Today I’d like to introduce Heather Gerry Kelly, founder of the Writer’s Loft https://www.thewritersloft.org/ in Sherborn, Massachusetts. As a teacher, editor, author, and director, Heather strives to find ways to help writers become more prolific storytellers.
Welcome, Heather! Collaboration is a theme that runs through all you do, from running the Writers’ Loft to publishing your remarkable series of anthologies. Could you tell us why you think collaboration is so important?
Thank you so much for having me! I am so humbled to be here with you! There are so many ways I could answer this question, but I’m going to say that collaboration is so important for two reasons—one: this writing thing is hard to do alone, and exponentially better when we do it with others. When we think about the work we do with our fellow authors—critiquing, supporting, cheerleading—something magical happens when we think of those jobs as collaboration rather than simple support. Two: every single time I’ve collaborated with another author, the outcome far exceeds my expectations. Alone, I can shoot for the moon, and I can also get there, but when I collaborate, I shoot for the moon and we find ourselves out on Saturn. I can’t stress enough how amazing books can become when you add collaboration into the mix. And it doesn’t hurt that you do so much less work when you collaborate. Imagine finishing drafting a book in half the time, and it’s ten times as good! I challenge every writer reading this to think about collaborating in some small way with someone right now.
What exactly is the Writers’ Loft and what drove you to create it? How has the function of the Loft changed during the pandemic?
I started the Writers’ Loft in 2013, and it was such a huge risk! I thought, if I am finding this writing business hard, I’m sure other people are too! I wanted to be a support for other writers to find a place to write, and start a community of serious and kind writers. We grew the Loft by word of mouth, so that we knew the caliber of writers joining us. We leaned on our roots with NESCBWI (I was helping to run the conference when I started the Writers’ Loft) and will forever be grateful to that community. We think of the Writers’ Loft as a yearlong conference, a place you can find critique partners, knowledge, support, and access to industry professionals, like agents and editors. We always wanted to have a virtual component to the Loft, but we were way too busy organizing in-person events to figure it out (we run exclusively on volunteer energy!). When the pandemic hit, we immediately brought all of our features and events online and started to expand our outreach to support writers no matter where they live. We’ll continue to offer virtual events even after things return to normal; we always seek to protect the most vulnerable among us. If you are writing, and are supportive and kind to other writers, please seek us out!
You mentioned that you’re collaborating on a YA series with Natasha Sass. How exciting! Can you tell us about it?
I LOVE collaborating with Natasha. She’s amazing. This project started with a mentorship opportunity with the founders of Sterling and Stone, and we met some blockbuster self-publishers along the way. Natasha and I are writing a very cool dystopian series together, utilizing our different skillsets—my favorite part of writing is world-building; hers is dialog. We can’t wait to publish the series in 2021. The most important feature of our collaboration is that every day, even when we are focused on our own projects and not the Surge series, we are pushing each other forward. Right now, my main focus is my non-fiction workbooks—Natasha helps me with those—while her main focus is her amazing cozy mystery series, featuring the sassiest cat ever. (Check her out under her pen name at JulieKoty.com—especially if you love cats with attitudes.) We support each other’s careers on a daily bases, along with our collaborations!
You’ve written two craft books for writers, Jumpstart Your Writing in 30 Days and another book coming out this fall, Jumpstart Your Querying in 30 Days. How did those books come about? Where can our readers purchase them?
I love helping other writers—especially on a one-on-one situation. When the Loft was smaller, I used to try to support and mentor writers when they walked in the door. Now that it’s grown so much (we have over 500 active writers and illustrators involved) I found I couldn’t reach all the writers that I wanted to personally. My workbooks are a way to share my knowledge and support with writers doing the hard work on a daily basis. You can buy them anywhere books are sold—although the pandemic has certainly slowed down their delivery! I’m also busy writing a revision workbook and a marketing workbook. The workbooks follow the idea of small goals each day that make a big change over the course of a month. Kinda like I’m there, holding your hand, as you face the mindset, skillset, and knowledge barriers that can block the path to writing success.
You created your own publishing house, Pocket Moon Press, to publish these. How did you go about that? What special challenges did you face? What joys?
The idea behind Pocket Moon Press (another collaboration with my brilliant friend, Kristen Wixted) is that we all have moons in our pockets—amazing secret stories that need to be told! I love to think outside the box with publishing and I love the idea that I can be an entrepreneur and control the creative aspects of my production. We have amazing teams that assist in publication—editors, copyeditors, book designers (shout out to Bob Thibeault of Teabow Designs), cover artists, etc. But to be clear, this is a self-publishing venture. Everything that Kristen and I do, you can do too! We are learning the ins and outs of Kickstarted right now, to push forward some of our Pocket Moon Press ventures in creative ways!
Every two years the Writers’ Loft puts out an anthology created by its members. So far there has been three: An Assortment of Animals, Firsts, and Friends and Anemones all fine examples of creative collaboration. What is your process for pulling these anthologies together?
The Writers’ Loft Press is spearheaded by Kristen Wixted. We do a call for submissions for poems (for Firsts it was a call for short stories) in the summer and then we take the authors on a whirlwind process of critiques, edits, copy edits, etc. In the winter, we put out our call for illustrators and work with them on the same process—critiques, edits, art direction and book design. Right now, we are in my favorite part of the process—showing the authors their illustrated pieces. I can’t tell you how beautiful Friends and Anemones will be when published Nov. 2020! We have some blockbuster authors and illustrators involved—and that’s a part of the thrill. New authors sit alongside Jane Yolen. New illustrators rest side-by-side with Brian Lies.
You offer a number of workshops including “Creatively WIN Your Writing,” “Nurturing Big Ideas,” and “Stick with your Buddy.” Who are your workshops for and how did you develop them?
I’ve developed these workshops for several conferences; Hollihock (which will be online October 24,25,26) and NESCBWI (April 30-May 2 2021), along with various workshops I give at the Writers’ Loft. It’s always my goal to help writers become more effective and productive writers. I love talking to a room of writers and helping them connect and get to the next level! My workbooks are now an extension of these workshops and all the mentoring I still do.
What is your background beyond writing and how did it lead you to all you do today?
In high school, I was chosen to attend a journalism conference with other young writers from around the United States—two students from each state, I believe. One of the first speakers we heard from was Cornell West. Right then and there, I gave up my idea of being a journalist or novelist; I studied Sociology and Psychology at Colby College, instead of English classes which had originally been my plan. I thought I could always write, but I wanted to understand societal and psychological struggles and help people. I was on track to become a social worker, but the work I was doing was way too emotionally draining to also raise kids. So, I decided to put my mind to writing instead! I’ve been producing novels for over ten years, and am excited to start to see some of the fruits of my labor out in the world!
You are so prolific! Is there anything I missed? Anything else you do? Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I’d like to say that writing is still hard. I commend anyone who is on this journey. If you are looking for community, everyone is welcome at the Writers’ Loft, regardless of who you are or where you are on the road to publication. And now, where you live in the world! If you need community, check out our classes and webinars at our website www.writersloftma.org or our Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/writersloft/
Thank you so much for being my guest today! You can find out more about Heather Gerry Kelly at https://www.heatherkellyauthor.com/