Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!
In this episode, I talk with Middle Grade and YA author, Brandon J. Greer. Brandon not only shares his journey from writing short stories to novels, but gives tips on writing a successful query letter, marketing YA and Middle Grade books, and gives insights around his experience with Kindle Vella. And for a bit of fun, and to celebrate the beginning of the spooky season, Brandon also shares some of his real-life experiences with things that go bump in the night!
So, whether you’re here to up-level your author career, or in today’s case, here for the ghost stories, I know you’re going to love this show!
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Find the full transcript of this episode below.
Episode 32: Writing, Vella, Query Letters & Ghosts with Brandon J. Greer
Jo: Hello, my writerly friends. Can you believe it? It’s spooky season already. And as someone who writes Gothic Suspense and Ghost Stories, this is definitely my time of the year. If you’re like me and like your stories maybe a little dark and a little bit scary, make sure you go check out my store page at payhip.com/JoBuer. To celebrate the spooky season, you can get 50% off any of my eBooks by using the coupon code: spooky. S P O O K Y. But this promo is just for October. So make sure you check it out now. And I’ll also make sure to put the link in the show notes too.
So today’s episode of Alchemy for Authors is all sorts of fun. I have a wonderful chat with middle-grade and YA author, Brandon J. Greer. Brandon is second and third oldest in a family of ten. He was second oldest until a new marriage bought a new child that bumped him to third. To set himself apart from so many siblings, he discovered the arts. Drawing, acting and writing pulled him in at a young age. His first book, Around the World in About a Year was completed in the sixth grade and was complete garbage. But it won him a place in an arts competition at the local university. Now, living in Northern Utah with his wife and daughter, Brendan travels, as much as he can.
In this episode, Brandon not only shares his journey from writing short stories to novels, but gives tips on writing a successful query letter, marketing YA and middle grade books, and he gives insights around his experience with Kindle Vella. And just for a bit of fun and to celebrate the beginning of the spooky season, Brandon also shares some of his real-life experiences with things that go bump in the night.
So, whether you’re here to up-level your author career, or in today’s case, here for the ghost stories, go grab yourself a cuppa, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.
Hello, my lovelies, welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. So today I’m joined by young adult and middle grade fantasy author, Brandon Greer. So welcome Brandon to the show. I’m happy to have you here.
Brandon: Hi. Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Jo: I would love if we could start with you sharing just a little bit about what drew you to writing in the first place.
Brandon: Yeah. As I was growing up, I didn’t read very much, and probably about when I turned 20, 21, 22, I don’t know exactly how old I was, I just started getting into books and I just keep reading and reading and reading. And the one thing that came back to me that I heard a lot of people say was, if the book you wanna read doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it. And so for years I would just read and read and read, just a voracious reader. But I had these ideas of what a cool story would be and I decided, well, if I’m not reading it, I’m gonna have to write it. So I started off by writing short stories. I couldn’t get myself to get to the point where I could write a full length novel. It was too hard. I would just be writing and I would get like three pages in, I’m like, Oh, my story’s done. And so I would just do short stories all the time, and I thought that was okay. So I just did that for a while. But then the story that I really wanted to read came to my mind and I started working on it and working on it, and finally wrote the novel, and that’s kind of how I got into writing. I wanted to be able to write that story that I wanted to read.
Jo: That’s cool. I think a lot of authors do that. I know that was my reason too, was to, Yeah, write that story that you want to read yourself. So how was that transitioning from going from short story to novel? Cause it obviously took you a little while to get there, but what do you think pushed you to be able to actually see it through?
Brandon: You know, the, the transition shocked me because I wasn’t expecting it because what I was writing, the short story, was so completely different from what it turned into. I didn’t expect it to be the story that I wanted to read. I started off when I was doing short stories, I really enjoyed writing twisted type fairy tales, putting different spins on things. And I started writing a story about Jack in the Bean stalk, but I wanted it to be from the giant’s perspective. So I was trying to understand things from the giant’s perspective, and I thought, Well, wouldn’t it be cool if the giant started off being just a regular person who made a witch mad, and the witch cursed him to keep growing and growing and growing? And I was more interested in the witch’s side of the story. And as I’m writing it, before I realize that I’m at 10 pages, 20 pages, 30 pages, and there’s still so much left to tell and I’m just like, this has never happened to me before. And I’m just shocked. I’m like, What is happening? I’m no longer a short story writer. And it took me a long time to actually finish the book. I think I started it, the idea 2007, and I think the book actually was finished in some kind of way by 2015. So it took me a long time to actually learn how to write a novel, especially when I was so used to working on short stories.
Jo: Yeah. So did you have any training to help you through the process of writing a novel? Because I know, I started out similar to you with writing short stories first and it’s completely different. It’s very, very different the way that you work a short story versus a novel. So did you have any courses that you did or books that you read or anything that kind of supported you to do that?
