Every author hopes to become a bestseller but to get there, you have to commit to starting your author’s journey. Jenny Simard LaBranche offers her experience as a fledgling author early in her publishing career, how she ended up starting the author life, and the lessons any author dipping their toes into publishing should know.
Join us as we discuss the trials and tribulations of fledgling authorship with Jenny Simard LaBranche. For those of you just dipping your toes into indie authorship, this is the conversation for you!
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Jenny Simard LaBranche, Mark Lefebvre
Mark Lefebvre 00:03
Hello, and welcome to Draft2Digital live Self-Publishing Insiders. My name is Mark Leslie Lefebvre and I am the Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital. And I am so thrilled to have in the virtual studio with me Jenny Simard LaBranche. Jenny, welcome.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 00:22
Thank you for having me, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 00:24
Now, interestingly enough, even though we’re both virtual, and we’re both not in Oklahoma City, which is the office of Draft2Digital, head office, of course a lot of our employees are remote all over the place now. But you happen to have actually been hanging out in person with three, I believe, three or more of our Draft2Digital team in Oklahoma City, was it last week, this last week?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 00:51
Yes, it started on Friday, and I did get to hang out with Dan Wood and Kevin Tumlinson of Draft2Digital.
Mark Lefebvre 00:59
Awesome, awesome. I haven’t gotten a chance to hang out with them for a while. I’ll be seeing them in a couple of weeks at Novelists Inc. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Because you’re going to be talking about what you were doing in Oklahoma City, what the conference was, you’re gonna be talking about all kinds of fun stuff that happened there. But let’s give our viewers or listeners an opportunity to find out a little bit more about you, and how you got into writing in the first place.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 01:27
All right, well, for those of you who don’t know me, I am Jenny Simard LaBranche and I am a 50-year-old retired IT specialist and a retired firefighter EMT. Back prior to 9/11, I’d just finally started to try and chase my dreams of being a writer. But once 9/11 had happened, it completely shifted everything for me and I became a firefighter. It was just a year ago on August 26 last year when I left the IT field for a second time with a job that just wasn’t working out with my dyslexia. And my husband told me that night, you’re a writer, he’s like, you need to be a writer. So my education process began, I had already known who, I was familiar with Draft2Digital and I was familiar with William Bernhardt, and it was his Red Sneaker Writers’ Book series that I downloaded. And in six and a half months utilizing his series, I wrote a 97,000-word first draft.
Mark Lefebvre 02:22
Whoa, first draft, 97 right out of the gate, it didn’t take you 10 years to write it or any of those things.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 02:29
Not at all. His books, which the first one’s on the shelf behind me, story structure, it brings you through the whole process, from outlining your book right through editing.
Mark Lefebvre 02:40
So I want to go back to something that you said, you just kind of threw it out very casually. But I think it’s something that’s really really important, particularly for beginning writers, and we’ve marketed this as, you know, beginning writer, we’re bringing the beginning writer on, but you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt. So when you said you did some research and you were looking into things, where did you go? How did you find out about Red Sneaker? How did you find out about Draft2Digital and the other things that you’ve already learned?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 03:11
Well on Amazon when I was searching for educational tools, so I can self educate, I had discovered William Bernhardt’s Story Structure. And there was a comment in it that said, how dare I have the audacity to think I can do what my favorite writers do? And that was it right there for me, because that had been my thought for over 20 years. And in using these books, and in researching him, I found out about Writer Con, I found out about self-publishing through Draft2Digital. And the experience that I have had this entire year has just completely changed my life. I’m not even the same person I was a year ago. William Bernhardt has the Red Sneaker writer’s group, which has now been renamed this year to Writer Con on Facebook. And I met so many amazing people through there that are so supportive, and they started pointing me in different directions for tools and things I should check out. One of them being one of my new best friends, Betsy Kolkowski, who’s also on the shelf behind me, who is the author of the Veritas Codec series. And she has been a mentor to me as well, just pointing me in the right direction, because I’m like, there’s not enough information out there. All these podcasts that I watch are all published authors. Yeah, it’s great. You’re published. I know. I’ve read your books. But where do new people like me go? How do we get started, especially me at 50 years old? I’m like, where am I going to begin? Well, that was the biggest thing that William Bernhardt’s story structure, and that whole Red Sneaker writer series did for me. It doesn’t matter what stage of the writing process you’re in. Whether you have 10 books published or zero books published, that whole entire community is just so supportive and so informative. It was a no brainer for me to be a part of it. So he also has through a patronage system, through the patronage program like you, and I do want to plug this, for new writers out there, you shouldn’t have to pay to get your work published. And that was one of the big ones. I hear so many people saying, oh, I’m saving money to get my book published. I recommend starting with William Bernhardt’s Story Structure, because also within it, I lost my train of thought there a little bit, because I know I love to plug … Oh, the patronage system, or the patronage program. William is my writing coach and my editor. And I pay $100 a month, it’s $1,200 a year. And that’s to have him unlimited for my writing coach, for editing, educational tools, and his small group writers’ retreats that are included in the price. Mark, it’s $600 to attend one of these. There’s at least two a year. I pay $1200, they’re already included.
