How do you successfully write and market in multiple genres if you’re a multi-passionate creator? How do you manage a hybrid career across traditional and independent publishing? Wendy H. Jones talks about her varied writing career and her tips for book marketing.
In the intro, The HotSheet reports from Frankfurt Book Fair with positive news about Kobo audiobooks, why we need to embrace streaming and subscription, and the possibility that book contracts might include podcasts in the future. The new Amazon Author Central, author.amazon.com, is rolling out slowly. Google Play’s increase in royalties to 70%. NaNoWriMo. My thoughts on Tim Ferriss’s fantastic interview with Yuval Noah Harari, and I also mention Novacene by James Lovelock. Do you enjoy a senior, second chance, sweet romance? Check out A Summerfield Christmas Wedding from Penny Appleton (my Mum’s 5th book!)
Today’s show is sponsored by my wonderful patrons who support the podcast with a few dollars a month through patreon.com/thecreativepenn. Patrons get an extra Q&A show every month — bonus audio! — and also 10% off my courses. Thank you, Patrons!
Wendy H. Jones is the award-winning and best-selling author of police procedural novels as well as inspirational non-fiction children’s books and useful books for authors. Her latest book is Marketing Matters: Sell More Books.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Thoughts on being a hybrid author
- On the Scottish literary scene
- When to say no to opportunities
- Different strategies for marketing fiction vs. non-fiction
- On Wendy’s book of motivational exercises based on NLP
- How faith plays a part in Wendy’s literary life
You can find Wendy H. Jones at WendyHJones.com and on Twitter @WendyHJones
Transcript of Interview with Wendy H. Jones
Joanna: Wendy H. Jones is the award-winning and best-selling author of police procedural novels as well as inspirational non-fiction children’s books and useful books for authors. Her latest book is Marketing Matters: Sell More Books, which is something we all want to do. Welcome, Wendy.
Wendy: Thank you for having me here. It’s an absolute pleasure.
Joanna: It’s exciting to have you on the show.
First up, tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Wendy: This sounds awful. It sounds a bit by accident, but it wasn’t by accident. I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always been a reader. I’ve read since I was three. I’ve read mysteries. I’ve read all sorts of things.
First of all, I did academic textbooks and things when I was in the army because I was in both the Royal Navy and the Army. And I wrote textbooks because I was working in the School of Nursing, and you were expected to publish. Then I left the services and went into academia. And I’m very good at blogging, and I managed to blog my way into the head of education studies.
I was writing study skills books as well. Then I became ill. I got very ill with my lungs, which are fine now, so nobody needs to feel sorry for me. But I was registered disabled, but I could still write because if I stood up, my oxygen levels dropped. If I didn’t stand up, I was absolutely fine. I had good oxygen levels. And you sit down to write.
I’d always written all through my career. All through my career, I’d written about where I was, what I was doing, and I’d always wanted to write a novel. So I decided to do NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writers’ Month. I’m sure listeners to your podcast know what that is. I did 50,000 words of a novel, and I thought, ‘Well, I might as well finish it.’ And then I got it edited and everything, and the rest they say is history. So that was how I got into writing.
Joanna: What year did you do NaNoWriMo?
Wendy: I did it in 2012.
Joanna: Fantastic. So most of your books you have out now were written since 2012?
Wendy: They are, yes. And the first one was published in 2014. So it’s not even six years yet.
Joanna: Wow. Well, you’re doing brilliantly then. So you are a hybrid author, I think, with traditional publishing as well, right?
Wendy: Yes, I am. Yes. I’m very fortunate. I’ve got the best of both worlds as they say.
Joanna: What are some of your comparisons between your publishing experiences and any lessons learned or thoughts for people?
Wendy: In terms of traditional publishing, I tried to go down that route to start with. But I’m Scottish, and we’re not famed for our patience, I have to say up in Scotland, especially in Dundee.
