SPS-297: Give Your Readers What They Want – with Melanie Harlow

After writing a few books, romance author Melanie Harlow took a step back and asked both herself and her readers what was working in her books, and where her strengths lay. Approaching her writing in this objective way has bettered her author career in more ways that one.

Show Notes

  • Surveying readers to discover what it is they like about an author’s books
  • The positive results of putting marketing first
  • The value of reverse-engineering a book
  • On writing books that make marketing easier
  • Why trying to please every reader doesn’t work
  • Being clear about our limitations as well as our strengths
  • How meditation helps Melanie write
  • Tips on how to tell whether ads are working

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-297: Give Your Readers What They Want - with Melanie Harlow
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.

Melanie Harlow: If all a person cares about is writing the book in their heart and putting it out there, by all means, but if your goal is to make money at this, to build a readership, to grow, then you are going to have to think about the market, you're going to have to think about commerce.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing, no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson, and first-time author, James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show on a Friday, with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Hello.

James Blatch: Because it might be any day of the week. It might be two years time, who knows when it is when you're listening to this. It's irrelevant that it's Friday, but I just like to say that. We have a really good interview today with Melanie Harlow that you need to listen to if you want to be successful writing books, because this is the essence I think of giving yourself the very best chance of commercial success writing books. It's a really important interview for that, so that's coming up. So my trailer for that and a very, very enjoyable interview as well with Melanie.

We have a couple of things to say. Mark, you've been busy writing, you're always busy writing and you have sent off another John Milton, the man who will never die. Despite his alcoholism and his penchant for violence he just seems to live on. It's unlikely to me, it's seems unlikely. I think his chances of living this long are-

Mark Dawson: Yeah, slim probably.

James Blatch: Slim.

Mark Dawson: But his creator is not keen on killing him off. I'm not at that Conan Doyle stage yet where I've got to throw him off a waterfall.

James Blatch: No.

Mark Dawson: Because he's very popular with readers. It had a pre-order running on this one for two or three months and it's around 10,000 full price pre orders.

James Blatch: Full price? So you don't do it at 99 or an offer or anything?

Mark Dawson: No, certainly not for Milton. I know that readers are very happy to pay. And when I say full price, it's what? 3.99 in the UK, we're not talking a huge amount in terms of-

James Blatch: $4.99.

Mark Dawson: 4.99 in the US, or 3.99 in the UK, 4.59 in Australia, something along those lines. So yeah, they still seem to enjoy the stories. The last one ended on a satisfactory cliffhanger. I haven't had any issues with readers complaining about that one because the story ends, but it leaves Milton in an unusual situation in that it's suggesting, as you get to the twentieth book in the series, that there's going to be some call backs to previous books.

I know readers enjoyed that and I quite liked writing that with one eye on the 19 books before it. So yeah, that's gone off today. Always a little bit trepidatious to see how readers are going to respond, because my editor's read it, she says that she enjoyed it, but she's on the payroll, so almost-

James Blatch: So it's gone off to your street team, your advance readers now?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. So it's been copy edited and now it goes off to the street team and they'll have two or three weeks to look at that. Usually I'll get three or four writing back within the first couple of days to say that they've read it. If they like it, then I can relax a bit that most people will like it. So we'll see, we'll see.

We're probably going to get that ready for launch. I'll start to ramp up the advertising and that kind of stuff, so that it's probably about a month away from making the shelves.

James Blatch: Very good. Okay, well, we should welcome our latest Patreon supporters who are Charles Mann from Devon here in the UK, and Kate Rice of no fixed abode, so let's say a magistrate's court. It sounds like a bit of a slur. Kate and Charles, thank you very much indeed for going to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and supporting this here, Self Publishing Show.

There are lots of self publishing podcasts now, new ones appear every week and I listen to a first episode or two of the new ones and they're all doing a pretty good job and there's no duffers out there. I think all of them are worth listening to. It does come down to the interviews, doesn't it? And I think we have good quality interviews on the show. I'm not talking about my interviewing qualities, I'm talking about the guests.

Mark Dawson: Yes, you are.

James Blatch: The guests that we have, I look at the comments, I always worry that we're bringing value to people and making use of the time they're investing in listening and the comments are usually very, very positive and I think today's is going to be one of those interviews. I think people are going to really enjoy this today.

So this is Melanie Harlow and she introduces herself and a bit of her background at the beginning. I think by the end of this interview you're going to understand why this is one that you and I should be listening to. Here's Melanie.

Melanie Harlow, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. How lovely to have you on here. I love that little, by the way, little figurine if you're watching on YouTube. Little art deco, 1920s by the beach in New York, of the beach. What was that beach? Coney Island or something? I don't know, wherever they show those pictures from the old days.

Melanie Harlow: Right.

James Blatch: That looks amazing. And that's four books, a pile of books?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah, my little art deco lady sitting on the books. The books are not historical, but the lady is, yes.

James Blatch: That's great. This is why people should watch on YouTube, so they can get all this extra little stuff. Okay, Melanie, we're going to be talking about being successful, which you have been, in the indie world, hugely successful.

Melanie Harlow: Thank you.

James Blatch: And traditional publishing, we'll talk a bit about that as well. We will try and stay in our lane on this interview by talking about staying in your lane as an author to make life easier for yourself when it comes to being commercially successful, we'll focus on that.

Why don't we start with you and a bit about you? I think you've been publishing since, what, 2013? Is that right? Something like that?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah. In 2013, I published a historical of all things and was shocked when it didn't fly off the digital shelves. But it was a good learning experience. It was something that I had shopped traditionally, or I should say it was something I queried agents with and just never really had any luck, so I thought, you know what? I have friends who were self publishing by that point and it just looked more fun than querying agents.

So I rewrote it to be a little bit more romantic because my friends who were self-publishing were in romance and I thought with the original YA book or the original historical was YA, so I thought, okay, that's not going to fly, rewrote it and self-published it.

It was a good lesson, it was a good learning experience for me. I published one more historical, took a look at the market and how everyone else was doing and thought, no, historical is not the big seller, contemporary romance in self publishing is a better place to be, so that has been my lane ever since.

James Blatch: What era did you write in?

Melanie Harlow: The 1920s.

James Blatch: Oh okay. Your little lady, though, art deco swimmer.

Melanie Harlow: Right, yeah. I'm a big fan of historical fiction, I read a tonne of it and I love it, but it just didn't sell.

James Blatch: You haven't gone back to historical fiction at any point?

Melanie Harlow: No.

James Blatch: Lots of people do write historical fiction, but I do sense that it is harder to sell and to scale up than some of the bigger romance genres.

