England has sent America a lot of great things – the Beatles, the Stones, fish and chips, Helen Mirren, Boddingtons…the list goes on and on. My new favorite, however, is author Belinda Jones. A former reporter, Jones – who now resides in California – has melded her longstanding passions for travel and writing to produce a series of bestelling novels that take her characters on adventures all over the globe. She is also one of a growing number of so-called “hybrid” authors who utilize both self- and legacy publishing. I sat down with her recently to talk about her work and the state of the publishing industry.
RE: For those just meeting you, how would you describe your work?
Jones: I just did a fundraiser at Coronado library and found myself adapting my description according to whose hand I was shaking… To some I said travel-themed romantic comedy, to the Brit I said Chick Lit, to someone rather posh I said Women’s Fiction. Often I dismiss my work as quick beach reads and try to change the subject – it’s a terrible thing being English, always obliged to put oneself down!
RE: You are a former journalist. How was the transition to fiction?
Jones: Bumpy and reluctant! I felt like a journalist pretending to be a novelist and fumbled my way through my first novel being led by my agent and then my editor. I never resisted any changes in those days because I thought, ‘What do I know? They’re the pros!’ Gradually I fell in love with the limitless possibilities of fiction. My books are still very thorough in their research with lots of interviews and fact-finding and authentic descriptions etc but it is rather fun to think, ‘Oooh, but what if this happened next…’
RE: All writers have a process of their own: writing early, writing late in the day, etc. What is yours like?
Jones: I write horizontal. I find it helps with the flow of the storyline. Unless I’m in a café in which case I just slump low in the chair. I used to write through the night – it always felt like such a magical, secret time and my imagination really came alive but then I married someone in the Navy who got up at 4am and that scuppered that. I think it’s an excellent practice to write first thing and know that you’ve got words down for the day before all of life’s distractions ensnare you. I just can’t seem to do that myself – I wake up and just have a few hours to answer my UK emails before their working day ends and then I have to walk the dog and marvel at the beauty of San Diego by which time I’m thinking about lunch. Really afternoon is my main slot now.
RE: Are there any writing tools or software you can’t live without?
Jones: My only tool is a scenic coffee shop. I’ve been writing books for 14 years now and sometimes that feels like a helluva lot of typing and not enough living so I like to position myself somewhere I can look around me and feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Like today in La Jolla I actually got out my laptop in the car while parked overlooking the crashing waves of the cove. That way I feel like I’m sightseeing and working at the same time.
RE: You once said you wanted to be the female Bill Bryson. You definitely have had some travel adventures. What are the unique pros and cons of travel writing?
Jones: Well the con is low pay, unless you actually are Bill Bryson. I interviewed him once (over lunch at the Brown Palace in Denver, CO) and was astounded to learn that he still flies coach as he would so resent paying the excessive business or first class fare. I’m not sure I’d have the same resistance if I were in his position! The pros are boundless. Travel is my ultimate muse! Virtually all my earnings from my writing have gone straight back into flights and hotels and excursions. I don’t own a house or very much of anything really but if you gave me all the money back I’d spend it just the same way because when I’m traveling I feel so purposeful and fascinated and enchanted by life. I just got a commission from Enterprise’s UK website to write a simple road trip piece about the journey from LA to Vegas. I have done that trip countless times but there’s nothing like writing on location… I got the commission at 10am, dropped everything, grabbed the dog and was on the road by noon, taking in everything anew.
RE: Publishing has changed so much in the last decade. You are one of a growing number of so-called hybrid authors, those who utilize both self- and legacy-publishing. Self-publishing is so much more mainstream than ever before, but it also comes with its own challenges. What advice would you give to someone considering self-publishing?
Jones: Know what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s a lot of fun and very liberating but certainly the workload is not for everyone. When I was with Random House in the UK I felt like a writer. Often with self-publishing I feel like a door-to-door salesman trying to peddle my wares to all and sundry by every possible means. I spent over a year, maybe two, trying to suss out every aspect of the self-publishing game but if you listen to the audiobook of Write, Publish, Repeat you will know whether or not it is for you. I say audiobook so you can be walking dog/cleaning house/cooking etc while you learn. Every minute counts when you become an Authorpreneur! And just know that sometimes self-publishing can actually be your best route to a legacy deal. You are not ruling that option out if you self-publish.
RE: Do you have an agent? What was the process like for you to get that person on your team?
Jones: I’m on my third agent! My first was Lizzy Kremer who is agent for Paula Hawkins of The Girl On The Train. Then I was with William Morris Endeavor, which sounded rather impressive but they are so big I wanted to have a more personal, boutique experience so now with Madeleine Milburn Associates. It literally began with just sending out letters based on details in the Writer’s & Artists Year Book. These days you can do a lot more snooping online and read interviews and see if you think you’ll be a good match personality and taste-wise. Don’t be too in awe of them – it’s a partnership, you should be on equal footing and feel you can really talk to them and be heard and guided but always trust your own instincts above all else.
RE: What other advice do you have for new writers looking to break into the business?
Jones: Do it for love, not money. Write the book that only you can write. Don’t give up before the miracle appears. Don’t be in too much of a rush or compare yourself to the success or speed of others. Stay in your own lane. Meet and mingle with as many authors as possible, you’ll learn an amazing amount from every writer you talk to and it will help you put the business side of things in perspective. Don’t judge the quality of your work by the number of books sold. Love the process, understand you’re going to have to do 99% of the publicity yourself even if you are traditionally published, go all out and then release any attachment to the outcome. All of which is easier said than done! It’s a tough business but when you hear from a reader who has been moved or entertained by your work it’s all worthwhile!
RE: When is your next book due and where can we find it?
To learn more about Belinda or see a full catalog of her books, visit her at http://sunloungerstories.com/.