SPS-207: Medieval Romance & the Future of Indie Publishers – with Kathryn Le Veque


For years, Kathryn Le Veque wrote books that were rejected by traditional publishers. But it all worked out in the end for two reasons. 1. Those years of writing improved her craft. And 2. when the indie revolution hit she was ready with many books she could publish. Kathryn is now a very successful full time author and also has more than one publishing imprint that publishes books for other writers.

Show Notes

  • Starting off as a writer with endless rejections from traditional publishers
  • The balance between historical accuracy and creating stories
  • On self-publishing a ‘backlist’ of 30 books in one year, from years of trying to get traditionally published
  • A strategy for quitting a day-job
  • On learning the vital importance of having an editor
  • Writing in a non-linear series
  • Learning that marketing is 60% of being an author
  • The importance of connecting with readers
  • On the personal side of marketing and the advertising side
  • How marketing experience changed what Kathryn wrote
  • On publishing others’ books
  • Why indie publishing imprints are able to offer more equitable royalty split than trad publishers

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Announcer: On this addition of the Self-Publishing Show.

Kathryn Le Veque: What is so important right now in this day and age of indie authors is your connection to your readers. That is your bread and butter. If you don’t have that connection to your readers, you’re going to have a hard time with it.

Announcer: 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, both of us with colds.

James Blatch: Yeah. It’s that thing when your body knows Christmas is coming, so I’m going to make you ill.

Mark Dawson: Well, I’m reasonably pleased. I got the worst of it out of the way last weekend, so I’m just stuffed up but I don’t feel bad.

I would always get ill at the end of courses, when we’re closing the course. The course is closed now. It would have been closed for a week or two when this goes out. But when we come to the end of a course, it’s basically two and a half weeks of fairly relentless work, all kinds of stuff going on with webinars, literally hundreds of emails to be answered, fairly late nights.

Lots of adrenaline and all that kind of stuff is buzzing around. By the time it’s done as it is right now … We closed it last night as we’re recording this. It is kind of like, oh, now I can be ill.

James Blatch: There was a lot going on. You and I are close to being able to make a really exciting announcement about our material-

Mark Dawson: Oh, yes, we are.

James Blatch: … which we can’t at the moment. I’m doing a lot with the boat and the live show, all the details coming together for that, and a lot of juggling going on. But we’ll have a couple of days off. This is January the 3rd this is going out, so we would have hopefully had a couple of days off over Christmas.

Mark Dawson: So we should, of course, take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy new year.

James Blatch: Happy new 2020.

Mark Dawson: Happy new decade.

James Blatch: Yes, a chance to do it back. But let’s also look forward, Mark.

Mark Dawson: I don’t do much looking back. I’m all about the looking forward.

James Blatch: Never look back. That sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song, isn’t it?

Mark Dawson: Or a book by Lee Child.

James Blatch: Oh, yes.

Mark Dawson: Never Go Back. Whatever, yeah, anyway, the principle’s the same.

James Blatch: It is. Good. Well, look, we need to keep our energy up because it’s a new year. It’s time for people to renew their ambitions. I know you said before you’re not quite one for the old New Year’s resolution, but I think a lot of people do use this opportunity, particularly when you slope back to work in a job you don’t particularly see yourself doing for the rest of your life. It’s a good opportunity.

I’ve definitely been here in the past, but an opportunity to think where do I want to be this time next year and to try to make it happen this year.

So for all of you who are aspiring to quite that 9:00 to 5:00 and live off your writing, we wish you all the success. We hope 2020 is the year for you. It’s a great poetically sounding year, isn’t it, 2020?

Mark Dawson: 20-20 vision James, yes.

James Blatch: I have some Patreon supporters to welcome to the show, lots of people posting in our little Slack column. So to summarize, thank you to our Patreon supporters this week.

We would like to welcome The Publishing Circle from Vancouver, WA. W-A, ah, Vancouver, Washington, because there are two Vancouvers, and they’re quite close to each other, but this is the Vancouver, Washington in the United States. Also, Elizabeth McLaughlin I think is how you pronounce it. McLaughlin, M-C-L-A-U-G-H-L-I-N?

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: McLaughlin, McLaughlin, from Boston, Massachusetts, and Terry Case. Welcome to you all, Elizabeth, Terry, and The Publishing Circle from Vancouver. It’s very, very good to have you on board, and thank you for being our first Patreon supporters of 2020.

Mark, so what have we got to talk about? We’ve got a few things. We’ve got the live show coming up. At this stage, I would hope that we haven’t sold all them. I’ve held some of the boat tickets back, so there’s a possibility, even if you’re not coming to the conference, you can come join us in the evening. But I will probably be clear.

In the next episode of the podcast, we’ll put out a URL to pick up some of those last remaining tickets for the boat. It’s going to be a fantastic evening on a Mississippi paddle steamer. I don’t think it’s a real Mississippi paddle steamer. I think it’s a replica. But we’re going to go under Tower Bridge. We’re going to have a jazz band on board. BookBub are going to be providing the drinks, which is fantastic. It’s a perfect BookBub type of thing to do. Reedsy are helping to provide the evening as well.

Mark Dawson: They’re sponsoring the life vests.

James Blatch: It’s all going to be fine. No one’s going to be sinking in the Thames.

Mark, we’re going to be talking historical fiction tonight. All your books are contemporary, although you did do a couple of early books. Your SoHo noir book you did, which was obviously historical fiction.

Mark Dawson: I did two of those. They’re of the 40s and 50s. Then The Vault, which is out in about four weeks when this goes out, is set in 1890. That’s also historical.

James Blatch: Is this your Atticus book?

Mark Dawson: No. Atticus is coming out in February, I think. This one is going to be about the Berlin Wall. It’s a spy novel set in East Germany, involving the robbery of a bank vault in East Germany by people tunneling under the Berlin Wall. So I’m really pleased with how that’s come out, so that’s out in the end of the month.

James Blatch: That sounds good. That’s a one-off, is it?

Mark Dawson: Kind of, yeah. It can be read as a standalone, but there are some throwbacks to the Milton and Beatrix series that readers who have been around the series for a while will definitely appreciate. But you can read it without knowing anything about those books.

