New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Michelle Leighton, is a native of Ohio who relocated to the warmer climates of the South, where she can be near the water all summer and miss the snow all winter.
Possessed of an overactive imagination from early in her childhood, Michelle finally found an acceptable outlet for her fantastical visions: literary fiction.
Having written over two dozen novels, these days Michelle enjoys letting her mind wander to more romantic settings with sexy Southern guys, much like the one she married, and the ones you’ll find in her latest books.
When her thoughts aren’t roaming in that direction, she’ll be riding wild horses, skiing the slopes of Aspen or scuba diving with a hot rock star, all without leaving the cozy comfort of her office.
Michelle Leighton Interview
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Books by Michelle Leighton
Michelle Leighton Transcript
Tim Knox: Hi everyone, welcome to Interviewing Authors. Michelle Leighton is my guest this week. Michelle is the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 25 books, including the Bad Boys Series, the Wild Ones Series, and a wide assortment of paranormal romance novels that feature vampires, witches, and mermaids.
Michelle’s story is fascinating. She had never even thought about becoming an author until her sister turned her on to the Twilight Series and she was so unhappy the story ended, she wrote her own; the practice vampire romance novel called Bloodline, which she wrote in two weeks.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
This was a fun interview to do. Michelle talks about what inspires her, how she channels what she calls her ‘big imagination’ into her work, and how she has become one of the most prolific novelists of our day.
Here now is my interview with Michelle Leighton, on this edition of Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Michelle, welcome to the program.
Michelle Leighton: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Tim Knox: It’s great having you on the show. We have a lot to talk about but before we get started, if you will, tell the audience a little about you.
Michelle Leighton: Well unlike the vast majority of authors out there, I never considered writing ever. I first started out wanting to be a lawyer and then went to a cardiologist and then ended up being a database manager for many, many years. From there I decided that I wanted to be a nurse so I went to nursing school and got my RN and I worked in the nursing field for many, many more years.
I was one of those people that I used to laugh and say I coined the term, ‘quitting Tuesday’, because after a vacation or after a really good weekend… I just never found a job that felt like it was right, like it was meant for me. I never found my niche. I coined the term ‘quitting Tuesday’ because often Monday was just too much to bear so Tuesday would roll around and, “Well I think I’m going to go find something else.”
After years of this, and nursing isn’t a field that’s easy to do that in. It was just very challenging. I had just been managing a mental practice and I took a two week vacation. During that two week vacation – I’m sure you’ve heard this too many times to count – my sister insisted that I read Twilight. I was like are you serious? He’s 117 and she’s 17. That’s gross. I just could not fathom how this book could be such a great thing.
Well let me tell you. I’m sure you’ve heard this 1,000 times. I was just captivated. Over the next three days I barely slept. I read all four books back to back. I was so devastated when it was over. I felt like all my friends had moved away. The only logical thing I could do since Stephanie Meyer would not bend to my will and write more, I thought, “Well I’m just going to write my own and I will have characters that I can keep around as long as I want to. I can write a million books if I want to. I can have them do whatever I want to.”
So I sat down and over the remainder of that… it was a little longer after my vacation had ended but it took me exactly 14 days of working pretty much day and night to write a 105,000 word paranormal romance. I felt in love, absolutely fell in love and the rest is history I guess.
Tim Knox: That is incredible. So basically you couldn’t hold a job.
Michelle Leighton: I held many jobs. I just hated them.
Tim Knox: You dabbled in a lot of different professions but you had never been a writer. You didn’t write when you were young. So you were inspired by these Twilight books to write your own. What attracted you to that genre?
Michelle Leighton: When I was younger I loved anything with vampires or werewolves. I’ve always loved supernatural and at the time paranormal was peaking because of Stephanie Meyer. It’s always been around but just like everything else it kind of ebbs and flows.
So when my sister was telling me about these books, normally it would have appealed to me. I had just never read a YA book and when she was telling me about, “He’s so old and she’s so young,” but man, once I started it I was hooked. I was totally hooked.
Tim Knox: So the characters were really what got you initially or was it the story itself?
