SPS-371: From Accountant to Author in 2 Years – with Catharina Maura

Catharina Maura started publishing her books during the pandemic and has skyrocketed to #1 in the Kindle Store. Today, she shares some of her top insights with us spanning from marketing on TikTok to building relationships with her readers.

Show Notes

  • Catharina’s start with SPF and writing niche billionaire romances
  • How Catharina used TikTok to propel her to #1 in the Amazon Store
  • The importance of balancing your life and expectations with success
  • The plotting and writing process of Catharina’s books

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE: Get your tickets to the best self-publishing conference in Europe on 20-21 June, 2023.

TIKTOK FOR BOOKS: Learn how to sell your books using the power of TikTok.

NEW BLOG: Read about Choosing the Right Author Business Model on the SPF Blog.

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page


SPS-371: From Accountant to Author in 2 Years - with Catharina Maura

Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Catharina Maura: He didn't say it quite that nicely.

James Blatch: Right.

Catharina Maura: He really pushed my buttons, and I was super annoyed, and I was like, "You know what? I'm going to publish a book and we'll see what happens." And that's what happened, and I just never looked back.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson, and first time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success.

This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It's The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: I'm going to make a concerted effort to look into the camera that actually films me. So if you're watching on YouTube, I'm watching you. I'm watching you. Because Catherine has given up telling me off for looking down here, which is where I can see you.

Mark Dawson: Yes,

James Blatch: I've got to be professional, Mark. Even though I'm looking at a Sony lens.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's going to be-

James Blatch: Actually, it's a slight improvement.

Mark Dawson: That's going to be confusing. Because now, you're looking away from me, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do. It's all-

James Blatch: It's all about the viewer. It's not about you and me.

Mark Dawson: Ah, that's true. That's very true.

James Blatch: It's never been about you and me, Mark. There is no you and me.

Mark Dawson: Okay.

James Blatch: It's weird talking to this camera.

Anyway, welcome to the show. Here we are again. I'm in a slightly jubilant mood, because it's Friday the 10th of February and I'm on the ground in Canada. Or, at least I will be when this goes out. We're recording this about 10 days ahead.

And I'm going to be in Canada for a week and a bit, seeing my daughter. I am aching with every fibre of my body, to hug my daughter so hard. When they leave home, and betray you... They betray everything you've given them. They just walk off into their adulthood.

She's Leaving Home. That beautiful song by the Beatles. Makes me cry.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: Anyway, so that's what I'm doing.

But we've got lots going on on the SPS front, and we are going to talk about few of those. First of all, I just want to say congratulations to Linda Sterling, one of our Patreon supporters who won the Ads for Authors course. She won it. She was selected from one of our gold level subscribers.

You can join her and be in a draw for next time we open the Ads for Authors course, if you go along to We appreciate it very much indeed. And we have a little surprise, which I'm going to tease you about, for our top subscribers, to be announced soon.

Okay. We have also, an announcement or two on The Self-Publishing Show live front, which is quite exciting. Mark, you can do the speaker announcement.

Mark Dawson: I can, yeah. So we're starting now, out of the... As we record this, we're still in the middle of the Ads for Authors launch, so my focus is a little bit off that. But as soon as that's done... And I'm starting to transition into the next things, now. We are looking at the live show.

So I'm starting to programme it, and we've had quite a few people asking to speak. And I had an email about a month ago from an author I've never met, but have known for a little while. We've had email conversations and that again, and she's occasionally asked me for advice, and I've occasionally asked her for her opinion on things.

And she, I'm delighted to say, will be speaking at the show. And her name, for those who've been in the game as long as I have, will be well known, because she's sold millions of books and she is currently doing exceptionally well in translation. So Germany, same as me. But she's also doing very well in France and Spain, which is not the same as me. So I'm looking forward to hearing what she's going to be saying at the conference.

And her name is... I realised I haven't mentioned it yet. Is Bella Andre. So Bella is a multi-million selling romance author from the States, who also has a place in London. And we've persuaded her to wander from West London to-

James Blatch: She has a place in London? I didn't know that.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I didn't know that either. She lives in London for some of the year. And apparently, the picture... She just sent me a picture that we'll send out to everyone when we start to announce our speakers. And she said it was taken in her garden in London.

Her garden looks enormous. And I used to live in London, so I know how expensive big gardens are. So it's either a garden, or it could be an allotment.

James Blatch: Or The Royal Park.

Mark Dawson: Yes, I'm not quite sure.

James Blatch: Or Regents Park.

Mark Dawson: We'll certainly have to get to the bottom of that with Bella. But yeah, she's going to be great.

And it's quite good really. Because I remember when I started, the first London Book Fair I was kind of aware of from a self-publishing perspective, which I didn't go to. Had, I think... And I spoke to Darren at Amazon about this not too long ago. I think it had Hugh Howey, Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy, all in KDP T-shirts. There's a picture that I remember seeing on KBoards. And the three of them were on stage talking about self-publishing.

Now, this could even be 10 years ago. So it'd be great to get Bella back on stage again, to give us the benefit of her very long and successful experience. So, I'm really looking forward to that one.

James Blatch: Yeah, brilliant. There was a very early interview I think, on The Self-Publishing Show. And I can't remember-

Mark Dawson: I remember two or three, I think. Yeah.

