Spotlight 006: Kym Thurlow
MARK DAWSON: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self Publishing Show and this is Self Publishing Spotlight where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
TOM ASHFORD: Hello and welcome to the Self Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career. My name’s Tom Ashford and I’m part of the Self Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week’s guest is Kym Thurlow. She has written four books in the cozy mystery and young adult fantasy genres and she lives in Reading, England. Welcome, Kym.
KYM THURLOW: Hello.
TOM ASHFORD: How are you doing?
KYM THURLOW: Fine, thank you. How are you?
TOM ASHFORD: I’m not bad at all. All right, let’s jump straight in with question number one. Why do you write?
KYM THURLOW: That’s probably a really hard question.
TOM ASHFORD: It really is. I started off with James telling him that it was really easy and I’ve completely changed that now because it is a brutal question but it’s basically, is there a particular reason that you started? Was there a story that you wanted to tell or…
KYM THURLOW: No, I think just ideas, just so many ideas about worlds that you want to create. Originally, I wanted to draw all the mad things that were in my head but I wasn’t good enough, my art’s just not up to it. So I realized that writing it down was a much, much better idea. So I started writing just nonsense fantasy stories, mostly about dinosaurs, when I was a teenager-
TOM ASHFORD: Cool.
KYM THURLOW: … and just haven’t really stopped writing since.
TOM ASHFORD: Nice. And you’re self published, you’re not traditionally published, or hybrid, or anything like that.
KYM THURLOW: No, I am self published.
TOM ASHFORD: Cool. Would you switch if you were offered something?
KYM THURLOW: No. Young adult fantasy, the readership love a paperback. They love a hardback, they collect signed editions. So I think, on that genre, there can be some benefits to being in bookshops, but I think about 50% of the readership are adults reading eBooks so there’s still plenty of folks to sell your books to online.
TOM ASHFORD: Yeah. And so you write in two different genres, don’t you, because you have a pen name for the other one. Do you want to go into that a little bit?
KYM THURLOW: I have two. Well, I don’t write under Kym Thurlow at all. I have two pen names.
TOM ASHFORD: Nice.
KYM THURLOW: Yeah, just because young adult fantasy and cozy mystery are so different, it made sense to split the two under two different names. Also, in my work, in my normal day job, I do quite a lot of work with IT, so doing the websites and stuff like that I can do myself so it wasn’t much more of an expense to set up too.
TOM ASHFORD: Cool. So do you want to tell us what the pen names are or do you want to keep that secret from the audience?
KYM THURLOW: My fantasy pen name is Eliza Raine.
TOM ASHFORD: Nice.
KYM THURLOW: And I write mostly Greek mythology based fantasy. My cozy mystery, I’m saving up to rapid release, so I’m not going to say anything about that one at the moment.
TOM ASHFORD: That’s fair enough. Cool. So question number two is a bit of an easier one. It’s, how do you write? So do you plot or do the pantsing method of just seeing where the story takes you?
KYM THURLOW: Plotting and planning has completely changed me from a hobby writer to someone who’s actually trying to do this as a living. I read Libbie Hawker’s book, Take Your Pants Off, where she suggests plotting your stories via character, rather than by events, and the difference in my writing, from both an editor’s point of view and from my base readers’ point of view, and I can see it as well, the stories are just… they’re better, I think, because the character arcs are so much more solid and it makes it easier for me to write because I know in this part of this series this thing needs to come across about this character. And you kind of almost end up creating events for the story to support the character arc rather than what I used to do which was, I think, just ram bits of story into the place where I thought it needed to go. It just flows a lot better. She’s got some worksheets in the book that really, really helped me.
With the cozy mysteries, it’s a bit different because you need a much, much more strict structure. I follow a four act structure that’s, I think, quite well-known for mystery writing, where you drop your clues, your red herrings, kill your suspects, et cetera.
TOM ASHFORD: Cool. And then-
KYM THURLOW: So that’s a bit more structured.
TOM ASHFORD: Yeah, cool. So do you use Scrivener or Word or any other sort of softwares?
KYM THURLOW: I do. I use Scrivener to write and I use Plotist for my story bibles, for my timelines, to keep facts straight about my characters and my worlds, particularly in the fantasy writing.
TOM ASHFORD: Cool. And do you have a particular time and place that you write?
KYM THURLOW: Yeah. I write in my office here. I’m lucky enough to have a home office, so that’s good. At the moment I’m on a sabbatical so I write all day, every day at the moment, which is brilliant, but I tend to write, well, whenever I can, I guess, like most writers.
TOM ASHFORD: Yeah. Fair. Well, that leads into question number three which is, are you a full-time author? If you are, how did you get there and if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
KYM THURLOW: I am slowly working my way towards that. So last year I went from five days a week at my day job as an IT consultant to four days a week and then after I’d written around 100,000 words, I took three months off, unpaid, as a sabbatical, to launch my pen name for Eliza Raine and to get all the stuff set up ready for my cozy one. I go back to work next week but I go back three days a week, so I’m slowly bringing the number of days down.
TOM ASHFORD: That’s cool. That’s good. And question number four is, what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
KYM THURLOW: The first thing I think that I got right was the SPF course. That was a brilliant investment. I took a story that I wasn’t hugely in love with, that I’d written, and I published it in secret, I didn’t tell anyone except my husband, and I learnt a lot about what I needed to do, just pragmatically getting set up, all the tax implications in the UK with limited companies and all that kind of thing, just how long some of that took to set up. So I’m glad I did that early as a test.
I also tested promotional sites with it and all that kind of thing, and I did make a lot of mistakes with that. For example, making a book free when you have no follow-up or readthrough book out. I just lost lots of money on paper promotions. I got loads and loads of downloads but I also got a lot of bad reviews because I think people with free books are more inclined to leave reviews. In total, I think I kind of test published like that. I then removed it from Amazon and killed that pen name completely.
TOM ASHFORD: Fair.
KYM THURLOW: I think I was in a much better position to launch the books that I really care about later on.
TOM ASHFORD: Cool. So question number five is the last one, is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
KYM THURLOW: Join all the Facebook groups, I think. They are really inspirational and people are so willing to help, it’s amazing. I’ve asked questions in so many groups. I’ve joined so many cross-promotional groups, particularly in the fantasy kind of area, and people are just so willing to help, it’s really, really nice. Writing’s quite a solitary activity and whilst it is quite tempting to procrastinate for hours in these groups, you pick up so much from different people and just are constantly motivated to keep going. People share success stories which, as I’m sure you know as a fellow Brit, it’s not really… we’re not really comfortable shouting about how well we’ve done-
TOM ASHFORD: No.
KYM THURLOW: … but actually, when people do, it really, really pushes you to do the same yourself, and it’s really nice.
TOM ASHFORD: Yeah. I mean, obviously the audience won’t know, but we both met at the London Book Fair. Obviously we know other from before, but we met at the London Book Fair and that’s a great place to meet other authors because you suddenly go from being in an isolated environment where you kind of feel like it is just you doing this, and you know that there’s thousands of other people but it feels like it’s just you, as the only indie author in the world really, and then to actually meet people and find their success and other people are still trying to get things to take off, it’s just really… it makes you realize that it is possible and that you’re not the only person-
KYM THURLOW: Definitely.
TOM ASHFORD: … trying to make it work.
KYM THURLOW: I’m still in touch with some of the authors I met there and they’ve sent me over newsletter swaps that they know match my genre well and inquired about how launches have gone and stuff and, yeah, people really do want to talk to you and celebrate your success and commiserate the fails as well.
TOM ASHFORD: Yeah. Go back a little bit to something you mentioned in question four. Obviously, you said that you released a book for free and obviously had nothing to follow it up. What sort of prices do you go for now, as a sort of average? Obviously things change with promotions, but… Do you go for 99p intros or do you go into just full price for all of them?
KYM THURLOW: 99p first in series and then £2.99 for all the follow-ons but I’m also in KU which is probably 30% to 40% of my income.
TOM ASHFORD: Yeah, cool. That’s it, you’re off the hook. You’ve had your five questions.
KYM THURLOW: Okay.
TOM ASHFORD: Simple and straightforward.
That’s it for this week’s Self Publishing Spotlight. Don’t forget you can get your free self publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit, and if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing to [email protected] using the subject line Self Publishing Spotlight.
I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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