SPS-171: How to Write Great Escapism – with Suzan Tisdale
USA Today Bestselling author Suzan Tisdale wrote her first book with highly unusual motivation. Now, she’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies of her Scottish highland historical romances and shares her tips with James about marketing, motivation and writing for the senses.
This week’s highlights include:
- If you’re a Patreon supporter you can join the Scrivener webinar with Gwen Hernandez on May 15
- Writing a first book as a gift for Mum (or Mom)
- Tips on writing a page-turner
- Layering in ‘one thing more’ via plotting
- Write the book first, then worry about marketing it
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
Transcript of Interview with Suzan Tisdale
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self Publishing Show.
Suzan Tisdale: Just because a marketing technique that you’re using today does not work, does not mean it’s not going to work tomorrow or next week or next month. Do not give up. Be very thoughtful in your process. But the first thing you gotta do is write the book.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine the light on the secrets of self-publishing success.
This is The Self Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to The Self Publishing Show, with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: We are in romance moods today. We’re talking romance with a prolific, cheeky wench, romance author, coming up soon.
Are you a romantic man, Mark?
Mark Dawson: I buy flowers for my wife every month. Religiously on our anniversary, first day that we met. So, yes, I think you could say I am quite romantic. And, then occasionally, I’ll buy other things as well, just because. The lady loves Milk Tray.
James Blatch: You say you celebrate the anniversary of the time you met your wife every month?
Mark Dawson: Yes. That’s right, I do.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: Because I’m grateful, James.
Do you do that with Mrs. Blatch?
James Blatch: I’d like to say I do…
Mark Dawson: You have been married longer than me.
James Blatch: I don’t get a lot of flowers. I do buy flowers occasionally, but that sounds to me like it’s just a calendar entry. It’s not romantic.
Mark Dawson: Oh, I see. I’ll ask Mrs. Blatch if she thinks if that’s romantic or not. I’m pretty sure I’m going to win.
James Blatch: Do you know, I’d really prefer if you didn’t raise it… when you see her.
We’re talking to Suzan Tisdale just a moment. And a good interview about romance, about escapism and how important it is, and the secret ingredients to those bestsellers that she has had.
Before we do that, I want to welcome some Patreon supporters. Mark Wilhelm, I feel like I want to say Wilhelm, as in Kaiser. But Mark Wilhelm. Ronda Laine, Lisa Casstidy, and Justin Rochelle. Thank you all so much. They all went to Patreon.com, I should say, forward slash, self-publishing show to pledge for each episode. And there’s a very good reason for going there.
Mark, what are you going to say?
Mark Dawson: I was just going to say, it’s normally Australians you insult with your accent. You’re adding Germans now, so it’s Australians and Germans. Which also would be a nice, neat segue into something else, but we can get there in a minute.
James Blatch: Yeah, we will in a moment. But Mark could be from Germany. We don’t have his geo-location here.
Mark Dawson: He could be, but I don’t think it would be… It’s probably not perhaps as kosher as it could be to compare him to Kaiser Wilhelm.
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: I’m not entirely sure that’s the thing to do.
James Blatch: No. Well, he’s not the worst German.
Mark Dawson: He’s not the worst German. He could be. Well he isn’t, because he’s supporting us on Patreon, so I’m fairly sure… Oh, I see that joke.
James Blatch: No, no, no, no. Kaiser Wilhelm is not the worst German in terms of…
Mark Dawson: No, absolutely not. No. No, I’ve never been a fan of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Mark Dawson: He’s awful.
James Blatch: Or Helmut Kohl. Or…
Mark Dawson: Indeed. Do you know what Kohl means in German?
James Blatch: No, what’s it mean?
Mark Dawson: Cabbage.
James Blatch: Oh, Helmut Cabbage.
Mark Dawson: I’m pretty sure it’s Helmut Cabbage. Yeah.
James Blatch: Schwarzkopf is always a good name in German, isn’t it. The black haired, the old black haired.
James Blatch: Okay, look, there’s a reason I’m pausing for a moment on the Patreon supporters because one of the bonuses of being a Patreon supporter, which you can do for as little as a dollar an episode, is that you get enrolled in the SPF University. Which Mark?
Mark Dawson: Just checking. It does. It means cabbage.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: The SPF university which is…
Mark Dawson: So, it’s not a university.
James Blatch: Not a real university.
Mark Dawson: With a legal bent. It’s not a university. But you can learn lots of good things there, including this week, you can learn all about Scrivener. Which is certainly a software I use and pretty much everyone else I know uses it to write.
And, it’s a complicated piece of software. I probably don’t use more than about 5% of what it can do. In fact, I’m almost sure I don’t, because I don’t even use it to format.
But we have Gwen Hernandez, who wrote Scrivener for Dummies, is coming on, or coming to the University to do a webinar on…
What day is the webinar, James?
James Blatch: It on Wednesday, the 15th. So that’s this Wednesday, next Wednesday, the 15th of May at 21:00 hours, in the UK. The 9:00 PM in the evening UK. Which makes it, sort of, in the afternoon in Los Angeles and tea time ish in New York. But you’ll get all the actual times when you enroll.
Mark Dawson: Did your camera just switch off?
James Blatch: It did. But we’re now onto my other camera. My back up camera.
And with us is a technically fraught evening, isn’t it? And you’re really busy and angry with me.
Mark Dawson: No, I’m not angry. I am busy, but I’m not angry.
