AIMEE SALTER: LOVE OUT LOUD

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I’m excited to host Aimee Salter on the blog for several reasons. The first is that it gives us a chance to chat about her soon-to-be-released novel, LOVE OUT LOUD—which looks like it’s going to be pretty amazing. And the second is that Aimee has a really interesting story to tell. She began her career as a self-published author, lost her agent, got acquired by well-known book packager Alloy Entertainment, and has come full circle—she’s now agent-hunting and self-publishing again. Her journey sounded super intriguing, and I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say.

Hi Aimee! Thanks so much for being on the blog. Tell us about your new novel, LOVE OUT LOUD—what’s it all about, and what inspired you to write it?

Thank you so much for having me, Emily!

LOVE OUT LOUD has been a really unique experience for me as a writer. Last year when I was working on another YA book that was pretty epic both in size and technical requirements, I was really struggling. All my energy was going into very dry, technical work on this book and my creative juices were bottling up.

At the same time, I had recently discovered the band 30 Seconds to Mars (in my defense, I discovered their music and loved it before I learned that Jared Leto was their lead singer.) I’d built a YouTube playlist that I was playing on a loop which had the original video for their rock song The Kill ( https://youtu.be/8yvGCAvOAfM), along with a live, acoustic version they’d recorded in Spain that was completely stripped back and slowed down (https://youtu.be/9aQJ-u-Rwvc). I adored the song in general, but the live version became an obsession for me.

I love music and it’s a big part of fueling my writing. Without intending to write about it, these two versions of this song, which are so starkly different, got me thinking about rock stars and the creative process. The difference between what their “fans” know of their music and the process of creating it, versus what people close to them get to see and understand about their songs.

That was the germ of the story—which went from idea to 80% of the first draft in three weeks and without any planning. I usually outline my books and re-outline, plan for days or weeks ahead, and know exactly where the story is going. But I literally started writing this for fun, intending to just get the characters on the page. Except they wouldn’t stop coming. So I just let it run to its conclusion and sat back and went…there’s something here. It was a crazy experience.

On your website, you share that LOVE OUT LOUD deals with “some pretty heavy themes, including sexual harassment and assault.” What was it like to write about these issues for a young adult audience? Any unexpected challenges?

All my books are pretty heavy, honestly. I like stories that deal with actual reality—the hard stuff. The gut punches. So that aspect wasn’t difficult. But sexual assault is something I haven’t experienced, not at the really dark levels. But a lot of women close to me have, and have been generous enough to share their experiences. The challenge was trying to address this issue in a way that I know is real—but that I feel like even in the current social climate we often shy away from.

The truly unexpected thing about writing this story was when I reached a scene where I knew I needed to demonstrate that people’s bodies can respond to sexual activity, even while they’re being violated and their minds traumatized. It’s a conversation I rarely hear in the public domain, and I think it’s because victims who’ve experienced it know that it appears to indicate pleasure. When in reality, it’s a purely chemical reaction occurring under trauma.

I chose to depict that because it was honest to the character’s experience (and authentic to stories as they have been relayed to me.) But I recognize it will be a challenging idea for many readers. I guess we’ll see what they think this summer!

You’ve had an interesting journey through the world of publishing—beginning as a self-published author, losing your agent, getting acquired by well-known book packager Alloy Entertainment for two books, and now agent-hunting and self-pubbing again. What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned along the way, and what advice would you offer to writers who are just beginning their journey?

The biggest piece of advice I offer to anyone who’ll listen is that this industry won’t meet expectations. Or, perhaps, your expectations are probably unrealistic. Do your homework, then work within the boundaries that are set. Don’t try to make the boundaries fit to what you want. You’re just fighting a losing battle.

Between the changes in reader habits since e-books became such a significant part of the fiction market, and the chasm of difference between the monolithic traditional publishers and the much more agile small publishers and self-publishing options, what’s “normal” for writers has changed. (Even if writers’ expectations haven’t.)

The best thing a writer can do these days is pursue a dream, but with a mind and heart that’s prepared to go off-script if needed. Because often what our work demands from the industry is different to what we “hope” will happen. I’m of the opinion that traditional publishers’ paths have actually narrowed, rather than widened, because what they have to offer to an author is only profitable for writers in certain situations.

