Today I want to introduce you to someone for whom I’m truly grateful:
Er, OK, here she is in real life!
Read on to learn more!
Kathy: Jen, you’re an author, a mom, AND you run a website (and who knows what else you do in your SPARE time) – how do you keep up??
Jen: What is spare time? Can I buy some? 🙂
Seriously, I just keep plugging away. I only work outside the house three nights a week (I work third shift at a hotel). That job allows me to get a lot of personal work done (seriously, there are not that many people awake in a hotel at three in the morning!). So I usually have my laptop with me at work, adding reviews to the website, putting up author posts on the new TRT Book Club blog, perusing Amazon for upcoming releases, posting author interviews, answering emails, and, in general, doing a lot of TRT work while getting paid to do hotel work.
Wait…maybe I shouldn’t say that where the boss can read it!
My kids (ages 13 and almost 9) are both in school, so I’m also usually at work on TRT business all throughout the day (when I’m not sleeping). I don’t watch much TV, so if I’m not on the computer, I’m reading. Or running my son around to regular band and honors band (he plays the tuba), or my daughter to Girl Scouts, or attending PTO Meetings, or doing any other of a million things that shows my kids have a much more active social life than I do!
Kathy: OK, I’m tired! I admire you for being able to function on your website in the wee hours of the morning. Why do you think the TRT website is such a success? What can we do to help keep it successful?
Jen: The TRT site came about in a fairly unique way. Back at the beginning of 2006, I was reviewing for an online website called www.RomanceJunkies.com. They review strictly romance books, and since I loved (and still do) romantic suspense, I had been a volunteer reviewer there for a couple of years.
But then I found two books in the Teen section at my local library – Terry Trueman’s STUCK IN NEUTRAL and Neal Shusterman’s THE SHADOW CLUB. And I was hooked, immediately, on YA fiction.
Then I started searching the Web for sites that provided YA fiction reviews – or Author Directories – or ANYTHING. And, quite simply, I couldn’t find what I wanted. So being the absolutely anal Type-A personality that I am, I decided to create my own website dealing exclusively with books for teens and tweens, both fiction and non-fiction.
I think THAT’S why it’s successful. www.TeensReadToo.com was one of the first sites to appeal directly to teens, to showcase what they were reading, and to provide invaluable information for younger readers and their parents to find good books to read.
As to keeping it successful – I think that even if no one else visited the site every month except myself, I’d still keep it up and running. Thankfully, since our numbers have grown to over 1 million unique visitors a month, with over 4 million total page views, I don’t think that will be a problem! The secret, I truly believe, lies in the fact that I have a terrific staff of volunteer reviewers who spend a large amount of their time reading and reviewing – and everyone, from authors, publishers, publicists, and librarians – appreciate that fact.
But, you know, if you’re an author and you’d like to purchase an ad space to help me pay for shipping all of those books out, I won’t say no! ;P
Kathy: You DO have a ton of visitors — and that’s good for everyone, readers and writers alike. Speaking of writers, tell us about your life as Jen Nicholas, author of BAD BOYS OVER EASY and “WICKED” WOMEN ON TOP.
Jen: The short version: I am a great writer. I am a horrible author.
Seriously, it’s true. I’ll try to keep this story short, but I’ll probably end up giving you the long version, anyway.
While I was reviewing for Romance Junkies, two things were coming into fashion at the same time (and this was around 2003-2004): erotic romance and eBook publishing. I had always had, in the back of mind, aspirations of someday becoming a published author, but I had never actually written anything to try to publish. (First rule of becoming a published author, by the way, is to actually WRITE something. Huh…who would have thought?)
I had written tons of reviews of romance books by this point, and there were several authors and fellow reviewers who kept pushing me to try to write a story. So I did: a longish erotic romance novella. And I submitted it to an eBook publisher. And they bought it. And then they bought the 12 others I wrote in quick succession. Then, another publisher purchased 2 stories that I co-wrote with a friend of mine.
That job did not make me rich. In fact, I probably made less than $1,000 all together on those 15 stories. But it made me realize that not only could I write, but that I could write WELL, and that people actually LIKED what I had to say.
Then, in 2005, popular romance author Lori Foster had a contest on her website. The basics were that anyone could submit a 1,000 word entry of a completed novella from any scene that they chose, under a user name not connected with their actual name or writing name. All entries would be voted on by Ms. Foster’s reading public, the winning entry would be read by Kate Duffy (then an editor at Kensington Brava, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2009), and offered a contract.
I didn’t win the reader’s favorite from that contest. But Kate Duffy read my entry, loved it, called me up and asked for the novella (which, you know, I hadn’t actually FINISHED – I was betting I wouldn’t get that far so didn’t actually pay attention to that rule of the contest). The short version: She bought that novella for a $4,000 advance, and contracted for another novella for an additional $4,000. It’s a really good thing that I do well under pressure, because pretty much every story I’ve ever written I’ve finished in less than 2 weeks.
And that was pretty much the end of my career as an author. At least for now. I know there are people out there with their jaws on the floor, wondering why I’m not writing and selling at this point in time. I mean, I hit the publishing jackpot. I sold the first story I ever wrote to the first publisher I submitted it to. I got picked by a major editor from a contest and contracted for two stories. Without a query, an actual submission, or an agent.
