Kendall Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance novels, including Hard to Love, Unravel Me, Resisting Her and When I Break.
She describes herself as a sassy, yet polite Midwestern girl with a deep love of books, and a slight addiction to lipgloss.
She lives in Minneapolis with her adorable husband and two baby sons, and enjoys hiking, being active, and reading.
Kendall Ryan Interview
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Kendall Ryan Books
Kendall Ryan Transcript
Tim Knox: Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of Interviewing Authors. Kendall Ryan is my guest today. Kendall is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance novels, including Hard to Love, Unravel Me, Resisting Her and the Filthy Beautiful Lies series which includes her new book Filthy Beautiful Forever, which is the fourth book in the series.
I loved talking with Kendall, who is very down to earth and open with her process and advice to other authors.
She actually started writing when her husband suggested she find a hobby to keep herself busy while he was studying. Turns out it was a great suggestion that launched the career that’s twelve books in and shows no sign of stopping.
Here then is my interview with Kendall Ryan on today’s Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Kendall, welcome to the program.
Kendall Ryan: Thank you so much for having me, Tim.
Tim Knox: We’re delighted to have you here. We’re going to have a lot of fun over the next half hour or so. Before we begin, if you will, give the audience a little background on you.
Kendall Ryan: Sure I have been basically a lifelong avid reader and been writing since 2010. I have self-published several books and have also gone traditional and have a series out with Simon & Schuster as well. I’m both indie and traditional.
I really started writing young adult novels back in 2010 and then sort of made the switch to romance. I heard all this buzz around 50 Shades of Gray and I had to know what that was all about so I picked it up and read it myself. I kind of thought, hm, I wonder if I could ever write an adult novel and it turns out I can. I’ve written 13 of them at this point and I’ve really got that romance bug and have loved every minute of it.
Tim Knox: So you started off in young adult and you became an adult romance writer then.
Kendall Ryan: Yes.
Tim Knox: Wow, interesting. Were you always a writer? When you were young did you write?
Kendall Ryan: No, I journaled and things like that but I never wrote. Actually my husband encouraged me to write my first book. He was getting his MBA so we both worked during the day and at night he’d have homework to do. I would kind of be bugging him like, “Let’s hang out,” and he was busy doing his homework on his laptop.
He would see me reading on my Kindle and one day he’s like, “You should try writing your own book.” I kind of laughed and I was like who just writes a book? How would I start? What would I do? But I had the time on my hands so I started sort of looking into it and researching and learning about how to plot and how you create a character arch and develop a character through a novel and about dialogue.
I just really started doing all this research and reading books on the craft of writing. I had experienced so many stories as a reader but I never thought about dissecting them and how do you create a story? So I began looking into that and really just got fascinated by the process and in turn tried writing my first book.
Tim Knox: You do realize that he encouraged you to go write so you would just leave him alone.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah. I don’t think he thought I would do it.
Tim Knox: It’s like telling your kids to go watch a Barney video. It seemed to work out really well for you. Let’s kind of dissect that a little bit if you don’t mind. You said you were an avid reader before you decided to write. As you were reading all those books, what was your favorite genre to read?
Kendall Ryan: I read pretty much everything. I read a lot of what I’m writing now so now I read a lot of romance. At the time I would read young adult, occasionally maybe a romance, nonfiction. I liked memoirs, books about different cultures. I got on a strange kick reading sort of adventure travel books and pretty much anything I could get my hands on, cookbooks, you name it. I was reading about two or three books a week at that time. Now it’s cut down a little bit.
Tim Knox: Did you have favorite authors back then that you liked to read?
Kendall Ryan: I think my favorites have pretty much remained Tammara Webber. I love her and she’s actually been a mentor of mine. I like Colleen Hoover and Jamie McGuire and some folks like that.
Tim Knox: So reading these books really though, even though you weren’t interested in writing at the time, you didn’t realize it but you were kind of almost educating yourself on what it took to write a good book and then you just backed that up with the fundamentals.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah I did and I think that’s really important too. Whenever I get emails from new writers and people looking to start writing, my advice to them is always… because they kind of want to learn about the market and how do you get published and that’s usually some of their first questions. I always encourage people to back up a little bit and really focus on the craft of writing and learning to write and write well.