Michelle Leighton: It had to be the characters. The story, if you’ve read Twilight, the way that it starts out it has a little bit of a hook in the beginning but she just does a phenomenal job of drawing you into these character’s lives and making you love them. She’s got skill, mad skill. I can only hope to one day be a little bit like that.
Tim Knox: She got mad skill. Your twang is coming out. That’s pretty good.
Michelle Leighton: I’m not a Southerner. What do you mean?
Tim Knox: I caught that. She got mad skills. You can be one of my Alabama cousins. So let’s go back here. So you had never written but you read these Twilight books and you were so inspired and so in love with the genre you decided to write your own. What was that book? Tell us what it was called and what was it about?
Michelle Leighton: Well it was called Blood Bond, not very original at all. It has never been published but it was a vampire book. I mean really the premise was totally different than Twilight but it was a vampire book of the adult variety. I had always read adult books, not like “adult books”, just adult and not YA books.
I don’t know. I guess it was my way of creating something similar but not like it that I could hang on to. I don’t know. It’s the strangest thing. I’ve not really read that many books that get their claws into me like that and that book really did. I felt so close to them. Maybe it’s because I spent practically every waking moment with them for like three or four days. But I did. I felt like all my friends had moved away.
I had this job that I was really dreading returning to and I was just kind of in crisis mode I think and I poured everything into that project. I realized how much I loved it. Like I said, I never kept a journal when I was younger, never thought about being a writer. It just never occurred to me. I’ve always had a big imagination, wild dreams. The doctor used to tell my mom, “She’ll grow out of it.” I’d wake up in a different room in the house. I would dream people were in my room trying to get me so I’d just get up and go to a different room. It happened to me all the time.
My husband, God love him, he has to put up with that stuff now. So I’ve always had a big imagination. I just never thought of channeling it into writing.
Tim Knox: And you wrote 110,000 words in 14 days. That’s a massive amount of writing. You must have been literally writing every waking hour.
Michelle Leighton: There were times when I’d be up until 2 o’clock in the morning and my husband at the time would get up around 5 and take a shower and get ready for work. I would get up when he got up and I’d go right back in there.
Tim Knox: Did he think you were nuts?
Michelle Leighton: I think that he knew that I was a woman on a mission. Don’t get in my way. He knew I had something to prove to somebody. He was very supportive. When I actually realized how much I loved it I was kind of at a crossroads. We talked about it and at the time Amanda Hawking was making a big splash in self-publishing.
Everybody who hears this don’t hate me. You’ve got to let me finish. At the time I was like, “I’m not self-publishing. That’s like admitting defeat. I’m not going to do it.” So I told him I’m going to query this book. I’m serious. I’m actually going to try and see if it’s worth anything. I didn’t know… I had never even visited a blog. I was a nurse and before that I was in database. I was never out in the world, in this literary world, especially not online.
He was very supportive and I had queried and queried and queried and got some useful feedback and it didn’t go anywhere of course. It was January of the following year. I had written three more books by then and I decided to just throw caution to the wind and do it. I self-published my first book and it sold two copies the day that I published it, which was huge for me. That was the best two books I ever made in my life.
Tim Knox: That’s hilarious. What year was this? What year did you write the first book?
Michelle Leighton: I wrote the first book in 2009 and I went back to work because obviously querying didn’t pan out. My mother-in-law got sick with cancer and she had a fairly bad battle for several months so we were back and forth to Virginia. When we got back I sat down and wrote another book and then two more following that. It was 2011 when I published my first book.
Tim Knox: I really want to talk a little more about this first book because you had never had a desire to be a writer. When you set down and that thing shorted in your head and you decided to become a writer. When you sat down, did you know how to write? I mean you had never really taken writing classes or thought about it before. What was your process when you sat down at the computer and started to write?
Michelle Leighton: I literally did exactly that. I sat down at the computer and I started to write. I’ve read my whole life. I can remember… what are they called? They have the gold spine, the little children’s books. I can’t remember what they’re called. My mom used to read those to me until literally the pages would fall out. Cinderella over and over and over again, all of those old stories. I was hooked on them when I was little. In my teenage years I used to sneak my mom’s big thick books, romance books. I used to sneak those until I was old enough to where I was allowed to read them.
