Your book is written, it’s in production, and you are waiting for its release with bated breath. So, what do you do in the meantime? The short answer is . . . a lot. Writing your story is just the first of many steps in getting your book on the market and into the hands of readers. One important element to work on during this time is creating and building your author brand. Let’s touch on the main points of building your brand.
What is an author brand?
Your brand is how you represent yourself and how readers and industry professionals perceive you. It’s a mix of your personal and professional values, interests, and skills. Ultimately, your author brand is what people think of when they hear your name or see your book out in the wild.
How do I define my brand?
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience
Knowing who you are writing for will make it easier to know how to talk to your ideal readers. You want to present yourself in a way that connects to your readers, whether that is through the way your website is designed or how you talk to them. You want your readers to find you relatable, that way they want to follow you throughout your writing career.
Step 2: Define Your Style Guide
The main goal in having a style guide is to remain consistent. You want your reader to know that it is you when they visit your website or see a post on social media. Your style guide can be kept to a simple document, with a few key elements:
• Your color choices
• The fonts you use as headers and text
• How your logo (if you have one) can be used in different settings
I recommend looking up other style guides for examples as you create your own. Be sure to share your guide with anyone who will be helping you with marketing your brand and your books.
Step 3: Define Your Content
Again, consistency is key. Your content should be consistent with your brand. When a reader visits your website/blog/social media, you want them to know what to expect. People find comfort in the expected. If your posts are all over the place, your following will not stay for very long. Think about how many times you have followed a content creator for a specific reason and once they derail from the expectations you have of them, you click that unfollow button. No one wants that. Decide on what your voice is and stick to it. Post what you are passionate about, people can see right through you when you are just posting something simply because it is trendy. And when you do make a post that aligns with a current trend, make sure that it is clear that the post still aligns with your voice and brand.
Now that you have your author brand defined, it is time to project your brand across all platforms that you are using; this includes your social media, website, and emails. Are you doing anything with local or national press? Follow your branding guidelines. Are you going on a blog, vlog, or other media tour? Follow your branding guidelines. Just get out there and represent yourself the way you want people to perceive you. You got this! You know who you are and what you want to accomplish, so let’s make it happen!
Finally, there is one major note I want to share with you. You are going to evolve, as a person, as an author, and as a social media presence. During this time, your author brand will evolve, too. So don’t feel like what you pick now as your style and content is what you have to be for the rest of your writing career. Don’t stress while you are figuring out your brand, and if you need help developing your author brand, ask for it. If you are working with a publisher, chances are they will be more than happy to assist you through this process. A sound author brand can lead to a successful author, and that’s what we all want in the end.
by Michael Hardison
Wildling Press chats with The Book Bar’s owner, Krystle Dandridge, about why indie bookstores matter and why Black and brown books, bookstores, and book communities are so important (and how she manages to run a great bookstore in Richmond, VA!).
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:25
Today we have with us a very special guest, Krystal Dandridge, owner of The Book Bar in Richmond, Virginia, which is a Black-owned, woman-owned bookstore that centers BIPOC authors and brands in an effort to uplift and support a culture that is often silenced. Welcome, Krystle, and thank you for being with us!
Krystle Dandridge 01:01
Thank you! Thanks for having me.
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:03
Of course! I know you have a very busy schedule; you had a big event yesterday, which is awesome. Krystle, what are your pronouns?
Krystle Dandridge 01:10
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:11
So just give us a little intro to The Book Bar and tell us what it's all about.
Krystle Dandridge 01:15
The Book Bar is a bookstore and wine shop. It's really a boutique bookstore. We center Black and brown voices, Black and brown creatives, Black and brown authors, Black and brown wines, art . . . everything in there is very much to promote and uplift Black and brown people. And the events that we do also reflect that. And so it's just kind of a space for community, a safe space for people just to come in and take a load off, you know? A little self care.
Christina Kann 01:43
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:46
You can definitely tell when you go into that space, that it's set up for relaxation, and for community to be together. There's lots of space for seating and for groups to sit together. It's really awesome.
Christina Kann 01:58
Yeah, take away the books, and it even could be like a wellness spa, you know what I mean?
Mary-Peyton Crook 02:04
Absolutely. And I love the story on your website of how The Book Bar came to be, how you came to open a bookshop. Can you tell us a little about about that?
Krystle Dandridge 02:14
Sure! It's always a funny question, because I never remember what I say to people. But it really comes down to, I mean, I've been a reader my entire life, and growing up, the difficult thing was finding books by people who look like me with stories about people who look like me and had similar experiences. I've walked into bookstores, and they would have an urban book section, which is fine, that's great, except Black people are not a monolith. So what are some other stories that are not urban fiction stories?
Krystle Dandridge 02:44
And that's if I found somebody who looked like me in the store. If they were in the store, it was like, in a section in the corner somewhere in the back with very few books, and I just, I got tired of that. And that was growing up. And so to, you know, now be in my 30s, to still walk into some bookstores, and that's the same exact experience . . . to me, it was problematic. And so I figured why not create a space? Especially given Richmond didn't at the time currently have one, and hadn't had one for some years--well over, I think, two decades going on three decades, Richmond had not had a Black-owned bookstore. And so for me, it was just kind of like, well, this is what I want. Let's create it.
