SPS-296: How to Write a Bestseller… for Children – with Suzy K. Quinn
Are there a specific set of skills an author can apply in order to write a best-selling book? Suzy K Quinn discusses the value of knowing what readers want and how to give it to them.
- The advantages and disadvantages of ordering a large stock of your own books
- What is ‘fan service’ and why should authors know the phrase?
- Why an author must meet reader expectations
- The misunderstood value of two star reviews
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
WRITE A BESTSELLER: For more on the course that Suzy teaches, click here.
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-296: How to Write a Bestseller... for Children - with Suzy K. Quinn
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Suzy K Quinn: Being a successful writer who makes a good living from their writing is about creating a very streamlined package with your book and being able to present it to readers in a way that they go, "Oh, okay. I know exactly what I'm going to get from that. I'm going to read it. All those things are being delivered and I feel happy."
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. It is The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Hello, Mark. How are you?
Mark Dawson: I'm okay. Not too bad. Kids back at school.
James Blatch: Yes. It's been a big week for us both. I see lots of people are posting pictures of Saint Death, I'm not sure how you pronounce it, out on bookshelves. It seems to be climbing up the WHSmith chart. And WHSmith is one of the biggest booksellers in the UK, sort of a news agent, but it's where lots of people buy their books to read. That must be very pleasing for you.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's hard to say. It's in quite a lot of shops. It's WHSmith's book of the week this week I saw yesterday, which is quite nice. And I saw one person sent me a picture. Actually, it was me. I saw it in Salisbury, it's number two in the Salisbury chart. I don't think that's necessarily reflecting where it is generally. I don't know how those are slotted but it's out there. We'll see how it goes. It's only been out for about a week so I'll get some figures in the next few days but good stuff.
James Blatch: Look at you, the leader of the free indie world, getting all trad.
Mark Dawson: Well no, I'm hybrid.
James Blatch: All hybrid. Good. Now, if you're paying attention and you're watching on YouTube, I should say that my puppy got hold of my glasses this week but they're my favourite monitor glasses so I'm still wearing them despite them having shattered.
Mark Dawson: Oh, my goodness.
James Blatch: And broken at the back here. But I explained, I haven't been fighting. In fact, I had a very lovely message from you last night. We exchanged messages about what time we'd would be available for the wrap and you sent me some kisses. And actually I want to know, were those kisses, A, a joke? B, you thought subconsciously you were messaging your wife? Or C, you're starting to develop feelings for me?
Mark Dawson: All of the above.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: Unfortunately, it was number two. Just had lots of things going on at home with getting kids to various clubs and things. And I was in a kind of a, I don't know.
James Blatch: Auto mode. We've all done it. We all called our teacher, Mum, haven't we, at some point?
Mark Dawson: No, I've never done that. Have you? Did you?
James Blatch: I definitely did that. Good. Look, we are talking about a really important subject today, which is how to write a bestseller. Useful information, right?
Mark Dawson: If only it was that easy, but yes.
James Blatch: I love the teaching of Suzy K Quinn. I think it really opened my eyes and it simplified a lot of what we talk about as to why some books get picked off the shelf and read and other books never really gain traction with readers. And we use the F word, we say it's formula, but there are ingredients, should we say is probably a better word to what makes that happen. That's our interview. It's coming up in just a moment.
Before then, Marcus, we have some Patreon supporters to welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Want to say a huge welcome and shout out to Heather Button. Thank you, Heather, very much indeed. And Miriam Giles. Miriam is from Daventry here in the UK, not too far. Somewhere between the two of us, I would say. And they have been to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. They've got involved. They've sponsored the show from as little as a dollar an episode and you get load of goodies, privileges and opportunities as a result of that. Thank you very much indeed.
Things progressing I think in the background on various fronts. We are very close to making an announcement about a new course, which is going to be added to Ads for Authors. I'll tease that for now and then we'll give the details of that when that is ready. And we are going to, I think we can say, did we say last time we've signed Ian Sainsbury, we have signed contract with the Ian Sainsbury for Fuse Books.
Ian won the Kindle Storyteller Award in 2019. Very, very good writer. I've really been laughing out loud actually and enjoying reading the first paragraph. I've been formatting his books this week and of course you do some sort of spot check and you go through it and he's a very good writer.
I can tell you just from reading, was it Jasper Joffe told us he reads the first page of submissions and he knows straight away whether it's a good book or not. And I can see what he's talking about now. You read the first pages of Ian's books and you know this is you're in good hands with the writer. We have scientists series that's undergone a little bit of a transition. It's the Johnny Blue series it's going to be called under us. It's a very clever conceit. And I think, well, fingers crossed it's going to do well.
We're looking forward to launch those probably maybe even by the time this podcast goes out or the one after that, we would have got those out in the wild so people can see what is going on there. And we have a new series from Kerry J. Donovan coming out, DCI Jones. And I think we'll have a little pause after that and then we'll potentially be looking at signing a couple more authors on Fuse.
What's our advice to people, Mark, on this front? Because we advocate doing everything yourself. And yet here we are running a publishing company, publishing people and doing a 50/50 split with them.
What is the answer? What is our advice? Are we sending out a mixed message here?
Mark Dawson: No, not really. Not everyone is going to be equally adept at the writing and the marketing. Some people are, there are plenty of authors who enjoy doing both. Obviously I enjoy doing both and I'm certainly not alone in that but there are some authors who, despite taking the course and despite knowing that they need to advertise in order to do well, just can't constitutionally, get their head around it, they're not interested. They perhaps don't have the money to actually advertise and do those kinds of things.
For those people, it still does make sense to find someone who can handle the bits that you don't like. And obviously you need to make sure that they know what they're doing and noting our track record is pretty good so far with the authors that we've published. And people like Kerry, not doing so well by himself, doing very well with us. 10 times more money a day, probably more than that now in terms of the actual revenue that he's taking home.