In all fairness, I’ve been listening to your podcast since I first started writing. I knew about the indie author route, and I thought, ‘Well, I might as well give it a go and see how it goes.’ Fortunately, it went extremely well, but I did it all professionally because I had been listening to your podcast and other podcasts and listening to other people and following what they did, the Alliance of Independent Authors. I got a professional cover designer, a professional editor. I did it all correctly and it all worked out. I’ve got a lot of confidence, so I’m able to do that.
In terms of my traditional route, I was asked to submit my young adult books to a publisher. So, I didn’t go down the route of being rejected, being rejected, being rejected. What happened was four days after I first pitched the first book, I got a three-book series deal with a publisher, which is unusual because, usually, what happens with independent publishing is it takes years before you actually get anybody to take your first book and publish it, and it’s an exercise in patience. And my children’s book, again, I pitched publishers, and the second one picked it up.
There is a difference because, to be honest, I didn’t want to go down the independent route with my children’s books because I don’t know enough about writing children’s books to be able to do that. It wasn’t something I’d ever thought I would do.
Now, there are differences because going down the independent route, you’re controlling everything. You’re controlling what editor you’re using. You’re controlling what you’re doing in terms of the cover design. When it comes to publishers, you get no input to any of that and the editing is done, and they tell you what to do. And I’m going to give you a little example.
There’s an apocryphal tale that if your publisher says you have to put a pink unicorn in your book, if you’ve signed a contract, you need to put a pink unicorn in your book, even if it’s a crime book. And I thought that was apocryphal until my ‘Bertie the Buffalo’ picture book. I was asked to put in an alpaca, and I went, ‘Well, there’s no alpaca in this story.’ And they went, ‘No, we want an alpaca.’
I said, ‘Do you mind if I ask why?’ and they said, ‘Because we like alpacas.’ Okay. I put an alpaca in. They’re lovely publishers so please don’t think that the publishers were forcing me into anything because they weren’t. And to be honest, it’s made the book better because Ari the alpaca is a great character. But once you’ve signed a contract, you can’t say on the whole, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ because the publisher will say, ‘Okay. Well, we just won’t go down the publishing route.’
Saying that, I’ve been fortunate in both my publishers. If they’ve said, ‘Look, we really don’t think this suits the book,’ I’ve been able to say why I think it does, and they’ve kept it. It’s a two-way process, but it’s how you approach it.
I’ve heard friends who say that their publishers have said, ‘No, you’re not doing that. You’ve got to do this, and there’s no other way we’re doing it.’ And they’ve not been happy with what’s been going on. So, you’re in control with one of them. You’re not so much in control with the others. But if you’re fortunate, you’ve got a two-way process where you can talk.
Joanna: I think that’s really interesting because, obviously, you have books that you can control. Your crime novels, your police procedurals, and your non-fiction, you’re controlling those yourself. So I guess you’ve got a bit of an outlet for your independent personality. And as you said, you’re confident. I think of you as a very strong person. I wouldn’t want to argue with you over your book. I’d be like, ‘Anything you want, Wendy.’
Wendy: I wouldn’t want to argue with me either, Joanna.
Joanna: I want to talk about Bertie the Buffalo for a minute because I was quite surprised when you did that book because I just didn’t think of you as someone who wrote children’s books. I know you said you had YA, but that seemed to come out of nowhere. And then what has happened with that book? Because you’ve got merchandise, you’ve even got a cuddly toy of Bertie.
Tell us a bit more about how that book happens and some other interesting things that have happened because of that.
Wendy: I’ve got this terrible habit of saying yes to everything and then worrying about the aesthetics of it later. And what happened was it was a couple of years ago, I was working hard, and I had Facebook open in the background because I was waiting for someone to get back to me on something through Messenger. And suddenly, it pinged saying that I’d been tagged, and somebody tagged me and said, ‘Wendy Jones will do it.’ And I’m like, ‘What am I being volunteered to do,’ and it turned out it was a buffalo farm. And I went, ‘What do I know about buffalo farms and what are they volunteering me to do?’
It turned out that in real life, there was a baby buffalo running around the Scottish countryside on his own. He’d run away and nobody could find him. This was really happening. And people all over the world were saying, ‘Has he been found yet? Has he been found yet?’ The BBC had gotten involved. They’d called him Bert. Everybody was looking for Bert the buffalo.
