Happy Tuesday, folks!
Today, I get to share a very fun interview with you! My friend and Llamasquad member, C.G. Jorgensen, recently published her book, PROJECT HALO! I talked to her about writing, finding community, and her advice for those who want to self-publish. Read on below!
Can you tell me a bit about Project Halo? (Age category, genre, blurb)?
CGJ: PROJECT HALO is a YA sci-fi thriller with speculative elements and it takes place in near-future Norway. Here we meet seventeen-year-old Charlie Walker, a chaotic ball of anger who is trapped in a conspiracy created by his own father. Together with a hacker group, he has to figure out who is telling the truth while keeping a deadly secret on his own.
Do you have any books, TV shows, movies, or video games to compare Project Halo to?
CGJ: Black Mirror, Silence of Six, Mr. Robot, The Maze Runner, Divergent, 1984 but make it YA… Basically, PROJECT HALO is a sci-fi with dystopian and speculative elements.
What inspired you to write this book?
CGJ: Honestly, I’ve always been a bit of a conspiracy theorist (lol nothing wild, ok!!), and as I studied to become a teacher I realized how much power adults have over kids and their flow of information. It’s our responsibility as adults and teachers to show the younger generation how to differentiate various sources of information, and even be aware of such sources. I could go on a whole spiel on this, but in short: I wanted to write something that shows how important it is to keep yourself updated as well as staying critical to any source.
I also wanted to write something with heavy themes but at the same time make it an enjoyable read, which was a difficult balance, and I hope I got it somehow right! I tried to keep the intended audience in mind (YA) and what I would’ve liked to read when I was their age, and that’s how PROJECT HALO came to life. Having a boy MC was also a deliberate choice as we need more of them in YA, and I hope both young boys and girls can see themselves in Charlie and his struggles and dreams.
A little PSA, though: I wrote this book five years ago, and I know that the times we’re in today makes the whole virus-aspect a bit iffy, so if you don’t feel comfortable reading about a potential virus being released to the public, this might not be a good fit for you. My goal was never to make people paranoid, but to hopefully inspire people to do their own research and do it well, as there is so much contradicting and overwhelming news out there. I do however understand that this could make people paranoid because of the time we’re in at the moment, and that was never my intention.
Did you query it?
CGJ: Yes, I queried it on and off for around a year, but ultimately I kind of gave up on it, or at least on that particular route of publishing. I had many great rejections in the sense that they were personalized and they gave me some great advice on how to strengthen the book, but it never ended in an offer.
How did you decide to self-publish it?
CGJ: Well, I have always had complete belief in this book and the series it will become, and I wanted to share it with other people. I had contemplated self-publishing before, even before querying, but now with the whole pandemic going on, I decided to just go for it and give people something to read to entertain them and hopefully distract them a bit. This is also why it’s out for free atm (and only $0.99 when it’s full price). It was also a bonus to get the book out so I could start writing the sequel, which has been marinating in my head for years now. Win/win!
What was the editing process like for you?
CGJ: I wrote the first draft of PROJECT HALO over five years ago, so to say it’s been through a lot of rounds is an understatement. A typical process for me and any book, however, is to first write a “zero draft” where the goal is to simply write the bones of the story and let myself get to know the characters. Then, I work through a beat sheet to plan the next draft, and I completely rewrite everything. Everything! This usually makes for a pretty solid first draft, which I then send to my dear CPs. After being with my CPs, I will do another round where I fix things based on their feedback, and perhaps add some stuff I’ve been plotting as well while the book was out with them (my mind non-stop thinks about a project when I’m working on it, haha). Then I send the next draft to betas. Usually, one round is enough, but sometimes I do two rounds, depending on the book.
With PROJECT HALO, I actually did three rounds of betas, because it’s so plot heavy and I struggled a bit with balancing all the characters’ wants and needs along with the things that needed to happen plotwise. I also workshopped PROJECT HALO through Author Mentor Match which I was lucky enough to get into, and it definitely helped make the book stronger thanks to my amazing mentor, Mara Fitzgerald.
