SPS-264: Discovery Writing & Digging for Niches – with Steff Green
Steff Green took a chance and began writing in a sub-genre that barely existed. The chance paid off with her first series, and then she found she still had lessons to learn when the second series was released.
- What is a bully romance?
- How readers drive the creation of new sub-sub-genres
- Whether chasing trends in writing is a good idea
- Reflecting on what went wrong when a series flops
- Steff’s unusual writing process that combines discovery writing with outlining
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
HANDOUT: Downloads Steff’s handout about her skeleton writing process
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-264: Discovery Writing & Digging for Niches - with Steff Green
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show...
Steff Green: You always walk away from situations and you think, "Gosh, I wish I'd done this or I wish I'd said this epic comeback and just shut the whole thing down," and you never do and instead you cry or something? In the book, I got to make my heroine do all the stuff that I was too afraid to do, so it was really cool.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. Yes, it is The Self-Publishing Show on a Friday with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Different in energy levels there, Mark.
Mark Dawson: Huh? What? Who?
James Blatch: Quite different, yes.
Mark Dawson: Thanks. Yes, I'm just very busy today. Lots of things going on. Running around like a you know what to get things done.
James Blatch: I do indeed. It's the first of the month and I do lots of bill paying and accounts stuff and it is spreadsheet-tastic, but I just mentioned to you and you've pointed out to me that it is in the community several times. I didn't notice it, that there's a set of spurious extra payments arrived from KDP into our bank account.
Mark Dawson: Mysterious.
James Blatch: It's mysterious because they are... Mark's is December royalties which wouldn't be due until the end of this month, beginning of next month and in our case, they've actually been split between us and the authors, Terry and Maureen who are Robert Story's parents and I'm guessing it's because whatever this covers, whatever historical adjustment's happening here or why the distribution money's eventually filtered through or whatever it is, it actually pre-dates February 2020 which is when they had the books in their account, which is interesting. I don't know.
I haven't properly scrutinised the historic data reports, but they might be buried somewhere in there, what this is. It should be accounted for somewhere.
Mark Dawson: In theory, yes. I think it's an annual adjustment. I don't think I've seen it before, although it's possible I have. I think Amazon must've done some kind of audit and realised that people have been underpaid. That would be my guess. Also, there was an email that went around about KU page reads not being calculated properly, so could be that. I don't know exactly. I haven't looked. It was a few thousand for me. It was quite a pleasant little... Well, not that little. About five figures, I think, so a nice little bonus. Thank you, Jeff.
James Blatch: Couple of thousand. Thank you, Jeff for Fuse Books. I try to keep in touch with other people through the community and there's been a bit of stuff about Facebook ads. We might just mention that one actually in a moment, but we're doing well. Fuse is doing well. Month-on-month stronger and stronger.
Had our first five figure income month for January and our biggest profitable month as well, so hopefully it's not just the pandemic and lockdown, but it is just a growth or maybe it's a result of those people who joined Kindle Unlimited last summer, are now regularly reading. That'd be a nice thing for the next few years.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it'd be a number of different reasons but also the book's been advertised properly which hasn't happened for a long time, if ever, properly and you're seeing read through and you're seeing all the things we talk about on this podcast and in courses and things. That's what's supposed to happen. It's doing well.
James Blatch: I will add a session. I'm not going to promise it in the next few days but in the next few weeks, I will add a session to our Facebook Ads for Authors course on dynamic creative because the impact of spending half a day breaking down those individual elements, looking at the historical data and then crossing out the bottom ones and moving some over different territories that work better, the impact on my profitability has been significant, having spent that half a day about three weeks ago. It's been really interesting.
It's slightly laborious at the beginning, but if you break it down and you have a nice spreadsheet to help you, it's definitely something that authors should do.
Mark Dawson: Do you break it down like MC Hammer?
James Blatch: I break it exactly like that. You know how I am, so I basically live my life in a big pair of trousers.
We should say for those who aren't doing it, dynamic creative is where instead of having one image, one headline, one description, you have multiple versions of those and Facebook itself decides based on response which ones it's going to serve. The genius thing is a few weeks, month later, you can see the data of which ones have performed best, which ones have led to clicks that have led to sales. Well, if you can track sales to that level.
One other thing which has popped up a few times, three or four people now have started their own thread on this in our Facebook groups, is that when you're looking at your adverts via your page in business manager and you click on your advert, you get this rather ugly box pops up saying, "You're about to leave Facebook and go to this horrible looking URL", which is basically your Amazon URL turned into some kind of tracking URL, which would be horrific if we thought our end users, Facebook users, were actually seeing that when they clicked on your ad.