James Blatch: Two or three, yeah. I remember it clearly, because there was that moment... I knew very little about indie publishing at that stage, and-

Mark Dawson: Some things don't change.

James Blatch: She told us that... I'm about to release book three actually, I'll have you know. She told us that she was approached about selling one of her series to traditional publishers, and they came with this $35,000 offer, or something like that. And she turned her spreadsheet around-

Mark Dawson: It was more than that. I think it was seven figures. And she turned it down.

James Blatch: But, that's... Because, if you're listening to the story, Dawson. I'm telling the story.

Mark Dawson: Oh, sorry. Sorry.

James Blatch: So they offered her $35,000. And she opened her laptop, turned it around, and showed how much she'd made. And they re-offered her a million dollars for it.

Mark Dawson: Ah, okay. And she turned that down, as well?

James Blatch: She did turn that down. I think she did eventually do something with them. But that, for me, was an indicator of the power shift that was going on in publishing. That obviously, Triad Publishers were aware of, but they don't talk about very much.

But yeah, no, I'm very excited about meeting Bella. And maybe we'll get invited to her garden. Maybe we'll get a barbecue invite or something, after the show?

Mark Dawson: Maybe. And one other thing we can mention with regards to the show is, we've had a few people ask us whether it's possible to do a payment plan for tickets. And it is. We've put together... I think it's four payments of £50 each. Will get you...

James Blatch: Correct.

Mark Dawson: Was it pounds or dollars? Pounds or dollars, sorry?

James Blatch: Pounds. Pounds.

Mark Dawson: Pounds?

James Blatch: We sell the show in pounds. It's based in London. Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. So yeah, four payments of £50 each, once a month, will get you up to June. Or, just before June. So that offer is available until... The 20th of February is the last date that you would be able to make those four payments and still be in time for the show.

So you can find that out at Sierra, Papa, Sierra, Lima, Indigo-

James Blatch: India.

Mark Dawson: India, Violet... Victor, Echo. There we go. I've butchered that. I think I'm using a police version and the Army. So, anyway.

James Blatch: Yeah. It did change, actually. I think sort of Second World War they... Blue Peter comes from an old phonetic alphabet. An old children's programme in the UK.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: At some point it changed to this NATO standardised one. But, anyway. I wish my children knew... Probably before they knew other things they should know, they learnt the phonetic alphabet, the NATO alphabet. Because I-

Mark Dawson: No, that's very useful. I'm sure they're very grateful for that.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'm sure they are.

Mark Dawson: Thanks, Dad.

James Blatch: I'm sure they are. Okay, good. Well, very exciting about the conference. I think now we've got this Ads for Authors launch out of the way, we will focus a bit more on the organisation. We've started that this morning actually, in our internal meeting. We'll start to roll out some names. Bella Andre being a good headline name.

But of course, we should say that Amazon will be there in force. And last time, we had Amazon from around the world in the room and there to meet you. And that'll be the same for all the major players in the industry. So you'll be able to talk to PublishDrive, and Draft2Digital, and Reedsy. All sorts of people are going to be a big part of it.

Mark Dawson: Google.

James Blatch: Yeah, absolutely. And we'll announce all the sponsors who are definitely going to be there, as we get closer to it. In fact, we'll probably feature as many as we can on the show, leading up to it as well.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay. All right, well that's all the SPS Live news we have for now.

One final thing I want to tell you about, is that we have a webinar coming up. If you attended our TikTok webinar, to learn about using TikTok for Authors. I have to apologise, because for the first time ever, we just could not get the software to work. It wouldn't settle down. We have had some inherent problems with GoTo Webinar, the software that we use. And we had to abandon it. It just froze up, and it was embarrassing for four, five minutes, talking through it live.

But we had 750 people on the line, out of, I think, 2,500 who registered for it. So, a huge presence in webinar terms. And that was disappointing for everybody.

But, it's been rearranged. Thank you very much indeed, to Lila Deboir and Jane Rylan. So it's now going to take place on the 27th of February at 9:00 PM UK.

And, guess what? We're going to have some new software to try. It'll be our first one using it. We're going to move over to Zoom. So, we had a call with them. At least we think we are. We're going to rigorously test it next week.

Mark Dawson: Yes. We've been using GoTo Webinar for ages and ages, and it's always a bit of an adventure. I've never had the same amount of problems as you've had. But I have had moments where it's frozen, and you're kind of like... And it's just a bit embarrassing really, when you've got everyone who's turned up, watching and listen to something, and the software goes tits up. It is really frustrating.

But anyway, weirdly, I did a webinar with Rachel McLean, which was really good, last night, as we record this. And it was flawless. No issues at all. No lag, nothing. It's just one of those things.

James Blatch: And presumably, lots of people use GoTo Webinar without problem every day. So, I'm just giving our unbiased fair assessment of it.

Mark Dawson: Oh yeah.

James Blatch: A lot of people have a good experience with it.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. But we've been thinking about moving for a little while. Because, if it happens once, that's too many times in my opinion.

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: I think given that Zoom has been battle-tested much more than GoTo Webinar has, over the course of the pandemic. If that software doesn't work now, it's never ever going to work. It's pretty easy to use. In fact, we are using it now, as we record this.

James Blatch: We are using it now, yeah. We are looking at the camera.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: But yes, it's a very impressive company, Zoom. And we did congratulate them on their guerilla marketing technique of unleashing that virus to convert-

Mark Dawson: Yes. Very impressive. Yeah.

