Q&A with Author and Marketing Expert S.R. Johannes

currently playing on my laptop: Daydreaming by Radiohead

Shelli Wells (aka S.R. Johannes and Shelli Johannes-Wells) is a hybrid author.


She indie pubbed her YA Nature of Grace series and sold over 100,000 copies. Wow! Greenwillow recently made a deal with Shelli and her writer friend Kimberly Derting (Body Finder series) to release two picture books, the first being LUNA AND THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD. Huzzah! Science and girls? It’s sure to be fabulous! 41yJo+sfR7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Shelli certainly has some wisdom to throw around. She is especially sharp when it comes to marketing strategies. I’ve heard her on podcasts, read other interviews, and can’t wait to hear what she has to say at the SCBWI Midsouth’s fall conference this year. (Registration is THIS SUNDAY people!!)

Without further ado, let’s get our super speedy Q & A on.

Me: You’ve done really well in the world of self publishing. The biggest reason is that your books are fantastic. Other than that biggie, can you give us three events and/or actions that led you to success?

Shelli: I focus on connecting with readers, not just selling books.

Me: Are you publishing any new books this year?

Shelli: I hope to have my sci fi series (Breathless) finished and packaged by the end of the year.

Me: With regard to book marketing, what will you do differently this year?

Shelli: I am focusing more on teachers and librarians. I realize they don’t get a chance to build author connections like the bookstores does. I always focus on the teen readers – they are who I write for the most.

Me: This sounds supremely dorky, but I’m a huge fan of conferences. The camaraderie, the quiet of a hotel room, the energy during sessions. I’ve met almost all of my better-than-gold critique partners at conferences. Do you enjoy conferences? And if so, what do you want most out of a conference as an indie author?

Shelli: I consider myself as a hybrid author so I attend different conferences for different reasons. I love SCBWI conferences for craft and meeting other authors. I go to digital conferences for the latest and greatest in the digital publishing space. I also love RT and RWA because they have self-publishing tracks that cover the business of writing.

Me: What would you tell an author before they attend their first conference?

Shelli: To take notes!! And try not to get overwhelmed.

Me: Describe the first hour of your Monday.

Shelli: Sadly it is not glamorous. Coffee, Kids, and carpool. Then I start most days with Hot yoga. It helps me get quiet and write.

Me: What is the best idea you’ve had that you’ve never acted on?

Shelli: I try to act on all my good ideas. They are few and far between.

Me: Ha. I doubt that! Well, thank you so much for your time and I look forward to seeing LUNA on shelves as well as your upcoming Breathless series.

If you’d love to pick Shelli’s amazing marketing brain, sign up for her one-on-one marketing strategy sessions during the SCBWI Midsouth fall conference registration!

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Stranger: The Finale of A Fantasy in Miniature

currently playing on my laptop: Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard


My fingers dug at the twined fibers that blocked air and blood. One finger, two, under the garrote. The Rope and Knife laughed and worked their instruments, orchestrated by Ro. A hot trickle of blood poured down my chest. My scar was open and screaming. Black spots marred my view of her hand and the mist.

In the last blooms of that other place, the stranger’s fingers undulated, spread wide, and gathered into a neat fist. But it did nothing to rescue me.

The world grayed at the edges, the grasses faded, Ro’s tirade turned to dust, and I was only the last beats of my heart in my bursting head.

I tried again with the garrote. My fingers pushed, and a small space opened between my skin and the twine. Color leached into the garden and the Knife pressed deeper into me. My fingers slipped in the blood. I lost my hold. I was losing my life.

She had left me to die. She had no reason to save me. She was above me, beyond me, unreachable as peace.

I’d been an eldest son once, steeped in education, imbued with influence. In halls not so different from the Gilded’s, I’d meted out justice in my windier, wilder corner of the world.

The first thing the Gilded took from us were our family marks, the lines and swirls cut into our skin and embedded with the green stone that only grew in our mountains. Mine had been three lines and one large circle.

Now, it was blackened mess on my forearm.

Eventually, the Gilded took it all. Marks, homes, sisters, brothers, cattle, purpose, and dignity. We were slates wiped clean, with gouges to prove the thoroughness of the cleaning.

Black and white drummed over me, nothing else to see, to hear, to feel.

Until the Rope slackened his hold. Air rushed in. Blood smiled into my veins.

I opened my eyes. Her face appeared.

The mist exploded around her, blasting us with cold and pinpricks of her home’s essence, blowing us back. Her fingers gripped mine and life dove into my heart, lifting me to my feet and my eyes to to hers.

“It is enough,” she said and pulled me into her indigo world.