James Blatch: Good. Well, look, our guest author today is Kathryn Le Veque, who is somebody who mires herself in the world of historical fiction. I talk to her in the interview about how much research and how important it is for her to be accurate. For her, it is very important.

For some people who do historical fiction, they’ll just choose a romantic era and go off, and it doesn’t really matter too much about some of the wider details. For other historical authors who might choose real kings and queens and they’re in their courts and so on, in which case you definitely want to know who your Norfolks are and who your Arendelles. Who was the Arendelle guy? I can’t remember. Maybe he was Norfolk.

Mark Dawson: Arendelle? I think Arendelle, you might be thinking of Frozen.

James Blatch: No, I’m not thinking of Frozen. I’m definitely not. Arendelle is a stately home in Sussex, and I think it’s the Duke of Norfolks, but I can’t remember, because I have a feeling that they play a cricket game, the Duke of Norfolk’s XI every year.

Anyway, Norfolk was obviously this big political figure, the various holders of that post. But that’s the sort of thing. I mean, if you’re going to write about Henry VIII or Henry V or George whatever, you need to do a lot of research. That’s Kathryn’s area, not Henry VIII. But she will make sure that she’s done a lot of research into those areas, whereas other people might do.

I have not read a Cecelia Mecca. I probably should at some point, but she writes romantic stuff about Scotsmen wearing kilts. Apart from the locations, I don’t know whether she has to get all the politics right.

Mark Dawson: You are. Tread very carefully, at this point. She knows where you live.

James Blatch: She knows where I live. I know where she lives, and I can run. Good, I can run faster than Mecca, because we went for a run once, and I run faster than her.

Let’s listen to Kathryn. She’s not only a historical fiction author. She’s hugely prolific, and she started her own imprint so she’s a big fish in the world of indie publishing. In fact, I think they signed their first trad deal this year as well, or last year. So let’s hear from Kathryn. Then Mark and I will be back.

Kathryn Le Veque, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. You are a giant who walks among us in the indie world, and there are lots of people who are excited that you’re coming on to the Self-Publishing Show, and we’ve got lots to talk about. So thank you. Thank you for joining us.

Kathryn Le Veque: My pleasure, thank you for having me.

James Blatch: So we’re going to start, I guess, at the beginning. You are doing really well, fantastically in indie, not just for yourself, but for other authors in your stables as well. But let’s start at the beginning with you.

When did this writing thing happen for you?

Kathryn Le Veque: I wrote my first book when I was 13. I love to tell this story, because it was the same year that Star Wars came out. I thought, oh, this is it. I want to tell great stories. I wrote my first book, and it was kind of a teenage space schlock fest. I mean, there’s no other way to describe it.

James Blatch: Sounds great.

Kathryn Le Veque: It was fabulous. But that was the catalyst. Once that started, that love of storytelling just came, and it came naturally.

I started writing really seriously in about 1988, 89. So when I published indie in 2012, I had this enormous backlist. It’s really funny, because people will say, oh, my gosh, you just started in 2012. You’re an overnight success. Yeah, an overnight success that’s taken me 30 years, literally. So that’s kind of how it got started.

James Blatch: Well, first of all, I’m really pleased to hear that Star Wars inspired you, because it inspired me as well. Because it’s so pop culture, it does get accused a little bit of being kind of the enemy of good culture. That’s so wrong, because it turned me on to the imagination of storytelling and cinema and film as well, and strong female characters.

We’re catching up with that now. Finally, it feels to me like feminism’s having its day finally. But, for me, as a 10 year old, I watched Princess Leia, who ruled the roost, right? She was the smartest person in the room.

Kathryn Le Veque: She was the smartest cookie in the room, and it’s kind of funny that you say that, because you watch Luke and Han, how they kind of … They didn’t bumble around her, but she was the one that just took charge, and that was such a fabulous role for her.

James Blatch: She was a great character. Yeah, absolutely. Good, so a little bit of a Star Wars fandom, which never goes amiss. Then so you had a bit of a gap until you were about 23, something like that, early 20s, when you said you started writing seriously.

Did you go down a more traditional career path at first?

Kathryn Le Veque: I tried, because now you’re talking late 80s, early 90s. There was no internet. There was no worldwide web. It was just kind of in its infancy, and it certainly wasn’t where it is now. So you had to go the traditional route. That’s the only thing you could do.

So I would read a lot. I would write a lot. I would write my stories, and I would submit them. I tell you, I’ve got a whole drawer full of rejection letters. I really do. But it’s interesting, because the place I’m at right now, I can look back on all this and go, you know what, everything happens for a reason.

For me, everything happens for a reason. I wasn’t ready yet. I had to learn my craft. I had to practice my craft. Even in the early aughts … In 2007 is when Kindle really took off and everything. I was still submitting traditionally because ebooks hadn’t caught on yet.

When I published in 2012, it was kind of like a last ditch effort, because I received my last rejection letter, and I thought, that’s it. I’m never going to get published. Then I published indie on a whim, and, of course, I never looked back.

James Blatch: So you never did get picked up by all those publishers?

Kathryn Le Vequ: I didn’t. I did not get picked up until this year.

James Blatch: I’d love for you to wave your annual check, your accounts, in the face of some of those agents who you sent letters to, because they need to know what they’re missing.

So you’ve self-published, and, as you say, in 2012, which was a great time to start.

What were you writing by then? I know historical romance is your main genre now.

Kathryn Le Veque: Still medieval romance. I really found a love of medieval romance in about 1992, when I picked up a book by Virginia Henley, who is the indisputable queen of medieval romance, to me. It was like that’s it. The light went on. This is what I’m supposed to write, medieval romance.

So I write medieval, historical romance, knights in shining armor, damsels in distress. That’s what I write. I have such a love of that genre because … People ask me all the time, why do you like that so much? To me, it’s because man was just coming out of the dark ages, and we were trying to find civility in our societies. It was such a trial and error type of era.

Some of these stories that you read about historical events, actual historical figures, it’s like, holy cow, man, how did these people survive? But we did. I think that that’s what’s so fascinating about it. It’s a little like the Wild West for about 366 years there.

James Blatch: How much research and real actual history goes into this, and how much is fictionalized by you?

Kathryn Le Veque: I border heavily on historical fiction, because I use so much historical events and people and accuracy. So I’ve got a real blend of things that actually happened, and then every once in a while I will pepper it with something that I’ve created.

What I do in every book of mine is, in the forward, I end telling people, okay, this is real, this is fake, so they know. Because I’ve had so many people, readers, say to me, oh, where are these castles? I’m like, yeah, in my head. I made them up. So I’ve started doing that, really making people aware of what’s historical and what’s not.

James Blatch: So there’s a blend, but you put it roughly in the wider historical accurate context, and then the detail perhaps is the towns and so on.

Kathryn Le Veque: Oh, it’s a total blend. Correct, absolutely. For example, I have a very popular series called the de Wolfe Pack. That incorporates so much real and so much fake stuff. I have real castles. I have Berwick Castle. I have Warwick Castle. I have several castles up along the Scottish border.

But then I’ve got several fake castles that I just kind of dreamed up. So it’s a real blend. But what it does is it gets readers really interested in the real stuff, and they want to learn about it and stuff. So that’s really exciting.

James Blatch: Great. So you published in 2012.

What did you publish then, a standalone book at that stage?

Kathryn Le Veque: Well, what’s interesting is, when I published in 2012, it was actually this month. May the 27th is my seventh-year anniversary. I just published a book, having no idea about branding or marketing or anything like that. I just put it up there because I thought, well, maybe somebody will like it.

So I published it, and I did my own covers because I have a marketing background. The covers were kind of crappy, but, still, I did the best I could with them.

But I was really shocked that that first month, just in those few days, I made $300. I was shocked. But after that, I realized, heck, there is an audience out here. There are people who will read my books. I don’t need a traditional publisher. I don’t need an agent. There’s a whole bunch of people out there who will read these books.

So I published about 30 books in a year, but, again, they were all backlist. It was everything that I had done all those years when I was trying to get published.

I had a day job. I gave my day job a year before quitting. Because people ask me, what’s your litmus test for quitting my day job to work full time or to write full time. For me, it was when I was making four times writing books than I was with my salary. I thought, you know what, now this job is costing me money. I have to take that leap.

It’s terrifying. I mean, it’s really terrifying, but I learned branding very quickly. I learned marketing really quickly, because you have to. You’re in this field where marketing is such a huge part of what you’re doing. I always tell people marketing is 60% of it. 40% is the writing.

If you can’t find the audience, why even bother writing the books? So I learned that all very quickly, and within about a year, I quit my job, and I’ve never looked back. It’s been like a rocket ride. It’s been kind of crazy, but the best rocket ride.

James Blatch: What a fantastic start with 30 books you had waiting to go, which is a perfect way to launch yourself, to give each time you’ve got a new reader somewhere else to go with your books, which they always say. So these books …

Having not been picked up, had you gone out and bought freelance editing to have them edited, or did you do that yourself?

Kathryn Le Veque: No, no. Actually, when I first started, of course, I didn’t know anything about editing either, because I was pretty much an idiot. There was really nobody to ask at that point.

James Blatch: Why would you know, by the way? You sit there, write a book in your house. Why would you know all the process it goes through?

Kathryn Le Veque: How would I know? There just wasn’t the information out there that there is now, through people like Mark, of course, and a lot of other people.

I found an editor, who was actually a retired advertising executive, and I found him because he was one of my very first readers. He reached out to me, and he said, “You know, I love your books.” I actually have a lot of male readers, because I write from the male perspective. I have a lot of battles in my books and Band of Brothers type things, a lot of bonding, that kind of thing. So I have a lot of male readers.

He reached out to me and goes, “I absolutely love this book, but you need an editor.” I was like, oh. Being an idiot, I just went, “Oh, sure, no problem. Yeah, edit it.”

I was lucky, because I always tell people please be careful with readers reaching out to you and trying to proofread you or trying to edit you, because you might be in worse shape than you are now. But I lucked out with him, and he is stuck with me to this day. He is my editor.

He edits for Dragonblade. He’s my senior editor for publishing and print. He edits many other really big indies, New York Times bestsellers. So I kind of got him into this business, and now he both loves me and hates me for it. But that’s how I found my editor. Like I say, I lucked out with him.

James Blatch: Great. Is it, at that stage, the 30 back catalog?

Kathryn Le Veque: Yes. We had to go back and edit them, correct.

James Blatch: Which you did in that first year when you started to publish them.

Kathryn Le Vequ: Yes, pretty much, yeah, exactly, exactly. Because I realized I can’t be putting out this stuff that is not edited.

James Blatch: Well, that was a learning experience for you.

So you learned about covers and series. In those 30 books, did you have several series?

What else did you learn that year?

Kathryn Le Veque: In those 30 books, I had several series. I learned a lot. I learned about series. I learned how to link series. I learned how to promote series. I learned how to engage readers. You learn about cross-promoting. You learn all of this stuff very, very quickly, because, if you don’t, you will fail.

I really didn’t want to fail now that I’d found an avenue for all these books that I was convinced weren’t good enough to be published. So I would say, in that first year, I definitely learned a lot about series, connecting series, making sure to cross promote them.

My series are not linear, by the way. They are not one after the other as far as chronologically. They’re more like spider webs. I have fathers. I have sons. I have uncles. I have grandfathers. So like I say, it’s more like a spider web.

James Blatch: So they’re all in the same universe, but they branch off rather than need to be read in order?

Kathryn Le Veque: Correct. Every single book I write you can read as a standalone. You do not need to read one to know what’s going on with the other. That’s another thing I understood about series.

Now I know that some people do write in a linear fashion, but, to me, I find that it’s more engaging if I’m writing in a universe, rather than a straight line, because I think you can bring in much more character to that series, much more stuff going on.

You look at the series that are written now with Game of Thrones and all that stuff. That’s all over the place, really. Those books are not necessarily linear either. But, to me, that’s just a preference, and I still write like that to this day. I do not write in a linear fashion. But every single book is a standalone, and you can read them separately and now have to read other books to know what’s going on.

James Blatch: I think there seems to be a trend at the moment, certainly in cinema, for origins films, kind of Wolverine and stuff, going back to the beginning. That’s the same thing, isn’t it?

It’s going, I like that idea. The one book I’ve got against all your millions that I’m finally getting around to publishing now, I love the idea of one character who’s a side character, but doing his story as my next book, which will be set before this book. So I’m the same as you, really.

