February Focus: Petra van der Ploeg, author of Fade Into Darkness

Petra van der Ploeg (1978) is a young adult/ new adult fantasy author from The Netherlands. Her most recent release is Fade Into Darkness and is book two in her Somnia series.

Petra describes herself as a writer, a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. She lives with her family of three cats: Minoes, Kayla and Jip. As a writer, she incorporates her love of fantastical elements into her stories. Her main character is always someone she relates to tremendously, making the story both personal and appealing. To help other aspiring writers, Petra runs her own website too, where she offers free advice.

Petra's favourite author is J.K. Rowling. "She created a completely new world, not so different from our own, that just oozes with magic. She’s an inspiration to me." And at the moment, Petra is reading A Thousand Pieces Of You by Claudia Gray, however the last book she reviewed was The Selection, book 1, by Kierra Cass on Goodreads.

Petra started writing her stories down at the age of 13. At first it was a way to get things off her chest, because she didn't have an easy childhood. Writing gave her a way out, particularly through fantasy where there were ways to solve issues unavailable in real life. She loved diving into the worlds she created, dreaming about them and making them come alive. And this is what Petra continues to do to this day - writing fills her heart with joy and she can't see a future without her laptop nearby.

Inspiration isn’t something Petra is very focused on; she gets an itch if she doesn't write for a certain amount of time. She feels a need to dive into her stories, and the ideas just flow out of her. But music helps, too. Sometimes she'll hear a lyric and can see the story unfold before her eyes. Research isn't so important; she tends to get sidetracked while writing her first draft, so during the first round of editing, she'll go through and apply any research to make the story better. She also doesn't have a schedule for writing, though sometimes she wishes she did. After trying it, a schedule seemed to have the opposite effect. Procrastination lurked around the corner if/when she put a time limit on her writing. Thankfully, Petra doesn't have to force herself to write, she just does. And if she doesn't have time, and doesn't write for a few days, that same itch will force her back to the laptop. Petra always finds time to write - one or two days per week. Sometimes she may only write 200 words, but she's also had days where she managed 20,000 in one seating!

The easiest thing for Petra is getting the first draft down. She never thought this would be the case until she decided to self-publish and found out about the other parts of writing and publishing a book (for example, the editing, beta reading process, getting a designer to create the cover you envisioned and the marketing for your book). The hardest part, for sure, is getting her book noticed by readers. In this particular area, she can be quite the introvert, even though she believes her books are amazing. "But finding readers to actually take a chance on your book, that’s the hardest part in the writing (and publishing) process." Petra agrees writers are mostly introverts and loners, but states, "I can be outgoing if I’m with the right crowd. Friends that I feel comfortable with see the outgoing side of me. People I don’t (yet) know will see the introvert in me. I love being on my own and I need that time too."

Petra has previously gone years without writing. "It was the worst time of my life," she says. "I’d considered my writing just a hobby, something that wouldn’t bring me anywhere and my adult mind told me that I needed to give it up because I needed to focus on things that would bring me somewhere. But without writing, I felt lost. I needed the escape, the ability to go into worlds I’d never gone before and explore every possibility alongside my characters." That's when she decided to start writing again and faced the hardest Writer’s Block ever, because to Petra, Writer’s Block is nothing more than an author's mind trying to keep them imprisoned in constricting ideas about the value of writing, and that it needs to be excellent or why else would they write? She agrees that a first draft is never excellent, so it was tough getting through that experience.

And when it comes to world-building, Petra advises authors to use Pinterest. "That’s my go-to when I need to visualize the worlds my characters visit. Nothing helps me more than to see the art of talented people. Work that inspires me and gets me all twisted and creative into my own stories."

Once a book is finished, she dives back in immediately. She longs to relive the story, but this time from her readers' point of view. "I edit my own work as many times as necessary, but before publishing it, I always hire a professional editor to make sure the story is up to the highest standards," says Petra. And she agrees a professional cover impacts sales, too. Even though she's an author herself and supports others, she still judges a book by a cover. "I don’t think there is any good reason for a bad cover. It’s your book and you want it to exude the same quality as the story itself. If I see a bad cover, I’m almost certainly going to assume that the story is bad too." And that’s not just for Indie Authors, Petra advises, because she feels the same if the book is published through a traditional route (though she feels you see this less).

Petra hasn't yet found a marketing technique that’s most effective for her, though she tries to get her books out there by using social media and asking for reviews. It’s a tough process. "Nevertheless, I’m hanging in there, doing the best I can, exploring any possibility as I go because I believe in my books and I believe there’s a hardcore fandom waiting to happen for them. So, I guess, the one piece of advice I have is: don’t give up."

She does understand where the negative judgement of independent author comes from in relation to quality though. "There are a lot of self-published authors who do their own editing and design their own book covers to save money. And then you get bad books, poor grammar and even worse cover designs. I see those authors as hobby authors. They’re not really invested in their books. They might love their books, but they don’t really care if others do, too. They just want their book out there. And to them, I say congrats. You did it." However, Petra also advises that readers shouldn't brush all independent authors aside. She wants them to be critical, but encourages them to purchase a book with a good cover and strong synopsis, even if the author is self-published. There are enough Indie Authors out there, like Petra, who purposely chose to independently publish, and she advises it's because they feel they know better than anyone what their book needs, and they want to retain control over every aspect.

