Welcome to my Authors 40+ Series – sharing the stories of amazing authors who published their first book over the age of 40. The series features talented, experienced and inspirational writers who share their (often non-conventional!) writing and publishing journeys honestly and articulately. First to feature, is Christina Hoag!
1. What is the title and synopsis/premise of your first book and how old were you when you published it?
Writing books was a girlhood dream of mine but it took me a heck of a long time to realize it! I was 51 when the nonfiction book “Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence”, which is about using former gang members to stop the cycle of violence in urban neighbourhoods, was published. I was the co-author, basically the scribe. But my dream really lay in fiction. It took another two years to see a novel published. Funnily enough, I had two novels both released in August 2016 – “Skin of Tattoos” and “Girl on the Brink” – because it took so much time to get the first (“Skin of Tattoos”) sold! I was 53. I went through two agents, two major rewrites, and ended up finding a small publisher myself. In the meantime, I worked on GOTB and ended up finding a small publisher for that on my own, too.
“Skin of Tattoos” is about a gang member who comes home to central Los Angeles from prison and finds himself drawn back into the gang life due to lack of job opportunities, rejection from his family, and his own ego – he can’t bear seeing his archrival as shot-caller (leader) of his gang. It proves to be a disastrous decision.
“Girl on the Brink”, a YA (young adult) novel, is about a teen who gets involved with the wrong guy and finds herself way over her head when the relationship spins out of control. It’s a cautionary tale of dating violence.
2. Tell me about writing the book e.g. where did the idea come from / how long did it take / what did you learn along the way?
Both novels took several years to write. I don’t even know how long because I had long breaks due to lack of self-confidence. It took a long time for me just to find the story. I have since tried to speed up the writing process through use of outlines, but I’ve found that my writing process involves simply writing – the plot and characters emerge on the page. So I’m a lot slower than James Patterson!
“Girl on the Brink” was inspired by own experience in an abusive relationship. I really wanted to write a book that was entertaining yet cautionary for girls as they start their dating lives. There are clear red flags of abusers but unless you know what they are, you can easily mistake them for the opposite of abuse.
The genesis of “Skin of Tattoos” came from magazine assignment I had around 1999-2000 about LA gang members being deported to El Salvador (I am a former journalist/foreign correspondent). Their stories stayed with me and evolved into the novel, which is about a Salvadoran immigrant family.
3. Tell me about your publishing journey step by step – what happened once the book was finished?
I sought agents. To get my first agent, I sent out close to 100 queries. I signed with the first that expressed interest. I thought I’d made it. She turned out to be a real dud with not that many contacts in publishing. I rewrote and looked for a new agent, this time really targeting those who liked my type of book (this was “Skin of Tattoos”). I got two offers of representation. I chose one and she was a good agent but, after two years, she just couldn’t sell the book and I had to move on. Meanwhile, I was also trying to find an agent for “Girl on the Brink”. I didn’t try as hard with that one, given my previous experience, so I started submitting to publishers on my own and eventually got one at the point where I was running out of options. Neither publisher offered anything in the way of editing, other than minimal proofreading. I think they could’ve been even better books with a professional book editor.
4. Who or what has helped you the most in becoming a published author?
Perseverance. You just can’t give up. You also have to continually hone your craft. I’ve also had to overcome reluctance about self-promotion. I now give talks at writers’ conferences and groups, libraries, bookstores etc.
I wish I had had a mentor. I did everything on my own (hence all my mistakes) so if you can find a mentor to guide you, that is worth its weight in gold.
5. What are the main obstacles you faced / overcame when writing and publishing your book(s)?
During the writing process, I kept having crises of confidence. Who would read my book? Do I really have something to say? Can I really write? So I would say that was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome. I just had to really push myself to finish, mainly because I don’t like having unfinished projects hanging around!
After I published my books, I encountered a new hurdle – now what? I became daunted and intimidated by how hard it is to get any sales traction at all. I entered tons of contests—and spent a lot of money doing so. I was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for suspense for “Skin of Tattoos”. “Girl on the Brink” was a best of YA novel for Suspense magazine, which came out of the blue so that was really rewarding. I thought if I tried writing more genre novels, it would be easier to break in. I wrote a romance and then wasted a lot of time on a mystery (a version of which I have self-pubbed on Amazon – “Angel’s Lust”) and I still have other bits of it which I will likely thread together in another self-pubbed novel this year.
I have since decided I just love writing YA drama (my original goal) so I have gone back to that and I will seek an agent for my new novel in 2019, but it took me two years to find that answer.
6. How do you promote/advertise your book(s)?
I do as many personal appearances as I can. When people hear you speak, they are more inclined to buy your books.
I’m also running some ads on Bookbub, Amazon and have done a Facebook post boost. So far, I’ve had little luck generating sales. It’s a very, very tough market to break through the clutter.
I have also done book blog tours. The tour worked well for “Girl on the Brink” but did not work well for “Skin of Tattoos”, or for a romantic suspense novel “In the Heat of the Tropics”, which I wrote under a pseudonym.
I also did an international featured deal on Bookbub for “Girl on the Brink”, which sold but not as well as expected.
I’ve tried many things but have yet to hit upon the magic formula! I’m just going to keep writing, hopefully getting better all the time.
7. How did you celebrate the incredible achievement of your first book being published?
I didn‘t celebrate enough actually. I should have organized a launch event for both books, but I am shy and introverted. Stupidly, I also felt a little embarrassed that I did not land a deal with a major publishing house. So the only thing I did was work to promote the books. I have just finished the first draft of a new YA novel. I am planning to celebrate with a facial or a massage!
8. What advice would you give to other authors about to begin their publishing journey?
Believe me, I’ve made just about every mistake there is to make. Believe in yourself and use that belief to drive persistence. It takes an incredible amount of stamina to get published. Don’t give up, just get better. Get used to rejection and criticism. Use the negatives as fuel to keep going, not to paralyze you. Network like crazy. Don’t let the fact that you are not yet published stop you from joining writers’ groups. Don’t be shy about promoting yourself. Appreciate the struggle. It will make the attainment of success that much richer.
9. Where is/are your book(s) currently available to read and where can people find you online?
My website is www.christinahoag.com. Please sign up for my newsletter! I’m finally getting on the ball about doing a periodic newsletter. Again, my innate shyness and self-effacement has prevented me from doing that so far, but that’s my new goal for 2019! I’m also on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as ChristinaHoagAuthor.
My books are on Amazon, of course, and “Girl on the Brink” is also on Apple, Smashwords, Kobo and Audible! It was really cool doing an audiobook! In fact, I have Audible promo codes to give away in exchange for a review, so if you’d like a free audiobook, please sign up for my newsletter on my website and I’ll send you one!
10. Are you working on anything new we can look forward to in 2019?
I’m working on a new YA about a girl who witnesses a crime, must decide whether to come forward about it and when she does, faces a backlash at school. It’s a story about telling the truth.
I also self-published an ebook called “Angel’s Lust”, it’s a mystery about a strange death that leads Detective Verity Thrett to uncover a lurid lifestyle in LA’s elite and a long-forgotten murder. It’s on Kindle Unlimited.
Thanks so much for the interview, Claire!
Thank you for taking part in my Authors 40+ Series Christina! If you are an author who published their first fiction or nonfiction book over the age of 40 and would like to be featured in this blog series, please get in touch!