#276 – Refilling Your Creative Well with L. Penelope

Award-winning fantasy author L. Penelope joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her unique journey to becoming a hybrid author and how she manages to find time for herself while maintaining her busy publishing schedule.

Award-winning fantasy author L. Penelope joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her unique journey to becoming a hybrid author and how she manages to find time for herself while maintaining her busy publishing schedule. Leslye also chats with us about her writing process, the return of in-person events and conventions, and she tells us all about her own podcast, My Imaginary Friends.  

  • Leslye writes both fantasy and paranormal romance, and she talks about how her writing approach differs genre to genre and she explains why she decided to start writing paranormal romance
  • She explains how she manages to keep track of her world building and characters in her epic fantasy series, Earthsinger Chronicles, and why she thinks digital story bibles are the superior option 
  • Leslye tells us about her publishing journey from indie to hybrid author, what it was like moving her fantasy series from indie to trad, and what she has learned about the publishing industry throughout her career 
  • She shares some excellent tips and tools for managing a busy publishing schedule, and she tells us how she makes time to relax and refill her well of creativity 
  • Leslye tells us about her podcast, My Imaginary Friends, why she was inspired to start a solo podcast, and the ongoing conversation she has with her listenership 
  • She tells us what it’s been like returning to in-person conferences and conventions, how she overcame her fear of public speaking to appear on panels, and she tells us about what it was like paneling with one of her writing heroes 

L Penelope’s website 
Follow Leslye on Instagram and Twitter 
My Imaginary Friends 
Earthsinger Chronicles 
The Quotable 
The Creative Penn 
Awesome Con 
Baltimore Book Festival
Tanararive Due  
Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Leslye Penelope has been writing since she could hold a pen and loves getting lost in the worlds in her head. She is an award-winning author of fantasy and paranormal romance.

She was born in the Bronx, just after the birth of hip hop, but left before she could acquire an accent. Equally left and right-brained, she studied Film at Howard University and minored in Computer Science. This led to a graduate degree in Multimedia and a career in website development. She’s also an award-winning independent filmmaker, co-founded a literary magazine, and sometimes dreams in HTML.

Leslye lives in Maryland with her husband and their furry dependents.

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by Speechpad

Rachel: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life.

Joni: And I’m Joni, author engagement specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Rachel: Today on the podcast we spoke to a fantasy and paranormal romance author, L Penelope. Leslye is a hybrid author and the host of her podcast, “My Imaginary Friends”.” And I actually met Leslye at Awesome Con in Washington, DC, where I was attending as a guest. And I saw her speak on a panel about writing a series and I just really wanted to have her on the podcast so I could learn more about her.

Joni: She was a great guest to have. She talked to us a lot about being a hybrid author. She started out indie. Now she publishes both traditionally and she also still publishes some books independently. She talks about writing in different genres, about how she handles plotting, and planning, and organizing because she still has a full-time job. And it was a really great chat. And I also would like to shout out her podcast because it’s great and everyone should give it a listen. It’s really interesting. It’s really insightful, “My Imaginary Friends”.

Rachel: I wholeheartedly second that recommendation. Everybody should check it out and we hope you enjoy our chat. We are here today with author Leslye Penelope. Leslye, thank you so much for joining us.

Leslye: Thank you so much for having me.

Rachel: Do you wanna kind of kick things off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Leslye: Sure. I write as L. Penelope, and I write fantasy and paranormal romance. My main fantasy series is the “Earthsinger Chronicles”. It starts with the book, “Song of Blood & Stone,” which was chosen as one of “Time Magazine’s top 100 fantasy books of all time.” It’s a four-novel series with three novellas, and I also have some shorter works that are paranormal romance.

Joni: How do you handle writing… I mean, I guess there’s a lot of crossover between paranormal romance and fantasy, but do you work differently in both genres or do you find that the process is mostly the same?

Leslye: It’s really similar. I started doing paranormal romance because the epic fantasy, they’re longer, they take longer, there’s more world-building. It’s like second-world fantasy. So I’m creating everything about the world from the ground up and in between the books, I just needed a break. So I was like, “Oh, I’m planning…” I had planned the four-book series and I was like, “I just need some time away from this world.” So my first paranormal romance series, “Angelborn” is like our world, present-day and it just allowed me to do a lot less world-building. I ended up creating like another, like, you know, the secret world of the angels and these creatures that have powers, but it was just a lot less taxing. And so it was sort of a mental break and that’s the way I think of it. Otherwise, my process is very similar in terms of character development, and plot development, and even the world-building that I do on top of our own world, but you just get all of those wonderful things that everyone already knows what you’re talking about with so many things and it’s a good brain break for the epic fantasy fatigue.

