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SPS-348: Building a Brand-Consistent Backlist – with Olivia Hayle

Olivia Hayle took a mere three years to go from hearing about self-publishing to becoming a six-figure author. James talks to her about how that success came about and what she might be thinking about writing next.

Show Notes

  • Mistakes made and lessons learned in the first few years of publishing
  • On the liberation of writing genre fiction
  • The importance to sales of titles and subtitles
  • The affect on sales of better book packaging (titles, covers, and blurbs)
  • Learning to hit the beats that readers expect
  • Using bonus stories to grow a newsletter list
  • On the differences marketing audiobooks vs ebooks

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

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

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-348: Building a Brand-Consistent Backlist - with Olivia Hayle
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...

Olivia Hayle: I would rather have fewer right readers than more readers but they're the wrong readers, because that will definitely tank your book in Amazon's algorithms as well, and also boughts, all those sort of things. Like you said, alignment.

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

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

James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. My name is James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And my name is Michael Caine.

James Blatch: My name is Michael Caine, I remember that old song. Welcome. Mark, we're recording this in the UK the day after we have lost our monarch, so it's been quite a strange few hours. We knew it was coming, she was 96 years old, but I honestly think the rest of the world also understand the impact and place she's had in our... I mean, I hate to say part of the furniture, but she's part of the landscape in which we've grown up and our parents have grown up. It's incredible end of an era.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, well, it's surprising how unsettled it's made me feel, and I think that's not unusual. It is because I'm 48 now and you're a little older than me, but we've both, we haven't known any other monarch, which is odd. And then you start to think exactly how interwoven she is, not just in things like memories.

I remember her coming to Lowestoft, and I remember standing on the street with my brother and my mom as her and Prince Philip went past waving to everybody there. That was in '85, so I was 12, and I remember that quite well. So that's kind of the personal interweaving, but then you think about the societal interweaving. So apart from things like bank notes, coins, passports, the anthem's now is God Save the King, not queen. The fact that we are saying "the king", that hasn't been said since 19, whatever it was, 52.

James Blatch: It's almost like it sounds Shakespearean when you say, "God save the king."

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it does. And then I used to be a lawyer as you know, and the bar council last night sent out a memo reminding everyone, reminding Silks, so senior barristers, they're not QCs anymore, they're KCs.

James Blatch: Oh.

Mark Dawson: They're King's Counsels.

James Blatch: King's Counsel. Gosh, all those things.

Mark Dawson: So it'll be small things like that that we haven't even thought of yet will change. And we wanted to record this at midday, and I just... Well, it's when I said we would, but then I thought, "Well, there's a church over there. I think at midday the bells are going to be ringing."

James Blatch: Yes, muffled bell. We're having that as well.

Mark Dawson: So yeah, I thought, "Let's do this a little earlier." But it's a funny one. In terms of relevance to writing and writers, the book seller put out a statement, a fairly planned statement, the same way as we're saying to everyone else about thoughts and prayers and all that stuff. But it's weird-

James Blatch: I was going to say, for historical fiction writers, I can think of quite a few who write kings and queens, either fantasy-based or UK-based, and they always set them in mediaeval times and there's upheaval. And it's interesting to see, if you think about Diana, the Queen, the various things that happened, that that sort of upheaval, that impact on people, that tittle tattle, if you want to call it, the substance of stories is alive and well in the 21st century. And this death of a monarch is...

Mark Dawson: Well, yeah, it is, but then there's... I mean, she was on the throne for 70 years. So you look in George Martin's world, Game of Thrones, they typically didn't last that long.

James Blatch: No.

Mark Dawson: And obviously he's basing that off mediaeval history and English mediaeval history, which is, yeah, that's interesting. But then as we also said before we started recording, we are flying to America next week and we... Well, two weeks, less than two weeks, and I think it's very likely that the funeral will be, whilst we are in the air on Monday, the 19th? 19th.

James Blatch: 19th, yeah.

Mark Dawson: And it just reminded me when Princess Diana died in 2002, was it? Or '92? I can't remember. Anyway, whatever it was, whenever she died, I think it was in '92, I was in Vegas. I was in San Francisco when she died, and then at her funeral I was in Las Vegas. And it was one of the weirdest things for an English person like me to be on the strip in my hotel room watching this kind of huge, kind of national moment, national outpouring of grief with people wailing and throwing bouquets in front of the corteges that went past whilst I was in Vegas with the sound of slot machines in the background and being on the strip. It was a really weird experience, and I think probably we're going to get something quite similar to that again, which is-

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: So basically, the takeaway from that is that, really, the Royal House should consult with me for my travel plans, because...

James Blatch: Yes. I don't understand why they don't. I don't understand why we are not part of that bridge, for London Bridge.

Mark Dawson: No, no, no, I'm not talking about the actual funeral. I think basically when I travel, when I'm nearly about to travel, it's dangerous for royals.

James Blatch: Oh, I see. Yes, yes. Well, I was in France. I was nowhere near Paris when Diana was killed, and that felt equally weird.

Mark Dawson: They're still looking for that car.

James Blatch: Yes. I should also say for romance authors, I think Philip and Elizabeth's romance has... I mean, it's had its trials and tribulations in the middle part. We don't know how much of The Crown, if you've watched that, is true, but it's certainly based on something. I know that. And I know, a long time ago, long before Netflix, I was told that there was some cabinet minutes from that period concerned about Philip that would never be released, because the government have the right under the 30-year rule not to release some of it. But that's a relationship, that's a real life relationship in terms of a romance, I think a very beautiful one that lasted and in the end settled into an enduring incredible image, those elderly couple. And so sad when he died. And that picture, heartbreaking picture of the queen sitting by herself at his funeral in the middle of Covid with a mask on.

Anyway, if this is not floating your boat, so we'll move on to more apposite things. So yeah, we're recording this on Friday... Oh, my goodness. Terrifying.

Mark Dawson: He's very nice.

James Blatch: Scout's got a swan.

Mark Dawson: He hasn't got a swan.

James Blatch: On September the ninth. It's going out on the weekend. The following week, Monday as you say, we are going out to Florida. I imagine we think the Queen's funeral might well be on that Monday the 19th, we're not sure. You'll know by the time this goes out when it is. However, if you want to come and say hello to us and pass on your condolences in person, we're going to be in NINC at the Sharktooth Tavern the following Friday, so that is the 23rd we'll be there.

We'll be around NINC all week of course if you're at the conference. But if you're not at the conference in particular and you want to come down and just have a drink with us, the Sharktooth Tavern in the TradeWinds Resort, which on the Gulf Boulevard Road, on the 23rd of September, we'll be there from 9:00-ish. I think I'm moderating a session earlier, but there's some sort of clash so we're doing it a little bit later. I suspect we'll be there earlier.

 Okay. A few things to do, Mark, before we get going. Let us talk about our patron supporters. So we are about to select a BookBub victim.

Mark Dawson: Not BookBub.

James Blatch: No, not a BookBub, that's taken, BookBub, isn't it? We can't use that one.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: BookLab! BookLab victim. So if you haven't listened to these episodes, they're brilliant, some of the best episodes I think we do, where we take a self-published book and we analyse it and we critically feedback the cover, the blurb, and the writing. And we're looking forward to doing that again and we need a victim.

So you've got to be a gold level subscriber of Patreon, which is, I think, $3 for an episode, so it's dirt cheap and you get all sorts of goodies. You get an opportunity to win a big course. You also get some other goodies sent to you when you sign up. But if you go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, if you sign up in the next week or so, we're going to be selecting probably in two weeks from now. So you've got a couple of weeks to sign up and let it be known that you are willing to have your book fed back on.

We have our blog out today, How to Generate and Test Story Ideas. Thank you, Dan, for that blog. You'll find that at selfpublishingformula.com.

Which brings us, Mark, onto our feature interview, which is with Olivia Hayle, who is the author of a romance series in particular, specifically, billionaire romance series, and you're going to hear all about how she has become niched down with billionaire romance and how she approaches her writing. She's been fabulously successful, seven figure author. It's a very interesting interview. Brilliant author, brilliant business person. Let's hear from Olivia, then Mark and I will be back for a quick chat.

James Blatch: Olivia, hail, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. We're going to be talking about getting going, I think, in a sector, doing some research, finding the niche, making it work, and some of the tips, because you've gone from a standing start not that long ago to some pretty successful figures.

So why don't you introduce yourself to us.

Olivia Hayle: Yes, hi. Super fun to be here. I'm a huge podcast listener, of this podcast specifically, others as well. So my name is Olivia. I started three and a half years ago now. And like you said, a standing start. I knew absolutely nothing about self-publishing, but I threw myself into the industry. I thought it was just so much fun to learn, and there was so many resources out there. And since then, I've started writing contemporary romance and I have 15 books out now, writing my 16th at the moment.

James Blatch: Wow.

Olivia Hayle: And it's just been a wild journey to be honest. Each year has been better than last and I wouldn't change it for the world.

James Blatch: So from a standing start, before we get into detail, can you give me an idea of the level of success you're having and whatever metric you're comfortable with letting us know?

Olivia Hayle: Sure, for sure. My last year, my third year doing this, was a seven-figure year, which was astonishing. It was much higher than I'd... I mean, obviously I was aiming high, but that exceeded my expectations for sure. And the year before that was a six-figure year, so both my second and third years have been very good to say the least, yeah.

James Blatch: Wow. Okay. Yeah. But I know it wasn't always smooth, and I know at the beginning you had some misfires as well as hits, so obviously you're somebody who adapts and learns. It's such a key thing in any business frankly, but particularly self-publishing. So let's get into detail.

Can I ask you about writing first of all? Because that's quite a production in three years.

Olivia Hayle: Mm-hmm.

James Blatch: Did you say 15 books?

Olivia Hayle: Yes, and in three and a half, right. So yeah, it's been a lot of books, I would say. I think I got up to six books last year, which was a lot for me. I know some authors can do a book a month; that's not me, so I'm slowing down production now for sure. But when I discovered self-publishing, I can say that was in December of 2018, I think, I was searching the web, probably up to no good, and I found this blog post about... Well, it had a very clickbait-y title, it was Author Plans to Retire from Corporate Job by Writing Romance, which was very intriguing.

I was a student at the time doing my master's and I didn't have an income and I thought, "This is interesting. I've always wanted to be a writer." And so I fell through the self-publishing rabbit hole, like Alice, essentially. And the next two months I devoured everything I could online. And when you are a student you do have a fair amount of free time, so I was reading a lot about this.

Two months later I sat down and started writing my first contemporary romance. I'd been a writer before then, but dabbling and stories and fantasy and literary fiction, and I had this massive plan that in 20 years, after I'd worked in a "normal career", quote, unquote, I would settle down, I would become an author, I would try to publish traditionally, and hopefully I would have some lived experiences by then.

I'm ahead of schedule, let's just say that, although it's not traditionally published. I'd always wanted to do that, but, again, I was planning for the future. And when I found self-publishing, I mean, it completely opened my eyes. I was like, "Oh, I can do everything myself. I can be my own boss. I don't have to wait for a trad agency to find me. And I could write genre fiction," and that was actually very liberating creatively for me. Because I think when you're trying to write literary fiction or something else for a traditional publisher, it's easy, I think, to have the impression that you have to write the most original thing ever, right? It has to be incredible to get their attention.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: It needs to break all kinds of genres, and you want to win the Nobel Prize for it, or whatever. And that's a complete blank page, and that's terrifying. Genre fiction was very liberating creatively for me. The fact that you had structures, a bit of a formula to follow, genre conventions, all of that. And so I wrote my first book in six weeks, which was probably... I mean, I've never done anything since then, or before then, really, I think.

