SPS-180: Writing Romance: The Importance of Rapid Release – with Rosalind James
Rosalind James started her indie author career by writing a romance with a twist – it starred hunky New Zealand rugby players! She talks to us about the importance of not being pigeonholed into one’s genre, and why, particularly in romance, rapid release is key to success.
- Why write romance novels about rugby?
- Writing a first novel in her 50s
- Changing to a new series to keep the writing interesting for the writer
- The importance of character development and tone
- What is it that your books offer readers, other than plot?
- The importance of knowing your ‘why’
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
Transcript of interview with Rosalind James
Narrator: On this edition of the Self-publishing Show
Romance is about relationships and relationships that’s the turning point where you go from thinking about yourself to thinking about other people more. When you start of course you’re in the. And that’s where you are with romance then that’s what makes me a wife. I’ve never gotten tired of writing.
Narrator: 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 a 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: Yes, it is the Self-publishing Show with James Blatch and Mark Dawson.
And here we are on a Friday for you doing a little batch of recordings. I think we may have said yesterday we had a confused day. I was thinking because obviously we record intros and we have things to talk about and I have to make notes in my mind as you do.
But what we need to talk about and I have no clue what in the end is going to make it to air from yesterday. We did so much chatting about so much stuff I don’t know what we said What we didn’t say. Do you have any idea?
Mark Dawson: No, not really. And then we did a two-hour webinar in the evening so there was a lot of talking into microphone yesterday
James Blatch: We’ve recorded four podcast episodes, only one of which will ever make it to air because of technical issues.
I may have said this before but we’re back to recording three episodes in a row because we’re about to go away. Our editor John Stone who works tirelessly in the background is also going to go away. I was going to say for some well-deserved rest but I think he’s filming somewhere so maybe resting.
Yes, we had a fantastic webinar last night. We had over a thousand attendees of our webinar which I think is absolutely awesome.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, we had 500 last time and we had to up our webinar plan, which isn’t cheap, because we didn’t want to turn people away as we did last time. And last night had over a thousand for pretty much the whole time. These things have a very good attendance rate. And people stuck around almost till the end.
Most of them said that was really great. I hope that was useful. So as we record we’ve got another week to go on the Ads for Authors course and when this podcast goes out on the what day would that be, James? The 28th of June year and of course we will have it closed for a little while.
So yeah it was it’s been one of those times where it’s just totally bonkers. I’m exhausted, just from all kinds of running around and not you’re not physically exhausted just mentally exhausted.
My eyes hurt from staring at screens for hours and hours at time, but you know that’s what we do.
James Blatch: It’s also hay fever.
Mark Dawson: Yeah and it’s not helping. That’s true. There is a lot of that at the moment.
James Blatch: Okay well look we’ve got a few things to do before we get into our interview today with Rosalind James.
We are going to welcome our new crop of Patreon supporters and we have quite a few join us in the last week or so. We’ve got a few to read through here. One of the things you get as a Patreon supporter is you get a shout out here on the Self-publishing Show and what could be greater than that?
I’ve got to say a very warm welcome to Nadine Trappers from California. Anna Gonzalez from also from California. Peggy Mackenzie from Colorado. Craig White from the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight is a little island on the south coast of England where my father’s family all hail from. My father’s distinguished among the family for leaving the Isle of Wight. Others are all still there.
Elizabeth Lee from W I. USA Wisconsin. Michelle Frost, Rachel Daccus, Scott Darrel, Stephanie Martin, LM Hendrick, Gordon Herbertson, Sarah Rockwood, Georgina Lucy Kim, Rolfe Molvic, Kate Stewart and Donna Cola.
We want to say a very warm welcome to all of you.
If you’ve go to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow
Mark Dawson: Why have they joined, James? Why have we got such a big crop?
James Blatch: They have joined because word is spreading around the world that for as little as a dollar an episode and as maximum three dollars an episode of supporting the Self-publishing Show you are enrolled into the Self-publishing Formula University which is turning out to be very regular, live training on ranges of very useful subjects.
In fact, we are actual hours away from the next one which will happen tonight as I was speaking.
Mark Dawson: Yes, we’ve got Malorie Cooper coming on to talk about read-through which is a very important subject and Mal actually is responsible for opening my eyes and saved me probably from switching off lots of ads that I thought were not profitable whereas in fact, they were probably very profitable. So that’s going to be a good one.
We’ve got the guys from Book Brush coming on soon to talk about their really good piece of software that enables you to produce ad images really quickly. Nice images too. Very convenient way to do that.
We’ve also had Adam Croft about mindset. Tammie le Breck has spoken about email lists and email list building. I’ve done something on advertising.
Oh we’ve got Craig Martell coming on. I think Michael Anderlay will come on and do something. There’s tons of good stuff that we’ve had and good plans for hopefully one a month and it will be useful stuff the kind of thing that I would attend and I’ll take notes on as well.
James Blatch: I’m looking forward to it. I had a call with Mal a few minutes ago so one of the ideas, I think it was your idea and Mal and I liked it a lot, was that we’re going to get attendees to put forward their figures for the last three months and we’ll do some type of number crunching. Well Mal will do some live number crunching and I will help weed out the answers. So yeah looking forward to that tonight.
So if you go to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow you too can be a student in the SPF university. And by the way you don’t need to do that if you are enrolled in any of our paid courses because university enrollment comes packaged with that.
Right. We’re going to talk hunky ripped rugby players.
Mark Dawson: Are we? That sounds exciting. Dear dear listeners, dear viewers. Oh my goodness. Shows it’s natural. If you’re watching YouTube apologies. And that’s put me off my lunch, dinner and tea.
James Blatch: I don’t know why I haven’t been asked a lot or more to model for covers of romance books.
Mark Dawson: Do you know about Fabio?
James Blatch: Who’s Fabio?
Mark Dawson: He’s a very famous cover model from about five years ago. He was on was tons of covers.
James Blatch: He was a stock guy.
Mark Dawson: Yes, usually with his clothes off. I don’t think you’re going to be replacing Fabio anytime soon. Yes, folks, he is now doing his blue steel from Zoolander.
James Blatch: Okay well what we’re really talking to Rosalind about is not about ripped rugby players so much as writing and getting products on the shelf. That’s something that Rosalind excels at. It’s something she advocates and she’s been very successful at it. It’s not all going to be about rugby. I think she’s starting New Zealand now lives in northern the United States, possibly Canada.
And so that’s really the benefit of this interview. It’s always great to talk to somebody who’s getting it right and is selling a ton of books. So let’s speak to Rosalind then Mark and I’ll be back for some further model posing off the back.
Rosalind, welcome to the Self-publishing Show.
Rosalind James: Thank you for having me.
James Blatch: You’re very welcome. Now I can see straightaway there’s an all blacks scarf.
Rosalind James: Yes, I made that as a flag. I put that in the picture for you so that you could see that. It’s not the only thing I write but it’s the thing I’m most best known for.
James Blatch: Well we’re going to introduce an audience of Americans to how the sport with no football should be played.
Rosalind James: That’s right.
James Blatch: Just without the armor. We’re in the middle of six nations here in the UK at the moment so it’s a rugby fever. But we’ll come on to that later.
We’re going to talk about your career and rugby comes into your books of course.
Rosalind why don’t you give us the skinny, as they say, about who you are.
James Blatch: I write contemporary romance and romantic suspense. And I am both indie published and traditionally published, as well as having some traditional deals on foreign translations and audio.
Most of my audio is through ACX and that’s actually a preference. And I am working on book twenty-nine in my seventh series. I have my seventh series coming up and I try to do a lot of different things, different tones, different settings, all over the world. That is interesting to me and I think interesting to my readership. So that’s basically who I am. I kind of do it my way.
James Blatch: As Frank Sinatra says. And we should say you are successful commercially. You are a very successful author.
Rosalind James: It’s extremely surprising to me because I just kind of did it. Everything I have written I have published and everything sold pretty well. And it has from the beginning. So don’t ask me.
I guess I know how to do it. I’m much better at writing and presenting than I am at promoting. And that’s another choice I’ve made.
James Blatch: Well the writing’s obviously critical to it. A very important element to it.
And one of things I think we’re going to talk about with you is how to write a good hook. How to get people to want to buy your next book, particularly the series. You say you’ve got seven series so let’s start at the beginning.
At the beginning when perhaps you started writing series they weren’t as commercially important as they are now.
Did you always think I’m going to write books with sequels or is this a more indie thing in recent times?
Rosalind James: That’s all I’ve done. I wrote my first book when I was over 50. I wrote my first fiction is my first book that’s out there. I wasn’t intending it to be a series. I just wrote a New Zealand rugby book. Because that was the story I had in my head and then it was really fun. So I wrote a couple more.
My books are almost all stand alone. So they’re within series but they’re almost all stand alone. And that’s partly because that’s what I enjoy and that’s partly because that gives you a lot more entry points.
James Blatch: When you say you wrote the New Zealand rugby book, it’s not a coaching book.
This is a romance fiction book.
Rosalind James: Yeah it’s a romance book. But you know with heroes who are all New Zealand rugby players big strong sturdy types.
