Romance writers are ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing, so whatever your genre, you'll definitely pick up some ideas from this discussion with J.A.Huss.
In the intro, I mention physical merchandising with Society6.com. Click here to check out the Creative Mug, and get some ideas about your own author merch.
I talk about my few days off in Devon and how we're lucky to be able to schedule promos in advance, why I prefer spike marketing for fiction, Michael Lister on the SellMoreBooksShow re hitting the USA Today list and print-on-demand books on Walmart through Expanded Distribution.
If you want to automate your author marketing, join me and Nick Stephenson for an info-packed webinar plus wine-fueled banter on Thurs 18 August at 3pm US Eastern, 8pm UK. Click here to learn more or book your place.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
J.A Huss is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 20 romances, including new adult romance, romantic suspense and epic sci-fi/fantasy.
- On JA Huss's beginnings writing textbooks and then science fiction.
- On the romance genre and what it gives readers that they can't get elsewhere.
- The obligatory scenes in a romance novel and how to avoid boredom as a writer.
- JA's plotting tools and strategy.
- Building confidence as a writer.
- Using giveaways as a marketing tool and the time it takes to build marketing platforms.
- Using groups in Facebook, vs. having just an author page.
- Blogging as a marketing strategy for fiction authors.
- Strategies to avoid burn-out.
You can find Julie at www.JAHuss.com or on twitter @jahuss
Transcript of Interview with J.A. Huss
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I'm here with J. A. Huss. Hi, Julie.
Julie: Hi, how is it going, everyone?
Joanna: It is good. And just a little introduction for people who don't know you.
J. A. Huss is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of over 20 romances, including new adult romance, romantic suspense, and epic Sci-Fi fantasy, which is pretty awesome.
Julie, just start by telling us a bit more about you and how you got into writing romance.
Julie: My trip down this little journey has been pretty unique and atypical, I would say, because I never wanted to be a writer. Every kid, I think, thinks, “I can write a book. Maybe I'll write a children's book or something.” But it was never my dream.
I always wanted to be an astronaut or a horse trainer or something. I went back to school when I was in my late 20s and graduated with fully intending on becoming a veterinarian because I was an equine science major. And then I decided that probably wasn't the job for me because I didn't want to get called out during the night. And they don't get paid very much. Like I'm gonna skip that and go to grad school, which, oh my God, worst thing ever.
I'm like, “I'm going to get a PhD and be a scientist.” I don't know what I was thinking, but that was not for me. I ended up leaving my PhD program and I got a master's degree in forensic toxicology because I just wanted to finish it. I put all this work into it, I have all these credits, and they were going nowhere unless I got a degree. So I'm like, “I'm just going to get this master's and then forget about the whole experience and move on.” So I did that, and it was forensic science, which was really interesting, and I had been home-schooling my children for a couple of years, I guess.
That's really big here in the States. I know it's not big in other places in the world, but it's a really big thing here. I finished that forensic science program and I'm like, “I'm going to write a book for homeschoolers about forensic science.” And I did. I wrote a whole book, a whole textbook for junior high and high school for forensic science, which is a really popular subject.
Joanna: Oh, really? Wow.
Julie: It's a high-interest subject. Like what kid wouldn't want to take that if they were staying at home and their parents get to pick their curriculum?
I wrote it and it was a pretty big success, so I started writing more, and more, and more, and I started a company called Simple Schooling, which was non-fiction science courses for homeschool parents. I did that for three years and I wrote like 200 of those.
I wrote an entire anatomy textbook, like all hands-on anatomy style. It was so fun. I was a number one publisher on the website I was selling through and they started giving me attitude because I would lower my prices and I published so much. It was crowding other people out of the market. And so they were getting angry with me.
So I was like, “This is probably not a good situation. I need to find a way to put this stuff on Amazon because I need another distributor. I shouldn't rely on these people because they could kick me out and I would be out of my business.”
So I'm like, “Well, if I'm going to publish on Amazon, maybe I should just try fiction and try to write a science fiction story.” And so that's because Amanda Hocking had come out at that time, and so I was like, “Wow, you can really do this stuff by yourself. So that's how I started writing the science fiction.
Joanna: That was like 2011, was it?
Julie: I started writing the science fiction January 1st in 2012, and I published the first three books October 1st, right around October 1st.
I didn't do great, but I did pretty well for like brand-new, no platform. But I realized pretty quickly that what I wanted to write in science fiction wasn't really what people were looking for. And so I was kind of straddling this little fence of, “Is it paranormal romance or is it science fiction,” and it was somewhere in between. I didn't have an audience for it. I picked the wrong genre. I didn't even know what genre it was, to be honest. I didn't.