So I had read my entire life and sitting down and coming up with a story, I didn’t even bat an eye. I just sat down and started typing. I’ve never been a person to plot. I have tried it and I can do it but I feel like it suffocates my creativity just a little bit. I just feel like I don’t enjoy my job as much when I plot. But even had I known at the time that that’s what I should have done I don’t think it would have turned out like it did. This was like a labor of love. I sat down and it poured out. As fast as I could type it just poured out, all of it.
Tim Knox: That’s amazing to me. Did you have an idea of the characters or anything? Did you have an idea for the story or did you literally sit down and just stream of consciousness write?
Michelle Leighton: I had one idea. This is how most all of my stories start. I’ll have a single thing, whether it’s a quote or a character name or a plot twist or whatever the case may be. In this instance it was a necklace. It looked like a cross. To the naked eye at a distance it looked like a cross but when you got up close to it the upright part of the cross actually tapered down longer into what looked like a fang and the bottom part of it was kind of frosted and it’s a lot softer. That necklace is what started the whole entire story.
Tim Knox: How did you come up with the necklace? Did that just pop into your head?
Michelle Leighton: It just popped into my head, yeah.
Tim Knox: Was it also a romance, I would assume?
Michelle Leighton: Yes, I only write romance. I think my books have an element of mystery sometimes and different elements of probably a couple different genres but primarily they are definitely romance.
Tim Knox: So once you had this book written you went through the old traditional route of querying agents. I can paper walls in my house with rejection letters. How did you handle the fact that no one was as excited about this book as you were?
Michelle Leighton: Well despite the fact that I coined ‘quitting Tuesdays’, when I’m determined about something, when I really want something I tend to be a little more tenacious, kind of like a pit bull. I was going to keep writing until I wrote something that people wanted to read.
Shortly after the rejection… it was in June of 2009 when I wrote that first book. I had to go to the library and get this huge book. I forget what it was called – Literary Marketplace or something like that. It had zillions of pages of publishers and agents and it’s just so overwhelming. It took me, around work when I’m working full-time, it took me forever just to get query letters out because some people would take emails and some people wouldn’t. It was this huge long process. It was the beginning of the next year before I wrote my next book.
I was discouraged at first but then I kind of put it aside, the whole thing – the querying, the writing, the whole thing and decided this is my lot in life. I need to just do this and walk away. Writing is one of those things that I think probably most writers will agree. It’s kind of like a bug that gets in your blood and you just can’t… you might be able to put it away for a little while but I don’t think you could ever really escape it. So I did come back to it and wrote the book to follow that first book, Blood Bond. I only queried it a very little bit and then I wrote two more books after that.
It was actually the fourth book that I wrote that was YA and that’s the one that I self-published and it’s actually the first book that’s out. It’s called The Reaping. It was a romance but it was definitely a thriller. I’ve had so many people tell me they had to read it with the lights on. That’s probably where my crazy imagination comes in. I really can go wild with paranormal.
Tim Knox: So that book that you finally self-published was called The Reading. Is that right?
Michelle Leighton: The Reaping.
Tim Knox: That’s much more ominous than The Reading. Tell us about it. Did you keep the characters you had created in earlier books or was this a whole fresh start?
Michelle Leighton: This was a whole fresh start. This one also started with just a nugget of an idea and actually the funny thing is that exact part never made it into the book. As I wrote the book, because I’m not a plotter, it kind of unfolded for me like it does for readers. Although that’s what started the idea, that part never actually ended up in it.
I had this… I don’t want to say a vision because that sounds so hokey but like it just popped into my head, this image of a blonde and a girl with fiery red hair facing off against each other but they’re twins. They look exactly alike except for the hair and they were facing off in this old cabin. You could see the sunlight streaming through the windows, the dust floating in the air between them and that’s what gave me the idea for The Reaping. She’s a twin and she doesn’t realize she’s a twin.
Of course it’s paranormal so there’s all sorts of crazy stuff that happens to her and between the twins and that kind of stuff but that’s how it started.
Tim Knox: And this was a YA book?
Michelle Leighton: Yes, they’re in high school. The main characters are in high school.
Tim Knox: Do you like writing for that market? What attracts you to that?