Christina Kann 03:21
That's so wild and so important, because there's so many wonderful Black writers and readers here, you know? It's such an important part of the readership community here.
Krystle Dandridge 03:32
Mary-Peyton Crook 03:32
Absolutely. Yeah, it's wild to me because Richmond . . . you know, I love living in Richmond, I've lived here for a long time, but I feel like it thinks of itself as a cool place to be, as really a more modern place to be, but it took until 2022 to get a Black-owned bookstore in Richmond, [a place] that considers itself a really literary town.
Krystle Dandridge 03:52
Richmond is full of bookstores. Which is a great thing! Richmond is full of independent bookstores, but you just can't find Black or brown bookstores. And I just, I never understood why.
Mary-Peyton Crook 04:03
And you talked a little about it, but maybe flesh out a little bit about why it's important that that kind of space is in our community. Why is it important to the community of Richmond or to any community to have that Black-owned, woman-owned, but specifically Black-owned bookstore?
Krystle Dandridge 04:17
Representation. Representation matters. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be able to see themselves in any role there is, any role possible, and when you have so many forces kind of working against you, like the media, whatever you have, everything that you're seeing is very much mainstream, very much white. It's like, "All right, so where do I fit in?"
Krystle Dandridge 04:39
And so to have representation right in your own backyard is extremely important because it's, you know, yes, times are changing, yes, things are reflected on the TV, but again, I'm in my thirties. That's not how this looked when I was growing up. And so while things are shifting, it's still important because there's going to be a little girl or a little boy who wants to own a bookstore or who loves reading books or who wants to see stories about people like them.
Krystle Dandridge 05:04
And so walking into a space where you know it's no question: there is acceptance (because we know that that's not everywhere you go), walking into a space where you know, without a doubt, you're going to be accepted, you're going to find people who look like you, and you're going to have something that you can aspire to--that's important. Representation just . . . it matters.
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:21
Absolutely. That importance has been so clear through the outpouring of support and community engagement that you've had for your year that you've been open. You just celebrated your first anniversary on February 5! Congratulations!
Krystle Dandridge 05:35
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:35
Christina Kann 05:36
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:37
And I know it's just gonna blossom even more as you're running it. What does it mean to you to know that you've successfully provided that space for the community for a whole year now?
Krystle Dandridge 05:47
You know, I don't know how to answer that, because I think I'm kind of still processing it. Like, I still am trying to process everything, the fact that I've been around for a year, the fact that it's not the easiest thing to do. And it's interesting, because everyone's like, "Oh, you just, you know, I'd love to own a bookstore, you just kind of read books all day." And I'm like, "I wish! I wish that's all I did!" You guys walk in, and you might see me reading a book; however, that's probably in the midst of everything else I have going on, because I still love reading books, but I also have to read books! So sometimes you walk in to see me reading a book, and I'm actually working, it's not just me lounging around reading.
Krystle Dandridge 06:23
So trying to process everything and still stay grounded, still keep the mission forefront, because it's not always the easiest thing to do. It's hard to really understand what it truly means, you know, that it's been a year. And so for me, I'm like, a year's not that long. But on the flip side, I'm also like, but it's been a year, it's been a year.
Christina Kann 06:43
So long, yeah.
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:45
Especially for a business!
Christina Kann 06:47
Especially for a business with a storefront. At Wildling, we don't have a location. So it's like, all you have to do is have an email account, you know?
Krystle Dandridge 06:55
The storefront, that's the other piece of it. The storefront has been around for a year, but the business opened Juneteenth of 2021 virtually. So, the storefront has been a year, the business has been around a little bit longer, not much, but a little bit longer. And like you said, that storefront makes the difference, because you don't pay rent on an email! Trust me, I remember those first six months or seven months, and I was like, "Okay, I got this," and then that storefront hit, and I was like, "Okay, what's this?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:25
Yeah, Wildling, you know, being remote, we still have plenty to fill our days and plenty of work to do all the time. Tell us a little bit about what a day in the life of a bookstore owner is like, because I know you're juggling a million things all the time. Do you get any breaks for yourself? Do you make sure to take breaks for yourself? And what's your sort of day-to-day look like?
Krystle Dandridge 07:47
I do my best to take breaks. Just because self care is important to me. So I do my best to take breaks. However, I am still a therapist. I'm still a licensed therapist, and so I am still doing therapy on the days the store's closed.
Christina Kann 07:58
Oh my gosh.
Krystle Dandridge 07:58
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:58
Krystle Dandridge 07:59
Yes, so I try to schedule--and I do have someone who works very part time for me, just to kind of give myself a day off. And that took a long time to get to, because for the longest . . . I went almost a year without a day off.
Christina Kann 08:11
Oh my god.
Krystle Dandridge 08:11
And so there's that. Chaos is probably how I would describe my days. There are some days where it's not, but for the most part, it's chaos, because I've been placing orders, following up on orders, trying to figure out what the next order is going to be, just trying to plan an event, getting events together that are already planned and making sure I have everything in order. . . . Or like if we speak of like yesterday's event, trying to figure out how I'm going to seat everybody, because those tickets sold out and people are still showing up! And you know, now I gotta figure out what to do.
Christina Kann 08:43
What a good problem!
Krystle Dandridge 08:43
Right! And it's funny, because everyone's like, "That's a great problem to have!" And I'm like, "Yes, after the fact!" In the moment, it's not a great problem to have.
