Ellie Hall and Amy Sparling are hybrid (indie and traditionally published) authors who offer a course for writers called Write Publish Promote. Ellie writes contemporary romances, as well as young adult and fantasy/paranormal under other pen names. Amy writes young adult and adult romances. They will chat about how they got into publishing, why and how they started this writer course three years ago, and how they manage several pen names.
Q. I’ve never interviewed two people for this Q&A at once. This will be fun!
Amy: Ellie and I are basically one person in two bodies so it’ll be fine.
Q. I expect you both to finish each other’s sentences. Tell me how you got started writing and publishing.
Amy: I’ve been a huge bookworm my whole life, but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I started writing. I have finally gotten over being embarrassed of my start… in fan fiction… but that’s the truth! I was an avid reader & writer of fan fiction back in 2005ish, and by 2007, I had decided I wanted to write my own book. So I did, and I researched publishing. By 2012, I had decided to self-publish, but I also traditionally published 3 years later under a pen name. So I’m happily involved in both types of publishing and I love it so much. My only regret is that I didn’t start publishing sooner!
Ellie: I blame Twilight. Actually, I started writing well before that series came out in 2007 with children’s picture books and screenplays. But after reading the Twilight books something woke up inside of me and I haven’t stopped writing seriously since 2012. I started querying traditional publishing and self-publishing in 2013 under a different pen name. I got a traditional deal in 2014 and have gone back and forth between both as a hybrid author with multiple pen names.
Q. Fun! What genre was your fan fiction in, Amy?
Amy: Exclusively Harry Potter romance. 😊
Q. Fast forward to today. Let me give our readers a peek at why I asked you here. You have joined forces on a writing course, correct?
Amy: Yep! After years of talking about it, we finally decided to put our knowledge into a course to help other writers.
Q. How many years are we talking about?
Amy: Oh gosh… at least 3? Maybe more?
Ellie: What I do know is that we’ve sent each other well over 2000 emails. Lol.
Amy: We used to joke about writing a book called “How to fail at publishing” and include all the stuff we did and failed at along the way. And then one day we said, “Why not do this for real?”
Ellie: We first met I think, in 2014 with some indie publishing promo projects.
Q. 2k emails! I bet most writers want to do this. You learn so much and want to share it. How did you zone in on what to teach?
Amy: So writing and publishing is a huge industry with many parts and pieces. We noticed a trend over the years on FB groups and writer forums of writers asking questions on dozens of topics all related to writing and publishing. We decided to answer as much of it as we could, using all the knowledge we’ve gained over nearly a decade of research and experience. We don’t focus on just ads or just writing advice. We do it all!
Q. That makes total sense. Smart. What is your course called?
Amy: Our course is called Write Publish Promote with Ellie and Amy.
Q. I love your course title. It’s fun and breezy. Non-intimidating.
Ellie: Thank you for the kind words! We didn’t want it to be intimidating (because writing a book can offer enough of that alone).
We’re active in a lot of groups, get emails from aspiring writers, and are online friends with people who want to write and thought there’s a need for everything from the fundamentals to the nitty gritty tactics. Of course, there are plenty of courses out there, but what I think really sets ours apart is we get real. We don’t sugar coat or gloss over the hard parts. In fact, we offer a lot of motivation an exercises to help writers keep going when they’re feeling frustrated.
Amy: Yes! We definitely “keep it real”… kind of like our joke book idea “how to fail” – we talk about failure as well and how to avoid it.
Q. So how does an entrepreneurial sort get started branding something like this? What steps did you have to take to get it from idea to reality?
Ellie: Like Amy said, we’ve failed at many things and made a lot of mistakes, but we’re still in it nearly a decade later and want to help other writers along the path.
Amy: It really helped having a partner to tackle this project! We each have different skills, so we divided up all the work. We kept track of our progress and to-dos using Google docs.
We each wrote out all of our lessons and then sent it to the other one to edit and revise. Then we divided up who recorded what lesson, but we’ve both had input on everything we teach.
Ellie: Like Amy said we’d tossed ideas around for a while and then finally just made the decision to buckle down and do it. I think there’s a lot of power in calling a shot and going for it. Our motivation was unreal once we started. As for the branding, I guess our creativity isn’t limited to story.
Q. Did you have to sign your blood onto any contracts? What is the secret to happily collaborating on something like this?
Amy: hahaha! We are more like sisters by this point than friends, I’d say. We trust each other, and we split everything financially 50/50. I couldn’t have gotten as far in my career as I have without her, and she probably feels the same about me. We’ve been partners for so long now that collaborating on a project this big felt natural.