Mark Lefebvre 06:01
Oh, that was that was included? And you’re also getting the coaching and the editing?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 06:05
Yep, $1,200 a year and two free writers’ retreats that are a $600 value. And it’s not just William, you sit down within these groups, it’s other writers. So you’re not just getting his feedback, you’re getting everybody’s feedback, what they’re using for tools. So it’s very helpful.
Mark Lefebvre 06:27
So I want to go back to another thing you said, because I love the way that you feed this great information. And I genuinely want to dig into this. You said when you turned 50. and a lot of people think, oh, no, I should have started when I was 20. It’s too late. I’ll never be a writer. So you’re obviously turning that one on its head and saying no, 50 started. But the other thing was, I think, the support you have not just from the writing community, from mentors like William, but support from your family, support from your significant other as well. I think that was a critical element too?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 06:59
It was a huge element, because I honestly wouldn’t be doing this without my husband, Paul. He has literally been working almost seven days a week, and sorry, I don’t mean to get emotional. Because I’m not working right now. I needed to do this full time, I needed to commit, it’s how I go either in 100%, or I am not in at all. So he’s been working so I can be able to afford to go on a writer’s retreat, because I obviously still need my airfare to get down there and my room and board and stuff. And so he just believes in me so much. And I have my nieces too. And I believe a couple of them are watching right now. And they have been so supportive with everything and it’s not too late. It’s what they say to me. You’re 50 years old. And I think it was either Sarah or Alex said to me, it’s the right time for you. It wasn’t the right time 20 years ago, and now it is, and you can start at any time.
Mark Lefebvre 08:02
Good stuff. Good stuff. And so you found you found William’s books. What was it about the Story Structure book that wanted you to get into the Red Sneaker Writers, all of the great content and the great resources that William makes available for other writers?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 08:22
The books, and I don’t mean to say they’re simple, but they really are simple to follow. They’re not large books, I think 100, 110 pages each. I’m gonna grab this one off the shelf right here. They’re small books.
Mark Lefebvre 08:37
Come with props people, we come with props, this is awesome.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 08:41
Yes, and I downloaded, I have these on my Kindle because you can also make digital flashcards on them. But one of the things I wanted to point out from Story Structure is in the back of it there is a writer’s contract and this is a powerful tool. Because a lot of us have had like what my friend Betsy Kulakowski describes as imposter syndrome. She even taught a class on it at Writer Con. Am I a writer? You know, should I be doing this? Well, he provides a contract in the back and I put my name on it, signed and dated it on August 26, 2021. Had my husband witness the signature. It still hangs on my wall, every day I see it. I am a writer. I know I am a writer.
Mark Lefebvre 09:25
So wait a second, you fill that out, you put it right there where you can see it, the way it Stephen King talks about the nail with the rejection slips, the motivation to keep going right?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 09:34
Exactly. And it is motivation to keep going because I see it every day. I am a writer. And it is a powerful tool.
Mark Lefebvre 09:43
It is still there, and you’ve just recently celebrated the anniversary right? That first anniversary. And you have done so much in a year. So not only have you gone from always wanting to be a writer to starting that, you’ve done the research in person, you’ve basically with ] support and guidance from loved ones, etc. managed to get to two different conferences. I mean, Writer Con was this last weekend. So it was a little after a year, but within the space of roughly a year, two conferences in person. Why? Why was it important for you to do the in-person thing as opposed to all of the great resources that are available virtually online, etc?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 10:27
I’m glad you asked this question. It’s the interpersonal connections. It makes such a difference when you’re able to sit down and talk with somebody. And I know since COVID, we’ve all been getting used to Zoom and everything. But there was really something to be said for being in person. And just making these interpersonal connections with people. Because I did, I went into Writer Con with three goals in mind: education, networking, and fun. And I knew fun would dominate all three of them. You know me, I’m an excitable person, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 11:01
Fun just seems to come with you. It’s like a given right? I’ve got to enjoy this while I’m doing it, right?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 11:06
But at the same time, everybody I’ve been reaching out to on Facebook building my database, because that’s something I just started in April, with having more friends on Facebook in the writing community. And a lot of the writers on there are just as lost as I was. Where do I start? Where do I begin? Is it too late? So I reach out and friend these people, I’m like, I’m going to tell you where to go right now. And it’s typically Draft2Digital, well it’s always Draft2Digital for self-publishing. And it’s always to William Bernhardt and his Red Sneaker Writer Book series. He is a genuine human being who truly wants to help people because I honestly wonder how does the man make money with all of this with everything he gives away for free and just there’s so much he offers. I don’t mean to say It gives it away for free. But he just offers so much.
