Therese Walsh is a critically acclaimed author of contemporary fiction. Published by Random House’s Crown imprint, Therese’s debut novel was a finalist for a RITA award, and her books have won praise from publications like Booklist and Publishers Weekly. Her latest novel, The Moon Sisters, was featured on BookBub in May.
BookBub: When did you first devote yourself to becoming a full-time author? Was there a specific “eureka” moment, or have you always known you wanted to write for a living?
Therese Walsh: It was a slow realization for me. I’d always enjoyed writing — and even written plays as a child — but I didn’t consider it as a possible career until after college. After grad school, I was hired as a researcher for Prevention magazine, and the bug was quick to bite; I wanted to see my name in a byline. I did get that chance, and my love of writing nonfiction evolved into a desire to write fiction as well. I started to write what would become my debut novel shortly after 9/11 in a life’s-too-short response to tragedy.
BB: Your most recent release, The Moon Sisters, has been widely praised and was described by one author as “a tale of true sisterhood” (Brunonia Barry). What was the inspiration behind writing this story?
TW: I was inspired by the altered perceptions that family members can have in the wake of loss, and the different ways people have of working through grief. The personal story here is that my sisters and I lost our father when he was just 56, and we had unique responses to his death. Olivia and Jazz Moon, in The Moon Sisters, have dissimilar ways of seeing the world. Literally. Olivia is a legally blind synesthete who can see sound, among other things. I wanted to play with that difference, show the sisters spinning out of control after their mother’s probable suicide, but not in the same way. Olivia, for example, wants to satisfy her mom’s unrealized dream to see a ghost light on a West Virginia bog. She feels desperate to find the light, while Jazz — who is more interested in starting her job at a funeral home — thinks it’s a ridiculous quest but is dragged along anyway. And so it begins. This is something we worked through in our own family: You may not understand why someone wants to do something, why it’s critically important to them, why they’re responding to a situation as they are, but you have to respect it. And if you stick around, and if you listen, maybe you’ll learn something important about them or even about yourself.
BB: Including The Moon Sisters, your first two novels were published by Crown. What was the editorial and production process like working with a Big 5 publisher?
TW: Busy, actually. Here are some of the things an author will do with the guidance of her publishing team before a book debuts:
- Receive and digest editorial notes. Might be a developmental edit, with big changes suggested, or just a smoothing over of the story.
- Reach compromises re: changes you’ll make. Might take a few phone calls, lots of back and forth over email.
- Make the changes.
- Repeat until everyone is satisfied.
- Fill out questionnaires for publicity and marketing.
- Attend meetings as necessary.
- Create a publicity strategy, and understand your role in it.
- Send ideas for cover art.
- Duke it out over the title. (Both of my original titles were changed.)
- Establish a website, if you don’t already have one.
- Establish social media accounts, if you don’t already have them, and populate them with Terribly Interesting Things.
- Tackle copyedits.
- Gather blurbs with your agent and editor.
- Work on catalog copy and cover or flap copy.
- Work through first-pass pages.
- And second-pass pages.
- Write a discussion guide for book clubs.
I know there are debates about what an editor will do for a writer nowadays, but I can tell you that this list doesn’t do justice to the amount of back and forth I’ve had with my team. The Moon Sisters would’ve been a different book without my editor, Christine Kopprasch — but not a better one.
BB: What was your agent’s role during this process? Did she work closely with both you and your editor, or did the publisher take on more of the work once you signed with Crown?
TW: My agent, Elisabeth Weed, remained involved after my contract was signed, as my advocate. If there were bumps in the road and I felt jarred by them, I let her know, and she’d step in and try to smooth the way. I know some authors who are working un-agented with publishers, and I don’t know how they do it. … You need someone who can stand up for you — your contractual rights, yes, but also for a slew of other reasons. Sometimes deadlines are unreasonable (agent steps in). Sometimes you’re having a misunderstanding with your editor (agent steps in). Sometimes you want to know what your print run is or what’s happening with a marketing plan or how sales are going (agent steps in). Or why you were told XYZ and what you received was WTF (agent steps in). A good agent is a people specialist. She knows how to get the information you want and need while doing her best to keep all relations amicable.
BB: Before working with Crown, did you contemplate another way of publishing your work, such as self-publishing or working with a smaller press? Do you think there are any disadvantages to the traditional publishing route?
TW: I didn’t contemplate another way of publishing, but to be fair, indie publishing has come a long way since 2008, when my debut sold in a pre-emptive two-book deal. The economy crashed a few months later, and we woke to a different world. Publishers’ purse strings were tightened; and then the digital revolution took off, fueled by economic stress. Authors could make money right away by publishing their works alone and bypass the traditional hoops. Buyers could purchase stories for less and not wait until the next paycheck.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both the traditional and indie publishing routes. The biggest disadvantage of traditional publishing, in my opinion, is a lack of authorial control over the price point. (If I could, I would permanently lower the price of my ebooks to make them more competitive.)
BB: How have your responsibilities as a published author changed over the past few years? Does your publisher expect you to do more of your own marketing and promotion now?
TW: Not really; I’ve long been involved with social media, and I purchased ads through Author Buzz for both of my novels. I will say that hiring an outside publicist or buying your own ads did seem less commonplace when my debut came out in 2009, and an author taking one or both steps seems to be standard today.
BB: Would you mind describing the results of your recent BookBub promotion? What was the motivation behind discounting a relatively recent release as opposed to a backlist title?
TW: Sales for The Moon Sisters were lackluster for the e-version of the book, and my publisher wanted to do something about that. I couldn’t have been happier with the results of the BookBub deal. Because of it, The Moon Sisters became a Kindle ‘#1 Best Seller’ in Amazon’s Mothers & Children fiction category (and #2 in the Psychological category under Mystery, Thriller & Suspense), and reached #10 in ‘Bestselling NOOK Books’ at Barnes & Noble. We sold thousands of books in a short period of time, which is just what we’d hoped would happen.
The surprising part of the BookBub came after the promotion ended. When the price of the ebook went back up, the novel didn’t boomerang back to lackluster levels. The effect was long-lasting, and we continue to sell ebooks at a better rate than we did before that promotion ran.
BB: Did you coordinate the price promotion with your publisher? If so, how did you feel about your book being discounted? If not, were you surprised when you found out?
TW: I was thrilled! I didn’t coordinate the effort, but I knew something was in the works. I had asked for a promotion before The Moon Sisters released, hoping The Last Will of Moira Leahy would be discounted. While that didn’t happen, my editor knew I was eager for a sale like this and was excited when she was able to bring it about.
BB: What can readers expect after The Moon Sisters? Are any upcoming novels in the works?
TW: I’m working on something suspenseful and mysterious and atmospheric, and it’ll probably take a century before I’m finished. Accepting all good vibes, and thank you.
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