Looking to start your own writing career? Patricia McLinn shares her own story and what she’s learned from her journey with D2D’s Dan Wood.
Dan Wood talks with USA Today bestselling author Patricia McLinn about her advice for authors looking to make a career out of their writing.
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books, people, writing, book, covers, career, indie, authors, romance, ads, series, bit, year, thought, debt, big, marketing, readers, business, kicked
Dan Wood, Kevin Tumlinson, Patricia McLinn
Dan Wood 00:22
Well, hello everyone. Dan Wood here with Draft2Digital. And I’m excited, today I have Patricia McLinn joining me. She is a best-selling author. She has been at it for a long time. I think I met you years ago at Novelists, Inc for the first time at the conference.
Patricia McLinn 00:38
Your first novelistic conference.
Dan Wood 00:40
Yes. And so we’ve been good friends since then. And, just always been a pleasure to talk to you. We’ve shared a dinner every year at Novelists, Inc., and just kind of talked about what’s going on in the industry. We were both just recently at the London—well, we were supposed to go to London Book Fair, and as we know, that didn’t happen. But Mark Dawson had his event for the self-publishing show live. And so we had a chance to talk there. And Patricia also was on a panel that Mark ran, that was discussing how there’s so many authors out there who aren’t necessarily just the huge names that you’re seeing all the time that are making just a great living, without having to spend all their time on ads, like just going at it and have figured out their readers and everything. And so I just wanted to talk to Patricia a little bit about that and kind of get—you’ve been at this for a while. And so I wanted to talk about like, you know, what things you think authors should know right now. And then I also want to get a little bit into your ad strategy later, because I thought it was one that would be appealing to a lot of our listeners and readers.
Patricia McLinn 01:55
I have to warn you, I have less of an ad strategy than just sort of “do it as I go.” It’s not a real formal strategy. So, but yes. Okay. So what do you want to ask first?
Dan Wood 02:12
So you’re on the panel. And I know it was important to you, you were kind of bringing up some ideas around how this industry is kind of chaotic. That, you know, sales are up and down. And so you had some ideas about, like, what you would encourage people to do—say, with debt, as they start making money as an indie author.
Patricia McLinn 02:33
Well, and that ties into my very, one of the first things I want to tell people who, especially who are starting out, is to take the long view. I think a lot of the information focuses on “Oh, have this huge release for your first book,” or, you know, “concentrate on having big peaks,” and to me, it’s more important to do things that are sustainable for you as a person individually, so that you can continue to have a long career. And I have—my first book was out 30 years ago last month. And so it had sold a year before, because that, of course, was in traditional. So I’ve been a traditional hybrid. And now I’m 100% indie. And yes, one of the things that, with the long view, you have to watch the money. The money is going to be what gives you the security and the freedom to last through the tough times. And there are going to be tough times. You know, we’re in in one probably now and although I think a lot of us, at this point, the sales aren’t too bad. If this continues, if it goes into a real extended recession, if we’re talking six months, people are going to start tightening up even on spending $3.99, $4.99. So it’s important to have systems in place for your career, that you can go through these periods—not only survive them, but possibly find ways to innovate and grow. And you need that backlog of cash to be able to do that. So I’m really big on no debt, you do not want to get caught in a situation like this where you’re having to pay, basically, you’re paying interest, which is paying for nothing. It’s paying for time. Maybe, and in rare cases, maybe that’s worthwhile, but mostly, it’s not. I am very debt-averse. So I’m strongly encouraging people to not have debt, especially in their business.
Dan Wood 04:53
I am too. I’ve been trying to make that point on panels where it made sense for a long time. You know, as you find your first success, it’s great. Don’t go out and buy like a new car. Pay off your debt. Just prepare for the future. And then start to treat yourself as you kind of make sure you’ve got like a solid foundation for—you know, like times change, you have no control over …. Sometimes a book just doesn’t hit, you just don’t know.
Patricia McLinn 05:18
Yep. And having that cash lets you weather that dip, whether it’s a dip in your personal career or whether it’s in the business, you can get past that. And there can be huge changes, like the huge change in the business from the shift—well, it wasn’t a shift, but from people only having the opportunity to publish traditionally, to having the indie. There were people I know who were publishing traditionally who were quite successful at that, but they had set up their money in such a way that they could not not take traditional contracts.
Dan Wood 05:58
So they were depending on the advance every single time just to pay their—yeah.
Patricia McLinn 06:02
Yep. And so they did not have the freedom or the time to test the indie waters to try that to see what would happen. They’ve never been able to do indie. And in the meantime, their traditional career has tightened and tightened and tightened. And so I’m a strong believer in having as much autonomy and freedom as you possibly can, and having savings and no debt gives you freedom.
Dan Wood 06:32
It really does. Would you mind talking a little bit about your traditional career, and that period into hybrid and why you’re all indie now?
Patricia McLinn 06:41
Okay, well, I was traditional because there was no other choice. That was it.
Dan Wood 06:46
Did you get the rights back for those books, I assume, since your first one was about 30 years ago?
Patricia McLinn 06:52
Yeah, I got the rights back to a lot of the books because—one of the reasons was, an editor told me that they would not republish my books because they just didn’t sell well enough. I was always in that in-between. I sold well enough that they never kicked me out the door. But I didn’t sell well enough for them to leave me alone. And so it was not a great situation. And I actually thought I was done publishing traditionally in about ’07, and I just was going to write for pleasure. And then indie came along, and I was also still publishing. I actually still have, they have rights to one of the—one traditional publisher has rights to one book still for Germany, Hungary and Spain, I think. Yeah, strange combination. So, technically I guess I am still hybrid because I have that contract, but I consider myself 100% indie. And what I loved about it Initially is the control. The hard thing for me in traditional was not having—having to take the responsibility, but not having any control. So I know, I had friends who—like, a train car, a train load of books got caught in a snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains. And those books couldn’t sell. It was it was a huge swath of the country that didn’t get the books. And yet they got dinged for their numbers being low. Well, you know, so you took the responsibility, but you didn’t have any of the power to deal with things. You know, covers were the same way. Scheduling was horrible. So there were a lot of issues. There were a lot of issues for me.
Dan Wood 08:51
I think a lot of people don’t realize how dependent your success as an author in the traditional world is on the initial release. Like it’s everything. Like, you’ve got like a few weeks to really do well in sales, or bookstores start pulling your book out. It has a huge impact on your future advance. But, just having such a huge focus on just that release. Like you’re saying, when you take the long view, there’s a lot of books that pick up in steam later on, even sometimes years later.
Patricia McLinn 09:26
And it wasn’t just the—because you could have a great first release. And if you had a bad second release, then, you know, you’re sliding down, was the view. But each book, I think, I believe the statistic that came from a credible source was 17 days. You had 17 days to be on the bookshelves. Yeah. And I was writing, most of my books were published with Silhouette, and they had series romances, and they would do what they call double shelving. So, one series would have that shelf space for half the month. So even less than 17 days. And the other series had that shelf space for the other half of the month. And it was boom, and then nothing. And, of course, you waited, you know, six months to a year for your royalties if you earned out your advance, and depending on how much they kept for reserves, and in case somebody—and I still get reserves on books, or I still get returns rather on books, and they will ding me for, you know, 24 cents on a book that was published 15 years ago. So yeah, I got my rights back. And I have to say, Dan, I got rights back to a lot of books early, before indie came along, just because I wanted them in my hot little hand and I, they weren’t gonna do anything with them. I didn’t have anything to do with them. But if nothing was gonna be done with them, they were gonna be in my hands.
Dan Wood 11:06
Exactly. It’s an asset that you have that with digital … Well, let me go back. With print, you have a certain time that your book’s gonna be on the shelves. So like bookstores, if they’re not carrying your book, you obviously can’t sell. In digital, there’s no reason for them to take your books out of their catalogue. And so you’re going to be listed forever. You know, speaking about taking a long-term approach, we’ve seen—there are things typically kicked off by traditional publishing, like mega-sellers, that change trends. And so going into the whole indie revolution, we kind of caught the tail end of the vampire thing, and vampire seems to be really popular every 10 to 20 years. And so people would read Twilight at that point. And then they would want more books like that. Traditional can’t respond very quickly. And so any vampire books that have out that were still on the shelves were selling. But indies can start writing vampire books or probably have vampire books that are just still up. We saw that same thing happen with 50 Shades of Grey, you know, just was huge for romance. And then when the Outlander TV show came out, then suddenly books like Highlander romance, anything with men in kilts started selling. You know, things that were 10, 20, 30 years old started selling. And so, your books are always going to be available, if you’re an indie, and always going to be paying you. And then, that’s something you can leave to your kids for, I think, 30 years after you’re gone. And so just—
Patricia McLinn 12:41
Dan Wood 12:42
Patricia McLinn 12:44
70 years after the death of the copywritten, yes.
Dan Wood 12:48
Yeah, Joanna Penn talks about it a lot on her podcast, but it’s a great investment in yourself and it’s something that you always have.
Patricia McLinn 12:56
Yes, absolutely. And that—it’s, you know, one of the reasons it’s so important to take the long view. Another reason it’s really important to take the long view is to take care of your writing. Because if you’re looking at the short term of, “Oh, I’m gonna, you know, burn myself out if I need to, but I’m going to make it, you know, for the—in this period.” I’ve seen so many people stop writing, because the business has pushed them out of writing. And then you have no business, you know. And, to me, the reason to be in this business is to write. I’m not interested in being a publisher, I’m, you know, I’m not interested in having a one-shot book. I want to write, continue to write as long as the brain is there. So I’m thinking, I hope people think the brain is there now. And if you don’t take care of that writing, if you don’t do—”sustainable” is the word I keep coming back to. If you don’t do, approach your career in a way that’s sustainable, you’re going to burn out the writing. And then there’s nothing to sell. There’s, you know, nothing to manage as a business.
Dan Wood 14:16
I agree. It’s, there was one year, I think it was our third or fourth year at Novelists, Inc., where we had a chance to do two workshops. And we chose to do one of them on self-care. Because we were seeing a lot of people who were our big authors the first year or two, who had been putting out like books a month, that burnt themselves out. And so, it’s kind of like with agriculture. You can only plant the same crop so long without needing to give the field rest time.
Patricia McLinn 14:53
That’s a good way to put it, yeah.
Dan Wood 14:54
But you really need to take care of yourself. And for some of you that might be writing less—for some of you, the writing isn’t the hard part. Maybe it’s reading more. Do you have anything you do for self-care? Or do you just kind of, is it controlling your pace that helps you?
Patricia McLinn 15:08
Well, I was actually thinking as you were talking about that, that I can hear my friends laughing. Cause I tend to schedule, I tend to do pre-orders because I’m a longtime journalist. And I want, I need those deadlines to make me let things go. So I’m always pushing up to deadline, I always have that pressure. But maybe that’s just part of my personality. But what I do do is, I write what I want to write. And even if writing a certain book would be a better business move, I don’t necessarily do it. I write what I want to read. And I give the muse the headway to do what I want to do. So that’s probably the biggest self-care.
Dan Wood 16:01
And it’s the best part about being indie is, you have those choices. Just, I mean, you’re in control, do what you want. Let’s talk a little bit about that ad strategy. As you said, like it’s maybe a little bit less an ad strategy than some of the people out there that are like talking a lot about ads, but I think it’s one for a lot of people that they need to hear.
Patricia McLinn 16:23
Okay. I tend to do very, very low-cost ads. And I also do, I’m looking for ads that will be evergreen, so I don’t have to fool around with them. Partly because I’m a fiddler. And I would, I’ve been known to spend hours moving elements on a graphic, a pica at a time. Nobody else will notice this, and yet, I know myself in that way. I can’t resist it. So I’m extremely slow at creating the graphics and not all that good. So my goal is to find a graphic that will work and then run that sucker forever. And kind of the same approach with the targets. To find a target that’s really a good match, and then not run it dry. I want to, I want to be able to come back to it. I want to run it for a while and then I will rest them, and pause them, and then come back and do some, you know, swap around—same graphic—swap around, do a different target. And part of my idea is to take—I look at the graphics of the sales and I look at the bottom line and I always think … Because I have 50-plus books, if I can bring those bottom sellers up just a little bit, but it’s across 20 books. And they even if I’m just, you know, selling and one more of each of those books a day, that starts adding up over the year. And you bring that up. And the other benefit of bringing that bottom line up instead of looking for the big peaks is that when you do have a big promotion and you push the big peaks, they are not coming down as far at the end, there’s a support for them there. And I have found that that’s evened out my income and raised it a little bit too.
Dan Wood 18:28
I really feel like a lot of people think that they need to be spending a lot of money on ads. And so that kind of scares them away, or they need to be spending a lot of time on ads. So that’s what I liked about hearing—there were several of you that kind of had the same approach on that panel. That is kind of those evergreen ads. You know, some spend all the time, but not spending … You know, because you hear people that are spending five, six figures on advertising, and that could be scary. Like if you’re just not there yet as an author. And advertising =—like, I know people that are really successful who do next to no advertising. They’re like, they’re just so connected and in tune with their readers. Whereas I know people that most of their sales come through their advertising, and they’ve really figured out the marketing angle. And so as an indie, you can figure out what works best for you.
Patricia McLinn 19:23
And that, I think, was one of the great takeaways from that panel. There were five women there, I believe, who are all making six figures. I don’t, I would venture to say that most people out there hadn’t heard of any of us previously. And each of us had a different approach. Each of us had come to where we are from a different path. And that, to me, is one of the huge points to make, especially to the writers who are starting out. You are creating your own career. Don’t try to replicate somebody else’s career. It’s just like writing. We’re creative. You’re writing your own book. You could give five people the same story premise, and we’d have totally different books out of it. It’s the same thing with the career. You can give five people the same starting point, and how you put that together, there’s no one right way, there is the way that works for you, and that you can sustain, and that feeds what is important to you, what’s most important to you. So what I really hope is that people will relax about what they need to do with advertising, or their newsletter, or all those pieces of the business. Stay out of debt. Give yourself cushions. And then explore and find what works for you. Sure, watch those people who are really successful. Absolutely. But my biggest writing advice is, all writing advice is a buffet. It’s not a fixed menu. Pick and choose and try it. And if it works for you, great. You want to go back and get more, terrific. You want to not try it ever again, that’s terrific too. You can, you know, a year later, you can go back and go, “Oh, you know, that person said this and this and maybe I will try that.” Just—but recognize that it’s not a one shot, I have to do everything right, right now, or I’m never going to have a career. That’s not true. I’ve done so many things wrong. I have done so many things wrong. And some of the things that I did wrong turned out actually to be good. You can’t, you can’t know. I—like, I kicked myself for a long time for not staying with traditional publishing longer. And yet when I look back on it now, the books that I wrote during that period that I was kicking myself—which, I got to tell you, kicking yourself is not a good exercise program for writers, although I’m very good at it. And I look back at those books that I wrote then, and they became the core for my indie start, the start of my indie career. So I thought it was a mistake. I kicked myself a lot for it. And then it turned out being really good. What a waste of energy for all that kicking. So I hope people will listen to those of us who have made a lot of mistakes previously, and benefit from our mistakes.
Dan Wood 22:36
Yeah. I have to remind myself constantly the old adage about, don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good. Sometimes you just got to do as good as you can for then, and be willing to adapt and change. Just try to get a little bit better. Don’t compare yourself to others, but compare yourself to yourself, and see, I’m doing a little bit better than I did last year. And that is going to be positive motivation, I believe.
Patricia McLinn 23:05
Or even if you have a really bad year. Say you have a horrible year. You know, you tried a different genre, it didn’t work. You’ve had a really bad year. That’s not the end of your career. Say that’s one year out of 50. You know, it’s one year out of—you hope 50. I’m actually, I think I’m aiming for 60, maybe 65. So that helps put it in perspective. And that also takes away where people are talking about, oh, my first book, and I have to do everything right with my first book. If that’s the first book of 50, if that’s the first book of 30, if that’s the first book of 100, 100-plus. I have a number of friends who started publishing before I did who have 100 books, and not doing one a month, but doing 2, 3, 4 a year for 30-plus years. Then you look at that book, and it takes a lot of the pressure off, and it puts it in perspective.
Dan Wood 24:06
Yeah. So we’ve got about six minutes or so until we’re gonna start opening it up for comments and questions. I wanted to kind of finish with my interview portion and just ask you, what do you … What things do you want, that we haven’t discussed yet, authors to know, or things that you wish you had known when you were starting out?
Patricia McLinn 24:34
Well, I think one of the things I’d like to say—we’ve danced around it a little bit, but I’d really like to say it very clearly, is, I believe in building a career, rather than exploding into a career. I want to be able to write books year after year after year, and hopefully have them be better and you know, feed my muse and satisfy me and satisfy the readers. And I think a lot of the information out right now … There’s so much great information, there’s so much generosity and sharing of information. But a lot of it is very much about succeeding now at a specific thing. And I think of it as going for the peaks. And I want to encourage people to use those tools, but use them to build and to have a good foundation and have—I keep coming back to it—a sustainable career. So, yeah, peaks are wonderful. You love to see those in your sales charts. But, darn things go up, and then they come down. And you want to be able, and that’s another thing I use the ads for. They go up in the peaks and then you try to have it sustain the downslope. Have it soften the curve, flatten the curve, as we’re all talking about. Yeah.
Dan Wood 26:11
I’m a big fan of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog, business musings on—that’s about writing, and she makes a lot of same points. She’s someone that’s been around the industry forever, and just spent a lot of time just encouraging people to take that long view. Because it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Patricia McLinn 26:31
It is. I mean, it definitely is.