Christina Kann 08:43
Krystle Dandridge 08:43
In the moment, I'm like, "I don't want to turn you away, but I don't know where you're gonna sit, and I don't want you to have to stand for two hours," which, you know, doesn't seem like a long time. But I'm like, you know, these people coming in, we're not talking about teenagers who don't have thirty-plus-year-old knees and backs.
Mary-Peyton Crook 08:56
That's so important.
Krystle Dandridge 08:58
We're talking about adults who can't stand that long. So you know, great problem to have, but like, this is where the day-to-day is like, "Okay, do I have all the inventory I need? Oh, shipping is delayed? Okay, how long is shipping delayed? Okay, so I won't have any books for the holidays, I have none, like none of my books are coming, none of the hundreds of books I ordered. Nothing's showing up? Oh, okay. No, that's, that's fine. I can be a bookstore without books. Why not? Who needs books in a bookstore?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:35
You have to really learn to pivot.
Krystle Dandridge 09:37
You adapt. But I'll also say the community has been super supportive. Because I'm very transparent. I will tell you, "Hey, I ordered books; I don't know where my books are. I can order some more for you." And they're like, "Oh, it's okay, we'll wait! Let's go ahead and place an order. It's okay." And you know, that to me is the support that I need and the support that is helpful because that's what kind of keeps me going. I feel bad when I don't have books, but I'm like, "I promise I ordered them. I just don't know where they are!"
Krystle Dandridge 10:06
I just had a shipment of over a hundred books come in on Friday, and I placed that order like three, three and a half weeks ago. And I placed it knowing I had this event. I was like, "Let's over-order, let's get some books." And I'm like, "Okay, well, you know, I placed the order. I don't know where my books are, but I placed the order, and I'm about to have over 100 people in the store, and I don't have a book for them! I don't have anything!" It showed up, thankfully, but . . .
Christina Kann 10:33
We can definitely relate to that, trying to get authors their books in time for their events as well. There's so many elements of buying books that are just out of your hands.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:42
Krystle Dandridge 10:43
Most of it is out of our hands.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:44
You try to really prepare well in advance, but it still can show up late even then. It's crazy.
Krystle Dandridge 10:50
It's, you know, it's part of the business. But again, it's that year, that year is learning. I learned over that year a lot.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:00
Yeah, and it's great that you still have that support. I remember, on your grand opening day, obviously, you know, it's grand opening day, day one of the first year, so anything could happen. And I remember you coming out and right before we were able to go in you were talking about the fact that you didn't have the books that you had ordered yet, you were still waiting on so many books. And I walked in, and I know that it's much more full now, but it still was so beautifully set up and the books looked great. You had them facing out, which I love because that lets you see the cool covers. And people were still just flooding in and having the greatest time.
Krystle Dandridge 11:37
It was great.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:38
You know, I think that's because you've created that sense of community and the sense of space over just a place to buy books. Ordering that book is important, but I don't think you'll ever run out of people that still support you and love that space.
Krystle Dandridge 11:52
That's the great part about it. The grand opening was a shocker for me. I don't know what I expected to happen, but when I walked out and saw the number of people . . . in my mind, I was like, "Oh, it'll probably be like twenty, maybe fifty people, it won't be a whole lot. Very naive of me, because I walked out and like . . . My family was there. If you came to the grand opening, you saw my family because they were everywhere helping everyone--
Mary-Peyton Crook 12:15
Krystle Dandridge 12:15
--behind the register, mostly, but they were definitely everywhere, them and my friends. And prior to the grand opening, as we were standing inside, I was like, "No, I'll cut the ribbon. A few people are coming, but you guys can probably just go back to my house and just, you know, relax. I won't need any help." And then we opened the doors, and everyone came in, and I was like, "So y'all can't leave. You have to stay, I just need all hands on deck. Don't ask me what I need you to do, because at this point, I don't know, I wasn't expecting everybody to be here, so thanks for staying. Sorry you're hungry, but we're here now. We're in this together, we're gonna make it through, and I appreciate the patience."
Krystle Dandridge 12:16
That line . . . if you were there, that line was wrapped around the store. And there were just all these people, and the store was packed. I'm in panic mode because I was like, "Oh, the city said my capacity is this, and we're like, way over that. Should I put people out? Like what do I do?" Again, I was brand new to retail. I was like, "What do I do? Do I not let them in? It's cold outside. It's February. It's freezing outside. Do I take a chance? Because I don't want anyone catching pneumonia trying to get into a bookstore! That's ridiculous.
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:32
Maybe those rules are a little bit soft for a grand opening.
Krystle Dandridge 13:35
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:36
It was great. It was so much fun.
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:37
What's your favorite part of running a bookstore?
Krystle Dandridge 13:40
Christina Kann 13:41
Yeah. That's a good answer.
