SPS-365: The Challenges New Authors Face – with Avery Maxwell
Avery Maxwell published her first book in June 2020 and just two years later is making five-figures per month as a romance author. Today, she shares how she achieved this success with advertising, lots of hard work, and great stories.
- How the pandemic and homeschooling her children inspired Avery to start writing fiction
- The challenge of balancing marketing and writing books
- How Avery invested in her publishing business to achieve her initial success
- Getting signed by Lucy Score’s That’s What She Said Publishing
- Avery’s authentic approach to social media
Resources mentioned in this episode:
FACEBOOK ADS CHALLENGE: Join the free 7-day challenge to find new readers.
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
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SPS-365: The Challenges New Authors Face - with Avery Maxwell
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self Publishing Show.
Avery Maxwell: I decided that was going to be my brand. Whether it was going to work or not, that's what I could give. I can't give advice on writing or all this other stuff yet, but I can be kind to people. That's what I built it on. So it's kindness first in everything that I do, and people like it. People started responding to it.
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. It is me, James Blatch.
MARK DAWSON: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: We're recording this for that in-between period, in-between Christmas and New Year, but the self-publishing world never stops. And we have a cracking interview today with a wonderful romance writer coming up in just a moment. But before then, Mark, we do have to mention again, we should mention, 'cause it's an exciting thing to do, our Facebook challenge for 2023.
MARK DAWSON: Yeah. So prior to the launch of the Ads for Author's course, later in January, middle of January, we're going to do a week before seven-day challenge on setting up a simple Facebook ad to find subscribers for our mailing list. So one of the most important things that we can do as authors, in fact, probably the most important thing, aside from writing great books, is to find readers and put them in a place where we can easily get to them and tell them about things that they might like. So we're going to use Facebook ads to do that. It's one of those exercises where you will come away with readers at the end of it. I'm fairly confident that everyone will be able to find readers through the strategies that we'll be using in the expedition, as we call it.
So we'll be looking at setting up an account, simple research, targeting, images, copy, in bite size videos that I will do just after Christmas. So looking forward to that. As we record this now, in the middle of December, we only announced this about three days ago and there's already 1,000 people in the Facebook we set up for it, so it's going to be a vibrant group. I think lots of things going on and you should, if you're interested, you should definitely hop over there and join the group now. And James is now going to give you the link.
James Blatch: Yeah, well it's selfpublishingformula.com/facebookchallenge. I think that's what we came up with last time, wasn't it?
MARK DAWSON: Hope so.
James Blatch: Yeah, well it is anyway. We'll make sure whatever we say points in the right direction. So yeah, so slash Facebook Challenge after our domain name. Yeah, I've been doing Facebook ads through my, I don't know what the expression is, but I'm doing lots of them today. So we have book launch on Mondays. You say it's the middle of December, so Friday the 16th, we're recording this. Book launch on Monday for Fuse, for Ian W. Sainsbury. And I've got my BookBub next week, so I've got my five free days. So I've had fun putting a Santa hat on a Vulcan for some of my imagery. Because actually my free day includes Christmas Day, so I thought I'll have a bit of that going on.
And still going well on Facebook Ads. I've been running, actually, I've been running some for a free promo for another book in Fuse this week, and they've been down to nine pence, which has been great. But you would expect to get pretty good value for money on free books. But my book could have been going at still 12 and 13 pence. That's when it gets paid, so I'm really pleased at the moment. So definitely Facebook is, I think is the place to be at the moment, for whatever reason.
So that's our main thing to talk about. Our second thing to talk about is that we have, our guest today is Avery Maxwell. And I actually met Avery for the first time in Florida this year, and then I hung out with her for a little bit because she joined us in our retreat, which was rudely interrupted by Hurricane Ian. So I didn't get to see a lot of her, but she was a really lovely person to meet and talk to. She's got a great backstory, is a brilliant and adored writer by her fans. And she's done really, really well. Published by Lucy Score and Tim's company, That's What She Said Publishing. This is Avery Maxwell.
Speaker 1: This is The Self Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Avery Maxwell, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. I know I do like it when I'm interviewing somebody and all I can see is naked men behind you.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah, that's-
James Blatch: All those torsos. Where would you romance writers be without those chiselled torsos? Do you have chisel torsos? I don't know. Ripped.
Avery Maxwell: Chiselled.
James Blatch: Chiselled. Chiselled is more of a chin thing.
Avery Maxwell: A jaw thing.
James Blatch: A jaw thing. This is why I write military aviation.
Avery Maxwell: Well, it's funny because we did this room for my office. It used to be the dining room. So when you walk into the house, we put up doors, but they're glass, so it's the first thing you see. So my kids are like, "Mom..." My 15-year-old?