Melanie Harlow: I think if I were to return to it, I do have an agent now, I would submit it to a traditional publisher instead of trying to self-publish it. I think that readers of historical fiction are still more traditional shoppers. That's just a feeling on my part, I don't have any evidence for it.

James Blatch: Sure.

Melanie Harlow: But I think if I did historical again, and I would love to some day in the future, that that's how I would do it.

James Blatch: Okay. But anyway, you had that little experiment and decided that contemporary romance would be the way forward.

Tell us how you went about that task? Where were you in your life at this stage? Did you have a job? Were you burning to be a writer and to quit the 9:00 to 5:00? What was your situation?

Melanie Harlow: Like all authors I was just a reader first and foremost, always with my nose in a book and I had always wanted to write, and I always thought I would write for kids, either YA or middle-grade children's books. I was an English teacher, a high school English teacher for six years and I first seriously started dabbling in writing after I had my two daughters and they were home and they were little and I was home with them, and so just during nap times.

And then I would get up at 5:00 AM and write between 5:00 and 7:00 AM every day before they got up and then I just kept at it. That really was my life, I would write between 5:00 and 7:00 AM every day until they were both in elementary school, which took a few years.

James Blatch: Yeah, long years.

Melanie Harlow: And then I could write at normal hours of the day. But it's been a slow and steady build, I didn't have what I would call a breakout success. I started with the contemporary. The first one did fine, the second one, meh, but I kept going. I would write three book series, interconnected standalones.

I thought I had good covers, I thought I was pretty good at writing blurbs, but mostly I was concerned about being the best writer possible and this is still something that I struggle with. I would be much faster if I could stop agonising over the syntax of every sentence. It's something that I've had to learn, my readers really don't care about the perfect verb in a sentence. So I had to change my mindset a little bit in terms of focusing more on the story than on the perfect sentence.

I got a little bit faster at writing, I was able to put out three books a year for several years. And then in 2020, I was able to put out four books, but I did not repeat that in 2021. So I have a feeling that 2020 just afforded all of us more time at home and I was able to write that extra book. But it helped, I was able to release a book every 90 days for almost two years and that really helped me grow in terms of readership and income.

James Blatch: Okay, there's quite a lot to unpick there that I want to talk about, but just give us a sense of how that's gone, in other words how successful it's been for you.

Melanie Harlow: It's been very successful, but I think right before I started that long run of books releasing a book every 90 days was when I was really tired of the ups and downs. It's not that each book, that I expected it to just be an uphill climb, although that would have been nice, but it really seemed to me like I would have a unicorn release and then I would have one that just didn't stick the landing. And then I would have one that did okay and then one that did ... and I thought, this seems like a lot of ups and downs and what is the answer.

I was terrified that the answer was something other than get better at writing because I felt like I could get better at writing. I'm a big believer in structure, I love craft books, I read them constantly. So I thought okay, I could be a better writer, but I was scared that that wasn't it, that wasn't why I couldn't keep building consistently.

So I was scared that the answer was something in marketing and that terrified me and that also I was scared, of course, that the answer was oh, you just have to spend thousands of dollars on ads because at that point I really didn't have thousands of dollars to spend on ads. And it's true that ads do help and I am a believer in ads and I do spend on ads and we can talk about that, but that wasn't the answer either.

So I took a hard look at my successes and failures, I surveyed my reader group, I just talked to my readers and said, "What do you love about my books? What's bringing you back to them each time?"

I talk about this a lot, most readers say author name is the thing that makes them click on a book, but before you know someone's name you're drawn to something else. Most of the time it's the trope and so I always say, "Please don't shy away from being tropey, the trope is your best friend." And so they started talking to me about tropes that they loved and the way that my books would make them feel and they would use words like, "Oh, it feels like a hug, it's so warm, it's cosy, it's sexy, it's family and friends, as well as the love story."

I got the sense that okay, they're coming to me for a hug, I can stop trying to have the twistiest plot, or the hottest love scenes, or some kind of gut-punch tragedy, they really aren't looking to me for that, they want a hug.

Then I made lists of all of their favourite tropes, I asked them who their favourite heroines were, their favourite heroes, and why. I just got a better sense of what they wanted from me, what the emotional state was that they wanted out of a Melanie Harlow book.

Then I planned before I wrote the next series, which turned out to be the Cloverleigh Farms series, which really was the series that I think catapulted me to the next level, which is exactly what I wanted, I wanted to get to the next level. I made a list of all the tropes I wanted to use, of all the ways, all the funny, cute scenes that were going to make people feel like I was there giving them a hug, a sense that they belonged in this world, they belonged in this group of friends, they belonged to this family.

And then I just did it, one after the other, banged them out and I did not allow myself to stop and rethink and over think. I'm a great over thinker and I'll start analysing things that just don't matter.

The other thing that I did was I thought about the marketing first. I thought about the covers, I purchased all of the photos ahead of time, I thought about the tropes and how I wanted the blurbs to hit the tropes hard right up top, first four, five lines if possible. I'm exclusive to Amazon, so I know that above that little read more line on the product page that that's prime real estate right there and if I don't communicate to a new reader this is a book you're going to love they're going to go on to something else, because they have about 150 other choices, even just on my book's product page. So I have to grab them right there and I probably have less than three, four seconds to do it.

I feel like I meandered. Did I answer that question?

James Blatch: You did meander a bit, but it was all good and we're going to go back over some of that. No, no, I didn't mean ... That sounded rude, "You did meander." You went through your process and that was a brilliant way of us now going into some more detail with that.

Melanie Harlow: It was the first time that I thought about the marketing first. That was a very long, long, roundabout way to say I thought about the marketing first and the actual writing of sentences second.

James Blatch: What I love about that was you started with your readers, which is probably what publishers don't even do. You started with your readers and asked them what it was they liked about your books. And do you know what? When we writers talk to each other about books we over complicate it, of course we do. We're trying to be clever, probably trying to be clever to ourselves and we forget that people read books. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about.

I don't watch romance films that often, I actually quite like them when I do watch them, but I don't seek them out because I watch plane films and stuff, but last night The Proposal was on TV. It was Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds I think, and two people in an antagonistic relationship forced together, who, guess what, end up finding each other in that, and I thought how many times. And in fact, I think the previous romance film I watched was French Kiss, the old 80s film with Meg Ryan-

Melanie Harlow: I love that movie.

James Blatch: ... and Kevin Kline. Two people forced together in an antagonistic relationship. And guess who they find? They find each other. Hollywood's not stupid, they're a multi-billion dollar industry, they don't make these films because they can't think of something else to do. They don't make them because they're not clever enough to think of something else to do. They are the cleverest people on the planet and they know that when we go to the cinema, we want to put on an old of slippers, we don't want to be forced into clothes that we don't like-

Melanie Harlow: Exactly.