Ellie: Yes! We joke about being in this marathon of writing and publishing together. With its many ups and downs having a running buddy is crucial. We encourage writers to have their person to lean on and celebrate with! I’d be in the rubbish bin with a lot of deleted words if it weren’t for Amy!
Q. Nice! So let me ask you each a question on what you write for a minute. Amy, I checked out your Zon page. You mostly write YA, correct?
Amy: Yes, I’m about 99% YA but have recently branched off with a Sweet Adult series
Q. Oh, right, I saw that too. And you have been publishing for how long now?
Amy: Since 2012.
Q. What have you seen over the last 7 years in the YA genre? What are your takeaways for someone who wants to break into it?
Amy: The YA genre started out very much mirroring the traditionally published YA books on the shelves. Then, it branched off into more of a “new adult” upper YA trend where the books were steamy romance with heavier topics. PNR and Fantasy YA romance were big, and genuinely still are big. This helped start the New Adult genre and has been very popular for years, but now Sweet Romance has made a huge comeback in YA. Readers are wanting sweet YA and to keep the steamier stuff in the New Adult genre.
For someone who wants to break into YA, I’d say READ, read, read, read. Make sure you’re writing something that fits in with the current YA trends. You don’t want your book to read like something no one has ever heard of. Most readers are avid readers and they want books that fit the trends and speak to them.
Q. That is good to hear, Amy, about sweet romance making a comeback. How do you balance being “real” and keeping it wholesome?
Amy: It’s been a bit of a challenge. My bestselling book (Summer Unplugged, which has sold around half a million copies to date) is not clean. But in an effort to clean up my act and appeal to readers of all romance, I’ve been writing my books with the same realistic topics that real teens go through, but I cut out the cursing, and swap out more steamy scenes for sweet kisses. It’s been fun, if not challenging.
But in the end, I realized that you can either be successful writing sexy steamy novels, or clean novels. You really can’t toe the line here (which is sadly what I’d prefer to do, lol), so I had to make a choice. And I chose sweet romance.
Q. Ellie, what have you learned as a hybrid author and how did you pick the genre to write in, in recent years?
Ellie: I love both traditional publishing and indie equally. On the traditional side, working with a team of professionals—editors, book designers, etc. gave me insight, clarity, and a sense of collaboration that was incredibly fulfilling. On the indie side, I also like having creative control, but it also means wearing a lot of hats, juggling a lot of balls, doing all the things. Of course, we can hire professionals for the various parts, but it’s different than having someone else handle that for you.
That said, both experiences have strengthened me as a writer. Also, when I started out, I wrote whatever I felt inspired by—fantasy, YA, romance. I was kind of all over the place. While there is nothing wrong with that, I’ve found that concentrating on one genre with one name makes the most sense sales-wise. Lastly, balancing both can get a little tricky, but can be done!
Q. I think that is brave and great, Amy. Ellie, what are you writing nowadays? And why?
Ellie: How did I pick what genre to write in (sweet/clean & wholesome–I use the terms interchangeably though I know there’s some debate surrounding that)? I got to a point in my career where I felt scattered and needed to focus my energy. I’m also an avid reader and decided to write what I want to read: books that give me the feels but also have a happy ending.
Q. How many pen names do you have, Ellie? Do you use pen names, too, Amy? And do you both care to share what they are?
Amy: I’ve dabbled in 2 other pen names which weren’t successful, so I ditched them. I also have an agent and publish traditionally under another YA pen name, which I’m unfortunately not allowed to disclose. In the future, I might start a new pen name for adult novels so I can keep them separate from YA. Still deciding on it though, because it’s a lot of work to manage different author names! And all my pen name books are also romance. Mostly YA.
Ellie: I have three names currently. I primarily write as Ellie Hall for clean romance, then there is Deirdre Riordan Hall for YA, and E. Hall debuts later this month with clean fantasy/paranormal.
Q. Which begs the question…how do you manage pen names and keep your sanity (somewhat) intact? How do you prioritize?
Amy: Sanity? What is that? I don’t think I have that…
Ellie: Bahahaha. Sanity? What’s that. Kidding.
Q. I did add that qualifier…
Ellie: Same brain.
Amy: Seriously though… I am a planner junkie, and I plan out everything for the week on paper every Sunday night. I keep my Instagram and Twitter logged into both accounts, and I just try my best. But I’m not very good at it.
I also utilize scheduling Facebook posts so that something is going out every few days and I don’t have to think about it.
Q. Nice, Amy. Is that something you teach in your course?
Amy: Hmm, I don’t think we have planning-specific lessons, but that’s a fantastic idea. I’ll add it to our list because we are constantly adding new lessons to the course. And once someone signs up, they’ll get access to all the current and future lessons.
