Saturday, February 28, 2015

Toby Neal's DARK LAVA is #1 With Kindle Teens

Dark Lava by Toby Neal hit the coveted number 1 spot in the Teen section of the Amazon Kindle store on November  22nd. It's the seventh book of nine in her Lei Crime series, set in her home state of Hawaii. Toby's here today to tell us about her path to the top spot for teens. She took the time to answer ALL of my questions, so we're getting the full scoop.

Tell us what your book is about.


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Dark Lava is the 7th in a bestselling mystery series set in Hawaii, and it is an action-packed thrill ride that documents the bumpy relationship of Lei Texeira,a brave, damaged young policewoman, and her husband, Michael Stevens, in a plot with more twists and turns than a ​Slinky on steroids! Without giving too much away, the story involves the systematic theft and looting of native Hawaiian artifacts, a couple of murders and a threat from Lei's past that just won't die.

Tell us about your path to publication: Traditional or independent? Recently or further in the past?

​I am a proud indie who has had three wonderful agents try to sell my books. I finally gave up at the zillionth "Hawaii is too niche" rejection and brought them to market myself. I've been living my dreams ever since! ​I'm now represented by Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary who is shopping my teen mystery series, Wallflower Diaries, in NY and a couple of other mystery projects. The Lei Crime Series is represented by Brandy Rivers at ICM in Hollywood and Audible is doing all my audiobooks. I'm thrilled at the alternative path I've taken. There's more than one way to bestseller, nowadays!

What top factors do you believe put your e-book where it is now?

​Amazing covers on all my books, a top notch editing team hired from traditional publishing backgrounds, ​a terrific social media platform and stories my fans call "unputdownable."

How are people finding out about your book? Tell us about your marketing and use of social media.

Now here's the interesting part. I'm currently a child/adolescent mental health therapist and was a school counselor for 12 years. I know a lot about kids which influences my writing. My first teen book, a post-technology survival novel called Island Fire, coming out in December, is marketed to teens and so is the upcoming Wallflower Diaries series that my agent is shopping because the teen experience is one I remember well and relive daily through my clinical work.

When my Lei Crime books came out, even though I wasn't marketing specifically to teens, I shared my writing journey story at several school events in Hawaii and donated sets of the Lei Crime Series to our high school and state libraries. They caught on to the point that librarians began calling me to order them. The books do deal with adult themes and Hawaii issues that I care about as a social worker (the gap between rich and poor, loss of Hawaiian culture, endangerment of our native birds, sex trafficking, etc) but the actual level of violence and bad language is about Pg-13 if the books were a movie, so while I don't market on Amazon or B &N in teen categories, they are ok for kids 13 and up to read. ​Anyway I'd been hearing from teens via email and social media that they loved the books. The grassroots popularity of the series I was hearing rumors of is gaining ground, and that's good news for all because these books deal with important issues through an entertaining read.


My social media reach is wide. I do a lot of beautiful Hawaii photos on Instagram. I'm on Twitter. I have an active Pinterest page, Facebook, and of course G+ and my website. I hear all the young people are on Reddit, though, so figuring that out is my next project!

Some studies say children reading e-books are reading more, while other studies say they comprehend less of what they read. What’s your opinion or experience? 

I think divided attention is a real problem for young people. The phones are constantly on, things are beeping and blipping, and the immersion reading I grew up doing is a thing of the past. On the plus side, there are more ways than EVER to read: on devices, phones, computers etc, and there's an explosion of different books that never would have made it to market in the old days, such as mine that meet a niche market: the "culturally accurate" Hawaii read. I think my young readers are Hawaii kids who don't have enough local literature with fast-paced entertaining stories to read.


I know that it took some months of reading on an ebook reader for me to begin having the same "depth of experience" reading on a device that I did in person. I think this is because repeated experience builds neural pathways, and my aging brain pathways were tuned to the cues of paper, ink tonality, smell, etc. It took a while to retrain my brain but I love it now, particularly the customization of fonts and lighting. I think kids who grow up with this are going to have a hard time switching to paper!​

What is your target audience, and how do you believe the e-format works for that audience and serves their needs?

My audience for Island Fire is age 10-17, Wallflower Diaries is 13-up and so are all my other books!

As you got into e-publishing, have you discovered unexpected things? Has anything happened that you wouldn’t have predicted?

I believe my whole path to success and becoming a top 100 teen author with one of my "adult" mysteries qualifies! *laughs* Actually the whole thing has been something of a miraculous roller-coaster ride. My life has totally changed in the last three years with my indie author success.

What does your writing schedule look like? What are you working on now?

I write every day, seven days a week and publish 4-5 books a year. Right now ​I'm finishing Island Fire (coming December, marketed to 10-17 year olds) and the Wallflower Diaries, a teen mystery series which are solidly YA with readership from 13-up.​

Time to pull out your Magic 8 Ball: How do you see the world of e-publishing developing for children and young adults over the next 5 years? Do you think it will ever exceed or replace print publishing?

Yes, I do think it will eventually replace print. Anyone who's seen a toddler grab an iPad and start navigating can see how immediately engaging the moving pictures, icons and control are to kids. I think books will become increasingly interactive and multi-modal, with video, song, alternative choices of story pathways, being read aloud options, etc. It's an exciting time!​

Do you believe the e-format helps or hurts you as an author? How?

Oh,as an independent it undoubtedly helps. I've finally got big enough to turn on returnability and have my books carried by B &N and other retailers, but as an independent I carry all that risk which isn't really good business. Ebooks have no overhead, no environmental impact, no storage, and unlimited capacity. What's not to love?​

Do you believe the e-format helps or hurts your readers, specifically children and/or young adults? How?

I think ebooks are a very good thing for everyone, overall, including the environment!. Reading to children is super important, but the words on the page are the least important aspect of that. Snuggling with your parent or loved one, tucked under their arm as their voice rumbles in your ear, reading along with them while you suck your thumb...It is a whole-body love experience and reading is just the excuse to enter a wonderful unknown world together. Ebook or print, either will work for that! but nothing can substitute for a parent taking the time to read to a child.​
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Learn more about Toby and her books by visiting the many links she provided above.


See the latest Kids' EBook Bestseller List for more top ten e-format authors and their books. It's updated every Saturday morning. Check back next week when my featured author will be Ginger Scott.

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