Spotlight 26: Clare Connelly
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 are 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 selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week’s guest is Clare Connolly. She’s written over 83 books in the romance genre and she lives in South Australia.
Clare Connelly: Hi, Tom. Thanks for having me.
Tom Ashford: Great to have you on.
Would you like to start by maybe addressing the fact that you’ve written over 83 books?
Clare Connelly: I know that’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I am prolific. I write how I read, which is very, very quickly. I find once I get an idea for a book, I’m not able to settle to anything else until I’ve got it completely out. So when I write, I tend to just sit and I’ll do massive word count days where I will do anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 words when I’m on a roll. And that’s just the process that works for me.
I think that there’s no one way to write a book. I think that if you’re consistent and you write 1500 words a day, then that’s great, you’ll still have a book. But for me, I’m just a nightmare when I’m writing until I’ve got the story out. So that’s how you get 83 books, be unbearable until you’ve finished.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, wow. Okay, well first question is why do you write.
Was there a reason that you started writing in the first place, like a particular romance novel that you wanted to sort of get out of your head?
Clare Connelly: I’ve always loved romance and reading romance particularly. I think for me it’s a control freak mechanism. I love reading, but we’ve all felt that frustration when you read a book that doesn’t end how you wanted it to.
I started reading Mills & Boon, they’re my first love, when I was 12, and by 15 had written my first Mills & Boon, which I did submit and was very wisely rejected. I think I was missing some of the requisite life experiences to write a Mills & Boon with any kind of authenticity, but I’ve always written, so I am one of those authors who has just written from a very young age.
Not always books, you know, I wrote cooking blogs and and all sorts of things, but when I was on maternity leave with my second, with my daughter, I felt it was this amazing opportunity. I had good methods and if I was ever going to do it, I thought that was my time to really try to get a book out and see where it went.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, and so obviously 83 books, you’ve got a lot of choice in terms of how you publish that.
Are they all self-published or are some of them with a traditional publisher?
Clare Connelly: I did finally succeed in becoming published with Mills & Boon, which was a lifelong dream for me. I am hybrid.
I continue to self-publish, that’s how I began in May, 2014. I self-published my first book, which was very much, it was actually a book that I had written for Mills & Boon which wasn’t a good fit for their line, so I was able to take that and self-publish it. I think it was August 2016 when I met with Joanne Grant and pitched to her, and was very fortunate, within about six weeks, to have a two book contract with them.
Tom Ashford: Obviously with that many books, is it difficult to keep the story from going stale or anything? I imagine that, I mean any genre, romance or scifi or thrillers, obviously it’s possible to, well, theoretically possible to run out of ideas.
How do you manage to keep it fresh over so many different novels?
Clare Connelly: Well, it’s stories that are character driven, and so I always start with my characters, and I find that all of my characters are very different, and their conflicts are different.
So obviously in romance, conflict is key, and so long as I can come up with different characters and a different conflict and approach it from a different way, every single book I ever write is my absolute favorite book I’ve ever written. I feel completely loyal to that book, I think it’s the best thing ever. I’m absolutely besotted by what I’m writing. So if I’m not dragged to the keyboard, then I feel something is missing and I go back to the drawing board and work out why I’m not desperate to get the story out.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write?
Do you tend to plot the story out before you start writing or do you just have an idea and see where it takes you?
Clare Connelly: It’s a bit of both. I think a lot of people tend to be plantsers, but I’m also what I call a micro-plotter. So I like to know where I’m going, but I only need to know what’s happening in that day’s writing session.
I tend to, obviously, as I said with romance, I know their conflict inside out because that is sort of what drives all of the story forward, and in romance there has to be a reason that they can’t be together, otherwise it would just be boy meets girl and lives happily ever after.
As long as I feel that that conflict really has legs to drive the story, then I’m confident to start without knowing too much about what will happen when. I usually have an idea of how that conflict will erupt in a big moment, and that will change often as I’m writing and I get to know my characters that little bit better.
But I tend to read what I’ve written in the day right before I fall asleep, so that when I start in the morning, it’s been percolating overnight, it’s fresh in my mind, and I don’t do my thinking at the keyboard vitally in order to get those big word counts. I have an idea of what I’m going to write, so when I sit down I’m able just to get those words out.
Tom Ashford: Is there any particular software that you use in terms of things like Scrivener, Word, Vellum?
Clare Connelly: Oh, I’m so boring. I’m a Word girl. I think because they’re so linear, romance novels. If I were doing a time slip or world making, then I could absolutely see the value of Scrivener, but I’m too afraid to learn something new, and Word works fine for me. I’ve only recently adopted Vellum actually about six months ago.
Tom Ashford: Vellum is great.
Clare Connelly: Yeah.
Tom Ashford: Question number three 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?
