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SPS-328: Marie Force Be With You! 10 Million Copies Sold and Counting…

Marie Force returns to the show to talk about her upcoming book centenary, writing every day (even on holiday), and connecting with readers, both in person and online.

Show Notes

  • How independent publishing makes room for small sub-genres that might not otherwise get published
  • On Marie’s relationship with her readers and their importance in her publishing world
  • The Marie Force reader weekends
  • Trying to keep track of a story world when you’re a discovery writer
  • The value of the daily habit of writing 2000 words
  • On the discipline required to work at home as a full-time writer
  • How writing changes as the author ages

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

SPS LIVE: Click here to get your tickets for the live event in June 2022 while they last

SPF 101: Join the waiting list to be alerted when SPF 101 opens for enrolment next week

MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-328: Marie Force Be With You! 10 Million Copies Sold and Counting...
Speaker 1: ... on this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.

Marie Force: It was this whole thing with worksheets, and character sheets and all this stuff, and I literally broke out into hives. I had to go home and take Benadryl. I could not believe-

James Blatch: You were literally allergic to plotting.

Marie Force: I had an allergic reaction to plotting. I did.

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

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

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

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: We have lots to talk about. Ahead of a fantastic interview with a huge superstar indie author. How does a hundred million? Did I read that right? No, ten million books, not a hundred million. A hundred books, and ten million sales.

Mark Dawson: The interview with me is coming up. No, that's more than me, much more than me.

James Blatch: That is more than you, and not quite a hundred books, but a hundred books is coming up and I've been talking to our interviewee today, Marie Force, about what she's going to do for her century, hold her bat up and shake it at the air. Marie Force coming up, who is a huge inspirational figure, I think, in Self Publishing.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. Marie's been on before hasn't she? Some time ago, but no, she's very impressive author.

James Blatch: Great chat. So that's coming up in just a few minutes before then, we should mention that our Self-Publishing 101 course, which is your footstep to success in Self-Publishing, opens on this Wednesday, May the fourth. May the fourth be with you. 10:00 PM, UK. Will be open for a couple of weeks.

And next couple of episodes we're planning at the moment, that we're going to delve into some of those details. We're going to delve in, we're going to pick out some of the fundamentals of Self-Publishing and devote an episode or two to those over the next few weeks. So we'll listen out for that.

Mark, you've had an interesting week because you have house guests.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, we do. So mentioned this, I think, last week. Lucy and I applied to be sponsors for a couple of Ukrainian refugees. We're calling them guests now, because I think refugees doesn't seem like the right word to me. But anyways, so we found a mother called Oksana and her son, Roman, who's eight. We found them about month ago, and started the ball rolling with the application process. It took ages as I think I probably mentioned before, but we got the visas granted late last week. And they flew in to Heathrow yesterday.

Lucy picked them up, and they got home to Salisbury about 5:30. So, we've been trying to get them comfortable and making sure that they're happy, as happy as they can be given the circumstances. But it's gone pretty well. Roman and Samuel who's the same age, they've immediately got on well. They're playing together, even though Roman doesn't speak English, and Samuel doesn't speak Ukrainian, but universal language of play, I suppose, is...

James Blatch: Are they Ukrainian or Russian speaking?

Mark Dawson: They speak both. So we've arranged school for Roman. He's actually going to be in Samuel's class, and the school has a Russian speaker, so he'll be able to help, but that's going to be a big thing for him next week, going to a school he's never been to before, with people he doesn't know, and a language he doesn't speak. So that's going to be something we're going to have to work quite hard to make sure is good for him.

But yeah, it's been great. The village has been really supportive. Lots of Ukrainian flags flying as we drove down the road yesterday, as they drove down the road, came to the house. And lots of support. It's quite a thing. It's a bit upheaval for us in terms of our routines and things like that. But at the same time, we are lucky enough to have a space, to take them in.

And you know, it just seems they've been in a bed sit in Germany for two months, living out of one suitcase, which Roman hasn't played with any toys, he's got an iPad, but that's all he is been able to play with. So immediately yesterday went straight to the toy cupboard and so now one of the rooms looks like a bombs hit it. There's plastic everywhere. But, he's happy and Samuel's happy. So, we feel pretty good about it.

James Blatch: That's great. Well done you, for doing that. And it's a small illustration of the human cost of the decisions being made by the Russian leadership at the moment, is just appalling isn't it, having to pick up the pieces like this? I wonder how long this will be. The war's not going away at the moment, unfortunately. In fact, it's ramping up in the west of the country.

Mark Dawson: East.

James Blatch: Sorry, the east of the country. Yes. They come from the west, didn't they?

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: The family. Yeah. Gosh, can you imagine it the other way around? Us being in the country where we have to leave...

Mark Dawson: I have thought about that. Yeah. It is something that I said to the kids, "Just think about if we had to leave." The circumstances were different, you and I would not be able to leave. We'd have to stay.

James Blatch: I'm 55.

Mark Dawson: I think you'd still slip in, but we would have to stay, and our families would leave. So just trying to explain to my kids to think about what that would be like for them, to not see me for two months and for... It's those kinds of things. They are very useful questions, I think, just to try and put things into perspective for my kids and kids in general. But yeah, generally, I'm a fairly optimistic person, generally glass half full, rather than half empty. And I think most people are good and do try to be helpful and kind. Maybe that could be a bit naive, but I think that's generally the case.

James Blatch: I think it's undoubtedly the case. Unfortunately, the one or two people who aren't like that have a lot of power in this case. Okay. All right. Well, without invading Oksana and Roman's privacy, it'd be nice to keep updated over time with them and how they get on. And we look forward to hearing that, maybe some inspirational story ideas will come out of this. I'm sure they will. Books will come out of this anyway.

