Today’s author spotlight found BJ Knapp still snoring away under her covers. I mean, what is an author to do, when she has to hang out with the likes of Guns & Roses and Motley Crew? It’s all in the name of research. Um, maybe we should come back later when she is alone-wait she’s awake! Without further ado…here’s BJ!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is BJ Knapp. I am a former college radio DJ and an 80’s metal junkie. I live in Rhode Island with my husband Todd and an over-zealously affectionate Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Potter, and an elderly beagle named Nemo who no longer cares to listen to anyone. I am an avid sailor and scuba diver, and am a terrible cook.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
I love to read. I often blow through a novel every week. They say that to become a better writer you need to read a lot. From reading so much I got onto the idea of writing a book. Creating a story and a world from scratch has been a blast, and it’s all I want to do now.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
When I need a kick in the butt I listen to Janet Evanovich’s How I Write. She reaches in through my ear buds and grabs me by the neck and says “Sit your butt down and write. And learn. And kick some a$$ while you’re at it.”
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
Beside the Music is the story of what happens to a marriage when an 80’s metal band moves in. Brenda Dunkirk gets swept up in the rock and roll glamour, but then tries to figure out whether it’s possible to be one man’s wife and another man’s muse.
How is the title significant?
I named and renamed this book at least a dozen times. I’ve had some really bad titles for this one. My husband actually was the one who came up with Beside the Music. It’s significant because the book is about the clash between suburban civility and 80’s metal glam. Brenda tries to take a supporting role for the band and tries to live beside the music in her own home. And now I can write a prequel and call it Before the Music. Not too shabby, eh?
Where did inspiration for this come from?
I love 80’s metal. There were a lot of bands in the 80’s that disappeared from the scene. I had this vision of a scene where the band is called into a conference room and they show up wearing their leather and their eyeliner. Then they get told that the money is all gone. And then they freak out about having to get a job working in a cubicle repairing photocopiers. Or they decide to make another go at getting back to the top. This is what the band in Beside the Music decided to do—which is why they ended up living with Brenda while they record their comeback album.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
Beside the Music is first person from Brenda’s point of view. She works as a publicist who is gunning for a promotion, she wants to start a family with her husband Tim, but still daydreams about her 80’s rock idols.
Tim is Brenda’s husband. He’s a successful car mechanic and he’s running for state senate. He’s very practical, and allows the band to move in to make Brenda happy, despite his misgivings.
Keith Kutter is the bassist from Hydra—Brenda’s crush. Keith has his own publicity nightmare in the aftermath of a drunk driving accident that has severely injured his son. He knows that he needs to be more likeable for the band to make their comeback, but he is very resistant to being approachable to his fans.
Erik Murtaugh is the band manager and takes an I-will-do-anything-for-the-band-at-all-costs attitude. Brenda goes head to head with Erik on numerous occasions while the band lives in her house and disregards the sanctity of her home.
Portia is Tim’s mother. She is a snooty, high society matron who flat-out despises Brenda, without ever giving her a chance. She shows up at inopportune moments to give Brenda a hard time.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
My readers are women aged 30+. They’re married, they’re balancing their careers and their family life. They are busy and want to read for an escape. It won’t hurt if they are 80’s rock fans as well.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
A few things. One is if you and your spouse want to start a family, there really is no perfect time. The other is that marriages enter ruts, like Brenda and Tim’s. But you need to figure out how to stay out of the rut and continue to love and respect each other. In my book Brenda and Tim’s marriage is on a treadmill to nowhere, and the band moving in shakes it up-first in a bad way and then in a good way.
What is your writing process like?
I sit on a chaise lounge beside my beagle’s dog house. He sits on the roof and types everything out while I dictate to him. But then it all goes to hell when he starts to think he’s a World War II fighter pilot flying a Spowith Camel after the Red Baron. Sometimes beagles have short attention spans.
How do you go about editing your story?
I read this book approximately 5489046 times. I read it out loud to myself. Then I hired a gentleman by the name of Stuart Horwitz the Book Architect. He did a very detailed review of my story, and we discussed at length what would happen and what wouldn’t happen. Then I revised. Then I hired another editor. Then I revised again and again and again. Then when my publisher picked it up, that editor slashed it up as well. Revised again and again.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
My cover designer was with my publisher. But I think that he thought I write erotica because the covers he gave back to me were very racy. My book is really not all that racy. So, he and I had to have the discussion that started with “Are you insane? My Dad is going to see this!” I ended up staging the current cover on the front stoop of my own house. I put my black lace bra on the door handle, my husband’s bass guitar and booze bottles strewn about. I took a picture, sent it to my designer and said “make this.” The cover conveys that the rock glamour is clashing with normal suburban life, but it’s all behind the closed door.
How did you go about getting published?
I queried like it was my only job. I rejected 200 something times. Then I submitted to my publisher and got accepted. About 6 months after the book came out my publisher went out of business. Now I am self published.
What was your self-publishing experience like?
I don’t think it was a typical self publishing experience in that I had the finished cover and book from my publisher. So I just took those pieces from my publisher and re-used them for self publishing. Real self publishing isn’t like that because you have to go and find a cover designer when you truly self publish. When I publish my next book, I’ll get a real taste of what true self publishing is like.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Pros: you make more money from each sale. Nobody else gets a piece of that pie. When you traditionally publish you still end up doing a lot of the work to promote the book anyway—might as well have all your hard work benefit you and not someone else standing there holding out their hand.
Cons: you have to pay upfront for editing, proofing, cover design etc. To get it done well you have to pay a pretty penny for it. You really do not want to skimp on the editing, for example.
What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
Publishing your book on the different platforms out there is kind of a pain in the butt. Each one has different requirements for the types of files they accept. My goal is to finish one or two each week.
How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
This is the million dollar question. There are a lot of things I can try, but then I freeze because my time is limited. If I have an hour to spend on promotion, I spend 58 minutes of it trying to figure out what the best thing to do with my time actually is.
The thing I am trying to get up and running now is reviews on Amazon. More reviews open doors in the Amazon promotion machine and in other places as well. But I have to balance not nagging my readers to review and expressing the importance of reviewing.
Right now I am investigating online book marketing mailing lists to see which one will give me the most bang for my buck. I am also making lists of all the things I want to try to do then just picking 1-2 things off the list and devoting my energy on those items so I won’t get overwhelmed.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
Yup. I spent way too much money on ISBN numbers because I didn’t get how acquiring those works. The process is expensive, and I tend to view anything I want to spend money on as “how many books do I need to sell to break even on this?”
Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
Yes. First of all, get that book professionally edited. When selecting an editor ask for references. Your name is on the cover, and you want something with your name on it to be as awesome as it possibly can be.
Call up CreateSpace or Ingram Spark and ask all your questions. Do not hang up until you completely understand everything they are saying. I messed up with acquiring my ISBN numbers because I didn’t do this well enough.
Make friends with other authors. You can lean on each other and do cooperative events. I have a few author friends who wrote blurbs for my book that I put at the beginning. You guys can use each other for promoting each other. Don’t be afraid to ask. And be generous with people who need your help, because someday they’ll be in the position to help you.
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I am working on a few projects right now. I have one that I am banging on right now about a couple that wins the power ball lottery, and I am still figuring all that out. I have another about a woman who learns her husband cheated on her and she moves back home to lick her wounds and gets caught up in the party scene with the people she went to high school with—kinda like Hope Floats meets Old School.