Joni: When it comes to epic fantasy, do you find, because you’re working with such long storylines and world-building and all of that, how do you keep track of everything?

Leslye: I have created systems. So I’m a big planner. I’m definitely a plotter and I love spreadsheets and I actually use Scrivener for a story bible. So I have a separate Scrivener project that it’s everything that’s for the world. So it’s broken down into like the nations, the people, the names, culture, magic, and I’ve got documents for all of that. So as I was building the series and making decisions or even just thinking about things, I would put them in the big story bible and try my best to keep it updated. Like there’s lots of times when I’d go back. I’m like, “Oh, I changed that.” And I have to make a change in the story bible. But that really saved me. Like not having that, I don’t know how I would’ve done it.

So having some kind of documentation that’s easily searchable, like a lot of people will do physical story bibles in a notebook, but I really need to be able to search it quickly and find, you know, all the references I have to, you know, a magic system or even a character. And Scrivener is great because you can cross-reference things. So you can create links between documents and then you can organize things really well and create templates. So yeah, that’s kind of how I did it in addition to all of the spreadsheets I have for character and plot type stuff.

Joni: That’s really smart. Do you share…

Rachel: I’m so impressed.

Joni: Yeah. Me too. Is this something you share with your editor?

Leslye: No. I haven’t shared it with my editor because I don’t know that they need that in terms of finding everything. Like a copy editor will create their own style guide and just a list of, you know, all of the names and proper nouns and everything. Yeah. And I don’t really have any collaborators. It’s really just for me. Like I wouldn’t mind sharing it. I share the template with people if they wanna create their own, but yeah, I haven’t had the need to share it with others.

Rachel: That’s really cool and seems much more effective than this like collection of post-its that I have on my wall still from NaNoWriMo, from a project I have not looked at since. I wanted to touch a little bit on your publishing journey because you’re a hybrid author. You publish both traditionally and indie and I was just kind of wondering what your publishing journey has been like.

Leslye: Yeah. It’s kind of a unique story. So I initially… I’ve been writing my entire life and I didn’t really think I could write novels. That was kind of a thing, like how do people do something that long? Because I was poetry and short stories, but I’d gone to several workshops and I’d been inspired to write this thing that just kept getting longer. And my background is in film and web development. So in 2010, some friends that I had met at a writing workshop, we started an independent literary magazine. It was called “The Quotable.” And so we were publishing people and because I have a tech background, I learned how to make eBooks and I was laying out the print books and, you know, we did everything ourselves. I was essentially functioning as the publisher. So learning how…we created, you know, a KDP account and other accounts. I don’t think Kobo was a thing back then, but yeah… So I learned how to do publishing and then when it came time to write my own book, I was like, “I think I’ll just self-publish it.”

I had heard a lot of horror stories about the traditional publishing industry, specifically when it came to black authors and authors of color and I really didn’t want anyone to whitewash my story or ask me to change, you know, important things about the character’s background or race because even though it’s fantasy, there are black characters. So taking all my knowledge, I just, you know, I studied even more about self-publishing and decided to do it myself. And so I was really happy doing that. I’d set these like little goals and I was making the goals like incrementally bigger. And I had two books out in the series in the “Earthsinger Chronicle Series” and I was getting ready to publish my third one when I got an email out of the blue just through my contact form on my website from an editor at St. Martin’s Press and she had found my books online. So I guess my little bit of marketing was working some kind of way. And she had read them and really enjoyed them. So initially she asked me to pitch her my next idea and I had to learn how to write a book proposal. And just in a few months… I did have a new idea. And so I worked on putting it together and doing like the first three chapters and a synopsis and sent that to her. And she said that she liked it but what she really wanted to do was republish “Song of Blood & Stone” and the rest of the series and try to find it a wider audience.

