This morning, we're having coffee with Jenny Gardiner, author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver which is the book that led me to discovering her some time ago.
In addition to being published in some prestigious periodicals, Jenny also has several books published: Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me; and the novels Slim to None; Over the Falls; House of Cards; and Accidentally on Purpose and Compromising Positions (both written as Erin Delany).
Jenny is a contributor to the humorous dog anthology I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales About Man's Best Friend from America's Favorite Humorists, published by Penguin Publishing.
Since Jenny has two new books out--Accidentally on Purpose and Compromising Positions--she's here to tell us something about her writing and her new books.
All Jenny's books are available on Amazon Kindle and the other digital publishing platforms as well as in print.
Accidentally on Purpose, ISBN: 978-0-9837419-2-3 by Jenny Gardiner writing as Erin Delany.
Compromising Positions, ISBN: 978-0-9837419-3-0 by Jenny Gardiner writing as Erin Delany
Jenny's novel Slim to None is a Kindle Bestseller in the Comic and Humor categories.
Jenny can be reached at her blog, her website, or her Amazon Author Page.
Fun Question To Break The Ice
Joan: What's your TV guilty pleasure? Why?
Jenny: I'm shamefully addicted to the TV talent shows--American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, now X-Factor (which I was determined to not like, but love it). (can't choke down Dancing w/ the Stars though--it's like rehab for loser x-celebs). And when my kids have on those dreadful shows on TLC, I can't help but peek (Toddlers & Tiaras, that gets me, Say Yes to the Dress, oh and that awful show with people with super bizarre-o habits, the ones who eat the stuffing out of their furniture, etc. It's like watching a slow-mo accident unfold before you very eyes).
Joan: Name a book, any genre, that means a lot to you and tell us why.
Jenny: In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd. I have the fondest of memories of my high school English and Latin teacher reading that to us the whole week or so before Christmas break. It was such a happy departure from the grind of school, and worked toward that exciting holiday build-up. Shepherd is a very evocative writer, and it really transforms you to that era, makes you long for those good old days. His first-person writing I think was very influential on me (as was Catcher in the Rye). (BTW you may recognize his book, part of which was made into the movie A CHRISTMAS STORY)
Down To The Nitty Gritty
Joan: How long have you been working at your craft? Please tell us something about your first published book, the journey from the idea that you wanted to write a book to finally writing one for which you received a publishing contract or decided to epublish yourself.
Jenny: I should be able to put my finger on it, but I can't remember exactly. Maybe 7 or 8 years ago I started writing essays for publication locally, started doing radio essays for a regional National Public Radio affiliate, and also started reading books after having not read in years when my kids were little. As I read I kept thinking: "I can do this!" I think having my first piece published very readily gave me unfounded confidence that publishing was a breeze. NOT.
I wrote Sleeping with Ward Cleaver and tried to sell it but just got a variety of rejections--some thought my protagonist was unsympathetic, others didn't know how to categorize it, etc. But then I heard about the Dorchester/RT American Title contest. I was doing anything to get my work in front of an editor's eyeballs, so I figured what the hell, I'd send a couple of partial manuscripts to them.
To my delight SWWC was chosen as a finalist (I learned later they almost picked another entry of mine as a finalist as well, which, while flattering, would have sort of split the vote for me, so glad it didn't happen that way). The American Title contest, it turns out, was really a marketing contest, and I was thrilled to win it--the prize was a publishing contract. Alas, I'm not sure Dorchester ever knew what to do with me--my book was really women's fiction, and they didn't have a women's fiction line. It got slotted as romance, and while it did have an HEA, it just wasn't a conventional romance novel.
Their main sales guy even told me at BEA the following spring that he didn't want my book to win (nice, huh?)--let's hope it was because he thought it would be a tougher sell . So I didn't get the feeling they'd be whipping up a lather for my book at all. But the great thing is it made the Barnes & Noble bestsellers list and went into 2nd printing 2 weeks after it debuted.
It was nice that despite all the stuff about people not knowing what to do with this red-headed stepchild of a book, it found it's audience. Very gratifying. When Dorchester went under (which they essentially did), I got my rights back to it. As I re-read it to edit and format digitally, I still laughed as I read, so that was a good sign to me. (I'm not one to re-read books as they often lose their charm to me second time around).