Then, when I decided to self-publish, I had a professional editor look at it, both on a developmental level and a proofreading level. This is something I recommend to anyone self-publishing, just to make your book as good as it can be.
How did you know when your book was ready to share?
CGJ: As said, I have been through many rounds of edits and revisions with this book, and I was at a point where it was just lying there, waiting to be shared. Even if I were to get an agent with this book, it would take at least 1-2 years before it even would be out into the world, and I didn’t want to wait that long. I want to write the rest of the series and I will do it by myself, and I’m excited for it.
It’s definitely not easy to know exactly when your book is ready (if there’s even such a thing as being completely ready), and I know I could have edited and rewritten PROJECT HALO time and time again because as I grow as a writer, there will always be new things to fix and strengthen. But after so many years of working on it, I did feel a sense of completion, like I was happy with where PROJECT HALO was at and I was ready to move on to writing the next book.
How was the process of getting your book up on Amazon?
CGJ: It was very easy, really! I had decided to only publish my book through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), so I signed up there and followed the steps, which were pretty straightforward. There are also lots of tutorials and advice videos on youtube that would be helpful to take a look at if you’re new to the whole self-publishing game. I haven’t really done research on how to advertise my book, though, so I can’t give much advice there, but I do know there are a lot of videos on that on youtube as well.
Can you tell us a bit about your cover, the design process, and working with the illustrator?
CGJ: I had a pretty clear image of how I wanted my book cover to look, but I thought it would be a bit difficult to make happen, especially at an okay price-point. But my designer, Johannus M. Steger (jm_steger @ twitter) absolutely blew me away! I sent him a link to my inspiration board on Pinterest and gave him some guidelines, and he sent me a document with questions about the book cover, as well. The first draft of the book cover was already amazing, and after a few tweaks we got to how it is today, and in my eyes it’s perfect. It’s also so much fun to see my MC Charlie right there on the cover! It’s a pretty surreal feeling (and I definitely recommend it to any author).
Your book is set in Norway–can you talk about that a bit?
CGJ: To be honest, my book was set in an imaginary country at first, but it was still heavily inspired by Norway. Norway is my home country and I kind of wanted a different setting than the ones that usually dominate the thriller genres (mostly the US and the UK). Norway is also said to be one of the safest countries in the world, and I wanted to play with that contrast. If one of the safest countries in the world starts surveying its population, what does that mean for the rest of the world? Here in Norway we are pretty spoiled, honestly, and also kind of naive. In my opinion, most Norwegians would probably think the biochip was a good idea and would cooperate with the government by getting it implanted, which I think is a scary thought. As a Norwegian myself, I’d like us to understand that privilege doesn’t always mean we know what’s best, or that we should trust anyone in power blindly.
Your book features lots of technology and hacking. Are you pretty techy yourself?
CGJ: I mean… A hacker doesn’t hack and tell. Jk. I’m pretty techy and I studied coding for a while, as well as trying to stay updated on any technological achievements and inventions, but I’m nothing special in those areas. I have always respected hackers though and I’d like to learn more! White hat hacking, of course… Well, for the most part.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
CGJ: I’m mostly a pantser, but I do try to have at least some main plot points down before I begin drafting. I usually start out with at least my main character, some hint of a plot, and random scenes I have dreamt up and want to include somehow. It’s like a puzzle, really.
Discovery writing is where I thrive, and I usually end up with a completely different route at the end of any drafts I write, which is why I don’t spend too much time planning it out before writing the zero draft. I just know that my brain will hijack the whole thing and change the whole plot while I write, and even though that process can get tiring, it’s also exciting and rewarding.
If you read writing craft books, do you have any to recommend?
CGJ: I do try to read writing craft books, and I have studied creative writing in London, and some of the books I read there are still high up on my list. I should however read some new soon, and I actually just ordered “Wired for Story” by Lisa Cron after reading her “Story Genius”, which I really liked (and thank you for recommending it!!).