Brandon: Not in the beginning. In the beginning it was just books that I was reading. I would kind of look at those books and like how to tell a story. But as I kept going on, I started watching online courses, YouTube courses on writing, um, going to writer’s conferences and taking the classes. But I never did any formal, schooling or anything for writing.
And so it was just what I could find on my own. Like, okay, how do I do this? How do I make a good action scene? How do I write realistic dialogue? And I would just Google these things all the time and look for anything that anyone else would say on it. And so I would try and put it in practice. And after a while I learned that I was no longer reading novels for pleasure. It was kind of like homework. And I’m just like, Okay, how does this author do it? I really like their books. What’s their style? And I would kind of write down notes on what they did and how they did it, and see if I could incorporate that into my own style. And so, I think the training that I received was everything that I read beforehand.
Jo: That’s cool. That’s really cool. I think that’s so important, reading for research, and half the time you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. I know I find that, like you’re just reading and then your brain’s kind of working behind the scenes of, ah, that’s how they made that transition, or that’s why they left the chapter like that or introduced that. That’s really cool. So at the moment, you’re writing for kids or for young adults, so for the middle grades and young adults. Was that who your short stories were aimed for as well? Like have you always aimed for those age groups or is this something new.
Brandon: No. When I started writing stories, the short stories, I wanted something silly, something that would make people laugh, and that I thought was amusing. And I think that’s why when I got into reading it was middle grade books, young adult books, because I, I like the storylines that revolved around it. You got a little bit of humor. And I write clean and so, the young adult, the middle grade were clean. And so I liked that concept of a clean book, a clean read and something with humor in it if I, you know, really wanted to. But the short stories more were, humorous, short, like almost what you think maybe picture book type things, but maybe a little bit more adultish humor.
Brandon: So I think along with that, and then what I was choosing to read kind of got me into that genre of what I like to write.
Jo: That’s cool. And then you chose to go the route of traditional publishing, right?
Brandon: Not in the beginning. I have a weird story, I think there that when I, we’ll go back to, I think 2014, 2015, when I finished the first real version of the story that I wanted to tell. And I took it to writer’s conferences and I met with agents and I pitched and I got requests for sample pages, a couple full manuscripts. But, everything I tried ended up just getting rejected, which a lot of author stuff does. And I didn’t know if I wanted to put the time in as much, and so I started researching self-publishing. And this is where my story gets a little bit different than some other people’s, because I put out this story that when I first published it, it was published under the name Laura Vanes Gamble. And Laura Vane is a witch hunter who is enslaved to a demon. And I focused the story on him and I self-published it and. I didn’t really see anything from it. I was looking on Amazon and I don’t think I ever got a single sale for it, just the copies that I gave away. And after a while I’m like, okay, something’s off here. I don’t know what’s going on. So I pulled it and I started making changes. And at this time I’m like, okay, I’m just gonna republish it. But I have a friend who had just got published with a, um, a smaller publishing house in Utah, and she said, just send it to them, see what they think. And I’m like, but it’s self-published, I don’t think anyone will take it. Cuz how many people do you hear say, never query a self-published book. But I did it anyway. And the funny thing is, is after I, I queried it and I got them the information they needed, I just like, nothing will ever come from this. And about two weeks, three weeks later, I get an email from them saying, hey, we wanna set up a call with you.
And so right off the bat I’m like, okay, that’s different. That hasn’t happened before. And they ended up really liking the story and they wanted to, to publish it, but we made changes. We tweaked who the point of view was. So we changed it from Laura Vane, this witch hunter, to Maggie, who was a 15 year old girl who is raised by humans; doesn’t know she’s a witch, but ends up becoming a witch. And then her journey. So we kind of rebranded it that way. So it would be a, a bit different of a story, a bit different of a take on, on the original idea, but it turned out really good and I’m glad that happened. We made the changes that were needed. So they were a good step for me to get into publishing. And during the transition time of when they were deciding, Okay, are we gonna take this book or not? I said, Well, I’ve got this other book too. And now the Clandestine Queen, that’s what we named Laura Vanes Gamble to, is a young adult novel, yeah, on the lower side. Mm-hmm. So a younger, young adult novel. And I said, Well, I’ve got this middle grade novel that I’m really excited about as well. Kind of told them about, they said, Yes, send it to us, We’ll look into that. And within two, three months I had two book contracts, which I thought was amazing cuz I never thought it would happen.
Jo: Wow, that’s a really cool story. I like that. That’s kind of like a unicorn story, like something that Yeah, is very rare to happen. So that’s neat. And then when I’ve been looking into your background a little bit, you’ve also got a nonfiction book for authors about querying. So did that come about from this process that you went through? Or how did that book come about?
