Lisa Regan is the Amazon best-selling author of Finding Claire Fletcher, Hold Still, Cold-Blooded, Vanishing Girls, and soon-to-be-released The Girl With No Name. She has both self-published her work and been published by London-based Bookouture, now a division of Hachette Livre, and Amazon’s own Thomas & Mercer. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Watch out, because she knows Japanese karate.
TJB: So it seems like you’ve always wanted to be a writer. Your parents bought you a typewriter when you were eleven years old – was your family always supportive of your dream? Did they think of it as something which could be a nice hobby for you or could they see you doing it as a career?
LR: My family has always been wildly supportive of me and my writing dream. There were times when I thought a career in writing was out of reach but they always encouraged me to keep trying. When I turned fifteen, my stepdad was away on a job site and he drove all through the night to be home for my birthday so he could give me a complete set of books on writing from Writer’s Digest. I will never forget that. Later, when I was in college, I really put writing on the back burner. My dad asked me what I was doing with it and I said, “Dad, I have to work a real job and make actual money to live” and he simply said, “So you'll write in your spare time then.” My mom and stepmom, too, followed every step of the way, learning the nitty gritty of the industry so they could keep up with my ups and downs. All of my parents have consistently offered encouragement and continue to do so. They are some of my biggest marketing powerhouses because they are constantly spreading the word about my books. My stepdad and his wife (my other stepmom who is incredibly supportive) even have a skate and surf store in Astoria, Oregon where they stock my books! I am really lucky that they always took it so seriously and never doubted me for a moment. My extended family and all of my friends as well as my husband and daughter have also always been incredibly supportive. I don’t think there has been anyone in my personal life who didn't support this dream one-hundred percent and treat it as a foregone conclusion that one day I’d be a published author. I’ve got some pretty special people in my life.
Clearly you’ve done your share of querying literary agents – your Amazon bio says more than 150 agents passed on Finding Claire Fletcher! What’s your feeling there? I gave up on agents a while ago. Are they outmoded?
I’m not sure that they’re outmoded, I just think it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish as an author. Agents still act as gatekeepers to many of the larger publishing houses, so if you’re an aspiring author who isn’t going to be satisfied unless you’ve got a deal from a really big publishing house, then an agent is the way to go. Certainly, agents, especially experienced ones, have many contacts in the industry that can be helpful to budding authors. For me, I have been lucky enough to find two fabulous publishers who are author-centered and offer exactly what I want, and I didn’t need an agent to secure those deals. I used a literary attorney to review the proposed contracts and paid her for her time, and I felt confident going forward without an agent at that point. I’ve also had a great experience self-publishing a couple of my titles. For me, my goal is simple: I want my books to get into the hands of readers and I’ve been able to do that now without an agent for a few years. Again, I think it depends on what your intentions are career-wise.
Are all of your books in the same sub-genre?
I would say no. Hold Still was about a series of sexual assaults and Cold-Blooded was about a cold case murder of a teenage track star. Although yes I am drawn to abduction and serial killer stories.
So you’re comfortable in that overall crime-fiction genre. Do you think you’ll ever branch out? If it was guaranteed you’d get published and sell a million copies – is there any other genre you’d write in? Do you have a dream genre?
I have to say it's definitely the stuff I’m writing now. Maybe the only thing I’d like to do is spend more time delving into characters’ heads to show really deeply and intimately why people do the things they do and make the choices they make. But I really enjoy what I write. I just wish they’d sell a million copies!
I have no plans to branch out. I always talk with my ten-year-old daughter about writing a fantasy novel--possibly together--but it’s not something I have any hard or fast plans for. I love writing crime fiction. Right now I’m just working on the third book in the Josie Quinn series. I have several things started and outlined for afterward but I’m not sure which direction I’m headed after Josie. But there will be books. Many more books!
Do you outline your stories or are you a “panster,” finding things out as you go along?
I used to be a devout panster but found it was a massively inefficient way to write. I tried doing the outline thing with Cold-Blooded and it sucked all the joy out of writing. So now I’m a bit of a hybrid. I have an outline but it changes as I move through the story. When I don’t try so hard to stick with the outline, then I enjoy the writing. So it’s a vague road map. Kind of like saying to myself, “Okay, I’m going to drive from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and although I plan on taking Route A, I might make several detours along the way.” I have to be flexible--it satisfies my inner panster but makes writing more efficient.
How much do you write that doesn't wind up on the published page?
Usually my books are between 85,000 and 100,000 words. I would say that during the revision and editing process there are at least 10,000 to 20,000 words that get cut that never make it back into the book. Every time. With my first published novel, 40,000 words didn’t make it into the final published product.
Have you ever shelved a project or changed directions on something to make it more “commercial”? Or, have you ever wished you could pack a book with more of something you decided would be better left out?
