My name is Laura A. Barton, and I write a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I used to consider myself strictly a fantasy author, and, while the novel that has taken up the bulk of my life is fantasy, I wouldn’t consider myself exclusively a fantasy writer anymore. At this point, I like telling stories. Toni Morrison is quoted as saying, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” This resonates with me and is at the core of what I do.
Recent Fiction WIPs: Killing Secrets (High Fantasy) and The Assistant (Romance) Recent Non-fiction Publication: Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars and Project Dermatillomania: Written On Our Skin (Second editions, 2020)
From Planning to Published
When did you start writing and why?
I started really getting into writing when I was 9 years old. I had all these stories floating around in my head, and I felt the need to tell them. Reading has always been a big part of my life, and the stories I read or even the ones I saw on TV inspired my earliest works and drive to write fiction.
How long did it take you to finish your first book?
I wrote many “books” starting from that young age, but the first one I really had ambitions of publishing took me 4 months to write the first draft. I don’t think I had a computer yet, and I was writing everything out by hand. I kept all the pages in a special binder and dated my progress each day so I could keep track of how I was doing. I was absorbed by that story and wrote almost every day. I was super proud of that book, and the story and characters still mean a lot to me, but I don’t think I’ll ever publish it.
If you’ve published, how long did your first book take?
I don’t have any fiction books published, which is not for lack of trying. I’ve written, and revised, and queried Killing Secrets since 2005, but it’s just not there, yet. Hopefully, it will be in print someday in the near future.
I do have two non-fiction books published though. The first of those, Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars, began as an idea in 2012 and is an anthology of works from people who live with excoriation (skin-picking) disorder (also called dermatillomania). Between receiving submissions, editing, and then formatting, it took a couple of years before the first edition was published in 2014.
(If applicable) Has your publishing timeframe improved at all since your first publication?
I would say my publishing timeframe has improved since that first publication. I put out the call for submissions for the second non-fiction book I published, Project Dermatillomania: Written On Our Skin, in February 2016, and then it was published in March 2017. Again, it was a matter of working with the submissions, editing, and formatting, but I at least had a sense of what I was doing this time around.
Are you indie, traditional, hybrid, or vanity, and why?
I’ve always had dreams of traditional publishing. Part of that was because when I was younger, self-publishing and vanity publishing were both still very much seen as being the lesser option. The idea was that anyone could self-publish, but only those with true talent got publishing deals. I definitely know how flawed that thinking is now.
While I’d still love to be traditionally published, I have also been considering the indie publishing route. There are so many authors that I love and look up to these days that have gone that path and are doing great. I know it’s a lot of work, which is daunting, but I can see it now as a possibility.
For my non-fiction books, I self-published them. My target audience—others with excoriation disorder, their support systems, or people just wanting to learn more—is niche, and I didn’t think a traditional publisher would pick up the books. Additionally, I wanted full control over them. I wanted to be able to say what the books looked and felt like. I’m confident I made the right decision for them.
How did you determine your target audience?
Target audience is an interesting one for me, and in some regards, I think I’m kind of all over the map. Looking at my oldest WIP, Killing Secrets, to my more recent WIPs and publications, things feel vastly different to me.
Part of the problem with Killing Secrets is that I started writing it when I was 15. I wasn’t quite aware of audience when I started and didn’t really take that sort of thing into consideration. It was just a story I wanted to write, so I did. As a result, however, it’s complicated matters this late in the game. In university, I majored in English Language and Literature, which gave me a more acute sense of audience and readership. Now with each revision or rewrite, I’m almost having to reshape to consider not only age range, but, to some extent, the area of interest. While I believe in writing what you’d like to, audience still plays an important role in the end product.
As much as I’ve always loved learning literature and writing, I think some part of me felt that learning the craft wasn’t really necessary when it came to being a writer. Realistically, though, it’s so key and has helped me vastly improve how I approach both my fiction and non-fiction writing, in particular with audience. With what I know now, other fiction works I’ve done, like my other WIP, The Assistant, have come more easily because I see how much being aware of these things can shape the story.
What is your publishing process?
For my fiction novels, the publishing process has been a long journey of writing, revising, getting feedback, more revising, and so on. Since I haven’t gotten to publishing those yet, I’m not sure what the end of this process is going to look like, but I can’t wait to find out.
As for my non-fiction books, being anthologies, the process was pretty much idea, call for submissions, edit submissions, organize submissions, formatting, then publication.
What platforms do you use to publish your works?