Brandon: Yeah, I spent so many hours researching queries just because I thought that… I got into my mind, like I think a lot of authors do that, my book is good. I know my book is good, so the problem must be the query letter. So I spent hours and hours and hours just researching query letters online, looking at other people’s query letters, um, just doing whatever I could to, to research that as much as I could. And I happened to find this lady named, Angie Hodapp. She still works for, or she used to work for, I’m not sure exactly where she’s at, for the Nelson Literary Agency. And she went around to a lot of conferences and taught on, on queries. So I followed her and I liked a lot of what she said, but there was a lot of other good information out there. And the one thing that stuck with me that I hated was the fact that you can go to all of these different places that say, if you wanna write a good query letter, use this formula. And, you know, yeah, it might have worked for them, but who wouldn’t, would it not work for? And so I fixated it on that idea of like, okay, there are so many people saying my formula works. It works, it works, it works. But. It was very broad and very vague, and so I’m like, you know what? I’m gonna take query letters and I’m gonna break it down to something simpler, and I’m gonna look at tons of query letters and I’m gonna say, Okay, what’s the same in all of these query letters, especially these successful ones. And what do they put where? How do they put it?
And so I ended up creating kind of a recipe on how to, to cook your query letter. And I always put it with cookie baking because I love to bake cookies and it’s something that a lot of people, you know, have in common. I think we like cookies. So as I was thinking about it and I was having these ideas, uh, before I even started writing the book, I was asked to speak at writer’s conferences on query letters.
And the one thing that really pushed me is my friend who had the, the same publisher as I did, She wasn’t having any luck with her queries. Everything was getting rejected. And I said, Well, let me take a look. And I put into her query what I was researching, and a little while later, I don’t know how long it was, she’s like, I’ve gotten 30 requests just because we changed the, um, manuscript or the query letter.
And she ended up getting three book contracts, uh, based off the changes that we made. So I’m like, Okay, I think I’ve got something here, so let’s fine tune it. And I worked with her a little bit on it and I was able to, to write this book after I had had some chance looking at it more and doing the conferences. And I was actually able to do a conference on query letter writing just a few months ago. Hopefully I’ll be able to do another one next year. I’ve got two that could happen next year. But I don’t know why, I’ve just found that query letters are very interesting to me.
Jo: Yeah. Well, that’s a really cool niche to actually have to help other authors. That’s really great. So what do you think then is one of the most common mistakes that people make when they’re writing a query letter?
Brandon: I think the most common mistake, other than what they write is not a query letter, they leave out three elements that have to be there that I really push in my book. And that’s, you have to build on three things. First is sympathy. Um, sympathy for the main character. You have to get the reader to care about this character within the first couple sentences. Mystery is the second one. And I like to say you have to put unanswered questions in your query letter, and not to the point where you’re just asking questions and then forgetting about them, but you write a sentence in such a way that the reader wants to know more. You can give away good information, but yet still be very vague about something where they’re just like, I need to know more. I need to know more. Let’s see, what was the third one? You wanna make the character be realistic. You want the reader to say, I can feel for this. You want mystery and then you want to be able to give stuff away, like revelations in the story so you can hook the reader with it. And I think, in the process, we get to the point where we just wanna give away too much in the query letter. So it’s not telling the reader, Hey, you need to know more. And I think that’s one thing that a lot of people do wrong, is they’re not putting in that mystery and they’re not making us fill enough sympathy for their character. Even though a query letter can be very short, uh, it’s still possible to get that in there.
Jo: Yeah. That’s really, really good tips. I’m gonna make sure that I’ve got all three of your books in the show notes as well, so people can check them out. So whether they’re into the middle year, uh, YA books or if they just need some tips on writing query letters, I’ll make sure that they can easily access those.
That’s really cool. Now, I’ve also been having a look and you’re doing a few other kind of fun things as well with your books. I saw on your website with the Clandestine Queen, you’ve actually got a maps page, which is really neat. So I’m assuming all those maps are part of the story?
Brandon: Yeah, they are. And this just goes to show how bored I can get sometimes. I love fantasy books that have maps. You know, the Lord of the Rings, you open it up and you got that great map right in the beginning. And I really wanted something like that. But by the time I figured out how to do it, it was too late to do it for the Clandestine Queen. And I found a website called Incarnate that allows you to do fantasy maps. And if you want all of the, the cool features, it’s $5 a month. But I paid for a month and it was all I did. I was making all kinds of maps and I’m like, Well, I’m gonna start just making all of these maps. And when I got into it, I really enjoyed it and I was able to make a map for my middle grade novel, Liam Lewis and the Summer Camp Curse. And I actually convinced the publisher, Hey, let’s put this map in there. And we got it in good placement, so that’s gonna look great. So I’m excited to have a book that has a map in it. But there are a lot of different areas in my stories and I’m like, Wouldn’t it be cool if I could create some kind of imagery that readers could go to and kinda see what I’m seeing, and so I’m including that in my website.