James Blatch: Yes. My lovely, beautiful new lens camera has decided to die, right, and now we’re on my screen camera. Which it shows a bit more of the pink boudoir atmosphere I’ve got going on here.
Mark Dawson: For listeners on the podcast, James has turned his shed into what can only be described as a tart’s boudoir, basically. And I have to say, if people are looking at James’ garden, and were looking through the window, they could be mistaken for thinking they were in Amsterdam. And, coming into James’ shed, they could get a surprise.
I don’t know whether James is wearing trousers, for example. Oh, stop.
James Blatch: I’ve got big windows at the front where I could just sort of strut up and down.
Mark Dawson: No, no. That’s an image that no one wants.
James Blatch: Quite like that move.
Let’s concentrate on this webinar.
We have a webinar for students of The Self Publishing Formula University (SPFU) on Wednesday, the 15th of May. All about Scrivener from the expert, as you say, Gwen Hernandez.
I’ve spoken to Gwen this week and it’s going to be brilliant. She’s already working out exactly what’s going to be in there. I’m absolutely, 100% target audience for this, because I’m typically a writer who goes into Scrivener, writes, writes, writes, knows that there’s loads of stuff under the bonnet I just don’t know about that would be useful. So I’m really looking forward to it.
Mark Dawson: I’m the target audience, too. Absolutely.
James Blatch: Good. And so, you go to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. Become a supporter of this podcast and you are immediately enrolled into the University and you are eligible to attend that webinar on Wednesday. You’ll get an email.
That’s the webinar. We’ve done the Patreon supporters.
You gave a speech last night at your old school?
Mark Dawson: I did, yes. I’ve had a busy couple of days. So, I went down to Lowestoft yesterday on the train and got in. Immediately went to the theater and then I gave a speech to, I think American’s might call it enrollment, or something like that.
James Blatch: Commencement.
Mark Dawson: Commencement, that’s right. Yes. So, I did the commencement speech for these kids who are leaving, fifteen and sixteen-year-olds, leaving school and going on to do A-Levels, whatever.
And, normally, I’m not nervous with public speaking these days, I usually quite enjoy it. And I enjoy the bigger crowds rather than the smaller ones, more. But, I decided yesterday that I was just going to wing it. I was going to be very natural and just kind of go on and talk for ten minutes about what I do, and all that kind of stuff.
And, as I was sitting down, seeing the other people give their speeches, I realized that I am thirty years older than these kids and none of my usual incredibly witty patter will mean anything to them whatsoever. Because we don’t have anything in common, apart from the fact that we went to this school. The internet wasn’t a thing when I was at school.
So, anyway, I spent the next half an hour frantically scribbling down some notes as the things I think I ought to cover in the speech. Then I proceeded to get up onto the stage and stare into these very bright lights. I couldn’t see anything beyond them, really. Apart from the fact that I knew there were six hundred people waiting for me to make a complete ass of myself.
But I think I managed to make only a partial ass of myself. I got some nice emails today from teachers, thanking me for going along. So, not a complete disaster.
And, jumped on the train today, headed back to Salisbury. I’ve been writing furiously ever since, trying to finish a book. And was hopefully going to finish it tonight, probably aren’t going to now because of, I don’t know, technical reasons we don’t need to go into.
Second time we’ve recorded this podcast.
James Blatch: I’ve done a commencement speech, where you should have come to me because I could have warned you in advance. It’s quite serious, big deal at schools. And I did exactly the same as you. In fact, I was covering a very high profile, famous double murder case which was going on and on and on. The only story anyone was talking about…
Mark Dawson: I know that one.
James Blatch: And it got solved on the day that I was going there. It was a huge, busy day.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness.
James Blatch: I told the editor that I had to go. This murder case, by the way, was complicated by the fact that I spoke to the murderer several times in the process.
Mark Dawson: Did you?
James Blatch: Oh yeah. Got called to the Old Bailey. Yeah, I gave evidence.
Mark Dawson: It’s not I.H. is it?
James Blatch: Yes. Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness. I didn’t know that.
James Blatch: So he was the caretaker. If you go through the transcript of the Old Bailey court case, you’ll find my evidence.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness.
James Blatch: Maybe it’s a story for another day.
I turned up there, which is quite glamorous in its own right, that bit works. But I, again, suddenly everyone’s in roses, very formal, everyone’s wearing their gowns. It’s just a state school, that I went to. It was there that big, posh day. And I didn’t feel, I mostly did the sort of thing you did, but I didn’t feel my speech really did justice to occasion.
In the years that’s followed, I’ve thought of a really good speech that I could have given. Which was based on the process of making a film. Whether it’s a short film for news, or a feature film.
You have a kind of pre-production, a production stage, a post-production stage. And I was thinking about framing someone’s life, thinking about the pre-production where you decide what things are going to be there, what ideas are.
The production where you try to bring things together and you have to change direction. And the great end, the denouement was that, who’s the audience? Well, the audience is you, sitting there in the cinema, looking back at your life.
But now you’re in the stage to make those changes, to make those things happen. So, what film do you want to watch at the end of your life? Isn’t that a good idea for a speech? Which I never gave.
Mark Dawson: It’s an interesting idea, yes. It’s all in the execution.
James Blatch: Story of my life is to think of it just after the moment. So, if any other schools are listening and they want a commencement day speaker.
Let’s crack on with this.
That’s a really good interview with Suzan Tisdale. I call her the cheeky wench because that’s how she describes herself. She writes romance books with a witty, some are historical, some are contemporary, I think. And she has a wit running through them. She talks about escapism.
