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Author Interview: Jacquelyn Wheeler

Jacquelyn Wheeler

Jacquelyn Wheeler is the author of Rising Shadow, a YA sci-fi novel.

How long did it take you to write Rising Shadow?

It took me about nine weeks to write the first draft and then about nine months to edit it, although during that time I was also working on books two and three, designing the covers, creating the web site, and learning about self-publishing and marketing. I write on the train every day during my commute, and I write in the evenings after my daughter has gone to bed and on weekends in between everything else. I find that writing in small chunks, such as a twenty-minute train ride, is the only way to go, because if I wait until I have a large block of time, I’ll never write.

How did you get interested in writing YA? Who or what are your literary inspirations?

I became interested in young adult fiction from reading books to my daughter. It started with Harry Potter—I’m a HUGE fan of the series. So much so that when my sister first told me her wedding date, I half-jokingly asked her to change it because it was on the day that The Order of the Phoenix was coming out, and I knew I’d be exhausted from getting the book at midnight and staying up all night reading it. She ended up moving her wedding out a week, in large part because she didn’t want her matron of honor to have bags under her eyes and a book in her hand at the altar.

After Harry Potter, my daughter and I read the Artemis Fowl books, Eragon, Pretties, and many more. By the time I read Twilight, I was hooked on the genre. Twilight was a revelation for me, because even though I found the writing itself to be a bit wanting, I loved the characters and the story. Realizing that you don’t have to be a literary genius to tell a great story was what gave me the courage to write my novels.

Had you had any formal training?

I took some creative writing classes in college, and I’ve read a couple books on writing fiction, but most of my training has been in technical writing, which is what I do for my day job.

So many writers are plagued with self-doubt. They have trouble being disciplined and staying motivated. What is your secret?

I think the fact that I’m so busy actually makes it easier to stay motivated. My job is ridiculously stressful, and I get very excited toward the end of the day knowing that soon I’ll be on the train and can dive into working on my books. They’re a very important escape for me. Also, self-publishing takes away the pressure of trying to write specifically to please an agent or a publisher. I can write whatever I want, knowing that there’s no gatekeeper whose test I have to pass before my work can make it out into the world. I don’t know if I’ll ever be famous, but it doesn’t matter, because I love the world I’m creating in my books, I enjoy writing and rereading them, and some percentage of the billions of people in this world are going to enjoy them, too. Not setting out to achieve critical acclaim makes it easy to write from your heart and just have fun doing it.

What is your goal as a writer?

To tell a great story that sucks you in. To make you laugh. And to gasp. And hopefully not to make you laugh when I intended to make you gasp.

What are your publishing goals?

I don’t have any hard targets. Rising Shadow is available on Amazon, and I’m just now getting it into distribution via Lightning Source, so I’d like to see it start being carried by some independent bookstores. I donate 20 percent of my royalties to the charities listed on my web site (, so I’d love to make enough sales to be able to make more significant contributions to those charities.

What made you decide to self-publish?

In the beginning, I tried querying agents, but I quickly came to loathe the process. The whole carnival of trying to write a catchy query letter to hook an agent, so that you can then try to get a publisher, so that you can then try to get attention from their marketing department, who will ignore your book when it comes out two years later and you still have to do all your own publicity anyway—well, let’s just say it wasn’t a match for my temperament. I then signed up with iUniverse, thinking that might be a good hybrid approach, and it was wonderful at first to finally have someone who would answer my phone calls and emails, but I was not at all happy with their services. Finally, I chose to self-publish through CreateSpace (Amazon’s print-on-demand service), and it was perfect. Self-publishing allowed me to work on my own timetable and completely control the process, but because it’s print-on-demand, I didn’t have to print a huge run and fill my garage with boxes of inventory. And almost exactly a year after I first got the idea for Rising Shadow, I was holding a copy of it in my hand and was selling it on Amazon. It’s been a fantastic way to go.

Self-publishing doesn’t have the cachet that publishing through a traditional publisher has. A lot of people still consider it “vanity publishing,” as evidenced by the decision by Romance Writers of America to oust Harlequin two weeks ago after Harlequin announced the opening of a self-publishing branch called Harlequin Horizons (now called DellArte Press). And yet self-publishing is becoming more and more popular as writers like Kemble Scott, whose book The Sower made it onto the San Francisco Chronicle‘s bestseller list after he self-published on What do you see in the future of self-publishing?

