With First Chapter Fun, authors Hannah Mary McKinnon and Hank Phillipi Ryan provide a community that helps authors.
Hey WNBA, what are you doing on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:30 PM ET? Whatever it is, stop for a half hour, and join First Chapter Fun with Hank and Hannah. You’ll add so many books to your TBR pile, you’ll need to buy new bookshelves!
Shortly after Covid-19 hit, bestselling author Hannah Mary McKinnon thought of a way to support other authors during lockdown. Hank Phillipi Ryan, a multiple-award-winning author and friend of our South Florida chapter, joined her and these two incredible women took this nugget of an idea and ran with it.
Meet the Writers
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. While her debut, Time after Time, was a rom-com, she transitioned to the dark side thereafter. Her suspense novels include The Neighbors, bestsellers Her Secret Son, Sister Dear, and her forthcoming You Will Remember Me. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons. Connect on Facebook and Instagram @HannahMaryMckinnon, and on Twitter @HannahMMcKinnon. For more, visit her website.
Hank Phillippi Ryan is the USA Today bestselling author of 13 thrillers, winning the most prestigious awards in the genre: five Agathas, four Anthonys, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also an on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, with 37 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. She’s the only author to have won the Agatha in four different categories: Best First, Best Novel, Best Short Story and Best Non-Fiction. Her 2019 standalone, The Murder List, won the Anthony Award for Best Novel. Her 2020 book, The First to Lie, is a Mary Higgins Clark award nominee. Her newest thriller is Her Perfect Life, which will be published in September 2021. For more, visit her website. Connect on Instagram and Twitter @HankPRyan and on Facebook @HankPhillippiRyanAuthor
Let’s find out about First Chapter Fun
Linda Rosen (LR): Hannah, since you’re the one who had the idea for First Chapter Fun (FCF), let’s start this Q&A with you. Please tell us where you were when the notion of FCF came to you. In the shower? Driving? And, why you wanted to create this fantastic Facebook group.
Hannah Mary McKinnon (HMM): It was thanks to a great and very enthusiastic group of author friends. Back in March 2020, when Covid first hit Canada, about 14 of us were discussing via Messenger how we could help promote one another and give our books a boost. One evening, I half-jokingly offered to read the first chapter of their novels on Facebook and Instagram and started the very next day. Shortly afterward I had over 40 daily readings lined up and the rest, as they say, is history. I read for 53 days in a row (didn’t think the “must-do hair and make-up” thing through very well), introducing viewers to a new novel and author each day.
We now have readings scheduled until the end of 2021. All the previously aired episodes are saved and can be viewed at leisure. It’s a wonderful community where we share the love of books and introduce new and/or new-to-you authors twice a week. Our goal is to support authors and publishers as much as we possibly can and to keep your “to-be-read” pile completely out-of-control. So far, or so we’ve been told, we’re succeeding.
LR: Hank, how long after FCF was active on Facebook did you join Hannah, and how did that come about?
Hank Phillippi Ryan (HPR): Well, I started as a huge fan. I was completely hooked on FCF, and adored listening to Hannah read. And getting to know all the other listeners, even before we named them the Funsters. The amazing Samantha Bailey introduced me to Hannah, and Hannah offered to read my new book The Murder List. I was thrilled. And it was an amazing experience.
I knew Hannah had a new book coming out, Sister Dear, and if I remember correctly, I offered to read for her. She agreed, and it was such an honor. She told me that she was stopping the show after May, and I was crushed! So, I will admit, I got her in a headlock and backed her into a corner and convinced her that she should continue it. And that we might . . . share the adventure. I mean—it was too fabulous a creation to have it vanish.
HMM: My neck is still sore. Hahaha! Joking. I’m so pleased Hank convinced me to continue. First Chapter Fun wouldn’t be what it is without her!
LR: Hannah, how do you and Hank choose the books you read? Is it on a first come first serve basis and has that changed since you started, now that you have so many more submissions?
HMM: At the very beginning, it was me contacting my author friends, telling them about the project, and asking if they’d like me to read for them. Now it’s a combination — contacting people we know, being contacted by authors for whom we’ve read before, receiving direct requests from authors, publishers, publicists — there’s a real mix. As we’re fully booked until the end of 2021, we’re currently not scheduling any more reads but may reopen to submissions later in the year.
