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Monday, August 10, 2009
Author Interview: Allison Winn Scotch
Writer Allison Winn Scotch is in the middle of writing her third novel. She also juggles occasional celebrity profile magazine articles, motherhood, and this week, the paperback release of Time of My Life. The book features, according to Allison, a protagonist who is a contented but not truly fulfilled, stay-at-home mom with lingering “what ifs." She wakes up one day seven years in her past with the opportunity to rewrite her future. Allison talked to me recently about the book, her writing life, and author marketing activities. [We're also giving away a copy of the book – see below.]
LR: Do you see the book as having an overall message or central idea?
AWS: It's about our capability to make our own happiness and our sometimes inability to accept that like it or not, this is the life we have chosen. And if you DON’T like it, what can you do to get back on the path you once envisioned? It’s about how small choices in life can accumulate such that sometimes you wake up and say, “How did I get here? Where did my life go off the rails?” And once you ask yourself that, how do you find the strength, courage and insight to regain control of the life you once hoped for?
LR: What’s the difference between a paperback release and a hardcover release, in terms of publicity, readings, promotion?
AWS: There’s quite a big difference between, and I’m not sure yet which I like better! For hardcover, you know your publicist is going to be out there trying her very best (if you have a good one, which I fortunately do) to garner reviews in big magazines, papers and websites; but with the paperback, you’re fairly limited in terms of what press you can expect. Most of the magazines or press outlets just don’t cover the second release. So, in one sense, you’re relieved because you’re not biting your fingernails off, wondering who is going to review it, but on the other hand, you’re thinking, “Just how the heck is anyone going to hear about this?”
The same applies for readings. A few friends who have done readings/tours for their paperback, but it’s fairly unusual. The book really gets the push when it’s released in hardcover, and the paperback rides its coattails. That said, my marketing team has created quite a few online campaigns for the paperback release – the book has proven itself and earned its keep, so the publisher is more willing to spend some money to generate some buzz. I dunno. It’s stressful whichever way you look at it. I always forget how stressful a book launch is, and then every time, I’m like, “Oooooh, yeah. Now I remember!”
LR: I know you are in the middle of writing your next novel now. Has it been challenging writing a new book while promoting another?
AWS: In a word: yes. I’ve never been quite in the thick of writing a book (as I am now with my third) when also in the thick of promoting. So I feel a little bit like a maniac these days and am trying to focus myself on one task at a time. Today, I ran around this morning signing stock (store copies) and returning emails from friends/family with their congratulations and doing interviews and tweeting about the book -- and then I had to stop and focus on my line edits for book three. By the end of the day, I’m just exhausted. My agent wanted to meet me for lunch to celebrate, and normally, yes, I’d meet her for lunch and clink a wine glass in celebration, but I said, “I can’t!! I have line edits due in three weeks! What are you crazy?”
LR: You mentioned tweeting in your list of promotional activities. I know you are active on Twitter (that's how we first connected), so can you explain how Twitter fits in to your overall life as an author promoting a book, and as a working writer?
AWS: It’s funny, I’m the first to admit that I was a HUGE Twitter skeptic – I really didn’t see the point. But now I’m addicted! A total convert! It fits into my life in several ways: for one, I really just enjoy the hell out of it – the funny tweets, the informative tweets, learning and reading new things. It seems like an odd thing – to be connecting with strangers – but it’s strangely not. And two, I do think that Twitter is invaluable from a promotional standpoint. I’ve gotten so many notes or tweets from people who have picked up my books because they enjoy my tweets…and it’s not just about putting out good tweets, it’s about, as I said before, connecting with people.
Sort of how we like reading “Stars, They’re Just Like Us!,” readers enjoy “knowing” authors, knowing about their mutually shared interests, what’s going on in their lives, and I really believe that this makes them more inclined to pick up a book when in the store. (BTW, I’m not equating myself to a star - just making a point.) It gives readers a chance to know you – virtually or not – and yeah, then it’s pretty cool to see a “friend’s” book on sale. But I don’t want this to sound manipulative or that I just tweet so people will buy the books – I really, really love the connections I’ve made and make, and have a great time doing it. [Note – Allison also has a Facebook fan page.]
LR: You've published a considerable number of articles in major magazines, including celebrity profiles. How much of your magazine writing influences your current fiction writing?
