Charmaine Pauls was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She obtained a degree in Communication at the University of Potchestroom and followed a diverse career path in journalism, public relations, advertising, communications, photography, graphic design, and brand marketing. Her writing has always been an integral part of her professions.
After relocating to Chile with her French husband, she fulfilled her passion to write creatively full-time. Charmaine has published ten novels since 2011, as well as several short stories and articles. Two of her short stories were selected for publication in an African anthology from across the continent by the International Society of Literary Fellows in conjunction with the International Research Council on African Literature and Culture.
When she is not writing, she likes to travel, read, and rescue cats. Charmaine currently lives in Montpellier with her husband and children. Their household is a linguistic mélange of Afrikaans, English, French and Spanish.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
I need to have a book mapped out from start to finish before I can start writing. If I know where I am going with the story, it is easier for me to craft each scene and chapter with specific purpose while paying attention to pace and rhythm. Once I have a detailed outline and chapter plan, I put my characters in the hot seat and get to know them intimately. From their history, motivations, and goals to their dislikes and likes, I nail their personalities down to their favorite songs and food allergies.
It usually takes four drafts before I have a presentable manuscript. During the first draft of the novel, I let the creative process flow, simply getting it all down on paper. This is the fun part where my characters talk to me and dictate their dialogue. Anything goes and nothing is impossible. Sometimes, the story takes me to an unexpected twist or unforeseen conclusion. I only go back to reread what I have written when I tackle the second draft. This is when I fix the plot holes and ‘flat’ characters. Referring back to my outline comes in handy here. Additional research may also be needed. The third draft is to check technicalities such as syntax and pace. During the fourth draft I pay special attention to grammar and spelling, especially since English is not my native language and doesn’t come naturally for me. When I’m happy with the final product, it goes to my beta readers who not only pick up the missed typos, but also give me overall feedback with regards to impression and reading enjoyment. After their feedback, the final manuscript is sent to the publisher, where it then goes through a round of content editing, several rounds of line editing, a PDF proof, and, finally, a print proof. Only when the print proof has been signed off does it go to print. All of this takes anything from a quarter to six months, depending on the word count. A book of 100 000 words or more takes the better part of six months, whereas a book of 80 000 words can take four months to complete if I work between eight to twelve hours per day, six to seven days a week.
As for weird habits, I need to have my desk tidy in order to work. A cluttered environment seems to rub off on me, making my thoughts feel scattered and disorganized.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I think we all hit a brick wall from time to time, especially when our resources run low. When this happens, I take a short break to recharge my energy. I go for a walk or have a coffee with a friend. I treat myself with a visit to an art gallery or a film, anything that I truly enjoy. And then I simply write over the ‘block’. I carry on through a slump until I hit the next high. It’s easier going back and fixing ‘flat’ or lacking parts than losing your momentum.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t stop until the final full stop. When doubt hits, write through it. You can always go back and fix parts that need polishing, but you can’t sell a book if you don’t have a manuscript. The best inspiration for me is to simply dive in and do it. The more I write, the more inspired I become to continue. Never give up. Write everyday. And read, read, read!
What are your current/future projects?
I am currently completing Book 6 of the Seven Forbidden Arts and have 4 more books on contract until 2017 for the same series.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I write what I love to read best – romance! I am also a big lover of literary short stories and classics. I balance my pop romance novels with literary short fiction which is published with a British house.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
I’m a hybrid author. I self-published my first book and landed a traditional contract for my second novel through to the current tenth novel. The mistake I made with sending out my first manuscript was to submit blindly without researching the publishing houses that were open for submissions. After extensive research, I found three houses that published the kind of work I write, and landed my first contract.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
I have an extensive marketing plan that I adapt to each year’s growing and changing schedule. My annual program includes live events such as book launches, tours and signings; virtual events such as book tours and social media parties; printed and electronic publicity; as well as giveaways and competitions.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
Inspiration knows no manners. It often strikes when your mind is unoccupied and you’re busy with household chores or going through everyday routines. I capture ideas or dialogue that come to mind on my smartphone, which I always carry with me. Jotting down a few pointers is usually enough. The minute I get to my laptop, I type it all out.
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
For my full-length novels I instinctively end up between 100 000 and 120 000 words without making a conscious effort to track my word count as I write.
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
There is definite value in targeted press kits. Sending press kits out blindly is ineffective and like shooting arrows into the dark. Make a list of the publications with the same reader market as your books. Find out who is the journalist working on the arts and entertainment beat and write a personalized letter stating why your book is suited to the publication’s reader market. Keep it brief. Offer a copy of your book for a reader giveaway. Attach a professional press release written in journalistic style. Make sure your letter and release are error-free and that you offer a fresh perspective to each respective publication. Instead of sending a mass communication to several publications, choose the ones that suit your genre best. For example, you can answer an interesting question about your book or your story that differs for each publication. State if you are available for interviews. Remember that a press release will be cut from the bottom up if space is limited, so state the most important information in your opening paragraph and then elaborate.