Let me say again: I am a great writer. I am a horrible author.
I don’t have the drive, the passion, or the dedication to be a NY Times bestselling author. That sounds awful. It IS awful. But I am the queen of procrastination. These days, when faced with sitting down and writing, I will find 10,000 other things that I have to do RIGHT NOW before I write.
Yes, I hope to change this. I still have a lot of stories inside of me, two that I’ve been working on in bits and pieces over the last few months. Hopefully, one day they’ll be on the shelf, and hopefully they’ll make me money!
Kathy: Two weeks?? Two weeks! Are you working on a writing project now, or should I say, this week?
Jen: I’ve got two YA stories brewing, although neither are anywhere near ready to be read by others.
One is a contemporary story about a teenage girl who accidentally kills her little brother. The other is a Christian contemporary fantasy that deals with the Nephilim. If you’ve never heard of them, Google it!
Kathy: I did Google it — I think you may be starting a new phase of YA lit, Jen . . . we’ve had vampires, then mummies, and now Nephilim! Whew! If you had only one book and one movie you could have this weekend, what would they be?
Jen: Oh, that’s so hard, since I absolutely adore so many books. If we’re going with YA fiction, I’d have to pick HURT GO HAPPY by Ginny Rorby. This is definitely one of my top ten books of all time. If we’re going for adult fiction, I’d pick VELOCITY by Dean Koontz. It’s my favorite of his works, and one I’ve already re-read about 12 times.
For movies, it’s actually easy. It would be one of three (and yes, I know you said only 1), which are my favorite three films: Bridget Jones’s Diary, Dances With Wolves, and Ladyhawke. Or a musical, since I love, love, love them, especially The Court Jester, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Wow, this list could go on and on and on…
Kathy: I need to put those books on my TBR pile! Now, you have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers. What is that?
Jen: Simple: If you find a dud, don’t stop reading.
There are going to be books you don’t like. There are going to be books you hate. There are books that you’re going to give up reading after a couple of chapters. There are books you’ll want to throw against a wall. But there will also be books that make you sob like a baby because you feel so deeply for the characters. There will be books that put you in such a good mood that nothing can ruin your day. There are books that will make you laugh until you feel like you’re going to pee your pants. Don’t stop reading. Even if forced to read such crap as THE GRAPES OF WRATH in school (the book I would NEVER force anyone to read, even my worst enemy), you’ll find jewels like FAHRENHEIT 451 or 1984 or FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.
And most importantly – don’t ever let ANYONE tell you what you can or cannot read. Challenge yourself. Go outside of your comfort zone when it comes to books. Pick up a banned book, and ask yourself why it was banned – and if you feel comfortable knowing that someone can choose what you’re allowed to read. Think for yourself, and read for yourself.
Kathy: Nicely said! Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?
Jen: My favorite quote comes from Anna Quindlen, a NY Times bestselling author: “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”
Kathy: I have to admit, when I tell my kids to clean their rooms, I don’t mind too much if there are books all over the place. What’s something cool you’ve learned from your kids?
Jen: The greatest thing my children have taught me is to never take myself too seriously, to always stop to have fun, and to live each day as if it was my last. Children are the greatest equalizers – when they’re young they have no prejudice, no meanness, no hatred. If only we could keep those characteristics as we grow up.
Kathy: :o) Why should we read books when there are so many other things to do?
Jen: Because it’s fun and it won’t rot your brain! It’s one of the cheapest forms of entertainment, especially if you utilize your local public library. You can read books that you hold in your hands, or books you read on an electronic device, or you can read them on a computer. You can escape to different worlds, read about people who have lives similar to yours, read about people who do things that you’ll never be able to do, or read about subjects that interest you. Reading makes you smarter, it makes you more aware of current events, and it makes you sound smart when you have to have a conversation with a group of people. 🙂
Kathy: All true! Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Jen: A number of people have asked my in the last few months what it’s like to raise a 13-year-old son with Asperger’s Syndrome. Except for the fact that my hair is going gray at a faster-than-normal rate, I gather it’s pretty much the same as raising any 13-year-old son!
Seriously, my son is a constant source of amazement to me. He was only diagnosed about a year ago, so to me, he’s still the same kid I’ve always known. He’s still obsessed with Super Mario Bros., he’s still prone to getting aggravated when the kids in school break the rules or don’t know the meaning of the ginormous words he uses in his everyday vocabulary, and he’s still so smart (with an IQ of 150) that it’s sometimes scary.
Yes, it’s a challenge. He has problems interacting with other people. He doesn’t get sarcasm, and he can’t read people’s body language. He’s advanced in school, and yet he has so much trouble interacting socially with his peers.
But in most ways, he’s just another moody, doesn’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed-in-the-morning, yells about all of his homework, computer using, video game playing, hormonal teenager. And I love him to bits.
Kathy: I sure understand that, Jen — we should get your son and my daughter together! Sounds like he’s going to be just fine, and he has a loving mom to help him through these teen years. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and here are links to where you can find Jen:
|http://trtbookclub.blogspot.com Teens Read Too Book Club Blog|
http://rebelbibliophile.blogspot.com (Jen’s personal blog)
(Jen on Goodreads)