Wrapping up my pay-it-forward theme, I’d like to introduce you to Ashley Emma. Ashley writes about a culture few of us know about, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say we think we know about it, but popular media has gotten the details wrong. I’m talking about the Amish, and I know Ashley has it right, because she lived with them to do her research. That fact alone fascinates me (she wrote all about it in Ashley’s Amish Adventure), but wait until you read the mystery novel she’s written about the community.
Please help me welcome Ashley Emma, author of Undercover Amish.
Hi, Ashley. I’m going to ask you 15 questions about writing and your work. If you’re ready, I’m just going to jump right in.
- How did you come up with the idea for your book?
This entire series was inspired by my stay with Amish families (more about that in a moment) in Unity, Maine. While I was there, I realized they do not lock their doors, and they are pacifists. I thought this would be such an easy area for criminals to target, especially since the Amish do not report crimes that happen to them. From there my imagination ran with it, and several of the characters in my books are based on Amish friends I met in Unity.
- What sort of research did you do to write this book?
I lived with three Amish families in Unity, Maine for a total of ten days. I was also invited back there for a wedding and an occasional visit. My documentary about this experience, Ashley’s Amish Adventure, is coming very soon. It was such an amazing experience and I’m so glad I was able to do it before I got married and had children.
- How did you come up with the title of your book?
The main character of the book, Detective Olivia Mast, must go undercover to investigate a murder in her former Amish community. Since her cover is as an Amish woman, the title Undercover Amish seemed to fit from the beginning of the writing stages, and I never changed it.
- What are you working on now? Any chance of a sequel?
The sequel is being read by beta readers now, and I am halfway through writing the third book. I’ll probably release that after Ashley’s Amish Adventure. I have the fourth and fifth books of this series, The Covert Police Detectives Unit Series, outlined and ready to be written. I also have a fantasy book, a YA suspense, and a standalone full-length Amish romantic suspense novel that will be published soon as well.
- Do you put yourself in your books/characters at all?
I definitely did for my fantasy book Identity because I was 14 when I wrote it and knew nothing about characterization, so I just based her character on myself, except she is more sarcastic and funny.
- If your novel were being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?
That is funny you mention that because a reviewer recently just said she thought the book should be made into a movie! I think Kristen Kreuk from the TV show Beauty and the Beast would be perfect for playing Olivia! I think John Krasinski and the character he plays in 13 Hours combined with the character he plays as Jim Halpert on The Office would actually make a great Isaac because they can both be quirky.
- Is there anything interesting about this particular book we haven’t covered yet? If so, what?
There’s a lot, but I’ll narrow it down to a few things. First of all, I wrote the rough draft for this book two summers ago and accidentally erased the entire file permanently (thanks to me being terrible with computers) and long story short, I had to rewrite the entire second half. Luckily I had the first half backed up on a flash drive. Now I use Carbonite to automatically backup all my files! The second thing is my brother in law is a police officer so I asked him a ton of questions to make sure the book was as realistic as possible. It was pretty fun to learn about police procedurals and evidence. He wants people to know that is not like what you see on TV!
- What started you on the path to writing for a living?
I knew since I was a kid that I would be a novelist. I wrote a short 25,000-word novel around age 12, then wrote my first full-length novel at 14 and self-published it at 16. I’m actually going to be relaunching that one soon. I was homeschooled so I spent most of my free time reading and writing. I mean, I’d go over my friend’s house, and we would just read novels for hours and go to the library and get stacks of books for fun. The two books that really stand out in my memory that made me want to become a novelist was Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
- Are you traditionally published or self-published? What do you like about that path? What do you dislike about it?