Krystle Dandridge 13:44
Getting the books early, because if you're a book addict like me, then your TBR is ridiculous, but you still want the next book. I think it's a tie. I'll say there's a tie between the books and the authors. I have posted about it. I absolutely love meeting authors. Authors are my rockstars. You guys can have all the music artists you want. I love them too, but there is nothing like meeting authors, especially because they're down to earth! They're down-to-earth rockstars, or at least the authors that I've met. They are down-to-earth rock stars! They're like "Yeah, sure, let's chat!" And I'm like, "Really? You wanna talk to me?" So I think that's amazing. And the books! I have arcs sitting right in front of me right now. I get so many arcs (way too many sometimes, but I'm okay with that. I give a lot away, actually.) But getting those arcs, being front and center trying to see, like, what's coming out? Can I read it? When I read it, I'm like, "Oh, let me make a video about it. Let me post on social media but try not to spoil it. Let's talk about this book and not tell you all why it's so amazing when I just want to be like, "Oo, and then they did this and then they did that."
Mary-Peyton Crook 14:54
That's so hard, because the ending can really make or break (obviously) a book, and and it would be so hard if you're genuinely giving your reviews to not include that part of it.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:06
And that brings me to talk about your social media presence @rvabookbar on Instagram and Tiktok. Those are my favorite places to find you, because your presence on social media on those channels is so authentic. I was thinking about it, and I think it's obviously because so many of the posts are just you talking to your followers, talking to this community of readers, and giving genuine book reviews. And you seem to post a lot, which I can't imagine with your schedule.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:35
What kind of advice would you give to--I know you're in a particular position as a bookseller--but what advice would you give to someone looking to create sort of an authentic, compelling Bookstagram, BookTok, whatever channel they want to use?
Krystle Dandridge 15:49
Ignore what's already out there. And I say that because when I first opened my IG account, I was going with, you know . . . Well, when you're on Bookstagram, all you see is the mainstream, white faces, that is what you see. You have to literally search for people who look like me. What you see are aesthetic pics, that's what you see. And there is nothing wrong with the aesthetic pic; I actually think they're pretty, I just don't get anything from them, personally. But when I started, that's what I was doing. I was like, "Okay, well, people want to see aesthetics, because of course, these people's aesthetics got thousands and thousands of likes. So that's what people want." But then I realized I wasn't using my voice.
Christina Kann 16:27
Krystle Dandridge 16:28
And then again, going back to the [book] reviews, you would see the aesthetic, and then you would see the synopsis of the book. I don't like that, because I can read the back of the book myself. So because I can read the back of the book myself, you're not really helping me want to buy the book, because you just told me what the book was telling me anyway. How was that helpful? And what I learned was I was actually getting better traction when it was my voice versus the voice that matched what you saw on Bookstagram, which was, "Here's a picture of a book. Here's what the back of the book says."
Christina Kann 17:01
Krystle Dandridge 17:01
Cool. But I see that on the hundreds of profiles I see every day. So that's not helping me, versus people who are like, "Okay, but why should I buy this book?" which is what people want to know. They're looking for book recommendations.
Krystle Dandridge 17:12
There are a lot of people that are cover buyers; I'm a cover buyer. So yes, the pretty book catches my eye because I'm like, "Ooh, what's that?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 17:19
For sure, for sure.
Krystle Dandridge 17:20
But now what? Why should I buy it? So the advice that I have is for BookTok and Bookstagram, because BookTok is very much videos, Bookstagram is both pictures and reels. But I say use your voice. Like for me, my personality comes through in my videos; it's kind of like talking to me. I love books, and I love talking books. So I'm just kind of like, "Hey!" I'm animated. I like to be very animated. And so I'm like, you know, "What would make somebody really understand why you should get this book?"
Krystle Dandridge 17:54
And I'm recommending what I like, I'm not just kind of like, "I'm a bookseller, here's a book that's in my shop and I have to sell it." No. Some books are just not for me. And that's okay. So when people come into the shop, and they're like, "Well, what about this book?" I'm like, "Well, if you like XYZ, then you'll like it. It's just not my cup of tea, because I'm not an XYZ reader." But on my Bookstagram or my BookTok, I'm like, "Oh, did y'all read this? Let me tell you why you should read this. Because you're not going to regret it!" I like the books that I'm recommending. So I'm not just going to be like, "Oh, I have to sell this. Let me just shove this down your throat and hope that you believe me and come by. No, I thought this was amazing."
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:32
Yeah, I love watching your book recommendations, because you are so passionate about them. And for lack of a better term, you give more of the vibe of the book; you talk about what it's really like versus just, "Okay, this is a mystery. This is fantasy." You really give us the elements of the book that are a reason to read that book over others. Which is what what we're looking for as book readers.
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:56
And that's such a strong case for why it's so important to buy from local bookstores over things like Amazon over even looking on Instagram or Booktok. Because the bookseller should be a book reader like you are. And that's where you're really going to have a conversation with someone about what kind of books are coming up, what book recommendations they can make for you, and it just makes the process so much better than, say, just scanning on Amazon for a book. That's why bookstores are so important.
Krystle Dandridge 19:29
Bookstores will forever be important. Bookstores . . . first of all, they're in your community. So we're talking about tax dollars, all of that, that goes back into your community. So why would you not want to support a bookstore that's in your community? I understand the ease of shopping online and just having it delivered to you in a day or two. I get that. But there are so many reasons to choose an independent bookstore over choosing shopping online and supporting something that isn't in your community. It's not in your community, it's not benefiting your community in any way, shape, or form. And then the interesting thing is people wonder when they're like, "Oh, well, bookstores are obsolete" or "They don't stick around, they don't stick around," because instead of walking in and talking to a person, you decided to click on it.