It’s a useful interview for all of us, I think across all genres. Let’s hear from Susan.
Good morning to you, Susan.
Suzan Tisdale: Good morning to you, James.
James Blatch: Tisdale? Is that how you say it?
Suzan Tisdale: Tisdale. Yes, Suzan Tisdale. It’s Suzan has a Z in it. Usually, people try to pronounce it Suzanne, but it is
James Blatch: I saw that in your notes. And Tisdale is the most gloriously Northern English name.
Suzan Tisdale: I know! I get it from my husband.
James Blatch: You do. English background because there was a black and white era comedian called Norman Wisdom, who was based on working class, cleaning windows type guy and his boss was Mr. Tisdale.
Suzan Tisdale: I love it. I’ll have to tell Kevin that.
James Blatch: Everyone in England of a certain age will think of that.
But, far from the unglamorous world of cleaning windows in Northern England, you are the glamorous romance author.
Tell us a bit about who Suzan Tisdale is.
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, wow! My tagline is: Author, storyteller, cheeky wench. I tend to have a very strong sense of humor. And, so that’s were the cheeky wench came from.
When I was trying to come up with a cute tagline, I had author and storyteller but I couldn’t think of anything else. And one of my friends said, “Cheeky wench.” And, I’m like, “That just fits.” So, it’s kind of stuck since then and it’s on logos and everything.
James Blatch: Tell us about your writing. When did you start and what have you done?
Suzan Tisdale: I’ve always, always written. Since I was a little girl. I was horribly, painfully shy and introverted as a child. I just really was. I didn’t have very many friends because I was so shy.
So, in other things going on in my life, I would just escape into my own mind. And there, I was not shy, I wasn’t introverted, and I had lots of friends. And I just have always had this very creative imagination. I’ve always written. I think the first story I ever wrote, I was probably seven or eight years old.
So, anyway, got married. Was married for nineteen years and that kind of went south. I’ve had lots of really crappy jobs and lots of really great jobs in my lifetime. But this is how I actually got started. And this really, it does upset some people, because they feel like I didn’t earn my stripes, so to speak, because I do not have one rejection letter from any traditional publishing house, or anything like that.
I was always under the impression, and it was true, that it was very difficult to get published. It was next to impossible. So, I never once submitted to a trad house, or anything.
Back in 2011 or 2010, my husband gave me a Kindle for my birthday. And, he had it hooked up to his credit card. Well he didn’t understand what a reader I was. So, the first month he got his credit card statement, he comes to me with this deer in the headlight look and says, “We have to talk.” And, he said, “Do you know you’ve spent almost $50 on books this month?” And, I’m like, “Only?”
So, he put me on book rations and up to that point, I had never read a romance novel in my life. Not one.
James Blatch: Wow.
Suzan Tisdale: I always read suspense, thrillers, murder mysteries. Ed McBain and James Patterson and those types of books because that’s what my mother read. And I got all her hand-me-down books. So, he put me on book rations.
I went to Amazon, because someone on FaceBook said, “You know, they have free and 99 cent books at Amazon.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” So this one popped up, that was 99 cents and I thought, “Oh, that just looks too silly for words.”
It was a Laurin Wittig novel. And it was Scottish historical romance. And I’ve never read anything like that before in my life. And I thought, “Well, for giggles, I’ll give it a try.”
I was hooked from the very first paragraph. And I tell Laurin all the time now, I feel like I owe her a kickback, or something, because that book just changed my life.
So, fast forward a few months, I decided I have this book going in my mind, which eventually turned out to be Laiden’s Daughter. And, I thought, ‘I’m going to give my mom a Kindle for her birthday.” Because she was just, oh my gosh, no one could read like my mother.
So, anyway, I thought, “I’m going to write this book, I’m going to give her a kindle and wouldn’t it be hilarious if the first book she opens on that Kindle is something I had written?”
I had it hidden. We only had one computer at the time. And I thought I had the file hidden on the family computer. And, I was getting up at 3:30 every morning to write and Kevin thought I was getting up to play FarmVille.
One day he comes to me and says, “Hey, Suzy, what is this?” And, I’m like, “Ah, crap.” So, I came clean. I told him what I was doing. I’m not a techy person, I said, “I think there’s a cord that you can get that goes from the Kindle to the computer and I can just load it into the Kindle that way and give it to mom.”
Well, my husband is basically a research savant, I mean, if you want to know, does a bumblebee have nipples, Kevin is your guy.
James Blatch: I do want to know that, now.
Suzan Tisdale: You don’t. He comes back to me a few days later and he says, “There is no cord. So, in order to get it on your mom’s Kindle, you have to do this thing called Kindle Direct Publishing. You have to publish it and then you can just buy it.” And I thought, “I can do that. No one’s going to read it anyway. No one’s going to know it’s there.”
So, I did that. And, I mean, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had no editor, I had no final proofer. I had nothing. I mean nothing.
James Blatch: Did you have a cover?
Suzan Tisdale: I didn’t even think about a cover until I went to upload the book at Amazon and they said, “Insert your cover here.”
James Blatch: And you’re like, “That’s a good idea. A cover.”
Suzan Tisdale: That’s a good idea. So, I am a pencil portrait artist, or I was in a previous lifetime. And I had this beautiful colored pencil portrait of my daughter. So, I slapped that picture onto another picture of a castle and that was my cover.
I released that on December 9th of 2011, and by February of 2012, it was number three at Amazon.
James Blatch: Wow.
Suzan Tisdale: My dream, my whole secret dream that I would not share with anybody is that if just five people I didn’t know or who were not related to me bought this book, I would just be over the moon happy.
It hit number three, overall. And, I kept thinking they made a mistake. Amazon is going to call me and say they want their $78 back because it was a mistake.
They did call, actually, they emailed me. Chris is his name, he’s no longer there. But, I thought it was a friend of mine pulling a prank, so I was rather rude in my reply. And come to find out they were calling me to give me my own Amazon rep.
So, that’s how I got started. And then, people started messaging me and finding me on FaceBook going, “When’s the next book out?” And I’m like, “Oh crap, I’ve got to write another one.”
James Blatch: Wow. Basically, you uploaded it to KDP as a quick way of getting it on the Kindle to give it to your mom. And you went to number three in the Amazon store?
Suzan Tisdale: Yes. And I will tell you my writing has improved immeasurably since that very first book. And I do have editors and I do have final proofers. And I’ve got wonderful cover artists. Yeah, it just changed my entire life.
James Blatch: Well it can’t have been that bad, Suzan, to start off with. I mean, that’s amazing.
You talked about being an introverted child, had you done much writing, one way or another before then?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, yes. Back in the day before word processors, I had an old manual typewriter. I would start a story, but I would never finish it. So, this was the first book I’d actually finished.
But, I had always written. I’d written at high school screenplays and stories and things like that.
James Blatch: Wow. And this whole Scottish romance thing? Which, as an Englishman, I take a slightly offended about the we’re not romantic enough… No, I mean, who can resist a man in a kilt? With a caber to toss?
Suzan Tisdale: That’s true. But my books are really different from your typical. They’re not what we call bodice rippers, at all.
If you go back to the sixties and seventies, where you have, or even eighties, where you had Fabio on the cover. And they’ve got all the… In the story he accidentally rips her bodice and she’s basically turned on and they fall in love.
I don’t write books like that. I have a lot of male readers because I have a lot of battles and violence in my books.
James Blatch: So, Highlander more? Although obviously not fantastical.
Suzan Tisdale: No. It’s not fantastical. There’s not really any paranormal romance in any of my books. I take on issues like rape. I take on issues like alcoholism. And there is always, always, always a happily ever after in all of my books, except one.
I just write imperfect heroes. My heroes are never brooding, they’re never… sometimes they’re… can I say ass hats?
James Blatch: No. Yeah, I suppose you can. You said bees nipples, you can say ass hat.
Suzan Tisdale: Exactly. But, anyway, my heroes are perfectly imperfect. And my heroines are usually quite strong or he allows her to, you know, come into her own, that type of thing.
And then I have one series where the actual Chief of the McPherson Clan is a female. Her name is Fiona. And that was one of the most fun books I have ever written.
I have a lot of humor in my books. It’s not, you know, they meet on page two and by page three they’re doing the nasty under the sheets. I don’t write like that. So, not a lot of sex scenes in my books.
James Blatch: That gets us an idea of the books. So when you did the first one, that was 2011, I think you said?
Suzan Tisdale: Yes. I published it December 9th.
James Blatch: How many books have you written subsequently?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, I’ve written lots. I think, last count, I’ve got nineteen individual titles that are published. And then I’m working, I’m going to be releasing at least five this year.
James Blatch: And this is a commercially successful venture for you?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh yes. I make a very nice six figure income. Yes. I’ve got books translated into French and German and Spanish and Italian and I don’t know what else. I have audiobooks. It’s very lucrative.
James Blatch: And you’re definitely not the first person I’ve met who’s had this level of success and didn’t go down the trad route, at all. I mean, it’s still unusual, but I don’t think it’s going to be unusual in the future. I think more and more authors who are getting into the industry now and writing now, are looking at the options and thinking, “I’m doing this.” And
they’re not even bothering with the agent route. I mean that’s not to say it’s not for everyone, absolutely.
Suzan Tisdale: Exactly.
James Blatch: But, more often than not it seems to be the case that people see the indie route as being commercially more viable.
Suzan Tisdale: Yes.
James Blatch: Congratulations, Suzan!
Suzan Tisdale: Thank you.
James Blatch: On a stellar rise. I hope your mom was impressed.
Did your mom notice the book was written by you?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh my gosh. Okay, so, what I did was. My mother, god love her, god rest her soul, she was one of the funniest women.
I had printed off the manuscript of Laiden’s Daughter for her. And, I took it to her, told her what I was doing. And I told her, “Now mom, this isn’t a dirty book, it’s not, steamy or anything like that.” And, she looked at me and she said, “You mean there’s no lustful thrusting?” I’m like, “Oh my god.” I about died.
I went back a week later, “Mama, what did you think?” She said, “Well, it was really good Suzy, but there really wasn’t enough lustful thrusting.” I’m like, “Oh my god, you’re seventy-two years old.”
James Blatch: That’s not a conversation you want to have with your mom, particularly, is it?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, honey, you would have had to know my mother to appreciate. I’ve got all sorts of Arlene stories that I probably can’t repeat here. But she was an amazing woman.
I used to think I got my writing ability from her. I did not. I got my creativity from my mom, but I got my storytelling from my dad. And I tell you what, this man, he can tell you a story that will make a grown man want to pee his pants. I mean, or just laugh until you bust a gut.
I didn’t realize that until after my mother had passed away. Just actually, what a phenomenal storyteller my dad is. So, I think I got it from him.
James Blatch: So, let’s talk about that, then. Let’s talk about your ability to tell a story that grips and gets people to turn the page. Because, Suzan, that is kind of the magic juice, here, isn’t it?
Suzan Tisdale: It is.
James Blatch: That’s what everyone’s looking for. We all want to write a book and have a theme in it. But what you want is a reader who doesn’t want to put it down, they want to turn the page. And you seem to have cracked that.
Can you put this into words? Is this something you feel you can teach?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh boy. A lot of it, I think, is either insanity or divine intervention, or a combination of both. For me, it’s choosing the right, beautiful words. You want to put your reader into that book.
When I first started out, I had this, my office was down in the basement, I had these colored note cards. And they were only colored because they were on sale. But, I had all the senses. I had written one sense per card and had it thumb tacked to the bulletin board. And it was see, hear, taste, smell, time, as in, time of day, time, as in time of year, and time, as in, the timing of the story.
I would just keep that in my mind, that when I’m telling this story, I want the reader to just be able to imagine where they at.
Are they in this glen? Well, what does this glen look like? Is it wintertime? Is it spring? Is it summer? Is it fall? Is it cold? Is it dreary? Is it dark? Is the sun shining? What color is the sky? Well, it’s a blue sky. Well, you know, blue is blue, but there’s azure, or however you say it. There’s periwinkle, there’s violet, there’s all sorts of different words that you can use for blue. Or is there a hint of lavender in the sky? That kind of thing.
And then what feel? Like what does the grass feel like? Or what does the tree bark feel like? Or what does her skin against his fingertips feel like?
I try to really, without taking ten thousand words to describe that moment. I choose, and it’s usually without thinking, I just choose the words that I think are perfect to set that scene in that moment. That’s how I do it. I don’t do it quickly.
My biggest book is over 176,000 words. So, they’re not as big as Diana Gabaldon. But they are usually quite big books. But my readers love that.
James Blatch: Well, That sounds great. And, do you know, one of the things I got from that is, one of my characters, who hasn’t got a name at the moment and I’ve been sort of thinking about it today, realized I think I have to give him a name because a slightly bigger part than I imagined him. I was just calling him by his rank and he’s a stuffy Englishman.
I decided, on the basis of what you just said, I’m going to call him David Periwinkle.
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, there you go.
James Blatch: That’s going to be his name.
Suzan Tisdale: Now what does David Periwinkle look like?
James Blatch: Yeah, well, I think he’s probably got a periwinkle. He’s a small man in every sense.
Suzan Tisdale: Okay.
James Blatch: That’s what I’m taking from that.
And, there’s a balance between telling a story, getting out there, moving it along and living in the moment. And obviously, when you’re reading a book, you do want to be taken away a little bit and into that moment.
But you can’t go too far down that line because then it becomes fluffy. And you’re not moving things along and so you’ve obviously got this balance right, Suzan. It’s impressive that you’re able to do this.
Now you talk about, you don’t do this quickly. Let’s talk about your process a little bit then.
How and when do you write and how much are you writing.
Suzan Tisdale: It depends on if the muse is cooperating or not.
James Blatch: Right.
Suzan Tisdale: Last year, well the year before was actually a little bit difficult in that my husband had a heart attack. He’s fine, he’s fine. He’s all mended and all healthy. In fact, he came to me a couple months ago and said, “Honey, I just paid off the heart attack. I own that puppy now.”
Mornings are better for me to write. Actually it’s not based on time, it’s based on word count because I write in Scrivener. I will not write in anything else. I had too many fiascos with Word, so I write in Scrivener. And I love their target notifications.
I can be a little competitive at times, so I’m competing with that, you need to write 1,700 words today in order to meet your deadline. And I always try to surpass that. That’s always my goal.
I do try to write at least five days a week. I usually save Sundays for my husband. But, mornings are usually better for me. But it really depends on the book.
For instance, Ian’s Rose, I wrote a good majority of that at St. Francis hospital, my granddaughter was born very early. She was a micro preemie. She weighed 11.5 ounces.
James Blatch: Wow.
Suzan Tisdale: No, 1 pound, 11.5 ounces.
James Blatch: Okay.
Suzan Tisdale: Only 12 inches long. Emily had a son and she had to get him to school and stuff, etc, etc. So, every morning after Emily had done her kangaroo time and stuff, I would take my laptop and I would go into that NICU and just sit by that little crib and watch that baby. And I wrote most of Ian’s Rose in that room. And that was generally late morning, early afternoon.
James Blatch: How’s the baby now, by the way? You need to finish that story.
Suzan Tisdale: Oh my gosh. She is feral. She is rotten and I wouldn’t have her any other way. She’s absolutely beautiful. She’s two and a half now.
James Blatch: Fantastic.
Suzan Tisdale: And she just talks, talks, talks. And, she’s just ornery and beautiful and smart, she’s bilingual. Because her father is Mexican and he speaks Spanish. And she is just the most precious little thing. I love it.
James Blatch: Good to know. Well, obviously helped, that presence you gave her at that time. Inspired.
How many words do you roughly get done a day?
Suzan Tisdale: It depends if I’m on a deadline or not. If the deadline is looming, I’ve been known to write as much as 11,000
words in a day. During the wintertime, when the sun’s not shining, I tend to be a little more, I don’t know, depressed. A little bit more depressed, I guess is the right word. So, sometimes only 2,000 words a day. But I usually get in around 4-5,000 words a day.
