We love celebrating author success stories here at Havok. Over the past few months, I’ve watched in awe as A. J. Skelly’s book First Shift rose to Amazon bestseller status. Pre-orders opened in January, and just during the pre-order time period A. J. saw her book hit #64 in the Teen & Young Adult Werewolf & Shifter category. Then on release day she reported it was #24 in New Releases for that category… then #17… eventually to #12!
Her book remained on the Amazon top 50 bestseller list for over a month, and was on the New Release Best Seller List the entire time it was considered a new release. A beautiful thing to behold. There are many different forms of success, of course, but today we’re celebrating a debut novel skyrocketing to Amazon bestseller status during its release.
Congratulations, A. J. Skelly, from your Havok family and author community!
Now we want to hear all about you, your writing, and this book! We’ll start the introductions with a peek at your Amazon author bio:
What else would you like to share about yourself?
For many years, I taught high school English and loved it. Our oldest kiddo has autism, and several major health concerns, and there just wasn’t quite enough mama to go around. So, I turned in my notice, and became a SAHM. And it was one of the best decisions we ever made. It gave me the energy to pick up writing again, which I really hadn’t done much of for about eight years. I decided I wanted to finish a book I’d started writing years ago. First Shift was finished!
I love reading all things YA romance. Preferably fantasy. I think my brain is arrested somewhere around 17, and after spending so many years with teenagers, I just gravitate towards it. Other hobbies include making jewelry and general crafting. My jewelry has been included in several book box subscription boxes.
There are a lot of werewolf books out there. Some people even say the genre is cliche and dead. (Obviously, they’d be wrong.) Why did you decide the Wolves of Rock Falls needed to exist?
The world can never have enough original, clean werewolf books. So many of them showcase Alpha males who are jerk faces, unhealthy, toxic relationships, and go a bit too far in the romance department. All of that to say, I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read, so I wrote my own.
It was, however, largely inspired by events my first two years teaching—right in the middle of the Twilight craze. I had a group of superbly wonderful students (I’m still in touch with several!), who banded together and started a rumor that I (the brand new, first year teacher), was a werewolf. And it stuck. I had freshmen come in the next year and ask, “Are you really a werewolf?” It was a lot of fun—we did creative writing prompts with it, and embraced all things wolf. First Shift is partially a tribute to those students. There are actually a lot of names in the book that are borrowed from my students. The characters are not based on them, but I did include names as a nod of thanks to my students. Also, I can neither confirm nor deny rumors of lycanthropy.
I’m honestly not sure what my favorite part of the werewolf mythos is. I love the idea of changing into something else—there will probably be a dragon shifter among my story characters at some point in my writing career…because, why not? As for cliches, I didn’t want to do the jerky Alpha, the kick-butt heroine who doesn’t listen to reason, or the whiny girl and broody dude. Those just aren’t my thing. I wanted to try to give my characters a bit more depth, and highlight positive relationships—and not just between the hero and heroine. You don’t find enough of those in books.
Tell us about your writing and publishing journey.
My writing journey for First Shift was unconventional at best. I started writing it while I was pregnant with my oldest after some vivid pregnancy dreams featuring some of the wolves that made their way into Rock Falls. So, by this point, these characters have been floating around inside my head for the better part of a decade. Once I quit teaching, I found I had the mental energy to apply to something other than making sure my sweet tiny humans were properly fed and watered. I decided to finish the book. I finished it right at the end of 2019.
By January of 2020, I thought I might poke around the publishing scene, just to see what turned up. It has always been a life-long dream of mine to publish. I didn’t set out to write First Shift with publication specifically in mind, but once it was done, I thought, “It can’t hurt to try.”
I contacted a former co-worker of mine who had published recently (shameless plug, go check out Karen Sargent…AH-MAZ-ING). Not only did she give me invaluable advice, but she walked me through HOW to edit fiction—something that is totally different than editing academic writing or other forms of media. That made a HUGE difference. I think I shaved off close to 1000 words, just in unnecessary words. With Karen’s help, First Shift became a much tighter story…and the beginning saw at least five (I stopped counting…) different revisions, and two completely different scenes. In the original storyline, Megan accidentally gets bitten on the finger, trying to catch a piece of flying popcorn.
I also have several trusted friends who did beta reading for me, and I’ll be forever grateful for their input, support, and encouragement! They really made a huge difference.
