Indie Support Sunday: Amanda Gambill
I don’t think there are a lot of people on bookstagram who don’t know about Amanda Gambill or her books. Like a lot of indie authors, her gorgeous covers got my attention first and then I saw how many people loved and enjoyed her stories, so automatically, I found myself adding her books to my TBR. And then I read Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It and loved every single minute of my reading experience. While I still have her other two books and novella to read, Amanda has firmly put herself on my ‘authors to always read even when the world is collapsing around me’ list.
Her writing is smart and funny, it’s so beautiful too. And as you read through her interview, you’ll also see that Amanda puts a lot of effort and heart into her writing. And let’s not even forget the gorgeous covers that go with her books! They’re stunning, bright and eye-catching and once you’ve seen them, you will never be able to get them out of your head.
Amanda’s interview is another one of my favorites simply because of how much time she put into each answer, making them thoughtful and elaborate responses. If I hadn’t read a single book by Amanda, this interview and how clearly her personality comes through would make me wanna pick up her books. And also weasel my way into being her friend.
PS. Pay extra attention to her advice for aspiring authors. It’s one of my favorite parts of this interview!
All of Amanda’s books are available right now in Kindle Unlimited!
1. BEING AN AUTHOR
Who or what inspired you to write?
I’ve been reading since I was three years old, and I’ve had a library card since I was five (the youngest my local library allowed!). So books have always been part of the core foundation of my life.
I’ve always known I wanted to write for a career—but never thought being an author was a possibility—so instead I focused my postsecondary education and career path on communications. It wasn’t until I quit a toxic corporate job, just completely and fully burned out, that I realized I had to do something for myself. Shortly after, I read my first fiction book* (after only reading very intense nonfiction for, like, five years) on the beach in one sitting.
It felt like breathing deeply for the first time in years. Like finally being able to think clearly again. Feel something deeper than chaos and stress. It felt like how I used to feel, but somewhere along the way in adulthood, I’d forgotten myself. So I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I have to write a book.”
I had to give myself the chance to build the sort of life I wanted to be truly happy, instead of living my life for others, and creative writing had to be a part of that.
*Oh, and the book I read on the beach was My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan! :)
What’s the best and worst part about being an indie author?
The best part is that it can be a ton of fun. I love having total control over everything and feeling truly free to create. And the way I get to connect with readers — on such an intimate level — is definitely my favorite part.
I’ve had a reader recreate the cover of my novella and send me an A Guy Like Him-inspired a hand-painted bookmark, someone took the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s Midnights and paired them with all my books, some have taken book pics in the shower with Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It (iykyk), and I’ve seen my books pop up in countless memes (gah, I love the memes). One reader has even reread all my books a combined total of 14 times (that might be more than myself haha)!
And I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have DMed me that they see themselves in my characters, who haven’t been able to articulate how they’ve felt until they saw it on the pages. I’m so touched by every kind comment, message, or note I get from readers. It takes a lot of trust to read an indie author’s book — and I’m so honored that people trust me to give them swoony, funny, emotional stories. That’s definitely the best part.
The worst part is that by being an indie author, you have to have full confidence in your work because you’ve decided to do something with no one’s approval. I mean, literally no one ever asked me to write my first book. So I have to have full faith in my work because unfortunately, lots of readers still believe traditionally published books are the only ones worth reading. That can be a little challenging if you’re having an off day.
Why did you choose to self-publish instead of going the traditional route?
So I’ve never tried to be traditionally published, and it’s not my focus right now. I think a big myth about self-publishing is that an indie author hasn’t chosen it for themselves. Sometimes, an author just wants to tell their story the way they want — and they can be really good at it, too.
In my opinion, I’ve found the biggest difference between the good indie books and the traditionally published ones … is just the marketing budget.
And there are so many good indie books out there! They aren’t beholden by what’s “marketable” or “mainstream.” They get to be more creative and push more boundaries. They don’t have to go through the gatekeepers of the “Big 5” (whose leadership is predominately white men in New York). Some of the best books I’ve read that reflect actual reality — real issues, real emotions, real conflicts, real people — are indie.
And so I don’t want to ever allow myself to believe that I’m less fulfilled or less valid because I’m not traditionally published. At this stage in my career, I think it would be incongruent to be trying to get traditionally published while also singing the praises of being an indie author. Right now, I get to connect with my readers directly, write what I want, not compromise my work in the name of marketability, and come up with amazing covers … if that means I also have to do all the other work, too, I’ll take it. That’s the fun part.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to get the creative juices flowing?