When asked what advice she could provide to young aspiring writers, she said she would encourage primary school children to read and write a lot of books, in any genre, and see what fits them the most. And to secondary school children, Petra advises, "Don’t let anyone stop you from writing. Only by writing, will you get better. And if you love the stories in your head, know that there’ll always be people who want to read them." She agrees that people can learn to write rather than simply being born with the talent, but does feel that if you possess the passion and the talent for writing, it will always be better. "Writing isn’t just about putting one word after the other. That you can learn. But writing is so much more. It’s about finding a way to become the characters of your book. It’s about empathy and the ability to see things from different perspectives. It’s about exploring possibilities and then finding a way to bring everything alive on paper."

As well as writing for fun, Petra recommends writing for the benefits to our mental health and as a form of self-therapy, too. She had her fair share of mental health issues. "I don’t believe it replaces the help of a professional," she explains, "but I do think writing can benefit you when you explore your own thoughts by letting your character run into situations similar to your own. It helps to look from the perspective of a writer toward a character." She agrees it can be challenging for a writer to write outside their own morals, values and beliefs, so tends to avoid such topics. She says, "I don’t think I’d make them very believable, if I don’t believe it myself." When other writers wander into such topics, Petra says she can feel a bit uncomfortable, but there are two kinds of uncomfortable for her. Firstly, being that she doesn't believe what she's reading because the author doesn’t seem to get the beliefs, morals or values across (in her opinion), making it a cringe-worthy story. Secondly, that the author did a phenomenal job and she's torn between wanting to understand the character, but is finding it hard to relate to them because their beliefs, morals and values are so different from hers.

But as a writer, to Petra success is defined by going after what you want most in life. Success is not the end goal, it’s the journey. She believes she's successful, based on all she's done and does every day. "By writing and publishing my books, by holding them to the highest standards before they go out into the world, I believe they are already successful. But that doesn’t stop me striving for a bestselling status for my books!" Petra only recently learned about the different ways books can get a bestselling status on Amazon, but she actually doesn't hold much value over that status because the book may be number one in a very small niche category. This wouldn't be her ideal definition of a bestselling book. Petra believes the actual number of books sold is more important. "I don’t think a bestselling status is actually bestselling if it only surpasses e.g. four books in a niche," she adds.

But the question of how many books Petra has sold has been a big source of frustration for her. After some internal soul searching, she came to the conclusion that it’s only frustrating because she believed the number of sold books defined her success as a writer. Once Petra redefined that definition, the question didn’t bother her as much. Now, she simply answers, “I’m not actually sure, but I’m happy either way. I get to do what I love and I value that over any number of sold books.”

It can be hard to deal with rejection and criticism, Petra agrees, especially if you value another person's opinion. If it’s from a person Petra doesn't know, she can easily brush it off. But if it’s from a person she does, it's a harder process. Nevertheless, she welcomes any and all criticism and has learned it helps her to grow as a writer and identify her audience. Petra says, "anyone will be critiqued on everything. Some will love your story, others will hate it and both are fine. You can’t accept the love if you don’t accept the hate because both are just opinions. In the end all that matters is how you feel about your book. That should be leading in anything regarding your books and that is what will push you through the hardships of writing."

Petra's latest book, Fade Into Darkness is ideal for readers of 20 – 35 years of age and is available from Amazon (paperback and e-book) and through her own website (e-book). Here is the book's description from the back cover:

“You can’t keep me away.” His voice was just behind me, raising the hair on the back of my neck. Instantly, I recognized his tone. It was him. My biological father. Trying to build up courage, I turned around to face him but there was no one there. “You have to embrace your powers,” his voice said to my left. I jumped back but still saw nothing. Frantically, I turned from left to right, and when his voice started to speak to me, his words came from all sides. “The boundaries have been broken since you first traveled. I can now find you.” I froze as he whispered in my ear, “Anywhere.”

Sophia McAllister's life turned upside down when she discovered her power to travel across realms. In Fade into Darkness she has to find her True Realm, the realm where she belongs. Unable to easily adjust to every realm, Sophia becomes vulnerable to its inhabitants. Not to mention to her biological father, a Shadow Walker whose intentions have yet to be revealed..."

Petra is happy for her readers to contact her, and they can do so via Facebook @AuthorPetravanderPloeg or through her website www.petravanderploeg.com. Here you will find a contact form her blog.

*image courtesy of Petra van der Ploeg

Dear Rachael...

Thank you for these questions! They were very thorough and I enjoyed answering them. You’ve asked a few questions to which I really had to stop and think, and I like that.

I took a quick peek at your website; it looks smart and clean. Professional! And it taught me a lot about you; the work you do and the services you offer. Well done for chasing your dreams. That’s pretty darn inspirational to me. #lifegoals 😉