James Blatch: Okay. You say your books are quite long, so, I was going to say you’re doing five or six books a year. But you’re probably not doing that.
You’re probably writing three or four books a year, are you?
Suzan Tisdale: Well, I think I only released two, what I call real books last year. I did release a couple of satirical novels under the pen name Pinky Haversnatch. And it was my thumbing my nose at cocky gate. And then the next one was thumbing my nose at the book stuffers.
I had The Kah Key Billionaire and I had Pregnant By My Boss’s Cousin, The Billionaire Sheik, or something like that.
James Blatch: That’s the book stuffing one?
Suzan Tisdale: Yes. Anyway, but normally my books are at least 100,000 words long. But some of the books I’m going to release this year are smaller. And one is part of a secret project that I’m working on with fellow author friends. And I can’t tell you anything about it, except it’s unlike anything I’ve ever written in my entire life and I’m so excited about this book it’s not funny.
James Blatch: Are you part of the Cecilia Mecca Clan?
James Blatch: Do you know Cecelia?
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, I know Cecelia. I love her, she is absolutely charming.
James Blatch: Because you write in the same genre, I guess.
Suzan Tisdale: Yes. Scottish historical.
James Blatch: Though Cecelia’s branching out, I think, into other things at the moment. But, okay, great.
So, we’ve got your motivation, we’ve got the way that you create the books during the day. Your approach to each book in terms of its story.
Do you plot these out in advance? Do you sit there and let inspiration flow through your fingertips?
Suzan Tisdale: I do plot now. I didn’t used to plot. Again, in the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing, so now I do plot. And I owe a lot of that to the author Anne Perry.
I used to take great pride in saying, “Oh, I don’t plot. I just let the words take me wherever the go, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Well, Anne Perry, who is just, I love her. I do. I have met her several times at the InD’scribe Conference in California.
I took one of her workshops and she just totally changed my life. She was talking about that one thing more and how you have to be careful in how you layer that one thing more throughout your story. And plotting will help you do that.
And what she meant by that one thing more. It’s when you’re writing a story, you don’t want a huge info dump. But you do want to give your readers necessary info in order for the story to make sense. But you layer that very finely throughout your story. And you have to always remember that one thing more.
You just dot it through there. That will explain why your hero or heroine or your antagonist is behaving the way they’re behaving. And when you do that brilliantly, like she does, you will have several ah-ha moments throughout the book.
James Blatch: So I understand this, are you talking about a sort of, what might feel at the time that you’re writing a slightly extrenuous clarification as to why this person’s thinking like that.
Suzan Tisdale: Yes.
James Blatch: I think that’s such a brilliant point and it’s something that my editor picks up on quite often. What was he thinking when he stormed out? As if she hadn’t quite understood.
Suzan Tisdale: Yes.
James Blatch: You’re omniscipent. Well.
Suzan Tisdale: I usually, sometimes the muse doesn’t tell me until the last damn page.
James Blatch: But it’s the Dan Brown thing. You know, Dan Brown, a fantastic, successful writer and people know what’s going on because he spells it out on every page. That’s a really good point.
Suzan Tisdale: Yeah, so I do plot. I love Scrivener for that. I love the fact that there are character sheets in Scrivener. So I can keep track of the correct spelling of the character’s name. I’ve been known to go back and forth throughout a book.
James Blatch: David Periwinkle, I’ll have to settle on the spelling.
Suzan Tisdale: Yes. The character sheet is not just the name and the age. But also what they look like. But I put their motivations inside that character sheet and I always ask myself with all my main characters, what does this particular character want more than any thing else in the world? And then what is the one thing that that character is most terrified of?
I don’t mean, “Oh, they’re terrified of spiders.” For some characters it could be dying alone. That’s their biggest fear, that’s the last thing they want in the world is to die alone.
Or to just be alone and never have a family. Or let’s say he’s very devoted to his king and the last thing he would ever want would be to go against his king, okay? For any reason, but he might be, sometimes, they are forced to do that one thing that they’re afraid of. Or that one thing that they swear to themselves they would never, ever do. “I would never betray a trust, I would never lie, I would never steal, I would never whatever.”
And what makes it really interesting, is when you lay that groundwork and you let your reader know in the beginning, this is the one thing he would never, ever do. And then make him end up doing that, such as betraying a trust, I just think it makes the story far more interesting.
So I put all that information into each of the character sheets as I’m writing.
James Blatch: Let’s move onto marketing a little bit, are you KU or are you wide?
Suzan Tisdale: I know Mark Dawson’s a big fan. I think it’s fabulous he’s making the money that he’s making in Kindle Unlimited. In the beginning of my career, I was a, it was called KDP Select. And I was a KDP Select princess.
There was nothing these people wouldn’t do for me. I had three books out, three. And I was averaging $30,000 a month off of three books in KDP Select.
Enter Kindle Unlimited 1.0, where you didn’t get paid unless the reader read 10% of your book. Within one month of launching, KU 1.0, I went from, I think it was $38,000 the month before, on just three books, to $3,400 the month they launched KU 1.0.
That is a sphincter prolapsing drop in income. So, that was my wake up call. And it wasn’t about that old, everybody says, “I don’t want all my eggs in one basket.” Well, it’s my damn basket and I’ll decide where my eggs are. Okay? If I want my eggs in fifteen baskets, I’ll put ’em there. If I want ’em all in one, my eggs, I get to decide.
