An interview with Jeri Westerson

I’ve never had the pleasure of officially working for Jeri, but we’ve been online acquaintances for quite a while and I love her work. She works hard and creates characters that seem like real people. If you haven’t yet started reading her books, it’s way past time!

PJ: Jeri, how long have you been writing?

Jeri: Forever, since I could pick up a crayon, all for my own amusement. Never intended to be a professional novelist. But as far as professionally–or with the intent to publish—I started in 1993, wrote lots of historical novels for the next ten years—became a reporter in the intervening years –switched to medieval mystery in the last few years, and finally got somewhere.

PJ: That’s a circuitous route! Glad you made it. At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Jeri: Depends on the definition of success. If you mean “published” as success, then yes, I finally made it! That, to me, was quite the accomplishment after over a decade of rejections. But if you mean “success” as in “worries are over,” then no. As a midlist author and with all the crazy stuff happening in publishing, it’s always a crapshoot as to whether your sales numbers add up enough that you’ll get offered that next contract. I think there are very, very few of us that have that kind of success, the kind that means you can make a living at your writing and not have to worry whether there will be a next contract (however, currently, I am writing full time. But that wouldn’t be possible without my husband’s emotional and financial support).

PJ: I know what you mean. I’m hearing all sorts of answers to that question and a variety of definitions for the word “success”. Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Jeri: I researched the industry before I started out so that I would be forearmed. And I knew that it would involve more than writing; that it would entail a lot of self-promotion, but now that social media has exploded there is more for me to do than just blogging. I find I really have to organize my schedule so I can get in Facebook, Twitter, and blogging time, juggle it with my personal appearances, and still have time to research and write. If there was anything I learned, it’s that networking is the key to it all…besides writing a good book.

But now that I’m writing full time, well…it’s just marvelous. To have the leisure to go to the local University library to do my research, to spend all day at writing and late at night without worrying about having to get up early to get to a “real” job, is just heaven. But I don’t loll around in bed, either. I’m up early and get into my home office in the morning to start my day just like everyone else.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

 Jeri: Ha! I guess that’s a yes. Because I never expected to make too much money, though I did expect to eventually make a living at it. I think that is harder and harder to do today, despite the rosy future others paint of self-publishing. The people who have exploded in that market are still to be counted on one hand.

But in general terms, common wisdom says it takes till about the fifth book to make a profit—because you are now receiving royalties from the previous books. I’ve also got foreign sales and audio sales to throw into the mix. But right now, it’s still a very lowly living. Something like a badly paid office assistant would earn, which is a little demoralizing when you think of all the work you put into research, writing, rewriting, promotion, and travel.

PJ: Indeed. There is obviously job satisfaction, but it’s interesting to speculate on how the industry will evolve in coming years. Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Jeri: It has shifted to promotion in order to stay published. Just because you are published doesn’t mean that your publisher will be clamoring to get your next novel out there. You still have a lot of work to do to get your name out there. I make sure librarians and booksellers know me and my books, and that I can get the opportunity to connect directly to readers through my blog, through social media, through personal appearances, and through my newsletter.

 

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Jeri: For novels, fourteen years.

PJ: Again, persistence pays off. Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Jeri: I’d start off writing mysteries instead of fooling around trying to get historicals published! But of course, the reason that mysteries worked out so well was because there was a network of authors to connect to in order to learn about the industry, and numerous places to meet readers (indie bookstores catering only to mysteries, fan conventions, and organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America). I would have tried to find more ways to network. I became a believer when I discovered how it worked and how well it worked.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Jeri: It’s just part of the business of writing. You have to be professional about it. I don’t know how people do it when they work full time, though. I just have to work out what I’m doing and prioritize. For instance, while I was working on the outline of the next book, I slipped in writing two short stories for two different anthologies. When I got down to the wire and really had to finish, I took myself to a restaurant that didn’t have wifi to finish the writing of those short stories, so I wouldn’t be distracted by the internet. You have to play these games with yourself sometimes. When I’m working on a new novel, I have a minimum of ten pages a day I assign myself. Once that’s done, and only once that’s done for the day, do I get on the internet to answer emails, go on Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Jeri: In college, I was a big fan of science fiction and fantasy. One of my all-time favorite authors from this period was Barbara Hambly. I kept those books from college because I loved them so much. A few years ago, I was on panel at Literary Orange, a big book festival on the campus of UC Irvine in Orange County, California. My panel mate was…Barbara Hambly. Never in a million years did I ever think that I would be a peer of this wonderful author and that I would meet many more bestselling household names. It’s very strange. (And by the way, I brought those books with me and like any fangirl, had her sign them!)

