For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
A native of Washington, DC, Jessica Tilles is an award-winning, best-selling author of nine books: Anything Goes, In My Sisters’ Corner, Apple Tree, Sweet Revenge, Fatal Desire, Unfinished Business, Erogenous Zone: A Sexual Voyage (an anthology), Loving Simone (a Black Expressions Book Club Best Seller) and Crossing Sisters. She also penned a short story, “Julian’s Grace,” in The Triumph of My Soul Anthology. Her tenth novel, Trespassing, is slated for a late 2012 release.
Jessica is the publisher of Xpress Yourself Publishing and the recipient of the 2008 Independent Publisher of the Year given by the coveted African American Literary Awards Show. Visit http://www.xpressyourselfpublishing.com to view more exciting titles written by some very talented writers.
Listed in in Heather Covington’s Top 100 Literary Divas, Jessica is the the Creative Designer and Owner of TWA Solutions (formerly The Writer’s Assistant), a small, minority- and woman-owned business providing services to independent publishers and authors and small businesses in the areas of book cover design, interior book design, editing, web design, consulting, self-publishing services, small business solutions, and so much more. Learn more about TWA Solutions at http://www.twasolutions.com.
1) When did you first become interested in being a writer?
Well, my interest was sparked more than 35 years ago. Now I’m telling my age, of course, but I started journaling in junior high school when Mom bought me my first diary. It was orange with a gold lock and key. I loved that diary. The stuff I wrote in that diary was truly fictional, made-up short stories off the top of my head. Times when I had nothing to do, wasn’t hanging out with my friends, I wrote short stories. The characters were based on my friends, family—people who had an impact on my life. In high school, I spent 3 years on the school newspaper—The Lions Roar. I still have the first story I wrote on “The Battle of the Bands.” (Laughing) Those were fun times.
Now, that all sparked my interest, but what really got me hooked was when I read The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker. That was the first BAB (big ass book) that I read and loved. That sparked my love for books, and my reading a minimum of three books per week. I absolutely loved it. I loved, loved, loved taking in all that great knowledge and absorbing the wonderful stories written by Pearl Cleage, E. Lynn Harris, Octavia Butler, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Francis Ray, Donna Hill. Oh, I loved (and still do love) me some Donna Hill. I was 18 years old when I read my first Donna Hill novel. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined that I would share the same platform, stage, and space with my author friend, Donna Hill. Honey, please, God is simply wonderful! Isn’t He?
2) Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that made you aware of the fact that you wanted to write? Who is your all time favorite author?
Hmm, good question. No, I can’t remember the first book I read as a child. Oh wait, it just hit me. I was a teenager and in high school, I had to read The Diary of Anne Frank. What I remember about that project was that I hated dissecting the book. But I had to do it if I wanted to pass to the 12th grade! (Laughing) But there is one book that stands out: Criminal Trespass by Helen Hudson. I remember reading this book right out of high school. In fact, I still have it!
3) Your body of work is quite impressive. You have 6 novels to your credit along with contributing to several other works. How do you manage your writing time? Do you outline your novels before you begin writing them or do you just dive right in?
Thank you. Actually, I have 8 novels and 1 anthology. There truly is no method to my madness. I simply write the first thing that comes to mind. No outlines. No ideas. I just write. Usually, my ideas will come from something someone says. I have a dear friend, Jenise Ross, who says, “If you don’t want it in a book, don’t tell JT,” and she is right! I keep a notepad in my purse. I’m very observant. I take note of my surroundings and put it all in a book.
I do not do outlines. Well, that’s not 100% true. I did an outline one time with my second novel, In My Sisters’ Corner. That was my first experience with Writer’s Block, and doing an outline helped me to overcome that block. But, that was the first and last time. Being structured is just not my thing.
4) Have you ever been hit with writer’s block and if so how did you get through it? What other genres of writing interest you?
Of course, what writer hasn’t experienced writer’s block? It is all a part of the process. When my dear friend, Writer’s Block, visits me, I simply start writing on another book. I take that visit as a sign that the book I’m currently working on is not ready to be completed, and the characters are on vacation.
I love all genres, and I dibble-dabble in them all, as not to box myself in to any one genre. Sometimes, I don’t even know what genre I’m writing at the time. I don’t think about it, I just write.
5) You have your own successful publishing company, XPress yourself publishing. How hard is it to run your own publishing company and keep up with the writing of your own novels? Do you ever get so caught up in the business side of being a writer that you feel you lose some of the ability to be creative?
