I’ve met a lot of great writers over the past few years, warm, wonderful people who are willing to encourage others. They have so much to offer, both in terms of technique and inspiration. I’ve interviewed quite a few and will be posting their responses here on Mondays as part of a blog series on how to be a successful writer. To launch this series, I’m featuring Jennifer McMurrain. Jennifer is an indie author with several excellent books, including Quail Crossings. She has valuable insights into what it takes to make it in the self-publishing world.
What makes your books and writing unique?
I feel my historical fiction books are unique because they hold a part of history. Part of my research is interviewing people who lived in that era and part of my job is weaving their stories into mine. I don’t just write one person’s story, but many in a single book. It also doesn’t hurt to have those men and women come up to me and give me a hug because I’ve included a little of their life in a book that will hopefully live forever.
How did you find your writing niche?
Sometimes your writing niche finds you. My parents live in a rural part of the Texas panhandle and own quite a few acres in the Oklahoma panhandle. My mom had to go out of town for a week and asked if I would come home to keep up the book work for their business and tend to the dogs at the farm in OK. My parents have roughly ten (I lose track) shelter dogs at their farm. When they say they’re taking a dog to the farm, they mean the literal farm. Every afternoon, I’d go to the farm and walk with the dogs to the orchard and back. The wind was brutal, as it usually is in the panhandles, but as I was getting pelted by dirt I couldn’t help but wonder, “If it’s bad now, what was it like during the Depression?”. All of a sudden a story started to form about a family growing up in The Great Depression and taking in some kids. I couldn’t stop it. I went back to my parent’s house and started planning it. It was odd to me because I always thought I’d be a romance writer, since I’m a hopeless romantic. I do write romance, as well as historical fiction, but historical fiction has definitely become my niche.
How do you balance writing, speaking, online platform, other work, church or community service, and family? How do you organize your time?
In one word … Mike. My husband, Mike, is the absolute best. When I need to be gone, he has no trouble taking care of the kidlet. That being said, it takes some mad organizational skills to make sure our calendars don’t conflict. It also takes making sure he knows how much I appreciate him and visa versa. When our schedules collide I rely on good friends and my family. That being said, I work from home and the kidlet is now in school, which allows me some flexibility, but I have to make sure I set work hours and then actually work during those hours. For example, today some kids at the kidlet’s school wanted to get together at the park. I really wanted to say yes, as it was a beautiful day, but I’m on a hard deadline and had to say no. Thankfully, my friends understand work is work, regardless of where you do it, and were encouraging. I’ll make it up to the kidlet, that’s the perk of making your own hours. We’ll have an adventure all our own.
Why do you think readers buy your books?
When I sit down to write, I just want to tell people a good story. I feel I did that with Quail Crossings. People not only fell in love with the story, but with the family, so now they keep reading, and hopefully I keep telling them good stories.
What helps your business succeed despite competition?
I don’t worry about the competition. Very seldom do I find a reader that will only read one author. Most read a variety of authors so I don’t look at other authors as competition. There are enough readers to go around. If I do my job well enough, finding readers won’t be a problem. Word of mouth will sell my books for me.
How do you find new readers?
Word of mouth is the best way to find new readers. I also utilize ads like BookBub and Fussy Librarian. I do book signings and always pick up new readers at those. I have the gift of gab and most people find me easy to talk to. Once we get to chatting and I’m able to tell them about my books, they’ll pick one or more up. I’m a low pressure sales person and have been known to talk to strangers for hours about random things. People want to tell their stories, if you listen, they will read.
What have been some keys to your success? What have been your biggest barriers?
Two things changed my career … Quail Crossings hit number one on the Amazon Best Seller List back in May of 2013 and two years ago I was able to get a BookBub ad that rejuvenated the series. In today’s publication world, series are key. I do okay with my stand alone books, but the Quail Crossings series is what pays the bills. People love Quail Crossings, which I sell at a discount now, and then they go on to buy the other books in the series at full price. Hitting number one on Amazon and my BookBub ad gave me hundreds of reviews (thankfully the majority being 5 stars). I also keep it all in perspective. I may never sell another book, but I will never quit writing. I love every part of it. It’s hard not to be successful if you’re doing a job for the sheer love of it. Now, I’m not saying I don’t have to market, because I do. I’m constantly reading on ways to market better. So I would be remiss if I didn’t attribute some of my success to my network of writing friends. We all encourage each other and don’t hesitate to share what’s been working for us. It’s a great network to have and I try very hard to pay it forward.
My biggest barrier is myself. I’m a procrastinator for starters, then I find myself in a blind panic when I have a ton of work to get done in a small amount of time. I also have a hard time with negative reviews. I can have hundreds of great reviews, but one bad review will play on repeat in my head. That negative voice can be paralyzing at time and it’s not easy to block it out. During those times, I just channel Dory from Finding Nemo and keep swimming aka writing.
Having a great deal of wanderlust, Jennifer McMurrain traveled the countryside working odd jobs before giving into her muse and becoming a full-time writer. She’s been everything from a “Potty Princess” in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park to a Bear Researcher in the mountains of New Mexico. After finally settling down, she received a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Arts and Science from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX. She has won numerous awards for her short stories and novels. She lives in Bartlesville, Oklahoma with her husband, daughter, two spoiled cats, and two goofy dogs. Find out more about Jennifer and her books at www.jennifermcmurrain.com.