Self-publishing LOVE OUT LOUD is a reflection of this. Yes, I am looking for an agent again, and in fact have a different book doing the rounds. But I’m blessed to have several very reputable agents who have become professional contacts, if not friends. They’re open with their advice. They told me, in no uncertain terms (and I’ve had it confirmed by numerous authors writing similar stories) that this book wouldn’t get picked up by a traditional publisher. Wouldn’t even get past an intern’s screening for an editor to review it. Not because it couldn’t find readers, but because the bigger imprints are refusing anything that even remotely aligns with the New Adult category. (Mainly because the category shares a lot of readers with erotica, which the bigger publishers don’t want to touch.)

Although LOVE OUT LOUD features a high-school protagonist (Kelly), and is only sexually explicit in one scene, Kelly has an older boyfriend and is navigating a fairly adult world. The story crosses heavily into New Adult territory. Hence, my agent friends tell me, they couldn’t sell it even if they tried.

As a writer, I can try to force the industry to meet my expectations (because I do believe there’s a mainstream audience for this story) or I can put my energy into the avenues that are readily open. Which is what I’ve chosen to do.

If we develop thick skins, and a willingness to take paths we might not have considered, we can thrive in this industry. Without those, it will destroy our sensitive hearts.

How did EVERY UGLY WORD come to be acquired by Alloy? And what was it like to work with a book packager—did any part of the process surprise you?

For those that don’t know, Alloy Entertainment has been around a long time. But until more recent years, all their books were conceived by their editorial team, and written under write-for-hire contracts. They also had a much more significant focus on selling their stories into television and movie contracts than the average publisher, and were so successful at this, they were eventually bought by Time Warner.

I knew none of this back in 2014 when Alloy contacted me. They were, at the time, establishing a new, traditional imprint (not the book-packaging) with the goal of finding undiscovered self-published works that they felt were commercially viable, re-editing and re-designing to release in a digital-first format, distributed and marketed by Amazon.

My editor chose my book BREAKABLE (now EVERY UGLY WORD) and two others to be the flagship publications for this imprint.

Honestly, when she first contacted me I didn’t know Alloy’s name and so assumed it was a scam (there’s a lot of vanity publishers, and predatory, fraudulent outfits out there trying to prey on ambitious writers). But when I looked her and Alloy up and realized they were legitimate, it was incredible. I’d had no knowledge that they were reviewing my work. So it was, quite literally, a bolt from the blue.

The only thing that surprised me about the process (which was the standard substantive edit, line edit, copy-edit process) was how much work had to be done to improve my book. Don’t get me wrong, by that time I was hungry for help to make myself and my work better. I mostly loved it. But it’s tricky after self-publishing and having literally every decision be in your own hands, to have pretty much everything taken over by someone else.

Alloy are very open with their authors and I had a fantastic experience. My editor Lanie Davis was amazing, and really taught me how to write. They made my book so much better. But giving up control is hard, even when whoever has control knows what they’re doing.

You’re releasing LOVE OUT LOUD under the pseudonym Aimee Lynne. What drove you to make this decision? Has it been challenging to balance two author identities?

The drive to do this is purely commercial: LOVE OUT LOUD is a little more adult than my previous books. Whether readers realize it, or not, the branding on a book gives them expectations for the story. Writing under a pseudonym is nothing more than a subconscious heads-up to my existing readers to put their expectations of my work aside, as this one is different.

Ultimately, because my only real business “asset” is my name, I couldn’t afford to have my pseudonym set up as a completely different entity. So my social media identifies that Aimee L. Salter is also Aimee Lynne. So regardless of whether future books are pure YA, or this kind of YA/NA hybrid, there will be a place (and hopefully an audience) for them.

Why did you choose to self-publish LOVE OUT LOUD? What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks? Any tips or tricks for others who might be considering self-pubbing?

In terms of the general decision to self-publish or not, my default is always to get a contract and have a team behind me. But every decision is a balancing act—the value the publisher adds in knowledge and income has to be greater than what I lose by giving up my rights to the project. Because if a publisher goes out of business things can get really messy, really fast. And the casualties will include my book. That risk is too great for me, so I’ve essentially ruled out small publishers as an option at this point.

As I mentioned before, the larger publishers that I’m interested in working with because of the value they add, won’t take LOVE OUT LOUD. And I believe (rightly or wrongly, we’ll find out this summer!) that I have enough of an established audience now that a small publisher couldn’t really add much value in terms of sales and distribution against what I’m capable of doing on my own. And I can be more nimble, and truly create my “dream” if I self-publish.

I wasn’t willing to let LOVE OUT LOUD get diluted, which I feared might happen. It’s a unique story, one that will take a turn in the sequel that I suspect readers won’t see coming. But it’s a controversial choice. I felt like the only appropriate avenues were the big traditional publishers with all their experience and ability to educate the reader, or doing it on my own. Since traditional publishing wasn’t an option, here we are.

As for advice to those considering self-publishing, there are a lot of writers out there far more savvy than me about how to make the most of self-publishing on a commercial level, so I won’t touch that. But for what it’s worth, I have two things to say that I think are really important:

  1. Don’t choose self-publishing out of impatience to get your book out there. Once you’ve put a book in the public domain, it’s done. You can never take it back. I know a lot of writers who jumped into self-publishing because they just wanted a book in their hands and didn’t want to go through the harrowing and very slow process of finding an agent, then a publisher, then working through the year or two it would take to get the book on shelves. So many of those writers later came to regret that decision when they realized they could have done so much more with it—or it didn’t break out as they expected it would, and so the asset is lost to them as an income stream. So when you’re weighing the options, my personal advice is to take the timeliness of self-publishing out of the equation. Without that, does your for/against look different? Make the decision based on the other aspects of value offered. Count the timeliness as a win if self-publishing is otherwise the best decision for you.
  2. Be aware of the pitfalls of self-publishing. A poorly designed, poorly selling self-published book can work against you in later attempts to get traditionally published, or to draw readers to a different project. If you are going to do it, wait until you have the money saved to hire a really good cover designer (HINT: That $50, ready-made cover isn’t going to cut it—if you aren’t spending several hundred, you probably aren’t getting a “good” cover, by commercial standards.) And don’t skimp on editing. If you don’t have a big budget, there’s other options available (like, joining a really solid critique group where books can be reviewed several times, or bartering your own skills to another author who also works as an editor.) But for goodness sake, don’t throw a book up on Amazon that no one else has read. Your brain conceived of this book. You don’t know what is lost in translation until someone who has no idea reads it and tells you the impression your words are giving.

I hope that’s helpful. Thank you so much for having me today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Oregon, but raised in New Zealand, Aimee L. Salter now lives in Southern Oregon with her husband and son.

Aimee started as a self-published author, but her debut novel was acquired and re-released as Every Ugly Word by Alloy Entertainment in 2014. Her second book, Dark Touch, is out February 2016, also from Alloy Entertainment.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AimeeLSalter
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AimeeLSalter

I’m excited to host Aimee Salter on the blog for several reasons. The first is that it gives us a chance to chat about her soon-to-be-released novel, LOVE OUT LOUD—which looks like it’s going to be pretty amazing. And the second is that Aimee has a really interesting story to tell. She began her career as a self-published author, lost her agent, got acquired by well-known book packager Alloy Entertainment, and has come full circle—she’s now agent-hunting and self-publishing again. Her journey sounded super intriguing, and I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say.

Hi Aimee! Thanks so much for being on the blog. Tell us about your new novel, LOVE OUT LOUD—what’s it all about, and what inspired you to write it?

Thank you so much for having me, Emily!

LOVE OUT LOUD has been a really unique experience for me as a writer. Last year when I was working on another YA book that was pretty epic both in size and technical requirements, I was really struggling. All my energy was going into very dry, technical work on this book and my creative juices were bottling up.

At the same time, I had recently discovered the band 30 Seconds to Mars (in my defense, I discovered their music and loved it before I learned that Jared Leto was their lead singer.) I’d built a YouTube playlist that I was playing on a loop which had the original video for their rock song The Kill ( https://youtu.be/8yvGCAvOAfM), along with a live, acoustic version they’d recorded in Spain that was completely stripped back and slowed down (https://youtu.be/9aQJ-u-Rwvc). I adored the song in general, but the live version became an obsession for me.

I love music and it’s a big part of fueling my writing. Without intending to write about it, these two versions of this song, which are so starkly different, got me thinking about rock stars and the creative process. The difference between what their “fans” know of their music and the process of creating it, versus what people close to them get to see and understand about their songs.

That was the germ of the story—which went from idea to 80% of the first draft in three weeks and without any planning. I usually outline my books and re-outline, plan for days or weeks ahead, and know exactly where the story is going. But I literally started writing this for fun, intending to just get the characters on the page. Except they wouldn’t stop coming. So I just let it run to its conclusion and sat back and went…there’s something here. It was a crazy experience.

On your website, you share that LOVE OUT LOUD deals with “some pretty heavy themes, including sexual harassment and assault.” What was it like to write about these issues for a young adult audience? Any unexpected challenges?

