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Interview with Best-Selling Author Sunshine Rodgers

A while ago, I wrote about the first author event I had ever attended. While there, I met a few fellow writers including International Best-Selling author Sunshine Rodgers.

Sunshine was a treat to talk to and she graciously shared with me her writing process, advice to aspiring authors, and future projects she is working on. Hope you enjoy the interview.

Sunshine Rodgers Author Headshot

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

When I held my first book in my hands. Writing my first book, “God the Father, Jesus the Big Brother, Holy Spirit the Best Friend” was at first… something to “check off” my bucket list. It was almost like a side-project, as if taking on a personal challenge.

I always loved to read and write and I wanted to see if I could write a nonfiction piece that is very near and passionate to my heart. But when I held the published and complete book in my hands, something inside of me “switched on” and I knew right then and there that writing books full-time is something I wanted to do with my life! (I continue to get emotional every time I celebrate a new book release!)

Sunshine Rodgers will all her books

What’s your favorite book you’ve written and why?

That’s incredibly, incredibly difficult. One part of me wants to say “The Creation Project” because it was like I was “playing God” …as the viewpoint on the pages are from God’s perspective.

And another part of me wants to say “The Ring Does Not Fit” because it’s a romance fiction…and I am a sucker for Hallmark love stories….

BUT I will say that my most creative and challenging piece for me was writing my PG-13 dark fiction book “After You: A Demon is Always Lurking Nearby” because it was told from a demon’s point of view. I had to channel the sinister side of my psyche to get into character for that role. (When I was writing that book, the people around me would ask if I was okay…I was so…*deadly* serious…while writing those pages :p)

What is your writing process like?

I start with a sentence or two of what I want the story to be. Like, with my historical fiction book “The Creation Project”… the idea was: “The Genesis story told from God’s point of view.” That’s it. I don’t make a character list. I don’t create a story map. I just start writing and see where the creative juices take me!

By draft #5…the characters become self-aware and I start to be more of an observer than a writer. That’s my favorite part! By draft #11…I submit the work to the editors AND by draft #15…the book is ready to be published (after a long back and forth between me and my editors!)

Sunshine Rodgers pointing her book at Barnes and Noble

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Turn off your inner critic. Don’t let the process scare you. Take it one page at a time. Write what your are passionate about. And stay calm.

My first book took four years before it became an International Best Seller. Being a successful author will take time but the journey is worth it. Be your own cheerleader. Celebrate the milestones in your author career. And learn to love what you do; the passion will fly off the pages! And whatever you do…KEEP WRITING!!

What are you working on next?

My 8th book is an adult fiction called “The Characters Within.” It’s a book within a book (very trippy!). It’s part – musical and part – love story! I’m looking at a Summer 2020 release!

I am currently traveling; I am booked up through April on book signings and author events. I plan to have my 4th book tour in the summer. And I am about to celebrate my 30th book signing!

Sunshine Rodgers's 4 different stacks of books

Where can my readers stay in touch with you?

Website: sunshinerodgers.com
Twitter: @Writer_Sunshine
Instagram: @AuthorSunshineRodgers
Facebook: @SunshineRodgersBooks

You can purchase Sunshine’s books on Amazon by clicking here.

4 Things I Learned From My First Author Event

In early November, I had the opportunity to attend an author fair and book signing event at my local library. I actually found out about this occasion while visiting the library. As I walked to put up a couple of books I had on hold, I noticed a huge poster on the wall promoting the event. I took a snapshot of the poster with my phone and when I got home, I immediately inquired if there was a chance to get a table. Luckily I reached out just in time as tables were filling up fast.

To prepare for the author expo, I scoured the internet for helpful posts on what to bring. At the end of this post, I’ll share a couple of my favorite posts I found. For now, I’d like to share what I personally learned from attending my first in person author event.

1. Marketing Materials are Key

local author fair booth setup

As it turns out, not everyone wanted to buy my book on the spot. How dare they! Most event attenders were coming to the library for another event targeted at kids or just coming on a normal library trip to drop off or browse for new books. They ended up traveling around to different tables as an afterthought. While a buying a book at any price might not been in their heads for this trip, a free bookmark, flyer, or business card is much more likely to come home with an attendee.

All of these free marketing assets and even something like a newsletter or mailing list sign up sheet provide potential customers with something to take home, research, and a future opportunity to make a purchase of your books at a more convenient time. They may even pass along your information to a friend who might better fit your typical reader. I did have a business card, but not a bookmark or flyer. I saw many attendees carrying around other authors’ flyers.

2. Consider Your Audience

In hindsight, I was very ambitious. I ordered 15 books that I was hoping to sell at the fair. But to my surprise, I sold a whopping zero. As it turns out, most of the patrons to this event were more interested in browsing tables and talking to authors. There were really only a couple of tables that I saw sell more than one book. I’m sure this isn’t the case in all local author fairs, but my particular library isn’t in a bustling metropolis, so the number of visitors was never going to sustain that many book sales.