I saw all this excess of the erotica writers, and I'm like, “Oh, I'm going to write some erotica.” So I wrote this erotica short under a pen name, and I think I published it for like a week and I took it down because I'm like, “That is so bad. It is just so bad.”
Then I took a class from Dean Wesley Smith, and it was his genre class, and I was like, “Whoa.” The light bulb went off. I'm like, “I'm doing it all wrong. I'm just doing everything wrong.”
I took his advice about romance genre and decided I was going to write a new adult romance because my science fiction was kind of new adult. And I wrote tragic, and I hit all the tropes. And that is how it started.
It was a pretty long process of trial and error, but one thing I will say is that because I had been selling things online for so long, I knew how to do it. I knew about Twitter and how to use it, and I knew what not to do, really, like all the mistakes that I made with my non-fiction.
When it came time to make the Facebook and the Twitter and everything for J. A. Huss, I knew what not to do and probably what to try next. I had all that marketing experience behind me that really, really, helped me in that first two years.
Joanna: This is such an awesome story. There is so much I could ask you because it is really interesting.
Your anatomy textbook, has that been useful for writing erotica?
Julie: No, I don't think so. I have a really weird memory, and I don't know why I remember certain things. So sometimes I'll catch myself using an anatomically correct name and, “Now, get rid of that.”
Joanna: But really, that's not necessary. No, but that's super, super interesting. We are going to come back on some of these things, but I wanted to go back to readers because you're very good with readers. But also, I'm trying to figure out because I write darker books, and you have some darker books, too, but you're writing in the romance genre, and I'm fascinated.
Why is romance the best-selling genre by so much? What does romance give people that they just don't get anywhere else? Because I want to learn this stuff.
Julie: It's the fantasy. It's like you want to immerse yourself in a book and become that character, the woman in the book, and just experience her life for a little bit. And that's really all it is.
It's a way for people to escape and get into a story and live scenes or locations and stuff that they wouldn't get in real life and just enjoy themselves. Even though my dark books are really dark.
I'm a plotter. I plot like a thriller author. So I'm very much plotting my books like a thriller when I'm writing the dark ones, and even not the dark ones. Almost all of them are plotted like a thriller so that I keep people on the edge of their seats the whole time.
They just want a good story, and I think that's it. They just want a good story.
Joanna: Well, then let's just look at some of the tropes of romance because I didn't even know what HEA was until quite recently.
What are some of those high points that you have to hit in something that is defined by the word “romance”?
Julie: In romance, you have to have an HEA, which is “happily ever after,” and there is really no way around it.
I look at the movies that I'm watching these days, because I like thrillers and science fiction, and I'm really disappointed in some of the endings because they are refusing to do a “happily ever after”, and it's like, “Just give me that ending.” Endings are everything.
I think they're everything in every book, but especially so in romance. The reader wants to close the book and know that these people are soulmates. That's what they invested in; they're invested in the conflicts of this relationship. And by the end, all the conflicts are worked out and they're on the path, at least, on the path to “happily ever after”, if they're not married and having babies or something.
That's number one is that it has to have a “happily ever after”.
Number two is, really, you can't have cheaters. Nobody wants to date a cheater. In romance, you have to tread very carefully if you're going to have your hero be a cheater. I mean, men cheat in real life all the time, and in romance books, we're not looking for that. We're looking for the fantasy guy.
So those are the two really big rules, I think, of romance, for me, anyway. He doesn't have to be likable in the beginning, as long he's redeemed himself at the end. You can write a lot of jerky characters because almost all my characters are that kind of man in page one, but on the last page they should all be in love with him. And if they're not, then that's not their kind of story.
Joanna: I have read your “321”, which is a bit darker, I would say, and also it manages to have an HEA but still have a slightly darker twist at the end, which I won't reveal, obviously. But it was interesting in reading it because it got these high points, but what concerns me about some of the romance genre that I've seen, and I must admit to not reading, is that it seems quite repetitive.
Julie: It is.
Joanna: How do you stop getting bored as a writer when you have to hit those tropes all the time?
Julie: Well, here's the thing, the readers like repetitive. They don't mind it. If you want to be in the top 10 on Amazon, that's what you write. You write what everybody is reading.