James Blatch: "What if I bring home my friends, mom?"
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. I'm like, "Listen, mom's making money. This is what's doing it."
James Blatch: "Mom's paying for the house. She writes instruction manuals." That's what you should you... You should describe it. Avery, it's really lovely to have you on the show. I know we're going to have a great chat tonight about romance and about you.
And I think SPF probably comes into your life a little bit as well. So let's start with your writing, which was not that long ago. You didn't start that long ago, did you?
Avery Maxwell: No, I started, I published my first book in June of 2022.
James Blatch: Wow.
Avery Maxwell: 2020, sorry.
James Blatch: 2020. Yeah, I was going to say June 2022, that's really...
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. No, sorry.
James Blatch: So you're basically, you're a lockdown writer.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. I was a stay-at-home mom for, well, I'm going on 15 years now that I've been a stay-at-home mom. We moved 12 hours away from our friends and family right before COVID. And then we got here and everything shut down and we're all stuck together. And I was running, I have four kids, so I was going room to room, trying to help everybody get online and it just really brought out the worst version of myself. I've never been more unhappy with the person that I was during that time. And a lot of it just had... I was miserable. Everybody was unhappy, everybody was trying to do the best they can with school. And I'm not very technically savvy, so trying to help them get on... It was pretty brutal.
And so finally, I gave up, I was like, "You know what? We're done. This remote learning is not working." I emailed the school and I said, "We're going to do our own. I'm going to set up a lesson plan. And so we did reading, writing, and math every day, and that's all we did. So when the kids would do their writing, so did I. And it really started off as just journal entries. I was just writing to myself, trying to get myself back to where I was happy with myself. And so then the kids started saying, they were little at the time, "Well, what do we write?" So we did reading first and I said, "Well, let's do some fan fiction. So write where you think your story leaves off, wherever you want to see those characters go."And so they would just write these silly little stories and then so would I.
And before I knew it, I'd written an entire book in just a few months and I didn't really know what to do with it, but my friend from home was a developmental editor. She's like, "Let me just take a look at it." So she did and she's like, "Well, now we've got to do something with it." And so I kind of jumped in and that's where SPF came in for me, because it was I literally published and then I was like, "Oh no, I have no idea what I just got myself into." But it worked and I started taking every kind of class I could take. And actually, SPF came in a little bit later. I took other classes and I had a mentor and I did all kinds of different things and nothing was really working, and then I found SPF and then things just started taking off.
James Blatch: That period with young children in lockdown. I escaped it because my kids were older, they were teenagers, they basically looked after themselves. But I have parents who went quickly... I was going to say slowly insane, but they went quickly insane and got to the end of their tether, because that was hard.
Avery Maxwell: It was hard. So see, I had two seven-year-olds, a nine-year-old and a 12-year-old. And the 12-year-old is my only girl and she's pretty self-sufficient, she always has been, but the boys, they had never really been on Chromebooks before. So not only were we trying to figure out how to do lesson plans, but we were also trying to figure out how to get these little eight-year-old hands on Chromebooks. So it was really rough.
James Blatch: And all at the same time.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. And so they all had to be on the... It started off, everybody had these great plans, but our county wasn't equipped to have all of these children online at the same time, so things were crashing, and then it's mommy. And so literally my husband works upstairs and all he would hear all day is, "Mom, mom, mom, mom," and me running around in a circle around the house trying to go from kid, to kid, to kid. And it was exhausting. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. I've always had huge respect for teachers, but it brought out the worst in me.
James Blatch: Yeah. No, I definitely don't have that temperament. So the writing exercise literally started as something you thought might work with you and the kids and would be a way of surviving this time?
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. So for them, it was really just about getting them in the habit of writing. One of them was still working on his letter formation. So it was really just a journal for all of us. But then they need ideas and they needed to do different things. So I would have them read and then have them pick up where the story left off. And mine, originally, was just journals. It was, "Dear Avery, let's figure this out. What are you unhappy with today? Let's figure out how to fix that." And then that turned into, "Well if the kids are writing fan fiction, what can I write?"
And so my very first character actually physically is a physical representation of me. She's a six-foot blonde. She's very quiet. She very rarely swears. So there's a lot of my personality in her. And I took that and I took me and fictionalised it completely. And it just had started off a story and I didn't really know story structure or anything other than having read a lot myself. And so I just wrote it and it was giving me something to do, and it was giving me a purpose that was not just mom and wife and teacher and house cleaner and all those day-to-day chores.
James Blatch: Even more than that, probably if you were unhappy with that version of yourself that was there, did that become therapeutic writing it out?