Jo: Yeah. That’s really cool. I thought that was neat. Do you have the maps or draw out your own maps or anything like that before you start writing? So you can keep the story all orderly and know what’s happening and everything like that? Or is this more of a afterthought once you’ve written the story already?
Brandon: Usually what happens is I’ll write the first draft or begin writing the first draft, and as I’m getting it down, I kind of think about, okay, where are they at? And with fantasy, a lot of what I write isn’t in this world. So I like to have a visual representation and I like to know, okay, where are they going? So I wanna put a river here, a mountain range here, a city here. And I just play around and I draw my own maps at first, which is a lot of fun. But they’re nowhere near book worthy. But then I leave, I put notes on my map. Okay, here, I want this to happen. When they get to this point, this is gonna happen. And then as I’m going back to doing the edits, I can change it like, no, I want them to come here first, or I want them to go over here. And I think as in a writing fantasy or stories that happen in other worlds or other locations that are make believe, it helps a lot when you have a visual representation of where your characters are actually going.
Jo: Absolutely. Absolutely. I, not to the same extent, but I know with my last novel, I had scribbles of what the house looked like because I had to make sure that, you know, the characters were going in and out of different rooms at different times and different dramas were happening that I didn’t want to muck it up part way where a bedroom had changed, the side of the hall it was on or anything like that. So I definitely understand the importance of sometimes having these maps written down so you can keep track of what’s going on.
Now, it looks like you’ve also been using Kindle Vella as well, which I don’t know too much about. I’m in New Zealand and I don’t think I’m able to use it being on this side of the world, but can you talk a little bit about that?
Brandon: Yeah. I know that for the moment they’ve only opened it up to the US. I’m not even sure if it’s just North America, like Canada or whatnot, but from what I’m hearing, it’s only open to the US. And I’m not sure I like it that much because one thing that I didn’t know too much, and I should have researched it more, so hopefully this can help people who are trying to get into it. There is not really a way to market or advertise other than doing your own. Like if you put a book on Amazon Kindle, they have advertising avenues that you can go down, you can do free, you can, um, have ads run. They don’t have any of that for Kindle yet. So the only way to promote it is by doing everything yourself. And the one place that I’ve found to promote it is there’s some Kindle Villa Facebook groups, where it seems like it’s just other authors that say read my story, read my story. If you read mine, I’ll read yours. And so I’m not sure how I feel about that. The one thing that I love, I love, love, love about it is, I’ve set a schedule for when episodes or chapters come out and it keeps me moving forward. Like I’ve got to put it out. So it’s like I’m giving myself these little deadlines that I have to meet if I wanna keep up my consistency. And then once I’m done, I can just compile the whole thing into an ebook. So it gives me a little bit more accountability for myself to actually get everything out in the way that I want it to be.
The book that I have on there, I’ve written it, the book’s done. This is just allowing me to go through and edit it better, make changes. So I’m doing like almost final edits as I’m going through, I’m like, Okay, I’ll post this chapter now cause I’m done. And you get paid per episode. And they do a token system where readers pay for tokens and you get like cents per chapter because it’s based on word count, but they do a monthly bonus and it wasn’t something I was expecting. I’m not doing too great on Vella right now, just because that’s not where my priority is on marketing or advertising. Still, they’ll give you monthly bonuses. I’m like, Wow, I didn’t expect that. They got just shy of a hundred dollars last month. And I’m like, Oh, I didn’t even do anything. So I like those aspects. But the fact that you can’t promote it through Amazon or anything else, if readers don’t know about it, then they’re never gonna find it. And so that makes it a little bit a little difficult.
Jo: Yeah, that’s really unusual to hear that, that you would think that there would be things in place for Amazon to really be pushing this. Because I would assume that if it does well in the US then they might open it up to other areas of the world as well. So that’s unusual.
Brandon: Hopefully they do. I mean, as they been in beta for about a year now. So I think there’s still a bit to go and I think they’re gonna try and put more into it. But right now, yeah, if you’ve got a large audience, then it might work great. I don’t have a large audience like that yet. So .
Jo: Yeah. And do you think most authors that use it are just putting out like an episode a week, or are some people doing it faster than that?
Brandon: I’ve seen some where they’re putting out an episode a day. I do two episodes a week. Oh yeah. And I’ve seen some people do one every two weeks. Some just whenever they want to. One of the big things they push is if you want a successful Vella, consistency is key. So like with anything else in writing, just be consistent with what you’re doing.
Jo: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. I think for me as a reader, I would struggle with wanting to read Kindle Vella because I’m too impatient. I want everything at my hand now. It’s like, you know, why we’ve got Netflix and everything like that, so you can binge watch something. Having to wait for an author to release another episode or chapter of a book could potentially be a little frustrating, I think. So definitely that consistency is key, for sure.
