Hello travelers, and welcome to another stop in the Otherworld. Earlier this year, we had the wonderful opportunity to talk with the talented and hard-working storyteller Annie O’Connell, who had just released the first book in her Codex Chronicles series, Lunar Codex. Since then, she’s found her rhythm, amassed a following, and released a second book, The Legend of the Lost Child. Read on to learn more about what’s transpired during the time since we last spoke to her, and to find out what is on the horizon!
Tellest: Welcome back Annie! Thank you so much for coming back to Tellest to let us know all about the adventures you’ve had since we last spoke. You’ve released a new book, The Legend of the Lost Child, which is sure to be a big part of what we talk about, but you’ve also been around the block, doing the rounds to spread the words about your series. I’m sure this is going to be an interesting interview for both readers, and for contemporary fantasy writers who want to know what they can do to make sure they take off running. I’m looking forward to catching up!
Annie O’Connell: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me again. It is always such a pleasure catching up with you!
T: Let’s start off by seeing how you’ve been since last we spoke. In August, The Lunar Codex was our focus, and The Legend of the Lost Child was on the horizon. Now that they’re both released, how did you feel about the launch of your new book, and how did it affect your first book?
AO: The second book allowed me to have far more control over it, which allowed me to release it on my schedule and not guessing when it was going to happen. This helped tremendously in reducing my stress level. My goal was to hype up as much as possible through October and I hired someone to help me create some great short videos to peak interest. I was also getting my ads prepared and contacting book groups to spread the word on the release. It seemed all my hard work paid off because on release day the book sky-rocketed to #1 in Children’s Paranormal, Occult and Supernatural Books where it held steady for three weeks!
T: So, let’s follow up on that. What do you think you did that caught the attention of readers? What marketing strategies seemed to work for you in order to drive up those numbers? Were the videos the driving force, or the ads, or just hitting the pavement and getting word of mouth? Or was it a combination of everything that needed to blend and come together as a part of your plan?
AO: There was so much done, but I think all of our efforts on Facebook and Instagram were the biggest drives. Between consistent posting—and not all book related—to keep people engaged, mixed with boosting certain posts and sharing them to my page helped tremendously to get a buzz going. During this time, I had also set up close to fifty ARC (advanced reader copies) readers through Fiverr, previous readers and other book tours. The week of the release I had a few orders out with Book Raid, Book Barbarian, Robin Reads, BookBub, Reedsy, Written Words Media, FreeBooksy, BargainBooksy, and Just Kindle Books with some extending through the month of November. All the nurturing helped as my numbers grew on Goodreads and I have close to 100 books on bookshelves and to be read for each book and stayed in the top 100 for one category for close to a month on Amazon.
I recently started working with Story Origin and am very excited by all they offer but cannot give specific examples as I have not had a chance to really dip my toes into the water with them yet.
T: For writers who want to follow in your footsteps, what sort of thing would you want to prepare them for when it comes to such a massive rollout like that. It’s no small feat to do all the work to set all that up. But it’s also likely not cheap. Do you think you’ve made your money back at this point? If not, would you still call it a success to get out in front of as many people as you have and really elevate your brand to the view of more of the public?
AO: The biggest thing to keep in mind is planning. Initially, I thought that I would just write a book, put it out and readers would find it and I wouldn’t have to do much more than that. Book one showed me just how wrong that thinking is. There are hundreds of books being uploaded on Amazon daily and you will need to do something to stand out if you plan on being seen. As I was finishing the book and preparing to send it to be edited, and book cover design, I started creating my schedule for my book launch over the upcoming month.
In reference to the second part of the question, no. I have not made my money back, but I am approaching it. I have a second stream of income that allows me a bit more flexibility with my testing. With Book three, I will remove things that were not as lucrative as I would have wanted and keep what helped. You will need to set up a budget and know ahead of time what you can and cannot do.
T: For readers who may not have read our first interview, how would you best explain what happened in Lunar Codex, and tee up The Legend of the Lost Child to tell them what they can expect without spoiling too much?
AO: The Lunar Codex was where we met our small little cast of characters, mainly focusing on my lead, Jace, and his friends, Marcus, Izzie, and Brian. It is a coming-of-age story with a fantasy twist about 14-year-old Jace who was orphaned at three years old and adopted by his aunt and uncle.