I’ve had so many things taken out of my books by publishers for so many different reasons. The reasoning is always sound, in my mind. I've never come up against anything that I truly disagreed with. Even if I had, that’s the beauty of being able to self-publish these days is that if you have a project where you want to leave all that stuff in, you can do it on your own. So yes, I’ve changed directions, changed plots, changed characters, just about everything to make a work more commercial at a publisher’s direction. There are often things I wish I could leave in or leave as-is. There was a bit of a different ending to Vanishing Girls--well, not a different ending but I had wrapped up a certain element of the ending quite differently than it came out in the final book. I thought it was brilliant and loved it, and part of me would have loved to see it stay in, but I definitely understood that doing so would make the book far less commercial so ultimately I was fine with changing it. I think it was the right decision overall for the narrative and made it a better book.
Sometimes as authors, we fall in love with our own quirkiness, I think. For me, I am always willing to put that aside if I think doing so will make the book better. It would be great fun to take all the strange things that have been removed from all my books and smoosh them together into some kind of story and self-publish. But I doubt anyone would read it!
Can you describe one of your favorite moments in your writing career so far? A day or even a few minutes where you felt really, really good about writing?
My favorite moment will always be the first time I held Finding Claire Fletcher in my hands. There is nothing quite like that feeling of holding the actual, physical book in your hands with all of your words inside of it after so many years of struggle. When that book first came out, it was published by a small press that is now out of business. I knew they were sending me copies pre-publication, and I knew the approximate time the books would arrive but not exactly. Then one day while I was at work, my husband called me to tell me they had just been delivered. I still had a half day to work. It was the longest half work day ever. After an hour or two, my boss sort of realized that I was acting strangely and asked me if everything was okay, and I said yes, but my first novel is waiting at home and I can’t wait to see it! He let me leave early so I could go see it. It was just an incredible feeling. That one meant so much because it was six years between the time I started querying and the time I finally got to hold it.
Would you be willing to share one of your low moments? What happened and what was it like?
My lowest moments were really the ones that came before I was published because it was rejection after rejection, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get anything published. I think the hardest one for me was waiting four years to get a rejection from an agent who really spent a lot of time helping me with Finding Claire Fletcher. I queried him in 2006. I actually sent my query to an agent who was no longer at his agency which was a huge faux pas, but he plucked my query out of the trash and emailed me. He loved the book. Over the next year or so he asked me to do many rounds of revisions which I did. Then he moved to a different agency and asked me to come with him as a “potential client,” which I did. Years passed. I did query other agents because exclusivity was never part of the agreement between us. Finally, four years later, he passed on the book. I was devastated. I think in part because he had invested a lot of time and energy into helping me make the book so much better, and he had opened his own agency and asked me to come along and after all that, it was a no. He was really lovely about all of it, and I don’t regret the work I did on the book because his suggestions were spot-on, but it was quite the blow to be rejected after all of that. That was really hard. That was one of those moments where I seriously considered throwing in the towel, not just on Finding Claire Fletcher, but on my entire writing dream. But my daughter was young and I kept looking at her thinking that one day everyone in my family would be telling her stories about how I used to write, and she would ask me, “Why did you give up?” and that was a conversation I never wanted to have with her, so I kept going. A few months later, I signed with a woman who would be my agent from 2010 through 2016 and she sold my first two books to a small press that did a really good job with them. Post-publication, the lowest moment was probably finding out that that small press was closing its doors and having to scramble to figure out what to do with my books. But it all worked out.
This might be the perfect place to end our chat but I have to ask – what are you reading right now, who are your favorite authors, and was there any book or author that made you want to write?
I just downloaded a copy of Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts from NetGalley. I actually pre-ordered the book awhile back but when I saw that it was available on NetGalley, I requested it. I love her work so much, and this one sounds so exciting, I simply couldn't wait. I’ve just started it and as always, Hillier is brilliant.
Karin Slaughter is my all-time favorite author and my favorite titles of her are Blindsighted and Pretty Girls. I also love Dennis Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro series, Chelsea Cain’s Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series, Angela Marsons’ Kim Stone Series, anything by Nancy S. Thompson, Michael Infinito, Dana Mason, Katie Mettner, Carrie Butler, Jennifer Hillier, Gregg Hurwitz, Greg Iles and John Hart. There are so many. I’m sure I’m forgetting several! I also have a friend who is one of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever read and his work isn’t published yet. (He’s on submissions). So look out for works by Jeff O’Handley. I can't wait for the rest of the world to read his stuff. Any one of these authors gets me excited about writing and makes me want to get to the page!
The Girl With No Name is set for release on April 19, 2018. Learn more about it or pre-order your copy by clicking HERE.
Finding Claire Fletcher, the book passed up by over 150 agents, went on to win Best Heroine and was runner-up for Best Novel in the 2013 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards. You can find that one HERE.
To see all of Lisa’s books, click HERE