Spotlight 50: Karen Booth
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Spotlight 50: Karen Booth
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 yourself publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week's guest is Karen Booth. She's written 34 books in the contemporary romance genre, and she lives in North Carolina.
Karen Booth: Hello.
Tom Ashford: Would you like to start by walking through some of the books that you've written?
Karen Booth: Sure. I'm a hybrid author, so I indie publish. And then, I also write for Harlequin Books, which most people who read romance have heard of. A lot of people who haven't read romance have heard of Harlequin.
Harlequin is the day-job side of what I do. And I write steamy contemporary romance. I love writing lots of family saga, lots of multigenerational drama and meaty storylines.
Tom Ashford: Cool. Sounds great.
First question is, why do you write? What inspired you to write 34, so far, contemporary romance novels?
Karen Booth: I come from a long line of writers. My dad, my aunt, my grandfather, it's been all over the map. My aunt was a journalist. My dad has written screenplays. My brother likes to write, even though he's former police officer turned security guard. He likes to write. He's been in anthologies.
Anyway, I think it's just in the water, in my blood. I can't really imagine doing anything else. Even if I had a different full-time job, I would still write. It's just built in.
Tom Ashford: When did you release your first book?
Karen Booth: The first book came out in 2012. It wasn't the first book I wrote, which was one of those things you learn. I think you always think, "Okay, I wrote this first book, then that's going to be the first book that came out of it." I think it was the third book I'd written. And the first book I wrote is a book called Bring Me Back, which is now indie-published but which was originally with a small press. I wrote that in 2009.
I had this idea in my head for a long time, and I didn't know if I could write a book. I thought, "Okay, well I'll try it." And I really expected to get stuck or quit. A lot of people who've been working on a book for two years, three years, four years, started one, couldn't finish. I anticipated I would end up in that category, but I didn't.
Tom Ashford: Well, clearly.
Karen Booth: Yeah.
Tom Ashford: You mentioned being a hybrid. What proportion of your books are traditional or indie-published?
Karen Booth: Right now, that proportion is probably about two-thirds traditional, one-third indie. That could change.
Part of what I do for Harlequin, you have to build momentum, and you have to get spots in the release schedule. And so I can't really afford to set it aside or spend a few months just thinking about things. I have to keep that going or else I'm going to lose what I've built so far.
For me, it's good. I do like the traditional side, just in terms of I like writing the book and handing it off and letting someone else do it.
But then, I like the indie side because I like to be creative with marketing. I like designing graphics. I like figuring out advertising and that aspect of things. So, I guess I get to do both basically.
Tom Ashford: Going forward, is that something that you consider part of your career, being a hybrid author? Is there one that's sort of dragging you closer than the other?
Karen Booth: No. Again, I am drawn to both sides. I like the stability of being a traditionally-published author, and that's an odd scenario. Most traditionally-published authors, I don't think feel stable in that position. But I write category romance for Harlequin, and so it's just a very well-honed system within Harlequin.
The book comes out in the U.S. Most books come out in 12 to 18 other languages. There's just a whole machine behind it that I don't have to do anything. It's just there. I know roughly what every book is going to sell. Some do better, some do worse, but roughly I know what's going to sell. So I do like that side of it.
But there's a little bit of a box you're writing in. In terms of creativity, I do need to stretch my legs. That's definitely the indie side pushing stories I want to write that maybe a traditional publisher doesn't see an audience for but I know it's there.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is, how do you write? Do you tend to plot the stories out beforehand or just pants them as they say?
Karen Booth: I have again, come to sort of a hybrid method. I'm somewhere in between.
Definitely, the first few books I wrote, I was pants-ing it the whole way. And then I figured out that I could save myself a lot of frustration if I do some planning ahead of time. I really need to wrap my head around who the characters are, what they want, what the conflict is, or else I'm just floundering.
I do spend a fair amount of time planning, and that planning is on a very micro level. Even though I don't plan out the whole plot, I do try to get very granular with the essence of the story. I'll spend a few weeks writing a two to three-paragraph blurb for the book that is just, what are the hooks? What's going to sell this book? What's going to make people want to grab it off the virtual shelves?
I think once that is plugged in, and it's set in stone, and it feels real to me, then I can let my creativity go. But at the beginning I do start on that very sort of small, up-close look at the book, and then I go from there. I'll take the scenes that I see, and I put those in order. And then I try to sketch in what connects A to B to C to D, and then I'll start writing. I try to do more planning than I did when I first started.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular software that you prefer using?
Karen Booth: I use Scrivener to do all my drafting. I like being able to see in the binder the different scenes and being able to move things around and leave myself notes. It works well for me. I'm sure, actually I'm not sure. I know for certain that I do not use all of Scrivener's functionality at all, but I use enough that it is comfortable for me and I can be super productive.
I used to write in Word and that was just so much scrolling and trying to find where you were and move things around, I couldn't do it anymore.
Tom Ashford: If you have to go back and remember what the character's wearing or something like that, it becomes a bit of an ordeal.
Karen Booth: Right, exactly.
Tom Ashford: Scroll all the way back.