Dan Wood 26:34
You probably could set up your career to be a sprint and just try to make a lot of money off of books and then go retire somewhere. But I think most of you want to keep telling stories the rest of your life and so, just prepare for the long run. Don’t beat yourself up like a, you know, if it takes you a while to get up to the speed that you want to be, that’s perfectly normal.
Patricia McLinn 26:56
It seems to me that if that’s what you want, if you want to make a whole bunch of money and then go retire somewhere, that there are probably easier ways to do it than writing books. So if you don’t enjoy the … I almost hesitate to say enjoy writing the books, because you know, it’s not always enjoyable. There’s a lot of griping and thinking. But if you can go and do other things, and not have books coming into your head and characters bugging the heck out of you to keep writing, go do that. But if you need to write, to have sanity or just to feel good, then you want to look at that sustainable career.
Dan Wood 27:41
We spend so much of our time fighting scammers, I’m just like, there are much better scams out there.
Patricia McLinn 27:47
Why are they doing books?
Dan Wood 27:48
It’s a crowded market.
Patricia McLinn 27:53
Well, and it drives me nuts that the scammers are out there and picking on readers who are so wonderful. And it just, go … Well first of all, don’t pick on anybody, but if you have to pick on people, don’t pick on readers. Go away. Yeah, don’t like the scammers.
Dan Wood 28:12
Patricia McLinn 28:14
I’ll bet, I’ll bet. So is there else really vital? I actually, I had notes for the panel and then I couldn’t find them because they were in my pocket.
Dan Wood 28:29
I wanted to make sure everyone knew where to find you. You can find her at PatriciaMcLinn.com, so nice and simple. No surprises there. You have a podcast, right?
Patricia McLinn 28:39
I do. It’s called “Authors Love Readers.”
Dan Wood 28:42
Authors Love Readers. And who is it kind of aimed at?
Patricia McLinn 28:46
More for readers, the bulk of it. I’ve interviewed authors and we talk about, some about the writing experience, we talk about how we come up with books. I have these kind of get to know you questions, which would be really fun to ask you sometime, Dan. I’ve done it with Kevin but it would be just fun to do it. And then I’ve also, I’ve started doing a few—like I did talk to Kevin about the what books to read offers for readers and Carlin … No, it was Audrey, I’m sorry, Audrey Derobert with BookBub, talk about how … Because we as authors know what BookBub offers us. But it also offers things, as does Books2Read, for the reader. So I wanted to get to it from the readers’ viewpoint.
Dan Wood 29:42
That’s a great idea, because we do talk about it a lot amongst the author community and in the industry, but yeah, from the readers’ perspective, it’s a good viewpoint to kind of hear how they view it, how they—
Patricia McLinn 29:55
Yeah, how they can use it, how they can benefit from it. Yep.
Dan Wood 29:59
Very cool. All right, let’s start with the comments and questions. So I’ll start with this one from Jimmie Kepler. “No debt has allowed me to write full time. Great advice.” Yes. And again, we’re both huge proponents of that. It takes so much stress off of you, it gives you so much freedom.
Patricia McLinn 30:20
And it gives you the possibility to benefit when things change, because it’s usually when there’s huge disruption in the business, there are opportunities there. Yes, we all gripe that, I just figured this out, and then they changed it. But once you get past that, maybe have a little wine, whether that wine has an H in it or not, then you can start looking at how this changed, how this disrupted, where can I take advantage of that change. And if you have money in the bank, if you have no debt, you have the possibility to do that. That’s great. Jimmie, I’m really glad to hear it. And if people are interested, I can talk a little bit more about how I budget. Because I am not, I’m not a financial professional by any means. But I do have a monthly budget and I ascribe certain amounts of money each month to these: taxes, number one; ads; contract, which is my assistants; covers, and other formatting, so production; audio, I do audio separate because I’m trying to do catch up with some audiobooks so it’s a bigger… travel. And then I have an “other” category that covers, like, the bills that are going to come in, and most of them I’ve annualized because that’s cheaper than paying them every month, but I try to spread them out over the course of the year. So one or so will be coming each month. So the newsletter, my newsletter provider, which is the biggie; Canva; BookFunnel; BookTracker; all those sorts of things that you have, the services that help you. And oh, and then I have a big category, “bad month.” And so that is my that is my first level of cushion. If I have a down month, I can go into that. And then I have money that’s in savings for my business, strictly for my business, separate from my personal income.
Dan Wood 32:39
That’s really important. You said you have some assistants, how many assistants do you use?
Patricia McLinn 32:46
I have one primary assistant who does not work for anybody else. She was a fellow employee at the Washington Post. So we literally went through wars together, and she …
Dan Wood 33:01
So you can trust her with everything.
