Today, I'm joined by Chelsea Burke who recently self-published her debut dystopian romance novel Second City. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy and really enjoyed it. Add to your TBR!

Welcome, Chelsea! How long have you been a writer?

I think I’ve been a writer my whole life, but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve actually shared that with anyone. When I was younger I’d write my own stories, or if I’d read a book that didn’t end the way I wanted it to I’d rewrite my own ending. I used to tell my mam that the dream was to move to New York, sit in a coffee shop and write books all day long. I just finally have the confidence to do it… I mean from Tallaght but, alas.

Where did you get the inspiration for your books?

I think just from the many, many books I read. I always found myself thinking ‘I wish this book had this. I wish this happened. I wish this was different.’ So I really just figured out what I felt was missing from all those books and wanted to try write something using those elements. I figured if I feel like these aspects are missing, surely there’s other people who want them too. Also I adore fantasy, but it can be hard to swallow sometimes, hard to follow along. Writing a realistic dystopia kind of felt somewhere in the middle of fantasy and normal romance and that’s what I wanted.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your writing career, so far?

Trying to figure out where Second City fits in the market and in my niche. There are so many amazing romance books and writers out there at the moment and trying to explain what makes Second City special and different and worthy of readers time has been a real personal struggle. Marketing overall I think is the hardest part, but for me it’s more of a ‘where do I fit in in all of this?’ I think it’s some sort of existential crisis. Self-publishing is hard, doing everything on your own is hard. I have no real experience in any of this. That’s the biggest struggle for me.

  If you could go back and give your younger self a single piece of writing advice, what would it be?

STOP WITH THE CLICHES! I love a cliché in a romance book as much as the next person. They’ve become cliches because they work, but in the beginning I thought my writing had to have them or it was awful. Looking back at some of the drafts I’ve abandoned I think they could have been great stories if I had just done my own thing instead of trying to make them like every other book. Starting a book with the main character waking up was my go to. Makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am a pantser with every fibre of my being. I wrote the last chapter of Second City on a whim… then wrote the rest of the book based on that. I literally had no idea what the beginning of my story was. Had no idea why the characters ended up the way they did. I just had that one end scene in my mind and then figured out how to get them there. I hate planning. It definitely does not work for me. I like winging it. For me it feels more natural, a little bit chaotic. I live for chaos.

What do you think the biggest challenges are for aspiring writers, right now?

I think it’s the same as it has always been; getting published. So many more people, like me, are choosing to self-publish because in many ways it really feels like the only option. As all writers know it’s a very lucky few who get traditional publishing deals. It’s something I’d love to achieve one day, but for now just doesn’t seem doable. It’s a big world out there, and a lot of people have stories to tell. Finding a publisher is a tough task.

Do you believe that having a strong social media presence leads to more book sales?

100%. Especially TikTok. The reader presence on TikTok is insane right now. When I was growing up I used to read my books and never tell a soul because reading wasn’t cool. Now? Some of the biggest accounts on TikTok are ‘booktok’ accounts. If you want more sales that’s where you need to be. It’s an amazing community to be a part of. You can really connect with readers and find people who are looking for your type of book specifically. Instagram is brilliant too, but on a smaller scale I’ve found. One viral video on TikTok and your sales can go through the roof. It’s wild.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I read the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas. It is a work of art. If I can’t write I read that series and before I know it all I want to do is write a book that makes other people feel the way that series makes me feel. If you haven’t read it- read it. Seriously. I’m on my millionth re-read right now and it still puts me on the edge of my seat. That’s my cure for writers block. Get inspired.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Writing the ending. I think endings are the most important part of any book. If a book doesn’t end well it ruins it for me. I love (and hate) endings. As I mentioned, I started my debut novel by writing its ending. I lie in bed at night writing endings to stories that don’t exist yet. They’re so fun, and heart breaking, and cathartic. It’s hands down my favourite part. Editing it until its perfect? Delicious.

 If you could collaborate with any other author on a project, who would it be and why?

Stephen King. I’d pay money just to watch him write a story. He just writes like nobody else. When I read IT for the first time when I was young I just didn’t understand how he could write a horror that had me sleeping with the lights on and yet still have me in tears. (I like to pretend that one part in IT never happened, if you don’t know what I’m talking about carry on in blissful ignorance.) I just adore his writing. I’ve read every book he’s ever written and I’d give anything to work with him on something, even if horror isn’t my bag.

What are you working on now?

I have about 5 different manuscripts that are different degrees of finished right now. I like to switch between stories. One of my favourites is a novel with the working title of ‘The Offering.’ It’s a fantasy. Not entirely sure where exactly it’s going yet but I’ll figure it out. I’m also working on the sequel to my debut Second City. Someone once told me that the second book is the hardest you’ll ever write. I believe them. The sequel might just be the death of me.

Where do you see your writing career in 5 years?

In complete honesty I have no idea. Not a clue. I just hope I’m still writing. I hope people are reading what I’m writing and that some of those people feel about my books the way I feel about some of my favourite books. I’m not that great at planning ahead, but I do hope that I reach readers the way other authors have reached me.

Have you ever considered writing in another genre?

I think I’ll always be in romance. Whether that be fantasy romance, contemporary, romance or even just a romance sub plot. I live for it. I can’t see myself writing a book that doesn’t have that. It’s home for me.

Pen names – yay or nay?

I think that depends on where I take my books. Right now I’m okay writing under my own name. I like dark romances though, so if I decide to delve into writing the darker side romance I think I might write under a pen name. I don’t know if I’d like my family to read some of the books I’ve read… never mind if I decided to write something like it. I’ll have to wait and see.

What marketing tips would you give to someone starting out in their career?

Start early! Find your readers and get them excited about your book. ‘Booktok’ is a great community and TikTok is an amazing (and free) way to market your book without too much effort. If you can build up excitement around your book before it’s released you’ll already have some dedicated followers dying to get their hands on it. It’s extremely beneficial.

To learn more about Chelsea and her writing journey, check out her social media and website links below: