SPS-204: Sci-Fi Romance: Writing Characters to Fall in Love With – with Lindsay Buroker
Lindsay Buroker has been around self-publishing almost since its inception. She’s seen it all; seen authors come and go, observed all the marketing fads rise and fall. One of the things she points to in this interview is that the tried-and-true method of building a loyal fan base worked then and it still works now.
- Publishing in the very early days of the indie movement
- Writing fantasy for a few years and then switching genres
- Relying on story quality to sell books, as well as marketing
- Connecting with readers and building a tribe
- Growing a newsletter list organically
- Why it’s never too late to start
- Using Facebook to sell books from an author page
- On the effectiveness of giving things away for free to build an audience
Resources mentioned in this episode:
COURSE: Ads for Authors is now open for a limited time.
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show …
Lindsay Buroker: If you stop publishing and stop actively working on the marketing, obviously things fall off pretty quickly.
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 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: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: Hello, Mark Dawson. How are you doing?
Mark Dawson: Hectic today. As we just mentioned off camera, we’ve both got quite a lot going on at the moment. So, running around a bit.
James Blatch: Yeah. We do occasionally have a podcast interview which is about life, dealing with the pressures, we’ve done worried and anxiety recently. But I think you and I are both having one of those weeks where there’s lots of life going on and lots of work going on, and our work is multifaceted, right?
You’ve got your author stuff, you’ve got SPF, you’ve got other things. You and I are both doing other projects. I’ve got things going on, lots of different directions, and it can sometimes feel slightly overwhelming.
Do you ever feel close to being overwhelmed and just thinking, “I need a day off,” or, “I need to walk into the sea?”
Mark Dawson: No, not really. I’m pretty good at dealing with stress most of the time. I’m not too bad to be honest. Now and again I’ll feel a little bit kind of like, goodness, there’s a lot going on, but usually I can just plow through it. That’s the remedy for me.
James Blatch: I find that what happens is that the small things that can be irritating and most of the time you just brush aside and deal with, when you’re in this zone, those small things can become very irritating to you, things just not ready or people direct messaging you about stuff that they could do in another way and bringing you into it.
But I find that my anger and ranting to myself or the dog about that feels cathartic and helps me. So, it’s a double-edged sword, that one.
Mark Dawson: Yes, exactly. Don’t kick the dog.
James Blatch: I won’t kick the dog. The dog needs a walk, by the way. She’s one of the things on my plate today and it’s filthy out.
Mark Dawson: My dog also needs to walk. I’ll send mine on the train and they can walk each other.
James Blatch: Yeah. They can meet in Banbury or somewhere.
Okay. Look, we have a very prolific author on today, a brilliant author, well known in the community. I met her for the first time this year. I know you probably met her before.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: Oh, you haven’t? That’s first time as well?
Mark Dawson: First time for me as well.
James Blatch: A really lovely person and quite inspirational. So good interview coming up in a moment, but we’ve got a couple of things to talk about before then.
We are in the dog days of the final time that Ads for Authors will be open this year. Will be open towards summer next year, so if you want to be in on the paid ads program, learn how to run paid ads to drive your career, you have until Wednesday night to get on board and you go to selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors.
And we have lots of work going on in the background. One of the things has just come to the plate, to use an American baseball expression, is the YouTube for Authors course. You look concerned.
Mark Dawson: No, just as you know, things going on in the background. But yes. It’s a very, very good course indeed. It’s been brewing for a little while, hasn’t it?
We had an original YouTube course, which we took down, and we actually commissioned Garrett Robinson to produce a course for us, because he’s using YouTube very well. I’ve seen the first session and it is really, really good. I mean it’s really good. It’s beautifully put together.
So well done to you for doing all the editing. Garrett is a natural presenter, good to camera in a way that is not necessarily my strength, but he’s very, very good at that.
I’ve looked through it. And it is one I think I will learn from, not least because my daughter has been bugging me for about three years to do a YouTube channel for her. I may also use it for books as well. So it’s definitely one that I’m quite excited about.
James Blatch: Garrett is great. If you’ve got any inclination towards it, if this is something you think you’d like to do, to have a YouTube channel, it’s not going to come into the absolute must-haves for authors, that’s for sure, and it is a bit horses for courses, but if you do have an inclination, Garrett will draw that out of you.
And it’s a really good step by step process of how to do it from equipment to presentation to what to say to how to optimize your videos. He’s done a brilliant job.
We worked together closely on the pre production beforehand. Garrett’s gone away and done a lot of it. I’ve done little bits of technical stuff in there as well.
And one of the things we’re going to do, it’s going to go into 101, because it’s not a paid ads course. It used to be YouTube Ads for Authors, there was a brief period where they sort of worked, but then YouTube changed all their rules and made it much more difficult to work if you’re selling something small or you’re a small business. So it doesn’t work for authors, YouTube ads. We dip in every now and again, but it doesn’t.
So YouTube for Authors is an organic thing. It’s about building your fan base, turning your readers into super fans and all those things. So it’s very much a 101 module. So it goes into 101, but here’s the sweetener. Anybody who signs up to Ads for Authors for this launch will also get this comprehensive YouTube course.
I can tell you, looking at this course, you pay good money for a YouTube course like this elsewhere. You really do. As a standalone course it would cost you a few hundred dollars. So everyone who signs up to Ads for Authors will get this, and everyone who’s already in Ads for Authors will also get it. And then from then on it’s going to be just exclusively to 101 in the future.
So that is a new course. We have lots of other courses bumbling around in the background. We’ll talk about them I think on another day because it’s probably time to hear from our author.
I previewed her a little bit, and it is Lindsay Buroker. She lives up in Oregon now, I think, with her dogs. So if you follow her on social media, she’s very good at social media.
Mark Dawson: Arizona.
James Blatch: I thought she was in Oregon now.
Mark Dawson: I think she’s either moved to Arizona or she’s moved to Oregon from the other place. I can’t remember exactly. You might be right.
James Blatch: Yeah, I think from our chat anyway. She walks her dogs, and you get good pictures of those.
And she’s a great author, sci-fi, fantasy, she’s prolific. She writes in good series. And do you know what, Mark? She sells a ton of books.
Mark Dawson: She does. Yeah. She’s done really well. She’s certainly a six figure author, might even be a seven figure author. And she’s been at it for a long time. She was fairly well known when I started out and has just continued to plow away with space opera.
She did some kind of sci-fi romance fantasy, which was originally, I think at least I came across her, first of all for her, Emperor’s Edge series. So she’s been around for ages. She’s had a couple of podcasts. She’s on the Sci-fi and Fantasy Roundtable, then she went over to another version of that podcast.
Recently she’s launched a podcast called Six Figure Author, which gets in my rotation. There aren’t that many that I listen to now, but that would be one of them, because she has, and Joe Lallo, who does it with her, and Andrea Pearson, I think, the three of them, they’re good, solid authors who know what they’re doing. I can learn from people like that all the time. So it’s definitely one that I listen to.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, let’s hear from Lindsay.
Lindsay, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Very nice to hook up in this way. We were actually in real life together, I believe the kids say IRL, together in Florida not long ago, but here we are to have a proper chat about what has been a phenomenal career.
Lindsay Buroker: Thank you. I’m happy to talk with you guys. I listen to the show. As I told you before we started, I have three dogs that I walk every day. I’m a big podcast listener when I’m out there.
James Blatch: That’s very kind of you. And I remember you saying when we were chatting in Florida that you’ve moved to the other side of the mountains in Oregon.
Lindsay Buroker: I am in Oregon. I’m in Central Oregon, east side. So it’s the dry side of the state, but the mountains are right there when you want to go up and ski. So it’s a good spot.
James Blatch: When you say the dry side of the state, you don’t mean there’s no alcohol?
Lindsay Buroker: No. You’re welcome to drink. There’s 24 breweries in Bend, Oregon. And that’s the thing, it’s an Oregon thing, having your own microbrewery.
James Blatch: Okay, excellent. I was slightly panicking for a moment. Good.
Let’s talk about you.
Let’s talk about you starting, I think probably just at the cusp, really, of eBooks, around, where was it? 2010 I think maybe your first book?
Lindsay Buroker: Yeah. I released right before Christmas 2010, which is probably not the best time, but I didn’t know what I was doing anyway, so it wasn’t like I was going to sell a lot of books. And interestingly, I tell people that I felt I was late, because Amanda Hocking had already been a thing, J.A. Konrath was making his 100,000 a month and posting on his blog about it, I was like, “Oh man, I’m getting into this way too late. It’s going to be really hard.”
And so, even if you’re starting today, it’s still not too late. Even if you feel that way, you just have to give yourself time.
James Blatch: Yeah. It’s always easy to think that, because other people are there, and what people forget is the market, the consumers grow at the same rate. More people join the internet, more people of different generations and different parts of the world are becoming digital every day. So it’s always growing.
2010, was that your first writing? Did you do some writing before?
Lindsay Buroker: I was actually just getting ready to submit to agents, because I had finally finished two novels, not related, because they always tell you don’t write in a series until you get your first book picked up. Which if I had known better, if I knew I was going to indie publish, I would have been working on a series right away.
But I’d been on again, off again and in workshops, and I’d had some short stories published, but I’m not patient, so I was really dreading the agent hunt, and all of the fantasy folks, which was what I was trying to get published, were like, “Don’t send us any of that Tolkien-esque Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. We are so tired of that.” And I was like, “But that’s the stuff I love.”
So I was not really thinking it was going to happen. So when I saw, it was actually J.A. Konrath’s blog posts, and I had gotten my first Kindle just a few months earlier, and I saw the potential, and within a week I was just like, “Oh yeah, this is how I’m going to do it. I’m all on board with self publishing.”
James Blatch: How did you set about self-publishing. Did you self publish both those first drafted written?
Lindsay Buroker: Yeah. They were pretty polished at that point. I did find an editor, but it took me a couple tries to find the editor I’m now with, and she’s done 70 novels for me over the last, I don’t know I guess we’re almost nine years.
It was a little rough going in the beginning, because that was just early enough that there wasn’t this big industry that’s cropped up with cover artists and editors for indie authors. So you had to go out and scrounge.
My editor was coming out of technical writing, and so she’s still not really a sci-fi person, so she’ll be like, “Is this force field? Is this one word or two words? What do you want to do with this force field?” And I’m trying to explain what this space station looks like to somebody who’s not really a fan of the genre, but it’s probably good because if I can make it clear to her, it doesn’t depend on somebody having seen all the sci-fi movies out there.
James Blatch: So this first couple of Tolkien-esque books, as you’ve described them.
What was your experience of those two, and what led to you moving to sci-fi?
Lindsay Buroker: The first book I published, The Emperor’s Edge, led into a series of about eight books and a couple of spinoff, one-off stories. And I was fortunate, I had a pretty slow start.
There wasn’t a lot of ways to advertise back then. I think there was Kindle Nation Daily, I think they’re still around, and I was playing with Goodreads advertising, which has finally just disappeared recently. I don’t think anybody’s used it for the last five years.
So it was a slow start. I didn’t know how to make a book permafree, and I didn’t have a series, but I started working on that and wrote that series. And it was fantasy in a made up world. There were not elves and dwarves and stuff. It wasn’t quite that Tolkien-esque, but just the not on earth made up stuff.
I’ve stuck with fantasy for about five, six years, but I was always a fan of Star Trek, and Buck Rogers and stuff we had when I was growing up. So I took a chance and switched to a new genre in 2016, the Fallen Empire series. And I did eight books in that series.
It was a little bit starting from scratch. I definitely had some fans coming over from the fantasy, but even though those two get lumped together in all the category breakdowns, there’s a lot of people that are only fantasy or only sci-fi and have no interest in the other. So I’ve definitely done a little genre hopping along the way.
I did a pen-name too, in sci-fi romance, which was in my wheelhouse, still, but more of the naughty bits they call. I decided since under my name, I don’t usually write anything too graphic, that I would just make it a little easier for the fans that they want to read that stuff or the fans that did want to read it to find it that way.
James Blatch: I want to talk about the pen name shift in a moment. Genre hopping is something that that people do do and some people come away from the experience a little bit battered and say, “Don’t do it.” But you’ve made it work.
But I think you must be very dedicated to making this work.
You must work methodically at your marketing even from those early days, I’m guessing.
Lindsay Buroker: I’ve not had anything that flopped and didn’t at least earn back the time and the expense of the editing and that sort of thing. I feel like I’ve got enough loyal readers that will read anything.
I even tried a contemporary mystery romance thing that I didn’t know how to market and didn’t know how to put the cover on at one point. And I still have some people that read it and they’re like, “Oh, when are the next ones coming?” I’m like, “Oh, I’m not doing any more of those.”
I don’t feel like I’m a natural at the marketing, but I try to learn enough and do enough things right to keep up with everything that’s going on. I definitely rely on the stories themselves.
I think I write pretty fun characters that people tend to fall in love with if they like my style. And that is the best marketing, is if they liked the last book, they’re going to go on and read the next book. But certainly, if I have two ideas, I do try to pick the thing that has a little more commercial appeal usually than like, wow, that’s going to be hard to sell, those talking cat unicorns in space may be a little too nichey.
James Blatch: Let’s talk about your loyal readers because I think you do attribute a lot of your success to that, having that brand and focusing on them. The story is obviously very good, Lindsay, no question about that, people love and wait for your next book.
Are you taking active steps to make sure that your readers feel a part of your tribe if you like?
Lindsay Buroker: I do the traditional things. I’m pretty active on my Facebook author page. I try to balance between how much time is something going to take and whether that’s going to be worth it.
I’ve avoided doing Facebook groups, because I know they can not only a time sink, but also a little drama fest from my little experience of having one before. And I try to avoid as much of that as I can, but I certainly do the mailing list newsletter, and I try to make those personable, I tell them about my dogs and my hiking, and if something funny happened.
Some of the most popular stuff is I send a picture of the summer I was visiting with my parents and between us we have five dogs. So I was on the bed with all of them in this little vacation place we were staying at. So I sent a picture of that and that was the most popular thing that’s been clicked on from the newsletter. It did better than all the books.
So I try to do enough to make them feel I’m a real person and I am as quirky as my characters tend to be. I think that draws other types of quirky people, and you get a lot of those sci-fi and fantasy.
James Blatch: People are identifying with you, which is good.
Do you have a mailing list or a very active mailing list?
Lindsay Buroker: I have three. I have one for the fantasy, one for the sci-fi and one for the pen name. The pen name’s a little bit on hiatus right now, but the sci-fi and fantasy, I felt when I broke out and did the new genre, I wanted to do all the things right that I knew I should be doing with my mailing list so that in the beginning I was just like, “Sign up here to get news if you want it.” It was just on my website.
I didn’t promote it in the books or anything. So when I started the sci-fi list, I actually wrote a prequel novella to the series from the point of view of the guy that was mysterious in the opening books. And I was like, at the end of the book, “Sign up if you want to get this.” And tons and tons of people signed up for that because they were curious about this guy and of course something free is always a plus.
But in that particular instance, it answered some questions for the reader. If they were reading the series, they wanted to know more about him and how he got involved in this story. And I built up that list to about 10,000 rather quickly.
It’s now much larger than the fantasy general list that I had going from the beginning. That was more just like, “Sign up if you want to.” So I’ve definitely seen the power of giving something away, especially something that ties in and answer some questions about the characters. And I made it exclusive to the list for the longest time. They had to sign up in order to get that particular novella.
James Blatch: So that was in the back of the book.
Lindsay Buroker: Yeah. That’s my philosophy with the mailing list, is I really only want to get the people on there that have read at least one book, and I know they’re fans at that point or on the way to becoming good fans.
I’m certainly not against other people doing the leads from Facebook and giving away free books in order to hope they become fans. But I guess I’ve seen a lot of people who do that that end up with a really big list, and then they’re trying to figure out how to pay for it.
And I’m like, well, if you’d grown it a little more naturally from genuine fans would buy your books, it wouldn’t be a problem at that point. By the time you had a 20,000 readers, it wouldn’t at all be a problem paying for the list. So, it’s just not something that I’ve chosen to do, but certainly some people have made it work really well.
James Blatch: Sorry, just to be clear, the 10,000 list and the character add on. This is the pen name or the sci-fi?
Lindsay Buroker: Sci-fi under my name.
James Blatch: That’s the sci-fi under your name. So let’s talk about the pen name, the romance, because that is a departure.
You probably didn’t expect to take many of your existing readers across to that, did you?
Lindsay Buroker: No, I actually started that one in secret. For the first few months that was in the closet. It was a little bit proving too, this was … see, now it’s been a while. It was, I think, the end of 2014, and everybody was saying, “Oh, it’s too late to start. It’s too late. If you didn’t already get started, just forget it,” which is never true. That’s never the answer.
So I started that one in secret and I wrote the first three books. So that was, I think, my first attempt to do the the rapid release thing, where I wrote three novels in advance and released them, I don’t know, it was probably two or three weeks apart. And then I made the first one free as a way to gather some steam. And later, it went into KU, they all went into KU. The first one’s 99 cents.
But it really did work. I did a couple of blog posts on my site back then and I think I got up to about 10,000 in earnings in the first six weeks or so, just off the first one and the second one and then the third one coming out as a nobody.
At that time, that particular sub genre of sci-fi romance was not totally undiscovered, but it was a little bit of Chris Fox’s kind of find a hungry market and that’s a little bit underserved, and in the early days, the covers in that category were pretty bad, so it didn’t take as much to stand out. So that certainly helps.
Now it’s a little more mainstream and well known and there’s some bigger romance authors who have come in and are also doing the sci-fi romance.
James Blatch: So you say you wrote a couple of blog posts, but on which site if this was a secret new name?
Lindsay Buroker: I just didn’t tell them the name. I don’t think I told them the genre, either.
James Blatch: You did a blog post as Lindsey Buroker talking about this new author you discovered?
Lindsay Buroker: Well, I told them I was doing the pen name and the results without doing anything specific. I think by the end of the blog posts I actually did reveal the pen name, because my readers were like, “Hey, we want to check it out.”
And I had a couple of readers that actually guessed, just because of the writing style, which makes me feel good as an author that I am distinct enough that there was like, “Hmm, this is actually a lot like you.”
James Blatch: You’d better tell us what the pen name is so that people can look it up.
Lindsay Buroker: It’s Ruby Lionsdrake, which is because a reader came up with it. It’s an anagram of my name. And I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing that you actually got all the letters in there and it’s kind of sounds a real name.” So I had to use it at that point. But it’s been about a year and a half since I published anything on the pen name. But maybe someday Ruby will come back.
James Blatch: And these were romances set in a sci-fi, I think you mentioned steamy romances set in a sci-fi context, but were they romance first or sci-fi first?
When you set out to write these, what sort of balance were you looking for?
Lindsay Buroker: I was trying to do enough of the romance to satisfy fans of the genre. My stuff usually has romance, but it’d take seven books for them to kiss. It’s more of a romantic element than a pure romance. And so that was always a challenge for me.
It was fun because I like the genre as a reader, especially some of the early, that traditional publishing went in that direction for a little while and then backed out again. So it’s really hard to find. Now and then, there’s a traditional one that comes out.
But it’s, I feel, a genre that there’s not enough out there. Mine were like Star Wars-y, Star Trek, Firefly esque, not so much on earth, or being kidnapped from earth, which is a big trope in a genre, but I think there’s still room out there.
I did find that I am actually more successful under my name. I’m probably one of those few people that did a pen name that is not to make more money. I wouldn’t have minded, but that’s a pretty small niche of romance overall. There are some people that do really well. They do release a lot, which, that happens, that’s the trend. I release a lot too. I jump around between genres, so that’s probably not ideal. But the muse strikes for it as …
James Blatch: So, have you parked Ruby Lionsdrake?
Lindsay Buroker: It’s just on break for now. I haven’t been in the mood to write those. I’ll probably go back again someday and do another series. And at that point, there’s still maybe 14, 15 books I did.
I have to do a little marketing and try to bring her back to life there. That’s the trouble with pen names as a warning to people. If you stop publishing and stop actively working on the marketing, obviously things fall off pretty quickly. I’ll see people start three or four pen names, and I’m like, “Well, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t do that just to take advantage of.”
I want the Amazon algorithms to be well trained and not screwed up by my other also boughts, that’s a short term thing where you got to think about, “Well, in five years, do I want those books under some pen name that isn’t being purchased at all because I haven’t done any new releases, or do I wish they were under my name?”
You can always switch. You can do something later where you put both names on the cover, but it is a challenge to keep everything going at once and to keep everything selling.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I guess you have a duplication of efforts. Presumably you use the same KDP account, because you can say different publishers, and obviously a publishing house would publish different genres and different authors, but you probably end up with different accounts so that you don’t have an overlap someplace.
I’m just trying to think of the practicalities of spending some time doing some marketing and then spending some time doing some marketing for a whole different name.
Lindsay Buroker: You can use the same KDP account, but if you don’t want there to be the overlap, if you’re trying to keep the also boughts and everything clear, you do want to have probably different social media for your pen name, a different website for your pen name, and it all takes work.
I tend to focus on whatever series I’m working on now and then other stuff will slide and then I’ll shift the focus back, jump back to fantasy next year. I keep some ads and things running all the time usually, but it just seems like whatever you’re releasing into new releases will help with the back list, but under your name, or it’s hard unless you’re actually promoting both at the same time. You have to keep it going.
James Blatch: Let’s talk about marketing, then. What are your chief marketing efforts at the moment?
Lindsay Buroker: Obviously the mailing list is still the big number one. And my Facebook author page tends to actually do pretty well. Whenever I get a new release, I sell quite a few books from there.
And then I’m doing all of the things, the Amazon ads, the Facebook ads, the Bookbub ads. I’m not particularly great at any of them. Amazon ads right now seem to be working pretty well for me, especially in connection with a launch.
I launch new series into KU right now, is what I’ve been doing, to take advantage of the ease of getting better sales ranking because you’re also getting credit for borrows. But most of my backlist stuff is wide, and I find this a little more difficult to make that work with AMS ads just because it’s not as easy to get sales ranking and into the top 100 lists.
I feel you really ideally want to get some more organic sales as a result of your advertising if you can. So it’s not all just every click, only the clicks are the only sales are coming from the clicks. I know it can be done, but I feel like you have to be a little more hours in there in the dashboard and putting together ads and being really careful with your spend to make it work that way.
James Blatch: You say you’re making sales from your Facebook author page?
Lindsay Buroker: Yes.
James Blatch: To the point where that’s a significant part of your launch sales?
Lindsay Buroker: It’s probably number two of things I can track. If I get a BookBub new release, even the one you don’t pay for, I notice a boost from that. When Amazon mails the followers, I get a boost.
But of things I can do, the mailing list link is the most clicked, but then the Facebook author page, it’s usually good for a hundred sales that first couple of days, maybe more if it’s a later book in a series, so they’re already invested.
And I do try to post there several times a week, just little things, snippets of the books, or I post fun things, dragons and spaceships and things. If I find something cute on Etsy, I’m like, “Oh guys, check this out.” So it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to do them, but the readers, a lot of them are there on Facebook anyway.
I’ve also noticed with the Facebook page, when it will be worth it. I know you guys I think are probably not big on the boosted posts, and I know there’s a lot of weaknesses with that, but of course they’re easy. But I’ll do them maybe once a month.
I’ll say, “By the way, this is what’s free right now.” And I have several series out there now. So I usually have three or four free book ones or something’s on sale for a limited time, and those get a huge amount of engagement from my fans. So it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s series is great. Oh yeah, I already have this. This is awesome.” So I have that social proof.
When I then go to boost it to the general fantasy audience, I pick not my likes, but new people, trying to get whatever I’ve picked. If it’s more towards the women, the women who are fans of these authors, all the things you could do on the … also on the Power Editor, is that what it’s called these days? Or did they change it?
James Blatch: I think it’s now the ads manager or probably the business manager to launch the ads monitor, but by the time this it goes out, Lindsay, it will have changed.
Lindsay Buroker: I know. Four months from now it’ll be, whatever, Power Balls Facebook.
James Blatch: But I’ll tell you, that’s a good lesson in keeping the fire stoked, first of all, in terms of keeping the audience warm.
I hate to sound so cold about it, but that’s what you’re doing. You’re keeping people active and engaged. And then when the time comes, that couple of hundred books, I mean that’s a nudge to the old algorithm on Amazon that this book’s moving. It’s making some money for them.
Then it’s not surprising that your book starts to be included in some of those emails that go out.
Lindsay Buroker: Right. And it’s nice to have things on different days you can do during that week launch.
As David Gaughran was talking about at NINC and elsewhere, that you want to have not everything coming out on one day, not everybody buying on one day, but doing it over a week, and to some extent you can try to get newsletter swaps with other people. You can schedule sponsored posts, but I don’t think anything’s ever going to work quite as well as your own fan base.
So if you could say, “This day I go to the author page, and then my newsletter, maybe I split that over a couple of days to have that go out.” I do Twitter too. That one’s more for fun. I haven’t really noticed that Twitter really delivers a lot of books sales.
James Blatch: No. I do see some authors working hard on Twitter, but I’ve never seen any strong evidence that it drives sales. But I enjoy Twitter as well. It’s my platform of choice for a bit of enjoyment.
It goes again back to having this loyal audience who love your writing. And that’s what I want to talk about now, really, is your writing, Lindsay. I’m always impressed with people who can write books, because I now know how much effort goes into even writing one novel.
But you’ve gone, in a short period of time, from writing a couple of novels, which you said they were well-polished, you’d written them, rewritten them, edited them yourself to a machine now. You’re just turning out extremely well-liked and sought after novels, after novel, after novel. How many have you done since 2010?
Lindsay Buroker: I haven’t counted for a while. I think I’m in the 60 or 70 novel range. The last few years I’ve done about 10 a year. And I write mostly over 100,000 words.
I’m actually telling myself next year I’m going to do a series with only one point-of-view-character, because I need a little bit of a rest. The sci-fi I’m doing this year has turned epic, with seven point-of-view characters in this last book I wrote. So they’re not short for sure.
I am always impressed with people that do even more than I do. I’m always like, “How do you do it? It’s crazy.” In my case, I started out slow. It took about seven years for the first novel. I was in a workshop for a while, and then I went off and played World of Warcraft for a while, came back and got serious and finished one.
And then, it was just this gradual, the first series of The Emperor’s Edge, I was probably writing one every four or five months. And again, those were 120,000 words esque. They weren’t too short. And it’s just gradually gotten faster.
I’ve been motivated along the way by other authors saying, “Whoa, I wrote my 6,000 words,” on podcasts, like, “I got my 6000, 7000 words before we recorded today,” and you’re like, “Wow, I’m only doing 3000 words. I think I need to look at this and get a little more serious.”
And and then you just get a little more efficient too. I learned to outline. I wasn’t an outliner in the beginning, and I learned that that helped me not have to throw away scenes or rewrite chapters, because I’ve got stuck along the way.
And editing at this point, I usually do one major editing pass and then send it to my beta readers, and they just point out, “This is maybe not how you want this character to come across.” They don’t usually ask for huge changes, so I’ll tinker a little more and then send it off to my editor.
Whereas early on, I don’t know how many editing passes I did back in the days when I was in the workshop, sentence by sentence, let me rewrite everything. And the thing is, I feel like it’s a lot more natural now. The writing’s just flowing out of your head and onto the page.
James Blatch: Do you think that writing’s got better because you tinker less or because you’re just more experienced at getting it right the first time?
Lindsay Buroker: I think it’s a little of both, because I think when you start editing, you’ve got a different hat on. I think maybe Dean Wesley Smith calls it that.
And the whole flow state thing, when you’re just seeing the story playing in your mind like a movie and you’re barely conscious of the words as they come out. I think you get a more natural story, and everything’s even and makes sense.
And then I’ll find when I go back and edit, it’s a little harder to just pop into that state to tinker with a couple of paragraphs. So I think in an ideal world, it would just come out perfectly on the first pass. That’s not quite how it is. It usually needs some cleaning up. But I’m rarely rewriting scenes super extensively at this point.
This series that I’m writing now, because it is complicated enough that there’s been a little more. With so many characters, you have to adjust things that you realize somebody else already knew in the other storyline. For one or two POVs, it’s pretty straightforward.
James Blatch: And how are you writing? What’s the word processing are you using?
Lindsay Buroker: I use Scrivener. I did the first couple of novels in Word because that’s what we had back in the day. I instantly became a fan of Scrivener when I saw that you could label all the scenes and just have them over there on the side, because I used to make my own table of contents in Word so I could jump around and do the same thing.
I made notes for myself in the table of contents, like, “This is the scene with the dragon,” and, “The war,” and, “The castle,” or whatever. And so it’s nice to see everything there and have all the character sheets on hand.
James Blatch: I’m definitely a fan of that as well. And also it’s interesting, outlining. I think that I’m going to draft my second novel in NaNoWriMo, if I can get my arse in gear.
But the idea of doing it the way I did my first novel, which is just to sit there and write and see where things went, I couldn’t even countenance that now, having been through the editing process with a book coach who said, “Well, let’s start again, do an outline of what you’ve got there, and then let’s work on that and then rewrite it.”
And it was so much easier when you look at a couple of sentences of what needs to happen in the scene and why it needs to happen. And it becomes much more of a pleasure writing, which is what it should be, than a chore thinking, “Is this going in the right direction?” the whole time.
But there are plenty of people who say they do the opposite and it spoils it for them. It’s strange isn’t it?
Lindsay Buroker: I think it depends a lot on the person and also the stories they’re writing. I feel like most people, if you’re writing something with six or eight POVs you’re going to get yourself in trouble just pantsing it, or you’re going to have to do more editing.
I’m sure there are people who can prove me wrong, but that’s just how I feel from my own experience. I can pants a simpler story. One of the sci-fi romances would have only the male and female point of view, and usually one storyline basically, or his and her storyline.
Whereas you get to something like epic fantasy when you have stories happening on different sides of the planet or the galaxy, and trying to make sure everything matches up and is in chronological order or as close as you can get. Especially when you do a series that you get to six, eight books, I’ve definitely learned to take much better notes.
I do a story bible and then I just make notes to myself. And I still never have good enough notes of does this character know this thing that happened or was it that character that learned that thing? My first series, I look at the story bible and it’s like a half a page of notes. I’m like, “This is horrible.” I think I just thought I’ll remember everything. No problem.
James Blatch: You really don’t, even with a few point of views. I’ve learned the hard way of having to write down somewhere how old they are, where they live, what car they drive. Otherwise it just becomes a hassle with editing.
We’ve covered quite a few of the things you’ve done in terms of the genre hopping and the pen name launch. As I said at the beginning, you are somebody who seems to make a success of everything. And I think that, in the end, comes down to your writing. It must be just exactly what your readers want.
A strong takeaway from this is to spend as much time as possible making sure that products you put on the shelf and sell is something people want.
Lindsay Buroker: I definitely think that helps. I’ve said before on our own podcast that you can be really good at the writing and okay at the marketing and do well, or you can be really good at the marketing and okay at the writing and do well. If you’re really awesome, you’re good at both. That seems to be tough.
I’m certainly not everybody’s cup of tea, but for the readers who do connect with my quirky, offbeat characters, they’re not finding it as easily elsewhere. So they come back and they read, even my series that are maybe not as much in their wheelhouse or their genre. And so there’s definitely some, I would say, career security in knowing that you’re writing something that’s a little different just from other authors in your genre.
I worry sometimes with the people that, I don’t know. I feel like maybe it’s just the readers in some genres don’t care as much about the voice. They just want like billionaire romance. This is the billionaire romance. We don’t care who wrote it. This is my trope that I like to read and I’m just going to read it.
That seems a little more dangerous, because you’re maybe not getting as true of fans as the people who only like the way you write, and they’re going to be happy even if you don’t do billionaire romance. They’re going to come with you for the millionaire romance.
James Blatch: It’s funny how selective some romance readers are, particularly in romance, but it does happen a little bit in fantasy and sci-fi as well. They latch onto that very precise formula that they want.
I was amazed talking to some romance authors about exactly where things have to happen in the story for it to fit the trope. Almost a boilerplate way of doing it. But you know what?
There’s people out there making extremely good money and making lots of readers very happy by supplying them exactly that.
Lindsay Buroker: It’s true. And a lot of those guys make a lot more money than I do. That’s a super big audience to potentially tap into. So, if it’s working, great. That’s awesome. And there’s no reason you can’t have your own special voice too while writing the super popular thing.
James Blatch: Exactly. Lindsay, I was going to finish off by asking you tips for people starting out today or maybe struggling a little bit. I think one of the tips you’ve given us right at the beginning is, first of all, it’s not too late. The market’s developing.
You started a brand new name, as far as anyone was concerned, a brand new author in the middle of things not that long ago, and that worked.
Is that your big tip to people today, or would you have something else for them?
Lindsay Buroker: I think a couple. One of the tips would just be to maybe do a workshop or do classes if you’d like to go to conventions, and really make sure you’re ready when you self-publish your first book, especially if you’re thinking of doing a series, because that first book, for a lot of authors, is their weakest, but that also has to be the book that’s so awesome that it leads people to read the other eight books you’re going to write in that series. So I think because self publishing is so easy now, people can jump in a little too early.
Definitely working with an editor. It was probably my fourth or fifth book that I’d written, before I finished one, that I was happy with and published it. And that’s just how it is for most people who traditionally publish. It’s usually their fifth or sixth book. And they’re thrilled that the other ones didn’t make it.
