SPS-315: Meet the Superstar Sisters of TikTok – with Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti are sisters who co-write bully romance and are having great success with it. Part of that success is due to their presence on TikTok. James talks to them about how they coordinate writing their books, where they’ve found success with advertising, and what the future looks like for these co-authors.
- Finding a reading audience on TikTok
- What is dark romance?
- On the appeal of characters who are bullies
- Sharing writing duties with a sister
- The challenges of the writing partnership
- How readers are leading the way based on what they want to read
- Figuring out how TikTok drives book sales
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SELL MORE BOOKS: Ads for Authors is open for enrolment now
SPS LIVE 2022: Get on the waitlist for tickets to Self-Publishing Show Live in London in June
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-315: Meet the Superstar Sisters of TikTok - with Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
Narrator: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show ...
Caroline Peckham: Once you hit that market and it does well, and people are then doing their own TikToks about it. We've had people tag us in videos for half a million views about Zodiac Academy, so we are not even doing it at that point, it's doing it for you. People are recommending it. It's amazing.
Narrator: 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: Mark, we've got lots to get through this week. And I've got the terrifying prospect of picking up my daughter and driving home from school in a minute.
Mark Dawson: Oh, well its been nice knowing you.
James Blatch: Yeah, exactly. She has a test on Monday.
Mark Dawson: Right, okay. That's going to be interesting.
James Blatch: I generally avoid driving with her because dads and daughters can argue a bit, and she doesn't take a bit of notice to anything I say, but we'll see how that goes today. Anyway, on to more important things. We have lots to talk about day.
We have a brilliant interview with two superstars in the indie publishing world at the moment, a couple of sisters who we've had on before, but since we spoke to them last time have exploded. And they were number one in the store a few weeks ago.
Mark Dawson: No, literally.
James Blatch: Not literally. In fact, she told me, I think Caroline said that not that long ago, like two or three weeks ago, they had seven books in the top 100, all seven in one series in the overall dot com store, so they're doing fantastically well. So we get inside, and spoiler alert, TikTok is playing a huge part in their jump to the top of the charts.
Which brings me onto Ads for Authors, which is open at the moment, and the new TikTok for Authors module is being added to it very shortly. I've been working on that breathlessly the last few days, just got off the latest session liaising with Laila and Jane. We tidy everything up. So Ads for Authors is open at the moment for enrollment. Last chance before the summer. And if you want to, or possibly ought to, actually, if you want a chance of signing on, you've got a few days left to go to selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors.
We have a Patreon supporter to welcome, I believe.
Mark Dawson: We do, yes. It's Thomas Mann from Nevada, USA. So thank you very much, Thomas. We appreciate your support and the support everyone else sees helps behind the show on Patreon.
James Blatch: We really do. Thank you very much indeed, Thomas. And also we have an announcement to make, do we not?
Mark Dawson: We do. Yes. So the live show, which we've been talking about a little bit, our second live show but the first for, what? Two years, given the pandemic cancelled it last year, is now ... I think, if we haven't signed the contract yet? I'm just looking at James, have we signed the contract yet?
James Blatch: We haven't signed it.
Mark Dawson: We haven't signed it yet, but it's about to be signed. It's going to be the 28th and 29th of June at the Southbank Centre, which is the same place we had it last time, in London. Is it Tuesday, Wednesday? Wednesday, Thursday?
James Blatch: It is a Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mark Dawson: Tuesday and Wednesday. So Tuesday the 28th and Wednesday the 29th of June. As we record this, we are not in a position to sell tickets yet, just because we are very busy with the Ads for Authors course, but we will be doing that quite soon after the course closes in about 10 days time. So keep an eye on your email, and also, you might want to pop into the SPF community on Facebook, because we'll post there as well when we have a bit more details.
James Blatch: Yeah. I think we do have a wait list set up if you want to visit that.
Mark Dawson: We do.
James Blatch: That's live at the moment. That is selfpublishingformula.com/spslive, self-publishing show live, that stands for SPS live. And we are going to set up a Facebook group. Will we have done that by the time this goes out next Friday? Probably.
Mark Dawson: Probably, yeah.
James Blatch: So if you are in our main community, you'll be directed to that Facebook group. I imagine what's going to happen is that people will organise things for the Monday, so there'll be some informal stuff. Authors will gather on the Monday in London and perhaps do some stuff, have some fun, or do some work stuff, so some author-y stuff.
The conference itself is going to be fabulous and a really great opportunity. Certainly, I know we've had a few false storms, but it certainly feels all the stuff we're reading from scientists at the moment does feel like we are in the end game, finally, of this blooming pandemic, so that'll be a great chance for us to, I think, reunite in June. Looking forward to that.
Good. Okay, well look, that's the big news today. So ads for authors, it is your last chance. And after you've listened to this interview, you may even be more motivated about that course. So this is Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti. They're actually sisters. Susanne's a married name. They write dark romance, bully romance, and actually, in prep for this interview ... I can't read a book for every interview I do, but I was so fascinated by their overwhelming success, and we were in Vegas, actually together, looking at them.
It was just after Vegas they hit number one in the store with their latest release, which is terrific for them. And I was so fascinated by how these sub genres in romance work. So it's the second romance book I've read of one of our contributors, and it was an eyeopening experience, I can tell you that, Mark. It was an interesting experience reading a bully romance book set in a prep school in America. But gripping, good page turning, all the fundamentals that are going to be there in a book that gets to number one in the store.
Mark Dawson: I don't want to know about gripping.
James Blatch: I know. This happens in the interview, it's almost impossible to discuss this without falling into a double entendre. But yeah, so just a little bit of history. I suppose the first I knew of Caroline and Susanne was that Caroline came to 20Books Vegas in 2019 and tapped me on the shoulder at our drinks event and said she listens to the show, and we had a chat when she was based in Kent. And then the two girls came to ... I shouldn't say girls. Women. Came to the Self-Publishing Show Live, the first time we held it in 2020. Came on the boat with us that evening and survived the COVID festival that we put on for everybody. Nobody got COVID, as far as we know. And between those two events, I think Caroline said they just had gone full time. They were still helping out with the cattery that their parents' owned, but then had gone full time.
By the time I met them on the boat, they were talking about five figure months, and by the time we met in Vegas ... Well, they've asked not to discuss precise money, which is completely understandable, lots of people do that. But I can tell you, looking at the charts and knowing what we know and what we can extrapolate, that there are large sums of money. And they're doing really, really, really well, we should say it in that sense.
Okay, look, let's talk to Caroline and Susanne and find out what their secret sauce is.
Here we are. Caroline and Susanne, welcome back to the Self-Publishing Show. Great to have you on here again, sisters here in the UK. We spoke to you and you were flying along. You've done so well, but I think in the ... We think probably about 18 months since we last spoke, its been a phenomenal ride for you two. And just a glance at the Amazon charts recently will tell you how successful you've been. How does that feel?
Caroline Peckham: It's crazy.
Susanne Valenti: It'll sink in one day, maybe.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, we're just in our little bubble, just writing in this room. It is starting to sink in, but yeah, it's mad. It's really mad.
James Blatch: So just to put this into context, your main series, which is the Zodiac Academy, you had a book launched recently, I think, which was book seven. I'm a bit confused actually, about your books, because eight seems to be not there in your list. There's something going on there.
Susanne Valenti: It's on preorder, and then nine is book one retold from the male point of view. But we wanted to put it in the list so that people could find it, basically, just release everyone.
James Blatch: I see. But the release recently was seven, wasn't it?
Susanne Valenti: Seven.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: Seven now is the main book.
James Blatch: Which shot to the top of the Kindle charts, the whole Kindle charts.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, it was insane. That day was mad. We were just like, "Ahh!"
Susanne Valenti: It was so refreshing and that.
Susanne Valenti: I mean, we got it in Australia, and then Canada, was it?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: Or did Canada and the States at the same time? We were just sort of there just like ...
Caroline Peckham: I can't believe it.
James Blatch: We'll go over the series again in a second and talk about the writing and so on.
About that release bit then. Did you do anything particularly different or is this just the buildup of your fans and your fan base that shot it to number one?
Caroline Peckham: We've had it go crazy. The series was popular. It was one of our top series before it went absolutely insane.
Susanne Valenti: It was always doing well, but it wasn't our top, top one. We thought contemporary sells better than fantasy. We were kind of shifting more contemporary. We were starting to think that the contemporary was more the bigger market, weren't we?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. And then basically we got on TikTok and were able to reach a massive audience on there who were really hungry for that genre, and it just hit really big. We had one TikTok do really, really well. And then just in general, we've just had TikToks do well. And we found it a really good marketing tool, which has just helped the series just get out there. Because it is one of the hardest things, is finding readers always. That is the thing.
Susanne Valenti: Where are they?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
James Blatch: But I think, to be fair, I think you found them.
Caroline Peckham: They're on TikTok.
Susanne Valenti: They're on TikTok, yeah.
James Blatch: Yes.
Susanne Valenti: They're on TikTok and we're realising they're waiting for books.
James Blatch: So we will talk about TikTok, and that is amazing. And yours is one of a number of books that we could list that have got to number one in the Kindle charts, apparently as a result of TikTok. And by the way, songs have got to number one in the charts and sold millions also ...
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, I've seen that.
James Blatch: ... As a result of being launched on TikTok. It's an incredible platform at the moment for creators.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. It's amazing.
James Blatch: And I remember when we were in Vegas together, and I think you were looking at, Susanne ... I think you did quite a lot on the TikToks, and Susanne, you did a few, and then you started doing them. And we were just looking at the figures going up, with a couple you did while we were in Vegas. And Caroline was like, "Oh my God, these are blowing up as well." So both of you are throwing yourself in there. And you should go and check out Caroline and Susanne on TikTok, because you're very funny and they're very good.
Caroline Peckham: No shame.
James Blatch: No shame. No, no, I wouldn't say that.
Susanne Valenti: Some shame.
James Blatch: You put yourself out there, shall we say. I mean, like an actor gives themselves a little bit to a performance, I think you do that. And that's not inside all of us.
Caroline Peckham: You have to commit to it. I think that's the thing. You've got to just don't worry about it.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. If you feel awkward, everyone can tell.
Caroline Peckham: You got to go all in.
Susanne Valenti: Let the weird show.
Caroline Peckham: But I see you're on TikTok now.
James Blatch: I am. I'm just starting. I haven't done any dancing at all yet, so I'm finding my voice on TikTok.
Caroline Peckham: You'll have to do it with us.
James Blatch: Let's talk about TikTok. I'm going to part that a bit and just carry on a little bit with this incredible launch that you had recently. And sorry, something else about book seven, did I read the page count right?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. It was our biggest one ever.
Susanne Valenti: The 311,000 words.
James Blatch: It's 994 pages.
Caroline Peckham: It's actually 1,040, technically. Oh no, no, that's paperback. Because the paperback version, we have to condense for Amazon because they only have a 760 page limit. But for the Ingram one it's 1,040 pages, with all the extra bits. But yeah, the Kindle is 900.
Susanne Valenti: We probably have one. It's a brick.
James Blatch: That is unbelievable. I think in my mind I always thought romance books tended to be shorter reads, and people would rip through a series quite quickly. I'm going to talk about one of your books because I've read the Kings of Quarantine, which I finished a few days ago.
Susanne Valenti: So you're in the deep end.
James Blatch: And feeling a little bit brutalised and traumatised from reading that book.
Susanne Valenti: Did you only read book one?
James Blatch: I've only read book one.
Susanne Valenti: That is the one that destroys you.
James Blatch: I've got some questions, anyway, about you two.
Susanne Valenti: Is it about your attraction to the night keepers? You don't know why you love them?
James Blatch: There's so much, Susanne.
Caroline Peckham: You're feeling things you've never felt before.
James Blatch: I don't know why I want them, I don't know why Artacia wants them, I don't know why anyone wants them, but apparently we all do. So that is a weird thing that I do want to talk about, dark romance. Because the reason I read it, is because it's just not a genre that I'm familiar with. And on the outside, it seems a bit odd to me, about blokes behaving really badly and yet somehow being the heroes, and I wondered how it worked. And I've read this book and I'm still wondering how it works, but we'll talk about it.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. You have to get somewhere near book three before you start to figure it out.
James Blatch: Well Caroline did say to me ... She sort sucked her teeth in a little bit when I said I'm going to read that one. "Oooh ...".
Caroline Peckham: I was like, "Of all the ones to choose to start ... "
Susanne Valenti: That's our darkest series.
Caroline Peckham: It's really dark, yes.
James Blatch: Wow, it is dark.
Caroline Peckham: You're just jumping straight in.
James Blatch: It's brutal. But we'll talk about the genre in a bit. So book seven, huge book, 994 pages in a series that have been going on. TikTok, you think, probably is the difference between it being a similar launch to your previous book and a phenomenal, out of this world launch, that book seven was.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, I think so.
Susanne Valenti: We've been building generally, I think, but TikTok has gotten Zodiac to go up higher. When we got nine ... About number nine with Paradise, I think?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: So we tracked the top 10. That's book four of our contemporaries. We do find the following ones in the series tend to ...
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, so we got to number nine in the store in, I think it was November that ...
Susanne Valenti: Yeah.
Caroline Peckham: Sorry, September or something. Oh we get so lost.
Susanne Valenti: We get so lost.
James Blatch: Yeah, all right.
Susanne Valenti: It was our release that was previous to this one, wasn't it?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, we expect it.
Susanne Valenti: We've been slowly ... We've been coming along.
Caroline Peckham: We're hoping we're top 10.
Susanne Valenti: We're like, "Top 10." So we got nine, we were thrilled for about four hours.
James Blatch: Well, it's brilliant. It's so exciting. And I know you're in our SPF community. We've had you on the show before and you came to our show. And I think number one in the store ... In fact, I know number one in the store today is Lucy Score, another one of our community.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, I saw that.
James Blatch: In fact, numbers two and three are also members of the group. Not as active, but they're all there. So it is very exciting to be in this community and having people doing so, so well from it.
Caroline Peckham: It's amazing.
James Blatch: So let's talk about the books and then we'll talk about TikTok. I think that's definitely worth chatting about.
The books themselves, so the Zodiac Academy, as you say ... So I did wonder actually, when I was reading Kings of Quarantine, which is obviously a lockdown inspired book and is set in a public school, which I think you've used before in another series, the Everlake public school. Did I see that? Or is that just this one series?
Caroline Peckham: Just that one-
Susanne Valenti: That one series has that one. But we have the United States of Anarchy, we have three series links. They're in the same world, but the others aren't set in a school setting. So we've got Uncle Nile, who you probably haven't met.
James Blatch: No.
Susanne Valenti: They're a gang of psychopaths who go killing people for fun.
James Blatch: Sounds similar to what I've just read.
Caroline Peckham: Also romance.
James Blatch: Yes. I will get you to explain this to me in a minute.
Susanne Valenti: And then Sinners' Playground is like gangs, which is again in the same world. So, yeah, there's some crossovers with characters, but not in the same school.
James Blatch: But you alluded earlier to the fantasy elements. I did wonder if in King's Quarantine, because there was a kind of ritual, mythical past going on, whether there was going to be a fantastical element, but it wasn't actually. I hope it's not spoiler, it does stay kind of real world. There's no magic in it.
Caroline Peckham: No. Yes, no magic.
Susanne Valenti: That is contemporary, yeah.