Avery Maxwell: Absolutely. Yeah. There's a lot of things that I was able to take, a lot of... So her name was Laney, a lot of Laney's trauma. And while it was vastly different from my life, my feelings went into that. So everything I was feeling at that time went into her turmoil in the story. And that's the first lesson that I learned in writing, was that the more I connect to the characters, the more the readers are going to. Everybody really liked her and I realised it's because she was real. There's so much of me in her that just... And I continued that. And actually, as I wrote more stories, I ended up connecting more with the male characters, which is funny. So there's a lot of me in all the characters. But yeah, it's funny how it started, just...
James Blatch: And were you a romance reader?
Avery Maxwell: I was. So about three years ago I had cancer and I had kidney cancer, and I had a partial nephrectomy and I had a really bad... The kidney cancer was actually the easiest part, I had a really bad recovery. So for almost a year I was in bed and I couldn't move. Every time I moved, things would not heal properly. So for about a year, all I could do was read. So the kids would come in and see me, and they were really little at that time, but they'd sit on the bed with me, and I ended up reading a book a day. And that's really what got me back into reading, was not being able to do anything else. You can only watch so much TV, you can only do so many things, but your mind gets really focused on the words as you're reading them, and it helped get me through it.
James Blatch: So your Laney character, this was a romance, was it, the story that you wrote?
Avery Maxwell: It was, yeah. I've always been... Listen, I'm a Cinderella fan through and through. I love the happily ever after. I've always, ever since our little girl. So the idea that I could take this unhappy version of myself and turn it into something that was going to end happy was really therapeutic because it gave me something to work towards. If Laney can get there, then so can I. We can all make it through this. So it was good.
James Blatch: So tell us about that early phase. You did, not untypically loaded it onto KDP and then said, "Well, I understand why I'm not a millionaire. What's happened?" So then you started doing courses.
Avery Maxwell: I didn't have a lot of expectations. I actually didn't even think that I was going to write another book, but my brain apparently knew better than me. So when I was writing, I had all these other characters in that story that just naturally lended themselves to another story. So I had a few readers originally and they were like, "Who's the next one? We really want to see this." And I was like, "Well, I don't know what to do with this." I've read series, I knew that they existed, I knew that there was something that I could do. I was like, "Well, let's just start." So I started writing it, but I was also stay-at-home mom. So my day was I would get up with the kids, get them to school. They went back to school. No, I'm sorry. The first four books I wrote, they were still home. So we'd do the school, we'd do remote learning and then I'd get dinner ready, I'd do all the normal mom stuff, and then they'd go to bed at 8:00. And from 8:00 at night till 3:00 in the morning, I would write.
And so it was two years of just me sleeping three or four hours a night. And it's not sustainable, it's not realistic, but I also realised that just writing the books wasn't enough. So I had to take some classes. And I was very lucky early on that I did have some readers that just found it and I put it on Booksprout and people liked the stories, so that gave me the motivation to keep going. But then you have to do all the learning part of it because it's not just writing the stories, it's figuring out promotions and social media and advertising. And I actually started with the advertising classes, with SPF, and then I went back and I was like, "I need to really go back to the very beginning and figure out..." So I basically backtracked, I did it all backwards. I just put it out there and then when back.
James Blatch: The books had a natural organic set of sales that you could see that there was something there worth marketing, right from the beginning.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. And I was very lucky, I think people connected with the story right away. And I have since gone back, the first two I've gone back and had them re-edited. But the story is the same as it originally was.
James Blatch: What was the editing, copy and proof or...?
Avery Maxwell: Yeah.
James Blatch: Okay.
Avery Maxwell: Yep. So I forgot what the question was.
James Blatch: Yeah, so did I. I'm so absorbed in the story. Yeah. No, I suppose you saw that the books were doing, organically, doing quite well. So that was your motivation, A, to continue, and B, that you could invest in the marketing side of things.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. Well, that was something that I... The first book, I think the first couple months I made a couple hundred dollars and I was like, "Okay." And so my husband sat me down and he's like, "If this is something you want to do, you need to decide is it going to be a hobby? And if it's a hobby, you can't be writing from 8:00 at night to 3:00 in the morning because you are not fully there for everybody. So we need to figure this out. If you want to do this as a business, you need to invest in it as a business." And so we went through everything. We made a business plan, we looked at from top to bottom, was this something that I felt like I could make a go at? And it was something for the first time that I had built myself and I really, really wanted to make it work. So I was like, "Yeah, I want this for myself. I want to be able to prove that I can do something that's not just being a mom."