But as far as we can tell, Mark, this is something we are seeing when we click on our own ads via our page. It's not being experienced by readers.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I've not ever had any complaints and I've never actually seen that myself but it does look like that is what happens when you click on your own link in certain circumstances. But yeah, I can't replicate that and I've not had ever any issues with the readers. I think if you saw that people were posting comments, "I'm not going to this link because it looks really spammy," and I've never seen this before with all my books. Given the fact that we're advertising at fairly large volumes across both of those, I think we would've seen it by now. My view is no reason to be too concerned at the moment.
James Blatch: I thought I'd mention it though because it's something people are seeing and it is worrying when you see it. Okay, we have a couple of Patreons who are welcomed to The Self-Publishing Show. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. We have, I think, Junior Pomerance from MD, Maryland, I think. Junior Pomerance, which is a heck of a name, from Maryland. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.
We also have Laurie Urbaniak and Kendry Meeks. I wonder if there's any relation to the famous Brian Meeks who pops up at conferences and teaches us all various things. But anyway, thank you very much indeed for joining us. If you go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, you too can be a part of this warm, friendly, embracing environment that we call The Self-Publishing Show.
Now, our interviewee this week, Mark, we had her on a year or so ago. Maybe a bit more than a year or so ago. A fascinating interview for me because I learned all about reverse harem, which I noticed is not something you've introduced to any of your books yet.
Mark Dawson: No, I haven't. I was going to say yeah, you live in one and now you have a name to put to it. Congratulations. It's a good thing to learn.
James Blatch: There you go.
Mark Dawson: What's a reverse harem, James, for those who don't know? Remember, this is a family podcast. Children are listening.
James Blatch: It's not necessarily explicit. It can just be romantic, but the general concept is one female protagonist and multiple male protagonists. Historically, we may have seen in Arabian type, 1950s films, the other way around.
Mark Dawson: Here we go.
James Blatch: A male with his harem, which I think is where the word comes from.
Mark Dawson: That's where it comes from.
James Blatch: Harem. I think it's an Arabic name.
Mark Dawson: Oh, I see what you're taking about. Yes, possibly. I don't speak Arabic.
James Blatch: What was that noise? Strange. Was it Gary Sinise drama show a few years ago about a Utah Mormon family that was...
Mark Dawson: Oh, yes.
James Blatch: That traditional harem. Big family or something like. It was a good show actually, but anyway that's the kind of traditional one. I suppose that's been turned on its head in this particular sub-genre of romantic fiction. It feels to me quite anime-ish in the characterizations but I'm not sure if that's strictly true. But it was one of those little niche genres that just exploded and Steff Green was at the centre of that. She had a series really take off and at the beginning of the interview, she recaps what happened during that.
But she certainly doesn't stand still at all. She has developed a new series, she's gone into new genres, she's tried to take her audience with her and she's also somebody who writes fast but needs a little bit of structure. So, she's developing some tools that we can all use, particularly if you want to be a discovery writer but you do need some sort of framework in which to operate to allow you to do a skeleton type sketch and then get on with the fun bit of writing.
She does all this, by the way, while at the same time being legally blind. She's an amazing individual. Steff, over there in Auckland. About as far away as you can get from here, so let's hear from Steff and then Mark and I will be back for a chat.
Steff, welcome back to The Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you on again talking about what's happened since we spoke last time, because you introduced to me to the delights of reverse harem, which I've never forgotten, last time.
Steff Green: Thanks, James. It's great to be back and yes, that's me. I was the reverse harem writer from a couple of years back and yeah, life's been quite interesting in between now and then.
James Blatch: I've been reading the notes, so we're going to go through some of that now. But let's talk about that episode for a start, because what you had done really is like a prospector in the Texan dust. You had hit a rich, fertile spurt of oil with that series and you had a real, not just a breakout success, a real success that year, didn't you?
Steff Green: I did, yes.
James Blatch: Just tell us about that and how it went.
Steff Green: I started writing reverse harem back in the very early 2018 and I came to the genre as a reader first, or the trope as a reader first and loved it. I was so addicted but I was a romance author and I didn't think I could write one of these, and then of course, immediately when you think, "I could never write that", an idea comes to you. That's the way it works.
I had this idea and I wrote a series and that did really, really well and I was able to quit my job and then I wrote another series which also did quite well and then I started noticing that people on the reverse harem forums and the Facebook groups were starting to talk about these things called bully romances.
James Blatch: Bully romances.
Steff Green: Bully romances, yeah. Readers were asking, "Has anyone got anymore bully romances?" They would post the books that they were talking about and I'd read these books and they were set in high schools and they were enemies to lovers romances, but on steroids. They weren't just enemies in the beginning. The guys that eventually became the heroes were outright bullies to the heroines and it was so addictive. I sort of realised, I'm like, "Oh gosh, this is going to be big." I don't know why I knew that, but I just knew, this is going to be big.
There were only a few of these books out at the time and I thought, "Gosh, well maybe I could do one." I was sort of hunting around for this idea, hunting around for the spark that would give me the story and then the spark came in the shower, which is where all the best ideas happen.
James Blatch: Of course.
Steff Green: It was, what if I combined this bully romance trope, this bully romance thing which always has to happen in high school or college, with one of my favourite sort of science fiction, horror universes, HP Lovecraft's universe. What if I wrote a mythos book as a bully romance? It seemed so ridiculous that could ever be successful, but I put the book up for pre-order. I wrote a blurb, I put the pre-order up, I had no book, I had no professional cover. I just made myself a crappy cover in Canva and I got 935, I think, pre-orders-
James Blatch: Wow.
Steff Green: ... on that book in three weeks. It was crazy.
James Blatch: That's so brave, putting that out without the book being written. You're confident.
Steff Green: I figured worst case scenario, I put this thing up and it doesn't get any pre-orders and I just don't have to write it. But I was getting like 25 pre-orders a day. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is... Wow." So, I wrote this book in three weeks is the fastest I've ever written a book and it just poured out of me. It was just so much fun. I was bullied in high school because of my eyesight, so there was a lot of personal things in there as well situations that I'd been through and I revamped them.
What was quite fun about it was being able to... You always walk away from situations and you think, "Gosh, I wish I'd done that. I wish I'd said this epic comeback and just shut the whole thing down," and you never do and instead, you cry or something. In the book, I got to make my heroine do all the stuff that I was too afraid to do. It was really cool.
Then the book came out and it hit the Top 22 on the Amazon store on release day. It was incredible. No advertising beyond just putting it in the reverse harem Facebook groups. Nothing. That blew my mind, so very quickly, I put out a book two, book three, book four and they all did epically well and that was my 2019. It was amazing.
James Blatch: I've got a couple of questions about this. First of all, it intrigues me how these sub-genres work because it's not just the case... I mean, the bully boys, you said is a bit of a classic thing, the bad boy romance. In fact, going back to Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy, sort of badly treating is part of one romantic trope. But these modern sub-genres and reverse harems was one, bully boys another, they have very particular settings that make them work.
Is this driven by readers? Presumably one or two writers start this and start the high school setting, the bully boy trope here and that creates this little burst of sub-genre.
Steff Green: It's a little bit of both. High school settings, college settings, new adult romance, hyper-angsty romance has been popular for a very long time. I don't know what made the bully thing suddenly take off in 2019, but it was probably part of the zeitgeist of the moment or something. But it was very much reader driven.
Authors weren't calling their books bully romances. That was what readers were calling them and there were three or five books that were out before mine and then they were older books and readers would say, "If you want a bully romance, there's this book from 2014 or this book from 2000," and that kind of fits the trope even though the authors back then had never called them that.
So it was absolutely fascinating for me as an author. This was the first time I'd ever really seen the trend happen, blossom before me. It was pretty cool.
James Blatch: How many did you write in the series?
Steff Green: I wrote four in total.
James Blatch: Did each one sell well?
Steff Green: Yep. Yep, each one was pretty incredible. It was really fun.
James Blatch: And this was last year?
Steff Green: Yeah, the final one, the fourth book came out about the 7th of January this year.
James Blatch: What happens to these sub-genres? Do they burn out as quickly as they blew up?
Steff Green: Bully is still very much very big. This author released a bully book, it was last week and it was number seven in the store or something like that. They're still big, big, big, but they've definitely moved outside... A lot of them are reverse harem and of course, reverse harem is still very popular at the moment.
But again, like all trends, eventually what happens is lots and lots of authors jump on the trend, which is exactly what you want to do and there becomes a tipping point where there's more writers writing in that trend than there are readers who want to read it.
So, it's harder as an author who's writing in the trend to get attention on your books. I'm not sure if bully is quite there yet as a trend, but I think it's definitely getting closer.
James Blatch: Okay, this really is like prospecting, isn't it? You're in the mountains. I use the oil digging analogy. It's a bit like the gold prospectors and you've got to be on your own finding a seam rather than joining a group later when everybody's found it and there's scraps. Fascinating.
This is the cutting edge of the commercial world of writing and publishing at the moment.
Steff Green: Exactly, and chasing trends is not a really clever business plan but I think I got lucky because I got in right at the beginning of the trend. So, my book was often some of the books that people talk about when they talk about bully romance, which is pretty cool. But a large part of that was luck.
Also, I saw the trend coming because I was super involved in the reader groups as a reader, as an author, and because I was watching Amazon, I was watching which books do well and why they did well and listening to readers and what they were really excited about. Also, because I was able to write fast, I was able to get that book out really, really quickly.
There's skills involved that we can all learn and all improve on and so, one day when you see a trend emerging, you can jump on it really quickly.
