Heather Grace Stewart always knew she was destined for a career in writing. After volunteering for a cable news show in Kanata, Ontario, Heather decided she would pursue Canadian Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, followed by a journalism degree at Concordia University in Montreal. Whenever Heather was not reporting the local news or hitting the textbooks, she would spend afternoons writing poetry while overlooking Lake Ontario or the St. Lawrence River. Although journalism was her first career, Heather’s true passion was fiction.
Between 2005 and 2013, she published four poetry collections, two nonfiction books for youth, and a screenplay. While raising her daughter, she developed an idea for a character called “The Groovy Granny”, and together they self-published a children’s poetry book with that title. It took a few tries, but persistence paid off, and Heather officially became a published fiction author. One year later, she experienced her big breakthrough.
While doing a Wii workout one afternoon back in 2012, the game’s fitness instructor informed her that she was looking a little “shaky”. That didn’t go over well. She unleashed her fury on the television screen and profanity spewed out of her mouth like fire from a flamethrower. Suddenly, a thought interrupted her mid-rage. She had an epiphany. Groovy Granny just turned into Bad Ass Gram, and if that instructor dared to come through that screen, he was going to get some sense knocked into him. Slowly, the idea for her first novel began to evolve. The Wii instructor transformed into a genie and soon time travel, and even a love interest were thrown into the mix. Eventually, “Strangely, Incredibly Good” was born. On Christmas morning, Heather received the news that her first novel was accepted for publication. In 2014, it soared to number 10 on Kobo’s rankings for Humorous Fiction.
However, don’t get under the impression that Heather has peaked. Her latest release, “The Ticket” is currently in the process of being turned into a movie. Perhaps what should really be turned into a movie is the story of her career. Recently, Heather was kind enough to share her story with eBooks2go, as well as some insights from both her traditional and independent publishing endeavors.
Q: Why did you decide to make the transition from journalism and business writing to fiction?
A: I’m not sure I really decided, I think it was more like I was lead. I was lead into spending more time on what I was truly passionate about, my fiction, just after our daughter was born in 2005. Before her birth, I was working as an editor of a law magazine for students for four years, and before that, I worked for four national magazines and freelanced for Reader’s Digest and a few other magazines. After she was born I wanted to spend more time at home with her, so I transitioned into more freelance magazine work instead of working outside the home. I was writing and researching articles for Canadian Wildlife magazine and Wild! for children, and kept daydreaming and coming up with ideas for children’s poems. That’s when I wrote The Groovy Granny, my book of kids’ poems, and began pitching the idea to various publishers. It took a while for that book to be published, because my daughter had to grow up and offer to illustrate it at five years old! That was such a fun project for us.
I think with every new fiction project, I realized that this was my calling. I still freelance, in fact, I’d like to write about the process of writing and publishing, but fiction is what I love most.
Q: How did you determine what genres your books would be?
A: Again, I don’t think this was a choice for me! I didn’t choose my genre; it chose me. I was always a poet, from a very young age. It’s just how I see the world. I never thought Strangely, Incredibly Good would be “chick lit’ or “time travel” or “romantic comedy.” I just knew I had a great, entertaining idea, and I ran with it, and it came out in my natural voice, which, apparently, is funny and touching and includes element of fantasy. My publishers first put the book in “fantasy” and then when I self-published it two years later, I’d read enough reviews to realize people thought the book was funny and so I put it in the “romantic comedy” genre. But I don’t ever think of my books as just one genre. They’re stories with a lot of different elements, and I don’t want to pigeonhole them. I might include psychic trapeze artists in one and it will end up being called a “paranormal circus story” by the New York Times, but I might see it more as a beautiful love story.
You never know. I don’t care how they’re classified, as long as people can find, read and enjoy what I write!
Q: What should authors know if they want to go into self-publishing?
A: They should know that it’s going to take many years of building your body of work and your brand before you can start making any money. So, they should do this for the love of it, and not
in hopes that they’ll get rich quick.
Q: What marketing tactics would you recommend for authors who are looking to generate buzz for their book? Which tactics have worked best for you?
A: First, I’ll mention the free or inexpensive methods. Writing a blog post a week and then promoting that on Twitter worked really well for me, as did Wattpad. I put “The Ticket” up on Wattpad for free and it was read by thousands of people, who started tweeting about my writing. I’ve heard Instagram is great for authors, however, I don’t have a huge following on there yet…but I’d love new followers! It’s heathergracestewart.
In the last year and a bit I started spending some advertising dollars, and that has paid off. Recently, I was accepted by BookBub for a featured book promotion for Strangely, Incredibly Good. It’s not easy for an indie author to be accepted by BookBub so I was just happy it happened, but I wasn’t prepared for 22,000 people to download my novel in five days! It helped people find my other novels, and “Strangely, Incredibly Good” became a Kindle Store bestseller and number one in Time Travel Romance in March 2016. So, I’d argue that promotional sites like these, while they do charge a fee, are now necessary for indie authors to get seen and heard. I earned three times what I spent on my BookBub ad, and my books charted in three countries. Advertising is critical…but take your time. Make a business plan. I couldn’t afford advertising until I started making some money from speaking and the sales of my first books. It’s all a process, and it takes time.
Q: Where are the best places to look for a literary/talent agent? How should an author reach out to an agent/agency?
A: Honestly, I tried for three years to query (using Writer’s Market) for an agent to rep me on “Strangely, Incredibly Good and Remarkably Great”, and I came close, but never succeeded.
My talent agent actually reached out to me. She found me on Twitter, and told me she thought “The Ticket” would make a great feature film. So, I’d say worry about your writing first and foremost. Spend time honing your craft. Worry about marketing it later. It’s important to build a body of work and keep polishing it, and eventually, people will start finding it and talking about it. That’s when you can start approaching agents, but landing one is a really tough challenge. Don’t give up, but don’t simply send out queries: tweet and write intelligent, entertaining blog posts and keep having fun with your content.
Q: I noticed on your website that you had a blog post about your Top Ten Most Awkward Book Signing Moments, which included a moment where a couple of your dearest fans licked you in a picture. I was wondering, how should an author handle themselves when they find themselves in an awkward situation at their book signing?
A: Ha ha ! Just keep smiling, and keep signing those books. Let it roll off your back. If you got this far, you will already know how to deal with lots of nonsense!
Aspiring authors are encouraged to check out some of our other advice pieces in the Writing Tips section at https://blog.ebooks2go.net/category/writing-tips.
For more information about Heather, visit her Amazon page, where you can find “The Ticket”, “Strangely, Incredibly Good”, and other great titles.