Patricia McLinn 33:03
She has the keys to the kingdom. And, but mostly at this point, like my estate planning, the stuff on the business says, “Contact Kay.” She doesn’t know that, and it’s not a great plan because I actually intend to outlive her. I gotta rethink that part. So she is my primary assistant. But then I have a second person who formats my newsletter and does links and does a number of other projects for me. I have a web person, cover artist … I use a photographer for photos for the covers, for my Dead in Wyoming covers. So I enjoy having those specific to those books. Editor for the audio. I’m a cottage industry.
Dan Wood 34:03
Yeah. And I think a lot of you out there, like as your career progresses, you’re going to see that happening. Where you’re going to have a whole team of people that you’re going to be relying on at different phases throughout your production of a different book and your career. We had Ricardo from Reedsy on with one of the early episodes. Reedsy can help you find some of those people. The other place I see people is just asking within groups and asking your fellow authors who they’re working with. So you’re probably gonna have to build a team. Find people you trust and always kind of keep your eyes out because sometimes that trusted editor might get busy, might stop taking—might just stop editing, so always good to be thinking about. Our own Elyssa asks, “What kinds of things are you testing for your books?”
Patricia McLinn 35:00
What kinds of things am I testing?
Dan Wood 35:03
I’m not sure what she means, like if she’s talking about ads, or maybe do you try different things with your covers over time, or your blurbs?
Patricia McLinn 35:14
I’ve tried different blurbs, I don’t try a whole lot with the covers. I like my covers, and I tend to stick with them. When I’m doing a new series, then there’s a lot of testing that goes on there. With the ads, I will test—mostly, first I’ll test the graphics. And I’ll do a whole bunch of them and then winnow those down. And then I will test targets primarily. And I will also play around with using the smaller, like I do BookBub ads and I’ll do the smaller countries. By smaller, I mean audiences. Once I have one working for the US, then I will experiment with those others.
Dan Wood 36:07
Elyssa clarified a little bit. You mentioned having freedom to “test things” as an indie that you couldn’t do as Trad. So that, is that gonna be like the marketing side, because you have very little control over price drops, or …
Patricia McLinn 36:21
You have none, and I didn’t have control over titles, and I didn’t have control over blurbs or approaches or scheduling. And that’s something I have played around with too, scheduling. You know, do you do three books, boom, boom, boom, Do you spread them out? Do you do two books close and then have the next one come? So, though, that’s—thank you for clarifying that. So, that is definitely something that I have experimented with. To an extent, too, the different kinds of books. The, when I was traditionally published it was in romance. And now I’m also doing mystery. I have two series and what I call a pre-series, which means there’s only one book out so far, but I intend to have more. It will be a series sometime, someplace. And so yes, I’ve been able to get into doing those.
Dan Wood 37:21
All right, this one’s covering half our page. “I’m about to release my third book and have found a terrific graphic designer to do the cover. I self-designed the first two. Would it make sense to have the designer produce new covers for the first two books and relaunch? (They’re not part of the new series I’m about to launch.)” I’m a big proponent of having professional covers. And so I always encourage people, if they’re thinking about doing that, it’s generally the right idea, is to go ahead and go with a new cover. Would you agree with that, or do you ever …
Patricia McLinn 37:55
Well, I was absolutely—when I thought that he was saying that he’d done his own covers for the first two books, he’s bringing the third book out, I thought that was all of the same series. If it’s all the same series, hands down—
Dan Wood 38:09
I think the first two are a different series.
Patricia McLinn 38:15
Okay, so then, I still, I think I would, if you have the money without going into debt, I would encourage you to do that, to start looking at having a brand, a look for your books, even though they’re in a different series. And you can, you know, with the placement of your name, and the font that you use for your name. That’s very important. Get that, get that settled, figure that out. And then you can play with the rest of the cover, or the cover artist can play with the rest of the cover, of how to brand—sub-brand for the series. So yes, I would encourage you, if you can do it without going into debt. Otherwise, what you do is, you start saving. Start putting away every month, start putting some of that money toward new covers, toward going back and re-covering the ones that you had done originally. And I will tell you when I started indie, in 2010, I did my own covers, I did everything. I did the formatting, I did everything. And as those books earned, I went back. And, you know, of course, I replaced the ugly ones first. But I went back and eventually re-covered all of those professionally. What I, when I said, I don’t, I’m not now re-covering as …
Dan Wood 39:44
It’s kind of like, you’re like, where you can sit there and just keep re-covering and re-covering, like trying to get perfection. You’re never gonna hit that. But if you’re not already meeting professional levels in your books, though, like, what are bestsellers in your genre right now? Then I would go ahead and make that change. Ricki comments, “My problem is marketing. It takes time away from my writing!” I hear that all the time.
