LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: When you published your first book just over six years ago, it went to the top of the charts, which is every author’s dream. Can you share what that was like?
BECKI WILLIS: I was too inexperienced to know what it meant or to fully appreciate its significance. I was a complete novice and was indie published, so I didn’t have anyone in the industry to share it with or help me navigate my way forward.
You’ve now published nineteen books in six years, and you recently spent two months ranked as one of Amazon’s Top 100 Best Selling Mystery Authors. What’s changed since that first book?
Not a lot has changed. I’m still indie published, and I’m still wading the waters alone. My family doesn’t understand the numbers (but they sure benefit from the paycheck), and most readers don’t care where I rank, just that I churn out entertaining stories. I’ve never submitted a manuscript to a publisher or an agent; I’m a self-taught, self-published author who’s getting paid to play with my imaginary friends. Does it get any better than this?
Ah, but it does keep getting better, right? Amazon reached out to you with special promotion offers and programs, and several of your books are enrolled in Prime Reading. Tantor Media contacted you and bought audio rights to Forgotten Boxes and the first four The Sisters, Texas books. And on top of that, a major television studio came to you with an offer to buy the media rights to The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series. All these companies came to you and offered you money. Explain yourself!
To say that I have been blessed is an understatement. I live in a perpetual state of wonder and awe. Every day I think ‘this is the day it all comes crashing down.’ And yet it doesn’t. Not yet, even though I know it will at some point.
Are you able to give any information about how The Sisters, Texas Series was optioned for a TV series?
In July of 2017, a writer/producer reached out and inquired about the rights to The Sisters, Texas Series. By August, the studio gave a verbal commitment to make the series, and in April of 2018, we signed the final Option Agreement. Last spring, they renewed the option for another year (paid me again), something they can do twice more before releasing the rights or renegotiating the terms. For all its trending styles and in-the-moment timeliness, the gears in Hollywood churn slowly. Overnight success takes years.
Will you be involved with the project?
If the project happens, I will be Executive Producer, but that hardly means I have much control. As a self-admitted control freak, it was hard for me to agree to their non-negotiable terms. They have the right to change just about everything. From what I’ve already heard, they plan to do just that. Some of it is a casting issue. Some is a setting issue. Some is a too-much-like-another-production issue. I’m afraid my most dedicated readers won’t be happy with the more drastic changes, but it can’t be helped.
If the project happens, it will be a real-life Cinderella story. I may sound cavalier about the details, but deep down, when I stop to let it all soak in, I fall apart. This is just too surreal. Too impossible. Too huge. I have to keep it in the background, stuffed inside its own box where it’s contained. Controlled.
So while you’re waiting on Hollywood, you’re writing, and you’ll publish your twentieth book, Sitting on a Fortune, next month. What do you have in store for readers the rest of 2020?
Sitting on a Fortune, Book 9 of The Sisters, Texas Series, debuts on my birthday, February 11th. I’m looking forward to sharing more about it with readers during my Lone Star Book Tour starting February 20th.
After that, it’s back to make-believe Hannah, Texas for the third installment of The Spirits of Texas Cozy Mysteries and to the very real towns of Bryan-College Station to continue the Texas General Cozy Cases.
I just read A Case of Murder by Monte Carlo, your first Texas General Cozy Cases of Mystery book, and of course, I am delighted with the story and that the Texas General books are set in College Station (Whoop!). Why this setting?
The books are a slight departure from my usual genre. We’ll see how that pans out. The overall series should be easy to write and research, as I’m an Aggie, my daughter-in-law is an ER nurse, and I live in Aggieland’s backyard. Gig ‘em Ags!
Any other projects in the works (because clearly, you don’t have much on your plate)?
I’m continuing work on a new series that I have yet to reveal. I have a feeling it can be really special, so I don’t want to spill the beans until it’s taken a better shape and form. It will require an out-of-state research trip (yay!) so it may or may not see publication this year. And there’s definitely another The Sisters, Texas book coming up.
What advice do you have for unpublished writers?
Learn the business.
It may seem that everything has fallen into my lap, but I’ve worked hard to get here. I’d like to think my “success” (it’s a relative term) is a result of my brilliant writing skills, but that’s simply not the truth. I’ve worked hard to be noticed.
Writing the story is only the beginning. As an indie author, I’ve had to educate myself on literally every aspect of my craft. There are some things—like editing and book covers—that I can’t do, so I outsource those. But as chief cook and bottle washer at Becki Willis, Author, the rest falls squarely on my shoulders.
Some people only want to write one book. That’s fine. Pour your heart into it and make it the best it can be. But if you want a career as an author, you have to think of this as a business.
It IS a business, but that’s a hard transition for many writers to make. You’ve owned your own business for thirty years and understand the basics of marketing and sales. What have you learned from your retail years?
You need to have what people want, or you need to make people want what you have.
Find a sub-category in a hot genre and give it your own twist. Don’t waste your time trying to copy someone else, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Be dependable, but be fresh and unique.
If people can’t find it, they can’t buy it.
That means, among other things, having the right cover, the right category, and the right advertisement.
Customers shop differently than they once did. If you want to be successful, you must learn to adapt. Learn what’s selling, where it’s selling, and at what price.
We all have an image in our head of what it means to be an author: National bookstores/ paperback and hardcover formats/ adoring fans lined up at book signings/ tours and advances, fame and fortune. I get it. But don’t be so in love with the image in your head that you ignore reality! Reality may be a $3.99 e-book/ no physical bookstores/ tours in virtual form only, like the fabulous ones we find here from Lone Star Literary Life. If that’s what readers in your genre want, then that’s what you give them. Be flexible.
And, finally, believe in yourself. Be true to you.
Favorite Texas Author: You know that’s like asking me to choose a favorite child, right? Let’s just go with Jodi Thomas and leave it at that.
How many books on your nightstand? My bookshelf is filled with dozens (dozens!) of dusty favorites.
Print or eBook? I own three Kindles, if that tells you anything.
Team Oxford Comma? Yes, yes, and yes.
Becki Willis, best known for her popular The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series and Forgotten Boxes, always dreamed of being an author. In November of 2013, that dream became a reality. Since that time, she has published numerous books, won first place honors for Best Mystery Series, Best Suspense Fiction, Best Women’s Detective Fiction, and Best Audio Book, won the 2018 RONE Award for Paranormal Fiction, and has introduced her imaginary friends to readers around the world.
An avid history buff, Becki likes to poke around in old places and learn about the past. Other addictions include reading, writing, junking, unraveling a good mystery, and coffee. She loves to travel but believes coming home to her family and her Texas ranch is the best part of any trip. Becki is a member of the Association of Texas Authors, Writer’s League of Texas, Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Professional Women, and the Brazos Writers organization. She attended Texas A&M University and majored in journalism.