Many writers, think about writing and dabble in it for a while until the overwhelming urge hits that they have to write. How long did it take you to write your first draft?
Years. And years and years and years. Part of it was a lack of commitment on my part, and part of it was that I was writing what I thought other people wanted me to write, which was dreadfully dull.
When I was writing romances (I had 3 published), it took me a year to write one. Once I wrote what I wanted to read (mysteries), I managed to write a 350 page manuscript in six months. This was my first mystery and while it never sold, I did get an agent with it and learn how to write a mystery, so it was time well spent.
Who encouraged you along the way? Were you involved in any writing groups at that time?
I'm an extrovert by personality, but an introvert when it comes to my work. I never showed anyone my writing, only nameless and faceless agents and editors whose form letters rejected me for years. Those were dark days. Looking back, I should have joined a writing group of some sort or at the very least taken a class.
Your first book published was with Harlequin – which line was it? How many publishers do you think you sent your manuscript to before Harlequin accepted your story?
I wrote for the romantic comedy lines, Duets and Flipside, which were a great training ground. I only sent the manuscript to Harlequin so I got very lucky that they did accept it.
After a couple books with them you decided you’d rather write mysteries. What made you
I was petrified. Still am, honestly. I didn't think I was smart enough to do the intricate plotting required of mysteries, but when Harlequin and I broke up (yes, they dumped me), I was at loose ends and my husband told me to just try and write the mystery just to see. He suggested writing it backwards, an idea that blew my mind and made it seem doable, so I did.
Many new writers have the idea that if they write a book, the high paying contracts will come, but that is not reality. How many published books did it take before you could call yourself a full-time writer?
I was in a unique situation in that I loved my day job (part-time librarian) so I was very reluctant to quit a place that was so dear to my heart. My first mystery published in 2009 and I jumped in with both feet and took on several more series. I don't think any author can survive on one mass market paperback series, and probably not even two even if they hit the NYT bestsellers list.
At one point, I was writing five different series. Probably, I could have left my job three years and three series into my new occupation, but I waited until I was five series and five years in before I really believed it all wouldn't pop like a soap bubble on me.
Why have you written under three different names in your mystery writing?
Two of my five series were what we call writer for hire, which means the publisher approaches the author with an idea for a series and has the author write it. I wrote a decoupage mystery series (no, not kidding) under the name Lucy Lawrence. In fact, that's the series that opened the door for me. I then sold two series under Jenn McKinlay, which were mine, then picked up another writer for hire about bargain hunters under the name Josie Belle, and then sold one more of my own. Whew, I'm tired just thinking about it.
How much autobiographical details go into your stories? The only autobiographical series is the library series, but I do love to eat cupcakes if that counts! I think of my life stories and the stories I hear from others as ingredients that get dumped into a blender and juiced. When I extract the drink the raw ingredients are there, but they come out in a completely new way.
How do you keep the writing fresh and contemporary after so many books?
I watch people, listen to people, and pay attention to the world around me. There truly is material everywhere. I fond humanity endlessly fascinating.
What do you wish you knew sooner about writing or publishing?
I wish I had trusted my instincts earlier. I wish i hadn't tried to write what I thought others wanted but had stuck to what I wanted from the beginning.
Promotion is dicey as no one seems to know what really gets people to buy books. I like to give stuff away because I love free stuff, but I think the best promotion is to keep trying to write the best book possible and gain a reputation for being a reliable story teller.
What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Never give up. Write every single day. No excuses.
That's great advice. No excuses. Mark off time on your daily calendar to write.. I would also suggest making yourself accountable to other writers about that commitment. Then you can encourage and motivate each other. And you can also consider Camp NaNo.
If you'd like to follow Jenn's writing and see a list of all her works, here's the link to her website www.jennmckinlay.com