Mark Dawson: I've had some emails from Anton. He emailed me the day after there was a missile strike on Lviv, six or seven missiles hit. And he said the building shook, where he was as close enough to it. And, he's fine. But he said to me, "It's kind of put in perspective that nowhere is safe." Some places are safer than the other places, but even Lviv, which is miles and miles and miles away from where the main action is at the moment, Russia can reach out with its missiles without any problem at all to strike targets there. And, it wasn't just military targets that were hit, whether by design or by accident. I think it was a car repair workshop had a hit and four members of staff were killed.

So, it does put it in perspective. But, Anton is fine. He's had some posts in the group about a book that he's hoping to launch, and asked me for some advice on his cover and his blurb. We've enrolled him in all of our courses. So he's going through the launching course now, because he's ready to put this book out. So, I think when that's ready, I might do a little post to my readers again and see if we can get some more attention for him when that book comes out.

James Blatch: Good. Well, you know what we've forgotten to do?

Mark Dawson: Oh, Patreons.

James Blatch: We have a couple of Patreon people to welcome, Patreons to welcome, I should say. I've got them in front of me, so I'm going to welcome Louise Rule. I know a Louis Rule. Louise Rule from Hampshire in the UK, and Debbie Osorio from Florida in the USA. Debbie and Louise, thank you very much, indeed for joining us on Patreon. You can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow to support the show, and get some goodies in the process. And don't forget, you can join us live in June in London for the Self-Publishing Show Live, funny enough, at Selfpublishingformula.com/spslive.

Right. I think we're ready to welcome on our honoured guest. And she is an honoured guest. I always get so excited about talking to Marie. I find her a fascinating person to talk to about her process, about her approach. I find it quite inspirational. And so, yes, so no apologies. I think her third appearance, but there has been over six years, she was one of our very early guests. So Marie Force from Rhode Island, in the USA. Here she is.

Marie Force, welcome back to the Self-Publishing Show. We love having Marie Force on the Self-Publishing Show. I think this might be your third appearance.

Marie Force: I think so.

James Blatch: In the five or six years that we've been running. But you were a very early guest, and I'm a huge fan of everything you've done.

Marie Force: I think you guys make me feel very popular.

James Blatch: Listen, you are very popular. And I think the figures back that up. So first of all, for people who... I don't know if they live on Mars and haven't heard of you, perhaps don't know too much about you, why don't you introduce yourself and your writing background, Marie.

Marie Force: So Marie Force. I am an author of contemporary romance in all its various forms, including straight contemporary, romantic suspense, erotic. I have done a couple of historicals. Don't anticipate going back to that very soon, because my contemporaries are keeping me so busy, I actually was just going to say, I've worked on three of my books today, at various stages. So, time is always passing by.

James Blatch: Is that three books in different genres, or all the same sub genre?

Marie Force: No, three books in three different series, actually. I'm finishing Gansett Island, #25, which I can't believe. It's going to be the 25th book is out in July, putting the finishing touches on that. And the first book was out in 2011, Made for Love, which was like, "Let's publish it, and see what happens." The first three books, three months in a row. And it like just took off like nothing like has since before or since.

James Blatch: Wow.

Marie Force: So it was just this really exciting little start to this series that I wrote about a fictional island off the coast of Rhode Island, which is based on Block Island, which is a real place that I love very much. And so all of my years of going to Block Island and I'll show you, I actually have to sign the first 24 Gansett Island books after this. And they're sitting right next to me in this...

James Blatch: OK. Very cool. There you go. Sneak peek.

Marie Force: And then I write the Fatal series, First Family, Miami Nights, Quantum, Treading Water, and a bunch of stand alones. I think I forgot a series. Oh, Butler, VT.

James Blatch: So how many so far do you think?

Marie Force: 93 books.

James Blatch: I think that's 13 more since we last spoke, and maybe a bit more than that. It interests me the different sub genres. Contemporary romance seems to me to be when I look at the charts, and I see which romance authors are topping it, contemporary romance seems to be the dominant one in terms of sales.

Would you feel that as well?

Marie Force: It is. What's really been interesting to me is to see the real resurgence of fantasy in the last couple years as well, which is totally... I just did an interview yesterday where I mentioned that I was born without a suspension of disbelief button. I just can't make my head go there. I'm all like, "Wait, that couldn't happen." So, I'm not your target audience for fantasy, or paranormal, or I couldn't read Harry Potter. I tried with my son so many times. He also was born without the suspension of disbelief.

So, it's so awesome that there's just something for everyone out there, no matter what you're interested in. And even the niche genres within romance are just killing. There's alien romance, that's taken over KU, and people love it. And it's gotten a big boost from TikTok. And it's just great to see so many different things, having a moment.

James Blatch: Are you on TikTok?

Marie Force: I am. I'm not very active on TikTok. I don't know. There's only so many hours in the day.

James Blatch: Yeah, absolutely. Let's talk about that, because I'm interested in how you manage it all, Marie, and how you make time for the creative process, which does require time.

You've always had a team from the first time we spoke to you. I imagine it's bigger now?

Marie Force: No, it's not. And that's by design. I have two core employees who have been with me for, both of them since 2013. One runs the business, and one is the CFO and she keeps track of all the numbers. She's checking to make sure the ads are paying off, and she's down in the nitty gritty of the statistics and all of that. And it's really great to have that analysis available, when you run a promotion or something, to be able to see how it's going.

And then I have my cousin, Jean, does all my shipping. And she's very much involved, but on a part-time basis. And then we have a number of other contractors and whatnot, who do design and promotion, and publicity and editing, and so many different people involved, which is awesome. But really, two full-time employees, and then my cousin, who's regular part-time. She works every day, but not full-time.

James Blatch: Who runs your ads? Do you do that yourself?

Marie Force: No, I have somebody. So listen to this, you'll be interested in this. I got hacked on Facebook in October to the tune of 50 Grand on two different credit cards that were compromised, which we got back, fortunately. But, once all the dust settled and I went back to try to start advertising on Facebook again, I noticed there was a pixel attached to my account that is not mine.

I brought it to the attention of people at Facebook. And I said, "Listen, this isn't my pixel. I'm not going to advertise if somebody else is tracking my behaviour and whatnot on Facebook. You need to remove this pixel from my account." And they wouldn't do it.

So I haven't placed an ad on Facebook since October. And I'm finding that it hasn't really made any impact on my sales, which is the most interesting part for me. I was spending thousands of dollars every month on Facebook ads that were apparently doing me no good. So, that's been an interesting development. I'm going to move some of that budget into TikTok advertising, because I do feel like that's something that could really pay off.

James Blatch: How did the hacking happen? What was the nature of that?

Marie Force: I don't know. I was just on Facebook one Sunday, and I looked at my notifications and people were responding to my new ad about a chainsaw. And I'm like, "Wait, what?" So, I was just like, "What's that?" So I dug a little deeper, and realised I'd been hacked, and by the time we were able to shut it off, and then it kept turning itself back on, it was this whole big...

It wasn't just me, either. There was other people I knew that were involved in the hack. So, it was widespread. But I will say that I have not spent a single dime on Facebook since that day, and it hasn't hurt me at all. So I thought that was a very interesting observation.

Obviously, I have Amazon ads going. I have somebody working on them. And then I have my newsletter list has grown to a great number. And so obviously, I have other tools that I can use, and my Facebook footprint is pretty big, and Instagram and TikTok. But I was really thinking, I was spending a lot of money on Facebook ads and now I'm not.

James Blatch: So, that was back in the autumn, did you say?

Marie Force: Yeah. October.

James Blatch: That's interesting.

Marie Force: Very interesting development to me. I'm a little afraid to turn off the Amazon ads, but part of me wants to do it just to see what will happen. I don't know.

James Blatch: It happened for you. I was thinking if it was recent, the tail on all your new, your read through the tail, perhaps would've covered up any drop off, but actually that's been long enough now.

Marie Force: Yeah, it's been seven months. Seven months.

James Blatch: Wow. Well, that's interesting.

Marie Force: We're still seeing roughly the same average daily sales across all the platforms, and it's strange. I was really for years, spending a lot of money on Facebook every day and now I'm not.

James Blatch: That's not to say that you haven't got to the place you've got to, without paid advertising.

Marie Force: No, absolutely not. I think it's been definitely part of the process. I would venture to say though, that my activity on a day to day basis of just sharing fun little life things, and funny things that my kids say, and my dogs, and me walking three dogs, and things like that have done as much to grow my following as ads have, if not more.

James Blatch: Is that Facebook groups, as well as a page?

Marie Force: Both. Pages, groups. I had a friend that was doing some work for me on Facebook, and she was like, "Oh my God, Marie, what the hell?" Because I have groups for all of my series. That way I can target the promotions to people who are just interested in that one series. And I do cross promote in the groups, but I probably... This is back before anybody had groups for anything that I set these up, and now they're big enough that I can't abandon them to just go into one group. Like the Gansett Island group has 14,000 people in it. I can't just say, "Oh, I'm going to move." Because, that's not going to happen.

James Blatch: This is something I remember from our very first chat, Marie, is how much attention you pay to your readers, and how the readers are not simply customers to you, they're part of the organisation, almost.

Marie Force: They are. And you know what's interesting, is so many of them have become really good friends of mine too, which is so incredible. My husband and I just spent the winter in south Florida. I had this one reader friend who I've gotten to know pretty well since I've been writing a series in Miami, and she's been very helpful. And she's actually immigrated here from Cuba during the revolution, and was so instrumental to me when I was writing about a third generation Cuban American, and her family and all of that. She was so great.

She and her husband invited us to come up to Palm Beach and they gave us a tour and they took us out to lunch. I've met so many amazing people and we've made some really, really nice friends among my readers. That's the most recent one. But I've known her for years, but we haven't really hung out before. And it was just so much fun. So, I love that. So yes, I am very down on the street with my readers.

James Blatch: I know you spend a lot of time what's clearly a very worthwhile, I hate to call it a tactic, I think it's a very genuine thing with you, isn't it?

Marie Force: Oh it is for sure. I enjoy it, or I wouldn't do it. It's just like what you said about TikTok. I don't enjoy TikTok, so I don't do it. I know I need to, and I'm going to try to do more there, and I'm going to try to be more present there, but it's just not my natural thing to do. And I find myself more and more, backing away from live Facebook things where I have to put the makeup on, and be turned out a little bit. I can't be bothered. I think pandemic living has ruined me completely. 23 years of working at home and then throw in a pandemic, and now I'm fully feral.

James Blatch: Well, I don't make any effort to appear on camera, so it's probably hell.

Marie Force: But you don't have to, because you're a dude.

James Blatch: I'm a man. I know.

Marie Force: I would love to grow a beard, here and not have to worry about...

James Blatch: I don't make the rules, Marie.

Marie Force: It's unfair. When we get ready to go out, and my husband's like, "Let's go." And I'm like...

James Blatch: Yeah, I've got an hour and a half.

Now remind me, you had your Rhode Island get together for years, but I guess obviously, COVID has put that the kibosh on that a bit.

Marie Force: We only missed one. Fortunately, we only missed 2020. We had it in '21. And we had it in DC actually in '21, which we had planned for years to do, because I have a series set there as well. My Fatal series is set in DC.

So we took Reader Weekend on the road in '21 and we caught this little sweet spot in between various spikes of the pandemic where everything was relatively normal. Most people who came, had been vaccinated. And so, it worked out well. We had to make a call at one point, because Julie who's my COO, and she's actually a professional meeting planner, that's what she used to do in her past life, and that's how I know her. Actually, we worked for the same organisation. I was in communications, and she was in meeting planning.

But, when did we have it, in June? So in May, she's like, "We have to make a call. We have to either do it or not do it. And we're at the point where if we don't do it, it's going to cost us money." And so, we decided to do it. And then we held our breath for a month. But fortunately, we were able to get that done. And then we have one in Rhode Island this year, July 15th and 16th, in Rhode Island where we take them to Block Island on a day trip. It's really fun. And I think it's our eighth or ninth year that we've done it since 2014.