My first book is a far cry from what my current books look like. It’s all about practice and learning and growing.
Tim Knox: Did you start writing the first book before you took the time to learn all that stuff?
Kendall Ryan: I was sort of going in tandem for a little bit there. I wrote a trunk novel as some people call it, where it doesn’t really ever need to see the light of day but it was my practice. I was learning.
Tim Knox: I keep trying to talk all these authors that I interview into letting me have their practice novel for anthologies. I haven’t had a single author take me up on that offer yet.
Kendall Ryan: I wonder why.
Tim Knox: I wonder why. Barry Lyga was telling me these funny stories about books that he had written and I’m like let’s do something with those and he’s like, “No way in hell would I give you these books.”
What was the first book that you wrote?
Kendall Ryan: I was writing historical romance for some reason set around the time of World War I. It was about a midwife. I have no idea how I got the idea but it was pretty fun just learning.
Tim Knox: Did you finish the entire book? How many pages was it?
Kendall Ryan: I did. I don’t know pages but word count I want to say it was around 85,000.
Tim Knox: So a sizable book.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah.
Tim Knox: After you wrote it did you actually try to do something with that particular book?
Kendall Ryan: I did not. I joined a writing group here in Minneapolis where I live. I showed them pieces of it and got critiques and rewrote it and edited it and really worked on this novel for quite a while. In the end I sort of knew that it was my practice novel and I wanted to take everything that I had learned and try something different.
Tim Knox: Did you learn a lot from the writer’s group? I hear this a lot, particularly from female authors who are in the genre that you’re in, that they really got a lot of good initially anyway of joining a good writer’s group and the feedback that they got. Did you find that helpful?
Kendall Ryan: I did definitely and I think it’s a couple of things. Number one is writing can be such a solitary pursuit. Certainly you make connections and friends online that can share in some of it with you but there’s just no replacement for sitting across the table from people and having them tell you what worked about your novel and what didn’t. So that experience was just really valuable for me.
Then understanding we’re all going through some of these same things and there’s not one way to write a novel and just learning all the different practices from some people saying, “I don’t plot at all and I don’t have an outline and I don’t know how my book is going to end,” and then I had 20 pages of an outline and I’m like, “Am I doing it wrong?” and just learning that everyone does it different and that’s okay too.
Tim Knox: Yeah I think the key there is to take the feedback that you get and do something constructive with it rather than get defensive, and realize that everybody has an opinion.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah that’s very true.
Tim Knox: So this was kind of your practice book. What was the next book?
Kendall Ryan: Then I proceeded to write about six or seven young adult novels. As I was getting more confident in those is when I started querying, looking for an agent. I did sign with an agent and ended up getting a couple of small offers on a book of mine that we had on submission but they were from ePublishers or boutique publishers. This was sort of at the time when self-publishing was really starting to take off, in like 2011 or 2012. Amazon and Barnes & Nobles had created these platforms where authors could do that really easily.
So even though I had offers to publish, I actually turned them down and said I don’t think that’s the right thing for me right now. I just kept working and working and eventually I did decide to self-publish, which I’m really quite happy about.
Tim Knox: It worked out well for you.
Kendall Ryan: Yes it did.
Tim Knox: How did you become interested in the young adult genre?
Kendall Ryan: Oh I don’t know if I have an answer for that.
Tim Knox: I’ve stumped you already.
Kendall Ryan: It’s a genre that I like to read and there’s so much well written young adult fiction and I think people are experiencing that, especially with a lot of the more popular books being made into movies recently – Hunger Games, Divergent, If I Stay. All of those were fantastic novels written years ago. So I was just loving reading in the genre and began sort of dabbling writing in it as well.
Tim Knox: Did you initially come up with an idea or a character for the first book that really started the process?
Kendall Ryan: Usually I sort of come up with an idea I would say first, sort of a general concept. Then I fill in the characters really closely behind that because for me it’s more about the characters than it is plot. I think I write more character driven novels.
Tim Knox: What was that first novel? What was it called?
Kendall Ryan: Gosh you’re asking me to remember back a few years ago and I probably changed titles so I don’t even know.