So somebody had said, ‘Wendy Jones will do it, write a picture book,’ because they were saying, ‘You need a picture. You need a picture book.’ So I said, ‘Yes. All right,’ then I carried on with my life, finished editing of my book, brought it out because it was about to be published. That was not a children’s picture book. It was an adult crime book.
In January, I got a message from the buffalo farm saying, ‘Out of all the people that have volunteered, we think you’re the most professional. We’d like you to write this picture book for us.‘ And I thought, ‘I don’t remember volunteering for anything but okay.’
I went and had a meeting with them and I said, ‘As long as I can get a publisher, I’m happy to do it.’ I got a publisher and it was a straight story. Then they said to me, ‘We want it in rhyme,’ which came as a complete surprise to me for two reasons. One, I didn’t think you did things in rhyme because they’re too difficult to translate, and secondly, I’m not a poet in the slightest.
Anyway, they gave me a very, very, very short deadline as to when this needed to be done in rhyme by which is probably a good thing because I’m very good at working to deadlines, very good, and it kicks my brain in. So suddenly, overnight, I came up with an entire rhyming version of Bertie the Buffalo, and the publishers loved it. And I signed a contract.
Then everybody was saying, “Oh, we need a soft toy. We need a coloring book,’ and everybody was saying it. So I said to the publishers, ‘I’d love a soft toy and a coloring book,’ and they went, ‘Oh, we don’t think we want to go down the merchandise route.’ And then about eight weeks later, this little buffalo appeared on Facebook, and they said, ‘How about this one, Wendy?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’
It was a soft toy, and it took a while longer for the soft toy to come. But Bertie is so popular. Everybody loves Bertie. He’s an international success. I’ve been all over the world with Bertie. I’ve done book tours with him.
And there’s going to be another book out which is, Bertie Goes to the Worldwide Games, roughly translated as to Bertie the Buffalo Goes to the Olympics. But we’re not allowed to say, ‘Bertie Goes to the Olympics’ because you have to sponsor them. And apparently, slipping them 20 quid in a brown envelope doesn’t count as sponsoring them.
Joanna: I just love this story. What is really interesting is we talk a lot about branding. We’re going to come to your marketing book soon. But branding of an author is important, right? And you’ve got all these different things going on. Bertie the Buffalo is so different to your police procedural that this is kind of crazy.
How do you see yourself dealing with all these different genres now because you said you’ve got YA, you’ve got non-fiction, you’ve got the crime, you’ve got Bertie?
How are you managing all these different aspects of one author brand?
Wendy: Precisely, I’m all over the place and it’s difficult. I talk about branding in my book, but one of the things that I say at book signings and things and I say everywhere on the internet is that I can literally cover you from the cradle to the grave. So any book you want from the cradle to the grave, I’ve got it.
Joanna: That’s a good angle to come from. And I guess some people who might buy Bertie might also go, ‘I’ll read Bertie to my grandkids or whatever, but I’ll buy your police procedurals.’
Wendy: Absolutely. Yeah.
Joanna: I love that. I think that’s fine. I also think it’s important. What you did there is you stepped through an open door, and there’s a time when saying yes to everything is a good thing. I sometimes feel as well that we say yes to too many things.
I’ve definitely felt like I’ve said yes to too much certainly during lockdown in terms of how many online events I’m doing and all of that.
Do you ever feel like you need to stop saying yes?
Wendy: Yeah. I do actually. To be honest, when it comes to writing series, on the whole, I’m fairly amenable to most things. I’m writing narrative non-fiction now which is about the life of a chap called Thomas Graham, but it’s going to be a fiction book but talking about a real-life chap.
I was asked to take that on, and I did think very carefully about it before I agreed to it. I didn’t just immediately say yes, but it’s something I actually feel quite proud of because he links to me in some ways. Our paths have crossed in a lot of ways. He was a doctor. He joined the Royal Navy. And he came from a working-class background, which I did, but he became an officer in the Royal Navy.