I listen to more music than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s also possible that the citizens of Boise, Idaho, have seen me going on long walks too many times to count at this point (hopefully I’m not also mumbling to myself when I do?? Eek).
Those two things — far, far away from my computer and the Internet — are the best ways to recharge my creativity.
If you were to recommend books to me (in any genre), what would they be?
I’ve had the chance to connect with some incredible indie romance authors who are helping change the caliber of indie work out there: Hannah Bonam-Young, Nellie Wilson, and Tarah DeWitt. And Rachel Reid may have written two of my favorite “I keep rereading this, why can’t I stop” books: Heated Rivalry & The Long Game.
What are your top 5 tips or pieces of advice for aspiring authors?
1. Don’t seek validation from others.
In 2020, I published my second book and obsessively refreshed Goodreads for the first week (a habit I’d started with my first book) … and that was the worst decision I could have made. It has taken me a long time to heal from the negative reviews I read. Strangers on the internet had the power to make me feel terrible, question my writing, and, quite frankly, I almost considered unpublishing the book.
In retrospect, that whole arc was an unnecessary detour.
It’s a well-liked book, I feel confident in my work, and I’m clearly not going to stop writing. But in a moment of weakness, I tried to get validation from others and it screwed me big time.
If you’re similar, I encourage you to set boundaries so you don’t get your feelings hurt or confidence damaged (and most importantly, don’t burn out or compromise your creativity). For me, that takes the form of not reading reviews. I don’t check my Goodreads, Amazon reviews, or the hashtags for my books or name. Which leads me to my second piece of advice…
2. Remember there is no perfect book for everyone.
It’s not fair to yourself to think you’ve written the first book in the whole world that everyone will love. If your goal is for everyone to love your book, you will fail. And that’s not fun. Why set yourself up for failure immediately?! If you feel good about the work you’ve put out, don’t purposely seek out shaky ground to stand on. (And if you don’t feel good about your work, focus on that, not other people).
The reality is, you’re going to get negative reviews. It sucks. No one likes it. You aren’t alone in that. You can’t control it, either. But you can control how you handle it. Quit or prove your worth to yourself again and again. Because at the end of the day, no one is going to care about what you wrote as much as you do. Keep it that way. :)
3. Remember, writing should make you happier than anyone else’s opinion.
I have to remind myself of this often because what creator doesn’t love external validation? But if you build a piece of work that hinges on what other people think, you’re going to be running ragged for that approval your whole life, too. It’s not worth it.
So if you don’t believe in yourself first — if the actual act of writing doesn’t bring you joy — don’t publish a book until you’re ready. Because I promise publishing is way less fun than writing. Passion is going to be your only fuel, and other people can’t fuel your own. You’ll burn out so quickly.
4. Give yourself room to be secretive.
Okay, this might be offbeat advice but because my only marketing channel is Instagram, I see this a lot … Aspiring authors seem to really love telling people what they want to do. Which is fine, sometimes everyone needs a lil mood boost. But if you find yourself running into writer’s block or imposter syndrome or feeling a little low after doing that, I’d encourage you to give yourself a little more room to be more secretive.
I think when someone announces an upcoming project — so more of an idea than an actual tangible thing — it’s easy for the creative mind to then receive too much outside output (negative or positive). And then the focus becomes all about reactions instead of the actual outcome.
In short, don’t confuse marketing your book with writing your book.
That’s why I prefer to create in a vacuum. Then I don’t have to worry about anyone’s expectations other than my own. The second I allow outsider feedback on new ideas — even if it’s positive — my creativity starts to feel all tangled up.
A positive side effect of this is, if you can announce something that you know is great and is already done, you’ll come across as more of an authority figure. And people can consume it much faster ;) I just like to give the people want they want; they don’t need to know about it in advance 😅
5. Just write (and hold off on goblin mode until editing).
The best writing advice is the most trite — just write.
Look, the hardest part about writing is writing. Writing isn’t easy. Wrangling characters can feel impossible. Plot lines can shift faster than the moon phases. Conflict resolution is always an uphill battle. Nailing a perfect first line? So tough. The perfect last line? Gahhh. And formatting is a specific type of hell.
Writing a book isn’t easy. So you should be scared! It is scary. That’s the whole point. The people you admire, the writers you want to be, they are doing the scary, hard stuff. I think once you realize that’s just part of it, it’s a lot easier to move forward.