And I thought a lot about that, taking into account all the stories I’d heard and, you know, whether this was something I really wanted to do, but it was a really good opportunity, obviously, even though I still thought it was a risk, but eventually, I did decide to sign with St. Martin’s. I actually did not have an agent at that point. A friend recommended me to a literary attorney who did the deal and I did a four-book deal with St Martin’s. So we reedited the first book and the first two that were out, the third one. Everything’s been reedited, rewritten. They actually did keep my cover that… I had done a lot of research on cover designers like for a year, just any cover I saw, I would read the acknowledgements, tried to figure out who the designer was and I made this big list. And so I picked a really amazing cover designer. And so I was really lucky that they kept that cover. They just changed the colors a little bit, but yeah, it was a really unusual journey.

I mean, it has happened to other people, but in general, you hear like, “Yeah. Your self-published book is not going to get picked up by a traditional publisher. That should not be your plan,” but occasionally it does happen. And it’s been overall a good experience. I mean, I definitely broadened the audience and had a lot more opportunities that I didn’t have when I was completely self-published. I do miss the control of it and having my fingers in the pot of everything, like I was laying out the print books and, you know, choosing the designers and working with an editor and all of that. So I am still hybrid. I’m still planning self-published projects and additional traditionally-published projects.

Joni: That is interesting. You’re right. It is unusual. Rachel and I both interned at publishing houses and that it was definitely not the norm to get… Your book has to be really, really good for a publisher to take an already published book and then like redo it themselves. But yeah, it sounds like it was a good experience for you, so that’s awesome.

Leslye: Yeah. I’ve learned so much, so yeah, it was great.

Joni: Was there anything that was surprising? Especially because it’s kind of an indie press, right? St. Martin’s, it’s a smaller press? Or no…

Leslye: No. It’s part of McMillan. So it’s part of the big village.

Joni: Okay. Yeah. I’m wrong.

Rachel: How did you find… Was there anything that surprised you about working with a trad publisher versus doing it independently?

Leslye: I think the surprise was… And it probably shouldn’t have been like… They’re professionals and they do this for a living, obviously, and I think they’re good at what they do, but they are still people and they don’t have like a magic bullet to figuring out everything about publishing. You know, it’s like marketing is still difficult, visibility is still difficult. Yes, I’m in bookstores, and I’m grateful to be in bookstores and people, you know, will send me pictures of like around the country or even in other countries when they see my book on the shelves, which is something that would’ve been really difficult, if not impossible, in some cases to do indie, but it’s still a challenge to find the audience.

And even though these people are, you know, I think they’re working really hard to do that, they don’t have this magic secret thing that sometimes we think about traditional publishers have, like this magic bullet that will just, you know, find everyone who needs to read your book. That was a little bit of a surprise. And there’s some communication things where you don’t always know what’s happening, which can be frustrating, honestly, but at the same time, you know…so there’s pros and cons and there’s definitely a lot of really good things like I said before, but yeah, I think that working with a team of people is really good. I learned from them and I learned that, you know, some of the things I was already doing were still a good idea and that there were some things I could expand on as well.

Rachel: Is there anything like specific that you picked up from the trad publishers that you brought over to your indie publishing business or vice versa, things that you think indie does better than trad?

Leslye: Yeah. I mean, indie allows me to talk to people directly and really get a handle or an idea of who the individual people are, some of them, who are reading the books and have more of a relationship with them. With trad, and I don’t know if it’s something… I mean, people can do this themselves, in terms of like having a publicist. Like I have a publicist with St. Martin’s who will pitch my book and my story to different outlets. And I know that indies can hire publicists. Often it’s not a great idea, but if you understand exactly what you’re trying to do, like you’re just trying to cast a wide net and say, “Okay, I’m here. I exist. And if you’d like to learn more about this or if it aligns with something else that,” you know, whatever entity, if it’s a blog, or a magazine, or someone is talking about, “then this could be a good person to talk to.” So learning a little bit more about how that happens and is really kind of a numbers game in terms of, “Okay, we’re gonna contact 100 outlets and maybe 5 of them will actually want to either interview you or write a story about it or include you.” And understanding that helped me a lot in terms of my own marketing. Like, yeah, I think I just need to cast a wider net when I’m doing certain things.

Rachel: That’s really cool. One thing I wanted to touch on as far as hybrid goes, because you are like extreme hybrid in one way because you publish your novels traditionally, but then you self-publish novellas in the same world, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. And I’m just kind of curious how that came about, like how that negotiation went for you.