James Blatch: So that's contemporary, Zodiac Academy is magic. Are both of them, though, that thematically dark romance you describe it as with the male heroes ...
Will you explain to me what a dark romance is?
Susanne Valenti: Those two are both bully romance, so where the guys are actually bullying the heroine. Zodiac is bully as well. We did Zodiac first, so that is a school setting, so that's the most similarity we have. But obviously with the fantasy element, it's a bit different. We call it kind of a Harry Potter for grownups.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Caroline Peckham: Very dark. All of our books are dark romance, and then there's levels of that. So that general theme goes through all of it, but we do fantasy and contemporary, so it's all different settings.
James Blatch: That's funny. Actually I think there is a moment in the Kings of Quarantine where you have the heroine musing to herself, "I wish I had a Dumbledore."
Susanne Valenti: Yeah.
James Blatch: Because I'm in Hogwarts, but it's only Slytherin. In fact, I think there was a little word play about them slithering ... I won't get to the rest of the sentence, but yeah. So that's interesting, and obviously we can see from the results, this is something there is an appetite for.
Who are your audience? Presumably not 55 year old men, most of the time.
Susanne Valenti: We have some men. We're getting more men.
Caroline Peckham: It's usually the wives that gets their husband to read Zodiac or something, because they just want to talk to someone about it.
Susanne Valenti: Or they've been laughing their heads off, and then the husbands are just like, "Why are you laughing so much?" And then they want to read it. Also, we try to be funny.
Caroline Peckham: I mean, obviously most, yeah, is dominantly women. 99% women.
Susanne Valenti: Romance is a women's genre.
Caroline Peckham: But I think that Zodiac is a lot of people that grew up with Harry Potter and now have moved on to darker books, and they're looking for that Harry Potter element again.
Susanne Valenti: With an adult theme.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, but more adult story to it.
James Blatch: Are you talking about mid-30s, 40s, you think your audience?
Susanne Valenti: Our audience now, our highest audience is 18 to 26, but then very closely with 26 to 34. But it's literally right through. And to be honest, there's under 18s, we just don't acknowledge them because they shouldn't be reading it. And right up at 60. Our Facebook group is pretty spread ... The stats on Facebook, so that is probably it.
James Blatch: Well, you are very funny, by the way. It is a funny book. And the funniest scene, actually, is the denouement to the book. I'm remembering a few days ago, but it's obviously set in lockdown, and there's this massive, violent battle going on about toilet paper. And it was a very zeitgeist. One minute, I think the heroine screams at somebody, "I need some hand sanitizer." You couldn't get a more zeitgeist themed story.
Susanne Valenti: Whilst trying to kill each other. It always will happen.
James Blatch: That would have been mental a couple years ago, whereas now people are thinking, "Yes, you would be killing each other over toilet paper and hand sanitizer."
Susanne Valenti: They build a toilet paper throne in the following books, so you have to look forward to.
James Blatch: Oh don't they do it in book one? We have a toilet paper throne.
Susanne Valenti: Oh, they did do the toilet paper throne? There you go, yeah.
James Blatch: I don't think anyone ever sat on it, but it was there.
Susanne Valenti: Someone had to.
James Blatch: Yeah, it is funny, and I was laughing. So Zodiac Academy, which is the series that's really flown. But as you say, your contemporary romance, you did that as a lockdown project, those three books. And I can see on the shelf below, behind you, if you're watching on YouTube, is the Fae series, is that right?
Susanne Valenti: Fae's at the top.
James Blatch: Oh, Fae's at the top. Yeah. What's the series-
Susanne Valenti: Oh, wait a minute. No, Fae's in the middle. Hang on. There. So that's Caged Wolf, so that's a Solaria spinoff.
Caroline Peckham: Which is Zodiac world-
Susanne Valenti: Zodiac, same world.
Susanne Valenti: Those two are Mafia, contemporary, and they're still there. They're just on their own little world. And then the Dark Fae they're all in the Solaria universe.
James Blatch: What's Dark Fae? Oh that's a Zodiac spinoff as well?
Susanne Valenti: That's Zodiac in a prequel series.
James Blatch: Okay.
Susanne Valenti: There's Zodiac, and then a little Death Club down there in the back, and the Sinners', they're all in the United States of Anarchy. I think that's all of it.
James Blatch: And that's contemporary, United States of Anarchy?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. We should have bridged the contemporary and the fantasy, but we haven't.
James Blatch: That's okay. Most people aren't listening to this, but just so I get straight in my head, but all of your books have a similar dark ... In the broad dark romance, because romance goes down so many layers. But broadly.
Can you talk to me about where that comes from and is that something you read and what you think the appeal is about women reading strong, verging on, and in some cases, very much bullying male heroes?
Caroline Peckham: It's the redemption arc, I think. The first story, you kind of want them to hate the guys.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, with Kings of Quarantine, people are literally reading it and they're like, "I will never, ever forgive Saint. I will never love Saint. I will never ... " Did you get the letters in that one or is that book two?
Caroline Peckham: No, it's the first one.
James Blatch: Yes, the letters, it was just-
Susanne Valenti: Right, so everyone's just ... That was literally, there was nothing this man could ever do. And they're like, "I hate him. I want him dead. There's nothing he can do." And then we're like, "Challenge accepted." And they get into book four, and they're like, "Why do I love him?"
They need a strong back story. And he's dealt with a lot of things, he has an awful father and he's been brought up in a horrible way and stuff.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. I think with it is, with all dark romance, is about the guy being kind of broken and maybe is terrible to the girl, but the girl, through him falling in love with her, becomes that better person and you find out the reasons for why he did all those terrible things.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, and he will redeem himself, usually just to her. He's usually just still terrible to everyone else, but the change for her ... She becomes his queen and his everything, and he bows at her feet.
James Blatch: He's been a bad boy.
Susanne Valenti: Bad boy, bow at your feet, and then do everything that you want.
James Blatch: Why not?
Susanne Valenti: Kill a man for you, or two, or three.
James Blatch: Exactly. So there's a bit of the power imbalance, there's a sexual power imbalance, which is quite a traditional area of sexual politics. We don't necessarily need to go into in this interview.
But there's also, you think, a power that the female has ultimately over the bully, which is an important part of it.
Susanne Valenti: Absolutely. It's about the female power in it. And all about we have really strong girls, they don't just take the crap from the guys. They will make them suffer for it. Like with the bully in Zodiac, Darius and Tory, the stuff he does to her in book one ... We're at the end of book seven, and people have just started forgiving him. They want the forgiveness to be there in book four, but it's like, yeah, he's got to work for it and she won't put up with it. And then they've got to prove and change everything to prove that they can be worth it. So it's a balance. Obviously, there are lines.
Caroline Peckham: We should mention, also, that obviously Kings of Quarantine and a few of other series are a reverse harem, which is when the girl ends up with multiple guys. And the root of that, again, is a female power thing, I think. And her having this army of guys around her, and they're enamoured with her at the end of it, and her being this really strong figure in the middle of them. And that you're forming a family unit out of them as the ultimate goal, getting everyone together. We also, often in our series, we have the guys hate each other just to make it extra fun, to try and get them on board.
Susanne Valenti: The best harems are often groups ... In Kings they're friends, the three of them are friends, but generally that's not like that. We like them to hate each other. And you're like, "They will never, they will never ever." We had leaders of rival gangs in Dark Fae who literally want each other dead.
Caroline Peckham: We have this thing in the Solaria world called Astral Adversaries, which is basically the stars have chosen you to hate each other and drive against each other until one of you kills the other one. And two of them are in the harem of Dark Fae. So obviously we have to find a way to overcome that, to get them to work together in the end.
Susanne Valenti: Unless they die, which we won't say they won't.
Caroline Peckham: That may be how we resolve it.
James Blatch: Was this a genre you were reading before? What led you to write in it?
Susanne Valenti: When we were writing Dark Fae, we hadn't really read any.
Caroline Peckham: I basically hadn't read any at that point.
Susanne Valenti: I think I quickly read a couple just to get the idea.
James Blatch: So why did you choose it then?
Caroline Peckham: It was popular at the time, and we wanted to do this spinoff series and just had ideas for it. And we thought just go for it.
Susanne Valenti: It worked for that setup. Her brother's been murdered and she goes to this school and is investigating the four guys because one of them killed him. So we're like, well, if she kills another then that'd be all good, wouldn't it?
James Blatch: So again, you do like writing yourself into this this corner and writing yourself out. It's the same thing thriller writers try and do, they pile on everything that could possibly go wrong for somebody as a challenge.
Caroline Peckham: Right. That's what we love, and we're part of the challenge.
Susanne Valenti: Yes, they're quite story heavy.
Caroline Peckham: The more funny it is.
Susanne Valenti: The word count in our books is high, because they are very story heavy. A lot of romance can be short, which is great, but for us we quite like a long story and a heavy plot. Then we're like, "Oh, it's just five books," but they are all 250,000 to 300,000 words.
Caroline Peckham: I don't think there are many, if any, reverse harems out there that are that long. We just went in with these massive books.
Susanne Valenti: Well, we will finish it with this book. And it's like, it's just the size of almost three books.
James Blatch: I can't quite get over the size of book seven. I was thinking was there a mistake on the Amazon page? 994.
Caroline Peckham: We could have beat that. We were doing it up to the deadline as well, so we were working 14 hour days.
Susanne Valenti: It had to be uploaded Saturday night, and we didn't have it done, so we had to do it on a Sunday. And we were like, "Let's just hope it goes through." That was our most preorders ever.
James Blatch: This echoes your stories, you got yourself into a corner and had to literally work your way out of ...
So you started off with the series. And we should say that you ... I think there's a family business that you were running with your mom and dad.
Did you sit down and consciously say to each other, "We want to be professional writers." Or did it start as a hobby and grow from there?
Caroline Peckham: I think first thing was just we wanted to write a book.
Susanne Valenti: We wrote as kids, and just both liked writing all kinds of things, putting stories together.
Caroline Peckham: When we went to both write, we wrote books separately, but we would start writing at the same time.
Susanne Valenti: I think we both had been doing a bit here and then it didn't go anywhere. And then a little bit there.
Caroline Peckham: I remember we were driving in the car to deliver a cat, because we used to take the cats home from the cattery.
James Blatch: So the family business is a cattery, which I didn't mention.
Caroline Peckham: Yes.
James Blatch: It's not just a random ... We deliver.
Susanne Valenti: Delivery service! You didn't want this investment. Yours for life!
James Blatch: Claws for life. Yeah. So you were delivering the cat.
Caroline Peckham: And I think we just sort of said something like, "Oh, I'm writing a book." And then we both were like, "Oh yeah, I'm writing a book." And then since the start, we've always edited each other's books and helped each other with each other's stories.
Susanne Valenti: We were supposed to get a book written, didn't we?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, once we had that book, we submitted it to ChatHub publishers, didn't hear anything back, we thought maybe rejection. Then we found out about Amazon KDP self-publishing, and they have the little video on the website, which is still the same video, which I can't believe they've never changed. They've got the little stick man being like, "Come publish with Amazon." So we just thought that sounded great. It does sell it, to be fair. And then, I mean, nothing really. I think yours did okay.
Susanne Valenti: I did. I tossed it up. I think I got ... I don't know if it's even still a thing, but where people used to get a boost of just being a new book, so I made like about 500 pounds the first three months, and was like, "Oh, I'm making like ..." Because that was like a quarter of my wages or something for the month, suddenly. But then it went away. But then my second book brought it back little, but it was never really ... And then it kind of just petered off after that. But I didn't do anything. It just did that.
James Blatch: But there was no marketing.
Susanne Valenti: And watched the film. There's a film on that ... Anyway, you don't care about that.
James Blatch: I'm sure I do.
Susanne Valenti: It's about a pregnant girl on Netflix, dystopian film. Anyway, it was a long thing that I made Caroline listen to.
James Blatch: She's very patient. Who is the older, I forget, of the two of you? Big sister, little sister dynamic.
Susanne Valenti: The postman thought she was older and I'll never let it go.
James Blatch: If you're listening, they pointed at each other, but I think we established Susanne as the older sister.
Caroline Peckham: We've established it through her wrinkles.
James Blatch: Oh, that is not fair. And the reason I ask is because you both look very young.
Now, Kings of Quarantine, which is the book I read, is first person, but multiple point of views to each chapter. You switch characters, but written first person. And I'm assuming you write chapters each.
Do you take a character each through the book?
Susanne Valenti: Yeah.
Caroline Peckham: Yes, we do. So in that I wrote Tatum, the girl, and Susanne wrote all the guys.
Susanne Valenti: And I wrote all the guys.
Caroline Peckham: And that's generally what we do.
James Blatch: You wrote all the guys.
Susanne Valenti: All the guys.
James Blatch: All right, okay.
Susanne Valenti: I don't know what I was talking about.
James Blatch: Just turning over in my head. I was wondering. I'm slightly scared of you now. Now, the planning ...
Susanne Valenti: You should be scared of my husband.
James Blatch: I feel sorry for your husband.
The planning then that has to go into that, presumably is a lot, because I think you sit next to each other, actually writing, don't you? So it's not like you go off into separate houses.
Caroline Peckham: We do now. We didn't always though, but now we do. We found it works better if we are together.
Susanne Valenti: Planning by our WhatsApp is not ... Don't recommend.
James Blatch: Tell me about the plotting process then for that series, which you wrote a year and a half ago.
Susanne Valenti: It's kind of the same for all of our books anyway.
Caroline Peckham: We've streamlined it now, but basically we sit down, get a Word doc open, and then we just do it chapter by chapter.
Susanne Valenti: So we'll have a very vague this is what the whole series is going to be, this is how many books we think that'll take to achieve.
Caroline Peckham: And then the chapter, literally the plans are tiny. They're a couple sentences of just this has to happen. We try to give ourselves room to be creative with that chapter, but the other one needs to know where that chapter's going to end or what's going to happen in it generally.
Susanne Valenti: And so yeah, we had issues where we stupidly ... It would be the end of a class, and then the next one would literally pick up right there. And then we were like, "You know what we could have is gaps in time?" So we're not having this awful situation where we're like, "Oh God, I have them in a whole different place."
Caroline Peckham: That's saved us so much now. So yeah, books one to three is two months or something?
Susanne Valenti: Two weeks. Oh, is it a couple of months? Were there a couple months.
Caroline Peckham: No, it was a couple of months. But the first book was like two weeks.
Susanne Valenti: Literally, then the next one was the next day. And then we just were like every chapter had to end with someone going to sleep.
James Blatch: We all do that. I think every writer starts off like that, and then you have this dawning ... My first book is literally 10 days in a row. I mean, it's like 24, the TV series. I don't know when he eats.
Susanne Valenti: And with romance, it's so unbelievable. They're just desperately in love. And you're like, "Its been three days." Especially with the dark romance. They've had no time to start to actually feel differently about this person, because they literally were trying to drown them last week. It's like, it needs to be at least a year.
James Blatch: There's a screenwriter I follow, on TikTok actually. He calls it shoe leather. He says you get rid of the shoe leather early, so in sitcom, I don't go to the refrigerator and then they don't need to go and unlock the door. Every apartment door in New York is always locked, you always lock it. But when he wrote for Seinfeld, the door was open so that the neighbour could shoot in every day. And he said, when you're inexperienced, you have a way, a device, of him unlocking the door. But when you get more experienced, the guy just comes in. It doesn't matter.
Susanne Valenti: That's so true.
James Blatch: And somebody gets in their car, and then they can be in the evening at home. Whereas when I was first writing, I had them driving home. Because otherwise how are they going to get home? You don't have to write that.
Caroline Peckham: Right. It's such a minor thing, but it actually is a skill you don't realise.
Susanne Valenti: Yes, it's tricky.
Caroline Peckham: But it's actually tricky. And then once you get it, you're like, "Oh right, you can just skip it like this." And even just a little passage of time while they're travelling home ... They got home. They don't need to know how they got home.
James Blatch: The reader's not going to be going, "What? How? Did they teleport?"
Susanne Valenti: An old lady who made them get up and get on her feet.
Caroline Peckham: It's why our books get so long.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, we only just figured it out.
James Blatch: Yes. Just after book seven.
Caroline Peckham: That's all that is, someone locking doors.
James Blatch: So when you're writing your chapters, there is always a temptation with any writing to get carried away, I suppose, is one way of saying it. To discovery write it and go in a surprising direction.
Do you allow yourself the ability to do that? And would you phone up your other sister and say, "Look, I know this is where we said we're going to go, but this is the way I think we're going to go now."
Caroline Peckham: The way we deal with that is we just circle back around. So we will have our side stories and everything, but then the chapter just becomes 10,000 words and then you've circled back to the end where you were planning to end up and then it's all good.
Susanne Valenti: Which is fine. If it's something that's going to add to the whole story, but then we just thread that through the rest of the plans for the chapter.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. And we never really, we just circle back. There's always that. We'll just find a way back.
Susanne Valenti: Because the planning process is we are doing all of that, deciding how and where it's going to go. And we find that just ... Like just getting up in the morning, and just copy paste that paragraph of what your chapter is and just write.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: It used to be looking out the window ...
Caroline Peckham: It would take me months to write a book.
Susanne Valenti: Like, now what will it be? Not knowing where ... And you maybe had your end point, but you had no idea how to get there. I don't even know you could do it like that.
Caroline Peckham: No, and then you always write yourself into a corner if you do that, because you just keep going and going, and then you get to the point where you've gone, "Oh no, I've just contradicted myself completely 10 chapters ago." And if you plan it, you just save all of that time that you're wasting.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, it wasn't our natural way of doing things, but with working together, it just had to be, because we just kept on ... And just little silly things working together, I mean, a lot of people don't do it, but we'd write a whole chapter, and then it would go straight on to Caroline's chapter. And I just had set mine at night, because it was night, and then hers is the middle of the day. But it's literally run right on from the other. And then you're like, "Oh." And then it just changes everything.
Caroline Peckham: We still get the odd things. The weather.
Susanne Valenti: We had the wedding and stuff, didn't we? It was raining in mine and not yours.
Caroline Peckham: Those kind of things. We should actually start doing that.
Susanne Valenti: No we're not.
Caroline Peckham: No, we will. I've decided.
James Blatch: Which brings me onto how you get on professionally as sisters?
Caroline Peckham: Terribly.
Susanne Valenti: It's a burden. A burden I wouldn't wish on anyone.
James Blatch: I would suggest the Amazon charts say otherwise, that you obviously do manage to work. I mean, look, you're smiling and laughing together now. Whether that's nervous or not, I don't know.
Caroline Peckham: She's going to beat me.
Susanne Valenti: You will present a united front.
James Blatch: Yes. Having read your book, that does not surprise me that's going on. There's a gun under the table or something.
Susanne Valenti: I think we generally get on really well. There's the odd time we disagree. Usually more what it'll be is you write to a point, and then it's like ... I remember, particularly in summer ... Do you remember Carnival Hill? And we were just there and I'm writing away, my chapter. I think I was maybe on the one ...
Caroline Peckham: Oh yeah.
Susanne Valenti: And she just said, "This is not right. This is all moving on too quickly." And I just sat there and I was like, "Mm-hmm (affirmative)." But I just carried on. And then about an hour later I was like, "Yeah, you're right. This is crap. We need to change it." But that's generally the way ... It might need a minute to marinate.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. It's not very often. It's often when it's the emotions ... That's the one thing you can't predict through the plan. So once you get to a point where you've decided something emotionally is going to change or they're going to make up now if they've been angry at each other for a while. Once you actually write to that point, the characters aren't at that point emotionally, and then you're like, "This has to change." Because it'll just be forced and it wouldn't be right.
And then obviously if Susanne's written a chapter ahead of that, when we've already set that they've made up, then that chapter has to change. With that stuff, those are the only times when it's something like that, it is really annoying.
James Blatch: You can get cross.
Caroline Peckham: Because you have to change it.
Susanne Valenti: A little bit. But generally we are a bit better now, because we're trying to stick to it so that one of us doesn't go ahead of the other. Obviously one of us is writing the chapter ahead. On occasion before, one of us might get four or five chapters ahead, and then it really does start to get disjointed, because then it's like coming along behind like, "Oh no, that's not the way you've done it." And then you're just going, "Well you have to change it because I've written all of that." So now it's like, "If one of us gets ahead, then we'll do something instead, so that we're more in line all the time."
James Blatch:x And there's no no self conscious embarrassment about ... Because those books are spicy, I should say? The sex is. I can't imagine writing that kind of detail with my brother, let's put it that way.
Caroline Peckham: When we first did it, we were like, "Oh no."
Susanne Valenti: Oh no, penis.
James Blatch: You don't call them penises in the book.
Susanne Valenti: No, no. Nobody wants that.
Caroline Peckham: That's just a cringe word.
Susanne Valenti: We have a list of cringe words that we're like, "No, nothing moist." We're dead to it now.
Caroline Peckham: It's honestly like a day in the office, and I don't ...
Susanne Valenti: Just a little note, you've used cock too many times.
James Blatch: Right. You cock, yes. Good. Well, I imagine ... I mean you're pretty well immune now, that's what I'm meant to say.
Susanne Valenti: Do you write these things in your books?
James Blatch: No, I've had the most fleeting-
Susanne Valenti: It's a deadening process.
James Blatch: No, I have emotional stuff in my books about people dying. In my next book, my work in progress now which is probably May, does have quite a strong romance element to it, which surprised me, but it sort of came out during the book. I think maybe I was influenced by you. I don't know. I was reading it at the same time.
Susanne Valenti: So you have to decide then if you're fading to black or not.
James Blatch: Yes. Well, cut to a train going into a tunnel like they did in the 1950's films.
Susanne Valenti: We did a poll in our group when it had only about 400 people. And we were like, "Do you want us to keep fading to black?" And it was a resounding, "No".
Caroline Peckham: The market changed so everything that we write now is technically what YA was. Maybe not the contemporary, but I think the fantasy is what YA used to be, in terms of story. But there was no sex or no swearing, anything. Because it was all decided by traditional publishing what the rules were. And that's what we used to stick to, because obviously that was your line, and that's what we'd read when we were younger.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, like if you read The Hunger Games or whatever. That's the line. But then even in trad now, that's changing, like Sarah J. Maas.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, it's starting to. But indie's allowed it to move along quicker to what the readers basically have evolved to, that's what they want from the fantasy romance.
James Blatch: Which is brilliant, because it's the whole indie thing, it's reader led, isn't it?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, that's what's great about it.
James Blatch: Exactly. Now you mentioned Sarah J. Maas, some people don't know who she is, but she's another author who's done extremely well via TikTok. And I think that her book is oft quoted there.
Let's talk about TikTok. Actually, before TikTok, the other marketing that you do. Last time we spoke, I think it was a mix of Facebook ads and Amazon ads. And I think, Caroline, you were the one doing that?
Caroline Peckham: That's the same.
Susanne Valenti: I've put some images together on occasion.
James Blatch: There you go.