Karen Booth: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place you prefer writing?
Karen Booth: I try to do most of my drafting in the morning. I'm one of those people who gets up at 5:00 AM and writes. I'm super productive before anyone else in the household is up. I make some coffee, and I sit on the couch with my laptop. In those first two hours of the day, I can usually write more than I write in the whole entirety of the rest of the day.
But it depends. There are times when I'm working on two books at one time. And so at that point, I use lunchtime as the delineation, and I'll work on one book in the morning and then the other book in the afternoon. I usually make myself work on whatever is more difficult in the morning, just because as the day goes on, it gets away from you. You get emails and Facebook and Twitter. And so, I try to do the hard part in the morning.
Tom Ashford: How is it juggling two books? Do you find that it gets a bit blurry between the two?
Karen Booth: It's funny. I thought for a long time that I couldn't do it, but that was before I tried it. And actually, if I keep the day structured and say, "This chunk of time is for the first book, and this chunk of time was for the second book," it actually works well.
I would say that when I'm writing two books, they're usually not very similar books. And the times when I've done it most successfully, one is a book that will be traditionally-published, where I'm writing in that kind of box, and I have the parameters that I have to meet, and then usually the other book is an indie book, where I'm doing my own thing and not worrying so much about the rules or whatever. But I've found it's manageable.
I can't do it all the time. It does take a lot of energy and emotional just bandwidth, I guess, but I definitely can do it for three or four weeks at a time. And then, I need a little bit of a break.
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?
Karen Booth: I am a full-time writer. I've been writing full time really since I started, but that was only because at that point in 2009, my kids were little, so I was a stay-at-home mom. Well, they weren't that little. They were third and fifth grade, I think.
At that point, I was just squeezing in writing, and I had a part-time job that I did from home. It's just been a gradual thing. Harlequin is definitely the thing that allows me to write full time and to know roughly how much money I'm going to make. So I've been doing that, I would say, making a full-time salary income since 2015.
And again, I think juggling two sides has just paid off well, having the stability of Harlequin and then just trying to be smart about the indie stuff I'm doing. Because I don't devote all of my writing time to it, I have to make sure that it's a book or books that I feel really strongly about, that I know I can market and sell, that I know fit with the other books that I've previously published.
I would say those are the main components. Definitely just being smart and being very deliberate about the ways I choose to use my time.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is, what mistakes do you think you've made, and what have you got right?
Karen Booth: This question just makes me laugh, because really that could be a whole separate show. I thought about this for a while. I guess I don't want to think of mistakes as mistakes. Because if you learn from it, then it's just a lesson. I don't know. Maybe it's just getting older or something. I try not to be too hard on myself.
I'm like anybody. I've wasted money on ads. I've taken productivity courses that were a total waste of time. I've gone to conferences that were a waste of time and money. But I've also done those things, and they've been productive and good. I feel like even the bad things, you can glean some little nugget of wisdom from.
The one thing that I've definitely done right, I think my background before writing and before kids was in music, I worked in the music industry and I did marketing, and my husband actually owns a small marketing company, so definitely paying attention to that aspect of things and trying to just see where books are going to sell, who they're going to sell to, how they're going to sell, that has been a good skill that I've been able to hone.
And then, realizing that sometimes you do need to, if you can, I know not everyone is able to do this, find the expert and pay them to do it. I have a publicist, and she's been amazing for me. She can put my book in front of eyeballs that I could never get to. And so, that's a process, because I've definitely hired some people who weren't great. But once you find someone good, if they're an expert and you can do it, fork over the money.
Tom Ashford: We can't all be experts in writing and cover design and all that sort of thing.
Karen Booth: Right. Exactly.
Tom Ashford: Question number five is, what's your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Karen Booth: I would say, it's like writing in general, the only way that this industry is going to beat you is if you quit. When you are becoming an indie author and starting, there are a lot of skills you need to gain that go beyond writing: formatting, design, hiring subcontractors to do things like design for you, or a publicist or marketing or whatever.
I think you need to be patient with yourself and just keep going. It does take a lot of time to figure all these things out. Definitely, tears have been shed the first time I formatted a book. I thought just my brain was going to implode, but you learn it. You just have to keep going and don't quit. If it's what you want, then you should just keep trying.
Tom Ashford: Definitely. There's always stories about overnight successes, but usually there's about three or four years of hard work before the overnight success.
Karen Booth: Oh, absolutely. I think it's so easy to get caught up in. You see someone post on Facebook, "Oh, my first book made the USA Today list and yada, yada, yada." That's great for that person, but I think I don't know anyone in writing or publishing whose career is a straight upward line.
Some books do better than others, and you have to learn how to ride the whole thing out. No, you might not start out of the gates with a big hit, but you have to keep trying. That just means that this is your particular path. Stay on it and try not to get discouraged.
Tom Ashford: Okay. Well, that's it. Those are your five questions. Thank you very much for coming on, Karen.
Karen Booth: All right. Thank you.
Tom Ashford: That's it for this week's Self-Publishing Spotlight. Don't forget that 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 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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