Leslye: Yeah. That is something that was important to me. So “Earthsinger Chronicles”, it’s four novels and I always had planned three novellas in between the novels. And initially, I talked to St. Martin’s about doing those. They had a digital press at the time, but between talking to them and actually signing the contract, which is a long time, I think that eventually closed. So they would’ve been the entity releasing the novellas. And I had made sure to negotiate in my contract that I could continue to publish in this series, which you don’t always get the opportunity to, but that was a really big line in the sand for me, especially because the contract was for the novels and we were going to push the contract for the novellas to the future. And since that ended up not happening, I maintained the ability to have those books in the series. So the three novellas that I self-published are all prequels. They’re optional reading, but like ideally you’d read them all because they do give you insight into the world and some of the characters that you see, they’re designed to like lead into the next novel and give you like background about either a character or a situation that you’re gonna encounter in the novel.

Joni: Do you have a plan when you go into a new project, do you go into it knowing, I’m gonna publish this one myself or I’m gonna work with a publisher on this or is it something that kind of comes about organically as you’re working on new things?

Leslye: Yeah. So I have a new project that I’ve designed to be self-published and I think it’s more genre and story. So it’s a paranormal romance. And traditional publishers aren’t super interested in that right now, but they’re big indie and I think readers are still interested in reading them. And it’s something that I still love to do. So when I was conceiving of the story, I thought of the different ways and I talked to my agent about it too. I did get an agent after I did the St Martin’s deal. Yeah. So we spoke about it and it was like, “This is a good idea for you to self-publish this if that’s what you wanna do.” Because I can write a little faster than traditional publishing can publish me because they’re still not really going to want to do more than about a book a year, maybe two books a year, depending on the press.

But I can do three to four. I’m not like the fastest writer ever, but I can do it a little faster than like a New York publisher will be able to publish me. So because I still wanted to have that experience and I had this idea that didn’t feel like it would be a good fit, I designed it from the beginning to be self-published. My other new book which is going to be coming out from Orbit next summer in 2022, I designed it with the idea that we would go on submission with it to a traditional publisher. I’m always fine that if it doesn’t get picked up I can always self-publish it, but the genre felt more like it would be better for our trad publisher to do it because it’d be a little harder. You know, some things are easier to self-publish and some things are harder. Like if there’s not a category on the retailers or, you know, in the ad sites, then it becomes a little bit more difficult.

Joni: Yeah. And then we definitely notice there are things that people want to read in ebook form and then ones that they want to have on their shelves as well, so…

Leslye: Yeah. That’s true. Yeah.

Rachel: So clearly you’re a little bit busy. You have many irons on the fire with your hybrid publishing schedule. How do you manage everything? How do you manage your time, keep everything straight?

Leslye: I’m also still running my website development business. I’m a freelance developer. So yeah, I’m definitely busy. There’s a lot going on. Creating like project management systems has been really key. So I have a paper planner. I have like a website that I use, a system called ClickUp, which is a project management system that… So I dump all of my tasks into it and then I really parcel out what I’m gonna that week and then I divide it by a day, like what are the things I need to get done today? And then for each day when I’m really busy, I timebox. So it’s basically looking at the calendar or the hours in the day and saying, “Okay, from 8:00 to 11:00, I’m writing. From 11:00 to 12:00, I have to eat something.” Like every hour I try to account for and plan to do something that day.

And I found that it’s great to have a list of things to do, but if you don’t have an idea of when you’re actually gonna do them, it’s just this amorphous blob of stress that presses down on you. So I have dug into my natural inclination to be organized and, you know, just honed the system over the years until it’s something that when I use it, it works. There are, of course, times when I’m like, “Oh, I could write everything down, but I’m just gonna wing it today. I’m feeling a little bit feisty.” And then I end up not getting anything done. So time management systems, I really recommend time boxing or time blocking. You can call it different things and having some kind of, like I have redundant calendar systems. So the paper planner, the Google Calendar, project management system, everything kind of goes in multiple places. Also recording it by hand and on the computer helps me remember too.

Rachel: And what was the name of that website again, for my own personal use?

Leslye: ClickUp. Clickup.com.

Rachel: ClickUp.

Leslye: Yeah. I find it really helpful. And you can view things different ways. So you can make a list of your tasks. You can do it on a kanban board, or a calendar, or a list, the same tasks. And I have all kinds of tags and things and yeah, that helps me just figure out what I’m doing every day and then moving it to the next day if I didn’t finish it or checking it off and having that sense of completion.

Rachel: Do you also block times for yourself to like relax at all? Or like how do you kind of like refill that creative well, when you’re so busy?