Michelle Leighton: I do. There is a charm about writing about the struggles of that time of life. There’s an innocence to it. Of course all the books are kind of coming of age so you see the characters sort of lose that innocence and realize what life really is about and how hard it is but there’s still something so charming about going back to that time and place in life when you were young and you didn’t really know what was out there. It’s just different. It has its own very distinct appeal.
You can find YA of any kind. You can find YA that probably should be called like mature YA or something else but I always took YA very seriously as far as my readers go. I always felt like I needed to impart some kind of good message in my books, and they were always very, very clean – no language, no sex, nothing like that. There’s something very refreshing about writing books like that.
Tim Knox: And you do it very well. Let’s talk about that book. When you self-published it did you do it through Kindle or what did you do?
Michelle Leighton: I did. At the time… this is funny. It was a few months before Barnes & Noble even had their own publishing site so the only two options that you had were Kindle and Smashwords, which I learned from watching Amanda Hawking because she was so open about the whole process and all of her struggles and all of her successes and everything. She was so transparent about it all. You could read her blog and find out very quickly how to self-publish a book. That’s exactly what I did.
Tim Knox: You had to learn to do it. When you did that, you self-published and got it all up there. What happened next?
Michelle Leighton: Well if I’m not mistaken I hit the publish button on January 29th and it went live on the morning of the 30th. That very first day I sold two books and I was amazed. I didn’t know how it was going to get out there. I had no clue what I was doing, not a clue. I didn’t know anything about marketing. I didn’t know anything about… like I said, this whole literary world, about bloggers, nothing. I just put the book out there. It was the grace of God that people actually found them because they did.
It was a slow start. I sold two that month. Of course it was just the last couple days of January. I think my second month I sold 12 and I remember telling my husband, “You know what? Maybe one day I can get to where I can sell 10 copies every day. Can you imagine?” It was just so surreal thinking that people would pay money to read my book. I thought what if 10 people every day would go out and read the synopsis of my book and decide they want to read it, that they like it that much that they want to pay for it and read it? It was just absolutely mind boggling to me. I don’t know if anyone else feels like that or if it’s just me.
Tim Knox: Oh, everybody. I always ask that question, how did you feel when you sold those first books? “Oh I was doing the happy dance.” It’s validation. Even if you sell one book. It’s validation that someone actually read this other than me.
Michelle Leighton: Yeah. When you’re first starting out like that and you have been turned down by all the professionals in the world you do begin to wonder. I don’t know that I ever really thought, “This is awesome,” but I thought to myself, “It felt so good, somebody has to want this book. It’s going to bust the world right open.” I think everybody has that moment when they think that.
You get so much rejection and you begin to wonder, am I the only person that likes this? Am I not seeing what everyone else sees? That is always true. I think that there are going to be some people who love your characters as much as you do but there’s always going to be that portion of people who just don’t get it. They don’t get your books, they don’t get your humor, they don’t like your characters, whatever the case may be.
Starting out you kind of wonder. Is this crap? Is this absolute, utter crap? So I was absolutely thrilled and I tend to be a grateful person anyway. I mean every step of it, even the hard parts. I can look back and be very thankful for it. At the time where a lot of people were doing a happy dance, I probably was… if you could imagine me just sitting in front of my computer staring at that screen that said I sold two books almost in tears. That kind of thing. That’s how I felt. I wasn’t doing a happy dance. I was like a quivering mass of goo.
Tim Knox: So the book eventually started to sell. What was the progression? Did you keep writing? Did you start marketing that book? What did you do?
Michelle Leighton: Well I did keep writing. Especially when I don’t focus so much on plotting things out ahead of time, I can… like I said, I wrote that one book in 14 days. My quickest ones I think are 14 days, 16 days and 21 days. Those are the fastest that I’ve written books. Still I can usually pound out a book in about a month.
While this one was going on I was like I’m going to make a career out of this so I was writing furiously. As soon as I published The Reaping, I went and published the book I had just written before that, which was called Caterpillar. It was an adult kind of… it had a hodgepodge of crazy characters in it. I don’t even know if I’d call it vampire. The main guy was a vampire.
