Joanne Phillips is the author of the romantic comedies Can’t Live Without, The Family Trap, and Cupid’s Way.
She also created the Flora Lively series of contemporary mysteries.
Can’t Live Without was an Amazon top 20 bestseller in 2012 and her books regularly appear in category bestseller lists.
Before becoming a writer, Joanne had jobs as diverse as hairdresser, air hostess and librarian.
She has a Masters degree in creative writing and is a high-profile indie author, and a champion of quality in self-publishing.
Joanne is also teaching the Self-Publishing Success course via the Writers' Workshop.
Episode 33, release date Monday 17th October, 2016
[See a full text transcript of the interview at the bottom of the page]
Find Out More:
Joanne's website: https://joannegphillips.wordpress.com/
Follow Joanne on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joannephillipsauthor
Joanne's Twitter page: https://twitter.com/joannegphillips
Joanne's Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanne-Phillips/e/B0083UEG86/
Joanne Phillips on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2862086.Joanne_Phillips
Joanne's Self-Publishing Success course at The Writers' Workshop: https://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Courses/Self-Publishing-Success-4-Weeks-Online-Course.html
Joanne's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/JoannePhillipsAuthor
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Episode 33, release date Monday 17th October, 2016
BookBub adverts: https://www.bookbub.com/ebook-deals/recommended
Lightning Source: https://www.ingramcontent.com/publishers/lp/lightning-source
Nielson ISBN Agency: https://www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk/controller.php?page=121
Gardners Books: https://www.gardners.com/gardners/default.aspx
Bertram Books: https://www.bertrams.com/BertWeb/welcome.jsp
@PaulTeagueUK Really enjoyed it – great questions! pic.twitter.com/pVkOTOwb87
— Joanne Phillips (@joannegphillips) September 20, 2016
Luke Bitmead Award: https://www.lukebitmead.com/welcome
MA Creative Writing at Machester Metropolitian University: https://www2.mmu.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/taught/2016/13508/
One of Joanne's singing videos … and because I love the song ‘Jolene'!
Transcript of Joanne's interview
Paul: Hello, and welcome to Self-Publishing Journeys, Episode number 33. This is for Monday, the 17th of October, 2016. My guest today is Joanne Phillips, the author of the romantic comedies “Can't Live Without”, “The Family Trap”, and “Cupid's Way”. She also created the Flora Lively series of contemporary mysteries. “Can't Live Without” was an Amazon top 20 bestseller in 2012, and Joanne's books regularly appear in category best seller lists.
Before becoming a writer, she had jobs as diverse as hairdresser, air hostess, and librarian. Joanne has a Master's degree in creative writing, is a high-profile indie author, and also a champion of quality in self-publishing. Joanne is also teaching the Self-publishing Success course by The Writer's Workshop. When we chatted, I started by asking her how she managed to get her first book written while she was still at work.
Joanne: Yeah, well that was actually really hard. And I think it's funny, because when writing is more of a hobby, you seem to find more time. I find that now that I'm writing all the time, it seems harder to fit it in around promoting your books and doing all the other stuff that comes with being a writer. But when I was actually working full-time, and I had a life, and I used to just carve out little bits of time here and there, but it took six years to write my first book.
Paul: Wow. That's impressive. That's a long time. But it was just fitting it in little bits and pieces that you got to spare, though.
Joanne: Yeah, and it was rubbish. It was absolutely terrible. The first book…I mean, it's obviously it's good now, but because it's been edited very heavily. But when I first finished “Can't Live Without” it wasn't in the same form that it exists in now. And it took six years to write it, and then it was edited again, and then again, and then again. And then eventually, it was in a published book form.
Paul: Now, I wanted to get to this. Why was it rubbish, Joanne? Because I hear people talking about writing a first draft and it being [inaudible 00:02:38]. And then you're saying this was rubbish. What made it rubbish?
Joanne: Yeah, I suppose it's a bit unfair to say it was rubbish. But I think you have to give yourself permission to write badly. And I still do that now. I had to learn that the hard way. And because I learned, after about three years, that all good writing is rewriting. So I think you put a lot of pressure on yourself as a writer to come up with something perfect the first time. And that's just not possible. Well, maybe it is for the geniuses out there, but for most of us it's not possible to do that.
So, when I say rubbish, I mean it's just how it comes out and probably not something that a reader would enjoy. And, you know, it's not in a published book form. So, “Can't Live Without”, it was very rambling. It didn't have very good structure. There were too many characters. It didn't really tie together. There were some scenes in it that didn't go anywhere. So when it was edited and rewritten, all of that was heavily tightened up. And so now it's a much better book.
Paul: When you talk about editing, are you talking about structural editing, copy editing, proofreading, what, all of it put together?
Joanne: All of it, yeah. Yeah, all of it. My process is refined over the years. And now, you know, it's quite streamlined. But in the main, I think I just write. I actually write very quickly now, so not six years. Now it would be more like, I don't know, six weeks for a first draft if I'm really into it. But I do a lot of planning before I start. So now, before I even start writing a book, I will plan out very, very…well, not rigidly, because I can deviate from there, especially if I'm writing one of my mysteries.
But I do plan quite a lot. And then I will write it probably within two months, write it very quickly. But then I will take a good four months then to rewrite, and then a lot of structural editing will take place, and then line by line editing. And then I have quite a few people who will beater read for me. And that's an important part of the process for me, as well.
Paul: And when you wrote “Can't Live Without”, had you had any writing experience previously? Had you ever written anything as long as that?
Joanne: No, I've never written anything as long as that. And it was very long. I think it was 110,000 words. Now it's 90, I think. I think it exists now as 90,000. It's still my longest book. I've got…my books have got shorter and shorter as they've gone on. But no, no, I've never written anything as long as that.
Paul: So how true is it to say…sorry. How true is it to say, then, that that first book, for you, was almost a journey of discovery? You were actually learning how to write as you did it.
Joanne: I was. Yeah, I very much was. I mean, I'd done lots of writing courses and I've always written. And I've written short stories and non-fiction, but I haven't written anything of that length. And I think, actually finishing it, you know, writing the end was a very big deal for me. It was a really cathartic process. I put a lot of myself in that book. And then I took a lot of myself out of that book afterwards. But yeah. Yeah, it was a real…and after I'd done it, then I felt like a writer, because I'd finished a whole book. And that was the start of it for me.
Paul: So when you wrote that book, were you aspiring to have it traditionally published? Did you go through that route?
Joanne: I did, yes. And I had the fortunate and unfortunate experience of the very first agent I sent it to loved it, wanted to see the whole thing, made a lot of editorial comments, which I took on board and made a lot of changes, which also made it better. But then, she left that agency and nothing came of that. So I was really, really, really disappointed. And that was kind of, like, I felt like that was my big moment had been snatched from me.
I felt like I hadn't been very lucky there, because I do think luck plays a big part. And I think talent and hard work is 90%, but I do feel there's an element of luck. And I felt that I'd been lucky to get in front of someone who loved it. And then I felt that I was unlucky that she left, and then that didn't happen for me. But, when I reframed that, I realized that what that had shown me was that it was a publishable book and that there were people out there who would really like it.
So from there then, I started to publish…well, I started my blog and then I started to publish chapters on my blog. And then I asked the readers of my blog for feedback. And when I got about halfway through, I realized that there was a readership out there. And this was in 2012, when, you know, self-publishing was really, really starting to take off through the Kindle. So that was the route that I decided to go down.
Paul: And had you done the submitting to a million agents thing by then, or had you just had that initial disappointment?
Joanne: I only had that one. Yeah, I didn't submit it to anybody else.
Paul: So you were early to self-publishing.
Joanne: I was, yeah. Yes, I was quite early. I read an article about Linda Gillard, and in late 2011. And she was very, very early to Amazon. And she had been a traditionally published author who had been self-published and been very, very successful and still is. And I contacted her and asked her for advice. We're now really, really good friends. And I thought, “You know, this is more me.” I felt quite disempowered by having that experience with the agent.
I didn't like everything being taken out of my hands. I know that I can do things myself, and I like that. You know, that's one of the things about self-publishing that appeals to me, is that my success or lack of success is just down to me. It doesn't depend upon the whims of somebody else.
Paul: When you talked about having an audience on your blog, had you been blogging…were you blogging about writing then or did you just have a general blog about yourself?
Joanne: No, I just started it for that purpose. So, Christmas 2011, I got a Kindle as my Christmas present. And then I started the blog in January, and I called it A Writer's Journey, and that was what I started doing. I basically started blogging about my experience of this book and putting chapters of the book, my process of how I wanted to self-publish and learning about self-publishing. And it's all on there now, from the very first post. And I have blogged every single stage ever since.
Paul: It is an amazing blog. I will talk about it a little bit more shortly. I'm just interested to know what, for you, self-publishing looked like, you know, that long ago. We say that long ago.
Paul: It's only four or five years ago, isn't it?
Joanne: It's a million years ago, yeah.
Paul: But it is a long time.
Joanne: It is.
Paul: What was it like?
Joanne: It looked to me like a wonderful world of freedom. For years, I have been one of those people…you know, I came up through that whole writing is hard, getting published is impossible. You need to have…you know, there are gate keepers, you need to get a traditional publishing deal, and you have to have an agent. And there's this special, magical world that you can only get into through that route.
And then to see that there was this… I mean, Amazon, you know, is both a terrible thing and a wonderful thing. But for me, it just opened up this door to readers. And I realized that readers are the important people and that I could access them myself. And, you know, self-publishing just felt like freedom. And it felt wonderful.
Paul: And again, in those days, it's very easy to go on outsourcing sites and find yourself an editor and somebody to make you a book cover, a proofreader. And in fact, many people are coming from the traditional publishing industry. They're actually freelancing now because all the jobs are going. So was that easy then? A couple of years ago?
Joanne: It was if you had thousands and thousands of pounds to spend. Although, there were lots of people out there who were happy to take your money. But I didn't have that, and so I didn't do that. I decided to do the do-it-yourself way completely. And then I blogged a lot about putting the self in self-publishing. So I just had to upskill. You know, I just had to learn how to do everything. I had to learn how to form up my books.