Leslye: That’s a really important thing to do. Yeah. So I don’t know if I box… I make sure I stop at a certain time. Like I only schedule till about 4:00 because I get up and I write basically Monday through Friday at 8:00 and if I go much past 4:00 or 5:00, then nothing…whatever I’m doing then is not getting done well. So I do try to have like set hours. Like if I’m, you know, going to the gym or exercising or doing fun things, I put it on the calendar. So I think it is important to sort of make appointments with yourself to do things that you enjoy. Because if it’s not on my calendar, it’s kind of not real. And I realize at some point, like I need to put myself on my calendar. I can’t just do these things for everybody else. Like my clients are on there, my publisher is on there, but like me. So that is something if I’m scheduling, I schedule time for myself too.

But filling the well is important and that’s part of like the project plan for like a new book is like spending some time thinking, like scheduling thinking time. So sometimes my writing time is actually thinking time because I’ve realized I really do need that. I need that moodling and maybe the thinking is reading or watching a movie or something, but especially in the initial stages of like idea generation and plotting, that’s an important. And so that does… I don’t feel guilty anymore. Like I used to feel guilty if I was like, “I am tired and I really need to either take a nap or read something just to kind of fulfill me.” And that’s actually part of the process. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that during those times that I’ve allotted for my writing.

Joni: I think that’s hard to remember. I think people get very caught up and like, “Can’t waste time. I have to be productive with my downtime.” And you’re right. And sometimes it is part of it. It’s just chilling.

Lyslye: Right. Yeah. It’s really important. And depending on like your personality, especially.

Joni: Do you read in the genre that you write in?

Leslye: I don’t read like epic fantasy when I’m writing epic fantasy, but I’ll read like paranormal romance or something adjacent to it. But sometimes it’s really helpful to read something completely different. Like doing my fantasy, I read a lot of historical romance because it is sort of fantastical, the way historical romances go, but I love them. So, yeah. I try not to read exactly the genre until I’m done with the draft or I’m in this in-between parts where the editor has the book or a beta reader has the book and then I’ll want to kind of fill the well with that genre just to get back into a feel for it because I do love it, that’s why I write it.

Joni: Could you tell us a little bit about your podcast?

Leslye: Sure. Yeah. My podcast is called “My Imaginary Friends.” And I started it, I think in 2019. So it’s a solo podcast. It’s essentially a look for behind the scenes of my life as a writer and what I’m dealing with that week. So yeah, it’s kind of just like a diary. I was inspired by the Joanna Penn podcast. Like she has at the beginning of every show, that’s called “The Creative Penn,” her personal update. And sometimes she’ll have solo shows and sometimes… She usually has good guests, but I’m not always interested in the guest. I’m always interested in her personal update though. So I was like, “I could just do that part of the podcast.” Because I thought about so many interview shows and a lot of people are doing really great things with interviews and I didn’t feel like I had anything necessarily to add to that and it would also be a barrier to me actually doing something like scheduling, and other people, and, you know? It’s cool, but it’s like a lot and every week, could I do that? But I knew I could sit down myself at some point in the week and record for 20 minutes. There’s other podcasts like author Duffy Kennedy has a solo show. And so she was also an inspiration because I got a lot out of just hearing what she was thinking about, what her struggles were, you know, Joanna Penn as well. The process, things like that.

So I do it. It’s about 20, 25 minutes a week. Comes out on Mondays and, you know, I’ve heard from people who are really enjoying it. It’s sort of like sitting down to coffee with a friend and hearing about what that they’re going through. And I try to be really honest because I know that there are a lot of aspiring writers who listen in addition to readers and, you know, the things that I wish I’d known, the things that I think that people need to be aware of what happens, just the ups and downs of publishing. And then as honest as I can be.

Rachel: I was going to ask what the feedback has been like from other writers or your readers because you do offer like really personal insights. I was listening to your latest episode talking about getting feedback from different sources and just how you digest that. And you’ve had obviously very positive feedback. Do you have like an ongoing conversation with your listeners?

Leslye: Yeah. There is. It really is. Like I make notes during the week of, you know, things to talk about, things I think of and otherwise, it’s just what literally happened. Like what stage I’m at with the book process. And so there are ongoing conversations about just the things that I’m consistently thinking about, whether it’s craft stuff or, you know, how I’m adjusting my process. Like each book is slightly different and requires something slightly different. And then the feedback from the editor, you know, good things that happen and the disappointments that happen too, sharing those because yeah, like when I started, I had done a lot of research, but there’s so much you don’t know until you’re actually in it. And so hearing from someone in the middle of it. And so much of what you hear and see on social media is just only the positive, shiny things. So like without being, you know, negative, just being honest and sharing things that if you do this, these are things that might happen to you too.