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Stranger: Part Two of a Fantasy in Miniature

now playing on my laptop: No Light, No Light by Florence and the Machine


The black earth heaped over my shovel’s blade and I paused to wipe my forehead. I was only digging a spot for a new lilac tree, but my heart, it knew better, and it pushed my blood too quickly through my veins, raising a fever. The gold sun fell too slowly for me to judge the moments, but soon. Soon, she would step out of the light reflected from the water.

Sweet-sour lilac and the ground’s wet scent twisted in the air. Would the world’s perfume change with her? Had it yesterday?

Ro’s cough punched at my heart’s new frenzied rhythm. “Where are your beads?” His gray eyebrows bunched as he scowled at my scar.

I touched my chest, my throat, dirt gritty on my skin as I searched for the length of wooden spheres. “I forgot them.”

His face flushed, a ruddy strip of leather, and he raged toward the Gilded’s house on the hill.

My heart kept beating for the stranger.

I pressed a palm against my chest, willing my body to realize there would be no more afternoons in the garden with a chance to see her if Ro returned with the guard. There would only be death, short and ugly, by way of the Rope and the Knife. I’d met the Knife before. My fingers drifted over my scar. The Knife could kill, but also warn. The Rope had only one purpose.

If I went back for my prayer beads, it might keep me alive. Might. If I left now, I might never see her again. Might.

Just one more moment. Just one.

Two guards and Ro spilled from the Gilded’s house. My scar twinged, but my heart refused to change its rhythm.

And then, the stranger stepped out of the discordant light.

My breath left in a rush, my pulse thickening and loud, louder, loudest.

Her kaftan rose and fell like waves around her long limbs and bare feet. She reached a hand toward me, her red mouth a line. The air’s taste did change. The breeze was sharper, clean, an herb from a childhood in another life.

I removed my boots. I tied my robes and pushed up my muddied sleeves. But I didn’t clean the dirt from my hands.

The moss cooled my toes, and her face—open eyes, peach cheeks, her skin one thousand shades of stone and sand, flickering—pulled me close.

“Are you wild enough?” Her words dropped over me like the first rain after five lifetimes in a midnight cell.

Words, phrases, sounds fought to pour from my mouth. None of them right. The lilac trees shading us, I bent and raked a handful of moss and earth, the pale glow of her feet lighting my fingertips. Standing, I lifted the sad sacrifice.

“I am as close to wild as the ground you choose to walk on.” It must be enough.

Her red, red lips parted.

“Turn away, slave!” Ro shouted. The Rope and the Knife marched beside him, faces blank or too far to see clearly.

The stranger’s gaze flicked Ro’s way. The indigo mist rose from the grasses.

My knees hit the earth. Her kaftan brushed through my arm, insubstantial. Soft light bloomed under my exposed skin, then faded.

“I don’t belong here,” I whispered, my heart pushing and straining and rearing.

I blinked, and the mist had welcomed the stranger. “No.” Only a footprint to see, then her black hem disappearing.

Rough hands grabbed me. Heat roared from my scalp as they gripped my hair. Sweat, lilac, and the Gilded’s tainted incense—eking from the men’s skin—choked the air, ruined the garden.

A hand moved inside the indigo mist as Ro worked the rope over my head and steel shivered against my scar.

The Rope tightened his hold and the world blurred. “You should’ve kept to your prayers, slave.”


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Stranger: A Fantasy in Miniature

currently playing on my laptop: This Place in Time by Colleen


The silken tip of her kaftan’s sleeve dragged across the water’s surface as she stepped to the next rock. Ripples followed her like disciples. The breeze caught her hair and forced me to notice it, not that I’d been trying hard to look away as I’d been taught.

My breath stuck in my chest, and I gripped the corner of the garden shed, peeking at the stranger like I was still a young boy.

Her bare foot reached the moss I’d tended not an hour ago, water glistening around her pale skin. She lifted her chin to look into the lilac trees as they swayed and my pulse sagged into my collarbone, pushing me to go to her, to speak to her, to learn everything about this stranger.

Leaf-shaped shadows smoothed over her peach-tinted cheeks. Her red mouth never smiled.

She turned away and stepped toward the blooming, indigo mist.

My breath panted out of me.

“Wait!” My voice was heavy, grating. It didn’t belong in the same world as the stranger. I didn’t tie my working robes like I should’ve. I didn’t wipe the earth from my hands. I was an arm’s length away before I knew what I was doing.

It was unforgivable to approach a stranger.

Her eyelids moved like a ship’s sails, slowly rising and falling, her gaze riding over my dirty boots, torn robes, bared chest, and the scar frowning at the base of my throat.

