Q&A with Elizabeth Eksteen – author of “Behind the Mask”

 In Author Q&A, The secrets behind the practice of good writing, Tips for Writers

As part our Author Showcase Series, we will be publishing Q&As with recently published community members. We hope these blogs will help motivate you to get to the finish line, offer support to the authors (please buy their books!) and provide tips and tricks about the writing and publishing process.

This week we showcase Elizabeth Eksteen.

Elizabeth has been working with us for the past several years on her first novel, a vampire story called Behind the Mask. She was a schoolgirl when she began, full of enthusiasm and verve. She threw herself into her project with the kind of uninhibited energy that instantly made her an exciting mentee to work with.

Now the book is done, she has published it – and created not only a website to promote it on, but a video, a song, and a range of merchandise to go with it.

1) Tell us a bit about your writing process?

I am definitely a plotter – I love to brainstorm story ideas in detail before I start writing. I also like doing it the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper (I find it easier to organize my thoughts that way). Most of the time my ideas come from dreams, books I’ve read or random sentences that popped up in my head, all waiting to be fleshed out into a story.

When it comes to the actual writing, I prefer to set myself a minimum word count to hit, then sit down in front of my laptop and try to get it all done in one chunk. If I become engrossed in a scene and go over the planned word count, it’s great. If not and I barely manage to eek out my thousand words for the day, then I can at least leave my manuscript knowing I’ve progressed past that difficult part.

2) How well formed was the story before you started writing the book?

I had a somewhat unusual situation in the sense that my story had been fully written and edited multiple times before I began the mentoring course. I wrote the first draft when I was fourteen, went through it many times to make edits, then did All About Writing’s Online Creative Writing course when I was seventeen. The course left me with a fresh perspective on the craft of writing so I went back to make more edits and rewrite parts of my story.

Yet it was still far from perfect – when I started the mentoring programme later that year it soon became clear that I’d have to do another complete rewrite.

Does it get tiring to redo your work so many times? Absolutely, but I can say the end result is worth it!

3 )How long did this book gestate for?

About six months. The kernel of what was to become Behind the Mask is a short story with the same title that I wrote in high school. It was part of a collection of short horror tales, titled Moments before Midnight, and I always liked to imagine what it would be like if I were to develop this story into a full novel. Still, it wasn’t until several months later that I had gathered enough inspiration and ideas to start writing.

4) What surprised you about how the story unfolded as you wrote it?

The most surprising thing was how it moved away completely from my initial concept of a paranormal romance story. I suppose that is to be expected, as my tastes and vision for the book evolved a lot through the course of writing. But I didn’t quite expect that I would end up dropping about 80% of the teenage romance aspect to rather focus on coming of age themes such as loneliness, identity and finding your place in the world.

4) How did you go about developing your main character and bringing her to life?

There is a saying that as writers, we always put a little bit of ourselves into our characters, whether we want to admit it or not. I can definitely say that Jane’s character has always been strongly based on myself and this has helped tremendously for me to bring her to life.

As the story progressed, I delved deeper and deeper into everything that makes her who she is – her struggles both past and present, her fears and her dreams. Why does she feel this way about such and such? Oh it’s because of X events that happened in the past. I also picked out small details to develop such as her interests, likes and dislikes, because it’s these little things that make her all the more vivid in my head.

6) How did the mentoring process help you in making your book a reality?

Without the brilliant insights from Richard and Jo-Anne’s mentoring, my book certainly wouldn’t have been the story it is today. It would likely have been a generic teenage vampire romance without much depth or a strong message. The mentoring process transformed my manuscript into a polished book I can be proud of presenting to readers – whittling away everything that’s cliché and unnecessary while leaving behind the most important story concepts. I’m incredibly grateful that I did it because not only did it prepare my book for publication, but my writing in general has improved with leaps and bounds. I can highly recommend it for aspiring authors looking to take their writing to the next level.

7) What do you hope this book will mean to teenagers and young adults?

The character arc in Behind the Mask is a journey of transformation – it’s about becoming confident in your individuality, to claim the power within, to forge your own path that’ll ultimately result in the greatest personal growth and satisfaction. In a society that is so focused on trends and fitting in, I hope this book can help younger readers to realize that it’s okay to be different. To realize the beauty in being authentically and unapologetically yourself. There’s nobody else like you in this world… so why spend all your time trying to be like someone else? These kinds of themes are slowly starting to be addressed in young adult novels, but I believe we need much more of them still.

8) Who/what were some of your biggest inspirations for your book?

During the earliest drafts, my inspiration came mainly from the young adult novels I was reading at the time. Writers like Stephenie Meyer (yes, Twilight was a big influence), Richelle Mead, Claudia Gray and so forth. As time went on, I branched out to include more inspiration from my own life experiences and the authors whose work I enjoy now. Anne Rice’s lush prose stands out, as well as the thrillingly dark tales from John Connolly. If I had just a fragment of his sharp writing style, I’d be content!

