Spotlight 013: Holly S. Roberts

Episode Transcript

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

This week’s guest is Holly S. Roberts. She’s written 48 books in the romance genre, but also some other genres, and she lives in Arizona.

Tom Ashford: Welcome, Holly.

Holly S. Roberts: Hello.

Tom Ashford: 48 books, that’s a lot of books.

Holly S. Roberts: It is a lot of books, but I’ve been writing since 2011, and that’s my only excuse I have.

Tom Ashford: That’s a pretty good excuse. That’s still a lot of books in that time. Yeah, I’m not going to work that out, but that’s quite a lot.

In terms of the genres, obviously, you said that 90% of your books are in the romance genres, but are there any other genres that you’ve worked in?

Holly S. Roberts: I do. I have a mystery out there called The Forever Team, which is just a standalone, and it’s small. It’s a short mystery. It’s under the name Suzie Ivy, which is one of my three writing names, and then I’ve also written memoirs, also under the name Suzie Ivy, and I have a memoir with my agent right now that he’s shopping.

Tom Ashford: Nice.

Holly S. Roberts: I’m trying to think. I think that is all the nonfiction I have outside of romance.

Tom Ashford: Let’s jump into it with the main five questions.

The first one is the biggie, which is why do you write?

Holly S. Roberts: Oh, my goodness. I’m sure you get this from a lot of authors, but these stories run around my head, and my brain chases them. I have to get them out and put them on paper, and it’s funny, because I probably have a thousand storylines that I’ve just started the chapter on, and because it pops into my head and I can’t get rid of it.

I can’t work on what I’m currently working on until I get it out of my head and get it on a piece of paper, so, once that happens, I can go back to what I was working on, and it just seems to be what… It’s good therapy for me.

Tom Ashford: Was there a particular story that encouraged you to start writing in the first place?

Holly S. Roberts: The story that encouraged me to write was actually a therapist. In my 20’s and 30’s, I owned an independent bookstore for 20 years, and then I had this bright, wonderful idea when I was 45. It actually didn’t happen when I was 45. It’s something I dreamed about my whole life, but I really wanted to become a police officer, so, at 45, I did that, which is backwards.

Most police officers do it early and then they go into the book business, and I did the book business first, but in becoming a police officer, I worked homicide and sex crimes, and I found myself in need of a therapist, and my therapist asked me a question, and she said, “What else do you do? What do you want to do? What are your further dreams in your life?” and I said, “One day, I want to write a book,” and so she gave that as an assignment. She told me to write three pages, and I came back with three chapters, and I just kept writing.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, 48 books later.

Holly S. Roberts: 48 books later. I want to say this though. For all the authors out there who were able to leave their jobs and write full time, I wrote more books when I was working full time than I’m capable of writing now.

Tom Ashford: You probably forced yourself into squeezing every possible moment that you had.

Holly S. Roberts: You do, and when you have too much time on your hands, it can be detrimental.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. Okay.

Are you self-published or traditional or hybrid?

Holly S. Roberts: I am all self-published at this point. I have a wonderful agent, but we mostly work on Hollywood deals, which is tied up in this memoir that we have going, and we have some Hollywood stuff going on with that, and so I say keep him around. I love my agent, and I’ll give a shout out to Lane Heymont right now, but I love my agent, and he’s shopping books and he’s shopping it to Hollywood.

Tom Ashford: Nice. Okay, question number two…

Actually, before we jump into question number two, would you ever try to get a traditional contract?

Holly S. Roberts: I don’t know if they could pay me enough money, honestly. A traditional contract, yes, on my nonfiction, but my fiction romance pays the bills, and from what I hear from other authors, if you’re in that mid-list category, which is pretty much where we all would start, they’re just not making as much money as I make indie publishing, so I really like indie publishing.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, and they wouldn’t allow you to publish as many books either.

Holly S. Roberts: That’s true. That’s also true, and I got to get these stories out of my head.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, look at Stephen King who had to create an entirely new persona just to publish the books he was writing.

