SPS-313: Romance: Understanding Your Sub-Genre – with Victorine Lieske
Being bedridden was the kick-off for Victorine Lieske’s writing career. She took four years to learn her craft, launched a NY Times bestselling book, and hasn’t looked back.
- On the new TikTok module in the Ads for Authors course
- Getting feedback and learning how to tell a story
- Learning lessons about writing what the book market is hungry for
- Switching genres and using a pen name as an experiment
- On the dangers of switching genres
- Releasing audiobooks on YouTube with good results
- Differences between YA romance and sweet romance
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
LEARN TO SELL MORE BOOKS: Ads for Authors is open now for a brief enrolment window
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-313: Romance: Understanding Your Sub-Genre - with Victorine Lieske
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Victorine Lieske: If you can write with that knowledge of where you fit and all the other authors in your space, you can really market much better.
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 with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Okay. Here we are. It is a busy week for me and Mark. So, we've got lots of business to get through and a really good interview about romance tropes. I think it's going to work across genres as well, understanding how genre books work in terms of what the reader expects. That's coming up in a moment. Before then a couple of quick things. Mark, can you welcome our new Patreon supporters?
Mark Dawson: I can indeed. Yes. So, we have four, I think. We've got Scott Daniel, Leah A, Marie Burdine Steyn or Stein and Matt Cleary. Matt's from New South Wales in Australia. Well done on the cricket you buggers.
James Blatch: Oh, yeah, that's was brutal.
Mark Dawson: Scott, Leah and Marie Burdine haven't told us where they are. But thank you very much for all four of you for supporting us on Patreon. Really great.
We've been doing it for a long time now. Several lots of our supporters have been with us for a long time as well. And it does make things a lot easier for us when it comes to putting this show together. So, thank you very much.
James Blatch: Yes. Thank you indeed. Well maybe Maria Burdine is from South Africa because there is a fast Bowler called Dale Steyn spelled like that.
Mark Dawson: Could be, yes. Yeah.
James Blatch: Perhaps it's her old man. Okay. Anyway, thank you very much, indeed for that. Let's not mention the cricket.
What we can mention, however, is the Ads for Authors course is open for the first time this year. Obviously it's early this year, first time since last summer. And won't open again until late summer, probably. Or autumn, probably closer to Christmas this year, it is going to be as always, we add to it all the time.
We keep it up to date. Tom is actually very busy in the background, making sure everything is up to date in the course as we speak, but we are adding a very important new module called TikTok for Authors. Some of you would've taken part in our TikTok expedition. We hope that has got you on the platform. I've done it. I'm now doing the course itself because I'm editing the course and kind of going along with it and getting into TikTok.
The expedition, as I say, was to get people on and posting their first TikTok. The course is much more focused around what the platform is for authors, how to use it for authors. So, understanding the culture of it, not simply how technically to do TikTok, because we're not here as comedians or lip syncers or dancers. We're here to ultimately promote ourselves as authors and our books.
I'm starting out trying to theme my TikToks with the cold war stuff that I write about. I'm actually today going to record my first one, having built the audience up a little bit. I think I've got about 650 followers now. Today I would do, record my first overtly kind of, this is my book. I had a really brilliant review dropped in on a Facebook comment last night, one of my ads, from a wing commander who flew Canberras for the RF in the 70s and 80s.
He could not have been more full of this man has lived in the mess. He understands the culture of a crew and like I've never read before in a book and well done for bringing it all back. And that for me is so important, because I wasn't an RF pilot in the 60s and 70s. I've had to use and rely on some of my experiences in squadrons to bring that to life and hope I get it right. So, for me, my audience are really important. So, I'm going to use that as my first TikTok, which I'm thinking about recording at some point today.
Mark Dawson: Well done. Very good.
James Blatch: Thank you. I know you're doing a little bit with TikTok as well.
Mark Dawson: Very little. I just haven't had the time really. I've been watching the expedition, which has come to a close now, a little mini course and I did have a quick look at the hashtag last night and there are quite a lot of SPF expedition, or hashtag SPF expedition tagged TikTok videos that have gone up in the last couple of days. And that's great.
I've been following and I do have some ideas. I've done one. I did one just messing around with Scout, relaxing with a fire and the book, if I do find the time to do, which I really ought to. And the book I'll promote is the kids' book, which comes out in 10 days time, I think. So, quite looking forward to that and I'm definitely, I'm convinced now that it is definitely shifting books.
I actually saw a report in the The Book Seller this morning about big publishers who are getting involved with the BookTok and trying to out how to make it work. So even those monoliths are aware that it's something that has some potential.
James Blatch: If you're interested, if you have the Ads for Authors course, you will get BookTok for Authors for free. And we think this will be the primary course on the planet for authors and BookTok, very detailed indeed. Over 10 hours of instruction that will come for free. We're hoping to add it in February.
If you're not in Ads for Authors, now might be a time to have a think about that. So, if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. All one word, you can read about what is in this now very large comprehensive course aimed at authors who want to be commercially successful in selling their book.
Mark Dawson: You should probably add, I mean, the BookTok or TikTok is potential, has got a lot of potential, but the core part of the course is still traditional digital advertising. Amazon, Facebook being the primary avenues that are available to us and then BookBub, their CPM ads as well. So, that is still the core of the course.
I think TikTok is going to be a very interesting add-on, which may become more important over the coming months, but I don't want to focus too much attention on that. The meat and potatoes is still the traditional Facebook and Amazon ads. I still think it's the best course. I'm very biassed obviously, but I think it's the best course around for teaching people how to use digital advertising, sell books.