But I did decide to go Wide. And I thought I was going to take this huge financial hit. I didn’t. I made more money that year that I had made in previous years. And it just keeps going up and up and up.
So, not a huge fan of the scammers and stuffers that are in Kindle Unlimited. You go to Amazon’s top 100 list, in fact, I was there this morning looking at… trying to get some ideas for some fonts for a project. And it was just, Kindle Unlimited, Kindle Unlimited all the top hundred. They were all, except a couple, Kindle Unlimited books.
And that disturbs me. Only because Kindle Unlimited books, we all know, get more weight and visibility and everything else than non Kindle Unlimited books. And I think there needs to be two separate lists. One for Kindle Unlimited and one for non. For best sellers. That’s just my personal opinion.
James Blatch: Your marketing strategy, then. So, obviously, you’ve made your decision to go wide. And what’s working for you at the moment?
Do you run a mailing list? Are you running Amazon ads? FaceBook ads? Anything like that?
You’re shaking your head.
You’re doing nothing? It’s just like when you just uploaded your book in 2011 and it sold?
Suzan Tisdale: I have started doing ads. And I was using Mark’s lead builder… the lead…
James Blatch: The lead gen ads?
Suzan Tisdale: Thank you. And that was doing quite well. And then I realized the book that I was giving away, was not free at Amazon, so I stopped that so I could make it free to Amazon. And then I never started again. I’m so bad.
But I do have a person who is taking care of my advertising. For me, right now. Because I am under such a flippin’ tight deadline, it’s like a deadline from hell. If I don’t get finished, they’re going to kill me.
I do have someone that’s taking care of that for me right now. And that is only temporary, simply because I’m too busy with the writing process. Does that make sense?
James Blatch: It does make sense.
Suzan Tisdale: I have done the SPF Formula. I learned so much off of just the first few videos. It’s like, “Oh!”.
I recently took Skye Warren, she’s famous in the romance field and she’s a member of our WA. Anyway, I recently did her seminar on marketing. It’s like, “Oh, Mark Dawson taught me how to do it, all the technical stuff. How to target your audience, how to do a lookalike audience, all that stuff.”
Skye is teaching me how to take that information and make it work for me. So it’s going to be, as soon as I finish this book, please god let it be by Sunday, then I will be able to take the advertising back into my own lap and put those things together.
James Blatch: So, Skye teaches more romance specific?
Suzan Tisdale: I don’t think it’s romance, no it’s not romance specific. I think you could take anything that she’s doing and… I think anything that she’s doing and would work for any genre. I don’t think it’s genre specific. In fact, I know it’s not. No, it’s not genre specific.
James Blatch: Okay. All right, let’s bring it back round in that nice circular fashion we’re supposed to do with stories. To the writing and from where you are and what you’ve learned. Telling the rest of us who are trying to get going how to do it. We had great tips from you at the beginning.
What about the general kind of approach to this as a career?
Suzan Tisdale: I tell everybody, you have to gird your loins. Every single day. Sometimes hour by hour.
There are going to be a lot of outside forces that will try to put a kink in your career. It could be a spouse. It could be family. It could be kids. It could be fate, just things coming in. It could be people who do not necessarily have your best interest at heart. Like vanity presses, that type of thing.
But you can’t really do anything until you’ve written the book. I can’t tell you the number of emails I get, the number of Facebook private messages I get that always start with, “I’m thinking about writing a book, how do I market it?” And I tell them, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to market something when you don’t have a book.”
You can’t market blank pages. You can’t edit blank pages. You can’t do anything with blank pages. So, I tell them, “Write the book first and then come back to me.”
My other piece of advice would be, and I see this a lot… and part of it’s our own fault, as the authors. When the Indie explosion happened, we were so eager to share our information, to share our success, “And this is what I did, and that’s why I’m successful.” And then people would say, “Well, I want to write a book.” And we would tell them, “Oh, go ahead, write the book, it’s great.” You know, that type of thing.
But I’ve seen it to where people thought that they saw the rest of us being successful and making all this money. That they thought they could put a book together that was never edited, never final proofed. The cover was horrendous, whatever. Put a 9.99 cent e-book price tag on it, publish it. And they thought they could just sit back and rake in the money.
It does not work that way.
My biggest piece of advice is, after you self-publish that first book, you are going to want to, and we all do it, you’re going to be glued to the stats for those first few days. And they are probably not going to be what you would like them to be. And that’s okay.
What you need to do is write the next book. And write the next book after that. And write the next book after that.
My story, how I got started, that is such an anomaly. That is a Cinderella story. Those don’t happen very often, at least not in today’s day and age. So you just have to keep writing.
And just because a marketing technique that you’re using today does not work, does not mean it’s not going to work tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Do not give up. Be very thoughtful in your process. But the first thing you’ve got to do is write the book.
I tell people, Write with fervor. Write with zeal. Write with passion. Write from your heart. But for god’s sake, get an editor.
James Blatch: And write with lusty thrusting.
Suzan Tisdale: Yes! Yes. But your goal with each and every single book that you write, your goal should always be that this current book is better than the last book.
Do not let anybody tell you, I don’t care who you are, your writing can always improve. There’s always something you can do to make, I don’t care if you’ve got one book out or three hundred, there’s always something you can do to make the current work in progress better than the last book you published.
James Blatch: Yeah. That is so true.
Suzan Tisdale: And that should always be your goal.
James Blatch: Absolutely. And I’m certain that the greatest writers the world has ever given us went to their grave wishing they were better writers.
