SPS-237: Self Publishing Sisters: Keeping it in the Family – with Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti are sisters who write collaboratively in a number of sub-genres and have created a business with their writing that supports them both.
- Living and writing in Costa Rica
- How the sisters approached what to write together
- Getting over the fear of spending money on ads
- Learning what genres don’t sell
- On writing to market while keeping existing fans
- Working with a very active ARC team
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-237: Self Publishing Sisters: Keeping it in the Family - with Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Susanne: I took the leap to quit my job here with my parents, and then moved to Costa Rica for six months. And then I wrote while I was out there. I basically decided when I went, when I come home I'll be a part-time or a full-time writer, and I was part time when I came home, and then I went full time that Christmas.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gate keepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie best seller 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. It is the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: Hopefully I'm looking bronzed, if you're watching on YouTube. Do I look bronzed to you?
Mark Dawson: You look like an Adonis.
James Blatch: Thank you, I know.
Mark Dawson: A Greek god.
James Blatch: And I'm still wearing my clothes, just to point out. It's not like the statues.
Mark Dawson: Thankfully.
James Blatch: I've been in France for a week enjoying the sun, it is hammering it down here, all day today. Back into the grey UK. I was speaking to Mark Reklau who has been on this podcast before, and he's recently moved to Malta. He lived on a boat in Barcelona, you might remember, if you remember that episode. He's moved to Malta just because life with a tax probably falls into that as well.
Jill and I, my wife, we just spent three days talking about, sort of that annual conversation we have after being on holiday, but why don't we live somewhere with nice weather? It's so miserable.
Mark Dawson: We've thought about that too, but we've got a dog and Lucy has her horse, so I think we've kind of put the kibosh on that for a while. Plus, of course, our kids are in school, so that's not something we can easily do right now. You don't have those issues, much longer anyway.
James Blatch: Yeah, exactly. I've got about three or four years and my children move on to hopefully the next stage giving us some freedom, although we do have a dog. You can get dogs passports, you can get horses passports, of course. Horses had passports before dogs because they used to go and race in the Arc de Triomphe, it was called, pre-Arc de Triomphe.
Mark Dawson: I suppose, especially if you could ride him somewhere. Tuscany would be quite nice.
James Blatch: There you go, one of those white ones. Good, okay.
Well, my holiday week was a little bit interrupted, as yours was, by us dealing with a little bit of fire fighting. These things happen occasionally, and they happened to you and to SPF last week, so we are going to talk about that. I should say if you've been following some of the things that have been on social media and in the mainstream presses well, you may have found it odd we didn't refer to it at all last week. That's because we pre-recorded a couple of episodes so that I could go away. But we are back live in the room, as it were. We're recording this on a Monday for Friday's episode.
So we can talk about what happened to you, which was ... I hesitate to use the word exciting, but it was definitely interesting, as the curse goes.
This all began with the hardback version of your book The Cleaner. Some of you, I think a lot of you, probably have followed this one way or another. However some of you might now know what we're talking about at all, so we should probably just set it out and explain the sort of learning experience that we've been through over the last 10 days or so.
Perhaps you should start really, Mark, by just explaining. The Cleaner is an older book of yours, but this was a new version of it.
Mark Dawson: Yes, there it is above me on the shelf up there. So yeah, it is a brand new hardback edition, first that's been published in that format by Welbeck, who are my absolutely awesome publishers, and I'll be saying something else about in a moment. It's in the stores and in supermarkets, and all kinds of places. And it has been really, really exciting. Even though we're going to talk about some stuff that has the potential to be ... it's been a difficult week, there's no two ways about it, but it hasn't taken the shine off a really exciting experience. I work with some great people. And it's one of those things. We'll deal with it, and I don't want people to think that this has been an ordeal because that wouldn't be true at all.
James Blatch: No, we should definitely say well done to Welbeck, they've been fantastic. I remember when you first started talking about this deal, and I was thinking, do you know what, this day in age with High Street dying a little bit and ebooks rising, he's an entrepreneurial guy, the guy at the top of Welbeck, isn't he? And he obviously sees an opportunity, Mark an opportunity, but one that you have to work very hard at I think to find the margins, but I think they've done a fantastic job, and I think you must be pleased with that as well.
So yes, you have this lovely hardback edition, as you said, if you're watching on YouTube you can see it above Mark's right shoulder. And one of the things I know that you were doing is basically sending out these bespoke copies to people. You were signing it trying to get them in the hands of readers, different ways of doing that.
So that was the starting point of where things got a little bit tricky down the line, so just explain about your role, which is part indie author, part trad author, really, because you're doing kind of indie stuff and doing a bit for filling sales.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, so UK's readers were pretty easy. We had WHSmith were fantastic. They got on board really early, and I signed several hundred copies for Smiths to post out to UK readers. And that, as far as I know, went really, really well. I told my list, "If you're in the UK and you'd like a signed copy, here's where you go to get it." And they all, readers, went to do that, and they got their copies, which was great.
But in the course of sending that email out, I got lots of emails from non-UK readers who asked how they could get a signed copy too. So obviously now have to ... completely honestly, I wanted those sales to count, and as many sales as possible to count towards the chart, just as I would for an Amazon launch or any other kind of situation. I wanted to get those sales to register.
So I spoke to Welbeck, and we tried very, very hard, or they tried very hard to find some way that those sales could be fulfilled to the readers. Smiths wouldn't ship abroad, so we couldn't do it that way. We tried a couple other options, and not from want of trying, they just didn't pan out in a way that was economically viable for most readers. So I kind of did the indie thing I suppose, and I thought maybe perhaps I can do it.
So that was the genesis of it. I wanted to make sure that readers could get the books, and of course I wanted those sales to count towards the chart. I don't think, and I still don't think, there was anything wrong in that at all.
James Blatch: So what you actually did, was you sourced the books yourself, made sure it was a little independent book shop. Actually, that was a deliberate choice to get a bit of cash going over their desk as well, and then you fulfilled the orders, literally envelope stuffing on the kitchen table.
Now, the suggestion is that it was wrong of you to do that at a time when you were trying to chart, that using those sales to try and chart was wrong. That was the suggestion, right?
Mark Dawson: We can get onto exactly what the suggestion was in a minute, but yeah, I've seen people suggesting that it was devious or nefarious, all those kinds of things. And it really, really wasn't. Again, we'll get onto this, those sales have been removed. It was about 400 orders that were placed by non-UK readers, and that was the number of books that I bought to fulfil those orders. And those sales have now been taken away, discounted by Nielsen. I am completely fine about that.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: I've been very, very impressed by Nielsen throughout this. Again, we'll touch on this in a minute, but there was a single rule in their rule book, which I wasn't aware of, and you could make the case that I should have been aware of that. I'm not going to argue that too strenuously, but they found that those books were ... they shouldn't have counted, the reason being that they went to non-UK consumers. So they were effectively exported.
Again, I have absolutely no problem with that at all, and those 400 sales ... Originally it charted at eight, so we got to number eight, which was wonderful. Those sales then were discounted and the book dropped to 13, which let's be honest, that's still wonderful. I'm still very pleased with that. And the good news is, the book is selling strongly even after all this kerfuffle has taken place.
James Blatch: Yeah, it is a shame this has detracted from the main achievement here, of Welbeck and yourself, is to get a book into number 13 in the hardback charts in the UK. It's fantastic, and a very prestigious list that is organised by Nielsen. I really want to make this point that should be obvious, and this is a point lots of people have made to us in emailing us their support, is that you have been completely transparent about this all the way through. This is not an underhand tactic to try and game a system, it's not an underhand tactic to do in the dark to try and manipulate anything.