I think that gives layers and depth to your universe.

Kathryn Le Veque: Yes, I agree. I actually did that with the de Wolfe Pack, because the original book I wrote was called The Wolfe, and it was 297,000 words. I mean, it was this gigantic epic.

James Blatch: That’s even longer than mine.

Kathryn Le Veque: Yes. It’s a big book. But what’s funny is I kind of spoiled my readers with it, because now all I get is, when are you writing another 300,000 word monster? I say, oh, gosh, you know how much time that takes?

Anyway, so what I did with The Wolfe is I had readers asking for the origins. Where did this come from? Who was his ancestor that started all of this? So I wrote a book called Warwolfe.

That was really interesting, because it started off at the Battle of Hastings. Believe it or not, there is not a lot written about the Battle of Hastings from a factual standpoint. There were no war correspondents back then. So they really didn’t write about it in detail.

So what I did was I created a war correspondent. He was a priest who came with the Duke of Normandy. He documented all of this, and it was such a fun book to write. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the research of that, in particular, because it was about 150 years before what I normally write. So that was just really super interesting. Back to your origins thing, that’s exactly what I did. I wrote the origins.

James Blatch: Fantastic. Well, we don’t really talk about the Battle of Hastings because we lost it, so that’s why there’s no history books on it here. We just gloss over it. We spend a lot more time on World War II and World War I.

Kathryn Le Veque: Yeah.

James Blatch: We like a happy ending. I’m joking.

Kathryn Le Veque: As an American, it’s easy for me to say that.

James Blatch: That’s the other thing is the War of Independence, we don’t mention that over here either.

Kathryn Le Veque: Yeah, the revolution. I won’t bring that up.

James Blatch: Thank you. Now marketing. So the early days, you learned, at the coalface, that marketing was half your day, or, as you said, 60% of year day. But you obviously took to it as well.

Did you enjoy it?

Kathryn Le Veque: My background is in marketing, so it was something that came intrinsically to me. I do enjoy it, but marketing books is a whole different beast, as you know. I almost want to say grassroots, because what is so important right now in this day and age of indie authors is your connection to your readers. That is your bread and butter.

If you don’t have that connection to your readers, you’re going to have a hard time with it. It’s interesting, because authors who published back in the 80s and the 90s who published through the publisher. The publisher does all the marketing, and you really didn’t connection with the authors the way you do now because you had that wall of traditional publishing there.

So you have a lot of authors who published back then, and they’re trying to publish now and trying to find a readership, and it’s such a different beast. So I talk to them a lot. I say, you know what, you guys, you have to connect with people. You have to get on Facebook. You have to get on Twitter.

You have to get on Instagram, which is now the big up and coming with authors. It’s really dominated by contemporary, not historical so much, but it’s still a good avenue. But I did connect with it. I did connect with people. I like people. I’m a people person.

I learned tricks. I learned how to get people engaged without spending a lot of money. That’s also a big thing. You have an author starting out. She doesn’t have a lot of money. You don’t have to have a lot of money to really engage with your readers. Something as small as a $5 gift card is going to get people excited.

The main thing is you really have to market to them without spamming, and you know what I mean by that, constantly posting your books, buy me, buy me, buy me, buy me. You can’t do that. You have to pepper your conversations and your giveaways and your little chats with them, oh, here, by the way, I have a book. So it’s really a delicate balancing act, marketing these days.

James Blatch: You obviously found that sweet spot between the conversations and the relationships and, oh, by the way, would you like to buy my new book.

But, of course, at that point, they do want to buy your book because they’ve got a relationship with you.

Kathryn Le Veque: Yeah, that’s it. I think you hit the nail on the head. They have a relationship with me. They see me as a … Obviously, I’m a real person. Kathryn Le Veque is my real name. That’s what’s on my driver’s license. I don’t have a pen name.

It’s so important to be genuine, to be truthful, to be honest, to be genuine with readers, because they really want to like you as a person. They want to feel like they know you as a person.

I do a lot of giveaways. I do a lot of videos on Facebook. I really do all that I can to talk to them and make them feel like they’re a part of what I’m doing. When you do that, then they feel like they’re a part of this cog, a wheel that’s just going and helping you produce these books. They’re part of it because, oh, gosh, they heard about it before you even wrote it. It’s all part of that. That’s the personal side of marketing.

Then you have the ads. Of course, I do Facebook ads. I do BookBub ads. I do all of the big paid ads. Yes, I’ve found some more successful than others, and Mark has all sorts of videos on what’s successful and how to do these things. I often refer new authors to Mark’s courses because I think they’re so vital.

It’s not just the personal touch with readers. It is the ad. You have to find those readers, and that’s such an important, important aspect of it.

James Blatch: You can learn so much by yourself. I’m delving into AdWords at the moment. I am relying on other people’s expertise, which is why, of course, it’s kind of you to say, but Mark is a great person to … It’s not necessarily intuitive on some of these platforms. That’s for sure.

Kathryn Le Veque: No.

James Blatch: So your early days, in one year you went from $300 in your first month to four times your salary and thought this is it. This has taken off.

Then at that point you’re also writing new material. You didn’t just sit on your back catalog. You also worked out what you’re going to be doing.

Did the marketing experience in those first 12 months change your decisions about what you were writing in the future?

Kathryn Le Veque: Yes, because you see where the trends are. You see what people are liking. A lot of authors that I know like to genre hop, for lack of another word. They will go based on what they’re feeling and what their whim is. All I write is Scottish. Now I want to write a bunch of Westerns. Then they complain because they can’t really find an audience.

So the one thing I really learned early on was get in a genre, stay in it. That is how you’re going to find your greatest audience. But that being said, watch what people are buying. Watch your bestsellers. Watch your analytics. When you see good selling books and you see what’s going on, you go, okay.

The Wolfe – I’m just using it as an example – The Wolfe is selling really great. Well, maybe I need to expand on that series. So in that respect, yes, I watch what’s popular, and I see which way the wind is blowing, and I try to take advantage of that.

James Blatch: But within your genre?

Kathryn Le Veque: Within my genre, yeah. I don’t get out of my genre. I have written contemporary books. I have 14 of them, actually, but the contemporary books, for me, were … I would write them in-between my medievals to kind of cleanse my mind and bring myself into the 20th century. So it was kind of a cathartic thing when I was in-between writing medievals. But my medievals are my bread and butter. I just published my 97th last week.

James Blatch: Fantastic.

Kathryn Le Veque: Thank you. That is my heart and soul.

James Blatch: You’re not going to dig out that space opera from 13-year-old Kathryn Le Veque?

Kathryn Le Veque: I still have it. It’s so funny. I read it. Well, here’s the thing. I was 14 when I wrote it, and I was deeply in love and convinced I was going to marry Harrison Ford. So in the book, the heroine, of course, is my age, like I said, a teenage schlock fest. She’s in love with a 35-year-old guy, which, of course I can’t publish that right now. I can’t do it.

James Blatch: Well, you’ve missed it, because in the 70s it was fine. You could have done that. You could have published that then.

We were talking the other day about Weird Science, the great movie. Can you imagine trying to pitch that to Hollywood now? They’d go, I don’t think so.

Kathryn Le Veque: Oh, God, that would get buried quickly, yeah.

James Blatch: Well, that’s a shame. Maybe a slight reworking. Maybe make her 21 rather than-

Kathryn Le Veque: I have to make her of age at least, yes.

James Blatch: So you just alluded to the fact you’ve got 97. You’re coming up to your century of medieval romances, and I guess you said you’ve got 20 or 30 other contemporary.

Kathryn Le Vequ: I have 14 contemporaries.

James Blatch: So well over 100 books so far. You’re going along. You’ve cracked it, no question about that, a bit like Mark, an early pioneer of working out how this stuff all works and being out there.

At some point, you started to publish other people’s books.

Kathryn Le Vequ: That was a really funny fluke. I had a friend of mine who had been traditionally published for many years, and she had no idea how to get into indie publishing. She said, “Would you mind publishing my books?” I said, why not? Yeah, sure. I know how to do it. Why not?

That’s how Dragonblade Publishing was born was her coming to me and asking me if I wanted to publish her. After I published her and she did really well, then I had other authors coming to me and saying, hey, would you mind publishing me too?

In the first couple of years, I like to call it my non-profit organization because Kathryn Le Veque Novels was pouring so much money into keeping it going. I thought, after the first couple of years, maybe this isn’t successful. Maybe I don’t want to do this.

As a business major and having spent 30 years in corporate America, I know when to get out of a business. So I was watching it closely, but, I’ll tell you, at that two and a half year mark, it took off. Now we’ve got 30-some-odd authors. We’ve got well over 100 books that we’ve published.

I treat small press like this as a collaboration. We’re partners in this. So not only are the authors drawing on the Dragonblade readership, I’m drawing on theirs as well, and we’re cross-promoting with other authors. So it’s a massive cross-promotion operation, and it has worked out so incredibly well. I am just so happy that it’s doing so well.

It’s currently the number-one historical romance small press on Amazon.

That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s been a lot of hard work to get it there because you know how it is to write a book yourself and to market yourself personally. Well, I’m doing now over 30 more authors, actually more than that because I have two other publishing companies.

It’s very important to me to make sure they get individual attention, to make sure I’m doing for them what I do for myself. It’s really been a wild ride, but a good one.

James Blatch: So that first one was your friend, and you’re probably familiar with her books.

Do you do the editorial reading yourself and decide whether you’re going to take somebody on?

Kathryn Le Veque: I read the proposals, and I read the first couple of chapters. I always make them send me the first couple of chapters so I can read that.

We do have submissions, but it’s pretty much my invitation only because I either know the author or I’ve read their books or I think they’re really great and, hey, do you want to try to make more money? Do you want to try to get a bigger readership? So we’re unique in that respect that we do by invitation only, but we’re very careful about what we take on.

I think one of the mistakes that a lot of small press operators make when they first get into the business is they think, well, I’m just going to publish everything. I’ll make more money. I’m just going to publish everything.

That’s a huge mistake. Don’t do that, because, as an author and a publisher, I have a readership that follows me. When I publish these books, I am pimping it to my readership.

In the beginning, I actually took on some paranormal. I took on some fantasy. That’s not my audience. They didn’t do as well as I would hope they would do. So we’re very selective about what we do now because we’re primarily historical romance and we cater to that audience.

James Blatch: So you really worked on … I guess they call it synergy is the business word, isn’t it?

Kathryn Le Vequ: Yes.

James Blatch: There’s a synergistic relationship between you and your authors, and that works very well. I guess, that’s a really good test for you. Are you prepared to ask your very loyal readers to read this author? If the answer to that’s no, you don’t take them on. If the answer to that’s yes, then they can come in.

Kathryn Le Veque: Absolutely. In this business, reputation takes years to make, and it takes five minutes to lose it. Reputation, to me, is everything.

So if I am going to pimp a book for somebody, then I better darn well really like it and believe in them. So I don’t publish anybody I don’t believe in, and we have some really, really great authors, so I’m really proud of that.

James Blatch: And you have more than one publishing imprint?

Kathryn Le Veque: I have three. I have Dragonblade Publishing, and then I have one called WolfeBane Publishing.

When Kindle Worlds folded, I formed WolfeBane to publish the Kindle Worlds books. If you don’t know what Kindle Worlds is, some of your listeners don’t know, it was Amazon’s fan fiction site. What they would do is they would go to authors, and they would say, hey, can we license your characters? We’re going to have people write about them.

Amazon came to me, and they licensed my de Wolfe Pack characters, which is my biggest series. I had 30-some-odd authors writing books in the series, which was fabulous. But when Amazon pulled out … And they pulled out very quickly because everything was going fine, and then I think it was May of last year we got an email saying, oh, it’s been great, but we’re done. Oh, holy cow!

So we had to scramble pretty quickly for that. So I ended up forming WolfeBane Publishing, which publishes the Kindle Worlds books.

I also share a publishing house called Pirates of Britannia with another author, and we publish medieval pirates, which is a lot of fun.

James Blatch: English medieval pirates.

Kathryn Le Veque: We have English medieval pirates. We have Scottish medieval pirates. We have Welsh, Irish, you name it. Of course, the bad guys are the French and the Spanish, always.

James Blatch: Hey, I love this series. I just perked up. That’s brilliant.