Patricia McLinn 40:09
It does. It definitely does.
Dan Wood 40:10
Just, balance is the hard part. And that’s what people—
Patricia McLinn 40:15
There is no balance. There’s no such thing as—well, there’s no such thing for me as balance. The other thing I find is, not only does marketing take the time, but it’s a different part of your brain. And it’s so, at least for me, it’s so much easier to switch from writing to marketing, writing to business, than it is from business back to creating. So that’s another reason to protect the writing, protect the creativity time and brain space. So one of the things I would say is, with the marketing, you can’t do it all. You cannot, you can’t even do a lot of it. So I would prioritize. Write down all the things that you’re doing in marketing, write down all the things that you’re thinking about doing in marketing. And then like, ones that you know you’re absolutely going to keep doing, put an A in front of it. Ones you’re, yeah, you’re probably going to keep doing it, but you’re not so sure, B. And do A, B, C, D, E, and “why in the world did I put this on my list?” You know, and then take those and put all the A’s together—this is actually easier to do in the computer—and all the B’s together and all the C’s together. And as you have time, you’re going to knock off those A’s. You’re going to try to get to the B’s, you’re going to not kick yourself for not getting to the C’s and D’s and the others. So keep, you know, the difficulty is most of the information that we get out there, most of the career and most of, you know, advice for writers is about the marketing. And there are so many things that people are doing and it’s working for them. But you notice, they’re doing one thing or two things. They aren’t doing everything. They’re more focused and they’re so good. But when we look at it, we go oh my gosh, look at how good they’re doing. Facebook ads, I have to do Facebook ads that way. I have to do newsletters this way. I have to do BookBub ads this way. I have to have a Facebook group and do five different things with it because five different authors have succeeded with the Facebook group that way. So we put a lot of unreasonable expectations on ourselves.
Dan Wood 42:38
A simple way I heard it once was like, look at your list of things to do, and I like to apply this to marketing. And if it’s not a “hell yeah” in your mind, then just make it a “no.”
Patricia McLinn 42:48
Well, the other thing, and I can’t do this, but I do an exercise that helps you figure out what is the number one reason you’re writing. And that’s really useful because you come back to all these potential could-dos. And you come back and say, does that serve my number one reason for writing? In the absence of that, another thing to ask yourself as you’re looking at the marketing, is, “Is this the best use of my time?” over and over and over. And a lot of times I find myself asking that as I’m doing the thing. Thinking, no, this is not the best use of my time. But I’m stuck now because I’m halfway through. But next time, I’m going to be better.
Dan Wood 43:36
So Kate asks, “Does your approach work equally well across all the genres you write in, or do you have to vary things a little bit?”
Patricia McLinn 43:43
I apply it across the genres, all the genres that I work in. I will say that it works, romance is tougher, but I think it’s just a tougher market right now. There are a lot of people producing romance books, and I think mysteries is a little bit behind. Catching up rapidly. And in the indie authors, marketing and doing all these things. So what I’m saying is, I’m not swayed by what the markets are doing. I just, I do what serves me best.
Dan Wood 44:21
But the romance authors are so far ahead on the marketing angle than every other genre. Like, they’re just killing it. And so it is so much more competitive.
Patricia McLinn 44:29
It is much more competitive.
Dan Wood 44:31
Romance is by far the biggest part of the fiction market. So.
Patricia McLinn 44:35
Mystery and thrillers are coming up fast. Really fast.
Dan Wood 44:39
Libby asks, “Did you have a ‘tipping point’ in terms of number of books in a series or number of books total published where you felt you had a big uptick in income?”
Patricia McLinn 44:49
Um, my big uptick in income was in 2013. And it was the hayday and it was putting a book free. So I did have, I think I had 17 books maybe available at that time. But the ability to put a book first in the series free was a big deal. I have, as I look at things now, I have, as I said two series, active series, in mystery, and six in romance. Of the six in romance, two of them are trilogies, and they do not do as well as two of them that are four books. And those four books don’t do as well as the two series that are 9 to 11 books. So yes, I see longer series being more beneficial for me. Some other people have reported different results. And that’s another thing, you know, it’s not universal. You’re going to have to look at your figures and keep track of that.
Dan Wood 46:02
I agree. “As the market grows more global, do you find it important to make efforts to prioritize foreign ebook markets or even create translations?”