No guarantees of course and my advice would still be, it is better to do it yourself if you can. If you have the nous and you're able to afford to do the bits that you need to do, then you're going to get a 100% of the money back. It makes a lot more sense to do it yourself. But for those people who just don't have any interest in anything other than writing, then you're going to need some help. And that could be going for a traditional deal or it could be a hybrid deal with a smaller publisher.
Obviously not just Fuse Books, you mentioned the Jasper doing very well, lots of other little publishers, micro-cultures popping up here and there. Just make sure they know what they're doing, got a good track record. They understand what's necessary. And then look at signing with someone like that.
We've obviously got plans to grow Fuse. We've done quite well so far with the authors that we've taken on. I think if we can hit similar levels of success with Ian and Kerry's second series, that we might look to grow quite fast next year, but we'll see.
James Blatch: Yeah. I don't know. Probably should give a shout out to Joseph Alexander, I think passed a milestone with KDP and his publishing company. He does music books, very specialist, but does it very, very well. Is running a really brilliant little niche publishing indie company a bit like ours but he was there before us and has done incredibly well. Well done to Joseph, and a listener to the show.
And yes, on the printed book front, mentioned your Saint Death. I had an order from a museum in the UK that hosts the only sort of surviving and not actually, it's not true. It was the only flying Vulcan bomber thing behind me, if you're watching on YouTube features in my book and they ordered 30 copies of my book, 10 signed and 20 that's gone on the shelf. And I looked on their website every now and again and it kept saying of the 20 unsigned available 10 signed, how many available? 10, 20. I thought, oh dear, I've done this order.
But it turned out they just didn't have a very good stock system. They just put 10 and 20 when they first got them and didn't update it. And I got a reorder last month for another 30, so last week for another 30. That's about a month's time. That's amazing. And so I'm really pleased with that but it has made me look at, I've done it for them for not for profit.
I basically covered my cost, postage and printing and allowed them to have a markup because it's a charity and I'm happy to support that. But the cost of printing for Amazon works out knocking on a six pounds a book with delivery, maybe a touch over, which is quite a lot. IngramSpark this week announced that they're putting their prices up I think, as much as 6% did I see in the email?
I know there's some discourse about that, which does bring us back to that question for us, those of us who are doing everything by ourselves, about a better way of doing this. And it comes down to the old thing, well if you're prepared to invest up front and potentially end up with a lot of stock that's unsold, that's the risk you're going to have. You can get it printed more cheaply.
Have you gone down that route in the past? People like Clay are the big printers, I think in the UK, have you done any of those print runs yourself, Mark.
Mark Dawson: No. We looked at it before, I'd signed with Welbeck, obviously Welbeck my partner on the print side to get things into stores. And they've done amazingly well with that. We've got their kids book out next year. We've got two Milton books, a third one coming out soon. And they're also interested in doing Atticus as well.
That's been really good and it means I don't have to educate myself about what needs to be done in terms of print runs and things and also how to get books distributed and I'd have the contacts in the stores, for example, they do. But before that, I did look at, I got quotes from Clay's and a couple of other printers in the UK to do offset print runs. If you order 500, say, you can order much less. Obviously the more you order, the cheaper it gets.
And I think we got the price down to sub 250, maybe sub 1 pound 50 cent per copy made. And less than as well since I checked that. And then of course you have the stock, you can get it distributed through Gardners and you can get into it that way. And the few authors looking into that, it is a bit more tricky and I wouldn't recommend it for most authors just because there is an upfront cost. You can be stuck with a garage full of books that you can't shift.
You need to have a good plan, a good business plan with how you're going to get the books and then how are you going to sell them? How are you going to distribute them into stores? For example, you could order 500 copies for example, you certainly wouldn't pay six pounds a copy. I imagine you'd pay about two pounds a copy. Then you'd have a margin there as well if you wanted it and you can then sell 30, 40 a month to the museum or other places where you could.
James Blatch: Well I was thinking Duxford, the science museum and then if I put it together, a little package with the Amazon reviews and a copy and send it to the buyer and say, "I can retell these to you for four quid or something."
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. For most authors again, it's the kind of thing that they wouldn't be interested in because it is, it's learning something quite a lot actually of information that you need to digest about how to actually do that. And there'll be some phone calls and you'll need to educate yourself about Nielsen and ISBNs and all of this kind of stuff. There is a bit of a mountain, not mountain, there's a bit of upfront work to do before you can get into that position.
James Blatch: Learning curve.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, learning curve. But for the bigger authors, let's say, pick one at random Shayne Silvers, for example, in the states or Lucy Score in the States, it would be worth them looking at finding a printer in the States, finding a distribution method and then trying to leverage the success they've had with the eBooks. Obviously they can say, "I've sold three million books," wherever it is. That's the immediate social proof for a buyer to think, well, if they sold three million books in digital, they'll probably sell quite a few books in print as well. It is something worth looking at for some authors but not for everyone.
James Blatch: And a lot of that mechanism, and that's an old fashioned business mechanism, logistics that sits around. There are lots of companies. I've had a friend of mine does this, he runs a distribution company down the road, he's run it for years. It started off with cardboard boxes. That's what he did. But he's now morphed into basically being an Amazon guy. He receives a pallet of dog food and he fulfils the orders. Obviously the whole Amazon system's automated and it spits out a thing saying, five here, four there, three there.
Mark Dawson: You can do that as well.
James Blatch: I could give him a crate my books under that same system.
Mark Dawson: You could, yeah. You could take down the print on demand copies and replace those with basically you can do fulfilment by Amazon FBA. You become a Amazon seller rather than just an author. And there are different ways to do it.
You could ship a pallet of books to Amazon, they'll store it in one of their warehouses and then they will pick from those books when they have orders to fulfil. Obviously Amazon will take a cut from that. I looked at this as well, a long time ago, there's storage costs, which is worked on cubic space that you're taking up and they take a margin. There's postage, there's packing, all of that kind of stuff but I think you'd probably still, when I looked at it, you're still kind of slightly ahead of what you would with print on demand but it's close.
James Blatch: Close, yeah.
Mark Dawson: Probably not enough that way to be worth the effort.
James Blatch: The work time.
Mark Dawson: Otherwise a lot more people would do it that way. But it's an option. There are ways to do that. And if you ended up with a garage full of books that you couldn't sell, you could look to move them that way by, by taking the POD copy down and selling the one that you've got.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. All right. Well, good discussion. Thanks, Mark.
Let's move back to that question of what to put in your book in terms of the words and invite our favourite guru on this subject. The absolutely delightful and brilliant, Suzy K Quinn, a bestselling writer herself who's really thought long and hard about how to instruct the rest of us on the ingredients of a bestselling book and how to go about planning that. She's done a course for us. You can find it at selfpublishingformula.com/bestseller. But this is a catch up really of what's changed, what changes may go into the course and how to landscape looks today. Here's Suzy.
Suzy K Quinn, I've always wondered what the K stands for but don't tell me, I'll try and guess later. Welcome back to The Self Publishing Show. How absolutely lovely to see your smiling face and have you. You are a little bundle of joy. That sounds quite patronising, doesn't it?
Suzy K Quinn: Not so much. I think it sounds wonderful. And thank you.
James Blatch: You are a bundle of joy.
Suzy K Quinn: Obviously see you too, may I say.
James Blatch: And are you in the same house that we once visited?
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. I am.
James Blatch: Looks different.
Suzy K Quinn: Have I moved anything? I don't know. We're shopping for dream houses at the moment, which is sort of there's a moral to that story. The moral is don't wait for things, do them when you're ready to do them because we're shopping for dream houses and there's nothing on sale where we are because everyone's moving out of London and all the houses are gone, been sold. We're waiting.
James Blatch: Do you want to be in that same area?
Suzy K Quinn: Love the area, but we want to move somewhere out on the riverfront or bigger with space.
James Blatch: And you're a bit of a property magnet, I seem to remember. That's your chosen outlet for the book money that you make is property, bricks and mortar.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, sensible thing to do with it. Still got those properties and it's been okay to knock down everything. They were okay. I was lucky, I think. Sensible thing to do.
James Blatch: Good. Well look, we're going to catch up with you about bestseller. You are the person who came to us with this sort of basically I'm going to use the word formula because it sort of is a formula, an approach to writing a book that means it gives it the best possible chance of selling, of being a commercial success. And you're very orientated around that, which is brilliant.
And that's why most people listen to this show. Some people smoke their cigars and say, "Well, I don't do it for the money." Well, that's fine. They don't have to do it for the money and they don't have to listen to this show but this is going to be about being paid for what you're doing, which is what we should be proud of and shout out about.
You did the bestseller course, which I absolutely love. I've seen a thriving Facebook group around this and we've had some success stories, which is great, of people. I think people, Suzy, you've probably had a few of these people who trundled along as authors do writing the book that's part of them and like I've done it and not really properly spending some time thinking what the readers want? Which is where you start, isn't it.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, exactly. Totally been there, done that on the writing the book that this is the book. The perhaps more of a literary book or a book that was about my soul kind of laid bare on the pages and things like that. I have been there. That was my first book that I wrote. And so I learned the hard way with that book.
Although I got a big publishing advance for it, it was all lots of fanfares and stuff. And then it didn't sell very well to readers. And so I learned very, very quickly and very painfully that I needed to figure out what readers wanted or what I was doing wrong, basically. And so that's how I sort of came about writing books that sold a lot more.
James Blatch: Well, you're not the only one of course because Mark Dawson also wrote a couple of literary books. I read one of them. He wrote Subpoena Colada which I always quite like the name and The Art of Falling Apart. That's the one I read and he described it later as a want to be Martin Amos. He read, I don't know, all those big authors and that's what he wanted to be and of course, that's how often we start writing. And it's not a very clever way because I'm not Ian McEwan.
Suzy K Quinn: A bit serious, I think.
James Blatch: Never going to be him. And he's wonderful. I love it but it's much better if I write a book about flying through the valleys at 500 miles an hour in a jet for a very specific audience who like reading that. And I was in the process of writing my book when you and I first started talking about this so I reverse engineered a lot of that and made sure.
Suzy K Quinn: I'm sorry, James.
James Blatch: No, no, no. It was a long process but it was a good process. And there's an expression that is used in anime and Japanese film stuff that Mark and I used to work in the BBFC, got a lot of Japanese film to censor, which is quite interesting but they use the word fan service quite a lot where there's stuff in there because the fans expect to see it. And that's how I think a lot of genre fiction works, particularly romance, romance readers of a particular subgenre, whether it's sweet romance or billionaire romance or spicy romance, they would expect certain things to happen in that book.
That's what I think you've taught people just to understand that and write that.
Suzy K Quinn: Exactly. To understand the content. You're dead right. I think lots of us as writers, we kick around writing and just writing because we love writing and writing and writing and creating this sort of almost kind of mess, truthfully, and then we try and slap a title on it at the end and there's a much more efficient and better way to do it. And you totally buy it about looking at genres and understanding the different things that people expect from those genres and what they would be disappointed not to have. And the other thing that's really important for the whole process as well is your reviews on Amazon.
If you're not meeting what readers expect on Amazon, even if you've written a great book, if it doesn't really quite know what it is and it's got a bit of romance, so it's packaged as a romance. If readers aren't getting those key notes that they're expecting from that book, they'll give it a bad review. They'll be really disappointed and they'll let you know and then the book won't sell.
It's really, and I would imagine there are millions of books that are actually excellent books but because they're not clearly packaged and clearly signposted, people were really disappointed by what they got. We all have our times don't we, when we put a film on Netflix and you're looking for, I don't know, an uplifting film and you put it on and it's not uplifting and you feel disappointed and annoyed because that was what was sold to you.
I think a lot of being a successful writer who makes a good living from their writing is about understanding. You're creating a very sort of streamlined package really with your book and being able to present it to readers in a way that they go, oh, okay. I know exactly what I'm going to get from that. I'm going to read it. It's all those things are being delivered and I feel happy.
James Blatch: I think I may have mentioned this last time, the film Closer, which Mark, John and I know all about because when we were at the BBFC, it was our most complained about film. It's not a bad film at all. It's a really good film. It's a stage play before in London and then it became a film with Natalie Portman and God, not Colin Firth, Jude Law.
Suzy K Quinn: Wow.
James Blatch: And Julia Roberts. And this got a stellar cast in it. And the buses trundled down Oxford Street with the way they marketed it was the white background and his big happy smiley faces, all of them beaming, pearly white teeth, ensemble cast, Julia Roberts in particular, sort of linked in with particular films, Pretty Woman type thing. And lots of people went to see it.
Mothers took their daughters and their girls all went out and they trundled there and what they got was this full on assault to the senses exploration of sex between young adults with unbelievably graphic language for that period, before we all got a bit softened to that with the internet and so on. But at that time it was, and that's why it was complained. It was a brilliant script. It's witty but it's an in your face script.
Suzy K Quinn: And it wasn't what people were looking for, people's expectation.
James Blatch: The expression we used was it confounded expectations. And that's the reason that film got criticised and complained about is because it confounded expectations. Actually, it was quite clever because they got lots of people to go and see it who perhaps wouldn't have seen it had they had a glimpse into the real content. Commercially it may have worked for them but it's the number one way as you say, to get complaints is to confound the expectation of your readers. I used expression reverse engineer earlier but that is basically what you teach in the course, isn't it? You reverse engineer the process. You don't sit in a room and start writing.
What do you start with?
Suzy K Quinn: I would say and obviously, you can definitely be a bit flexible with this. Obviously the creative world needs a bit of flex and give and stuff. There's no exactly hard and fast rules, but my suggestions are to start with, know your genre, to start with an idea of a title, it doesn't have to be the final title but an idea of a title that in some ways is going to tell the reader something about what they're going to get. And I do have a cover. If you can't think of those things before and a concept as well, one line concept. And so I'll give you an example of a book I'm writing at the moment that I have.
I'm just starting to write kids books at the moment, could be a terrible mistake. I'm not sure but I'm hoping it won't be. I'm doing a middle grade book called Queen Bees. It's about girl bullying. It's going to be cool. In my head, I've got the title is Queen Bees, well might be Queen Bee, and the subtitle is going to be, Girls Can be Mean and then the cover is going to be two girls looking angry with each other.
From that, anyone going into a bookshop is going to look at that and they might not want to pick it up and read it but they'll have an understanding of what it's going to be about. They're going to be right, that's going to be about young girls at school fighting each other in a fight. And then the cover, the description on the back is going to be about bullying and girl bullying and that kind of stuff.
Either that gives people a very clear idea of what they're going to get so they can like it or not, they can walk away or not but they know what's there. That's where you start with really. That's the starting place of starting with something that if you go into a bookshop, your head would turn and you'd be like, okay, I know what that's about. That's interesting to me, if I'm all for that demographic, if I'm looking for middle grade books.
James Blatch: And this is even more the case with the Amazon page, where the time spent looking around a bookshop is exponentially larger than the glimpse of a thumbnail on Amazon pages. It's got to say instantly.
Suzy K Quinn: It's got to say instantly.
James Blatch: It's got to say instantly what that genre is and people not liking it and not buying is a good thing, right?
Suzy K Quinn: It is a good thing because you're getting rid of all the people that are going to give you bad reviews. And yes, by the way, I should have said with bookshop, I'm picturing Amazon. When I say bookshop, I'm picturing the Amazon pages, sorry, no one else knows, it's just my little auditing. Picturing the Amazon store with the thumbnails and with your little sort of subtitle that you can put up if you want to with the title. People, they get a big flash of cover image. They've got the subtitle and they're going to see the reviews at some point, obviously that's really, really important but it's enough. I've learned with, especially my romance books, that it's enough to get people even with no reviews is enough to get people buying and looking.
James Blatch: And beyond that, one of the things when people say to us or they post them to our group and they say, "Can you help me? My Facebook ad's not working." And they may get a lot right. May get targeting right but the first thing that people spot is a disconnect somewhere. You're talking about the cover, the title, the blurb but there's also the copy in the ad, the image used for the ad. All of those have to dovetail perfectly for it to work.
The moment you get happy, happy, happy and then an angry looking face on the front cover of a kind of gritty relationship story, it's not the happy romance that you tried to sell at the beginning. That's the disconnect. That's why your ad's not working.
And again, going back, it's not because it's a bad book or book that people won't enjoy but you're missing your audience.
Suzy K Quinn: Exactly. I think there's probably an awful lot of heartache with rising pain because we write something that really is pretty decent but it doesn't sell or we get bad reviews from it. And you get a lot of authors who get very bitter about bad reviews. They're sort of, oh, I never read the reviews. And I think I really think you should because as horrible as they are, especially the one stars I don't tend to bother with because they're usually waste of time or waste of money. That's generally the mindset of the one star reviews. But the two star reviews are really helpful and they really often will tell you anyway.
I think writers go through a lot of unnecessary pain because they've written something that they feel like, ah, I think this is quite good. And then it's shocking to have there's no word of mouth following for it and then they start to doubt themselves and think, well, maybe I'm just not supposed to be writer. Maybe my books aren't good. Maybe they're not as good as this person and this person. And so it's really worth sort of looking at, James Patterson, most successful author of all time. I believe he still is, I believe.
James Blatch: Could well be.
Suzy K Quinn: Most profitable anyway and sells the most books, which I would count as a very big marker of success.
James Blatch: It's a good metric.
Suzy K Quinn: I don't want to downplay another author but I don't think his writing will be held up as the best writing in the world. I think that's true of an awful lot of bestselling authors. I'm not saying that like James Patterson or what he does but I think if you compare it to, that's obviously a quickly, simply written book, as opposed to a book that's taken years and loads of research and that kind of thing, both of which are wonderful and have their merits but it's very worth pointing out that the really big selling books are often just things that have dovetailed. They've got the title and the cover and the rest of it.
James Blatch: It's the marketing, isn't it? It's a fantastic marketing operation behind the James Patterson books.
Suzy K Quinn: It's fantastic marketing but he keeps the ideas so simple. The books, he never wanders. It's all so clean. He delivers a detective book, it's a detective book. He delivers a kid's book is nothing but a kid. I feel a bit like I pick on James Patterson sometimes when I do these interviews, I always grab him as the example of, oh he's so successful but he hasn't done loads of research and gone on loads of crazy writing courses, I believe. I'm sure he does a good amount of research.
James Blatch: He gives them now. He does the master class. It's a pretty overview of his career rather than you won't learn a lot by writing from it. But when I say marketing, I mean that that's what I'm talking about. The book package, the cover, the title, the contents, that's the key thing what works for him.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: And he hits those readers, the most commercially valuable readers to us, those whale readers who just rip through series and will pick up an author, they'll pickup Mark Dawson's John Milton series and six weeks later, they've read all 20 books and they've moved on to James Patterson and they've done all Robert Ludlam and everyone else. They are the people you should be aiming for. And for this, a system works the best. They're the ones who glanced and think, oh yeah, I do like Lee Child so I will try that. And then they'll post the bad review when it's nothing like a Lee Child book.
Suzy K Quinn: Exactly. I think that's the other thing, as well with writers is that we get rolling, sometimes publishers get it wrong too, is they think they see, if they put if you love Lee Child, they know if they put that on a book, it's going to get footfall and people will pick it up. But obviously you can't do that unless your book genuinely, like Mark Dawson, is a lot like Lee Child and will really satisfy those readers and they'll find it hits the notes they're looking for.
James Blatch: What's the experience of being the course tutor been like? You're in the groups I know quite a lot. We've had a lot of people go through every week, we see people going through the course.
What's that been like for you?
Suzy K Quinn: It's been amazing actually. It's been really lovely. I love talking to people in the Facebook groups. I love seeing when they've hit a bestseller chart or just when they've got a fantastic title and a fantastic cover. And it was just so great and I'm like, oh, that's just brilliant. I so want to read that book.
I think my favourite things are when people have been writing for a long time and you know they're pretty decent, they've had enough experiences that they're a pretty decent author and they've had the practise but for whatever reason, they're not quite hitting, they're not getting the readers and then they take the course and then they're like, ah, I get it. I get it. All I had to do was just move this around a bit. Think of it in a slightly different way. And now I'm away and selling books and making a profit from it. It's been really nice. I enjoy that Facebook group.
James Blatch: I haven't got COVID, by the way. But I have had this coldy, summer cold for a while. I've tested myself. I have to explain to everyone.
Suzy K Quinn: Nobody's getting flu and colds because we've all been locked up.
James Blatch: It's coming back.
Suzy K Quinn: You cough away, James. I don't mind.
James Blatch: It's going to be a bad flu season, bad cold season, tell you now.
Suzy K Quinn: I couldn't say.
James Blatch: But a lot better than a global pandemic.
Suzy K Quinn: I have an unpleasant tip for you.
James Blatch: Oh go on.
Suzy K Quinn: Buy an organic veg bag, you'll never get another cold if you don't get one already.
James Blatch: An organic veg bag.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. But you might already get an organic veg bag so that might be quite patronising but I've noticed, see we've got an organic veg bag. I'm not a big fan of vegetables but you have to eat it because you bought it and haven't had a cold since.
James Blatch: We used to get them, I think we used them a lot. Lot of soups got made to start off with.
Suzy K Quinn: Lot of soups.
James Blatch: And then at some point stopped getting them. We could get them. There's couple of companies locally do them. I'll look into that. Thank you. Someone told me zinc the other day as well. They said the same thing. Take zinc and you'll never have a cold. Good. Okay well look, brilliant that you've done the course. It's a pretty much a timeless course.
I think of all the courses we do, it's the one that requires the least amount of maintenance because it is the fundamentals of writing, which are not going to change tomorrow.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, which is not going to change.
James Blatch: Or the day after. There's a bit of tinkering here and there, of course, but you can check it out selfpublishingformula.com/bestseller. There's everything you need to know. There's a big smiling picture of Suzy K Quinn, the Special K, is that, where you got called.
Suzy K Quinn: Special K, I like that. Do you want to know why the K?
James Blatch: Go on. It doesn't stand for anything.
Suzy K Quinn: It doesn't have anything. I don't have a middle name. My parents, they were radical like that, didn't have a middle name but Suzy Quinn was already taken on Twitter and so when I was sort of trying to create branding and stuff like that, I thought, okay, I need an initial. I just literally went through the Twitter handless going Suzy A Quinn, Suzy B Quinn, got to K, it wasn't taken. I thought, oh, I'll grab that one. There's there's a K in JK Rowling, must be a bit of luck there. And so that's it really. That's really the only reason.
James Blatch: Wow.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, how shallow.
James Blatch: No, it's not shallow. It's great. Well you can pretend your name's Kate or something if you wanted a middle name. Do you feel regretful about this decision your parents made? Or you come to terms with it?
Suzy K Quinn: I suppose I regret the fact. I hadn't thought about the names that begin with K, I really apologise but it was the first one you guys used Karen and there's a thing at the moment, isn't there?
James Blatch: Yeah. Karen's a complaining middle age women. Which is a bit derogatory I feel, but anyway.
Suzy K Quinn: It's a bit derogatory because I know some nice Karens. I feel very sorry, it's outdated.
James Blatch: And people who genuinely have a complaint every now and again can't all be labelled Karens.
Suzy K Quinn: Exactly.
James Blatch: Not Karen, but Kate's a nice name and we've got a princess called Kate, haven't we?
Suzy K Quinn: Kate's a nice name, I've got a sister Katherine, she's twin sister Katherine. We were at Harrogate, the crime festival this year. Very quiet and it was very cool. We met lots of author buddies but quite a lot of who don't know I've got a twin sister. I came in the first day and I was saying to everyone, I was speaking to who was it? Mark Barrowcliffe, he's loads of fun and briefly spoke to Ian Rankin.
James Blatch: Wow.
Suzy K Quinn: He's an introverted fellow. Nice, nice man.
James Blatch: Classic writer.
Suzy K Quinn: And loads that are the really, really, really cool authors. And I was saying, "I've got a twin sister, by the way. She's going to come up tomorrow." And I think quite a lot thought I was joking but I really do.
James Blatch: Identical twin?
Suzy K Quinn: Identical twin, yeah.
James Blatch: Wow.
Suzy K Quinn: She came up. We don't look that identical these days but if I walked out the room and she came in, you probably would assume.
James Blatch: It was you.
Suzy K Quinn: It was me because. I was sort of saying, I don't want anyone to be confused.
James Blatch: Does she have a middle name?
Suzy K Quinn: No. But she writes as, this is nice. She writes as CS Quinn. She's taken my initial family name. I should have done that. That's what I'll say. I'll say, "Cath, I couldn't be a SC Quinn so I was SK Quinn like Kath."
James Blatch: There you go.
Suzy K Quinn: There we go. That's rounded up that, essentially.
James Blatch: I'm JR Blatch, which is whenever I say that people think of that Yellow Pages advert with JR Hartley fly fishing.
Suzy K Quinn: JR Hartley.
James Blatch: Go JR Hartley? No, Blatch. Okay. Let's move on to your big career change, well not really a career change but you're dabbling now, experimenting in.
Suzy K Quinn: My midlife crisis.
James Blatch: Your midlife crisis. You haven't bought a sports car, well you may have done but in addition to that, you are writing children's books. Why?
Suzy K Quinn: Why? Why?
James Blatch: Oh you don't know.
Suzy K Quinn: I think because probably because of my kids, probably similar reasons to why Mark has written a children's book. I've got kids that age and I suppose it's been a show off thing that they want to read my books and actually my eldest girl, she is reading my Bad Mother's books and she says, there's a few pages I've earmarked to say, don't read that and then she refills it. But one minor sex scene. But other than that, she's enjoying them.
I wanted to write something that's better for their age. I also see there's a lot of longevity with kids' books. In lockdown, I really saw how it's very, whereas with I suppose, with adult books there's a lot of alternatives. There's a lot of distractions. You definitely always get your series readers and you get people that read prolifically and hate TV but you also get TV as a distraction.
With kids, there seems a real reason, parents really want kids to read. There's a reason to spend eight pounds on a book and buy a print book and that kind of thing. And so I suppose there was that slight commercial thing, but also when I was a kid, I read so much, I love kids books and young adult books. We'd go on holiday and I would literally have a suitcase of 12, how ever many books I could get out of the library would be my suitcase full. And so I just quite like the age, I think, but let's see if they like the books.
James Blatch: This is young teenagers or younger than that?
Suzy K Quinn: At the moment I think middle grade.
James Blatch: Middle grade.
Suzy K Quinn: Which is basically eight to 12. And so, I'm doing one magical fantastical one and one very non-magical fantastical one about girl bullying. I'm sure they'll be absolutely great and fine but I think it might take a while for me to get to understand what this audience wants. And just like with say romance, we were talking about readers have a certain expectation and you have to learn that and meet that. If you read a lot of romance, you're going to be a great romance writer. If you read a lot of thrillers, you're going to be great thriller writer because you understand it. I imagine there'll be a few things I'll have to learn along the way of ah, kids really like this. And they really hate this.
James Blatch: From the outside, I think kids like things that are a bit naughty, don't they?
Suzy K Quinn: Yes. They sort of seem to like things a bit disgusting.
James Blatch: Yes. And who's the comedian, Walliams who now is a prolific children's writer. His books are always a little bit on the edge or at least they come across that way.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. They're kind of on the edge of, ooh, should you really say that about your teacher? That kind of thing. I think definitely I think they do like that. I'm going more for the sorts of, I don't know, the Judy Bloom star with the Queen Bee book and then I'm going sort of, oh, I guess Harry Potter style with the fantasy book. That's the one, I'm not worried about the Queen Bee one, that will be fine.
The fantasy one and a lot of people when I was doing the course, they'd send me a message saying, "What about world building?" I say, "Well I can't tell you about world building because I've never done it." There was a kind of element of, let's see how that goes. What I can tell you about world building is it's difficult and research is just wonderful.
A lot of it is researching some really interesting part of say mediaeval life and then translating it into something a bit more magical or a bit more interesting. Because I think George RR Martin did, he just immerses himself in mediaeval history, I think it was, and he read loads of books about weapons and you absorb them and then wrote his fantasies and sort of ideas from that. Anyway, so there you go.
James Blatch: Where are you with these? Are you published yet?
Suzy K Quinn: They're not quite ready. The Queen Bees one, I'm halfway through the Huxley Sparks one, I finished and I'm constantly reworking. And I think I probably need to leave it alone and get it out there but I can just see things that don't have quite enough layers and weight. And again, I was saying to you before we started, self publishing is I think is the best thing ever. The best thing ever. I still have that stupid writers urge to go, I want a big publisher to come along and wave a magic wand. And I know it's not real. I know it's not real, I've seen it be not real.
But I still have that thing of maybe because it's a kid's book and it will be in print more, I don't know. But what tends to happen with me is I do it, remember why that it's not a good idea and then I self publish and it's wonderful and I think I would say that I do it. There you go.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, good luck with that. Looking forward to seeing those. And an interesting experience. That's not just going from romance to thrillers, where it's basically stories are stories and adults.
You're moving into a different way of writing with children, I imagine took some adaptation.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, it did. You have to be much with the word count and things. I am aiming to do a much shorter workout because I remember being a kid and I would have wanted a shorter book. 40,000 words. Harry Potter is 80,000, fair enough.
James Blatch: They were long, weren't they? They were long, even for adults, couple of Harry Potter books.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. And obviously they worked tremendously well, but I think getting a story, my problem was telling too much story and going oh you just got to get rid of all those stories and just stick with a central one.
James Blatch: 40,000, is that your kind of target for them?
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. That's my target. And you're right, it is a different way of working because you have a story in your head for the books you're going to write and you have a certain feeling of the length is going to be and basically simplistic kid's book but I think all books, we should keep them simple and kids' books even more. That clean, this is what it's about. It's about two girls picking on each other, you can tell it in a sentence.
James Blatch: Well, you'll get the package right. We know that but that's a difficult thing to write that alone because was it Mark Twain famously apologised for writing a long letter because he didn't have time to write a shorter one. It's difficult writing short.
Now, in terms of the course itself and what we teach, we said it's timeless and things don't change over time but I wonder if it is more difficult these days to get into those charts. And perhaps it's certainly we know for sure it's more difficult than was 10 years ago, which makes this even more critical getting this packaging right. That's kind of accentuated the need to nail everything down now.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. I really really do, because I think when self-publishing first really took off and was a thing, I wouldn't say it was easy, but you could get away with a lot more. For example, if you were in the romance genre, I saw lots of self-published romance authors who, the concept wasn't all that clean. It wasn't, I don't mean clean, it probably was.
James Blatch: Clear.
Suzy K Quinn: Won't go there. But they didn't have an immediate concept that you'd be like, oh, wow. But it was a romance book, it was 99p, there was a cover with an attractive man on it. And people will buy it because they were like, oh, that's cheap and I like romance and I'm going to stock up my Kindle.
Now, I think you have to, it's always a good thing to do but I think more than ever having that hook that grabs people, that they want to look at the first page, that they're going to turn their head and spend a bit more time and go, okay, let me engage with this.
They're a bit less forgiving because there's more content, full stop, on Amazon and more people who are getting good at using adverts. I would always like to look at self publishing as actually easy. It's quite easy in a way, if you get it right. If you get the concept right, it's not so difficult. You put the book up there, it was in a bookshop, there's millions of eyeballs on it. It's when you think about 10, 15 years ago, maybe 20 years ago, I suppose. Time has passed, 10 years ago when you had these gatekeepers with publishers and it was so many good books didn't get to see the light of day ever.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's a shame.
Suzy K Quinn: Because they weren't allowed. Such a shame. I actually think it really is much, much easier today.
James Blatch: I always think about those people who slunk back to their jobs, as solicitors or librarians or teachers or whatever and fine, they had an okay career but they could have had a career as an author if they were doing it now today, where you have an opportunity just to publish. I completely agree. And with Fuse Books, I wouldn't say it's been easy but we haven't had a lot of resistance in taking series that weren't making money to making money, good money. And that's because of that alignment.
It's what you go into detail about in the course and you spell out how to do it, getting that right is absolutely critical to it.
Suzy K Quinn: And may I also say, it's fun. It's really fun. People might sort of think of it in a more cynical way, oh we're sort of sucking, we're commercialising, we're commoditizing. It's actually as creative people, what could be more fun than coming up with, spending an hour, I'm going to give you a hour, you can kick around a book title and a cover idea. It's a fun, fun thing to do.
James Blatch: It really is. It's a fun group. And people only say that about books, by the way, don't they, that sort of accusation that you're commercialising. If you're making lawnmowers that don't say, "Well, this is a commercial lawnmower." You haven't made this to be a work of art. People are just going to buy this to cut their grass. You fool.
Suzy K Quinn: It's true.
James Blatch: But we're hard on ourselves. Suzy, well done for the course. I think it's a brilliant addition in our stable. It's done absolutely brilliantly. We had our socks knocked off, didn't we, in the first month when it went on sale.
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah, it was a surprise.
James Blatch: Everyone grabbed it in large numbers.
Suzy K Quinn: We all sort of thought, oh, it'll do nicely. But that was a surprise.
James Blatch: Yeah. And that's gone really well. And everyone holds onto the course once they've got it. And it's still there doing great guns today. selfpublishingformula.com/bestseller. We'll have to have you back on, I think for a refresher course, perhaps on the webinar at some point in the next, perhaps early 22, if you're available for that.
Suzy K Quinn: Oh I would love to.
James Blatch: By which time you will be a very wealthy children's author, and on the TV and stuff.
Suzy K Quinn: Well, it's always a projection, isn't it? I'm never projecting to be a poor author. That would be useless.
James Blatch: And I'll have to speak to agent and they'll say, "Well, she doesn't really do podcasts anymore."
Suzy K Quinn: Yeah. I don't. I always will but to be honest, I'm so in love with self-publishing. I know I talk about publishing sometimes and stuff and I do obviously work with a publisher as well but the self-publishing is the thing my heart feels so incredibly grateful for, that you've always got. It's so empowering. But even if you work with the publisher as well, you've always got the choice because make no mistake, if you're an unpublished author and you're listening and you're thinking, you really want to have a publisher. They can come with big problems.
You can fall out with your editor. You can have someone who you don't work with well and to be able to not have that sword hanging over you, that's like you've got to play the game because otherwise your publisher might ditch you to think, well, do you know what? I can self-publish and do it that way. It's very empowering. And a lot of fun.
