennifer Leeland book: angst and kink.
She lives with a Redneck, who loves to brainstorm with her on occasion and her two hulking teenagers in the Northern California Boonies. She is published with Liquid Silver Books, Loose-Id LLC., and Cobblestone Press. Her self-published books are under the clever title "Jennifer Leeland Books". She is also a moderator for the award winning writer's forum Romance Divas where I've been a member since 2006.
You can learn more about Jennifer at: JenniferLeeland.com
Transcript of Women and Fiction Season 01, Episode 01 -- Jennifer Leeland:
Jennifer Leeland: …most of the writers I know, they suffer from egomaniac with an inferiority complex.
Claudia Hall Christian: That’s Jennifer Leeland, she joins us for the inaugural edition of Women and Fiction. I’m Claudia Hall Christian. (Music) The conversation about writing usually revolves around male authors. Let’s face it, male authors dominate modern book sales. You would ask yourself who has sold more books than any other author. If you look it up, you’ll find Agatha Christie at the top of the list — a woman. Go figure.
So what is it like for a woman to write and publish fiction in 2017? That’s what we’ve to explore in Women and Fiction.
In this first episode I get a chance to speak with New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Leeland. She writes erotic romance with happy endings. While her bio says you can counter her books for their angst and their kink, I count on Jennifer for her honesty, her laughter, and her friendship. Let’s listen in.
You have had a lot of experience with a lot of publishers.
Jennifer Leeland: Yeah.
Claudia Hall Christian: And you’ve also done some self publishing yourself . . .
Jennifer Leeland: Correct.
Claudia Hall Christian: . . . and I wonder if you have thoughts about publishing today, 2017?
Jennifer Leeland: I’m almost hesitant to say anything only because things change so fast that everything I say will be mute-point next year. I’ve done a lot of different publishing. The only route I’ve not gone is traditional publishing which is through publishers like Penguin and Harlequin and those solid what they call “brick-and-mortar.”
Claudia Hall Christian: I call them like New York City publishers.
Jennifer Leeland: Yeah, New York publishers. Yeah, right. I did try – I think everyone does — I did try in the first couple of years of writing, I did try to get into traditional publishing, but I just came to realize that it wasn’t for me. And I think that is the really good thing about, since I was been in writing, that it’s no longer just one way to get to what you want in writing. When I first started, Harlequin was all I knew. I think that’s pretty much all anybody knew. As far as like, people around me, regular people — not writer people.
Claudia Hall Christian: Right.
Jennifer Leeland: The writer are usually way more informed about the different options, but I . . . You know, when I came in I wanted to write romance. I love to write characters, all my stuff is character driven. So I did start out trying to do traditional publishing, I have my quota of rejections and after two years I realized, after seeing other people published, that the deadlines were really, they were doing at that time they were doing 3 and 4 book contracts in a year, and that, with my lifestyle, it just was impossible. I’m a mom and I have a fulltime job, That’s just not an option. But there was e-publishing and there is no deadlines. That was great. So I got all this great experience in e-publishing and yeah, so I was very – and I was very lucky to come in behind the pioneers of e-publishing. So I really benefited from women mostly in romance, in erotic romance, particularly who came in with e-publishing through Ellora’s Cave and Fleming and really paved the way for the rest of us. I was very grateful — and lucky, very lucky.
Claudia Hall Christian: Yeah, very amazing I mean, it’s just that came before us, before me, certainly, it’s really amazing. Thanks for remembering them and bringing it up. So, what would you say about publishing then today after all of your experience?
Jennifer Leeland: It’s crazy!
Claudia Hall Christian: Yeah.
Jennifer Leeland: It’s crazy! It’s like the Wild West out there. It’s really is. I’m a member of Romance Divas, which is a forum of other writers, and I see frequently on there . . .
Claudia Hall Christian: Oh really?