I became an officer in the Army. And he found a cure for cholera. But I did think very carefully. There are other things that people have asked me to do and I have said no to them now because, like you, time is precious, and if COVID has taught us anything, it’s taught us that really time is precious.
Joanna: Absolutely. You and I have met in person quite a lot, but I came up and spoke at one of your events that you were organizing in Scotland. You’re pretty embedded in the literary scene in Scotland, which I think is a very vibrant community.
I wondered how do you feel that the impression of independent authors has changed in that Scottish literary scene because I feel like there’s two parts. There’s this sort of very literary and there’s also a highly literary Scottish angle as well, a sort of Celtic side and different language and very interesting.
How do Scots see independent authors?
Wendy: To be honest, I can’t say I’ve ever been treated any differently to anybody else. Yes, I’ve never spoken at the Edinburgh Literature Festival but neither have a lot of other people regardless of how they’re published because it’s an international festival. They’re focusing on the international aspect, although that may not happen in the future given the fact that we’re all in the middle of a pandemic. We’re never treated differently. I’ve never been treated differently.
I’m a member of the Live Literature Database for the Scottish Book Trust. I’ve always been paid through the Live Literature Database. We are very, very fortunate that we’ve got a first minister who is absolutely passionate about reading, and she puts money into this. There’s money put into the literacy scene in Scotland.
And to be honest, I speak at festivals. Nobody’s ever said to me, ‘No, you can’t speak at a festival.’ I have not been able to speak because they’re already oversubscribed. They’ve got too many authors, but nobody’s ever said it’s because I’m independently published. And I’m seen the same as anyone else.
I was asked to be the president of the Scottish Association of Writers. At that point, I didn’t have a publisher. Nobody treats you any differently. I’m on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland, and the Society of Authors sees independent publishing and traditional publishing as being equally valid routes into publishing. So nobody’s treated any differently.
Joanna: That’s really good. When I came up to that event, I did feel like it was very egalitarian and that there are lots of interesting things going on. So, I really appreciate that.
Let’s get into your latest book for authors, Marketing Matters: Sell More Books, which is a recently updated edition, which is kind of hilarious because I have, How to Market a Book, and I keep looking at it going, ‘Oh, I need to update it.’ But I still feel like 90% of it is valid, so I really can’t be bothered right now.
I wondered why you decided to do a new edition and what has changed in terms of book marketing over the last few years.
Wendy: A lot has changed. First of all, I’ve changed, and I need to say that because when I was asked to do the first book, I was asked to do a talk, a presentation on marketing because, apparently, I’m very good at it. That’s probably because I listen to your podcast, Joanna. I’ve had lots of advice.
But I have had marketing training in the past as well, and I just translated that into books. I was asked, ‘Have you got a book to go alongside it?’ Now, I had quite a big lead-up to this event, and I thought, ‘Well, I could actually write one.’ And I did write one, but I was at the beginning of my author’s journey then as well. So there was that.
I have changed phenomenally in the last five, six years. I’m still the same person I am. But the way I approach things is different. There’s also been a lot of different changes in terms of when I first wrote my first book, people were using Amazon ads. They were using Facebook ads. And paid advertising wasn’t quite as important as it is now.
It was part of a portfolio, but it has become increasingly more important as time goes on, as businesses quite rightly try to make money. Because we’re using a lot of these platforms for free and we were using them for free advertising, which was fabulous while it lasted, but no business can run on that model. They need to make money. So I don’t blame them for going down that route. I might think, ‘Oh, it’s a shame,’ but I understand it.
Platforms come and they go. So things that I was talking about in the first book don’t even exist anymore. Books that I was advising people to look at in the first book no longer are in print. And one, for example, which is about social media marketing by Chris Symes, that’s actually now only available as an audiobook. It’s not available any other way. So a lot has changed.
Audiobooks are more important. A lot of things and COVID as well has meant that ebooks are even more important. Book shops are closing. I can never remember if it’s Bertrand or Gardeners, but one of them is on the verge of collapse. So that’s a book distributor.