And I don't mean that in a negative way. There's nothing better than being a mom. And I'm very privileged to have been able to be a stay-at-home mom, but I kind of lost myself, too. And this was something that I was building and I was able to reinvest. So everything that I made for the first two years, I put right back in. I never bought myself anything, I never paid myself. It went back into learning, it went back into advertising, it went back... And still to this day, I'll get a check and it sits there and I'm like, Okay, well, what are we going to do?" And so it's only recently where we're like, "Okay, well, maybe we can redo a kitchen now." 'Cause it's like it's just sitting there. I am doing well enough that I can do certain things, but I still have that mentality of, "I'm not there yet. I need to work harder. I need to reinvest in myself."
James Blatch: You can actually start spending some of this money you've been making. Have you allowed yourself to do that now?
Avery Maxwell: I did. We actually redid our kitchen and we redid my office, so it was two big spends and I set goals for myself every year. So this year it was, I want to be able to pay for a family vacation or I want to be able to contribute to the family, which I've never done before. So now it's the kids' sports camps in the summertime.
James Blatch: I think the motherhood period is worth just talking about, 'cause I think my mother was actually the same looking back, she was a very proud stay-at-home mom. It's a bit of an America expression with housewife, I guess we used to say in the UK. And she thought that was probably best for the children, that was her view and the best way. But then I remember I was about 10 years old, the twins, my younger brother and sister were eight, and she wanted to do more at that point. And I think that's a fairly normal thing, even if you do decide you want to stay-at-home mom, there's a bit where you want to be grown up again. And it's not to say that children's company is not amazing. I don't think anyone will take it as you disparaging the idea of staying at home, but there comes that point where you want to be grown up again.
Avery Maxwell: So I got married right after I graduated college and then we got pregnant shortly after our honeymoon. And we decided pretty quickly on that being a stay-at-home mom was financially the most responsible thing we could do because everything I was going to make was going to go to childcare anyway. And we really wanted that piece of, I wanted to be the one raising them, I wanted to be the one teaching them manners. And it's exhausting, but that's something that I really wanted to do.
But as I got older, I realised I never really used my degrees. I have two degrees and I've never used them. And so COVID really hit that home for me, with everybody working from home, I'm like, "Who's going to hire me after being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years and not really having any outside work experience? I have a tonne of life experience, but that doesn't equate to someone hiring me even with my degrees that are probably going to be useless in five years.
And I didn't realise how much I would struggle with that until it started sitting there, "I'm not going to be able to contribute in any meaningful way after they're out of the house. What am I going to be able to give back to the family?" And it started, I was like, "Well, I could work here, I could work there." And I started, I filled out applications and I was like, "Maybe I'll work and just get back into it," and no one was going to hire me. And that was set in this whole spiral where I was like, "I want to be able to be something when my kids aren't here. I want to be able to contribute."
And so that's part of my motivation. People are like, "Well, how do you do it all?" I don't. I don't think that's realistic. I think that's something that... It was a huge disservice to me growing up, telling all these little girls to be a modern woman, "Have it all." I don't think you can. You can have it all a little bit here and a little bit there, but there has to be a give and take. And so I did, I worked really hard to do it.
James Blatch: And I think I have to be careful what I say here, but I do know people who do have it all and it's hard, and occasionally miserable and very stressful the whole time. So there's a price to be paid if you're going to try and have it all. Anyway, enough of that. Let's talk more about books and success. So you started getting into grips with the marketing side of things.
So you said you had basically had a series, because had the characters, and you had maybe four or five books at this point when you started running ads for the first time or...?
Avery Maxwell: When I first started, I spent a lot of money on ads, badly. I spent a lot of wasted money on ads and then I hired a mentor who tried to help me. And my brain just really struggles with the whole process. And that's why when I found SPF, having the pictures to be able to go back and forth and see the videos and pausing and go and see where I was, that was super helpful to me. But then at some time I was like, "You know what? I can't do this all." And so after the fourth book, I really made a huge push and hired someone to run some ads for me. I was like, "Let's see if this is going to work," and it did. And so we kept doing it that way and then I put out two more books and then I actually signed with a publisher and we've just kind of exploded since then.
James Blatch: And those original books, so we'll talk about your publisher, our mutual friend in a moment. Did you sign all your books or do you still have some just self-published yourself?
Avery Maxwell: No, I signed them all over.
James Blatch: Signed them all over. Okay, so we can reveal the big reveal that you are publisher is That's What She Said Publishing, which is Lucy Score and Mr. Lucy.
Avery Maxwell: Mr. Lucy, yes.
James Blatch: Over there in Pennsylvania. And they don't have many authors. It's a boutique little operation, but I know Lucy's a such a big fan of yours and she was so excited for us to meet you in Florida early this year, which was great. We even had a hurricane together, didn't we?
Avery Maxwell: We did. That was insane.
James Blatch: Was insane. Slightly surreal, that whole period, wasn't it?