Me, I get a little bit bored. So I have written a couple of books like that, but mostly, that's why I write the mystery suspense category most of the time, because I add in mystery and suspense to make it not boring to me because I'm not a romance reader. I read science fiction, and when I watch movies and TV, I like science fiction and thriller.
That's the kind of plot that I like. To keep myself interested in writing the book, that's why I write those stories, and luckily, I have found that there is a fair number of people who like the same things that I do, so that I found my fans, and the rest just comes long afterward.
But it is very repetitive, but the readers don't care. I think the only thing that matters is that, as a writer, you just have to find ways to put little things in there that interest you. So you don't want to give up because it takes a lot to write a book, and sit down, and write so many words, and publish enough to make money at it.
Joanna: So, I mean, you mentioned, “Publish enough to make money,” and writing series seems to be…well, it's big in any genre, but it seems particularly big in romance. And you talked there about plotting.
How do you plot these romance series, and what is your writing process right now?
Julie: Right now, I'm writing a series called “The Mister Series”, and it's about a group of five guys who were accused of rape back in college, and they said they didn't do it. They don't know each other's stories. They were all accused. They weren't together that night. They were in the same house but they weren't together.
The mystery is, “Did they or did they not,” when the mystery first presents itself. But beyond that, the victim died a couple of years later and they never went to trial, so they never got proven innocent. So it's 10 years later, and now, all kinds of things from their past are starting to show up.
That was my main idea, and I got it from a real-life case that happened to have an anniversary when I was looking for a plot, and that's where that case came from in my books. But what I'm doing now is writing standalone series. And so each book is one couple and they figure out their major crisis, I guess, by the end of each book, so that the reader can read it out of order until they get to the last one and not miss very much.
When I plot, it's like I don't know everything when I start. In my science fiction book, my series I did, I knew the ending that I wanted, but this book, I didn't know. I know now, but I'm in book three right now, and so I just figured out what the ending is going to be.
But I know the ending of each book when I do the series before I start it, obviously. So I'm aiming towards that, the hallway through, and that's just how I plot it. But I plot it like most people, I guess. I use the screenwriter template for the plot points and I pretty much stick to that almost 100%.
Joanna: Do you have one page where you just put the major things on? Some people have a one-page or a spreadsheet, and some people like Jeffrey Deaver will write like a hundred pages of an outline before he actually writes the book.
Julie: I do a one-page thing, and it's a graph that I learned from a book called “The Plot Whisperer”. That's how I learned to plot. It was from that book.
She makes a little graph that she shows you, and so I plot everything on that graph. I get my high points and my low points. And so I always know what's the turning point at the beginning? What's the hook? Number one, it's got to have that hook.
Then what's the turning point at the 25% mark? And then, what's the 50? And then, what's the crisis? And then, what's the resolution? And so, that's all I start with, those five things. And it changes as I write, but I'm still, hopefully, always aiming for the end.
I do change the ending a little bit, but I don't ever just like pulling a new ending out of my butt and in the middle of a book.
Joanna: More especially there has to be an HEA.
Julie: Right. So you know they have to get together at the end somehow.
Joanna: It's the same in my books, in thrillers, that if someone is trying to destroy the world or blow something up, and the protagonist is trying to stop them, and generally, the protagonist wins and the bad guy dies.
And the hero at the mercy of the villain is one of the scenes. So this is true in any genre, obviously, there are these scenes that you have to write. But I'm interested that you said you stumbled upon this case.
You said you were looking for a plot and you found this case. So that sounds like research, and, “How do you find your ideas,” is a terrible question for an author.
I was interested that you said you were looking at a legal case. So how did you find that?
Julie: I wasn't really looking at a legal case. The first book, “Mr. Perfect”, went through so many different ideas. I had started with one, like a little hook, I guess, and the hook is the heroine is texting somebody who she thinks is not getting her messages and she's texting all her fantasy life to him, and it turns out somebody else is getting her messages.
I had that hook. So I started with that. But then, I decided the first story I came up with, which was darker and more dramatic, and I just had come off that “Rock” book, which was a psychological thriller with romance, and I was like, “I don't really feel like writing a dark book right now.” So I'm like, “How can I change this?”
Then I came across that case, and because it was the 10-year anniversary of when the media totally blew their minds accusing these poor guys of something they did not do. I was like, “Let me look into where those guys are today, just out of curiosity,” because I saw it on TV.
I was reading the page of one of the guys who did not get charged but who had to change his name because every time an employer Googles his name he couldn't get a job. And I was like, “Okay, now that's a story.”