LR: Hank, how many members did FCF have when it first began, and how many do you have now? And how many episodes of FCF have you had to date? Did you even dream it would go on for this long (Both of you please chime in here)?
HPR: If I told you how many members, it would be wrong, because the numbers go up and up and up. Hannah and I adore to get to be the ones who admit the newcomers, and we welcome them with open arms. Er, books. And on May 8, I think, I will celebrate my year anniversary with FCF! SO amazing. We are pushing 3,000 now, and wow. And as we answer this, we are almost at 160 episodes. Hilarious. And that it would go this long? Well, one read at a time. But yes, we are fully booked! And we are tempted to add more days but do NOT let us. We have to write!
HMM: I think at the very beginning, the first episode on March 17, 2020 when I read Woman on the Edge by Sam Bailey, there were perhaps ten people, and it grew from there day after day. As Hank mentioned, I’d planned on stopping after about six weeks, and here we are, more than a year later — with lots more to come 🙂
LR: The following questions are for both of you. You each read the first chapter of a novel submitted by an author. I know from listening to FCF and having my own first chapter read, which I want to say was an incredible experience hearing Hannah’s fabulous British accent read my words, how do you each plan for your reading? How long do you rehearse?
HMM: I print out the chapter and read it through a few times, marking any words I don’t know the pronunciation of, trying out character voices to distinguish them from one another, making notes and highlights for tone and emphasis. As for the accents, I can do a couple of different UK regional ones, and a decent Irish one, but I’ll never, ever, be able to read with a North American accent. I always end up sounding like Sandy Cheeks from Spongebob.
HPR: (I am practicing doing an English accent. But it will never work.) And I agree, I print out the chapter, and read it out loud a few times, marking inflection and attitude. It’s a big responsibility and a challenge, and we want to make our authors happy, so we work to be as professional as we can be. I always imagine the author listening — and that’s my inspiration. And terror.
LR: Bloopers and tech issues often happen when going live on Facebook and Instagram. Both of you handle them with such ease and make it all fun. Tell us about the worst one you’ve experienced — the one that really had your heart pounding.
HMM: As we broadcast on Instagram and Facebook simultaneously but from two different devices, the biggest challenge is when one platform isn’t working. That can be frustrating as we’re live on, e.g. Facebook, and fiddling around trying to get a connection on Instagram. The audience is very forgiving though, and we’re incredibly grateful for that!
We had a funny episode a few weeks ago when my printer went off in the middle of the reading, just after I’d told a bit of a spooky story. Turned out it was my 17-year-old son who’d printed stuff and forgotten I was online. Never a dull moment, as we like to say!
HPR: Ha! Never a dull moment. The phone rings, or Alexa goes off. Once, early on, when I was still terribly nervous, I thought I had lost a page of a manuscript, and was SO baffled. I was baffled, it turned out, because I had practiced reading on the computer (never again) but the printer printed it wrong. And even after 43 years as a reporter, reading scripts live on TV, sometimes with no preparation at all, I was a deer in the headlights. It turned out fine, but it was a learning experience.
LR: In addition to being bestselling authors writing novels that keep us on the edge of our seats, turning pages, you are both graphic artists. Your videos, trailers and graphics for each book are fantastic. Please, tell us which one of you is the true artist and how you make those intriguing videos. Do you have a favorite? Did you even know you had this talent?
HPR: Oh, thank you! I love making them, and I am still surprised at how much fun it is. It takes some thought, frankly, and some inkling of what a good promo is. I imagine: If I were the author, how would I want this to be? It’s fun, and incredibly rewarding, making little movies like that. Where do the ideas come from? Not a clue. And I’m so delighted when the authors are happy with them.
HMM: I do the static graphics, website design, and swag designs, but Hank is the true master of those teaser videos. She surprises me twice a week, every week!
LR: FCF has been going on for more than a year and has made many changes. Please tell us how it’s grown and where you plan on going with it.