Krystle Dandridge 20:13
And I'm not against online shopping, but there are also ways to shop online to purchase books that are not through Amazon so you can still support what's in your community: Bookshop.org! Independent bookstores through Bookshop.org. You can go through Bookshop.org, choose the bookstore you want to select (The Book Bar) and your purchase benefits that store. It still supports the store in your community, and you can get it shipped directly to you, easy.
Mary-Peyton Crook 20:40
That is so nice. We love Bookshop.org. I literally just used it the other day, and my purchase . . . I bought one book, one paperback book, and it said it gave $5.99 to a local bookstore, which is crazy considering that the book was like $18, you know, so that's a huge amount for online, which is awesome.
Krystle Dandridge 20:59
It's great. We get a huge portion of that percentage. And then you also have Libro.fm for those who are like, "I only do audiobooks." Libro.fm, same concept.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:09
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:11
To sort of wrap up, what are ways that people can support RVA Book Bar if they don't live nearby?
Krystle Dandridge 21:18
Online! You can always support me online, RVABookBar.com, www.rvabookbar.com. Events are posted there, and there is a link to my Bookshop page. You go under "Shop," it'll say "Shop Books," and you can search all of the books you want. You can always come inside! You can't lose with that either. But there are so many ways you can follow me, on IG, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube @rvabookbar. Or come down to the store: 1311 East Main Street in Richmond, Virginia.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:47
Well, thank you so much, Krystle, for being with us today, for taking time out of your busy schedule. I love The Book Bar, we all do at Wildling, and however we can support you, we are here to do that.
Krystle Dandridge 22:00
I appreciate that.
transcribed and edited by Mary-Peyton Crook
Join us for a chat with C.K. Fullerton as we talk about all things romance: how she got into the genre, her tips and tricks for writing in the genre effectively, book recommendations, and more!
Grace Ball 00:23
I'm so excited today because Mike and I are joined by Wildling's very own C.K. Fullerton, author of the upcoming Blood and Brujeria.
C.K. Fullerton 00:54
Hi, I'm so excited to be here.
Michael Hardison 00:56
Yeah, we're definitely happy to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Grace Ball 00:59
Thank you so much for coming on the pod today. Okay, first things first, what are your pronouns?
C.K. Fullerton 01:05
She and her.
Grace Ball 01:06
Awesome. Well, Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. We asked C.K. to come on the show on this particular day of love because we want to talk about romance baby. We consider C.K. to be an expert on the romance genre, so we want to pick her brain a bit. But before we get into it, C.K., do you want to tell the listeners a little about your book and how you got started writing in general?
C.K. Fullerton 01:37
Yeah, definitely. Blood and Brujeria: In the Shadows is the first book of three. And it's a paranormal urban romance about a half witch half vampire named Cassandra, who comes from a family of vampire slayers that protect the city of San Diego. And while she's out slaying vampires, she discovers an influx of all these new vampires coming into the city causing trouble. And so she works together with her friends to try and figure out where all these vampires are coming from. And on the way she rescues a troubled vampire named Landon, who ends up kind of being a part of the mystery, but not everything is as it seems with him. So the first installment of this book of the series features a plus size Chicana female lead, a diverse found family, lots of magic, and lots of unapologetic smut.
Grace Ball 02:26
Michael Hardison 02:27
Grace Ball 02:29
We are so excited about this book. I've had the pleasure of working with C.K. on it throughout production so far, and we're super excited about it. It's going to be awesome.
Michael Hardison 02:40
Yeah, even with the sneak peek that I got of it, it was just really exciting. I can't wait to read more of it.
Grace Ball 02:45
Yeah, C.K., I don't know if you know this, but Mike is actually the one who, like, acquired and like recommended your book to the rest of us.
C.K. Fullerton 02:53
Oh, how cool! I didn't know that. Well, thank you.
Michael Hardison 02:55
Yeah, that was me. It was one of my first like entrances into reading romance. And I've read a few before, but this one just really piqued my interest, because of the paranormal side of it too, just that combination was just, it was fun to be part of, and you know, dive into that world.
C.K. Fullerton 03:10
Awesome. Yeah, and I feel like the genre is really exploding right now. So I consider like paranormal romance to be a subgenre of fantasy romance. And in general, it's just having a huge upsurge. You know, one of the reasons I got into writing again, I wrote when I was a teenager, and then kind of fell out of it in college. But during the pandemic, I rediscovered reading, like so many people, and I used to love fantasy, YA fantasy, and then I discovered fantasy romance. I was like, oh my god, this is like the adult version of what I loved as a teenager. But these characters are dealing with things that I deal with, you know, and so I got to still get my fix of escapism with fantasy, and it was like going into a new world, but also it was for an adult. So I actually related to the characters because when I would read YA as a thirty-year-old woman, it was like, it wasn't really hitting the same way because my life changed. So that was really what inspired me to get involved in the genre as well.
Grace Ball 04:11
That's so cool. So you said you did some writing in like high school?
C.K. Fullerton 04:14
Grace Ball 04:15
What kind of stuff would you write?