Kathryn Le Veque: Oh, yay.

James Blatch: England versus Spain and France.

Kathryn Le Veque: Oh, heck yeah.

James Blatch: That’s really interesting. The fan fiction, so Kindle Worlds, which as you said folded …

Do you invite fan fiction still into the de Wolfe Pack?

Kathryn Le Veque: Absolutely. Any publishing house, any author, anybody with a library of books, you have to constantly replenish that. You can’t just write 30 books and just sit back on your laurels, unless you’re Diana Gabaldon or somebody like that and you haven’t written a book in many, many years. But that’s completely different.

But now in this day and age with indie publishing, readers are voracious. It’s a hungry beast, and you have to constantly feed it.

With the fan fiction site, with WolfeBane, twice a year I have what’s called a relaunch. We get a bunch of authors together, and we have 12, 15, 20 books or whatever, and we just relaunch them. It’s a great way to cross-promote all of them. So we do it that way. We just constantly feed that beast.

James Blatch: Great. So when you take on an author now, your 30-odd authors you’ve got, what sort of state do the books come to in?

Do you look after the editorial process? Do you get the cover done? Do you write the blurb? Or does stuff come fully formed to you?

Kathryn Le Veque: No. All I tell them is you just write the book. I’ll take care of the rest. So what I get is a final draft in as good a condition as they can do it. It goes to editorial from there. Our editors do a developmental. They do a final edit, just like any normal publishing house.

We have proofreaders that get it, formatters. I have an operations manager, and she manages all this stuff.

First of all, I established all this, so I know how the process works. I know how everything is done. But it was either run these publishing companies and give up writing or find somebody to manage them so I could actually write my books. So I have an operations manager. She handles all of that.

Where I come in nowadays is the final contract. I always, always manage the final contract, and I always manage the covers because branding is so important. I have to make sure that those covers fit my vision of branding, of the branding of Dragonblade. So that’s where I come in. Then everything else is just handled by the editors.

James Blatch: Do you have any cover designers in house, or do you go out to them?

Kathryn Le Vequ: I have a graphic artist that I use. She’s an independent contractor, as are most everybody I work with. I do have employees for my companies, but pretty much everybody I work with is an independent contractor. The formatters independent. My cover artist is independent.

It’s such a great relationship with all of them. I mean, we’re all working for this common goal, and it’s just really been an awesome experience.

James Blatch: I was looking at what you’ve done and wondering if there’s a point where you’ve regretted it, because you’ve really started a monster here, this publishing business.

Kathryn Le Veque: I know.

James Blatch: It’s going to outlive you, probably, these publishing companies.

Kathryn Le Veque: I hope so, but my kids are like, man, mom, does that mean we have to work as hard as you?

James Blatch: Yes, it does, yes.

Kathryn Le Veque: I’m like yes, sorry.

James Blatch: Tell them the truth. This is your future. You better learn it.

Kathryn Le Veque: This is your future. Get used to it. But it’s kind of turned into a beast, but a manageable beast and one that I am more than happy to manage and tame.

But my husband keeps saying, “Well, why don’t we just sell these for millions of dollars and get out of it?” Because I’m stupid and I’m a glutton for punishment, and I’d really like it.

James Blatch: You want to do more.

Kathryn Le Vequ: I want to do more, yeah.

James Blatch: There seems a sense to me that the small indie imprints with much fairer equitable split with the author appear to be just blooming at the moment.

Kathryn Le Veque: Yes. My royalty splits with the authors are based on word count. You write a bigger book, you get a better royalty split. But we have a 50-50 split. We have a 60-40 split. The highest we’ll go is a 70-30. I don’t go beyond that.

But it’s much fairer to the author, much more equitable. I think that’s why indie presses, as you say, are really blooming right now, because we don’t have that giant overhead that the trad pubs have.

For instance, I just signed a traditional publishing contract with Sourcebooks, which I’m super, super excited about. But when I got the contract and saw the royalty rate, it was like, whoa, holy cow, but not unexpected.

James Blatch: Well, that’s good. It’s an exciting time.

Kathryn Le Veque: It is.

James Blatch: Mark and I have been flirting with this idea for a while as well, and we’re watching friends who just started doing it.

First of all, the indie revolution’s been fantastic, for people like you and Mark and others. It’s been liberating, and for your readers it’s been amazing for them to have this choice.

It seems to be the next good thing that’s going to happen is this series of options for writers who don’t necessarily get as excited about the marketing as we do and just don’t want to do it. It gives them options that aren’t a series of rejection letters and a broken heart for the rest of their life. Hopefully, if they’re good writers, there’s going to be others for them.

Kathryn Le Veque: Right. I think you’re right. If there was one thing I could tell somebody who wanted to start their own small press, well, first of all, I would just say think really hard about it before you do it, because it is so much work. It is so much work.

But the biggest piece of advice I would have for them is make sure you have a business plan and you have your infrastructure in place. Don’t just jump into it and think, oh, this is so simple, because you have to remember. As much work as it is to publish yourself, now you’re going to be doing it for other people, and you can’t fail them. You cannot fail them.

They’re placing their trust in you, so you really have to have a plan in place. Don’t get too ambitious. That’s another piece of advice I would give them. Please don’t get too ambitious. Don’t try to publish everything. Pick something. Know your audience, and cater to that. But I think it’s a great idea.

I think, also, it’s important, because right now, this is such an era of scammers for lack of a better term. It is very, very difficult for new authors to get some visibility because of the weight of the scammers. To have somebody like me who’s been around a long time and has a big audience and you know I’m not a scammer and readers know they can trust me … But to have somebody like me publish a new author, that’s so important. That is so important for us to help them. So that’s another reason I do it.

James Blatch: Good, all good reasons. So what about your writing now?

Tell me about your typical day. You are kind of morning, right, afternoon marketing person?

Kathryn Le Veque: No, the opposite. I am a morning to mid-afternoon marketing person. Then I write from about 3:00 or 4:00 until maybe midnight because, when I first started this, my children were very young.

James Blatch: Who feeds your kids?

Kathryn Le Veque: I know, exactly. Who feeds the kids? Who takes care of them? Me!

James Blatch: I’m hungry, mommy.

Kathryn Le Veque: Go away! I’m writing.