James Blatch: Wow. Well, you did a first draft in six weeks.

Olivia Hayle: Yes, but that was probably also what I published.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: I made every mistake in the book that first year, especially that first book. So I published it not having edited it. It had a homemade cover, which I'm actually not all that against because I do still do some of my own covers. If you train yourself and you like doing it and it works out for you, that's fine, I think, but that cover was not to market. I gave it the vaguest title possible, and vagueness is not your friend in genre fiction. You need to be specific. What do readers want? And give it a title that means they can identify it very quickly. Like both your books, James, have "flight" in the title, and then an aeroplane on them, so it's brilliant.

James Blatch: Yeah. And the subtitle that says: A Cold War thriller.

Olivia Hayle: Yes, exactly. So in 0.2 seconds they know what they're getting. Mine was not that at all. So the first month, my first book made $48. A whopping almost $50.

James Blatch: Congratulations.

Olivia Hayle: Thank you, thank you. I retired on the spot.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: And so that was an abject failure, but I was so energised by the whole process that I sat down and wrote my second book immediately, and that did much better. I think my second book really kept me afloat for an entire year after that. So right off the gate it started making me two to $3,000 a month, and that was purely based on much better passive marketing.

James Blatch: Wow.

Olivia Hayle: I had a much better title, a much better cover. And then something happened with the Amazon algorithms, that luck, I guess? It just took off. In a moderately successful way, I would guess, but for me it was huge at the time.

James Blatch: That's very successful, I think, with one or two books. So your niche that you chose, the subgenre that you chose... And by the way, I think that's a really interesting observation that realising you can write in genre fiction is liberating, because I think I went through that as well. I think probably it's the cliche that most people, when they think, "I want to be a writer," they think of that big literary fiction book that, as you say, challenges all sorts of expectations. And as soon as you realise-

Olivia Hayle: It blows people's minds.

James Blatch: Yeah, exactly. As soon as you realise you can write a James Bond book, and that's more fun, or in my case, a thriller or a romance, suddenly it all becomes accessible, I think. Whereas that big literary fiction for 99,000 out of 100,000 is not accessible, it's not going to happen.

Olivia Hayle: No.

James Blatch: So yeah, that's a liberating moment.

Olivia Hayle: And it allows you to do what you actually think is fun, which is creating characters, putting one word after the other. So you really get to get down into the nitty gritty fast, I think, if you write genre fiction.

James Blatch: Romance obviously caught your eye. Were you a romance reader?

Olivia Hayle: I was, yes. I read very widely in different genres, I still do, but my favourite subplots were always the romantic ones. Even in like the Lord of the Rings movies, I love Aragorn and Arwen. I'd always been drawn to that and I think had a pretty good understanding of what makes romance work in books. And so I think I never really even considered another genre, it was always going to be romance, I think, for me.

But I stumbled into contemporary romance. I don't really know why I made that decision, but I did at the time. And at the beginning that was my only niche was contemporary romance, which is not a niche at all. It's a huge genre.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: And that was part of my mistake that first year, was that I wasn't... I didn't have the subtitle, "A Cold War thriller".

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: Which I should have. I mean, not that subtitle, but I should have been much more specific than I was.

James Blatch: No, no. "A small town romance", or something like that that just says in a tagline what this book is.

Olivia Hayle: Exactly.

James Blatch: So tell me about the book, was it small town, was it city, what were the sort of tropes you went for?

Olivia Hayle: My first two books were office romances set in a big city. They were essentially billionaire, but I didn't market them as such. I didn't really know that term at the time.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: And that's why my second book did so well, I had accidentally tapped into a niche. I titled it Arrogant Boss, which is not the least bit clever, but it is very clear.

James Blatch: Yes.

Olivia Hayle: And that's the point. It also has a keyword in the title, people search for boss, so I think that's why it did so well without... I mean, I had zero name recognition, I did no active marketing, I didn't have a newsletter, I'm still not editing my books.

But just that keyword in the title and the very clear packaging meant it did pretty well. Did I learn from this though? No, I did not, unfortunately.

James Blatch: So you're making two to $3,000 a month with book two.

Olivia Hayle: Mm-hmm.

James Blatch: Was there any read through to book one, did that start picking up at this stage?

Olivia Hayle: A little bit as well, yes.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: But that book was still packaged a little incorrectly. Yeah, there was a bit, but not a tonne, no. The engine was book two, really.

James Blatch: What was your next step then?

Olivia Hayle: So I learned absolutely nothing and wrote two small town romances.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: I incorrectly assumed I was now the type of author who had a readership, I suppose, and I could switch between little subgenres or subniches and readers would follow me. And I kept giving them vague titles, which I liked better than Arrogant Boss, which is very on the nose, and they didn't sell at all. That entire first year I released four books, and all my money, which was five figures, was made from essentially one book, the second book.

James Blatch: Right, so the small town ones didn't really take off.

Olivia Hayle: No, and I just kept publishing them. I mean, two of them. It takes you a long time, I think, in this industry to really get it.

James Blatch: So at that point, having learned this, maybe now is the time where you think, "Hmm, okay, let's do more of what's working."

Olivia Hayle: Exactly. And that was my year two when that started.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: That coincided with the pandemic, so I had a lot of time on my hands. I finished my master's and I decided to try this full-time for another year, because I did still make two or $3,000 from that book every month so I had a small platform, I suppose, or of course, safety nets. And that summer I found the SPF podcast and I started listening through all your back list, which is maybe not what you call a podcast, but all the previous episodes that summer.