Mark Lefebvre 12:01
Well, when you think about $100 a month for all that is entailed in that, and it’s not just online coaching and the editing and the reading and the feedback. It also includes a trip, that kind of covers all the expenses. You know what I mean? It would feel like that would be an additional element. So let’s talk about Writer Con, it’s in Oklahoma City, it was, was it Labor Day weekend? Okay, so Labor Day weekend, and you did the trip, I even saw social media posting, hey, I’m on my way. Excited about that. I saw pictures of you with Kevin and Dan. So let’s talk about some of your experiences at Writer Con, because you came back from that pretty pumped, pretty excited, pretty energized. Let’s walk through some of the things you learned. And that was kind of your first writer conference you went to on a retreat, your first writer conference, let’s talk about that experience. So again, remembering there are maybe beginning writers listening, maybe about to go to the first conference, have never gone. Let’s walk them through your own experiences getting there.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 13:10
I’m going to step back just a little bit because when I went to that writer’s retreat, Mark, I knew my manuscript was not going to be ready for Writer Con. But after the writer’s retreat, with the amount that I took home, with what I learned, I removed 10,000 words out of my manuscript on my first round of my final draft. And guess what? I was ready for Writer Con, and I wasn’t expecting to be. But it’s unlike any conference that I have researched, because it offers you education, education, education is the key. That’s why I’m saying that one three times, and I am a hardcore dedicated autodidact. So I knew that was my primary objective was to educate myself. Networking. It is huge to be able to connect with all these people that I have been meeting all year on Facebook, and be able to make connections, but they also offer things like private consultations and private manuscript reviews. So for example, Rene Gutteridge, I don’t know if you are familiar with her, but her movie Family Camp is available on Amazon, Love’s Complicated is out on the Hallmark Channel, and she is currently the head writer of Skits Guys. I sat down with her for a 20-minute private consultation, she had read the first 10 pages of my manuscript, as did Laura Bernhardt, who I am going to point out back here, her new novel is out, Red Rain, and I got to sit down with her for a private manuscript review, and I do have …
Mark Lefebvre 14:46
Oh, you accidentally muted yourself when you were reaching for that last book.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 14:51
I was bound to do something wrong, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 14:56
It’s usually me, Jenny. So thanks for that.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 14:58
I wanted to point out in Miss Callie Hutton too, because I had a private manuscript review with her also, and she gifted this book to me autographed, because her character is dyslexic, and she had heard that I was dyslexic, so she came prepared with a book autograph to give me. And not only does it offer that, but there are classes for everything I mentioned. My friend Betsy Kulakowski did a class on impostor syndrome. We all have that fear, am I really a writer? And there were masterclasses that were offered with Robert Dugoni and Steven James, and they were hilarious. It was so informative. I want to check my list here of all the other stuff. But even the fun things I want to point out Mark, because I lived out two childhood dreams there. I played Family Feud, and I played Jeopardy.
Mark Lefebvre 15:53
Oh my god. There you go.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 15:55
Yes. And William Bernhardt was the host, and I believe he was living out his dreams of wanting to be a game show host because he was incredible.
Mark Lefebvre 16:02
Now, was this part of the official programming or was it social stuff in the evening?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 16:07
There was social stuff. Two of them were in the daytime. And it’s nice to have that break in between where you just need to take it down a notch from all the information you’re taking in. But in the evenings, like on Friday night, they had open mic night, and on Saturday, where Kevin Tumlinson of Draft2Digital got up and sang like three times so incredibly, karaoke night.
Mark Lefebvre 16:32
He’s our karaoke ringer around here.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 16:34
Yes. He is. I’m like, well, shit, I’m not getting up to sing now.
Mark Lefebvre 16:40
I follow him all the time and what are you going to do?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 16:46
Yeah, I wanted to get up and sing, and I’m definitely going to next year, but I am tone deaf with my dyslexia. So I don’t need to see the lyrics, I need to be able to hear them a little bit. So maybe next year, I’ll plan to do a duet with somebody so I can hear them singing as well. Because it was so much fun.
