Advice from IR Approved Author Melanie Hooyenga: “Brand yourself, not your book.”

The Trail Rules received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Melanie Hooyenga.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

The Trail Rules was published March 9, 2018.

What’s the book’s first line? 

The first two are short, so here are the first three:

“Mike, you’ve got this!” Evan’s waiting at the bottom of the trail. I can’t actually see him, but I know he’s there because I watched him ease his mountain bike down the path barely wide enough to fit his body like he was strolling down the sidewalk in front of his house.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”. 

The Trail Rules is perfect for fans of outdoor adventure, swoony kisses, and figuring out who you are.

Junior year’s looking up for sixteen-year old Mike. Her new BFF isn’t a sadistic control freak, her boyfriend adores her, and she’s learning to bike in the mountains without decapitating herself on a tree. But she needs to decide if she’s going to continue to be a follower or step out of the shadows and find her own trail.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event? 

This book is the second in a 3-book series, so the inspiration was actually the first book, The Slope Rules. In the first book, Cally is in a new school and must learn to be on her own without her friends back home. She becomes friends with a girl named Mike, who’s much quieter and more unsure of herself than Cally, and I knew I wanted to write a book about her. Mike is the star of The Trail Rules, and it’s about her figuring out what she really wants and how she’ll go after that.

Mike is probably the least like me of any of the characters I’ve written. She’s more introverted and has a hard time telling people what she’s thinking. We’re similar in that we avoid conflict at almost any cost, but we both own up to our mistakes. In The Slope Rules, Cally is an amazing skier, and I’ve skied my entire life, but with The Trail Rules, Mike’s just learning to mountain bike because while I ride my bike, the most aggressive moves I’ve done are hopping a curb or cutting across my front yard. (Insert dramatic fist-pump here.) Mike’s fear of falling and crashing into a tree in 100% mine.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

I wrote The Trail Rules for all the girls (and adults) out there who aren’t always confident enough to go after what they really want, who worry about breaking away from what everyone else thinks is best for them. Mike is more introverted than I am, but there have been times in my life where things were seemingly perfect, but inside I knew they weren’t. Figuring out what you really want and going after it can be life-changing.

There are plenty of romances out there, but readers have said that they haven’t read other books with as much depth as mine. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that my main characters all challenge themselves physically with different sports. I’ve played sports my whole life and feel they can instill a sense of discipline and competitiveness that carries into other aspects of your life. With Cally, skiing is her purpose for being, while with Mike it takes her longer to realize how at peace she feels when she’s in the middle of a forest on a trail barely wide enough for her and her bike. So much of that can translate into the rest of your life, and it helps my characters tackle whatever problems they’re facing.

Plus the mountain biking is a lot of fun and readers have told me they’ve read very few books with this sports.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? 

I think the most distinctive thing about Mike is her desire to keep everyone around her happy, often at her own expense. The tagline of the book is “There’s more to life that following the crowd,” and that’s a lesson she learns throughout the book. My hope is this will resonate readers who find themselves in similar situations. Mike doesn’t always put herself first, and when she does, it sometimes backfires by hurting someone else, but she’s trying to be a better person and make the right decisions.

When did you first decide to become an author?

Honestly, writing is just something that I’ve always done. I suppose I could say my early teachers, or my early love for reading, but I’ve just always loved telling stories and writing was a way to do that. But there is a specific person who I credit for inspiring me to write novels: my former co-worker Matt. I was leaving Chicago to live in Mexico with my (now ex-husband) and Matt said, “now you can write the great American novel.” I don’t know if I’d ever shared my desire to write a novel with him, but that casual comment stuck with me and I started my first novel a year later.

Is this the first book you’ve written?
Not even close! This is the eighth book I’ve written and the fifth that I’ve published. The first three manuscripts, a memoir and two novels, are safely tucked away in my computer. The first three that I published are The Flicker Effect trilogy (Flicker, Fracture, and Faded) and are about a girl who uses sunlight to go back to yesterday. It’s a contemporary time travel that deals with a lot of real-life issues like bullying, suicide, and betrayal.

Then I published The Slope Rules, the first book in The Rules Series. I describe it as Grease meets Mean Girls with downhill skiing and it’s about a freestyle skier who moves to a new town and has to navigate life without the security of her friends back home. And there’s a swoony romance. Book three in the series, The Edge Rules, released October 2018 and it tells the story of Brianna, the mean girl from the first two books.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?
I’m the Director of Marketing & Communications at my local community foundation, where I use my skills in writing, graphic design, and social media. For almost twenty years, my career was in graphic design, and I feel very fortunate to have a day job that also incorporates writing.

When I first started writing, I freelanced designing book covers for self-published authors. I did that for several years but came to the realization that I could only handle one side gig, and I would rather write. I still have one client that I help out, but other than that I only design covers for myself.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?
I devote an hour every morning to writing, and depending on where I am in the publication cycle, sometimes my lunch break and an hour in the evening as well. My husband and I are very active and we enjoy cooking dinner together, so evenings are typically focused on him. We don’t have children, which gives me a bit more time than other writers, but we do have a dog who’s the center of our world.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?   

The hardest part about being an indie author is while you reap all the rewards, you also put in all the work. I’ve told people that if they’ve ever heard of me, it’s because of something that I personally have done. It’s time-consuming, and the various booksellers and social media sites are constantly changing their algorithms, which can make it even more frustrating.

But knowing that I’ve not only written books, but published them and shared them with the world, is exhilarating. And the sense of pride over knowing that if you’ve heard of me, it’s because of something I’ve done, keeps me going.

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

Brand yourself, not your book. When you’re first starting out it makes sense to push the book because as an author, that’s all you have. But if you plan to make a career out of writing—and I hope you do—then you need to build your brand around you as an individual. Your website and social media presence should highlight YOU the author. If your web domain, email address, and social handles reflect you, not one book, you’ll make things much easier on yourself when you publish the next one.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?  

I’ve queried agents in the past, and I’m still open to the process. When I first started writing, I swore up and down that I would never self-publish, that it was traditional or nothing for me. Flicker was the first book that had multiple full requests (side note: it was with Veronica Roth’s agent when she announced the movie deal for Divergent, so that was pretty cool) but ultimately the agents all passed. While they liked it, they weren’t sure how to market it and didn’t say anything like “your book sucks” or “I hate your characters”, so I made a decision: Do I want this book to wallow in my computer, or do I want to share it with the world and see what happens? By then I’d built up my author network, plus I’m a graphic designer and had already designed the cover, so I decided to give it a shot.

I have an idea for a novel that I think is a good fit for traditional publishing, so once I write that, I’ll probably query again. The difference between now and in 2008 when I sent out my first query letters is now I’m looking at this as an adventure. I know how to publish on my own—and I’m certainly aware of the pros and cons because of my traditionally-pubbed friends—so I figure I don’t have anything to lose by trying.

Is there something in particular that motivates you?

It’s crazy because I know how many authors hate them, but reviews! I tell stories because I love to entertain people and hearing their reactions is the icing on the cake. Yes, the bad ones can be difficult, but I love knowing how my imagination affects people.

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