Brandon: And then when you’re having to pay for each chapter, people are like, I’m just gonna wait. And then I buy the book and I’ve got the whole thing and then there’s no waiting. There’s, yeah, that vision there where people like the episodes where yeah, there’s just like, I’m gonna go for a run on the treadmill, I just wanna read something. Maybe not what they’re running on the treadmill , but, um. Standing in line to the grocery store or something. Well, I’m just gonna read a quick chapter while I’m waiting then. You know, it might work for some situations, but yeah. A lot of people just like to sit down and read a book.
Jo: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Well, it’s definitely an interesting idea and you’re the first person I’ve talked to who’s actually given that a go. So it’ll be interesting to see what you think of it down the line if you decide to keep going with it as well.
Brandon: I’ve got a newsletter that I put out once a month that I’m trying to give updates on how that is going. So, if anybody wants to follow that, they can get updates on where Kindle Vella’s at.
Jo: Oh cool. That’s cool. So what do you do then for your marketing and advertising and all of that? Do you do ads? I’ve seen you a little bit I think on Tik Tok as well, and social media. So what are your main kind of platforms then for getting eyes on your books?
Brandon: Uh, this is where I struggle because I’m not as big into social media as I thought I would be. And I’m not a fan of TikTok , but I need to get better at it. What I did when the Clandestine Queen was released in April, I did a blog tour. So I paid for a blog tour and that helped. I did a Goodreads giveaway contest for a month, and that got a lot of eyes on the book. I will post about my book, but one thing that I’m really pushing right now is, just to get my book in people’s hands, so I’m setting up a lot of events. Over the next month and a half, I think I’ve got six book signings that I’m gonna go to, and then I’m setting up some school visits. But I think right now that that’s gonna be my big push because I want to get actual books into people’s hands that I know. They say that the best advertising is word of mouth, but you’ve gotta have at least a thousand books out, so you get that. Yeah. And if I can directly put books into people’s hands by selling them at book signings or you know, farmer’s market, school visits, then I get to interact directly with readers. Then I think that can help as well. So that’s kind of what I’m pushing right now.
Jo: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit, I haven’t heard of this before, but a blog tour? What’s a blog tour?
Brandon: Yeah, a blog tour, and apparently there’s quite a few people who host them, is you find somebody who hosts them and they reach out to bloggers and bookstagramers and TikTokers or anyone who type of influencer in the book world. And then they’ll say, hey, I’ve got this book that I’m doing a tour for. And as you go, they are able to sign up for things like they can have the author do an interview. They can just post excerpts of the book. They can decide I’m gonna read the book and then put up a review for it. And so they take out the work for you trying to find all of these people on your own. He was like, Okay, I’m gonna pay you $150. Mm-hmm . And for three weeks we’re gonna get as many book bloggers and bookstagramers and whatever to take part in this. And so I really liked that. It was a lot of fun. The only thing that I don’t know if it didn’t work in my favor, just I didn’t have it, uh, since I’m traditionally published, I don’t have immediate numbers to say, okay, I can see that these people are going to Amazon or whatever, buying the book. So I didn’t have those numbers. So the one thing that I did do in regards to advertising, which I’ll probably do again, is before I published my book along with the blog tour, is I printed out little business cards that had the picture of the book on front, and then on the back was a QR code that they could scan to get five chapters for free. And I took those everywhere. And because it linked directly through my website, I could track every person who scanned it, which was a lot better for me cuz then I could actually see the turnover from what I was trying to do. And when I did the blog tour, I just did the link for my website as well so I could see who was going to the website, but I couldn’t see actual book sales. But tracking the internet traffic, the website traffic was good as well.
Jo: Yeah. That’s cool. That’s an interesting way to kind of work those metrics and using the QR code for the first five chapters. That’s such a great idea. I’m glad you’re able to share these tips. This is why I love talking to different authors because we all seem to come at things a slightly different way, and there’s always things that we haven’t thought of before that’s gonna be just a perfect fit for somebody listening, which is so cool. So yeah, I appreciate you sharing those kind of things.
So far on your author journey, what do you think has been maybe the hardest part or the part that you have struggled with the most?
Brandon: I think there are two hardest parts for me especially. Uh, the first one is when I first wanted to be a writer, I was past the short story stage. The hardest part was completing a novel. And I think that’s where a lot of people give up is they think, Okay, this is too hard. I can sit down and write a thousand words, but 80,000 words, I, I just can’t do it. So I think the hardest part was to actually complete the first novel so I could tell myself, you know what? I’ve done it and I just have to get better.
So, yeah, completing that first novel was a huge, huge accomplishment, but it was one of the hardest things. And if anyone listening is, is at that point where they’re like, you know, I wanna write a book, I wanna write it, and maybe they’ve started once or twice. That first book is always the hardest.