There have been a lot of changes in the last five, six years. So that was why I decided it was time to retire the old one completely and just brought it out as a new addition. I also wanted to brand it as the other thing. I’ve branded it in a new series along with my ‘Motivation Matters,’ book. So, I wanted to change the branding because it needed a refresh. In fact, I needed to stick of dynamite under it, to be honest.
Joanna: And it’s so funny because I decided this year would be my operation evergreen was what I had, which is the books that are not evergreen need to be updated because there is a marketing mindset. There are evergreen principles of marketing. And as you say, what changes are the nuts and bolts and the technical things, which change every five minutes.
I find that non-fiction that is not principle-based or mindset-based, it does need more regular updating which makes it just more difficult to do.
Wendy: Absolutely. To be honest, I brought the book out last week. Something technically will have changed this week. You can’t get around that. And one of the things I did do because I’ve been editing during COVID and updating it as much as I can, but I didn’t bring COVID into it because, quite frankly, two years down the road, if people are still using this, they’re not going to be talking about COVID.
But I have brought a lot of techniques in that people have been using. StreamYard has come out of nowhere for using Facebook Live events so you can invite other people in. Since the first book, Facebook have changed the way you can do Facebook Live and the way you can bring extra people in. You can do it from mobiles but not computers. So things change. I could say all that this week, and next week, Facebook or whoever will have changed everything back again.
Joanna: Absolutely. It’s a good point. We have to do the best we can and then get the book out and put a stake in the ground. My Audio for Authors, which came out in early 2020, there’s been a few things that have happened since then in the voice tech space, and that’s just going to keep on changing.
And right up until the last moment of the print formatting, I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to keep changing,’ but you just have to bite the bullet at some point.
How are you approaching book marketing differently for fiction and non-fiction? What do you do differently between them?
Wendy: Up until this year when all went pear-shaped, I did a lot of events for my fiction, but I also did different events for my non-fiction. My non-fiction sells extremely well when I’m speaking at conferences and things. When I say conferences, I mean conferences for writers or marketers. They sell extremely well.
My fiction sells at book signings, but people will buy both. Somebody will come along to buy a non-fiction book and they’ll buy everything. I’ve had somebody buy every single book I’ve ever written at a book signing just because I happened to be there. But we can’t talk about just book signings at the moment because they’re not happening.
I’ve approached things differently in terms of I’m doing a lot of online things. I’m setting up a course to go alongside my non-fiction. I’ve been listening to what you’ve been saying, Joanna, and I’m going to have multiple streams of income. And I can’t remember the proper term for it, but it’s using a non-fiction book and having multiple branches out of it and having it in so many different ways. So, I have been listening.
Wendy: I’m doing a lot of different things like that. There have been a lot of opportunities to do online for both. And you’re just marketing to different people. The way you market is the same.
Obviously, if you’re marketing a children’s book, you’re going to market it like I say, ‘Oh, Bertie, Scotland’s very own wee escape artist, and he’s a little bit of fun.’ You’re not going to do the same for that as ‘DI Shona McKenzie,’ is in the middle of killing someone. Not killing someone. She doesn’t kill anybody, solving another serial killer murder.
They all need to be marketed differently. The language you use when you’re marketing them is different because you’re wanting to resonate with different audiences. I’m NLP trained, which is Neuro-Linguistic Programming. So I try to use language…when I’m using it online, I try to use language that will resonate with different people. So that’s one way you can do it.
Joanna: I guess that I’m more specifically around, for example, I use BookBub ads as one thing that I do. But for non-fiction, Amazon ads are working really well for my non-fiction but not so well for my fiction. And then my podcast sells my non-fiction. Are there specific things that you actually do for either of those?
Wendy: Yes. Absolutely. My non-fiction, I do Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads, and the Amazon Ads seem to be working fairly well at the moment as you say, which is a good thing. I’ve never been successful in getting a BookBub yet, but I do use other platforms the same as BookBub.