James Blatch: ... that may be brilliant and the trendiest things in the world. And that's what people do with genre fiction, it's why they pick up this, but you discovered that quite simply by talking to your readers and then everything you did flowed from that.

I think you've been number one on the Kindle store, right?

Melanie Harlow: I've been number one in the Kindle store and number two. My last few have hit one, two, and three.

James Blatch: Fantastic. So you have walked the walk here and I love that. It's such a strong message, it's worth just fleshing that out, how we should really be organising ourself. And this, by the way, we had Suzy K. Quinn on the show recently and this is exactly her mantra, what she talks about in her course, How to Write a Bestseller, is exactly this, is you almost reverse engineer.

You start with what people want and then you go back and you provide that, which is how most of industry work, right? People who build appliances for your kitchen don't build things that they think are wizzy and fantastic, they build things that people want.

They start with market research, that's how the product's journey begins.

Melanie Harlow: Exactly. I'm a big fan of Seth Godin and in his book, This is Marketing, he talks about you don't fashion a key and then run around looking for a lock to put it in, that's just the silliest idea ever and a big waste of your time. So I thought about that and I was like, "Oh my God, he's right, so why am I writing a book and then trying to figure out how I'm going to sell it?"

And sometimes even a great idea ... I'm not the best writer in the world, but I think I'm a decent writer. There would be a book that I'd finish and I was proud of it, but I couldn't figure out how to sell it, it wasn't tropey enough, it wasn't something that people would look at and automatically think oh, I love books like that.

So that was my goal when I first realised, okay, I need to think first and write second, was that how can I write a book that will make marketing so much easier because they'll be able to look at those first few lines in the blurb and say, "I love these kinds of stories." And like you said, the forced proximity, the enemies to lovers, two people who don't like each other stuck in a room, on a plane, in an office.

James Blatch: And these are tropes, right? When you and me say tropes this is what you're talking about, those type of events and particular devices?

Melanie Harlow: Correct, yes. Yes, romance readers love their tropes. Yes.

James Blatch: And in this list you wrote, can you tell us what sort of tropes you identified that you should be putting into your books?

Melanie Harlow: I can tell you what my readers said. They liked more blue collar heroes, they like my neurotic heroines, they liked friends to lovers a lot, they liked small town settings, they love single dads. So they were looking for a little bit softer, friendlier, easier to digest kind of stories, like the pyjama pants feeling. Exactly, they want pyjama pants from me, they don't really want the fancy high heels or cocktail dress or whatever, they go to other people for that and that's fine.

One of the other things that I always say to people is I am not for everybody and I'm okay with that. You sometimes have to be willing to leave some readers on the table, because these other readers over here are going to be more valuable over time, those are the whale readers, they're going to gobble up everything that you write because you're going to stay in your lane and you're going to keep giving them that feeling that makes them happy.

James Blatch: Yeah, really important point. That's something else I think Suzy's made, a point she's made in the past that some of the biggest authors in the world, if you have a group of people around you, you say, "Do you like them?" More than half of them will probably say, "I tried him once, I don't like him," like Dan Brown or something. Lots of people will say, "Oh, I didn't like Dan Brown," one of the biggest selling authors on the planet.

You are not going to please all the people all of the time. You don't need to and you need to come to terms with that and understand that's an important of you being good at serving your audience is you're not going to be serving everybody. So that's a really good point to make.

And we do try because we're sensitive beings all of us, writers in particular, you don't like it ...

And just to labour this point a little bit more, it's why everything else you've talked about, the cover and the blurb is so important that it does represent your book and your book fulfils that promise, because that's when you get the negative reviews, isn't it, not because you've written a bad book, but you've got the wrong reader?

Melanie Harlow: Exactly, yes, and romance readers especially. This is probably true for other genres as well, but romance readers, there's a short hand in cover design. We've been talking about this, I have a group for writers and we've talked a lot this week about billionaire romance and to me, if you're going to write a billionaire romance, you better put a guy in a suit on your cover because that's an immediate signifier to the reader that this is a billionaire romance.

And usually billionaire romances have that alpha, dominant guy, so if you put a happy go lucky looking guy with a pink bubble font on your cover a billionaire reader isn't going to click on that. She's not even going to get to your blurb where you say this billionaire is stuck in an office with a girl who hates him. She's not going to get there because she blew right by your cover, it doesn't look like a billionaire romance to her and that's what she's in the mood for. So I think doing your research about your niche is so important.

James Blatch: Yeah, have a look at the big selling books in your area and see what their covers look like. It's funny how many people will post a cover into a group and ask for comments and it's clear that they have not looked at other best selling books in that genre.

They've come up with what they think fits their story, because they know their story inside out, but that's not really what you're doing with a cover, is it?

Melanie Harlow: Nope. Or, I see a lot of covers that they try to put every element in the book on the cover, so it just looks like this Franken-cover and it's a mess and your eyeballs don't know where to go, so you just have to look away. I feel sad for these authors because I think they probably paid for this, or maybe they did it themself, but I have to say, "No, you need to go back and look. You have to know who your comp authors are."

If a new author cannot tell me who their comp authors are, that's the first thing I send them away to do, I say, "You have homework. Go figure out who your comp authors are." And by that I mean another author whose readers would also enjoy your work. You're not in competition with them, you don't have to think about oh, I'm comparing myself to that person. Would their readers like your books? If so, then that's a comp author for you, then you need to look at their covers.

And the other thing that people get very stubborn about their covers in terms of well, I don't want to just have another shirtless guy on my cover, my book is so much more than that, and I have to say, "Do you want to sell your book? Do you want people to know that it's so beautifully written and moving and emotional, because if you do, you should probably put the shirtless guy on your cover because he sells books."

As someone who has many a shirtless dude on her covers, I got used to it. I know that it's a cliché for a romance to have the shirtless male on the cover, I know all of the jokes about man chest, I've heard them all. But you know what? They sell books and even though readers like to say, "I don't like books with chests on the cover," plenty do and it sells books. So I say to new authors, "Please don't be stubborn about things like having a shirtless male on your cover, if there's a reason."

James Blatch: Are the jokes something like you're a part of Manchester United, the Manchester United brigade? But yes.

Melanie Harlow: They're everything that you think they would be, yes.

James Blatch: Yeah, okay. It's funny enough, I was going to ask this about that tension that some people will immediately identify as this is my work of art and I'm not going to compromise myself, which we occasionally do here. And that's a microcosm version of that is that I don't want my book to look sleazy or like all the others, but that is anti-commercial. Can you do both?

