Not only does has she edited over four hundred books but she’s also published her own books (The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and The Suicide Tree) and created the Pre-Publishing Checklist for aspiring authors. Her freelance writing business provides Author-Centric Marketing, Writing Mentorship, Book Launches and Publicity, and (of course) Editing (lots and lots of editing). Her blog provides plenty of helpful advice for writers!
In her admittingly limited free time, she organizes the Yukon Writers’ Society – a biweekly writers group. This tight-knit group of fiction writers focus on fostering an encouraging environment and publishing their books.
She is a squirrel enthusiast, food fear conqurer (escargot anyone?) and a loving dog-mom to Chanel, Wednesday and Baker. Similar to myself, her dream is to own a private library.
I’ve had the absolute pleasure to read and review Shivers in the Night (highly recommended if you are looking for a little spooky in your life!) and her Pre-Publishing Checklist is wonderful (I will admit, I am only a reviewer – but gosh-dang, every point made sense to me!). Without further ado, here’s Seven Questions on a Saturday with Shayla Raquel!
1) What does a typical day of writing (and editing) look like for you?
Do writers have typical days? I want one of those! The truth is, my life as an editor, author, and marketer is anything but typical. Let me give you an idea of what tomorrow entails for September 16:
- Wake up and take care of my three babies (two Dachshunds, one Doberman)
- Answer a few emails and wonder if emails are capable of multiplying like rabbits
- Edit three books—one middle grade, one self-help, one young adult
- Pitch to bloggers for reviews for my client who wrote a delightful book with 100+ activities for kids
- Meeting at 2:00 p.m. with assistant where we’ll both talk about work but also the sheer amount of coffee we drink to avoid having our eyelids glued open
- Pitch my book, The 10 Commandments of Author Branding, to a list of influencers for endorsements
- Print said book at Staples so I can hold it and stare at it lovingly before I do the final proofread
- Somewhere in between all of that mess, I’ll eat, exercise, read, run errands, and cuddle my babies
You see, that’s just tomorrow! Tuesday will be different. So a typical day for me as a writer just depends on my projects, the book I’m working on, and ya know, life itself.
2) In your short story, “The Rotting,” from the Shivers in the Night anthology truly gave me shivers. How was the writing process different for the the short story in comparison to your full-length novel, The Suicide Tree?
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. “The Rotting”—from inception to print—took eight months. I knew for a long time I had wanted to write a story about a body farm (which is a research facility where people can study decomposition). So when my writers’ group, the Yukon Writers’ Society, decided to publish an anthology, I got to work with an outline, which is not something I typically do. I’m way more of a pantser than a plotter. Nonetheless, I outlined that bad boy and wrote away, edited, sought constructive feedback, edited again, and so on until we published in April 2018.
When writing a short story:
- Don’t go too short, and don’t go too long. There was fantastic research done on the best short stories, which indicated that sweet spot of a short story is 5,500 words. My favorite writer, Edgar Allan Poe, always suggested that a short story should be read in one sitting.
- Don’t get caught up in backstory. You don’t have time for that.
- A short story doesn’t really need a denouement. It’s best to end it at its climax. I kind of did that with “The Rotting.” I don’t really think it was a denouement because it was so open-ended and fast-paced, but still—something to consider.
And then there’s The Suicide Tree. Heaven help me.
That novel took over three years from inception to publication. It was certainly my magnum opus, the wretched thing.
It took me so long because I never outlined it; I just wrote it. So it was a hot mess of plot holes like you wouldn’t believe. Finally, in May 2017, I joined the Yukon Writers’ Society, which greatly encouraged me to start over, write an outline, and fix the plot holes. Here’s what I did that you’ll definitely want to try for a full-length novel:
- After outlining it the way I should have, I used note cards for each chapter to give me a quick view of that chapter’s content, setting, date, conflict, etc.
- I did most of my rewrites at coffee shops to help break up the monotony of writing in my office.
- After spending six months of rewriting the book, I sent it off to beta readers in December 2017. Their input was invaluable to me. Oh, the messy mess-ups they caught!
- I corrected those issues and sent my book to a content editor, who did two rounds of outstanding content editing. I chose someone who was well versed in speculative fiction, so always get someone who knows your genre.