I’m a fan of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), although in the past, I’ve also used Blurb. Both are good platforms and have their benefits. I feel KDP better fits my needs, however, and will be sticking with that for any indie publishing I do.
How do you get critiques, betas, feedback, and edits?
Input for my books has come from a number of sources: family, friends, beta readers, critique partners, and others involved in the book’s process (for my non-fiction books). I also used to post online to websites like Fictionpress and deviantART, but I steer away from those these days because of some of the strictness with traditional publishing requirements. The first beta readers I ever worked with, I connected with via a beta reader group on Facebook. The first critique partners I worked with, I connected with on Twitter. Social media can be a great asset for these situations and provides the opportunity to connect with a wider range of people instead of just those in your circle. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family, but it helps to get wider perspective.
My most recent publication was actually a dual publication. In December 2020, I published second editions of Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars and Project Dermatillomania: Written On Our Skin. The reason I wanted to do that was to clean up spelling, grammar, and formatting issues that were missed the first time around, as well as have both books formatted for both print and ebook. Both books were originally released when I was still mostly learning how to navigate putting a book together, let alone publishing anything. I’m grateful for all the help I received for those books and don’t mean to take away any of the work others put in. What I did with the second editions was more of a polish job than any significant changes.
Do you have a platform? What does it consist of?
My primary platform for marketing my work is social media. Again, this is a powerful tool, especially for indie authors. I can’t say I’ve mastered it, but I’m doing what I can.
What is your launch plan for your works?
When thinking about launch plans, I think about what I like to see and what draws me in. With others launching their books, I like teasers and visual marketing material. The teasers don’t even have to be chapter previews. A good chunk of the books I’ve read lately drew me in because of teaser artwork, aesthetic content, or even an attention-grabbing quote from the story. At its basics, I hope to adopt that sort of launch plan.
How do you get reviews for your books?
Reviews are not something I’ve mastered in the slightest. Basically, right now, I just ask people who’ve read my books to leave reviews, but I know that moving forward, I should amp that up. My plans with my fiction novels in particular are to have ARC copies to bring in some reviews, which will hopefully encourage others to read and review as well.
How do you promote your content?
Promoting my content is something that I always thought was simple. Put it out there, mention it, and you’re good to go. With social media as my main platforms, however, the sophistication of the algorithms makes that a challenge. So while I do still create visual content for my social media accounts, I’m also reading into other ways to promote books, such as through ads and so forth. In the past, I’ve also done giveaways, author interviews, and things like that, which are also effective.
How do you define success as an author?
I think success will look different for everyone. For me, having a finished novel, bound in a physical book, is success. I love physical books, so it’s extra special when I can hold my own work in my hands.
About Your Work
What type of content do you write and why? Fiction Novels? Poems? Songs? Screenplays? Short Stories? Epic?
I write fiction and non-fiction. My fiction work is currently focused in on novels. I used to voraciously write short stories and poetry as well, but haven’t really written anything new in those areas in many years. My non-fiction work, so far, consists of two books and online content like blogs, web copy, and so forth.
What genres and subgenres do you write in?
Fiction-wise, I mainly write high fantasy and romance novels. For non-fiction, my main subject matter is mental health.
How many works have you published?
I’ve published two non-fiction books and a fairly large body of mostly non-fiction work across the internet. I was also published three times in Brock University Creative Writer’s Club anthologies while I attended for post-secondary studies. Those were the first time I really saw my work in print.
Being both a fiction and non-fiction writer, I find my brand as an author is both interesting and a challenge to balance. I feel like people think of author brands as whatever their main genre of writing is, but with the way I dip into both the fiction and non-fiction world, it can be difficult. Do I want my brand to be as a fiction author or as a mental health writer? Can I have both? Ultimately, I think I can. I think of authors like Matt Haig, who writes both fiction and non-fiction works and is known for his mental health advocacy. I hope to be able to achieve that sort of balance as well.
I also aim to be personable and approachable. One of the coolest things to me in this day and age is being able to connect with authors and interact with them. When I was younger, I would have loved the opportunity to be able to do that with my favourite authors, but, instead, they were these faraway figures that I only had a connection with via their works. With the advent of social media, it’s possible to connect with authors in an entirely new way, and I love it. I’d love having that chance to connect with my readers.
Name some common elements in your writing: villains, magic, red-herring twists, the unfortunate ensign, mysterious phenomena, asyndeton, sentence fragments etc.