Can you make these commercial decisions, put the tropes in, have the cover, and still enjoy yourself and feel fulfilled writing your books?

Melanie Harlow: That's the dream where the book of your heart intersects with commerce. It's not easy, it doesn't always happen. The first thing that I would have someone ask themself is, do I want to make money, is my goal with this book to make money? And if it is, then the reader wins, and by that I mean commerce wins, the market wins.

If all a person cares about is writing the book in their heart and putting it out there, by all means, write every single book in your heart in every genre known to man, one right after the other and just put them out there, that's fine. But if your goal is to make money at this, to build a readership, to grow, then you are going to have to think about the market, you're going to have to think about commerce.

I took Shonda Rhimes' masterclass and even she said, "I would be lying if I said the network just let me write whatever I wanted to write and they just put it on TV. We're not princesses, we're not all running around wearing tiaras, we have to think about the market too, we have to think about commerce." So if Shonda Rhimes has to think about commerce, I have to think about commerce too.

And yes, I get nervous that I'm being repetitive, I get worried that if I'm bored writing friends to lovers romances, like this is my fifth one, are my readers bored, I have to stop thinking that way. It's paralysing, I would just never write again. I have to tell myself, "No, my readers want this thing from me." I'm going to give it the most fresh spin I can, a different take, new characters, new location, new circumstances.

And in order to keep it fresh for myself I had this little thing, Jennifer Lynn Barnes talks about the Id List, you have your little pet things that you just love putting into a book. I love old houses, I love when a character's going to refurbish an old house. I love scenes in vineyards and orchards. There's probably an orchard in every single book of mine, there aren't even enough orchards in the world as I've written in books. But I love that setting and I love the idea of an antique store. So I'm always writing these things into books that keeps it fun for me.

James Blatch: William Shakespeare, who many would argue is probably the greatest writer who's ever walked the planet, wrote books to fill his theatre up, wrote plays to fill his theatre up, right? He didn't write plays to show off to people, in fact he sweated it all through his life, as much as we know about him, keeping bums on seats in the plays. So he put what we call tropes into his plays, he put the violence in there, he put effectively the sex scenes of equivalent, the love scenes, he put the mistaken identity, all that stuff he knew the crowd loved. And if he can do it, if William Shakespeare can do that and create some of the greatest collection of plays in the English language then reckon we can.

Melanie Harlow: Yeah, I'm not better than William Shakespeare.

James Blatch: Maybe you are, maybe you are. Maybe in 700 years time there'll be a podcast that'll be talking about your writing. It's so refreshing to hear you talk about this in such enthusiastic terms. I'll just prey on what you said earlier, it's not necessarily always easy and you do have to make some of those decisions, and sometimes it is harder to do it, more commercially to do it right in that sense than it would be just to drift down another path without researching it. But you've found a way because you seem to have a smile on your face and enjoying yourself certainly talking about it.

You've found a way of making this is a very, very satisfying career.

Melanie Harlow: I love nothing more than talking about writing and books and everything, so that will always put a smile on my face. But there are days when I sit down to write and I think, I just can't write another meet-cute, I just can't, I'm burnt out, and then I know that I need to step away from the computer that day because it's just not going to happen and I need to go refill the creative well somewhere else.

I'm not a particularly fast writer, although I guess that's subjective, three books a year is a nice pace for me. Like I said, I did four last year, but I think that was an anomaly.

I used to think that that was a failure because people were releasing a book a month, all this rapid releasing, so I thought I'm going to have to do dictation. So I bought all this stuff for dictation and I was terrible at it, it was awful and I hated every second of it. And so finally I took Becca Syme's Strengths for Writers and I realised that my process is just slower, I'm a thinker. My two, three and four strengths were context, learner, intellection, like these just ... I like a lot of input and I like to sit and stew about things before I can produce the output.

James Blatch: Ruminate?

Melanie Harlow: So I had to accept my limitations, as well as my strengths, and work with them. It's not a party every day, but I feel very lucky to get to tell stories for a living.

James Blatch: I think a couple of interviews if you're new to this show and this is one of your first interviews, Becca Symes and I mentioned Suzy Quinn are two interviews that will go along very nicely with this.

Suzy completely reinforcing everything that you're talking about, about the commercial approach, and Becca about understanding your strengths and weaknesses and organising what you do around that rather than the other way round, which is really important. I know when she gave a session at one of the conferences, I think it was NINC, everyone came out saying, "You've got to get Becca Symes on the show," and she was great.

Melanie Harlow: Yeah, she's amazing.

James Blatch: All right, let's talk about writing then a little bit. I'm always fascinated with process, I know everyone who listens wants to hear everybody else's process.

You talked at the beginning about fussing too much about sentence structure, did that come because you were an English teacher, maybe, for a few years, or where did that come from, and how did you get over it?

Melanie Harlow: Probably. I just really love a well crafted sentence and as a reader I love a sentence that is so good, I just have to pause for a minute and think, wow, how did he do that, how does she do that. But those are different kinds of books, different kinds of writers than what I'm writing.

So I think that for my audience, they appreciate a well written book and it's no excuse not to have fantastic editing and I believe in great editing, but it just was less important than I thought it was. I just would agonise over things that an English teacher might care about or someone reading literary fiction, but that a romance reader really doesn't. When I look at the lines that are highlighted in my books on Kindle, I'm always like, "Really? That? Okay." The gem sentences that I think are so great, no one cares, no one cares. I care and I'm glad that I wrote a nice sentence, but they're looking for those warm, fuzzy, hug moments, they don't really care about my prepositions or whatever.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well, you don't want the language to get in the way of the story.

Melanie Harlow: Right, and sometimes when I find myself, the writing is getting in the way of the story, I have to say, "Just stop, you've gone on too long in this person's head and he needs to get out of the car, or whatever." So I do think that for someone like me who really does like to get in a character's head and wander through, there is a danger that that sort of thing goes on too long in genre fiction like romance. So I sometimes depend on my editor and when I did my co writes, my coauthor would sometimes say to me, "This is too much internal here, you need to cut some," and then I would cut some.

James Blatch: It can take you out of the moment.

Melanie Harlow: Yeah.

James Blatch: So in terms of process, what does your writing day look like? You're not getting up at 5:00 still, please tell me?

Melanie Harlow: No, I don't get up at 5:00.

James Blatch: I aways feel inadequate when people tell me-

Melanie Harlow: I get up at 6:30, get everybody off. My daughters are teenagers now, so I get them off. One's in middle school, one's in high school. And then I'm a morning person, I think fast in the morning. I meditate for five minutes, which is non-negotiable. It's agony for me because sitting in silence doing nothing for five minutes drives me bananas, but I force myself to do it and I always notice that I have better writing days on the days that I do it. So I wish I could come up with a reason not to do it, but I can't.

James Blatch: I'm fascinated by that and I'm really attracted to the five minutes bit because I have thought about meditation, I think it's something I probably would enjoy, but I don't know were to start and I imagine it would take an hour every day that I just don't have.

Melanie Harlow: Five minutes.

James Blatch: But you do five minutes and it makes a difference to you?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah. I wish it didn't because I look for any excuse not to do it, but I just always have a better writing day after I do it. So I do my five minutes and then lately I've been using Brain.fm. I use the Creative Flow and I have a word count goal for the day, which is usually about 2,000 words and I try to get that done before I do anything else. It's hard, I like Facebook, but I can stay away from it when I need to.

James Blatch: We had Brain.fm on the show recently as well.

Melanie Harlow: I listened to that episode. In fact, that might have been what made me try it for the first time.

James Blatch: Oh, okay, yes. There is a discount code I should say. If you go to our community group or check the notes, it's somewhere. I'm sure it's on our Facebook group. I've been using it for some time and I find it helps me focus.

Tell me a little bit about how your meditation works. Have you been to classes?

Melanie Harlow: No.

James Blatch: Or have you just watched a few videos, or just sit there in silence trying to clear your mind?

Melanie Harlow: Nothing. I was so against the idea. I am not a woo-woo kind of person. I was convinced that it was nonsense. I read You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero, and I really liked that book and she promised that if you could just give it a try for five minutes, just sit there and imagine ...

This sounds so corny, but this is what I do. I imagine this yellow light, like this golden, radiant light shining on me and that I'm putting that energy back out there, so I'm vibrating at a high frequency, just high energy, high frequency. And I sometimes, when I find my mind wandering, if I hear something outside, a car or something in my house, I immediately bring myself back in and what I say is, "Trust the process. Trust process." Sometimes I say, "I trust myself, I trust my process."

James Blatch: They're your mantras?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah. I think I just need to refocus, so that I'm not distracted by the outside things. And five minutes passes pretty quickly. And then I just always find that after I put in that five minutes of time I am less likely to jump on social media. I am more likely to open up my doc and just get into it.

I don't know what that is, I guess I think, okay, I just spent five minutes on this, now I need to be productive, because that was my fear about meditation, "But I'm not doing anything." I'm a person who likes to do things and I just felt like it was, I don't know, a very, not selfish but just a waste of time, it didn't produce anything, but I'm wrong.

James Blatch: Well, I'm going to give it a go. Who's going to give it a go with me? I can hear everyone saying, "Yeah."

Melanie Harlow: Try it. Five minutes, total silence. I think Brain.fm does have a meditation-

James Blatch: Yes, I was going to say, I think it does. You don't use that?

Melanie Harlow: I did try it one time, but I found myself thinking about the sound I was hearing, well, I wonder why they chose that sound and all this stuff, so I just thought, enough, I need to just be alone with my radiant light and tell myself to trust the process.

James Blatch: You don't have a sun lamp or something you sit in front of?

Melanie Harlow: No.

James Blatch: So it's just imagined?

Melanie Harlow: It's totally imaginary. I'm always afraid that someone's going to walk in on me too-

James Blatch: Yeah, that's the thing-

Melanie Harlow: ... because my husbands works from home.

James Blatch: ... that sounds silly, but I would be self-conscious about sitting down in a room for five minutes by myself, my wife coming in and rolling her eyes at ... You know?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah, it's a little bit terrifying, even with my door shut. My family does not respect a closed door, they just walk in.

James Blatch: Kids.

Melanie Harlow: So I'm always afraid they're going to interrupt my radiant light and throw me off for the day.

James Blatch: A shadow in the lights?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah.

James Blatch: I think for Christmas somebody should get you one of those lamps, those warm lamps, because it would help, wouldn't it?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah.

James Blatch: Can you imagine the other side of your eyelids, that nice orange glow to really reinforce it?

Melanie Harlow: Maybe I get a bit of a glow, yes.

James Blatch: Yeah, there you go. Okay, sorry, back to writing because I was a bit distracted by that brilliant little bit on meditation.

I think you said you opened your doc, as in do you work in Word, do you work in Scrivener? How's your process work?

Melanie Harlow: This is going to sound strange, I write in Vellum.

James Blatch: You write in Vellum, in the formatting software, Vellum?

Melanie Harlow: I write in Vellum.

James Blatch: It is a beautiful bit of formatting software. Wow.

Melanie Harlow: Right. I never thought this was that strange because to me I love the way I can see what it looks like on the page. I just like the visual of seeing what it looks like on the page. And for someone like me, who might have a tendency to run on with a character's internal thoughts, it's sort of a visual cue to me, like if I see a long paragraph, that I should probably break that up. I like some white space on the page, I think it's important. I tried Vellum, I got used to it, and now I can't write any other way.

James Blatch: Are you able to export it from Vellum? I mean, I know you can export it in the formatted MOBIs and PDFs and stuff.

Melanie Harlow: You can export to a PDF. So this is why all of my writer friends think I'm crazy because it's not saved somewhere in the cloud. If something happened to my computer and I couldn't retrieve this Vellum file, I would be very sad. Yes, I would lose what I had written, so I really should figure out and remember to somehow figure out a way to back it up. But no, I'm taking a chance.

James Blatch: Wow. Well, maybe Vellum should introduce an export option, because if people are using it in this way it would improve the usefulness of the software. It's already very good at what it does, but-

Melanie Harlow: Yeah, I wish they would figure out a way to export to Word because that would make my life easier in terms of getting it to my editor, because as it is I have to copy and paste chapters. You can export to RTF also.

James Blatch: Okay, which is similar to Word. That's a Word format, isn't it?

Melanie Harlow: Yeah. Yes, it's not pretty, but it's doable. I just like the way that it looks on the page in Vellum. I've never been able to use Scrivener. I know a lot of people like Scrivener because you can see the chapters, similar to in Vellum. My brain didn't like Scrivener, but it loves Vellum.

James Blatch: Well, next time I see the Brads I'll tell them. I wonder how many people are using Vellum, that's interesting.

Melanie Harlow: Yeah.

James Blatch: It is a lovely bit of software to use.

And in terms of before you've opened your Vellum file, plotting? You said you like a story to ruminate a bit.

Melanie Harlow: Yeah, I have to think a bit. I have a few things in place. I know the trope, first and foremost, that I'm going to be writing. I know who the hero is and I know who the heroine is. And obviously because I'm writing a romance I know how it ends, there's really no choice there. I know that one character, and it's usually the hero, has to learn to accept the love that he's been offered and not run away from it, or be scared, or deny it, and all those things.

