It was great to talk to Erin Downing, author of None Of The Regular Rules, about her book, writing, and publishing NOTRR as an e-book exclusive. Even better, she's been kind enough to give me an Amazon gift copy of None of the Regular Rules to use as a prize in a giveaway! If you'd like to enter the draw, just leave a comment on this post. Closing date Friday 28th December.
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
It depends on the day
I always write my first drafts with a teen girl in mind—usually, a teenage version of myself. I longed for more books like the ones I write now when I was in high school…but YA wasn’t quite the same thing back then. There were some great novels, sure, but for the most part I stuck to classics or adult novels or (if I’m being honest) the stuff I was assigned to read for school.
When I’ve finished a draft, I picture my critique partners…and worry. There are a couple people who read drafts of all of my novels. First, I send each book to my mom. She reads everything and tells me she loves it and that gives me the confidence to send it to the people who won’t be quite as gentle. I also send my books to Jennifer Echols, who reads everything with her eye on the romance. Jenn’s great at telling me to make my boys hotter, or fix a kiss, or when to stretch out a moment. I also send all of my books to Robin Wasserman, whose main job is to help me with plot. She’s an expert plotter, and she tells me where the book drags (and often has great ideas for how to fix it!).
Once the book is out in the world, I picture different people every day. Adults, teens, my grandma. I know people of all ages—women and men—enjoy my books, so it’s fun to think about who might be reading it at any given point in time.
2. Out of Sophie, Ella and Grace, who is most like the teenage you?
Honestly, there’s a little bit of me in all of my girl characters. Certainly Sophie is most familiar to me, but there are bits of Ella and Grace in there, too. I tend to be fairly cautious, like Sophie, and understand her restlessness. I think Ella’s voice and way of saying things (bluntly) is a lot like me. There are bits of Grace that remind me of my high school self, but hers is probably the furthest from my personality. My favorite part of writing novels is creating characters, and I know a little piece of me slips into almost everyone I write.
3. Given that you're an established author who's written several books already, some people may have been surprised when you decided to publish None of the Regular Rules as an e-book only. Was it a difficult decision to make, and why did you choose to do it this way?
No one was more surprised than me. It’s been an interesting couple of years for me in publishing, and there were a number of factors that led me to publish this novel as an e-book. I really respect the traditional publishing process—in fact, I was an editor at Scholastic for several years. Also, I publish all of my middle grade and tween novels with traditional publishers (The Quirks with Bloomsbury and my tween stuff with S&S/Aladdin). But I had a bad YA experience a few years ago that really changed the way I thought about this business. It’s sort of a long story—one that I haven’t ever shared with anyone. Here goes:
I’d been publishing books with Simon Pulse for about five years, and I was very lucky to get to work with two brilliant and supportive editors there. But then, a couple years ago, I ended up leaving Simon Pulse to sell a YA novel to a different publisher (not naming names…). They offered me quite a lot of money for a two-book deal; enough that I was able to quit my day job and write while my twins were in preschool. It was really hard for me to leave my dedicated team at Simon & Schuster, but the money was enough to make up my mind. So I went. Shortly after I signed the contract, my new editor—the one who had been passionate about the project and acquired it—left my new publisher. Over the course of the next year, my novel got shuffled from one editor to another—and edited and rewritten again and again and again. Eventually, it wasn’t even a book I liked anymore. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. My agent called me about a year and a half ago to tell me that my fancy new publisher had decided to cancel the project. I was devastated and hurt... but also relieved. I hated the book and I was supposed to write a sequel! Blech. I had no interest in writing a sequel to a book I didn’t believe in and that my publisher didn’t like! But still, I was really sad and embarrassed and worried that I’d never want to write YA again. The years I spent on that project really did suck a lot of passion out of me, and I started to hate YA.