I had to learn how to source a cover designer. I'm very, very lucky that a good friend of mine is a graphic designer, so he started to help me with my cover designs. And I wanted paperback. I knew very, very early on that I wanted to publish on the Kindle and I had to have everything proofed perfectly. I really, really wanted my production values of my books to be exactly the same as traditionally published books. So I needed to, you know, have them properly edited.
I needed to have them properly proofread. I needed the covers to be good. And I wanted a paperback. And I remember, one of the things I obsessed about in the early days, I spent most of the summer of 2012 obsessing about [inaudible 00:11:41] paper, because through print-on-demand, the paper that you've got in the books is very thick and very heavy. And the weight of print-on-demand books is completely different from the weight of books that you get through litho printing.
And so they feel completely different. And I really, really didn't want to have a heavy book. I wanted a lightweight book, and I was really obsessed with that for quite some time, which seems really, really silly now. But that was the level of detail that I wanted to get down to, to make my books indistinguishable from a traditionally published book.
Paul: So when the first book was published, how did the sale go? How did you get it going and fan the flames?
Joanne: Yeah, well I was really lucky. Again, here is where it turned around for me. The luck was timing, because in 2012 everything was different. Amazon didn't have so many books for sale, and the free promotion tool that Amazon had then actually had an upturn in paid sales afterwards, whereas now, you don't get that effect, which is disappointing. But, it's the way it is today. But back then, if you ran a free promotion, which I did in…I think it's all on my blog, but after six weeks of “Can't Live Without” being for sale, and sales were reasonably steady.
I mean, I did some local press stuff and so it did start to sell. But then I did a free promotion. I had many, many thousands of downloads. And then the book went back into the paid charts at number 21, in the bestseller charts, and the sales went through the roof. And I remember, I just was watching them go up and I would, like, leave the computer for a minute and come back, and I'd sold 30 books in that minute. And it just carried on like that.
And so I made about 3,000 pounds in 2 weeks just on the back of that one free promotion on that one book. Those sales have never been repeated at that level, I have to say, unfortunately. That was just down to timing, and the resort of the algorithm, that at that time, counted a free download as a paid download and so positioned you back in the charts as though all those downloads had been paid for.
Paul: Well, that sounds like the good old days. Unfortunately, I was never involved when it did that.
Joanne: Oh, that's a shame.
Paul: Yeah, but it gives you the impetus, though. It sounds like it gave you great impetus in your offer, because I think you would struggle with that nowadays a bit.
Joanne: You would, yes. Although, I have to say, that I have had similar results from free promotions. However, I've only had them through paying for a book club ad. So, recently, my latest book, which is called “Keeping Sam”, and that came out early this year, I think. And I paid for a book bob advert, which cost about 300 pounds. And then I had many, many downloads with that, free downloads.
And when that went back into the paid charts, I did…I think I did make about 2,500 pounds back off that over the following two or three months. And because that did go back into the charts higher. Obviously, not at the same level as “Can't Live Without”, but you can still get that kind of traction. You just have to work a little bit harder for it now, and you have to pay for advertising to get that.
Paul: When you wrote “Can't Live Without” you were working. Did you jump straight out of pay…I say paid employment because you moved straight back into it as an author. But did you move out of employment, or did you write a few more books before you took the charts with that?
Joanne: No, no. And I still do work. I mean, I don't think… Yeah, I don't earn enough yet to completely give up work. I mean, I work as an indexer part-time, and I've been a student for the last few years. I mean, I just finished doing a Master's in creative writing. And tomorrow, I start back at university. I'm doing a PhD in creative writing. So, I kind of…I mean, I'm lucky that I don't have to work full-time now to support myself.
And although, you know, the money that I earn from indexing and writing and teaching, now, because obviously, now, I'm doing a self-publishing course that I teach. And so I'm really, really lucky that that brings in extra money. And would you like me to talk about how much I earn from my writing?
Paul: Yes, I'm interested to. I'm interested, because you mentioned some very, very large numbers there from promotions. I'm interested to know what that evens out at.
Joanne: It evens out, at the moment, at around, between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds a year via…just from writing and writing-related stuff.
Paul: And that is net profit, is it? So this is once we've paid for the book bubs and taken all of those off.
Joanne: Yes. Yes, it is, yeah.
Paul: And that's from how many books about?
Joanne: I have six now. I have written seven, but the seventh book was the one that I wrote for my Master's. And I'm hoping to get that traditionally published. Now, the reasons that I want to get that traditionally published are really, really pragmatic. I would love to self-publish it, but I want to…I would like to teach more. And what I found, the interesting thing about self-publishing is that even though readers don't care, and writers don't care, it seems that the industry, in terms of certain people, do care.
And I've been [inaudible 00:17:08] jobs with the OU and I've been for other university jobs. And even though I've got a Master's in creative writing, even though I've got a track record, and even though I've got lots and lots of credentials to teach creative writing now, you need to have had a book traditionally published. So I need to tick that box. And really, I don't care if I make any money from it.
I would just…I just need to be able to tick a box on an application form that says, “Yes, I'm an author with a traditionally published book,” in order to be able to apply for certain roles I would like to do. And I actually find that really sad, and really, really frustrating, but that's just the world that self-publishing authors are living in now.
Paul: I was going to use the word shameful when you were saying about that.
Joanne: It is.
Paul: It's absolutely appalling. Some of the…isn't it appalling that that snobbery still exists?
Joanne: It really is. When I applied for a role at the OU last year to teach on their creative writing course, and it was a Level 1 course and I had every single thing that they wanted. And, you know, I did my first degree with them, so I'm really, really passionate about them, too. And even though, on their criteria, it said, you know, “You must have had a book trad-…” And it said self-publishing doesn't count.
So in my application, I nicely wrote, “I invite you to reconsider your criteria based on this,” and I wrote a lot about myself and what I could bring, and how the industry has changed, and how the people who will be taking their courses will be people like me, and would be able to relate more. And how I would be able to have more to offer them. I didn't even get interviewed for that, so I was quite disappointed. But one day, I'll get a job…
Paul: That's astonishing.
Joanne: …with the [inaudible 00:18:55] University one day. That's one of my goals.
Paul: Well, you know, it's really interesting, this. Because it does make you a bit militant about these things. I was at the Festival of Writing in York, which is run by the people who you're running your class through. And it still, interestingly, I went for the first time last year.
Joanne: Oh, I was there last year as well.
Paul: I was shocked. Oh, were you?
Paul: I was shocked by how many people still aspire to be traditionally published, yet they were… I mean, you'll know this if you've been to the Festival of Writing, that they often go to see the agents, and they come out all forlorn with their hopes dashed. And it surprises me that they still see self-publishing…when you've got Rachel Abbotts, and, you know, massive success stories, at the moment, that they still see it as second best.
Joanne: It is.
Paul: Which is [inaudible 00:19:45].
Joanne: It really is. And it's sad. You know, I'd really like…I'd love to change that. That's one of the things that I would like to do. And I think that we are doing that. I feel that self-publishing is a movement. I feel really passionate about it. And I think it is changing. But I don't know. One of the problems that I see is that there's more money to be made out of peddling services around traditional publishing than there is about self-publishing.
Because self-publishers tend to share everything for free. You know, like my blog, and there are so many people in self-publishing who are so generous with everything: with their experiences, with their knowledge, with information. Whereas, you know, agents and publishers and events do cash in still on writers who have that dream, and who maybe don't have the skills or the knowledge to access the information that's out there.
And who see an advert and think, “Oh well, you know, for 300 pounds I can go along and get some advice.” Maybe they don't realize that they don't need to do that. And I think it's, you know, it's a shame.
Paul: The other interesting thing is that you were kind enough to share your author earnings there. A traditional advance now is probably going to be less than 5,000 pounds. So every year, you are actually earning more than twice what the average author advance would be. Most traditionally published authors won't even earn out their advance.
Joanne: It makes me laugh. It really, really does. You know, there's this dream of being a traditionally published author. And people still say to me, I still have people say to me, “Would you like to be published?” As though I'm not published, and they mean traditionally published. And I just laugh and I say, “You know, I am published.”
And I know that when one of my books does get picked up by a traditional publishing house, as I said before, the reasons that I want that are for those specific career reasons. But I know that I probably won't make as much money from that book, and that will be one that I will write off as a loss leader. I can make more money myself from self-publishing.
Paul: Have you tried out [inaudible 00:21:53] yet? Are they on your radar?
Joanne: Yeah, they're brilliant, brilliant people there.
Paul: They were the big buzz at this year's Festival of Writers, actually.
Paul: In that authors are getting very excited about them, about the royalties, which are, I think, 40%, 45% for e-books.
Paul: And, but they're really shifting a lot of books and there was a lot of excitement about them at this year's event. So I'm hoping to get them on this podcast. But is that something that you would consider?
Joanne: I have submitted to them, but they turned me down.
Paul: Oh. Oh, no.
Joanne: Well, actually, what they said was they didn't feel that they could add anything that I wasn't already doing. So, you know.
Paul: Oh, that's a shame.
Joanne: Well, you know, it doesn't matter really. It was in their early days and, yeah, they were probably right.
Paul: Well, let's have a look at the other books you've written, because you write different types of books: romantic fiction, we've got mysteries as well.
Paul: So, from that first book, from “Can't Live Without”, what was your progression then, your writing progression? What came after that?
Joanne: Well, after that came “The Family Trap”, which is the sequel to “Can't Live Without”. And then I wrote…you know, it's so hard to remember what order I wrote them in. I think I wrote “Cupid's Way” after that, which is a romantic comedy. And then I started writing cozy mysteries. I love the mystery genre, but I did find that after having a child, I became very squeamish and I couldn't really read anything about, you know, anything too gory, or missing children, or anything like that.
And a lot of the crime out there at that time was very dark. So I wanted a good mystery, but I just couldn't cope with anything really dark, so I just thought, “Right, I'm gonna write the kind of thing that I would like to read.” And the Flora Lively series emerged from that. And I've now written two, “Murder at the Maples” and “A Date with Death”. And there's a third one in the pipeline, “Sign of Seven”, that will be coming soon.
And then my latest book is “Keeping Sam”, which funnily enough, I don't think many people have noticed. That was the second book that I wrote. So after “Can't Live Without”, while I was waiting to see whether the agent that I sent it to was going to actually publish it, and while she was sending me rewrites to do, I wrote, very quickly wrote, a second book, which was “Keeping Sam”, which was in a completely different format than it's in now.
And then just…but it wasn't very good so I just stuck that in a drawer. And then recently I got that out and rewrote it. And I actually sent that off for a critique through the Romantic Novelist Association, and they sent me back a very bracing report that was so useful. And I love that. I love criticism. That's why I love my beater readers and I love editing and I love rewriting. You know, I feel that writing happens in such isolation, and it happens in your mind, and you have these conversations between the characters.
And you write something and you read it, and you like your own words and you like what you've done, but then you've got to expose it to the world, and unless you can get some real, genuine criticism back, you know, then it's hard to know if it's any good or not. That is one of the really hard things about self-publishing, is that you have to reach out to get genuine feedback from other people.
Paul: It took a long time to write “Can't Live Without”, so with all those subsequent books then, how did you refine and hone your process?
Joanne: I think just through necessity, really. Through just having to…I felt, as soon as “Can't Live Without” came out and those big sales came, then I felt the pressure to do a second book. And because I didn't want the momentum to be lost. So, I think, yeah, “The Family Trap” came out the following February, and then… Yeah, I was really…you know, I was getting emails from people who read my book, saying, “I really liked it, and I could relate to Stella,” the character, and “It made me laugh.”
And that was such a buzz to get emails from complete strangers, people in America, saying that they've read your book. I think the very first time that you get a review or an email from someone who isn't a family member, isn't a friend of a friend, someone who's just a complete stranger, and they've read your book, that's when you realize that, you know, you're reaching people.
And that's what writing's about for me. That's why I write. I write to make sense of the world for myself. And then you get the feeling that other people might experience things the way that you read, and it might just help them feel a bit better about something. And that's such a nice thing to be able to do. So, yeah, so I just pushed myself really, really hard to try and get as much work done as possible. And when I'm in the zone, I'm a workaholic.
Paul: One of the big things for the authors is writing in series. And looking at your Amazon author page, I noticed that your Flora Lively's are very…the covers are quite clearly in a series. And then the formatting, in terms of the text, the fonts, generally, the fonts that you've used. You can tell that the other four…so we've got “Keeping Sam”, “The Family Trap”, “Cupid's Way”, and “Can't Live Without”. They all look like they're in the same series, even though I know they're not in a series, are they?
Paul: That's intentional, I assume.
Joanne: Yeah, that was recently done, because they all have quite different covers. And yeah, my covers have changed quite a few times. I kind of re…everything I've learned. In fact, for my Master's, I did a project about cover design. And I researched it quite heavily. So then I went back to my own six books and redid all of the covers based on what I learned from that, because I really found that…because that's what happens, isn't it?
I think, especially with self-publishing, is that each book is a new thing, and so it organically grows. But then, when you have a body of work, you look back and you realize that you want to attract the right readers. And the best way to do that is through, first of all, the cover, then the description. And then you want them all to look, not only fairly similar to each other, but also similar to the kinds of books that your ideal reader is actually looking for as they're just scrolling through. Because you only get a couple of seconds to try and grab them.
Paul: They're certainly very distinctive. Are you still going for the policy of creating a paperback version of every book?
Joanne: Yes, I am. I think so. I have been. I'm not sure. Every time I produce a new book, I do rethink, because you have to…because so much can change in self-publishing, and in the book world, in the space of a couple of months. So every time you're faced with, you know, a new launch, you have to look at the climate for that launch. So I can't say what I will do next time. I'll have to look and see what the situation is for that. And then, I just like paperback books and I like…it's a vanity, I guess. I like having my own book in paperback so I can sign it and hand it to people. It's nice.
Paul: Yes, I'm assuming you're the same as most indie authors in that you probably shift more copies in e-book form and they're more profitable for you.
Joanne: Vastly so, yeah. Although, yes, no, definitely. Although, “Murder at the Maples”, the first of the Flora Lively books, is my best-selling paperback. And I think one of the reasons for that is that it sells really, really well through libraries. I had an experiment with that book, that I reached out to lots and lots of libraries and invited them to order copies. And they have. And every month, when I get my reports through from Lightning Source, you know, I regularly have 10 or more orders of those paperbacks.
And I can only assume that they are going to libraries. And so that's a really, really positive thing. I think that book…I would love to have that book in large print. And again, that's another thing that's not open to self-publishing authors, because if I had an agent or a traditional publishing deal, then they would then sell the rights to a large print publisher, and then, you know, my cozy mysteries, which older readers would absolutely love, would be able to access them in large print through the libraries. Very, very frustrating.
Paul: That's interesting that you mentioned that you're doing the paperwork versions through Ingram Spark, because you're then buying your own ISBNs and setting them up so that they could be sold through bookshops. Is that correct?
Joanne: It is. I don't use Ingram Spark. I'm contracted to Lightning Source under their original contract, before they bought out Ingram Spark.
Paul: Oh, this goes way back. This goes beyond my knowledge, this does.
Paul: So just talk me through the basics of that one. I didn't know this.