But other than that I'm more of a discovery writer and that is something that I've had to accept about myself too. I wish that I could have detailed outlines and then all that was left to do is just type out the story, but it doesn't work that way for me. And like I said before, I'm a huge fan of structure in terms of the pacing of the story, I'm a believer in the three acts.

So that skeleton is in the back of my mind always as I'm writing, but I can't put the flesh on the bones until I'm in it, I have to just let it go. And sometimes things happen during the story that even surprise me, so I've learned not to expect myself to come up with too much of it beforehand because it doesn't work.

James Blatch: No.

Melanie Harlow: I wish it did, but it doesn't work.

James Blatch: No. It does all work slightly differently for different people. How long are your books?

Melanie Harlow: Usually around 80,000 words. I'll say they average about 80,000 words.

James Blatch: Brilliant hearing about your process. In terms of everything you've worked out and set up to give you commercial success, which has been incredibly successful for you, how hard is it keeping yourself doing that? You talked about those moments where you thought, I can't do this again.

Has it been hard now, is there a part of you tempted to do something off the lane that you've created for yourself?

Melanie Harlow: It does feel tiresome to have to go back because romance is a formula and sometimes I do get tired of feeling like I'm telling the same story, but my accountant's not tired.

James Blatch: No. There you go.

Melanie Harlow: So I tell myself, "No, this is what I do, this is the lane that I'm in." I just need to search, give myself time to come with an idea that is appealing enough to me to spend the next eight weeks writing it, and it usually happens. I'm not an idea fountain, I'm jealous of those people. I'm really, really envious I should say of those people who have that idea file and there's 50 things in it and they can just pick one out of a hat and just write that book.

I always say, "I've written 26 books, I've had 26 ideas. So if ever I write 50 books, you will know that I had 50 ideas." I only have one idea at a time. I'm a very linear writer, I don't write out of order.

And as much as I wish I was another kind of writer sometimes, it feels like it would be easier, I'm just not, so I have to give myself time. Usually it takes a few weeks, I would say, to think okay, well, I know I want to write a friends-to-lovers, because the trope comes first. I know I want to write friends-to-lovers and I've done this three other times, what could I do to make it the same kind of friends to lover story that my readers know they like and they'll one click it right away, but that will make it different enough for me to make it interesting and fresh and give me enough creative ideas to come up with 80,000 words to bring two people together?

James Blatch: So for the future, for you Melanie, is another three books next year?

Melanie Harlow: That's the plan. I'll be honest, I scheduled four for this year because I thought, in 2020, well, I did it then, why can't I do it again? It turns out there's a lot of reasons why, but I didn't do it again. And in August, instead of a new release I did a box set instead, which of course is not the same as a new release, but it's something. I put my name out there again.

I didn't spend a lot on advertising, I didn't make a big splash about it. I just put something out with some bonus material. I boxed up a popular series and wrote some new scenes, so the hardcore fans, those really loyal ones would have something new. And then in November, I'll start a new series.

And then for 2022, I think I'm not going to plan four books, I'm only going to plan three. And if for some reason lightning strikes and I manage to write four, great, but that way it won't be so much pressure on myself.

James Blatch: It seems like a good way of going about it.

Let's briefly talk about marketing as we wind up. You said you do, do some advertising, where are your sales driven from today? Is it mailing lists, is it advertising?

Melanie Harlow: I do both AMS and Facebook ads and I have someone that runs my ads for me. She is my publicist and she's very knowledgeable about ads, so she will say to me, "What's the budget? Do you have an idea of what you want to spend, the daily spend, for this new release?" I usually only advertise my new releases at this point.

I think if I were wide it might be different, I might really hit the book ones, the first in the series, and do book one free, but Kindle Unlimited means a different kind of a strategy. So I hit my new releases hard with advertising.

Usually my budget is spent about 50% on Facebook and 50% on AMS, unless the Facebook ad clicks are so outrageously expensive, and then I will tend to shift more money toward AMS, because 90% of my readers are Kindle Unlimited readers. It might be 85% of my income is from page reads and then the rest are sale. But it's all Amazon, I'm exclusive to Amazon. And Facebook can be a little bit tricky, it just depends on timing.

James Blatch: What do you consider a good cost per click?

Melanie Harlow: Oh gosh, I wish I could answer this. I'm going to say I know from looking at it, because I do check the spend every day, because I like to spend about 30 to 40% of my daily gross on ads for a new release. Once a month is up, a month, six weeks, I'll monitor that and make sure it's worth the spend, then I might dial it back a little bit, cut back a little bit. But I am looking at the spend every single day and I want to say my Facebook clicks are like in the 30s, 30 cents or so.

I think sometimes it depends whether the book is free or not, whether you have your cover on the ad or not. But these are things that I pay someone else to do because it is very time consuming, it's very difficult and I wasn't good at it, so I was willing to pay someone else to do it.

James Blatch: Well, it's a great position to be in. We just got to that point with Fuse Books where we can now justify having somebody run the ads. I've been running them every day for the first year and a bit and it's a big workload on top of doing everything else. So yeah, it's a nice position, people listening here for whom that will be an ambition to get to that point.

Some authors who have Facebook ads being run for them and I ask them about CPC won't know what CPC is. Some people listening to this won't know, that's just fine also, but I think if you are going to pay somebody to run your ads, you do that after you've become thoroughly conversant with the platform, because you need to be able to look at it as you do every day and make the big strategy decisions.

Melanie Harlow: Yes. When a new author approaches me and says, "Could you look at my ads and tell me what's wrong, because I'm getting a good click through rate, but I'm not selling any books?" And I say immediately, "It's probably your cover or your blurb then. If people are clicking on the ad, great, the ad is working, it's not your ad, it's something on the product page, so let's take a look at that."

Tweaking a blurb is free, so that is something that I always say, "Try that first. If people are clicking on your ads, but they're getting to the book and they're not buying, assuming that your cover is great already, then try tweaking your blurb or your keywords, that's a free switch that you can do that might ..." And it's worked, I have some authors in the group that I run have tried that and seen an uptick in sales, so it absolutely can work.

James Blatch: Brilliant. Well, Melanie, I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat.

Melanie Harlow: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

James Blatch: I think we stayed in our lane. We said at the beginning we're going to talk about staying in your lane-

Melanie Harlow: I tried, I tried.