PJ: I bet that was cool! I don’t think we ever get over those first fascinations. What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Jeri: It’s disappointing that authors don’t make more money, that they can’t make a living when they are giving so much of their time and talent.

PJ: Yes, it is. What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Jeri: At another literary event, the keynote speaker, John Lescroart, came to my break-out session when I talked about the middle ages and demonstrated my medieval weapons. He graciously bought my book. I thought that was cool. A few years later we were on a panel together at yet another literary event. That was also way cool. Later, he showed what a class act he was by giving me a wonderful blurb for my most recent book, TROUBLED BONES.

PJ: Those are definite perks of being in this business! With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Jeri: It’s a niche genre, so there is a modest but ready market waiting for it. There are readers who just like historical mysteries, and then more who like the sub-genre of medieval mysteries. Then there are other readers who are intrigued by the idea of a hardboiled PI in the Middle Ages, a sub-sub-genre that I call “medieval noir.”

PJ: I have to say it was the medieval that drew me in. I generally don’t care much for historical novels, but I fell in love with one when I was in high school. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember the name of it now or who wrote it, but your books remind me of that one and I’ve loved them ever since. What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Jeri: Don’t give up. Educate yourself about the industry, the genre you write, and what it takes to get yourself out there even before you sign that contract. Take the advice of others that have gone before and save yourself a lot of grief.

PJ: Good advice! What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

Jeri: Me. I prepared for the day I was going to be published so I could hit the ground running. I put together presentations that would intrigue and entertain so that when I would speak on panels or go solo at libraries people would remember me, because half of selling the book is selling the author.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Jeri: Travel, because it’s expensive and I never know when funds will be available.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach CA

Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach. The owner often comes to my solo events to sell my books. She has lots of signed books at her store from far bigger authors than me.

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

As Jeri Westerson, I write the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Series:

Veil of Lies 

Serpent in the Thorns

The Demon’s Parchment

Troubled Bones

Blood Lance (to be released this October)

As Haley Walsh, I write the Skyler Foxe Mysteries (gay mystery series):

Foxe Tail

Foxe Hunt

Out-Foxed (to be released this fall)

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

TROUBLED BONES: Crispin Guest, disgraced knight turned detective, must travel to Canterbury to guard the bones of saint and martyr Thomas Becket, but encounters murder. Was the killer old friend Geoffrey Chaucer? Surrounded by a cadre of familiar pilgrims from The Canterbury Tales, Crispin must prove his friend innocent, find the real killer, unmask a hidden heretic, and discover a solution to the riddle that will allow him to return home.

FOXE HUNT: High school English teacher Skyler Foxe finally hooks up with gorgeous assistant football coach Keith Fletcher. But is the man what he seems to be? Skyler still has his doubts when he spies Keith in some shady circumstances. And there are still some questions as to what exactly is going on at the high school. Meanwhile, Skyler’s friends from college Evan and Jeff were kicked out of the Army for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the depressed Evan is found dead. Suicide, says the police, but Skyler thinks otherwise. It’s Skyler Foxe on the hunt for a killer once more!

Where can we buy them?

The Crispin Mysteries are found at Barnes & Noble, some mystery independent bookstores, and Amazon,  in both print and ebook. The Skyler Foxe Mysteries can be found on Amazon and at the publisher’s site at MLRPress.com in both print and ebook.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

Jeri: With social media these days, there’s precious little people don’t know. And what they don’t know, I’m not telling here. 🙂

PJ: LOL Nuff said! Thanks so much for sharing your time with us! Folks, you really want to go get some of these books. Jeri is master at taking readers to another place and time. Better than Calgon =)

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4 thoughts on “An interview with Jeri Westerson

  1. Pat Reid says:

    Your books sound very interesting and then I just saw on Facebook where PJ listed Award Nominations and Troubled Bones is up for an Award-I wish had had read Troubled Bones and I haven’t but I will see that I read it soon..

  2. Pat Reid says:

    Or maybe I should go back and start the series at the beginning???

  3. pjnunn says:

    I think you’ll like it better from the beginning. I may go back and start over myself. Congrats on the nomination, Jeri!

  4. Judy Donofrio says:

    Jeri is totally entertaining while she’s teaching us to be better writers. I’m enjoying learning more about her and how she does it. If she brings her knights, it’s even better. If she arrives on horseback at Bouchercon…
    Congrats, Jeri, on the nomination for Troubled Bones.

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