Susanne Valenti: I did a trailer that we put on TikTok and it got so few views I deleted it.
Caroline Peckham: No. It was a good trailer, it just didn't-
Susanne Valenti: It's a good trailer, it did not hit.
James Blatch: TikTok prefers a kind of user generated content, doesn't it? I've seen some authors recently uploading some quite polished trailers, and I think they're probably not the right environment for TikTok, for them to play.
Caroline Peckham: Well, we uploaded the Zodiac one and that's got 50,000 views on that one.
James Blatch: Okay, that's good.
Caroline Peckham: But that might just be because it's Zodiac and that's what's trending.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, the people who were viewing the trailer were like, "Yay." And it was getting the reactions and stuff. And then it got like 250 views over the space of 24 hours. And I was like, "I'm not leaving it up. I can't bear it." So it came down.
James Blatch: Well, it's got 50,000 views, but I noticed one of your TikToks has 1.5 million views. So you have some views there.
Before we talk about TikTok, so you're still doing Facebook ads and Amazon ads. Is that a 50-50 split or do you favour one of those platforms?
Caroline Peckham: Amazon is one of those ones, which is like, if your book is selling, then you can do great with Amazon ads, because they like to push what's selling. It vaguely helped us, especially when a book has done well, it'll start pushing that book. The ads will run.
Now we are spending more on Amazon than we were because of that, basically, because we're selling better. But apart from that, nothing's really changed. We still spend more on Facebook than we do on Amazon. So then now, the only other marketing we've obviously included is TikTok, which isn't paid. That's free. We haven't tried the paid on that.
James Blatch: And you have a main list that you run?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. I think we've got 20,000 subscribers on that now, which we basically get through ... We've got links in the back to the books. We give away, we have the odd free novella and free bonus chapters, things like that, to drive subscribers to that one. And that's it, really.
Susanne Valenti: We do an email twice a month and then we try and do a giveaway in everyone, so you get a signed paperback or something, but you can only get it if you're in there, so then we'll put posts around like, "Don't forget, if you're in the newsletter then you can ... " And then that gets people opening because it's always they subscribe and then they don't open.
James Blatch: Yes, we know that. And then you have a Facebook group or groups?
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, Facebook group that's gone mental this year. Where were we at at the start of last year? Was it 5,000?
Caroline Peckham: We had about about 5,000 members in January 2021.
Susanne Valenti: And we're at 35,000 near the end.
James Blatch: Wow, wow.
Susanne Valenti: So its gone crazy, yeah.
James Blatch: And Susanne, I know in Vegas ... Sorry again, Caroline, I know that when we were in Vegas ... Sorry, I'm not rubbing it in, Susanne couldn't go to Vegas. Because I should say that you are a mom, and I think that's probably the reason you weren't there. Is that fair?
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. And wasn't it right as Riley was starting school?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: She's five, so starting reception, so I was like ...
James Blatch: Yes, yeah of course.
Susanne Valenti: I had to do that whole school mom thing.
James Blatch: And when we were in Vegas, Caroline, I noticed that you've recruited quite a team now to help you, because it obviously is a bigger operation you are dealing with, particularly if you two are going to have time to write. And you've built your team from your readers?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, that was the first time. Because we have two online PAs who help us, and they basically came to us, was it a couple years ago now?
Susanne Valenti: Yeah.
Caroline Peckham: The group was getting big on Facebook, and they just came to us like, "I think you need help." Because we just weren't doing basic things.
Susanne Valenti: We didn't know some of this stuff.
Caroline Peckham: Post approval.
Susanne Valenti: Post approval. So people were posting spoilers, and people were like, "Oh, you've ruined the book!" And we were just like, "I can't. We're trying to be." And we were on there all the time trying to delete, edit what came in.
James Blatch: To moderate it yourself, yeah.
Susanne Valenti: And then they just came and were like, "We can turn on post approval and we can look at those posts for you." And we were like, "I didn't know it was a thing."
Caroline Peckham: So they helped us out, and then we subsequently took them on as PAs to do various stuff. So when we met them ... They became friends through our books. They had been fans of our books, and they hadn't met. So in Vegas, it was the first time they'd met each other, the first time I met them. And it was really cute. We had a great time. Everyone was asking after Susanne so much, it was really sad that she couldn't be there.
Susanne Valenti: So sad. So sad, you seem so sad.
James Blatch: We are. We are so sad. We can't stop smiling how sad we are.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, it seems like it ruined your whole trip.
James Blatch: Next year, Susanne, maybe.
Susanne Valenti: Maybe.
Caroline Peckham: They helped out with the little signing that we did that week. And then what was really cool was two of our narrators came and flew out to say hi as well, so they were there.
Susanne Valenti: And I met everyone.
Caroline Peckham: I did get to meet everyone. It was amazing.
Susanne Valenti: I'm sorry.
James Blatch: Okay, let's talk about TikTok, because it is the platform that's just got things moving for quite a few authors now. And unusually, we do talk about Facebook in particular, and Amazon being pay to play now. A few years ago on Facebook, you could access thousands of people with a post that people shared and liked, and Facebook gradually changed the algorithm, so if there's an organic post by yourself, it's going to be seen by you and a few friends and only those friends who interact regularly with you, not even all your friends. And if you want to get a wide audience on Facebook, you pony up the money and you use it as a platform.
TikTok is at that early stage now. It's at that organic stage where they're desperate to grow the platform, and good posts travel quickly. So without spending any money, a lot of authors are seeing really great traction in sales, and clearly you are a great example of that.
How you got onto TikTok in the first place and what your evolution of posting on that platform is?
Caroline Peckham: So I just went on during, I think it was the first or second lockdown in the UK, everyone was talking about it as the thing millennials were all joining, the TikTok, and ruining it for gen Z, apparently.
James Blatch: Of course.
Caroline Peckham: But was just a really entertaining platform. I just found it funny, I didn't even think about it for business, to be honest. It was just something I joined. But then I think we started seeing some people posting about their books and things, and a couple of people saying in the 20Books group that they were doing well with it.
Susanne Valenti: And I didn't believe it.
Caroline Peckham: Susanne, always the cynic.
James Blatch: "Sit down, Caroline! Start writing and get off TikTok."
Caroline Peckham: Yep. And I was like, "No!"
Susanne Valenti: I was like, "What's this TokTik all about?
James Blatch: Yeah, what is the TokTik? Yeah. Sounds like John Dyer.
Caroline Peckham: It's basically true.
James Blatch: All right, you persevered, Caroline.
Caroline Peckham: I did. And then I spent a lot of time on it, so I started to understand it. It is a bit weird. When you first go on there it throws all kinds of videos at you, because it's trying to learn what you like, and then it'll show you videos more personalised to you. So once you get to that stage of it, then it becomes quite fun and quite funny, and you start to see the trends and the same sounds coming up all the time.
Caroline Peckham: So I just had a go, really. I did a few videos and started catering them to books after probably the first three that I did on my dog.
James Blatch: Serious?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, serious. And then I did one that was just a silly one about what a theme was. It was like, "Oh no, if I am out here in the woods and a fae prince comes along and takes me away," I was just like, "Don't catch me." It was stupid. It wasn't even about books, but it obviously hit the book mark, book area, and got like 80,000 views or something ridiculous. And then I used that same sound to do one about books, and it just went ... I think that was like 150,000. So then I was like, "Well, this is good now." So I just kept doing them.
Susanne Valenti: And then we could see the spike on our [crosstalk 00:50:03] see the spike, obviously, on the ...
James Blatch: KDP dashboard?
Susanne Valenti: That thing, and then on the dashboard, so you could look and be like, "Oh! Oh! Oh, it is a thing." It does convert.