I remember Mark or you saying that you needed to treat this as a business. I was not doing that at all. I was writing at odd hours, I wasn't logging my expenses. But that summer, I really nailed down what works for me, and what do I need to do going forward?

That's really when I created the inkling of a brand. So I niched down in billionaire and office romances, what had worked with the book that I'd made money on before, and tried to replicate that. I finally got a newsletter, which took me over a year to start. So I started actually retaining readers. Because you really only want to have to grab a reader once. Then the reader should hopefully be yours.

I started implementing all of those changes and I wrote my first big series, which was a billionaire series that had the same on-the-nose titles as book number two. They're called Billion Dollar Enemy, Billion Dollar Fiance, so readers can tell immediately that it's a billionaire romance and it's going to involve an enemies to lovers story. And the book packaging was much tighter, better titles, better covers, better blurbs, all that. I was still not doing any marketing in terms of ads. I was doing newsletter promos though. So every release I tried to get higher and higher on the charts at Amazon by stacking promos for launch week, the newsletter promotions.

James Blatch: Yep.

Olivia Hayle: And then I was counting on the fact that if I get more visibility in the store, the books will start selling organically. I hoped. Because I hoped I'd done enough work on the packaging to make them actually sell organically. And they did. So that year was a great year for me and it taught me a lot. And those books really built the foundation for my brand.

James Blatch: So a lot of passive advertising here, but you're not running paid ads at this stage?

Olivia Hayle: I dabbled a little bit in Amazon ads at the time, and also BookBub ads, I will say, which I've never found to be particularly successful for me. But I would say... Well, dabble really is the right word there. I wasn't spending a lot and I would usually shut them off after a few weeks because I felt like this wasn't really doing anything.

I'm not a big numbers benchmarking person. Although I've taken your courses and they're great, and I know those are the steps you should take, but I just wasn't doing it in terms of the Excel sheets, the benchmarking, that sort of thing. And I also found that, to be frank, it didn't really feel like I needed them because things were picking up organically. I felt like my time was better spent writing the next book or improving the newsletter.

James Blatch: You're not tempted to go back and rewrite book one?

Olivia Hayle: I have thought about it. I have gone back and reedited the first three books. Not me, I mean, my editor has done that. I've switched out their covers, all of that. The first book is a bit short and I hint at a lot of subplots that I never develop.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: So I have thought about doing that, but at the same time, the opportunity cost between writing a new book and... So it's a tough thing because I am a big believer in you have to keep your back list up to date. I think that's the main engine in your income, or hopefully it should be. It's passive income because you've already written the books.

James Blatch: Yeah, money on the table.

Olivia Hayle: So I'm a big believer in that, but, yeah, exactly. And I think it's also... Last point.

James Blatch: Yep.

Olivia Hayle: That first book, I feel like this is important to say actually, because I was so dejected that first month when it made $48. But over three and a half years, that book has made just over six figures.

James Blatch: Wow.

Olivia Hayle: That's purely from the power of read through.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: So no book you write is ever a lost cause completely, I would say.

James Blatch: Yeah. In terms of the writing experience then, so I mean, these subgenres, one thing I've learned doing this show is that the reader expectation is off the charts compared to where it used to be. I just don't believe in the 1970s and '60s readers had conversations with each other like they do today about enemies to lovers and friends to lovers and all the various tropes and things that they expect to find in these books, and they're quite hard-

Olivia Hayle: Granular.

James Blatch: Yeah. They know what makes up the type of book they like to read, and you've basically hit those beats.

How did you learn all of that and how do you plot out your books now to make sure you're meeting that?

Olivia Hayle: That's a great question. I've done a lot of thinking about that probably the past year and a half, what do readers like about my books in particular. What's my brand? What do readers expect of the genre, yes, but also of me. That means going through reviews, unfortunately, and also listening to when they email you, and what things do they consistently mention.

So for me those were a couple of things that make up my brand. I guess I've distilled that into "my books have to include X, Y, and Z," because that's what readers say they expect from me. And then combine that with what's popular in the genre at the time, which means looking at top 100 of the genre, reading books by fellow authors that do well, and also seeing, I guess, what trends are popular. I think single dad is pretty popular right now. It seems like there are more books than usual. I think K-lytics also mentioned that recently. Maybe I shouldn't say that, sorry.

James Blatch: No, that's okay.

Olivia Hayle: That's the insider track.

James Blatch: Oh, Alex will charge you now.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah, exactly. I work on commission.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: Buy K-lytics now. I think it's a combination of all those things, just listening to other things going on in the genre and also listening to your readers. Because they will tell you what they like and they don't like, they're usually pretty vocal about that. Just make sure you listen, I think.

James Blatch: So you settled on billionaire romance and enemies to lovers, so I'm guessing, is the billionaire the guy normally and the...

Olivia Hayle: Yes.

James Blatch: It can be the way around, and the woman is the unimpressed with his arrogant swagger but annoyingly really fancies him.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah.

James Blatch: That's kind of how it starts.

Olivia Hayle: Yes. Yes. I will say not every book is enemies to lovers, but that's a trope I've used a couple times for sure. And what I do like about billionaire is it's a pretty flexible genre. So the man needs to be rich, to speak frankly, but that's really it. He usually also needs to be in a suit, where they have that kind of suaveness to him.

James Blatch: Right. Yep.

Olivia Hayle: But other than that, you can really mould it however you'd like and I've found that to be, again, creatively liberating.

James Blatch: And do you plot?