Joni: I’m curious, did you find that your experience with doing that podcast changed at all when we were all in lockdown? Because it very much feels like you said, like a coffee with a friend and there was a point for a long time when none of us had that. And I just wonder, like how did it feel to have sense of connection? Did it change at all?

Leslye: I don’t know if it changed because it really is kind of me here in my office where I write alone, talking to people that I can’t see. I mean, the comments that I get really helped during that time, like any sort of human interaction during lockdown was super…a bonus, definitely. But yeah, I don’t know that it changed that much because, you know, it is a solo endeavor, you know, before pandemic also.

Joni: I guess I was thinking more in terms of response to it. Is it mostly readers or writers that are listening, do you find, that you know of?

Leslye: I find it’s actually… The people I hear from are writers or aspiring writers. So there are some published authors and then people who are trying to write. Because I initially thought it would be more readers. And I do hear from readers also, but I do get the sense that it is a little more heavily skewed towards people interested in writing and people who are writing.

Rachel: I just kinda wanna touch on what Joni said with lockdown. Did you find that it was… Like did you have any struggles being creative because when you’re writing, especially epic fantasy and paranormal, like that is a deep well of creativity that you need to tap into to create a whole new world. Did you find the lockdown in the pandemic kind of hindered that at all or were you able to just kind of buckle down and focus?

Leslye: At the beginning, in March, I think I had a book due April 1st, 2020, and yeah, we start already lockdown mid-March. Probably everyone did. So I was pushing through and then I had something else that was due right after that. So yeah, I was just chugging along. It was actually… It helped me to be able to work and I didn’t have the same problem that I’ve heard a lot of people have where they couldn’t write. I was able to be focused. Also, I’ve worked from home for a really long time. So it took a long time for the changes to really be felt like viscerally because, you know, I go places. I go to the store and stuff, but I wasn’t missing it as much.

But by November of 2020, that was sort of when it was like starting to drag. And I was still working. I was still working on the new book. So actually the productivity writing-wise wasn’t really affected. My reading was affected a lot. I found myself unable to read. I was starting to watch more television, which I don’t usually watch a lot of TV because I’d rather read and I cut out a lot of TV shows when I started writing professionally. But my mind got, I don’t know, it was that thing where I just couldn’t focus on anything. I was DNF-ing books. I would start one, I’m like, “Ah…” And it wasn’t the book. It was me. And that was concerning, you know, because I love to read and I usually read quite a lot. So yeah, that took the biggest hit. Work-wise, things were still busy with my day job in addition to deadlines which helped me focus on something else, you know, on the work. But yeah, leisure time was kind of the big hit.

Rachel: I know Joni and I both had similar experiences with reading, especially the first part of lockdown. I don’t think either of us finished a book for a while.

Leslye: That is very relatable to me. Yes.

Rachel: It’s very relatable. It was tough.

Leslye: Tough.

Rachel: Yeah. I’m just gonna do like a hard left switching gears here, but you and I met at Awesome Con in DC in August. And what has it been like getting back into in-person conventions after a year and a half of lockdown?

Leslye: Yeah. Awesome Con. It was really amazing. I had been once before a few years ago and so, of course, it’s fewer people, but it was still a lot of people. It was still the most people I had been around in a really long time.

Rachel: Same.

Leslye: But yeah, the energy was really good because everybody you could tell was grateful out of the house. I heard from vendors that people were really looking to spend money and the vendors were doing well. Our panels were really well attended and people were really engaged and I was happy to be able to be out. You know, I felt safe. We were masked and everything. I felt comfortable being there. So it was amazing. It was… Yeah. The first in-person event I’ve done. After that, I went to a writing retreat with a couple of friends. And so getting out there… I have another conference this weekend, actually. Getting out there more and being able to see people again is I think is really like buoying to my soul because even though I’m an introvert and I love being in-house, I do love also meeting people and talking to people, especially writing people and reading people about it and doing so many Zooms. Like there were a lot of online events that we still got a chance to talk to people, but, you know, obviously, nothing matches being in person. So it’s been great.