Patricia McLinn 46:12
I tell you, I tried translations early. And here’s one of my mistakes we can talk about. I thought, well, the most people who are non-English speakers are probably Spanish, that that would be widespread. The problem is, it’s very location-specific. And so I tried to, like, finesse that.
Dan Wood 46:38
Like, Mexican Spanish is different than Spanish for Spain, or different than how American Spanish, yeah.
Patricia McLinn 46:45
Yep. So has not been successful. Um, I still have them. I haven’t pulled them, but it has not been a great success. I’ve tried some Italian and I’ve tried some Portuguese. So yes, I mean, my early instinct to that was yes, I wanted to do that. The other issue I have, and this is specific to mine, but may apply to a lot of other people, so I want to mention it. My books have a lot of smart-ass humor in them. That doesn’t always translate well. And it’s a lot of—
Dan Wood 47:20
Humor is the hardest part to translate.
Patricia McLinn 47:21
Yeah. And it’s wordplay. How are you going to do that? That’s really hard. My Spanish translator, often, who is a native Spanish speaker, often didn’t understand my jokes, which is a little disconcerting, and then how could she possibly translate them? So think about what you write and how you write it. One of the things I think about, I have a couple historical romances. Should I/could I have those translated, especially into German? Yeah, but it’s down on the to-do list. There are other things. What I do try to do is reach out to the English-speaking world and to have my books available wherever I can. It’s one of the reasons I’m, I have, all my books are wide. So I love that Kobo is out everywhere. You know, Apple books picks up a lot more places. I love that. And so yes, and I am absolutely delighted.
Dan Wood 48:24
210 different stores and countries. With Apple, it’s 55 different territories. I think the same thing for Google Play as well. So much bigger, they reach a lot more countries than Amazon does. We’re running a little bit over on time. I did want to take one last question here from Margaret, because you had mentioned that you were kind of playing catch-up with some of your older books on audiobooks. And so I just wanted to get your feelings about audiobooks, both like the production and then how they’re doing for you.
Patricia McLinn 49:00
I did romance, one of my long romance series, I did about six books on that. And they have never done that well for me. I started the mystery, the main mystery series is Caught Dead in Wyoming. And that has done quite well. But there’s all sorts of technical issues with it, because the first two books were originally traditionally published, and then I bought the rights back while they had done a royalty share. And so when I bought the rights back, I got the royalty share with it. And I had chosen the narrator so that was good. And she narrated the third book, not royalty share. I just paid her outright for that. Unfortunately, she was very, very, very slow. I mean, like two years to do a book. And I thought she was working on the fourth book, and 10 months into it, she told me no, she was retiring from narrating to write a book. I’m like, “Ah!” So I got, I kind of scrambled, but I found this wonderful, wonderful woman who’s narrating and has picked up the series and is so much faster. And so I’m eventually going to want to have to come around and have her redo the first three books, which is going to really take a bite out of the profit.
Dan Wood 50:27
But you really do want to stick with a narrator across a series. Because people will ding your reviews quite a bit. They hate that when you switch.
Patricia McLinn 50:36
And this is a first-person series, so having that different voice, having one voice for books 1 through 3 and a different voice for—through, I think she’s up, she’s working on 7? She just, she just finished 7. So, yeah, I’m gonna have to come back around and do that. But I do think … So the headline in this is mysteries have done much better for me in audio than the romances. I think again, it’s. romance is very competitive. I also think in romance, if you’re if you’re sweet, or if you’re super erotic, that is an easier market than those of us who are kind of in the big mushy middle where there’s no differentiation. If, I want small-town. I want small-town romance to be easier to get to. But yeah.
Dan Wood 51:40
Well, folks, we’re out of time. So we apologize. We didn’t get to all the questions and comments, but it was great. And I just thank you so much, Patricia, for being on.
Patricia McLinn 51:49
And if there are more questions and people want to email me, I’ll be happy to try to answer.
Dan Wood 51:53
And they can find you at PatriciaMcLinn.com, the email address? Awesome.
Patricia McLinn 51:57
Dan Wood 51:58
So yeah, I just, thank you so much. I really enjoyed getting to, we had tea together in London. So that was, well I guess I had to be here. That was a lot of fun. So I’m really glad that we had this time to, cause I think you have a lot of wisdom that a lot of people needed to hear. So thank you so much.
Patricia McLinn 52:16
Thank you, Dan. It’s great to see you again.
Dan Wood 52:19
Yeah. Take care.
Patricia McLinn 52:21
Everybody take care. Bye.