James Blatch: Yes, we’re very familiar with the All Blacks over here and we should say to the audience who aren’t that familiar with rugby and I think it’s growing in the States. The All Blacks are, in my lifetime, have been the phenomenal rugby union side and they’ve been the side most difficult to beat and most difficult particularly in New Zealand. It’s happened occasionally and when it does happen in the UK it’s like hallelujah and fireworks go off but they are the awesome side. And I don’t know why because is it such a small nation but the incredible number of powerful, amazingly talented rugby players that the Kiwis present.
Rosalind James: I was living in New Zealand and that’s why I thought they’d make good romance heroes. I was there doing the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I was there for that period living there and I’d just been living in Australia.
And then we were living in New Zealand and it’s really amazing. That’s really what started me writing fiction was I thought why hasn’t somebody written these guys as romance heroes because they are.
There is an expectation that I think fairly unique in sport that they are good citizens as well as the rugby players. They have a no asshole election policy and they’re pretty serious about how you’re supposed to behave. So that makes them easy. It makes them easy absolutely to write about. Whereas if I were writing about soccer perhaps it’s not the same.
James Blatch: That would be a little tougher. Nobody is overheard on a football soccer field calling the referee sir.
And that was a moment this weekend actually watching the Wales England game where one of the most senior players puts a hand on the shoulder of a younger player and said just have some respect for the referee please and pushed him away as he was arguing with the referee. That does not happen in soccer where they swear and shout and occasionally headbutt the officials.
I love right for it and I can see why that would lend itself to a romantic backdrop. So tell us about the first book.
You’re in your 50s you say, you sit down for the first time in your life to write a fiction book.
Rosalind James: I had never written a story in my life. I’ve been a marketing writer and I’d written a lot besides marketing. I have an MBA and when I was in business school I’d always write the papers. I’m a good writer but I’d never written any fiction.
And then I just got this idea in my head. I said to my husband do you think I could write a book and he said yes. So I started the next day and I did that thing that everybody says not to do. I quit the day job.
I wrote the first book in six weeks and I quit my job and then wrote a bunch more and about nine months after I wrote the first book, I published all three of the first books together. That was a different time, I hasten to say that. Anybody who thinks oh that’s how it’s supposed to be. That was a different time. It was the autumn of 2012 when I publishing my books for the first time and that was an easier time to make a splash in publishing.
James Blatch: I’m intrigued by the writing process. I’m writing my first book and I’m finding it difficult to learn how to write and a lot of things that you don’t think about when you just read novels suddenly become very apparent when you’re trying to construct a story.
The story arc and the character development and all this stuff. Did all this come naturally to you?
Rosalind James: Yes that’s. It was really easy. I was really shocked at how easy it was. But I do have to say that when I wrote my third book it was much, much easier than the first. I thought it was easy with the first book but by the second book I realized Oh OK. Now I kind of know what I’m doing and I’m certainly a much better writer now.
I write very long. But when I say I’ve written book 29 I’ve probably written well over three million words at this point. So I’m certainly much better now.
But I was OK. I think I just read so many books in my life that a lot of it was internalized
James Blatch: What’s your average book length? A hundred a thousand words.
Rosalind James: Anywhere from one hundred two hundred fifty thousand words. So that’s a lot.
James Blatch: I’m quite pleased to hear you say that. I know a lot of people say that shorter is better. And so you wrote this book.
Did you employ an editor?
Rosalind James: No, I had a lot of beta readers and I have 20 years as a copy editor. That was what I used to do so I wasn’t worried about that aspect. I used beta readers who were big readers. I didn’t know what I was doing but they were all right.
James Blatch: You crowdsourced your editing.
Rosalind James: Yes I did it but I didn’t know that was a thing. I didn’t know anything. I did not know and it sounds like it didn’t need to know anything.
James Blatch: You just sat down and did it which is remarkable. So then even in 2012 you knew enough that you needed to have or it was best to have three books.
You had somewhere for your readers to go after reading the first one.
Rosalind James: That was a decision I made. It was the decision I made about the same time I decided to give up on trying to have the first book traditionally published.
There were a few months in there where I was making that decision and I thought I’m going to go ahead myself. And I thought because I am a marketer in my background even though I am a crappy marketer now. One thing I could do is look at things from what your readers think. And I thought what my readers think as I’ve read this book is I like it and I want to read another book.
Am I going to remember a month from now that I wanted to read the next book. I thought just in case it catches on I wanted somewhere else for them to go. That’s why I published them all together and that did turn out to be a great idea. I still see a lot of people pushing back against that idea. But it’s worked really well for me.