Joanne: Well, no. It still is Lightning Source, and it probably is very, very similar to Ingram Spark, but I set up my account with Lightning Source before they bought Ingram Spark out. So Ingram Spark is just the kind of Lightning Source light, as it were, to make it easier for self-publishing authors. They kind of hold your hand through a little bit more. But I didn't bother transferring over because I'd already set it up with Lightning Source UK. To all intents and purposes, though, it's pretty much the same thing.
Paul: But the key concept applies, is that you get your ISBNs. Whereas with CreateSpace, members are assigned ISBNs. And so, therefore, you're on all the book sellers listings and this is why the libraries can stock. You've got to do that, I think, to be in the libraries. Is that right?
Joanne: You do, yes. Yeah, so I have my own publishing name and an imprint. And I'm listed with Gardner's and Bertrams. I think it's Bertrams who the libraries order through. And yeah, and I have to go onto Nielsen's website, and I have to, yeah, upload all my details of every book with the ISBN. It is very, very complicated. I mean, to begin with, when I started in 2012, I was just faced with this huge void of information.
You know, you're in the stage of, what is it, unconscious incompetence, where you don't even know what it is that you don't know. And then I had to proceed through to where I did know all the things that I didn't know, and then try and learn them all. And it was such a massive, massive learning curve.
Paul: One of the things I've found with paperbacks, I went through Ingram Spark with mine. I now publish one through CreateSpace. But I found it very hard with, I don't know whether the same rules apply to you, I think it's something like you've got to get…the bookshops want 55% discount and with doing sale-return on them. And I just thought, “I can't make any money on this, so I'm not gonna bother doing it this way.” Have you managed to crack that nut?
Joanne: Yeah, because I don't have that.
Paul: You have a different deal?
Joanne: So maybe Ingram…yeah, I have. So I offer 40% discount and no returns.
Paul: Well, you can do that. I mean, you can opt for it, but I think it's the standard, isn't it, that you offer massive discounts and then you let them pull them if they don't want them.
Joanne: I suppose so, but that's…I guess that, you know, I just haven't really maximized on my book shop deals. So I have a local bookshop that I supply myself. So I just take her in, you know, like, 10 books at a time with the deal of 40% discount. And she does actually give to me back if she doesn't sell them. But it's quite informal. And other book shops, you know, I guess that they just order them if people go in.
And I suppose, in that instance, they will only be ordering them if people have gone in and asked for them. So, no…yeah, I think it is. It would be the same deal. If I went down the road of trying to get, say, Waterstones or Smiths to stock my books, then yes, I would have to do that. But I've never bothered.
Paul: And do you sell them on your Amazon author page? Again, there's lots of pictures of you standing with paperback books. And one of them looks like you're in a store somewhere selling your books. Do you use the paperbacks for that as well, that face-to-face with readers?
Joanne: I do, yeah. Yeah, I've done some fairs. Yeah, I've done stores. I've done the libraries, and I've done talks. And yeah, so I have hand sold quite a few. But again, I think, I don't really see…I don't see the paperbacks as a means of making money. I see them, I've never really thought about this until now, but I think, for me, having a paperback is like having a bookmark or a business card, or some merchandise.
You know, it, to me, is a promotional tool. So it's something…it's a physical thing to have to help me promote myself as an author, as a brand. And then, you know, hopefully that will go on to lead to more downloads. And I will give them away for free. You know, that's the other thing, is that you can run a competition to…like, from my newsletter, you know, I will run a competition to win a signed paperback copy. People tend to prefer that to just winning a Kindle version.
But then, that kind of gets more people to sign up, and then that will get more people engaged. And then even people who don't win that particular signed copy will, hopefully, have found out enough about that book to think, “Well, I'd like to read it,” so they will then either order the paperback for themselves or they will download the Kindle version. So I tend to use the paperbacks more as a promotional tool, really.
Paul: I'd like to talk to you about your Master's that you've done, if we may. Because I notice that a lot of people do them as a part of their journey to getting traditionally published. And I wondered what made you do it in the first place. And also, I'd like to explore what you got from it, because you'd written a book. Am I right in saying this? You'd written and self-published a first book before you did the Master's. Is that right?
Joanne: I had, yeah. Yeah, I had. It's funny, really, because I keep asking myself that now. And as I'm just about to start doing a PhD, I'm asking myself again, “Why am I actually doing this?” I think it's an inferiority complex. I think because I left school at 16 and went into hairdressing. And then I didn't have any qualifications. And then, I had to do a degree through the OU, as I've mentioned, and I just think I'm just compelled to keep proving myself.
But also, I do like studying. I like learning. I like to keep busy. And I wanted to…how can I put it? I wanted to embed the knowledge that I had and to formalize it. So as I'd mentioned, you know, I'd written that first book over six years, and then I self-published it. And I felt that, as a writer, I had grown a lot. I felt like I knew a lot, but I was also aware that there was a lot I didn't know.
I knew that I'd made mistakes with that book. I wasn't quite sure what they were, though, in some ways. And I wasn't quite sure how I wouldn't make those mistakes again. So I think that doing the Master's was a way of me kind of ensuring, for the future, that as I carried on writing I would continue to get better and not just keep writing the same book.
