Shana Brooke on Mermaids, Marketing, and Perseverance
Shana Brooke, author Cursed Waters, discusses writing and marketing serial fiction.
Shana Brooke is the author of Cursed Waters, a paranormal romance / reverse harem serial which has held its place in the Top 25 “Top Faved” serials on Kindle Vella throughout the month of June. The story stars Claira, a former mermaid dragged back into the affairs of the kingdom when they suffer a curse only she can break. Cursed Waters might look like an “overnight success,” but Shana’s been working on it since Kindle Vella launched July 2021. Her success is proof that hard work and dedication can pay off, and I’m thrilled to get to ask her some questions!
How would you pitch Cursed Waters to someone who has never heard of it? Why should they read it?
I would recommend Cursed Waters to those readers out there who enjoy some humor injected in their romance reads. The story might seem heavy at first glance—an ex-mermaid unwillingly dragged back into the world of the merfolk after being abandoned on land as a child—but those darker themes are offset by the wacky and unpredictable circumstances the merfolk are facing now that a curse has forced them out of the ocean. Whereas our protagonist, Claira, has had years to adjust to life on land, the other characters (and handful of love interests she meets along the way) are experiencing life above water for the very first time, making these merfolk true fish out of water! Even mundane things like making phone calls and riding in cars become an experience when you thrust a clueless merman or mermaid into the mix. Claira is just doing her best to break the curse and get back home, but she is also bonding with some mermen that are drawn to her just as much as she’s drawn to them, and watching their bizarre adventures on land and at sea is just plain fun!
The three main male characters that Claira becomes involved with (Leander, Barren, and Kai) all have very distinct personalities. What was your approach / thought process to designing them?
Well, when I first construct a character, I try to give them a solid reason for appearing in the story when they do. Why are they here? What makes them interested in Claira? How are their respective kingdoms pressuring them into getting her to cooperate with breaking their curse? When those questions are answered, it feels very natural when everyone comes together. As for their personalities, I leaned into their home life and the different cultures of their kingdoms when shaping how they act.
Take Leander: he’s an only child, an alpha type, who is used to shouldering all the burdens and responsibilities of a crown prince. Whereas Kai is a bit of a fun-loving loudmouth because he has eight older brothers to compete with for attention! Yikes! No one puts pressure on the son who is 9th in line for the throne, so he has grown up more carefree than the others, and that mentality really shines whenever he’s in a scene. Barren has a mysterious past (that is yet to be revealed), but the readers have gotten glimpses of his relationship with his sister, and I have placed clues on why he is so stoic. I look forward to giving more insight on him over Season Two. :)
I like to think that together, their personalities really complement one another. It’s messy at times, but the puzzle pieces of their personalities will eventually fit together! And you see it even more the closer they get to Claira. I tried to keep how each of them speaks and interacts with her varied and true to their personality. That way, when she falls in love with all three of them, it’s for unique reasons, and every relationship has a special purpose.
What have been the most interesting or challenging things for you about writing a serialized story?
I will say serialized fiction has taught me to stick with a schedule—and that has always been super challenging for me as a writer. When you’re working on a novel, you can jump around and take breaks. But working in a non-linear fashion becomes complicated when you’re writing a serial. With serials, readers are invested in your story in real-time, so you have to keep pushing forward, planning and fine-tuning so you don’t miss any details, even when life gets messy. It’s challenging, but so worth it when you see the readers checking in each week to see what happens next!
Cursed Waters sees Claira juggling multiple romantic relationships, as one would expect in reverse harem, but there’s also the central plotline around breaking the curse. With Season One complete, and Season Two now publishing, how do you balance relationship building and keeping the plot moving over a multi-volume series? How much of their arcs over the course of the series is pre-planned? Has anything changed because of reader feedback?
Not gonna lie—balancing the plot with the romance is a challenge. There are certain expectations in a reverse harem, especially with one-on-one time, but sometimes the relationships have to take a sideline so the plot can move forward. When writing, I’ve found that I need to have a clear goal in mind before I even start or things get very messy. So every part of the plot was pre-planned and has remained unchanged from the start. With the relationships between the characters, though, I hardly ever stick with the plan. My notes could say a hug or a kiss should happen in a specific episode, but if the characters aren’t feeling it at that moment, then I won’t try to force it. Those parts of the story I sort of discover along with the characters as we go through the storyline! As for reader feedback, I have changed a few minor things based on how readers reacted to episodes. That’s the cool thing about serials: you can get fresh feedback pretty instantly. One character I introduced wasn’t as well received as I’d hoped at first, so I got the chance to put some extra effort in, showing the readers in the next episodes why they should give that character a chance.
You’re a full time mom, and the primary caregiver for your aging mother. That’s a lot of work and responsibility, which I think a lot of people would see as perfectly reasonable justifications for NOT writing. But you’ve published 60 episodes totaling over 130,000 words since Kindle Vella launched. What’s your writing process look like? How do you carve out the time to write? Are there any particular tricks that have helped you stay consistent?