I see too many people stuck in the “I want” phase of the creative process. That’s the dead-on-arrival phase. Everyone wants to do something. It’s easy to want anything. And sometimes, it’s much more fun to dream of how you’ll feel after you write that book… But you have to do it first.
So my advice is: Try to have fun. If writing a book isn’t enjoyable, then why are you doing it? Then have all the scary “what-if” thoughts when you’re ready. Get out all that intensity in the editing process. That’s when you can go full goblin mode on your writing.
But don’t let fear hold you back from even starting. That’s not even remotely fun!
2. ROMANCE AS A GENRE
Why did you choose romance as the genre to write in? What is your favorite thing about the genre?
My favorite three fiction genres are: literary fiction, thrillers, and romance. And I choose to write romance because it’s one of the few genres where the main character (typically a woman) can be freaking happy without question.
Literary fiction leads typically read as disaffected and apathetic. Women in thrillers are almost always murdered or “crazy.”
But romance? Leads can be happy. They can be multidimensional. Heck, they can even have really good sex. As a writer, I’ve personally found that there’s just so much more opportunity to explore storylines and complex characters in romance than any other genre I could attempt.
If not romance/subgenres of romance, what genre would you like to write in?
I could see myself transitioning out of contemporary romance and romcoms and more into general women’s fiction later in life.
I like women with problems (haha) and that feels like a good place to explore some deeper, more complex topics while still having some romance involved.
What are your most and least favorite tropes?
Most favorite: A trope that’s like catnip for me is secret hooking up. I don’t know if that’s an “official” trope, but give me two people who have to pretend that they aren’t into each other but still have sex, and I’m sold.
Other faves include: rivals to lovers, grumpy/sunshine, taboo storylines, and anything that features LGBTQ+ characters (bonus points if it’s a bisexual awakening love story!).
Least favorite: Personally, I’m not a fan of anything that involves babies or children 😳And I’m not sure if this is a trope but I don’t prefer when love interests are actually mean or “alpha-assholes.” I don’t give assholes the time of day in my real life, I’m sure as heck not going to try to convince myself to like them in fiction haha!
What are some tropes you want to write in the future?
I have plans for forced proximity, rivals to lovers, and maybe marriage in crisis.
What are some topics (sensitive and otherwise) that you think should exist more in romance?
There are so many incredible indie authors out there telling diverse stories — stories that are realistic, lovable, educational and highlight diverse sex, gender, race, class, body size, mental health, etc. — and I’m really excited to see those stories continue to reach more readers.
For me personally, I can’t wait to read (or write) a realistic portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve only read one — a traditionally published book that was so deeply inaccurate, clearly just written to shoehorn in mental health rep, that I still get angry about it. And that was two years ago! So I can’t wait to find the well-written indie books out there that tell a real story about someone with OCD. Maybe I’ll write one myself :)
Another little thing I’d love to see more of are epilogues that don’t include marriage or kids. Not that those things aren’t valid or happy, but growing up, that was the only happy ending I ever saw in both books and movies. So I always smile a little extra hard when I see a main character’s happiness be independent of their marital or parental status.
If you write open door romance, why did you choose that and what inspires your sex scenes?
I grew up in a repressive household, and if you know anything about the Deep South in the United States … you can probably imagine the sort of sex education I received. (I literally was asked to sign a pledge card in class promising my abstinence until marriage … psst, I left the class early 😬). So it’s important to me that sex positivity — and different forms of contraceptives — is woven throughout all my books.
As someone who craved (and still craves!) positive role models and sex positive examples in media, writing and reading open door romance comes from a place of freedom and power.
Here’s a whole post I wrote about how I approach sex in my books.
3. YOUR BOOKS
What inspired your published stories? How and when did you come up with these stories and plots?
A Guy Like Him was created as an offshoot from my first it-will-never-be-published book. Fun fact, Initially, Dean was supposed to be Roe (!!). I just wanted to have fun; I hadn’t had the opportunity to write creatively for years. And like my main character, Skylar, I also have complicated family relationships, a Krista (lol), and had dedicated so much of my life succeeding for others … and I didn’t really know why.
So it kind of makes sense that I wrote a book about a people-pleasing, Type A girl who figures out choosing what she wants instead of perfection might just be worth it! Add in a swoony, supportive love interest with a secret sex contract, and here we are 😇
But seriously, that book means so much to me. It was the start of the best choice I could have made for myself. It was finally proof that I could make something out of nothing with no one’s help and succeed.
