A Warm Friendly Chat with Hannah Meredith

also known as Merry Simmons

I am thrilled to welcome Hannah Meredith to Creekside Café, my dream job if I ever win the lottery or get a million-dollar movie deal, for now, the café only exists on my website. Hannah and I are both members of Romance Writers of America and our local Heart of Carolina RWA. We met at local meeting and became friends. I have learned as much from riding in a car with her as I have from classes I’ve attended. It’s so good to have you here, Hannah.

Hannah: Thanks. It’s great to be here. Your café is so warm and friendly, it’s a great place for a chat.

Sherri: I have been blessed to have met some wonderful writers and interesting people through RWA and HCRW. You are one of my favorite people. You came into writing romance from a little bit different angle, tell our readers about your interesting path to publishing.

Hannah: Well, first of all, I’m honored to be included in your “favorite people” group. 😊 And I think my wandering journey to publication is pretty typical. Few of us seem to arrive there in a straight line.

Since I was a child, I’ve loved making up stories and have always been an avid reader, but like most of us, these impulses were overshadowed by just living life. I got a couple of degrees in English from SMU, married, taught at the high school and university level for 15 years, and then switched to a career in Real Estate for about 25 more… and then, finally, life slowed down enough that the characters who lived in my head could be heard screaming to get out.

Since I was still working, I figured writing short fiction was the way to go, but the market for short stories was quite limited. The one genre that still had a number of active magazines was science fiction and fantasy. I’d long been an enthusiastic reader of C.J. Cherryh, David Brin, Anne McCaffrey, etc., and so decided to give it a try. This pursuit was greatly advanced when I won the grand prize for the Writers of the Future Contest—which I highly recommend for those writing sf&f. It’s free to enter and has decent cash prizes and an excellent workshop. I went on to sell over a dozen stories to many of the major science fiction and fantasy magazines before switching to romance.

Now, if you add up all the years before I began writing seriously, it’s obvious that I was not a spring chicken when I got around to putting words on paper. But this is one of the joys of most any creative pursuit – age provides no barrier and instead brings a better knowledge of the world. I have a saying painted on my kitchen wall, “Some of the most interesting flowers in the garden are Late Bloomers” and I hope that applies to me.

Sherri: Well, I hope it applies to me as well, since I’m new to publishing and not quite fresh as a daisy myself.

I’ve been a fan of yours for several years. You started writing science fiction but when I first read your work you were already writing historical romance. How did you make the switch to romance?

Hannah: After writing short stories for a while, I wanted to expand my ideas into a fantasy novel. Alas, I must have been channeling George R.R. Martin as I wrote and wrote and wrote. After about 200,000 words, I realized what I had was—a mess. I’ve always read broadly and, consequently, had enjoyed a number of historical romances along the way. I recognized that this was a genre where I was not expected to fill such a large canvas, so decided to give it a try. The transition to romance was not easy, however. The reader expectations were very different, and the contacts I had in ss&f didn’t transfer to another genre. I was now sailing on uncharted waters. In this, the advice of other romance writers was really helpful, and the support and programs offered by the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers were priceless.

Linda Johnson, Hannah Meredith and me at 2019 HCRW Writers Workshop, photo by Donna Steele

Sherri: You started self-publishing early, how and why did you make the decision to self-publish?

Hannah: Submitting to a romance publisher was very different from sending a manuscript to a magazine editor in a genre where I had a track record. Now I had to start from scratch. The process was totally different. There were pitches and log lines and all sorts of dance steps I didn’t know and wasn’t sure I wanted to learn. And then, if I were successful, I would be looking at potentially a year before anything would make it to print. Okay, I am not getting any younger. I simply did not want to go through the process and take the time. Especially when self-publishing had become a viable option.

I also found self-publishing appealing since I’m a bit of a control freak. (I must admit here that my husband of 52 years would probably question the “a bit” part of that last sentence) I like the fact that I have control over what my covers look like. I like the fact that my stories don’t have to conform to what a given publisher thinks readers want rather than how I think a story should be told.  I like that my books will come out on a schedule of my own making.