Tim Knox: I always love it when I ask an author something about their book and they’re either, “I don’t know how many I’ve written.” It’s so funny but I can’t remember things either half the time.
Kendall Ryan: I actually counted how many books I have out right now before I spoke with you because I thought, “If he asks me how many books I have out and I don’t know the answer, that’s embarrassing,” so I do know that.
Tim Knox: How many books do you have out?
Kendall Ryan: I have 12 out right now.
Tim Knox: Good deal. I’m sure you remember what the first book was about.
Kendall Ryan: The first one that I published, absolutely. I didn’t know if you were talking about all the novels I’ve written so far, some that will not be published. The first book that I published is call Unravel Me and it’s about a woman who’s a PhD student studying amnesia and she meets a man who is in a mental hospital and being held because he has completely forgotten every detail of his life – who he is, his name. She feels he’ll be the perfect subject for her thesis and begins meeting with him and talking with him. Of course she did not count falling for him and that’s where the story sort of takes off.
Tim Knox: How did you morph from the young adult to the romance category?
Kendall Ryan: Well like I said, I didn’t know if I could write more of the adult type of romance but I sort of got inspired when I saw all of this greater buzz and enthusiasm for books like 50 Shades of Gray. It was more of an experiment for me than anything.
I sat down one day because I had this idea of a man with amnesia and a woman studying him and I thought could I do this? I ended up writing the book actually in 16 days, which is the fastest I’ve ever written a novel. I wish I could repeat that.
So I just sort of proved to myself that I could do it and that was very exciting.
Tim Knox: How did you manage to do it in 16 days? Were you just that driven or you had the idea and it wouldn’t let you go? Did your husband lock you in a room? That’s amazing.
Kendall Ryan: I want to repeat that so badly. I don’t know. It just really grabbed ahold of me and I couldn’t even sit and think without hearing like a conversation in my head and having to be near paper. So I just turned myself over to that process completely and I was a crazed woman just typing for hours each day. Yeah, it just sort of took over.
Tim Knox: I know you talk a lot about your characters are very strong characters. When you’re developing a character like this, how deep do you go into the background of a character? Do you know them intimately? Do you know everything there is to know about them and are there times when they actually take over the story from you?
Kendall Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. Before I begin a story I tend to complete a character worksheet – that’s what I call it – for each major character, so generally just the hero, heroine and maybe the villain of the story as well. It has just tons of basic facts. What do they look like, their hair color, eye color, occupation, family, greatest strength, greatest weakness, goals.
I sort of map all these little details out because I feel if I don’t do that, and there’s been times where I thought I’ll skip it because I really want to dive into the story. If I skip it and I don’t take the time to really get to know the character, I find that the writing sort of stalls out on me and I’m not sure what they would do in a given situation. Or I’m not sure how they would answer in a bit of dialogue. I really have to take the time to get to know them pretty intimately and that helps me throughout the writing of the story.
Tim Knox: It helps keep you consistent.
Kendall Ryan: Absolutely and to know how they’ll respond in a situation. I may be writing a scene and then go what are they going to do? Would they run away or charge forward? So getting to know the person really helps.
Tim Knox: I interviewed someone; I won’t reveal the name but he was laughing about this topic. He’s like, “Well I always let the reader make up what’s the character look like. I don’t really go in-depth.” Then he had a series. His third book in, the hero was chain smoking and he had a reader go, “When did he start smoking? He hasn’t smoked in three books.” The guy went, “Okay, maybe I should keep up better with my characters.”
Kendall Ryan: I think even if you don’t go into fully describing them for the readers, I think that’s nice as well when the reader can sort of envision a little bit on their own. I don’t want to change their eyes from green to blue halfway through the book so it’s just important. Even if I don’t mention it, I know that detail.
Tim Knox: Talk a little about writing in a series. You do that very well. Did you initially start off meaning to do a series or did it just morph that way or what?
Kendall Ryan: Yeah it just sort of morphed that way. My first five novels were all standalones and then my first series is called The Love by Design Series and the first book is called Working It. It’s about a male model who begins dating an assistant at the modeling agency. I wasn’t certain it was going to be a series but I thought it potentially could be. Through the process of writing it, I realized there’s a lot more story here to tell. There’s a lot more runway for these characters. There’s more obstacles and up and downs and things that need to happen before I’m ready to walk away from them.
