Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interview with author Alex Boles

Today, my guest is non-fiction author, Alex Boles. She's here to talk about her book, "Unwritten Letters Project."

1) Tell me a little about your book and give a short synopsis. The book I published is based off the website I created back in November of 2009 while attending Truman State University, the Unwritten Letters Project. The non-fiction book also is called “Unwritten Letters Project” and consists of more than 100 submitted letters from all across the globe. These letters have been submitted by people of all ages and consist of the deepest secrets and most intimate moments of their lives. Letters are written to people alive and deceased, pets, places of employment and even to themselves. This book is a portal into the thoughts of your neighbor, as well as people around the world, and you’d be amazed how often you can relate to these letters. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

2) What gave you the idea for this particular book? I was a junior in college at the time taking a Family Communication class. We spent a lot of time discussing how we communicated growing up, and I discovered that I chose to write down what I was feeling as a child into adolescence. I would write letters to people in my journals, hoping that getting my emotions out onto paper would give me courage or strength to speak them. In any case, writing always helped me get through rough or difficult times, and I wanted to share this method with other people and see if I was alone – turns out I wasn’t. After creating the website and realizing its success, I spoke with a publishing company about working on a book format for letters not posted on the website. The website began in April 2009, and the book was published in November 2009 with LeClere Books, LLC.

3) Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time? Although this book was primarily comprised of letters written by other people than myself, I am and have always been a writer. I have a degree in Communication from Truman State University where I worked on the newspaper for four years. I currently work as a reporter for a local online news site, so I get to write almost every week. I also write screenplays and entertainment reviews and news on another blog I maintain whenever I get the chance. So, I guess you can consider me a part-time writer. 

4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? I entered a writing workshop in fifth grade and won the chance to read my short stories and poetry to other participants. I had a passion for writing poetry and song lyrics from a very young age and even keep a scrapbook of what I’ve written as a child. Some of it is quite entertaining. I started writing my first novel when I was in middle school and fell in love with the power of being in charge of my characters’ fate. I love the idea of creating new story lines and characters. I have lists of stories I eventually would love to write.

5) What do you hope readers will take from your writing? I hope readers will take away a sense of knowing that no matter how alone you feel at the moment you write your letter, there is someone out there reading it and relating to you. I want people to read the Unwritten Letters Project and know that although they might not be sending the letter to the person it’s addressed to, thousands of people will share in the glory that you are brave enough to release your thoughts to the world.

6) What types of writing do you prefer, and why?  I enjoy reading paranormal, fantasy and fiction novels because I enjoy the escape and creativity that comes with each unique take on the world according to each other’s mind. I enjoy writing fiction because it has no limits. Anything my mind can create, I can write, and that is thrilling. Non-fiction is therapeutic to write, and I strongly agree with the idea that if you want to keep a memory forever, write it down. So, I encourage everyone to write their own autobiography and write a letter to yourself and the people you were with when an important event in your life happens.

7) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it? The toughest part about being a writer definitely is finding the time to write, especially if it’s not your first profession. I’m a very impulsive person and that translates to my writing habits as well.  So if I have an idea, I tend to simply write on anything that’s around me. That way, when I do have time to write, I just get out the napkin, receipt or scrap paper I wrote on earlier and begin. Sometimes that doesn’t always go well because I’ll accidentally throw away the napkin.

8) What draws you to non-fiction writing? PostSecret is probably the closest comparison to my work with the Unwritten Letters Project. After seeing the impact other people’s stories can have on myself, as well as having the ability to submit my own if I wanted, I decided that having an interactive website displaying other people’s raw emotions would benefit others as much as it benefits me. ULP basically is a database of non-fiction short stories with another one posted every day. I am being trusted with thousands of people’s most intimate moments in their life. That is what truly attracts me to non-fiction and what keeps the Unwritten Letters Project going.

9) What kind of research did you do for this type of book? I had to research the legal implications of revealing personal information online and in book form, especially when referring to illegal actions. Allowing people to submit anything means I have been confronted with stories of rape, suicide, abuse, violence and much more. I had to do research to make sure my bases were covered, so I created the rules and regulations page outlining submission guidelines. No personal information that could allow someone to recognize anyone in the letter can be allowed, so I have full editing abilities if I feel someone could be identified. Other than that, I didn’t have to do much research.

10) What about your book makes it special? The “Unwritten Letters Project” is special and unique because there’s nothing like it on the market. There are similar products, like that of the “PostSecret” books, but none that express in detail the emotions that these letters entail. The letters are more than just a secret or regret; they are stories that let you relate to the people themselves.

11) What is your marketing plan? Seeing as I was in college at the time of publication, I couldn’t do much in the terms of marketing because I couldn’t take time away from my studies. I do as much as I can with social media and word of mouth. It really is a blessing to publish a book in the age of social media. Twitter has really helped market the project and the book. I was offered a three-city tour deal by a publicity agent on the East coast, but I couldn’t afford leaving college. Now that I have graduated, as soon as I get on my feet permanently, I will dive into a full marketing plan with a publicity agent.

12) Where can people learn more about you and your work? The Unwritten Letters Project website ( has information about me and my previous work. I also write under I am in the process of creating an author blog that will be up and running under as well. Until then, following the Unwritten Letters Project on Twitter (@UnwrittenLetter) or going to the website itself is the best way to stay up to date on all things ULP.

13) What are your views on self-publishing versus traditional publishing? I think it was best for me to self-publish because my book didn’t need much editing or guidance as a work of collaborated submissions. However, when it comes to full-length novels, I highly recommend using traditional publishing. I’ve worked for three publishing houses as an editor, and I can’t tell you how much most, if not all, authors need to go through an extensive editing process, myself included. It is always a good idea to have multiple people look at your work.

14) Do you have an agent and do you feel an agent is necessary for non-fiction? I do not have an agent as of now. I am in the works of finding one and definitely agree that having an agent for any genre is wise. Even though I have a degree in public relations, I would rather have an experienced professional guide me through the process. Representation, when done right, is always a good option.

15) Any tips for new writers hoping to write non-fiction? My advice for any writer, whether it is journalism, non-fiction, or even fiction, is to find a hole in the market. To have a successful product, there has to be a need for it commercially. Find a way to reach your target audience by appealing to a need and market it as so. With non-fiction, everyone has a story to tell, so just find the story that’s missing or hasn’t been told.

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