Olivia Hayle: I do plot, yes. I didn't in the beginning, which was a disaster when it became time to edit. I hate editing. It's really my worst. I really don't like it. I like writing new stories. And so the more I plot, the less I have to edit. So my first drafts now are pretty clean and they're pretty close to the finished product. So I would say I plot quite extensively in the beginning. I think I probably plot the first 30%, 35% very diligently.

And that's often also the most important part of a book in KU, because the first 10% of the look inside. So you need to get a good hook in there, a good premise, something you can build a great blurb around. In romance, that would be a great meet-cute. Something explosive happening in those first two or three chapters. So I do plot that pretty extensively.

And then I tend to plot the major points in the novel after that. And then I'll write, and then I'll go back and sort of re-plot. Okay, what's going to happen in the next two, three chapters? And then I write those, and then things might have fluctuated a little bit so then I'll plot out the next three, four ones.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: But I always know where I'm heading.

James Blatch: Do you use any plotting software or do you just use like a Word document to write it out?

Olivia Hayle: I use Plottr.

James Blatch: Okay. Yep. Plottr, P-L-O-T-T-R, Plottr.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah. It's an interesting name, yes.

James Blatch: It's a great name.

Olivia Hayle: But I mean, again, I really only use Plottr for the first 30, 40% of the novel, and then I get too impatient, I need to start writing.

James Blatch: Okay. In an ideal world, an author like you would do your first draft and then hand it off to someone else who tidies it up and publishes it. You never want to see it again, do you? You've moved on in your mind to the next book.

Olivia Hayle: Yes. And that's always the problem when I'm writing the last two or three chapters. When I have to write the epilogue of a book, my head is already far down the next book and much more excited about that book. I hate writing epilogues as well. Or it's fun to write, but I never want to be there.

James Blatch: I actually quite like the editing bit, but I think that's unusual. Most of my friends seem to not like it.

The epilogue, is this something that you use as a mailing list device?

Olivia Hayle: Yes. So there's an epilogue that's part of the book, and that has to stay with the book. That's a big reader expectation in romance. But then I do write and plot little bonus stories, and they can be between five and 10,000 words, and they are like a bonus epilogue that I give out for newsletter subscribers. I have that for all of my series, yes, and all upcoming books will have that. Because again, now my readers have come to expect that as well.

My newsletter has become a great resource, and I really love that. But yeah, it's a bit of work as well.

James Blatch: I'm just making a note because I should write a bonus epilogue for my second book to link it to the first book and give it away as a mailing list. In fact, an ideal thing would be the two, as you say, the epilogue that goes with the book, that would be the link to the first book and the bonus epilogue to get people on the mailing list. There's no reason why this doesn't work in thriller as well as romance. I know I interviewed Lucy Score recently and her main list grows very well using bonus epilogue.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah. My mailing list has exclusively grown from that, and I really buckled down and did that the beginning of last year, I think? And now it's at 30,000 people, which I know is small compared to Lucy Score's, but I'm very pleased with that.

James Blatch: Okay. Oh, it's bigger than mine. It's very good. So you've really grown through readers driving sales, which is not the best way of doing it because it's a very high margin for start.

Olivia Hayle: Yes.

James Blatch: There's not like a 30, 40% spend on ads there.

Olivia Hayle: No.

James Blatch: But you do attribute this to all the passive bits, all the packaging of the book, which is something we talk about more and more. It's the Suzy K. Quinn kind of mantra is your package is absolutely everything.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah.

James Blatch: And in a conversation I did live a couple of nights ago with Craig Martelle into the 20 Books group and we talked about alignment, just that real laser focus on everything being aligned. So your blurb, your title, obviously you look inside and your content, all meeting reader expectation, and the cover obviously as well.

I think this is where your golden juice is, if you like, that's what you've got right.

Olivia Hayle: I agree with all of that, and that's a big proponent of that. When I speak to other authors, I always talk about that as well, because I think readers are really sophisticated when they're looking for a new book. There are so many books on Amazon for them to sort through, or Barnes & Noble or whatever store you're on, and so they need to be able to identify within... It's not even a second, it's 0.2 maybe, if this is a book they might enjoy. And they know very well what books they'll like and they won't like, so you just need to make sure you meet that. And you can't give them a reason to click away, so everything on your book page needs to be impeccable.

James Blatch: Yes.

Olivia Hayle: And let's say you're writing in paranormal, you can't have them read the entire blurb and then find out in the last sentence that this book has vampires in it. That needs to be front and top, like first line, it needs to be communicated on the cover, all of that.

James Blatch: So in some ways it's more important, your marketing bits, your blurb and cover and so on, it's more important that they tell the reader what the book is than tell the reader it's a good book and they should read it, which is what you think the blurb's about.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah.

James Blatch: It's, "This is why this book's so good." Actually, the most important thing you're doing is letting that reader know this is the type of book they want to read. And the price to pay for getting that wrong is bad reviews, not necessarily because people think the book's bad, but because they were the wrong reader.

Olivia Hayle: Exactly. I would rather have fewer right readers than more readers but they're the wrong readers, because that will definitely tank your book in Amazon's algorithms as well, and also bots, all those sort of things. Like you said, alignment.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: And that's true with your author brand as well. You need to make sure that every book you release is building on the previous books and building on your brand.

James Blatch: Yep.

Olivia Hayle: If I were to release a small town novel tomorrow, some readers would follow me along but a lot of them wouldn't. And I wouldn't fault them for that because they've come to expect something from me, and there's a level of trust in that.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: Because I really believe that when readers buy our books, yeah, they're buying them for $3.99 or $4.99, but what they're really buying them with is time. It might take six hours to read a novel. It might take 12. It might take 24 if you're reading George R.R. Martin. But those are hours of their life they're never getting back. And if you don't make those hours worth it for this person, for the reader, they're not going to come back. I know I won't when I'm a reader. So you just need to really honour that trust and make sure you deliver what you promise them.