This is you doing what Indies do, which is maximising your marketing efforts and telling people about it and how to do it, but maybe ... I don't know, can I use the word naïve? Would you take that, that it was a bit naïve of you to think ... or to not stop and think? And actually, do you know what? My BBC background, I should have stopped to think as well when you were talking to me about it a couple weeks ago. But anyway, that was the mistake.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. We have been very transparent about it. We've podcast on this point twice, and we've been going into lots of detail on that. Obviously I've also been emailing my readers. Now I know that lots of authors are on my reader mailing list, I know that to be a fact. So it isn't something that I've kind of been whispering about. I've been kind of ... I suppose in some ways I'm like the crash test dummy here. I've been trying to find ways to maximise the launch, and this felt like a good one for me.
The next thing that happened, we'll just quick rattle through the rest of it. This came on a Monday, I was in Lowestoft on Tuesday. My dad is ill, and I've actually gone down to be with him in hospital. So I was actually with the kids at a zoo in Lowestoft, so had lots of phone conversations with Welbeck and then with Nielsen. I spoke to the MD of Nielsen, who I have to say, was fantastic, a really nice guy. We had two very good discussions where I explained what happened, he explained his position from Nielsen's point of view.
His view was, and they put out a statement to kind of codify this, and also we had some discussion beyond that. They concluded that it was an innocent error, which is absolutely correct. He didn't feel that I'd acted unethically, or that I'd tried to game the system, which is what the article was suggesting. His view was that it was like a virtual book signing. So I had readers wanted signed copies, I signed them, I sent them off.
The only rule, as we said, that was broken was that those books, in this instance, went to non-UK readers. If it wasn't for that, I think those books would all have ... those sales would all have counted. So I know that now, that's not a mistake I'll make twice.
James Blatch: All right. We do actually have the perfect antidote to a little bit of a dip in an author career, which is an interview with a fantastic pair of authors. They are sisters, Caroline and Suzanne Peckham, from here in UK. They live in Kent.
I first met Caroline at Vegas last year, and she came and introduced herself, and we had a chat over a beer. I was really taken aback with her level of commitment and enthusiasm to what they were doing trying to get their writing career going. I think they both wrote ... well, they talk about this in the interview, independently.
But then I met her again on a boat on the Thames after our conference-
Mark Dawson: We should add there, we don't have an SPF boat. On the speedboat.
James Blatch: Yeah, on the-
Mark Dawson: On the yacht. There on the yacht.
James Blatch: I was in Monaco last week, they did it very nice, those yachts. We don't have one of those, no. I met her on the boat, our drinks party boat for the conference and was blown away at the scale of their success. They couldn't stop smiling, they just had their first $50,000 month. They are absolutely brilliant, they're prolific writers, which is a really helpful thing, as we often say. But I'm going to let them tell the rest of the story. Here is Caroline and Suzanne.
James Blatch: Welcome to the Self Publishing Show, Caroline and Suzanne. We've had a few husband and wife teams, and I know of at least one brother team in the community, and here we have sisters who are doing it for themselves. I've fallen into cliché already.
So you've got to tell us how this all started, because I think you both grew up wanting to be writers? Both writing independently, is that how it started?
Caroline: Yeah, we both self-published about 2015.
Caroline: And then we were writing for about two years before that, and we were talking to each other while that was going on.
Susanne: One of those things that we always said, "We should do it. We should do it." And then our parents would go, "What do you want to do? You need to go get a job," and we'd be like, "We're going to be writers." They'd be like, "Yeah, okay, but get a real job."
Susanne: And then we kind of were like, "Then actually do it," and then kind of pushed each other like, "Have you done chapters today? Have you done anything today?"
James Blatch: At that stage back in '14 you said, that's you writing your own books?
Caroline: Yeah, that was separate.
James Blatch: So just encouraging each other, but not working as a joint enterprise.
Susanne: We edited for each other.
James Blatch: Oh, okay.
Susanne: Yeah, so we beta read, I guess, and edited for each other. And helped each other out with new ideas. But mostly separate books.
Caroline: I've not really had a coauthor at all, to be honest. It never even occurred to me that we'd write together. We saw other people were doing it and then it was 2018 Christmas, we had a chat about it and were like, "Let's give it a go and see if it works." Because we had no idea, because it's such a different process, to open it up. And writing's so personal.
Caroline: It was kind of like a bit of a shift to then be like, we're going to write ...
Susanne: Yeah, share the characters.
Caroline: Share it all. So we'd come up with the ideas together and everything.
James Blatch: Good. I definitely want to talk about that process, and how that's been for you. Just so I understand the journey that you've had. Mark doesn't like the journey work, I've used it. The journey you've had, you started doing this independently.
What genres were you writing in when you both sat down and just started writing?
Susanne: I write dystopian. I was reading a lot of things like the Hunger Games and stuff, so I did dystopian series, as my first. I did dystopian and apocalyptic, as it was actually happening, that were linked together.
Caroline: And I did fantasy YA, was my first series. And then I did a vampire paranormal romance, action kind of series after that. And that was my game changer series. I went full time on that after about a year.
James Blatch: Wow.
Susanne: In 2017, I think I went full-time.
James Blatch: Was there a sense of competition at that stage, Suzanne? Were you thinking, "Damn it."
Susanne: We've never really been competitive with each other, but it was kind of like, "Come on!" Because I just really wanted to do it too, but then I was in a slightly different position with having a mortgage to pay and kids and just being like, "I have to pay my bills!" And being scared to take the leap and also to really invest money into the advertising. Caroline would be like, "You have to spend 100 pounds." I'd be like, "It's 100 pounds, I need that for whatever." And I'd be really scared to do it.
Caroline: I've spent a long time studying on the marketing side of it, and then my vampire series was written to market. My first series wasn't at all.
Then I took the leap to quit my job here with my parents, and then moved to Costa Rica for six months, and then I wrote while I was out there, and just filled up, started getting the vampire series ready. This was before I went full time, so this was I was determined. I basically decided when I come home I'll be part time or a full time writer. And I was part time when I came home. And then I went full time that Christmas.
James Blatch: So you were the risk taker, as you say Suzanne, you were married with children at this point, and ...
Susanne: I had my-
James Blatch: A slightly different perspective.
Susanne: My little girl at the same time that Caroline went to Costa Rica, Riley was three months or something. So I was in the midst of, well I've got a baby.
James Blatch: It does without question, makes big life changing decisions more difficult. There's no question about that.
James Blatch: I think we all accept that. As a Formula 1 boss once said, one of his drivers, as soon as they had children, took a second off his lap. As well there's a kind of in-built thing where you just don't risk everything anymore.
Anyway, Caroline, you were a young, free, single Costa Rica-
Caroline: Yeah, I was like-
James Blatch: Where on earth did Costa Rica come from? Did you throw darts at a map or ...
Caroline: Actually I went on holiday there the year before and I just fell in love with it and I decided that I wanted to do that when I was out there.
James Blatch: Did you work there or did you go and write ...
Caroline: I saved up obviously, but I went and worked, I did a month's course for teaching English while I was there. And then I actually didn't do that, because basically they wanted you to commit about 10 hours a day. And they gave me a job as a copywriter, not even a teacher afterwards. I would have had to move to the city away from the beach where I was, which was kind of not what I wanted, when I went there for as well.
Then I decided I was going to commit that time to the writing. Because I knew if I took that job, it would just consume everything and I wouldn't get it done.
So I got a little promo girl job in a hotel, and used to walk throughout the beaches and give out leaflets and stuff for a few hours every day. It was literally like three hours a day walking on the beach, I didn't mind that.
James Blatch: Yeah, sounds arduous.
James Blatch: And so you wrote these books independently. You got into your self-publishing.
Caroline, you had a bit more time to focus on the marketing side of things, but Suzanne, she shared some of this with you, right?
Susanne: Definitely. And Caroline's always been really good with telling me how to do it, but I think my brain's a bit more ... I don't know if I can't grasp it. So then I'd be like, "What if I pay you to do it for me?" And then we were trying to figure out. And she was obviously writing more books at that point, so I was doing more editing for her and we were coming to a bit of agreement with helping each other out a bit.