Oh, how I wish I had tricks to stay consistent! I do not. But I try my best to get my writing done after my kids are in bed, my mom is settled, and the house is finally quiet. Ha! Quiet rarely happens, so my word count each week is actually abysmally low by most author standards. There is a lot to be done, and finding that balance between caregiving and daily life is a struggle I fail more often than not. But authors are resilient creatures, so the struggle continues! Some manage to write ten times the amount I achieve and have even more on their plate than I do. I wish I knew their tricks. :) But serialized fiction has been nice because it has allowed me to still make progress even when I’m only publishing a few thousand words a week.
TikTok has played a large role in your marketing strategy. Can you walk us through the kind of content you’re making there, any why? What do you think authors need to know to be successful with TikTok?
TikTok has truly been a game changer for me. It has allowed me to work on my story hooks, and to learn what imagery and tropes really catch a reader’s interest. If I come up with a great story hook and teaser video for my story, the engagement I get on TikTok will let me know if I hit or miss the mark. If I hit it, hurray, readers check out my story. If I miss, that’s alright, because I can always rework that story hook and try again. Or better yet, I can come up with a fresh approach. I think all authors should give TikTok a shot, but before you post, be sure to check out what authors are doing to promote their stories in the genre you are writing. TikTok is a platform built on copying trends, so if other authors have figured out the best way to showcase their stories, emulate those strategies and adapt them to your story.
A quick scroll through your Facebook page is enough to know your promotional image game is A+. How are you putting these together? How do you source images?
I might have a Canva Pro and stock photo addiction. ;)
Everything I use for promotion has been licensed by me, or designed for my story by a cover artist. Depositphotos is a great source for quality stock photos, as well as the licensed images that a Canva Pro membership offers. Promos are much like TikTok, and I love experimenting and coming up with combinations of text and imagery that catch a reader’s attention.
With everything you’ve learned about writing and promoting a serial, what advice would you give authors looking to publish serialized fiction for the first time?
I would first say go for it! Then I would say it is important to have a few (5-10) episodes ready to go before you publish. You want readers to have enough of your story that it really grabs them right from the very first read. And then once you finally take the plunge, stick with the schedule you set. Promise the readers two new episodes a week? Deliver! But it might be wise to shoot low for those weeks when life catches up to you. Better to under promise and over deliver than to have readers confused when they go looking for a new episode on the set day and one isn’t there waiting for them.
OK, you’ve been kind enough to answer my serious questions. Let’s end with a couple silly ones:
Why is Laverne (a sassy sea lion) the best character? I think your readers will want to know how the TRUE plotline of the series (Laverne building a harem of her own) will progress in Season Two.
Laverne is the best character simply because, well, she just is. Ask her, and she’ll be the first to tell you. :)
But in all seriousness, I knew from the first stages of plotting that I needed a character like Laverne. For a huge chunk of Season One there is no clear antagonist, so who better to shake things up and provide some much needed comic relief than a sassy sea lion? She really helps balance out those dark, dramatic moments. Claira struggles. She doesn’t want to be in the water. Laverne’s antics provide a great distraction from all that. Readers can’t wait to see what Laverne will do next, and sometimes even I am surprised by the stunts she pulls. I think everyone agrees Laverne deserves a harem of her own, and in Season Two we will most definitely be meeting some of her future (and past) flames, so I hope readers are looking forward to it!
Leander, Barren, and Kai are the final three contestants on a Bachelor style reality TV show, trying to win Claira’s heart. Each gets to take her on a date they’ve designed. What do they do?
Leander would take her out for an expensive spread of sushi, maybe tickets to the theater after. Something extravagant and showy. Kai would take her to an arcade, watch a rom-com movie, and they would grab some street food after. Barren would invite her over to his place—get your mind out of the gutter—to cook her a full course meal, pairing it with expensive wine and cheeses. Then, for dessert, a chocolate souffle from a recipe he painstakingly perfected. Ah, now I’m hungry.
Do you have any other information you’d like to share with folks before I let you go?
Just whatever it is you’re doing, as long as you’re enjoying it, stick with it. Find that time to read and to write. Find those quiet times whenever you can and invest in yourself! Even when life gets crazy. You’re worth it.
When my mother had her stroke last year, I put writing (as well as reading) on the back burner. I had been publishing on a set schedule, but in a single moment, all of my pursuits seemed unimportant, and I let myself put it aside. And that’s okay. I needed to focus, to figure things out, to help my mom find a new normal, but as soon as those quiet times started happening for me again, I gradually gave writing a chance. I wasn’t sure if I’d lost all my readers during my break, but I would never know if they would come back unless I wrote that next episode and got it out there. And you know what? Readers came back. After my weeks of silence, they still stuck with my story, and I am immensely grateful for their understanding. There will be hard times, sure. Times you can’t read or write or invest in yourself. But know that you can always go back! Because the books, the readers… they’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready. :)
Thanks Shana for taking the time to share your insights with us!