Laurel Osterkamp: An Indie Writer Who Packs a Punch

Laurel Osterkamp is an indie writer who packs a punch. Her books are chock-full of strong female characters playing the hands that life has dealt them. Following My Toes won a National Indie Book Award. Starring in the Movie of My Life was a 2011 International Book Award Finalist. Campaign Promises is available as a free download and Looking for Ward was first distributed through email. In addition to these creative endeavors, Osterkamp has a new book on the horizon. We visited with her to find out just how she does it.

KE: Congrats on being a 2011 Award-winning finalist in the National Indie Excellence Book Awards and the International Book Awards! How does it feel to gain such strong recognition for your work?

LO: Thank you. The recognition is wonderful and I’m quite honored. Even though things have changed tremendously for indie authors over the last few years, it’s still hard to get readers to give you the benefit of the doubt if you’re not a big name or if you’re not published by someone like Random House. Every little bit helps.

KE: So why did you decide to stay indie?  Following My Toes won a 2008 National Indie Book Award for Excellence. Did that factor in?

LO: Not really. If anything, it gave me confidence to investigate all the options. For Starring in the Movie of My Life I sent out a ton of queries to agents. A few of them responded and three even read the entire manuscript. One said she’d represent me. After that, I never heard from her again. Seriously. So finally I thought, I can wait around for a miracle, or I can do what I need to do to get my novel read. I stayed indie because I worried I’d never reach readers if I didn’t. The amazing thing is, I’ve sold close to 10,000 downloads of Following My Toes on Amazon (at 99 cents) and that’s way more than I would have probably sold through a big time publisher. Being able to keep the price low obviously helps. I wish I knew what other factors played in, because Starring in the Movie of My Life hasn’t done nearly so well, and I’ve done a lot more publicity for it. Plus, I think it’s the stronger of the two novels.

KE: I’ve read Following my Toes and Starring in the Story of My Life. Both had an effect on me because the characters are so real. Was it difficult to write in such a way? Are the stories partially drawn from real life?

LO: For me, creating realistic characters is the only way to go. I’m always drawing from my own life, and I don’t know that I’d be able to write at all if I didn’t. I like to think Following My Toes is a tribute to my twenties, when I learned about who I wanted to be as an adult, and how to make relationships work. Starring in the Movie of My Life wasn’t going to be about me at all, but without realizing it I made it so. I became a mother during the time I was working on it, and it was only after I finished the first draft that I realized how important the theme of motherhood is throughout the book.

KE: Do you identify with your characters? I felt an instant connection to Sam and at times, Faith reminded me of some moments in my twenties. Do you hear that a lot?

LO: No, but I consider that a high compliment. I find my characters relatable and hope others do as well.

KE: You offer your new novella Campaign Promises as a free download. What inspired you to do that?

LO: Well, I’m always looking for new ways to get publicity. Last spring I made my novella Looking For Ward free on Amazon. I’d thought, “What the heck? I wrote it to give away anyway.” I wasn’t prepared for what happened. It got around 40,000 downloads in a month. This was before Following My Toes picked up in sales, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. However, there were a lot of readers who HATED it. I’d never gotten truly bad reviews before, and while I got good reviews for it too, it became necessary to develop a thick skin really fast. Then it occurred to me, this novella is not my best work – although I am still proud of it – and more people have read it than all the other things I’ve written, combined. So why not offer something for free that people will really like, and I can put a preview of Starring in the Movie of My Life in the back? That’s what I did, but it hasn’t gotten as many downloads as Looking for Ward. Also, Campaign Promises is political even though it’s chick lit, so automatically I’m setting off a group of readers. Oh well. I find I can only finish the projects I’m excited about, so I usually let myself go with whatever starts coming out.

KE: How do you feel about e-books vs. paper? Do you have a preference?

LO: I like both, but e-books have definitely leveled the playing field in the publishing world. An indie author can offer her book for a low price, and readers are more likely to give it a chance.

KE: You mentioned that you are also a teacher, and have kids. How do you find time to write? Is it challenging? Do you see yourself eventually writing full time?

LO: I have a very supportive husband, and he helps me find time to write. Also, as a teacher I get my summers off, and I get a lot of writing done then. I’d love to write full time, but I don’t expect it to happen any time soon. Very few people actually make a living from writing, but a girl can dream.

KE: Is the character Melanie from Starring in the Movie of My Life inspired by snarky students you may have encountered?

LO: She’s inspired by several past students. I teach in a pretty poor district, and there are a lot of girls who’ve had to grow up fast and learn to fend for themselves. On the one hand they can be so smart, driven, and tough, but yet they don’t have the emotional intelligence that comes with age, or the ability to see outside of themselves.  That’s what I was trying to capture with Melody.

KE: Let’s talk about publicity, how do you market your books? Everyone seems to be using social media as a primary platform. The President even used social media in his campaign. Do you find that sites like Facebook and Twitter have helped you to sell books?

LO: They’d probably help me more if I used them as much as I ought to. Isn’t it funny – I’m completely comfortable writing novels, but I go online to Tweet or to update my status on Facebook, and I feel blocked. I always worry that what I’m writing isn’t clever enough.

KE: Looking for Ward is an e-serial that you wrote. Can you explain to readers what that means? How does it differ from an e-book or novel? Which did you enjoy writing the most?

LO: I wrote it before Kindles were available. It’s a serial novella about a woman whose fiancé disappears 30 days before their wedding. It’s written all in emails, and every day for a month I emailed a new portion to readers who subscribed. It was fun to do, but a lot of work!

KE: What is Gwen Hairy Gwen Gloss all about? (Love the title!)

LO: It’s a direct takeoff of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Only, instead of being about real estate men it takes place in a beauty parlor. I wrote it with input from an all female comedy/ improv troupe I used to perform with. We staged it for the Minneapolis Fringe Festival, and we used an actual salon as our performance space. It was a blast!

KE: Your work reflects your background with comedy and really brings the characters to life. If you had to choose between writing and acting/performing, which would you choose and why?

LO: I’ve already chosen writing! I don’t really perform anymore, and that’s okay. Once I was teaching fulltime and had started a family, I was too tired to spend weekends performing improv in coffee shops.  It worked out though, because writing is something I can do anytime I have a free hour here or there, and I like to think I’m a better writer than I ever was a performer.

KE: If you were going to a deserted island and could only bring three personal possessions, what would they be?

LO: Would I have wireless, and would I be able to charge things? If so, I’d bring my laptop, my phone, and my Kindle. I suppose that’s the easy answer, so I’ll answer for the no wireless/electricity option too. In that scenario, I’d pick a large notebook and pen (that counts as one object), The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (because that’s a lot of good reading material in one volume), and a boogie board. With all that ocean, I may as well have some fun.

KE: What’s next for you? Another book?

LO: Yes! I hope to have it out by the end of the summer. It’s called November Surprise, and it’s a follow-up to Campaign Promises. The same character, Lucy Jones, is spotlighted, and this time it follows her life through the last six presidential elections. She’s a news junkie who relates her personal life to the world of politics, so I myself have been revisiting each election as I write it. It’s been fun to think about where I was and what the world was like, starting in 1988 and then skipping ahead four years several times. I just finished writing the 2000 chapter, with Gore versus Bush, and I doubt many of us will ever forget what that time was like. But to Lucy it was all brand new, and I’m trying to see it all again through her eyes.

KE: If you could give your readers one piece of advice about life as you see it, what would it be?

LO: Introspection is never a waste of time!

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