Mark Lefebvre 17:03
I’m a fan of duet, I’m a fan of the duet so that we can humiliate ourselves together. That’s why I always drag Dan up on stage with me. So I want to talk a little bit about dyslexia in terms of that, the challenges of working as a writer with dyslexia. How did you how did you approach that? What were some of the things that helped you? You talked about the auditory thing was useful for lyrics and singing. What about the writing and when you’re digging into the manuscript, etc.?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 17:34
That was a bit of a challenge. There’s a lot of things that I do like just to point out, for example, I mean, everybody can see I have a massive book collection. This is one of four shelves, I mean, one of four bookcases that I have, but the older I get I, the words jump around on the page for me, so I have to do a lot of Kindle reading so I can change the font, and the color background. Even just handwriting, I am a handwriter, I love to write out, I outline in pencil. And I have to use even different-colored, I can’t use white legal pads, I have to use pastel ones. It makes the letters, I just can’t read it. It acts like, I have to disdactlia also. I don’t know who came up with these words, but they’re terrible people. Hard to say, they really are, and even harder to spell. But it’s the math one. And that is my worst one because it literally looks like all binary to me. But if I’m reading too long, or writing too long on the wrong materials, then I get nauseous, I get physically nauseous from it. So I had to, you know, I looked into things like that, and I discovered how much easier it is with the pastel paper. And I already knew about Kindle because I change my writing or the fonts. But that was my biggest fear was coming into it Mark, because I also have audible and verbal dyslexia. I in fact run that entire spectrum, with the one exception that would have let people know I had dyslexia, I do not write my letters and numbers backwards. So I am that rare exception that wasn’t noticed till I was an adult. And I even denied it when I found out, I didn’t want to accept it. But while I can never overcome dyslexia, I can combat it and I have. But it stopped me from being an author. I digress here again, but what I was gonna say with the audible and verbal, sometimes I will go to use a word and my brain will give me a very similar-looking word with a completely different context, which you have experienced before. So there’s a lot of, you know, embarrassment with that. I grew up being called stupid in school because I couldn’t spell and do math. So it was a lot. But you know, my husband’s the one that told me that’s what they have editors for. But it’s more than that too. You know, I had to find the confidence in myself to let go of it, because it’s the number one thing that is stopping my whole life from pursuing my dream.
Mark Lefebvre 20:06
So let me ask you something, because I think anyone watching this live, listening to this later in the podcast feed, anyone who hears you is thinking, oh my goodness, what a positive attitude she has. What a we can do this, go-getter attitude. Where did that come from? I mean, especially, you know, being mocked in school and all the all the things that happened. Where did that positivity, what do you attribute that to?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 20:33
I know you know, we grew up, my brother and sister and I, my parents worked in the film industry. So we were constantly moving, endlessly the new kids at school. And so you face a lot of rejection coming into school, trying to make friends and all that. So, you know, my mother had told me, we all grew up with the sticks and stones. And so she taught me to have really thick skin. And it made a difference that, no matter what, I just tried to do what I want to do, because at least I’m trying. I’m sorry, I’m trying not to get emotional.
Mark Lefebvre 21:07
No, no, I love that. But I think I think that’s something that I think we in this conversation can help beginning writers with, because one of the biggest challenges writers face is, whether they are showing it to an editor, showing it to friends when they finish their first draft, whatever. Or when it’s live, when it’s on online retailers, available wherever anyone can pick it up. And they can say not necessarily nice things, right? Like there’s that criticism that’s gonna come with it, some of it positive, some of it negative, some of it just cruel and mean. I’m imagining that you’re going to employ some of that same attitude towards those inevitable reviews that happen to everyone. Stephen King, all the major, William I’m sure even has negative reviews for his great books, etc. And all of the great books you’ve held up as well, there’s going to be some negativity. But what is it? Is it that same attitude that you carry forward, that wins when it comes to that criticism and that you can’t do this or this is no good?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 22:09
It is. And knowing that people like Stephen King and JK Rowling, you know, they were rejected so many times. So you have to go into it with the attitude. And it’s what my husband said to me. Hope for the best, expect the worst. So I’m already expecting the rejection. And if I don’t get it, perfect. If I do, I’m already prepared for it.
Mark Lefebvre 22:34
Cool, thank you.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 22:35
I think this past year, I have more than … my attitude has changed so much about who I am as a person. And I don’t care anymore if I’m going to face that rejection. I’m not going to let it stop me.
Mark Lefebvre 22:50
So you also seem to be very outgoing, energetic, inspiring, full of energy, all the traits that someone would attribute to an extrovert. And yet we’ve had conversations and you’re actually technically not an extrovert. You’re actually an introvert. Can you explain that a little bit more?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 23:09
Yes. And a lot of people that know me will know that, I’m not a very social person. I don’t go out. I don’t socialize. You know, I have a handful of friends who are also introverts. So what’s wonderful, if somebody’s hand hits the door, they’re like, I’m not the same person a week ago, you know, when I made these plans, so I don’t want to go, I’m like perfect. I’ll just lay back down.
