Interview with Randi Rigby

Randi Rigby

Author of Dibs,My After-School Tutor,

and several other sweet YA romance novels

As an aspiring YA novelist, I often research authors in my genre who have paved the way, hoping to glean insight into the process of publishing great work. You probably know what I mean when I say “publishing great work.” The journey from “idea” to holding our book in our hands is long, sometimes disheartening, and one that requires special ordering a thicker skin to deal with rejection and negative feedback along the way. So, when I emphasize “publishing great work,” what I’m saying is, that if you’re like me, there are times during this arduous journey where you might’ve nearly sold your soul just to get something out there, already! But—as Randi Rigby’s grandmother once warned, we need to promise we’ll never write something we can’t put our names to.

Randi Rigby was a fun interview! She is clever, humble, and one of the most relatable writers I’ve spoken with since I’ve had my blog. She’s penned half a dozen sweet YA romance novels, with (from the sounds of it) many more to go before the well runs dry. Sit back and take a break from your writing while getting to know Randi Rigby, an author who proves that breaking some rules is OK—like editing as you write—but one that should never be ignored is listen to your grandma’s wise advice!

LW: Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers, tell them a little about yourself, where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing?

RR: Hey, everyone! I’m Randi Rigby. I write sweet contemporary YA/adult romance and am dipping my toes into YA paranormal romance. I was born in Calgary, Alberta—which makes me a prairie girl—but am currently living in Seattle, Washington with my husband, Brant (our two children are grown and on their own now).

I’ve been writing all my life. Pretty much since I discovered as a child that you got in trouble for fibbing, but if you changed the names to protect the *innocent* and kicked up the plotlines to make it even juicier, suddenly people loved it.

For many years, I put my creative bent on the back burner while I focused on adulting. I did a lot of grant writing, research, and editing. I had a lucrative career working at an Asian investment firm fixing everyone’s funky English. And then, because getting paid buckets of money on a regular basis left me deprived of desperation and deadlines, in 2020 I walked away from it all to write full-time. And I couldn’t be having more fun.

LW: What was your gateway into publishing?

RR: My journey to being published is probably more unique than most. I wrote my first novel, Model Behavior, while I was still working insane hours at my investment firm and doing quite a bit of travel. I’d set a goal to have it published by the end of 2018, but I didn’t finish it until November of that year. That left me with no time to reach out to publishing companies or find an agent. I self-published it on Amazon, believing that all the hard stuff was done. Looking back at how naïve I was, I still marvel that I sold as many books as I did, especially given there was zero marketing done for it. I didn’t even have a newsletter. I simply pushed “Publish” and threw it out into the universe, expecting the general public to intuitively know it was golden and everything they could ever want in a novel (Editor’s note: It’s not. There are many things I’d change if I were to write that story again, but I’ve left it as is because—being first—it has a tender place in my heart).

With one book under my belt, I attended a writer’s conference in Nebraska the spring of 2019. One of the clinics I’d signed up for was “Book Camp” (a riff off military boot camp). We were each supposed to bring copies of our first chapter of our WIP and prepare for it to be gutted by the group so we could see what was working and what wasn’t.

We were divided into genres. Mine was romance, but I think I was the only writer there doing sweet YA. A publisher just so happened to be sitting in our group. I could tell from her comments that she was excited about my writing. At the break she asked me if I’d be willing to let her company publish it. I was invited to join a Christmas anthology (2019) and two sweet YA romance co-authored series with more established authors (2020) to get my name out there. And my books sold really well. But that opportunity to find a publisher literally fell into my lap with no intentional effort on my part. Inspired by the success many of my fellow writers have experienced going indie, I’ve since made the decision to try self-publishing again. This time, with a marketing mentality.

“A comment I kept hearing over and over, from the girls anyway, was they wished they could read a story that was really a romance and not just about sex.”

~ Randi Rigby

LW: Can you talk about why you stopped using your agent/publisher, and went the self-publishing route?

RR: Ultimately, it was about control—monetary and marketing. I realized, initially, scoring a publisher felt like a vanity move. Like I couldn’t be legit unless I had someone *official* representing my work. But I’ve seen enough success stories from indie authors that I’m confident I can do this on my own. Again, I’m just at the beginning of this transition and I’m allowing myself time to master the learning curve, but I’ve done my homework. I believe in my gift and that there’s a need for it in the market.

Learning how to steer through the world of self-publishing was made less intimidating and absolutely achievable utilizing the generosity of resources like the Writing Gals (YouTube channel and Facebook group) and Elana Johnson (just a couple to get you started).

I can always go back to traditional if this doesn’t pan out, but I’m investing my time and energy into this like I have no other choice. Writing isn’t just something I love, it’s also my career. And my mindset has always been geared toward success.

LW: What led you to writing clean, sweet YA stories? (My inspiration to do it is for my granddaughters to have uplifting romance to read when they’re ready).  

RR: I’ve worked with teens for most of my adult life—both in my church and volunteer work. I’ve tutored disadvantaged students in every subject except for math and physics (they could probably tutor me!). A comment I kept hearing over and over, from the girls anyway, was they wished they could read a story that was really a romance and not just about sex. I started to notice how many dark/bully romances were hitting the YA market, making that dynamic seem alluring. It was a disturbing trend. Anyone who’s ever been in an unhealthy relationship, knows that kind of abusive behavior doesn’t lead to sustained happiness; it’s also damaging. As an avid reader myself, I wanted to provide an alternative. Without being preachy, I wanted my young readers to know (especially if it hadn’t been modeled for them in their own homes), this is what love really looks like. Humor is my vehicle. My brand tagline is: Sometimes love is a funny thing… And I’ve been gratified by the reader response so far.

LW: Can you talk about your writing process? How long do you take to write a book? Do you plot, or are you a pantser?

RR: Again, probably not a role model. I am a total pantser. Like, I have no idea where the story is going at all. The upside of that? Many of my reviews specifically mention that they love that my work isn’t cliché. The downside? Probably not as many action beats and definitely not where you’d necessarily expect them. The extent of my planning is one chapter at a time. I ask myself as I sit down to write it: what needs to happen to advance the plot here?

Another no, no?  I edit as I go because that’s who I am. It takes me longer to finish a chapter, but when it’s done I rarely have to go back and make any changes. I’m researching when needed. Updating my character file/bible as I go (essential if you’re writing a series because even if you think you’ll never forget, you do). I shoot for writing between 2k-4k (one to two chapters)/day. But I’ve also had some significant health challenges the last few years, so there have been plenty of days where that hasn’t been feasible (I basically sat 2021 out). I try to not beat myself up over it and make the most of my good days.

LW: Do you visualize your characters as real-life people? For example, Jennifer Niven says she always visualized her protagonist, Violet, from All the Bright Places, as Elle Fanning (who ended up playing Violet in the adaptation).

RR: For me, the characters’ voice breathes life into them. I always pin a picture of what I imagine my characters would look like and I refer to it often to keep the visual consistent, but what really makes them walk around on their own is how they talk and think. Once I’ve nailed their voice, everything else just flows.

To do that, I collect dialogue by shamelessly eavesdropping in on conversations in restaurants, airports, check-out lines, and wherever teens are hanging out. Not word for word, but for general characterization and expressions. My top trick? Wear earphones so it looks like you’re listening to music.

“I play the same song on repeat…and block it out. Just hearing it signals my mind it’s time to work.”

~ Randi Rigby

LW: Do you write with music, or do you need it quiet while you work?

RR: Having to edit in a very busy office where I needed to be able to focus intensely, I picked up a trick that I continue to use, even though I’m frequently the only one around now while I’m writing. I play the same song on repeat. I pick one that suits the vibe I’m shooting for in my current project, and that I love. Because I’ve heard it so many times, my mind is able to block it out (as well as any other outside distractions the music drowns out) and focus on what’s in front of me. Just hearing it signals to my brain that it’s time to work. I can get back into the zone pretty quickly. I’ve recommended it to students who have to write essays and are having troubles concentrating, with much success. But different things work for different people. Figure out what works that magic for you.

LW: Who is your beta reader, and what does that person’s feedback mean to you?

RR: I belong to a writing critique group. We submit chapters and Zoom weekly to discuss everyone’s comments. They’re my first round of feedback. I also have an ARC team that I send my complete but unedited copy to while it’s off to my editor. They all provide insights into what worked, what didn’t, where things dragged or what they didn’t understand. Feedback is essential. I can’t emphasize that enough. We write in our own little world, creating another one. What might seem vivid and obvious to you, might prove foggy, unnecessary, or illogical to someone else. I don’t always make the suggested changes, but if more than one person is getting lost—I definitely do.

LW:Do you work with professional editors before turning your manuscripts over to your agent?

RR: Absolutely. And I worked professionally as an editor. Even with that, I’ll still find mistakes we both missed.