James Blatch: I’ve heard it’s working really well for other people as well. I think if you can do it it’s a great thing to do. I’m probably not going to be in a position to do it myself but I completely understand it.
So you’ve got your first series of three you’ve launched that. And then how quickly did things take off for you.
Rosalind James: It was a week. A week in I set the first book to free because I put the books into – there was no KU then – but I put them in select just thinking I don’t know what I’m doing. This is just the easiest I’ll just put them in here and I can use three of my first three days.
And the first book was download about 14,000 times, which at the time was a lot and I sold two thousand books the first month. So you know they were full price so it just worked really easily. But again I hasten to say this was 2012.
James Blatch: Even in 2012 how did you get that immediate visibility? Did you do anything?
Rosalind James: I think I looked at somebody like Darcy Chan or somebody’s website at the time and I think I bought an ad that was 10 dollars but I think I titled them really well. I did the series title really well.
The covers were really good and I think they just caught on because of that and the market wasn’t glutted with free books the way it is now. I don’t honestly know. I was shocked.
James Blatch: What a fantastic moment for you and the other thing I’m thinking about from a commercial point of view is that rugby is huge in New Zealand. It’s huge in Australia, England, pretty big in France and Italy and then it starts to tail away. Unless you’re going to market to Tonga and Fiji.
The big markets like the United States of American and Canada, not so big. That was not a consideration?
Rosalind James: I thought that New Zealand rugby was an amazing hook for American women and here’s why. When I when I lived in Australia I’d ask them to come visit me in Australia and they’d kind of go meh. And I thought it’s so awesome here why don’t you want to come? It wasn’t sexy to them.
When I said I was moving to New Zealand every woman I knew said, Oh I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand. New Zealand is huge, particularly for women. For some reason, women find New Zealand romantic and I always say New Zealand is Scotland with better weather.
And so that’s why I thought it would be a huge hook. I thought New Zealand is cool. Rugby. All you have to do is kind of look. It’s a rough sport and that’s appealing.
James Blatch: Obviously it is, isn’t it?
It sounds to me like you have an American accent. You’re American originally?
Rosalind James: I’m American.
James Blatch: So why the move to Australia in the first place?
Rosalind James: It was my husband’s job. My husband was a tunnel engineer. So he was designing tunnels in Brisbane and in Melbourne and then Auckland. But that’s what we went over that for.
James Blatch: How long have you been in New Zealand?
Rosalind James: No I’m not. I’m back in the States now.
I go back every year typically but actually by the time I published a book I was back in the States. I do spend a couple months every year over there.
James Blatch: I’ve got friends in New Zealand we haven’t made it yet but we were talking about it just the other day. We would love to.
So you’ve got your books done. They’ve flown off the virtual shelves, which is amazing for you and you suddenly realize that a) you can write and b) the readers like what you’re doing.
What was your next move
Rosalind James: I did do a fourth book on the New Zealand series when they started selling. I want to say for listeners that that was a terrifying time if your first works out. It’s a common thing for people who have a huge commercial success much bigger than mine.
So I wrote another book and then right about the times that book came out that’s when my career really took off. And so suddenly I sold 20,000 books in month five. And I thought I don’t want to be stuck in a box.
I feel a lot of writers are basically writing one thing, one series. I thought I’m just exchanging one corporate prison for another one if I do this. So I wrote something completely different. It was still romance but it was set on a reality show, historical reenactment reality show in Idaho. It was just a very different book I wrote.
I wrote that book with great trepidation but then that series sold very well also. So that was when I started to think a little bit, maybe I didn’t just get super lucky coming up with this one idea. Maybe they’re coming for something more. So that was helpful. I was very glad I made that step.
James Blatch: It’s very interesting to talk about that period. And clearly, there is something, some commonality to the books that is the reason people are buying them and reading them.
What do you think it is?
Rosalind James: I think it is tone. What I’m good at is characterization and tone. I think you can go pretty deeply into the characters and it’s kind of warm and fuzzy but funny. So I think I have a combination of things that comprise my voice and it’s distinctive enough for people to read me instead of somebody else.
The book that I had the hardest trouble keeping up there in the chart actually was the one series I did that was kind of a market kind of series, that was more trendy, and so that when I’m a little more offbeat I do better.
James Blatch: Doing your doing it your own way as you said at the beginning. It’s a characterization.
You also talk about hooks.
Rosalind James: It took me a little bit about that in terms of the story hooks.
There’s an article on my website that I wrote that’s a popular article called How To Be Hokey and I think happiness is really really undervalued. We talked so much about marketing but the most important marketing happens before you publish the book.