Mark Lefebvre 23:30
I’m good. I’m gonna stay home with a book.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 23:33
Even my best friend since I was 15 years old. You know, sometimes we don’t see each other a lot. We’re both introverts, but it works for us because it doesn’t take away the friendship that’s there, and the connection that we have. But among the introverts, I am the extrovert. So like, for example, at Writer Con, a lot of us got in early. And Thursday night, one of my friends Claire had set up a dinner so we could all get to know each other. But unfortunately, work came up for her and she wasn’t able to make it. I’m like, I’m gonna pick up the torch for you, Claire. So I met everybody in the lobby, and I can see all the introverts walking by, looking like, is that Jenny? And I’m like, yo, this is the group right over here. I’m like, come on over, introduce yourself. Because I want people to feel welcome. I was excluded from a lot of things when I was a kid. And I didn’t like being left out. So I always want to make people feel included.
Mark Lefebvre 24:35
Awesome. I love that. I love that. So I going to have to put on my reading glasses now because I know it’s a little early in the interview. But we’ve got some great comments and I’m gonna want to start to address some of the comments. And I saw one that just popped in, and this is related to what we were just talking about, and it comes from Rhonda. Rhonda says “With my introvert friends (I’m an introvert) I may not see or talk to them for months. But when we get together, it’s like the conversation never stopped.” Is that something that you’ve experienced as well?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 25:07
Rhonda? Hello, Rhonda, I’m so glad you were here. We met, she is one of my friends. She is an incredible person, we met on the writer’s retreat. I am so happy you’re here. Can you pop that question back up?
Mark Lefebvre 25:23
Oh, of course. Yeah, of course. So you can see.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 25:25
It’s like the conversation never stopped. That is exactly what it is. Literally, I will talk to one of my friends, it’ll be three months and we literally pick up right where we ended. And it is like that. So we understand each other.
Mark Lefebvre 25:43
I love that. I love that. That’s a that’s a really great way of putting it. I am going to pop up a few little things. Alex says “Hi Auntie.” And Sarah sends a whole bunch of hearts. This must be your supportive family members that you’ve mentioned before.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 25:58
Those are two of my nieces, Alex and Sarah =. Oh, yes. I love you both so much. And thank you for being here. I know Christina is not here, I know she’s busy. But she’s a police officer. They’re my sister Michelle’s three girls, so they are my oldest three nieces. And not only have they told me their whole lives that I have been a source of inspiration for them. But they have been an incredible source of inspiration for me. It doesn’t matter how old somebody is. They inspire me all the time.
Mark Lefebvre 26:33
And Jenny, I’m so glad you said that. Because that is so true. We can learn from anyone. We can learn from beginning writers, we can learn from our nieces or nephews, other family members, etc. So beautifully said. I’m going to pop up another question coming in from Melissa. Melissa says, “First of all, let me say I’m proud to be your friend.” We’re gonna get all mushy and emotional. That’s fine, we’re here. So that’s fine. We’re here. We’re open. We’re authentic, we’re vulnerable. We’ll do it. But Melissa’s question is, “Are you thinking about writing other types of books, like maybe true crime, romance, mystery, etc.?”
Jenny Simard LaBranche 27:10
Oh, Melissa, I love you. I hope the weather’s good in Wisconsin. Yes, I am Melissa. I do write supernatural fantasy and horror. And that’s all it says up there that I write right now. But I am working on other things. I’m working on a lot of other things, Melissa.
Mark Lefebvre 27:30
Well, I’m gonna throw in a question in response to that. So Jenny, you’ve got this novel that you worked on. But you’ve got I imagine, like many writers, millions of ideas swirling around in your head. How do you decide what’s that next thing? Because you have so many different genres and ideas?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 27:47
It seems to be what characters seem to speak to me the most. Sorry, I’m getting an echo again.
Mark Lefebvre 27:57
You’re gonna do the one year thing with the echo? Yep. All right. All right.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 28:02
Ask the question again. Sorry.
Mark Lefebvre 28:04
How do you decide what to write with so many different ideas, etc.?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 28:08
It seems to be what character, because I always start with characters. And it seems to be whatever character speaks the loudest to me, in my mind. And I was almost going to not mention that until I heard the amazing Robert Dugoni speak at Writer Con last weekend. And he said that it happens to him as well. Sometimes it comes to him in his dreams. And it’s who’s speaking the loudest to him at the time, whose story needs to be told the most. And in this case it was Reagan’s story, which we’ll get to after. But yeah, whoever speaks to me the most.
Mark Lefebvre 28:48
I love that. I love that. It’s like, okay, I’m gonna have to pay attention to you. So again, just getting caught up on some comments. Jim said, less than 10 minutes in and there’s already so much wisdom from Jenny being dropped here. So awesome.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 29:00
Thank you so much, Jim. I’m so glad you’re here too, this is so amazing. I wish I could see everybody that’s here.