Paul: And how did academic life contrast with the real gritty life of having sat down and done it yourself?
Joanne: It contrasted a lot. Yeah, it was quite a shock, actually. The level of detail that you have to go into in analyzing books. The creative writing Master's that I did, at Manchester Metropolitan, was quite heavily into analyzing lots of texts and critiquing texts. So you didn't just kind of write, “Oh, here. Let's write some short fiction. Let's write some poetry.” It was the novel route, and it had a pedagogic aspect, so it was all about teaching creative writing as well.
And we really analyzed successful books and texts, and wrote lots and lots of essays around that. So it was quite an academic course. And I rose to the challenge, let's just put it that way. I have learned how to be good at it quite quickly. And I don't think I was as good as I would have liked to been, but I got a…I graduated with a merit. I was two points off a distinction, which being me, I was absolutely devastated at missing out on a distinction. But I've overcome that now.
Paul: I would be devastated. I would be devastated at that. It's just so close, isn't it? That's so frustrating.
Joanne: Yeah, I haven't really overcome it. That's why I'm doing the PhD.
Paul: I would be the same, definitely. I totally get that.
Paul: That's very frustrating. So, in terms of the Master's then, you've now got, from that, a book that you're going to go for traditional publishing. Have you sent it out yet? I mean, is it gone yet?
Joanne: I sent it to a couple of places, yes. So “This Beautiful World” it's called, and it is a brilliant book. It's my absolute favorite. It got short-listed for the Luke Bitmead Award. Don't know if you've heard of that, but every year, in honor of Luke Bitmead, they award writers and give a prize. And last year, it was shortlisted, one of nine, about. So that was really, really, really positive. I was so pleased with that.
The other…one of the other people I was on the course with, actually, Will, his book was long-listed for the Booker prize. And I'm actually mentioned in the acknowledgements, because I beater read it for him. So that's my little claim to fame there. That's about as close to the Booker prize as I'm ever gonna get, in the acknowledgments. So that was [inaudible 00:40:05]. No, so that's on my to-do list, is to get that sent out to…but it's a quirky book.
Paul: Going into that process, are you braced for the feedback? You know, you kind of…I guess you kind of know what's coming, don't you?
Joanne: No, I fully expect it to get taken on and published straight away. I don't know, really. I really don't know. It's a very quirky book. It's about a man who works on a suicide prevention helpline. It's about mental health problems. It's got a kind of Wizard of Oz feel to it. It's very, very different from anything that I've done before. And it's niche, let's put it that way. So I think it will either be picked up and people will think it's awesome, or people will just shake their heads and think, “Uh?” So we'll have to wait and see what will happen with that. I don't know.
Paul: And would you self-publish it then if it didn't get picked up?
Joanne: I don't know. I'm not sure. I'm not being very forthcoming with that, but it's not because I'm not being forthcoming. It's because I really don't know. I'd have to wait and see. Anyway, it will be.
Paul: Yeah, it will be. It will be. And you've got this amazing track record, for goodness sake. You know, it's not like you've come out of the blue, is it, with something new? You know, you're a known quantity. You're already shifting loads of books.
Joanne: A publisher would have to be insane to not take that book on, because at the end of the day, all they've got to do is publish it and I'll do all the work in terms of marketing and promoting it, and it will sell lots and lots and lots and lots of copies and make them plenty of money. And who loses? No one. So, just take my book on.
Paul: What are they waiting for? Look, just email me if you're interested. I'll take my 15% cut and I'll put you in touch with [inaudible 00:41:56]. And we're all happy.
Paul: No, we've got to be positive, because, no, I mean, seriously, I mean, you're an agent's dream now on. You know, this is the difference. If you've written that book as your first book, then you would have been an unknown quantity. But I mean, [inaudible 00:42:17], when you're pitching this to agents, you are telling them that you've already had massive success.
Joanne: Yes, I do. I haven't pitched it to many, though. I'm a bit ambivalent about it, really. I think what I see coming in the future now is I've got two more books to write. I've got the third in the “Can't Live Without” series. There's a third book called “Growing Pains”, which kind of rounds that off. And I've got one more Flora Lively book to finish that I have promised people. And there's another book called “All the Secrets We Keep” that I'm almost finished.
And once those three books are out, I'm gonna have a change of direction. And I'm gonna kind of reinvent myself and write something a little bit different. And then, I think I might go for an agent at that point. But I need…but I feel that I need something new to offer, because what I'm doing now isn't so very exceptional, so very different from what everybody else does. And I have to put myself in the position of an agent and think, “What would I do? What would I see?”
And if I looked at me, now, I would think, “It's kind of a little bit muddled. You know, there's somebody who's self-publishing, but they're doing mysteries and they're also women's fiction. But hey, are they really an academic, really? You know, who is this person? Who is this Joanne Philips person? What could I do with her?” So I need to package myself better, if I wanted to go down that route. I would need to package myself a lot better as something very clear, what I wanted my future career to look like, I think.
Paul: Let's talk about that now, because I spotted you through the Writer's Workshop, because you're going to be teaching self-publishing courses. And presumably, this is a glimpse of what you would like your future writing life to be like, teaching.