Clare Connelly: I was very fortunate that, as I said, I published my first novel when I was off on maternity leave from a job that I absolutely loved and would’ve loved going back to. But it sold really well from the start.
Looking back, I mean, I had no idea what I was doing. I was sort of two glasses of Dutch courage in was the only way I got around to publishing I think, and it amazed me how well it went right from the beginning. So it enabled me to pursue it as a full time career straight off the bat, which just wildly exceeded any expectations I had.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place that you like to write each day?
Clare Connelly: I am not fussy. I really can’t be. If you could see the house that I’m sitting in talking to you, we live in a tiny little two bedroom bungalow and I have young children. So I’ve actually written a lot of my stories during their naps. I’ve had to wake up at 5:00 AM, and I have been very pragmatic about this from the beginning.
I really did want to make a go of it, which meant that if I didn’t get my word count in in the day, as soon as they were in bed, I would sit down at the computer and get some extra words in. Even if that meant I was exhausted a lot of the time in those first two years, I felt like I was constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul to get the words down.
But I was so motivated by the fact that I was seeing this success, and that is exhausting and it’s quite difficult if you’re not having that sales success obviously to push yourself, but I think that that was very important to hold myself to those deadlines from the very beginning.
So in terms of writing time, I’m a little luckier now that they’re both in school and we do have some great after school care for them, so I write as a nine to five job.
With that being said, I try to do 3,000 words an hour. So I do try to get most of my work done in about three hours, leaving me free to do the business side of things in the afternoon.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you done right?
Clare Connelly: I was thinking about this. Because I have done quite well out of this, I feel like even my mistakes really weren’t terrible. There are definitely things that I did which I wouldn’t do now.
In the beginning, I felt that it was going to be a bit of a vanity exercise and so I used Amazon Cover Creator to make my covers. I didn’t get my books professionally edited. I use Amazon cover images, which were just wildly inappropriate in retrospect for the books. Not at all good sales tools. I don’t know how they sell. I think I blurbed them really well. I got a hundred contemporary romance blurbs, printed them all out, read them, so that I had my blurbs voice in.
But obviously now my covers have all had an overhaul to much more accurately reflects the kinds of stories that are inside.
I think what I did right was I always put the next book in the back of the book that I’d released, and certainly before I did a freebie, I would update the back matter to reflect the most recent books that I was releasing so that anyone who took advantage of a free or a discounted book would, it would sort of be a loss leader and drive them to my latest release. That was my first book that I started doing that with, so that looking back was one of the cleverest things that I lucked into doing.
Tom Ashford: Question number five is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Clare Connelly: I think that there’s no one size fits all advice. There’s no one course of action that will guarantee success. But I think first and foremost, you’re a writer, so honing your writing is very important.
Obviously you can do everything else and you might see some sales success with one book, but in order to have a real career you have to make sure you’re putting the best book out there. Your listeners will know that. That goes without saying.
I think the other thing is to be really nimble. With self-publishing, you’re taking on the publishing professionals and the industry changes on a dime. So you really have to be constantly looking at what’s working, what’s working for other authors, what’s working for you. What was working three months ago might not work as well now.
At the same time, you don’t want to be knee-jerk. You want to ride out some little trends in the market, but constantly up-skilling and educating yourself, doing courses and going to conferences is just so important, because as I say, we are pitting ourselves against the publishes when you self-publish, so you need to be completely professional and put the best product forward.
Tom Ashford: That’s good advice. Those are your five questions. I’ve got one extra one though. Apologies if you covered it earlier, but when did you release your first book?
Clare Connelly: It was May, 2014.
Tom Ashford: Okay. I’m trying to work out how many books a year that might be.
Clare Connelly: I tried to work that out too, and it does make my head spin a bit, but I write fast and that’s not for everybody, but for me it’s the only way that I can be a sort of semi-fun person for my family. I have to sit down, I have to get the books out, and that’s just how it works to me.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, I mean, like you said, it works differently for everyone. Mark I think pushes to get four books out a year, but by the time that this comes out, we’ll have had Amanda Lee on The Self-Publishing Show Podcast, and she does two a month. Which is crazy.
Clare Connelly: Crazy. Right, and so actually this year I have written a heap, but I’ve only released four books, three self-publishing, and it’s been my biggest year yet in terms of sales and income, which has been really fantastic for me to see that I can take the pedal off a little bit, take the gas off a little bit, and still see that growth and see the reader retention.
As I said, I’m contracted to do a lot of Mills & Boons at the moment as well, that’s really seeing me having quite a high output of words and books.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Well, great. Thank you very much for coming on and for sharing some wisdom with our listeners.
Clare Connelly: Absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Mark Dawson: That’s it for this week’s Self-Publishing Spotlight. Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit, and if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest. I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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