James Blatch: ... and I think we kept the interview relatively focused on that. I've learned quite a lot, which I always appreciate. But yes, staying in your lane I think is probably how we're going to frame this interview and I think it's such an important part of it. We all know people who are all over the place. Sometimes the nicest people seem really earnest, but just not knuckling down on one thing and flitting and it's-

Melanie Harlow: When you don't have thousands of dollars to spend on ads staying in your lane, writing in one niche, choosing one and really committing to it so that you grow your readers, that doesn't cost you any money, it costs you time and creative energy. But that's the best way that I know to build a loyal readership, which will lead to income down the road because you're gathering up those fans who love what you do, you just got to keep doing it.

James Blatch: Superb. Melanie, thank you very much indeed for joining us. I would like to say perhaps I'll see you at a conference this autumn, but we're clearly not going to be in NINC because we're recording this, this week, we're not flying anywhere. Unfortunately, America's not letting us in.

Melanie Harlow: I know, it's so sad. I hope we can meet up at a conference some time soon too.

James Blatch: Yeah, it'd be nice at some point, but thank you for coming on to the show.

Melanie Harlow: Thank you so much for having me.

James Blatch: There we go. Melanie Harlow, stay in your lane. Stay in your lane, Mark.

Mark Dawson: I'm going to qualify that a little bit. Stay in your lane if you want to. I know I've mentioned this analogy dozens of times, it's probably boring for everybody now, but it's the Venn diagram of what you want to write, what your readers or what readers are looking for and finding that spot in the middle is a good place to aim. That's if you want to approach things in a commercial way, whilst also doing something that you enjoy, that's what I would do. You are maximising your chances of success if you do that, but that's not to say that writers shouldn't genre hop if they want to.

There are plenty of authors I know who will write across all genres, some really strange combination of genres, but that's fine. If that's they want to do, no one is telling them that they can't. They should do that and have fun doing it. But at the same time, it's worth noting and they should probably note that by jumping around and effectively trying to satisfy different audiences at the same time, the odds of successfully building a career up are minimised a bit. So there's that, as Lucy comes in with a coffee. Thank you very much. Lucy makes an appearance on the podcast.

James Blatch: Just milk for me please, Lucy, thank you. I think it's important that Lucy makes appearances, she should be on more often.

Mark Dawson: She should, I agree, yes, but we'll get there.

James Blatch: In fact, you should be bringing in the coffee and I should be talking to Lucy.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, well, maybe for the Foundation episode we'll have to do that.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: So it's different ways to skin the cat as you might say.

James Blatch: Yes. I did the interview a couple weeks ago. I'm sure we talked about that and I'm pretty certain Melanie did talk about of course it's what you want to do is a primarily. And we go back to this quite often I think Jo Penn probably coined this phrase of what are your expectations, or what's your idea of success, what does success look like for you. And if it looks like producing all these books in different genres in fairly niche circles and it's not so much geared around seeing 5,000, $10,000 a month coming into your account, then of course why would you be restricting yourself to writing in a sub genre that's read by whale readers, which is what Melanie targeted on.

But I also know that lots of people drive to their jobs they don't particularly find soulful and fulfilling and they would love to be sitting at home writing books and if that means finding a genre that they can flourish in commercially, then that's something they want to do. And I also know writers who want to be successful and do genre hop at the expense of that and find that frustrating. And almost to spite themselves they do that, they kind of know that they're making it harder for themselves.

Mark Dawson: I had an email yesterday actually from someone who emailed. He's on the course, but he emailed me directly. He's struggling basically, he can't get his career to take off, so I had a quick look at his Amazon page. I'll always give fairly straight advice and I think it's important, there's no point puffing someone up if that means they're not going to get anything useful out of the conversation.

His covers weren't good enough and I think he was jumping around between genres. There's no question that by doing that every time you write a new book in a new genre, you're starting out from scratch again because the audience won't cross that much.

So it would be much more sensible, if you wanted to live the dream ... That's what he said to me in his email, he felt the dream had died because he couldn't get over the line. The way to increase his chances of living the dream are to pick a genre that he enjoys, make sure that there is a good audience size waiting for that and they're hungry, and that they need to have books to read, and then to concentrate on that and not jump around and go into different flights of fancy. So we'll see.

But no one is telling people that you have to just concentrate on the one genre. If happiness is more important than income, then do what you want.

James Blatch: This doesn't dovetail very nicely into what you were talking about, it's just a completely different thing, but I'm going to mention it. TikTok's quite famous now for making big hits of obscure bits of music because people choose them for their memes and stuff and suddenly there's a million versions of it and people then go onto Spotify or whatever and they try to find this music.

One guy had this song, he's British, he played this song, really beautiful. You'd recognise it if I played it, but I can't find it now and also it'd be copyright infringement for us to play it, but it's on TikTok all over that.

And he was immediately contacted by Warner and Universal and everybody, all the big companies, and they all said to him, "Sign now, sign the song, we'll put you on an album deal," and he said no to them, because he keeps 70%, which is funny, 70% is the same figure that you keep for your Ebooks on Amazon, and I do as well. So he keeps 70% of the royalties and he thought, I'm going to take a punt here.

A few of them got a little bit ag with him and said, "Look, you won't have another hit unless you sign with us, you'll just disappear into obscurity. But this is your one and only opportunity to get a record deal." He said no to all of them and he said in this TikTok that he's had 100,000 million downloads and made half a million dollars from that song.

Mark Dawson: Wow, amazing.

James Blatch: So right decision. Had he signed those contracts I imagine, I don't know anything about the music world, but don't you think the music contracts are going to be not dissimilar to trad publishing contracts, he would have been on 5% or something?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it would. I just wonder where's he getting 70% from?

James Blatch: Streaming money from Spotify comes straight to him because he's the copyright holder.

Mark Dawson: Ah, right, okay. When you listen to artists saying that they're getting pennies, not even pennies, fragments of pennies on the dollar for streaming. But yeah, I don't know the Spotify terms, but that sounds reasonable.

James Blatch: They pay 70% of their income-

Mark Dawson: Of what?

James Blatch: They pay 70% of their income to the rights holders.

Mark Dawson: Right, okay.

James Blatch: So they keep 30% and they give 70% which is similar to Amazon, on Ebooks anyway.

Mark Dawson: Okay. Wow.

James Blatch: And most often the rights holder is one of the big music companies, Warner Chappell or whatever, who own all the rights because they do contracts with the artists and then they pay the artist whatever they've negotiated in their contracts.

Mark Dawson: That's right, yeah.

James Blatch: And there're a few artists, people like ... Who did Brown Eyed Girl? The Irish soul singer, Van Morrison.

Mark Dawson: Van Morrison, yeah.