Rachel: I wholeheartedly agree. It was a lot of people at once, but it was really nice to be around people again. Like you said, you did, you have other conventions and whatnot coming up. Do you find that the preparation for panels at a con, like Awesome Con versus speaking at like a writing event, do you prepare differently for those two types of panels?

Leslye: Not really. I do a lot of speaking on panel and events. And especially with the podcast also, just sort of talking about these things regularly, I don’t find that I have to prepare that much. Like people will sometimes send questions in advance and it’s nice to get them, but I don’t always need them because I used to be very, very nervous about public speaking like I think most people also because I’m an introvert, but I forced myself to do it a lot, especially when I was first starting to self-publish and then get published in other ways because I thought it was important to getting myself out there. So practice just helped me not have those sort of nerves. And even now if I’m faced with a question that I don’t know or I don’t think I can add to, either it’s like you kind of pivot into something you do know and try to benefit the audience and the listener in that way or just like admit like, “Yeah, I don’t really know about that. But here’s something else that I do know about that I can talk about.”

Because that used to actually be the thing that would cause me the most anxiety, is like, “What if they asked me a hard question?” I’m like, “Well, I know all these other things, so I’m not gonna make something up.” Or, you know, I feel like everybody doesn’t know everything. So like if I don’t know, like pop culture stuff or… For me, the hardest questions at like literary events are about other books. And anytime anyone asks me about a book, every book I’ve ever read flies out of my mind. “I have no idea. Like I can’t recommend you anything. I’m sorry. I’ve completely forgotten. And I will tell you that in a minute.” Like occasionally I will prepare. That’s the thing I do try to prepare when I remember to, is like, if they ask me about books about this, this, and that, like are there some things I can recommend? But if I don’t, then I don’t know. I’m sorry. And that’s kind of how I feel about it. There are different focuses and I’m always happy to talk about things I know about. And if I don’t know, I’ll just be like, “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”

Joni: You would never know from your podcast that you were once afraid of public speaking because to me, it’s very daunting, the idea of speaking into a void and doing a solo podcast, but you sound very, very relaxed, and calm, and it’s a really great podcast, so I would never know.

Leslye: Thank you.

Rachel: I think that’s really great advice too, that it’s okay to not know everything. I’ve been with Kobo for what? Like almost 18 months now, something like that, but like I’ve just started to be put on panels where I have to talk about what we do here and that’s excellent advice because that’s the scariest thing, is when you get a question and you do not know the answer.

Leslye: Yeah. Definitely. And it’s like you feel like, “Oh, I’m up here. I’m the expert. I should know everything.” But nah, you’re just a human being. So that’s cool. People will understand.

Joni: I think people respect that. Yeah. Do you have a favorite conference that you like or that you’d recommend for other authors even?

Leslye: I don’t have a favorite. The one that I did the most, they stopped doing it. It’s local, Baltimore Book Festival in Baltimore. And I know they stopped for pandemic. I hope they bring it back afterwards because that was actually really nice. Also, it was very close. Close things are always my favorite. But I’m trying to think of something that I’ve traveled to that I loved a lot. I mean, they’re all so different. There’s another local one that’s more literary. It’s called Capclave that I’ve been to. And so if your focus is kind of the books, Readercon. Actually, Readercon is my favorite conference. It takes place outside of Boston. And I’ve only been once in person. This last time it was online, which is also great, but it’s very chill. It’s obviously for readers and writers and the organizers do a really great job. So if anyone wants to go to Boston next time they’re in person, I do recommend Readercon.

Rachel: Joni, make a note. We should go. I’m so excited to start traveling for conventions again.

Joni: It’s great.

Rachel: Can’t wait. Do you ever get a chance to like nerd out when you’re at conventions and see stuff that you really wanna see or do you find that you’re more focused on being at your table and answering questions from your readers?

Leslye: When I was self-published, I would go places and like sit at the table and sell the books, but these days, most of them are being on panels and then going to panels. So yeah, I definitely get to nerd out and learn new things even on the online ones too because there’s always really cool people there that, you know, if you can meet someone that you’ve read and you’ve loved and maybe you’re on a panel with them and that’s insane, like how do I get to do this? Or just learn a bunch of new things about that… You know, there’s always cool, interesting people who are very thoughtful and are exploring things that I don’t know anything about and I’d love to learn about. And then there’s like in between you’re meeting people who are also lovers of books and you get to geek out about the books that you loved and maybe recommend things to them, in that circumstance I can usually remember things. Or learn of new books, like increase your TBR. And like I was at a romance conference and I think we were talking about Lisa Kleypas and you could see these people just super excited, like, “Have you read that? Did you read that one? And that was so amazing.” That is one of the best feelings ever.