So I sort of let the characters decide now at this point in my writing whether the book is going to be a standalone or part of a series.
Tim Knox: Do you enjoy writing series?
Kendall Ryan: I do but I enjoy it both ways. It’s interesting because I enjoy reading both as well. Sometimes it’s really nice to be caught up in a series and know there’s future books to look forward to but there’s also something really satisfying about having a story in one go and that’s it.
Tim Knox: Do you have an opinion on what they’re calling the episodic story now? They’re almost starting to write like episodes of television. What do you think about that?
Kendall Ryan: Those are getting pretty popular and I actually was thinking about that the other day. I’m like I don’t know if I’d know how to write one of those because you really have to end each one on sort of a mini cliffhanger or dramatic moment. So you have lots of those throughout your story arch. I think it’s somewhat challenging as an author to write that way.
Readers seem to really respond well to it and, yeah, I think it’s great.
Tim Knox: You’re not old enough to remember them but the old serial books back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. You would get them and they were very short, little… they were episodic. I agree with you, it’s almost like writing a television show and having to come up with 13 cliffhanging stories and then one resolution at the end.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah, it’s tough.
Tim Knox: That’s way more brainpower than I have. Let’s talk a little about your process now. Are you writing full-time now?
Kendall Ryan: I am, yes.
Tim Knox: Do you write every day? Do you have a certain routine that you follow or what?
Kendall Ryan: I am taking advice and tips so if you have any please let me know. I do write every day. I get kind of jealous when I’m no social media and I see authors who are like, “Oh I wrote 5,000 words today.” “I wrote 10,000 words today.” I’m like I hate you. I have written 200.
Some days go better for me than others. I have a loose routine. I write every day. I do some social media every day. It seems that the business side of things, the emails and being in contact with my editor and publicist and agent and cover designer and all these people that I’m involved with and lucky to have on my team; it seems like that takes up more time always than I expect it to.
So I have to structure my day so that I get my writing done first. I try to have a word count goal of about 2,000 words a day and sometimes I hit it and other times I don’t. So yeah, I’m definitely taking tips if you have any.
Tim Knox: I’m not sure that I do. The only thing that I ever hear from these people is just keep writing at any hour of the day. I want to talk a little about you are a hybrid author. You have an agent, you’ve done traditional publishing, you’ve self-published. How do you manage to keep all of that together? I mean is your agent okay with you self-publishing things? What’s your relationship with the traditional publisher? Talk to me a little about that hybrid soup there. How do you keep all of that going?
Kendall Ryan: Yeah it’s definitely interesting and I love both sides of it. My agent is a big proponent for self-publishing and she actually represents a lot of self-published author today, which is pretty cool so she’s well versed in that and pretty comfortable with it.
On the indie side I guess I have to say I enjoy the total freedom that it gives me. I decide my pricing. I decide the cover, the release date, the marketing strategy and really have total control over all of that.
Then with traditional publishing, when the opportunity was presented to me, my goal was to learn as much as I could through that process, through the great editors that I would get to work with. Then the other thing that attracted me was obviously the nationwide distribution to brick and mortar stores, which was the piece I was missing being independently published.
So I feel very blessed to have gotten the opportunity to do both. It was definitely hard going from indie to then traditional because I’m like, wait, you mean I don’t pick the date and the price and the cover?
Tim Knox: You’re not the boss anymore.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah, so that was an adjustment and I had just tons of questions but I had a very patient editor that I worked with. She was also familiar with working with indie authors. I’ve been very fortunate.
Tim Knox: How many books did you self-publish before you had something traditionally published?
Kendall Ryan: I had self-published five at that point.
Tim Knox: Did you have an agent at that point? At what point did you get the agent? You were still self-publishing?
Kendall Ryan: Yes. I’m on my second agent actually. I had an agent previously when I was writing young adult and trying to get traditionally published a few years ago so I’ve had an agent for quite a while now.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about the business side of this. You touched on it and I hear this a lot from self-published and hybrid authors. Just writing the book is now just a piece of the entire puzzle. You’ve got to be very entrepreneurial. You’ve got to market and deal with this thing and that thing. How do you maintain a balance between writing and doing all that other stuff that you have to do?