Jennifer Leeland: Yeah, it’s a great place to sort of talk to other writers and get information. And I frequently see the one: “Hey, did your Facebook ad work?” “What about BookBub?” which, you know, if you’re not a writer, it’s not necessarily something familiar. However, those of us who have to figure out how to get the word out: “Hey, I’ve the book” — you know, Kindle Select — what was the other one? — there was like about three different programs in Kindle that get your book in front of other people. I find it all very, very conveying thing. So, I tend to not do the promotional part as well and that today I think is the difference that the promotional — knowing how to get my name out there with everyone else’s name
I mean, we’ve known each other a long time online. I was thinking about that earlier, oh gosh, dang, she and I’ve known each other online since the blog days. Remember the blog days when you blogged everyday and…
Claudia Hall Christian: Yes, blogged every day and I remember you’re talking about . . . I was like “Wow, she is writing fiction.” I had no idea when we first met that I would ever be writing fiction and so I was happy as a therapist.
Jennifer Leeland: Right.
Claudia Hall Christian: Crazy world.
Jennifer Leeland: I know.
Claudia Hall Christian: How do you think that being a woman flavors your experience in publishing and in writing and in marketing . . . How do you think it does?
Jennifer Leeland: I think as a woman . . . Well, I had some definite ideas, especially when I began to write erotic romance, which was not my first choice to write — I didn’t even know I could write it — and when I started to write and I just loved it. But when I began I had sort of an ulterior motive that there was not things out there that would — I really wanted that out there more. I wanted more to be available for people like me who really loved that stuff and loved that fantasy and I wanted to happy ever after. I mean, there was a lot of erotic romance, but a lot of it didn’t . . . there was a whole bunch of it out there that didn’t have a happy ending which I won’t read.
Claudia Hall Christian: Right. I don’t like that either.
Jennifer Leeland: If it doesn’t have a happy ending, I won’t read it.
Claudia Hall Christian: Right, I don’t care. Well, for me, I’m really interested in how the long story goes. So if ends when people meet, I’m like “Oh fuck it, I don’t care.”
Jennifer Leeland: I guess that’s kind of . . . My family kind of laughs at me because I won’t . . . If the movie doesn’t have a happy ending, if there is not happy ending . . . So I started writing a lot of erotic romance because that’s what I want. The romance ending with the more . . . What’s a good way to say it without being, you know, too bad? A lot more 50 Shades of Grey, back to the core of 50 Shades of Grey.
Claudia Hall Christian: Let’s come up with a term — there’s a lot more “carnal physicality.” How’s that?
Jennifer Leeland: There we go. That works. Yes.
Claudia Hall Christian: Now say it in your own voice . . .
Jennifer Leeland: And with the purpose, not just, I mean . . . There was the random sexual passages was not really what I was going for . . . So, I wanted sex with a purpose. Something that was edgy, but not getting away from the core of romance. So I had well thought out plan — didn’t always make to the page — which I don’t think . . . That’s a common writer issue (laughter). But . . . as a woman, I think that’s kind of . . .I had that sort of perspective. I don’t know that a man would have really considered that. Maybe, you never know.
Claudia Hall Christian: In my experience of you, you always have a plan and so I’m curious about making those plans, sticking to those plans, do the plans always work, what you could say about planning — because I do think that women tend to be planners?
Jennifer Leeland: Oh, I don’t know, I mean, I know some male writers that are just, I mean, they have the whole spreadsheet and I mean . . .
Claudia Hall Christian: Oh yeah . . .
Jennifer Leeland: And that’s not me — I’m not a spreadsheeter. In fact, lot of writers, I know when they have a series, they have their characters with the description so that they remember? I have to go back and reread my stuff. (laugher) I’m really bad that way. I can’t remember. “What was that person’s last name?” That’s my favorite one. The last name, I never can remember the last names. .
But it’s kind of funny because when you said, what I know of you that you’re a planner and I can hear Melissa Blue just howling with laughter. Because I do have plans, I always have plans. I have a plan of I’m going to go forward, I’m going to finish this . . . No, it doesn’t always work out that way. One of the reasons e-publishing works so well for me is because there is no deadlines.
Self-publishing has been really hard because I have a bad habit of comparing my insides to other peoples outsides. So, I’m looking out from me and seeing it, you have to release it’s a book a month; you have to release a book a month or they will forget, your readers will forget out you, and I started feeling that pressure. “Oh, my gosh, I’ve to write faster.” And I don’t. I do not. I mean, the absolute joy of self publishing and e-publishing is I do not have to do that. Right now I have a concurrence — that means I have . . . What is it? three books, three books that are running all at the same time.