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. I was such a great week and then it literally, it blew in out of nowhere.
James Blatch: Well, out of nowhere, at the same time as they spent a week telling us it was on its way, but all the locals, like Nathan was saying, "Ah yeah, it's not going to come there. Don't worry."
Avery Maxwell: "It'll be fine."
James Blatch: "A bit blowy for an afternoon, but it'll be fine after that." But yeah, in the end we all had to get out of Dodge, didn't we?
But anyway, so what that experience been like? Has that basically everything you wanted, that somebody else is doing all those Facebook ads and all that marketing?
Avery Maxwell: Yeah, it really is. There's still a tonne of work that I do. I think maybe working 12 to 14, 18-hour days, gone down to eight to 10. But I have a very tough time with ads. My brain, I really struggled with that and it was something that I would spend four to five hours a day on, trying to figure out and make them work. And when you can just hand that over and say, "Okay, let me just work on this piece of it," it's a huge relief. And I was able to be a mom again, have all that time. They're very good at what they do and they're very good about pushing us to be the best that we can at what we do.
James Blatch: Yes. So you're left with what areas of marketing do you do? I guess your Facebook group, your authors, your readers, rather?
Avery Maxwell: Yep. So I do all social media, I do the writing, I do... We'll sit down, we're about to have a meeting tomorrow, we'll sit down, we'll plan out the launch for my release in January, but they do a lot of the... So they set up my... I switched over to one of their editors, so they set up the editing, they set up the covers, and then I really just write and I work on the social media piece and stuff like this.
James Blatch: And let's talk about the books. So happy ever after. Now, is this friends to lovers, enemies, meet cute?
Avery Maxwell: We've got a little bit of everything.
James Blatch: Little bit of everything. Okay.
Avery Maxwell: A little bit of everything. So in each book there's probably a different trope. I definitely have the ones that I gravitate towards more. I really like the forced proximity, enemies to lovers, but it's all mostly small town. I write small town billionaires, so there's a lot of fantasy, because how often are you going to meet a billionaire in real life. Right? But the small town piece keeps them relatable.
James Blatch: If you do meet a billionaire in real life, they turn out to be like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Warren Buffett. I'm not sure any of them in...
Oh, I suppose potentially Elon Musk could be some sort of rogue hero, but I think most billionaires don't look like the ones on the covers of the books, do they?
Avery Maxwell: They don't, no.
James Blatch: Warren Buffett's a lovely guy. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he is a nice guy, but I don't know if he's got a chiselled torso.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah, there's not a lot of young billionaires, I guess.
James Blatch: But there are a lot in romance. There are a loads.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. There's a lot of them. Yeah, we all kind of write the same things.
James Blatch: Forced proximity is great. I think that's the... My little writing groups. I talked a lot to Lucy and she's a big fan of French Kiss, the movie, which is a sort of classic example of forced proximity working and why it works. And it's good for comedy as well. Are your books a little... I mean, I read Lucy's, which are very witty writer. Is that-
Avery Maxwell: Yeah, my stories are very emotional, but as a person myself, I can't take so much emotional. So there's always something, there's going to be a character, like the grandma that comes in to give some comedic relief. Or there's a lot of brothers in my stories, so the brothers, and if you've ever been around a group of brothers, you know that there's just always jokes going on and different things.
James Blatch: Something going on. And are you still writing, do you think partly therapeutically or is it now moved on because you are exploring new areas?
Avery Maxwell: I think a lot of it, I found a lot of self-worth in doing this. I definitely found myself in doing it. And so there's still that huge piece in every thing that I do. I think if I ever lose that piece, I've lost something that's making my stories connect with people. And so I try really hard to keep that at the forefront of my writing, remember what started it and how easy it is to get lost. And I bring that into all the characters, but I also look at it as a business. Even having Mr. Lucy do a lot of the business side of stuff, I sit down and make a business plan every year and then I revise it every month. So every month there's a new one, what are my goals this month? What do I want to accomplish? Not just with the writing, but with the business side of it. So even though he's doing a majority of it, I'm very active in what I want to personally accomplish.
James Blatch: And what do the kids think?
Avery Maxwell: Oh my gosh. So my oldest boy is 12 and he is a numbers guy. So he's all about seeing the royalties come in. And it was recently where it was... So it started, actually, with Lucy's book, Things We Never Got Over, 'cause he was like, "She's on this list, she's doing this, she's doing that. How much do you think she's making?" I'm like, "Buddy, I don't know." So he would look at my number. He's like, "Well, if you're making this and she's at this number." So we called it Lucy Math for a year. He would sit down and he would do all these math problems. "She's making $14.4 billion this month.