Holly S. Roberts: Exactly, and he’s not the only one. I mean, Nora Roberts did it, too, and they were having trouble keeping up and, thank goodness, she wrote for Silhouette, which was owned by Harlequin, and she wrote for them, and they were able to publish the amount of books her brain would put out. I didn’t understand that at the time, and I understand it more now, and, no, I’m in no way comparing myself to Nora Roberts.

Tom Ashford: It’s all right. It’s okay. You can, but, yeah, okay, now to actually go on to question number two:

How do you write? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?

Holly S. Roberts: Oh, I’m a complete pantser. I will plot a book in my head. I have this horrible problem of characters talking to me when I start writing them and changing my storylines, so I, in my head, before I sit down to write the book, I have an idea where the beginning is, the middle is and where I think it’s going to end.

I maybe have two books that have ended where I thought they were going to take me, so I just save that for the characters saying, “No, I want to do this,” or, “I want to do that.”

Tom Ashford: Do you have a particular time and place that you enjoy writing?

Holly S. Roberts: Oh, my gosh, yes. I’m addicted to writing in my old lady chair, as I like to call it, and I have two of them in the house. I have one downstairs and one upstairs, so I just kick back and I start typing.

Tom Ashford: Nice, and so 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?

Holly S. Roberts: Yes, I am a full-time author, and I was working full time as a police detective, actually, probably full time and a half because my job didn’t end at the end of the normal eight-hour day, and I was on call 24/7. I was the only detective for our agency, so I was constantly on call, and I know most authors don’t talk numbers, but I’m going to talk numbers here.

I remember the very first year that I took a blog and I turned it into a book and I got that up, and then I wrote my first fiction, and I got the first two books of that up, and I think I made about $9,000 that first year, between seven and $9,000, and I was shocked that people would actually pay to read my books. You put them out there, but you’re actually surprised when people start reading them.

And then that next year, I took a huge jump, in my mind it was a huge jump, up to $40,000, and released some more books and was like, “Holy cow, this is unbelievable,” and then that third year I doubled that, and then my fourth year of writing, I actually made over 300K, and that’s where I had to look at my life, how much danger I was in and how little I made, because my take-home salary as a police officer was $39,000.

Now, I made a lot more than that because of all my overtime, but I just had to look at my life, look at the fact that I was getting old and make a decision. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. My husband and I have always had jobs, and I told him to quit his job and, “Let’s move. Let’s buy our dream house, and I’m going to be a writer,” and that’s what we did.

Tom Ashford: I’m sure he was pleased.

Holly S. Roberts: Oh, he’s still pleased. He’s not complaining.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, sounds great.

Question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?

Holly S. Roberts: My mistakes early on, and it was because of my career and I was writing romance, writing under too many pseudonyms. I wish I would have stuck under one name. I worried about the police department finding out, and especially with romance novels. There’s a fine line. My chief of police was aware. I told him, but he never asked specific questions about it.

I lived in a very conservative small town, and so I didn’t want people to find out I was writing romance basically, so I started my second identity. This was the time of 50 Shades of Gray, and I decided to venture into the erotic novel, erotic romance end of it, and so I changed my name again, so, by this time, that was my third name.

So biggest mistake I made in my life was changing my name three times, and now I pretty much try to publish just under Holly S. Roberts, and my other name is D’Elen McClain. That was what I published my paranormal under, so huge mistake there, and I still have to control all three of those names, so it takes a lot of time, and so, anyway, if I could go back, that’s what I would change.

I think jumping in the market when I did was probably the smartest thing, and I have to blame that on my therapist. I can’t take credit for it, but that was probably the smartest thing, and so, back in the beginning, the readers were fairly easy on indie authors, I felt, and so I jumped in at this big, exciting time for indie authors to be coming out, and I got wrapped up in that, and that has been my guiding force all along.

And, no, we don’t make the numbers we made back then. Some people do better, so I should say there are some that have done better, but, at the same time, it taught me a lot, and I’ve readjusted how I work, how I operate, but I think just staying current on the market is what I do best and I do the most stuff.

Tom Ashford: Would writing romance novels or just novels, in general, be a problem with the police force?