What happens to you when you get accused of something you didn't do and you are labelled for the rest of your life? How do you move on? I'm like, “Oh, I think I'll write this story, and I think I'll turn it into this “Mister Series” with these five guys.”
But one thing I do that I'm very, very, careful about, because obviously, the whole point is to sell books, and now everybody likes a romantic suspense. So I turned that book into a romantic comedy and with just a little teeny, teeny hint of what's coming in the next books. And then I kind of just mowed everybody over and put two, which is usually how I do it when I'm doing a series.
It's like, “Okay, I'm going to lure you in with this funny book, sexy book. But then, if you want to come along for the ride with me afterward, this is what you are going to get because this is what I write.” I don't really write romantic comedy. It's a funny book, but I don't want to write romantic comedy. I don't have that many jokes inside me.
Joanna: I have none at all.
Julie: I have the dark stuff in there. And so, in book two, I turned it around, made it darker, and I'm more serious. That whole rape thing was really front and center. And some people didn't like it, and I don't care because if they don't like that, they don't like me and they're not my fan, so I'm not interested in trying to keep them a fan.
I think it's a waste of my time to try and lure people to books that they're not going to enjoy. So that's why I kind of hit them in the face with “Mr. Romantic”. And the rest of the series isn't going to be, “That is in your face,” but I wanted to just let people know that this is the kind of writer I am and this is the genre that I prefer to write. And so, thank you for reading that first book, but this is where we're headed now. So, that's kind of how I do the series.
Joanna: I know for people listening, and I am too, always impressed by how confident you are around that. You're like, “If people don't like it, then whatever, I don't care.” But you also said, “The point is to sell books.”
How are you managing that balance? And also, where does your self-confidence come from as a writer? As someone who's come from science is now writing fiction, where does that confidence come from?
Julie: I don't really know, to be honest. When I was writing “Clutch”, the very first science fiction, the whole time I was writing it, I was like, “Oh my God. What are people going to think about this? And what is that going to feel like to publish?”
But because I didn't publish it right away, I waited until I had three books, by the time I got to the third book, I just didn't really care. I'm just so in love with the story, and it's a really great story. I think the first book is obviously my worst book because it's my first book, but by the time I got to the third book, like, “This stuff is really rolling along.”
I think maybe that has something to do with it, but another thing is that I was lucky in that there are a lot of people out there who like the same stuff that I do. And so all I have to do is write the stuff that I like. And if I keep writing the stuff that I like and I don't shortchange my readers with a crappy plot or a crappy romance, then I think they're gonna be happy and they're gonna stick with me.
That's really all I try to do is not please my fans, exactly, because they don't like every book I write, but please the reader that I'm writing for for that particular book. I just try and do that.
Joanna: I think that's great. Marketing is one of your strengths, as you said, and of course, putting out the first three books at the same time or near enough is one of the tips, as well as writing a series.
What are some of the other things that you recommend for romance, in terms of marketing? And just like you say, you have this Marketing Tip Mondays on your site, which is brilliant and has all kinds of things on. But I mean, you do so much for marketing, and also, you are very original, which I always find amazing.
What are some of the things that maybe were working for romance writers six months ago, which means the rest of us are about to catch up?
Julie: Well, we talked about this last time we talked; Facebook ads. When I released “321” in January 2015, hardly anybody was running Facebook ads, and I kind of just got in on the ground level and that helped that brick a lot.
But since, it has diminished a lot. And so they're just not as effective as they used to be, so I'm moving on. Last year, I will tell you, I spent over $100,000 in Facebook ads. This year, I don't know what to do, it's because I haven't looked, but it's nowhere, nowhere, close.
I'm sure Facebook is looking at my account, going, “What the hell happened to her,” because they bugged me for months, like, “Please call me. Please talk to me,” and I'm like, “No, I'm just not doing that right now because I just don't know if it's a good return on my investment right now.”
I'm always trying to think of new things, but obviously, the last thing is just to put out another book.
Joanna: Which everyone hates as advice. So that doesn't count. You have to give us something else. Or, for example, one of the things that you do and a lot of the romance authors do, which I think you do really well, is these giveaways and these party type things. And you even do physical merchandise.
Can you maybe talk about one of your launches where you've done these physical things and also online things that have worked together?
Julie: For the book “18”, which didn't make New York Times, but it should have, I think it should have. It sold so many books. But it was during Black Friday week and Thanksgiving and it just didn't make it.
For that book I did a huge giveaway. I think giveaways are key, but you have to be careful because you don't want giveaway hunters just to come in along for the ride.