James Blatch: Yeah. And we always say that people who joined it, we haven't changed the price and Ads for Authors for some time now, but people who joined in it's very early days, were only buying Facebook Ads for Authors. That module. Now have access to everything for not a penny, not a cent more.
So, at some point you need to hop on this train, because you'll be riding it for the rest of your life, I think. Okay. So, that's enough about the Ads for Authors course. I'm quite enthusiastic about TikTok and we're going to see hopefully some of examples of it moving the needle, as they say, site cliche, for authors from the SPF community.
What I'd like Mark is for SPF authors to be in the Vanguard of this new platform. That's what we're working hard to do. That we are not in this just for one module to put out there and one expedition. We have a Facebook group dedicated to this and we are going to invest a lot, I think in the next couple of years in TikTok and making sure that as things emerge, that we are across them and our authors are the ones who are moving things forward. Good. Now, I think we can talk about the interview now. Can we talk about the interview?
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Victorine Lieske is somebody who's had very great success with her romance books traditionally and indie. I think the USA number one best seller with her first book and she's somebody who has explored and understands romance tropes and tropes of genre fiction. And that is a kind of theme of this interview.
I really enjoy talking to her, actually really lovely person to talk to and a very worthwhile interview for us as authors or writing genre fiction, to make sure that we stay in our lane, stay in our wheelhouse. I'm full of cliches today, Mark.
Mark Dawson: Just today?
James Blatch: It's cliche day. And primarily make sure that we are putting ourselves in the best possible position to find as many readers as possible. Because if you make mistakes in this area, particularly with reader expectation of a particular genre or trope, that's a very quick way to get bad reviews, even if your writing's great and lose readers. So, it is an important area for us to understand. So, let's hear from Victorine.
Victorine Lieske I think is had to pronounce your surname.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: Leiske, there we go. Rhymes with risky. I think you said in your notes.
Victorine Lieske: That's exactly right.
James Blatch: Which is a great way of describing it. Victorine, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. We're excited to have you on here. We're going to talk about you and we're going to talk about romance writing tropes in particular and my goodness, I think more than any other big genre, there's so much underneath romance and it's all very different from one end of that spectrum to the other is not the same reader. So, there's a lot to think about there. Why don't start with you though?
Why don't you tell us a bit of your backstory and your writing history?
Victorine Lieske: Awesome. All right. Well, I have a little bit of a strange backstory for my writing. A lot of writers say they were born with a pen in their hand and they've written since they were little and they wrote their first book when they were eight, when they were stapling it together and things like that. I started writing in my 30s, so that's a little bit different. I started writing because I was getting my daughter out of her car seat. She was two years old at the time and I injured my back.
I pulled some muscle and it flatlined me for an entire week. I couldn't move. I needed help standing up. It was really bad. So, I was in bed trying to heal from that injury and I had nothing to do and I am not a person to sit around and do nothing. So, I said, I'm going to write a book. So, I wrote my first book in a week on bedrest, which is kind of strange. And if you can think of someone who has no idea what they're doing, writing a book in a week, it was probably just about that terrible.
James Blatch: Can I ask, were you a big reader at that time?
Victorine Lieske: Yes. I loved to read and I thought about sending my husband to the library to get me some books to read, because I'd read everything in the house. And I knew I was really big about what I like to read. And so I didn't want to just send him to get books, because I probably wouldn't like them. So, I said, I'm going to write my own book.
Luckily I found a critique group online before I found out a way to publish this book, because in my mind I was like, okay, I'm done writing this book. I'm going to find a publisher.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's ready now. It can go out.
Victorine Lieske: Yeah, send it, get it published. And yeah, I was like, this is amazing. But I found an online critique group and they started saying things like you're head hopping here. And I had no idea what that was.
James Blatch: It's like, what's head hopping? What does that mean?
Victorine Lieske: I was like, what does that mean?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Victorine Lieske: So, everything they told me, I went and Google searched and did online research and read articles and books about what they were talking about and what tips on writing and things like that. It took me about four years of rewriting it and working through all this and just constantly putting chapters up through this critique group.
I rewrote it multiple times during those four years. And then by the time I was done with that, I was putting up chapters and people started saying, oh, I really have no advice for you. I just really want that next chapter.
At that point I knew I might have something that was a little bit marketable. And I was also at the time reading a lot of blogs and stuff. I was reading Joe Konrath's blog and he was talking about this new thing called Kindle and how he was putting up some of his rejected books on Kindle. And he started making more money with his rejected books on Kindle than he was with all his published books through the publishing houses. And that's when I started thinking, oh, maybe I can do this self-publishing thing and not have to do this query letters and all that, because that kind of terrified me.
James Blatch: And who was that? Who was the author?
Victorine Lieske: Joe Konrath.
James Blatch: Oh, okay. I thought you said Joseph Conrad at one point. I thought it probably wasn't him in the Kindle era, but Joseph Konrath.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: That's a great story. I love that. Okay. I'm going to make a note of that one, because that's a good thing to remember somebody putting their backlist up and instantly making more money than the traditional publishers were paying them for.
Victorine Lieske: Yes, it was fantastic. And I was excited about it. So, I threw my book up on Kindle. And I started marketing it or talking to other authors in groups and things like that. And this is right about the time when Kindle was just taking off and eBooks were just really starting to be popular.
Every month I was selling just a little bit more than the previous month and almost a whole year after I published is when Kindle decided they were going to do this two tiered thing where you would get a bigger percentage if you priced your book between 2.99 and 9.99. So, everybody was raising their price to 2.99. So, I did for about a week, I raised my price and my sales just flatlined and I went, oh, I don't want to raise my price. Maybe I should lower my price.