One of the things I strive for when I write, and perhaps my most common element, is realness. For my non-fiction work, that comes out with candor. I’m honest about my experiences and share them without shame. For fiction, it’s an effort to create believable worlds that have rules and consequences. My characters will never find themselves in a situation where things can be miraculously solved by magic or a challenging situation is just readily accepted and swept under the rug because it’s convenient. It needs to make sense. Yes, fiction is about the suspension of belief, but the stories that resonate the most with me are those that have an edge of veracity to them.
What was your first goal when you started your journey to becoming an author? Has that changed?
I mentioned previously that a reason I got into writing was because I had stories to share, but I’ll be honest, when I was a kid, I also had dreams of being a famous author. On my first “novels” that I wrote when I was 9, I even drew trophies to declare the works as award-winning books. In some regard, I would still like to be a well-known author and to use this craft to support myself financially, but that isn’t the ultimate goal anymore. Now, it really is just about the storytelling and sharing these worlds and characters that accompany me wherever I go and that I love.
What do you want your readers to get out of your works?
For this question, it depends what they’re reading. Fiction-wise, I want readers to first and foremost enjoy the story, but I’d also love if they found a little nugget of something to take with them. Maybe it’s a nugget of wisdom, maybe it’s a lasting impression of the story, or a connection to the characters. My favourite novels are those that have a lasting impact beyond how much I enjoyed the story.
For my non-fiction writing, I want readers to feel seen and heard. The reason I write mental health works is because I could have benefited from having those resources when I was younger and deeply struggling. For those who aren’t approaching those works from experiences of mental health struggles, I hope it helps them have a better understanding of how people live, struggle, and cope with various mental health conditions.
What part of the author process are you working on or studying most now?
What I’m studying the most right now is marketing my work and myself as a writer. This is useful as a writer in general, but since I’m contemplating the indie route of publication, I know that’ll bear some extra weight. I feel like I have things like writing, beta readers, critique partners, and formatting a book pretty well down pat. The marketing of the work, however, is still fairly alien to me.
What has been your favorite part of the writing and querying or publishing process?
My favourite part of writing overall is discovering the story and the characters and getting to know them. I love the magic there is in that, even for books that don’t have magical elements. Getting lost in a narrative is just an incredible experience.
My favourite part about querying is finding an agent that I feel really fits what I’m looking for and then reaching out. Although there is the aspect of waiting and maybe not hearing back, I don’t get discouraged about these things. I know it’s all part of the process.
As for publishing, in terms of the self-publishing I’ve done, I love when everything is falling into place, lining up in previewing tools, and being able to hit the submit button. Such a great feeling.
Have you always read in the genre you wanted to write in? Do you think that’s made it easier or harder to create new stories?
I’ve always loved fantasy novels, urban fantasy and high fantasy in particular. When I was younger, I also heavily read horror novels, which definitely influenced my writing for a long time. The scarier or gorier I could make my work, the better. Killing Secrets’ first draft was largely built on the idea of writing a fantasy-gore novel, although it’s since steered far from that. I’m not a super fan of that kind of thing anymore.
I do read in my current genres though: one because I enjoy the stories, and two, because I know how important it is to be familiar with your genre. It helps with seeing what’s popular in the genre, which I can then play into either to add a new twist or give people fan favourite aspects of the genres. In addition to those genres, however, I also really enjoy dystopian fiction, which I don’t write. As much as I love the genre, there’s just a certain finesse to it that I don’t think I have the talent for.
What is your writing process, from idea to polished work? Pantster? Plotter? How long does that typically take you?
I am a pantser 99% of the time. Pretty much all of my novels start based on a single idea or a single scene from my head, and then I open up a Word doc and run with it from there. The Assistant is one of the first novels where I’ve really sat down to plan after that initial idea. The idea came from a dream, which I wrote down as a note, but then I later opened up a Word doc and started fleshing it out. I wrote character profiles, did research, wrote out a beat sheet (something I’d literally never done), and then started in on the novel itself.
Whether I’m pantsing or planning, however, from idea to polished work is a process. I write out the first draft, then when that’s done, I duplicate the document to work on that for the second draft, and so forth with each significant change. I like having a record of the progress because it’s fun looking back to see how things have changed and because it’s useful to have those original ideas in such an accessible way in case I change my mind and want to reincorporate something.
As is evident with Killing Secrets, it can take me years to get to the polished work, but at the same time, there have been many polished versions of that novel along the way. I think that’s one thing to keep in mind: there may be several versions of the story that you feel are polished, and it’s okay if you end up needing to go back over them to polish some more.
Where do you network most with other writers, authors, and creative types? LinkedIn? Wattpad? Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere else?