James Blatch: There was someone on social media as well, I think it was a bit of a troll and people started sharing his posts but he basically was lambasting self publishing from a published author point of view. And one of his complaints was that every self-published author is taking a slot away from a real author who's going to get a deal. And he went on like that, but he also said, "I never pay for my editing. I never pay for my covers. I never pay for my marketing." And the only thing I did, I didn't really want to get drawn in but I just posted this one thing. I haven't gone back to check it because I don't want to get in a row because I think he was trolling. But I'd said to him, "Your publishers paying for that, none of those services are free. Your publisher's paying for them."
Suzy K Quinn: And they're taking 90%. And by the way, that Christmas party, that you go to.
James Blatch: Is paid for by you.
Suzy K Quinn: That cost millions, you're paying for it.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I said, "And it's great. It's a great thing to do because no hassle for you and you don't have to worry about it. But if your books sell and successful, you've paid an awful lot for those services. You've paid way over the odds for them and you could have paid a few thousand, fraction of that and now being enjoying the income. That's your choice you make." It's a choice you make with your eyes open but to complain after of course.
Suzy K Quinn: To complain after.
James Blatch: I think someone is creating an account to goad us. He's goading us. Ignore him. Anyway, I'm not going to quote him. Thank you Suzy, so much indeed. Suzy K Quinn. Now we know what K stands for, Special K we'll call you. Brilliant. Thank you very much, indeed and we'll look forward to having you back on again sometime soon.
Suzy K Quinn: I can't wait, James, I can't wait. Always a pleasure.
James Blatch: There you go. Suzy K Quinn. Loved talking to Suzy. She is absolutely brilliant. She's a tour de force when it comes to entrepreneurialism and really like her. Really loved the fact that she's been through that thing that you went through, that I went through in my mind, but never did it, which is when you think about writing, you think of yourself as this amazing literary author who's at some point going to be holding the Pulitzer Prize in their hand and it's a disastrous route for everyone to go down unless your name is Ian McEwan or who's your favourite author? It's Kingsley, not Martin Amis. Isn't it, I think. For most of us aren't, in fact, the vast majority, 99.9% of writers are not those people.
And we actually, luckily for us, write the stuff that people love reading on the tube and on trains. And it brightens up their day and they get absorbed and lost in these little adventures that we create, whether it's romance or thrillers or whatever. That genre fiction, it's always been the whale aspect of publishing. Suzy really understands that.
When you wrote your first two books, we should say a little bit of history for you. You did have two traditionally published books. Do you look back and think that you were trying to be that big literary author at that point? Had you not even gone down the route of thinking, I'll just do genre fiction? Or already drawing a distinction between them.
Mark Dawson: Never thought that at all. No, I was too snooty that in the early days. I thought I was going to be writing these amazing stylistically perfect books and number one, that's not me as a writer. I can't do that. I know this because I'm older and I've pulled my head out of my ass. I knew I didn't have the talent for that. And also I sell more books. I think most authors will sell more books writing genre fiction.
Richard Osman, the big success story this year with the Thursday Murder Club, whatever it's called, the Old Folks Song of Murders. And that's a very, it's genre fiction, it's crime, cosy crime. And he sold, I don't know how many, certainly it must be millions now in the UK, it's been the top of the charts for weeks and weeks and weeks and doing well in the States as well.
James Blatch: His second one's out now, isn't it?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Now he's done amazingly well and that's pure genre fiction. And on the other hand, you've got someone like Sally Rooney's new book came out last week and I think that, I've just read that it's the biggest selling book of the year after three days worth of sales. That's another example, but the lesson to take away from that is just you should write what you like to write. I think I was trying personally to force myself to write something that just doesn't suit me. I'm not that kind of writer. I'm not.
James Blatch: Well also, write what you're capable of writing. We have to be honest with ourselves. I'm not capable of writing an Ian McEwan book. I read his books with amazement. It's like staring at the pyramids or something. I don't begin to understand, comprehend how that was put together.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. There's that. Doesn't mean that that's better than anything else. I know you're not saying that but it's not his writing is not better or worse than anything else. It's not better or worse than Lee Child, you can get into.
James Blatch: Well, there is no better or worse is there? That's a very subjective thing with a bit of art anyway,
Mark Dawson: It's just enjoyment. I love Ian McEwan too, so I enjoy reading his books. I could admire his prose but Ian McEwan probably couldn't write the kind of completely unputdownable book that David Baldacci writes, for example. They're very different skills. And in the early days I was really stuck up about it. And there's a writer called Matthew Riley, an Australian adventure writer, who's published by my editor at Macmillan and he was selling lots and I wasn't selling so I kind of looked at what he was doing and I thought, well, that's got to be really easy to do that. Just stupid, big budget movie type thrillers. Very little connection to reality, blah, blah, blah. I thought I'll write one like that. And it took after three or four months of trying that, I realised that I was being a complete idiot and it's not as easy as that.
I couldn't do that. I couldn't write his kinds of books. There's a real skill in getting the readers to continue turning the pages. And he had that and that's why you sold so well because he's very good at it. Write what you like and we've talked about this before in terms of, if you want to be kind of writing to market, it's a Venn diagram. You write what you like on the left-hand side, that's one circle. The right hand circle is what readers are looking for and you try and find that intersection between the two where they overlap. What you like, what readers want, that's a good place to aim your writing because you'll enjoy the process. And hopefully if you're good at it, you'll sell books as well. That's the best advice I have for someone who's just thinking about getting cracking on writing.
James Blatch: Good.
Mark Dawson: Aviation books, aviation geeks in the middle. There you go. You're happy.
James Blatch: I found them. And if you want to know how to approach it technically or what you need to do to put in place to make that happen and realise I don't make mistakes along the way, I would thoroughly recommend Suzy's course, selfpublishingformula.com/bestseller, all one word. Good. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. Good chat. Good discussion this week. Great interview from Suzy. We'll be back next week. Have a great weekend everybody. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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