Mm. Because you, you don’t know how to write a book yet. Yeah. And once you get past that hurdle, you can say, You know what? I’ve done it before. I know I can do it again. And the second hardest part, which I’m dealing with right now is now that I have a published book out there, it’s figuring out how to get it noticed. When I first started writing, my goal was, you know, I just want a book, my own book on my book shelf. And I got that. I self-published a book and I printed it out and I put it on my bookshelf. And as soon as I hit that goal, I’m like, That’s not good enough. Now I want my book on everyone’s bookshelf.
And so it’s a hard task. It’s daunting, but when I struggle through it, I realize that I can look back and be like, you know what? I wanted to give up when I was writing my first book, but I didn’t. And I got there to the point where I finished it and then I did it again and I did it again. And now I can look at it in the same way with marketing and advertising and getting my book out there. I’ve done something hard before. I can do something hard again.
Jo: That’s great. That’s cool. That’s a nice change of mindset with getting it noticed because you know that you’ve persevered through things being hard before and somehow you’ve muddled through and worked it out. But with your very first novel and the struggle that you had with completing your first novel, going from short story to novel, how did you push through that, can I do this? Can I write this much? Like, I know you had said that the words started to flow and the story flowed all of a sudden for you, but those moments of self doubt, what kept you going?
Brandon: Honestly, I think it was, and I think any author who’s written a book can attest to this, is there’s that feeling inside of you once you actually start it. You just think, I’ve started, I have to get this story out. If I just leave it inside it’s going to eat me up and I just gotta get it out. And the one thing that is so amazing, and for first time writers and authors, you’ll get to discover this, is writing a book, you might outline it, but it takes you places you never expected. And I was writing a book once where I got to the end, and when I wrote the last two words or the last three words, not the end, I’m like, I got chills, I’m like, I didn’t even expect that ending. That was so awesome. And I think that’s what helped get me through it, is just knowing I had to get this out and just the experience I’ve had with… I understand where I want the story to go, but I don’t know where it’s going. Was such an adventure and I wasn’t ready to give it up.
Jo: Yeah. That’s cool. It really is. I found that quite a few times myself. It’s almost like reading a book, writing a book, because I get to the point sometimes where I’m like, Oh my gosh, what’s gonna happen next? I really want to find out what’s gonna happen next. Even though I’ve got a vague plot, but the story does, it just takes you in different directions. Like when you’re reading a book and you want to know what’s gonna happen in the next chapter and turn the page, the only frustration being, if you haven’t written it yet, you’re gotta actually get your butt in the chair and do that. But yeah, it’s cool.
Brandon: And the weird thing is, and I don’t know if this has happened to you in writing, but sometimes after I’ve, um, I’ve written something and I let it sit for a while and I’ll go back and read it and I’m just like, Ooh, I just wanna keep reading. Yeah. And then I remember, But wait, I wrote this I know what’s gonna happen. And, and I think that’s a great moment when you realize I’ve written the story I want to read and now that I’m reading it, I want to keep reading even though I know I wrote it and I know what’s gonna happen.
Jo: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s almost otherworldly, like it’s really cool. And I can’t think of a way to really segue into this, but we were talking before the show and we’ve got something in similar and that we both like ghost stories and things like that. And this probably has zero to do with writing, but I am dying to know, you said you’ve got something, an experience that you’ve had, and so I would love to hear it, one of your past jobs or something like that. Do you think you could share that?
Brandon: Yeah, I definitely can. And I’ve tried to put this into writing and I wrote a crap story that one day I’ll fix it up and make it better and I’ll put out my first ghost story.
But, set the mood, I live in a valley in northern Utah, and there’s this old hotel that was built in the 1970s, and it was a convention center, people held a lot of weddings there. And I remember in 2014 or 2015, um, right around there, I decided I’d worked in Alaska in the national parks, working in the concessions there, doing hotel work. And I realized, okay, I really like working in hotels and there’s this hotel that I would really like to work at. And so I interviewed and I got a job and I started working at the front desk of this hotel called Sherwood Hills Resort, which is no longer open, unfortunately, just cuz it was a lot of fun to work there.
And almost from day one, I started hearing stories, especially from the restaurant kitchen staff. And the one thing that was most prevalent was the story of the woman in the white dress. And, you know, I’d worked there for years and nothing ever really happened with it. You never see anything. I never saw the woman in the white dress. And so this first story just makes all of that so worth and just thinking about it. We had this lady who worked there as our wedding coordinator. She would set up all the weddings. And her daughter was babysitting the daughter of another person who was related somehow to the hotel. And they were in the restaurant. They were having lunch and the girl doing the babysitting was listening to music on her earphones. And she looks up and the girl that she’s babysitting is just eating her fries. And it looks like she’s talking to somebody in the restaurant. But they were the only ones there. There was nobody else in the entire restaurant. And so, the babysitter takes out her ear buds and just listens for a minute. And the little girl’s saying, Oh yeah, are you guys standing here too? Uhhuh just having a conversation like with somebody standing there. But there was nobody there. And when she ended the conversation, the babysitter was like, Who are you talking to?