James Blatch: ... a million more users on. So, they did very well with that.

Ah, yes. I should give you the URL if you want to sign up for that. It'll be out and operational by the time this podcast goes out. So if you go to, all one word, you can sign up for that. And you're going to be instructed on how to use the power of TikTok to sell your books. It's a big hot topic at the moment in indie publishing.

We also have a Facebook group, by the way, where we talk about this every day of the week. If you want to get involved in that, if you search TikTok for Authors... Ah, is it called TikTok for Authors? I'll leave you to look that up while I'm chatting, the TikTok for Authors group.

And if you registered for the webinar initially, we will be emailing you. But you will have to re-register, obviously, as we're using a different platform.

Okay. I think it's called TikTok for Authors.

Mark Dawson: TikTok for Authors, yes. If you search that, that should-

James Blatch: So if you go to Facebook Groups/Tiktok for Authors, you'll find out.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's TikTok for Authors. That's it. F-O-R, for Authors.

James Blatch: Yeah, yeah. Good. Okay, right. Time to move on to our interviewee today, who you and I met in Vegas. Do you remember this night in Vegas, Mark? It wasn't too drunken.

Mark Dawson: No, I do remember, yes. We went to the Cosmopolitan Hotel for an Amazon kind of drinks reception. And yeah, it was quite good actually. We had a few beers and I ended up talking to someone from Amazon, in Seattle, I hadn't met before.

And actually, I'm going to go and see them. When? The end of this month, I'll be in Vegas and then Seattle. So I'm going to go over to Seattle for a couple of days and... Because they move so fast, Amazonians. They don't stay in the job very for very long, sometimes.

I mean, there's a few exceptions. A couple of people I can think of, have been in the same job for years. But oftentimes, they go from one to another quite quickly.

So, it'll be good to meet some new faces out there. And I'm sure Seattle will be gorgeous at this time of year. Barmy weather. No rain at all.

James Blatch: Yes. It's famous for it, isn't it? Absolutely famous for it.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. Can't wait.

James Blatch: That will be good. Okay. Well anyway, we met... This person's not from Amazon, but Catharina Maura is actually a romance author. She is living in Hong Kong. So her husband... I think he's Dutch, from memory. Had moved out there.

And I think being... So, it's quite difficult when you're the other half of somebody who gets moved for a job. Because very often, you can't work. You don't have that status.

And so, she wanted to do something. She started romance writing, a lifelong obsession of hers. Just another person for whom indie publishing has unloaded and given an amazing opportunity. And she's killing it, as the kids say these days. She's doing really, really well, so I wanted to have a chat with her on the show. So, here is Catharina.

Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: So Catharina Maura, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. I think you might be the first person we've had from Hong Kong.

Catharina Maura: Amazing. Thank you for having me.

James Blatch: We met in Vegas. I guess you flew that way to Vegas, and I flew this way, and we met in the middle somewhere.

Catharina Maura: We did, yes.

James Blatch: And we're going to talk about you, your writing, the success you've had, the type of romance that you write. And we're always interested in each other's approach to writing, so we'll talk a bit about plotting and writing. And physically, how you do it. And marketing, and so on.

So, we've got all that to come ahead. Why don't you start off by giving us an introduction to you and your writing career?

Catharina Maura: Right. Well, my name's Cat. I have been writing for about two and a half years. I started during the pandemic, like quite a lot of us, actually. It kind of just... It's hard to say. It just was the perfect thing for me and it worked out really well.

But yes, now, I write CEO-billionaire-romance, and all of my books are really quite niche. They're all very angsty, fast-paced. They tend to have recurring themes in it.

James Blatch: And we should say, you've done incredibly well in a short space of time. USA #1?

Catharina Maura: Ah, yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The last one hit #1 in the US. In a few other countries, as well.

James Blatch: Yeah. So leading up to that... I mean, lots of people did start writing in lockdown. But had it been something you'd pursued on and off before?

Catharina Maura: Well, yes and no. So the story is actually that, I have been writing all my life. When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a writer. But, well, generally for people of my ethnic background, that's not a real career that you can pursue. So I became an accountant instead.

And it was during that lockdown period, that I was writing a lot more than usual, because it's just a real coping mechanism for me. And my husband said to me, "Hey, you're doing this every single day. You're staying up so late writing and you're not doing a thing with all of these things that you write. Why don't you just publish one book? Just one. Just see what happens. You don't know, right? Just give it a try."

But, he didn't say it quite that nicely. He really pushed my buttons, and I was super annoyed, and I was like, "You know what? I'm going to publish a book and we'll see what happens." And that's what happened, and I just never looked back.

James Blatch: Yeah. Amazing. So you say you wanted to write as a little girl, but was it family pressure and parents? Just, the expectation was that you would be going into a profession as a role?

Catharina Maura: Yes. It was very much an expectation that I would attend uni, that I would do well. Do better than my parents have done. And the easiest way to do that is to pursue a reliable career track, rather than pursuing something that's a dream, that not many of us get to live.

James Blatch: Yeah. In fact, certainly before indie publishing... I'm thinking now, as a parent, how would I have felt 15 years ago before indie. And my daughter saying, "I'm going to be a bestselling writer."