C.K. Fullerton 04:18
Still paranormal. I mean, I was a huge Anne Rice nerd, so lots of witches, lots of vampires. Some of the stuff I read back, I'm like, that was Anne Rice fanfiction. I read like so many fantasy romance novels in 2020 and 2021. Like once I got into it, I was like I'm gonna just immerse myself, and I read like, probably forty books in two months. Like it was like really intense. And like a book a day sometimes. Yeah, and then not all of them were great. Like I feel like I went from like the really top tier down into like, some of the stuff that was not so great. And that's when I went you know, I could . . .
Grace Ball 04:55
Kind of spiraled
C.K. Fullerton 04:55
Yeah, I was like, I could probably write something, and like I want to because I'm running out of good stuff. So I really wrote it because I was like, I am at a loss here like I'm, I haven't found anything good. I think it was like I read like, probably four or five just really bad books back-to-back, and then I was like, okay, I'm gonna do something about this.
Grace Ball 05:15
C.K. write the book you want to see in the world, am I right?
C.K. Fullerton 05:18
Exactly. Yeah, and then you know the other thing too is that so many of the books I was reading were really focused on white characters. There are not a lot of brown vampires out there. And then not a lot of like representation in the genre, and then plus sized characters as well. I feel like, even if there is that representation, it's still in kind of, sometimes a fatphobic lens, where we're still kind of focused on their body size, almost like hyper-focused.
Grace Ball 05:49
Yeah, that's so true. And I feel like that comes up a lot in the romance genre, just as like an issue, because, you know, there is so much body description.
C.K. Fullerton 05:59
There is and it can be so unrealistic as well.
Grace Ball 06:03
Yeah, that is so true. So, you said that you read just an insane amount of books, particularly during the pandemic, were they all sort of romance related?
C.K. Fullerton 06:15
Yeah, I like kind of hyper-focused on fantasy romance right at the beginning of my reading journey. Now, I've really gotten into contemporary romance as well.
Grace Ball 06:24
Do you have any recommendations?
C.K. Fullerton 06:25
Oh, yes, I wrote them down. For contemporary romance, anything by Emily Henry, like she deserves all the hype she's getting on social media. I'm so glad they're making a movie out of one of her books. And like they're just all fantastic. Great romance, but also just wonderful, like character development. And she's just really smart and her characters have really great voices. So I love her. I also really enjoyed It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey. Really good dirty talk in that one, if that's what you're into.
Grace Ball 06:58
C.K. Fullerton 06:59
And then, Set on You by Amy Lea has great plus size representation. Delilah Green Doesn't Care is a super cute sapphic romance, if you're looking for that, that female/female. And then from the fantasy romance perspective, I really love Scarlett St. Clair's Hades X Persephone series. Also, we can't talk about fantasy romance without mentioning the queen, Sarah J. Maas.
Grace Ball 06:59
C.K. Fullerton 07:01
She's popular for a reason. They are really good. The hype is true. Crescent City is like one of my all time favorite books. So you really can't go wrong with those.
Grace Ball 07:35
Do you think that's a good place to start for anyone who's wanting to get into the genre?
C.K. Fullerton 07:40
I would actually recommend Scarlett St. Clair's Hades X Persephone series to start, or "The Bridge Kingdom" series by Danielle Jensen. They're just not so long. So with Sarah J. Maas, they get really long and there's a lot of them, so that one's an investment. So if you know you really like the genre, after you kind of do some of these smaller series, then you can really dive into those books. Because, you know, buying books is expensive. I mean, I'm a library person. So that's, that's great, too.
Grace Ball 08:00
Oh my gosh, that reminds me that we also have to wish, in addition to Valentine's Day, wish everyone a happy Library Lovers Day. Because that's what today is too!
C.K. Fullerton 08:22
That's so cool!
Michael Hardison 08:23
I'll celebrate that one. That's a single one. I'll celebrate Library Day. I love the library!
C.K. Fullerton 08:30
Me too! Thank god I have a library because I would have gone broke reading all those books.
Grace Ball 08:37
We love our libraries. So with writing romance, there's probably a particular approach to this genre. It sounds like maybe you've written just mostly in this genre, but how would you say that it might be different from writing in another genre, if that makes sense?
C.K. Fullerton 08:55
Yeah. I think that, you know, falling in love takes a particular kind of self-awareness and some compromise and empathy. And so I think if you're going to write about that experience, as an author, you really have to be able to dive into that. And so you really need to come from an empathetic place, you've got to dive into your characters' thoughts, their emotion, and really look at your characters' personal grow, because usually they need to do some sort of growth in order to make a relationship work. And so you can build the most complex world with like, epic fantasy, like, you know, this great world building, but if you are not rooting that love story in some very familiar human experiences, it's just not going to click. So I think that's the biggest aspect of it, and that I see across the whole genre--contemporary fantasy, paranormal--and that's one of the things I really love about it is that it does have this very human aspect to it no matter if you're on a planet with blue aliens, like you still have this very familiar experience that most people have had. And so I think that's the the thing to focus on.
Grace Ball 10:06
That's a great way to approach writing in the genre, because that's ultimately what people are looking for is to like see a human experience reflected in a story. And it's fun to have all these cool, different realms and settings, but I think you're right that people are looking to really read that human experience. So I love that. So when you are writing, are there any aspects particular to this genre that you find to be difficult? And if so, how do you meet those challenges when come up against them?
C.K. Fullerton 10:44
It's so funny, because, romance, of course, we're talking love, love scenes, sex scenes, and those were actually the hardest parts for me.