James Blatch: Who I think doesn't earn any money from Brown Eyed Girl now. I mean, he doesn't earn, because he signed a contract when he was a kid with this one big breakout hit. I think he refuses to play it live. I've read this story about this horrible situation.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that shouldn't be the ... This is completely off topic, but when he signed his contract for that in the '70s, I guess it would be for that song, there are technologies that would not have been anticipated. They wouldn't have anticipated things like CDs in those days, obviously that would be before that.

James Blatch: Yeah, and streaming.

Mark Dawson: Definitely not streaming. So his contract, they would have had to renegotiate the contract to take into account new methods of distributions. I don't quite know what he's done since then. I have heard that story before though, so I'm sure its true.

James Blatch: So I think maybe he needs better lawyers, but of course J.K. Rowling famously held on to the Ebook rights for Harry Potter because presumably they weren't thought of at the time she signed her first contract and that's done her very well. But very interesting, very similar situation, but much rarer I think for artists to be uploading to Spotify and routinely making quite a lot of money from it in the way that authors can.

So we sometimes unfairly compare the two and say, "Well, why are indie authors not given the same kudos as indie musicians?" But when we talk about indie musicians, we're talking about a genre of music, most of them, every band you listen to, more or less, is under contract, they are trad contract people. It's rare to hear the story from somebody who said no to all of that, Spotify is paying direct, and all the other streaming services. So yeah, that was interesting. If I can find the guy I'll put it in the show notes, but I still haven't quite navigated my way around TikTok to go back over things I've looked at.

Yes, and on the TikTok front, it is, I know it's a very intense interest in this area, we're really excited about it. We had a brilliant webinar, really brilliant webinar on it and we are working on bringing you more material on that front. And of course, we are the home of the best online courses for authors on the planet and it would be remiss of us, would it not, Mark, not to include TikTok in that cadre of material? Is cadre the right word there?

Mark Dawson: Cadre, I think, but yes.

James Blatch: Cadre? Anyway.

Mark Dawson: Yes, absolutely. It is, it's a very interesting subject. I'm educating myself about it at the moment. I'm probably not going to be the kind of author that does well on TikTok because I'm potentially not funny enough in that way, whether humour is necessary, it looks ... Most of the authors I follow will be posting quite humorous TikToks and I don't think my mind works that way.

James Blatch: I'm a big TikTok'er and I do follow quite a lot of aviation TikTok accounts and they're not humorous, but they're quite quirky and interesting and I reckon I could do an account on the Cold War, on spies, on bombers, stories from the Cold War, I've got a stock of them. So I think I can carve out something like that. I suspect you could if you wanted to, but it's-

Mark Dawson: Probably.

James Blatch: One of the things that we have is how many things can you do in the day? What's interesting is the two big advocates for TikTok who presented our webinar, Lila and Jayne, they've cut out other things because of it, because they've worked out TikTok is now fruitful for them and giving a return, whereas Instagram wasn't for them. So they've cut Instagram out and that's given them some time. Anyway, more on that as we are able to reveal it.

Good. Well, I want to say thank you, Mark. I know you've had a busy week with writing and sending off to editors. Thank you so much indeed to Melanie, I really enjoyed our interview together. Oh God, do you know where we should be now? I think I should be-

Mark Dawson: Is it now?

James Blatch: Well, I think me and John should be driving to Memphis to meet Craig Martell and do a load of interviews with SPF authors in Memphis, and then driving down to Florida for the beginning of NINC. You will probably be preparing to fly out at the weekend.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: We're not doing any of that.

Mark Dawson: No, we're not and at the moment even Vegas is I think in the balance, isn't it?

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: We don't know. So that's bad news, good news is I had a long chat with Darren from Amazon yesterday, we have regular catch ups. We had about an hour just catching up and exchanging news and Amazon is still very interested in working with us on the live show next year. So we'll see how we get on in terms of how things look, but we'd like to do it.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'd love to do that.

Mark Dawson: I don't know when it will be, but they're keen. So we'll see, it all depends. At the moment, they're not in the office, they don't have to. I think it's been pushed back to the December now when they need to go back.

James Blatch: Well, things are going to get worse now, aren't they? So a lot of people who've drifting back to the office now may find themselves back at home because just the way this virus is going in them. I don't know, it's depressing. My neighbour, who his next door neighbour is fairly senior in the US military says that when they open up, they may not open up to people with the AstraZeneca jabs.

Mark Dawson: Right, okay.

James Blatch: Which is great news, isn't it, because that's what we've all got, our generation?

Mark Dawson: We have, yeah.

James Blatch: So annoying. Anyway, we will see what happens.

Mark Dawson: Well, we'll play it as it lies to quote a ...

James Blatch: I know my friends, Cecelia and Lucy and Boo and Nathan, they've got this plan for smuggling me in, in one of Nathan's planes, via Mexico.

Mark Dawson: Well, you could actually go in through Mexico, couldn't you?

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: I think if you were in Mexico for two weeks before-

James Blatch: Yeah, I think you can.

Mark Dawson: ... if you don't travel from ... If you have a two week period in Mexico, you can then cross the border. So that could be quite nice-

James Blatch: After two weeks-

Mark Dawson: ... go to Cabo for two weeks.

James Blatch: After two weeks in Tijuana you won't want to see me. I won't see anyone again after two weeks in that den of iniquity.

Mark Dawson: Well, I think if you got to-

James Blatch: Cabo might be better.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, Cabo would be somewhere nice and have a couple of weeks there, a nice holiday, and then go and have a week-

James Blatch: We could go and play golf for two weeks in Cabo.

Mark Dawson: I could be tempted with that. I've played golf three days in a row this week and my shoulder's hurting now, so I'm not playing today.

James Blatch: Do you know what? This is boring golf conversation, because I get really stiff fingers. I've had the longest period off golf I've had since I've started last September, August.

Mark Dawson: Golf?

James Blatch: Golf, yeah.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, golf.

James Blatch: So I played the weekend and haven't ... Golf. What's wrong with golf? What did I say?

Mark Dawson: Don't worry. No, no you said everything ... I'm just being slightly, a little rude, but yes.

James Blatch: Okay. But my fingers feel better and I'm playing today. Hopefully playing this afternoon, the sun's out as well, so it should be good. Yes, great.

So thank you very much indeed to Melanie, we really do hope to be travelling again soon, but as Mark says, we would love to host the biggest indie conference in Europe next year and can't wait to start getting the details on that. If we can get rid of this pesky, little virus, which has done so much damage for such a small thing.

Mark Dawson: Yes. I think it's time to wrap up, I think you're going a bit whimsical.

James Blatch: Yes, I am going philosophical. Yeah, thank you very much indeed and we will see you next week. 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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