Twitter and Instagram have become my go-tos for connecting with other writers. I particularly love Instagram for the ways authors share about their stories visually. I do also use Facebook to some degree, and while I have a LinkedIn account, I don’t really connect with other writers there more than just accepting them as connections.
Do you sprint-write like a starving cheetah, or are you a totally chill turtle writer? Somewhere in between?
Definitely somewhere in between. There are days where I can barely get a sentence out, and then there are other times when I can hammer out 10,000 words in a day like it’s nothing (that’s not an exaggeration). I very much enjoy those days because that’s when I feel most connected to the stories and immersed with my characters or whatever I happen to be working on.
What has been the hardest thing to overcome on your journey to authorship?
Time has been one of my biggest struggles. I used to have this idea that if I wasn’t published by age X, then I was failing as an author. It’s been a learning process to see that an author’s success isn’t weighted on how young they are or how quickly they get their book out. You can be older and still have success as an author.
How long I’ve been working on Killing Secrets does weigh on me, mostly because I want to be able to share this story with people, but I also know that it’s not ready yet. Handling that idea is a struggle, too.
How has the writing and querying or publishing process affected you emotionally? Do you have any tips for budding writers?
My tip for budding authors is that the querying and even the feedback process don’t have to be scary. Not everyone is going to like your work, and some people will be super rude about it. It ultimately says more about them than it does about you as a person or about your work. If you come across someone that doesn’t like your work, definitely process those emotions, but also look for ways that you may be able to benefit from the experience. Maybe you’ll find something useful, but even if you don’t, it’s perfectly okay to set that person’s opinion aside and then get back to it.
If you could do it all over again, what would you change?
If I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I’d change anything. Everything can act as a learning experience and each part of my journey has helped me grow as a writer and storyteller. Was everything perfect? No, but I see value in that imperfection.
Are you a driven & self-advocating author, a gun-shy promoter, or a total marketing procrastinator?
I’d say I’m a driven, self-advocating author, even if I don’t quite have the solid strides to do that yet. I feel like it’s just about learning the methods, but otherwise, I have no problem sharing about my work. There are many areas in my life that I’m meek, anxious, and insecure. Writing, incredibly, has never been one of those areas.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I’m not going to lie; sometimes motivation is nowhere to be seen. What keeps me motivated is honestly seeing other authors thrive and reading fantastic stories by others. It pushes me and reminds me why I love doing what I do as a writer, even if I can’t get my butt in gear at that exact moment.
How do you combat writer’s block?
I try not to fight it. Sometimes, the brain just needs a break or I get stuck. I’m okay with letting this percolate for a bit, and I’ll find a new book to read or even a new show or movie to watch. Although there are other times where it’s helpful to push through whatever scene I’m stuck on and just worry about cleaning up whatever that mess is later.
How did your family and friends react to your writing? Was it what you expected from them?
This is a mixed bag. I have people in my life that support me fully as a writer. They’re eager to read my work, they think I have what it takes to publish, and they cheer me on. One of the things that’s stuck with me the most, however, is being told when I was a child that I needed a “bread and butter job.” It used to bother me, but reflecting back, I get it. Writing is a precarious and competitive field, and the family member who’d say that to me just wanted to make sure I could grow up with a career that would pay the bills. Still, I can’t seem to get that out of my head, and, on some level, it still does feel like someone not believing in me. I’ve had to learn to be okay with that.
What do you listen to while you write?
A lot of the time, I listen to whatever I’m obsessed with listening to at the moment. I’m the kind of person that gets hooked on songs or a band, and then I’ll listen to it on repeat for hours on end. I’ve also, in the past, created playlists for my novels, which can help with motivation and setting the mood. I love when I find songs that speak to the narrative of the story or the characters individually. I’m just a big fan of music in general, though.
Is there a fun word or group of terms you like to put into your writing?
Where do you write your stories? A tiny office? A loft? The kitchen table? In the bushes while you secretly people-watch like a total creeper? Or a warm café with mocha in hand and feet up on an ottoman?
I write wherever I can. With moving to a work-from-home setting, I’ll write at where I’ve set up my work station when I get free moments during the day, but I also write while sitting on the couch or the bed. I’ve also been known to write scenes or notes on my phone wherever I happen to be if an idea suddenly strikes me.
How do you try to “break the mold” and be unique?
I love to encourage critical thinking. This stems directly from my time studying literature in university and doing literary analyses of the books I read there. I’m fascinated by the various ways that novels can be interpreted and by making arguments for those interpretations. Nothing is ever black and white, and that’s something I try to push with my creative writing in particular.
Twitter and Instagram: @laura_barton