Marie Force is a New York Times bestselling author of romance fiction whose books have sold over seven million copies worldwide. In this interview, Marie talks about her interesting journey to life as a successful author, building a business around successful indie publishing, and about the Indie Author Support Network initiative, an organization devoted to advocating for the rights and interests of indie authors.
This interview was recorded on May 17, 2018.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
A Note About the Leanpub Backmatter Podcast
In the summer of 2017, we split the old Leanpub podcast into two distinct podcasts:
Frontmatter, which is a general interest podcast where you can listen to Leanpub authors talk with Leanpub co-founder Len Epp about their books and their areas of expertise, from data science to molecular biology, to the history of labor and management. And for those interested in the nitty-gritty of what it takes to be a successful self-published author, at the end of each episode Len asks the author about how they made their book and how they are spreading the word, and other publishing shop talk.
Backmatter, a new podcast focused specifically on the publishing industry and its latest trends. In each episode Len interviews a professional from the publishing world about their background and their insider's perspective on what's happening in the huge and evolving world of book publishing.
A Leanpub Backmatter Podcast Interview with Marie Force
Len: Hi, this Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this episode of the Backmatter Podcast, I'll be talking with Marie Force.
Marie is a New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance novels. She's the author of a number of series, including the Fatal series from Harlequin, and the Gansett Island series, which she published independently.
Her books have sold more than 6 million copies, and amongst her other accomplishments, including being a popular conference speaker and presenter, she has been nominated twice for the Romance Writers of America's Reader Award for Romance Fiction.
Marie is also spearheading the Indie Author Support Network for indie publishers, encouraging people in the flourishing community of indie publishing to get together and organize, in an effort to promote their interest as a group.
In this interview we're going to talk about Marie's career, the hard and, to many people, surprisingly complex work and entrepreneurialism that's essential for flourishing as an indie author, and we'll focus on the inspiration behind the Indie Author Support Network - what it aims to do, and how you can join.
So, thank you Marie for being on the Leanpub Backmatter Podcast.
Marie: Thanks for having me, Len.
Len: I always like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story. I know you've written about this extensively on your website, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you grew up, and a little bit about your career path on the way to becoming an author?
Marie: Sure. I'm from the Newport Rhode Island area, which is in the northeast United States. I grew up in this area, lived here my whole life until I married a guy in the Navy. We ended up going to Spain, Maryland, Florida, before coming back to Rhode Island almost 16 years ago now. I've got two kids, who are 22 and 19. One's out of college, one's in college.
I've always been a professional writer. I started out as newspapers, and then went into corporate communications for 16 years - always editing, writing. I joke, it's the only thing I'm good at. My one talent is able to put a sentence together, and it's gotten me through a lot of career alterations.
Then later, I always said I wanted to write fiction, but I had never really gotten around to doing it. My parents were very into me doing it. They thought it would be good, because I was always the big storyteller. Always. I couldn't just come home and say, "Oh, something happened at school today." I had to put my own spin on it. And they could tell I was doing it, because I would get very animated. I think the storytelling thing goes way back in that regard. They were always very keen on me doing it.
Then my mom got sick with a fatal illness. That kind of gives you a kick to get moving. I was 38 years old. It's like, okay, "someday" is here now. I wrote and finished my first book, Treading Water, in May of - almost exactly, what's today? The 17th. Tomorrow will be 12 years since I finished my first book in the basement of my former house. I've written 67 since then, and as of the end of May sold seven million.
It's kind of been a crazy little path. I was very rejected at first. Nobody wanted my first six books. I sold my seventh one to a small publisher. Nothing really happened. It was kind of like that - little steps forward, nothing really happens.
Then in 2011, 2010 I started indie publishing. In 2011, I started indie publishing the Gansett Island series. That series took off like nobody's business, and has now sold over three million books. Book 19 in that series is out later this month with absolutely no end in sight. The Fatal series has done really well. I've been writing both of those series for 12 years. Then I have three others that I'm working on at the same time, so three other series that I contribute to on a regular basis.
The indie publishing thing has been really, really good to me. I've also been traditionally published the entire time, for the last 10 years consistently. I have my 13th book coming out from Harlequin at the end of this year - just kind of doing everything involved with publishing.
Len: Thanks for that great summary, and congratulations on the milestones.
Marie: Thank you.
Len: Going back closer to the beginning, you mentioned that you first worked in journalism. From your profile online, I saw that you studied journalism and political science. I was wondering, if you were starting out now, do you think you would study journalism?
Marie: Oh yeah. Definitely, if for no other reason that I really feel like journalism training taught me how to write. I'm a very, I like to say like a lean, mean, economical writer. I try not to, there's not a lot of extra crap in my books that has to then be edited out. That comes directly from the journalism training where they teach you K-I-S-S, Keep It Simple Stupid.
If you want great training, work for a small community newspaper, where you're understaffed, underfunded. The demands are enormous, and you're writing six or eight articles a day sometimes. You really do just figure out how to tell a story in a very clear, concise way. I think that that training was absolutely essential to everything that I've done since then.
Len: Are you at all concerned about the current state of affairs with respect to journalism, and local journalism and things like that? It's a debate that I like to follow.
Marie: I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. I do try to keep all of that out of my author life, because - I try to keep the perspective that I'm in the entertainment business, and my readers don't really care what I think about politics and all that stuff. But I am concerned about the propensity of fake news to be overtaking the facts. I do think that it's a very clear cut threat to our democracy, and I will say that to anybody who asks me.
I think that there's a lot of things that are happening in our country right now that are disturbing and alarming. The threat to the free press is definitely one of them. I think it's - I can't imagine what has to be going on in journalism schools across the country right now. My son is actually studying communications, and hopes to go into sports broadcasting. He's getting a lot of information about that from his professors right now. I just really think there's never been a more important time for journalism to be thriving than right now.
Len: One of the things I really liked about that answer was that you didn't necessarily connect studying journalism in university exclusively to the utility of doing that to get a job in journalism. You said it helped you become the writer that you are today.
Marie: Right. I'm still close with one of my journalism professors from college. One of the things I've said to her over the years is I think we put too much emphasis on the media jobs and the newspapers, the radio, the TV. Like, that was the focus. You were one of those three when we were in school. So many of my friends that I graduated with have gone on to do so many different cool things.
One of them is the Media Director for a women's NBA team. Another one works for - they've worked for non-profits. I worked for a non-profit for 16 years as the Communications Director. All of that journalism training came into play every single day.
But when we were in school, it was like newspaper, TV, radio. Boom, boom, boom. It's nice to know that skill that you have can be so universally used across a number of different areas.
Len: One part of your biography that touched me was you talk about the time when your husband was working on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. One time for another podcast, I interviewed someone who was on the aircraft carrier side of things, but I wanted to ask you what it's like to be the spouse who's on the land when their spouse is on the carrier. I mean, I think at the time you were working in your career in communications -
Marie: I was.
Len: Corporate communications. And you had two kids that were on land with you, not on the boat with your husband. What was that like?
Marie: Hiring a [audio cuts briefly] babysitter to have them come. I worked from home while he was deployed on the Kennedy. I worked for the same came company I worked for in DC. They kept me on when we moved to Florida. I was doing it all from home, and I had two kids, and my husband was deployed. I used to think Navy wives were kind of grumpy. Then I realized I had it kind of easy for the first six years when he was in office jobs. Then, this totally sucked.
But I hired the babysitter, and the kids know I'm in the office, so they're banging - they were little, they were like six, brand new and three years old when we first were moved to Florida and he was on the Kennedy. Then the next three years we were in that boat.
I hired the babysitter, they know I'm in there. So there's nothing getting done. The next day, I have her come again and I tell her, "Mom's leaving, I'll see you later." And, "You guys be good." And I walked out of my house, walked around to the back of my house and crawled through the window to go to work in my office.
Those years are such a blur to me now, because it was intense. One thing I do remember - when he was on the Kennedy, was on 911. He was in the cryptology community, so he was on the receiving end of all the message traffic that came in. One of the most incredible moments in his entire career in the Navy was when the Kennedy was sent to New York to protect the US motherland. In 20 years being in the Navy - it still gives me chills. He retired a short time after that. He had never seen a message like that.
They were going to maneuvers in Puerto Rico that day, and they were redirected to the New York shoreline after the attacks in the city. We found out about it on the CNN crawler. That's how we found out that the Kennedy was being sent to New York. All you can think of is, if people are bombing the US, what a sitting duck a big US aircraft carrier would be sitting off the shore. Those were - for the most part, we didn't have a lot of stress, of worrying about something happening to them while they were at sea. But that was a definite exception that day. Yeah, those were crazy years. I don't even remember a lot of it.
Len: How long is the person on the boat at a time? I've heard three months, six months.
Marie: The longest was six months. He did one six month deployment, and this was the third time he'd been on a carrier in his career. But it was the first time he was on a carrier with a family. They were in a very intense deployment cycle while he was on the ship. I want to say, out of three years, he was probably deployed for about 20 months of it. Which was brutal. A brand new baby who didn't sleep for the first 18 months - he's the one that just finished his freshman year of college now.
Then the other one had been with daddy during the day, until daddy goes on an aircraft carrier and disappears. Yeah, he worked nights when we were in the DC area. They were constant companions, and then he like disappears. Those were crazy years, they really were.
My dad would say to me, "When are you going to start writing that book?" And I would just look at him like, "Are you crazy?" And he goes, "Well, what are you doing from three to six am?" I was like, "Oh yeah." My parents were very eager to see me take this path that I ended up taking.
My father has "Father of the Author" business cards that he gives out to everyone, and tells people things that he shouldn't tell them. Like, "Guess how much she paid for our house?" And things like that. He's in his 80's.
Len: I want to ask you about the writing, but I've got one more question. You just reminded me of a very old personal memory I had, which was that my dad, once, when I was very young, went up north in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada to do scouting for a provincial park. He was gone for about two whole weeks. When he came back, I could barely recognize him. Apparently my brother and I ran to the door, "Daddy's home!" - then he appeared with a beard, and we ran away.
Marie: Yeah my kids, they had to - especially my younger one, he was a baby. Every time daddy came home, it was like, "Who's that?" Which was very hard on my husband. It all seems like a very long time ago now. He'll be out for 17 years this year. He retired at 40, so he's still young.
Len: Your first novel - you were basically visited in your imagination by a character from it, long before you began writing it. Is that correct? I was wondering if you could a little bit about that?
Marie: It is true, yes. I was having conversations with Jack Harrington for years before I wrote the first word. He was an architect whose wife is injured in a very mysterious accident. I wanted to put him through the ringer. Because the thing I loved about writing that book, and I still love about that book, is that, he's a 43 year old guy, and I think by that age most of us feel like we know ourselves pretty well. We know what we would do in certain circumstances.
Then you're presented with something that's so far outside your realm of comprehension. Then suddenly all the rules that you've lived by for all your life are suddenly no longer in play. He's told by doctors that his wife is never going to recover. He has three teenage daughters he has to contend with, who have mostly been brought up by their mother at that point, because he's the one out running a business and earning a living, and has to become a custodial parent to three teenage girls, who are traumatized after witnessing the accident that injured their mother.