Mark Lefebvre 29:07
And this is from Michelle. So this is an interesting question. I’m glad Michelle asked this. So Michelle says, “What is your favorite book of all time?” I’ll ask that first and let you answer it, and then I’ll jump on to the rest of the questions.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 29:20
The Two Towers.
Mark Lefebvre 29:21
The Two Towers, okay. All right. What is your favorite author?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 29:27
Mark Lefebvre 29:28
Well, those go hand in hand kind of, don’t they?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 29:30
They do. But I do also want to point out, because my niece Alex, who’s also on here, introduced us, Michelle Crowe is my big sister. And Alex introduced us to Sarah J. Moss. And she has the Court of Thorns and Roses series and Throne of Glass. So the literary love of my life is from her Court of Thorns and Roses. And that would be, if I was to take Tolkien out of the picture. Sarah J Moss’s second book, Court of Mist and Fury, would be my favorite book. So because she’s a brilliant author, and I love that I connect with that with my big sister and with my niece, Alex. I know my niece Sarah’s going to be reading them too.
Mark Lefebvre 30:16
So no wonder Reagan spoke so loudly to you right from that genre, from that realm, etc. So okay, so Michelle’s next question, and this is a question that a lot of a lot of beginning writers think about. I write under Mark Leslie, typically, because nobody could spell or pronounce Lefebvre. You know, with my writing stuff. And that was a decision I made in my teens, I did get started a lot earlier. But her question was, did you consider not using your given name and to go with a pseudonym? Is that something that you considered?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 30:48
No, not at all. I never considered using a pseudonym. Michelle, you ask great questions. And I broke the rules with beta reading, because she is one of my beta readers, because she’s so honest, you know, if she’s gonna hurt my feelings, she’ll do it. You know, I knew I would get hardcore feedback from her that I would need. Pop that back up again, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 31:11
Oh, yeah. Sorry. I have to go back for that question. There we go.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 31:15
Michelle, the reason I decided not to use a pseudonym, and to go with my name is because I have struggled with my own identity my whole life. And it is one of the things that’s going to come up because as you know, Mark, I just finally come out publicly this year being autistic. So it was a lot for me, struggling and trying to learn who I was, because I found out at the age of 24, that I’m an aspie, I have Asperger’s. And I started doing, not case studies, they were called, but I started going to colleges, Mark, and joining case studies, is the word I’m going to use, because I learned so much about myself, especially in the big group ones that I started doing. Because my husband had me by 2003, exploring more things and doing big group get togethers with people that were autistic. And so struggling with my identity, you know, and finally coming into who I am now, I want to use my name Michelle, you know? I am cutting the Simard out of it. Because it’s a lot for people to look up and people give up. If they hear my name, Jenny Simard LaBranche and they start typing, they’re going to give up partway through. So I can write, yes, you know, people don’t have patience. So I’m gonna go with Jenny LaBranche on my book. Michelle, I’m so glad you asked that question. I love her so much.
Mark Lefebvre 32:42
Well, Rhonda just commented that your name is ideal for a writer of fantasy and adventures, as well. So yeah, it has that feel to it too. Awesome.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 32:56
Love the questions.
Mark Lefebvre 32:57
Yeah. So another question, more about your writing from Sarah. And Sarah asks, “Where are you at with your book? And what are your next steps?” So you talked about this fantasy novel. And thank you, Sarah, for that question. Talk about, so where are you with that book? And what’s happening next with the book? Did anything cool happen when you were in Oklahoma City?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 33:21
Writer Con far exceeded my expectations. One of the parts I didn’t mention that you get to do at Writer Con is you have an opportunity to pitch to agents, pitch to publishers. And I did.
Mark Lefebvre 33:38
Were you nervous?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 33:39
I was. I was, but I was excited. I went in so prepared, Mark. You know me, I’m a hyper-preparer. And even if for some reason, I went prepared for in case I blew it. I had agent packages set up. I’m gonna show you this after, hold on. I pitched and I have two agents that not only requested my full manuscript which Sarah, right now I am in the final …
Mark Lefebvre 34:04
Wait, hang on a second. You just said that so cavalierly. Two different agents requested the full manuscript?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 34:10
And not only that, I went prepared and pitched my urban fantasy to one of them. I forgot to to the first one.
Mark Lefebvre 34:19
What were you talking about then?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 34:23
Well, I just got into the conversation so much and what was going … you know what? No, I’m going to not mention the agents’ names right now, because I don’t know if I should.