Some of my other favorites include:
“On Writing” by Stephen King
“Bird by bird” by Anne Lamott
“The Emotional Craft of Fiction” by Donald Mass
“Write Your Novel From the Middle” by James Scott Bell
“Plot versus Character” by Jeff Gerke
Who would your dream co-author be?
CGJ: Gosh, if I’m thinking BIG, it would probably be Suzanne Collins or Marie Lu, as I feel we have similar tastes and writing styles (although mine is not at ALL at their level lmao, don’t get me wrong). I would also love to co-author with some of my llamas from the llamasquad, because that group consists of great minds I would love to work along with!
What’s a book you’ve read lately that you’re OBSESSED with?
CGJ: It has been a while since I read a book I was obsessed with, honestly, but I just reread “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness and I still love that book so, so much. I also really liked “The Luminous Dead” by Caitlin Starling because I love horror and her approach to it was so original and fresh!
What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?
CGJ: My biggest, wildest author dream is to have my books adapted into movies, for sure. I have always been a huge movie nerd and I used to make movies myself (just for fun), so actually seeing something I’ve written on the big screen would be unreal.
My main goal, while still wild, is to be writing books fulltime. It would also be damn cool to see fanart of my characters!
What’s the hardest part about being a writer?
CGJ: As an extrovert, writing can get extra lonely sometimes. I know this is true for many writers, extrovert or not, but I feel it physically and mentally if I’ve been lost in my writing for a while. I need social interaction pretty often, which usually isn’t a problem, but I have the tendency to hyperfocus and lose myself to the book I’m writing and forget about everything else, then I suddenly crash and burn. I’m not great with healthy balances, but I’m working on it!
Another thing that’s hard is how different we all are. Especially being a part of the writing community on twitter, I feel the pressure to bust out a manuscript in record time, and I’m NOT a fast drafter. I wish I was, but that’s just not the case. I have accepted it more now though, but when I was younger I pressured myself to writewritewrite and never stop to think twice if that was the healthiest way to go about it. I think it’s important to figure out how you work best, and that might be very different from how another writer works best, and that’s okay.
What’s the best part?
CGJ: There are so many good parts!! I love the creative aspect of it, where I get to come up with whole new universes and people. How I can create something out of nothing is so cool to me, and I have such respect for any kind of creator doing just that, really. It’s pretty magical.
I mentioned the writing community and how it’s easy to compare yourself to other writers there, but on the other hand I LOVE the writing community and there is so much support and advice to find there! I really recommend any writer to find likeminded people, it really does help to have someone on your side who is going through the same things you are and they understand in a way no one else can. Shoutout to my llamasquad, who I am so grateful for ❤
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to self-publish?
CGJ: Definitely do your research. Do you want to self-publish ebooks AND hardcovers? Only one or the other? I decided on doing only ebook since a) we are in weird times and not all borders are open and b) I live in Norway and I can’t even order anything from Amazon myself, so I wouldn’t be able to proof the hardcover version.
Hire an editor! I have seen some self-published books that could have used a professional editor, and I think that’s money well worth spending to make your book as good as it can be. Especially spelling errors and such, that shouldn’t be there, although I know they are all over the place, even in traditionally published books. Just do what you can do polish your book up.
Have it go through CPs and betas. It’s important to have had other people look at it and get their feedback so you can make the book even stronger. Even though you’re the most talented writer ever, there are still some things you just won’t catch because you get blinded to your own manuscript after looking at it for so long. Having other people read it will be a huge help, trust me.
Thank you so much for your time, C.G.!
You can get PROJECT HALO for free over here!
About C.G. Jorgensen
C.G. Jorgensen writes whatever her ADD-brain comes up with next, but she usually sticks to YA and MG SFF, writing about normal kids doing incredible things. Being a fulltime teacher, this is something she witnesses every day, and she wants these cool kids to be able to see themselves in the stories they read. Outside of writing, she dreams of traveling, is on a never-ending search for new songs and memes, and hangs out with her cats. Follow her on Twitter here!