Spotlight 24: Julie Stock
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 is 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 Julie Stock. She’s written eight books in the contemporary romance genre and she lives in the UK. Welcome Julie.
Julie Stock: Thank you very much.
Tom Ashford: So would you like to start by maybe talking about the books that you have out?
Julie Stock: I’ve published eight books, as you said, since 2015. They’re all contemporary romances of varying lengths, and that includes three full length novels, a prequel, two novellas, a book set and most recently a collection of short stories.
I describe them as contemporary romance from around the world because it’s usually the setting and the location, which gives me my initial idea. My books have been set in various countries as well as in the UK. So that’s kind of my theme really.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Okay, we’ll dive into the questions.
First one is why do you write? Was there something about contemporary romance as a genre that inspired you? Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Julie Stock: I think when it came to writing, I always knew that if I did write a book, it would be in contemporary romance. I’ve always read romances of various kinds, not just contemporary. But just when it came to it that was the idea that came to me was a contemporary romance story. But I’d never really had this long dream of being a writer before I actually started writing my first novel.
I’d just written poems, short stories, song lyrics. It was really that I just never come up with an idea that I thought I could sustain over the length of a novel that held me back. There were other things as well, lack of confidence and I thought that I’d never get past the agent publisher process. But then eventually this idea came to me in 2013 and I started writing this story and it just kept coming.
All the ideas kept coming to me and before I knew it I was at 80,000 words, which had just never happened to me before. So it was about that time that I started researching self-publishing and I realized that it was something that I could do myself and I went from there really. So, although I’d never dreamt of doing that, when it actually came to it, I was delighted that that was a path for me to follow.
I’ve just kept writing because I love it so much and because I actually find it very therapeutic to be writing. I like to escape into that world that I’ve created and I hope that that works out for my readers as well. That they feel that same sense of escape. So I think that’s what keeps me coming back to it, that it’s a a good way to get away from the real world for a bit.
Tom Ashford: Obviously you’re self-published, would you like a traditional contract if that came along?
Julie Stock: Well it’s one of those things as in everyone says, “Never say never.” But I have tried that route. I submitted my second book to agents and publishers over about a year and I got such a variety of responses back. I had one agent ask for the whole book and I was all excited because I thought, this was going to be my moment and then she rejected it ultimately.
I had conflicting response to this from agents and publishers. So from both extremes, one saying they absolutely hated it, another one saying they loved it and a publisher saying they wanted to take it but would only take it through an agent. I just wasted so much time and I found the sort of process to be very subjective as these things inevitably are.
So in the end I self-published that second book and I did really, really well with it and so I can’t think that it would have done any better if I had got the contract at the time. But, I think what I like most about self-publishing is what, most people I speak to say as well is just, I like that sense of control, I like having an input into my cover design, I like having that relationship with my editor, who I’ve used the same one for quite a long time now.
Whatever money I do earn comes to me obviously. So, I don’t think I would pursue a traditional contract myself again. But I think if someone came to me, should that ever happen, I wouldn’t say no. I would consider it, but it’s not something that I’m really hankering off that as much as I was perhaps in the early days.
Tom Ashford: I think that’s fair enough.
Question number two is how do you write? Do you plot your stories out or do you just have an idea and then see where it takes you?
Julie Stock: I think like a lot of people that you’ve spoken to, I started out as a complete pantser, not by design, just because I didn’t really know what I was doing. As I say, I had this idea and I pretty much had a beginning, middle, and an end and that was about it with my first book. I just had to rewrite it so many times it was just painful. So I promised myself that I would try and plan with each new book and over time I feel I’ve progressively become more of a planner.
With this third book that I’ve just published this year, I actually discovered Kathy Yardley’s Rock your Plot, which I think again someone else mentioned. I found that really worked for me in terms of sorting that book out when I was trying to rewrite that one. So I’ve used that again this time to plan out for the first time ever a whole book, which I’m currently writing.
I think that the big difference is, it’s not I haven’t panned it in meticulous detail, it’s not a massive document or anything. But it has made me focus in every scene on, what do I want to say here, what do I want to happen? So that when I sit down to write, I feel like I can write much more productively now. She focuses a lot as well on goal, motivation and conflict, which, I was a bit rubbish at conflicts.