Caroline Peckham: And then just randomly did that one, which I'm basically pretending I'm crying, saying I wish there was an adult Harry Potter with spice, and then at the end of the video is me with the Harry Potter book throwing Zodiac Academy down on top of it. And that's all it is. It's about six seconds. And that just went ... 1.5 million people saw that. And we just got this huge spike on sales, and ever since, it just snowballed. Even that first month was nothing compared to the continuation, because we already had like five ... No, maybe even six books out at that point. At least five.
Susanne Valenti: It was only like this last year, wasn't it? So the six were out.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. So we had all that massive series there, and people buying it on Kindle. And we saw what was one surprising thing, because we never really have sold many paperbacks, and TikTok is, I think, our big paperback readers as well, so we just got a huge bike of paperback sales as well. And its just snowboarded ever since then, because I think once you hit that market and it does well, people are then doing their own TikTok about it. We've had people tag us in videos for half a million views about Zodiac Academy. So, we're not even doing it at that point, it's doing it for you. People are recommending it, it's amazing.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, and we think we've figured out the paperbacks, how you'd affect the algorithms chart wise as well. So we got our paperback sorted out, we've had them more formatted. Redone [inaudible 00:51:47] the interiors inside and got all the covers redone and everything.
Caroline Peckham: I think we underestimated, as well, like especially TikTok seems to have this thing about having a really nice looking book on their shelf. So if you've got the really nice full wrap ... We'd like to get hardbacks going as well. Because I think Zodiac is quite an attractive cover and everything, all of that helped as well, because they have all their lovely bookshelves behind them, people that are recommending the books.
James Blatch: They'll have to reinforce the roads if you're going to do a hardback version of Zodiac seven. It being delivered across America, having their highways breaking apart, and lorries burdened down. Sorry.
James Blatch: Well, that's great. And what's your strategy now with TikTok? I know both of you have your own accounts. Do you try and post ... Is there a frequency you try and do or do you have a strategy?
Caroline Peckham: We try. Because we're so busy writing and that, we do fall behind a bit. Like I think I did two last week. My general plan is to do at least one a week, but as much as possible. But it is hard, because obviously, we are still doing everything ourselves, in terms of promo and writing these types of books. So there isn't as much time as we'd like to be doing that. But as much as we can, we do get videos out.
Caroline Peckham: It's also like once you get to a point, there's only so many trends around, that you couldn't constantly do trends. I think some authors do stuff where they talk to the camera and just chat about the books and stuff, but I just don't have time. So it's like for maximum impact, just get a trend up whenever we can.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah.
James Blatch: And you're doing that a bit more now, Susanne?
Susanne Valenti: Yeah well, I'm trying anyway. Over Christmas we had three weeks off? We were like, "Zodiac murdered us," so we were like, "Let's just take some time off." And I was like, "I'm going to do some TikTok," but I didn't do it. Because I was just so tired.
Caroline Peckham: So tired.
Susanne Valenti: And now I'm getting back now. And we rearranged our whole work plan, because we were literally working like 13 hour days, weren't we?
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: 14, 15 hour days. So now we're stopping when I go to the school runs. At half two that's it, we're done.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: So that means I now start work at 5:00 AM, but just in amongst that, I struggle to get time to make a TikTok. And then obviously, once the school runs, we're trying to like, "That is it." We're not doing it. We're not working the weekends, and we are not working after that point in time. Because you can't. We just weren't stopping, and it's-
Caroline Peckham: The thing is TikTok is great, but it is a creative platform as well. So you have to have the idea, then you have to have the enthusiasm to go in front of a camera and do that. And sometimes if you're writing, you're tired. At the end of the day you don't really fancy it. And to have the ideas, you do need to let it stew sometimes like you do with the writing, to come up with something that's good.
James Blatch: Yeah. It does require a bit of creative thought and planning, I'm noticing that, just starting mine. And I should give a plug for our TikTok for Authors course, which is due out any time now. I'm not sure when this interview is going to go out. It could even be out by now, but it's clearly a big thing, and you are not the only authors we've spoken to recently for whom TikTok has become an important lever in their marketing strategy, so that's good to hear.
James Blatch: Good. Well, don't work too hard. How many words do you write today?
Susanne Valenti: 10,000 plus each.
James Blatch: Wow, wow. That's another secret to your success.
Susanne Valenti: One chapter, just one chapter a day. But they just end up being 10,000 words.
Caroline Peckham: I did one this morning. It was 2,500.
Susanne Valenti: But that was only because you finished work at 9:00AM so that we could do admin.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, we finished at 9:00 AM.
Susanne Valenti: [inaudible 00:55:25] started at 8:00 AM.
Caroline Peckham: I did have a lie in.
Susanne Valenti: So yeah, I did like 3,000 words this morning, but I haven't got to the point [inaudible 00:55:31].
James Blatch: Right. It is important, obviously, not to burn out and to look after yourself. Particularly, you've got a dog to look after, you've got children look after, Susanne.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. Our word counts were less when it's every single day, every single day forcing four or five K out, and then feeling knackered at the end the day. So when we have this time off, we write more, so we are actually doing the same in less time, because we just had no life.
James Blatch: Well look, I'm thrilled for your success. I guess Zodiac Academy's not run its course yet. You've got future books.
Caroline Peckham: We've got one book left to finish that series. We'll try and release one next year ... Later this year, sorry, it's 2022 now.
James Blatch: It is next year now. It is next year now.
Susanne Valenti: One of the spinoffs isn't finished yet. And then we may or may not consider other spinoffs. We did one, book one by the boys. There's some demand for further books and we might ... There's so many series on the go. We're just having to finish this series. And soon as we finish, soon ... We're writing a standalone at the moment that we are doing with a bunch of other authors. So it's a series, but we are doing one out of the six books, so we were like, "Yeah, sure. Let's just do another book."
Caroline Peckham: We've got all loads of time.
James Blatch: You've got loads of time. Yeah. Yeah. Good. Well, I could not be happier for your success. I remember the first time I met you, Caroline, a couple of years ago ... Actually, it was Vegas again, wasn't it? 20 Books.
Caroline Peckham: It was, yeah.
James Blatch: And then the two of you came to our conference, came onto the boat in the evening, and there's an energy between the two of you. And it's not an accident that you've been successful. I think to be this successful is incredible, the way you are now. And well, you are literally sitting at the top of the romance tree with those chart positions.
Caroline Peckham: [crosstalk 00:57:20].
James Blatch: So all power to you. And yes, I now need a bit of therapy as I get over ... It's still on the front page of my Kindle. As I-
Caroline Peckham: It's your screen saver, isn't it?
James Blatch: It's my screenshot.
Susanne Valenti: We've converted you.
James Blatch: I'm still processing the whole thing.
Susanne Valenti: Who's your favourite?
James Blatch: My favourite out of the three worst human beings on the planet, which is my favourite out of them? Obviously-
Caroline Peckham: There's a fourth.
Susanne Valenti: There's a fourth, if you have Monroe.
James Blatch: Oh, the fourth, Monroe. Monroe, of course, is ... Yeah. So actually, I was going to ask you that, a bit more specific about the book. But in terms of taboo areas with Monroe being a teacher, I felt that you'd gone probably ... Was that in your mind that you can't cross that line, because that's potentially abusive and ... ?
Caroline Peckham: We did it with Zodiac.
James Blatch: Of course, I can see right away, it wasn't in your mind at all.
Caroline Peckham: No. It was [inaudible 00:58:13] Zodiac, and we liked the-
Susanne Valenti: It's one of those taboo tropes that the student teacher is [inaudible 00:58:17]. And they're 18, so it's like ...
Caroline Peckham: I mean, Tatum's 17 when it starts, and she turns 18. And then, Zodiac, they're all 18 plus. And then the teacher's not old.
Susanne Valenti: He's like 23.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: 23 is Monroe, so it's not like ...
Caroline Peckham: He's like a PE teacher.
Susanne Valenti: He's a PE teacher.
James Blatch: Okay. Oh, that's fine then, yeah.
Susanne Valenti: [inaudible 00:58:40] a teacher, unless you want him to and that's your kink.
James Blatch: There's me thinking there was this really strict moral lines, you'd very clever flirted with them. Because he's the one who pulls back quite a lot saying, "Oh, I'm a teacher," and he deliberately ... And I thought this was a deliberate thing.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. And possibly, by the time he stops pulling back, you'll be desperate for him to stop saying that. That's the point.
James Blatch: Yeah. So I suppose, answering your question, Monroe is the most sympathetic character. And he's the one who stands up to the boys the most, which is what you want at that stage. Because I did not enjoy, it's a funny thing to say ... I obviously enjoyed the book. I really enjoyed the book and it's brilliantly written and I thought the last third was amazing. I didn't see it coming, the big Battle Royale over toilet paper. But I'm giving spoilers away. But I didn't enjoy the bit where your heroine becomes so compliant, decides to put her head down. And it's just an uncomfortable read. And I don't mean that I didn't enjoy the writing, it was brilliant. But at the same time, I suppose I was supposed to feel like that at that stage? This is uncomfortable.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah, we wanted to ... If you read on, at that point we wanted her completely broken, and then to rebuild that whole thing. But the second book is all about her getting revenge. And it's a really fun one.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. She makes a list. So it's the list of all the things they did, and she gets revenge for each and everyone.
James Blatch: Arya Stark would like this.
Susanne Valenti: And we have had feedback that it is satisfying when she gets ... So it's like she's not going to put up with that.
Caroline Peckham: And you get to see the guys just completely fall apart because of what she does to them, which is what you want.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah. It was hard to write, and there are a lot of people saying ... They're reading it and they're like, "What am I reading?" [inaudible 01:00:21] because they're so awful and the thought of them being romantically interested is obviously a bit hard.
James Blatch: Well, it was a proper intro ... If I wanted to know what bully, dark romance was about, that was a proper introduction to it.
Caroline Peckham: Some of them aren't as dark as that.
Susanne Valenti: Yeah, and some of them are darker.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah.
Susanne Valenti: We have lines, we do have lines. It might not seem like it, but obviously you could read if you'd like to find out.
James Blatch: Lines that you leapfrog across. Yeah, so if you're wondering exactly what I'm talking about it is the Kings of Quarantine, the first of the series of lots of lockdown, Brutal Boys of Everlake Prep, book one. Spoiled brats.
James Blatch: Okay, good. Look, thank you so much indeed. Its been lovely. I've taken up a lot of your time, and I know you've got a business to run. I look forward to catching up with you again soon. I don't know whether we'll see you in person this year, we have our conference in June, we think now June 28th.
Caroline Peckham: Yeah. We'll be there.
Susanne Valenti: We'll see you there.
James Blatch: Fantastic. Look forward to it. Well done, and thanks for coming on again.
Susanne Valenti: Okay. Thank you.
Narrator: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There we go. Really fun interview with Caroline and Susanne. They do write a lot, I have to say. Mark, I did ask them in the interview. I think that they do 10,000 words a day each now, although they do try and compartmentalise that to weekdays and they're trying not to spill over to weekends anymore, that they used to do. They write, like a lot of romance writers. sub genre romance writers, they do turn out the books. Excuse me, which is a very important part of it.
James Blatch: And Caroline, we didn't go into a lot of detail about the Facebook and Amazon outside of things, because obviously TikTok was the big thing that they can see has demonstrably made a big difference and got them a whole new set of readers. But I think Caroline is probably the secret weapon on that side, as Susanne readily admitted. She does get down in the weeds on those paid ads. But TikTok is a platform that's working.
Mark Dawson: It is, yeah. And I mean, this could just jump over from their example, which you just spoke about in the interview. I saw in the 20 Books group today, a poet called Pierre Jeanty. I think we've actually had on the show, I think.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: And I just saw, because he said he was doing [inaudible 01:02:34] on TikTok, and I had a look, he's got half a million followers.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: And is doing extremely well. He could see 500 sales very clearly attributed to his TikToks. So yeah, we have had that question, does it work for genres outside of romance? And it does. It clearly does. I mean, there's poetry now. We've seen sci-fi. I think I've seen someone in the SPF group doing quite well. The sub categories of romance, obviously. And there's an audience there for everything, I think. So it is just a question of finding ... I've done a few for my kid's book, which is actually out today, which has been quite fun. Nothing with me to [inaudible 01:03:17], not because I'm bothered by it, but just because I haven't really had time to think about what I would do, and it's quite easy to do a top down shot of a book, sign some books, that's easy. But the funny stuff, I need to think about that a bit more. But it is good fun.
James Blatch: It is. Well, it's interesting. I mean, I've been following the course obviously, because I'm editing it. And I'm jumping ahead a little bit, because I'm impatient about these things, I get a little bit knowledge then try things and make mistakes and learn. My first few TikToks before any interaction with Laila and James at all ... I mean I can look back now. The first one has 195 views. That's been there for yonks. The one I really put some time and effort into, which was all wrong in the end for TikTok, had 125 views.
James Blatch: Then I started listening to them, started staying in my lane, finding my wheelhouse, all those cliches. I did a short series on my favourites at Aviation Books, and those have 1,600 views, 500, 500 views. Then I did a series on our ...
Mark Dawson: Phase of fast jets?
James Blatch: My fast jet flying. And that has blown up, as they say. I mean, the one from two days ago has 15,100 views. The one from three days ago has 26,000 views now.
Mark Dawson: Cool.
James Blatch: Although weirdly, yesterday's has 2,200 views, and I think that's because I posted another one straight after it, very similar. So it's being blocked by that. But yeah, 20,000 plus views for the three main ones in that. And that's happened-
Mark Dawson: That does have footage of you in a Harrier, isn't it?
James Blatch: It's a Harrier and [Jaguar 01:04:49], yeah. Yeah, but it's still understanding some of the stuff that Laila and Jane talk about in the course that's got me more focused on building the audience that I need, and which I was just doing silly things before. But so anyway, there's a lot to it. And it's a bit technical, some of this stuff as well, but I'm enjoying it so far and that's where I'm speaking now, so it'd be interesting to follow my TikTok journey. What I haven't done yet is held my book up very much and done a very overt post about the book. So now that I've built my audience up a bit, I will try to do that. I'm approaching 2,000 followers now, so we'll see.
James Blatch: So yeah, I'm very, very interested in TikTok, as I'm sure you are as well, and a lot of people listening to this are. And I am a 50 something bloke.
Mark Dawson: No!
James Blatch: Yeah. I know. It's not all young dancing girls on there. And I know people say that when they first go on there, but of course there's like a billion people on TikTok. So whatever you are, there's going to be millions of them and you will find some audience.
James Blatch: Okay, look, I've got to dash because I've got to get in this car. Thank you very much indeed to Caroline and Susanne. Congratulations to them. They're really holding the torch up for British indie authors, I think, in particular. We look forward to seeing them in the summer, our conference.
Mark Dawson: Excuse me.
James Blatch: What? You can hold the torch as well if you want.
Mark Dawson: There's only one. How many torches are there?
James Blatch: Okay, there's one torch. But when you are number one in the store ...
Mark Dawson: Yeah, they certainly doing better than me, that's for sure. No, good for them.
James Blatch: There you go. Okay, look, on that bombshell, let's look forward to the show. Don't forget, you can sign up for the wait list and we will have tickets on sale next month. We're going to think carefully about how we release them to make sure it's fair to everyone around the world.
James Blatch: That's it. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And be patient with Emily, and goodbye for me.
James Blatch: I'll try. Goodbye.
Narrator: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And join us next week for more help and inspiration, so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author.
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