I was married to a police officer at the time, and he worked graveyard or he worked swing shift. So he had really bizarre hours, so, of course, it was all me taking care of the kids. So what that did was I took every opportunity, of course, I could to write, when they were taking a nap or at night when they were asleep.

So even to this day, my kids are really big and old and out on their own, that has been instilled in me. My best time to write is in the evening. So that’s what I do.

But a typical day for me is I’m up at 8:00, 8:30, going through emails, doing all my marketing, making sure my marketing is getting done. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve farmed out a lot of marketing to a gal that I really, really like. That’s her business, and she really has a good grasp of Facebook and AMS ads. So we confer about that, make sure the ads are up.

I do a lot of my own Facebook marketing, so I do a lot of that. Then by the time that’s all out of way and I know everything’s out of the way, then I can focus on writing. So that’s how my day kind of works. But I’m putting in 12, 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

But this isn’t a job to me. This is a joy. This is my passion. I love this. So it’s not work to me, so I don’t mind doing that. My husband, thank God, he’s very tolerant. He just kind of goes, and he watches TV and leaves me alone.

James Blatch: Is he still working as a cop in the night?

Kathryn Le Veque: Well, actually, that was my first husband. My second husband I’ve been with for 20 years. He’s actually retired. That was kind of tough, because he was working when I first started this. So he was out of my hair a lot.

But then he retired, and he would kind of come around. My office doors are right behind me as you can see, and he’d linger by the door and look and see what I was doing.

James Blatch: You were shooing him away. Shoo, shoo!

Kathryn Le Veque: Yeah, I was. I had a little water gun. Just go away.

James Blatch: I’ve built an office in the garden. I can’t work in the house, because they start talking to you, and you can’t write a book when someone’s talking to you, right?

Kathryn Le Veque: Oh, no, you can’t. I get the, “Well, you’re so mean to me. You don’t want to talk to me.”

James Blatch: I get that.

Kathryn Le Veque: Please, just leave me alone, please.

James Blatch: Let’s have a little mutual support group here.

Kathryn Le Veque: We should, annoying spouses.

James Blatch: People do love to hear about the writing process, particularly from a big author like yourself, Kathryn, so a couple more questions about that.

Can you tell me a little about what sort of word count you aim for, whether you plot, whether you pants, to use that horrible word.

Kathryn Le Veque: I know, that horrible word.

I am a mix. I always know where a book is starting. I always know where a book is ending. In the middle is kind of where I pants it a little bit. But even then I have a bit of an outline.

Since I started this so long ago, I’m kind of a creature of habit. So I hand write a lot of my plots. I find that my ideas flow better when I’m hand writing them. But that’s how I write, basically.

I go anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 words a day. When I start the next day to write again, I go back, and I comb through all of those words that I just wrote. I get my head back into the game, and then I start, and I write the next 20 pages.

I edit as I go. I write and I edit in blocks. I write linearly. I do not start in the middle, because I know a lot of people do that, start in the middle, and then they add a beginning, add an ending. I don’t do that. I write linearly.

Also, once I finish a book, I do something that I think a lot of people need to do, and that is summarize each chapter. As you go back, read it through, summarize each chapter. That’s kind of where you find out if you have any holes, if you’ve dropped a character.

You had grandpa in the first three chapters, and suddenly grandpa’s missing for the rest of the book. So I’m just really careful about trying to make sure, when I finish a book, it’s as complete as I can get it. I never turn in anything that’s even half baked. Everything I do is pretty well set in stone, but that’s my process.

I really aim for those 3 to 5,000 words a day. I know that’s a lot, but that’s because I type fast and my brain works that way. I do not use dictation. I know a lot of people are trying Dragon these days. It’s kind of not how my brain works, but if you can do it that’s great. But that’s how I do it. That’s how I do it.

James Blatch: And Scrivener or Word?

Kathryn Le Veque: Word. I am a PC girl. I started on a DOS computer back in the 80s, and Word Perfect, WordStar. That is how I have always written, so I am a Word girl, PC to the death. I do not use Mac.

James Blatch: That’s okay. We can still be friends. It’s fine.

Kathryn Le Veque: Can we still be friends?

James Blatch: We can, yeah. Well, because of the Star Wars thing and because we both have to separate ourselves when we’re writing. We’ve got a lot in common, even though I’m looking at you through a Mac.

Well, look, Kathryn, it’s been brilliant talking to you. It’s whizzed by, the time, and I knew it would do. You are, I’m going to say, a really great example, I think, in this indie world because of what you’ve done and how you’ve gone on with it and how you’ve not just stuck to your own books, but you’ve opened yourself up to publishing others. So you’ve made some other people’s lives as well as your own.

Kathryn Le Veque: Well, somebody helped me when I first started, and I feel that it’s so important to help others and pay it forward. It’s so exciting to see an author who hasn’t had a lot of visibility, and I pimp them out to my readers, and suddenly they’re doing really well.

It’s very gratifying to me. This is such a business of helping each other, and I think that’s the one thing I can say about the indie business is that there are so many people so willing to help you. I think that that’s just such an important part of this business.

I hit at the right time, and I’m loving every minute of it. So thank you very much for having me, and I really, really appreciate the … This conversation’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun.

James Blatch: I’ve really enjoyed it as well. We should give a shout out to the cat who just stood up a couple of times and shifted and turned around and sat down again, but has been a stoical presence through the interview, if you’ve been watching on YouTube.

Kathryn Le Veque: That is Gracie. That is my little Himalayan girl. Normally, there’s a parade of fluffy cats going like this. We didn’t have it this time.

James Blatch: Obviously, it took me a little while to work out what it was, but I could see what looked like the cushions were moving. Now that’s weird. Then the cushion had a couple of eyes. Oh, yeah, it must be-

Kathryn Le Veque: Oh, there you go.

James Blatch: It’s a chihuahua or a cat.

Kathryn Le Veque: That’s a cream colored Himalayan. She kind of blends in.

James Blatch: Give her a stroke from us. Kathryn, thank you so much indeed for joining us. Have a good rest of the day.

Kathryn Le Veque: My pleasure, and you as well. Thank you.

James Blatch: I think my voice sounds quite husky.

Mark Dawson: Well, I’m aroused.