Mark Lefebvre 34:34
No, yeah, that’s fine. That’s between you and the agent.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 34:37
Yes. I almost just did, but with one of them. The conversation was just flowing so good. And I had so much information I needed to write down from her. But I had to stop her and say, I’m sorry. I am dyslexic. I’m not going to get all this. She’s like, you know what, give that to me. She hand wrote out everything for me. So I forgot to pitch my urban fantasy but I did remember to to the second agent, and she requested that as well. And there was an agent I also pitched to and this is the thing, for new writers out there with going to Writer Con, I pitched specifically to an agent that I knew was not interested in fantasy. Yes, I pitched my fantasy novel to her, because I wanted her to know who I was. Because next year when I go back, I am going to have something prepared that she will be interested in.
Mark Lefebvre 35:32
Oh, so she has that familiarity with you and already knows you. So okay, I like that. That’s a smart move.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 35:39
And more than that, I love with my little agent packages. I’m going to try to hold this the right way. I’m trying here Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 35:46
So it looks like it’s a one sheet, with just for people listening in the audio feed. There’s a book cover, there’s a blurb, something about you, something about the book.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 35:54
What it is, is it’s my business card with my pitch sheet attached and chapter one of my novel. And one of the agents that I knew wasn’t interested, I had that prepared to give her. I did give it to all of them. But I specifically had it prepared for her, because and she said it, she’s like, wow, you were so prepared. How can I not take and read this? She says you are so organized. And she will remember me next year when I got back. Oh good. Betsy Kulakowski, “Overprepared is better than underprepared.” It sure is, my BFF. I absolutely adore her
Mark Lefebvre 36:29
Awesome. So I want to go back to something really, really important, particularly for writers who are going to pitch to editors, agents, or even if a writer is doing a reading in front of an audience, here’s the thing to remember. And this is the agent who you expressed, hey, I’m sorry, I’m having trouble following, I’m dyslexic. And the agent stepped up and said, here, let me help you. And this is an important thing, I think, for writers to know. The agent is there because they want you to be successful, they’re there to find great books that they can pitch to publishers. Or if it’s an editor with a publisher, they’re there to try and find great books that they could publish themselves. They’re in your corner. They’re not an adversary. So they’re there wanting to support you, wanting you to be successful. And that’s the thing to remember, if you’re ever nervous in front of an audience. They want you to be successful. They’re there to cheer you on. And I think you highlighted that so beautifully, because I remember throwing up before pitching to a New York editor way, way back in the day, I was just so nervous. And then once I sat down, and he complimented my tie, because he said Richard Lyman had a similar tie. He was a horror author I admired and I was like, oh my God. Yeah, he has edited Richard Lyman. And he put me immediately at ease. And it seemed like the agents did that job for you as well. Right?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 37:48
Yes. And another thing that I want to add to this is yes, the agents when you go in there, the agent is hoping you are going to, you know, they want you. They’re looking for people. And you need to do your homework on these agents. I printed out resume sheets for every agent I was going to be sitting down with.
Mark Lefebvre 38:10
So you really knew who these people were?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 38:13
Yes. You want to go in prepared. You want to know what genres they work with, what they don’t work with. So you’re familiar with who they are. Because another thing is, and this is the attitude I went in with, especially with one of the agents that I knew I was going to be pitching to that didn’t want fantasy. What if she knows somebody who does? You know, what if she’s like, this isn’t for me, but I happen to know somebody who might be interested. And that did happen to me.
Mark Lefebvre 38:42
It is a small community, that is so true. I’m gonna say, Nick says that your agent package is inspiring. There we go. Cool.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 38:50
Thank you so much, Nick. Yeah, I did go prepared. You want to be prepared because then it takes away all the nervousness from you.
Mark Lefebvre 38:58
Yeah, just popping up Betsy’s overprepared is better than underprepared, it’s that reminder again.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 39:06
Yes, and Betsy’s the one who taught that class about impostor syndrome, which is big, because like I said,
Mark Lefebvre 39:13
Oh yes, New York Times bestselling authors face it all the time. So it’s just something we live with, I guess, or learn how to live with. Rhonda asks, so okay, of the three agents you met with, two of them wanted to see the full manuscript. But did you get any feedback from the agents and publishers as well that you’re willing to share?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 39:35
Yes, I did. One of the agents, I mean, I feel like I’m already friends with this woman. She was so amazing. Writer Con also offers agent lunches, so you can sit down and get to know these people. So I happened to do that on both days. I knew it would be in my best interest to get to know them on a personal level before I pitched to them.
Mark Lefebvre 39:59
Oh, that reduces the nervousness so much.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 40:02
It really does. And you know what, being the person I am with always wanting people to be comfortable. Writer Con had the app, we were able to use Wova. And we were able to connect with everybody. And I was thinking to myself, what must it be like for these agents to have to sit down in the lunch with a bunch of people they don’t know? So being who I am, I messaged them all ahead of time on that app. I’m like, it is me you are having lunch with, because I wanted to set them at ease too.
