Author Jillian Dodd has proved that perseverance and savoring the process are key to success. To date, she has written 50 books, including seven series and one standalone title. Dodd has amassed a mighty fan base and sold more than 4.5 million books. In addition to her success on the page, Dodd’s That Boy series is currently in development for a television show. She spoke with BookLife about capturing young adult voices in her fiction and taking the reins of her publishing journey.
How did you start writing YA romances?
I’ve always had a crazy imagination and full-blown dreams. I had a series of dreams about three best friends, two guys and a girl. And, because I’ve always been a huge reader, I needed to know the rest of their story, and which guy she ended up with! So I wrote the story for me. It turned out pretty good, and I thought, “I might have something here.” Those dream scenes are in my first book, That Boy, which is in development as a series! YA fits my voice and writing style, probably because I have the inner voice of a 16-year-old.
Why did you choose self-publishing over traditional publishing?
I tried the traditional route—sent queries, sometimes my manuscript, and tried to get an agent. But I’m not really a rule follower; I’m sure my submissions were awful, even though the story was not. My husband came home one day with a Wall Street Journal article about Amazon’s new self-publishing platform and told me that I should do it myself. I loved the idea of owning my business and controlling every aspect of my journey and the rights to all my books. Humble beginnings, though. I sold 36 copies my first three months, but I was thrilled because I hadn’t told anyone I knew—which meant strangers were reading something I had written. I asked myself what would happen if I really tried to sell them. The following month, I sold 300; the next, 900; the next, 1,800. And I was at a $9.99 e-book price point when, unbeknownst to me, most indies were priced at under $2. The business has changed so much over the years, and it’s pushed me to learn more. I always want to be ahead of the curve and keep growing.
How do you research your books?
I love to travel, so almost all of the wonderful places that show up in my books are places I’ve been. I spend months, sometimes years, doing research before I begin a new series. I need my characters to be real in my head. I want them to have full-blown personalities, from the clothes they wear, cars they drive, places they live, family relationships, favorite foods, horoscopes, and what type of kissers they are. I’ve researched everything from nuclear bomb destruction to boarding school class schedules. Research is a huge part of making my characters and stories come to life. Although I tend to write as a pantser, I’m meticulous in my planning.
Your website showcases not only your books but also merchandise related to the books, such as clothing and accessories. What inspired you to market your own branded merchandise? And do you find it profitable?
If you asked me this question when I started publishing 12 years ago, my answer would have been the same. Once I realized I could create books that would sell, my business goal became to write stories with characters that readers would obsess over and have my own branded store. With a retail and design background, I’m able to be creative in lots of different ways and give superfans all the fun swag and apparel they want. I also have to give a shoutout to my daughter, Kenzie, who has been working with me from the beginning. She’s my brand manager and is a force in keeping me on-brand with everything we do. We most definitely find our store to be profitable, but mostly I love that we fully control the readers’ experience. They can’t get that direct access to me anywhere else.
If you could be the heroine of one of your books for a day, which one would you be and why?
I want to be Huntley Von Allister from my Spy Girl series. She’s 18, has been training to be a spy since her mother was assassinated in front of her six years ago, and is a badass. For her first mission, she’s sent to protect a handsome playboy prince and learns the plot to overthrow his country’s monarchy might be related to her mother’s death. Each book is a different mission, but, while saving him, she also discovers a plot to end the world as we know it. And it’s up to her to save the prince, save his country, and save the world in the process. Not your typical fairy tale, but it is still heavy on romance, has big romantic fairy-tale vibes—and, as is typical for my books, two hot guys vying for her attention.
Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I just want to thank you for having me. And I should probably mention my newest series, Eastbrooke Academy. It’s a next-gen series, with the daughter of Keatyn from the Keatyn Chronicles going to the East Coast boarding school her mother made famous. Gossip Girl vibes, but over the top. Lots of friend drama, boy drama, and family drama from the kids of the outrageously wealthy. And they don’t disappoint. Book three, Kisses Don’t Stay Secret, releases February 29, and most of the book takes place on a megayacht of a 17-year-old.
Karen Clark is a freelance writer and editor who owned an antiquarian bookshop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for over a decade.