Oh, just another guest. And well, what did she look like? Oh, she had dark hair. She was wearing a white dress and just walking up and down the restaurant. And freaked out, this girl, the babysitter never went back into the restaurant. But the funny thing about the restaurant is, for a time I was the restaurant manager there, and I had to go in one morning for an early buffet that we were setting up on Sunday.
And, and I took a picture of this, and I’ve got it somewhere, but I was setting up the utensils on all of the tables and I do it systematically so I know okay, everything is done. And so I get all of the silverware set, and I go around the corner to get the glasses cuz I know I’m okay, done with the silverware, everything is done, and I come back in and there is one place setting where the silverware had been swapped. And it was all it in an exact, everything was at the same angle. And I’m like, start looking around. I’m like, Who did that? Nobody else is here. But half the time I knew I felt like somebody was watching me. Yeah. But I think there are two things that, that I’ll tell now that, or probably the coolest haunted experiences.
There was a night where both three stories, just cuz they’re all fun and they’re spooky .
Jo: And this is the power of story storytelling right here. This is why we do this, right?
Brandon: Yeah. We were having a meeting. There was about five people there and we didn’t have any guests in the hotel. And during winter, we would close down three nights a week just because nobody would come up and they didn’t wanna spend the money on keeping the hotel open.
So we were all sitting in the lobby and just discussing, Okay, when are we gonna close? What we’re gonna do? And we hear a noise and we turn around and we watch the door to the back office open and then close. And we’re like, What ? We knew no one else was there. So I go around and look. I’m looking up and down the halls to see if anybody would’ve come out.
I’m like, There is nobody there. So we just watched the door open and close, just, oh my gosh, all by itself. And that just encouraged me. I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna go ghost hunting.
Jo: Love it.
Brandon: And so there was this other girl who worked there and she’s like, Yeah, I wanna know too. So one night that the hotel was closed, we decided, okay, it’s like nine, 10 o’clock at night. We’re gonna go catch some ghosts. And the one place that we wanna go to is the restaurant, because most stuff that happened happened in the restaurant. . And so when you’re in the lobby, you have to go down this little ramp that takes you to the restaurant door, which was closed. And we know, okay, we’re gonna go find some ghosts.
So we’re walking down the ramp and as soon as my hand gets to the doorknob, it sounded like somebody hit the other side of the door with their fist as hard as they could. Oh my gosh. Like the door, the door shook. The girl I was with, screamed. She ran out and said, I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore. Yeah. And I was too afraid to even open the door. I’m like, Oh, okay. I’m done. I’m good.
And the funny thing is, is I spent a lot of nights there because I would do the overnight shift. And one of the most common things to ever happen is I would be doing my paperwork for the night and I would get all the receipts and I’d like, Okay, put it right in front of the computer, cause I’ve gotta go enter it, but I gotta go back to the printer, and then I would come back and all my paperwork’s gone. And this happened multiple times. I would look for half an hour. I’d be like, I know I left it right here. And then I’d go like, Okay, where could I put it? I’m gonna have to print everything out again.
And then I go back to my computer and it’s back. Wow. And I’m just like, What is going on? And I would see there would be shadows moving across the walls.
But the coolest story, I think, didn’t even happen to me. It was to the general manager of the hotel. There was a night where the hotel was closed and she had forgotten the money, and so she had to go back up to get the money cuz we didn’t wanna leave it there overnight.
And her husband drove her up and he stopped right in front of the hotel right in front of the doors. And she’s like, Okay, I’ll be just a second. I’m gonna go grab the money. And so this is, what happens. She goes and gets the money. She runs to the restroom and she comes back out and she’s like, All right, let’s go.
And her husband wouldn’t move. And she’s like, What? What’s wrong? And he asked her, I thought you said you were the only one here. Like, I am. There’s nobody in the hotel tonight. He said, I saw you walk into the bathroom and then a man walked from the hall and down into the restroom. She’s like, No, there’s no one there.
She said he pealed out so fast. He left the hotel and he never went back.
Jo: My gosh. That is some pretty cool stories so I hope you’re gonna give it another attempt at actually writing these down, because I think anybody listening to this has probably got, you know, those little bit of goosebumps and that going on, like they’re, they’re cool. And this is what the whole power of story is. This is why we are drawn to that, right? Particularly fantasy or supernatural or paranormal writing or anything like that. It’s really about thinking about the world in a slightly different way, which is pretty cool. So yeah, those are some neat experiences you’ve had.
Brandon: Yeah, it was, it was definitely fun. I grew up in a haunted house. There are a lot of areas in, where I’m from, that are supposedly haunted, so I’ve got a, I’ve got just tons of stories. Campfire stories is the best to sit around a fire and just scare people.
