Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Mark of the Hummingbird, by Jessica Gollub - Analysing a Writer's Process

I met Jessica Gollub on Twitter. I doubt Twitter will ever help me sell books, but that's fine. I'm not really interested in it for that. Writing fiction for me is as much about connecting with people who write, and people who read, as it is about making a living. Although, commercial reality is part of it. I can't remember why but I took a look at her debut novel, Mark of the Hummingbird, and, having been attracted to the cover, I read the blurb. Then I downloaded it. Here's the blurb:

Burying the truth in the snow can’t conceal it forever. Leona was born a survivor—one of the few sheltered in a prison that withstood the plummeting temperatures of the frozen days. Now, as the weather slowly warms, she struggles to understand a culture and society vastly different than the one created by her elders. Standing on the cusp of her seventeenth birthday, the day she will officially become a woman and eligible for marriage, the tiny world she had long since accepted suddenly seems stifling. Conflicts and curiosity propel her beyond the fences of her home into a barren and uncertain future, with one asset that just might keep her alive.
— Mark of the Hummingbird

I got in touch with Jessica to compliment her on the cover. She explained that she designed it herself. Something started ticking in my head and we chatted a little more. It became quickly obvious that she and I had very different approaches to writing and to self-publishing. Contrasting her approach with mine was an interesting process and I think you'll rather enjoy it. So here is part one in a two-part series which analyses the processes that Jessica has undergone to publish her first novel compared, in part two, to mine.


How long did you research before beginning the first draft?

I didn't do a ton of research, to be honest. The benefit of writing a future-based novel is that many of the details can be imagined, and since I already live in a really cold climate I had a base of knowledge to work from. The main "life experiences" Leona and the other characters go through (being really cold, having babies, etc) are ones I have personally experienced. I did also have a stint in my life where I watched a lot of the reality show "Doomsday Preppers" so some of the survival techniques I wrote about came from that.


How long did it take you to write your first draft?

In actual writing time it didn't really take that long... If I had been able to work daily it might have taken a few weeks, but I have two preschoolers at home (a five-year-old and a three-year old) so I can only write in spurts when I can find a babysitter.  There was also about a six-month gap in the middle where I just plainly didn't have time. The bulk of the writing was done NaNoWriMo-style in a month-long push (of a few babysitter days and an hour or so on the other days) to get a completed first draft, though I did it in October because I didn't want to wait until November.



How many times did you edit that draft yourself?

I did no editing before sending it to my secondary readers. I don't think I was in the frame of mind to really edit it, having just spent the last weeks immersed in it (as immersed as a stay-at-home-mom can be). I told them it was completely raw and there were plenty of continuity errors that needed to be fixed, but to read it as a story and enjoy the story. Turned out, they did! They also gave me a nice list of continuity errors. It took me a long time to get all the character's ages straight.

What is your writing background and how have you developed your craft?

First and foremost, I am a lifelong reader. Beyond that, my training is slim. I took a few Creative Writing courses as part of my college education. I have always loved the written word and both reading and writing have always been a passion for me. To be honest, while I always knew I wanted to write, I don't think I ever really thought I would. Lots of people want to write and don't.  At some point I realized that I just needed to do it. I had a story in my head and no one else was going to write it for me, and I knew that I would regret it if I didn't at least give it a shot.


Did you use a professional editor? For what – developmental editing, line editing or copyediting? Or a combination?

I didn't use a professional editor. Thankfully I have a lot of readers as friends, though none of them are trained in editing. I relied on them to wave the red flags on plot holes and all those obvious problems, and then I spent a lot of time copy editing myself. Once I had fixed everything I could see, I gave it to my husband, who is NOT a reader, because I knew he wouldn't be distracted by the story and would catch the other problems (he's rather neurotic).  I think there might still be a typo or two in the completed book, but no one has written them down or told me yet, and I'm pretty sure I will never find them on my own.


Tell us about the cover design? How did you put it together and where did you get your inspiration from?

Other than being a writer, I have always loved photography and typography, so really I guess I'm exactly what I needed to be a self-publisher. I think I always knew what the main image of the cover would be. I wanted it to be simple, yet intriguing. Thankfully I also have a sister-in-law who is capable of drawing a decent hummingbird on her own wrist and was willing to come out (in minus thirty Celsius) and pose for me.  I have good relatives.


What marketing have you done already and what do you intend to do?

The first thing I did was get onto the internet and Google everything. I looked at what other people were doing as self-publishers and did my best to take their advice. I created a Goodreads page for myself and my book, and also did a giveaway of 10 books. (This cost me a fortune in shipping, but I've gotten 3-4 reviews out of it already and they only would have received them a week ago) I have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, a Google+ page and I'm currently working on a website. I do my best to make relationships with other writers and readers. I think the best marketing in the world is just to be a genuine person and have a really great story (or, at least I hope that's the case). I'm also currently working on getting some reviews written on blogs or newsletters and anything else I can think of to get the word out.


When is the sequel due out?

My goal is to have the sequel "The Song of the Sisters" out by summertime, barring unforeseen complications. This is going to be a whole lot easier when both of my kids are in school.


Jessica Gollub lives in Winnipeg, Canada with her husband, two fabulously precocious children and nine chickens that lay green eggs. She loves nothing better than a book she can sink her teeth into, especially in the winter, (which is pretty much half the year). If anyone is curious, "Gollub" is just like "Gollum", but with a 'B'.


Twitter: @GollubJessica


Website: (under construction)



All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015