It’s not just your title and your cover and your blurb. Those things are important. It’s what you choose to write about. I think for me just writing a book about New Zealand rugby and about a woman who escaped it was basically there used to be a popular commercial that women loved called Calgon, take me away. It was just like you’ve got in your bubble bath and you felt like you were you could just escape.
I think a hook has to be something. In my case, the hook is just I call it being grabby. You just have to be grabby, whatever that is. And people say dismissive things about tropes but of course, tropes are hooky. There’s something in there that is grabby.
I didn’t know what any of these words meant when I started, by the way. I had no idea I was writing a tropey book. Anytime I did it or that the trope had a name.
It just grabs your imagination. You’re an American woman who is overworked and overstressed. You go on vacation to New Zealand, which is a gorgeous place and you meet this really wonderful guy who is a rugby player but you don’t even realize what a star he is until you’re back home again. So that sort of OK. It’s not a mistaken identity but it’s kind of cool that you would meet someone and not realize what a big deal he was.
James Blatch: That little scenario – I was going to ask you for an example. This sounds like a good one. That little scenario happens in the first chunk of the book so I see what you’re talking about. At that point, you want to know what happens and you’re intrigued by this woman sitting there in Idaho or it is back in the States thinking I have no idea this guy is worshiped on the streets of Auckland.
Rosalind James: Yeah because the captain of the All Blacks is more famous and more popular than the prime minister could ever hope to be. And that’s just a remarkable plot.
That was kind of the hook to me. It was the woman escaping but who this guy is and his position was fascinating to me.
James Blatch: Yeah. I want to read it.
Rosalind James: Oh you know it’s my first book. I don’t know. But you know then I called the series Escape to New Zealand.
I have to say, I may not have been the greatest writer at the time but that was a great series title and that and my pictures and my cover were what sold my books.
So Escape to New Zealand was an amazing hook. I knew it was amazing.
James Blatch: And using the word escape was no accident.
Rosalind James: No.
James Blatch: It’s amazing to me how much of this seems to be innate in you. It’s not like you’d been glued to the podcasts and listening to Mark and other people for years and then started to do it.
You just sat there and this stuff came naturally to you.
Rosalind James: I liked reading escape fiction. A good story is that where I can believe in the people, where I like the people and I’m really. So I think it does come naturally. By the time you spent 50 years reading and watching movies and everything else, some people have always told stories right.
James Blatch: Absolutely. So you did a fourth book in the rugby series and then started to do the very different series based in Idaho. And this is a pattern now you saw doing three or four books in the series then changing completely to do something. I say changed completely.
Obviously the fundamentals are the same but the stories change.
Rosalind James: I have to say that usually I don’t write two books in the same series. That usually I’m switching off. So I do everything wrong.
The reason I never wrote a book is that I don’t have book ideas. You know how every writer says I have this whole drawer full of ideas. Ideas aren’t the problem. I don’t have ideas. I have one idea at a time. I just write the next book that shows up and it might be a new theory it might be set anywhere. You say the Idaho series but the first book was in Idaho. The next two books were in San Francisco.
So I’m all over the place.
James Blatch: Your typical reader could go from one of your series to another and enjoy each book as a standalone almost regardless of its setting.
Rosalind James: Yes. I won’t say my typical reader because I suddenly have readers who only want to read the New Zealand books or who only want to read the romantic suspense about something like that. But my ideal reader I guess you could say or my big – I don’t like the word fan but my avid readers – they’ll read the different ones because it’s branding. And when I say branding, I don’t just mean again cover and title. I mean what you do that’s unique. What you bring to the party and that’s why I think authors look too shallowly at what they do.
I think it’s really important to know your brand in terms of what is it about your book that’s special, that they’re not giving somewhere else. Not that it’s about a werewolf or a bear or what it is. It’s like what do you do.
Are you funny? Are you warm? You keep surprising the reader whatever is that thing. That’s the thing that I think you need to be aware of when you get that is by reading your review, which people say not to do but I think for a newly published author it’s critical. That’s how you know what’s resonating.
James Blatch: That’s really close to what Jenny Nash who came onto the podcast and said to me personally about my book is why are you writing it?
Why do you need to tell the story? To get that theme out of what the book’s about, which I think is what you’re describing is the brand of the book and what it means.
I’m interested in this is that people enjoy a particular setting. So I’m sort of doing military Cold War, military aviation. You’re doing your different settings. My book is about suppressed male stiff upper lip that’s the theme of it. And the damage does over time. I often think – and mine’s not tested commercial yet – is the person who likes the idea of a Cold War military plane also the person who likes the idea of exploring male English reserve and suppression?
You’re saying to me that that’s more important, that theme is what brings readers back, rather than the ostensible face of it, where it’s set and what it does.