For The Record, I Hate You is a story with grief woven throughout all its pages and characters. I don’t discuss this often, but when I was much younger, my elementary school “boyfriend” died tragically. And truthfully, I think a lot of those feelings manifested themselves in this book. Plus music! Every song on my FTRIHY book playlist had a direct hand in inspiring my second novel.
Finally, Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It — the romcom of the three — was written to be funny and lighthearted. I wanted to write a female lead that felt the most like me — totally lost in the world because of where she’d come from. I’ve also worked on a mayoral campaign that ultimately ended with a huge scandal (👀google Nashville’s first female mayor)! Wild! Also, this video is one of the FUNNIEST videos I’ve ever seen and is a proof point that Rach and Pres’ #Boobgate could have really happened.
Can you briefly tell me about your books?
💖 If you’re feeling like you want to LAUGH & SWOON, pick up Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It. It’s got fake dating, a “prickly pear” hero, a quirky, sunshiny-possibly-cursed-with-bad-luck heroine, and some spicy steam.
→ Quotes you can look forward to: “ride my face,” “when life gives you lemons, use it to polish off your gin & depuff your eyes,” “Boob Girl for president,” and “I believed in the universe. He believed he could predict the universe.”
💛If you’re feeling ANGSTY & maybe want to cry, check out For The Record, I Hate You. You’ve got an ensemble cast complete with a van life brother, a former bully with a secret, and a meddling friend that drives our moody florist heroine up the wall. Expect lots of character growth and binge-worthy song references. Plus, the hero is a musician and, in my opinion, doesn’t get enough credit for the depression/grief rep he brings.
💙If you’re feeling ROMANTIC & like SECRETS, then A Guy Like Him may fit your craving. What’s better than a Type A, high-strung accounting major and a chill, tattooed, bejeweled barista? When they hook up secretly (and have a whole contract that outlines their rules for this arrangement). And then make sure you check out its companion holiday novella, A Guy Like Him: Holiday Blend.
Do you already have a favorite character from the stories you’ve written?
My favorite character to write for is probably Pres St. Clair IV from Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It. The freedom that I have with him is so much fun. He gets to be smart, sexy, sarcastic, and a little bit grumpy? Writing a male lead love interest that everyone ends up liking in the end is great. Sooooooo much easier than writing a compelling, complicated female lead haha 😅
How much of yourself do you put into these characters?
I actually try not to put a lot of my personal life or details in my books. The point of my books isn’t to read a reflection of my experiences. However, I pour my emotions into a book. Skylar is anxious, Eli is angry, Rach is lost. Those are feelings I can draw on all day long. There isn’t any emotion you’ll find in my books from any character that I haven’t felt deeply, more times than I can count.
So regardless of what life experiences I’ve had or what my readers have, my goal is that we can all connect on an emotional level.
Is there one common element that readers can find in all your stories?
My answer is two-fold: I think if you read my books, you can expect to see all my heroines learn to love themselves a little bit more and find a partner who accepts them as they are.
I love complicated, multidimensional characters, so you’ll probably also always find a character who didn’t grow up traditionally or didn’t have a perfect family. Who maybe didn’t really know what love looked like or felt like until they met someone who’d been through something similar. And so at the end of any of my books, I want to leave the reader with the impression that you never have to change who you are in order to be loved and accepted. To be yourself.
Also, pancake scenes apparently. And coffee FOR SURE.
Oh, and Roe! You’ll always see Roe :)
What’s next on the bookshelf for you? Anything you can tell us about a future project?
I’m currently working on Sable’s book. If you’ve read Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It, then you’ll remember she’s the PR person who came up with the whole “fake date the guy running for mayor” thing…so what happens when a journalist starts digging around? Hopefully you’ll find out this year!
When you write these stories, what are you hoping your readers will feel?
Happy. Loved. Comforted. Uplifted. Seen. Heard.
4. AUTHOR’S CHOICE
Paperbacks, hardbacks, ebooks or audiobooks
Contemporary, fantasy, historical or romantic suspense
Single or Dual POV
Standalones, series or standalones in a series
Open door, ajar door or closed door romances
Music or silence when writing
Plotter, pantser or plantser
Water, tea, coffee or….wine? (how do you pick just one?!)
Cold or warm weather
Write better in the morning, afternoon or night?
Illustrated or photo cover?
Make sure you’re following Amanda on Instagram and Goodreads. You can also buy merch based on her books and check out her website, where you can sign up for her newsletter to stay updated on all her future projects and life in general!