Charlotte Collins, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Charlotte Collins?
JENNIFER BECTON: Charlotte Collins is a continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a unique twist. Instead of retelling or reimagining the courtship of the main characters Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, it features Charlotte (Lucas) Collins, a minor character, and her life after the action of Austen’s novel. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte was Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend, and she served as the embodiment of Regency England’s traditional views on marriage for security and as a foil for Elizabeth’s opinion that one ought to marry for love. Following society’s strictures, Charlotte chose to wed Mr. Collins, a simpering fool who happened to have a stable income and a nice home. As a woman of little fortune and no prospects, Charlotte felt she had no choice, and in fact, she did not believe that love in marriage was anything more than “a matter of chance.” Charlotte Collins opens with the accidental death of Mr. Collins, and the newly widowed Charlotte is thrust back into society where she discovers that she has the opportunity to make a different choice.
DAVID WISEHART: What research did you do for the novel?
JENNIFER BECTON: Research was critical to this novel, especially given that there are so many educated Janeites out there who really know their history. I did a great deal of research on topics ranging from language and food to customs and dress. I spent a lot of time searching for original sources, books written during the Regency period, and these sources turned out not only to be the most helpful, but also the most amusing. For a laugh, read Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management or Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trolloppe, both of which are in the public domain and free on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What is it about Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice that most appeals to you?
JENNIFER BECTON: Undoubtedly, I was first attracted to Austen’s wit. Her social commentary never fails to be biting. The first line of Pride and Prejudice alone is worth the cost of the book: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” But upon deeper reflection, I remain attracted to Jane Austen because her writing is proof that books do not require tragedy to be considered great literature. I have always believed that comedies ought to garner as much respect as tragedies in the literary world. Yes, tragedy might reflect the truth that all life ends in death, but in my view, comedy offers hope that transcends the universal tragedy of humankind.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
JENNIFER BECTON: This is a difficult question. How does one articulate characterization? I do my best to create realistic characters that one might be likely to meet in real life. Characters must have both strengths and weaknesses. Their motivations must be logical—at least to them—and even those whose role is to provide comic relief must be believable. If I can’t believe that such a person might exist in reality, I work on that character until I can imagine meeting him in the real world.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
JENNIFER BECTON: The ideal reader for Charlotte Collins is someone who is seeking a Jane Austen experience. My goal in writing the book was to remain as true as possible to her characters and to offer the same type of experience that I had when I first read Austen’s works. I wanted to offer some semblance of her wit and social commentary and, of course, to write a love story that would carry readers back in time. (Whether or not I succeeded is up to the reader.)
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
JENNIFER BECTON: Before Charlotte Collins, I had worked for more than ten years in the traditional publishing world as an editor, so I had a great deal of prior knowledge and a large bias against self-publishing. As a result, I worked very hard to attract the attention of agents and traditional publishers, who invariably had nothing negative to say about my writing, but who still rejected my novel based on their belief that Austen fans do not buy books about minor characters. I just could not believe this to be true. So I took up the challenge to self-publish and see who was right.
Now, my opinion of self-publishing has changed. While I certainly respect my colleagues in the traditional world, as an aspiring author, I found the process incredibly frustrating. I have a deeper understanding of my own industry and a new-found respect for self-published authors. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and one I will certainly repeat.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
JENNIFER BECTON: My process consists of two phases: writing and editing. And never the twain shall meet. To begin, I try to write the first draft as quickly as possible so that I’m not tempted to get in my own way. I just let words flow, and I do not go back and edit the previous day’s text, no matter how tempting it is. I just write. Next, I edit. In fact, I spend significantly more time in the editing phase than in the writing phase. I cut text, alter it, and add more. During the editing phase, I send the manuscript to my editor, who makes wonderful suggestions, which I usually incorporate. Then, the book is proofread and formatted for publication.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
JENNIFER BECTON: At this precise moment, I am most inspired by J. A. Konrath. His blog has been a great influence on my views of publishing and has had a monumental impact on my future plans. His candid disclosure of his early struggles with traditional publishers and his successful ventures as a self-publisher have shown me that it is possible to connect with readers without the aid of a traditional book deal.
But that’s probably not exactly what you meant by this question. The books that have had the most lasting influence on me are those I read as a child: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, and mysteries by Agatha Christie. And, of course, Jane Austen.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
JENNIFER BECTON: Interesting question. I can’t say that there’s a book I wish I’d written myself, but there are a few I wish I could have helped edit. I won’t list them here, but I’ve often felt that some authors get so popular that publishers don’t edit their work as stringently, resulting in overly long texts that could be tightened up significantly.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
JENNIFER BECTON: When I released Charlotte Collins, I had no online platform. Unlike many Austen sequel authors, I had never published any stories online at fanfic sites. I had a Facebook page, but I didn’t even know what Twitter was. And ebooks? Forget about it. I had to learn everything. Twitter has been the best resource for me. Through it, I have been put in contact with some incredible Jane Austen and book-related bloggers. I can honestly say that book bloggers have been the keys to marketing success.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
JENNIFER BECTON: Well, I didn’t originally plan to publish on Kindle; I was envisioning a paperback. As I said, I didn’t know much about ebooks, even after having worked so long in the traditional publishing industry. I knew I needed to make Charlotte Collins available as an ebook, but I didn’t expect the overwhelming response it received. My Kindle edition outsells my paperback 2 to 1. Now, I love Kindle and am an official convert. Kindle connects readers and writers in a way that paperbacks cannot. Not only can I make my book available at a very low price, but readers are capable of following my embedded links back to my websites. I can actually develop a relationship with readers. It’s truly amazing, and I now have friends all over the world.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
JENNIFER BECTON: Hire a proofreader. The first thing everyone says about a self-published book is that there were typos. Defy this stereotype!
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In 2000, Jennifer began her own freelance editorial and writing business: Becton Literary Services. She has edited literary novels, short story collections, and various non-fiction works for Mercer University Press and Smyth and Helwys Publishing, both in Macon, Georgia, and her lifestyle and equestrian articles have appeared in Southern Distinction, HorseSouth, and Southern Horse Talk. She has been a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Jane Austen Society, and Sisters in Crime.
Jennifer lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband Bert, a civil engineer, and a cat named Puttytat, who rules the house with an iron claw. She is also an avid equestrienne and owns a horse named Darcy.
Visit her website.
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