HMM: Initially, I broadcast to my Facebook Author Page and my Instagram account, but since Hank and I joined forces we created the dedicated Facebook group that has close to 3,000 members and our Instagram account that has nearly 1,500. We also post fun facts about the books, the authors, and the authors make their own “Five Fact” videos so readers can get to know them a little more. We like to get the community involved so we have “What-cha-readin’?” and “Can We Talk” posts to generate involvement and discussion. Those are a lot of fun.
HPR: And we now have First Chapter Fun swag! Fabulous T-shirts and mugs and hoodies and aprons, in all colors, all with the logo Hannah designed. Some of the T-shirts have special FCF sayings, like “Not Right Now” and “Stay Safe, Stay Kind.” But you’ll have to come to our readings to find out what that means.
Oh, and we are broadcasting now on several Facebook platforms — so much fun to welcome Great Thoughts Great Readers, and Book Club with Style, and Bloom with Tall Poppies. Such terrific access for our authors. And can’t forget Kahoot! Hannah and I now do a game show on Facebook, once a month or so, with readers trying to answer our book world quizzes. (Yes, I make the quizzes. Another thing I never thought I’d do!)
HMM: Who knew being an author meant doing all these things, too? And it’s so. Much. Fun. And don’t forget the pajamas that say “Not Right Now” which still makes me laugh.
LR: Yes, FCF has grown, and you’re doing so much more than you originally thought you would. I imagine the experience has changed you both in some fashion. Please give us a peek into that.
HPR: Ha. I am now the world’s greatest expert on what makes a good first chapter. And what doesn’t. It has most assuredly affected my writing — I now imagine Hannah or me reading my words out loud, in front of all the Funsters, and, wow, my inner editor goes to work. We could teach a class for writers about it, I’m sure. Pacing, setting, character, action, stakes. It all has to be there, and in the fantastic ones, it is.
HMM: What Hank said! Also, I’m quite tech savvy, but it was still a steep learning curve at the beginning, but I’ve been able to help other authors with that, too. That’s what the writing community is all about, after all. I’m so pleased we can give back via First Chapter Fun, and provide a twice-weekly bubble of happiness for people to escape into. With everything that’s been going on since the pandemic started, I’ve really needed it, too.
LR: Has there been anything that came along, new relationships or new endeavors, while doing FCF that you never expected?
HMM: Building the community and watching it grow organically has been such a wonderful thing. Twice a week, it feels like I’m sitting down with friends, and I absolutely love that. Also, most may not know that Hank and I had only met once, very briefly at a conference, before we teamed up for First Chapter Fun. Now we talk/text almost daily (and multiple times daily) and have become great friends. That relationship is a gift I treasure and may not have happened without First Chapter Fun.
HPR: SO agree. MULTIPLE times. I laugh every day at how close Hannah and I have become, and, random thought from the other day, I realized I have no idea which of us is taller. But even though we were trapped in the pandemic, every day I think about how much bigger my world has become. It is a true joy.
HMM: I think we’re the same height — 5 feet 8 inches (or 173 cm if we go metric)!
LR: Hannah, please tell us how we can join First Chapter Fun, and how we can access previous editions to hear the first chapters you and Hank have already read.
HPR: And want an apron or a hoodie or a mug? You can do your FCF shopping here! (We dare you to try to resist. Everything is adorable!)
HPR and HMM: And thank you! This has been so much fun. And we welcome all the WNBA to First Chapter Fun!
LR: Thank you so much for taking the time and joining us on The Bookwoman. FCF is a true silver lining that came from this awful pandemic. Thank you both for bringing new books and new authors to so many readers, adding to our TBR piles and giving the FCF community 30 minutes of pure pleasure every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. And for letting WNBA know all about First Chapter Fun. I imagine you’ll have an even bigger group now.
Linda Rosen (WNBA-South Florida), fitness professional turned writer, lives with her husband splitting their time between Florida and New Jersey. She is the author of The Disharmony of Silence and Sisters of the Vine, both published by Black Rose Writing. In addition, Linda was a contributor to Women in the Literary Landscape: A WNBA Centennial Publication for the Women’s National Book Association. She is the founder of the South Florida chapter and past national recording secretary. You can follow her on her website.