Q. Yup! It’s a real dilemma for most writers, I believe, Amy.
Amy: Have I mentioned I work part time at a high school and am taking 5 college classes this semester? It’s been BUSY. But I’ve managed to publish one book a month all year.
Q. Thank you for making the rest of us feel like underachievers. LOL That is amazing. What are you studying, Amy?
Amy: I’m studying to become a high school English teacher! I’ve been a high school substitute for a few years and just really fell in love with it.
Q. Omigosh, Amy, good for you. Teaching English sounds like fun.
Ellie: As far as how I prioritize: I follow the sales. Whatever is working is where I put my energy, unless I’m on a deadline. But like Amy, I live by my planner. This is my order of operations: 1. Writing/revising/editing. 2. Newsletter and my relationship with readers. 3. Promotion. 4. Social media. Also, don’t forget about family life!
Q. Great tips, Ellie. What planning system do you use?
Ellie: I use a Mead spiral bound calendar. Old school. Everything goes in it. That said, all of my plotting, outlining, character development happens on the computer.
Q. I confess…I am also a planner junkie. I was getting buried in too many post-it notes that I was ignoring.
Ellie: I’m also a Post-it addict.
Q. So Amy puts out a book a month. Ellie, you…?
Ellie: I’ve been releasing a book a month since last year (sometimes more) and that pace will continue through 2020 for pen name Ellie. For E. Hall I’m aiming for a book at least every other month. Currently, I’m six months ahead! Patting myself on the back because that was not easy.
Amy: Ellie is a writing MACHINE!
Q. Holy cow, Ellie, what is the secret to getting that far ahead?
Ellie: I got a new laptop last year (my old one was almost a decade old and some of the keys stopped working) so I think it improved my typing speed.
My secret is outlining. I prepare heavily before I start drafting. I figure out the character details, motivations, tropes, all the things! Then I follow a three-act structure+ (I say plus because there are various plot points and turning points inside that as well), plug in the various elements into the outline before I even get to the starting line. But then I’m off to the races!
Q. Amy, any drafting tips to minimize revision trauma?
Amy: My biggest tip which I will shout from the rooftops forever is to outline! Outline, outline, outline. I tend to write outlines that are around 5000 words long, and I’ve found that you never have writer’s block or revision problems when you’ve fully plotted and planned your novel ahead of time.
Q. How long do you take to outline?
Amy: I spend about 2-3 days creating my outline. It really helps me work out all the plot kinks and get a feel for the story, so that when I start writing it, it just flows quickly.
Q. How much of the outline survives the draft? How close to you stick to it?
Amy: I’ve written around 100 books now, so I’ve kind of perfected my outline process. It definitely hasn’t always been this easy, though. Now, however, I know what I’ll write and what I won’t, and what works and what doesn’t, so I stick to my outlines almost exactly.
Ellie: I ditto what Amy said about working out those kinks. That said, as I’m writing I do go off the map, further develop things, and tend to listen carefully if something doesn’t feel right or isn’t working. I’d say writer’s block only happens when a wrong turn was taken. Overall though, I do stick to the outline.
Q. 100 books! That is amazing, Amy. How about you Ellie? How many between all the pen names?
Ellie: Hang on, let me count! As of yesterday, I have completed 71 manuscripts.
Q. Wow. That is great hustle. Are you ladies officially doing NaNoWriMo (where one writes a 50k-word novel in 30 days)? For book-a-month writers, is NaNo even a thing anymore?
Ellie: Every month is Nano!
Q. Ha ha, exactly.
Ellie: I’ve done Nanowrimo in the past, but didn’t officially sign up this year.
Amy: I love NaNoWriMo! I did it for several years and I credit it with helping me learn to draft quickly. However, I’m not technically a participant this year since, like Ellie said, every month is NaNo for me! I tend to write a 60,000 word manuscript in about 2 weeks now.
Ellie: Though I think it’s an amazing way to encourage writers, find friends, and hit those goals!
Q. Let’s corral back to your course. I know you touched on this a bit earlier, but what do you think are the top three benefits for writers to take your course? How much is it? And where can they go for more information?
Amy: I think this course will benefit the writer who wants to self-publish but doesn’t know where to start, or the writer who has already published but did it blindly and doesn’t know where to go from here.
And the writer who wants a sense of community and teamwork will find that with our course! We have a Facebook group for members to encourage, help, and inspire each other.
Q. Nice. That is a great side benefit, for sure, that community.
Ellie: I would say the top three benefits for enrolling in Write, Publish, Promote your Novel is 1) It will give you the basic skills (and beyond), saving time from having to research all the things and provides answers to commonly asked questions from drafting and grammar to ARCs to Newsletter swaps. 2) We help writers figure out why they want to write a book, which goes a long way in sustaining a long term career, and we’ve poured everything we’ve learned into it, which we hope prevents other people from making the mistakes we did so they are on a faster track to achieving their goals.