James Blatch: That's about right, yeah.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. That's so little off. But they're very into it. They also struggle a little bit with me working. They'll walk by my doors or glass, they'll walk by and they'll kind of be like, "So what do you have to do today? Are you almost done?" And so I do try really hard now to have a set schedule where I get up, I do my writing while they're at school. So when they get home at, we have staggered time, so when the first ones get home at 2:00, I'm with them for two hours. We do homework, we do snack, we check in, we talk. Then the older two get home from school and same kind of thing. I check in with them, but then they can go and do their work themselves. So I come back and I start doing my social media check-ins. And I check in with Mr. Lucy to see if there's anything I need to do. And I've staggered my day, so I'm more available.
Because like I said earlier, I don't think you can have it all. I personally can't have it all. I need to have it all in segments. So I can be all in with mom or I can be all in with Avery and I can't do it at the same time. So I am really good now about making sure that my day is scheduled. I have sticky notes all over my walls telling me what time I need to be doing what. And I have to stick to that schedule because my kids are only going to be little for so long, but at the same time, I want them to see that I am working and that I have built something all by myself. It's important, especially I think for my daughter to see that.
James Blatch: Yeah. Definitely. And have any of your children read your books?
Avery Maxwell: No. So my oldest is 15. If she wanted to, I think I would let her, but she's absolutely not. She's like, "No." I asked if she wanted to read one of Lucy's books and right now she's not into it, but her friends, she has some older friends who were like, "Yes, I want to read." I was like, "You need to have your mom's permission. If your mom would like to read it, that's fine, but I can't just give you a book." They're definitely not kid friendly.
James Blatch: No. And also, I just think for many, I'm trying to imagine what it would feel like reading a sex scene written by my mother and I don't even want to go there, so I can imagine that's probably best to support you.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. Well, even my husband, he doesn't read a lot of them. My reader group will make bets with him. If I hit a certain rank or I hit certain things, he'll read it. But it's so different. What I write is so different from who I am in everyday life that he's reading it and he's like, "There's so much swearing in this book." I'm like, "I know." He's like, "But you don't swear." I was like, "I know." And then he gets to a sexy scene and he's like, "I don't know who you are right now. I don't know where is this coming from?" My God, just a lot of wine.
James Blatch: It's a funny thing, isn't it? Because no one would ever think of somebody who wrote a psychological thriller, "Are you a psycho?" But romance writers do get a bit of this, don't they? Has it come from somewhere? And that's have to be your life experience, does it, to write? In fact, it isn't. 99% of the time when somebody's writing a fiction book, they're fantasising and it's... But yeah, I guess you get a bit of that.
But yeah, I can imagine I would keep the kids away from it, just from an embarrassment point of view because... But their friends will read it at some point, she'll get a bit older. Next couple of years some of her friends would've read your books.
But my daughter, I think may have read one of yours. She became sort of slightly obsessed with Lucy and the stable of writers. So I'll have to find out from her. She's in Canada now, but she may have read an Avery Maxwell, I think she went... She kept emailing me all these names she'd read. Oh, she's' read obviously Colleen, who she was a big one, then she started going through all these others, so I'll find out.
Avery Maxwell: That's so funny.
James Blatch: Yeah, she's-
Avery Maxwell: Wow, I always get surprised.
James Blatch: Yeah, she started writing a little bit as well, so she's quite...
Avery Maxwell: Did she?
James Blatch: Well, until she started her ski season and I think that's stopped her now. So you must been a pretty happy place now. That's What She Said publishing you, you are focusing on your fans and your writing.
And can you give us an idea, you don't have to give numbers, but this is a good living for you?
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. So before I signed with them, I was doing... Do you want me to tell numbers?
James Blatch: You can do as much or as little as you want. People love numbers, but I don't want to ever put pressure on somebody to.
Avery Maxwell: So when I was doing it myself, I was making between four and 6,000 a month on my own, and then during release times I would do about 8,000. That's gross. And anything that I made went right back into that. The first couple months after I signed with them, it continued, so we split royalties, so my share stayed about the same. And then I released my latest one and I probably tripled what I had made previously.
James Blatch: Was that the magic touch of Mr. Lucy?
Avery Maxwell: It is. It's also just being able to put more into advertising, so the capital behind it. And some months are, I still, I have not gone below what I had done on my own with them, and that's my goal. Next year my goals will be a little higher. I'll be getting away from some of the series and doing more standalones, so my financial goals will be a little higher than they were before.
James Blatch: Well, that's great. And you are not spending money on ads yourself, you're not spending money on quite a few of those overheads that get taken on by the publishing company, so that's a nice position to be in. How did that come about? How did that deal come about?