Rosalind James: I think that person may be the same person. And the reason I think so is think about Dick Francis. Isn’t that what Dick Francis is books were all about? They were about horse racing or whatever they were about the Dick Francis hero. Who is often inside who is struggling with self-doubt or depression. In one case the guy’s really depressed. Or uncertainty about its future or something like that and having to go through it might be tough. But the heart is hurting inside and people respond to the vulnerability as well as the strength because emotional strength is the strength to allow yourself to feel the vulnerability and go ahead anyway.
James Blatch: I know Jenny well enough now to know that she’s probably applauding you. That’s exactly what she talks about why. Why do I care? Why do I need to care? This is the stuff that makes you care and wants to know more. So it does go back to hook as well, doesn’t it? It’s people finding out about themselves.
We hate the journey word here because it gets overused all the time, but people’s development and the decisions they make.
Rosalind James: And that’s why I love romance. People have often told me because my books are a little bit of an intersection between say romance maybe just contemporary fiction or something.
But romance is about relationships and relationships with the turning point. And that to me is what’s so fascinating is I that turning point in your life where you where you go from maybe even thinking about yourself to thinking about other people more or you’re sort of forced into this into change and that’s where you are with romance and that’s what makes it fascinated me and why I’ve never gotten tired of writing it.
James Blatch: It’s interesting to me that you say at the beginning you didn’t know why you were doing this, you couldn’t perhaps vocalize. Of course, you wrote the story because it was interesting to you and you thought this was a fascinating setup with the women going back to America and realizing who she was actually with.
But this type of thought that we’re talking about now, did you start to think about that at that early stage? Or was this something retrospectively in reviewing your own writing that you’ve worked out?
Rosalind James: I think it’s hard. I often don’t know what a particular book is about until I finished it. So no, I don’t think I have a lot of mental cognition about what I’m doing at the time. I’m just writing it and it often produces a lot of anxiety because I don’t know where I’m going or why I’m writing it, but the underside of my brain is a lot smarter than I necessarily give it credit for and it always turns out to have a character arc and a story arc and everything I was going to write.
But there’s a lot of ways to do this job. People do this job in all kinds of ways and I think that’s another thing people are looking for one answer or one way and there’s really not one answer or one way to do any aspect of this job.
James Blatch: So about the writing process then, do you plot? When you say you just write the next book, whatever it happens to be, does it come to you in a form where you’ve got an idea before we start writing.
Or do you literally do a Lee Child thing where you just sit down and start typing.
Rosalind James: I have to know the characters really well. First of all, I know the characters and their backgrounds and all researched the heck out of that and I’ll know basically the situation and it just depends on the book how well I know what’s happening.
But yeah I’m a little bit of a Lee Child person in that sense. I can write a one hundred fifty K book that has seven points of view characters and it’s a mystery and I won’t necessarily know who did it until halfway through the book.
James Blatch: You won’t know who’s done it.
Rosalind James: No. And you know you would think how can you write seven points of view characters without a big outline and a mystery and an unfolding mystery. And like I said I think it’s in there. It’s hard to articulate.
James Blatch: You articulate through your writing as to how you find you find your way.
And in terms of your marketing setup then Rosalind, you said all this sort of happened by accident but you obviously did put some thought into it.
Where are you now with marketing? Do you have a mailing list? Do you run ads?
Rosalind James: I’m kind of in a different place and first thing I want to say about this is really important. Somebody said know your why. Know what you’re doing this for. Revaluate what you’re doing this for and whether you’re moving towards your goal. I do. I did it.
You’ll think this is funny: I have an MBA in marketing. I didn’t do a mailing list. I didn’t do a newsletter until about three years and I didn’t because I didn’t want to. And you know what that’s stupid. That was stupid.
So yes, I have a mailing list. Yes, I do a newsletter. Right now, I have one small ad running on AMS for my latest book but that’s about it. What I do still do always work for me and it still does work is I’ll offer a book free for a few days and advertising on the site. You know a first book in the series. And that does bring me new readers. And then I’ve been getting lately a lot of new readers through Audible.
James Blatch: So you’re doing a regular newsletter now.
Rosalind James: Yes. A regular newsletter. I do it anywhere from once a week to once a month.
James Blatch: That’s regular. Yeah. Dawson does it less frequently than that.
Rosalind Jame: I can’t do it just when I have a new release because that would not be frequently enough. I only write a new release every three months.
James Blatch: You only release every three months but that is still to me finding my way through getting one book out.
I’m still amazed that people write a book every three months.
