Published Podcast Ep. 17 | Interview with Monica McGurk, Author of The Archangel Prophecies
We’re excited to share another author interview with you! This time we’re speaking with author Monica McGurk about her books Dark Hope, Dark Rising, and Dark Before Dawn, focusing specifically on her author branding experiences.
Q: Monica, welcome to Published! You wrote a series rather than a standalone novel, which would probably make some authors quake in their boots. What inspired you write a series versus starting with a standalone piece?
A: Part of the reason is simple laziness, if I could put it that way. The demand on tightness for the plot, for the character development is actually harder for a standalone novel. In seriousness, though, I started out mapping the arch of the story and found that I could not get the story itself, nor the richness of the multilayered interpretations of the story, done in one piece. As I got deeper into the planning, it really became a series in my mind. It was a natural evolution of my writing process.
Q: You worked with a Brand Strategist at Greenleaf at the front end of the production process. How did that help you plan for the series?
A: The work with the Brand Strategist was a lot of fun for me. It was as much about the series as it was about establishing a brand beyond the series for me. This was my first entrée into writing and publishing other than what I had done in fan fiction, and the focus of the series was very tight and had a strong platform on a topic I’m personally passionate about, child human trafficking. I wanted the brand to be broader than that, something that would sustain me into things that would follow this series. As we worked together to define the brand, we thought about what elements of this series I would want to be hallmarks of my writing and what I could draw upon from my other professional life that would be consistent with my branding going forward. I’m an executive in the business world. I’ve had a long career as a partner in a consulting firm and then went on to work with several consumer packaged goods companies leading things like strategy, marketing, and ecommerce. Looking for what has been consistent in my professional life that is relevant to my author world was challenging in some respects, but it was there. It included things like my passion for women in leadership and women and girls’ issues in general. I can trace those back to my own entry into the professional world where I was one of very few women, my sponsorship and leadership of global women’s initiatives, all of which I could bridge into my author brand, which embraces strong female characters.
Q: You mentioned the planning for a long-term, sustainable brand. What were some of those initiatives?
A: I wouldn’t say it was so much initiatives as thinking through what I wanted to stand for long term. The platform around women and empowering women and girls is an example of that. As we built out the brand, it was really making sure that the launch of the initial book and the second and third books did not focus just on the story itself but really linked the storytelling to what was important to me as an author. As we launched the social platforms, for example, we wove in things that brought to life that focus on women and girls. Everything from the FAQs in the back of the book to the entire marketing strategy were ways to bring that to life and let readers get inside my head. Everything we did to market the trilogy and build out a long term vision for what I would exemplify as an author began with that brand platform.
Q: You have a business side where you’re doing branding for other companies, and then you turned to our team to help you with your brand. How was that 180 experience? Was it positive for you, or awkward and uncomfortable?
A: I loved it. It can be hard to be objective about yourself, and all of your expertise might be for naught if you don’t have someone to challenge your thinking. That’s true in the professional world as well. Great agency relationships are characterized by fantastic push and pull on the thought process, the insights that help you unlock the brand. I found it a natural extension of what I do professionally, and turning it on me was fun. There were things I would not have highlighted about myself or brought to life without the process of this partnership, this discussion with another professional. It seems hard to believe, but back then I was a neophyte on social media for myself. The opportunity to take the brand and use it on a social media platform was something that I really valued.
Q: You have a number of books completed in this series. Did you do anything differently for the second and third books from a branding perspective?
A: In hindsight I think it was more consistent execution through the second and third books. I felt that the brand positioning was spot on, so we didn’t stray from the brand, but we probably emphasized different things in executing it over time. I became more fluid and responsive in real time interacting on the different platforms in a manner that was consistent with the brand. For book one, Dark Hope, I felt like I needed to plan to make sure I was executing the brand and not straying from it. By books two and three, it was very natural and intuitive for me. To this day, even though I’m not gearing up for a big launch, it’s very clear to me what I stand for, what I should be commenting on, and how to bridge things back to the writing. It takes a lot less time once you’ve internalized it, and the hard work for the launch of the first book allowed me to do that.
Q: What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone considering writing a series?
A: What I found helpful for myself was to think about it like peeling an onion, starting with a big arch and chopping it into smaller pieces. When I started on the first book I was very granular, but then I had more room to be adaptive in the second and third books. The upfront planning was very helpful, and then I had to be adaptive as the characters told me where to go, as new ideas surfaced, and as I got feedback from readers. The ability to have a plan but be flexible within that framework I think is really helpful when you’re embarking on something that will take you several years. The other thing I found helpful was making sure I baked things into the process that made it fun for me. Writing can be a solitary exercise and I’m an extrovert, so a part of my process was going to the places I was writing about. Immersing myself in the environments and finding people in those environments to learn from was a fun way to keep my momentum and energy in some of the longer slogs. Otherwise I would have spent a lot of time by myself. My second book took my characters to France, Ireland, and Turkey, so I did research and was introduced to people in those places. As I was almost ready to submit the book to my editor, I went to Istanbul and walked through the entire plot day by day. I spent the whole flight home rewriting based on what I had experienced.
Q: Any other advice?
A: I strongly encourage anyone who’s thinking about it to go for it. It’s such a fun exercise and the partnership I found with Greenleaf was fantastic. I went into it with some trepidation, and I found at every turn it was such a great experience to have that partnership, the expertise to have someone push me to be even better than I envisioned myself to be. If you have any itch to do it, I say go for it. You’ll never know until you try.
Monica McGurk loves nothing better than to craft thought-provoking, multilayered stories, showcasing strong girls and women overcoming big challenges. Already a fan favorite, she received the 2013 TwiFic Fandom Undiscovered Gem award for Morning Star, her alternate ending to the Twilight series, written before the release of Breaking Dawn. Her first novel in The Archangel Prophecies trilogy, Dark Hope, was published in 2014. Dark Rising, the second novel in the series came out in 2015. And, the final installment, Dark Before Dawn, is now available.