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Interview with author Jessica Yinka Thomas

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Jessica Yinka Thomas is a novelist with a background in toy design and social entrepreneurship. As managing director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, she has authored several award-winning academic articles. Jessica has worked as a designer of interactive educational toys, as the director of a social enterprise business plan competition and as a program manager for a community development nonprofit. How Not to Save the World is her first novel. Jessica’s writing highlights her twin passions for technological innovation and for creating significant social change through entrepreneurial ventures.
Growing up in West Africa and traveling around the world has provided her with a rich background from which to draw in her writing. She lives in Arlington, VA with her husband, Jeff Forbes and their son Xavier. Jessica enjoys knitting in the winter and competing in triathlons during the summer. She holds a BS in Engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

How have you been able to use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) to help market your book?
Over the past year, I’ve have been working to build communities on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to help market my novel. I try to post daily with updates about my first novel, How Not to Save the World, and the sequel. I’ll also post regularly with advice on how to save the world. I’ve found that Facebook is a great platform for connecting with existing readings but in my experience not very effective for expanding my fan base. So far Goodreads has been by far the most effective platform to connect with new readers and Facebook to build a community of existing fans. I’m still trying to figure out Twitter and don’t get me started on Google +.

Do you have any advice for new authors looking to promote themselves on these sites?
I’ve recently started to build a network on Goodreads and have found it to be a much stronger social media platform for attracting new readers. I just completed my first book giveaway on Goodreads and was pleasantly surprised by the results. There is no cost outside shipping a book or two to the giveaway winners. Although I did spend a lot of time checking the stats. For a first time novelist with 4 ratings and one single review on Goodreads, over the course of the two week giveaway, I had 647 people enter the giveaway, so 647 new impressions and 79 people add it to their “to-read” list including one person who read and reviewed it during the course of the giveaway. I would recommend new authors explore Goodreads and the range of options for book promotion.

What type of writing routine do you have? Any tips you can share about it?
Recently I’ve had the flexibility to scale back my day job to half time. These days I can usually commit at least 2 hours to marketing and promoting my first novel and two hours to working on the second novel. I’ll often write on my lap using my laptop on my living room couch or at the local library if I’m going to put in several hours. Much of the writing so far for the sequel involves idea generation. The woman who runs my fitness class is probably frustrated that I will often pick up my phone in between sets and make notes about dialogue, character development, settings, etc. She probably thinks I’m texting my friends, but it keeps me distracted during the bicep curls and keeps me writing! So my advice would be to be creative about finding time to write.

How has it been trying to balance your writing with your day job and/or family life? Is there anything you would change?
I wrote How Not to Save the World over the course of 10 years while juggling a day job, grad school, a family, and an attempt at a social life. I had to be very strategic about fitting in my writing. I found that as long as I was consistent, even if I was only writing five or ten minutes a day, I could make progress. I created structure around writing and carved out time by taking writing classes and then joining writing groups that kept me going during that decade. Part of my marketing strategy includes participating in discussions with book clubs that are reading the book. That strategy has actually provided fantastic feedback for me as a writer and doubles as time to be social and meet new people.
 
Setting is an extremely important aspect in grabbing your reader’s attention. What made you choose to set your book in a very international setting?
 How Not to Save the World follows the protagonist, Remi Austin, around the world, from her home base in San Francisco, to New York, Sydney, Cape Town, Tokyo, Geneva, Dakar and many other international destinations. These are all places that I have had the chance to explore and I wanted to give the reader a chance to visit them without leaving the page. I had the opportunity to have a very international upbringing and I greatly appreciate the global perspective that gave me.
 
What types of books do you read? How do you think they have influenced your writing?
My taste in reading spans the literary spectrum. I devour the writings of William Gibson for the brilliant cyber worlds that he creates. Janet Evanovich’s early work inspired me to create a spunky kick-ass female character. Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith encouraged me to gaze into our collective cultural soul. And finally, some of my favorite works on social impact and sustainability, Muhammad Yunus’s Creating a World without Poverty, David Bornstein’s How to Change the World, Jacqueline Novogratz’s The Blue Sweater, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky drove me to write a book that is a call to action for social justice.

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