An Interview with Jennifer Apodaca

Jennifer Apodaca
, who also writes as Jennifer Lyon, lives in 
Southern California where she continually plots ways to convince her husband that they should get a dog. After all, they met at the dog pound, fell in love, married, and had three wonderful sons. So far, however, she has failed in her doggy endeavor. She consoles herself by pouring her passion into writing books.To date, Jen has published more than twenty books and novellas, won numerous awards and had her books translated into multiple languages, but she still hasn’t come up with a way to persuade her husband that they need a dog. 

Interview by BWG member Diane Sismour

Writing conferences are my personal backdrop for networking with peers. They also give me the opportunity to introduce Bethlehem Writers Roundtable [BWR] readers to the interesting people I meet in the industry. This summer at the 2015 Romance Writers of America National Conference in Manhattan, I met Jennifer Apodaca through a good friend and fellow BWG member, Marianne Donley. The two have a long history together and stories flowed between them faster than a New York City Yellow cab on a clear avenue. I’m pleased to introduce BWR readers to Jennifer Apodaca. --D.S.

Bethlehem Writers Roundtable: First, congratulations on the Rita nomination for your Contemporary Romance Novel, HER TEMPORARY HERO, Once A Marine Series, Book 2. We were all rooting for you to take center stage! Those not familiar with this award, for romance writers the Rita is equivalent to an Oscar in the film industry and a glamorous experience for all who attend. Thank you for taking a moment to spent time with us on Roundtable.

Jennifer Apodaca: Hi Diane! It’s a pleasure to be here, thank you for asking me! I had so much fun at the award ceremony. I have to say, as honored as I was to having HER TEMPORARY HERO nominated, I was fine not taking center stage in front of the crowd and cameras. The whole experience was a tad overwhelming! But it was exciting and getting a chance to meet you made my night even more special.

Your novels, CAGED MAGIC, a Wing Slayer Hunters Series, Book 5 written as Jennifer Lyon, and EXPOSING THE HEIRESS, Once A
Marine Series, Book 3, released within several weeks of each other. Between marketing, writing, and keeping a household together, you are one busy person. Please describe a typical day in your life as a full time writer, and what do you enjoy doing on your time off?

JA: It was pretty crazy. I couldn’t have done it without help from friends and my virtual assistant, Anna Cade (owner of the blog Herding Cats and Burning Soup). My typical day depends on where I am in the book. The beginning is always slow as I’m getting to know the characters, then the pace picks up as the book moves along. I usually get up early, 5:30-ish (unless I’m at the end, then it can be 4:30), make coffee, check email and handle anything pressing. Then I write or plot for a while until my husband gets up. I stop to clean up and dress, eat and sometimes exercise, then back to it. I generally write the rest of the day until four or five, then have a glass of wine and cook dinner with my husband. Afterwards, I usually have an hour or two of more emails, social media, etc. But if I’m up against a deadline, I’ll ignore all that and write until 9 or so, at which point I’m brain dead until the next morning when it starts all over again.

Time off is an entirely foreign concept these days, I think that’s a pitfall of working from home. But one thing I enjoy when I’m decompressing after a deadline is baking. I think it uses a different side to my creativity, plus I have something tangible as a result. A book takes so very long to write, but baking cookies or cupcakes is just a couple hours. I also love when the family comes over for pool parties, or hanging out with friends, and I desperately wish for a dog!

BWR: Do you have a favorite author who inspired you to write romance novels?

JA: There are so many authors who inspired me. Off the top of my head, I’d say Julie Garwood’s Scottish historicals had a huge impact. Which
is funny because I don’t write historical romance. Well I tried to write them and failed, so let’s not talk about that, LOL! What influenced me so strongly was her voice. It clearly stood out from others, showing me that the true power in writing is an author’s voice. When an author gives free rein to her voice, she has a much stronger chance of success. That’s when I stopped writing historical romances and wrote a book suited to my voice, a mystery called DATING CAN BE MURDER. That book finally sold and began my career.

BWR: What are some things you may have learned the hard way that you wish you had known when you first started writing?

JA: Honestly I think everyone needs to live their own learning curve. Going through an experience, even a tough one, teaches us so much more than words. But as for what I wish I’d known:

1) How to write stronger emotional conflict because that is what engages readers.
2) To understand that as an author, I am the brand. Not a book or series, but my author voice is the brand. Learning this made it much easier to market and promote (something I have a natural aversion to). When I realized that I don’t have to scream “Buy my book!” but just interact with readers as myself, ask about them and their lives with true interest, then once in a while talk about what I love about books, (and even more rarely) talk about what I love about my books. Once I grasped that, I did much better.
3) How to capitalize on my own success. I let roadblocks stop me after the success I had with The Plus One Chronicles and I should have kicked them out of my way. That is a mistake I hope to learn from.

BWR: Do you have a favorite writing reference, and why is this book your favorite?

JA: These days? Google! I spend a great deal of time on Google researching. It may lead me to other resources, but that’s usually my first stop.

BWR: You sold foreign rights in Germany, and most recently in Brazil. Can you give any advice on what writers should be aware of when looking into selling foreign rights; and what was your level of involvement when selling to foreign markets?

JA: As far as my level of involvement, all the markets approached me. I didn’t shop my book outside the U.S. at all. All this happened when the books starting hitting the top of the iBooks (Apple/iTunes) lists and then Galleycat listed me as “Self Published Author Jennifer Lyon Among Top Paid iBooks” for that week, which fed out to other publications and websites. I didn’t fully grasp the impact of that until I started getting inquiries from publishers to buy the foreign and audio rights. It was all surreal.

Even more surreal, my agent at the time wasn’t interested in handling those rights, so I was left scrambling on how to proceed. I reached out to another author-friend, Lara Adrian, who had sold her Indie work to the same German publisher, and she was extremely generous and helpful. I am so grateful to her! At that point, I hired a literary attorney to vet my contracts.

A few things I’d mention watching for: First make sure you are dealing with a legitimate company. Scams are out there everywhere. Then always protect your rights. The rights to our books are valuable and need to be protected first and always. Make sure you are selling the specific translation rights to the publisher for a specified amount of time (like two years), and then all rights revert back to you. And try to add in as much protection for breach of contract or other possible contingencies into your agreement.

BWR: How much control do you keep over your book when selling foreign rights and they have their own translator; and is there a separate editing process for prepping a book for a foreign market, if so what?

JA: Both my German and Brazilian publishers used their own translators. This is the point of pure trust as I don’t speak or read German or Brazilian Portuguese. Both publishers came to me with any questions they had, though, which was reassuring.

The editing process was basically changing things to fit their market. That was fine. They also created their own covers, and while they showed them to me and asked if I liked them, I doubt they would have changed them if I’d said no. This is the trade-off of going with a publisher vs. doing it myself by hiring a translator and self-publishing it. 

BWR: Does your marketing for international audiences differ from advertising in the US, and if so how?

JA: Yes, because I really don’t do it, the publisher does and I support them in whatever way I can. That said, some authors do a great deal, setting up FB pages, running ads in the foreign markets. They amaze me with their versatility and energy!

BWR: Did traditional publishing through Kensington, Random House and Entangled give you insights in how to market your indie-published adult contemporary romances, the Plus One Chronicles; and if so how?

JA: They certainly gave me a wealth of experience, especially in the editing and revision process. For me, a good editor is key in developing the story and characters to their fullest potential within my ability, and to polishing the novel so that it’s a more powerful reading experience. My biggest expense in self-publishing a new book will always be in the editing.

The editor I hired is easily the toughest I have worked with – and I’ve worked with many editors and three different publishing houses. My traditionally published books also gave me exposure to many readers who were very willing to take a chance on my self-published work. I learned a great deal from all the various people I’ve worked with at publishers, and I am truly grateful. I really enjoyed working with them and will do so again if the right opportunity arises.

BWR: Can you offer any advice to authors attempting to break into indie-publishing about marketing in social media; and with so many formats, which works best for you?

JA: Facebook works best for me as I can have more interactions. Twitter moves fast and clever, and doesn’t always give me the same personal connection I get with FB. But other authors have an amazing Twitter following and are excellent at connecting in that shorter faster format. It’s just about what works for you.

All that said, the pressure to be visible and constantly promote is intense and creating way too much anxiety in all of us. It’s endless and in some ways damaging to a writer’s process. I find myself wasting time and energy staring at FB wondering what I should do – when what I should do is write the next book.

There’s a phrase in publishing (especially Indie publishing) called “backlist is king.” What that means is the more books you publish, the more back list you build, which in turn gives you more exposure and more readers. The best thing we can do for our careers is write the next book.

BWR: Who is your favorite character? Should your fans anticipate reading about him in the near future?

JA: One of my favorites is Sloane Michaels from The Plus One Chronicles and fans will see a bit of him in the spin off series I’m just starting to write. The first book in the series is an emotional second chance love story between a rock superstar and his first (and only) love. The connection to Sloane is they are all friends having grown up with the same mentor who guided the boys when they were troubled teens. So that means that those who read The Plus One Chronicles will get to see how characters from that series are doing, but they don’t have to read those books to enjoy this series.

BWR: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

JA: Just to thank you again for having me here today. It’s been a pleasure!