It was like winning the lottery back then. Whereas today, it has opened up and made it more possible for us, which is a great thing.

Can I ask where you were brought up? How long have you been in Hong Kong?

Catharina Maura: We've been here for five years, but I was born and raised in the Netherlands. I'm from Amsterdam. I'm Dutch.

James Blatch: Oh, yes. Yes, I remember now. We had a chat over a beer, I think, at an Amazon-

Catharina Maura: Yes.

James Blatch: It's all coming back.

Catharina Maura: Yes.

James Blatch: Okay. So you're in Hong Kong, and I guess that's for work related reasons? Is that you or your husband?

Catharina Maura: It is, yes. My husband was relocated here. He actually works for a Dutch firm, but they opened an office here, so we relocated together.

James Blatch: Okay. So-

Catharina Maura: Which was actually the perfect time to start writing.

James Blatch: Yes. Sounds perfect, yeah.

Catharina Maura: A lot of things just really fell into place for me.

James Blatch: Yeah. So you turned your talents to writing, published that first book. Now, tell me about that publishing experience. What did you do? How did you publish it?

Catharina Maura: This is the interesting part, because I didn't know a thing. I was a very casual reader. I didn't know that book groups existed. I had never heard of ARC readers or B2 readers. I didn't even know BookBub was a thing. I just didn't know anything.

All I knew was that I always used to read on KU. So I figured, that's what I'll do. It seemed simple enough. It was uploading onto Amazon. It wasn't rocket science, it was just a couple of clicks. And I kind of just figured, "Okay, well if this is just a personal challenge, let's just publish a book and see what happens."

So I got a really cheap cover from Fiverr. Actually, that's still the cover on the book today, because I still love it. And I got my editing on Fiverr. And I just wrote a story. That was all it. I just uploaded onto Amazon. It was a really cheap project.

And then I figured, "Hey, people are actually reading this." I hadn't advertised it, I hadn't really done anything. And I think the book, in its first month, made about $300.

Obviously for us right now, that's perhaps not considered a success. But back then I was like, "Hey, would anyone even read this at all?"" It was an indication that it wasn't the worst thing ever.

So I kind of set out to think, "Okay, well what knowledge do I need to make something out of this? Can I make it sell better? Is there potential? Could I do more? Can I write another book? Could this really be a thing?"

So the first thing I did, obviously, I went to Google. Because where else are you going to go if you're not from the community? I think I ended up on a Reddit thread or something like that, and a self-publishing format came up. I think there were four or five recommendations, and that was a very consistent one. And it was also one that had a really good refund... What do you call it?

James Blatch: Policy.

Catharina Maura: Yeah, policy. So I thought, "Okay, well what's the worst thing that can happen if it's really shit? I'll just get a refund."

So I got that course, and at the time I was like, "Okay, well I can't really put all my money into this if I have no idea if this is going to pan out." So I got the 12-month payment plan.

I'm trying to think back, because it feels like a really long time ago. So I'm trying to think back to what I actually did.

James Blatch: Yeah, it was two years ago.

Catharina Maura: Yeah, yeah. So I know I got the course, and it opened up this community that I didn't realise existed. So, I took the course. I'm very much into learning things, so the course was perfect for me.

James Blatch: Oh, it wasn't shit then?

Catharina Maura: I took all of the modules. Look at me now. So I think something, somewhere along the line, must have gone all right.

So I took all the modules, and I started asking questions in the groups. And that's kind of how I learned that there were all of these components to publishing.

But I would say that what I actually started with was just Facebook ads. And I did initially run them the way that they're taught with the self-publishing formula. I don't anymore, because as you grow, and as your career grows, you learn new things and your methods evolve to become uniquely yours. But the foundations of it definitely came from there.

I think even some of my naming conventions, and the way that I would set up some of my ads. I think a lot of that is still thanks to the foundation, that I gained in that way. Even the Amazon course is probably a lot of that. I still apply a lot of that today.

So that's kind of how I went. Introduced to community. Took an ads course. And then just figured things out step by step.

James Blatch: Yeah. Oh, it was amazing that your first book without any promotion at all made $300 in the first month. Because that, in itself, is hard these days. I guess that was probably a coincidence with lockdown, and there was a huge uptake in-

Catharina Maura: I think so. I think I got really lucky in that regard. And it happened to be a trope that is quite well-loved. Actually, my trope was out of convenience. It was just my favourite trope to write.

So it was a trope that was quite hard. It was billionaire. I unintentionally hit a lot of universal fantasies with that book as well. So there were a few things that that book had going for itself, that were out of... Well, were not out of control, but weren't intentional. And they just happened to work really well.

It was, I think, luck, good timing. And then, very simply, taking action when I realised there was potential.

James Blatch: Yeah. And good writing.

Catharina Maura: Well, I don't think that was very good.

James Blatch: I'm going to say that. Because quite clearly, that is a part of it.

Catharina Maura: It was, for sure, the worst book I've ever written.

James Blatch: Well, your first one's supposed to be, isn't it?

Catharina Maura: Yeah, I guess so.

James Blatch: Unless you're Harper Lee. Now, the follow-up then. So you probably didn't plan it to be a series when you first wrote that. Was it a one-off book?

Catharina Maura: It isn't a series.

James Blatch: Oh, isn't it?