Joanne: Yes, I do. Well, I would like it to just…I'd like the teaching to kind of support the writing, because, as you know, you know, the royalties come in in fits and starts. Like, I can get a royalty payment from Amazon one month of 1,500 pounds, and the next month 300, and the next month 600. And if I do a promotion, you know, the next month it could be really good again. And on and on it goes.
So, you kind of need, because the ups and downs, month-by-month, can be so much, you need something a bit more stable to see you through the paying of bills. So I love teaching, and the self-publishing course is something that I developed with them. We've actually run two so far, and it's brilliant. You know, the people who have been on it have absolutely loved it and get so much from it.
There is so much information out there about self-publishing that you can go out and find everything yourself, but we felt that it just adds something extra if you can get feedback on what you're doing, if you can have a tutor and a cohort of fellow students that join the four weeks. You can kind of bring everything together and practice with them in that kind of safe environment.
Paul: And I'm gonna let you do a pitch for this course now, then, because this is right to the heart of what I do with the podcast, which is self-publishing and trying to get people to self-publish. As well as getting that feedback, what are they gonna learn practically? Are they going to be able to go from, you know, A to Z and find out how to actually get the thing listed on Amazon and selling?
Joanne: It actually covers everything. So, from the very, very beginning, and it will take you through from every single thing that you need to know, the ins and outs, the technical side. It's got step-by-step instructions and personal guidance from me, and everything from the technical side of how to get your book on Amazon, how to get it formatted, and how to get it as a paperback, as well as everything to do with marketing and promoting, and finding beater readers, and editors, as well as how to get the right cover design, and so much of the stuff.
I mean, it is literally every single thing that you need to know. If you have a book ready now that you just kind of finished your first draft or your second draft of, then it is for you, because at the end of the four weeks, you will be ready to hit publish. In fact, you will already have hit publish and been starting to sell. Or, if you're nearly at that point, then you could do the course, and obviously then just keep the material and then start the process after.
And the other good thing is that, you know, during it, you're kind of practicing things. So there's homework tasks and you get them marked so you can kind of try out. You can write your first, you know, your first blog post or your press release or your letter to book bloggers, or you can try to get, like, source images for cover designs, and you can put together your profile of your ideal readers.
You can look at Amazon and see which categories you should be in. You can get to grips with the nitty gritty and trying to understand what you're going to be doing, but you can practice it and then get feedback so that when you're actually doing it for real, you can just hit the ground running.
Paul: And I think Writer's Workshop, they have a kind of interactive forum, don't they, for people who are on courses, so that you can, you know, easily interact. Is that right?
Joanne: Yes, it is. And it's all done on their Word Cloud, which is their forum. So as well as each week you get the tutor notes and the homework tasks and then kind of extra tasks, and there's a forum where everybody chats and shares things. You get feedback and more [inaudible 00:48:03] kind of homework from me, but also everybody comments on each other's work, too. And each group has kind of, as it goes on, you know, each group that meets stays in touch and then, when the books come out, you know, people will support each other and cross-promote each other's books.
So it's the very beginning of starting up your own network. You know, if you're coming at self-publishing, and you literally haven't even got a blog or a Twitter account or a Facebook account, because we cover social media, too, and then this is the ideal place to start. Because not only does it explain why and how, it also gives you a ready-made group of people to begin to do that with.
Paul: Sounds excellent, very comprehensive. You know, there's nothing I can't pick up as there.
Joanne: It is.
Paul: But you know, you need to know all of that, don't you? And it seems overwhelming if you don't have a trusted guide. And if anybody ever wants to sort of see if you're the right person for the job, just read the blog. Read the blog. It's your history and your experience is extremely diverse. Your blog's amazing. I've only just discovered it because you and I are talking now, but I'm going to be digging into that, too, because there's a lot of…your whole journey is there. That's what I like about it, actually.
Joanne: Yeah, everything's there. And I share everything. I'm all for transparency. You know, I think the thing that we started to talk about, you know, about how writers still believe that they have to get an agent, they have to go down that route, that self-publishing's not for them, that it's the poor second cousin, I think it's because people don't talk about things enough.
They don't share. You know, there is still this reluctance to talk about sales figures and earnings, and just be more open. You know, if people were more open about things, then you would be more informed in making the choice, wouldn't you?
Paul: Yeah, I agree with you. Where can we find more about your course and sign up for it?
Joanne: Well, there's a link on my website, which is www.joannephillips.co.uk. And then, the Writer's Workshop, and there are links on their website, too, to sign up for it there.
Paul: Fantastic. I should finish by just asking you, you mentioned your website there. Where else can we find you online?
Joanne: Well, you can find me everywhere, on Amazon and on Twitter. You want my Twitter handle, don't you? It's @joannegphillips. And again, on my website, fairly prominently on the front page, there are links to Facebook and Twitter. And I've got a YouTube channel where there are lots of videos of me just randomly talking about stuff as well, and signing.
This Week’s Self-Publishing News
The Alliance of Independent Authors news update for Friday 14th October 2016: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/self-publishing-news-the-times-they-are-a-changing/
2 replies to "Episode 33: Joanne Phillips"