Holly S. Roberts: It is. They consider it selling sex. To most people, we don’t think of it that way, but I was also a sex crimes detective, so I was very careful. I didn’t want to be slammed. I didn’t want people that I dealt with out there to, “Oh, she’s just a romance writer,” and, believe me, I have a lot of respect for romance writers.

When I owned my bookstore, they’re the ones that paid my bills, so those romance books and those readers that gobble up romance, and I’ve always been an avid romance reader, but I did read mystery suspense, and as a police officer, I found myself wanting happy endings, which I no longer wanted the mystery suspense, and so romance is just… I don’t know. It’s important to me because it does have a happy ending and we just don’t find that in real life enough, and sometimes we just need to read about it.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, particularly if you’re a homicide detective.

Holly S. Roberts: Especially if you’re a homicide detective, yes. I needed books that just talked about love and didn’t talk about hate. That’s what I needed to surround myself and that’s, honestly, what I really love writing. I love writing romance.

Tom Ashford: Question number five is what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Holly S. Roberts: Perseverance. I know from every series I write that I don’t normally get traction until around book three. I have a series out right now. The first two books were incredible. I just released book three, and now the series is taking off, so I had to rely on my other books, and here I’ve spent this time, written two books, and they’re really not selling, and so you just have to sit back and know that that third and that that fourth book will be coming out and sales will pick up, and I got lucky on this one because, on book three, sales definitely picked up on it, so, perseverance, stick with it.

I believe in writing series. All of my books are series. If I’ve only written one like the Suzie Ivy, it was planned as a series, but that’s what’s in my plan, so my advice would simply be to keep writing, and I know people hate when you say that.

Find the time, and I did it. I did it working at least I would say 70 hours a week. I found the time to write. I don’t know how moms do it with little kids at home. I will say that. I didn’t have any kids at home, but find that time to write, and be patient with yourself, and take all your bad reviews, gather them up and read them, and, literally, read them and listen to what the customers are saying, and some of them, yes, you can throw them right out the window.

I have a review that came in today, this morning, that was a plot flaw, that I had made a mistake, and so I was in fixing that mistake this morning, and I want to thank that reader for… and it’s up on Amazon. They put it up on Amazon, and I’m like, “Oh, crap,” and what I did, it was only in… it was in one paragraph to… one name, but she wasn’t the one who died in the last book. It was another lady, and that threw the reader out of the experience, so it was a mistake I made and I fixed it, so just take them all.

Read those reviews. I know a lot of authors don’t, but I say read them, and I say learn from those reviews and take them all as this is people, their opinion and not necessarily a reflection of your writing, but look at their opinion and be willing to accept that sometimes you need to change things.

Tom Ashford: Nice. Great advice, and that’s it. That’s your five questions, so thank you very much for coming on. It’s been great speaking to you.

Holly S. Roberts: Thank you for having me. I was really excited about this, so it’s been a wonderful way to start my morning.

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

And if you want to appear as a guest on the show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at

I’m Tom Ashford, and I’ll see you again next week.

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Spotlight 010: Jim Heskett


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

This week’s guest is Jim Heskett, a thriller writer. How are you doing Jim?

Jim Heskett: I’m doing great, Tom. How you doing?

Tom Ashford: I’m doing pretty good. I had a look on your website and obviously there’s a lot of thriller books there. I’m not sure how many you’ve actually written in total, but it’s quite substantial from what I could see.

Jim Heskett: I’m not sure either, but yeah, there are a lot.

Tom Ashford: Is it mostly on thriller books or do you write in others genres as well?

Jim Heskett: Yeah, I’ve written some other genres that are moved to a pen name and mysteries. Yeah. I dabbled all over, especially when I first started.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. Where in the states are you from?

Jim Heskett: I am in Colorado, right outside of Denver.

Tom Ashford: Very nice. All right, well let’s jump straight into the questions. Question number one is the big one. Why do you write?

Jim Heskett: The main answer I think is my mortgage and my car payment. I’ve always been a storyteller when I was very young. I was eight or nine years old in school and younger than that actually, and go out to recess with my friends, and everybody would have their little stories that they wanted to play at recess. On Monday we would do one friend who was into cops and robbers. We would play cops and robbers. Then on Tuesday, a different friend was into knights and dragons. So we would play that. Then on Wednesday when it was my turn to direct the playtime, my playtime episodes always had a narrative arc to them which I don’t think … Most of the other kids didn’t play like that. But in my playtime stories had a beginning, middle and end.