I happily embraced self-publishing—and I’m glad I did.

Sherri: What changes have you seen in publishing since you first started? Do you think it is easier or more difficult for new writers?

Hannah: There’s been a consolidation in publishing caused by a lot of mergers and, unfortunately, by a number of disappearances of excellent mid-sized and smaller lines. All the Big Five New York publishers are now just a part of some bigger conglomerate. Penguin Random House is owned by Bertelsmann (German) and Pearson (British), Hachette by Lagardere Publishing (French), HarperCollins by News Corp (Australian), Macmillian by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (German), and Simon & Schuster by CBS (American). Big conglomerates tend to streamline and so the number of editors has been reduced and their work load increased. If it seems to you that many traditionally published books aren’t as carefully edited as they have been in the past, this is the reason. But this has also reduced the number of slots for new authors. The best way to get a “foot in the door” is now through the eBook only imprints and these seldom pay an advance. So, while I have no personal experience, I would say finding a publisher is probably more difficult.  

Sherri: You do it all, write, publish, design your own covers, what advice would you give to other indie-authors who feel they don’t have a lot of money to invest in their first book?

Hannah: Yeah, doing it all is the control thing again. 😊 And I’m also afraid proves that I tend to be frugal. But anyone can put out a book without it costing a lot of money. Just remember that while everything you do yourself saves money, it takes up more of your time and adds to frustration. You need to determine what is important to you.

If you can use MS Word, or its cousin available on Apple products, you can produce a manuscript that can be made into both an eBook and a print file. If you follow Smashwords’ Style Guide, you can upload your manuscript directly to KDP and you should end up with a good product. I use Smashwords to upload all the other venders, and if I’ve followed the Style Guide, it will obviously upload to all the other places just fine. Now, this will be perfectly readable, but it will not have anything “fancy” on it. The plus is it costs you absolutely nothing. You can see what it will look like by emailing the manuscript to your Kindle. If there is anything weird, you didn’t follow the Style Guide. Alternately, you can pay someone to format both mobi and epub files to upload, Or you can use various purchased software, the most lauded being Vellum, which unfortunately for me, only works on a Mac. You’ll be able to personalize these.

You can use the same manuscript to build a print book. KDP has a template or you can make one using just Word, which is my choice. It’s more work, but I can make it prettier.

KDP also has templates on which you can build both an eBook and a print cover. These have worked well for many people. I use Photoshop to make my own. I took a $25 online class on Cover Making and got a Photoshop Elements on sale, so there was some initial outlay, but I’ve made a lot of covers for both myself and others. Now these are not award-winning covers, but I think they look professional. Or at least, professional-enough. If you need costumed people, you can buy them for about $10. For backgrounds I just use one of the stock photo places. I like Deposit Photos because about once a year they run a sale with 100 downloads for $39-49. I just finished the cover for an almost-completed Christmas story (I make covers when my brain is too tired to write) and it cost me $1.47. Yep, it’s made from pieces of three downloaded photos. 😊 If messing with covers is not your thing, there are a lot of sites where you can get a lovely pre-made cover personalized with your information for as low as $50.

One place you do not want to get cheap is with editing. Yeah, we all think we don’t need it, but this is usually the reason we see a bunch of not-ready-for-prime-time books appear from Indy authors. To get a comprehensive edit can be pricy, so you need to train yourself to do decent self-editing. Then also develop a group of “wise readers” who will give you honest feedback on where the book may go off the tracks. I’ve teamed up with some other authors I have confidence in, and we edit each other’s stories. I sometimes trade off book covers for editing. But before I developed this support group, I paid for edits. Again, this is one place to spend money.

The last potential cost is for an ISBN. You can get these for free from both KDP and Smashwords. I however, have purchased my own because I have my own imprint, Singing Spring Press. I think we’re back to control… I bought 100 from Bowker because they’re much cheaper that way. Of course, I’m in my 70’s and still bought 100. I think this is the definition of optimistic. 😊

Sherri: You have recently made a bit of switch into fantasy? What is the biggest challenge you face with changing genres?

