So You Want to be … a Young Adult Author

I’m not the only auntie who wants to share some hard-earned experience with you. Meet Amy Leigh Strickland, a writer and teacher from Townsend, Massachusetts. Amy has a BFA in Performing Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design and an M.Ed. in secondary education from the University of Montevallo. She currently lives outside Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Kyle and their rescued dogs, Apollo and Linus.

Amy and I are both members of  the group, Indie-Visible, a group that equips writer with the resources they need to publish, and I first met her at Rocket City LitFest, when we were both on a panel about what messages we’re communicating to young women through contemporary fiction. (We both favored empowering, entertaining reads with strong female leads.) Amy’s first published novel, Olympia Heights: The Pantheon was released in July of 2011. Its sequels, Olympia Heights: The Weight of the World, Olympia Heights: The Blood of Athens, and Olympia Heights: The Cult of Kronos followed. In 2013, Strickland published Rescue OR, Royer Goldhawk’s Remarkable Journal, an American steampunk adventure novel. She has some great advice on getting started in a writing career and what it takes to publish and promote your books.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I probably figured it out in high school when I started doing text-based roleplays and fanfiction online. It was my way of participating in the Harry Potter fan experience, and that act of creation was incredibly empowering and exciting.


Tell us a little bit about the books you write and how you chose to focus on Young Adult .

I write YA and NA fantasy. I probably write YA because it’s a really fun and quickly-changing genre and because I work with teens every day in my day job. That time in your life is all about identity and discovery, which makes an excellent theme for a book.

Is writing your day job or a passion project?

It’s my passion right now, though I wouldn’t mind if it became a day job. I worry that if I ever quit teaching to write full time, though, that I would lose my ear for contemporary slang and speech patterns.

I’m always interested in creative spaces. Tell me about your writing space.

My desk is a behemoth of a wooden structure. My computer is about half-way from the wall with stacks of paper and binders behind it. I keep my outline to my left and my drink to my right. My actual workspace on my computer is very organized with nested folders and clear file names.

How do you make time for writing?

I bring it with me and I just find the time. We make a lot of excuses about writing, so I just don’t permit myself to do that.

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What aspect of writing do you consider your super power and what do you consider your kryptonite?

My super-power is dialog. My kryptonite is that I get carried away and soon my draft looks like a play script, so I have to go back and find places to describe.

If you could borrow the muse of another writer, whose would you take?

Probably Neil Gaiman’s. He writes some truly unique and magical things.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to establish yourself as a writer?

It’s hard to get reviews for books. And once you build those connectionsAmy Strickland - Young Adult Author and find some fans who will reliably review your books, Amazon decides they must be a biased friend because they followed you on Twitter and bans their reviews. So I feel like the review struggle is like trying to run on sand. Readers, be awesome and review the books you love.

Tell me about your writing process? Are you a daily writer or do you wait till inspiration strikes?

I go through bursts of daily writing when I’m in the middle of a project, but a lot of my process is waiting around for my betas and editors to read my books and get back to me.

My process usually goes from reading and researching to hoarding images to outlining to drafting to revising, revising, revising. Sometimes the revision stage has me researching things to fix (like common mistakes or editing checklists or regional vocabulary to go back an incorporate) and sometimes it has me making checklists.

How do you market your books? What’s been your most effective tactic and what do you consider a necessary evil?

I think the most effective way to sell your books is to give them away. I give away the first book of the Olympia Heights series on Kindle, and that drives sales to my other books. Also you can do Fussy Librarian and Booksends ads and usually get free downloads during special sales to bump you up the ranks.

Do you go to writers’ conferences or writers’ retreats? Why or why not?

I go to UtopIA, but that’s an expensive trip and to get on panels is difficult and kind of a mystery to me. You have to be in the inner circle to get to speak at those events.

I prefer to go to fan conventions because the people there are looking to absorb new things, not just to sell their own books. Writers’ retreats are best for their educational opportunities (like the panels at UtopIA). Library events don’t really move books because people come to libraries to avoid paying for books.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to establish yourself as a writer?

I think a lot about being an indie is being prolific. The more you write, the more exposure people have to your books and the more they trust that you have some dedication or experience to do what you do well. The first book doesn’t usually sell well unless you get a professional with lots of experience to launch your book and also you happen to be struck by lightning on the seventh day of the seventh month while standing in a bed of four leaf clovers and holding a new penny (head’s side up).

The biggest struggle is to not get discouraged by meagre sales so you can learn from each subsequent launch and do better. People like to buy from authors with a lot of books, and people love a series. You just have to keep going and learn and hope that when people do catch on, they’ll go read your back catalog.

As a Young Adult author, why did you go indie instead of getting traditionally published?

I wanted the control over my branding and marketing, and I didn’t Young Adult Author - Amy Leigh Strickland much like the idea that someone could publish my first book, decide to pulp it if it didn’t sell, and then hold the copyright but refuse to publish my second because of historical sales. I just think that in 2015, if you have the ability to hire an artist and editor yourself, it’s a much better deal to take the higher royalties and work towards the long tail. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve always been a very driven, organized, and DIY kind of girl.

What’s something you wish you’d known before becoming a Young Adult author?

I wish I had known to give more books away at the start. We get too caught up thinking of books given away as money lost. We lose opportunities to make fans and spread word of mouth.

How can fans connect with you?

They can follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@AmyLStrickland) or on Tumblr or my website (www.amyleighstrickland.com). Sign up for my newsletter to get FREE BOOKS!

Got any questions for Amy? Sound off below. 

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