And then next year, we're going to Miami in April, because I have my Miami Nights series, which I'm also signing today. So, that's right here. And then, we are going to do a leaf peeping thing in Vermont and New Hampshire, which is when foliage season peaks in October, because I have a series in Vermont, as well, that's actually ending in January of next year. So we thought that would be a good time to have a little send off for Vermont.

James Blatch: Did you call it leaf peeing?

Marie Force: Yeah, that's what they call it. Leaf peeping. It's a season in Vermont like right along with spring summer, autumn, mud season is a thing in Vermont when all the snow starts to melt that there's a season for mud.

James Blatch: I think I prefer the leaves, but anyway.

Marie Force: The leaves they put on quite a show in Northern New England in the fall.

James Blatch: Yeah, I bet they do.

How many people come to the get togethers? What'd you call them, cons? Is it Marie con?

Marie Force: No. it's funny about it, is that it started out that way, like it was about... Because really what it was a selfish effort for me to not have to travel a lot, when my kids were still home and in school, and I didn't want to be gone all the time. So I said to Julie, "Let's have them come to us." They don't even come for me anymore. They come for each other.

They've all become such good friends, and I see throughout the year... Somebody who came to Reader Weekend once, it was a teacher in the state of Wisconsin. She came to Reader Weekend with her husband one year, and she put a thing up on Facebook about needing supplies for her classroom, and all these people from Reader Weekend, come swooping in, and outfit her classroom.

I see stuff like that every day. People celebrating each other's birthdays, they met through me. And I love that. I absolutely love it. I've seen some of the people from Reader Weekend go to Ireland to visit friends that came to Reader Weekend. And it's amazing what it's become. It's awesome. It's like a family reunion now.

James Blatch: Yeah. Incredible. And so, with the team that you outlined earlier, you organise all of this?

Marie Force: Julie does all of Reader Weekend. In fact, she's been peppering me with questions today, and I cut her off at 10. I said, "I can't handle any more today."

James Blatch: Enough, Julie.

Marie Force: I can tell you're maxing out with me today. So yeah, when I'm answering questions about Reader Weekend 2023 today, I'm like, "No, I'm done."

James Blatch: Yeah. Wow.

Marie Force: She's great. She makes it all happen. We laugh because she lives in a small condo in Virginia, and we call that Reader Weekend Headquarters. And then she moves up to New Hampshire in the summer. But, we all work remotely. So, it's great. The nerve centre is in her little condo in Virginia.

James Blatch: Let's talk about writing a little bit. I remember from our conversations before, you are the ultimate discovery writer. I think you said to me the last time I interviewed you, and I do quote you on this that, "You start writing, excited to find out what your characters are going to do in that chapter."

Marie Force: Yes. I make it all up as I go along.

James Blatch: And you still do that?

Marie Force: Always. Yes. Although, I did just do something I don't normally do. I'm going to jump my Butler, VT series forward five years from the second to last book, the penultimate book, I love that word, to the finale. There's going to be a five year jump. And so, I had to make a list of all the babies that have been born, the weddings that have happened. So I actually made a list, which I don't normally do ahead of time. I usually let it all happen on the page and then I have to clean up the gigantic mess at the end. So yeah, that's usually how I do it. But today, I think that might be called plotting. I'm not sure.

James Blatch: Who looks after that ordinarily? Who looks after the universe, consistency stuff? Is that your readers, or do you have a team doing that?

Marie Force: I do most of it myself, but I have recently hired a very part-time assistant, who's a rabid reader of my books, to do a lot of the fact checking for me. Gwen has been a huge help to me, in keeping up all the series bibles, and the who's who and various universes and all this stuff.

And then I reread a lot. Last night I was rereading Gansett Island, Book 24, to make sure it lines up with Book 25, and guess what? It doesn't. So now I got to go back do some... Yeah, I'm finding the older I get, the harder it is to remember everything the way I used to. And so, I really don't rely on my memory at all anymore because it's failed me on a few occasions.

So, I really go back and check everything. I have Word files for each series that has every book from the series. So the one for Gansett has 4 million words in it. It has every book. So, if I want to know what's been said about a character in the past. I can literally go through and search for that character, and come up with every single thing that's ever been said about them, so that I don't forget anything. It's very useful to me. I know that people have more sophisticated ways of doing that, but I'm very happy with the old school Word file. That works for me.

James Blatch: Do you ever do something like I've just had to do with one of my books, one of my books, only on two, but I had to go back and change something in book one that was already published?

Marie Force: I have done that on occasion. I just noticed that I swapped the occupations of two brothers of a character from way back. So, I swapped their professions. So, I just told the readers about that. And, I'll go back and fix that in the earlier books, so that they match up with the later books. Yeah. I'll fix that.

James Blatch: That's one of the great things about Kindle and Print-on-Demand. We can do that.

Marie Force: Yes. Because, I have a similar situation with my Butler, VT series where two brothers... I've got to watch out for that. Two brothers' professions got swapped, but it happened in one of the first six books, which are still owned by Berkeley. So I can't do a thing about it. So, I've just committed to the swap in the later books, because what else can you do?

Listen, shit happens. There's 560 characters in my Fatal series. Every so often, something's going to go wrong. But, I do also have a team of beta readers for each series. And those beta readers are experts on that series. They reread it so often that they scare me, that they know it better than I do. So, I started recruiting some of those people to be last line of defence, beta readers. That's actually what I call them. And they are the last ones to read, and they know it's coming. So they bone up on the last few books so they can make sure that I get it all right. So, that's been very helpful.

James Blatch: So, you've got yourself up to date, hopefully with what's happened in the past, and you start a story. You have some vague idea what's going to happen at the beginning, but then genuinely write chapters, and things just take their own course.

