Today I have the pleasure of introducing Whitey Hill, who launches her book, Elemental, on June 23rd. Our conversation was a lot of fun, and I think you'll all enjoy what she has to say about being an author, marketing her book, and bringing diversity into her genre.
Hi Whitney! Thanks for talking with me today. I’d love to hear a little bit about your author journey. Have you always been a writer?
It’s great to have the chance to interview, thanks! I’d say yes, I’ve always been a writer, but with stops and starts. When I was a kid I wrote Star Wars fanfiction, or envisioned these massive space epics that never got beyond a few handwritten pages. I loved creative writing assignments in school, but after I graduated and started university, I stopped. I’ve come back to it in the last few years as an outlet and am so glad I did!
What is Elemental about, and who is your main character?
Elemental is an adult contemporary fantasy set in North Carolina’s Triangle region (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), where I currently reside. The main character is Arden Finch, a private investigator and air elemental who has hidden her magic her whole life due to an elven bounty on elementals. Then an elf walks into her office and hires her without realizing what she is, so she seizes the chance to gain leverage, even if it means risking exposure. Of course, everything hits the fan and she draws the attention of some very dangerous people.
There are some of the classic urban fantasy elements that I think long-time fans of the genre will enjoy, but I’ve also tried to update the genre with new myths, beings, and perspectives.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
I’ve read contemporary (or urban) fantasy since I was a teenager, but I don’t recall seeing more than one adult book with a protagonist who looked like me – Black or biracial. So part of it was honestly just wanting to see someone like me kicking ass and using magic.
I’m also a mythology buff, so I wanted to pull in a broader variety of beings. Werewolves and vampires are classic; I love them and they do appear in Elemental. But I wanted to bring in new ideas, myths, and cultures.
The last piece settled into place when I moved to North Carolina in 2016. I fell in love with the wild spaces here, and especially with how many state parks were in close proximity to major cities like Raleigh. It felt like the perfect setting for a hidden parallel society like Otherside.
Have you always loved fantasy? What were some of your early influences?
Yes! I guess like many people, I started with books like the Wheel of Time series and other epic fantasy. Eventually I migrated to urban/contemporary fantasy and read most of the big names in that genre. There’s just so much potential in contemporary fantasy, not only in the imaginative sense that these beings could be among us, but also in what is yet untapped in terms of source material from myth and legend. Likewise with historical fantasy.
Where did you find your beta team?
A combination of places: some of my fanfic readers, writing groups, Twitter, and Fiverr. I had Elemental on Beta Books before the new reader match function was added, so I haven’t tried that yet. Looking forward to it!
How has your background in digital marketing informed your approach to marketing and publishing your own book?
It means that one of the first things I did was set up my author website. We don’t own our social media accounts; they can be taken, closed, or blocked at any time and then there goes our followers and content. Authors need a space they own, and which serves as a central connecting point for info about them, their books, and their other platforms.
I also avoid a lot of the spammy tactics that I think must be shared out somewhere. For example, my social media platforms are places to engage with me as an author and as a person. While I occasionally share a buy link, I don’t create or retweet hashtag-laden “buy my book” posts. I understand the value of offering content and am probably less concerned with follower counts. Those will grow over time if you’re offering something people like and can connect with. Marketing is a long-term game.
Finally, I think I probably use advertising more than many early authors. I’m already deeply familiar with social and search ad platforms, so while there’s a slight learning curve to apply it to an audience of fiction readers, I’m not having to spend big money testing and learning about ads themselves. A few bucks here and there have been pretty effective.
How are you publishing and distributing?
I decided to go wide for three reasons: I didn't want to rely completely on a single distributor for royalties, I wanted to be sure my book had more opportunities to reach people, and I wanted to be sure that my books could be available to local indie bookstores for those who want to support small businesses. So, both an ebook and a paperback will be available from Amazon, and other distributors via IngramSpark. Since Google Play is the top reading app in some of my markets, I also made the ebook available there. Finally, I submitted to the Indie Author Project, which selects indie books to include in curated collections for libraries across the US and Canada, and am happy to have been selected. Basically, I wanted to give readers a choice in how and where they read my book, give myself a more varied source of income, and support local businesses and libraries!
What has been your favorite thing so far about being an author?
Hearing from people who’ve been touched by my work. I got a message from a reader once that I was helping them through a tough time, and that’s why I do this – to help people via storytelling. We’re in tough, strange times, and sometimes it feels like writing fiction is such a small thing. People need an escape, though. They need to recharge. And I’m writing fiction that represents a demographic that doesn’t get centered very often, from the perspective of my own lived experience, so that’s also a way for me to do my part for change.
What’s next for you? Do you have a current work in progress?
I have so many works in progress that I wish I could clone myself! Elemental’s sequel is currently in professional editing, so I’m writing book three in the series. I’ve also got a completed first draft of a historical fantasy set in Ptolemaic Egypt, in which a demon hunter is betrayed, goes on a search for vengeance, and finds family. Then there’s book two in the Flesh and Blood series (book one is out already), and notebooks full of other worlds.
They’ll all get done. I’m determined to make it as an author.
Where can people connect with you online, and where is your book available?
Elemental will be available June 23, 2020 from a variety of retailers. Readers’ ebook retailer of choice can be selected here. I encourage folks to get the paperback from indie booksellers; they can find a store carrying Elemental on IndieBound.