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver actually came to me as a title--we were talking about somebody's husband one time over wine and I cackled, "Wow, he'd be like sleeping with Ward Cleaver or something." (The implication was that the guy was a boring stuffed shirt). That just stuck with me, and then I had to come up with a book to go with the title. I loved tapping into the universality of marital doldrums, etc, and wanted to take a protagonist who was stuck in a mid-life slump and give her a couple of dope-slaps so she'd get her act together.
Joan: Let's talk about a current book. What number would it be? 1st, 3rd, 7th?
Jenny: Geez, which book are we talking about? I guess we'll talk about Accidentally on Purpose, which I just released. I also just released Compromising Positions too! Those would be my 5th and 6th books. (I have a story in a humorous dog anthology that just came out this fall called I'M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP, so not sure if that counts for a whole book or not!).
Joan: Tell us something about one of these books that makes it special to you: either how you came up with the title or what inspired the story?
Jenny: Okay. I love how this one came about. I was reading an article in the Washington Post years back about a woman who'd been artificially inseminated by the same donor for two children. This woman had been morbidly obese and along the way had lost a lot of weight. So I guess she had a different outlook on marriage/romance by then. She'd sort of created in this "donor" an idol figure for her children--if I'm remembering correctly, they sort of thanked him every holiday through some ritual ceremony (bear in mind that they didn't know him).
Then somehow I think the kids reached out to him and established a relationship and then the mother and the kids up and moved out to where he lived (I think he was in California). And sort of insinuated themselves a bit into his life. I think the mother had become a psychoanalyst or something, so it was all a bit woo-woo. I mean she should've known that nothing good was gonna come of that.
I just got the sense in reading this article that she really had hoped to make a whole family from them, but the guy, while seemingly interested in having a loose-ish relationship with his genetic offspring, wasn't up for the whole family thing. Ripe for disaster, eh?
I just thought it would be fun to create a romanticized scenario with this anonymous sperm donor and see what happened. I originally called this novel The Good Seed, but that title seemed funny, but clinical. When my husband recommended Accidentally on Purpose, I loved that and went with it.
So in Accidentally on Purpose, my protagonist, a DC photographer, is sick to death of trying to find a good guy. She's got a jerky guy she hooks up with occasionally, but he's nothing to write home about. So she decides she's not going to forego the chance to have babies and instead chooses to be inseminated. Meanwhile, she happens into a guy at a Capitol Hill reception, and they sort of hit it off. She's clearly pregnant and not exactly hot-to-trot, and it turns out he is engaged to be married and needs a photographer. So she's hired to shoot his wedding to a woman who is decidedly unlikeable. Needless to say, mayhem ensues.
Joan: If you are print published, have you made the transition from print to eBook? If so, was it via your print publisher or as an indie author? If as an indie author, would you consider your experience successful?
Jenny: I am all over the map. My first novel Sleeping With Ward Cleaver was mass market paperback, shelved as a romance. My second book Winging It, was a hardback memoir. I have a story in a dog anthology from Penguin, with a headline list of contributors, which is in trade paperback.
But.... Two January's ago, my agent mentioned to me, after having unsuccessfully shopped a novel of mine, that the head of the agency was launching a digital imprint. This was in the early days of e-readers. The kindle was the only viable thing out there at the time. I think maybe the Nook had sort of just come out. The novel she'd shopped, Slim to None, is my favorite of all my novels. It was shopped to editors as the economy dropped off the face of the earth, and the publishing industry took a huge broadside hit. We had these great rejections from editors who loved it, stayed up all night reading it, blah blah blah, but we're not buying anything. A house wanted it but then got flipped from commercial fiction to literary (and it was not gonna fit in that box!).
So I thought about it a bit, and I had been paying very close attention to what Kindle had been doing. They had a very strategic plan for primacy in the ebook world and were consolidating their power base with facility. That winter was when Apple announced the iPad was coming in the spring, and I knew that meant that the important thing necessary to really introduce ebooks to the world would change: I knew there would be a price war, bringing down the cost of an e-reader so that lots of people could afford it (until then the Kindle was upwards of $350, which limited who was going to invest in it).
At the time my hardback book was about to launch, I was slammed trying to market/promote that and on top of that I had a lot of family commitments that involved a lot of my time. I was not prepared to just plunge in myself and self-publish as JA Konrath was doing, because back then you needed to have some HTML skills, and I am sadly bereft of technical know-how. So I decided to let my agency's digital imprint publish Slim to None. I figured I could piggy back with their publicity, since what they were doing back then was unique (now other agencies are doing it left and right), and they also promised Kindle promotions with it.