Marie Force: Yes. And sometimes, that's nerve wracking, because right now, I'm writing the third First Family book, which has my homicide detective from the Fatal series, is now married to the President. And she's the First Lady. So, there was this spinoff from Fatal, where he suddenly became President when he was vice president, which everything was pretty normal for them, when he was Vice President. But now that he's President, everything is not normal. But she's keeping her job.

I'm balancing a lot of things between his new world, and trying to keep her front and centre as the way it has been in the Fatal series with her case, is really the key part of the books. I'm finding that to be difficult. Because his stuff is so interesting to me. But anyway, now I'm grappling with, "Okay, so what's the case going to be in this book?" And I don't know that yet. I'm 6,000 words into the book, and I don't know it yet. So, any time now.

James Blatch: Yes. There'll be people listening to this who do write in a similar way, and then lots of us, and I'm included, who shudder at that idea. I'm researching my next book now, and I'm not going to start until I've got the story done.

Marie Force: Okay. Well see, then I'd worry about my ADD would kick in, and I'd be bored with it if I knew what was going to happen, and I wouldn't finish it.

James Blatch: Yeah. I wouldn't be saying that.

Marie Force: I live in a perpetual state of fear of losing interest. Because let me tell you something, if I'm not interested in something, you can't pay me to engage. My husband gets so mad about that. He'll be like, "Listen, I need at you to focus." I'm like, "I don't care."

James Blatch: Look, I'm not going to happen.

Marie Force: I don't care. My son is exactly the same way. He has crazy ADD as well. And the two of us are just like, "Yeah, we're not interested."

James Blatch: Well, I'll tell you, I'm jealous of the idea that a writing session for you is like a reading session for somebody as well.

Marie Force: It is. That's such a good way of putting it, James. That's exactly what it is. And that's why I think it's still so much fun for me, because I don't have any idea where it's going, and it always surprises me where it ends up. And I'll go back and read thinking I've got complete crap. I'll be like, "Oh, this book just totally fricking blows." And then I'll read it and go, "Yeah, not so bad."

I don't understand how it works. And people say to me, "Oh, will you ever teach writing?" "No. How do you teach that?" It's chaos, that's organised, somehow. Yes, there are downsides to that. Like I said about the professions getting mixed up and stuff like that. That wouldn't happen to a plotter. I think that's much more of a pantser problem for a discovery writer.

James Blatch: Probably happens a bit to everyone. Particularly with that volume of books, there's going to be some things.

Marie Force: Yeah. There's going to be some snafus. Fortunately, they're minor.

James Blatch: Yeah, it don't matter so much.

Marie Force: There's little things that don't take away from the enjoyment of the books. People do love to point them out though. They do take a perverse pleasure in letting me know that I messed something up. And for the first two or three days after a book's out, I rock in a corner, waiting for it. "When's it coming?"

James Blatch: Thanks very much for letting me know on page 71.

Marie Force: Oh yeah. They love that. Nothing ruins a release week more than some reader telling you that you screwed something up. "Thanks a lot."

James Blatch: Occupational hazard. And with so many books, you're going to have exposure to a lot of that stuff.

Tell us about your writing routine, Marie. Has that changed much over the years?

Marie Force: It has not changed at all. In fact, I was going to say, when you were talking about the plotting and the shuttering, you know how you can't start until you've got the whole... I went to a plotting workshop once, I love to tell this story, that my New England chapter of Romance Writers of America had, and it was this whole thing with worksheets, and character sheets, and all this stuff. And I literally broke out into hives, because I could not believe... I had to go home and take Benadryl.

James Blatch: You were literally allergic to plotting.

Marie Force: I had an allergic reaction to plotting. I did. Because I was so freaked out by the fact that I should have been doing it that way. I had written about four or five books at that point, and I was like, "Oh my God, I'm doing it all wrong." I itched all the way home and had to go home and take Benadryl. I literally broke out in hives. It freaked me out so badly.

James Blatch: I would hope the person giving the workshop did say at the beginning, "This is not for everybody. There's no right, and no wrong here." Obviously you sat there thinking...

Marie Force: Actually, she was very committed to this being the only way.

James Blatch: Right. Okay. Yes.

Marie Force: I feel like I tell people all the time, "There's no right way. There's no wrong way. There's only your way, whatever works for you." But at this particular presenter was very committed to this method. And there was no grey area, where I was firmly in the grey area having an allergic reaction.

James Blatch: Anxiety episode. Yeah. I can imagine.

Marie Force: So, my process hasn't changed at all. I am realising that it would be beneficial to me to write things down, like I just did for... I'm introducing in this jump forward, there's now... So the two families, there's a family of ten and a family of eight, and the books have been all about them all finding love. So now, the grandfather has suddenly 38 great-grandchildren since we last met.

James Blatch: Right.

Marie Force: So I need a list. I need to know what their freaking names are, and who they're attached to.

James Blatch: He needs to know. He probably has a list.

Marie Force: Of course, yes. He has them written down. And actually, my sister-in-law had eight grandchildren in four years, and she has them in her iPhone. She has a list with their names and birthdays, otherwise she would not remember their birthdays and stuff. So, I'm going to do that for him. I'm going to have him have a spreadsheet with their names and birthdays and who they belong to.

James Blatch: I Imagine that does happen.

Marie Force: That is a concession to growing older to me, that I have to write that stuff down. But I did start a new series last summer. I started writing a spin off of Fatal. It's called the Wild Widows. And that's the other series. I said I was forgetting one, in which young widows come together to support each other. And because that's a uniquely special experience in the sense that you still have most of your life ahead of you, and you've lost your person. And, it's not the same as the white haired widowhood. It's very different dynamic. So it's been very interesting to write, but I had this whole plan that I was going to sit on my boat last summer, the boat that I inherited from my father, that's a millstone around my neck, the 40 year old boat, the 40 foot boat.

James Blatch: I remember I was going to ask you about the boat. You were going to sell it.

