Linda Abbott’s love for Sanibel Island shines through her debut novel, Ten Days in Paradise. Though she worked for many years as a professional writer—first as an award-winning journalist and then in public relations—Linda is a late bloomer to fiction. She found the muse while vacationing on Sanibel, where she wrote the opening chapters of her novel. Linda’s writing career took another turn when she founded Never Forget Legacies & Tributes to write life story books for individuals and families. She feels blessed to have two new careers and can’t wait to get started on her next novel. A Chicago native, she lives in Middleton, Wisconsin with her husband.
Time to chat with Linda!
Tell me about your book.
Ten Days In Paradise is a compelling and heartfelt family drama set on beautiful Sanibel Island.
The book opens with the Blakemore family arriving on Sanibel to celebrate their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The mom, Judy, is worried about her husband’s strange behavior and inexplicable memory lapses. Her daughters Julia and Maggie haven’t spoken for months. Her son David, married with three young children, is ambushed by a powerful attraction to another woman.
And that’s just the beginning …
You call yourself a late bloomer to fiction, can you explain?
I never even thought about writing a novel until well after my fortieth birthday. I grew up wanting to be Lois Lane (for those of you who remember Superman), not an author.
Looking back, about fifteen years ago someone asked me a fairly innocuous question that literally changed the direction of my life: “Have you read any good books lately?” At the time, all I read were newspapers and magazines like Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair. Somehow I’d fallen out of the habit of reading fiction even though I’d spent my childhood devouring Nancy Drew. So I went to the library and checked out a great mystery by Elizabeth George.
I fell in love with books again. And at some point I started thinking about the process of writing the terrific books I was reading and was in awe. Though I had spent my career working as a writer – first in journalism and then in public relations – I was convinced that I could never write fiction. The idea of creating characters, dialogue and describing the sunset with colors that no one has ever heard was just too daunting. Plus my last creative writing class was more than thirty years ago, case closed.
But the challenge intrigued me. I bought a “how-to” book, it ended up in the closet for about a year because my job was very demanding. But the book did get tossed into my suitcase one year when I took a vacation to Sanibel Island.
I love the island, and it wasn’t until Day Four when I dragged myself in from the beach. I opened the book and did a simple writing exercise to create a scene. Much to my amazement, three hours later I had written fiction! I had characters, dialogue and a beautiful island setting. Little did I know that I had written what was to become the first chapter of my novel … and that I would spend the next ten years finishing it.
What are some of the lessons from your writing and publishing journey?
So many … here are a few of the most important ones.
Follow the dream in your heart even when you don’t know where it is taking you. If I had invested the time I put into writing and publishing my debut novel, I could have 1. started a small business; 2. finished a doctorate; 3. raised another child. But for some unknown reason, once I started my novel, I just kept going, as if some unseen hand were moving me forward. Unlike many authors, I never thought I had this amazing story to share with the world, I just wanted to finish what I’d started. There were periods of time I didn’t work on it for months, but then I got back to it again and again and again.
Challenges keep us vibrant and alive. I learned about writing, how to pitch agents, how a cover can make or break a book. I took classes in Adobe InDesign and Photoshop (which to me seems as complicated as flying a small airplane). I learned when things in my life weren’t going well I could get lost in my writing, plotting chapter after chapter, editing and revising, trying to get it right. I learned about the thrill of doing research and finding some detail that enlivened a character or scene or gave my words greater authority and credibility. I learned that your first bad review can be brutal and when you find a champion for your book – someone who encourages you well beyond what you’d ever expect – you thank the good Lord for sending them.
Fear is a dream killer. A year ago I was still on the fence about publishing because of fear – fear of failure, fear that that my novel wasn’t good enough, fear of rejection. I had the market cornered on fear : ) But I’m not alone. On my computer is a post-it with this quote: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” It is my mantra. When I do signings and presentations, my goal is to inspire people, we are all so much more capable than we imagine.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
Giving voice to the characters was the most enjoyable. I wrote Ten Days In Paradise using multiple viewpoints, which I’m sure I learned through osmosis reading Elizabeth George, my favorite author. She writes mysteries that read like literature, and has a gift for creating the most compelling and intriguing characters.
What was really surprising is that this seemed like the most natural thing in the world. So I became Liz, a feisty 76-year-old widow; David, who can’t stop thinking about Ellen;
Ellen, who falls for David just as hard; and Maggie, a hard-partying gay prodigal daughter.
The hardest part was plotting and deciding what was going to happen next. There was a pivotal moment in the book about David and Ellen’s relationship that took me months to decide which way it would go.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
While writing I had only a vague idea of my ending … so I’d have to say no. I didn’t even use an outline and that will never happen again! And although I think it’s important to have a general idea of where you’re heading, it’s also good to leave the door open because the writing process can take you places you never intended.
Early on, I gave my book the working title Ten Days In Paradise. Wasn’t convinced it was the one. One agent loved it, and over time it grew on me. Today I think it is the perfect title.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Perseverance is the key. You have to write on good days and bad days and stay focused on the finish line no matter how long it takes! I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have a novel in the drawer they’ve been working on for years.
Really important: Build your social media platform long before publishing and if you’re an indie author, hire a professional editor. No matter what you think you cannot edit your own book. Make sure your book and cover is exceptional. Join a local writer’s group and get feedback from potential readers before publishing.
I saw a great quote on Twitter the other day. Professional writers are amateurs who didn’t quit.