So, I lowered my price to 99 cents and my book just took off and it was a couple months later I was selling so many books that I just couldn't believe it. Every month I just got more and more and more. In April of 2010 it hit the New York Times bestseller list. It was like super high on Kindle, it was like in the 20s or something like that, way up there.
James Blatch: Wow.
Victorine Lieske: And I didn't realise it had hit the list. I'd seen it on the USA today list. I didn't know it hit the New York times list until an agent emailed me and said, congratulations on making the New York times best seller list. Have you ever thought about traditional publishing? And I went, what? Are you kidding me?
James Blatch: What a great story. And what I love about it is demonstrating that we have to learn how to write. I've been through this myself over the last five years and I wrote a book and same way you did. And I didn't think it was ready for publishing just because I didn't even get to properly finish it.
But when I did bring it out and start to publish it, think about publishing it. I realised, I didn't know how to write. And of course we don't. The analogy here is like a guy going to the car showroom and saying, well, I don't like any of these cars, I'm going to build my own one.
So, he builds his own car in his shed, but why would he know how to build a car? Why would we know how to actually write a book? However much you read, you don't know what head hopping is. You don't know how it's constructed. I had exactly the same journey as you. I had a different route. I kind of paid professionals. I put coaches to work with me chapter by chapter. And during that process I learned the basics, the foundation of where I am now. You did the same using an online group, which sounds brilliant.
These are authors who are already writing at that stage, presumably.
Victorine Lieske: Yes, absolutely. I think of it as my four year education really. Spending four years working with that and working with other authors to say, okay, hone this for me, tell me what I'm doing wrong. And it was fantastic.
James Blatch: Yeah. And free of charge.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: What was the book?
Victorine Lieske: It was Not What She Seems. It was a romantic suspense. It reading a lot of Mary Higgins Clark at the time. I loved the mystery and suspense of that. I wanted to write my own in that vein, but I'm a huge romantic at heart so I put a little romance in there.
It's not the best romance, because I didn't know anything about writing romance at the time. So, I didn't follow that particular pattern, but I knew there had to be conflict between the two of them. And so I put in a lot of conflict between the two of them and I think that's what made it hit with readers.
James Blatch: Let's talk about tropes then. We'll start with romantic suspense. So, for those of you who aren't romance writers, funny enough, I am reading a romance book, which I'll talk about later at the moment, because we've got an interview coming up in January on that, but it's unusual for me to be reading a book.
What is romantic suspense exactly?
Victorine Lieske: Romantic suspense would be any kind of book that has suspense in it and romance in it. And it can be mostly romance with suspense in it, or it can swing. There's kind of a spectrum. It can swing over to a lot of suspense and some romance.
There's really a spectrum with romantic suspense. As long as there's a romance thread in there and a suspenseful thread in there. And your climax probably is going to be the suspense, because that's just a little bit more intimidating to the reader. That's what they're hanging on the edge of their seat for is that suspense, rather than the romance. And so usually the climax of the book is the suspense part.
James Blatch: So, it could be, think about how it swings either way. It could be a, I'm trying to think equivalency like films, like a suspense film that has a love interest. I mean, goodness, most films these days have some sort of love interest. So, even James Bond or Top Gun has a kind of falling in love bit. And it's quite romantic film, actually Top Gun, I guess. Would that still fit, I know the Top Gun's not good example, it's not a suspense, but would that fit the genre okay?
Or are you talking about a book that's primarily about the romance and sort of using the suspense story as a hook?
Victorine Lieske: I would say that the romance has to be intertwined as much with the suspense so that you can't really take the romance out and still have a fully developed book. I think it has to be both.
James Blatch: Right. So, like the cop falling for the widow in the cases investigating.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: That sort of thing. Okay.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: Love it. That sounds great. Okay. So, that's romantic suspense, you were drawn to that and that's the book that kind of spilled out of you.
Did you do any plotting or did you just start writing that week when you were laid out?
Victorine Lieske: I just started writing. I didn't know anything about plotting. As I've grown as a writer, I've tried to plot, but I always fall back to this, create my scenes and kind of, I plot backwards now. I'm a pantser at heart. So, I discovery write my way through a book and then I make sure, I put it on my plotter, and make sure that it's following where it needs to go.
James Blatch: Okay. So, you had this book and it was a breakout success, as we would say, although of course there was this few, how long did it take to, you think, to learn, to get to the point of publishing it from when you first started writing?
Victorine Lieske: It was about four years.
James Blatch: Yeah. So, four years. So, four years of hard grind of learning your trade and rewriting and I know what that's all about. And then you have this breakout success as far as the public are concerned.
What happened after that?
Victorine Lieske: I really thought that was my one and done book. I was like, this is it. I want to write one book so I could tell people I wrote a book, but when agents started asking me, have you thought about publishing more and things like that, I thought, well, maybe I should write something else.
Back then I was this brand new naive author and I didn't know what I was doing. So, I said, all right, I'm going to write another book that's in my heart. It's a science fiction book. So I jumped genres and wrote a science fiction book. It did land an agent and they did get me an offer, but it was ebook only and no advance. And they suggested that I probably shouldn't take that offer, which I agreed with.
So, I self published it, but I learned something super interesting from that second book. I learned that it really depends on what the market wants, whether that book is going to sell well or not, because I paid over a hundred dollars for an advertisement for that book after it published. And I was getting a trickle of sales coming in, but nothing like the first book. So, I said, I'm going to pay for some advertising. So, I paid for this huge email and the whole thing was about this science fiction book.