After frequent relocations, his most recent move to Williston leaves him hopeful that this will be his permanent home. He quickly makes friends, and he seems to be getting everything he has always wanted when a supernatural turn of events completely flips his life upside down. Jace is thrust down a new path of discovery where he needs to abandon everything he ever knew, while avoiding a danger that had been lurking in the shadows this whole time.
In The Legend of the Lost Child (LOLC) we pick up pretty much where book one ended. Jace is being separated from his friends and being relocated again to help him determine who he is and how he fits into the world of the supernatural. With newfound abilities, he is hoping to make new friends, discover all he can do and bond with his new family.
Unfortunately, he quickly learns that he needs to be in a constant vigil against those that are looking to bring harm to him, his friends, and his family. It seems that his presence has awoken many supernatural beings’ curiosity in this impossible witch-werewolf hybrid, forcing Jace to quickly learn to master his abilities so he can protect himself, his family, and his new home.
T: How far in advance did you know the happenings of LOLC? Did you know what was going to transpire before you even turned your first page in The Lunar Codex, or did things slowly start to fill out as you made your way through the first book?
AO: (Laughs) I had found a meme about plotting and it explains my writing so well. My Type A personality begs for me to be in the top box, but my characters tend to run amuck with me chasing them and trying to keep up with where the story went. Although this way can be frustrating at times, I find many of my happy epiphanies occur while doing a data dump and then polishing it later. While I drive, I also run story lines and plots through my head and keep a voice recorder with me to catch any great ideas. Many of these ideas are also run past a teacher that I had as a child and reconnected with a few years ago. She tends to be the one I allow to read first and then take her points and adjust as needed. She was my music teacher as a child and is the person I mention in my dedication page.
T: What is it like sort of reconnecting with your mentor from so long ago on new projects? Obviously, you’ve grown quite a bit, and put together a life that’s very different than when you were a child. Do you still have a healthy appreciation and respect for their opinion? Or are you on equal ground now, and is there more give and take?
AO: I always had a strong respect for her as a teacher and loved her class (music and band). As a child I trusted her opinion as she guided me and that has held true after we reconnected. She is an amazing person and as an adult I have been given the opportunity to meet her in a completely different way and form a stronger relationship. I have learned about her childhood and her family and hope to visit her at some point at her house in Virginia. Actually, it’s an amazing thing to experience. Over the years, I have run across other teachers I have had, but have never been able to reconnect on this type of level. I now count her as a very dear friend.
T: Were there any plans you made ahead of developing The Legend of the Lost Child, or any kind of goals that you had set for yourself about what kind of things to nail down within the prose itself? It feels very much like you already had a winning formula with the first book, and you polished everything with the second book.
AO: The Lunar Codex was the first book I wrote and was a steep learning curve. I read all the reviews and one of the biggest critiques was pacing at points, so my goal was to keep the action going from start to finish. After reading many of the reviews from book two, it seems that I was successful in keeping Jace, and the reader, constantly in motion with twists and turns galore!
T: When it comes to driving that pace forward, what did you find to be the most effective way of seeing it through to its end? Did adjusting chapter length help, or was it something along the lines of figuring out how to connect one thread of action to the next that made the most sense?
AO: The Lunar Codex was the first book I had ever written, and I was feeling my way through it. Although I felt much of the beginning of the book was necessary to explain what happened later, I can see how some felt that it dragged on and didn’t have as much overt magic happening in the beginning. At the completion of the series, I want to go back and beef up book one a bit. Taking into consideration that many people felt it dragged, I tried to keep every chapter packed with drama or action. I beat poor Jace up pretty bad in this one but received a lot of happy reviews because of it.
T: When it comes to putting your characters through the wringer, is there a certain amount of pain that you can stomach for them? Or are there no lengths to which you won’t go to tell the story?
AO: My characters have shown themselves to be resilient, so I enjoy pushing the envelope on how much they must experience. It also helps to keep my creative juices going on trying to figure out how to get them out of the situations I put them in. There have been scenes that I have read back over and winced at what they were going through but kept it going because I knew it made for better story telling. If everything was easy for them, what would be the point of reading it? So, no. I don’t think there is any length I would not go with them as long as it made for a good story and kept it safe within my audience group of young adults.
T: Your characters and your setting were among two of the things that really drew readers into your work and turned them into fans. In this new book, have you experienced that same feeling of excitement? Are there any new characters that your readers have been drawn to?
AO: I had so much fun with this book because it was focused on a mythical location called Emerald Creek. This allowed me complete freedom to create it however I wanted to. Along with creating this new area, I needed to fill it with new characters, of which there are plenty. It was a little daunting at times keeping track of everyone, but I’m quite pleased with how things turned out. I could see the town in my head and enjoyed moving through it with the characters.
T: With growing worlds, do you do anything to prepare yourself for tracking? Do you document things in a spreadsheet or have something like a world bible?
AO: Yes! After awhile I realized that I was approaching over fifty characters that I needed to keep track of as well as various locations within Emerald Creek. Trying to keep track of all the minute details of each was becoming harder and harder – who had green eyes, who had gold, what power did this one have versus another, etc. Currently, I write in Dabble. It allows me to write without being distracted by a ton of “stuff” around the edges and keeps track of my word count for the day and the project. I can also set goals and it helps to keep me on track with my writing. Another benefit is it being available on the cloud, so I can just log-in from any computer and continue where I left off. When I first started writing The Lunar Codex, I had used a different program, but found it was too jam-packed and I was getting overwhelmed. Plus, I could only access it on my laptop.
My character bibles, world bibles and plot are stored in a program called Plottr. In here, I can create an outline, using different templates from the ‘Snowflake Method’ to ‘Save the Cat.’ I started using the snowflake method and found it the easiest when I started out, but then started adding in save the cat method to beef up my work while using tried and true methods of writing. If you have never heard of these, I recommend looking them up and using them in your work.
T: One of the things a writer needs to do in order to find success after publishing is maintaining a presence. It’s a very hard thing to do, especially when all you want to do is write until your brain is fried sometimes. But you’ve been going at the marketing side of things with consistency and determination. How do you keep yourself focused on that side of the mission, and where have you seen your best results? What big changes have you made to your website and your social media to prepare for the new book, and to keep ahead of the rapid rush of other stories that crowd your space?
AO: It is a very difficult thing to keep on top of, and to help, I hired someone to assist me. He’s keeping my social media flowing while I keep on top of ads and book marketing with various sites. I have been working with my VA (virtual assistant) for six months now and we have a pretty good flow at this point. At the beginning of the month, we determine what our goal is and then work towards it. In October it was to gain interest in book two, so my social media and website were all about that. Now it is just keeping people engaged on my social media as I shift gears more towards writing again.
As I go on, I realize that writing and being an author is like dealing with a living breathing organism. If you don’t feed it and take care of it, it dies, and I don’t want my books to die out!
T: When it comes to the virtual assistant, is that something you would recommend to most other indie authors? Or is that something that you really need to commit to, and you need to have the investment capital to make it work?
AO: You can be as committed as you want to be. Whether it is hiring one for a single project or for a more dedicated VA, there are options for both. Once you decide on that, you can move forward. I would recommend going with project-by-project specific needs and then move onto a more dedicated one as you grow. My VA, Cent, runs my social media and website. I enjoy both, but they are very time consuming, and I would rather be writing. He runs all the posts past me first but is getting to the point that he knows what I like and what I don’t.
T: Have there been any marketing measures that you’ve taken that you felt really worked well, that you might recommend to other storytellers who are ready to take their outreach to the next level?
AO: My most lucrative marketing was working with other sites like Written Words Media, Book Bub, Robin Reads, Book Barbarian, Fussy Librarian, Book Cave, Booksie and many others. They have the reach that I don’t have yet, so it made sense to leverage these options, most being relatively inexpensive.
T: Now that you have two books out, do you plan on marketing the two entries in a sort of zigzag pattern? What do you think would be the sweet spot for marketing? Is it an every month sort of thing, or are you going to space things out further than that.
AO: I have noticed a dramatic drop off when I don’t have ads running or help with some of the bigger pushes, so monthly pushes are likely going to be necessary. I am testing out the ones that have worked the best and will likely rotate through them at the very least monthly.