James Blatch: That's a really, really good point. And one more illustration, I think, from my side of things is that I did change slightly from my first book. The first book is a little bit literary, I have to say. It's not the book from within me and it's thematic. In the second book, I approach the second book to be James Patterson, Clive Cussler kind of genre, because I think that's the long-term for me. I can't write a roller coasting from the heart about my dad, everything, in every book.

Olivia Hayle: Every six months.

James Blatch: Yeah, it's got to be genre fiction, fitting into that. And I did worry. I worried that I would upset some readers from the first book who really loved the first book. And that happened and I could see it. It was just the old review and it said the things I thought that they would say, and I watched my rating go down. I think it bottomed out about 4.4, but I was then heavily advertising into Clive Cussler, using Clive Cussler as a keyword because he was a good comp author for me for this genre, and it started to move back up.

 So it's not that my book was poor enough to get lower rating, it's finding the right readers for it. Once I found Clive Cussler's tribe, it matched their expectations, and that's where bad reviews and good reviews come from, I think, primarily.

Olivia Hayle: Absolutely.

James Blatch: I mean, obviously, if you'd written a terrible book, you're going to get bad reviews, but that's subjective.

Olivia Hayle: But then also you made a strategic decision to switch slightly in tone in the book.

James Blatch: Yep.

Olivia Hayle: As long as you know why you did that and you had a strategy behind that, I think that's perfectly valid.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: And then you found the newer and, let's say, better... Obviously no reader is better than the other, but the better for you readers.

James Blatch: The better matched readers for it.

Olivia Hayle: Yes, exactly.

James Blatch: Yes. I had a lot of the old readers come with me. Yeah, so that's a real good illustration of exactly what we're talking about.

So are you stuck with billionaire?

Olivia Hayle: Yes, I am stuck with it, now that I've built my brand on it. But I stuck with that and I wrote my second big series, which I used everything I learned from the first and pumped that into the second. And that's done extremely well, let's just say that. That was the series that really launched me into incredible months. And that was the series that landed me in the top 100 for the first time on those launches.

James Blatch: Wow.

Olivia Hayle: So it was a lot of fun.

James Blatch: And that's in the dot com site?

Olivia Hayle: Yes, exactly.

James Blatch: Good.

Olivia Hayle: And all genres, yeah. So that was a lot of fun. I started advertising in January of this year, properly. So actually using Facebook ads, Amazon ads with a much higher ad spend. It was my first time using Facebook ads, for example, and I felt like that's also been a big component to keeping my back list income high. Because I'll use my new launches and my newer books to drive sales through my old books, which I really try to make sure to keep updated. Because like I said, I think once you've written a book, you've written a book. It's passive income for the rest of your life, so make the best use of it you can.

James Blatch: When you say updated, what sort of changes do you make?

Olivia Hayle: Covers, for sure. I'm in the process of doing that again now. I'm also making new paperback covers in discreet, which is becoming a big thing in romance.

James Blatch: Discreet?

Olivia Hayle: Yes, so that means a paperback cover that doesn't have a man on it, like hiding the man.

James Blatch: Okay. I have to make notes for all these things I learn.

Olivia Hayle: So essentially, it's a paperback cover that you would feel comfortable sitting on a bus with.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: They're usually quite pretty graphics, that sort of thing, but no model.

James Blatch: Okay. So Things We Never Got Over, which is Lucy's book?

Olivia Hayle: Yes. Yes.

James Blatch: And I think Colleen Hoover's books maybe even have that kind of look. Yeah, okay.

Olivia Hayle: 100%. And they are popular on TikTok as well because people feel comfortable creating a little video with their face next to a book, holding it up.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: So that's something I'm doing for older books as well.

James Blatch: What's going to happen to all those male models with those ripped biceps?

Olivia Hayle: I think they're still going to be there. Because in terms of the eBook market, that's not changing a tonne on Amazon. So you'll have one eBook with the model, and then you'll have a paperback that's more discreet, I think, but the market changes all the time, which is one of the fun things about this job, right?

James Blatch: Yes. Absolutely. I have heard the word bandied around, discreet, and I've probably asked what it means in the past, but now it's locked in there, knowing that. So we don't have this sort of thing in thriller; discreet doesn't mean there's no Avro Vulcan on the front cover, it's just a-

Olivia Hayle: No. No, you should hide the planes.

James Blatch: We don't need to hide the planes.

Olivia Hayle: No.

James Blatch: Good. Well, this is an amazing story really. And I'm pleased to hear there's some paid ads going on because it's such an important part for me, and I know most other authors, that's how we kind of drive our sales. So you are running pay ads.

Olivia Hayle: Absolutely.

James Blatch: Did you say you were targeting them at your back list primarily?

Olivia Hayle: No, I'm targeting them to new readers, and they're-

James Blatch: Oh, they are the new readers, okay.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah. And they're my newer books, but hopefully they're helping funnel readers into my back list. So new readers will find me. If they like what I write, then they have a lot of books that are very similar, because I've tried to keep my back list consistent in terms of tone, story, plot, that sort of thing. I mean, not plot, obviously, that would be awful if it's the exact same plot. But overall, pretty similar. And so a reader who finds me and likes me could go back and read 10 books. That's quite a valuable reader when you write.

James Blatch: Yeah, absolutely. So you've got how many books in the billionaire subgenre, that's probably 12 or 13 of those, isn't it?

Olivia Hayle: Yes. I have 15 books out. There's one series of four that are not traditional billionaire, but they do sort of work a little bit in the same universe. So I've tried to finagle them to still work, but, yeah, they're not traditional billionaire, no. So I would say 12 of those are billionaire, yeah.