Jo: I absolutely adore ghost stories. I’ve had lots of cool experiences myself. I feel kind of fortunate for that, to have those experiences. But yeah, I really appreciate you sharing those with us and I really do hope that you get an opportunity to actually write some of these down one day cuz I think that would be very, very cool. Very cool.
Brandon: Well, in my new book it comes out, Liam Lewis and the summer Camp Curse comes out on August 9th. And I think I tried my hand a little bit at writing something spooky because in the premise of this story is these kids have to find a stolen gem, that when the gem was stolen, it released a spirit of a necromancer. And to really survive and do what she needs to, the necromancer has to possess bodies. Oh. And the main character has a dream of the necromancer trying to possess him. And it’s kids, so it’s not too scary. But yeah, when I think about it, I’m like, you know, on a deeper level that’s pretty dark and spooky
Jo: Yeah. But you know what, from my experience of teaching kids, they love that. They really do. They like those things that just scare them a little bit and give them the goosebumps, and those are the stories that appeal to them. So I think you’re gonna do well with those. Well, thank you so much. Any final advice you wanna give for anybody who is wanting to write, maybe they’re just starting out or they’re wanting to go their traditional route, or what’s your kind of favorite go-to authorly advice?
Brandon: I think my, the best advice that I can give is in two parts. And first, it’s read, read, read, read, read, read. Because that’s gonna be the best way to figure out first what story you want to tell because you’re gonna read what you like, what stories you like. It’s gonna tell you what markets well, what sells well. So just read. Which unfortunately life has become very busy for me and I read much less right now than I care to admit. But I think that the second thing, and maybe me even more important is, write for yourself. Instead of thinking, I’m gonna write this book and it’s gonna be the most famous thing ever. If you come away thinking, You know what, I wanna write a story that I want to read. And then be happy just reading it, you know, you’re writing for the right reasons, I think. At least in the beginning. Yeah. And I think, yeah, just read, read, read, and then write for yourself in the beginning. Until you’re at that point where you’re like, Okay, now I’m ready for someone else to read it. And hopefully then they’ll love it to you.
Jo: Yeah. I think that’s so important. Both of those. I mean, reading goes without saying, but if you are going to spend the time and the energy and the effort writing, it’s gotta be something that brings you joy. So you might as well write something that you know, really lights you up as well that you love. So that’s awesome.
Brandon: I think if you can write something that you love, chances are other people are gonna to find it as well and they’re gonna like it. Yeah. Because whatever you read and you write similar to, there’s a huge market for it. But have persistence. It’s gonna be hard. Yeah.
Jo: Yeah. It’s not easy. And this is why it’s good to make sure that your heart is in it and that you are writing those things that you want to read. You’re absolutely right. That’s cool. Now, how can people find you and connect with you, and where can they get your books, because, I know after listening to this, they’re gonna be wanting to seek your books out and that, because they look amazing. I know I’m gonna be downloading them myself, so I can have a read and everything too. So how can people find them and connect with you?
Brandon: Yeah, my books are all on Amazon. So if you search Brandon J. Greer, you’ll find, then there’s a couple other writers, I think with the name Brandon Greer, but not with Brandon J. Greer. So if you look at Brandon J Guer on Amazon, you can find it. You can also find my website at authorbrandonjgreer.wixsite.com/book, something like that.
Jo: I’ll find it. I’ll put it in the show notes anyway. For sure.
Brandon: It’s like knowing your own phone number. You never call yourself. No,
Jo: I know. Well, thank you so much for coming on today. It’s been so fun chatting to you, and I so appreciate you sharing those ghost stories. It’s a bit of a selfish indulgence because I love listening to those. So thank you for that.
Brandon: Well, I have plenty more ghost stories, and thank you for having me.
Jo: Oh, it’s been a joy. Thank you.
Wasn’t that such a fun episode? So here are some takeaways from today’s show.
1. Brandon recommends three essentials for your query letter. Ensure it creates sympathy for your main character, create some mystery, but also give a little bit away as a hook.
2. Kindle Vella is great for accountability and consistency, but you will have to find your own advertising avenues for it.
3. Blog tours, Goodreads giveaways, and book signings and events, including visiting schools, are a great way to get YA and middle grade books into people’s hands.
4. The hardest part of being an author, in Brandon’s opinion, is writing your first book. But after you’ve written your first book, you know you’ve done it once, so you can do it again.
And number 5. Brandon’s top advice for those who want to write books is to read as much as possible. It’ll help make it clear the genres that appeal to you, as well as giving you information about the market. And be sure to write for yourself, particularly in the beginning.
So make sure you check out the show notes for links to connect with Brandon and check out his books. Also, if you enjoy ghost stories, make sure you check out my books at payhip.com/JoBuer. And take advantage of the coupon code ‘spooky‘ to get 50% off for October only.
Otherwise, have a wonderful week, my friends, and happy writing.