Marie Force: Sell the thing? No. The thing is, I'm going to take his advice and drive it out to sea and sink it one of these days. But, it's driving me crazy. But anyway, so I'm sitting out there last summer and I said, "I'm going to write down all the Wild Widows, their stories, their back stories, their ages, their..." I didn't do any of that. I didn't do it. I never did it. I've made it all up on the page. Sometimes I have good intentions to do some plotting, but then it just doesn't seem to happen.

I've got to stop questioning what works. It just seems to work. But I do know it would be easier if I would do a little pre-planning. But I did for the next First Family book, they're going to be riding on Marine One. They're going to Camp David. So I've been reading lots of books about Camp David, Marine One, the Secret Service. So, there is some prep work that gets done. So don't think that there isn't, but it's all very chaotic.

James Blatch: It's a winning formula.

Marie Force: Well, I describe it as a sausage factory. Nobody wants to see how sausage is made, but yet we like the taste of it. So it's very similar to what goes on here.

James Blatch: Except on this show. We do like to see the sausages being made. But for your readers, I can understand.

In terms of actually writing, do you write on Word or do you use Scrivener.

Marie Force: I write in Word, 2000 words a day, religiously. I recently had COVID. I managed to avoid it for two years, and then my son brought... I got it in my own house when my son came home from graduate school in Boston and brought it to us. And my husband and I both got it in our own house. Now, we've been cautiously travelling. We went south for the winter, road trip, caught it in our own house. So, for three whole days I didn't write. And that was the worst part about having COVID, is that.

I said, "This thing cost me 6,000 words." But then I felt very compelled to make them up the following week, and caught up quickly. But, I'm very religious about that to the point that where we stayed in Florida this winter, we had room for friends and family to come visit. And I would tell people, "Come on down, but in the morning, I'm writing." I'm very fanatical about those 2000 words a day. It's really all I need to stay on schedule. That's what I need.

James Blatch: Seven days a week?

Marie Force: I try to do seven days a week. And here's why. Because, my husband and I are both slow in the morning and we don't ever do anything until after noon. So, our kids are grown. They live in New York and Boston, so when they come home, that's obviously a little different dynamic, but for the most part, it's just us and our three dogs. And we both like a nice slow morning with newspapers and coffee. And I write my 2000 words. And then if we want to go do something, we do it later. But I usually have the time, so why wouldn't I? If I have something else to do, then obviously I won't do it on the weekends, but for the most part we're just chilling the two of us. So, why not?

James Blatch: And you do that in one session, 2000 words, or do you half an hour and get up?

Marie Force: Pretty much. Yeah. And let me add this though. In most cases, I'm writing series that I've been writing for years. In the case of Gansett, I started writing this in 2006. So, I can't do that math. 16 years. For Gansett and Fatal, have both been going for about 16 years. The Vermont series I've been writing since 2013. So, I'm in very familiar worlds, most of the time.

Miami's newer, the Wild Widows obviously, are newer. But, you're pretty much stepping into these worlds that I've existed in for 16 years in some cases. So, it's not like it's a huge mental challenge to write 2000 words. Because, I'm in that world, and I know all the parts, and pieces, and players, and locations and it's almost intrinsic at this point. So, is that the right word?

James Blatch: Yes. And-

Marie Force: It's instinctual, let's put it that way. So yeah. In some cases, that is true. What is more challenging, are Book One in a new series, or a standalone that I've never written in this particular space before. Then that obviously, takes longer, and is much more involved at first, than these series that I've been writing for years. So I don't want you to think like, "Oh, 2000 words just rolls off." Some days it does. Some days I finish my 2000 words at 7:00 PM, but I get them in, however, even if I have to go back to work after dinner, which I hate to do now, because I'm so old.

I used to write only at night when my kids were home, and young, and working in the day. I wrote only at night. Now I can't function after 7p.m. So, I'm good for watching TV and zoning out. But, if I haven't finished the 2K I go back and finish it.

James Blatch: That's very impressive.

Marie Force: I try. It's the one thing in my whole life I'm disciplined about. I do try to walk every day too, but don't be too impressed. It's the only thing holding the whole thing together.

James Blatch: You can't order me not to be impressed with you, Marie, I'm going to be.

Marie Force: No, really though. It's the one thing I'm fanatical about, really fanatical about. And I just told Julie recently, like I've gotten that way about walking too, because I found that it really is very beneficial in so many ways to me, and walking my dogs. I have three dogs. So when I walk them, if I'm not paying a hundred percent attention to them, I'm doing that at my own peril, so I'm not thinking about work. I'm not thinking about anything but them. I find that to be a nice little mental break too. So I told her I've recently started assigning that the same importance as the writing, because it's good for me to get out and do that. So, that's a mindset, just making sure that the things that matter most to you, get done in a day.

I've been working at home for 23 years, ten of them for myself, 13 of them for somebody else. So I was pretty good at working at home when I started doing this full time. And I think that's a big challenge for a lot of people coming into this thinking, "Oh, working at home, I could do this, this, that, and the other thing." I step over messes in my house to get to work. And I've done that for years. I leave dishes in the sink. I do them later when the work's done. So, I think that's a process that people have to make an adjustment to being at home. And a lot of people have had to make that during the pandemic, and learned those lessons.

James Blatch: Because writers are famously procrastinators, and suddenly, the washing up looks attractive because...

Marie Force: And you know what? In my heart of hearts, nobody is a bigger procrastinator. I will get something in the mail, from say the dermatologist. And I know it's a copay. I'll let that sit on my counter for a month before I pay it, even though I know it's a $20 copay, and they need the money. I just can't be bothered. So it all depends on what it is.

My friend, Lisa, who's the CFO, she'll come over here and she'll see my stack of mail. She goes, "Do I need to deal with that?" I'm like, "No, I got it." And then she'll come the second time. And it's still there. She starts opening the mail.

James Blatch: Maybe I should just deal with it. Yeah. Get to know you.

Marie Force: She's like, "For F's sake."