Rosalind James: Well I said that I didn’t think there were any rules for how you had to do this job. But I do think that there is a speed at which if you can’t go at a certain speed you’re going to have a hard time. I’m not going to say it’s impossible because there are exceptions to everything. But I think if you can’t release three or four times a year it’s pretty hard to get a lot of traction. In my genre, in contemporary romance, in particular, you have so many people releasing once a month or faster. And I don’t think you have to do that.
But I do think there is a certain kind of speed that if people are slower than that it’s hard to get anywhere.
James Blatch: Well your readers read quickly. They get through books.
Rosalind James: Yes. I think that for me my marketing is really about the book itself. It’s more on the book and my readers have carried the marketing water for me more. It’s really been about word of mouth and about writing just a really kick-ass book so that.
This is why I think people get into some trouble on the romance treadmill. It’s not really that is a path. Certainly, you have the heavily advertised books and you put a book out every three weeks or whatever and it’s short and it satisfies. It’s a satisfying book. It’s just really hard to make that big impact. I think because you’re not standing out with that book.
James Blatch: So you’re not going to get your readers to do the heavy lifting for you unless they’re devoted to what you’re writing.
Rosalind James: Yes. It’s not enough. It can’t just be good enough. They have to love it. So that’s a challenge. I mean that’s the challenge.
Nobody can write a book that everybody loves. Every time when you’re doing for a year some will be more love than others. But you know that’s what you’re aiming for.
James Blatch: Do you know your readers well?
Rosalind James: Yes. I think I do. Yeah.
I do interact with them. I guess when you talk about my marketing, I do the Facebook thing. I do the newsletter thing and read my reader e-mails and I do interact on Facebook quite a bit because that’s where my readers tend to be. They’re a little older.
Yeah, I know who they are. I know that they’re a little older. Not necessarily. I have some in the 20s and certainly quite a few in their 30s. But they’re mostly mothers and grandmothers and stuff. They want to go to a happy place in their reading life. They have so many demands on them. They want their happy place.
James Blatch: They want that escape.
Rosalind James: Yeah they want that escape.
James Blatch: That Calgon bubble bath.
Rosalind James: Yes that’s what they want.
James Blatch: And so book twenty-nine is coming out now. Is that right?
And what does the future hold?
Rosalind James: Then I wait to get another idea and figure out and find out what it is. I don’t know that. That’s the tricky thing for me. I don’t know until I finish this book.
But subconsciously there’s a part of your mind that’s already moved on a little bit and is starting to think about. But it’ll take me a few weeks after I finish this but to get the next one.
James Blatch: You’ll take a break now from writing. You aren’t writing every day.
Rosalind James: I write every day while I’m writing the book but then I don’t have another idea. And again I think it’s better to wait. I can’t write until I get another idea. And I always think I won’t get another idea.
But I’m gradually starting to see I typically do get another idea.
James Blatch: The last thing I want to talk to you about, because you mentioned it before the interview, is your success with audiobooks, which I think you were a bit surprised at yourself.
Tell us about that.
Rosalind James: I think I was lucky that I was in audio early. I was one of the early people that HCF kind of reached out to. My first audiobook was an audio finalist in romance then. Which is unusual for an indie book.
So I got a lot of exposure with that. But for instance, the new I don’t know if you know about the new audio romance subscription that’s something like Kindle Unlimited that people have strong feelings about one way or the other and a lot of people have found it doesn’t do well.
But for me, I’ve got a lot of new readers through that subscription program. And so for me I just do whatever works. I just try stuff and it works. I just stick with that. That should be easy.
James Blatch: That does sound like good marketing advice. I was very impressed with how you turned this round. Above all else, you have an application to what you’re doing. You get on and you do it and you go with the bits that work. So I think you’ve also got something that lots of people need to have in this industry is this ability to listen to the criticism to see where it’s not working and make decisions and improve.
Rosalind James: I think that is important. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not easy and I think a lot of people write romance, in particular, are pretty sensitive people. I know I am. I’ve been hurt but I think it’s really about getting better.
For me really my marketing is about the book and it’s about becoming a better and better writer. But if more people want to read the book then that’s my number one focus every day.
James Blatch: It’s a great attitude and I’m looking forward to a day when your husband does not to build tunnels anymore.
Rosalind James. He’s retired. He gets to now live off the romance earnings.
James Blatch: There’s a book there, isn’t there, about a tunneller. He goes to Australia and digs away and finds something he didn’t expect to find. There you go. There’s your next story for you.
Rosalind James: I don’t know. I’m not sure a tunneller is the most exciting romance.
James Blatch: You’re just too close to it. Okay, that’s it. Thank you so much indeed for joining us. Whereabouts are you in the States I should ask.
Rosalind James: Idaho.