James Blatch: And how hard is it, too, when you've got those tropes? One of the things that those romance subgenre tropes do is I guess they could be quite constraining.

Because if you've done 12 books of rich guy in a suit and the slightly reluctant heroine, how many different ways can you work that?

Olivia Hayle: That's a great question. I'm plotting my next big series now so, yeah, I have thought that myself, I have to say. But there is still quite a lot of wiggle room within it. Tropes can be turned on their head a little bit as long as you keep what readers truly like about them. You can always do tropes again, but with different characters, which will have a different feel. I like to write really ambitious heroines, that's a part of my brand a little bit, so they often have careers of their own. And that makes for quite fun books to write because that means that there are two people who are more on equal footing being matched and having conflicts with one another. So there are still stories left to discover, I think. I'm not sure how many more. I do feel like I have five or six more billionaire books than me. We'll see after that. Maybe I'll switch to another genre. Who knows?

James Blatch: At some point I'm sure you can. I know you're slightly trepidatious at doing that because you've built such an amazing platform, but I'm sure at some point you can. Maybe even a different pen name, who knows?

Olivia Hayle: I am planning to release a romantic comedy next year, and releasing it wide, which is an experiment for me.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: So it will be very similar in tone to my billionaire books, which do have a slight romantic comedy live to them, but it will be marketed as romantic comedy and I also want to try wide. That's my first step out of looking if I could switch this branding slightly or maybe have a sub-brand within the Olivia Hayle umbrella.

James Blatch: I was just looking at your book so I can see exactly what we were talking about earlier. It does what it says on the tin, Think Outside the Boss: New York Billionaires Book One. I mean, this is for people who rip through those series from all authors. And Charlotte Byrd comes to mind, she's another billionaire romance author we've had on the podcast in the past. They will read all of hers and all of yours because you've told them in 0.2 seconds that this is the sort of book they read.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah, absolutely. The demand is there, right?

James Blatch: Yeah, insatiable.

Olivia Hayle: If you can find a way to...

James Blatch: Insatiable demand.

Olivia Hayle: Yes.

James Blatch: And there's a word that you probably use in your books at some point.

Olivia Hayle: Most likely, yes.

James Blatch: Yeah. I haven't asked that actually, are they spicy? I guess they have to deliver a bit of that, don't they, these books?

Olivia Hayle: I would say they're midlevel.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: They're probably pretty high compared to a military aviation thriller, but they are mid compared to other erotic romance.

James Blatch: My sex scenes go on for three chapters. Unbelievable.

Olivia Hayle: Well, I can imagine.

James Blatch: Three sentences, if you're lucky. In fact, funny enough, I can see a Jaine Diamond sponsored ad pops up on your page then. Jaine is someone else we've had on the podcast as well, so we've done quite well representing the billionaire romance subgenre. It's obviously a very popular one. So it's a classic fantasy, I guess, isn't it?

Olivia Hayle: It's an evergreen, yeah.

James Blatch: I really like the fact that the heroine is always the... Well, quite often is an equal, or should be an equal, really. They're smart, they're reluctant, they know it's a cliche and they can't help themselves getting into it, and that's quite a good thing as well.

It's not like the old 1950's heroine who's a passive reactor to this male.

Olivia Hayle: No, definitely not. And that's definitely a part of my brand, something I've seen over and over in reviews. I've had some readers email me about that. So I've taken that and I really run with it. My heroines tend to be ambitious and they have agency. And in one book, the billionaire even gives up his position as the CEO to make sure there's no HR violation.

James Blatch: Right. Oh, really?

Olivia Hayle: Yeah, so she gets to keep her job, not him.

James Blatch: Yes. Good. How it should be. Audiobooks-

Audiobooks, have you had the audios done?

Olivia Hayle: Yes. I have sold rights for four books to W. F. Howes, actually, to Craig.

James Blatch: Oh, yes.

Olivia Hayle: I know you spoke to them a while ago. And then I self-produced four others. Not self-produced, I've paid for them, but I have not narrated them.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: And that's really it. I have eight auds. I will say that audiobooks is a completely different realm. So I haven't seen the monetary gain from that to be comparable at all to eBooks.

James Blatch: Okay.

Olivia Hayle: But there is also a long startup to that, right? There's a high initial cost.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: It is a different readership; there's some overlap, but not entirely. I'm going to continue investing in that, but I don't know when it will start paying off, really.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Olivia Hayle: But speaking of branding as well, at a certain point, if I want to be in the top 100 with some of the other authors up there, you need to have audio for new releases. That's just the thing that authors do at that level. And so if I want to continue trying to reach that, then I do need to keep investing in audio as well.

James Blatch: Do you have your audiobook ready to go at time of release, at new release?

Olivia Hayle: I never have before.

James Blatch: Right.

Olivia Hayle: But now, I'm considering if that's something I need to have in the future.

James Blatch: Yeah, there's such a lead time for audiobooks. It's another production and so on. Getting yourself in their diary is a first charge.

Olivia Hayle: Yeah, it's a hassle. And then obviously you have to have the book ready months before, and then just sit on it, I guess, while they record.

James Blatch: Yeah. Tricky.

Olivia Hayle: And it's tough.

James Blatch: Okay, well, look, it's been brilliant talking to you. Olivia, I'm very impressed with everything you've done. The books look amazing. I fully expect at some point you can give yourself permission to do a slightly different subgenre, and I think you'll take some readers with you, I'm sure, because there's got-

Olivia Hayle: Thank you. I hope so, yeah.

James Blatch: At some point you're going to run out of billionaires, right? There's only so many billionaires in the world.

Olivia Hayle: We joke about that, me and another billionaire author. I think there are only a couple of thousand billionaires in the world?