“Some have been wild enough.” Her words spread fingers down my spine and raised the hairs on my arms and scalp.

What did she mean?

“We will see,” she said.

The mist welcomed her, and then all that was left were her footprints, glowing lightly in the green.



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Flesh Out Your Fantasy World with Idioms

currently playing on my laptop: Atlantique Sud by M83

Every country has their own set of idioms—plucky ways to explain common situations. If you create a new world, the inhabitants should have their own way of communicating through metaphoric language. Take a look at the examples below and when you finish snort-laughing, you’ll realize they speak to the people’s environment, foods, domesticated and wild animals, the culture’s ideals, their sense of humor.


*To feed the donkey sponge cake—Portuguese—treating someone nicely when they don’t really deserve it

*No cows on the ice—Swedish—there is nothing to worry about

*Slid in on a shrimp sandwich—Swedish—got in without doing the work

*Give someone pumpkins—Spanish—to reject someone

*A cat’s jump—German—a short distance

*Into the wolf’s mouth—Italian—good luck (guess they don’t think it’s a wise move!)

*God gives nuts to the man with no teeth—Arabic—highlighting the irony of life

*I’m not hanging noodles on your ears—Russian—I’m not lying to you

*To reheat cabbage—Italian—rekindling a past love

*An ant milker—Arabic—a miser

*Give it to someone with cheese—Spanish—to trick or deceive someone

*Squeezer of limes—Hindu—someone who invites themselves over and stays too long

*A camel cannot see its own hump—Arabic—equivalent to America’s pot calling the kettle black—you see someone else’s flaw, but are blind to your own


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Ignore Your Happy and Face the Consequences

currently playing on my laptop: Close to Me by the Cure

I’ve heard loads of people say things like “Make your life what you want it to be” and “If you hate your job, quit and do something else” and so on.

Well, with a family and bills to pay, that isn’t always possible. At least not immediately.


But I do think there is great value in noticing what feeds your soul and sucks it dry.

I’ll give you an example. I love trees. For me, a massive oak is the ultimate work of art. Now, I’m not going to go into being a park ranger, but I can be sure to take weekly hikes. It fuels me. Gives me the energy to smile after a hectic day.


What revives you? What makes you happy?

And on the other side of things, what stresses you? What drains you?

I suggest making a list and seeing what you can do to avoid the soul-suckers and increase the time spent doing/enjoying the soul-feeders.

Here are one of my lists in case you’re curious.:)

my family and playing games   arrange a game night once a week
art   visit the museum once a quarter, repost pieces on SM
outdoors   twice weekly walks/hikes
candles   have one at my desk, at the kitchen sink, on my nightstand
queso with friends   make it happen once a month
creating   write every day in a quiet place
brainstorming   use Pinterest, talk with friends about book covers, plots
lists   doing it right now ha ha
archery   practicing in my yard on weekends
yoga   every other day even if it’s just a ten minute situation
festivals   Main Street Festival in my hometown and the Ren Faire
being my own boss   still working toward this
travel   overseas trip every other year
music   gleaning new stuff from our indie station
reading   reading a book that is purely for fun each night before bed
alone time   an hour a week away from family and friends
history  museums, articles, hist-inspired TV

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Podcasts and Publishing: Don’t Miss the Nuggets of Awesome

currently playing on my laptop: Roses by Pete Yorn

Ladies and gentlemen in all walks of Making the Books!

If you aren’t delving into the world of podcasts, you are missing out on inspiration from experienced authors, advice from people who write for a living (!), and the cry-laughs that come from hearing life stories that mimic the same fantastic crap you deal with every day.

Here are my current faves and why I love them:

Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn

Ms. Penn’s personality is sweet and spicy, and she is a history nut like me. So obviously, I adore her. She talks about traveling to far flung and spooky spots to research. Her interviews include industry giants and up-and-comers. Some are traditional, most are self published, and many have gone hybrid (which still sounds like an urban fantasy disease—demon pox, anyone?).

Bryan Cohen and Jim Kukral’s Sell More Books Show

I’ve only listened to two of these, but I already added it to my favorites list. These fellows are ON IT with regards to publishing news. Don’t let the (IMHO) icky title put you off. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Kukral are open and honest and have a refreshing take on marketing and loving the publishing life.

Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells’ Writing Excuses

Laini Taylor (DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE and generally punch-me-in-the-face she is so danged creative author) mentioned this podcast on Twitter and I’ve been hooked ever since. Heavy on craft (pacing, show don’t tell, hooking readers, world building, etc.), this podcast reminds me of things I’ve forgotten and sparks new skills into life.

Give these podcasts a try. I promise you love at least one of them.

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