The people who scoff at self-publishing are those who a) are basing their prejudice on the past and haven’t bothered to read some of the great work that’s now coming out by self-published authors, or b) worked so hard to get published by a traditional publisher that they can’t stand it that it could be as simple as uploading your files to a web site. I understand where they’re coming from, but they’re ignoring reality. The entire landscape of publishing is changing, whether you’re talking about novels or newspapers. Agents will no longer be the gatekeepers, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a vast, chaotic sea of crap one must wade through to find quality books. Instead, I think bloggers and your networks on sites like GoodReads and Scribd are the new filtering mechanisms. It’s a much more natural system: You find people whose taste is aligned with yours and you share recommendations. And because there are so many bloggers now, authors can send very targeted requests to the bloggers most likely to appreciate their work, which means the review of that book is read by the most appropriate audience for that book. So I think that the new era of publishing means that it’s actually much easier for authors and readers to find each other, and only a well-written book, whether self-published or traditionally published, will get the positive buzz required for it to take off.

Do you have any self-publishing tips for authors? Marketing advice?

If you self-publish, you still need an editor. Get as many people to read your book as possible, but also hire a professional editor to do a final pass. Also, if you don’t have the skills to create the cover, hire a graphic designer to help you out. CreateSpace has a cover-creator tool, but you really need to think carefully about your brand and not just slap something together. Sites like have stock photos you can use on your cover, but read the contract carefully, because some of them like Shutterstock explicitly forbid you from using their images on print-on-demand books (I verified it with their legal department—doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s true).

For marketing, try to do something every day. I have a fan page on Facebook and a Twitter account, and I post something that would be of interest to my readers every day on each of them. I try to send out a press release or an email to a blogger every couple of days, and I keep a spreadsheet of all my contacts and press so that when someone replies, I can go back and see when I contacted them and what the context was. I’ve also found that advertising on Facebook and GoodReads has gotten me a fair amount of traffic and is building my fan base. Lastly, I make my book available for free as a PDF on my web site, Scribd, and Google Books, which is a whole other topic that I write about in my blog. In summary, don’t be afraid to give it away, because the more buzz you get, the more sales you’ll eventually have.

Now that Rising Shadow is published, are you working on something else?

I’m doing final edits on the second book in the series, Merger, and I am about 75 percent done with the first draft of the third book, Fracture. There are going to be five books in the series, so that will keep me busy for a while. After that, I’ll probably write screenplay versions of all five books, since I think they will work really well as films. I keep getting ideas for other books, but I’ve promised myself I’ll finish The Soterians series before I embark on any other projects.

Summary of Rising Shadow
Ashlyn Woods just transferred to one of the most beautiful campuses on the west coast, where she can’t wait to start her life over as a normal college student. But her plans take an unexpected turn when she discovers that she is a Soterian: a person who develops amazing powers when the balance of good and evil shifts too far in evil’s favor. Soon she and the other Soterians are studying martial arts and learning to use their powers to prevent California from being plunged into chaos. But they quickly discover that they’re up against a much more dangerous enemy than they anticipated. And when Ashlyn meets Kai, a devastatingly gorgeous guitar player, she realizes she must sacrifice more than she ever imagined.

You can follow Jacquelyn on Twitter.

6 comments to Author Interview: Jacquelyn Wheeler

  • The biggest advantage of self-publishing (in my mind) is that these agents/publishing houses will have to descend from their high horses eventually and re-evaluate how they deal with the process of publishing – i think more and more people will self-publish in the future!

  • That will definitely be an advantage. I feel for what agents have to go through, but the lovely thing is that better access to self-publishing will make their piles smaller, so everyone wins. 🙂 For a humorous look at querying agents and what it would be like if things were turned around, see my blog post:

  • To clarify misunderstandings about the crucial differences between commercial publishing, "self-publishing," and vanity press, please see the article I've recently posted about this on the Novelists, Inc. blog:

  • I love the novel's summary at the end.

    Giving books away as PDFs has been proven successful by Cory Doctorow. When I first heard that, it sounded crazy but it really works!

    Great interview!

  • Great interview! I love her EDUCATED and REALISTIC view of self-publishing. I also loved this, because it was exactly what I thought/felt:

    "Twilight was a revelation for me, because even though I found the writing itself to be a bit wanting, I loved the characters and the story. Realizing that you don’t have to be a literary genius to tell a great story was what gave me the courage to write my novels."

    Thanks for this interview, Meghan. I found your blog in a search for "the Big 5" and I'm so glad, 'cause now it's in my Google Reader. 😀

  • Meghan Ward

    Kristan – Thanks for visiting, and congrats on winning the St. Martin's New Adult contest! (I checked out your website.)