James Blatch: Yeah. Now you've referenced getting older a few times in this interview, I've noticed. You don't look a day over a very young age to me, but-

Marie Force: Oh, God.

James Blatch: I'm interested to...

Marie Force: I'm going to be 56.

James Blatch: Okay. We're the same age. We're the same age.

Marie Force: Are we?

James Blatch: And you look at least ten years younger than me. Maybe 15.

Marie Force: All right, James. You had me at hello. Stop it.

James Blatch: There you go. Here's my question. Has your writing your characters... You talk about the President and First Lady now, and so on, has that changed as you've got older?

Were you writing about younger characters at a younger age? Are you writing about older romance now?

Marie Force: I'm still writing in the twenties and thirties, for the most part. I am finding I'm less interested in writing sex than I used to be. I'm bored with it. I do it. I keep it in there, because it's part of my brand and people expect it, but you're going to see less of it, I think. How many times and different ways can you...

James Blatch: I was going to say, there's only so many ways you can describe sex, but...

Marie Force: I know. When I hit a scene like that, I'm just like... But I do it. I don't do it, but I write it. And then, I come back and I expect it to really be lame. And again, I'm surprised by the fact, okay, so maybe that's a little bit instinctual at this point too, they just seem to come together.

James Blatch: You can't talk about sex without innuendo.

Marie Force: I'm getting into such pun area. Yes. This is puntastic at this point, but the scenes seem to work in a way that I wouldn't expect them to, because of my lack of interest in writing them. I think I try to keep them very character driven so that these two people, and it's unique to them, and their story. And they're not just in there to do it. There's a purpose to it. But, I really am writing a whole lot less of it than I used to. My earlier books were way sexier than these are, but the readers are not complaining.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Marie Force: So, that's good.

James Blatch: Do your books have different levels of spice? I know one of your series is erotic, so I guess that would be different.

Marie Force: My Quantum series is erotic, and they're begging me for another book in that series, which I ended a couple years ago, and I'm going to probably write another book in the series, but I don't think it's going to be erotic. I think it's going to be more character driven. I want to write something about one of the characters' parents, and I know exactly what I want to do with it, but I don't want to write erotic anymore. It'll still be spicy and everything, but it won't be like the BDSM genre that the other earlier books are. And I think the readers will be fine with that. They really like the characters in that series a lot. So, they're desperately asking me for more.

If I give them more, it's going to have to be on my terms at this point. Plus, I have a picture I want to use on the cover of my parents' best friends on the day before they were married, and they look like two movie stars. She's 95 now, and I said to her, "I want to use this picture." And she loves my books. She loves them. She actually wanted me to give her a copy of the Quantum series, but I wouldn't give it to her until she turned 90. Because I said she wasn't old enough to read it yet. And then on the day she turned 90, she called me and said I needed to bring her those dirty books. So I told her, I said, "I want to use this picture of you and Bob on the cover of this book I want to do in the Quantum series. But I promise you, I won't make it too dirty." And she says to me, "Well, it needs to be a little dirty."

James Blatch: Yeah. I love that.

Marie Force: So that gave me permission, which I just cracked up laughing. So, in this picture though, it is iconic, and I can't wait to use it on the cover. One of my parents' best friends, my late parents' best friends. From the day before they got, they look like movie stars, James. And I said, "I've got to use this." Because, Quantum series is about Hollywood glamour.

James Blatch: Sounds great. So 93 books, you're coming up on a century of books. Are you going to mark the occasion?

Marie Force: I don't know. I got to think about that. I'm trying to figure out when it will be probably sometime in '23 at this point. I don't know what the plan is. I'm trying to figure out a good way to celebrate 25 Gansett Island books, the Gansett Island silver anniversary. I don't know. I got to think of something. It's astounding to me that it's gotten to almost a hundred books. How'd that happen?

James Blatch: 93 is an achievement, but I think a hundred is an opportunity to mark that, and I hope you do, one way or the other.

Marie Force: We'll do something. We'll probably do a big giveaway of all of them or something, and do something. It's still so much fun. I find myself having fewer F's to give about the business side as I get on. I really just find myself less and less interested in just the nonsense that goes... You know what I mean, too, just the crazy stuff that goes on.

James Blatch: Well, it seems to me, you're doing things on your terms more, which is it is a way of well giving longevity. You can't go on forever with a level of intensity, you probably had ten years ago, in terms of business.

Marie Force: Well, but I'm still writing the same number of books and all of that, but I'm just not engaged in the business the way I was. I'm not teaching classes anymore, and I'm just not doing workshops for groups. Actually, I'm doing one Saturday. But I'm not doing as many. I'm doing less of anything that takes away from the writing time, I'm doing less of that stuff. And more just focusing on the writing.

Because, it's the thing that I like most like to do, as well as the thing that pays the bills. I'm doing things like spending time like this past winter, my husband and I went to Florida for a couple of months, which was the first time we've done that. And it won't be the last.

But it's a beautiful thing, because I can write anywhere. I was worried that when I got down there, I'd be like, "Ooh, shiny thing," and the wheels would fall off my bus, but they didn't, because I stayed disciplined with that 2000 words and the daily walk. So yeah, it just changing up the scenery a little bit really helped, and finding that to be beneficial, doing things like that. So just whatever it takes to keep producing, that's the goal, anyway.

James Blatch: Right. It's been fantastic.

Marie Force: I am definitely less interested in the business itself than I was, and I'm also a hundred percent, I think maybe since we last talked, I'm a hundred percent indie now. I'm no longer under contract to any publishers, which is probably better for me. And that way I can set my own schedule, I write what I want to write. I put the covers on that I want to write. I can do all these crazy things in my books like bring back past characters for new story. And do it the way I want to do it with nobody telling me otherwise. So, yeah, that's freeing.

James Blatch: Do you think you'd ever take a significant time off? Do you think you'd take three months, six months off and not write?

