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Q & A with Sybil Nelson, Author of the Priscilla the Great books.

Sybil Nelson

Sybil Nelson is a prolific author. She is the author of the well regarded and popular Priscilla the Great series for middle grade readers and under the pen name of Leslie DuBois has written another 10 books. Sybil and her alter ego Leslie write novels for adults and young adults that feature diverse characters and at times deal with serious situations.

Sybil is also the founder of Little Prince Publishing, which currently has six authors and fourteen novels under contract.

Priscilla the Great was the winner of the 2010 Strongest Start Novel Competition.

1. Hi Sybil, how many books do you have published now? How many including your pseudonym?

As Sybil, I have five Priscilla the Great full length novels, as well as three collections of short stories. I have two other pen names and between those names I have 10 other publications.

2. How have you managed to write so many books while being a wife, mother, and student? What is your process for writing?

I am constantly coming up with story ideas so my biggest problem is actually finding time to write down the stories that come to me. I find that I have to have some kind of system to get everything done and sometimes it changes according what is going on at school. For most of this year, my system was to write at least 1000 words per day. This had to be new words that were actually typed into the computer. I didn’t count words that were scribbled in my notebook throughout the day. Though having those notes were very important when it was time to write at the end of the day before bed. Since classes have started up again in September, I have not been able to keep to that schedule while working on my dissertation. Instead, I focus on having at least 30 minutes of writing time every day. And I’ve even gone easy on myself and I’m counting note-writing time.

3. What’s your writing schedule? When do you like to write and do you have any writing habits?

I like to listen to music when I write. I find that it inspires me. I actually create different playlists for each book I’m working on so that it gets me in the mood.

4. I read on your website that you were raised in poverty. How has that influenced your writing? How do you think a writer’s upbringing influences their work?

There is always a piece of me in my characters. Often my plots, especially for my Leslie DuBois pen name, focus on overcoming adversity. I get many story ideas from what I went through or what I noticed as a child. I like to have characters that are not stereotypical and are unique and determined like I was growing up.

5. I know from personal experience that you are a marketing dynamo. Tell me what you have found to be effective in marketing your books. Is book marketing evolving with ereaders and tablets?

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a dynamo, I’m just never afraid to try anything to see what works or not. I think marketing is definitely changing due to ereaders. There are so many ways you can market without leaving your couch. And in person, you could be having a conversation with someone that is holding an ereader and in seconds, they have purchased your book. You can’t really do that with physical books unless you make it a habit to stalk your neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

I think the key to marketing is to have your finger on the pulse of trends. When an avenue of promotion is dying, move to another one. Never stop looking for the next thing that is going to work for you and your books.

Another important thing to remember is that what works for one person, may not work for you. You might have to try it to find out, but there are no guarantees in marketing. I find I have the most success when I get an idea from someone else, but then make it my own so that it is unique for my books.

I’ve actually just been asked to host a bi-weekly radio segment on book marketing where I’ll be sharing some tips for the Indie Author. I’ll give you more details when I have them.

6. You started your own publishing company to distribute your books. What do you think the advantages and drawbacks of this approach has been?

The advantages are that I am in complete control. My success or failure relies completely on me.

The drawbacks are that I am in complete control. My success or failure relies completely on me.

There is always so much more I want to do for my company, I just don’t have the time or the resources. Occasionally, I get envious of the authors with big companies, but then I realize, that many of them are doing just as much work as I am by way of promotion and not seeing nearly as high of a percentage profit. They also have to wait months to years before their book is in print whereas I have published six books this year alone. I think that is a definite advantage. I am able to give my readers more of what they want…and more often.

7. What other advice would you give writers just starting out?

My most important advice would be to make sure you get feedback on your work. There is a delicate balance to acknowledge when receiving critiques. Some people will spend years editing and editing their work never feeling it is good enough. Some people will jump the gun and publish without even a second pair of eyes on their work. Being an author is a lonely job, but you definitely need a team. Think about your goals and create your personal team of supporters and professionals. I’ve been at this for a few years so I now have a process. I have an editor, a proofreader, and a cover artist that I work with regularly. Some people may want to expand that to a critique group then an editor, then a proof reader, etc. In any case, think about what you need and create your team. Look at writing as your business and treat it as such.

8. How has TheNextBigWriter helped you in your writing and publishing endeavors?

TheNextBigWriter was probably the MOST important tool I had when I first started out. I am not exaggerating when I say that the help and feedback I received from this website was unparalleled. I shudder at the thought that I actually sent off submissions before getting feedback on my work. Everyone should be required to join a group like this before they even consider publishing. I spent four years on this site workshopping my first six books. It was a great way for me to find out what worked and what didn’t. TheNextBigWriter was instrumental to my success as an author and publisher today.

Priscilla the Great
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