Yes, yes, and yes. Running a business is hard. It consumes all my time and I put myself on the backburner to focus on my authors. I started Xpress Yourself Publishing in 2001, self-publishing my own books. In 2007, I signed my first author, Bill Holmes who became an Essence Best Seller. Since 2007, I have signed more than 75 authors, and have published more than 100 titles. Talk about overwhelming! It was also during a time when I truly needed something to lose myself in, as I was the full-time caretaker of my parents. So, Xpress Yourself Publishing was my baby, and it gave me the outlet I needed to maintain my sanity.
Oh, yes, honey, you can get caught up in the business side of it that you lose your creativity; that you lose who you are as a creative force, as an author. Now, 12 years later, I’ve decided to get back to Jessica, directing 100% of my publishing focus on me. I’ve rediscovered who I am as an author, and, honey, the creative juices are flowing once again…what a wonderful feeling. I’m working on two novels that I hope to release the beginning of 2014.
6) How important do you feel it is for a writer to build their own brand for themselves? What would you say your brand is?
Writing is a business. When you start selling your work, it becomes a business. And, as with any business, branding is important. Jessica Tilles’ brand is simple: entertaining with drama.
7) Of the books you have written, which one do you feel would make a good movie?
Hmmm, good question. I think Apple Tree would make a good movie. Also, I think Fatal Desire, which is a book a wrote that did not get much attention, because I did not do much promoting behind it. In fact, that is a book I would like to revisit, tweak a bit, and re-release. In fact, it has been more than 12 years. I’d like to freshen up all my books and re-release them.
Definitely Anything Goes!
8) Knowing everything you know now, both about writing and publishing, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who are really struggling to make writing their full time source of income?
Keep your day job and change your mindset, recognizing that this is not a get-rich-quick business. You will put out more money than you’ll take in. Can you make money by writing books? Absolutely. How much you make depends on your efforts. Many people think all they have to do is write a book and pop it up on Kindle, and BAM! Sit back and wait for the dough to roll in. Uh, no. I’m here to tell you that it does not work that way. This is a business. Plain and simple, and with any business you have to do what? You have to market, promote and brand that product. What is your product? YOU!
Make sure your product is professionally developed, and for goodness sakes, please have your work edited by a professional editor or a seasoned author with more several years of experience. Honey Boo Boo and them are not editors, okay? I’m just saying… (Laughing)
9) What impact do you feel you have had within the publishing world? What is the legacy that you hope to leave behind for young writers?
I was the stepping-stone for many authors to have their voices heard, and works published.
Wow, a legacy? You know, that’s a big word, LEGACY. It is also a humbling word. Also a word that has never crossed my mind until now. Other than leaving behind a trail of well-written books, I want to be known as the author/publisher who made dreams come true.
10) How has your life changed from before you were a bestselling author to now? What was that moment like when you realized how big you are in the literary world?
Am I that big? (Laughing) I have made a name for myself, and it is a good feeling. It is a humbling experience to know that people trust me. They trust my knowledge. They trust my wealth of experience. All of this I continue to offer through my other company, TWA Solutions (formerly The Writer’s Assistant). I love helping and educating people on a business that I truly love. I enjoy swimming in the same pool with many authors I admire and try my best to emulate. I still feel, however, that I have more growing to do, much more ahead of me…and I’m looking forward to every minute of it!
11) What’s next for you? What are you currently working on right now?
Well, I’m currently working on two new projects: Trespassing, which I plan to release January 2014 (long time coming, I know) and a book that currently has no title and I have no clue which direction it is going, but I’m following, Sarah, my character. I hope she’ll lead me somewhere…and soon! (Laughing)
I’m also going to be in an upcoming anthology with Elissa Gabrielle of Peace In The Storm Publishing. It is, of course, an erotic piece, so I’m looking forward to starting on that story in the coming weeks. I don’t know what it will be about, but I’ll think of something.
12) Do you think that it is ever too late for someone to make their dream a reality?
Heck, no. It’s only too late when the words “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” are spoken over you before you’re lowered into your final resting place.
Oh, that was kind of morbid, but I think I got my point across. It is never, ever too late to make a dream a reality. Like Iyanla Vanzant says, “You have to do the work.”
13) I feel like so many of us writer’s, us artists in general, are made to conform to other people’s idea of what we should be. I think we 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?
I’m sure I have a unique quality, but I just can’t think of it right now. But, I’ll leave you with advice I read from the great Eric Jerome Dickey: Do not write as though someone is looking over your shoulder. And, that’s exactly what I do.