You learn a lot along the way, and it can be tough if you just put it out there and then you don’t get the success that you’re hoping for. Or you do get it, but you get a lot of three stars and you realize, “Oh, this is not so great.” So I think that it’s worth taking the time to, however you want to learn, learn the ropes before just jumping into self publishing.
My other thing would be just be willing to give away stuff for free. Not necessarily if you have only one book, make that free, but as long as you’re writing that first book, write that prequel novella from another character’s point of view or that explains something that’s interesting at the start of your story, and then give that away for free as an enticement to get people to sign up for your newsletter.
Some people get really hung up on, my time is worth so much, I’m not giving away anything for free. But we’ve seen over and over how effective it can be to give away a free Book One when you’ve got several more for them to go on and buy.
And it’s actually a sign of confidence in your own work if you’re willing to give it away, knowing that they’ll go on and buy, because if they don’t go on and buy it, then there’s something there. You didn’t quite get it into the hands of the right reader or maybe it just wasn’t quite ready for prime time yet.
Free continues to be a tool that I use. People say it’s not as effective for maybe books on Amazon when for a KU subscriber everything in KU is free, so they’re not necessarily looking for the freebies. And I hear that, but I still think that it’s super powerful to get people onto your list, give them a little something extra and I often do just bonus stories to send out to them in between things.
So it’s not always a, “Here, please buy this when I send something out.” It’s like, “Hey, here’s a little Christmas story I made for my characters.” It’s mostly just a scene and stuff on my blog or is on BookFunnel.
I think being willing to give out stuff just for fun, for free, to please your existing readers and attract maybe new fit aren’t yet into your stuff but could be someday, it’s a good policy just to be willing to do that, take a little time and give them some extra stuff.
James Blatch: Superb. Lindsay, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you on the show. I know that there’s some dogs just ready for a run. At some point there were complaints. I know you’ve presumably got some writing to do.
Lindsay Buroker: That too. Yes. Always.
James Blatch: Brilliant. It’s been great. Thank you so much today for joining us, Lindsay.
Lindsay Buroker: Hey, thank you for having me. Thanks for listening, everyone.
James Blatch: There you go. The other thing about Lindsey is she always seems to be smiling, which is a trick in life.
Mark Dawson: She has a great voice as well. She has a smoky voice which is very distinctive. So she has a voice for radio, whereas, well, you think you do. I definitely don’t.
James Blatch: I have to train my voice for radio. When I started, it was awful. It was awful. My first producer at the BBC said, “It sounds you’ve got a gobstopper in your mouth the whole time.”
But if you listen back to yourself enough, you do modulate your voice. And you get to the point where it’s acceptable. One of my friends is Chris Warburton. I worked with him, BBC 5 Live presenter. Now, he’s got the most amazing voice for radio, but you and I get by.
Mark Dawson: We manage. Yeah, we do all right.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. It was fun catching up with Lindsay. We met her after that interview was recorded, actually. We bumped into her in Florida, I think at NINC or was it Vegas? No, I think it was NINC.
Mark Dawson: NINC first and then Vegas. You met her in Florida and then we met her again in Vegas.
James Blatch: There you go. They’re all starting to merge into one. We will have an episode in the near future. In fact, I think we’ll try and do this in January, where we’ll take another look at the conference circuit and have a discussion between you and I about places it’s worth us going to, but also where people listen to this, at what stage, which conferences are going to be worth it based on our experience. So we’ll perhaps do that in January. I’ll make a note to do that.
We should mention again the Ads for Authors course, selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. Your chance to get in, you’ll get the advanced Facebook module, you’ll get YouTube for Authors. It’s a bumper crop of stuff you get on this one time. In the future, it may be different. It certainly will be from YouTube for Authors course.
We’ve got a million things going on outside of here. Anything else we need to say?
Mark Dawson: No, I think that just about does it.
By the time this goes out, we will be in the final stretch of the Ads launch. We will have on our webinar. I did one last night with Joanna Penn and her audience. It was the first time I’d done some new content on a reader funnels, which is something that I’ve been working on for a while. And that will be in the, obviously, if you’ve missed the webinar that we did, there’s the advanced Facebook ad course, which I’m working on at the moment.
Hopefully we’ll have that ready by Christmas, probably. And that will be something be given away, again, like the YouTube course, we give that away to people who sign up the ads schools this time.
Now, again, it might not be included next time. There’s a reasonably good chance it could be an a paid add-on, because it’s turning out to be fairly comprehensive, but we’ll see. Certainly for now, if you are a student or if you’ve signed up before or you sign up this time, it will be something that you get for free.
James Blatch: Good. And then we’re going to start talking in more detail about our live conference soon, which is just coming up. That’s something else that’s also going on in the background.
That’s it. Mark, Scout needs a walk, Dora needs a walk. We’ve got stuff to do. So it only leads me to say that is a good buy from him.
Mark Dawson: And a good bye for me. Goodbye.
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