Mark Lefebvre 40:33
Oh, that’s fun. I love that, you’re trying to put the agents at ease. Is it fair to say you’re an empathetic person? Always thinking about the other person. No, I was gonna say, that’s probably why you stepped up to the plate when your friend wasn’t able to do the event. And you said, okay, I’m gonna help these people who are obviously like me, introverted. Come on over here. We got you.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 41:01
We had a fantastic night.
Mark Lefebvre 41:03
Awesome. I think I saw some pictures, it looked like there was quite a group of wonderful people sitting there. That’s great. Yeah. So Fran says, “Very thoughtful to think of the agents.” And Betsy, of course, offers the advice of imposter syndrome. “Fake it till you make it.” All right. I really appreciate the great comments from the live viewers. And so Jenny, as we’re getting close to the end, and sort of wrapping this up, what are some bits of advice that you would like to share for beginning writers who, you know, you’re a year X into this journey. And like myself, we’re both still learning a lot. But what were some things that you would want beginning writers to attend to, to be aware of, things that they should know, that can maybe help them out, make them feel better?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 42:04
All of our first manuscripts are crap, okay? You can’t fear having that first manuscript read and getting the feedback on it. You need it. I’m so embarrassed. People still have copies of my first manuscript out there. It is terrible. You won’t learn by doing it right the first time. You have to make mistakes. It’s part of the process, and you need this feedback to be able to improve yourself.
Mark Lefebvre 42:33
Oh, I like that. I like that. That is fantastic. Thank you. I’m just, a call back from Michelle. In my world, it’s “fake it until you become it.”
Jenny Simard LaBranche 42:47
Oh, I love that, Michelle. Until you become it. I love that Michelle, thank you. Because I have become a writer.
Mark Lefebvre 42:53
I’m going to put my Spiderman costume on after this. I’m just gonna go put it on. That’s it. So, again, so what’s next for you, Jenny? So you got back from this Writer Con, you’re going to be sending the manuscript off to two agents.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 43:07
Yes. Sarah had asked that question where I was in the process. I’m on the final round, final rounds I should say, of my final draft. And right now, the agents I will be sending it to, ask questions when you go in. Because I’m like, how long do I have to send you the manuscript? Are you going to read it immediately? Or do you have a downtime that you’re going to read my manuscript? Two of them said not until Thanksgiving. So I’m like, fantastic. I will send my manuscript to you just before Thanksgiving, so I can take the time to tighten the screws down on that a bit more.
Mark Lefebvre 43:41
Right, right. And also, similarly, you know, you can send it to them and then say, okay, I’m not going to just sit here and wait by the mailbox for months and months, right?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 43:54
The amazing agent who took my pen and paper from me to write down the information when she found out I was dyslexic, she even included writing on there, once I send it to her, give her a bump.
Mark Lefebvre 44:07
Okay, yeah, that’s true. That’s true, because they have a lot coming across their desk.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 44:13
Yeah. Ask questions. That’s the biggest thing to the new writers. Ask questions.
Mark Lefebvre 44:18
Ask questions. Awesome. Jenny, for anyone who wants to learn more about you, check out some of the stuff that you have coming out, where can they find you online?
Jenny Simard LaBranche 44:28
Facebook would be the easiest place right now. Thank you Mark. That is the link where you can type in, you can even just type in Jenny Simard LaBranche, I know it has it up there. I’m getting used to that Mark. I forget it puts me as Jenny S. But find me on Facebook, man. If you’re a new writer, reach out to me. I will share information with you.
Mark Lefebvre 44:48
Awesome, awesome. Jenny, thank you so much for the inspiration and the wisdom and the guidance. I know you have already helped many writers who you may never hear from, but you helped inspire them. So thanks for taking the time and hanging out with us here today.
Jenny Simard LaBranche 45:05
Thank you, Mark. Thanks for having me. And thank you everybody that joined.
Mark Lefebvre 45:09
I just want to remind people if you want to catch our live broadcasts on Thursday at 1pm Eastern Standard Time, we are here every Thursday on our YouTube channel, on Facebook, be sure to like and follow and subscribe. If you are a beginning writer, you can start your self-publishing career at draft2digital.com. Be sure to mark bookmark D2Dlive.com so you don’t miss out on great guests like Jenny. You can get insider into tips over at D2D.tips/insight, all kinds of great things. And of course, always insights and great content over at draft2digital.com/blog. Jenny, thanks again for being here. And thank you for the great live audience and hello to all the listeners in the future in podcast land. Take care everyone.