Unfortunately I guess they were just overwhelmed with the launch, plus there was a huge learning curve to it all, and things just didn't pan out the way they should have back then. Which was pretty frustrating for me. I got bummed enough about the whole thing that I just sort of gave up on it for a while. But then this past spring, I started seeing other authors start making legitimate livings by publishing their backlists. Around that time Dorchester quit publishing books, and I was going to be damned if I was going to lose yet that book into the ether.
At that point I resolved to make it all work for me. I had several other books that I hadn't published, whether it was because they didn't fit within my "brand" or whatever, so, one by one, I got those edited and formatted and got covers made etc. and have put them up. And I'm so glad I've done it, because I am now able to earn a living again as an author. I am able to focus on writing again--something I'd had to let fall by the wayside over the past couple of years with financial burdens and with spending so darned much time with marketing and publicity, etc.
While Slim to None had languished in the bottom of the sales bin for a while (the pricing was set at $8.99, which, at the time made sense because it would've been a trade paperback book so would've been a good bit more in print), but no one was buying ebooks for that price except from big name authors. So Diversion dropped the price to $2.99 back in the spring, and sales started to really pick up, which was awesome. They'd been picking up more and more each month.
Let me say a word about the publishing history of slim To None. I had published it about a year and a half ago with Diversion books, my literary agency's then-new digital imprint. Back then they'd spoken with Amazon folks about pairing some publicity efforts, but Amazon was, I imagine, spread pretty thin with all they had going on.
Scott Waxman, who is the principal at Diversion, had continued to try different avenues at Amazon to try to find the right person to work this situation, and finally a couple of months ago worked things out with Amazon to be recognized as a publisher, which gave them some nice perks to do promotional things. Like I said, sales for Slim to None had been increasing monthly for a while and were getting pretty good, so it made sense to see how that would do with some promotional push, so they put in for it to be chosen as a Kindle Daily Deal book.
I actually didn't even know that day until mid-afternoon that it was on there because I was sick in bed! I came downstairs around 1:30 in the afternoon to see all the emails from folks and then got to have the fun of watching Slim to None climb to the top of the Kindle bestsellers list (it remained #1 for two days and stayed on in the top 100 for almost 2 weeks)! It was such a great surprise and really pretty unexpected. And I'll say that is definitely a nice thing about working with a reputable (and that is a very key word here) digital publisher who is able to get promotional considerations. It's a LOT harder as an author publishing on your own to get Amazon to take notice.
I am eternally grateful to Amazon for giving authors the chance to earn a living--and even more importantly to take charge of their careers and stop being taken advantage of by others. I have SO many author friends who were like me. We racked up loads of debt trying to "break through" in this business, and the money that came back to us was minimal at best. I'm now urging them that they really need to start doing it themselves because they will be SO happy they did.
Joan: What are you working on now?
Jenny: I have SO many partially written books I'm going to finish. And with Compromising Positions, which I wrote several years ago, I'd always thought about making it a series, so I might add a couple more to that. I'm SO excited to be generating new books. I'm also going to be publishing a few short stories and will put together a book of essays I've written as well (working Title: Naked Man on Main Street and Other Life Experiences).
Joan: What do you now know that you wish you'd known when you started?
Jenny: I guess we are all an accumulation of the information and experiences we pick up along the way so I couldn't be as educated about this business as I now am without having learned from my mistakes. But now I know that I can do this by myself. I can reach my readers without the filter of fickle editorial boards who are paranoid about making a bad choice therefore they only make boring '"safe" choices.
Joan: What advice would you give someone just starting out?
Jenny: Be your own biggest fan. Don't let the rejection get to you: believe in yourself. And do it yourself. There is really no reason not to at this point. Own your career, don't become a victim of others deciding things against your best interest.
The Last Word
Thank you for inviting me over here and for your wonderful insight into e-publishing as well. I'm really excited about the times we're in publishing-wise. It's a great day when authors can take control over their careers and not be taken advantage of. I really encourage writers to seize the moment! We authors have lots of positive choices to make. We don't have to remain at the mercy of others, and we can actually make decisions that lead to our earning an income in this business so hallelujah!!!
Thanks again Joan!
Thanks, Jenny, for sharing your journey. Readers, if you want funny and different, get Jenny's books.