Then a year later, he meets somebody at work. He's not looking for it, he's not on match.com. I loved presenting him with that dilemma of, here's this guy who's the most solid, one of his friends describes him as, "the most solidly married human being ever, who's now in this state of limbo at 44 years old," and, what do you do? Really, Treading Water is - I still look back at that as that dilemma of, what do you do when you think you know yourself, and then something comes along that makes you question everything?
I loved writing that. I loved writing the conflict of it. Then I ended the book 12 years ago. No, it's actually 13. God, I can't even do basic math. 13 years ago tomorrow. It was 155,000 overwritten words. It was a beast. I threw everything in there, which I've never done again. In almost 70 books, I've never made all the mistakes that I made in that one. Then, when I finally published that on my own seven years later, it was the same exact book, at 92,000 words. I learned all those lessons of what not to do in Treading Water.
But it's still a reader favorite. My most frequently asked question, is, "When is there going to be a fifth book in that series?" There is going to be one more book in that series, they've worn me down. But yeah, it was just a really crazy process of sitting down and actually doing it for the first time.
Len: You began by self-publishing, but you said you eventually got a book picked up. What was that process like for you, learning about how to approach publishers? How did you go -?
Marie: So I actually was traditionally published first.
Marie: Yes. I was traditionally published in 2000 [audio drops briefly]. In 2010, I was a debut author with Harlequin's Carina Press, with my Fatal series, which is now at HQN. That's the one that's going to be book 13. I've always been, without fail, under contract to one publisher or another. Right now I'm currently working with two. I'm with Harlequin still, which is under HarperCollins now. Then Kensington is doing a historical romance series for me. They're also bringing out my Gansett Island paperbacks, which is really exciting.
I've always worked with publishers. But then, I had a lot of books already written. We shopped the Gansett Island series - I love to say, it was rejected, thankfully, by every publisher in romance, which was actually a huge break, a lucky break; with hindsight, a very lucky break. Because if any of those noes had been yes, I probably would've settled for a really crappy deal, and another publisher would still own the rights to those books.
Let's face it, if you sell three million books of a self-published series, that is going to change your life in ways that you cannot begin to imagine, and it has. It's just been unbelievable, what has happened because of that.
I think all the time, "Oh thank God I got all those rejections." Which were so hard to take at the time. I mean, it was awful. Some of the people that rejected it were like - if they had said, "Yes," I would've been like, "Oh." I would've been almost embarrassed to say I was published by them. It was crazy the way it all worked out. Sometimes I think my mom was up there going, "Just hold out, it's all going to be good."
One of my favorite quotes about it all too, is that, "Luck is the convergence of preparation and opportunity." I was preparing for this lucky opportunity for years, without even knowing it. I was ready. When the self-publishing doors opened, I was in a very lucky position.
Len: It's funny, in the start-up world, there's a saying about "An overnight success that was years in the making."
Marie: Yeah. A 10 year overnight success story.
Len: I'm curious about this - when you say you were getting rejected, just a little bit about the mechanics of that. Did you have multiple submissions out at the same time?
Marie: Oh I have them somewhere. Let me see if I can pull them out for you.
Len: Please do.
Marie: I'll show - because Len and I are Skype, he can see them. But yeah, here they all are. I saved them all.
Len: Oh wow.
Marie: There's a lot of them.
Marie: Actually - a funny story. I was at a seminar once, and I had them with me. I was like, I love to show authors, "Yeah, my career's going really well, but look at where it started." I forgot them at the podium, and my niece who works for me, she went running back to get them. They had been put in a garbage can, and she had to go like practically dumpster diving to get them back. She goes, "Those cannot be thrown out."
Len: I've heard about people using rejections for wallpaper, as kind of inspiration.
Marie: Oh, I could cover my whole office. I prefer to cover my office with pictures of the best-sellers, so -
Len: I can see that. That's fantastic. It reminds me - of course, the history of writing is full of stories about, say, William Golding, for example - I believe he sent The Lord of the Flies to like 24 publishers, before it got accepted somewhere. And of course, Walt Whitman self-published, so did Nietzsche.
But one of the really interesting things about your story is that, because of the way you can be a success now in self-publishing, getting rejected actually turned out to be the best thing that could happen for you. Because you could go and sell it on your own -
Marie: Oh it totally did.
Len: How did you do that? I mean, so for people listening who are like, "What, how do I do that?" What did you do? Did you just go on KDP, or did you do more than - ?
Marie: I did. At first, all there was was KDP. I don't know why, it just switched over so that it's only you and not me. There was only KDP at the time. There was no option to publish anywhere else. I was there when Nook Press came along, I was there when iBooks came along, I was there when Kobo started up. I had all these books written, I had all these readers from the early books saying, "Hey, I would love to read more of your stuff." Then I had publishers saying, "Oh well, I can't sell that book."
For a long time it made me wonder, what the heck does that mean? Later, I realized what they meant, was the distributors didn't want that book. If the distributors don't want it - those are the publisher's customers. A lot of people don't realize that readers are not the customers of publishers. Distributors are, and they're the ones that put books on shelves, and they put books into stores and they're the ones that kind of govern what gets published. I didn't understand that at the time, and it took me a long time to understand what I was being told when somebody would say, "Oh, I can't sell that book." I'm like, "But wait, I can."
When this opportunity came along, I was like, "Go direct to the readers, sign me up. Absolutely."
The biggest concern that I had at the time was I was under contract to two publishers, at the end of 2010, when I had books coming out in early 2011. Nobody could tell me - not an IP lawyer, not my agent - nobody could tell me if I was going to get sued for doing this. I was very quiet about it at first. I was very like - okay, so I put them up. The first two books were single titles, they weren't part of a series. I put one up in November and one in December of 2010. I didn't publicize them on Facebook or do anything other than just put them on sale.
Then I had one publisher book came out January 3rd, and the other publisher book came out February 1st. On February 1st, the book that came out that day - the publisher of that book put an earlier book of mine with them on sale for free. Which was the first time free really was just unbelievable. I mean, my numbers went crazy that week. I had sold something like, maybe 300 copies of my indie books, the two indie books at that point. Then I sold 10,000 in February of that month.
Then my numbers kind of went crazy, and they've never really come back down. Which is amazing, when you think about it. That was six years ago, seven years ago. See, I can't do basic math. Seven years ago. It's been like gangbusters every since.
Then in April, May and June of 2011, I published the first three Gansett Island books, three months in a row. It's ironic that this year, we're doing the same, exact schedule - April, May, June - for the paperbacks. Which are going to be out in stores, are out in stores now.
It's kind of a full circle moment, that the mass market paper is coming out at the same exact schedule as the ebooks did way back when. That series has just - it changed everything.
Then it was something like 80,000 ebooks for 2011. Next thing you know, I'm giving my notice in my day job, which I had expected to keep for another 10 years, because I had that 21 date in my head, because my youngest would finish college that year. It was like May whatever 2021, I can quit my job. It was crazy. I mean, just the way it all happened.
Then my good friend, who I worked with at the day job, I kept joking with her that she was going to be my assistant someday. We joked that we had a shed in our back yard she could live in, and we would provide wifi, and by the end of 2012, I was hiring her. She's worked for me for five and a half years now. I have three other employees that - I figure it can either go to taxes, or it can go to them, so -
Len: Actually, I was going to ask you about that. Earlier when you were talking about your schedule, you said "we." I know from your website that you have a team of people that you work with.
Marie: I do.
Len: I wanted to ask you about that, because I think a lot of people often have a view of an author being someone who is kind of isolated and - it's sort of funny that the typical idea would be that an author is someone who's protected from the business side of things by the publisher who does all that for them.
Len: But the publisher is doing all that, has to have the moxie and has to have the energy, and has to do the hard work. And so when you're an independent author, or well - a hybrid author, I guess - like you are, ihe indie part is a business. It's a small business.
Marie: It really is.
Len: One that you run, and you've got employees, and you have to do the taxes and all that. I wanted to ask you, what do you have your employees doing?
Marie: What you said about it being a small business - it is that, and it is also a 24/7, 365 international business. Which is something that I don't think a lot of people realize. We're dealing with people - I was communicating with a reader in South Africa earlier today. I mean it's a world business, it's an international business. It's not just we do things in the US and Canada. It's all over, for one thing.
Then my employees - I have my whole life set up, so that really I focus almost exclusively on the writing. People say to me all the time, "Oh, where do you find time to write?" I'm like, "Where do I find time to write? That comes before anything." I am working on two books right now. I'm having this fantastic month of May, where I've done 46,000 words on two different books. I mean like, that's the bread and butter of the business. Without that, there is no business. Where do I get the time? That comes first.
My employees basically run my business. I have a COO, who oversees everything. Then I have a CFO, who is our financial person, and she deals with all the taxes. She's the one who emails me and says, "Hey, as of March 31st, you've sold seven million books." That's how I know that, is because I've got somebody keeping track of that.
My husband got laid off from his job almost five years ago. To me, I was like, "Yes." I put him to work. He takes care of everything else. I'm in this bubble, where all I do is write, and take care of -
Obviously I tend to the business, to social media. I do all the social media and the email stuff myself. I feel like it's very important that the readers, when they think they're talking to me, they're actually talking to me. I think that there's been a lot of benefit to that, the personal touch. They feel like they know me, and I think that that's really important.
Other than that - and obviously dealing with things like the Indie Author Support Network, and running an Author Support Network on Facebook for 7,000 authors now. Those things keep me busy during the day, but the focus is always, always on the writing. There's - literally nothing comes before that. Except coffee.
Len: Of course. I've got a bit of an in-the-weeds, indie publishing question for you. Marie: Sure. I love the weeds.
Len: I guess there are two. One is - when you're interacting with readers, how does that happen? Do you give out your email address?
Marie: Yes, I do.
Len: Promiscuously, like it's just all over the place.
Marie: I'm very promiscuous.
Len: I wanted to say, that's a really interesting thing, because I think a lot of people are shy about their email address. I've encountered this doing various different projects in the past, where there seems to be a positive correlation between the openness with which someone treats their email address, and their, to put it in crude terms, success. People who hide their email addresses tend to be the ones who are like, "Why is nothing ever taking off for me?" I don't know what the connection is there, but there's something.
Marie: Well, they hide behind a lot of things. Those are the same people that will tell you they hate Facebook. I always feel like saying, "I'm sorry for you, if you're author and you hate Facebook. I'm sorry for you." Facebook is where the readers are, and Twitter is where the readers are, and Instagram. Those are free tools that authors years ago would've killed for, and email is another one.
Remember the days - you've all heard the stories, where like the early authors would have to wait for letters to come from their publishers. I mean, thank God those days are over. I don't think the indie revolution could've happened in those days. It just wouldn't have. It was fueled by email and we are such - like, talk about promiscuous. We're promiscuous about our mailing list. We all want more people to join us. That's direct contact with our customers, which is hard to come by when you're dealing with retailers.
We're so lucky to be working in this modern era of incredible technology, although we are beholden to it. I was out to lunch today with my son, my father, my cousin. I'm like, "Don't touch the phone, don't touch the phone. Leave the phone in the pocket." I have to physically tell myself, "Don't look."
Len: How do you deal with negative contact with people? Because that's one of the infamous things about things like Twitter, is that sometimes you encounter the trolls. That can happen in email as well.
Marie: I mean they're out - Yes. Alright, so "block" is your favorite thing on social media. If somebody's going to give you a hard time, take it out of your social life, just like you would if somebody was going to hassle you in person. Would you go out to dinner with them? No. So why do you have to still be friends with them on Facebook? You don't. I'm a very positive person, and I don't do drama.
When I hired each of my colleagues, who obviously were my friends, and in some cases family members, I said, "You guys know me, I don't do drama. If you're going to do drama and have girl fights and all that stuff, keep it far away from me, because I don't want to deal with it." I don't do drama of any kind. I don't do passive aggression, so if you're going to come at me, I'm probably going to ignore you, for one thing. I always say to people too, "If I'm happy with my books, I'm pleasing my first customer - myself."
So hopefully everybody else will be pleased too, but you're never going to make everybody happy, not in a million years. Giving up that goal of 100% five star reviews is very freeing. I really just frankly don't care. If somebody doesn't like what I'm doing or they don't like me, I'm like, "Oh well, sorry. I can only do me." If you just let some of that go - there is negativity, of course. There's always going to be. But I try to put out the positive. I find that most of what comes back to me is equal to that, so -
Len: That's a fantastic answer, thank you very much for that. I think that will give me a little bit of inspiration the next time I encounter some negativity, because it's easy to take things personally.
Marie: It's too easy to engage in it. Julie, my assistant, always says to me, she can't believe some of the stuff people will say to me over Facebook or in an email. To me, it's just that anonymity that we can all hide behind in the keyboards that make us all very brave, and in some cases very rude about things that we would never say to somebody's face.
But you can't take it on. I mean, that's not my problem. If somebody is going to come at you and say something really nasty, you're not the problem. They've got other problems, besides the fact that they don't like your books.
Len: I think one thing I've found that often, I would say like 9 times out of 10, someone who sends an angry email regrets it, basically the moment they sent it. A polite reply often elicits an apology.
Marie: I've been tempted a couple of times, and I have done it, to say, "Are you having a bad day?"
Len: Yeah, "Did you skip breakfast?"
Marie: Of course, I write sexy romance, so there's a lot of commentary about that. Which is just like - people in the US are very juvenile in some cases, in their approaches to all things related to sex. I love to tell people, when they come at me - they'll say something about my books, and I'll just be like, "You too are the result of a sex act." That usually ends the conversation rather abruptly. Because nobody wants to think about their parents in that context.
Len: Actually, before I mov onto my second in-the-weeds question, I did have another one, which was, that you didn't start out writing erotic fiction, but you did start doing that, if I understand correctly?
Marie: My books have always been very sexy. I would say my heat level is - on a scale of one to five, probably most of them are four. But I did add an erotic romance series called Quantum in 2015, and it's been very popular. I've really enjoyed writing it. I'm writing the second to last book now, and I'm going to do eight total. The readers are bummed that there's not going to be more. But I feel like I've done what I wanted to do with that series, and I have other things I want to do. That's the only reason why I would end it. But I really have enjoyed writing it.
It's all good, it's just - you've got to write what you want, and not worry about what people are going to say. I write under my real name too, which is another whole issue. Everybody thinks that my name has to be a pen name because, "Force." But it's actually my married name. I married well in the name department. Fortunately, my husband's siblings have always been very supportive of my career. I like to think that my late in-laws would be too. Because they were very supportive of me.
But if you're going to write sexy romance under your real name, you have to own it. You can't be like a wilting flower about it. My kids have been very - they're very confident. They can handle it. They've had a few things said to them here and there, and one of them - my older one, had somebody say to her some crack about what I write. She came right back and said, "Yeah, my mom's books are paying for my college, what's your plan?" So proud of that response. Not being a jerk, but just be like, "Well, this is the reality of it."
People will say what they're going to say, and you've got to own it. So many people are like this about it. "Oh my God, like what you write -" I'm like, "Yeah, I write it, I love it, I own it. My readers love it."
Len: We could have I think an entire interview about that subject. The way that sex is this everyday part of our lives one way or another. Yet, it's something that is often taboo.
Marie: It's like people are so they're such babies about it. It was really interesting to me - especially going back to 2012 when the 50 Shades craze was happening. Everyone I knew was reading those books, and they were like, "Have you?" And I'm like, "I haven't read them, but I've been reading that for years. I mean you know that that's not new, right?" That was the best part of the whole thing to me. There was this revelation to so many people that this genre existed.
It was really good for those of us who were already writing romance, that there was such a craving for more after that. I do think that that's a big part of the reason why the indie revolution in romance really did so well - is because there was such a craving after the 50 Shades books first came out for more, more and more, "Where can I get more of this?" It was a very good time to be in the romance, and it continues to be. But people are - oh, they're just babies about it.
Len: Actually that leads me to another question, which is - do you think that ebooks played a big role in the development of the self-publishing kind of community, and in particular with erotic fiction?
Marie: Absolutely. When I do keynotes and stuff for writing groups, one of the things I tell is that when the Kindle came out in 2007, we knew it was going to revolutionize the way we read. But I don't think anybody at that time really expected it to revolutionize the way we publish too. I am, even as part of the Indie Author Support Network, very grateful to KDP for the opportunities that they have given us.
Look - I'm sitting in my house right now, looking out at a beautiful view of water. I've got my nice lovely pool. I mean, all of that is because of KDP, okay? Then later, ibooks and Kobo and Google. Foreign opportunities and audio, and fill in the blank. All the other things that came afterwards. But it all began with KDP. Yes, there are ups and downs in the author relationship with KDP. But in the end of the day, we're having these conversations because they came first.
My appreciation for the change that that made in my life - not that there was anything wrong with my life to begin with. But it sure is delightful to be able to pursue the career that you've always wanted and to have actual readers and opportunities that were not available to me prior to this. Not at this level anyway. It all goes back to ebooks and the Kindle, and it all began there for indie publishers. I just think there's so many positive things that we could say about ebooks and the changes that they made in our business and our lives.
One of the things that always amuses indie authors, is when we see the statistics come out that ebook sales are down. It makes us laugh, because nobody is counting the indie sales. So how do you know that? I don't know if it's quarterly or biannually or what it is, but when those reports come out like - oh, another report of ebook sales are down. Yeah, no they're not.
Len: I had an article in TechCrunch a couple of years ago now, called The Dark Matter of the Publishing Industry Where I used the dark matter metaphor to talk about exactly that idea. So yeah, to anyone listening, don't worry, ebook sales are not down.
Marie: They're not. There's a massive element that is not being counted: every single independently published book that's published in the world is not being counted when we're hearing that ebook sales are down. What you're hearing is that traditional published ebook sales are down. That is possibly attributable to the fact that they are often extremely high-priced, compared to what the indie authors are offering. Which I know is a bone of contention with traditional publishers and what the indie authors are doing. I get that.
We don't need to charge $9.99 or $12.99 in order to make a very decent profit. We can do a very decent profit at $3.99, $4.99, because we're getting 70% of the take. We don't need to be at $9.99 to make a decent profit. I understand that there's a huge disparity between what the traditional publishers are charging for ebooks, what indie publishers are charging for ebooks, and that disconnect is there for sure. But to say that ebook sales are down across the board without even an asterisk to say, "This information does not include any of the millions of indie published books," it's laughable to me.
Len: It's interesting, one of the inspirations behind this podcast is the way the press writes about the book publishing industry, which I guess could be described as kind of - chauvinistic. It's very tilted towards one side of things. There was an article in New York Times recently where someone said - it was talking about saving Barnes & Noble and stuff like that, and it said that, "Fewer books are profitable now."
And I think I know where this person was coming from. They were probably having coffee with someone who works at a prominent big five publisher, and saying that the old model - they wouldn't have put it this way, but applying their model of having things come through agents, choose 10 or 15 projects for an imprint a year, give someone an advance, see which ones start taking off, ignore the rest - and then pump all your money for promotions into the one that takes off. He's saying that, that's the model that's maybe not as profitable as it used to be.
Marie: Because competition is just astronomical now. We're all competing for basic disposable income. We're competing with streaming TV and movies and Netflix and all the different ways that people can expand their limited disposable income budget. The competition for that money is greater than it has ever been. Not just in the publishing business, but across the board. Look at all the different ways that we can consume media these days. Through Netflix subscriptions, and who doesn't have Netflix? Some people can't live without Hulu. Some people can't live without some of the other - Amazon Prime, and all the various ways.
Then that starts to erode at what people have available to spend on other stuff. At the bottom of the pile sometimes is the old reading habit. Then you add to that. Okay, so the publisher is still putting out X number of books a year. But then you add to that however many millions of independently published books are being put out at a lower price point. You've got a competition situation there that is not looking favorable to the higher-priced product. I think your view of how publishing is as an industry, is determined by where you're sitting in it.
I just had a whole argument with somebody today. Not a real argument, because I don't do arguing, and I don't drama. About - a blanket statement how there's no money in traditional publishing for authors. I'm like, that's just frankly not true, okay? I mean maybe it was a bust for you. But to make that blanket statement that there's no money in traditional publishing for authors is just not true, okay? I reject those universal statements based on one person's experience. Because your experience with publishing depends on a lot of different things. Everybody's looking at it from a different angle.
I have made a very nice amount of money in traditional publishing, and I have nothing bad to say about most of the experiences I've had in traditional publishing. I like to say, you have a kind of a down month on the indie side, and, "Oh, here comes a nice big advance check from a publisher." That doesn't suck. But, granted, those deals can be difficult to come by. They can be all these different things. But there's absolutely money to be made for authors in traditional publishing. Absolutely.
I've had very successful relationships with publishers. I have nothing bad to say about the traditional side. Is it frustrating sometimes? Yes. Because you do have to give up control. When you're used to indie publishing, and you do it all yourself, it can be hard to give up that control. But if you make the right deal for yourself, it can be very beneficial. It just depends on your perspective, and where you sit and what your experience has been. You could ask 10 different people the state of publishing, and you'll get 10 different answers based on their personal experiences.
Len: That actually maybe gives me an opportunity to circle back to my planned second in the weeds question.
Marie: Oh, I forgot about the second -
Len: No that's okay, this was a great conversation. One of the debates, and people do come at this from their own perspective, and often driven by their own experience with it - one of the questions that people often have in self-publishing or indie publishing is, "Should I put all my eggs in one basket, or should I put my eggs in many baskets?" Which is, "Should I just sell my books on say KDP, or should I sell them on all the things?" You've taken a pretty clear position on that, but I was wondering if you could explain what that is?