James Blatch: I guess it dovetails in your case with your own passions, which is important.
I'd like to explore this particular sub-genre before we move on a bit. This bully boy, you say it's like bad boy on steroids where he genuinely is a bully. That seems to be quite a difficult transition to make. You almost talked about the superhero when you talked about when you were bullied, which is always distressing to hear about. Hate to hear about that, Steff, but part of your life and you wished afterwards, like we all do, after the moment, thinking what you could've said and done.
It seems to me that's what the superhero films kind of do for us. Peter Parker gets his amazing powers and suddenly can make mincemeat of those people who are bullying him before. But in those scenarios, the bullies don't really prosper, do they? They don't go on a redemption journey and the bad boy is one thing, being a bit rough around the edges.
Taking a full on bully through to presumably the heroic status at the end of the book, that seems quite a challenge.
Steff Green: It was really, really interesting and it's also been interesting to see the different ways that other authors have tackled this. For me, it was actually really important for me to understand personally why I was bullied. Honestly, writing the books made me really realise that the people that hurt me and that hurt others that I know were themselves hurting and I think that's really the key is that people often manifest outwardly the way they feel inwardly. The redemption arc of the bully in the books is a huge part of what readers love about it.
They want to see this bad boy still be a bad boy, because we love bad boys, but go through that redemption arc and heal and realise that they've been a horrible person and maybe grovel a bit and maybe pay for it a bit, but in the end become a hero. I think that's a really wonderful thing to believe that even people who do horrible things can themselves become heroes.
James Blatch: Empathy, I've always said, is the key to life even if it's sometimes a difficult thing to do and somebody's crossed you or hurt you, but there you go. I can see that and that's really nicely explained. You found this seam of gold. Makes it sound like a cynical gold digger, but you actually were revelling in doing something you loved and dovetailing of passions there.
Then you said it became more difficult or a more crowded space. What happened after that?
What happened in the rest of 2020 apart from a global pandemic, which also happened?
Steff Green: Yes, apart from a global pandemic. I thought I would be super clever and I thought this bully series has done really well for me, so I'm going to write another one and I'm going to focus really hard on recreating the things that I did really well in my popular series and I was going to cut all the stuff that I didn't think I did very well.
I planned out in great detail, I wrote a brand new bully series and I launched it straight after the last book and it completely flopped. It was a complete no show.
James Blatch: Wow, that's amazing. Not just a slight disappointment, but a complete flop. Can you explain that?
Steff Green: A complete flop, yes. It didn't break Top 1000 even on release day. I think I might've made about 5000 in the first month off of this new book, but I probably spend 4500 on the edit. It was horrible. It was such a flop.
It was hard that first month because this was basically right around when we here in New Zealand went into our lockdowns. So, I'm looking at this book and I'm getting worried about everything and I'm thinking, "What have I done wrong? I don't understand. I thought I did everything right. What have I done wrong?"
Then I was able to sit back and look at this new book and suddenly start to realise just how wrong I'd got things. It's hard to do because it means admitting to yourself that you messed up a bit and yeah, I messed up a few things.
My new series, which was called Manderley Academy, I was trying to capitalise on this thing that I do which is where I bring quite popular tropes from horror and Gothic and things that I really love into my romances.
I wrote this series which was another bully series set in a very prestigious, small, music academy. It was basically a ghost story. It was a very classic Gothic romance, just with the bully thing over top of it and I thought this would be a great thing. But the problem was basically that bully romance is very much a contemporary romance. These are readers that want contemporary romances, they want bad boys and it was starting to morph into a really dark romance, a lot of Mafia kind of stuff and gangs and crime families and things like that.
I had written this book which was sort of a ghost story, but basically it was not paranormal enough to appeal to paranormal readers and not contemporary enough to appeal to contemporary readers.
James Blatch: Okay.
Steff Green: And that's pretty much the crux of it.
James Blatch: I suppose that is the flip side of these niche genres is you do have to obey the rules.
Steff Green: Yep, and I buggered it up a bit.
James Blatch: There you go. Okay, well we live and learn and you're here talking about it. One of the things I think that maybe is a result of that was turning your attention to some other non-fiction writing projects. Was this a lockdown plan of yours to try? You're obviously a prolific writer and a fast writer, Steff, and you can turn these books around very quickly and I say ballsy to the point of just putting it out there on pre-order before you'd even written it.
To get to that point, you must have a pretty good system of outlining and writing.
Steff Green: Yes and no. It's really interesting to me because I am a complete pantser and what I like to call a gardener, which is we kind of plant a seed and we watch it grow but I don't have any kind of plan going in really. I publish about eight to ten books a year. Often when people talk about writing quite fast, they talk about you have to have a plan, you have to have an outline, it really helps you write faster and I'm just like... No, just grosses me out. No outlines.
If I outline a book or anything like that, I would not write the book because I would be so bored. I would know what happens and blah, no.
James Blatch: Not for you.
Steff Green: Not for me, not for me. Often when writers are trying to learn to write faster, as gardeners or pantsers, we're often trying to fit ourselves into this outlining books and I realised this year, I taught a little writing class online for Alessandra Torre, for her writing students, and I was talking about the way that I write books. She was, "What? I've never heard of anyone writing like that. That's so interesting."
You always just assume everyone writes the way you write. I was like, "I didn't realise this was different." So, I thought maybe other people, especially other gardeners or other pantsers, could learn a little bit from the way I work and what I was doing. So, I started a little side project which is a website for writers called Rage Against the Manuscript. I have got a little podcast and I've got articles out there and some writing courses.
The main course that I sell is a little cheap $49 course about my gardening writing process called Writing the Skeleton Draft. What I do is for a typical length book, 70,000, 90,000, 100,000 words, I start off with a ten to twenty thousand word draft which I write super quickly in about three days. The skeleton draft is super rough, it's largely just dialogue and action and it's dividing the book into the chapters.
I put Chapter One at the top and I just start writing what I've got in my head for that chapter and I end it on a cliffhanger and I go to the next chapter. Some of the chapters at the beginning of the book are often the quite well fleshed out and sort of toward the middle of the book, there might just be two lines. There might just be "Insert 16 Here", or that kind of thing.
I do that in a mad rush over two or three days and then at the end, it's basically an outline of a novel, except I've actually got ten or twenty thousand words of my actual novel written already. Then I go back to the beginning and I go over the novel again and I kind of flesh it out and I solve all the problems that I've made for myself and I end up with about a 50,000 word draft. Then I do a third pass and usually a fourth pass and that gives me a final draft of between 70,000 and 95,000 words.
James Blatch: Wow, that really is an interesting way of doing it. You start off with a really perfunctory description of the story.
Tell me what that ten to twenty thousand word draft looks like.
Steff Green: Usually it's a lot of dialogue, because what I'm doing in this draft is basically getting to know the character. For example, I've got this reverse harem series that's called The Nevermore Bookshop series and it's basically a murder mystery, like a traditional Midsomer Murders kind of murder mystery, except that the main character and her harem are all famous literary characters. It's got Heathcliff in it, it's got James Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes and it's got of course the Raven from Edgar Allan Poe, a shape shifter.
Anyway, every book they have to solve a murder mystery. This is part of my method. I call this set pieces. You know that in a murder mystery, there's certain set pieces that have to happen in the story. The heroine has to find the murder victim, otherwise you can't have the murder mystery. Very early on in the books, you have to find the murder victim. So, I know that that's one scene that I have to write.
Immediately in my head, I start going, "Okay, what's that scene look like?" I just basically type away probably 800 words of maybe a 2000 word scene and it's just super rough. It's just stumbling into the shop and finding the first murder victim on the floor and then I'm like, "Oh, that's a great ending of the chapter." There's a knife sticking out of her back. That's the perfect ending for a chapter and then I just push return, go to the next chapter and I just keep writing. It's rough.
Often, in paragraphs, halfway through a sentence because I'm just trying to get the next bit done. It's mainly dialogue and action. There's not much description. I forget to describe what characters look like. It's got a lot of emotion in it because it's that internal arc of the characters that I'm really focusing on in this draft, just really getting to know them and making sure they have a story.
James Blatch: You hated the idea of outlining, but this is a way of getting around that and allowing you to still be...
Should we call it a discovery writer? Slightly more polite than pantser. Allowing you to be a discovery writer whilst cheekily outlining.
Steff Green: Exactly. It's basically the best of both worlds because I'm writing the book so it feels to me exactly like what I love, which is discovering as I go along and going, "Oh, what's the next set piece that I need to have? Then there needs to be a red herring, so I've got to figure that out," and I go do that. But because I'm doing it really, really fast, I'm getting all my ideas down super fast and then I get to look at it at the end and go, "Oh look, I have just written 20,000 words in three days," and I now know everything that's going to happen in my novel and I can now go back to the beginning again with all the stuff that I now know having got to the end and make it pretty. That is also really fun.
James Blatch: You don't mind the next bits then, bearing in mind your aversion of writing when you know what's happening.
You're okay with going over that draft and expanding it by another big... Tripling it probably and then a bit more at the end.
Steff Green: I find it really fun and I guess I don't quite know why my brain thinks it's different, but it does. To me, it just feels like the really fun part of editing where... The final bit of my skeleton draft, it's terrible. It's embarrassing if I had to show anyone that. In my course, the final module was actually me going through a skeleton draft of an old book and it was mortifying filming it because I was like, "I don't want to show anyone this horrible mess."
But then being able to take three paragraphs of basically rubbish with gaps in it and then just having the faith that you're a good enough writer that by the end of this, those three paragraphs and all the other paragraphs are just going to sing. They're just going to be amazing. Yeah, every time I look at a skeleton draft versus the final version, I can see the magic that was hidden in the skeleton draft and it's really cool.
James Blatch: The advantage of this, do you think, is speed or is it the quality of the manuscript at the end?
Steff Green: For me, it's both. It's probably primarily speed because the biggest problem that us discovery writers, us gardeners face is that we get stuck because we're writing a chapter at a time and we don't know what's going to happen next, so we often get to the end of the chapter and we're like, "Oh crap, I don't know what's going to happen. How am I going to do it?"
So, my whole system, the skeleton draft, the set pieces, something I have called arsenal is all designed to help you move forward in the manuscript and then you're able to get there really quickly and get past those issues that we have while having fun at the same time.
James Blatch: Is this your system now? Do you use it all the time?
Steff Green: Yep. I have been using it basically since I started, but I didn't realise. I didn't have a name for it, I didn't realise this was not what everyone did and now I know that this is what I do and actually writing the course kind of helped me solidify it. Oh, that's why I do that and that's why that works. Now, I know what works so I'm going to do it.
James Blatch: Since you've done the course, you've been obviously liaising with people who are following the method now. Everyone has different ways and you get five writers in a room, you'll find seven different ways of writing a book immediately when you ask them. It's not going to suit everyone.
Who do you think this method suits?
Steff Green: If you are someone who loves really intense outlines, you will hate this system. It will just be awful for you. It's definitely a system for fellow pantsers or fellow discovery writers and not every discovery writer will like this system, but I've found for me and certainly for a number of people that have taken my little course, that it's basically... I get emails all the time from people going, "Oh my gosh, this has solved all the problems."
One lady the other day said, "I've spent the last five years trying different systems, trying to force myself to outline books so that I could write faster and it's had the exact opposite effect. I used your skeleton draft and I wrote my first draft in three days and I feel like I've finally got it." That's so cool.
James Blatch: It's funny you say you really didn't like writing when you knew where it was going to go, if you properly did a detailed outline. There are lots of people writing like that, particularly I think in romance for some reason. Maybe it's something to do with that. That's the kind of real life thing about romance, isn't it? You're not sure which way it's going to go. Maybe it's replicating that.
As I think back to the first draft of my first book, which was a long, torturous thing and I actually didn't enjoy not knowing whether this story was working, whether it was going to go places, and I absolutely loved rewriting it, knowing that I've done that hard bit. I don't mind rewriting an entire book. I'm rewriting it for the fifth time now. I think that's how it works for me.
In fact, I think in the old days, probably I'm a bit of an old fashioned guy, in the old days, I think novelists did often rewrite two or three times before they submitted to the editors.
So, it's a bit of the advantage of that combined with the more modern approach of getting it done.
Steff Green: Exactly. My first series, I must've rewritten those books 10 times. My first book, it took me five years to write and I must've rewritten it so many times during that time. But I certainly think part of the system and part of writing in general is you get better at it the more you do it. I'm definitely at a stage in my career now where... To a certain extent, we all know how our books are going to end anyway. I talk about this a lot in the course. We don't know the details.
A romance novel, sometimes you look towards the end of a book and it's just all darkness and dragons. You're like, "I don't know. I can't see it." But when you think about it with a romance novel, we know how it's going to end. It's going to end on a happily ever after. We just have to get the how.
James Blatch: I'm sort of tempted to do that in my second book now drafting because I've got a little bit stuck in the middle, is to write the last third because I know exactly how that's going to go. Is that helpful?
Do you ever write ahead?
Steff Green: Yes. Sometimes I do that. Not every book. Every book's a bit different, but sometimes if I feel a bit stuck, I'll go out of order and I'll just skip ahead to the scene that I know absolutely has to happen, a set piece like I was kind of talking about and I just write those. Early on, I think, in novels, I'm really focused on just getting as many words down as possible because I've written 40 plus novels now and I know that I can fix it. I can fix it in post-production. That's what I always tell myself.
James Blatch: Yeah. Fix it in post. Okay. When I worked in video production, that was our cry about everything and of course, we all knew the reality was we couldn't fix many of those things in post. Anyway, that's brilliant. Really interesting to hear and we'll just give another plug again. The course is called Rage Against the Manuscript. In fact, if you just type that into Google, it comes up in top spots. That's a good name.
Steff Green: Yes, I was quite proud of that.
James Blatch: How's it gone since you've created the course?
Steff Green: It's gone so well. I was a bit worried because the Rage Against the Manuscript, the whole website and everything, it's basically two books that I didn't write this year because I worked on that website. Even though it's coronavirus year and it's crazy, it's still been my second most successful year ever as an indie author, so it hasn't been too bad.