At the same time, my books are a bit more niche. A book that is targeted at coaching basketball and a kids’ sports fiction chapter book don’t appeal to everyone. While that is helpful when you are selling books online as the number of potential customers is seemingly endless, a smaller event like this one meant that there would be way less interest in those types of books. That doesn’t mean these events aren’t worthwhile if you don’t have a widely appealing book because you never know who you will meet or who might attend.

3. Leverage Your Local Fans

While there was not an overwhelming amount of foot traffic at this event, there was a table just a few feet away from mine that consistently had people coming over to them. The table did have some interesting graphics and larger posters to draw people in, but it seemed like these fans already knew exactly where to go when they came in.

Upon further watching (I told you I wasn’t selling any books myself, right?), these visitors seemed to have prior relationships with the author. Not only do these local fans help raise your spirits and make for good photo opportunities, but I would wager that they are likely to make other people in the fair notice the excitement surrounding your books. It’s like having a 5 star Amazon review come to life.

4. Don’t Forget to Network

My table at the local author event

Of course, as an author, my primary motivation at a local author event like this was to sell books to customers and hopefully make some new fans. At the same time, I was surrounded by a couple dozen authors of varying backgrounds and experiences. Being newer to the writing scene, I’m always looking to learn authors’ stories and what might have worked for them. In my experience, other authors are incredibly generous and willing to share tips and advice. They want to see other writers succeed.

Toward the end of the event, I decided to go around and talk to these authors. One author I talked to mentioned that she was actually a former screenwriter in Hollywood and had entered a writing contest with a friend. She won the contest and that jumpstarted her writing career. Now she’s a USA Today best-selling author.

Another author just across the way, shared with me that in her effort to get traditionally published she queried dozens of publishing houses but focused specifically on smaller publishers that focused specifically on her niche. Now she has at least 7 published books and makes her living writing.

Both of these stories reminded me of the stories I shared in a past post. Each author seems to have an unique journey to success. There is not a one-size fits all route to being an author. It reminds me of the importance of perseverance.

Other Resources

Here are a couple of the blog posts that I used to prepare for my first author fair. Hopefully, they can help you too!

Ten Tips for Authors Going to Their First Book Fair

10 Things You Should Know About Your First Author Expo and Book Fair

Have you attending a local author fair? What did you learn and what worked for you?

Should You Make Your Own Book Cover?

When I first started self-publishing books, I think I made an unstated goal to myself: try to do it for as cheap as possible. It was a side-project for me after all. And in many ways, I succeeded in sticking to that unsaid goal. I designed two book covers for free using design sites like Canva. I formatted and designed both my ebook and paperback editions by myself in Google Docs. I edited my manuscripts and had a couple of generous friends look them over as well.

While the sentiment behind my frugal target made intuitive sense, (after all, the less money you spend, the less you have to take out of your profits) I’ve found that it doesn’t always work out as well as you hope. Putting formatting and self-editing troubles aside, I found that I didn’t get quite what I wanted out of my own book cover design.

In order to prepare for my first in-person author event at a local author fair, I decided to revisit my book covers to see if I could spruce them up a bit. This time, instead of a DIY book cover, I sought help from a graphic designer. The rest of this post will be dedicated to good and bad the bad about both making your own book cover and hiring someone else to do it for you.

DIY Book Cover Design

Pro – You are in control

One of the big draws with self-publishing, in general, is the idea of your having complete control over everything. No one is going to change your book cover to fit a certain market.

Pro – Cost

This was the most important reason for me to initially try and do-it-myself. I had experience making some custom graphics using software like Canva. There are so many free tools out there that give you some good design options.

Con – Lack of Skill or Options

I know some people are Photoshop pros, but that is not me. If you are the design novice camp, you are going to end up settling for less. You are stuck using free templates, graphics, photos, etc. If you have something really specific in mind, it might not happen.

Professional Book Cover Design

Pro – A Truly Custom Look

This is huge. Self-published titles continue to explode. With increased competition, there is an increased need to stand out from the crowd. A custom and unique book cover will do that for you.

Pro – Professional Touch

I’m so grateful to Chelsea, my book cover designer. She took my feedback and was able to turn it into great-looking covers. There were quite a few times when I wanted just a single color changed or a different font or a tiny design element moved. Instead of being limited by the template I was using, she could take care of every detail.

Con – Cost

I already touched on this a bit above, but, if you want a custom look and if you don’t have the design skill necessary, you’ll have to cough up some dough. Just know what your budget is and stick to it.

Before & After

Now for the best part: the reveals!

Book Cover Redesign for Coaching Youth Basketball

Book Cover Redesign for Crunch Time Cam

I’m so happy with how they both turned out. The biggest difference to me is how they reflect more of the content that you will find inside the books. They felt like vague and generic basketball books before.

What do you think? Do you like the updated books covers?

How These Two Authors Got Published for the First Time

This post is part 2 of a series centered around attending a local author fair at the West Osceola Library in Central Florida. This intimate event had several self-published and traditionally published authors in attendance. The highlights for me were the two guest speaking sessions by three different types of authors. Each one shared stories of their writing and publishing experiences that were helpful to me and hopefully to you, too. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here!