Grace Ball 10:52
C.K. Fullerton 10:53
Yeah, because you can just get so in your head about it, and you kind of have to let go of it feeling a little cringy sometimes. Particularly when you have characters like talking about being in love, it can feel very cliche and cheesy. But you want these heightened experiences and moments, you want it to feel climactic, you want it to really jump off the page. And so you've got to be able to go there and laugh at yourself and let go of the fact that some of the things that you're saying, maybe seem cheesy, but if it's rooted in the truth of the character and what they're feeling, and it makes sense, then it works. So to overcome that, definitely, I just let myself be playful with it. And part of that was I wouldn't read over anything that I had written while I was writing. So I was only allowed to go forward, I wasn't allowed to go backward until the scene was fully fleshed out. Because I felt like if I was in a good flow with it, whatever they were saying, or whatever was going down, it was meant to happen that way. And then I could go back and say, oh, that line didn't work, or does this physically make sense? Like, logistically, how are they doing this? But I will say it did help to have Grace as an editor because you did an amazing job of of being like, I don't think that they would say that or, like how, how is this happening? Which is one of my biggest complaints in romance in some of the sex scenes is like, I just don't understand, like, physically, I can't see it in my mind.
Grace Ball 12:25
Yeah, because you are visualizing.
C.K. Fullerton 12:28
Grace Ball 12:28
So if all of a sudden somebody's doing something crazy, you're like, well, I'm not sure exactly how we got from point A to point B.
C.K. Fullerton 12:36
Michael Hardison 12:38
That makes me think too, talking about the logistics of the scene and everything, and I wish I had pulled some up before we started this interview, but when you go back and read the excerpts people find of men writing women badly in romances.
C.K. Fullerton 12:51
Michael Hardison 12:52
That brings me so much joy to read how cringy those sections are, just like, you didn't go back and read that? Is the woman's body really shaped in a way that you can do that?
C.K. Fullerton 13:03
Michael Hardison 13:04
And it's so funny to me. You need to know what you're doing before you write it.
C.K. Fullerton 13:09
Some basic anatomy.
C.K. Fullerton 13:10
Yes. Yeah. And so like, I learned to really love writing those scenes, because once you build up the relationship, and it finally happens for your characters, it's so fun. But even as a super sex positive person, it's still like, kind of weird at first to actually put that down on paper.
Grace Ball 13:34
Well, you do a great job with it. I feel like I didn't really edit too many things in the spicier scenes of your book, because I was like, she nailed it. So on the flip side, what kind of brings you back? What makes you really, really excited about writing romance?
C.K. Fullerton 13:52
I think that the community of readers is the thing that inspires me the most, like everyone is usually just so welcoming and inclusive and excited about sharing different books. And throughout my writing journey, I've just found so many different little pockets of wonderful people that I can reach out to that are also writing. And I feel like a lot of people in the community felt the same way I do, where they didn't see the books that they wanted so they just started writing, which is super inspiring. And also I just love good banter. So I feel like that's one of the great tropes of romance is there's always some good back and forth. And so that's one of my favorite things to write. It just really like helps build that tension. And then those are the scenes that I hear in my head, where I can't keep up with the characters because it is just going and I'm just trying to type it as fast as I can. So that's where I get like the most excited.
Grace Ball 14:46
That's cool. So you mentioned that you talk to people in the community. What is like the most effective way you found to connect with other people because I'm sure that our listeners, you know, would be interested in hearing about any sort of groups or platforms that you that you're able to share?
C.K. Fullerton 15:04
Definitely, I really found going on Instagram, finding other people that are writing in my genre. So other like indie authors. And then a lot of them have Discord groups or are part of different Discord groups, and so if you message them and see what groups they're a part of. I'm part of a couple of different Discord groups. And we'll do writing sprints together on there. So that's been really helpful and really fun. And then you know, you hype each other's books up when they come out. And you're just kind of there to brainstorm with other people, even about like making reels, or marketing ideas, and how to use social media, kind of picking other people's brains that have already been doing it, too, has been really helpful. So I think Discord has been like the best platform for me personally in building those relationships.
Grace Ball 15:50
That's so cool. That's awesome. Alrighty, so what are some strategies you use to effectively build tension in a romance novel? I think, you know, you said, the banter is really important. How do you make that happen on the page?
C.K. Fullerton 16:00
I wish I could give like an a, b, and c to like how that happens. But honestly, like I said, the characters start talking in your head, for me, at least. And that's when like the best banter comes in. I think, of course, you need to set up a situation where there are obstacles for your characters, you can't really have sexual tension, if the characters have nothing stopping them from hooking up and seeing where it goes. So you have to have a very clear reason why these two people who are attracted to each other can't get together, or else it's just pointless. It doesn't make sense.
Grace Ball 16:41
C.K. Fullerton 16:41
I think, yeah, having that conflict, knowing what that is, having it be something that is a true obstacle, that isn't something that a reader would go like, really, that's the reason why they're not getting together? Like it's got to have higher stakes. And then I think that having a good idea of how the attraction started, and how it builds--kind of the middle of that tension--that is making it maybe go from a physical attraction to an emotional attraction. And then finally, knowing what the catalyst is going to be for them to overcome that obstacle. I think, you know, depending on how high stakes your obstacle is, your event that's going to make them finally get together needs to match that.