James Blatch: Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been inspirational so thank you.
Rosalind James: All right, thank you very much.
James Blatch: You can’t really argue with the concept of getting product on the shelf.
Mark Dawson: No. It’s Seth Godin who said always be shipping. So it’s important. And you should pay attention at this point, is not to stop when you start moving things around and commas and punctuation, and start actually shipping your books.
There’s lots of things that successful authors have in common. One of the things I’d say is that they are open to the idea of marketing and learning how to do things and enjoy that as well. That’s probably more important than just writing love books.
Obviously, the more books you have, the more ways that readers can find you, the more you can market and going back to read through, the more your read through is likely to be, which makes advertising decisions a lot easier and opens up lots of different avenues in that regard as well.
So Rosalind yeah she’s been doing it right for a long time.
James Blatch: Yeah well it brings us back to read through which we were talking about at the beginning of the podcast episode. Suddenly you find that you can actually sell your first book in your series at what looks like a loss but it’s not a loss in the cost in terms of your business.
Mark Dawson: No not necessarily. At the moment I’m seeing a very big campaign running, which looks like on the face of it is making a huge loss 40 grand probably in terms of the actual loss. I think he says fingers crossed and after telling you lots of times that I’m terrible at maths. I’m as confident as I can be that actually it’s a profitable campaign. So we’ll see if in a year’s time I’m forecasting from a park bench somewhere and I was wrong but I don’t think I’m wrong.
James Blatch: You’ve been spending a lot of money in the background with a large Internet marketing company and we’ll hear all about the ins and outs at some point I guess in the future.
Mark Dawson: Internet marketing company? Do you mean Amazon?
James Blatch: I mean Amazon.
Mark Dawson: Yes I am. I’m not sure they’re an Internet marketing company. I mean they already have retail Internet store.
James Blatch: Yes. A lot of money with them in a project which you haven’t talked a lot about on the podcast and it’s been an eye-watering amount of money you’ve committed to it.
I remember you making that decision at the beginning so we’ll hear perhaps down the road once you’ve got to crunch the figures at the back end of it.
And we should also remind people because this came up in the webinar last night a couple of guys rolled their eyes. Oh yes of course, Mark is a millionaire, so that’s why he can make advertising work. You’ve got endless amounts of money to throw it.
That is not how you started. You started with five dollar adverts, five dollar days and made losses.
Mark Dawson: That’s right. There’s a slightly snarky comment with someone saying he was a lawyer but at the time I wasn’t a lawyer. I hadn’t been a lawyer for a long time.
When I started advertising we were working together watching pornography at the BBFC.
James Blatch: For official reasons.
Mark Dawson: Professionally yes, we were professional pornography watchers.
And my wife was on maternity leave, just one income coming in. We didn’t have tons of money. I drove a really battered old Ford Focus, which was my wife’s car. So no I didn’t have lost money to chuck at it.
And it’s only really when I’ve been able to scale up and invest the profits that I’ve made. Spend more with those profits and reinvest that to scale up that way. That’s how I’ve done it. It isn’t with the benefit of a huge bankroll at the stop. Definitely not.
James Blatch: Just a reminder. Because when people hear you spent 40 grand on one advertising campaign that may not make money but it wasn’t always like that for you. You’re making decisions. I fact you want to know a little thing from me as I have run my first Facebook ad campaign.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness.
James Blatch: Because you know why. Because I’ve been recording some stuff for you and as it turns out you can’t migrate your ads manager or your ads account into Facebook business manager if you haven’t had the transaction in the past. I don’t know quite why. It’s just one of the rules. So I’m now running a campaign and I’ve got six sign-ups in my first couple of days at one pound 18 each.
Mark Dawson: That’s too high.
James Blatch: I know it’s too high. We had to follow the rules. But you’ve got to start somewhere. And that was not random targeting. I think I put Tom Clancy, men 45 to 55.
Mark Dawson: Okay well it’s pretty well targeted but we can certainly get that out of it.
James Blatch: I don’t know if there’s any online instructors or courses or anything like that.
Seth Godin’s good. I might reach out to him.
Right before I take my top off again I think it’s probably time for us to draw a veil over this particular episode.
I want to say a huge thank you for Rosalind James spending her time talking to us. Brilliant to talk to her.
We have a fantastic man next week. We have a man who helped usher in the era of Windows on the P.C. who then went on to be a big part of the launch of the Kindle and the transformation at Amazon. He’s been a big figure in both the lives of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. And he’s going to talk to us next week about a fantastic project that he’s now head of.
So a really good episode next week. Looking forward to that. Until then I hope you have a good week writing and selling your books and I’m going to say that it’s a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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