You really want to try and entice readers and fans into participating in your giveaway. That's why I don't do many of those, “Everybody, sign up for everybody's newsletter,” type of giveaway because I'm not sure those people are my fans. So I don't want to disappoint them, number one, and I don't want to waste my time, number two, and build numbers. You're paying for that mailing list. You're paying for those people.
I don't want them on my list if they're not really interested. But for “18”, it was a secret book, number one. I didn't tell anybody about it until a week before, and I had a huge giveaway on a website I made for another book that was released a couple weeks later, called “Anarchy Found”. That was like a superhero romance, which is a big departure from what I have been doing. So I wanted to push it in everybody's face to see who I could catch. Obviously, not a book for everybody, but just throw it out there to my fans and see who I could catch. So I put a giveaway on that website.
They had to go to that website and look at it to get to the giveaway, and the giveaway was five $100 gift cards and 50 copies of “18” in paperback, because I don't mind giving away paperbacks. It's a tax write-off, so I just give out like candy. But they needed that money at Christmas.
That was a big deal, and I told them, “That's why I'm doing it,” because I know not everybody has a lot of money at Christmas. So, here, I'm going to give out $500 for you guys, and I hope you enter, and I hope you win, and if you don't win, maybe you'll get one of the 50 paperbacks. So you'll get a little something special. But mostly, that's why I do the physical giveaways.
Gift cards are nice, but I mean, everybody wants money. But if you give them something physical, like I have a store on Society Six with merchandise they can buy and really, the only reason I put it up is so that I can order things for giveaway so I don't have to mail it myself. And they make cool merchandise and it's really nice.
People want to have something physical to relate to your story, and if they fell in love with “321” or “18”, they want their paperback because it's just not the same on an e-reader and it's just in their head. If they can hold the paperback in their hands, or have a blanket with the “Mister Series” on it, or whatever, in a T-shirt, or a button, or a sticker.
They like that stuff because it puts it into a physical world where it was just digital before. And so, I think that's something I recognized intuitively and didn't really think very much about. I just started doing it because when I started publishing, I thought, “I need bookmarks. I need bookmarks. This what the traditional authors give away, and so I need bookmarks.”
I bought some bookmarks for the science fiction series, and I'm like, “I'm going to give these suckers away. I don't care how. This is my mission right now.” I have a whole blog post on it back in 2012. It was called “fake it till ya make it”, and that's what I was doing.
I was just like, “I'm gonna buy these things and I'm gonna give them away.” I could only afford to give away two paperbacks back then, but it didn't matter. It's like somebody is winning a paperback. And it kind of just got out of control. So by the next year, when I was releasing that “Rook and Ronin” series, the tragic and everything, I was giving away all the books. I'm like, “You get all six books.” And they were just going crazy for it.
Joanna: But it's interesting. You're still doing giveaways.
Are they one of the things that are staple of book marketing?
Julie: Yes, I think so.
Joanna: That's not changed.
Julie: I do them on release dates with my release date blitz. I know most of those genres don't have book blog blitzes like we do, but in romance, it works.
You do a blitz with somebody who coordinates it with you. I use Xpresso Tours and I put a nice giveaway in there. But then what I also do, if you had the patience and the time to look back on my author page, Facebook page, through the years, you'll see that I ran most of my giveaways on that page, and now I don't. Now, I run in them in my fan group, which is over 9000 people now, and those are my fans. I'll give them anything.
I really know they're fans because they're there, and they show up every day, and they talk to me, and we have conversations, and they talk about their lives and their personal lives, and I share with them. And so I run my giveaways in there most of the time because it's hard to get everybody's attention at once. You've got to do it a little bit at a time. And I already know those people are fans. Right now, I'm marketing most of my giveaways to my fans and not to new readers.
Joanna: Which you've built up over time. And I mean, you mentioned Facebook ads have dropped off for you, but you still use Facebook groups, as you said. And you've got two groups. You've got you kind of wider group, and then you've got your smaller group.
Julie: I have a private group, still. It's pretty small. It's just about 20 people, and we do a little bit of stuff in there, but most everything happens in my group.
Joanna: Is that the Shrike Bikes?
Julie: Yeah, Shrike Bikes. I'm not easy to find either. It's not like you can just go and type me in.
Joanna: But it's in the back of your book, so people can find it that way. I'm really interested in that. So how much overhead…because everyone is worried about overhead in marketing in terms of time. There is the money aspect, but for me, I'm like, “I'm still not really a master at Facebook. I try, but I'm not very good at it.”