Kendall Ryan: Yeah I think as I was talking about before, I’m still learning how to balance it all. I tend to be a bit of a control so I kind of like to know what’s going on and have my hands in all of it. I definitely do that have that bug of wanting kind of the total control.
So sometimes I just need to take a step back and know that I have a great publicity team who is working on the marketing strategy and I don’t have to do that today. The most important thing for me is adding word count and continuing my stories.
So I’m still learning how to balance it all. It’s essential when you’re an indie author. You’re not just an author but you’re actually a publisher.
Tim Knox: Exactly. You’re really having to do everything. That’s one of the funny things. I talk to a lot of authors who will tell me, “I never thought I would know as much as I know about marketing and social media.” So you really have to develop a whole bag of trips. Really the day when all you had to do was write and you could just let everybody else do everything, those days are gone.
Kendall Ryan: That’s very true.
Tim Knox: Before we get out of here I want to talk a little bit more about your process and how you are handling things from the marketing side. Let’s talk particularly about social media. I think I might have found you on Twitter. I stalk a lot of people on Twitter.
What are you finding is the value of social media to an author like you? Is it helping you build relationships with readers? Is it helping you sell books?
Kendall Ryan: Oh all of the above. It’s actually like my playtime. Because I work from home now writing full-time and I don’t have an office full of coworkers where I can go walk down the building and meet up with a friend and get a cup of coffee – that’s how I do it now, with my fans online and it’s so fun to me. That’s my daily interactions that I get when I get to pop my head out of my Word document and that’s how I visit with people.
I think it does help sell books. I think all of that is there but truly I do it because I enjoy it. I love Twitter and Facebook is really big as well. I’m kind of on all of them – Instagram, Goodreads. I’m all over the place. I have social media ADD and I have a lot of fun on there.
Tim Knox: And you enjoy the interaction that you get with readers.
Kendall Ryan: Definitely.
Tim Knox: It really has exposed authors to… 5 or 10 years ago you weren’t going to go up to a bestselling author and chat with them. Now you really can and I think that relationship building is important, don’t you?
Kendall Ryan: Yeah absolutely and it’s not even just the readers that I would say I’ve built relationships with but it’s the other authors as well and that’s pretty cool. The community of indie and traditional authors, it’s nice to have that sort of peer network and share in happy times with each other and swap tips and share their news when they have a release day and they’re sharing my cover. It’s quite cool.
Tim Knox: And brag about how many words you wrote today.
Kendall Ryan: Yeah exactly. Then I go sulking back into my Word document.
Tim Knox: What’s on the horizon for you? What are you working on?
Kendall Ryan: Right now I have just finished a second novel in a series and it’s called Filthy, Beautiful Love and I’m beginning the third book in the series called Filthy, Beautiful Lust. The first book in the series just came out a couple weeks ago. I was delighted to learn it was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. So I’m hard at work getting the second and third books done for readers.
Tim Knox: Congratulations on that.
Kendall Ryan: Thank you so much.
Tim Knox: I’m going to assume Filthy, Beautiful Love is not a young adult book.
Kendall Ryan: Oh you are correct.
Tim Knox: Before I let you out of here – I know you’ve got to rush – any advice to the audience? This audience primarily are authors who want to do what you’ve done. They want to either successfully self-publish or be agented and traditionally published. What’s your best advice for these folks?
Kendall Ryan: Never stop. Believe in yourself. You can do it. If I can do it, truly anyone can. It’s the one job… writing I believe is the one job in the world that you have to work at like you are a full-time writer before you ever have hope of becoming one. Keep working hard every single day.
Tim Knox: And if your spouse tells you to go play by writing a book, give them a listen.
Kendall Ryan: You should do it.
Tim Knox: What’s your website?
Kendall Ryan: It is KendallRyanBooks.com
Tim Knox: And you’re on Twitter and Facebook if they search for your name.
Kendall Ryan: Yes, sir.
Tim Knox: Very good. This has been a joy. Will you come back and talk to us some more when you have more time?
Kendall Ryan: I would love to, Tim. Thank you so, so much.