For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
Monica Marie Jones is an author whose published works include The Ups and Downs of Being Round (Fiction/Self-Help), Taste My Soul (Poetry), FLOSS (Fiction), Swag (Urban Fiction) and Sweet Soliloquy (Poetry). She is a contributing author in Chicken Soup for the Girls Soul, New Directions for Youth Development, 44th (A full color coffee table book about President Barack Obama)and Souls of Our Young Sisters: The Next Generation of Women Tell Their Stories, Overcome Their Challenges, and Heal Their Spirits. She has also contributed to several publications and youth development training materials for the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. She has worked as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications and websites including the Michigan Front Page Newspaper and is an active member of the Motown Writer’s Network where she is the host of her own show, “Marketing and Motivation Mondays with Monica Marie Jones” on the Michigan Literary Network Radio.
1) When did you first take an interest in writing? Can you remember the first thing you had ever written?
I began journaling in elementary school. My main topic or genre at that time was boys. J I came across an old picture of myself from those days and I saw that I had created a book called “Think Thanks Darrin.” It was around Thanks Giving time so I assume it had some profound message but I have no memory of it other than seeing the picture. I guess I’ve always wanted to be an author.
2) Is writing something that you think makes you a stronger and more determined person? If you didn’t have writing to turn to, would you be who you are today?
Initially writing was a way for me to process my emotions. It definitely helped me to get through some tough situations. As I got older, I realized that not only could I write about it in my journal for myself, but I could share my story with others to help people who were going through similar struggles. Then I took it even a step further and used fiction as a platform to add entertainment to the mix. Entering the literary world as a published author has definitely made me stronger. Books are like our babies, we don’t want anyone to call them ugly, but when we release them into the real world, everyone won’t be so nice. Coming from Detroit, I have already learned to be resilient, but sharing my art with the world has made me even more so than ever before.
If I didn’t have writing to turn to I probably would have made a lot more poor decisions and exhibited more destructive behaviors when dealing with challenges. Writing has been very therapeutic for me.
3) Do you consider yourself an avid reader? What kinds of books sparked your interest as a child and what types of books peak your interest now? Who are some of your favorite authors?
Being an avid reader is actually what inspired me to write. I LOVE to read. As a child I would read Sweet Valley Twins on occasion, but I was actually more into adult literature. I would read biographies of people like Tina Turner and Pricilla Presley. I also read a lot of Terry McMillan, Omar Tyree, Maya Angelou and Eric Jerome Dickey. So meeting Omar Tyree and Eric Jerome Dickey as an adult when I became and author was like a dream come true for me.
Lately I read a mixture of everything. I have read everything from the Twilight Saga to books on real estate, business and finance. Inspirational fiction author Jacquelin Thomas is my favorite. I love how she takes stories from the Bible and makes them into modern day tales with a powerful message that isn’t preaching at us but teaching us while entertaining us.
4) You have seven titles to your credit as well as being a contributing author in chicken soup for the girls’ soul. How, with your work as a dancer and a youth development expert, do you find the time to have and maintain such a successful writing career? What is your secret writing routine?
I don’t’ write anywhere near as much as people might think. Sometimes I go on these little writing retreats and I knock out an entire book. I usually only write when I’m inspired and once that happens it just flows. I’ve retired from dancing, but that space has been filled with my work in real estate investing.
This question about finding the time to write is one that I am asked often. This is why I have planned and will be hosting and facilitating my first annual writers retreat this summer, “The Inspiration Ink Summer Writers Retreat.” It will give writers of all genres an opportunity to get away from their everyday environments in a peaceful setting with an intimate group of like minds.
5) Where did the inspiration for your new book Monday Morning Motivations come from? What is the next project you have on the horizon?
Monday Morning Motivation came out of me being diagnosed with major depressive disorder in the midst of my career. I wrote the messages as a way to encourage myself and others who might be going through what I was going through. It started off with me just sending them to my email list. After getting feedback from those readers about how much the messages were impacting them, I decided to expand my reach by posting them on Facebook, Twitter and my blog every Monday morning. From there, I got even more feedback and many suggestions to turn them into a book. So I took my readers’ advice and did just that.
This month I will be releasing an eBook called “MOMENTUM: Daily Meditations from the Minds of Millionaires.” I was inspired to write that book because of all of the books that I have been reading about financial freedom over the past couple of years. I synthesized what I learned and added my own little motivational twist to inspire those who like I was, may have been very book smart, but practically financially illiterate. After that I will be releasing an eBook short story under one of my alter egos as well as “Midweek Motivation: Getting Over the Hump in Hump Day” which is basically the next installment of Monday Morning Motivation. At the writers retreat my plan is to finish writing “INTRIGUE,” the third and final installment of my urban fiction series which began with “FLOSS” and then “SWAG.” My goal is to release that one in the fall.
6) With the publishing industry changing so much today what do you think writer’s need to do to stay relevant and successful? Do you think that a writer’s career is dead if they don’t engage themselves in social media?