What is the overhead in terms of your time in managing that Facebook group? And is it because you just love Facebook in general?
Julie: I don't really love Facebook. So a lot of it is a job, but everything I post in the fan group is not a job. That's like just hanging out with friends. And so I don't really mind doing that.
Yesterday, I'm like, “I've got to post something on my author page because nobody is looking at me.” So I got to go hunting for some cool article to post, or something funny. So that is kind of a job, and I guess if you're not getting any reaction, that's just something you have to commit to.
When I was first starting, it was like, “Okay, I have to post this many posts a day, and I have to post these many posts tomorrow.” And that's just something you have to do. It's not magic.
It doesn't happen all by itself. You've got to go put the work in, and it takes a lot of time. When I started my Facebook group, it was January 2014, maybe February, and I got 25 people at a time. It's like I had my street team, I'm like, “Go.” I would post on my author page, “Come join me.”
Tt's slow, slow. It's like having a mailing list, really, because, “Let me point something to you.” Facebook does not hide the group posts. They do if the people don't post in them, you won't see them very often. But if the people visit the group or reply to a post within the first few days or a day or two, they show them at the top of their timeline.
It's like you have told Facebook when you joined this group that you are interested in these people. It's not like liking a page. It's very different, and it gets treated very different in the timeline.
Joanna: We've all seen the organic reach of pages kind of drop off, and the established wisdom used to be that you should have a page.
Is it now that, yes, you should have a basic page but that you should focus more energy into a group?
Julie: I think everybody should probably start a group if they've got fans. You should work on the page first, because you do need that page. There's no doubt about it.
But you also need your personal profile. I get a lot of interaction on my personal profile, and I encourage people to follow me there and not friend me because I'm kind of stingy with the friends. But I encourage them to follow me, and they will. I have over 4000 followers on my personal profile.
You have to work all three ends of it at the same time. but if you have fans, you should definitely make a group. It's a place for them to hang out. You have to treat it like a place where it's all about you, because it is.
It needs to be about you, but they have to enjoy being there with you. So that means you have to be there. That's kind of a big stickler, and you're not just there to say, “Hey, my new book is out.”
I post some pretty personal stuff in my fan group, and they just want to know a little bit more. They just want to know a little bit more about me. And it's like they feel that way about all authors. They're not interested in your assistant, they're not interested in your PR person, they're only interested in you.
You have to figure out what you're comfortable with, piecemealing out of your personal life, and just commit to it. Most of my personal page, I'm talking about my dogs or my bird, but they like that stuff because they're dog owners, or they're birds owners. They like seeing me at home. It's just something I've committed to, I guess.
Joanna: And that's the thing. Okay, so we've got the giveaways, we've got the interaction in the Facebook group. You have a genre blog, which I was interested in, New Adult Addiction, which has reviews on other books, as well as obviously promoting your own. And blogging for fiction is obviously a very difficult thing, it takes time.
Do you recommended blogging for fiction, genre stuff, or how's that gone, that genre blog?
Julie: That blog has been up since I published my first book, so September 2012. And I used to do it on myself, and now I don't do any of it. My friend Christie does it, and she reads whatever book she wants.
I don't write any of those reviews anymore, it's all Christie. So she does whatever she wants over there. But when I first started, “Oh, yeah,” because the thing was, I was looking for blogs to promote the science fiction, and that's not easy to find. But I kept finding romance book blogs, and I'm like, “What are these people doing? I kind of want to do that.” And so I got involved with the book blogging world and committed to it. I used to spend one or two hours every night book blogging back when I had time.
Joanna: Now you are just writing more books.
Julie: I would review and I would read those books, and because I was not a romance writer, I had just decide it was good for me to run this blog and read these books and get familiar with everything, and it was fun. It's fun.
I don't know why the blog did so well. I have no idea. I mean, I put a lot of time into it. I say that like I don't have any idea, but I sort of do. I mean, I put a lot of time into it. They have these regular memes that they run every week, like stacking the shelves where you post the books that you got that week, or Top 10 Tuesday where you answer a question that this blog puts out. And there's all these little memes that you can do all the week, and the bloggers follow each other, and they comment on their posts, and that's how I got to know a bunch of bloggers that way. I think it was worthwhile.
Joanna: Do you still think now, with people starting now, is blogging a good idea?
Julie: I think if they're interested in doing a genre blog, then it is. But if they're not, then no, obviously, because you have to have an author website. You have to. There's no way around it. And you have to blog on that website. There's just no way around it.