Marie: I'm a big believer in being everywhere the readers are - meaning all the different ebook platforms, audio, print, foreign. I'm on Reddit. I mean, Radish, I'm sorry. All the different various ways to publish. The readers are consuming books from a number of different angles, and so to be everywhere the readers are - is it a bigger job to tend to multiple retailers than it would be to tend to one? Yes it is. Does it take time to build a following on all the different retailers? Yes it does. It's an individual effort on each one.
But it's been very beneficial to me. I could live on what I make at iBooks very comfortably, and same with Nook. Not being on those platforms means I'm not making that money and reaching those readers and having those opportunities that I have had with those very robust retailers. Also with Kobo, I've had a very successful relationship with Kobo, which is very big in Canada. Being part of those communities, and the Kindle community, has been very beneficial to me. I would be very hesitant to do anything exclusive to any of them, so -
Len: Thanks for that great answer. Personally, I'm with you on that one. Not in terms of being a successful author, but just on the strategy and the idea of reaching as many readers as you can, wherever they happen to be.
Moving on to talk about the Indie Author Support Network, which is a project that you're spearheading. You mentioned you've already had, I think it's 7,000 people sign up for the network, or is it for your Facebook group?
Marie: No, the Facebook page was in existence for quite some time before we started. The Author Support Network has been around for a couple of years. We have gone from 5,000 to 7,000 members since we started talking about the Indie Author Support Network. We just figured - we've already got that group, so we're not going to reinvent another Facebook group.
The Indie Author Support Network has about 1,500 members who have joined. And by joined, they fill out a form, and we're asking them to donate 20 bucks towards start-up costs. Things like forming a website, and getting an email server and all the admin stuff, behind the scenes. Possibly some travel for some people to go to Seattle to meet with KDP - stuff like that.
We're not like calling it "dues" or anything like that, because we're not officially a membership organization at this time. I don't know that we will be. But the whole point of it is to try to bring together indie authors, and to have somewhere for people to turn when things are crazy. There's been some issues with KU and with accounts being shut down. We're talking to KDP about that, and we're hoping to meet with them next month to try to bring back some information to our members, about what's happening, what's being done?
And when something goes wrong, especially when it affects a lot of different people, not just a few - I'm really trying to keep it macro versus micro. We've all got various complaints and issues and nits to pick with various retailers and this and that. But I prefer to focus on things of universal concern. We've had conversations with iBooks about what had seemed to be an outbreak of piracy on the iBooks site. They've reported back that some progress has been made. I've seen a definite fall off on the people frantically contacting me looking for help with books that are popping up on iBooks, when they're supposed to be exclusive to KDP or to KU.
Things like that, like when there's a big issue that affects a lot of people, we need something in place that we can work together, to try to find a solution that affects everyone. I'm really trying to stay away from the individual little issues that everybody has here and there.
Len: Is the idea that if indie authors are all seeing the same problem and contacting these organizations separately, they might not get any attention, whereas, if they're being represented by say one or two people who can say, "Hey, I represent this whole group of thousands of people," then it's easier to get through?
Marie: Right [?] idea. Yes. We think some of the other writing organizations have a lot of different audiences to serve. There's the push-pull always, between the traditional side and the indie side. If you give too much to this side, then that side feels - and I just feel like, there needs to be something that's just for indie authors. Because I do think the indie experience is unique. We're all in it on our own. There isn't any central place where we have a place to go to when something goes wrong. I have good relationships with all the retailers, and I'm actually putting my own reputation and relationship with them into play with this. I'm being careful on how we approach.
Like I said, I don't do drama. I said that at the outset. I told everybody that joined that, "This isn't going to be a non-stop bitch fest, where we're constantly going after the retailers. I want it to be collaborative and cooperative and positive." That's the strategy that I'm bringing to it now. Obviously, when we have an outbreak of people, seemingly honest, hardworking authors having their KDP account shut down, and it's all happening at the same time, then there is a definite swell of interest in what we're doing and, "We need help, and can somebody please talk to them, and can somebody please help us?" We did that.
Last Friday we did that. We went to them, we told them what was happening. We told them the kind of conversations that authors were having, which were very, I would think for them, not what they wanted authors to be talking about. I just made them aware of, quote unquote, "Word on the street is this." Try to get some info from them about like what they were doing, what authors should do if they felt that they were unfairly impacted by this. To try to just give people enough information that they can take a breath and realize, "Okay, it's not just me. There's a lot of people involved in this. Obviously it's a bigger situation. They're working on it. Here's what we're doing."
I think there's comfort in that. Especially when we're all in this on our own. So far, that's the kind of stuff we're doing. Obviously we're all very busy with our own stuff, and so it does become difficult to manage something. I'm trying to keep it very simple, very simple.
Len: It's interesting - if I understand correctly, one of the big problems that people have - I mean, I guess it happens on iBooks as well, but particularly what I encounter is descriptions of what happens on Amazon, where basically, fraud starts to happen. They kind of ignore it until it becomes a big enough problem for them to deal with it. Then sometimes what they do is, they just nuke from orbit, and a lot of people get caught up in the fallout from that. Then need to get their status re-established, or get back on the ranking list and stuff like that. Is that the kind of thing -?
Marie: I don't think that it would be fair to say that they ignore fraud. I think they are constantly working to ferret out the problem situations. They're reluctant to say too much about how or what they do. Because you don't want to be giving people a "how to" kit, on how to scam the system by saying, "Oh well we're doing this, this and that." In every conversation I have had with anyone from KDP, it has been conveyed to me that they are taking any kind of potential fraud - not potential, but actual fraud within KU very seriously. They're working on it all the time.