James Blatch: Let me ask you a little bit about your setup now. We've talked about writing quite a lot. You mentioned earlier spending quite a lot on ads which didn't work for that second series this year.
Generally speaking, are you somebody running paid ads every day?
Steff Green: No. I was running a lot of ads at the beginning of the year. I actually hired someone to do it and basically COVID happened and my household income dropped and I could no longer afford it, so I cut it. I haven't picked it up again. I've spent the year teaching myself how to do AMS ads and I've got AMS ads to a point where they're starting to work a little bit and I don't spend very much. I spent maybe $300 a month.
I do not run Facebook ads on fiction, but I do run about $10 a day worth of ads to my nonfiction, the Rage Against the Manuscript website.
James Blatch: Where do your sales come from generally if it's not paid ads driven?
Steff Green: Yeah. Basically, organic. The reverse harem Facebook groups, I run my newsletter pretty hard, so I've got a big list and I send a newsletter once a week. I'm always promoting stuff from my backlist into my newsletter and also, I run a lot of Kindle countdown deals and sometimes I use the newsletter ads to promote them and sometimes I don't. I just send them to my newsletter and put them in the Facebook groups and that's kind of it.
James Blatch: Great. We talked about this method, Steff, and I think you did say that you might be able to put together a one-pager just to help people and give them a taster of how to do the skeleton draft. Is that something we can offer out?
Steff Green: It absolutely is. I have already done it. I will send it to you presently.
James Blatch: Excellent. We'll put that on the URL, selfpublishingshow.com/draft, D-R-A-F-T, it's just the name and I must remember to make a note of that so that everybody else in the vast team that goes together putting this podcast out also know about it. I do make stuff up and don't tell people sometimes. Yeah, forward-slash draft. It's definitely one I'm going to be reading.
I'm really interested in developing the way that I come up with drafts as I move on to book two. I still haven't published book one as we're recording this, but I am writing a second book which makes me feel like I might actually be starting to understand how this whole thing works and I'm intrigued by these methods.
In fact, I think when we do these interviews, we talk about marketing and ads and this, that, and the other but really, it's how we all write books, I think is the most interesting topic that comes up.
Steff Green: I think I agree actually. I love hearing about different people's marketing techniques and things, but it all starts with the book. It all comes back to the book and so, craft and just the methods we use, there's always something new to learn or something new to try.
James Blatch: I think you're a great example of knowing your genre.
You're a passionate reader, I can tell, in those areas, so that's one of the reasons why you're so quick to those breakout sub-genres.
Steff Green: I think so. I read quite widely and my romance pen name is a testament to that. Basically, I write Gothic romance because that's what I love. I love the Gothic. Anything Gothic, look at my shirt. Obviously. I'm obsessed with it and Gothic romance is not a genre you can really sell, so I disguise it as other things, which has been working really, really well for me.
But 2021 will be interesting because I am starting a secret moonshot project which is in psychological thrillers, which I'm kind of excited about.
James Blatch: When you say moonshot...
Steff Green: It's basically a shot at the moon. It's something that is a big risk. This is completely out of my usual wheelhouse and I might be trying to pitch it to trad pub. I haven't decided yet.
James Blatch: Okay, that sounds interesting. Finally, Steff, we should mention that you are registered blind. Just tell us a little bit about how the day-to-day works for you then.
Presumably, dictation plays a big part in your writing.
Steff Green: Nope.
James Blatch: That's surprising.
Steff Green: That is really common for writers who are blind or legally blind, but not for me. I'm legally blind. I have an eye condition where I don't have any cone cells in my eyes. You're supposed to have about three million and I've got none so, I don't see any colour and I'm extremely light sensitive. I have a lot of trouble, my eyes kind of wobble a bit and I squint, which is why they're always closed. I can't see to drive, I can't see much in front of my face.
But I have a giant screen which is set up so that it sits an inch from my face and my nose kind of scrapes against it sometimes. I use a setting on the computer that inverts the colours, so I have a black background with white type, which helps with the glare. Big, giant print and my little writing library is like a dark cave with the windows shut. It's literally a writing cave and it's wonderful.
James Blatch: Right.
Steff Green: Yeah, and basically, I don't deal with anything because I can't see in colour at all so I don't deal with anything to do with colour. I do sometimes make my own graphics, like graphics for Facebook and stuff but I do it in Canva where there's lots of preset templates and I just don't deviate from the templates. Every time I get a new cover from a cover designer, I have to run it past all my friends because I can't tell what the colours are.
James Blatch: That's a condition you've had your whole life.
Steff Green: Yep, it's genetic. It's very, very rare. It's called achromatopsia. It's very rare and it's genetic and it won't get any better, won't get any worse but as of right now, there's no cure. However, some scientists in Israel have just cured a flock of sheep with the condition. Although how they knew that the sheep couldn't see in colour, I don't really know.
