Conquering the Publishing Divide: An Interview With Author Jessa Russo

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely adore Beauty and the Beast.  So when I stumbled on the announcement for Jessa Russo’s young adult novel, Divide, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I haven’t finished reading it yet, so rather than bring you my thoughts on it, I’ve invited Jessa to stop by and regale us about her publication journey. This wasn’t her first time at the rodeo, as they say, but what she’s learned should be very insightful for those of us still waiting at the gates.

First, let me introduce you:

Photo of Jessa Russo

 

Jessa Russo believes in fairytales, ghosts, and Jake Ryan. She insists mimosas were created for Sundays, and that’s not up for discussion. She’s obsessed with the great city of New Orleans — where she’s collected too many beads to count, eventually married her sweetheart, and visited graveyards they don’t include on maps.

She’s loud, painfully honest, and passionate about living life to the fullest, because she’s seen how abruptly it can be taken away.

What began as a desire for reading and writing young adult paranormal has bled into stories of all kinds. From fantasy to pre-dystopian to erotic contemporary, Jessa’s stories always include romance, though she’s given up on pigeonholing her work into a category or genre box.

Jessa was born and raised in Southern California, and remains there to this day with her husband (a classic car fanatic), their daughter (a Tim Burton superfan), and a Great Dane who thinks he’s the same size as his Chihuahua sister.

Entwined, the final installment of Russo’s Ever Trilogy, will be released late 2014, as well as an erotic romance written under a pseudonym. Stay tuned!

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Cover Design for Divide by Jessa Russo

From senior class president to dejected social outcast, with just the flick of a match.

After accusations of torching her ex-boyfriend’s home are followed by the mysterious poisoning of her ex-best friend, seventeen-year-old Holland Briggs assumes her life is over. And it is. But not in the way she thinks.

As Holland learns the truth about her cursed fate—that she is descended from the Beast most have only ever heard of in fairytales—she unites with an unlikely ally, good-looking newcomer Mick Stevenson. 

Mick knows more about Holland’s twisted history than she does, and enlightening as it is to learn about, his suggestion for a cure is unsettling at best. Holland must fall in love with Mick in order to break the spell, and save their future generations from repeating her cursed fate. Having sworn off love after the betrayals of her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, this may be difficult to accomplish. 

Complicating things further for Holland and Mick, time runs out, and Holland’s change begins way before schedule. With Holland quickly morphing into a dangerous mythical creature, Mick struggles to save her.

Should they fail, Holland will be lost to the beast inside her forever.

How could you not want to read that? Seriously. Which is why, in honor of Divide’s release last week, I’m going to give you a chance to get your hands on this amazing story. But not until after the interview. Which starts in three . . . two . . . one . . . 😉

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Hi, Jessa! Thanks for being with us today. To kick things off, please tell us a little about Divide. Where did the inspiration come from? What makes it unique from all the other Beauty and the Beast retellings out there?

I’m not sure where the inspiration for any of my projects comes from, honestly. Ideas often pop into my head while I’m driving — which is what happened with DIVIDE — and then I stew on it for a bit until the idea turns into a story or fades away. In this case, I know I’d been hearing a lot about retellings, and I loved the idea, but I wondered how I could make mine different. Then it occurred to me that my beauty was the beast. She was both, both were her. So when NanoWrimo came along in 2012, I sat down to work on The Ever Trilogy, and DIVIDE came out instead.

What’s your favorite (non-spoiler) part of the story?

Honestly, I love the villain in DIVIDE. He’s arrogant and a bit dark, and . . . sexy. I think his introduction to the story is my favorite part of the book. (As well as a private moment down the road with him and my main character, where she happens across him in the middle of the night. But I don’t want to spoil anything.)

What kind of experience should readers expect from your work?

Truth be told, I want readers to escape into my books. It’s as simple as that. Escape. Sometimes I wish I was one of these authors with a great lesson to teach, or a beautiful, moving story of overcoming abuse or self-destruction — which I do have a story of, but won’t be sharing anytime soon as it takes a lot to get that story out on paper — but I honestly think that my creative energy is more focused on the escapism side of fiction. When I read, it’s for that reason alone, so I guess it’s probably normal that my writing is the same way. Day to day life can become repetitive at times — not that I don’t love my life and my family — but I often wake up to a sink full of dishes, or laundry that is never-ending, a tween whose attitude is starting to really, painfully, mirror my own . . . stuff like that. So when I read, I want to escape into the beautiful, butterfly-inducing joy of young love or magical fantasies about Princes and vampires and Vampire Princes. I want that escapism for my readers. I won’t beat you over the head with my beliefs or try to change your mind about yours — you can just pick up my book and find your alternate happily ever after.

Divide will be your third novel. How has its journey differed from that of Ever and Evade? Did it face challenges that the others didn’t, and vice versa?