James Blatch: Yeah. There actually aren't that many.

Olivia Hayle: 400 in the states or something? So realistically, how many of them are between the age of 30 and 40 and single?

James Blatch: Yeah. And incredibly attractive with chiselled looks.

Olivia Hayle: Exactly.

James Blatch: In reality they look like Elon Musk. He's a lovely guy, but you wouldn't necessarily-

Olivia Hayle: Exactly. But maybe not a hero, no.

James Blatch: Maybe not. Well, he's sort of a Tony Stark-like hero, but not-

Olivia Hayle: True. Romance lead.

James Blatch: ... Not quite as good looking as Robert Downey, Jr. That's probably a mean thing to say about poor old Elon. Okay, look, thank you very much indeed.

Olivia Hayle: I don't think "poor" is the right word.

James Blatch: No, no. No, that's fine. He'll cry on his bank notes.

Olivia Hayle: Yes.

James Blatch: Yeah, thank you so much indeed, Olivia. A real pleasure having you on and I look forward to seeing your future continued success.

Olivia Hayle: Thank you, likewise.

James Blatch: There you go. I think that really is an object lesson in choosing a lane and staying in it. Because everything that we talk about in marketing, which is tricky and hard, becomes easier when everything you do is so easily identifiable with one particular audience. And you can kind of tell during the interview, Olivia was perhaps slightly reluctant that she's there and would like to write some other stuff, but is worried about doing that, quite rightly, because she understands how audience are her audience, and you move away from that sort of at your peril.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, you do. And you can obviously do it if you want to, and the consequence there is that you might not sell as many books. So if you found a successful area that you've got readers who are enjoying your books and more readers are coming along, then it does make sense, commercially at least, to stay and write more of the things that are working. So yeah, it's a tricky one.

I've had a few ideas I'd like to explore buzzing around for years, really, but they're very different from what I write now. And I know that if I did that, then it's not likely to be as successful and it would cost me money, because the time I'm spending writing something else is the time I'm not spending writing something for my audience. But there will come a time when I decide that I've prepared to take a little bit of a hit just to do something that I want to do. So I want to write a book set on Mars, James, that's the...

James Blatch: Yeah. You've never mentioned that before.

Mark Dawson: I love all that. I love kind of curiosity and the ingenuity and all that kind of stuff and I think it'd be very interesting to... Something like The Martian, which I think is really fun, a fun book. But I've got some ideas.

James Blatch: Of course, originally, self-published.

Mark Dawson: Absolutely, yeah. So one day maybe, but it's a big diversion from what I do so I've got to pick my moment. I've been wanting to write about Chernobyl for years, and I did one word this year, which is... It's not million miles from the books I write, it has an espionage element to it, but it's not Milton. It's historical, so it's a little way from what I normally do, and it won't sell as well as a Milton book, but that was fine. I knew that; I decided to do it anyway. It's done okay, but I got to write something that I really wanted to write. So maybe one book a year would be kind of slightly more for me, and then the rest of the books can be for my readers.

James Blatch: I'd like to write a book set on Mars.

Mark Dawson: Oh, okay.

James Blatch: I'm also fascinated. In fact, I was reading this week about Curiosity has been generating oxygen, I don't know if you saw that, from the soil.

Mark Dawson: No.

James Blatch: It's actually generated quite a lot, which is a very good sign for potential colonisation in the future.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: But it also made me think, I don't know if you've read Kim Stanley Robinson's magnificent trilogy on Mars called Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars?

Mark Dawson: No, I haven't.

James Blatch: Basically about the terraforming of the planet. Absolutely fantastic, I adored it. I read it in my 20s. But there was an anti-group, they were called the Reds as opposed to the Greens you get on Earth, who were against terraforming of the first settlers.

Mark Dawson: Oh, okay, yeah.

James Blatch: Of course, they didn't want to change and corrupt the landscape and I thought, "Well, probably that ship's already sailed if Curiosity's actually generating oxygen and carrying out these experiments." Of course, however clean they make these objects when they arrive on Mars, they probably have something on them. But yeah, all right, well, we can co-author it then. I look forward to that. We'll do a chapter each. We'll be the Susanne and Caroline of interplanetary travel.

Mark Dawson: Interstellar smut.

James Blatch: Yeah. I'll do the smut.

Mark Dawson: Oh dear, me.

James Blatch: I'm good at that.

Mark Dawson: Good grief. I'd rather cut into that famous Partridge scene, the dirty protest, but we won't go there.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'm very excited about this Mars book. I'll start sketching it out and start sending you over some ideas.

Mark Dawson: Okay.

James Blatch: So we're away now.

Mark Dawson: Oh my God.

James Blatch: Blatch and Dawson.

Good. Okay, look, thank you very much indeed. Thank you to our guest, Olivia Hayle, a brilliant, a very impressive author. And thank you to the team behind the scenes who make this podcast an actual thing that you can listen to and watch. Don't forget to go to patreon.com. If you want a chance to be our next BookLab victim and have your cover, blurb, and writing analysed by experts in those three fields, you need to go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and sign up at the gold level in the next two weeks.

 And we might see you in NINC, who knows? If you come and say hello, use the magic word, "Would you like a beer?" And magic phrase, and you'll get a conversation. We might even be back to hugging. I don't know, are we back to hugging or are we still handshaking or are we fist bumping?

Mark Dawson: Oh, I think it's a stoic handshake from me.

James Blatch: A stoic handshake.

Mark Dawson: You can hug if you want to.

James Blatch: So long as you look in our eyes, is what you should do. Right, that's it. I can see, I think Scout's getting restless, we need to buzz off. Thank you very much indeed. All that remains for me to say is a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me, goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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