Catharina Maura: The second book was actually... So like I said, I didn't know a thing. I was learning. So book one was written entirely from the females point of view. And I started to get all of these emails saying they really wanted to know what the male point of view was, and why...

Like, some people were really mad I hadn't written his point of view, and I didn't even realise that that was something I could do. I just was very clueless. So I was like, "Hmm, well, I can write it. I don't know. Let's try that then."

So I just wrote the second book, which was the same book, which started just a few years earlier. So it's like a companion novel. It wasn't really anything new, it was more of a, "Oh, okay, well there are people that actually want this. Let's just write it."

But I believe... Yeah, I think that's how it went. But I definitely made a lot of mistakes. It's insane just how many mistakes I made at the start.

James Blatch: Tell us what sort of mistakes you think you made.

Catharina Maura: Well, I'm pretty sure that my second book has had approximately 20 covers. It also has had several titles, and about 100 different blurbs. I have tried 100 different ways to run ads, different placement methods, different advertising platforms.

I think everything that could go wrong, I have done wrong once before. But I also think there's no better way to learn, so it doesn't really matter in the end.

James Blatch: If you don't make mistakes, you're not learning anything, they say, don't they? So you kind of bear that out.

So, you carried on writing... Sorry, just to clarify. Book two was the same story from a different POV, or just a-

Catharina Maura: I'm trying to remember. I don't think that it was, actually. I think I wanted to release that. But I think book two may have been what is now called, Stolen Moments.

Because I think what happened is, around that time, I learned I was supposed to be writing a series. Or at least that's what I thought it meant. It turns out, that's not true for me. But I thought, "Okay, to maximise my chance of success, it looks like maybe I should be writing a series."

So that's what I tried doing. This was a trilogy featuring the same characters. It's actually one of my favourite stories still, but it just doesn't really sell well. So I think I started writing that series, and somewhere along the lines I was like, "Oh, if I keep getting emails about this other thing that people want, why don't I just write that too?"

But it was more of, I felt like I owed it to readers. It wasn't something I wanted to write. At that time I hadn't yet learned, I can just say no to reader demands. So at the time I was like, "Oh, okay, well it turns out I have to write this companion novel from his point of view."

I shouldn't have bothered. Well, that's not true. It still makes money. It's fine. It doesn't really matter. But it may not have been the best use of my time.

James Blatch: Yeah. And that influence readers have on writers is a very indie thing, much, much, more so than ever happened before with traditional. And actually, although you had a sort of negative experience there, because it wasn't the book you really wanted to write.

Actually, the fact that you wrote in a load of tropes that readers love, and have pushed, and almost created. Is, I think, a very significant part of why Indie is exploding at the moment. Because readers get what they want quite a lot. Billionaire, marriage-of-convenience-

Catharina Maura: And they also get a connection, right? They get a connection with authors that you don't really get outside of the indie space. And that didn't exist, say, 5 to 10 years ago. You could never reach an author the way that you could now. You couldn't have a conversation with them. You couldn't send them a message, or gush about their books and actually have them reply.

And connection is quite a big part of my brand. I really do try to make sure readers get responses. I try to repost things. And I think that's really important.

James Blatch: What are your main channels-

Catharina Maura: For many reasons, honestly.

James Blatch: Sorry, what are your main channels for contact?

Catharina Maura: TikTok is one that I actually manage entirely by myself. If you were to reach me on TikTok, it would always be me replying.

And then there's Instagram, which is probably the second biggest. But generally, I do have an assistant to make sure that no one gets missed out on. We separate all of my messages into ones I have to reply to myself, and some that they can handle.

And then there is my Facebook reader group, in which I'm quite active. And that's also a combination of my assistants and myself.

I think quite lately, it's been a lot harder to reply to everything personally. But we are definitely still making sure that readers are getting responses.

James Blatch: How long have you been on TikTok?

Catharina Maura: Five months. Four or five months, something like that.

James Blatch: Okay. So, this year. And has that become an important part of your marketing?

Catharina Maura: Yes, absolutely. TikTok changed my career. I was very resistant to it, because I don't actually like social media. I'm actually the biggest introvert ever. I don't even leave my house more than once a week, and I only do that, because my husband goes crazy if I make him stay all home all weekend.

So, if not for him, I would not even leave. So to be that connected is really not my thing. I don't enjoy it. I also don't necessarily enjoy being on camera, or making fun of myself. It's just not my thing. But I had a lot of friends who were doing really well, and they were like, "Hey, it's a real missed opportunity if you don't do this."

So what actually happened is, I was doing well enough with ads and I felt like I didn't need anything else. But I also knew that I could potentially do better. And to do so, I would have to step out of what I already knew. I'd have to step out of my convert zone. So I did go on TikTok eventually.

So until that point, I had actually never even hit the top 100. I was already doing very well financially, and making a very solid full-time salary. But I wasn't hitting a top 100, or hitting any of the author milestones that any authors find important.

And at the start, I wasn't really bothered. But as your career progresses, you're like, "Hmm, okay, well I'd like a new challenge. Would that be something I can do?" And it turns out, I couldn't with ads. Ads just don't have the reach that they used to. And in my experience, it keeps getting worse.

So I figured, "Let's try a new platform and see what happens." So I did. I took a lot of advice from all my friends who were already doing really well, and just gave it a go. And the book that I started off with, it ended up hitting #4 in the store within a few weeks of experimenting with TikTok. And obviously, the one after that hit #1.