Avery Maxwell: I met them at Indies Invade Philly, a book signing last year. And Lucy's assistant, Joyce, had read my books because I was one of the authors there, and she fell down the rabbit hole and read them all. And so I think she was, actually, I know she was a little birdie in Lucy's ear for a long time about that.
James Blatch: She's your advocate.
Avery Maxwell: She still is my biggest cheerleader. Every time she talks about one of my books, people listen. And I think on my own, I had the best month ever when she started talking about me and Lucy's group, and it just snowballed from there. And so then they were doing a dinner and Joyce called and said, "Hey, come to dinner. Lucy wants to invite you and come and say hi." And so I did. I sat with Joyce and I sat with Lucy's brother Dan at dinner, and Dan and I hit it off. I, Dan works for them now, too. And I talk with Dan pretty much every day. And a few months later, she sent me a message, she's like, "How do you feel about having a meeting?" And I was like, "Sure, you should think about signing with us." And I was like, "Yes, please."
I don't turn that down. If you want to do it yourself, you can. But I knew at that point I couldn't keep working 14-hour days and being with the kids, and I knew that was nearing the end of what I could accomplish myself while my kids were this young. So it all just happened and they took them all. I was in the process of working on audio. Dan started helping me, telling me where to go with audio. And then they're like, "We'll take that over, too." And so they did and it's been really great. They're amazing.
James Blatch: And you obviously, you speak to them quite often. You speak to Mr. Lucy quite a lot?
Avery Maxwell: Yeah.
James Blatch: So it's not a far and forget thing for you. It's not like once a quarter you get a royalty statement from a publishing company. You are involved week to week?
Avery Maxwell: I talk to Dan every day and I talk to Tim quite a bit anytime there's an issue, and he's available all the time. If I have a question or if I want to... Recently, I wanted to run a sale on book one for signing that I was doing to get new people in reading. And it's very collaborative, the entire process is collaborative. And a lot of people are like, "Well, now you signed, now don't get to write what you want," and that's not how it is with them. It's, I bring my ideas to them and they tell me to go for it. It's never been a, "You can't do this," or, "You have to do it this way." It's, they leave all the creative stuff to me.
James Blatch: Well, your instinct is obviously good for what works.
Avery Maxwell: I hope so. I don't know. Covers, I could probably use a little help with, but...
James Blatch: They look all right from here.
Avery Maxwell: Oh, thank you.
James Blatch: Finally, I just want to talk about your relationship with readers and how you manage that and what that looks like.
Avery Maxwell: So when I first started, after that first book came out, like I said, I scrambled and I was looking at a lot of what everybody else is doing and I was trying to emulate what everybody else is doing, and it burned me out really quickly. Because I'm not Lucy Score, I'm not Colleen Hoover, I'm Avery Maxwell, and I'm a mess 99% of the time. I've got kids running around, I have two dogs running around. I'm lucky if I remember to brush my hair most days. So I had to take a step back and be like, "This..." Because it wasn't working either. No matter what I was doing, it wasn't working.
And so I started taking this class on marketing and promotions and I was thinking about, "What can I sustain? What can I put out in the world every day and feel, A, authentic, and B, not feel like I'm giving so much of myself that I don't have anything left?" And so I rebranded everything. And the thing that I've always taught my kids, the thing that I say to them every single time they leave the house is, "Kindness first. Choose kindness, lead with kindness." And so I decided that was going to be my brand, whether it was going to work or not, that's what I could give. I can't give advice on writing or all this other stuff yet, but I can be kind to people, and that's what I built it on. So it's kindness first in everything that I do, and people like it. People started responding to it, they're responding to...
We have messy Monday in my group because I'm a mess. I have 14 loads of laundry that need to be done. I have dishes that are piled up in the sink. And so I'm really honest with the fact that I struggle day-to-day getting things done. And that I have new authors now asking me, "Well how do I do this?" Or, "How do I do that?" And I was like, "You have to find the one thing that you can present to the world, feel good about it and do it genuinely, and put that out there and people will respond. Because they're not looking for another Lucy, they're not looking for another Colleen, they're looking for what you can give them."
James Blatch: And how do you get people into your Facebook group?
Avery Maxwell: So there's links at the back of my books. That's the biggest one. My newsletter, every week that I send a newsletter out, we get 50 to 100 new people planning up, so it's important that newsletter.
James Blatch:You run your own newsletter?
Avery Maxwell: I do.
James Blatch: Yeah. And how big is that? Do you want me asking?
Avery Maxwell: No, I think I just hit 22,000.
James Blatch: Okay. Wow. Romance is a whole different world. My last interviewees with science fiction and you divide the number by 10 or something, like everybody else, but romance is half of all publishing, isn't it? All the other genres squeezing into the others. But that is fantastic and it's incredibly competitive. And yet from that, from a standing COVID start, you've flourished, Avery, and it's been brilliant.
