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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Finding your Writing Niche: An Interview with Michaela Renee Johnson

As you welcome in the New Year, I want to encourage you to get that book you've been thinking of writing or the one you've been constantly editing to come to completion. To that end, I am opening the year of interviews with an Indie author who took the risk to put her words out to be read by friends as well as strangers. So, let's get started!

This year you’ve published three children’s picture books. However, prior to that, you wrote a couple of contemporary adult books. What made you switch genres?
I know some well-known authors, such as James Patterson,  have dual niches, but mine is a little of everything. I have a memoir, fiction, self-help, and three children’s books. What’s common among my books is that there is always a self-healing component. There is a humanistic connection to the lead character that hopefully inspires readers in some way. 

What inspired you to write your kids' stories from a dog’s viewpoint?
I think anyone who has animals can attest that you often “create stories” based on the expressions that they are giving you or the little noises they are making. At night when my son was little, we would tell him stories and they were often from the animal's viewpoint.  I will say the best “dog viewpoint” book I’ve read is The Art of Racing in the Rain.

One of my books, Vegetable Souffle, is actually from the viewpoint of the family.

What message would you like parents and children to take away from your books?
In general, all of my children’s books are aimed at helping kids through something. As a psychotherapist and a mom, I find storytelling and books are often the best way to process things happening in the world around us and “to” us.

Who helped you polish your kids’ stories?
Oh boy. There was a team of people from teachers, to other psychotherapists, to friends and families and people in the publishing industry. The biggest help I’ve received in the process is working with a publishing company to handle the graphic layouts.

Who did your illustrations?
Vector Family has done all three of my children’s books. We worked together online, and I found it to be a seamless and effective process.

Are you active in any writing critique groups?
Over the years I’ve been active in various writers’ groups. Recently I’ve joined a “write club,” which is like group journaling. I’ve found a lot of value in having the freedom to express in ways that don’t have to stick to traditional formats and styling. I’ve also been able to go outside my comfort zone by doing group work that is more personal. 

I have to shout out to for bringing this to the Sacramento area.

Why did you decide to self-publish with your own imprint?
I’ve had all sorts of experiences in the publishing world, having been the editor for a newspaper, and such…more than anything I would say a sense of feeling small and a lack of patience contributed to it. My personality tends to direct me to just “get it done.” However, I’m taking a completely different approach for the fiction book I’m working on, and am sending out queries, following the traditional methods for publication.

Did you have previous marketing or publishing experience?
Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, I spent 12 years in marketing for Fortune 500 companies, and have been in the publishing world since I was in my teens, having worked for newspapers, other media, and eventually being an editor of a newspaper.

What’s the hardest part for you in doing indie-publishing?
Marketing. My background is in marketing, and I can sell just about anything, but when it comes to selling me, I tend to be more reserved. I’ve had a large following on Facebook and Instagram and I have no problems authentically sharing in that way, but “pitching a book” is a whole different game. If an indie book is going to “make it” you have to hustle it, and I’ve not found that to be a strong talent.

What are some of the promotions that you’ve done that have been the most successful?
Honestly, hands down get yourself some solid reviews. Even if you have to pay to have the book read for an honest review, it’s worth it. You can use the reviews in your marketing materials. I also enjoy the giveaways, though I haven’t seen a huge return in the way of reviews and things of that nature.

What would you tell other authors to avoid?
I tend to avoid book awards unless they are local or very specific to the book's niche. I think there are a lot of companies capitalizing on the Indie market who will take your $100 and run. Those costs can add up quickly. Do your research and pick one or two awards contests to enter. Teetering on Disaster, my memoir, was a winner in the San Diego Book Awards and that was a very positive experience.
What has frustrated you the most in putting your books together?
Nothing about writing or publishing frustrates me. This is honestly my happy place. Pen to paper, creating and seeing it go live is the good stuff. That said, I’m shopping queries now and the rejection is real, and that is hard. I’ve actually joined a women’s group called Wild Women Rising, put on by Dr. Florie Wild, to help me with the emotional process of rejection and believing in my journey and ability to see my next book find its way to Hudson News (a dream for me is seeing my books at airport bookstores, as I travel a lot).

What has pleasantly surprised you in the process?
I have this little mantra…Detachment earns freedom from the result. I think detaching from the outcome has been the most beautiful part of the process. Most people write for a lasting legacy…embrace the journey.

What advice would you give someone who wants to publish their own book?
Get a good editor. Pay for editing. I had problems with hastiness in my first publishing and people caught the typos. Have someone at a small press edit your work. It really helps finish out the story and cleans up any grammar and storyline issues that might exist.

If you are doing a children’s book consider a company like Jera Publishing who can handle the layout. I am experienced in working with InDesign from my time as a newspaper editor, but there are so many details on illustrated books, and even traditional books to be mindful of.  There are many companies to help you with all facets of publishing. This will remove a lot of frustration from the process, and it will take them a fraction of the time it will take you.

What is the writing best advice you’ve been given?
That a great writer is a great reader first. I’m an avid reader. I ALWAYS have a book in my purse. I read all types of genres, for all ages. I think there’s no better way to have your pulse on the writing community than to dive into a great book. Plus, I’m a firm believer that in giving there is receiving.

Any books in the process that you’d like to share with my readers?
As I hinted, I’m working on a fiction book. I’m over the moon excited because it’s commercial fiction at its finest. It’s got drama, and humor and mystery, but it’s also very character driven. The book follows four women who live very different lives, but their paths are forced to cross to stop a murder.

That's all for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Michaela's books, here are some links to get you started. 
Amazon Author Site:

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