I also gained over 40,000 followers on TikTok in the last four or five months. I have quite an engaged readership there. So if I post something, they really do engage with the content, and I'll have chats with them in the comment sections and stuff like that.

So I would say it's been a far more important aspect of my job than I ever anticipated it becoming.

James Blatch: Yeah. I want to ask you a bit more about TikTok. I will just say, in defensive of ads, I think you're right. It became more expensive, more difficult, more competitive. Lots more industry money, big corporation, when he was discovering social media ads and going in.

But I honestly think that's changed in the last six months. And I think probably because of the global recession that's coming on now, I think it's been the first budget a lot of big businesses have slashed. So I'm now getting-

Catharina Maura: Yeah. I think budgets are going to get cut.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'm getting 9p and 13p clicks again, which I haven't had for two or three years, on Facebook. So I think it's now a very fertile time. But anyway, that's an aside.

Catharina Maura: I would say it's been a bit better. Yeah, no, it's not been bad. It's just, I've never been able to do what I do now with just ads.

James Blatch: Yeah. TikTok has been-

Catharina Maura: I think it's always... Maybe not even necessarily TikTok, but some form of organic engagement is always going to play a role, whether we like it or not. Ultimately, you can't hit the biggest targets with just ads, otherwise everyone would be buying their way in. It's just not that simple, unfortunately. Otherwise, I would not be on TikTok.

James Blatch: So you must have only just started TikTok then, when we met in November, in Vegas. If you've only been on there for-

Catharina Maura: Yeah, I think by the time we met, I'd been on there for three months, four months, maybe.

James Blatch: And did you follow a strategy on TikTok? Did you look at some other authors and see how they were doing it?

Catharina Maura: Yeah. So the reason I actually went on TikTok is because my best friend nagged until I gave in. She's amazing. She's extremely good at TikTok. And she was like, "You have to do this. You have to."

And that went on for a few weeks and I was like, "Do I really have to?" And she's like, "Yes. You don't get to complain that you don't hit the top 100, but then also not be willing to put in the work that has resulted in me hitting those goals." And I was like, "Okay, that's fair. I'll do as you say."

So I just followed her advice, and she was very much about, "Hey, try this sound. Try this type of content. Try to evoke emotions. Try this type of length." Which, at that time, was working. It changes very quickly.

But when I first started, I just did whatever she told me to do, and I put my own twists on it. I'm very good at testing things and analysing data. So all I really needed was a starting point from where I could optimise. And she gave me that and I ran with it.

James Blatch: Yeah. And 40,000 followers later, it's a decent platform for you. So you found it as being something that gives you that reach.

Let's go back to the writing a bit. So how many books do you have out now? How often are you writing a book?

Catharina Maura: I believe it's 10. I believe I've got 10. It's been tricky. This year is going to be a lot more consistent.

But from the time that I started writing, to now, I have moved houses several times. I've moved back to Amsterdam, and back to Hong Kong. And there has just been a lot privately going on, that has disrupted my life. So that has resulted in my release schedule not being quite what I would've liked it to be.

But I would say that I try for four books a year. If I do three, I'm still happy. But if I want to really optimise what I can do organically, and I want to stay relevant, for a better term. Then once a quarter is what I aim for.

But I am definitely thinking about whether or not that's necessary anymore, and whether I need to be at the level I'm at. Or if less would result in more peace and happiness.

James Blatch: Yeah. That's definitely a balance to consider. And that's another great thing about being indie. You haven't got a publisher telling you you're on a schedule, that you've got a hit all these deadlines, one after another.

Okay, so the writing started off with billionaire marriage-of-convenience. What other tropes are you enjoying writing at the moment?

Catharina Maura: Marriage-of-convenience and arranged marriage. Well, the book that I had #4, it's called Bittersweet Memories. That was, in my opinion, the best book I've ever written. Which is why I was so upset it didn't do well when it released, and why I was willing to go on TikTok.

Because I felt like, if this was the best that book could do, that would break my heart. I just felt like, "That couldn't be it." I loved that book so much, that I was willing to do anything to increase the reach.

And that was a very interesting story, because it was an amnesia bloodline. It was a forbid romance, but it was quite... Yeah, it's really hard to explain. It had a really long time span. So it followed the characters from when they were quite young. It had rags to riches and back, and then back again.

So it was a lot of character development and it was... I would say that is a very much a Catharina Maura book.

But lately, the new series I'm writing, the book that I had #1 as well. That was an arranged marriage. And that entire series is arranged-for-convenience. And so, that's going to be all of that. And then I'm basically combining that with other tropes that I love.

So another one that's coming out next month, is an office romance and an arranged marriage. So it's kind of like, all of the next ones are going to two-in-one.

James Blatch: So you love this forced proximity, arranged marriage-

Catharina Maura: I really do.

James Blatch: Yeah. It's always fun. I always think of... What's the film with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan, where they go to the vineyard in France? It's like the classic forced proximity rom-com, and I loved it. French Kiss. French Kiss, there you go.

Catharina Maura: Oh, right. No, I actually haven't seen it.

James Blatch: Oh, if you have not watched French Kiss, you have to watch French Kiss.

Okay. I notice, you've got quite a few translations on there as well. Is it, Germany seems to be a good market for you?