Anyway, so yes, I was still writing. I think that my second month… let’s see, first month I sold two and the second month I sold 12. I think the third month it jumped up to like 146 but at that time I had the first two books and then in February of that year I had published another book. That was the one I wrote in 21 days and it was called Wiccan and it was about witches obviously. Clever title right? No, it was about hamsters.
So I had put that one out and I think I sold like 146 in March. I had the three books out for sale then. I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I could see, hey, if I work my butt off doing something I love maybe I can make it. If I can just make enough. That’s what my husband and I, God love him, we decided we were going to suck it up and just really tighten the belt and do whatever we had to do. He said, “We’ll do this for a year and see if it will work.” He was so supportive. He never once questioned it. He did read one of my books and he said, “I think you really do have some talent at this,” so that was very encouraging.
My one goal was to make enough money so that it would replace my nursing income. That was my one goal. Things started picking up really quick. I wrote another vampire book and it was called Blood like Poison and it did remarkably well, especially considering… I mean at the time I was a nobody. I didn’t have any friends in the writing world. I wrote under a pen name. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to fail too publicly so nobody knew that I was writing – no friends. My sister was the only person. My sister and my husband were the only people in the world who knew I was writing. I had nobody. I had no support of any kind. I had no one to ask questions to. I had nobody to guide me, nothing. I was just out there learning.
Every chance I had when I wasn’t writing I was on the internet looking up success stories and how you do this and where’s a good place to put that. I finally found Goodreads and put my books on there. It was just a constant learning curve and I still feel like it is. There are things I learn every day. I haven’t put my books on Google Play yet. I just found out about that like two days ago.
Tim Knox: It’s almost like there’s too much out there. Do you ever feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose?
Michelle Leighton: Yes.
Tim Knox: The one thing you said that I find really interesting is your first book was YA but your second book was a different genre altogether. It was more of an adult book.
Michelle Leighton: Yes.
Tim Knox: That seemed to work for you though. Did you find that people who were picking up one book went back and bought the rest?
Michelle Leighton: I didn’t experience that quite as much I think because that is one thing that doesn’t do me any favors I don’t think. I do tend to write what inspires me, whatever that is, and it could be YA or paranormal or contemporary. I’ve written a variety of books. I’m not the kind that puts out a lot of cookie cutter kind of things, like I find what works for me and does it.
Business-wise that is the brilliant thing to do. Or to write in a series where people will buy the first one and then, you know, if you’ve got 12 in that series they’re probably going to buy most of them if they’re decent books and you follow the series and they’re the same type of books and they know that to expect. That’s a brilliant strategy and I wish, I so wish that I was the kind of writer that could do that. I don’t know. I write all over the place. It’s a flaw.
Tim Knox: I don’t think it’s a flaw so much as a skill. What you’re doing is you’re actually building multiple audiences in various genres. I’ve talked to a lot of authors who would be horrified to write outside of their genre because they don’t want to lose or tick off those particular fans. You’re all over the place and it’s working incredibly well. You’re building multiple audiences, which I’m an old business guy and that’s a very smart thing to do.
Michelle Leighton: Well if you look at it from that perspective it’s kind of like diversify.
Tim Knox: Exactly.
Michelle Leighton: I do have a diverse catalog. I have to say that. People I think now can kind of identify my voice in a book. Everybody has their own style and voice and all that kind of stuff but that’s probably – other than a happy ending – about the only thing that holds true from book to book of mine. You could pick it up and you could find witches, you could find young people, you could find college kids. I write all over the place.
I hope that I can write a good enough story to where people will enjoy whether it’s what they were expecting or not. That’s my goal. I want to write great books, period, whatever they’re about. I’d love to try my hand at a mystery one day. Some of mine have a sort of mysterious feel but I’m talking a straight up mystery. Everyone warns against doing something like that. “Stick with what’s working right now. You can do those kinds of things later.”
Since I’ve been fortunate enough to have an agent and the kinds of input that I have now from people who have been in the business so long, I’m a little wearier about being so capricious in my writing. I try to stick with what is relevant right now.
Tim Knox: At what point did you attract an agent? What was that process?
