Okay, I have to be honest here from the start. I’m not a romance reader. Bare-chested men on book covers generally stop me from exploring the story within. And yet, here I am promoting a romance novel … complete with pectorals on display… and I really enjoyed this book.

I became critique partners with Chantel on the fabulous on-line critique site, Critique Circle. I didn’t care for romance; she didn’t care for women’s fiction. We admitted our prejudices and just got on with the critiquing… and thank goodness we did.

You can learn a lot from going out of your ‘comfort zone’ – in both life and literature. Chantel is an amazing writer and critique partner, and I looked forward to critiquing her chapters of Always & Forever each week, since I was so quickly drawn into the story. It’s an enjoyable romance/suspense novel with compelling characters, a steamy romance, and lots of plot twists to keep you guessing up to the end.

When she self-published her novel, released on 14 September 2012, I was pleased to be able to ask her for an author interview to tell us about her debut novel, her experiences with self-publishing, how she tackles promotion and what’s up next. So, without further delay, I turn things over to talented debut author, Chantel!

Congratulations, Chantel! It’s so exciting to see your published novel! How does it feel to be an ‘official’ author? Honestly, it’s a little surreal. I’ve been dreaming about this for so long (really seriously for about the last six years) and now it’s happened and it’s almost unbelievable. In a good way, though!

What is the plot of Always & Forever? An abused woman is trying to run from her past. After Lilly starts falling for Zach, a man actually worthy of love (which she never thought she’d find), someone starts making threatening calls and text messages, claiming Lilly is his and needs to leave Zach. As the threats escalate in nature, Lilly and Zach must figure out exactly who it is, before things turn deadly.

How did you come up with the idea? What was your writing process for this novel? It was actually the title that came to me first, which never happens for me. But I thought, what if someone said, ‘I love you always and forever,’ but it wasn’t actually meant lovingly? Lilly’s character came to me and I just started writing. I don’t plan to do a whole lot of pre-plotting, but like to discover things as I go.

How did you decide to self-publish? Actually, this was an agonizing decision. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that self-publishing is a good option financially and in terms of having control over my work (from price, to cover, to content of the story). Once I convinced myself I didn’t need “them” to tell me I was good enough, the decision was easy.

What did you learn in the process? What advice would you offer to authors thinking about self-publishing? Be prepared for a lot of work. I hired out some of the jobs–cover art, editor (and really, hire an editor, it’s your best bet)–but you are the one responsible for the end product. I found that even with an editor, Always & Forever still had many mistakes. I would suggest finding several people willing to read your book and point out little errors before you self-publish, in addition to your editor going over it.

How do you handle promotion and marketing? Wow – this is possibly the hardest part of self-pub. It is really important to get an on-line presence long before your novel comes out. Blogging, Twitter, Triberr, Facebook, World Literary Café, and Goodreads. Also, connecting with other writers and joining places like Critique Circle and Facebook author groups is important. Other writers are an awesome wealth of information. But, they do say the best way to sell your books is to write more books. The more titles you have out there, the more repeat customers you’ll receive.

What are your plans now? Are you working on your next novel? Yep. I’m over halfway through my next novel, which is still romantic suspense, but this is also a true murder mystery. My main characters are so different from Zach and Lilly. Donovan is a flawed man trying to redeem himself. Madeline is snarky and sarcastic, rebuilding her life after being cheated on by her fiancé. Donovan is in a bit of trouble right now, as it appears he is being framed by the murderer. I’m having great fun writing this one.

What’s your advice to aspiring authors hoping to publish? Never give up. Keep learning, keep writing. It doesn’t matter whether you want to be traditionally published or self-published. Either way, keep putting those words on a page. I wrote four other books before I arrived at Always & Forever, one that I truly felt in my heart was worthy to publish. As long as you keep working, keep improving, and you will reach your goals.

Thank you, Chantel, for joining me today, and congratulations on Always & Forever ! I can’t wait to read the final version, and I look forward to reading what you’re working on next. Thanks for inviting me here, Kimberly. It has been so much fun. As far as us giving critiques to each other, I think I got the better end of the deal. Not only have I been able to read your fabulous novel and short stories, but I have learned so much about writing from you. Thanks so much for taking a chance on a romance novel and becoming my “crit buddy.”

Hmmm.. and I thought I got the better end of the deal. Your insightful comments and suggestions really helped whip my manuscript into shape. This, dear readers, is exactly why critique groups – and critique group members with different styles of writing and genres – are invaluable to writers!

You can learn more about Chantel Rhondeau at Chantel’s website , Twitter and Goodreads.

To order Always & Forever, take a look at the following links: