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Learn from Your Peers: Amy Ray

29 Aug 2015 3:59 PM | Anonymous

Amy Ray is a mystery/thriller writer who lives in New Hampshire. Her first novel, Dangerous Denial was published in 2014 by Barking Rain Press. Dangerous Denial has been nominated for a Silver Falchion Award™ in the category of Best First Novel: Mystery/Thriller. She has a short story featured in Love Free Or Die (Plaidswede Publishing, 2015) and will also have a story in Plaidswede’s upcoming anthology, Murder in a New England Newsroom.

Here's a snapshot of her writing process and life as an indie:

When did you know you were a writer?

The thought first occurred to me when I was a freshman in college and my English professor chose an essay to read aloud as an example of good writing. I was shocked to hear the opening lines of my homework assignment, “Stranded in the Marsh,” about the time my father’s boat motor died and we had to row back to the dock as fast as we could because I had to get to work. It was part drama, part comedy! Hearing my essay read aloud and watching the faces of my classmates as they listened planted the idea that I might be a writer. It took several years for that initial seed to take root.

What does your writing process look like?

I spend a lot of time before I begin writing a book, thinking about the plot and working it out in my mind. To me, this is the most exciting part—thinking up the twists and turns. Then I write a couple of pages summarizing the story. From there, I break it into scenes and after that, the writing begins. Okay, maybe the most exciting part is when I type the last word in the final chapter. That’s a great feeling! But the process does not end there with several rounds of revising still ahead.

What roadblocks or obstacles did you face when trying to get published?

Plenty! I started out querying agents and after two years and hundreds of tries (I have all the rejections alphabetized in a three-ring binder if you don’t believe me), I suddenly had three agents interested in signing me. I was elated! Surely, publication was just around the corner, right? Hmmm, no. The agent got the interest of one of the big five publishers and a midsized publisher, but in the end, they both passed. I shelved the book for several years, not knowing what had held them back. After attending many writing conferences and continuing to work on my craft, I went back to that manuscript and gave it a complete rewrite and the new and improved Dangerous Denial was born.

Why did you choose to publish with an independent press?

I decided to try publishers to whom I could submit directly. A writer in my writers group had recently gotten a contract with an indie publisher, Barking Rain Press, so I decided to submit.

Are you happy with the route you chose?

Yes. Barking Rain Press put the manuscript through two rounds of edits. I worked with my editor, who was wonderful, and then the manuscript went off for a line edit. I wanted Dangerous Denial to be the best it could be, and was grateful to have professionals to guide me—and it has paid off. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “In Ray’s debut thriller, lives converge at a charity ball, where someone has planned a deadly act of vengeance…Ray takes her time establishing her characters, including the bad guys, and with a rousing, indelible payoff, it’s well worth it.” 

As an author, you’re also a marketer, accountant, sales person, and many other titles. How do you balance it all?

This is true of almost all published authors whether they are self-published, published by a small press, or by a large publisher. There’s no such thing as writing the book and being done with it—if you want to find readers. I’m fortunate that I enjoy the business side of being an author, and it probably doesn’t hurt that I ran my own business for several years. (I bought the store that I was working at the day I was “Stranded in the Marsh.”) Balancing it all is still tricky for me and I find that I often run out of time for the most important task of my workday—writing my next book.

What are some of the ways you market your books?

I’ve tried a little bit of everything! I did a blog tour which lasted a month. Every day was terrifying and exciting all at once, hoping the reviewer liked Dangerous Denial. Less stressful are events like the Boston Book Festival and the Made in New Hampshire Expo that provide great exposure and allow for interaction with book lovers. I also enjoy going to libraries as part of the Mysteries and Scandals Panel (with Emma Leigh Reed and IPNE member Joyce Shor Johnson.) We do readings and take questions from the audience. It’s a lot of fun! We have upcoming appearances at the Rice Library in Kittery ME on September 9th at 6 pm and at the Kelly Library in Salem NH on October 22nd at 7 pm.

How did you choose the cover for your debut thriller Dangerous Denial?

The publisher presented me with pictures of models and let me select the one who best represented the protagonist, BK Hartshaw. BK is a strong young woman, but she is hiding secrets that are putting her in grave danger, so I needed her expression to be right as well as her ‘look.’ Both the publisher and I the same pick, so that made it easy. Then the cover designer took it from there, putting the title in the crosshairs of a gun and adding a special effect evokes movement. It sets the feel for the opening of the book where BK and her ex-boyfriend are being held at gunpoint, hostages at a charity ball gone wrong.

What advice do you have for other indie publishers?

Keep learning, network, and continue to hone your craft! A great way to do this is by attending as many writing/publishing conferences as you can. IPNE’s New England Publishing Conference is coming up on September 25-26 in Portsmouth NH. There are workshops on marketing, revision strategies, writing to a niche audience (you’ll see me in the front of the classroom in that one), podcasting, print on demand, metadata, book reviews, distribution, publishing a series, and more. The keynote speakers are from Publishers Weekly, Ingram, and Shelf Awareness.

How can we find your books?

Dangerous Denial is carried at my local indie bookstores, The Book Outlet in North Hampton NH and RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth NH, and can be ordered at any bookstore. Or you can buy it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, iTunes, or on the Barking Rain Press’ website.


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