James Blatch: You probably don't want to know, but I imagine they probably gave them that in the first place. That's exciting news for you. The colour thing's fascinating. You've not known colour your whole life yet not just choices about covers but in description in writing, I guess you pick up the idea of colour even if it's not something you've personally experienced.
Steff Green: Yeah, you kind of do get the concept and actually, it's really interesting because my whole life, I've always had my mum or friends or now my husband. I often ask about colours. My husband will say, "Oh, this is a really beautiful sunset tonight." Then he just sort of automatically does this now, he goes, "It's a streak of deep purple, then a streak of vibrant orange," and you kind of... The descriptions that people give you kind of get an idea. Fresh grass is this lush green colour and it kind of feels lush when you touch it. Things often sort of smell the way people describe the colours.
All that goes up here and then when I go to write descriptions about things in the books, it comes out again. But people often say in reviews, one thing that I do a lot is I sort of forget to describe people, what they look like because that's not how I articulate the world, so I sometimes have these really hot heroes, but I'll completely forget to really describe them. But people always have very vivid descriptions of their voices and the way they smell.
James Blatch: Right. That's interesting, your own references but I imagine in romance, describing the hot hero in some detail is one of those things again, part of the rules.
Steff Green: It's kind of important, yes. I've got very good editors who always remind, "Hey, you haven't told people what this guy looks like."
James Blatch: Yeah, that's not a bad job, is it? Having to describe a hot hero. If that's the worst thing that comes back from your editor...
Steff, it's an absolute joy to talk to you. Quite inspiring in so many ways and not least your discovery this year of... I do love talking to you about the sub-genres and understanding how those tropes ebb and flow and hearing, even from you, when you get it wrong and understanding why that didn't work in that case. There are, I think, a lot of people who write in this area and it sounds awful to say chasing these sub-genres but it's a fun thing to do. It's what readers do. They kind of chase these sub-genres and find themselves going down one series and then moving on to something else. That's actually a fun world to be in, I think.
Steff Green: It really is and like I said, it's probably not the best as a long term career strategy. Chasing trends is not your best strategy to choose, but as long as you're writing books that you love and you're really passionate about, just write the books that you want. Eventually, if you pay attention and if you come to the world as reader, eventually you'll find yourself right at the beginning of a trend and it's really great to be able to have the skills to capitalise on that. None of us are going to say no to that.
James Blatch: Right. Steff, thank you so much indeed for coming on board. We will again talk about the giveaway, selfpublishingshow.com/draft if you want to start getting your teeth into that method. I think it's something I'm definitely going to have a little play with because it sounds really, really interesting. Steff, thank you.
Steff Green: Cheers, James. Thank you.
James Blatch: There you go, Steff Green. Lovely to catch up with her. Prolific writer, love those little sub-genres. Does feel to me, Australia, New Zealand does produce more of that type of books. I speak to those authors that have that kind of, it feels to me, that Japanese anime influence although I don't think Steff agreed with that when I said it. Some of the characterizations... We used to sit and watch the anime stuff, didn't we, at BBFC? It has its own feel. It's a slightly... I don't know how to describe it really.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: It's its own thing. Nothing else quite feels like it.
Mark Dawson: I don't know how to describe it either. I think Australia is influenced by Japanese culture a little bit.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: But I'm not sure. We have lots of Aussies listening to this show, so maybe they can help in the comments of the YouTube video. If there's anything that you think is interesting on that, they should definitely leave a comment. We can teach James about anime culture.
James Blatch: It stands to reason that Australia and New Zealand are more influenced by Asian culture that we are here. Just geographically, it's more likely to be the case. Feels to me that slips over into literature.
Right. Good. Well, lovely to catch up with Steff. We'll certainly speak to her again over the next few years, however long this whole thing goes on. Goes on forever, doesn't it, this podcast? We can get to 1000.
Mark Dawson: Apparently, yes. We're a quarter of the way there. We'll stop at 1000.
James Blatch: Don't say that. We're going to get to 1000. Anyway, it's lovely to catch up with Steff. Thank you very much indeed for listening this week. Mark, I think that's what we've got to say on The Self-Publishing Show this week.
Mark Dawson: I believe so, yes. I have nothing to add.
James Blatch: Good. Well, we've got lots of interviews on the cupboard waiting to come out in 2021. On the cupboard? In the cupboard, probably the best place to put it. Very exciting and we might even have two published authors presenting this show at some point in the not too distant future.
Mark Dawson: Are you being replaced?
James Blatch: Yes, I am. I'm bringing in Tom Ashford.
Mark Dawson: Fair enough.
James Blatch: Thank you very much indeed. All that remains for me to say is a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with The Self-Publishing Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.