Hannah: Changing genre makes finding readers a little trickier, but that’s the only difficulty. Song of the Nightpiper is a medieval-based, fantasy romance, so it was still in the same overall genre. The Christmas story I hope to publish shortly, The Last Gift, is also a fantasy romance.

Sherri: You and a few of you writer friends have been publishing an annual Christmas anthology for several years. Tell us about it. How did it start? How do you manage three other writers?

Hannah: Back in 2014, over lunch before the HCRW meeting, Kate Parker and I decided it would be fun to do a Christmas anthology. We each asked someone we thought would be a good fit, and the group was formed. Thus, Christmas Revels was born. We have just published Christmas Revels VI, and this simply has to be the last. I’m the cover maker and I can’t tweak any more semi-Christmasy colors out of the background file. 😊

I’m very proud of all our volumes. Each of the stories is interesting and unique and covers some aspect of Christmas in Regency England. Here’s a quick look at this year’s content –

            Come Revel with four award-winning authors for Christmas tales filled with laughter, tears,   and love…

Her Ladyship Orders a Christmas Tree – A pagan custom leads to an unexpected attraction.

“The Play’s the Thing…” – Going off-script prompts a surprise ending.

Yuletide Treachery – Two lonely people find a traitor—and love.

A Perfectly Unexpected Christmas – An accident brings redemption and a homecoming.

The heat level varies by story, but this year, totally by accident, all the stories are PG-13. As far as riding herd on three other creative people, most of the time it is delightful… occasionally, not so much. 😊

Sherri: You and Kate Parker, one of your partners in crime helped me get started. Who helped you? Who were your mentors, support or influencers?

Hannah: This is an impossible question since there have been so many who have been helpful along the way. I was lucky to find Kate as a critique partner at HCRW many years ago. Anna Allen, one of the anthology contributors, has exchanged manuscripts with me since we met at Writers of the Future about 17 years ago. She can be quite brutal, but her comments always improve a book. Back in my SF days, I was fortunate to attend four different residential workshops that each lasted at least a week. This is where I had a lot of bad habits thrashed out of me. And the entire HCRW group has always been knowledgeable and supportive.

Sherri: You enjoy traveling, what are some of your favorite places to visit? Have you used any of these as settings for your stories?

Hannah: My husband and I promised ourselves we’d travel when he retired, and we have done so with a vengeance. We’ve been to all the continents except Antarctica. And we’re not really wanting to go there. Too cold! We’ve been to the UK quite a bit, and we’ve spent a lot of time visiting historic houses where my character will live. We’ve also returned twice to Australia and New Zealand, but so far I have no stories for those countries. Almost two years ago we visited India, where I do have pieces of some tales taking place. Our most unusual venue was Mongolia, and I have a crackerjack story idea placed there, but it will probably never exist. I have more stories in my head than I can get written.

Sherri: What are you working on now?

Hannah: I’m trying to get The Last Gift finished so it can come out in November. It would qualify as a contemporary romance except the hero is half Fey, so there is some magic involved. I’d planned on it being light holiday fare, but it is turning out to be bitter sweet and at times tugs at the heart. I’m really liking it. But I could be prejudiced. 😊 I’m hoping to get two historical romances finished for 2020, Fortune’s Promise, a standalone story set in the early Victorian period and The Color of Night which follows Tremaine from Kaleidoscope. Both of these are well on their way. I have three more stories to follow in what will be a Kaleidoscope series, and these will hopefully appear in 2021-22. I’m basically a slow writer.

Sherri: Well, I hate to say good bye, but you know what they say, leave them wanting more. Speaking of more, tell us how we can find you on social media and how can we buy your books?

Hannah: People can find most my books at whatever online source they use. For Amazon, they can go to http://tinyurl.com/q8ywr39 for all of them. I’m a social media dud, but would love to have others visit my oft-ignored Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HannahMeredithAuthor and my website, http://www.hannahmeredith.com.   

Sherri: Say Good bye Hannah. Let’s have a glass of wine, what do you recommend?

Hannah: Bye! And I like my wine pink…

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