The second session I attended was hosted by two traditionally published authors with diverse backgrounds. Their session centered around their publishing journeys, and how they got to where they are now, and how to get a book published for the first time.

The Trunk Novel

Jan Eldrege Author
Courtesy of http://janeldredge.com/

The first author to speak was Jan Eldredge. Jan’s book Evangeline of the Bayou, a middle-grade adventure novel, was published back in 2008 (and it has an awesome cover). Jan shared some great tips and tricks that helped her along the path to publishing, but the most interesting thing she shared was the idea that everyone should have a “trunk novel.” Maybe you’ve heard this term before, but it was a first for me. Jan described a trunk novel as an author’s first finished work. Where does the trunk come into play, you might ask. Well, the trunk happens to be the novel’s dark and dingy home for the remainder of its days.

Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge
Courtesy of http://janeldredge.com/

Jan shared that, in her experience and in talking to other authors, most times when you finally sit down and finish that first book, it’s total crap. While I might not advocate that you effectively throw your hard work into the garbage, more often than not, she’s probably right. Writing, like anything else, takes practice. You most likely aren’t going to be J.K. Rowling the first time you take a crack at it. I think the general sentiment around her words is that when you read back that first draft, don’t get discouraged. It’s probably not very good. But don’t give up! If you keep at it, you are most certainly going to get better.

Ghostwriting

Author Debbie Viguié
Courtesy of https://debbieviguie.com/

The next author to share her publishing journey was Debbie Viguié. Debbie is a New York Times Bestselling Author and has published upwards of 50 novels across a variety of genres. Her publishing story was fascinating. She got her start by helping out a well-known author with a story when the author was spread too thin with different projects. Debbie hopped at the chance to be a ghostwriter for this project and knocked it out of the park. When Debbie’s friend tried to get her a contract with the same publisher, they initially said no due to the fact that she hadn’t been published before. But then the friend shared that everything they liked in the last book was Debbie’s handiwork and they changed their tune.

Hearing Jan and Debbie talk about their publishing journeys was fascinating. They had wildly diverse paths to getting published, but they had a couple of things in common, they worked incredibly hard and they didn’t give up. Any aspiring author will do well to develop those two character traits.

Peter Raymundo on the 5 Elements of Story Structure at Disney

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to attend a local author fair at the West Osceola Library in Central Florida. It was a small event with several self-published and traditionally published authors in attendance. The highlights for me were the two guest speaking sessions by three different types of authors. Each one shared stories of their writing and publishing experiences that were helpful to me and hopefully to you, too. Part 1 will cover just the first session which included Disney’s storytelling formula and an author/illustrator’s writing process.

The first session was hosted by author and illustrator Peter Raymundo. A former animator for Disney films such as Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, Peter has used his animation skills to jump into the publishing world with the Third Grade Mermaid book series and The Monkey Goes Bananas.

Peter Raymundo at book fair
Courtesy of orangeobserver.com

An Illustrator’s Writing Process

Peter spoke at length about his writing process. For example, he shared how important it is for him, as an illustrator, to always have a sketchbook with him. When something in real life sparks his imagination, he gets to work right there. A lot of his books are marine life themed, so he visits aquariums regularly with his sketchbook. If he sees an interesting animal or something he’s never seen before, he pulls out the book, sits down, and sketches it right there.

Peter also talked about how much research goes into his stories before they are ever written. Animals he had never heard about before, such as the sea cucumber, come to life with interesting character traits based on the real-life research he does.

The Disney Storytelling Formula

My favorite thing that Peter discussed was about actually laying out how your story will flow. Most of us learned about the beginning, middle, and end of a story in school, but the former Tarzan animator said he learned something different to crafting stories at Disney. At Disney, they focused on the 5 parts of story structure. I’ll briefly list and explain the 5 parts below:

  1. Character: Who is the main character and what does he/she want?
  2. Setting: Location, time period, etc. It should become part of the story.
  3. Problem: What’s the one main problem with the main character getting what he/she wants?
  4. Struggle: The main character tries to get what they want, but fails over and over. Typically, the more they try the more complicated things get.
  5. Resolution: Does the main character succeed? Often they do, but not how they expected to.

Using Pixar’s Story Outline

Learning about story structure is always interesting to me. People have their own ways of deciding how to layout their narratives. For Crunch Time Cam, I used a story outline that I learned from a Khan Academy/Pixar course. It goes something like this:

  • There once was a ________ (Main character)
  • Everyday, ________ (His/her current life)
  • Until one day, ________ (Inciting incident that launches the adventure)
  • Because of that, ________ (Event after event that moves the plot forward)
  • Until finally, ________ (Resolution)

I highly recommend that Khan Academy course by the way. It was free, interactive, and incredibly helpful for beginner storytellers and veterans will pick up a thing or two. I’d love to hear if you have a formula for structuring your stories?

Part 2 of the Local Author Fair roundup can be found here!