Claudia Hall Christian: Oh nice, good for you.
Jennifer Leeland: About different characters. So like, the first book is these two characters, and then the second book is the same time period with two different characters, and they all have cameos. It’s this crazy . . .
I told Melissa — I said, if I ever suggest doing a concurrent series again throat punch me because I never want to do this again. (laugher) Yes, so the whole great thing about that is that I just write the book and when it’s done then I, in this case I give it to my editor at Lucid and then she tears it to shreds and I do what I need to do and then the book releases. So there is no pressure there to — “You have to have this done” and “You have to have this done” in this year. And 2016, I don’t have a release at all because life is life and I was busy. I wrote but it was . . . life was just very, very busy and crazy and so that is the great thing. Traditional publishing doesn’t offer that, at the moment, but luckily for me there self publishing and e-publishing that gives me that outlet without the deadlines, which don’t fit for me.
Claudia Hall Christian: It was nice to say you were able to make your own determination of what works for you and certainly in a variety of times in the world women didn’t, weren’t able to keep their own money, they didn’t, weren’t able to make their own decisions, a lot of their work was stolen That’s just how it was. And so it’s nice since there are options now.
Jennifer Leeland: We also, I mean, I think about things like Mary Shelley. And if you have ever read some of the criticism she received for Frankenstein . . . It’s incredible to me that the women that have gone before us, before me, who write fiction, who write romance, even. I mean, Jane Austen was severely, she was considered . . . “Why are we even publishing this?” in her day, sometimes, because she was considered romance. It was considered romance. And, you know, of course we all — those of us in romance — are like “Yes, Pride and Prejudice is the bastion of romance.”
And I think, I don’t know if that’s a gender thing or if it’s just some human beings can weather the criticisms . . . I know that I’m . . . I have a tough time with reviews and criticisms and I’m grateful that I have, I talk about Melisa Blue, she listen to me, I don’t know how often she has had to listen to me complain and wine about “They said that about my book . . .”
Claudia Hall Christian: She sounds like a good friend.
Jennifer Leeland: She is pretty amazing. So I call her whenever I have a problem (laughter). So, whenever somebody hurts my widdle feelings, and I think that . . . That’s how I survive it. I mean, I don’t know about other writers, but most of the writers I know they suffer from the egomaniac with an inferiority complex.
“I’m awesome! This is awesome. I want everyone to read this book.”
“(Gasp) they said something mean. They don’t like my book. Nobody is reading it.” That was my . . . “There’s crickets.”
I mean, so it’s kind of interesting to see that there’s . . . a lot of them, I know, that’s how we are. It’s very . . . I had to be confident enough to put my work out there and write and reveal a part of myself in my writing because I think that’s what really makes good writing and is part of me in that. And then people read and when they reject it or say something ugly about it not to think other things something great about me.
They’re not. They just didn’t like the book and that’s okay. That has to be okay. And . . . some people can really go with that and some people can’t. Some people hide from the world, some people pick the twitter.
Claudia Hall Christian: They do say that women authors really receive some of the worst criticisms, the most trolling, dead threats, rape threats. I think, that happens a lot more with reporters, but I’m pretty sure it can happen really with anyone. Do you feel like you have received that kind of extreme criticism?
Jennifer Leeland: Oh . . . Yes and no. And the funny thing is, the most extreme criticism that I think that I received was from a Goodreads review. And the interesting thing is that I think that review helped me more than anything else. It helped in two ways — it helped to recognize and feel what the difference between what she is saying about my book and what she is saying about me. She didn’t say in the review that my writing sucked. She didn’t say in the review that it was riddled with errors and I should quit writing, and I have seen reviews that say things like that. I think that’s going too far frankly. But I think a review is a review and if you get it from a reader. I mean, they read your book so it’s hard to take the “you should quit writing” comments because I received those, just not reviews.