Michelle Leighton: After having written… I don’t have the number right off top of my head; I’m going to say maybe 9 or 10 books. All but one of them were paranormal and I could see the market. I had been in it for about a year and a half and I could see other people kind of striking gold. I had had some success but friends of mine were having more success and I thought what am I doing wrong? You should never compare yourself to other people but in a world like this where… I mean I think it’s almost impossible not to look at it and say how can I improve? How can I do better? That’s kind of where I’m always at. I always, always want to do better.
I thought maybe my writing’s too stiff. Maybe it’s this. Where I grew up reading adult books, I tended to write in sentences that probably were more reflective of adult books than YA books and so I thought maybe I just need to chill out and write something that just flows, not stream of consciousness but a little more genuinely.
So I call this my Hail Mary book. I started writing it in June of 2012. I sat down with a little bit of an idea about a guy who loves horses and I wrote just literally like… I mean it was about country people, which I didn’t have a tendency to write about people I might have gone to high school with but these were people that I probably could have. They lived in the country. They had a little bit of slang. Sentences weren’t always complete. Structure wasn’t always there. Grammar, eh, maybe it is and maybe it’s not.
I sat down and I wrote that one almost out of desperation I think and it’s called The Wild One and that was the first book of mine that ever broke into the Amazon Top 100 and it did really, really well. It was the first New York Times bestseller that I ever wrote and it got the interest of a wonderful agency, Trident Media Group. Kim Whalen is my agent. I talked to several and she just has a way about her that just kind of blows you away. So that’s who I’ve worked with ever since.
Tim Knox: Now was that book that hit the New York Times list – was that a self-published book?
Michelle Leighton: It was.
Tim Knox: Tell me what that felt like.
Michelle Leighton: Oh, (sigh).
Tim Knox: I think that sums it up, the sound you just made.
Michelle Leighton: Words fail me. I was at the Decatur Book Festival, kind of like a signing thing there. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. It was 105 million degrees and 1,000% humidity. Me and two authors that I know and love had been in a tent all day cooking and we went back to our rooms to change to go out to dinner for our last night.
This is the beauty of social media. I got word from my agent that my book had hit the New York Times and… actually, to be clear it did not hit the New York Times before I got an agent. It was the week that Kim and I started working together; that’s when it hit the Times. It had gotten some interest because it was doing well on Amazon.
Anyway, so I went up to my room to mop up sweat and try to look presentable to go out to dinner and I get this call from Kim to tell me I hit the New York Times. I remember sitting on the edge of that bed and just staring off at the television that was sitting across from me. Courtney, one of my very best friends, came up to my room to get me when we were ready to go and I told her.
I don’t ever want people to think that I brag or anything like that. I didn’t even know what to say but she was my best friend and I had to tell somebody because I was about to bust. I told her. “I just got a call from Kim and I hit the New York Times,” and she was beside herself. She happened to mention it to another girl. This was probably like an hour later. By the time we got to the restaurant, which is like a tavern we were all going to, I walked in and everybody in the whole room… there were people like eating there, just plain, regular not associated with us, weren’t there for the festival people who congratulated me when I walked in.
We had champagne. It was just like… I’m sure you can hear the smile in my voice. It was amazing. There’s just no feeling like it in the whole world. You talk about validation. Right there it is. That was the cream. That is the cream, dude.
Tim Knox: Are you still self-publishing or did you go the traditional route?
Michelle Leighton: I do both.
Tim Knox: Kind of a hybrid?
Michelle Leighton: Yeah.
Tim Knox: You are so prolific and write across different genres. You have four or five different series that you do?
Michelle Leighton: Oh gosh, series.
Tim Knox: You can’t even keep up with how many books you’ve written, can you?
Michelle Leighton: I think including ones that I haven’t published, I think I’m currently writing my 26th book.
Tim Knox: Amazing. A good friend of mine, Russell Blake, writes a book every four or five weeks. I think you’re right in there with him.
Michelle Leighton: I used to write more than what I do now. I think over time you just get to where you’re like, I need a break. I just want to go and think a little bit. I don’t know. I think for me I love a pace where I’m putting out a book about every three months. That is like a life of leisure. I can write but I can still think but I can still have a life.
Tim Knox: Do your books have an average length?
Michelle Leighton: Now probably now so more than ever. I wrote a little longer, a little longer winded I think earlier on. You learn how to use that scalpel a little bit more as you learn to write more. Now I would say on average probably about 70,000.