Marie Force: No, I don't know what I would do with myself. I have trouble taking a week off. I don't see that. I already told Julie at work, we're not retiring. That was not news that she was welcoming of. She's like, "Wait a minute, what?" She goes, "Why do I have a retirement fund then?" "I don't know." But no, I don't see that for myself. I don't see a retirement, or a period of months off. I do sometimes think about taking a year off and just completely percolating on new books, and not publishing anything during that time. But then I think, "Nah, I don't want to do that." I don't want to make the readers wait that long.

James Blatch: And so finally, Marie, tell me about the boat. Because last time we spoke, I seem to remember you're quite emotional, and excited about your father's boat.

Marie Force: Yes. Actually, I had a picture. This was before it was renovated. So, it's all renovated now. But look at that cool picture my cousins took.

James Blatch: That's amazing. It looks like the boat from Jaws.

Marie Force: Yeah, it is a little bit like that, and it treats me like the boat from Jaws.

James Blatch: So you not had a happy relationship with this boat?

Marie Force: I have a very happy relationship with this boat, until it starts blowing smoke out the back as we're driving it up the bay to go away for the winter. And then that costs me $8,000 to fix. The engines are old. The boat is a 1981 boat. So the engines are probably 50 years old. One of them, we replaced in 2016, and I've got the other one in my garage for when that needs to happen. We almost had to do it this year, but we tried to put new engines in it, and here's the thing. We have 17 inches to work with. All the new engines that are available for what we wanted, are 19 inches.

So, we were unable to put new engines in which unless I wanted to get diesels and spend crazy money on them, which I don't. So, the problem that I have is I've invested a lot of money in making it beautiful, but now it's uninsurable at its new value because it's still 40 years old. So, that's my dilemma. So, I can't spend any more money on it. It doesn't make sense.

James Blatch: It's that old adage about boats, two greatest days of boat ownership are the day you get the boat, and the day you sell the boat.

Marie Force: Yeah. I don't know. I'll probably keep it for a while, a couple more years. This will be our 34th year with this boat, our family.

James Blatch: Oh, I think it's there. I think it's a member of the family now.

Marie Force: We still love it. And my parents, both my parents, my mom's been gone 18 years this year, and my father for four, but both of my parents loved that boat. And I see them both in various places there. I can picture them there. Last year we tie up a lot with my cousin, and his wife was telling him, "You're not wearing that shirt. It's too wrinkled." And I go, "Wait." And I go in and I pull out my mother's travel iron from 30 years ago and I bring it out there. Like, "Come on, come on." They call it the Smithsonian Institution.

James Blatch: There's something there in every drawer.

Marie Force: Anything you want, we've got it.

James Blatch: Oh Marie, such fun talking to you. I really look forward to our conversations.

Marie Force: Thank you for having me.

James Blatch: And honestly, we're so thrilled to your success, and I think you're an important person in the Self-Publishing community. You're such a leader, a natural, effortless leader. I know you don't set out to be one, but you are an inspiration.

Marie Force: Thank you.

James Blatch: So, that's what I want to say to you.

Marie Force: I appreciate that, James. Thank you. And we appreciate everything that you and Mark and your team do for everyone. So, everyone appreciates you guys.

James Blatch: There you go. We'll speak to you next time. And maybe sometime in person, who knows. Maybe I'll come to a Rhode Island Readers.

Marie Force: I would love that. That would be great. If I ever get over that way again, I'm looking forward to actually having the opportunity to get back over to the UK.

James Blatch: You let us know.

Marie Force: So, let's do it.

James Blatch: Not in the boat. Take a plane.

Marie Force: Yes, yes. I could fly right from Boston, be over there.

James Blatch: All right. Thanks, Marie.

Marie Force: Thanks for having me.

James Blatch: There you go. My camera's overheating, so we haven't got long, Mark.

Mark Dawson: Okay.

James Blatch: Marie Force is, I know it's a bit of a cliche and I use it every time, a force to be reckoned with in self-publishing, but she really is. And somebody who started off in trad is just absolutely liberated and flown in indie, did say to me, "Book 93 is now done," seven away from probably middle of next year from her century, that she's a hundred percent indie now. I always expect to speak to her and say, well, she now has ten people working for her, but she keeps her team quite small, and is quite hands on with it all.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. No, I don't have anyone working with me really on the book side of things. Very similar in that sense. But no, a hundred books that would be quite an achievement. There aren't that many authors that will get to that kind of level. Barbara Cartlin wrote about 1000, and she dictated them while sitting on her chaise lounge to her secretary.

James Blatch: I imagine that's how you write.

Mark Dawson: It is actually. Yeah. I'm going to be sitting there later, and there's a chaise lounge in the barn, so I'll be ready to sit down and dictate. So, you could apply for that job. You can be my PA, if you like.

James Blatch: I could be your dictator.

Mark Dawson: You could be. Yes, exactly. Yes. That'd be good.

James Blatch: You could take down my notes.

Mark Dawson: No, no, no, Partridge, move on.

James Blatch: Oh, I'm listening to that on audio now. If you're a fan of Alan Partridge his autobiography is on Audible now.

Mark Dawson: Excellent. Yes.

James Blatch: Good. Okay. Look, that's it. Thank you very much indeed to Marie Force. Thank you very much indeed, to the team behind the scenes to make this podcast happen. As I said, we are hoping to, if we could organise ourselves, and it is busy at the moment, we're going to try and do a couple of tech episodes, if you like. Not, tech. It's the wrong word. What's the word? Teaching episodes. Back to our roots, Self-Publishing Show.

So we'll do that in the next couple of weeks, if we can. And we're also going to announce some of the details of our live show in the next few weeks. So lots coming up. And don't forget Self-Publishing 101. If you're already on board, the window opens on Wednesday, May the fourth, Selfpublishingformula.com/101. That's it. All that remains for me to say. Is this a goodbye from him?

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

Mark Dawson: Goodbye.

Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at Selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at Selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world, and join the revolution with the Self Publishing Show.

 

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