Amy: We have 3 Courses: Write, Publish, & Promote, but you can save money buying the Bundle of all three for $399
Ellie: There should be a 3 between career and…did I mention I’m also the queen of making lists? That’s what helps me stay sane and organized.
Q. Ha ha, Iists…I love it.
Ellie: Technically, there are four modules. Also, we have a free book with some basics too.
Q. Great, thanks for the links. I checked out your course video a few weeks ago and it was fun. How do you balance running this course and your publishing schedule? Plus school and work and family…? I guess give me a peek into how much you spend on each for the week. And how you work around holidays.
Amy: I write it in the planner and I stick to it! I do college work Mon/Tues and only “admin” promotional type Author stuff in the evenings. Then for the rest of the week, I wake up at 6am and write at least 5000 words before doing anything else. (Except Coffee, the coffee gets made before writing) and then I spend my lunch breaks working on our course, emailing Ellie, and taking care of any course-related stuff that needs to be done. I try to take Sundays off to be with my family, but I’m usually sneaking in work during that.
For holidays, I just “budget” a day off in my planner. If I write it in the planner then I stick to it. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband and a teenager who doesn’t really care what I do. LOL.
Ellie: My life is almost identical to Amy’s minus the schoolwork, but I have two teenagers so maybe that evens us out.
Amy: I think it’s just really important to decide what you’ll do that day and do it. The planner helps me a lot because if I write it down and set a due date on it, I’ll be determined to achieve it. I also watch next to no TV. I think you’ll find a lot of free time if you ditch the TV.
Ellie: I get up around 6, pray, exercise, walk the dog, get the kids off to school, and then settle into work. The fun part is that varies each day. I write best in the morning and then do “admin” type things later in the day. I usually pop back in during the evening during homework time.
Q. Yeah, I kind of want to get Netflix but probably best not.
Ellie: Agreed on the TV! That said, social media time can replace it so I watch myself carefully. Prioritizing what’s important to me each day is vital.
Q. Did you ever imagine being an author, and then now, an authorpreneur? When you were younger.
Amy: Oddly, I never thought about being an author when I was a kid, despite reading so many books. I actually won an award two years in a row in school for reading more books than anyone else did. (Remember AR points, anyone?) But I guess it didn’t occur to me that I could actually write a book myself until I was much older. I wanted to be a teacher. And now I’m going to do that, too!
Ellie: Did I ever imagine being an author? Hmm.. Kind of. I thought I’d write a book one day. One book…Maybe a book a year. Never expected to turn it into the monster it has become. JK. My first love is writing, but I do enjoy the entrepreneur aspects as well. Having the creative side and the business side complement each other well.
Amy: I think being a creative person also helps us with the business stuff. We get creative with promotion!
Q. Hey those AR points are nothing to sniff at, Amy! What do you think accounts from your childhood for you ladies being so driven? (back story in author talk)
Amy: Well, I have an amazing mom who went back to school as an adult, became an engineer, and is now in charge of her entire company. That’s always inspired me to be a bad*** like her. I was also a very young mom, and felt the need to take care of my kid and family as best as I can, so it’s vital that I keep busy and keep making money.
Q. Impressive, Amy! That is awesome for your mom!
Ellie: Ha ha! That’s a really good question. I want to show my children that following their hearts, learning/growing, working hard, and sticking with something are gratifying and payoff. Also, I have to help pay the bills!
Q. Okay, last question…what do you do for self-care? To relax or unwind?
Amy: I take a long walk with my dog every night and find it very relaxing. I’m also big on spontaneous dance parties in my living room. 😊 In the summer, I hit up the beach every chance I get.
Ellie: Such an important question! Thank you for asking! The foundation of my day (prayer and exercise) + nutrition and hydration go a long way there. But my fun answer is surfing! I hit the waves a few times a week with my husband.
Q. You ladies both live by the beach? How lucky is that!!
Ellie: Someday we want to have a beach writers retreat!
Amy: Ellie lives by the pretty beach, but I live on the coast of Texas and I love getting to walk on the sand.
Ellie: Yes! We will have that retreat one day. I’m in Southern California and my family is convinced I’m part mermaid.
Q. That would be so fun!! Ellie and Amy, thank you so much for your time. I had a blast talking to you part mermaids.
Amy: Thank you so much for having us!
Ellie: Thank you, Jewel. I really value your contribution to the writing community in groups and your interviews and articles on your blog.