9) Tell us about the self publishing process? What were some things that you enjoyed and what were some of the challenges you faced?

I am lucky that the process of getting my book published has gone quite smoothly. I happen to know somebody involved with a local self publishing company and working through him to get physical copies printed has made the process significantly less complicated. Additionally I published the story as an e-book available on my website www.ironfoeniks.co.za

The challenges of publishing were mainly getting the formatting just right for the e-book and print versions. Note to authors: the Reedsy Book Editor is excellent for formatting, but it doesn’t catch all spelling/grammar errors and sometimes spaces between words will get lost if you copy from another document. I recommend running the manuscript through another source afterwards to make sure everything is perfect.

The parts I enjoyed the most were designing the book cover myself, designing promotional graphics and images, writing the book description and back matter (Acknowledgements, Notes, About the Author pages). I love designing my own things, and challenging as it sometimes was, writing those texts gave me an incredible sense of finality. Like wow, I’ve finally reached the point where my book is ready to be published and I can write these pieces to reflect on it.

10) It seems like you are focusing on building a brand rather than just putting out a book, with the supplementary material such as merch and the book’s theme song. Can you tell us about some of the benefits of this and some of the challenges you face?

Building a brand is something that came about by itself – I’ve always been an artsy person who likes to write, draw, make music and do creative projects. I created sketches of my two main characters in art class a couple years ago and it seemed natural to have them available on my website as prints. Additionally I’ve written a few songs set to my own poetry and I’ve always liked the idea of combining my writing and music. I knew that I wanted to do something big for my debut novel’s launch, which is why I wrote a theme song and created a video to go with it. Like a book trailer video, you know.

Of course this came with its own set of challenges: writing and recording the music, finding and editing together video clips, figuring out how to portray the main themes of the book and overall atmosphere, there’s a lot that goes into it. A two-minute video like that can take two months to create. And since I wanted to have a website for showcasing the supplementary material, countless hours went into working with a professional to get the site designed.

The last two months leading up to publication was a particularly stressful time, but I’m super proud of the outcome. I wanted it to be something special: not just a regular book but one with music and video to give readers an immersive experience. I believe this may help people to better connect with the story and themes (even if they haven’t read it yet) and hopefully pave the way for fresh takes on storytelling.

11) How much time do you spend writing and how much time do you spend on marketing materials?

Marketing is in a way like writing – it’s a repetitive, ongoing process. But once you’ve created basic graphics to use in your social media posts and picked quotes to use with them, you can reuse it in many ways. So far, I’ve definitely spent far more time on writing and editing than marketing, though it’ll probably change in time.

12) What can social media offer to authors?

Social media gives authors the opportunity to connect directly with readers and share things related to their writing, which is especially useful in my case as I have the theme song and merch. I find that it’s a good tool for showcasing your work and your message, making author friends and discovering new reads.

13) What are some of your top tips for authors who want to self-publish?

  1. Focus on what makes your story unique. Is it a genre blend, a specific theme or setting? There are so many books out there, and you have to give readers a reason for finding your particular book interesting.
  2. It’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed by all the options for self-publishing. Every writer and every story is different, so do your research, consider the kind of book you’ve written, and then decide which route you want to take. Just because something worked for another author doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be best for you.
  3. Write the kind of book you want to read.
  4. Cover design and book description are two key elements that can either draw readers like a magnet or put them off. A carefully crafted book description that highlights your book’s strongest points while offering just a tease of what’s inside, can go a long way. As for cover design, is it bold, is it effective? Does it stand out from a distance with all the text easily readable? Does it convey a key theme or atmosphere of the story? Remember that simpler is almost always better.
  5. As a self-published author you’ll probably have to do a lot of marketing. For this you’ll need a hook beyond just “buy my book, it’s great”. Think about what you’re offering to readers. Is there a specific message you want to get across? Does your story touch on one or more important social issues? Have you taken inspiration from your own life? Have you created a unique and compelling world that readers have been craving? Find those personal details in your work and emphasize them in your marketing because those are the things that’ll leave a lasting impression.
  6. Having support makes all the difference. It could be family, friends, a writer’s circle either local or online. Just having people around who know what you’re working on, people whose opinions you can ask when in doubt and who will cheer you on through every step of the way, is going to make the self-publishing journey so much more fun and doable.


If you’d like to become a better writer, whether you’re a complete beginner, or have some experience and would like to up your game, our Creative Writing Course deals the techniques you need to write a work of fiction or creative non-fiction. Our Mentoring Programme is open to writers who have completed a substantial creative writing course.

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