I took about nine months off YA (to write the first book in a middle grade series), and then I decided to try to write another YA novel just for me. I needed to write a book that I felt good about, and that wasn’t under contract anywhere. That book was None of the Regular Rules. I love this book, and I’m really proud of how it turned out. After I worked on it for about a year, my agent and I sent it out to a few publishers, and the response was the same from everyone: I really like this novel (love Johnny, love Sophie, love the list), but it’s a tough market and I’m not sure I love it enough to take a chance. Both my agent and I really believed in the book, and so we decided to look into publishing it as an e-book exclusive. Most of my YA book sales in the past few years have been e-books, and I’m absolutely fascinated by this market and the way bookselling is changing. So I decided to give it a shot with a book I truly believe in and love more than any other I’ve ever written. So far, it’s going great! I hit the Top 100 list for Teen Romance last week for the first time, and that was a really exciting day.
Sounds like a trying time - but I'm glad it had the end result that it did!
4. I absolutely love the gorgeous picture on your website's home page! Where did you get the idea for it, and who created it?
Thank you!! I love it, too. My website was designed by a really amazing guy named Manning Krull. He actually drew the custom illustration on the homepage just for me! I’m very inspired by Paris, and it just so happened that Manning lived in Paris when he was working on my website— he and I came up with the idea of a Parisian café scene to inspire the website design. I was absolutely blown away when he sent me the sketch!
5. If you'd written a list like Suzy's in the book when you were a teen, what would have been on it?
I wrote Suzy’s list, remember? It’s probably fairly similar to something I might have written myself...
6. Johnny Rush was fantastic! What are your top tips for writing hot love interests?
Oh, thanks! The most important thing for me is that my guys are realistic. I like flawed dudes. I don’t really like big, sweeping, hulky hero sorts of guys. I’m not a huge fan of paranormal romance novels where the guy and girl are somehow bound together by some sort of powerful and crazy force that is based on some sort of otherworldly connection that just hits them—bang! I prefer romance that kind of creeps up on you, the way it often does in real life.
I like everyday heroes, the guys who complement my main characters perfectly. I also like confident main characters—no one wants to be with a drip of a guy, so it’s important that he has a little edge to him and says what he’s thinking (secrets are fun, but shyness is a no-no for me). It’s also really important to me that my leading man sees my leading lady differently than everyone else…he needs to see her potential and help her find the best version of herself. That’s sort of a romance rule, right?
7. On the subject of Johnny, I also thought the chemistry between him and Sophie was superb. What's your favourite example of chemistry between two fictional characters?
Hands down, Meg and John in Jennifer Echols’ Going Too Far. I also really like Anna and St. Clair in Anna and the French Kiss. And I do really like the way my stomach flip-flops in Simone Elkeles’ novels…
I've just got Going Too Far out of the library but haven't read it yet - very excited to now you've said that! Anna and the French Kiss sounds fabulous and I can't believe I haven't read that one as so many people keep recommending it.
8. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to None of the Regular Rules?
I don’t really listen to music when I write. But! The title of None of the Regular Rules was inspired by a Trip Shakespeare song (None of the Regular Rules Were True)—so I did listen to a bit of Trip Shakespeare while I wrote this book. And I sometimes listen to my Edith Piaf Pandora station.
9. What are you reading at the moment?|
I’m trying to read some of the successful e-books that are out right now. I just finished Wife for Hire, and I’m about to start Nyrae Dawn’s Charade. I bought The Secret of Ella and Micha. But I also just got a memoir called End of Your Life Book Club. I’ve been eager to sit down and my friend Kelly Barnhill’s new middle grade novel, Iron Hearted Violet. I’m usually reading about six books at once—anything from chapter books to adult romance. I always like suggestions!
Ooh... a few there I haven't heard of! I'll keep an eye out for them.
10. What's next for Erin Downing?
I have a new series for younger readers that is launching in hardcover in May 2013 (THE QUIRKS, written as Erin Soderberg)—I just finished writing the second book in the series, and I’ll begin the third after Christmas. I also have a tween novel coming out next December (Best Friends Forever…or Until Someone Better Comes Along). I am nearly finished with an adult romance novel that I’ve been working on for a couple of years—I just might publish that as an e-book exclusive sometime this spring! We shall see…