Jenna Nelson grew up in Shoreview, MN, where hanging at the local supermarket was considered a big night out. After graduating from UW-Madison, she drove her 1979 Buick Electra, the largest car known to man, to California to flee the snow and find refuge in the land of film, her favorite pastime.
Soon Jenna noticed that the TV needed turning up, spoken words seemed muted, and everyone sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Diagnosed with a significant hearing loss, Jenna turned from movies to books, where every word was savored and none was missed.
A Midwest girl at heart, Jenna lives with her husband and their saved-from-the-pound-pup Clancy. By day she works as the VP of Marketing for a financial firm, by night she weaves tales of nefarious and fantastical worlds.
Time to chat with Jenna!
Is your recent book part of a series?
My Fantasy novel The Snow Globe is Book 1 of a Duology – The Winterhaven Chronicles. Here’s a tiny blurb:
By day, Sondrine Renfrew works at Cimmerian’s Curio Emporium, her aunt’s apothecary and antique shop in London, 1875. By night, she weaves fire, water, and air into both inanimate objects and living creatures. When a hooded stranger offers Sondrine a snow globe in trade for medicinal herbs, she accepts, enchanted by the castle, forest, and sea encapsulated under the glass.
Her enchantment fades, however, when her deceitful aunt betroths her to one of London’s wealthiest men—a complete stranger. Determined to escape the marriage, Sondrine trades her corset for trousers and decides to run away. With one foot out the door, she falls down a veritable rabbit hole into Winterhaven, the haunting world inside the snow globe.
To say chaos ensues from that point forward would be a gross understatement.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
Originally, I didn’t want to spend too much time in Victorian London, so there wasn’t a whole lot of research needed. But after a massive rewrite, I changed quite a lot. There were so many details – the dress, the mannerisms, the verbiage. The tiniest things needed to be pondered – like the word “twit” could not be used, because it came about later than 1875. So disappointing! I spent so much time with etymologyonline.com we are now considered a couple. Countless hours were spent reading articles and watching movies to better understand the time period.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
When people tell me they did three full edits and finished, I’m always blown away. I’m a serial editor. *cue the shrieking violins* I am constantly looking for new ways to write a sentence, to get rid of the riff-raff, and to generally add more fodder for the senses.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
Having a great cover is key. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t afford a good cover. You don’t need a lot of money to self-publish, but you do need some, and the cover is one place the money should be spent. What’s the point of writing a great story if no one can find you? Platform is also helpful. It used to be that only NF writers needed a platform, because Big 5 publishers would get your books into the right hands. This is no longer true. Also, I hear a lot of complaints about having to market oneself – even in the traditional arena. Unless you write a blockbuster that gets picked up for big money, I think you need to go into this business knowing that part of the equation is marketing. I liken it to athletes. You need to play the sport well, yes. But you also need to choose healthy food and eat a balanced diet. You need to go to the gym. You don’t simply show up on the field, hit/kick the ball, and find success. There’s a process in getting there. There are multiple aspects to being a writer and in this day and age marketing is one of those things. Writing no longer exists inside of a vacuum. If you rely solely on your publisher, or solely on people somehow finding your book, your chances for success are much slimmer, I think. To put it in more blatant and perhaps depressing terms, nearly 1MM books are now released per year between Indie authors and trade publishing. You need to find a way to stand out.
What else have you written?
I’ve written two screenplays and three books. As far as my novels go: a MG Sci-Fi with a girl protagonist called Violet Strange, a YAUF called Virgin, and a YAUF with some contemporary issues called Tainted. I really love them all in very different ways. Virgin was my second book and my true love. It landed me my first agent along with a big producer who wanted to turn the trilogy into a TV series. Needless to say, it all fizzled. Easy come easy go. Virgin is a great tale, and I’d like to get it out into the world soon.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Many. But oh are they fun to write, because unlike in real life where horrible people may continue to live and even prosper, I know my characters will get their just desserts. The king in this book is about as despicable as they come.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
How much time do you have? 🙂 To be completely candid, my road to publication has been forked, plagued with twists, and downright depressing at times. Over the past decade I’ve had three literary agents, none of whom could sell my work. I was also under contract with a small press that turned out to be highly disorganized. Luckily, before my book came out, I asked to break the contract and they complied.
Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends with great agents and fantastic publishing tales.