Writer’s definitely need to be aware of and engaged in the changes, BUT don’t let that be your only way because there are still people who do not spend the majority of their lives on social media. For this reason it is very important to know your target audience and really cater to that in creative ways. For example, I did a little social media experiment. Last fall I took a 3 month hiatus from social media. In that time, there was no change in my book sales. It made me ask myself, “While I have thousands of social media followers, are those the people that are actually buying my books?”
So the key is to be open minded and willing to experience and try new and out of the box methods. While social media can be a VERY powerful marketing tool, don’t let social media be your end all be all and use the time and energy that you put into it wisely.
7) Do you believe that writer’s block exists or do you feel it’s an excuse people have become too comfortable using? Do you ever struggle with putting your words on the page?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but writer’s block does exist for me. I get reader’s block sometimes too. There are just times when my brain needs a break and I try not to force it. My best work comes when it flows. Now I do believe that you can place yourself in environments that can stimulate that flow, but when I am not intentional about setting aside that time and setting up that environment, I definitely experience those blockages.
8) Between traditional publishing and self-publishing, which do you think is the right avenue for the writer to achieve success? Do you think self-publishing limits a writer’s opportunities in comparison to going the traditional route or is it the other way around?
Hmmm…this is a research project that I am still in the midst of. I have been traditionally published in anthologies but that’s not the same as having your own book published. I definitely enjoy the freedom of self-publishing as far as creativity and timelines, but there are certainly challenges when it comes to getting your name out there. In getting to know traditionally published authors I have learned that there is a myth in thinking that being traditionally published will automatically make the world know who you are. You still have to do a lot of marketing work on your own if you want your books to sell.
9) What are you thoughts about the fact that a lot of schools seem to be removing the arts programs overall in essence saying their not as important as the basic core courses? Do you feel that keeping arts in the schools will help make the youth of today more well rounded and balanced or do you feel it wouldn’t make a difference?
I think that schools are making a HUGE mistake by removing arts programs. Youth are most successful when they engage in learning in several different ways. Every young person has a different learning style, but we are trying to lump them all into one way, then we wonder why they don’t all succeed. Music is one of those ways that helps to enhance a student’s academic success, but unfortunately many don’t see how the two are related. Beyond the research that supports this, extra-curricular activities such as music, sports, performing arts and the like are often what help young people feel connected to school and what motivates them to continue to come.
10) How important do you feel it is for writers today to build their own brand in order to really be known in the art or publishing industry? Do you consider yourself to be a particular brand and if so what would that brand be?
Recently I heard a speaker say that people don’t buy what you are selling, they buy YOU. This is so true. It is important to produce a high quality product, but at the end of the day people love to be engaged and they are more likely to buy if they connect to or relate to you in some way. My overall brand is definitely Motivation. Even in my fiction novels I weave in an underlying theme that leaves readers encouraged, inspired or at least thinking about life in a different way.
11) What advice do you think you can give to writers trying to achieve success? Based on your own experiences within your writing career thus far what mistakes have you made that you would want other writers to learn from?
One thing that I don’t think that we consider as we are writing a book is the business of writing. Writing the book is the easy part, it is all of the business that follows when you just want to be what you truly are…an artist. So my advice for success is to either study the basics of business (marketing, business structure, creating a high quality product, pricing, etc.) or hire someone to handle that end of it for you.
One of the biggest mistakes that I have made was being so excited about writing and releasing my book that I did not take the time to make sure that it was a high quality product. In my early days of writing I have had situations where there were mistakes on my cover as well as in the editing within the book because I just assumed that I didn’t have to double check behind the people that I hired. Always have several sets of eyes checking out your work even after the editor is done.
12) When you think about the mark so many artists have left on this world, be it writers, singers, photographers, painters, or actors, what is it that you want your legacy to be?
I want to use the written and spoken word to leave powerful messages and stories that encourage, inspire and motivate people long after I’m gone.
13) Where do you see yourself within your career as a writer in the next ten years? What other areas of writing would you like to get into?
I see myself having published at least 10 more books because I like to release one book per year. I also plan to focus more on inspirational and informational writing. I am beginning that now with my new eBook (MOMENTUM) that focuses on business and financial inspiration, but I would also love to write some books about youth development.
14) I feel like so many of us writers, or artists in general, are made to conform to other people’s idea of what we should be. I think us creative types should be unafraid to be whoever it is that we feel we have the right to be. So what is your write 2 be? What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity?
There was a time when I felt the need to conform to certain external standards, but in doing that, I found that I was beginning to lose who I truly was. I have a tendency to tell a story instead of showing a story. It would seem that telling a story makes sense, but when it comes to fiction, the standard is to show it. Even though my writing may not meet conventional fiction writing standards, I have found that there is an audience that loves my style…particularly people that don’t generally enjoy reading fiction. So I believe that it is necessary to write what is true to your heart, not only for yourself, but for that specific audience that needs to hear it.
You can read more about Monica Marie Jones on her website http://www.monicamariejones.com and check out more information about her books The Ups and Downs of Being Round, Floss, Swag, Sweet Soliloquy, Taste My Soul, Intrigue, and Monday Morning Motivations. You can also listen to her podcast for her motivational messages at http://monicamariejones.com/category/podcast/