LW: If someone isn’t acquainted with your work yet, what is the ONE book you would recommend they read first to get to know Randi Rigby’s writing style?

RR: If you can wait until next month (it’s at the editor’s right now), I’d definitely say “Nipping at Your Nose.” It’s a sweet contemporary adult Christmas romance I’m over the moon with.

If you can’t wait and you’d prefer to read YA anyway: My Brother’s Best Friend. It’s a quick, fun, swoony, enemies-to-lovers romp. And Luke and Harper are some of my favorite characters.

(On staying positive during tough times): “I keep a little file of all the reviews, personal messages, and emails readers have sent me letting me know they loved my writing….”

LW: How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?

RR: The first time I got a 1-star, I was—no lie—absolutely devastated. To me, that meant a reader thought the author was so rubbish she couldn’t string a proper sentence together. If nothing else, I knew I was competent. Maybe they didn’t like my story, but I *can* write. The injustice stung!

Now, I just laugh. No one who’s given me a 1-star has actually said why, but I firmly believe there are people in this world who just need to spew negativity. What confirmed that for me was looking at the reviews for some well-established and respected authors whose work I love. They get 1-star reviews, too.

 Instead, I keep a little file of all the reviews, personal messages, and emails readers have sent me letting me know they loved my writing, that they wanted to be best friends with my characters, and that they didn’t want the story to end. On the days where your brain feels like cement and you are positive you have nothing worthwhile to say, they can be really motivating.

LW: How heavily do you rely on social media to promote your books? Which platforms have worked, and which ones haven’t translated to book sales and contacts?

RR: I’m really new at this, too. I just took several social media marketing classes and am gearing up to put what I’ve learned into action. Currently, I have someone else doing my marketing for me. But come January, I’m taking it over. Hit me up in March and I’ll let you know how I fared.

LW: Who are your favorite YA authors? Why?

RR: Oof. I’m all over the place: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series because Anne was perfectly imperfect (Also. I’m Canadian). John Green, such an honest gut punch. Kasie West, I just enjoy the way she includes family in her writing. And not strictly an author, but a screenwriter, Diablo Cody—her screenplay for Juno was sharply witty—I still marvel at her ability to pack so much humor into a few words.

LW: What are you currently working on?

RR: Dibs—book one in my Dryden High sweet series—the story that landed me my publishing contract, actually ended up being my fourth book published and it was released last July (because I promised a thirteen-year-old reader I would, even though I didn’t have any of my marketing ducks in a row yet. Obviously, I make profoundly bad business decisions but can sleep at night with a clear conscience, LOL). I’m just finishing the second book in that series, Derailed; and have already thrown book three into play, Destined, by signing it up for NaNoWriMo.

“I don’t know how many stories I have in me. I’m having too much fun to think of an end point.”

~Randi Rigby

LW: What’s still on Randi Rigby’s writing bucket list? How many more stories do you have in you?

RR: A little off the rails for me, but I put up a YA sweet paranormal romance, Pawns, on Vella that is two-thirds of the way done. I’ve enjoyed that. Pretty sure I’ll stick with romance. It’s what I love and read. I don’t know how many stories I have in me. I’m having too much fun to think of an end point. That feels bleak! I guess as long as I continue to find people who love my fibbing, I’ll continue to do it.

LW: Is there anything else you want my readers (and your future readers) to know about you, your work, your passions, etc.?

RR: My grandmother had a huge impact on my writing. Her basement was filled with Harlequin Romances from the sixties and seventies. There was no sex in them but a lot of heat between a handsome doctor and a shy nurse, or a Greek tycoon and a gentle but enticing English secretary. I read them voraciously and learned a surprising amount of geography and bits of foreign languages from them. “Educational” was what I landed on when Grandma wanted to know why my nose was stuck in another one.

She looked at me—possibly foreseeing a time in the future she would no longer be around to witness—and said with a sternness she rarely possessed, at least not without a cookie already in her hand, “Promise me you won’t ever write something you can’t put your name to.”

Because I was already deep into scribbling stories every chance I got.

In response, I nodded as soberly as a nine-year-old could.

So, while I know and understand why pen names are all the rage, like a southern woman who claims everything she can with her monogram, my own name will always sit on anything I write. It says to the world, “This is mine. And I’m proud of it.”

Thank you so much to Randi Rigby, who I am ecstatic to have stumbled upon in my Amazon search for YA romance books! To learn more about Randi or her many sweet romance novels, follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or on her website.

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