All my books are pretty heavy, honestly. I like stories that deal with actual reality—the hard stuff. The gut punches. So that aspect wasn’t difficult. But sexual assault is something I haven’t experienced, not at the really dark levels. But a lot of women close to me have, and have been generous enough to share their experiences. The challenge was trying to address this issue in a way that I know is real—but that I feel like even in the current social climate we often shy away from.

The truly unexpected thing about writing this story was when I reached a scene where I knew I needed to demonstrate that people’s bodies can respond to sexual activity, even while they’re being violated and their minds traumatized. It’s a conversation I rarely hear in the public domain, and I think it’s because victims who’ve experienced it know that it appears to indicate pleasure. When in reality, it’s a purely chemical reaction occurring under trauma.

I chose to depict that because it was honest to the character’s experience (and authentic to stories as they have been relayed to me.) But I recognize it will be a challenging idea for many readers. I guess we’ll see what they think this summer!

You’ve had an interesting journey through the world of publishing—beginning as a self-published author, losing your agent, getting acquired by well-known book packager Alloy Entertainment for two books, and now agent-hunting and self-pubbing again. What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned along the way, and what advice would you offer to writers who are just beginning their journey?

The biggest piece of advice I offer to anyone who’ll listen is that this industry won’t meet expectations. Or, perhaps, your expectations are probably unrealistic. Do your homework, then work within the boundaries that are set. Don’t try to make the boundaries fit to what you want. You’re just fighting a losing battle.

Between the changes in reader habits since e-books became such a significant part of the fiction market, and the chasm of difference between the monolithic traditional publishers and the much more agile small publishers and self-publishing options, what’s “normal” for writers has changed. (Even if writers’ expectations haven’t.)

The best thing a writer can do these days is pursue a dream, but with a mind and heart that’s prepared to go off-script if needed. Because often what our work demands from the industry is different to what we “hope” will happen. I’m of the opinion that traditional publishers’ paths have actually narrowed, rather than widened, because what they have to offer to an author is only profitable for writers in certain situations.

Self-publishing LOVE OUT LOUD is a reflection of this. Yes, I am looking for an agent again, and in fact have a different book doing the rounds. But I’m blessed to have several very reputable agents who have become professional contacts, if not friends. They’re open with their advice. They told me, in no uncertain terms (and I’ve had it confirmed by numerous authors writing similar stories) that this book wouldn’t get picked up by a traditional publisher. Wouldn’t even get past an intern’s screening for an editor to review it. Not because it couldn’t find readers, but because the bigger imprints are refusing anything that even remotely aligns with the New Adult category. (Mainly because the category shares a lot of readers with erotica, which the bigger publishers don’t want to touch.)

Although LOVE OUT LOUD features a high-school protagonist (Kelly), and is only sexually explicit in one scene, Kelly has an older boyfriend and is navigating a fairly adult world. The story crosses heavily into New Adult territory. Hence, my agent friends tell me, they couldn’t sell it even if they tried.

As a writer, I can try to force the industry to meet my expectations (because I do believe there’s a mainstream audience for this story) or I can put my energy into the avenues that are readily open. Which is what I’ve chosen to do.

If we develop thick skins, and a willingness to take paths we might not have considered, we can thrive in this industry. Without those, it will destroy our sensitive hearts.

How did EVERY UGLY WORD come to be acquired by Alloy? And what was it like to work with a book packager—did any part of the process surprise you?

For those that don’t know, Alloy Entertainment has been around a long time. But until more recent years, all their books were conceived by their editorial team, and written under write-for-hire contracts. They also had a much more significant focus on selling their stories into television and movie contracts than the average publisher, and were so successful at this, they were eventually bought by Time Warner.

I knew none of this back in 2014 when Alloy contacted me. They were, at the time, establishing a new, traditional imprint (not the book-packaging) with the goal of finding undiscovered self-published works that they felt were commercially viable, re-editing and re-designing to release in a digital-first format, distributed and marketed by Amazon.

My editor chose my book BREAKABLE (now EVERY UGLY WORD) and two others to be the flagship publications for this imprint.

Honestly, when she first contacted me I didn’t know Alloy’s name and so assumed it was a scam (there’s a lot of vanity publishers, and predatory, fraudulent outfits out there trying to prey on ambitious writers). But when I looked her and Alloy up and realized they were legitimate, it was incredible. I’d had no knowledge that they were reviewing my work. So it was, quite literally, a bolt from the blue.