I don't care whether anybody is like, “You've got to have a mailing list, you've got to have a website, you've got to have a Twitter, you've got to have an Instagram, you've got to have all that stuff. You've got to have it.” You don't have to use it all the same, but you have to have it, and you have to figure out how you're going to use it.
Tf you don't like blogging, then forget the genre blog. Just do your author website. And mine is doing pretty well right now because I gave them something just like you.
You give things to people and you don't have any expectations for them to give back to you, and you just give it freely, and people like that. They just like it. New authors, you just got to give something to the community.
Joanna: At the moment you've got these Marketing Mondays on jahuss.com.
What do you give to readers in terms of fiction blog posts? Because I certainly struggle with it. I do like research posts and stuff but I really struggle with that.
Julie: I'm sort of afraid to talk to my readers on the blog. That's why I do it in the Facebook group because it's private, mostly private. Because if I get started on a blog page, I always want to rant about stuff. And then it's like I'll be the author behaving badly for the week.
I try not to put any of that stuff on my author page. That's a place for them to go. I'll put special things up there for them. Like for my audio book releases that have just been coming out, I made like the sample you get on Audible. It sucks, right?
Joanna: Yeah, it really sucks.
Julie: I'm like, “I've got the files. I'll make my own freaking sample.” I put up a playlist and I got my publisher's permission for the first one, but not the other ones. So, how long is it gonna be? And I'm like, “That's really short.”
I'm like, “If you want to hear a sexy scene, because Audible is not…” There is no sexy scene in the first chapter. So if you wanna hear what I'm writing, come over to my blog because I pulled it out for you and you can listen to it.
Or I'll put a special excerpt up there, or a special giveaway, or something like that. It's always just a little bit something extra over on the blog.
Joanna: Which is awesome. Because you are such a marketing super-duper woman, you will be starting the superauthormarketing.com. It might be up by the time this goes live.
What are you going to do on there? Just so people know, then they can come over and have a look.
Julie: These are going to be free marketing tips and webinars, but also paid courses. Because there are still many little teeny, teeny things that you can do to improve your results, especially on Facebook.
It's like the size of your picture, or how to put a custom picture in that boost-to-post ad on your page, or how to put a picture in a Twitter giveaway. It's like just these little teeny tips.
There's going to be different courses, like, “How you use a roflcopter.” I hear people say, “MailChimp is hard.” I guess that's a thing. I'm not seeing it. So I'm like, “Maybe that's a good course. Maybe I can show people how I do the newsletter because my new newsletters are pretty kick-ass.” Can I say that?
Joanna: Yeah, I think that's fine. I think I say that.
I think that's great because what's so interesting, and I think marketing starts at a bigger level. It's like you said, authenticity, sharing real stuff, and there are these big things around marketing, and then there's the little things, that, let's face it, do change. Sites change, fall apart, things.
I just saw Flickr, because Yahoo just got bought, and I have been using Flickr for six years or something, putting out my photos on Flickr, and I know Instagram or Pinterest are the new things, but I'm like, “What's going to happen to Flickr? Maybe it will disappear.” This is what happens, isn't it? These sites disappear and things change.
So the little tactics change, as everything does.
I do want to ask you about what seems to be happening in romance as well is this kind of burn-out thing. Because people are writing a lot faster than many other genres, and I think some people have seen income drop because of KU and ACX income has dropped.
How do you deal with managing your healthy life and your output up against this kind of “go faster, go faster” approach?
Julie: Well, I'm kind of a loner, so I don't mind like writing all day if I have something to write that day. And like I said, I always make sure the story I'm telling is a story I'll read so that I don't get bored. I think that's really important.
I can't speak to what everybody else is writing, but I'm not really writing to market. I am a little, because I try and take those things into consideration, but I'm not really writing to market like some of these people. And so, I'm always in love with the story while I'm writing it, and I think that helps. And I'm a naturally fast writer. I don't know why that is. I couldn't tell you.
Some days, I do feel burnt out. I think you just need to take a day off. But right now, I'm on this pre-order deadline for these “Mister” books, and no, I don't want to write 8000 words today. But I pretty much have to because I've got other things going on.
Some of it is not fun, but I do enjoy when the series is out. I think it's just that rush of completion. I think that just keeps me going. I don't know, because others are so different. Everybody does it so differently, and everybody's got a different motive, and I will say that absolutely 100% my motive is not money.