3) Do you read every book review? Do you have any suggestions for new authors for garnering reviews and dealing with criticism?
Yes, I do. I know authors who decide earlier on not to read them, but I have zero willpower for that. When you get your first negative book review, you need to celebrate! That’s a big deal! Make it a positive, because if you had any feelings of impostor syndrome before, that all goes out the window with a 1-star review: you are officially an author now, baby! Ha!
You can’t get obsessed with bad reviews. Of course people are going to have issues with your book. Just like they do with music and art and photography and everything else in the creative realm. Celebrate the bad reviews and stop stressing over them. It’s not worth it.
4) According to your website, you offer a variety of services – from editing to marketing to writing mentorship. How did you get into the freelance editing business? What were some difficulties you experienced when first starting? Which aspect of your freelance business do you enjoy the most?
I started in the publishing industry in 2010. By 2012, I had quit and had started a T-shirt company with my two closest friends. By 2013, we separated and I was stuck with the following question: “Uh, now what?” Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to decide what to do. I started my freelance editing and writing business in April 2013 after some gentle nudging from my mother. (Actually, she told me, “Stop your crying. Go in that room and don’t come out until you have a list of ideas for your career.” And it worked beautifully. Thanks, Mom!)
The hardest thing was landing my first client! That’s just one reason why social media matters so much. It’s word of mouth, but on the internet. My sister’s old college friend had posted about a safety company that needed an editor and copywriter. And what do you know? I could do that!
The absolute best thing about being an entrepreneur—about own a business—is the control over my schedule. If I want to work at a restaurant on the lake while sipping sweet tea, then I can do that. If I want to curl up with my little babies on the recliner while I edit my book, then I can do that.
5) Shivers in the Night is an anthology of ten original short stories courtesy of the Yukon Writers’ Society. Could you talk a little about the anthology’s origins and publication? What are some challenges associated with writing an anthology compared to a single-author book?
YWS, as we call it, was founded in November 2016 on the Meetup app. The organizer, however, stepped down in May 2017. I had wanted a writers’ group for so, so long. I jumped on the opportunity and became the new organizer that month after Meetup had emailed me every single day, saying, “A writing group in your area needs a new organizer. Want to take over?”
YWS is a registered nonprofit in Yukon, Oklahoma that meets biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their stories. All of our workshops are free, and there are no member dues. We have guest speakers, writing exercises, grammar lessons, marketing workshops, and so much more. We’ve truly grown like I never imagined we could!
In September 2017, we decided to do a little competition for Halloween. Each participating member would write a short story in the suspense/thriller genre and turn it in for Halloween. Then it dawned on us: Why not take all these stories and compile them into an anthology? Within months, we had self-published Shivers in the Night. All sales go back into our bank account to help fund YWS.
6) You have edited over four hundred books (such an impressive number!). I’m curious – did you edit your own books? (and if so, is it easier or harder to edit your own when compared to a clients? if not, what made you decide to branch out?). In your experience, what are some common pitfalls you see new authors fall into and what are your top three tips to avoid them?
I did not, and will never, edit my own books. Yes, I’m an editor, but I have no business editing my own books. Think of all the things I’ll miss! I can’t be objective. I have hired content editors, copy editors, and proofreaders for my books. Now, yes, I do my own rewrites and self-edit to the best of my ability, but I will always hire professionals to take the book away from me when it’s time to start the publishing process.
- Authors self-publish their books and ask, “Okay, I published my book today—how do I market it?” Yeesh! Uh, get a time machine and go back a year so you can start marketing your book?
- Authors avoid social media as if it’s a disease. That’s your lifeline to your readers. At this point, if you aren’t using at least two social media outlets to brand yourself and connect with readers, then it’s going to be super tough to get your book any visibility.
7) What was your favorite scene to write in either Shivers in the Night or The Suicide Tree? (and why!)
For “The Rotting,” it was when my protagonist walked around the body farm in Texas to check each body and see how they were . . . progressing. That was gross and fun to write!
For The Suicide Tree, my favorite had to be when Knox is sitting at the table with Norah while she speaks Italian to him and cooks up a storm. He falls in love with the food, and you see him gradually begin to fall in love with Italy itself.
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