I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller, and as an adult I kind of realized I’m not really suited to do anything else. I’ve had lots of different careers, which I’ve been grateful for because it gives me great ammunition as a writer to have done all kinds of different things and had lots of life experiences. But really storytelling is really the only thing I’m suited to do, so I guess I have to do it.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. Okay. In terms of your publishing history, are you self-published or traditional or hybrid?

Jim Heskett: I am hybrid. I’m mostly self-published. I have one book through an Amazon imprint. In the beginning of 2018 I had a book, that won Kindle Scout. It was actually the second to last or third to last book that Kindle Scout published before they shut that down. So I got in just in the nick of time. So you have one book with Amazon imprint and then the rest are self-published.

Tom Ashford: Okay. When did you start self publishing?

Jim Heskett: 2015 I think. Yeah, early 2015.

Tom Ashford: Okay. Question two, I know there’s a lot of questions within each question. Question two is how do you write? Are you more of an outliner or do you sort of just wing it as you go along?

Jim Heskett: Usually, I write with a big deadline looming over my head. That’s really the only way that I can get anything done is to impose deadlines on myself that feel ominous, and don’t help my stress levels, but they certainly make me push the words out the door. But I’m primarily an outliner, but I do like to live a little bit in the middle. I guess I write in what I call loose beats where I know how a scene is going to end up. I know the beginning and the end of the scene and sometimes, but I allow myself the freedom to move around in the middle. Like I don’t know where a scene is going to be set or I don’t know how they’re going to go about getting it.

I always know where the story is going to go so I’m not ever in jeopardy writing myself into a corner. But I do allow myself some freedom to experience that joy of discovery because it can’t be all paint by numbers or else there’s no fun to it. But also I don’t want to get into a position where I might have to waste words and think, “Oh gosh, this story isn’t working and it went off the rails here or there. So I’d hate to waste words.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, fair enough. Do you have a particular time and place that you like to write?

Jim Heskett: I’m usually freshest in the morning, not very early because I have a young child, so often I get up before I want to because of him. But mid to late morning is when I’m freshest I think, and when I’m most creative. But as the father of a young child sometimes I don’t always have that luxury. So sometimes I just have to get the words in when I can, and I’m really okay with writing crappy words because I know I can always go back and fix them or improve them later.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. Do use them Scrivener or Vellum? What sort of software do you use?

Jim Heskett: Yeah, mostly Scrivener. I’ve been a Scrivener convert for about three or four years now. I was in Word before that, but Scrivener is the godsend. It does so many amazing things and I don’t even use half of what it can do, but the half that I do know how to do makes writing so much easier, just to be able to drag and drop scenes and keep track of word counts and all that stuff. So yeah, I do my first drafting in Scrivener. Then I do some stuff in Google Docs if I’m collaborating, and usually everything ends up in Vellum as the last place that it goes before publication so I can make it look pretty.

Tom Ashford: Cool. Okay. 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?

Jim Heskett: So I guess the answer to that is, yeah, I’m sort of a full time author. I guess it depends on how you define it. If you define it by the lack of a day job, then yes, I do not have the day job. Do you define it as do I make enough money to pay the bills? Do I have a a lack of side hustles? I mean I’m an author. I’m a podcaster. I do contract work. So yes, I don’t have a day job. Most of my income is not actually from writing or, I don’t know. It depends from month to month. But yeah, I haven’t had a regular day job since last year so I’m mostly just focused on writing and all the other side hustles. I don’t know if that exactly answers your question, Tom, but that may be about as good as I can get.

Tom Ashford: I think it’s a good answer. I think things all works out the same, and I think it counts if you’re doing what you want to do when you want to do it, then that, I think that counts as being

Jim Heskett: That’s true. I can work in my pajamas and house shoes if I feel like it, so that’s pretty nice.