Orginally, I wanted to be traditionally published. I wanted this for years and years. After getting an agent who didn’t do anything for 18 months, I talked to a few authors and asked for their advice. Two authors who have been a tremendous support to me are Stacy Claflin and Carol J. Post. I started emailing Stacy and asked her who her publisher was after reading several of her books. I was floored when she told me she was Indie published, and she encouraged me to do it too, saying how slow the publishing industry is. It can take months to get an agent, then you have to wait for months while they submit to publishers for you, then a publisher can take about 18 months to produce your book. I didn’t want to wait around any longer, so I decided to enroll in Self-Publishing School and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. They guarantee your book will be a bestseller in one year or your money back. The Facebook group is so supportive and we always help each other. My book became a #1 bestseller only 4 days after self-publishing and I got 8,400 downloads while it was free for the first three days. It has blown up and it is still #1 in its category. I will be using their system to relaunch all of my other books. If you decide to join, tell them Ashley sent you! I’m so passionate about self-publishing that I just want to tell everyone how great it is.
- What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?
There have been so many, but the main one was I got rejected by plenty of publishers. It only took me only a week to find an agent, but it was frustrating that after 18 months she never got me anywhere or even officially accepted one of my books. She said she liked them and just kept reading different ones but never did anything with them. She was from a really well-known agency, so I was afraid to look for a new agent. I also submitted a few of my books to smaller publishers that did not require agents and got two contract offers, but my agent advised me to turn them down, saying I wouldn’t make much money. But now I am glad I did because Amazon pays 70% royalties while publishers generally pay only 15%. I think I’m making more money being self-published, and I really like to be in complete control of the manuscript and the marketing and everything.
- What are the upsides and downsides to being an author?
Every now and then authors do get negative or harsh reviews, and it is hard for me not to take them personally, but I am getting better at not letting it bother me. I do all my own marketing, which I love, but marketing and publishing alone is probably 60% of the work and writing is about 40%. Marketing alone feels like a full-time job! But everyone in the Self-Publishing School group says each book is easier to publish. And since my 7 books have all already been written, all I have left to do is have them edited and relaunch them.
- What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process? Least favorite?
Honestly, I thought I would hate marketing, but I’ve ended up loving it! I do love the actual writing the best and I actually can write a manuscript pretty quickly. I don’t usually get writers’ block or procrastinate too badly as long as I follow my outline. There’s nothing like starting to write a new book or finishing the first draft! Also, seeing your book published on Amazon is a pretty great feeling, along with reading positive reviews. I couldn’t believe it when the reviews started coming in. People were so nice for the most part, and some of them even said they thought I was a good writer. It was amazing to actually hear that from a total stranger!
- What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
I LOVE reading all the nice reviews people have been leaving me, and I check them every day. Seeing that orange bestseller tag next to my name is so awesome! In October I will be going to an elementary school to talk to students about my experiences, so I hope I can inspire some of the kids!
- Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?
It is not glamorous at all, sometimes it takes years to actually get anywhere with your writing, and writing is only a fraction of the job! You have to seriously love it or you’ll just end up quitting.
- Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can impart to aspiring writers?
Don’t let not finding an agent or publisher hold you back, and don’t let rejections discourage you. You won’t be able to please everyone, and that goes for readers too. If an agent or publisher rejects you, it is not necessarily because you aren’t good enough. Your book might just not be what they are specifically looking for. Undercover Amish was rejected by several publishers and now it is a bestseller! Doctor Seuss was rejected by 29 publishers!
So that was the fast-fifteen with author Ashley Emma. Thank you, Ashley, and readers, thank you for listening to us.
About Undercover Amish
Police Detective Olivia Mast would rather run through gunfire than return to the Amish community of Unity, Maine, where she killed her abusive husband in self-defense. However, Liv begrudgingly dons her old prayer kapp and covertly investigates a murder there while protecting her old flame, Isaac Troyer, a potential target. The handsome cabinet maker falls in love with her once again, unaware that she carries a 9mm under her skirt. As the body count rises, Liv recruits Isaac to help her, but she has an important rule: to never let emotions, especially love, get in the way of her job. Find it on Amazon.
About the Author
Ashley Emma wrote her first book at 14, self-published at 16, and wrote 7 more manuscripts before the age of 25. She is now a bestselling author and lives in Maine with her husband and two kids. You can find Ashley at http://ashleyemmaauthor.com/.