T: Is there anything that you’ve wanted to try from a marketing perspective that you haven’t yet played with?
AO: LOL, TikTok. I know that platform is huge, but I haven’t used it in my personal life yet, so trying to dive into it in my business life is a bit daunting. Maybe in the New Year I will gain the courage to start posting more often there. I hear it’s the wave of the future for authors!
T: From someone who is aware in a cursory way about BookTok, it does seem like the way to go. I’ve not tried it myself, but I do know there are plenty of people who swear by it, but just like everything, it needs some research.
AO: Research is key whenever starting something new. The last thing you want to do is dedicate hours to something that won’t work. Cent, my VA, has been working through that and cultivating a plan with me as well as testing a few videos to see what works and what doesn’t. (Again, another great use of a VA!)
T: You’ll have to let me know how it works out. Perhaps we’ll ask this question again when your third book hits shelves.
T: We’re really jumping the gun here, since you’ve just released your second book, but I’m sure readers are going to be interested in knowing when the third is going to drop. Do you have a release window planned for that yet? What secrets can you reveal about that book ahead of time?
AO: My goal is to have the book released early 2023 and am playing with a few titles, but the one that seems to be sticking so far is “The League of Lunar Witches.” This has been a more challenging write because my characters have been scattered all over the place. Before I can bring them back together, there will be different points of view throughout this book, after being implemented at the end of book two.
My original four have grown to include plus or minus thirteen and now they have many different dilemmas to deal with. How will they protect Emerald Creek from the approaching danger? How will they get their lost friends back in one piece? Do they have more to worry about within Emerald Creek than they first thought? Will these battles bring more attention to Jace, and will he be prepared?
You’ll have to wait and see in Book Three!
T: Does it suffer from becoming an ensemble, or do you think it gives it a chance to grow even further? While the second book has a string of action sequences that keep up the pace, is it even possible to keep that up with such a huge cast of characters?
AO: Yes, I believe so. As I am already working on book three now, having such a large pool to work with, it helps in giving me more avenues to follow down. In the same respect, it can be difficult because you don’t want to overshadow other characters that were more prominent in other books. This is where the character and world bibles come in so handy. I also have a word document that keeps track of each character and where I left them, so I don’t have to reread chapters to keep up with their last location and actions. In book three, some of my characters have been separated, and I have found that writing one person’s journey and then going back to the other has been helpful. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but I’m loving the challenge!
T: Do you ever sort of leave threads open to possibly explore as well? It’s one thing to pay attention to the characters and where you left them, but if you’re talking about lore in passing, are you keyed in to make sure that it has a potential to pay off later? And in that same vein, are some threads meant to fray and disappear, like red herrings?
AO: Much of my detail working is done when I am driving. I think through where I left my characters off and then what is coming up or what needs to happen next. Then I go through a “what if” series of scenarios trying to see what has the most potential for a shocking twist. Book three and four will have quite a few of these with a splintering effect that comes from it. Although I don’t have the entire series flushed out, I have the skeleton along with the general direction I want to head. The only thing I know is how it will all end. Having that in mind, I have something that I am always heading toward, which helps to keep me moving and motivated.
T: Annie, thank you for coming back and working with me again to try and tell readers about your stories, and what you’ve got going on in your life. If you wouldn’t mind, could you please tell us one more time where fans could go to find out more about you and the Codex Chronicles?
AO: Absolutely! It’s been a pleasure working with you as well! I will give you the links to where you can find me and my books. I look forward to discussing the next installment of the Codex Chronicles! Happy Holidays to you and your readers.
Amazon as Kindle, paperback, and audio
Barnes and Noble as Nook, paperback, hardcover
Barnes and Noble as audiobook
Kobo as E-reader
Google Play as audiobook
Chirpbooks as audiobook
Storytel as audiobook
My linktree where I constantly update my information
Once again, I’d like to thank Annie O’Connell for being such a wonderful guest, and for showing both readers and other writers what it takes to make a big splash in the world of self-publishing. She’s already made great strides, and it’s exciting to think about how far she’ll go, and how fast she’ll get there. O’Connell has released two books so far: The outstanding debut, The Lunar Codex, and a wonderful follow-up in The Legend of the Lost Child. Check out both of them on Amazon today!
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