Rachel: Have you ever found yourself on a panel with somebody and that you like really admired and you found yourself like, “Ah,” a little bit intimidated by?

Leslye: Well, I was at Readercon. The guest of honor was Tananarive Due who is a black horror and science fiction author who is one of my like favorite authors. And I was actually… They put me on the panel too, like the honoring her panel. So she’s sitting in the front row and we’re talking about how great she is and I’m like, “I don’t know how I can do this.” I mean, it was like fangirling, like you’re allowed to fangirl in that, you know, situation because that’s kind of the point. But then I was actually on a panel with her as well. And yeah, sometimes you’re just amazed that you get to do these things. Like I don’t know why I get to do these things. I’m very happy and grateful that I am though.

Rachel: So cool though.

Joni: Last book that you read and loved?

Leslye: Claire Kent who is a pseudonym of Noelle Adams, is a romance author. She writes contemporary, but as Claire Kent, she has some sci-fi, like apocalyptic romances and there’s a new novella called “Haven” that came out a few weeks ago, and I…she’s an auto buy for me. I love her. She’s very comforting as a read. So if you would like a post-apocalyptic romance that is…it’s not harsh and awful, it’s still pretty gentle. I would recommend “Haven” by Claire Kent.

Joni: Noted. Do you have a favorite fictional world? Doesn’t have to be like one book, but a fictional world that you love.

Leslye: The first thing that came to mind was…it’s not a series though. It’s “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik. I think the world that she created in… And that in “Spinning Silver.” I don’t think they’re the same world, but I just love her world-building. And it’s sort of grounded in reality, you know, like I know specifically “Spinning Silver” was sort of grounded, the characters were based on like Jewish characters and she does a lot with Jewish folklore and the way that she integrates that into secondary fantasy worlds, I think was really great and just stands out to me and everything, you know, all the detail, like obviously those books are both quite amazing. I recommend them that you have not read them, but yeah, those worlds are really cool.

Joni: That does sound really good. And our final question was what is the book that you recommend the most?

Leslye: I don’t know if there’s a most because it depends on who I’m talking to, you know, like it’ll be different for someone I know who loves romance versus someone who, you know, just loves fantasy or paranormal, specifically. I often recommend “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor because I just think that’s a fantastic…it’s a YA fantasy book. It came out maybe 10 years ago or so. And it’s just amazing. Like I remember reading that book and being blown away. And every time I read Laini Taylor, it’s like, “Why am I writing? Like I shouldn’t be doing this. She’s doing this much better than me.” She’s one of those people that’s like makes you wanna stop. But I mean, she’s fantastic. And “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” yeah. It was just lush and twisty and it just kind of blew my mind. So if people like fantasy and like YA, then I generally recommend that a lot.

Rachel: That’s been on my TBR forever and I just… Like it’s one of those books that’s just been sitting there and I just keep accidentally going past it. So I’m gonna push that up.

Leslye: Yeah. Like if you read the first chapter and you don’t wanna read the rest of it, like, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but yeah. It’s great.

Rachel: I love YA fantasy. So it’s like right up my alley.

Leslye: Cool.

Joni: That’s a good recommendation too, you know, when somebody’s like, “Oh, if you read the first chapter, you won’t put it down.” Like that’s exactly what I want sometimes.

Leslye: Yeah. It’s the page-turner that just grabs you. That’s always fun.

Rachel: All right. And before we wrap up, where can listeners find you online?

Leslye: My website is lpenelope.com and that’s where everything is. The podcast is there too. And then I’m on Twitter and Instagram @LeslyePenelope, which is L-E-S-L-Y-E, and I’m usually on Instagram more. I lurk on Twitter.

Joni: So thank you so much.

Rachel: Instagram is a much happier place.

Leslye: Yes it is. Thank you guys so much too.

Rachel: Thank you. This was great. Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast. If you were interested in picking up Leslye’s books or checking out her podcast, we will have links to book both in our show notes. If you’re enjoying our podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us @kobowritinglife.com and be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Joni Di Placido. Editing is by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is provided by Tear Jerker. And we’d like to say a big thanks to Leslye Penelope for being a great guest. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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