Catharina Maura: Yes, we've signed quite a lot, but they are not out yet. Germany, I do myself. Germany's indie, that's why that actually comes out at a decent pace. Germany is quite good for me. I think it's about 15% of my income.

James Blatch: Oh, it is? Wow, that's amazing. So you organise the translation. You do the marketing for Germany?

Catharina Maura: Yeah, yeah. I just do Facebook ads for Germany. I think I have an auto ad on Amazon, and then some Facebook ads for Germany. Quite low budget, because it's not that big of a market.

And they did quite well. The German translations tend to... Last year, we hit the top 10. The very last one didn't, because I didn't have time to do the marketing for it. And usually, if I pay a lot of attention, it'll probably hit the top 10 in Germany on release week. Most of them have. And also, their bonuses are great, so they earn out in the first month, usually.

James Blatch: Yeah. And so, you alluded to the fact that you've done some deals. Some trad deals probably, with your distribution outside of... Was that outside of the US and UK, maybe?

Catharina Maura: Yeah, it was just translations.

James Blatch: Okay.

Catharina Maura: I have some other things in the work, but nothing I can disclose at this time.

James Blatch:< So in terms of print, you do that yourself as well? That's indie published, your print versions?

Catharina Maura: I do at the time, yes.

James Blatch: Yes? Okay. All right, so what's the future for you then? So you said you've had a bit of disruption in your life. I don't want to pry there, but are you going to maybe balance, and make sure that you've got that life-balance right?

Catharina Maura: Well, that's a good question. Because obviously, it's one I've been asking myself as well. I think what I would like to do most is less. I would like to do less.

So I have taken 2023 as a year to accept speaking engagements. To do the things that I think maybe I should, and then determine if they make me happy or not.

So I would say this is a year of pushing as hard as I can, and seeing how far I can get. And regardless of the outcome, I'm going to take it slow the year after. I think I'm going to probably take it down to two books a year and just enjoy my life a bit more.

I don't really think it's necessary to keep pushing this hard, because I don't see a point. What is the goal, ultimately? You don't need that much to have a good life. It's one thing to hit career milestones and push for those. And obviously, income comes with that. But you don't need that much to sustain yourself, or even to invest in your future, or in capital, or real estate. You don't need that much.

So, I guess it's a year of figuring out, "What is next for me?" How much I'm willing to do. And what that means. In short, I don't have an answer for you. I don't know yet.

James Blatch: No, no, no. That's okay, though. I think that's such an important thing to try and come to terms with. Is that, we don't always have to better everything we did before. Because it's such a human...

If you get to 5,000 in the chart and your next book is 6,000, it's human nature to be disappointed, and to try harder and try and move forward. But actually, you've hit #1 in the chart. And so-

Catharina Maura: Yeah. And it would be extremely unrealistic to assume that I could, for one, do it again. Or do it for another couple of releases. I don't anticipate being able to do that.

And I have always been in competition with myself up to a certain point. If I were to keep competing with myself now, I think it would become unhealthy. And I'm not feeling to sacrifice my mental health for goals I have already reached.

So that's kind of where I'm drawing the line now, already.

James Blatch: Good. Sounds good. Okay, let's talk a little bit, before we let you go... I guess it must be the afternoon in Hong Kong. You're ahead of us, aren't you?

Catharina Maura: It was 5:00 PM when we started, so.

James Blatch: Yeah, about 5:30 in the afternoon. It must be teatime soon. Let's just talk about your actual writing then. So how do you approach your writing? Do you plot your book out in advance? Do you just sit down and it falls out of you?

Catharina Maura: Right. Well, I am a hardcore pantser. If I know the story, I don't want to write it, because then it's boring and I have no interest.

But I generally know... Like, I have an idea of who the characters are and what their story will be. I know that how they interact. I'm very character-driven. So I know what they might do, some of the shenanigans they might get into. And the story kind of starts there. I know an inside event, and then I just start writing. And then I figure it out as I go, and then I kind of pause along the way, to make sure it's going in the right direction.

I used to have to rewrite the book so many times, because I would find out new information, and I wasn't equipped to handle that and I would have to start at the start. Now, I can pretty much write a relatively clean draught and catch myself before it goes off the rails.

I would say that recognising what my strengths are has helped in that. I know that I'm very strongly futuristic. So I know that for me, imagining a plot is the same as writing it. And if I can do that before I sit down to write it, it saves me a lot of time.

But ultimately, I tend to get myself into trouble with deadlines. I'm the worst when it comes to it. So I would say that when it comes to writing, I still have no idea what I'm doing.

James Blatch: Right. That sounds like it's working. And also, what's interesting is, you call yourself a hardcore pantser. But at the same time you said, once you've got the story in your mind, then you can write it. So in a way, you are plotting it, you're just not physically plotting it. You're plotting it in your mind.

Catharina Maura: Yes. I would say that I plot about 10% at a time.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay.

Catharina Maura: I always know what the next five chapters or so, are going to be. And then go from there.

James Blatch: Yeah. And in terms of writing itself, do you write in Scrivener, or Word, or how do you do that? Where do you write?

Catharina Maura: Yeah, I use Scrivener. I have a really nice office that I use, but the chair I'm in right now is also a favourite.

James Blatch: That looks like an amazing chair.

Catharina Maura: Yeah, it's really nice, because it has a view of all of Hong Kong from here. Which obviously you can't see, but it's a really, really nice location.