James Blatch: That’s worrying. Hey, this is going out on January the 3rd, but it’s Star Wars day in the UK today, and you and I are both going off separately, because I don’t want to sit next to somebody who finds me arousing in a cinema.

Mark Dawson: No, God no. I’m going to Salisbury at 1:20, and you’re going to London at 5:00 to be disappointed by the latest Star Wars abomination.

James Blatch: I don’t know if it’s an abomination, but the early reviews have not been great. For me, the original trilogy is a romantic part of my life, and I’ve been disappointed to one degree or another by almost everything since. Rogue One is the only Star Wars film I think kind of reached out and touched where those first ones were.

Mark Dawson: I agree. I like Rogue One a lot. I was reading some reviews and Dave Chesson, who will be well known to listeners…

James Blatch: Last week’s guest, I think.

Mark Dawson: Yes. I think he’s a bit of a Star Wars geek. I read that he was going to go and see it today as well, but wasn’t looking forward to it for the reasons we have noted.

But the problem with those films is that the original ones … It’s nostalgia. It’s impossible to compete with romantic memories of going to a cinema in 1977 as a child.

James Blatch: That is true. That is true, certainly true.

Mark Dawson: Return of the Jedi, right? If that was released by J.J. Abrams, people would castigate it.

James Blatch: I disagree with that, because I think you’re right about aspects of Return of the Jedi.

Mark Dawson: Ewoks, that’s all we need to say.

James Blatch: But a lot of Return of the Jedi really beautifully ties up the story, the knowledge that Leia and Luke are-

Mark Dawson: Spoilers.

James Blatch: … twins. I think that’s been the main thing they haven’t got right in these sequels they’re called. Aren’t they, the sequels? I haven’t seen the film, so this is definitely not a spoiler, except I’ll tell you, up until now, what have they been doing with Mark Hamill?

They’ve got him back into these films, and they just don’t seem to know what to do with him. He’s got no significant role. Hopefully this film will change all that and it’ll be different. He might also be dead, so that doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, right, enough of our Star Wars geekery. We’ll get a load of comments underneath on people’s opinion on this later.

So the only thing I pick up from Kathryn’s interview … excellent to talk to her, and she was a guest a lot of people wanted to see on and listen and hear from … is that she started a couple of imprints, which is something you and I are trying to do at the moment.

In fact, I have on my desk, in my inbox, finally, what looks like we might have a contract we can work with with our first people we’re going to sign. More announcements about that in the future. But I’ve battered on about this for a long time.

This, for me, feels like the way publishing is going, this myriad of smaller producers who are much fairer to authors, probably 50-50. They will, I think, probably, in the end, replace a big chunk of the traditional industry, maybe not all of it, because there’s a place for the bookshop, picture books, all the rest of it. But it feels like it’s really happening.

Mark Dawson: I don’t think replace. I think this is just another way to get to the market. So there’s no shortage of readers out there. You may find they don’t publish as much, but they’ll always be the home for the Lee Childs and the James Pattersons. I don’t really see those guys switching, because they probably would have done it by now.

But for midlisters who aren’t getting deals anymore and people just not interested in giving someone 90% as a royalty, which I’m not, then these kinds of opportunities where people giving you 50% in return for some savvy marketing … If only he’d taken the course that could teach him how to advertise digitally.

So there’s people like that offering opportunities for writers who don’t want to do the marketing, which is completely fine. Those kinds of opportunities will continue to evolve and proliferate, which is very exciting.

James Blatch: Yeah, it really is. Well, I think that you got your James Pattersons now. These are people from a different era, all due respect to James. There’s no reason for them to suddenly change things. Even modern authors, we’ve had Clare Mackintosh on the podcast in the early days, who’s a UK author who writes very good books. She’s traditionally published, and she’s sort of there.

I think it’s possible she might have had her head turned by some of the figures she hears from the indie sector, but probably won’t change. But authors now who aren’t at the moment published, so in 20 years time, I don’t think you’re going to get the James Patterson style author who’s on the type of traditional deals that they offer and have been offering for 100 years because of the influence of that 50-50 split that authors get from indie houses.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, or the 70-30 split if they do it themselves with Amazon taking the 30. So things are definitely changing. Those people like Clare, I think she said when we interviewed her, she doesn’t really know enough about being an indie to have given that consideration. She’s obviously doing very well for herself. I wouldn’t speculate on how much she’s doing, but we wouldn’t have had a lot of guests on the podcast who are earning more than she has, I suspect.

James Blatch: I think she said she’d sold half a million books in the UK or worldwide, so she’s doing really well. Even on a smaller percentage, that’s a good income. It’s probably the authors below that who I feel most sorry for, the ones who work really hard, have a two or three-book deal, which stretches over five years. They end up earning 35,000 pounds a year or something.

I read an article once that broke down what sounded like a good advance turned out to be a quite hard slog.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, a few authors who are definitely mid list authors writing good stuff and have published 9 or 10 books. There’s one guy in particular I’m thinking of who is really struggling for money and isn’t really at the point where he feels comfortable independently publishing his stuff, but is either not getting deals or is getting a smaller and smaller advance, which is taxed and then split over two years and can’t support his family.

On the other hand, you can say, well, teach yourself. Look at the 101 course. That’ll teach you how to do it. Then you can apply accelerant with advertising.

James Blatch: Look, thank you very much indeed to Kathryn for your hard work as a writer, but also now as an indie publisher. I hope to follow suit with Fuze Books. Fuze is the new hot name in publishing.

Next week, I’m going to move ahead because we have a really good interview next week with a lady called Becca Sime. Becca’s spoken at various conferences over the last year, and she’s one of those people where people come out of the conference buzzing about the way that she talks.

She talks about where you put your effort in to achieve more, a really good analysis of how we work and working smarter, so a really good episode next week. But until then, Mark, unless you have anything else to say at this stage-

Mark Dawson: No, I’m all out of wisdom. I need to do some writing this morning. I haven’t done enough writing recently, so I’m going to get back into that.

James Blatch: Writing has taken a back seat, I think, for both of us the last week or so. So that’s it. We’re going to sign off. All that leaves for me to say is a goodbye from him-

Mark Dawson: And may the force be with you from me.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

Mark Dawson: Goodbye.

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