The second thing that it taught me was that people who have a strong reaction have invested something in that book. And interestingly, that review, that person on Goodreads, went on to buy the rest of my books and read them and reviewed them. So, it could have been, had I reacted to that review in the manner that I wanted to, initially, because I was highly incensed and took it personally. And had I done that I could have created, I could have destroyed a relationship with a reader without even knowing that that person was going to be one of my readers. I didn’t know that.
And I think that being able to accept criticism is kind of a same thing if a writer is . . . I always have someone to read my book before I send it to an editor and make sure that it’s all good. And if I respond to criticism from that person negatively, often people won’t read for me. So I have been very, like I said, I have people that have gone before me and I have had the benefit of that experience. So I haven’t reacted in public to negative comments about my work and that has done very, very — and only by because I have had people go before me, who’ve said, you don’t say anything. Don’t respond, don’t do it, don’t do it. It’s other writers and their experience that has really that’s helps me and I think maybe that’s the difference between . . .
I don’t know a lot of male authors, I know a couple of romance, male romance authors and both of them are extremely supportive. And really they’re very open and with the male perspective, but I don’t a lot of like, I know some of the science fiction and speculative fiction, those guys are . . . It’s kind of an all boys group a little bit. So when I have been around that I have not seen a whole lot of helpfulness and camaraderie. But I’m not in that so that’s easy for me to say from the outside looking in.
Claudia Hall Christian: Do you want to talk about what happened at (the publisher) Samhain? Is there a way we can talk about it?
Jennifer Leeland: Of course. I was with (the publisher) Elora’s Cave. No one was more surprised, I think, than I was, when it actually did implode, mainly because it had survived so many times. It still had some of the best authors I knew. Kate Pearce. Joey Hill. People who really had, that really shone in writing. And it seemed crazy to me that (Elora’s Cave) would be gone.
And so then you compare what happened there with what happened at Samhain . . . Uh, it was completely different. Watching EC go down . . . It was sort of a train wreck and it was very, very sad and . . . There were authors there, I mean I bought books there because I loved their books. A lot of the books I bought from Ellora’s Cave were books that inspired me to write a lot of erotic romance. So, it was very sad to see them go and then Samhain to come not long after. But Chrissy Brashears was trying (sigh) very, I think, she was trying very hard to make the . . . to keep it going and then when it didn’t work she was as transparent as she could be about “This is what’s happening.” I felt like Chrissy was really trying to do the right thing.
There were some things that happened with Samhain that I mean . . . The whole getting your writes back and royalties . . . It was almost as if, some felt sort of like, “Well, you can get your rights back, if . . .you sign this that says that you’ll get this small amount on your royalties percentage.” But I think at that point they were done. They were . . . The site was going dark, and I think at that point I just . . . I didn’t really have that much invested. There were people that had a lot of books invested there. I only had one and it came out in 2009. So it wasn’t a new book and I didn’t lose a lot of money by just washing my hands and walking away.
But it’s not the first time I have had to do that I had three books at Whiskey Creek press and they sold to another company that was not interested in doing erotic romance so I had to pull out my books there. And then Liquid Silver had sort of changed things, a little bit. I still have books there, but it’s a completely different environment. So it’s been very . . .
There’s been a lot of change, a lot have changed. And I think that Samhain and Elora’s Cave are casualties of that change. I think about 10 years ago, when I was very first starting out, starting to publish, 10 years ago, and self-publishing was considered “That’s where all the bad writing was.” All the bad books came out in self publishing. I mean, there was a very definite, almost a strike against you, if it was self-published which that’s crazy to me. I knew at that time I knew people that were self publishing and they had really good books. Maria Govan . . . I think Lucinda Campbell did some self publishing early on and all of these people were pioneers and stepping forward in romance to do the self-publishing.
But in 2006 and 2007, it was still considered the last resort. And you had e-publishing, which was still struggling to get recognized as a legitimate arm of publishing. And then you had the traditional publishing and there was this constant push and pull between getting respect and . . . I went to the RWA convention in 2008 and I was an e-published author and even then, it was not well accepted as an e-published author.
Claudia Hall Christian: Oh yeah, 2008.