If you are considering going the indie route, understand two things: There’s never been a better time to be an indie author and it takes a tremendous amount of work.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
Not a huge amount but I did online research on Indigo children and was delighted to find this New Age concept because it fit perfectly with my character Marianne and how she views her four-year-old daughter Emma. I also researched Alzheimer’s to make sure I was on the right track with the symptoms George was experiencing. On the topic of Sanibel Island, I have been doing that “research” for more than ten years of vacations. I also did research on the names of shells, shorebirds and shrubbery found on the island.
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
I am blessed with two writing careers I love. My ‘day job’ is helping families capture and preserve their memories and family stories in heirloom-quality legacy books. I started Never Forget Legacies & Tributes two years ago after running my own PR firm for fifteen years. I love this work, it is my passion. I used to write news releases that ‘lived’ for a day or two, the books I do for families will hopefully be read thirty to fifty years from now.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
Most effective: I started my Twitter account four months after I published, and have found it a fantastic platform for book promotion. I have a link that I exclusively use on Twitter, it has gotten more than 2,000 hits in six months and sales increased especially over summer.
I’ve used several paid book promotion sites such as kboards, EReaderNews, Digital Book Today, the New Kindle Book Review, Ignite Your Book and others. They’ve all been effective to varying degrees, with the winner being EReader News for the demographic of my novel, which is women ages 35 and older.
Least effective: A few of the paid promotion sites have been a little disappointing, you really need to find the best fit for your book and be careful where you spend your money. I’ve spend a lot of time vetting these sites and this is an ongoing process.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
I did in the beginning. I ran Kindle Giveaways in my first two 90-day periods with KDP Select. I didn’t realize until later that it was a Giveaway or Kindle Countdown Deal, not both! I think I gave away about 2,500 books and it did really help to build sales.
With the exception of Goodreads, which is really a different approach, I’m not doing anymore giveaways. For one thing, I want to be paid. I can understand giving a book away if you have others for a reader to buy, but I don’t. For another, I’m in the camp of authors who think giveaways can result in not connecting with your target reader (and potentially bad reviews). Right now, I’m still in KDP Select and I’d rather opt for the Kindle Countdown Deal which allows me to retain a 70% royalty for my book when it is priced at or below $2.99.
Have you found the Kindle Direct Program to be worthwhile?
I think KDP Select is a terrific program. I initially went in thinking I’d opt out after the first or second period, I’m in my third renewal with no plan to opt out yet. The Kindle Unlimited program accounts for roughly 30% of my royalties, and the expansion of the fund from $3 million to $11 million resulted in a substantial increase in my royalties for July and August.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
A cover can be a game-changer, it’s so important.
I designed my own cover. But as I mentioned I did take classes in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign so I could create a professional-looking cover. I spent two weekends looking at hundreds of images to find the perfect photo. But the time was well spent. The booksellers on Sanibel Island tell me my cover sells my book. (Which after spending so many years writing is quite the irony.)
My first cover, prior to publishing on Amazon, screamed “self-published” but I didn’t realize it right away. Thank goodness I came to my senses.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
I think authors need to educate readers on the importance of reviews. I explain this whenever I get the opportunity. (Before I wrote my novel, I never even thought about writing a review for a book.)
We also need to let people know it’s easy, it doesn’t have to be long and we’re not looking for the kind of review you’d read in a magazine. Getting reviews is really hard, I spent the entire month of February pitching dozens of bloggers and Amazon reviewers. I am really proud of the fact I have 90 reviews but never in a million years did I think it would require so much effort.
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 still read them with one hand over my eyes, does that answer your question : )
Getting a bad review is tough, but when it happens you can’t just focus on that one and forget about all of the good ones. I recently read a terrific blog post by an author who wrote about his favorite bad reviews. One was “Too many words.” I couldn’t stop laughing, and yes, if you’re an author it helps to have a sense of humor.
And when that less-than-stellar reviews rolls in, remember, no two people read the same book.
On the other hand, a few weeks ago I received one of, if not the best, review I’ve ever gotten from Julia Grantham, author of Smitten. Everything I tried to convey in my novel was understood and appreciated. I’m still on Cloud 9. Being an author means you’re getting on a roller coaster, know it and try to enjoy the ride!
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live in Middleton, Wisconsin with my husband Paul. I love where we live, but my dream is to find a way to spend the winters on Sanibel Island, which is located off the Gulf Coast of Florida.
I fell in love with Sanibel about fifteen years ago, it is such a special place for me. Walking on the beach, listening to the surf, watching shorebirds dance at the water’s edge, never fails to renew my spirits and belief in all that is possible, and this novel is proof of that.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
Not planes I am a terrible flyer and a world-class claustrophobic. I am the woman in the airport swallowing pills 45 minutes before departure time.
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
People who are warm, kind, caring and loyal.
Care to brag about your family?
I am blessed with a husband I love, we’ve been married for 34 years this month. (Oh that makes me feel so old!) Our son Charlie is a talented singer/songwriter and musician in Nashville. We’re a ten-hour drive away so we miss him, but want more than anything to see him achieve his dream to perform on a big stage some day.
What kind of movies do you like to watch?
I am a huge fan of classic cinema and film noir. I adore Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and so many others. My favorite movies not in order from that era are All About Eve, Double Indemnity, Laura, The Philadelphia Story and Casablanca. And any movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!
I hate to sound like my grandmother but they just don’t make movies like that anymore. The acting, dialogue, stories – the extraordinary talent of these actors and actresses who could often sing, dance and act – is a joy to behold. Love the history you can glean from a movie made in 1932. And the most amazing thing is how brazen some of those characters and story lines were. Conniving tarts, unfaithful husbands, boozing, brawling young people – what has changed?
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Love one another. Be grateful. Support the causes you care about.
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