Well, my editor would probably say I’m still not good at conflict. But, I’d have them so loved up and married off within 30,000 words and obviously I’ve got to keep that going for the whole book. So this makes me think a lot more in terms of what are the obstacles going to be, when do they need to happen, and just to just keep that story flowing. I think it’s definitely helped me and hopefully that is going to help me be more productive as well.
Tom Ashford: What software do you use in regards to like Scrivener, Word, that sort of thing?
Julie Stock: I started in Word when I wrote my first book and I quickly got quite frustrated with that. Then in that first year, back in 2013 I did one of the NaNoWriMo Camps and because I met my target, I got a discount on Scrivener at the time. I just remember doing the free trial and thinking, “Wow, this is amazing.” I’ve never looked back since then. I mean, I absolutely love Scrivener and I go on about it to everybody I meet.
I do courses even to teach people what I know about it. So it’s Scrivener for me, definitely all the way.
The other thing I do use now is Vellum, which was something in the beginning I used to do all my own compiling, using Scrivener, which if anyone else has ever done it, they know it’s a bit of a nightmare. I actually have spent so much time going back and forward and checking it and redoing it.
Then, I mean obviously I’d heard about Vellum, but I was resisting because it was quite expensive and I wasn’t sure if I would get the use from it. Then I was listening to Paul Teague’s podcast and he actually interviewed me and said to me, “You must get it.”
So eventually I invested in that last year as well. When you’ve got it and you know how quickly you can produce your PDFs for your print versions for example, you just wonder why you didn’t do that all the way along. So those are my two really critical pieces of software.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Yeah. I’m almost disappointed that Vellum is so quick to produce something. Because I want to spend more time in it, looking at my book.
Julie Stock: You sort of want to feel the satisfaction of having perhaps overcome all the obstacles I suppose.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, it’s just like a three minute job.
Is there a particular time and place that you like writing?
Julie Stock: I write at my desk that I’m at now. I’m lucky I’ve got my own writing space. I’ve got a nice big window so I’ll get lots of light. It’s an open office, because it was previously a bedroom and we didn’t put a wall on it when we did our extension. So it means that people can come in and talk to me and that could be frustrating. But I don’t find it like that. I quite like the fact that I can hear people around in the house. So I do have my own space.
But, I think what I’ve learned over time is that it’s better not, for me anyway, not to pin myself down to I must write first thing in the morning or I must write in the afternoon. I currently work every morning. So I’ve had to adapt to being able to write in the afternoons.
I think really for me, I’ve just come to the point now where I can write at any time. I can might outside as well. Sometimes, I’ll take my laptop and go elsewhere, but I really most like to be at my desk and writing at home but I’m quite adaptable as well.
Tom Ashford: That leads into question number three.
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?
Julie Stock: In actual fact I’m almost a full-time author because I’ve handed my notice to my day job. So from the beginning of November I will be working full time as an author. But just in case anyone’s really envious of that, this is my second time of trying. So back in 2016 I just left my teaching job and I decided that I was going to leave and concentrate on my writing and freelance work that I was doing as well at that time.
But really when I look back now, I only had one book out and although it was doing quite well, it wasn’t doing brilliantly and I didn’t know anywhere near what I know now about self-publishing. So, when I look back to that, I feel that I wasn’t ready for it then. But there was also the fact that when I left the first time, I was quite surprised by how lonely I felt, having left a busy school environment and then being at home all day on my own.
Also, with great big chunks of hours ahead of me, and I find it very easy to procrastinate and I didn’t have a lot of work coming in. So all in all, I decided that I take a part time job to get me up and get me out and doing stuff. Then when I came home in the afternoons I would do my writing. So that’s worked quite well for the last few years.
But when I released my last book in August this year, I used all the advice that I’d gathered about launching a book this time from Mark’s courses, from Adam Croft, Nicolas Erik, all the podcasts, everything that I’d gathered. I did some email promotions during launch week, as well as starting to run Facebook ads. So that in that first month for the first time, I mean I’d had a few months where I’d been in three figures. But in that first month I went up to four figures and then in the next month it was like a really solid four figures salary.
Because I’m only working part time for charity, it was quite easy to go past the salary that I was earning. So I took the decision after a few months of that, that I would give it another go and really concentrate on my writing again. Because I can see now that it’s working that I’m actually making a living from it and hopefully if I can do it all day I can be more productive and build on that. So about to be a full time author.
Tom Ashford: Well, congratulations now hopefully it will take off better than last time. But, I’m sure it will if you’ve learned a lot more.
Question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Julie Stock: With the mistakes, like everyone else, I think I’ve made lots of mistakes. But the one that I’ve been thinking about recently is that, I wish that I had been more productive sooner because I’ve been writing and releasing a full length novel, only one book every two years at the moment with sort of short works in between.
Now I’m at the point where I really want to write faster because I can see that, having more books out is working for me. So I want to get up to two books a year if I can. I look back with some regret on that, but on the other hand I think, “Well I can’t regret it too much because I have learned a lot along the way.”
I think with the writing craft for example, I had to almost go through that process to get to where I am now. So, I could have got to that point more quickly if I’d written more and sooner.
But, I think things happen for a reason and you get to that point eventually. So I feel now that, I’m much more ready to write productively and I know what my process is. So I think that I’ve come past that. But, it would be nice if I could have had more out in that time.
In terms of things that I think I’ve got right. I think one of the things as an indie author, as I said, having given up work once before and not managed to make it work for me, I think it would’ve been very easy to say, “Oh, I can’t do this. I’m going to give up.” But I’ve kept going. I think, it’s hard to keep going when you’re not really doing very well and you may be see other people around you who’ve gone past you.
But, I think keeping going is a real skill. I think one of the other things as well is that, right from the beginning, one of the things that I picked up from other people was about having a professionally designed cover, always using an editor, proofreader, making your books as good as they can possibly be.
I’ve always done that because I want to be proud of what I’m putting out. I think that’s really important if you want to be taken seriously. So, those are two of the things that I’d pick on as having done well in the last few years.
Tom Ashford: Question five is what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Julie Stock: I think for me, it would be to try not to get too overwhelmed with all there is to do. There is a lot to do and I think if you sign up to be an indie published author, you have to accept that from the outset and that puts some people off immediately.
But, I think the difficulty is that when you start writing, there’s all the writing craft stuff, so you’re reading all the books and you’re coming across lots of different systems and you can’t see the wood for the trees.
But also then there’s the marketing and should you do every type of ad under the sun, which I’ve done. I’ve tried them all and failed at all of them spectacularly, but come back to it and taken it step by step again. I’ve managed to work out at least the starting level of Facebook ads for example. So I think, if you can, it’s useful to take one step at a time. To write your book first and then tackle everything else in stages.
One of the useful things I’ve been reading recently is, I get Nicholas Erik’s email newsletter. He’s been talking about productivity and how to make the best of your time. I think rather than thinking to yourself, maybe like for me, when I give up work, I could write all day. In a way, it’s better to say, to write for one hour, and if you’ve done that then you can feel great. “I’ve done my writing for today.”
I think he calls it, doing something that you’re going to earn money from, which obviously you’re writing, which fall into that category. But then, spend another hour on marketing and I’m finding, I’m so organized normally that I surprise myself with this aspect of my life. That, I tend to just think, “Oh, I’ve got so much to do.” Then sometimes I don’t do anything.
Whereas if I think, “Right, I’m just going to do marketing for an hour.” And I write down the three most important things that I want to achieve in that hour or sometimes maybe just one thing that I can do in that hour. Then you get to the end and you’ve actually done something rather than looked at 10 different things and not felt like you’ve made any progress at all.
Then try and read or listen to podcasts maybe for another hour. Then even if that’s all you do all day, at least you’ve done something solid and you can say, “Well, I’ve achieved that.” And you don’t end up feeling like you’re never getting anywhere. So I think that’s a good way to approach that sense of overwhelm that perhaps a lot of people feel when they first get into indie publishing.
Tom Ashford: Definitely. That’s good advice. That’s it. That’s your five questions up.
Julie Stock: Thank you very much.
Tom Ashford: Thank you very much for coming on, Julie.
Julie Stock: Okay. Thanks very much for having me.
Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week. Self-publishing spotlight.
Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
If you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest.
I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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