Avery Maxwell: Well, thank you. It's not easy. And that's something that I'm pretty honest about, too, is that it's not for the faint of heart. You have to put in the work. And the biggest question I get all the time is, "How do you fit everything in, and how do you do it?" And I've always been a huge advocate of, if you want something to happen bad enough, you're going to make it happen. You're going to find the time, whether you're exhausted and I'm sitting down. And there are times that I'm sitting down and I'm just so tired, but I have a goal, "I have 3,000 words to write today. And regardless of if they're crap and I have to erase them tomorrow, I'm going to get them out." And sometimes it's me sitting there just being like, "And, and, and, and, and," until tell the words flow. But you just do it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, I know that you really concentrate when you're writing because there was a moment early in the morning in the house we were sharing in Florida and Sissy and I, Sissy, Cecilia Mecca and I were trying to think of imaginative ways to take photographs with you unaware that we were around you. And you were so, you were wearing those headphones I think, you were so locked into your writing. We got closer and close. In the end, we were either side of you posing for photographs. I'll put some of them up on the, of course, to humiliate you. But that was a fun moment. But I was impressed. Joking aside, there's a level of concentration there.
Avery Maxwell: Well, I think that comes with having four kids, honestly. We have to able to tune some things out.
James Blatch: 'Cause I give off a lot of very kid vibe and that just gets blocked out.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah, you have to be able to block some things out. And that's why I say, I have to really compartmentalise when I do things because there's always people in the house, there's always little kids running around, there's always people that need something from me. So if I'm in writing mode, I focus on the screen and I blast music really loudly in my ears and I just tune everything out.
James Blatch: I think every mom has a story, don't they, about how a child has walked out of the kitchen, passed the father, all the way to the top of the house to find the mom on the loo, to ask them for something in the kitchen? And the mom is like, "Your dad is in the kitchen." I don't know how we do it as men, but somehow we get this working for us.
Avery Maxwell: Yeah. We were in Florida and I got phone calls from my kids, "Your dad is right there. Ask him."
James Blatch: Doesn't work like that. I don't make the rules, Avery. I'm just here abiding by them. Look, it's been really lovely to catch up with you again. We had such a fun time Florida and I hope that we do that again next year, perhaps without the weather event, might be nice.
Avery Maxwell: Yes, that would be good. I know, I'm excited. I'll definitely be back.
James Blatch: Superb. All right, Avery, thank you so much for joining us and good luck in the future.
Avery Maxwell: Thank you so much.
Speaker 1: This is The Self Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There you go. Really fun chatting to Avery. She's a grafter, Mark. She's got four children and moved around the country to a place where she didn't have much support around, had lockdown to contend with. And I think that did drive her to the point of insanity, which you can imagine, teaching four young children. You only have two. Right?
MARK DAWSON: Two is enough. Yeah. Four. God, I'd shoot myself. Yeah. No, I think Avery is, I met Avery in Tampa on the pier, we went for... Nathan Van Coops took a few of us out for a little walk around Tampa, which was really nice. We went down to the pier, down this redeveloped area in Tampa Bay. And had a chat with Avery and she has had an interesting story. She always had problems with bullying with online trolling, which got quite unpleasant. But she's basically took the decision that she wasn't going to let that derail her. You may of course have mentioned this in the interview, which I haven't listened to yet. But she's a really lovely person and deserves all of the success and she's getting quite a lot of success now, that she's seeing. So I think she's great.
James Blatch: Yes, she really is. I remember that, it was a blowy old night on the pier. It was the first outer layers of Hurricane Ian, wasn't it?
MARK DAWSON: Yeah, it was, it was. And you were saying, I'm staying, I'm staying on.
James Blatch: It was, "No. It's all going to be fine."
MARK DAWSON: And Nathan was, his attitude was, "Yeah, there's nothing to worry about." And then as we left, he was like, "Oh shit, this might be the one." And as it happened, as we've mentioned before, at the last minute, swung south and hit other friends.
James Blatch: So Nathan was right.
MARK DAWSON: He was right in the end, yes. But it was touch and go for while, wasn't it?
James Blatch: Yeah, it was. Okay. Well, hopefully no hurricanes next year and we'll talk about our planning for conferences next year, of course, including our very own one in June in future episodes. Okay. That's it for our internecine period. Not the right word, I know, but I'm going to use it anyway, between Christmas and New Year. Thank you to the team behind the scenes, and thank you especially to Avery for coming on and sharing her story with us. We'll see you next week. All that remains for me to say, I should say is, it's a goodbye from him.
MARK DAWSON: And a goodbye from me? Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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