And they said, well, at the very end, you can mention your other book. And so I said, okay, let's do one line about the first book and a little picture at the end. And when that email came out to all those many, many readers, I saw barely an influx of sales on that science fiction book. But my first book, I sold probably over $500 of that first book on that day that ad came out. And I went, holy cow, there was one line at the very bottom that with just a little picture of that book and it sold so many. Why is that?
James Blatch: So, who's list was that? Who did the email go to?
Victorine Lieske: Oh, golly. I'm trying to remember back then who it was.
James Blatch: It was an online service you bought a space on.
Victorine Lieske: Yes, it was an online service. It was one of the top ones at the time. And I don't remember who it was.
James Blatch: Okay, fine.
Victorine Lieske: But I was fascinated that this little one liner sold so many of my other book that I started really understanding, okay, let's dig into what the market wants and maybe I can write what the market wants. And that's really my first experience with, let's figure out how to write something that will sell.
James Blatch: Writing to market. And of course the traditional industry think about this a lot in their businesses. And they're trying to commission the works that the market wants, they keep an eye on it. But up until the indie revolution, authors weren't really encouraged to think like that, were they? I think the triads wanted at their pick of authors. So, they just let them write their, whatever, their stuff in the dark, and they turn up with it. And then they would say, okay, that 0.8% of the submissions we've had this year, they are the ones we are looking for.
Victorine Lieske: Absolutely.
James Blatch: Whereas I think we now think a lot more about, well, why don't we write to what we know is working and look at the charts first and drive ourselves that way, which is okay. Which I guess is where you are now.
I guess you enjoyed writing your sci-fi, but was their any romance in that?
Victorine Lieske: Yes, there's a romance thread in that one as well.
James Blatch: Okay. Always a bit of romance, even Star Wars is romantic in a slightly brother, sister, weird way.
So, with this newfound knowledge that maybe romance is a better place in the market for you?
Victorine Lieske: Yep, absolutely. That's what I did. I said, okay, let's sit down. Let's take a look at the market. Let's figure out where I want to be. Because at the time I was just kind of figuring out, okay, I can't just write whatever I want. I need to pick a genre and stick with it.
That's when I decided sweet romance is where I want to be. That's what I was reading a lot of at the time. This was a couple years after I published my first book and really get into getting into where I wanted to be at. And I decided sweet romance is where I want to be at. So, I started reading some of the top sweet romance books and looking at the charts and looking at Amazon and figuring out what was selling well. I noticed that brides on the cover were really doing well. So, I decided I wanted a bride on the cover of my book before I even decided what the book was about.
I said, okay, this is going to be a fake marriage book, because those were doing really well. And I stuck up bride on the cover and I said, I'm going to title it Accidentally Married. I figured out before I even decided what the plot of the book was going to be. So, I designed covers, so I designed the cover of the book before I decided what the book was going to be about. And then I decided, okay, I'm going to figure out how somebody could get accidentally married. And so that's where the book was born.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Well, this is exactly what Suzy K Quinn teaches in our course, How to Write a Best Seller, start with your package, your tagline, your title, everything that's going to sell and then reverse engineer that then create the product, which is kind of how they work in industry a lot of the time, isn't it? Sign the contract and then back design the product. Brilliant. So, I am interested in these genres, I would like to get a handle on some of this stuff.
So, sweet romance is, there's no sex in a sweet romance. Is that right?
Victorine Lieske: Yep.
James Blatch: Okay.
Victorine Lieske: No bedroom scenes.
James Blatch: So, hence the bride thing works, because it would be all pre-marriage in a couple who probably aren't going to be under the sheets before marriage. Does that work?
Victorine Lieske: Yep.
James Blatch: It's kind of Christian values or probably quite a lot of religious values. And that's quite a jump from your romantic suspense where your romantic suspense was more like a kind of moonlighting flirting relationship or did it develop into something more?
Victorine Lieske: It was sweet romance as well. I didn't know anything about the genre to know what to call it.
James Blatch: Okay. So, you are comfortable with sweet romance. Sweet romance, that's just what you wanted to write and that's where you ... Was that what you were reading before?
Victorine Lieske: Absolutely, yep.
James Blatch: Because this is where romance really does broaden out. And the book I'm reading at the moment is spicy romance, dark, bully, spicy romance at the other end of that spectrum. And I can tell you, there is 100% definitely sex in this book. Because I'm 150 pages in and hoping people aren't looking over my shoulder reading some of the scenes. So, it's a huge area, isn't it? And you mustn't get this bit wrong. You're not going to put a massively explicit sex scene in a sweet romance, but I'm figuring that you have to stick pretty closely to the genre expectations in these sub genres.
Victorine Lieske: Yes, absolutely. There definitely are expectations in a sweet romance. Sweet romance is a lot of times more about the emotions than it is about the physical wanting of the other person. And so that definitely focuses on your couple and what they're feeling and their intense emotions as the story grows.
James Blatch: I remember talking to sweet romance author a couple of years ago, who did an interview and she even got down to saying that the pattern of the book, the beats of the book were the same for all her books. So, her readers knew that the kiss was going to happen kind of one chapter towards the end or something like that.
Do you write that specifically?
Victorine Lieske: I tend to follow my heart on when I write. So, the kiss happens when I feel it should happen. Although a lot of times it's at that midpoint for me, for my writing, that midpoint kiss. Usually at the midpoint you have some big something that changes. And so the kiss can change a relationship into something else.
A lot of times, whatever that midpoint is, it's the kiss or revealing some information about the other person that changes their relationship. And so usually that's a kiss though at the midpoint.
James Blatch: Well, I have remembered that, the kiss is a thing in sweet romance, which is not even a moment's look in the book I'm reading. They don't pause for that bit. And more so I suppose these sub genres of romance than probably even sci-fi where you could probably do a sci-fi as basically a thriller or basically a mystery. With your books, again, you're writing to a very particular crowd.
Victorine Lieske: Absolutely. My crowd is looking definitely for that sweet Hallmark type romance that gives you all the feels.
James Blatch: I think it was Debra Holland, by the way. I'm just trying to look up on my thing here, because I've done an audio, but recently Amazon's now insist on only showing me audiobook results for any search. You know how it works. I think it was Debra who first illuminated me to the beats on these books. But that does give you an advantage in terms of marketing, because one of the disadvantages of being a bit broader and your sci-fi book being quite thrillery and mystery is that you can fail to find your audience, but I guess you know where your audience is.
Victorine Lieske: Yes, absolutely. And knowing all the authors that write in that genre is perfect for marketing, because you know who to target and you know exactly what space you're in. So, if you can write with that knowledge of where you fit and all the other authors in your space, you can really market much better.
James Blatch: Where are you in your writing now? Have you stuck with sweet romance since this revelation?
Victorine Lieske: I am writing sweet romance still. I'm also branching out and writing a young adult paranormal under a pen name, which is different than anything I've written before. It's super fun for me. It's just this story that got in my head and I couldn't shut it up. So, I'm writing it and actually putting it out on Kindle Vella, which is new as well. So, that's been super fun.
James Blatch: A paranormal romance I assume.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: Let's talk about paranormal romance. These are all terms I use and I think I know what they mean, but perhaps you could describe to me what a paranormal romance book is.
Victorine Lieske: All right. So, paranormal romance, you've got the romance thread definitely. And that's going to tie it all together, but it's under the backdrop of the paranormal.
A lot of paranormal romances, vampires and werewolves and things like that. I'm writing angels and demons and the afterlife type stuff. It's super fun. I'm not writing it to market, because right now the market for angel YA paranormal is darker and a little bit more edge of your seat kind of thrillery. What I'm writing is kind of romcom. Lot of funny, lot of snarky stuff from my main character. It's an experiment. I don't know how it will do.
James Blatch: So, Twilight is paranormal romance.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: Okay. So, I have had this conversation before, but it's never really stuck in with me about paranormal romance. Because I think in my mind I sort of thought it was like, I think I thought people had relationships with ghosts. I suppose it is sort of that, isn't it?
Victorine Lieske: Well, you can.
James Blatch: It's a little bit more sophisticated than that. Okay. Well, good luck with that.
Is that something you're writing now you have started? Have you started marketing it at all?
Victorine Lieske: I'm softly marketing it. There's not a lot of ad things you can do with Kindle Vella right now. So, it's just out there. It's in my newsletter, if people get my newsletter.
James Blatch: Is it in your newsletter to your existing audience?
Victorine Lieske: It is which I wouldn't normally do that. If I were writing it and publishing it as a book, I would not market it to my existing audience, but because I really don't have a newsletter for paranormal, my newsletter is for sweet romance, I'm just mentioning it at the bottom and saying, if you want to see something else I've written try it over there on Kindle Vella.
Kindle Vella's new territory. It's not algorithmed the same as all the other books on Amazon. And so I don't know if you can mess up your algorithms on Kindle Vella by sending the wrong audience to your book like you can a book. When I publish it I definitely am going to try and get in the right audience and not tell my existing audience until it's well established.
James Blatch: Yeah. And again, because of the very specific requirements of your existing audience, I'm just mindful of the fact that you probably have quite a lot of Christian readers who like sweet romance. I can remember in the early 2000s being accosted in an elevator, because I was carrying a copy of Harry Potter by somebody who didn't approve of the kind of occult aspect of the book and said it was dangerous. And did I know what I was playing with.
Is that a danger for sweet romance at all if you start veering into things like paranormal, is it just a very narrow trope?
Victorine Lieske: Probably. I am Christian and I am not the type of person to think that a book would veer me into dark territories. I read Harry Potter and I love Harry Potter and there are demons in my paranormal book. I haven't come across anybody who is upset about that yet.
James Blatch: But it's just a sort of small illustration that you do have to be mindful of your particular audience.
Victorine Lieske: You do have to be. Yes.
James Blatch: And in the bigger sense, it's a case of mis-marketing a book to the wrong audience and getting negative reviews, because people aren't expecting it. Doesn't have to be because they oppose it on principle. Just might be they expecting sci-fi and they got something else.
Really interested to hear how the Vella experiment goes. And we've not really spoken to anybody who's actively marketing on Vella. We talk about it a bit. People just starting up as you are. So, definitely something we want to explore in 2022.
How are the book sales going? I assume you are full-time.
Victorine Lieske: I am full-time author. Yes. The sales of my books are usually really, really good. I have not put out a new sweet romance since oh gosh, February, I think, because summer was crazy in my real life. I have a new grand baby and all this stuff happened.
James Blatch: You don't look old enough to have a grand baby. That's crazy.
Victorine Lieske: Thank you.
James Blatch: It's crazy talk. Wow. Oh, well, congratulations on having a new grand baby.
Victorine Lieske: Thank you.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, because quite often you do talk to some romance authors and said, well, I've only done two books this month. So, I know I'm a bit behind on my schedule. Not everywhere is authors like that, but it is a genre where you do find speed writers. So, yeah, not a lot of books since February is unusual. I guess. But nonetheless, it's something. You have an audience, you're actively selling and writing into it to pay the bills, more than pay the bills, I hope.
Victorine Lieske: Yep. Absolutely.
James Blatch: So, the grand baby might get a present.
Victorine Lieske: That's right.
James Blatch: Let's talk a bit about marketing then. How do you market, what are you actively doing at the moment?
Victorine Lieske: I'm doing AMS ads. I was doing Facebook ads, but I had a book that I was heavily marketing on Facebook ads titled Don't Bet on Love. And I think they thought I was running some underground gambling thing, because they kept shutting my ads down and I kept appealing them. I don't think an actual person ever saw my ads, because they completely shut me down off of Facebook. So, I'm a little salty of about Facebook ads.
James Blatch: That's really annoying. Isn't it?
Victorine Lieske: It's really annoying.
James Blatch: Don't call your book the love gamble or anything like that.
Victorine Lieske: I guess not.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's really annoying.
Victorine Lieske: So, the robots hate me on Facebook. So, I'm doing AMS ads and I've just started putting my audiobooks up on YouTube because of Mel Cooper at 20Books who said that she was putting hers up on YouTube and getting a good response. So, that's been actually going really well for me. I'm growing a massive audience over there. I'm probably going to be able to monetize later today with all the subscriptions I'm getting. So, I'm really excited about that.
James Blatch: Well, that's really interesting and yes, I think it was Lindsay Buroker was the first guest we had on the show who said that she's uploaded her books to YouTube and she's finding good results there. I might even try that as well. So, you've just uploaded to YouTube.
Are you sending traffic there or are people just finding it on YouTube?
Victorine Lieske: I initially sent traffic over there with my newsletter and I swapped newsletters with a bunch of authors and so a bunch of authors put it in their newsletters and that's how the initial traffic went over there. And then it just sort of exploded from there. So, I think I got on the happy YouTube algorithms.
James Blatch: Yes, very good, well done. And the whole thing's in one video. So, like 10 hours of book, whatever long your books are.
Victorine Lieske: Yep.
James Blatch: Wow. It is amazing, isn't it? That people stumbled across that and just took a chance and worked out that it's with the monetization. Again, we'd like to hear back at some point. We have to be back on at some point.
Victorine Lieske: I would love to.
James Blatch: Now, the AMS ads or Amazon ads, I think they call themselves now. Something I've struggled a little bit with the thrillers that I market for Fuse and my own book. I've not found Amazon ads don't seem to show me a profit. That doesn't necessarily mean there isn't a profit there.
Are you looking on your dashboard and seeing a profit in the figures there? Or is it something that you only get read through?
Victorine Lieske: My profit mostly just through read through. I can lose profit on book one and see a profit on through the whole series. And so it's also really hard on your dashboard, because I think you get sales that don't show up for-
James Blatch: I agree.
Victorine Lieske: ... quite some time on your dashboard. So, I can look back in time and see different stats than I do today on my dashboard. I don't like to take just my dashboard into account. I like to look at actually what's happening in the sales on Kindle and take that whole picture into account. If I'm spending a hundred dollars a day and I'm making $200 a day, then I call that a win. So, that's just kind of my take on it.
James Blatch: Absolutely worth. Sounds like a win to me. I think you're absolutely right. And I've said this before that I think it under reports sales. And I understand why, because Facebook ads and BookBub ads and all these other ads, they're not directly linked to sales. So, they can show you clicks and Facebook can be, yeah.
But you need to measure your sales elsewhere and see how they go against spend. Amazon is the retailer. So, if they say you've sold a book, you're expecting the money from that. I think they're slightly paranoid about over reporting sales, because people are going, where's the money.
So, this system is skewed to being this person has a history of refunding or whatever they're not going to report sales unless they're absolutely certain, as you say, sometimes it takes time. So, that's an interesting thing. But again, said this before, and for those of you who didn't follow what I was asking Victorine about just now is you might not see a profit with your advert, but that doesn't mean it's not a profitable advert. You have to take into account the reader's moving onto your other books later, which does involve having other books, by the way.
How many series do you have?
Victorine Lieske: I have three series right now and then that's just the sweet romance. And then I do have a young adult series as well. So, four total.
James Blatch: Okay. So, you have a young adult series in addition to the paranormal romance YA that you're writing.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: And that's not a romance series or is it young adult romance?
Victorine Lieske: It's a romance. Yes. As well.
James Blatch: How does young adult romance differ from sweet romance that you're writing?
Victorine Lieske: Oh it is so different. When I started writing it, I guess I didn't really think a lot about the differences, but as I was writing, I was realising that with young adults, you can't do this, I'm trying to find my forever mate, like you can with adult sweet romance.
Adult sweet romance is, the whole goal is to find your soulmate and to find that forever person. And it's not that way with young adult, they're just in a different mindset. They want to find that hot guy. So, you have to think about what teens are thinking about at the time. So, it's a little bit different.
James Blatch: Yeah, because they're younger and they're playing the field a little bit. Although I think teenagers do feel at that time, more intensely in love than this is it than perhaps adults do later enough with a little more experience. But that's quite interesting. Although all the parents around them will be thinking, you're just having a fling. You don't understand this, but that's how that conversation goes. Although, I try not to have it with my daughter.
Let's talk a bit about writing then, Victorine. I'm very interested to know always when we talk to writers, what their process is, obviously we know how you developed and learnt your trade with that critique group, that four years of slog and rewriting.
Today, perhaps disrupted this year, but what is your normal routine for writing?
Victorine Lieske: My normal routine is I try to get 2000 words a day. When I'm trying to finish my book I take out my planner and I write my word count. And I write my goal for my word count. And I just kind of plan it on out how many days of writing is it going to take to finish this book?
I use stickers as rewards. When I get 500 words, I put a sticker in my planner and that's like, woo, I did it. So, even as an adult, stickers can be motivation.
James Blatch: I got one for my booster jab the other day, I was very excited.
Victorine Lieske: Exactly.
James Blatch: So, 2,000 words a day is going some for somebody who does a thousand, if they're lucky.
That's in one sitting or do you have multiple sittings during the day?
Victorine Lieske: Oh, usually it's write for 20 minutes, take a little break, write for 20 minutes, take a break. I'm a big believer in sprinting. As long as it doesn't force me to go in a direction that I don't want to do. Because if I don't know where I'm going, then I have to sit and process that first before I can sprint. But I like doing this sprints and then take a break and trying to shut out all the Facebook and social media stuff while I'm focusing on writing.
James Blatch: Do you sprint with other people or do you sprint alone?
Victorine Lieske: Mostly alone.
James Blatch: How fully formed is your writing at this stage? How does it compare to your end result?
Victorine Lieske: A lot of times I will write a chapter and then I will go back at and reread it and edit. I'm an edit-as-I-go writer. And some writers are like, no, don't do that. But I totally edit as I go. By the time I get to the end, my book is pretty much how I want it.
I will do one more complete pass of everything. I usually read the entire thing and edit the entire thing before I write my epilogue, because I want to make sure I tie up all those loose ends in the epilogue so nothing is left hanging, because I forget as I write what I've written. So, I have to remind myself all those little threads I stuck in there. But once I get to the end, it's pretty fully formed. And then I can write the epilogue and send it off to the editor.
James Blatch: Okay. And the process after that, in terms of your covers, your blurb and stuff, is something, do you do everything yourself? You outsource some of that, covers probably.
Victorine Lieske: I do covers myself.
James Blatch: Oh, you do?
Victorine Lieske: Uh-huh. I do covers for other authors as well. So, that's kind of my side job is if an author needs a cover, I will do that for them. But let's see. I also do my own formatting. I use Vellum. So, that's super easy to format myself. Let's see, yeah, editing, I think is the one thing that I outsource. And then I do my own ads.
James Blatch: I'm just having a little look at your covers. Very impressive.
Victorine Lieske: Oh, thank you.
James Blatch: Okay. So, you are multi talented, I can see.
Victorine Lieske: I did go to college for graphic design, I will say that.
James Blatch: I'm suddenly being stared at by a lot of hunky looking men, quite broad shoulders, chiselled. So, it is like looking in a mirror actually.
Victorine Lieske: That's right. It's like looking in a mirror.
James Blatch: I love your titles. Is that you? Her Big Fat, Fake Billionaire Boyfriend. You know what you're going to get, don't you, with that book?
Victorine Lieske: Yes. That's really what you want to do with your title is you want to make sure you know what you're getting.
James Blatch: Yeah. And that's very, very helpful to marketing and goes back to what you learned early on about your early discovery that you get your title, your cover and then you create the products. That's perfect.
Do you still do that? You're still doing that with creating the package first?
Victorine Lieske: Yes. A lot of times I do that.
James Blatch: I can see Accidentally Married, which has become a series in its own right. Yeah. So, check out Victorine on Amazon to check out those covers and pretty good rankings and everything else. So, well done. What great career you're having.
Victorine Lieske: Thank you.
James Blatch: Obviously enjoying it.
Victorine Lieske: Oh yes.
James Blatch: Spreading a little bit, but a foot in YA romance and a foot in paranormal romance. You're not deviated too far.
Do you think you go back to sci-fi at some point?
Victorine Lieske: Oh, maybe I'll go back to sci-fi at some point. Yeah. Since the book didn't sell really well, I'm a big believer in if it's not doing well, do something else. So, that's kind of my philosophy is don't keep doing something if it's not working.
James Blatch: Yes. If something's working, do more of that. Somethings not working, do less of that. Good approach to life. Okay. So, finally, I know you do a little bit of teaching and getting together with some others.
Do you want to explain about how that works?
Victorine Lieske: Yes. Me and three other sweet romance authors got together and we do a YouTube channel where we talk about writing sweet romance and marketing and all of everything. We talk about craft and promotion and just anything writing related. And so that's been super fun.
It's called The Writing Gals and we have a Facebook group as well. And we really formed the Facebook group to welcome all the writers, all the new writers in and let them have a space where they can just ask questions they're afraid to ask, all the dumb questions that you're afraid people are going to mock you for. Feel free to come and ask them in our group, because we want it to be a safe place for anybody to ask anything.
James Blatch: Looks great. I can see everything going on there. Really cool. That's a lovely thing to do, isn't it?
Do you do that partly because giving back to the community or do you do it because you feel you benefit from it?
Victorine Lieske: I absolutely feel like it's a giving back thing. When I hit the New York times bestseller list, I was just shocked at all the people that helped me along that journey. And they all just gave and gave and freely gave information to me all along that journey. And so when I started finding success, I was like, I want to be that person, because I was so thankful to all the people who had helped me along the way. So if I can be that person to somebody else and be like, here, let me freely give you this information that it took me a little while to dig up on my own. Then I want to be that person.
James Blatch: Superb. Well, thank you for doing that. And it looks like a great set of resources for people. Go and check out. The Writing Gals. Is a very easy Google. You came up and all the scripts. I put that in and then it came up. So, good SEO as they say in the business.
Victorine Lieske: Thank you.
James Blatch: Thanks, Victorine. Thank you so much, indeed, for coming on and sharing so much with us. Do keep in touch, because I'd like to hear more about Vella in the future, how that's going.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: It's definitely something that we should explore.
Victorine Lieske: Yes. In fact, one of the other writing gals, Michelle Pennington, is doing really, really well on Vella. The first book she published has the crown thing and then she published a second one and it also got a crown thing. And so she's got this whole Kindle Vella thing down. So, if you want to interview anybody who knows a lot about Kindle Vella, Michelle would be a great one to ask.
James Blatch: And that is, is it 20,000 words? What's the sort of limit on Kindle Vella?
Victorine Lieske: You publish each episode. I think it's only 5,000 words max per episode.
James Blatch: Per edition. Okay.
Victorine Lieske: But I think you could have as many episodes as you want.
James Blatch: It could end up as a full book.
Victorine Lieske: Yes.
James Blatch: Yeah. Full novel. Okay. Definitely something we need to explore now. People are getting some experience on it and seeing some results. So, brilliant, Victorine. Well, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from Nebraska.
Victorine Lieske: Thank you.
James Blatch: I think our first guest from Nebraska, I shall not forget it.
Victorine Lieske: Awesome.
James Blatch: Yeah. There you go. You and Penny from Big Bang Theory.
Victorine Lieske: That's right.
James Blatch: Thank you very much, indeed. And let's talk again at some point.
Victorine Lieske: All right. Thank you for having me on. This has been wonderful.
James Blatch: There you go. There is Victorine, really enjoyed chatting to her. Genre tropes, Mark, you went from your Martin Amis phase where you thought you were going to be the next Booker prize nominated writer to somebody writing the type of books people actually read, genre fiction on the tube.
Did you do a lot of research into how your particular genre works?
Mark Dawson: No, not really. I've always read widely all kinds of different genres, but no, didn't sit down and read all of the Lee Child books or all of the James Patterson books. I think I probably approached it from a cinematic point of view, given that we used to watch so many films.
I just have a very good idea about what people expect to see in that kind of thriller. I understand the kind of points you have to hit, and I know what they're expecting in terms of what the plot will involve and at the end of the day, it is just making it something that's easy to read, quite compulsive, quite fast paced, exciting and has a tasty satisfying conclusion at the end. That's basically what I've always tried to do.
James Blatch: Sounds like your life.
Mark Dawson: Well I don't think I have a tasty conclusion at the end or not quite there yet.
James Blatch: No, that's a bit bleak. Yes. Good. Well, I found it really interesting talking to Victorine and I'm writing book two in my series now. And actually book two, I think, is more relevant for me. Because book one was the labour of love, the book that was in me, got that out. And in the end I ended up adapting it to a genre rather than the other way around.
Whereas book two, right from the beginning, I came up with the beats, which have never changed, which I think are correct beats for a thriller in my genre. So, I've enjoyed writing that. I will talk about that at some point, because I'm very close to the end of draft one and then it's revision. And then it goes, hopefully it goes to my dev editor and copy in March and published on May the first. That's my aim for this. So, that will be a year to the day when I published my first book. I am probably a book a year guy in the moment with everything else that's going on.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's fine. That's normal. It's very easy to compare yourself to people that you interview. And we see who write or me writing four books a year, but that's not for everyone. There's no right or wrong answers. Whatever suits you best is writer. And in terms of your writing and your circumstances and everything.
James Blatch: I've put a lot of time and effort learning from the master on Facebook ads into trying to keep book one in people's attention. And not only have I broken even, I've actually made a small profit most months. In fact, I think it was because of the audiobooks, although that does not include the capital spend. I'll say the capital spend on editing and audiobook production. I will only start paying that off when I'm making proper profit.
On book two, three, and four, but I will go through that at some point. You and I are going to have an episode we're going to free wheel a little bit without an interviewer. We'll talk about Facebook ads, Amazon ads, where we are with those at the moment. It might be even a good one to do next week, because it sort of dovetails with the course.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: I will mention again that Ads for Authors is open, should you wish to avail yourself of those services. You can have a look at what the course involves and we do still have a 24 month payment plan to make it as affordable as possible for people to get in there and look at the courses available, including a course, the new TikTok module. And that is at selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. Took me a while to compute that. Good. Okay. I think that's it, Mark. I know you're off to watch the NFL, which I won't mention, because I think I may already have accidentally-
Mark Dawson: Don't worry. I didn't see it.
James Blatch: You didn't see it. Good. Didn't spoil anything for you.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: I almost wore my Cambridge United shirt today, because people might know I support a smallish, small-ish, a small league club here in the UK where we had an absolutely massive highlight of our historic lives on Saturday, beating Newcastle United. One of those huge teams.
I was there with 52,000 people around us, 5,000 of whom are from Cambridge. And what's that 46,000 whatever from Newcastle, but what a friendly bunch they are in Newcastle. I mean genuinely really friendly.
They say about Newcastle fans, but honestly they couldn't have been warmer towards us, including the next morning when I was walking out with my beanie hat, which has Cambridge United written on it. And I was stopped a lot by Newcastle fans who were sorrowful for the state of their team, but delighted to see a lower league team progress.
Mark Dawson: Cool.
James Blatch: Beautiful city as well, Newcastle.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Beautiful city. Anyway, I think I might at the rambling point now, so I'm probably going to give up.
Mark Dawson: You are rambling a bit. Yes, but it's okay.
James Blatch: One of those days. Thank you very much, indeed. All that is left, as we say, is this a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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