Um . . . that’s hard to pinpoint. I queried both EVER and DIVIDE, but I was a bit wiser with DIVIDE, a bit more seasoned. With EVER, I thought I was supposed to cast a wide net, querying everyone who’d ever been an agent, seen an agent or known an agent. (A common rookie mistake, I’ve since learned.) I received an insane amount of rejection for EVER — something that probably also had to do with not just the wide net I cast, but the fact that I didn’t hear about critique partners until well into my querying, and by then, I think it was a bit too late for that book, as far as literary agents go. They’d all seen it (all 80 of them), rejected it, and didn’t much care to see the revisions. Anyway, with DIVIDE, I entered a couple contests, then queried a handful or two of agents — one of which was a friend who’d already hinted at wanting to sign me. So DIVIDE had a bit of an easier go at things, but then, second children often do, don’t they? The first child is the one with the gallons of hand sanitizer and safety EVERYTHING, then that second kiddo comes along and can be a dirty little daredevil without the parent so much as blinking an eye. That’s EVER and DIVIDE. 😉

A lot of people assume that once you have an agent, publication is a sure thing. But it isn’t. Can you tell us a little about what it’s like to work with an agency, as opposed to going it alone? Are there any times you would recommend against looking for an agent?

I assumed that too. It’s funny how I continue to grow and learn in this industry — right when I think I’ve figured it all out, something happens to humble me all over again. With EVER, I thought “Okay, well, I wrote ‘The End’, so now I get to publish.” Then I looked up Scholastic — because obviously that’s who I would let have EVER — and realized it wasn’t that easy. Doh! With DIVIDE, I just knew my agent would find a Big 5 publishing house for me right away. Unfortunately, as many of us have found, that just isn’t the case. Rejections began to trickle in. Part of me couldn’t believe it. The other part of me told me my story sucked. (Gotta love that inner writer — she’s not very nice.) What I came to discover was that I’d missed the boat on fairytale retellings. Editors said things like “We already signed all the fairytale retellings we want.” Or, “This is too similar to something we just signed.” It was heartbreaking. I would have to shelve my story. And then I realized that way of thinking was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t the first to remix an old classic, but DIVIDE wasn’t bad because of that fact. And then I realized that DIVIDE didn’t deserve to be shelved.

The fairytale redux genre is incredibly popular right now. What kind of challenges do you think authors face as the market becomes more and more flooded?

Haha, um, see above. 😉 I’d say that if you’re working on a fairytale redux right now (and really, this can go for many other genres as well — paranormal, to name a big one), make it amazing. Make it unique. Make it unlike anything anyone has EVER seen before. But even then, go into it knowing that you may have missed the boat, and if you did, that doesn’t mean your story isn’t worth reading. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share it with the world. If I’ve learned one thing about publishing, it’s that just because a large house may not want your story (and there are a number of factors that go into that decision) it doesn’t mean a fanbase of readers won’t gobble up your words as if they are the very oxygen needed to breathe. Because at the heart of every reader is, after all, a desire to read. A hunger for your words. So write the words, create the stories, and share them. Someone will thank you for it, I promise.

What advice would you give to those authors facing the gauntlet of publishing?

Again, see above. Lol! Basically, go into it with an open mind, ready to learn. Then realize that you know nothing, and even after you think you’ve learned it all, you still know nothing. 😉 Why? Because publishing is constantly evolving, constantly growing, changing, spinning, morphing . . . so be open to learning as you go. Always. Oh, and be patient. Rushing something that means the world to you is never a good idea. Don’t race into publishing. You’ll regret it for one reason or another. That I can guarantee.

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Some fantastic words of wisdom in there, no? Thank you, Jessa!

Which leaves only one thing — the giveaway. Because what better way to thank Jessa for her time than to help her celebrate the release of her book? In one week, three lucky people will be walking away with an eBook of Divide. Want it to be you? Click here to enter: Divide eBook Giveaway!

And if you’re feeling extra lucky, the giveaway for my blogiversary is still happening too. The drawings for both will happen on the same day, so be sure to head over there and enter for a chance at some of the other amazing titles up for grabs. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Conquering the Publishing Divide: An Interview With Author Jessa Russo

  1. So great to meet Jessa! I am looking forward to reading Divide! I have always loved the 12 Dancing Princesses. My sister and I had it on a record and we memorized it, so we could act it out. 🙂 Of course, when my daughter was hooked on Barbie, we had that version on DVD … watched it *cough*afew*cough* times. lol

    • I actually wasn’t familiar with that one until I saw it appear in the Project REUTSway competition a few times. It’s a great story! So many of them are tragic though, much different from the way modern society would have us believe. Would you ever consider writing a retelling of it?

    • Ohhh, I am very familiar with the Barbie version of 12 Dancing Princesses! Let’s just say that my daughter isn’t the only Barbie movie fan in this house! Lol! I’m not even ashamed!

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