Tim Knox: Which is still a good number of words.
Michelle Leighton: Yeah.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about your process. One of the things I hear a lot, especially from authors who are very involved in self-publishing is how you have to really be an entrepreneur as well as an author. You’ve got to get out there and sell and market and build relationships and do customer service. Talk a little about that process. I know now you have an agent and you do hybrid publishing. Do you approach this as a business? Do you have an entrepreneur’s mindset now for your work?
Michelle Leighton: No, unfortunately I do not. I don’t like marketing at all. In fact I would probably go so far as to say I hate it. I’m one of those people – I cannot sell myself. Some people can sell their books and I so wish I could do that.
I will talk your ear off if you meet me or if you strike up a conversation with me on Facebook or Twitter or something. I’ll talk your ear off but unless someone asks me, “What do you do?” or asks me a specific question about a book they’d probably never know I’m an author.
Tim Knox: You don’t appear to me to be bashful at all.
Michelle Leighton: I’m not bashful. It’s weird. I guess it’s a Southern thing. It’s so ingrained in me to not brag and to not push myself on people, just those things that mamas teach you growing up. They’re so ingrained in me that I just… I don’t know. I just have a lot of difficulty doing that. I always have. People would tell me that they do all these amazingly creative things for marketing to get their books out there and stuff and I’m like, “Oh I never thought of that.” I’m not even marketing-minded that way. I would rather be writing. Honestly that’s where my heart is and that’s where my brain is.
Tim Knox: You mentioned social media. Talk a little about the relationship you do have with your readers. That’s one thing that I always like to talk to authors about is how the internet and social media has opened up the floodgates. Your readers can actually interact with you where they probably couldn’t do that 5 or 10 years ago. Do you interact with your readers a lot? Do you have a great relationship?
Michelle Leighton: I do. I think it has slowed down in the last I’m going to say since probably September of 2012. At that point I had put out a book that did phenomenally well. It’s my bestseller to date and I was so… I don’t have an assistant. I do my own covers. I do my own editing, formatting, everything. I started this solo and I have just kind of carried on with that. I’ve just never let go of any part of it.
Like I said, I had to start a Twitter account. I had never even been on Twitter before I was a writer. I had started a new Facebook author page, all this stuff. So when this book did really, really well and I had so much contact. I mean I have contact from readers anyway and I love hearing from them. But it was so overwhelming to me. I just go, I’m going to shut down completely. I took the comments thing off of my blog because I felt like I couldn’t keep up and I didn’t want to be rude by not responding. I took the comments off of my author page for the same reason. People were contacting me and I couldn’t keep up.
That’s when I really started suffering really badly from insomnia. It bothered me so badly that I couldn’t sleep, you know. I just felt so overwhelmed and it took probably three or four months for me to kind of ease back into everything. Once it did it seems like I missed some crucial thing in social media, Facebook in particular. It seems like the mean people came out or something, not to me; it’s not directed toward me.
It seems like when I scroll through my timeline there’s people bashing each other, authors bashing authors, authors bashing bloggers, bloggers bashing authors, bloggers bashing each other, people posting insane, awful stuff about their personal life. I’m the type of person that I kind of suck in whatever is around me. If there’s a lot of drama going on, like I feel like it literally wilts my soul. I’m a happy person. I’m polite and kind and I try to get along. I love to laugh. Like I said, I’ll chat your ear off but I just can’t do the mean people thing and I can’t do the drama.
So I have really, really, really backed off a lot of social media and unfortunately that was where I was able to really interact with my readers a lot. So since then… and this has just been in like the last month. I started a group on Facebook, not a street team, and I posted everywhere that I could that this is where you can find me. I just can’t go out there at large anymore. As many people that want to come can come and find me. I will be there and answer your questions and talk and chat and I’ll post crazy stuff. I’ll be me. You can be you and everybody be nice and that’s where I am.
I know that sounds terrible and it sounds like I’m such a weakling and so immature and stuff but you give so much of your life, especially when you’re self-published. You give so much of your life to your craft and to the people who love your books. I adore them. If I could buy all of them a potted plant I would. I adore every single one of them. They took a chance on me when they had no reason to. They took a chance on me. The depth of my gratitude, there just aren’t’ words.
