Heather Grace Stewart is a bestselling Amazon author, speaker, and poet. She trained as a journalist, started her own freelance magazine writing & editing business, Graceful Publications, and her first book, a non-fiction book for youth on Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was traditionally published in 2003. Heather’s debut novel, Strangely, Incredibly Good, was released by Morning Rain Publishing (June 2014). It has been reviewed as ‘A Fun & Feisty Bridget Jones for the Digital Age,’ and ‘Funny and touching.’
In 2016 it hit #1 in Time Travel Romance in the Kindle Store Canada and the UK and reached the Top 50 Bestselling Romantic Comedy novels in the US, Canada and UK Kindle Stores. Its sequel, Remarkably Great, was launched in August, 2015 finding spots on various Kindle bestseller lists in Australia, France, Denmark, Japan and India. Stewart’s third novel, The Ticket, hit the Kindle charts in February 2016 as the #1 Hot New Release in Movie-Tie Ins, and within days reached the Top 20 Bestselling Romantic Comedies on Kindle Canada.
Heather is also the author of numerous poetry collections, a romantic comedy screenplay, two non-fiction books for youth on Canada’s Prime Ministers, and a book of children’s poetry, The Groovy Granny.
Born in Ottawa, Canada, she lives with her husband and daughter near Montreal.
In her free time, she loves to take photos, scrapbook, cartoon, inline skate, dance like nobody’s watching, and eat Swedish Berries — usually not at the same time.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What steps did you take toward making that dream a reality?
I knew I wanted to be a writer very early on. I started writing poems at five, and was writing short stories by twelve. As soon as I was in high school I volunteered for their paper, and for the local paper, and became a news reporter for the cable TV stations’ local news show. Those experiences led me to my decision to take Canadian Studies at Queen’s University so I could have a broad education before entering the graduate diploma program in Journalism at Concordia. I worked as a reporter for a small Montreal paper and then as an associate editor of four national magazines a year out of J-school, so I got training in many aspects of the publishing industry early-on. I didn’t really think about getting my work published in book form until the Internet really took off in 2000. That’s when my first collection of kids poems was published by an e-publishing company that was way ahead of its time, Electric E Book Publishing. They put my book out as a PDF and no one knew what to do with that on a big clunky desktop computer. We needed e-readers!
My career has been about perseverance and patience, so that things could unfold. Before I could do what I do now, epubs and mobi files had to be invented, Kindle had to be invented, social media had to take off…and I believe more is coming, specifically in the book industry. This is just the beginning. Hologram books: that’s next. Can’t wait!
One of the most brave, or possibly most stupid steps I’ve taken in the last three years to try to make my books a success is to focus on them and them alone. I stopped all freelance magazine work because it took up too much of my time. I continued my speaking engagements at universities, and doing interviews like this and sharing about my journey on my blog, but other than that, I stuck to writing the books and marketing them. It’s been like I’ve been having a torrid love affair with romantic comedies for three years solid. I think I’ll stay married to them, but I also want to try to get back to my poetry some day soon.
What genre(s) do you write in? What is it that you love about them?
I write romantic comedies and poetry. I have a background in theatre – drama classes from age five and then I was in Kanata Theatre – so I think it’s just a natural progression of my interests. I’ve always loved entertaining people. I like to make them laugh, and touch their hearts.
You are an indie author having published a few novels and poetry collections. What made you decide that self-publishing was the best path for you?
This is a long story. You’re going to have to grab a drink…
I have whisky, lay it on me.
I’m a “hybrid author” meaning I’m both traditionally published and self-published.
I had started my poetry blog Where the Butterflies Go in 2008, named after a poem that had resonated with many people and had been published in Wild! Magazine for kids. The blog took off, and people suggested I put all my poems in an anthology. I had many dating back from my first poems that were published in the Queen’s Journal in 1991. I’d heard good things about the Print on Demand company Lulu and decided to self publish after having my manuscript rejected by a few publishing companies. The book did quite well for a self-pubbed poetry book, selling 200 copies in its first year out, and Lulu put the books on iBooks for free – sort of a deal they had to get iBooks going – so the book took off on iBooks and I went on to develop the blog, and write another collection, Leap, before my third collection was accepted by a US publisher, Winter Goose Publishing. Carry On Dancing did very well as a traditionally published book, but I realized that I prefer being able to have complete control over content, cover design, and being able to make price changes on my books, and making my own marketing decisions. Having the publisher in the US was a bit problematic for me, too, because I wanted to work more closely with them, although now Skype and FaceTime has taken off, it might not affect me as much now if I ever sign with a US or UK publisher. Everything changes so fast in this industry. It’s month by month now. Keeps me on my toes.