James Blatch: When you got to 2018, before you started collaborating on the writing, how many books did you have out each, and where were you in terms of marketing and selling?
Susanne: I had nine.
James Blatch: Wow.
Susanne: I had a series of five completed, and then a series of ... Well, I hadn't completed that series, but would be five. So I had nine out and then with three novellas as well so I got them all out. They were all doing okay, I was making like 500 pounds a month, but obviously it wasn't money that I could go and have as my job. From basically no advertising or doing anything, it was just doing that, taking over kind of thing. And then ...
Caroline: I had 12 out and then the bulk of my money came from the vampire series. After I launched that pretty well because I'd done it to market, and I obviously advertised and everything, and I knew what I was doing at that point, because I'd spend so much time reading all the stuff online and everything. So that one went pretty well straight away.
James Blatch: Prolific writing.
James Blatch: Done 20-odd books between you in just a few ... how many years, four years?
Susanne: Yeah, that was 2015 we published, so then three years?
James Blatch: Three years.
Susanne: Three years.
Caroline: About 100,000 words each, those books. So they're not the longest.
James Blatch: Still, I think that's very impressive. You've obviously got the writing bit done.
So you decided to come together. Basically Suzanne, you noticed that your sister was making money.
James Blatch: And you thought, "I want a bit of this."
Susanne: I'd just had my son, and working here wasn't really working out. Mum and Dad wanted to scale the business back and obviously taking my wages out of the equation would be quite good for that, and after my maternity leave, it was kind of like, "Could you come back and not work as many hours, so that they could keep money lower and stuff." And then it was like, okay but I need to get back to that money.
I don't remember exactly what ... We were discussing, "Shall we? We can try out this coauthoring thing." And then we were like, we could certainly write the books quicker.
Caroline: We started January 2019.
Caroline: We wrote our first book together.
Susanne: I think about January 5th, I remember getting a text from Caroline just being like, "So are we going to do it though?" Let's do it, let's do it.
James Blatch: That new year time, isn't it, when you decide your going to do something.
James Blatch: So your parents made you redundant, effectively, just after you've had a child. This is what I'm hearing.
Susanne: They gave an ultimatum.
James Blatch: Here's some booties for the baby, and by the way ... Is the job situation. I could see how that happened, and I think you're supportive of your parents scaling back.
Susanne: 100%, yeah. They made it so I didn't have to get a real job. I wouldn't do well in the real world, I'm not good at being told what to do.
Susanne: I don't like turning up at certain times for things, I'm not on time for things I arranged myself.
James Blatch: None of us do, and once you start this work, you can never go back, by the way. You know that.
James Blatch: So you started writing, and then how did you approach writing a book together? First decision is genre, I guess.
Caroline: The first series we did together, we tried to cross our two genres. We did a dystopian vampire romance.
James Blatch: Right. Tried to cross the streams.
Caroline: Yeah. We thought we'd bring our two reader groups together, and that would be a great idea.
Susanne: My reading group was about 100 people at that point, so probably wasn't really that relevant.
Caroline: I think I had 500-ish at that point.
Susanne: I think we were like, let's bring them together and we'll do that. And we did seven books. We started writing in January, we started publishing in March. We published one every two weeks, it was insane.
Caroline: We caught up with ourselves, because we wrote them before, but only about two or three?
Susanne: Two or three ahead, yeah.
Caroline: And it caught up with us from the weekly-
Susanne: On the release dates.
Caroline: The release dates.
Susanne: We released one every week, weren't we?
Caroline: Yeah. We decided to just do a rapid release.
James Blatch: Sorry, just explain that to me again. How quickly did you write these books?
Susanne: Well, those books are about 100,000 words, aren't they?
Susanne: And the novellas are 50,000 each. We were turning them around within about three weeks.
James Blatch: Wow.
Susanne: Yeah, which is still what we do now. But our books are more like 200,000 words now.
James Blatch: Okay.
James Blatch: So that was your dystopian vampires, was the first series. And how did that go?
Caroline: It did go well.
Susanne: That made us the money that we needed. I wanted to be able to ... I wanted 2000 pound a month.
Susanne: Because that pretty much matches my wages, and then if I can get that and we can get that each, then I could happily leave working at the cattery.
James Blatch: And you're doing most of the marketing, Caroline? Of this?
Caroline: Yeah. I do all the marketing for it. Facebook and Amazon ads we do. And then we focus a lot on our Facebook group, we get readers involved in everything. So that's a really big part of our marketing. And we've got a newsletter as well.
James Blatch: Okay, we'll talk about marketing in a moment.
Let's carry on with the craft side of things, with writing. So you sit down and you knock out the words, which is great.
Caroline: We really made our process through doing that. Because initially we didn't plan out the books chapter by chapter, we just kind of were like, let's have an idea, a beginning an end.
Susanne: We kind of separate stories going on within the same book.
Caroline: Yeah, we had two.
Susanne: So I had chapter-
Caroline: Two characters that worked together.
Susanne: Two sisters who worked together, and they were coming together. And two separate love interests and stuff. That's how we initially did it. Because it's like two separate stories within one, but they are also linked to the main story. They were going towards an end goal together. So we could kind of have our own story that didn't really matter what was happening in each other's.
It did still work. And they didn't actually end up in the same place until book three, at which point we had to plan it a bit more proactively.
Caroline: Yes, stop doing it, more like now that the characters ... Because when one chapter ends and the characters are all together, we have to know where they were.
Susanne: Yeah, and what time of day it is, and stuff like ...
Susanne: So many times we would be like, I'd send a chapter over, and Caroline would be like, "Great, but it's actually midday." And I was like, "oh, I did it in the middle of the night." But now that's isn't happening.
Caroline: We plot everything by chapter now, so we know exactly where we are.
James Blatch: It was a good way of getting writing done quickly though, wasn't it, where you could write your own stories within the books going together.
James Blatch: At what point would you be sharing your writing, ever day or so would you look at each other's writing, or?
Susanne: Every chapter.
James Blatch: Every chapter, okay.
Susanne: I'd write a chapter and send it to Caroline, she'd write a chapter and send it to me. And then we edited for each other and send it back, put it in the main document.
Caroline: Yes, so we'd always rotate. So it would be my chapter, then Suzanne's, my chapter then Suzanne's.
Susanne: Yeah, later books, because we'd end up with eight characters to write from, and later books it sometimes might work out that we get a double.
James Blatch:And is that how you laid out the book, it would be one character for one chapter, and then the other character?
Susanne: Yeah. So initially we just did it from those two characters, didn't we. And then we started to be like, well we'll have some from the POV of the love interests.
Susanne: I think now in later books there's five, six, seven character point of views.
James Blatch: So that first series did well, as you say. Profiting, bringing in a revenue allowed you to take a ... What did you say, two, four thousand pounds a month profit? If you were splitting that?
Caroline: Yeah. It was about four to five thousand a month we were making on that.
James Blatch: Excellent. And that's profit after the ad spent.
Caroline: We were spending only about ... it was low then, 2 or 300.
Susanne: Yeah. Because I was like, "Aaah!"
Caroline: Definitely still afraid to spend, definitely.
Susanne: It's like, but this is my money. So yeah, that series still does quite well. It in a boxed set now, and what was it at 50,000?
Caroline: We make in KU reads ... It's 500,000 KU reads a month on that box set.
James Blatch: Wow. And how many books is in the box? Books in that set?
Caroline: Seven books.
Susanne: Seven, yeah.
Caroline: And then each individual book makes about 30-40,000 a month. KU reads, not pounds.
James Blatch: Wow. Yeah. Divided by .0005 for cents.
James Blatch: No, that's superb, that's really good. Obviously, the first thing to say is your writing must be fabulous, because the readers obviously love it.
You've got a system that allowed you to write independently, and then after that series, did you obviously start to think about your process but also your genre?
Susanne: Well, we did Aladdin, which went terribly.
Caroline: Oh, I'd forgotten about Aladdin.
James Blatch: Aladdin?
Susanne: The Aladdin film was coming out, and we were like, "Everybody's going to want Aladdin." Fairytale retellings are super hot. This was my idea, so it's all on me. We were like, "Let's go for this two characters thing again." So we did a mashup. So we did Aladdin and Rapunzel. I still stand by that those books are good.
Caroline: They are good, yeah.
Susanne: But they did not sell.
Caroline: There's not a massive market for it.
Susanne: I think it should have been more YA and we were a bit too much swearing and ...
James Blatch: A bit darker.
Susanne: Yeah. We were a bit dark. People, our readers who have read it, have really enjoyed it, and we enjoyed it. But it was going to be five books and then I think by the second book, we were like, "Nah, we'll make it a trilogy. Get it done, get rid of it."
Caroline: We could see it just wasn't going to sell the way the vampire one had.
Susanne: It didn't really work.
James Blatch: Was that just a one-off book, the Aladdin?
Caroline: It was a trilogy.
James Blatch: I thought it was a trilogy, that's three.
James Blatch: You didn't do anything by halfs, you never do just one book.
Susanne: It was going to be five and then we were like, "No, it's not working."
Caroline: Within two months, we'd done that, I think. It was about two months.
James Blatch: So Rapunzel gone bad type genre didn't take off.
James Blatch: And then what did you do?
Susanne: So then we were like, let's look at this whole thing. Obviously we were coming out on 20 books then. The genres, looking at writing to market.
Caroline: We were looking at, academy was really hot.
Caroline: I think it still is really hot. We were in paranormal romance, so-
James Blatch: Just explain academy to people who aren't familiar with the genre?
Caroline: It's basically set in a school like a high school to college age, then it's magic and it's all kind of different versions that people do right now.
Susanne: I kind of think of it like the Harry Potter genre. The age of people who grew up with Harry Potter.
James Blatch: I just saw it, yeah.
Susanne: She's like runway.
Susanne: So I think of the people who grew up reading Harry Potter and then they've grown up and they want more adult ... that's what I think is where the academy, the Hunger Games books come from, it comes from. It seems like I think a lot of people want that darker, grittier, more grown up version of that kind of college age.
James Blatch: So that was your next series. And at this stage, had you started moving away from the independent story lines.
Caroline: Yeah, absolutely.
Susanne: No, we still had the two sisters.
Caroline: Yeah. That's true.
Susanne: We still did two sisters, so they were twin sisters who ended up in the fae world and didn't realise they were fae and we went down that whole thing. And then we took a new spin on things like shifters and vampires and stuff. And we did a lot of work on the world building. We started planning that out for ages.
Caroline: We didn't start writing for a long time.
Susanne: We drew maps and were like, if we're going to do it, let's really do it.
Caroline: We sat down in a sense of what do we want from an academy. We read the genre, and we were like, what do we ...
Susanne: What do we enjoy, what do we want more.
James Blatch: So is this as a subgenre of urban fantasy, is that what you'd describe it as, or not?
Susanne: I get urban fantasy and paranormal romance mixed up. There's a lot of romance in ours.
Caroline: Some people-
Susanne: Whereas people say urban fantasy ... I don't know, is not romance driven? But we have a strong plot that isn't [crosstalk]
Caroline: I'm not too sure. It crosses over somewhere in the middle there.
Susanne: You could take the romance out, and ours would still have a very strong story, but also the romance is kind of what everyone lives for when they're reading it. So we're quite mean.
James Blatch: So it's a Hollywood thriller, it's like Top Gun with the love bit in there.
Susanne: Yeah, it wouldn't be the same without it.
James Blatch: You've still got the story.
James Blatch: So you started with the two sisters again, and then I'm just interested in how your process has evolved to where you are today.
Susanne: With that we did a lot more carefully. Initially that book only took place in the space of about a week in the timeline, because we still weren't very good at skipping the time and stuff.
Susanne: But we did much more like, we have time tables and stuff, didn't we? We're like, "They'll be in this class on this day." And then when that-
James Blatch: Oh yeah, it lends itself.
Susanne: It's this time of the day, because they were joining this new world, it felt really weird to be like, oh and then a week later, somebody realised that there was a dragon shifter in the room next door or whatever. So it had to be quiet but-
Caroline: We'd had planned that, because we'd based it all around the zodiac in the trilogy. We wanted the classes in it and to do all of that, keep that part of it in it. So if we'd skip time, then it would have been missing all those first lessons, and then we'd have to back explain them or be like, "Oh, I've been in this lesson before."
Susanne: So many things.
Susanne: We'd forget out, and Caroline's done a lot of research with all that sort of stuff. I'll be like, "And then they had a fire fight lesson." And they're all fighting, and Caroline's like, all the numerology stuff down to the details perfect.
James Blatch: You're the details person, Caroline.
So how did you actually go about planning this and plotting it. What sort of methodology did you use to share this between? You'd have sessions where you'd physically come together, sit in a room and do some plotting?
Caroline: We were house sitting. Mum and dad were away, and Suzanne was house sitting for them, so I came over, and we spent ... I think it took us a few days to plan this one.
Caroline: The first zodiac book.
Caroline: And then we did it literally chapter by chapter. We knew that we needed to do that to this as well, because they were going to be the characters interacting all the time.
Susanne: Yeah, they were all in the same place, so there had to be a lot of that. It's a bully romance as well, so it had a lot of mean stuff.
James Blatch: What romance?
James Blatch: Bully. See, somebody who reads Len Deighton thrillers-
Susanne: Come over to the high school bully.
James Blatch: They've got communist ... Yeah, so I'll have to go through these subgenres.
Susanne: Yeah. You want the bad boy bully romance, that's what you want.
James Blatch: Bully romance. Ah, okay.
Susanne: You're missing out.
James Blatch: That's the bad boy romance, I understand that, so bully romance is that.
Susanne: Bully romance, they're specifically mean to the girl they fall in love with.
Caroline: It was a really hot genre and it still is, coming in at that time. So we were like, let's do academy, let's bully.
Susanne: Fae was really big.
Caroline: Fae was really big, yeah.
Susanne: And we made the fae have orders, so that's like vampires and werewolves and shifters. So we got it all.
Caroline: We made the books have everything in it.
Caroline: I was concerned about moving away from vampires, because my series had been so popular. Then our Age of Vampires that we did together was popular. So I was like, we must have vampires in it because we've got everybody reading for the vampires. We can't lose them.
James Blatch: Some fan service for the vampires, yeah.
Caroline: They need their vampires.
Susanne: They want their dark brooding vampires.
James Blatch: So what was that series called? This is the second one after the ...
Susanne: Zodiac Academy.
James Blatch: Zodiac Academy, okay. How did that go commercially?
Caroline: Very well. This is our biggest series. We're still writing that one.
Susanne: We just released book five of that.
Susanne: So really, really well.
Caroline: We managed to get two books out in that first month, somehow. We released on the 2nd of August last year. And then the 30th of August, we somehow got the second book out. I don't remember it.
Susanne: We must have had the first book written, maybe we gave it to the ARC. We only give our ARC readers a week now, but I think back then we gave them a month. So we had the other one written.
Susanne: And going through as well.
Caroline: We had a six week field of book one, because we wanted to do a massive marketing push on it, with Facebook ads. And I won't go too much into the marketing. I don't want to just yet. But we basically got up to 10,000 pounds in August, across the board on all of our books, once Zodiac had released at the start of August.
James Blatch: Fantastic. So your first five figure month?
Susanne: I was counting the pages. I'm not one for numbers.
James Blatch: Start off the decimal point. We met, Caroline, for the first time, I think in November in Las Vegas.
James Blatch: So this was all sort of had happened at that point for you, and you ...
Caroline: Yeah, so it just happened.
Susanne: Just starting.
Caroline: We would have had maybe book three out by then, I think.
Susanne: Yeah. Because we went on holiday in September and then decided to do a spinoff series.
Caroline: Yeah, because it was doing so well.
James Blatch: You carried on with the academy series, is that still going? Are you still writing into that series?
Caroline: Yeah. We're still writing that one. We've done a spinoff, another academy in the same world series.
Susanne: We did reverse harem as well.
James Blatch: Okay, I've heard of reverse harem as a term.
Caroline: You've heard of that one.
Susanne: It's not in the same work.
James Blatch: Is that still hot?
Caroline: It actually outsells Zodiac, even though Zodiac gets crazy fans.
Susanne: It's the most popular. Most people will say they're in love with Zodiac, and they would say the Dark Fae and the Darkmore books add to that, because they're in the same world. But yeah. I think the reverse harem sells better than it does.
James Blatch: But you know there's going to be a lot of academic works going to be done on the state of feminism and women based on the genres and subgenres that emerged during the self-publishing era. I can see it now happening, bully romance, the reverse harem. What does this say about the state of ...
James Blatch: Anyway. That's not for us to ...
Caroline: All the women are just, men can treat you terribly but that means they get power with it.
James Blatch: I always knew the bad boys got the girls, always suspected it was the case. Anyways, so you're still writing to that series, you've done the spinoff series.
Where are you now in terms of, if you don't mind sharing your stats now in terms of income?
Caroline: Last month was our biggest month ever. We released the fifth book of Zodiac.
Susanne: Fifth Zodiac, yeah. We also have got our new series, we did a contemporary reverse harem series.
Caroline: Based on the quarantine.
James Blatch: Oh, brilliant.
Susanne: So we wrote that within two weeks and we got that out in April.
Susanne: In April, Kings of Quarantine.
Caroline: That just went really crazy.
Susanne: Crazy. It's done so well. It made like 10,000 pound in two weeks.
James Blatch: Wow.
Susanne: On its own. And we're just about to release the second one in that series as well. So that's contemporary, so that's completely separate. Plus Zodiac, and then the two spinoff reverse harem series we've done from that. And then other contemporary book which is a standalone.
Caroline: Yeah. Because those dropped so close to each other, we made about 50,000 pounds too. It was 52 or something.
James Blatch: 52, not that anyone's counting.
James Blatch: So goodness me. This time next year, we could be looking at six figure months.
Susanne: It doesn't feel real, we haven't spent any of it.
Caroline: No, we're just like, "We'll just keep writing books. I don't want it to drop. I don't want to ...
Susanne: Believe in it.
Caroline: Yeah. It's scary to believe in.
James Blatch: And your parents who said you should get a proper job ... I have seen at various points in the interview, behind your shoulders. They must be ...
Caroline: Peering in the window.
James Blatch: Have they said, maybe we were wrong about that writing thing, to you?
Caroline: They've always been really supportive.
Susanne: Yeah, they were always really supportive, it was just like, "You can't just do that and sit in the room upstairs and not have a job, not earning any money." So we had to work, and we had to work in the cattery or we'd just go out and get jobs.
Susanne: It's fair enough.
James Blatch: It's fair enough, yeah.
Caroline: You can't be sat at home when you're 25, telling your mum and dad to just shush because you're writing.
James Blatch: I'm going to be a rock star, type thing.
Susanne: Yeah, exactly.
Caroline: Sorry, I was going to say I always saw the potential in it because I could see other people doing it. And from even just on a school scale, because I was like, I can see every book I release makes me a bit more ... Feeds back into the series, and I thought at some point I will make enough, even if it's only 50 pounds on each book. Eventually have to pay off.
Susanne: And being all sort of, all we want to do is be full-time. We said, if we can just make 2,000 pound each a month. That's it, that's full-time for me.
Caroline: That couple that we made at that time.
Susanne: And that's something you like, you can rely on that.
James Blatch: You are rock stars. You've done incredibly well. And like I say, a lot of it goes back to your writing, but you've also ... I guess your secret sauce is the attention to detail from you, Caroline, on the marketing side. Not to belittle the important craftwork you're doing, Susanne.
Susanne: No, definitely.
James Blatch: You do need a marketing head at some point.
Susanne: I'm all into the content, but Caroline's all the rest of it.
Caroline: I think the books have to be ready and marketable. Like I said with the Aladdin ones, I couldn't sell it.
Susanne: It got the same treatment.
Caroline: I could throw as much money as possible and I can't sell it. So if I can spend 10 pounds on that book, but I spend that 10 pounds on another book that does sell, that will return with so much more, that it's not worth it.
Susanne: You have to have the right book to be able to do it. But once you've got them there.
James Blatch: Definitely. Well, I'm still trying to process how quickly you turn around the books. Before we move on to marketing, let me just ask you about editing.
You say you edit each other at the beginning, do you go outside to editors, or are you doing this all in-house?
Susanne: We still edit each other's.
James Blatch: You basically don't have your books edited, is what you're saying.
Susanne: No, we don't have them edited. Well, we do, we have each other. We've always done it, and we've never had-
Caroline: We're both quite hot on-
Susanne: Yeah. Everything with all that, the punctuation and grammar and stuff, we're very quick.
Caroline: And we have a friend that's an editor, who trained us up a little bit.
Susanne: She actually works in trad pub. So she sat with us, she literally had printed out manuscripts of our first books and sat there one evening. You know the amount of time she has to spend with the red marker.
Caroline: Yeah, and she showed us.
Susanne: Speech in a book. I didn't even know that you put a comma and then a speech mark.
James Blatch: I didn't know that.
Susanne: You don't realise.
Caroline: Yeah, you don't realise how different things are.
James Blatch: It doesn't matter how many books you read, you don't notice any of that stuff until you try to write.
Caroline: No, you don't.
Susanne: Until you see that someone's doing it wrong. And then you're like, "Oh."
James Blatch: So that's really interesting. So you still edit in-house, if you like, between the two of you. But because there's two of you, I guess that works.
Caroline: It gets two eyes, which works, because we get four or five edits now. Because I read it and edit it myself, and I send it to Susanne. She reads and edits it and it comes back, and it goes in our main document. And then we read it all again. We've actually cut down on a lot of edits.
Susanne: Yeah, we've cut them out.
Caroline: We used to do, like, 12.
Susanne: Yeah, and we weren't really finding any mistakes anymore. And we were like, do I really have to read this whole 200,000-
James Blatch: Just moving the commas around, yeah.
Susanne: 200,000 word novel again. Because now the books now are over 200,000 words. Because being so much KU and us being able to write so quickly, we can write up to 10,000 words a day each now.
James Blatch: Wow.
Susanne: And we write every day. We try to do a chapter a day. So I'd say between 6 and 10 most days each.
Caroline: And then we rely on our beta readers and ARC readers.
James Blatch: I was going to just ask you about the ARC team. How big is your ARC team and how important are they in the process?
Caroline: We have this really fun, we've only just got an ARC team of 50. Only 50 people. But before that, what we still do is give 100 ARCS out in our group as like this Hunger Games death match.
James Blatch: I have to physically fight to get the proof.
Caroline: They have to be one of the first 100 people to comment. Which obviously when there was 500 people in the group, they had a good chance. And now we're over 3,000. They're literally there all day stalking. We'll say ARCs are dropping today, and they're just like, "Ah," and we do a 10-minute countdown, where there's a post every minute from the characters saying, "You've got 10 minutes to get on the page."
James Blatch: Wow.
Susanne: And then they all comment, and within literally 10 seconds, they're gone.
Caroline: I've filmed it, it's so funny. It's like ding, ding, ding, ding.
Susanne: Yeah, and people are like, because they wrote the word please, now they literally put one letter, just literally.
Susanne: And they still won't necessarily get it. It's not really bad, because they've been there all day and they really wanted the ARC.
Caroline: But what we decided, to keep it that way, because it still makes it fairer than sort of saying you're taking on a team and saying no one else can join in. We've said we've got our 50 ARC team, and then we give 100 away to whoever can get their hands on our stuff.
Susanne: Everyone gets a shot at every book. It makes the group so active, they love it. And we're doing that every three weeks or so.
James Blatch: And does that work for you in terms of feedback for the book?
Susanne: This is why we decided to make the ARC team was because we were finding obviously when it got so popular, we were then getting a lot of new readers or completely random people who maybe didn't ... Obviously a lot of people, they just don't see it in the States. So we were like, there are certain people that are so great and we really need them to get a copy. So we decided to take up the pages and make a team of those hardcore 50 people who we know are really going to give us a good-
Caroline: The people that can't view on Amazon. Because not everyone can.
Susanne: Yeah, you give out 100, and then they're all like, "Well, I'll do a Goodreads review," and it's like, "Oh, thanks."
James Blatch: All on Amazon, thank you.
Susanne: Or it's like, people are in other countries and stuff, you feel bad but obviously we need it to be on the US store and the UK store. And Australia and Canada sell very well as well.
Susanne: But you get 10 people who are doing it in India, it's not really going to help having those reviews on there. Just from that point of view, the numbers are used on the big stores we sell on.
James Blatch: Okay, well let's talk a bit about marketing. Whose idea was the ARC hunger games?
Caroline: I've always done it.
Susanne: We always did it, we just never had ... I couldn't get 100 people to take it.
Caroline: I didn't even put a number on it.
Susanne: I think if we didn't have enough people to ask, to be like, "Oh, let's have a team." So we were like, we'll offer it to everyone in our group and if anyone happens to be free and might want to read a book in the next week.
Susanne: Whereas now, we literally give them a week.
Caroline: Yeah, even up until launch day, it would take a while to get 100 people.
James Blatch: Okay.
Caroline: Yeah, it might take 15 or something.
Susanne: And then now we just kept it that way because it's quite fun.
Caroline: They love it, yeah. They love it and they hate it.
James Blatch: The Facebook group and your mailing list are important parts, certainly for your launching, by the sounds of it.
Caroline: Yeah, they're definitely yeah.
James Blatch: Pre orders and ...
James Blatch: And in terms of paid marketing. You mentioned Facebook and Amazon ads. Just talk about those, what kind of split between them.
Caroline: I used to focus a lot more on Facebook advertising, and that's still a big part of our advertising. But I always wanted to move over to Amazon, because that's where the readers are and that's where they're looking. Initially I couldn't get the ads to run, back when I was doing this before with Susanne. It took me a long time to get to it.
Then finally I got it running and Amazon overhauled their whole system literally a month later. And I was like, for god's sake.
James Blatch: Welcome to our world, where we've done an entire course on one platform.
Caroline: It was so frustrating. Even Facebook has changed everything now. But I feel like the core things I learned about Facebook initially still work. But Amazon, I had to relearn it all. I've read books. And I was so lucky in Vegas because when we queued up to get our lanyards, I happened to go in the queue next to [inaudible] and I didn't realise. We were talking for ages, and then she said, "Oh, yeah, I wrote this book on Amazon." And I was like, "Oh my gosh," I had so many questions that were just blanks that I couldn't get things right in my head. And she explained while we had a 30 minute wait in the queue. And it just changed.
Susanne: I just got this phone call from her like, "You'll never guess." I'm just at home like, "Wow!"
James Blatch: That justified your trip to Vegas in one conversation.
Caroline: It did, yeah.
James Blatch: I bet it did in terms of results as well. So Amazon ads have gone well for you.
On the Facebook ads side, are you using that for mailing list building or for sales?
Caroline: Sales, yeah. Again, it did take a little while. But I don't know if this is a fact, but I seem to find the better a book sells, the more Amazon ads push it, the more it runs. So I had, as soon as things started selling better for us, the Amazon ads kicked in anyway. So I could target bigger authors and start getting them actually running after a while. Now we're up to about 5,000 pounds a months spent the last two months.
James Blatch: Wow.
Caroline: Which is obviously a massive jump from where we were last year. But what we're bringing in obviously makes it worthwhile for sure. But it was scary scaling.
James Blatch: Yeah. But you say it's scary but you've done it, and you've obviously ultimately not been too frightened to scale up, which is an important thing.
Was there some resistance from your sister on this?
Susanne: The hard thing initially was because you're three months behind with the money coming in.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Susanne: So you're like, 'We need to spend 1000 pound this month. But your cut's going to be 1000 pound when it comes in." Because that month we only made whatever.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Susanne: And then I'd be like, "Oh. Okay. Yeah, just do it." Because we had to have faith in it and just go, "Okay, let it go." And at the time I think I was still getting my maternity payout as well, because obviously I was getting the government maternity money, and I was still getting some wages from here. And I think I was like, "Okay, yeah. Just let it go." Because I could see, every month we did it, we made more money.
Caroline: Initially, we had a 0% credit card as well, so we didn't have to pay it off straight away, so it was a little bit below that got us by those first, when it started jumping up a little bit bigger. So we could wait for those bigger payouts to have that.
James Blatch: Yes, that lag is frustrating. But you've built up a bit of a reserve now so you can have for these bigger months.
James Blatch: 5,000 a month is a decent sized operation you're running there, the two of you.
Caroline: Yeah, and it's pretty decently split evenly, for Facebook and Amazon still. I think I feel like I could be better at both platforms. I'm not one of those people that monetizes all the time, I'm not a numbers person at all. How many times I have to send her the invoices and stuff and it's all wrong.
Susanne: She sends me an invoice and she's like, "Send me the money!" So I send it over, and she's like, "Don't send that money, I got it wrong!" And I'm like, well, too late.
Caroline: That was one time.
Susanne: It was only the other day.
James Blatch: I spent it.
James Blatch: Okay, so your Amazon ads platform, I can ask you these questions now because I market six books that Mark and I took on from February. So I now run Amazon ads campaigns.
Caroline: Amazing, yeah.
James Blatch: Whereas before, I would require Mark to ask some of these questions. But these books also are all in KU, and it's definitely profitable, but I have to use bench lining to work out it's profitable. When I look at the Amazon Ads platform, I think only one of my campaigns out of six has ever shown an actual profit in there. Because first of all, it doesn't take account of KU. And second of all, it doesn't take account of read-through.
Do your campaigns show profit to you day by day or is that only that it's profitable because of the wider picture?
Caroline: No. It's always in the red. It doesn't show the profit. Basically, what actually changed my opinion on going a bit harder with it was Bryan Cohen's talk at Vegas, because he said you need to be comparing to your KDP chart, what your Amazon chart's showing, to get a kind of idea about where it is. And he's like, "If you're in the green, especially big jumps, then that's the answer for you, even though it's not accurate."
So at the end of the day, and I can see from when we do scale, we make more money, even though it's not a very accurate ... If you don't have the numbers, but you can see that it's working.
James Blatch: It's interesting and now it's running a business, isn't it? Do you feel when you're doing that work, it feels very different from the craft side of it, from the writing side of things?
Caroline: Definitely. With the ads now, it's kind of like I set them and go. It's not something I spend loads of time on. But every now and then it'll need, like when we're launching a new series particularly, I only advertise book ones in each series. So that would be a much bigger push.
Susanne: And figuring out what works for that series, and what we've seen now selling in contemporaries whereas paranormal, we've got obviously slightly different readerships on the two.
Susanne: So it's a little bit of a, obviously you get crossover, but something that we're doing. And actually with the reverse harem as well, some people don't read both reverse harem and the ...
James Blatch: Bullies.
Susanne: They don't want all that. But enough of them cross over. We have some people, honestly the diehards will read whatever it is, whatever we're writing. And that's great. And then some of them will only get into the certain ones. But then I kind of feel safer in that, because I was always really worried that Zodiac had taken off so big, and I was like, "Fuck, that series has to come to an end." And if that's the series that made us money, it could be flash in the pan and then it all goes to hell. So now that we've got four series?
Caroline: We have five.
Susanne: That are selling really well. Five? Six series that are selling?
Susanne: Five series that are selling well.
Caroline: No, six. If we include the vampires. Yeah.
Susanne: Yeah. Six series that are selling well. Across different genres. So I feel like now it's okay.
James Blatch: What about your solo books you wrote before you started collaborating? Have they gone by the wayside now or do you put them into the mix as well?
Caroline: My vampire one consistently gets me that 2,000 a month, which is what I wanted from it.
James Blatch: Okay.
Caroline: And it sticks at that pretty solidly. I think the great thing about having more series is you'll always feedback a little bit. But it still is just enough away from what we're writing now that you won't get everyone marching back to those.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Caroline: The old ones. But yeah it just keeps it ticking along. And I've still got ads running, but not much. I spend about 200 pounds a month still, which is what I used to spend on that.
James Blatch: So you have your own author business and the collaboration business. Both of you still run things separately?
Susanne: Yeah, we're slightly. So basically, mine, I will blame it on giving the Prime deal but I don't know. I was consistently making 500 pound a month on my nine books, my dystopian, just with doing zero, nothing at all. And then I got a message from Amazon saying, "Would you like to try out your book in Amazon's Prime thingy." So I did it. And it killed the series. It killed it, it just completely, never recovered. It just dropped down.
Because the two series, they're linked, and it just went down to 100 pound a month from there on out. And I was like, it's not doing anything, it's just sat there. So I pulled that first series quite recently and just gave the first book a new edit, I just kind of made it a bit more adult, and gave it a new cover. She makes all our covers as well.
James Blatch: Okay, wow.
Susanne: And then we relaunched the first book, and that made about 5,000 pounds?
Caroline: Yeah. And then it made about 800 pounds a month.
Caroline: So if we get that series re-done.
Susanne: I'm slowly going to relaunch that whole series, and then the four books in the other one, and then finish writing the other one. Because I do have it 85% written, I just forget that it's there. You feel bad because people ask, but then it's like, it doesn't really make any money. If I'm going to spend four or five days doing that, I'm just going to get another book out that will pay the bills.
James Blatch: Sure. And you do the covers as well, Caroline?
Caroline: I do all the covers.
Susanne: She does all the covers.
Caroline: Yeah, I know, it's crazy.
Susanne: I'm just the annoying person that she sends it to and goes, "How is it?" And I go, "Great! That bit's wrong."
Caroline: That's what I need because I can't see it.
Susanne: Yeah, but she's brilliant. And all the formatting, she does.
Caroline: It was originally to save money, and then ... We have this photography course thing I did, it was before we started writing or something. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life when I come out of University.
Susanne: What am I going to do with my life, kind of thing.
Caroline: Yeah. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, and I took a photography course and it gave me some basic Photoshop skills. And then I just started making the covers from there. And then hopefully got better now.
James Blatch: They look great. I'm just looking at them.
Caroline: Oh, thank you.
Susanne: When we launched, I can say it because I didn't make it, when we launched Kings of Quarantine and we were getting promos, people kept asking her who made the covers and asking for recommendations, and she was like, "That was me." I think going for the symbols and stuff obviously makes it slightly easier.
Caroline: Yeah. Zodiac's a bit like that as well, the symbol with the zodiac.
Susanne: The academy tend to be the girl, which is obviously the reverse harem ones, are. But there are enough of the symbol ones that we were like, we'll give it a shot with that. I think it makes them stand out. People recognise that's our books. And we're more confident to do our own thing about with stuff.
James Blatch: And I'm sure it's hard work trawling through all those images of the bad boys to put on the cover. I can see them now in the Broken Fae book, standing there looking mean with his tats.
Remind me what Fae means? Stands for, means?
Caroline: Fae's like the fairies, Seelie Court type thing.
Susanne: It's an array of magic folk.
Caroline: It means a lot of different things in a lot of different books. And I don't think there's a set, this is what fae are. Some of them have wings and some of them don't. It's kind of fairies, but not.
Caroline: It's just got really hot. I don't know, we made it our own thing.
James Blatch: It's like slightly colour on trend fairies rather than the ones at the end of the garden. A bit more urban.
Caroline: Yeah, not like that.
Susanne: The kind of fairies who might kill you.
James Blatch: Yeah, in my garden. I should say it's torrential rain here, which people probably hear in my recording.
Susanne: Yeah, that's why we're not in the conservatory.
Caroline: Yeah, it's stopped here.
James Blatch: Okay, my final thing I'm going to ask you about is literally the writing. You're doing 10,000 words a day each, now?
Susanne: Up to.
Caroline: Up to.
James Blatch: Up to, okay.
Susanne: I would say, like 5,000, that's pretty standard, definitely. We'll get 5,000 done each.
James Blatch: Tell me your routines, are they very similar? Your process for writing?
Caroline: Well because Susanne's got the kids, we're on very different schedules.
Susanne: My son went through a stage of getting up at half-five in the morning every day.
James Blatch: Nice.
Susanne: But then he was super quiet, sitting in his high chair, just really chill, because he was tired, and he was watching TV and eating and doing things. So I would write. And my daughter doesn't get up until 8.
James Blatch: I'm scared of getting up early now.
Susanne: Literally, I hear her coming outside and I'm like, "Ah, sunshine's not up."
James Blatch: Perfect.
Susanne: But then when he stopped doing that and started sleeping in later, I just was like, so what, that's the best time of day I get writing. So I still get up at six, between six and eight. Roman might come wake up during that time, but he'll just sit eating his breakfast, and I can do at least two hours, which I'll get the bulk of my writing done.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Susanne: Nobody's around, and I can just ... At least I'll get a good chunk of my chapter for the day done in that period of time. And then it just really fits in around everything else with the kids and whatever. Nap times.
James Blatch: And you're writing, you're dictating or actually writing, the keyboard, or hand writing with a quill, or ...
Susanne: I write on an iPad.
James Blatch: On an iPad. On the actual iPad? Or do you have a keyboard, tell me you have a keyboard.
Susanne: I don't have.
James Blatch: How on earth? It would take me half an hour to do an email.
Susanne: I don't even have a stand.
Caroline: She just has it on her knee.
Susanne: I just have it on my knee or I set on the dining table. My daughter has a little tin that has pencils in it and I just wedge it on there.
James Blatch: My god.
Susanne: I need to get a laptop. Initially I couldn't afford it, and now I can afford it but I just don't have the time to research it, so I just every now and then say to my husband, "I should get a laptop." And eventually he'll look up for me and find one I can get. Because I'm also kind of worried because I can write so fast on the iPad, changing over to the keyboard, I'm a bit like-
James Blatch: It's what you know, isn't it. I'd worry about your back and everything over a period of time hunched over on that. But anyway.
James Blatch: That's up to you. Get a little MacBook Pro, it's nice.
James Blatch: You had a $50,000 month last month, you can get a MacBook Pro each.
Susanne: I still feel like, spending any of the money, I'm just like, "Ooh."
James Blatch: You can offset your profits as well, so think of it that way. And you get the VAT back I assume if you're VAT registered. And all those things. Caroline will tell you about, because she does I'm sure the figures.
So Caroline, what's your routine?
Caroline: I'm pretty flexible because I just live at home with my dog. So I get up at half-eight, nine. And I spend the morning writing. And then I usually, I'm not very good writing in the afternoon, so I usually do some promo stuff then, marketing things. And then I'll do a little bit more in the evening and finish off my chapter. And that's pretty standard.
James Blatch: And how do you write?
Caroline: Just on my laptop while I'm sitting on the sofa with my dogs beside me.
Susanne: I have dreams of an office one day.
Caroline: I would like an office, I've only got room.
Susanne: I'll buy a house, we'll hopefully have room for an office.
James Blatch: Well, look. Whatever it is, it works. It works really well. I just want to say congratulations. You're a fantastic team, the two of you.
Susanne: Thank you.
James Blatch: It's really lovely as well, I'm sure your parents are heart warmed by your success. Knowing their daughters are working together. I speak as a parent, how lovely that would be.
James Blatch: To see that in the future. I cannot imagine for one moment my son and daughter being in the same room on a collaborative project. But they're teenagers at the moment.
James Blatch: Good. Living the dream, right?
Caroline: It's crazy.
Susanne: It still doesn't really feel real.
Caroline: Ask us next year. And we'll be like, finally, we've accepted it.
Susanne: I don't think I'll believe it until I spend it. Which I probably won't do until I buy a house. So it's just going to sit there, and I'm like ...
James Blatch: Baby steps. Start with that MacBook Pro.
James Blatch: And then write from there to a house. Thank you so much indeed for taking some time out. We were going to do this and literally locked down, the world went crazy during that period.
James Blatch: I see you've cashed in on that with your books, which is great. Good for you. A very wise marketing head. And I'm full of admiration. You've told me your story, Caroline, back in Vegas. Then we met Susanne on that crowded boat.
James Blatch: In the middle of the COVID virus.
Susanne: The last thing we did. The day before lockdown, pretty much.
James Blatch: Yeah, all of us. My last time I ventured out of the house, but it was fantastic hearing it. I'm so pleased you've come on. I think it's going to be a genuinely very inspirational, listening to your stories. Thank you.
Caroline: Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.
Susanne: Thank you.
James Blatch: What a pleasure, we wanted to bring you that interview a little bit earlier, but they suddenly got locked down in separate homes. Susanne's got some children to look after and they're in their bubble, and Caroline was in the other. But anyway, we got them together as soon as the rules relaxed a little bit over here.
And great, just doing everything right, Mark. Clearly following your course has been key for them. But writing a lot, getting the books turned around quickly, really understanding why some books do well with their readers, why some series that they might love writing but haven't done so well. That doesn't mean they're not going to write in those, but they aren't going to obviously have a commercial bent to their decision making.
And how lovely that two young women who thought probably living as a writer was a far-off dream and unavailable to them in reality. That's again one of the great things as indie transformation to publishing has allowed, is people like Caroline and Susanne to flourish and prove their parents wrong.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's great. I met them on the boat as well and had a good chat with both of them, and was really impressed. You can tell very obviously and very quickly the authors who are good writers and also savvy business people, and it was pretty obviously to me that they hit both of those qualifications with some to spare. It's really nice to see that.
I will also mention we've just had, I think, two or three posts in the Mastery group after the launch of the ads course, a month ago, with authors who are now doing really well. Mark Reklau again posted, he's had another big month. We've had an author, I'm afraid her name will elude me, you might know, a new member, we had an author who just posted half an hour ago and she's seeing I think her first four figure month, I think it was. Her mailing list is really growing fast, the ads are working for her.
It's fantastic when you see authors like the sisters and other authors in the community it suddenly clicks, and before you know it they're off to the races.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's Roz Kind, who posted in the group just a few moments ago, just had her first four figure royalty month. I honestly think those first little checks, I say little checks, because we've just been talking about the Peckhams with their five-figure month and heading to a very big year. But those first moments where people are buying your book, paying you money, and you know they're reading it. That must be such a thrill for an author. You can probably remember when it started taking off for you.
Mark Dawson: I can remember the first four figure month and thinking, this is pretty cool. Because I'm starting to edge towards what I was making in a full-time job, and thinking if I can increase that a bit, then this could be me living the dream to be an author that I've always had.
Once you start to get that momentum going, the Peckhams will have seen this and hopefully it will continue, but once you start to get the readers and you start adding books to your backlist and they can continue through those books into new series, maybe, and then they'll tell their friends. And this all can happen exponentially.
Once you push that boulder down the hill and it starts to roll, sometimes if you do everything right, you can just keep gathering momentum, and you can keep improving.
So that's fantastic. I wouldn't be surprised if we hear from them this time next year and they've had their first six-figure month. And before you know it, they'll have a seven-figure year. And all this kind of frankly, absolutely amazing possibilities that we have now as authors, and it can be as ... Publishing digitally or publishing a hard copy or somewhere in between, audio books, all the things that are available to us now. As someone once said, it's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Someone did once say that.
Mark Dawson: Don't believe what the Guardian tells us.
James Blatch: No, you can cancel that subscription.
Mark Dawson: I have done.
James Blatch: I'm sure you have. Just to underline, we talk about Amazon ads from time to time, and I've really got my head around Amazon ads in the last six months as I've been running our Fuse Books account. And was a little bit stunned by the fact that you don't see profit returned to you on that dashboard despite the real world profit being there.
Now there's the Peckhams with their first $50,000 revenue month, they are coining it in at the moment. They know what their expenses are, their ad spend, they have never seen an actual profit on that ads dashboard. So they said that in the interview.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's very interesting, isn't it. Very interesting. As we've mentioned in the community, people all have it now, the KU metrics are now involved in Amazon, I think only through the KDP entry. I don't have it through Advantage, which is ...
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: We've had some comments in the group about that. But that will start to cast a bit more light on the ads. It still won't take into account readthrough, and that's number one on my wishlist, is that we get what in internet marketing would be called average customer value or average order value. So what's one sale actually worth when you take into account other things.
One day maybe we'll get that. I know it's on the Amazon road map, I think. I hope. And we'll see whether we get that in the future. But for now, having the KU stuff, that's really fantastic.
James Blatch: KDP's been down this afternoon for maintenance, so I wonder if they're adding some more stuff. I would like the page reads have arrived, which is great, but they still not translated into dollars, it's just the pages sitting there and the dollars are the actual orders.
Mark Dawson: You can do that.
James Blatch: You can do it? Can you? I know you can do it on the modern dash, with the new beta dashboard.
Mark Dawson: No. With the spreadsheet.
James Blatch: I do that with a spreadsheet anyway. But I'm just thinking about the dashboard, whether it would give you the option of putting in last month's rate or something so you could at least see.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, that would be helpful.
James Blatch: Affected the a cost, rather than having to calculate that yourself. Anyway, we mustn't grumble because page reads have arrived for now and that's only going to go one way, it's only going to get better, that dashboard in time.
I think the Peckhams should do a blog on writing for writers, and they should call it Pen it like Peckham. Penned it like Peckham.
Mark Dawson: Oh god.
James Blatch: There you go.
Mark Dawson: You've been sitting on that.
James Blatch: I just thought of it. Caroline and Susanne, you can have that one on me. And hopefully, I think I keep saying this at the end of interviews, one day soon we'll be having a beer again with people in real life, somewhere. Perhaps we should be, I don't think it's going to be this year. But good.
Well that was the week that was.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It was. I'm done. I'm not mentioning it ever again.
James Blatch: No, we're done on that one. Thank you very much for those of you who have supported us, supported Mark in particular, with your comments. Every single one of those supportive comments has meant something, and I think probably enabled Mark just to limp from one minute to another at various points last week. So we do say a huge thank you to you. Be those people who are helping. A rising tide raises all ships. Let's try to be a bit more like that and a bit less like the person who goes to the national newspaper to maximise and inflict damage on people rather than perhaps being helpful.
Right, that is it. I promise. That's the last thing I'm going to say about it. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. We have some really good interviews coming along, and a sensational interview with Marie Force. Now, Marie was one of our very early guests. Maybe the second week? I can't remember.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, early. It was early.
James Blatch: Right at the beginning. It was really early. And I sat down with Marie virtually a couple of weeks ago, and just had a ball. We had a ball talking for an hour. She's brilliant to speak to, such a lovely person, and full of inspiration for us. So that interview's coming up. It's not going to be in the next couple weeks, but we will get to it soon. I just want to trail it ahead, that is coming up soon. So stand by for that.
James Blatch: Good. That leads me to say, Mark, for this week, is it a goodbye from him?
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye for me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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