Grace Ball 17:26
Yeah, there's obviously the physical element, but there's the emotional element too that could even be potentially more important to make convincing.
C.K. Fullerton 17:34
Yes, yes. I mean, you know, that kind of idea, like insta-love. And I think a lot of readers in the genre don't necessarily love that trope. And I feel like it is very based on the physical, and if they don't bring in the emotional later, it just, it just really falls flat. So I do think that ultimately, to make it feel like that human experience we were talking about earlier, you really do need to find that connection between these two people. Otherwise, just watch porn?
Grace Ball 18:07
Yeah, that's so true. There's a story there. Just kidding! So I forgot to ask you, I meant to ask you earlier. Do you have favorite romance tropes? I think we all do.
C.K. Fullerton 18:24
Yes. Yes, I do. I mean, I'm a sucker for enemies to lovers. I just love it. I can't get enough. If anything has it, I'll read it. And I also love a good "who did this to you?" scene. Those are always fun. And I feel like those are very specific to fantasy romance. That's like a very popular trope. Also, friends to lovers, I read a couple friends lovers books, I did not think I would like it as much as I did. But those have a great emotional connection because there's already a backstory, they obviously are good friends, so they trust each other, and so it kind of builds from there. And then I do love a good fake relationship, but it has to be a believable reason why they're faking. If it's not a good reason why they're faking, I just can't buy in. So that one I feel like it's hard to do, but when it's done well I enjoy it. And then of course the one bed trope, you can't go wrong.
Grace Ball 18:24
Oh my god, I was gonna say, I always have to mention the one bed trope. That's my favorite.
C.K. Fullerton 18:49
Yeah. So good.
Grace Ball 19:27
Classic. I love that. Okay, so we've touched on this a little bit, we've talked about some of the ways that the genre is kind of currently evolving and how its evolved in terms of inclusion. So what kind of changes in that vein are you seeing and like, what do you see for the future of the genre?
C.K. Fullerton 19:48
Well, I think that because more readers are taking it into their own hands and writing their own things, I think we're seeing much more realistic sex scenes, in particular. Women aren't orgasming by penetration alone or like fifteen times in a row or like the anatomy doesn't make sense, like we're really seeing realistic female pleasure focused sex scenes, which I think is really important. And I think it's really empowering. When you're able to have a language to talk about what you need, you kind of close that orgasm gap in your own relationship. And readers are also really talking about that as well. So it's taking away a lot of the shame around sexuality. And that's something that I think is really changing the way that people are writing. I also think that the group of people who grew up reading YA, we're older now, we want different things. And we want to see older characters too. So I feel like there was so much focus on like teenagers for such a long time. And now I'm seeing a lot more books about people in their 30s--I read a book about a woman in her 50s--you know, like we're starting to see age inclusion as well, not just different body types, not just different races, but also different ages. And I think it's really important because sexuality doesn't stop. And so I think representing different phases of life as well is really cool to see.
Grace Ball 21:06
Yeah, me too.
Michael Hardison 21:08
Y'all are lucky with YA, and growing up on that--that wasn't really a category when I was young. And my actual first like romance book I read when I--because there wasn't YA accessible--so I grabbed a book from like, my mom's shelf.
Grace Ball 21:21
Michael Hardison 21:21
I started reading it, and it was seventh grade, and it was V.C. Andrews. I don't know if you're very aware of them or not, but they write some pretty like, wild stuff. And after she passed, they continue to use her name to write more, but it's just all of this really like grocery store level, trashy novels, about like rich, rich families, and there's a whole lot of sex, and all these things, and I'm in seventh grade earning my like, Pizza Hut points reading V.C. Andrews books. I read an entire, like seven book series my seventh grade summer, and I was like, wow, adults are weird.
C.K. Fullerton 21:59
Oh, there is certainly a place for that, too.
Grace Ball 22:02
That's so true. Oh, man, this has been so fun! Okay, so, C.K., could you give our listeners like one final piece of advice about writing romance, just to wrap it all on up?
C.K. Fullerton 22:16
I think I'd want to go back to just letting yourself be uncomfortable a little bit. You know, there are going to be times when I think writing the emotions and writing about love can sometimes feel awkward and cheesy. But if you are really rooting it in your characters' truth, if you've really set up scenarios that put them in a place where they can be vulnerable, I think you can't really go wrong. And so also being very clear about "the why" they're getting together. What is it about these two people that they're relating to each other about? And why are they attracted to each other beyond the physical is really important. And from there, I think you'll have a great foundation, and then you can start to play, then you can start to work on the banter, then you can start to add in some tropes, then you can create your world around them, and give them some different conflicts. But ultimately, you need to have that foundation there to build on.
Grace Ball 23:17
Beautiful. Wow, thank you so much for talking with us today, C.K., and being the first guest on our new season of "How Do I Book?"
C.K. Fullerton 23:27
Thank you. I'm honored!
Grace Ball 23:29
Really, yeah, it was truly such as such a pleasure talking with you. And thank you for sharing your valuable perspective.
C.K. Fullerton 23:36
Thanks so much for having me. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.
Grace Ball 23:39
Happy Valentine's Day!
Michael Hardison 23:40
Happy Valentine's Day!
Grace Ball 23:41
And that's how you book!
transcribed and edited by Grace Ball
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