A few years later, Strangely, Incredibly Good was accepted by the Canadian Publisher Morning Rain Publishing. I had a great experience with them. They’re wonderful people to work with: Skilled, knowledgeable, and fun! However, I’d been studying the Kindle system, and it became obvious to me that books that were sometimes discounted to free or 0.99 seemed to have a wider audience, and books in the Unlimited Kindle library did exceptionally well. I decided to try my next book, the sequel, Remarkably Great, on my own, but I hired MRP to provide me with editing services. Remarkably Great definitely did better than my first novel, and it could be for a number of reasons, but my guess was that it was in the Kindle Unlimited Library. It hit #1 in Time Travel Romance in the UK in November 2015, and people were buying the second book first! They were finding it on Kindle before they even found the first book, which wasn’t in the Kindle Unlimited library.
I decided to stick with Kindle exclusively for a while, and try lending all my books out on Kindle Unlimited when my next book, The Ticket, was launched this month. Again, MRP provided me with professional editing services and I hired a professional cover designer.
I have nothing against traditional publishing. I wouldn’t be where I am today with out my publishers! I’m simply trying something new, because it’s helping me find a wider audience. I’ve never sold so many books in Japan, France, Brazil, Denmark, Australia, and more. It’s a great feeling. It’s not about the money: it’s about my work being read. I don’t write for my work to gather dust in a computer or worse, on a bookshelf. I’d rather make $1.37 on my book via Kindle but have the whole book read by someone who may not have found it otherwise than earn nothing for a book to sit at Chapters or Barnes and Noble only to be sent back to my publisher because it didn’t sell. Sorry to make the outlook for aspiring authors sound so bleak, but it kind of is. The traditional publishing industry needs to make some major changes so that authors get paid more for their hard work, but while it takes a while for those changes to happen, I’m going to enjoy getting my work in the hands of readers all over the world, thanks to Kindle, and I’d like to encourage other writers to do the same.
What inspires your ideas? How do you come up with them?
Oh gosh, if you looked inside my brain, it would be like an amusement park. There’s so much going on – it’s a complex and bizarre adventure park in there! And it’s open 24 hours. I honestly feel for my family. They’re awesome people to put up with me. I believe that I need to write books to clear out the amusement park every now and then!
This is my fav question and I always ask it, so if one of your novels was made into a movie, which would you choose and what actors would you cast to play the three main roles?
I’m simply in love with story of The Ticket and its characters, and I think it belongs on a big screen. I’m working on both the screenplay and talking to producers about optioning the book rights. I have a few people in mind for the role of Pete: Michael Fassbender, Gerald Butler, Colin O’Donoghue, to name a few. I think Drew Barrymore, Emma Stone or Natalie Portman could handle the comedy-dramedy of Allie, and someone really funny like Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph or Sandra Bullock should play Allies BFF, Trix.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your writing journey so far?
You’re on your own path. Don’t get off that path and follow someone else’s. You can waste so much time looking at what other authors are doing – and some of that is helpful – I truly hope I can help other authors with my insights about the industry – but the part where you kick yourself because someone else is higher in the charts than you are – that’s such a waste of time. Every one of is unique and on our own adventure here, and what might work for JK Rowling won’t work for me. Once I stopped beating myself up for not being an immediate bestseller in 2014 (the year Strangely, Incredibly Good came out) great things started happening. I let go of self doubt and started believing my hard work would pay off in time. I learned to pay attention to writing and finishing my own story, not anyone else’s, and that made all the difference.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers about the process of writing and editing?
You have to want it really badly. You can’t just think “I’d like to write a book.” You have to live, breathe, dream a bestseller to make a bestseller. I’m thinking of writing a book called “Be the Bestseller.” (I’m chuckling) You have to set a writing schedule and stick to it month after month. You have to be willing to make absolutely no money before you make any money. You have to have fun with the journey.
Any advice for a writer who is trying to decide what publication route they should pursue?
I think like anything in life, you need to stay true to yourself. If you’re the kind of person who shies away from the camera and chatting on social media, and you don’t like being in creative control when it comes to cover design and marketing material, you might want to keep trying to find a traditional publisher, and hiring a publicist. Just be forewarned that a lot of the above is crucial to being an author today, whether you’ve got a traditional publisher or not, because publishers don’t have the time to help out every author anymore.
Unless you land a deal with one of the big five publishers, I don’t think it’s true that traditionally published authors make more money or have it easier (work load wise) than self published authors. I’m making more money now that I’m self-published, and after three solid years working in the romantic comedy genre on Kindle and another five years studying Kindle, Kobo and the rest of the ebook industry, I’m convinced that author success is just about determination, the quality of work you put out there, and more determination.
Thanks so much for having me here!
Thank you for coming on!
Follow Heather on Twitter @hgracestewart
Her blog http://heathergracestewart.com
Her Facebook Page http://facebook.com/heathergracestewart
Official website http://heathergracestewart.me