How indie writer T. Torrest keeps her books flying off the virtual shelves
The 1980s brought us hair metal and slow Mustangs. But for every cheesy ballad and mullet that we survived, there was a John Cusack or Molly Ringwald to move the decade into the plus column. Children of the 80s grew up in a time of romantic comedies, and this sets the stage for writer T. Torrest — not just because her novels are peppered with 80s references — but also, we went to school together.
Tina Torregrossa (her name before the nom de plume) and I were classmates at DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, New Jersey. In the days since, she took a swing at the writer’s life. Actually, she knocked it out of the park.
What constitutes success for a writer? Moving enough books to make a living? Getting her work into the hands of readers? She does these things in spades. While no one expects to strike it rich writing haiku, here is the important point: The books she uploads to Amazon fly off its virtual shelves.
How does she do it? In large part, she says, this is thanks to marketing. Daily interaction with Facebook fans and book bloggers creates a swirl of interaction that coalesces into the buzz that gives her books visibility. That is the focus of the following interview.
Q: I didn't realize you were a writer in school. When did you start?
A: Well, you didn't know I was a writer in school because I wasn't much of one back then, at least not publicly. But I always wrote growing up: short stories, bad poetry, and I kept a diary for most of my life.
But I didn't write my first novel, “Down The Shore,” (DTS) until I was laid up on bed rest while pregnant with my first son in 2003. I was bored and needed something to do, so I just started tapping away. Got about halfway through it by the time the baby came, and then life pretty much took over from there. It wasn't until seven years later that I finally pulled it back out and finished it . . . only to realize that it wasn't very good. But by then, the Kraken had been released; I continued writing, eventually finished my second novel, “Remember When,” and thought it just might be good enough to get published. The Big Five (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster) didn't seem to think so.
I put it out into the world as an indie, immediately followed it up with two more books, and completed the trilogy within a year. After that, I was able to go back and rewrite DTS, and that one finally hit the shelves [April 2015]. So, essentially, it took me 12 years to get my first book published, even though I'd already published three before it.
Q: What do you mean by "I put it out into the world as an indie?"
A: I meant I wasn't going to wait around anymore for some traditional publisher to give me the green light. I self-published "Remember When." Those of us who do so are known as "independent publishers," or... indies.
Q: When you say DTS "finally hit the shelves," what shelves do you mean?
A: The virtual bookshelves at online retailers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, etc. But there are a few brick and mortar book stores that stock my paperbacks as well. (My books are available in paperback through a print-on-demand service called Createspace and on audio through Tantor or Audible. They can be purchased directly from those sources or via the aforementioned retailers. Basically, my books are available in any format at any online bookstore.)
Q: What's “Remember When” about?
A: RW is a flashback romantic comedy about a pre-fame Hollywood a-lister and his high school sweetheart. Layla tells us the story from the present, looking back to her senior year in a New Jersey Catholic high school. It's set in 1990, so it's very nostalgic. But even more than romance and giggles, it's a story about that horrible/wonderful limbo between your childhood and the rest of your life. Anyone who has ever felt even the briefest pang of angst regarding their future will be able to relate. And if you're an 80s kid . . . you'll love it even more. Hmmm. Wonder where my inspiration could have come from. Any guesses, Gene?
Q: How much of DePaul is in there? I know you have stayed friends with a number of classmates. Are they in there?
A: The school itself features fairly prominently in this book; it was an inch-for-inch model behind RW's fictional St. Nicetius Parochial High School. As far as our classmates . . . Yeah. I definitely borrowed pretty heavily from some old friends in order to flesh the characters out.
Q: Why did you decide to use Amazon to get your book out there? Did you know someone else who used it?
A: My sister-in-law gave me a Kindle for Christmas 2010. I was such a book snob that it sat in its box, untouched, for close to a year. Once I finally caved, I became an e-book convert, and found myself trolling 'Zon constantly to load it up with free books. Most were pretty good, but one was so bad that I couldn't understand how it even got published. I mean, I'd shopped my book out for over two years and couldn't even land an agent, much less find a publisher, and yet this piece of junk had made it onto the shelf? I checked the reviews, and saw that someone had made a comment about how "We all know how Amazon self-publishing works." I didn't, but I found out quickly enough. I was blown away that I could publish my own book. I dusted off “Remember When,” polished it to perfection, and put it out into the world in December 2012. Three years later, the scariest moment of my life turned out to be the best move I ever made.
Q: How hard was it to make the book? How did you make it? Was it done in Word?
A: Yes, I wrote it in Word. And honestly, I'd never say it was hard. Challenging, of course, but RW was a joy to write. I wasn't doing it to become a famous author; I was writing it for fun. I had all the time in the world to walk away from it if I wasn't in the mood to work on it. It wasn't my job yet; it was simply something I did to pass the time.
After publishing on Amazon, I found out about their paperback branch, Createspace. They're a print-on-demand service, and suddenly, authors didn't need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to see their book in print. I formatted the manuscript based on their specifications, had a graphic arts friend design a cover for me, and ordered a single copy of my story. Let me tell you, holding that paper copy of my very own book in my hands is still the highest-ranking moment of my entire author career.
Q: After you uploaded the book what came next? How did you prevent it from getting lost in a sea of competition?
A: And therein lies the rub. Anyone can publish anything on Amazon . . . and as evidenced by the over 5 million books on their site, it seems as though everyone has. I had no idea that writing the book was the easy part.
Marketing is rough, but if you do your homework and keep plugging away, something good is bound to happen. In my case, the turning point was discovering the multitude of book bloggers out on the ol' interwebs. Some of them have huge followings. A politely-worded invitation to read my book was usually all it took. If they liked it, they blasted it out to their followers. If their followers liked it, they blasted it out to their friends, etc. It's all about word-of-mouth for indies. The trick is getting readers to find your book so they can discuss it.
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