Tom Ashford: Okay. Well question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?

Jim Heskett: I have made a lot of mistakes.

Tom Ashford: I think we all have.

Jim Heskett: I think the main mistake that I’ve made in my author career was not treating it like a business from the very start. In the beginning I wrote across multiple genres. The first thing I published was a mystery. Then I published a post-apocalyptic trilogy. Then I published a thriller trilogy, and I did all that before I even really got into writing a series, which I know now Chris Fox calls the flagship series. You’ve got to have a long series cause that’s how you really make money. It was really a couple of years before I even started doing that, so writing cross genre, picking bad titles for my books because I didn’t understand.

I understand now that book covers and book titles are a business decision, not an artistic one, but one of my early books was a thriller. and I named it Sallow City, “S-A-L-L-O-W” because I thought it was very clever because it was a comment on … The book was set in Flint, Michigan. So I was trying to be clever with the name about the city, but the thing is the readers didn’t get it and they would call it Shallow City or Swallow City. So it was just very confusing. I later renamed that book to something much more to market, but I didn’t understand then that being clever isn’t always the right way to reach people.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. That story sounds very familiar to me. I haven’t started my flagship series yet. I’ve got two different trilogies and three standalones all in different genres as well. But yeah, and I haven’t actually started my flagship. So what’s your flagship? Have you got a flagship series now?

Jim Heskett: Yeah. I have a couple of long running series. I had a couple of trilogies and stuff like that that are finished. But I do have a couple of long running series. One is currently at five books and the other one is at eight books. But to answer the other part of your question, what I got right was I think that early on, and this is more accidental than a business decision, was that I focused on character in the stories because I think as a lifelong reader, I understand that that’s what readers are looking for.

Jim Heskett: When I get emails from readers saying nice things about my books, they don’t email me to say, “Hey, that was an amazing car chase in that book.” Because every thriller book has a car chase, so that’s not going to stand out to people and make them love the book. The people who love my books do so because of the characters. So when they send me an email to say, “Hey, I like this book,” they always mention the character. Like, “Oh, I love Micah Reed or I love Lane Parrish.” So it’s a lot less about the plot and a lot more about the character, and that’s what hooks people.

Tom Ashford: Okay, great. Okay. The fifth and final question is, What’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Jim Heskett: Like I just mentioned, treat it like a business. When I really started out I was mostly focused on backlist and producing a lot of books really fast. And it’s great now that I’m like four years into my publishing career and I have 20 something books. So it’s great that I have a sizable backlist that I can use to promote. I can have more opportunities to give books away for free as lead magnets and stuff like that, but if I could go back in time … This is my advice to new indie authors out there is that if I could go back in time, I would have focused just as much on learning how to write to market and learning ads from the start. Because I didn’t really treat my writing career like a business until really probably earlier this year or late last year.

Jim Heskett: I spent time to study the tropes and the genres, spent time to study what readers are looking for. And I started taking ads seriously and I took Mark’s Ads for Authors course. So I didn’t really embrace that side of the business until recently. And I think my first few years of publishing show that. I wrote a lot, but I wasn’t selling a lot until I really viewed it as a whole thing and not just an artistic endeavor where I had to do these businessy things because I had to.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Yo. So basically treat it like a business from the start.

Jim Heskett: Yeah. Yeah. That would be my uncomfortable piece of advice because most of us authors are creatives. Most of us are not naturally business people, so that’s probably not what you want to hear when you’re first starting out. But it’s the best piece of advice I think I could give is, look at the whole business, the art, the production, the business, the admin, the managing, the networking part of it. You have to view it holistically, I guess is the word I’m looking for there, if you want to be able to succeed in this business.

Tom Ashford: Yeah. Awesome. Okay, that’s all. The five questions up. There’s a little secret as well actually. You were actually the very first person to submit an application for the podcast, so congratulations. Yeah.

Jim Heskett: Wow, I didn’t realize that. Yeah, I guess I just saw it on Facebook and jumped on it and thought I would like to do that.

Tom Ashford: You got in quick.

Jim Heskett: All right, thanks so much for having me, Tom. This has been great.

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 starterkit. And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.

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