Suzan Tisdale: Oh god, I do it all the time. It’s like, “Oh man, I wish I could write like this person.” Or, “I wish I could write like that person.” And usually, I’m comparing myself to something contemporary or something paranormal.
For instance, recently, Genevieve Jack. Oh my stars, she’s one of my dearest, dearest, dearest friends. And she has written this new book, it’s called The Dragon of New Orleans. I don’t read paranormal romance. I just don’t. But I said, “Yeah, I’ll read it, I’ll try it.” And, oh my stars.
I’m telling you what. From the absolute first sentence of the first page, you are hooked. This has got to be, it just has to be, one of the most brilliantly, beautifully written novels that I have had the pleasure of reading in forever.
It’ll be live in a few weeks. But, I mean, if I could write some of my historical romances the way she wrote this paranormal, I would be like… I would just be happy.
James Blatch: Well, writing’s writing, regardless of genre, isn’t it? And that’s great to be inspired that much by one of your friends. And hopefully, Suzan, people have been inspired listening to you, as well today.
Suzan Tisdale: I hope so.
James Blatch: It’s been great. Thank you. Congratulations, again, on your success. That’s fantastic.
Suzan Tisdale: Oh, well, thank you.
James Blatch: I’m intrigued by the secret project. So we’ll keep an eye on…
Suzan Tisdale: Oh yes, we should be making an announcement in March or April.
James Blatch: Okay. Good.
Suzan Tisdale: It’s going to be epic. That’s all… it’s just going to be epic. It’s epic, epic, epic.
James Blatch: Well, that could be about the time that this podcast goes out. If you can get onto Amazon and have a look, see what it’s all about.
Suzan Tisdale: Now, am I allowed to tell anybody I did this podcast? Or is this top secret because you don’t know if you’re going to air it or not? Or what?
James Blatch: It’ll air. It’s definitely going to air. And you can tell everybody. And I’ll give you a date as soon as we’ve scheduled it as to when it’s actually going out.
Suzan Tisdale: You are so sweet.
James Blatch: Thank you very much for joining us, Suzan.
Suzan Tisdale: Thank you for having me. And I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.
James Blatch: There you go. Now, now I was thinking, Mark, that the kind of escapism aspect of this is, it’s very obviously with romance. But, it’s actually the heart of every novel, right? The reason people read is that same thing. It works in your novels, it works in the novel I’m attempting to write.
Mark Dawson: It does if it’s done properly, yes. And also, it’s not something that’s dependent upon novels or books. People go to see the new Avengers movie, that’s what they want. They want to get away from their world.
James Blatch: That’s the new Avengers movie? I love the new Avengers.
Mark Dawson: There is a, yes, not the new Avengers. There’s a new Avengers, anyway… or Game of Thrones, also which I’ve seen twice now, which is extremely good. And, no spoilers on this podcast, obviously.
But that’s why people watch those things. They want to get away from their lives for whatever reason. Might be that their lives are a bit dull, perhaps they’ve got problems, or perhaps they haven’t got problems and they just want to lose themselves in something completely different for awhile.
So, my books, if you ever want to read about an alcoholic spy who’s trying to redeem the mistakes that he’s made in the past. Suzan’s books, that they want to follow couples as they find each other over the course of the pages. In your book, hang on, let me think about this. Yes, there’s a big crash, apparently, I’ve been led to believe and then there’s a conspiracy behind it.
So, people are going to be looking for that kind of experience when they finally, at some point in the 2020’s get around to reading your book. So, yes, that is why people consume entertainment. It is to get out of themselves for a bit.
James Blatch: And the craft side of it is managing that expectation. Making a lot of your book the anticipation ahead of things happening. Which is the escapist bit, the reason for turning the page and wanting to be there and enjoying that bit. Rather than simply describing a scene that might be a beautiful scene.
So that’s what I’m learning in my trade, as this stuff I think comes naturally to you by this stage.
Is it coming naturally to you with Beatrix now?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it is. I had a really good moment on the train yesterday. The ending was going to be one which I was really pleased about. I came up with this great idea for the ending. And then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if actually, this happened, and there’s a bluff, then a double bluff.” So.the audience will be slightly surprised at the end of it.
James Blatch: Is it all very Red Sparrow at the end?
Mark Dawson: No, not particularly. Beatrix is a cool character. She’s fun to write and there’s a pretty interesting little switch that people won’t see coming at the end that I’m quite pleased with. So, yes.
James Blatch: Good, okay. That’s it. A final reminder that we have a webinar on Scrivener on Wednesday night. A live webinar with Gwen Hernandez, who wrote Scrivener for Dummies. We’re delighted to have her along as a guest lecturer at the SPF University.
If you are enrolled in any of our courses or you are a Patreon supporter. If you’ve gone onto Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, and you can do that straight away, you can do that straight away now, and you will be eligible to join us in that webinar on Wednesday night.
You also get, of course, access to all the webinars that have taken place in the SPF U.
Good. Marcus, thank you very much indeed. I know that I’ve held you up from getting on with your, what is an extended holiday weekend for us here in the UK. Currently raining, but I’m sure we’ll make the most of it one way or another. And, so you can crack on, now.
Mark Dawson: Thank you very much. I’ve got half an hour before I have to pick my daughter up, so I’ll rush back to my other desk.
James Blatch: Good. Well, it just leaves me to say, It’s a good night from me.
Mark Dawson: And a good night from him.
James Blatch: Good night.
Mark Dawson: Good night.
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