I do think that if I'm going to spend time doing this, I need to get money out of it, and I need to get the amount that I need, but I don't do it because of the money. I do it because I have a story to tell. So I think that helps.
I have seen a lot of these new authors popping up. They are not new. They are pen names, and it's people starting over, trying to do this whole, “Quick, quick, I'm gonna write books, books,” thing, but they can't do it on their other name. And I'm just not interested in that. So that's not what I'm doing. I think I'm just writing my natural speed, which happens to be fast, and I hope I didn't set this trend.
Joanna: I think it seems more common in romance genre.
Is it also because romance books are often shorter than epic fantasy?
Julie: Some of them, yeah. I'll also say this right now, if I am writing some science fiction, it's so slow. Number one, I'm not making any money off it, so I can't make it a priority, and number two, it's just a whole different way of writing a story.
Romance readers don't really want all the things that fantasy and Sci-Fi readers want. It just takes a lot longer to write those kinds of stories. Well, you're right, I think romance is easy. Nobody crucify me for saying that, but I have written both genres, and I know it's easier than writing science fiction.
Joanna: Maybe that's research and getting a lot more detail.
Julie: Well, I think science fiction readers are looking for cool tech, and that imagination has to go crazy. Fantasy is the same way, and even if I was writing a straight thriller.
If you're writing a romance, you are relying on the sex scenes to get you through some of that plot, where you're like, “All right, it's time for a sex scene,” and it's like, “Go write that sex scene,” and then, “Okay, we're back to the plot now.” Well, in a thriller, you can't do that. There is no break for a sex scene here.
Joanna: Well, it's a cutaway. It's actually a cut away because you can't really show it.
Julie: So you can't even get any words out of it.
Joanna: That's so true.
I put a very tiny, tiny sex scene in my first book, “Stone of Fire”, and it's still there, and I get comments about it going, “This is inappropriate for thriller.” They didn't want it.
Julie: Different world. They did it in science fiction, too. Romance is just its own thing where that's part of the plot. That whole sex scene, that's part of the romance plot. And of course, you have to be a little creative in your sex scenes, or I don't know, I guess they just get boring and people skip over them.
Joanna: I've read some of your sex scenes. They haven't bored me so far, and that's cool. Are you blushing? I don't think you're blushing.
Julie: No. My face is really red because I didn't put any make up on, and I got out of the shower.
Joanna: Just on the sex scenes, do you just do it, no worries? Because you put those scenes on your blog, too. You have kids and stuff.
Julie: You know why I put them on the blog and not on Facebook? Because people can go to the blog and it's private and nobody knows they're visiting the blog, and they can read those and not have to worry about showing up in Facebook and stuff like that.
That's why I don't normally put the dirty stuff on Facebook anymore. I used to. I think people like to be able to click away and read an excerpt on a blog whether it's not Facebook, and they don't have to like it. Not just share it, they don't have to do any of that stuff. They can just sit and read it. And so, that's why I put that explicit stuff over there.
Joanna: It's amazing.
In case people are interested in your fiction, tell people what books you have available so they can come and check you out.
Julie: Well, I have like 40 of them. So I'll start with the standalone. It's my New York Times best-seller, it's “321”, a dark suspense, and it's a threesome book about three people trying to have a serious relationship.
And then, I have another standalone that was also a best-seller called “18”, and it's kind of a story of my life when I was 18. A little bit of that, actually a lot of it is like go to do with just how I felt mostly being 18. And that's a really popular standalone.
And then, there's just so many of them. If they are romantic suspense, I usually give you a heads up. And then, the “Mister Series”, which is releasing. I think we talked a lot about that. If you're interested in that kind of cool, long mystery over five books can check out.
Joanna: And your Sci-Fi, if people are interested in that?
Julie: Yeah, my Sci-Fi is called, ‘I Am Just Junco” series, and it's like an alien return apocalyptic kind of story. Very intricate, and detailed, and big world, and all that stuff.
Joanna: Any sex in that?
Julie: No, there is a few like fade-to-black sex scenes, but there is no sex in that. It's not really romance. It's got a little romance in it, it's got a little “happily ever after” at the end, but it's not really…it's military science fiction, I guess.
Joanna: Which is a great genre, actually, isn't it?
Julie: Right? I love it. I love the military Sci-Fi.
Joanna: Brilliant. It's so great to talk to you, Julie. So where can people find you and your books online?
Julie: They can find me at jahuss.com and that's got all the information for a hangout and everything. Or Author J. A. Huss on Facebook.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for you time, Julie. That was great.
Julie: Thank you, Joanna.