They don't come to work in the morning and say, "How can we mess with people?" That's not who they are, it's not what they're about. I mean, look at the opportunities that they have given to authors. But granted, there are issues, there are challenges. They need to be addressed. They are working on it. They have acknowledged, "Hey, we could probably do better communicating. When something isn't working, we could probably improve the information that's going out to the community." We're trying to give them a conduit back to the authors too, to say, "Hey, this is what's going on, and everybody take a breath. Hopefully by Monday, we'll have -"
I think in that way too, it's going to be beneficial to both sides. Because hopefully they'll be able to use our network to get word out to authors quickly when they need to, about a situation that might be going on.
Len: There's an organization that's been around in the United States for over a century now. It's changed names, but it's known as The Authors Guild. I wanted to ask you about that, are you a member of the Authors Guild?
Marie: No I'm not, no.
Len: What's your opinion about them? Just to sort of say in advance, I don't know a great deal about the Authors Guild.
Marie: Neither do I. Truthfully, I don't.
Len: Every time I come across them -
Marie: I haven't had any contact, I haven't had any need. I have heard of other authors having requested information and help from them, and have gotten it. I know that they have a good reputation. I just really [don't] know anything about them, truthfully. I haven't had any contact. Most of my author stuff, if you will, has been through the Romance Writers of America, which is the group that coordinates the romance fiction end of the author spectrum. I just really haven't had a lot of involvement with other organizations.
Len: That's really interesting. Because one thing I was curious about was what, did the Indie Author Support Network develop with an explicit self-awareness, like, "the Authors Guild isn't addressing our needs." And it sounds like -
Marie: No, it wasn't anything like that. No, it wasn't. I mean, listen - there's all sorts of organizations out there that are - The Mystery Writers, and this, that and the other thing, all the authors in a genre, okay? And all the different ways that they publish. Some of the organizations have struggled with how to accommodate the indie authors, and how do we classify what's published and what is - It's just all that nonsense that goes on, where you have to try to set basic standards for an organization.
Our thing is, is if you are independently published in any way, then we want to be helpful to you. There's no minimum income requirements. Somebody actually emailed me and said, "Hey, I'm small-press published, but I'm really interested in what you guys are doing. Could I be a member?" I said, "You absolutely can be a member. But don't come to me in a year and ask me to take on small press issues, because that's not we're about."
I think by keeping our focus very narrow, and very explicitly intended for one particular segment of the author experience, then we are more likely to be able to be effective. Rather than trying to be all things to all people. Obviously there is tremendous need for the bigger organizations, such as, RWA stepped up big time for the recent trademark issue. Where an author trademarked a single word, and set off -
Marie: And rightfully so. A complete brush fire, if you will. RWA stepped up big time on that, and they put legal resources on it. They got Amazon to not take down books with that word in the title, until an appeal has been heard. I think that that's a very important move for a big organization like RWA to take. Obviously it has greater resources available to it than we do. Also, from the macro standpoint that we're looking at, the authors that were affected by that would be a small number of our members.
Obviously the trademark issue in general would be a macro level issue that we would be interested in. But individual authors who are caught up in something like that, they're better off going to a big organization that has the resources to combat that. Which we do not have. In that way, I think there is room for collaboration here. There's going to be limits to what we can do, because we're not looking to do conferences and contests and things that bring in money. Because who has the time to oversee that? We're all running small businesses.
So I'm trying to keep it narrow and focused, and I didn't ask the founding members to put up a lot of money, because I'm not going to be giving them a lot of value, other than a place to come when there's an issue that everybody's involved in, and how can we as a group address this? That's our sole purpose.
Len: My last question for you is about book stores. This is one of the things that people are often very, for obvious reasons, preoccupied with in the book publishing community, in particular in the indie publishing community. I guess two of the biggest things that are always bleeping on my radar are, what's going to happen to Barnes & Noble, and what's going on with the Amazon bookstores? I was wondering if you just had any thoughts about one or both of those issues?
Marie: I really hope that Barnes & Noble is going to continue to do what it does. Because I think it would be a devastating blow to the publishing industry as a whole, to lose Barnes & Noble. I think it would change the landscape forever. I've been hoping and praying for a long time that Barnes & Noble is going to continue to do what it does. Especially the Barnes & Noble Press, which obviously is critical to a lot of indie authors. We have a lot of readers on Nook, and we cater to them. I'm very hopeful, and continue to remain optimistic.
Amazon providing bookstores, it's more places for people to engage with books, and I'm all for that. Books are not going away. I think it's been interesting to see that - I think there's been a slight resurgence in the print business, which is good to see. I know it's funny, because my kids - like I said, they're 19 and 22 - they both prefer the print books to digital. I think they feel like they spend enough time on their devices, and they prefer an actual book. I was on vacation with them recently. I'm like, "Look at them, they're toting books like the way we used to." Glad they were reading but...
I don't think the printed book is going anywhere. One of the big things in the indie world is we have big signings. I actually just went to my first really big one. My son was still in high school, so I was like, "I'm not going to go on that circuit until I'm an empty nester," which was this year. I went to the first one, and I could not believe the number of people that were toting around pull carts full of print books that they had signed at these events. We do huge business at the indie author signings.
I think there's still a huge demand for signed, printed books. Authors signing their books, I see that - I sell books direct from my website. I sell quite a lot of them, and sign a lot of books. I just don't see that going away anytime soon. I think the people who are hardcore readers are collectors of signed books, and I think that that will continue to be a big part of what we do.
Len: Well, thank you very much Marie, for taking the time to do this interview. I really appreciate it. We covered a lot of ground, and I don't know about you, but I had a lot of fun.
Marie: It was great, thank you.