So I kind of move along the house from my bed, to my office, to my dining table, to this chair, to the sofa. Because every time I move, it feels fresh. And then I get to write a little bit more and push myself a little bit harder. That's kind of how it goes. Sometimes I'll try to narrate some of the story if my wrist is too painful.

And generally, there's always going to be a point where I'm in so much trouble, I have to write 10,000 a day to even meet my deadline.

James Blatch: Wow.

Catharina Maura: But we've kind of established that this is how I work and it tends to work out. It's not very good for me, but it is what it is.

James Blatch: No, 10,000 a day is a lot. I mean, what's your average on a normal day, when things are going okay?

Catharina Maura: If I have a good day, it's probably 5,000 to 6,000. If I'm writing without any pressure at all, it would be 3,000 a day.

James Blatch: And do you give yourself regular breaks? Do you sit there and write for two hours at a time, or do you write in 30 minute sprints, or?

Catharina Maura: I don't really do sprints. It's hard to say, because I don't think there's any logic to anything I do. I think I just kind of sit down and decide that, "By the time the day is over, I need to have X amount of words." And then I get distracted.

I'll write 1,000 words, I get distracted. And then I'm like, "Oh, okay. Whoops, an hour passed. Maybe I should do some work." And then I'll try for another 1,000 words, and then my husband comes home and he is like, "You haven't finished your words, have you?" And I'm like, "No."

So then this goes on until it's 3:00 AM and I finally finish my words. And I'm like, "Okay, I need to be better." And I never improve.

James Blatch: He seems like a bit of a taskmaster, your husband.

Catharina Maura: Yeah, he is.

James Blatch: Do you check he's finished his work?

Catharina Maura: He's really good at... So I'm quite chaotic, but he is the most disciplined person I have ever met. And he's also a mathematician. It's just super annoying in so many ways.

But he's very good at motivating me and reminding me what I promised myself I would do. And sometimes he's like, "Oh, okay. Well, you always figure it out, so I guess it's fine."

James Blatch: Opposites attract, Catharina. Which sounds like another trope for you at some point.

Catharina Maura: Hey, I mean, I could give that a try. I don't think that's one I've ever seen before.

James Blatch: A mathematician. Okay, well look, it's been brilliant talking to you. I honestly, sincerely wish you luck in getting the life-balance right. And you're absolutely right, "Why are we doing this?" We have to step back and ask ourselves that question all the time.

And the wonderful thing about not working in a 9:00 to 5:00, or having a boss, or working even in trade publishing, whether you're on a contract. Is, we can make those decisions. Although you have got your fans who are, I guess your bosses in many ways.

But yeah, we can find you on TikTok. What's your handle there?

Catharina Maura: @CatharinaMaura

James Blatch: @CatharinaMaura. And it's Catharina with an H in the middle of it.

Catharina Maura: Yes.

James Blatch: Obviously, we can see your books all over Amazon. And yeah, good luck. Are you staying in Hong Kong do you think, for the foreseeable now?

Catharina Maura: Yes. It's going to take a lot to get me to move away from here.

James Blatch: You like Hong Kong?

Catharina Maura: I love it here, and I barely pay any taxes.

James Blatch: Yeah? Well, that sounds good.

Catharina Maura: It's very nice. It's wonderful.

James Blatch: Yeah, that sounds like a very good reason to move to Hong Kong.

Catharina Maura: Yeah. It would cost me a lot to move away from here, so I have no intention of doing that.

James Blatch: And you talked about potentially doing some speaking engagements. Where would people... Have you accepted any yet?

Catharina Maura: Yes, but I think the only one that I can actually disclose right now, is Inkers Con.

James Blatch: Okay. You're going to speak at Inkers Con, at Alessandra Torre's...

Catharina Maura: Yes. I don't think anything else... That's the one I know has been signed and I will definitely be there. The rest, I don't think I can disclose just yet.

James Blatch: Okay. All right, Catharina, what fun talking to you. It was great to meet you in Vegas. Thank you so much indeed, for coming onto the show.

Catharina Maura: Thank you for having me.

James Blatch: Hey, we wish you luck in all the different fields in the future.

Catharina Maura: Thank you. And I wish you the same.

Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: There you go. Catharina Maura talking to us from Hong Kong. I think our first guest from Hong Kong. I really, really want to go there at some point, but I don't know when that's going to happen. We need to go to the east one day, Mark, don't we? To down under.

Mark Dawson: I've been to Hong Kong, but a long time ago. Yeah. Very interesting.

James Blatch: You probably won't do what I'll do, which is to climb the hill to the old board that used to be the Kai Tak airport chasing board that they would bank onto. Which is still there on the hill, apparently.

Mark Dawson: No, I wouldn't do that.

James Blatch: I'm going to pull you up there.

Mark Dawson: Because I'm not boring. But, anyway. Yes.

James Blatch: That's a great thing to do. Yes, maybe we'll go down south to Australia and New Zealand at some point.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: We've been talking about it enough. We'll organise it.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay, look, I think that's it. We've got lots packed into today. Thank you very much indeed, to Catharina. And of course, to John, and Catherine, and Stewart, and John, again. And Tom, and everybody in the background. I hope I haven't missed anyone, who help this podcast become a reality every week.

All that remains for me to say is, it's a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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