It occupies so much of your life because you take it with you everywhere you go. If you have a Smartphone you take work with you everywhere you go and when work becomes these people who are mean to each other and who have nothing but nasty things to say, I can’t carry that around all the time. I can’t.
Tim Knox: I don’t think that’s awful at all. I think you have to do that at some point. If you’re going to get caught up in your drama and it starts to affect your work, it’s going to start to affect your readers. I think you’re smart. I think you have to draw the line there at some point. In the few minutes we have left let’s give a little advice.
The audience for this show by and large are people who want to do what you’ve done, maybe not as prolifically. That’s just amazing, 26 books. These are authors who have written something or in the process and don’t really know what to do or how to do it, that sort of thing. Give them some advice on what to do.
Michelle Leighton: As soon as we get off here, I’m going to make myself a note, I did a post for a friend of mine who was doing this whole big thing on indies. She was baffled that I did all of my stuff for free, that I had found a way, or almost free. I wrote a huge thing about step-by-step how to take your written work and get it in front of readers for almost no money whatsoever. I’ll find you the link for that and I’ll send it to you so that you can add it in here.
I think that the best thing that any author can do for themselves is to put out the very best book that they can. I think that people will overlook maybe a cover that they don’t love. I think that you need to find a good cover. I think you attract a lot of attention with a really good cover but I think that you have to really make sure that what is underneath that cover is the absolute best that you can make it.
I have learned since starting out that if you carefully choose critique partners and beta readers you can polish your work to a brilliant shine that alone you probably couldn’t achieve. I didn’t know to do that and I wish that I had because I feel like my work has improved since finding people who could actually give me good feedback about it. That’s just one oddball tidbit that I would probably suggest to people, to new authors starting out. Find somebody that you can work with to make your book the very best it can be.
Tim Knox: Do you ever think about going back to that first book and maybe rewriting and releasing?
Michelle Leighton: I have actually. I’ve thought many times of doing it. Where I love my job so much is it seems like there’s always a book, an idea on deck that I’m dying to get into. I’ve just got to start it. It seems like that always gets put off until another day, another month. Eventually I would very much love to put that thing out and just see what people say about my very first book. I might cry but I would like to put it out.
Tim Knox: I think it’s funny. One of the things I hear a lot from a lot of authors is they have that book. They have that very first book that they wrote. It’s tucked in a drawer somewhere and they would never show it to anyone but it’s their favorite book because it’s the first one they wrote. Do you have that feeling?
Michelle Leighton: I don’t know if it’s my favorite book. I’m the type of person that sometimes I don’t understand what makes one book do better than another book because I love them all equally. That book is just plain old significant for me. Most authors have been writing for years, maybe since childhood. “Oh I kept journals and I wrote short stories and I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” or, “I took journalism,” or whatever the case may be.
This took me by storm. It swept in and changed my life unbelievably and in a way where I never saw it coming. It hit me like a freight train. That’s what that book is to me. I can remember the characters and all the details and all that good stuff but to me it is more like this monument or milestone or I don’t even know. It’s just so significant to me. It would probably crush me if people tore it apart. Maybe that’s why I don’t redo it and put it out. I don’t know.
Tim Knox: Maybe that’s a good thing to do. Michelle Leighton, this has been wonderful. Tell everyone how they can find out more about you and your books.
Michelle Leighton: Well I’m pretty much everywhere but I’m on Goodreads and Facebook and Twitter. I also have a blog and you can reach all of that through my website, which is www.mleightonbooks.com and there’s ways to contact me on there and if you want to ask me about my books I’d love to hear it. I absolutely love to talk about books in general. If you have something to say find me. I’ll chat your ear off.
Tim Knox: What are you working on now?
Michelle Leighton: I’m finishing up a book for Berkeley and then getting ready to start my next independent project, which is going to be All Things Pretty. It’s book #3 in the Pretty Series.
Tim Knox: Very good. One thing I love about you, your blog, you actually use the word “y’all”. I love that. Michelle, this has been wonderful. When you get the next book out will you come back and talk to us some more?
Michelle Leighton: I absolutely will. Thank you again so much for having me. I’m honored to be here.