Jennifer Leeland: But I think about like 50 Shades of Grey started out and self published. I think that changed everything. I think . . . I watched people who were in New York Times . . . They were New York Times bestsellers, they were people who were published with New York, Kristen Painter, and they started to combine . . . That’s when we started seeing the combination of traditional publishing and e-publishing and self publishing. Crystal Jordan, who she is traditionally published and she still wanted to be published in e-publishing and so she has maintained . . .and then she self published. So she had all three going, for a while, and I think that people can do both. I think it’s very possible.
And I remember a time when traditional publishing wouldn’t acknowledge someone who sold well in e-publishing, really well. And that, authors that had Ellora’s Cave fight to get recognition for selling a 1,000 or 2,000 or 5,000 copies of a book and it just became . . . In 2008 you see this, it’s still very traditional publishing, e-publishing on the fringes and self publishing not acknowledged at all — and now we’re in 2017 and holy moly e-publishing is really, it’s big. Self publishing is it’s this huge industry that seems to . . . I mean, a lot of authors who had been traditionally published are now in self publishing and the 50 Shades of Grey and suddenly we have movies. It’s such a different landscape today than it was and sometimes I look at it and just go, I have no idea what I’m going to do. (laughter) I kind of just come to a place where I’m like “I’m just going to write. I want to write my books. I’m going to keep writing my books.” And that’s what I have had to do.
I had two series with Elora’s Cave that I was not done with those books yet. And so, when I get them back, I put them back out self published because I still have those stories to write.
So I’m grateful today that the option is there, I mean, it didn’t used to be there, it used to be if your publisher dropped you, you changed your name. Started over.
Claudia Hall Christian: That’s exactly true.
Jennifer Leeland: You don’t have to do that now.
Claudia Hall Christian: So you wanted to talk about that you are a real person, you have a real life and you write erotic fiction?
Jennifer Leeland: Yes. And it’s funny because I realized that you know me as my real self and not my pen name. And I was like “Oh, wow, okay.” And because when I started, I started out in — I wanted to write romantic suspense. I had never been exposed to erotic romance before. So I wrote to — I was doing the Nora Roberts suspense, Elizabeth Lowell . . . Those were my . . . Those were the people I looked up to the time and then I was introduced to erotic romance and not just as – with writing it. The problem is that I’m really, really, really bad at keeping (the) two (identities) separate. I actually have to remember who I’m logged in as and I think…
Claudia Hall Christian: I’ve seen you do that . . .
Jennifer Leeland: So I kind of just have to remember, okay . . . And then I have two kids — they’re teenagers now, so I think they’re okay with . . . If it comes out, I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal. But I do get sometimes you know that weird people have read my books and then they look at you like “Wow, did you do that?” No, I just write it and I’m thinking does anybody ever ask Stephen King if he kills people with axes because “Here’s Johnny!” No, they don’t.
I think that is one thing about erotic romance that . . . I did have someone recently, couple of years ago, ask me if I was writing about Joe, my husband. And I was like “No.” First of all, he is not in his 30s anymore. Second of all, you get really bored if I wrote my husband over and over and over and over. So I have . . . It’s funny because I didn’t have a book out that had a lot of him in it, in a character. But, I had his permission and he helped me write . . . He sort of gave me ideas and I bounced things off of him for that books. So he wasn’t unaware, he was based on that. But no, I don’t . . .
So lot of the things I have in erotic romance — they are fiction and there is, I used to really, really keep my pen name because it was a dead secret. I didn’t tell people. I didn’t let them know who I was and I really worked hard to keep that separate. Now it’s more, I guess it’s more . . . I really would prefer to not have to hide it. So a lot of times people know what my pen name, they know I write erotic romance.
So I do this every year, my son plays football and every year I think man, I should just buy an ad in the program. And then I remember: “I don’t know that high school football is a good place to have erotic romance.” But every year I think of about it. Every year I’m like I should do that then everybody would . . . and then I’m like: “No.”
Claudia Hall Christian: You have been listening to Women and Fiction and that was erotic romance author Jennifer Leeland, her books are available anywhere you buy books. I’m your host Claudia Hall Christian. Special thanks to Jennifer Leeland for being our first guest, to the team at Cook Street Publishing, and to the silent partner who talks a lot. We will back next month.