The only thing that surprised me about the process (which was the standard substantive edit, line edit, copy-edit process) was how much work had to be done to improve my book. Don’t get me wrong, by that time I was hungry for help to make myself and my work better. I mostly loved it. But it’s tricky after self-publishing and having literally every decision be in your own hands, to have pretty much everything taken over by someone else.

Alloy are very open with their authors and I had a fantastic experience. My editor Lanie Davis was amazing, and really taught me how to write. They made my book so much better. But giving up control is hard, even when whoever has control knows what they’re doing.

You’re releasing LOVE OUT LOUD under the pseudonym Aimee Lynne. What drove you to make this decision? Has it been challenging to balance two author identities?

The drive to do this is purely commercial: LOVE OUT LOUD is a little more adult than my previous books. Whether readers realize it, or not, the branding on a book gives them expectations for the story. Writing under a pseudonym is nothing more than a subconscious heads-up to my existing readers to put their expectations of my work aside, as this one is different.

Ultimately, because my only real business “asset” is my name, I couldn’t afford to have my pseudonym set up as a completely different entity. So my social media identifies that Aimee L. Salter is also Aimee Lynne. So regardless of whether future books are pure YA, or this kind of YA/NA hybrid, there will be a place (and hopefully an audience) for them.

Why did you choose to self-publish LOVE OUT LOUD? What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks? Any tips or tricks for others who might be considering self-pubbing?

In terms of the general decision to self-publish or not, my default is always to get a contract and have a team behind me. But every decision is a balancing act—the value the publisher adds in knowledge and income has to be greater than what I lose by giving up my rights to the project. Because if a publisher goes out of business things can get really messy, really fast. And the casualties will include my book. That risk is too great for me, so I’ve essentially ruled out small publishers as an option at this point.

As I mentioned before, the larger publishers that I’m interested in working with because of the value they add, won’t take LOVE OUT LOUD. And I believe (rightly or wrongly, we’ll find out this summer!) that I have enough of an established audience now that a small publisher couldn’t really add much value in terms of sales and distribution against what I’m capable of doing on my own. And I can be more nimble, and truly create my “dream” if I self-publish.

I wasn’t willing to let LOVE OUT LOUD get diluted, which I feared might happen. It’s a unique story, one that will take a turn in the sequel that I suspect readers won’t see coming. But it’s a controversial choice. I felt like the only appropriate avenues were the big traditional publishers with all their experience and ability to educate the reader, or doing it on my own. Since traditional publishing wasn’t an option, here we are.

As for advice to those considering self-publishing, there are a lot of writers out there far more savvy than me about how to make the most of self-publishing on a commercial level, so I won’t touch that. But for what it’s worth, I have two things to say that I think are really important:

  1. Don’t choose self-publishing out of impatience to get your book out there. Once you’ve put a book in the public domain, it’s done. You can never take it back. I know a lot of writers who jumped into self-publishing because they just wanted a book in their hands and didn’t want to go through the harrowing and very slow process of finding an agent, then a publisher, then working through the year or two it would take to get the book on shelves. So many of those writers later came to regret that decision when they realized they could have done so much more with it—or it didn’t break out as they expected it would, and so the asset is lost to them as an income stream. So when you’re weighing the options, my personal advice is to take the timeliness of self-publishing out of the equation. Without that, does your for/against look different? Make the decision based on the other aspects of value offered. Count the timeliness as a win if self-publishing is otherwise the best decision for you.
  2. Be aware of the pitfalls of self-publishing. A poorly designed, poorly selling self-published book can work against you in later attempts to get traditionally published, or to draw readers to a different project. If you are going to do it, wait until you have the money saved to hire a really good cover designer (HINT: That $50, ready-made cover isn’t going to cut it—if you aren’t spending several hundred, you probably aren’t getting a “good” cover, by commercial standards.) And don’t skimp on editing. If you don’t have a big budget, there’s other options available (like, joining a really solid critique group where books can be reviewed several times, or bartering your own skills to another author who also works as an editor.) But for goodness sake, don’t throw a book up on Amazon that no one else has read. Your brain conceived of this book. You don’t know what is lost in translation until someone who has no idea reads it and tells you the impression your words are giving.

I hope that’s helpful. Thank you so much for having me today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Oregon, but raised in New Zealand, Aimee L. Salter now lives in Southern Oregon with her husband and son.

Aimee started as a self-published author, but her debut novel was acquired and re-released as Every Ugly Word by Alloy Entertainment in 2014. Her second book, Dark Touch, is out February 2016, also from Alloy Entertainment.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AimeeLSalter
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AimeeLSalter

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