When I amicably parted ways from my last agent, it occurred to me that it might behoove me to go it alone. Regardless of what happens with The Snow Globe, I’m glad I did it on my own terms. I like being in control in any given situation, and often, the traditional path means giving up that control, and not in a positive way. I’m all for having someone tell me to make scenes better, richer. I’m against being ignored and told to do things because it’s the only way to garner a sale. Writers are often treated unfairly in trade publishing—like children. We are not. Many of us are adults with important jobs, whether as a SAHM or as a VP of a major financial firm. And yet, we are the lowest rung on the ladder; we’re fungible. I know writers who have never been paid for their work, even though the promise was there. I know writers who were given contracts so egregious it would have ruined their careers to sign. Trade publishing is looking out for itself. I get it. But the beauty of going Indie is that it’s me looking out for me. And I trust myself wholly in every regard. 😉
I know that you’ve suffered a significant hearing loss that has impacted your life in many ways. On a positive note, you say that this loss drew you closer to books and writing. Can you elaborate on your experience and how it has changed or restructured your world?
Losing one of your senses is pretty terrifying. For most of my life I’d had perfect hearing. But in my early 30s, I noticed I was having a real problem – not so much with sound, but with speech discrimination – understanding what people were saying. It’s as if the whole world was speaking underwater. And for the record, yelling doesn’t help—it’s just louder water! It’s genetic – both my mother and sister have chronic hearing problems. Going to the movies was one of my favorite pastimes, but that grew increasingly frustrating so I turned to books; I’d always been an avid reader anyway. I started coming up with my own stories and found a natural fit with writing because all that was needed were my eyes and my imagination.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
For someone like me, social media is amazing. I don’t need to rely on my hearing to communicate, and that’s a beautiful thing. Before my hearing went kaput, I used to be pretty social in real life, so Twitter is really the perfect place for me. I love chatting and connecting with other writers. The downside is that you do get some very aggressive people demanding that you RT them or buy their book. You would never walk up to a stranger on the street and do that, so why is doing it online okay? It’s not.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
I think as a writer you really need to take a step back and understand that you cannot possibly write something that everyone will love. That’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors, right? My goal is to not read the negative reviews. I wrote the best book I knew how to write. If it doesn’t resonate with a reader, that’s totally fair. That’s the beauty of the world—diversity!
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
I get asked this a lot. The answer is: what are your goals? Way back when, getting traditionally published meant getting into brick and mortars. Now, it guarantees nothing. I have a few traditionally published friends whose books never saw a B&N bookshelf. Sad, but true. Regardless, if your goals are to have one of the Big 5 names stamped on your book, then that’s the route you need to take. If your goal is simply to get your work out there and find readers, Indie might be the way. For me, I wanted nothing more than the elusive “stamp of approval” from the Big 5. But editors were never interested. Ten years ago it was a big fat no-no to self-publish. Now, it’s very much accepted.
Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?
Indie is going to take over, I believe. Right now, publishers are not putting marketing muscle into the mid-list, so those books are dying on the vine. Moreover, it takes years to get published. I think the Big 5 will continue to support big authors, celebrities, and the like. But the midlist is fading quickly. Those authors need alternatives and Indie publishing is one of them. We have Indie movies, Indie music. Why are Indie authors judged so harshly? Sure, there are stinkers out there, but isn’t that the case with all mediums?
What might we be surprised to know about you?
Around fifteen years ago, a friend said that I needed to listen to this amazing children’s book on CD. My first remark was that I wasn’t much into children’s books. When he told me it was about a boy wizard, I was even more disinterested. Of course, I succumbed. I fell in love with Harry Potter and it remains one of my favorite series to this day. To think I write about such things now – magic, wizards, faraway lands—it’s kind of mind-boggling.
If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?
I’ve been working with a friend to find better alternatives for hearing aids. Hearing aids cost 5k-7k and only last 3-5 years. Moreover, insurance doesn’t cover them. It’s criminal. So we’re looking for a way to create a device that’s cheaper and works better. As a population, the hard-of-hearing are grossly overlooked, but hard-of-hearing no longer pertains to old people. It’s becoming epidemic, especially in people under the age of 25. Something needs to be done – we have the idea, and I think it could work. But funding is essential. Of course, that’s from a completely selfish standpoint. From an unselfish one, animal rights are one place my money would go. Underprivileged children is the other. Education and books for all. Always.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
Rain. I miss those Midwest thunderstorms. It cleans the air, soothes my soul, and helps me to write about all the wonderful things.
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