As for the ups and downs of publication…you’ve got to have a tough skin. I started the query process—weeks of research, list compiling, document creation, all the things. And THEN, you send all your precious words out into the world for a perfect stranger to decide your book baby’s fate. To publish, or to trash? Ultimately, I was offered a contract with The Wild Rose Press, which I accepted and happily signed.
Other things I’ve published: Last year I was privileged to have three short stories published with Havok, and another short story with Every Day Fiction. First Shift is my debut novel, but the sequel, Rogue Shift, is under contract and I’m hoping for a fall release date 2021! Right now, the plan is to have four books in The Wolves of Rock Falls series—and this month I actually finished the first draft of the last book!
The fabulous success of your debut novel is so encouraging to watch. How did you do it?
I attribute its success firstly, to the Lord’s favor, but I also had an AMAZING launch team behind me. They shared the snot out of my book. I also had some super reviewers that read, posted, and shared. And finally, I have to include my hometown—Potosi. I grew up in a small town out in the middle of nowhere. But let me tell you, no one knows how to rally around one of their own better than a small Midwestern town. The support, encouragement, and general enthusiasm “my people” have shown has been absolutely unbelievable. As for advice–simply put, people can’t read what they don’t know about. The more visible the book, the better!
Social media was such a blessing last year! I really do LOVE interacting with fellow book lovers—I mean, look up the definition of “book nerd” in the dictionary, and my picture is probably there. Social media has been WONDERFUL for that—especially since 2020 rocked the world and the internet has pretty much been the only form of communication to the outside world that a lot of us have had. I discovered the #bookstagram community, and that’s been such a fun, wild ride! That aspect of social media I really enjoy. It’s a super awesome way to connect and get the word out about stuff.
That said, marketing is totally overwhelming. I tried to go into things with a plan. I had an amazing launch—and I spent months preparing groundwork for it—contacting reviewers, building the launch team etc. Karen Sargent (yes, that same amazing Karen Sargent!) also happens to be a professional book launcher. She graciously ran my launch. The launch surpassed all my expectations!
Giveaways are a great way to again, get word out about a product or a book—everybody likes free stuff. I’ve been blessed to find some really cool people and artists along the way who have teamed up with me or created super amazing products that have boosted things, too. Flickerwix Candles did two amazing candles themed around Sam and Megan (scents play a huge part in the book!), I Smell Books book box subscription company carried First Shift as their March YA feature—the owner is an absolutely lovely woman who was super encouraging. I’ve also done some collaborations with Here There Be Sculptures, Illustrations By Joanne, and have another exclusive pin in the works with Order of Chaos Pins.
Marketing is hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but it can also be fun work. I’ve loved making new connections with other authors, other vendors, crafters, artists, and creatives.
What comes next for Sam and Meg and the Wolves of Rock Falls? And for yourself?
Oooh! Teasers! Rogue Shift is the next book up in The Wolves of Rock Falls. Here is the unofficial blurb:
An outcast all his life because of his half-human, half-werewolf genes, Kyp is finally getting a chance to belong with the Wolfe pack. Though fully human, Rachel never cared about his mixed blood. When a family tragedy strikes, Rachel makes an impulsive decision with deadly consequences. Kyp must come to her rescue. But when saving her turns her into a werewolf, it sets off a chain of events that put them at odds with the Wolfe pack, and brings them straight into the path of the Wolfe’s greatest enemy—Victor Atwood. War is coming to the packs, and Kyp and Rachel are at the center of it. With their fledgling love and a tenuous mental tie their only weapons, they must overcome the wrath of Atwood. But a toxic secret threatens to devastate them, destroying not only them, but the Wolfe pack as well.
Additionally, my agent is sending out queries to publishers this week about my next series, Tales of Sugar and Spice. The first one, The Rat King (working titles), is a YA retelling (loosely based) of The Nutcracker. I’ve always loved The Nutcracker, and it just hasn’t had enough love. So, maybe in a few months, there will be more news about that!
Follow A. J.’s further adventures
- Author website (sign up for her newsletter to get exclusive content, early news, and giveaways!)
Reason to celebrate, reason to hope
Thanks for sharing your story with us, A. J.!It’s been a true encouragement to see your debut launch go so marvelously well!
While seeing someone else’s success can tempt any author towards envy, we consider these sorts of examples a reason to celebrate—and a reason for continued hope! No matter where you are on your publishing journey, no matter how new or how long you’ve been trying, success of various flavors may be just around the corner. So keep writing, keep submitting, keep publishing, keep making fans for your work, one reader at a time. And lean into your Havok author community, because sometimes the real reward is… the friends you make along the way. ;-)