AWS: Well, I’m not sure that it “influenced” my fiction writing, so to speak, but it certainly helped me fine-tune my writing in general. Could I have become a novelist without being a journalist? Maybe, I’m not sure, but it undoubtedly was one of those situations where one road led to the next.
Being a freelancer really taught me self-discipline. I think people assume that writers sit around all day watching Oprah, but when you have four deadlines in one week, you really learn all about time-management, which as I alluded to above, is something I definitely need these days.
I think being a journalist also obviously made me a much better writer. I know how to turn a phrase, how to put together a snappy sentence, how to trust myself when my writing is strong, and perhaps most importantly, to be entirely, 100% okay with the editing process. I try to never get too married/tied to any passage or words I put on the page, and if my editor nixes them, I trust (almost always) that it’s for the better good of the book. Anyone who has ever written for some of the major women’s magazines knows that sometimes your words get edited, and that’s why editors have their jobs.
LR: You've achieved one of the holy grails of many novelists –Time of My Life is being turned into a movie – any hesitations about the adaptation?
AWS: No, none at all, for a few reasons: 1) it is in very, very capable hands with wonderful producers who have taken the time to solicit my opinions on a lot of aspects and who have also befriended me, and 2) I really don’t feel a huge amount of ownership over the movie. I mean, even if it turned out to be absolutely horrid – which I’m certain it WON’T – but even if it did, my book still stands on its own. The words that I wrote are still there for everyone to read, and that’s all I can care about. That said, I’m truly excited that things are moving forward, and I cannot WAIT to see who is cast.
LR: How is your writing life currently divided? Is this an ideal arrangement, or are you (like most other writers I know) constantly torn between wanting to spend more time on one aspect than another?
AWS: These days, I mostly focus on fiction, with the exception being celebrity profiles because I’m a pop culture junkie, and I LOVE doing them. So I usually interview/write a few of those a month, but they don’t take up so much time, other than the scheduling and the actual interviewing. I did the magazine thing for about seven years, and during that time, yes, I felt hugely torn – sort of all over the map – in juggling everything I wanted to do. I wrote my first novel while I was still heavily freelancing, so I had to be really careful about the minutes I wasted in my day! But now, I’m fortunate enough to mostly do fiction – I try to write in the morning so I don’t procrastinate, and then often spend the afternoons on the promo/marketing stuff if I’m at that point in the book cycle.
LR: Categories, labels, and genre descriptions are often useful for booksellers, but usually not so much for the writers. Do you think of yourself as a writer of contemporary women's fiction, chick lit, literary fiction or – none of the above? Do these labels help or hurt novelists?
AWS: If someone asks, I usually classify my books as commercial fiction, and if they look at me blankly, I say, “The type of book that gets reviewed in People.” But my books have definitely been called women’s fiction as well as chick lit, and really, I don’t care so much about labels. I think that they’re primarily used internally – for marketing purposes – because it’s not like readers go to the store and think, “Oh, this book isn’t chick lit-y enough, I won’t buy it.” They’re just looking for a good voice and a good story, and the rest of it doesn’t matter so much.
LR: Not every book issued in hardcover goes on to have a paperback life. Did you know from the start that yours would, or was it dependent on sales and/or other industry criteria, on the film option sale?
AWS: I always assumed that it would be released in paperback – about a year or so after the hardcover, just as my first book had been. Not every book is rereleased but most are, so to be honest, this didn’t really enter my mind. But sure, it does depend on industry sales…though the assumption is that a hardcover (at least in fiction, I can’t speak to nonfiction) will also be released in paperback. I’ve been quite fortunate, actually, in that my publisher pushed up the paperback release to capitalize on summer reading and a great placement in Target, so hopefully, people will still remember the cover and the title from last fall’s release.
LR: As mom to two young children, any advice for other working writer moms?
AWS: One thing that I’ve always made clear, when asked how I balance everything, is that I have a great babysitter. I treat my job as any other working mom would, even though I work from an office in my house. I close my door, roll up my sleeves and get to work, and just as I wouldn’t have my kids with me at my office if I were a lawyer or a banker, I don’t have my kids around while I write.
Readers, please leave a comment below between now and August 24, to be entered in a random drawing to win a copy of Time of My Life. (Be sure to leave a way for me to get in touch – an email address, or link to a blog or website which has a contact method.)