I use Fussy Librarian for my fiction. I’m going to use Book Cave, which is a new one. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they use a system like this cinema. So they will literally read your book and then they will give you a rating. And they will tell the audience whether it’s got violence or swearing or sex or if it’s moderate, minor, a major focus.
They literally sort your book out into the right audience, which I think is a good thing. It’s just a different way of doing it but I use Ereader News Today, I use them for my fiction, sorry. And they work well because they literally go into the inbox of someone who likes that genre. So you’re targeting the right people.
[Note from Joanna: For an up to date list of all book promotion sites, check out Kindlepreneur’s resources]
Joanna: Again, talking about the literary scene. I met some very literary people when I came to your event in Scotland that time, people who, perhaps as you mentioned, had the grants that Scottish writers can get, people who I thought were quite resistant to the idea of doing your own marketing in many ways.
I feel that still authors are resisting this kind of marketing, and you seem to be absolutely just completely at home with it.
What attitude shift have you had to make or do you think authors need to make in order to be more effective at marketing?
Wendy: First of all, they need to get over the mindset that they can just sit and write. Writers think they’re writers and they don’t have to do anything else. With all due respect, whether you’re traditionally published or independently published, you’re running a business. It’s a business. If you’re paying the taxman, you’re running a business. It’s not a hobby. It’s not something that you want to do and somebody else will do it all for you. It’s not going to happen.
I’ve had people say to me, ‘I want a traditional publisher because I can’t be bothered marketing.’ Well, I kind of bite my tongue because I want to laugh, but I don’t laugh because I’m quite a polite person to people. And I say, ‘You do realize that most traditional publishers are not going to do any marketing for you unless your name is associated with a billion-dollar business already,’ without mentioning names.
You’ve got to get over the mindset that you will not need to market.
Writers seem to think that it’s somehow ugly to market, and it’s not quite the thing. Seriously, would you run any other business without telling people that you’re there or spending money on advertising or having an advertising budget or a promotion? You wouldn’t. No other business in the world runs like that. The music business doesn’t run like that.
If a band brings out a new album, whether they’re an indie or whether they’ve got a record label, they’re telling the world about it, and yet writers seem to think it’s all going to happen just as if by magic. So, you do need to change your mindset and you need to realize it’s a business. The minute you are giving the tax man money and you’re having to put a tax return in, you are running your own business and only you can do that.
Why would anybody not market? If you’re traditionally published or you’re independently published, you can control your marketing from A to Z within reason. You can’t really if you’re traditionally published because the ads have to be done by your publisher. You can’t just set up an ad for something. The publisher has to be involved.
But otherwise, you can let people know about your book. You can control this. So why wouldn’t you want to control that? Why wouldn’t you want to do more to get your book seen?
Joanna: I think people are scared. I think also in this environment now where it’s pay to play, people are scared about potentially investing money. But as you say, it’s a business and every business has to spend money on things like marketing and advertising.
In fact, I remember when I first set up my business here in the UK after moving back from Australia, my accountant was really surprised at how little I spent on advertising because, as you say, back then like a decade ago, we didn’t have to spend money.
I was selling books and making money without actually spending money on advertising or very much money. And she was like, ‘How are you doing that?’ Now she’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I see you spend more on advertising these days.’ Unfortunately, that is the way it has to be. But I do think people are scared.
It’s interesting that you have this other book. So it’s called Motivation Matters, right?
Joanna: Tell us a bit more about that because you said it’s in a series and so the mindset stuff must be related.
Wendy: It’s Motivation Matters and Marketing Matters, and it’s now called the ‘Writing Matters Series.’
Motivation Matters is 366 exercises to get you writing every day, and it includes an extra day for a leap year because I didn’t want the leap year to feel left out. But you don’t have to follow it from the first page to the last and do all the exercises in order and some of the exercises, you might not even want to do, but I encourage people to do them.
They’re based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and it’s to get your brain thinking in a different way. It’s got a lot to do with writer’s block that I don’t actually believe in, but a lot of people are saying that they’re stuck. They can’t move forward. They can’t get motivated. I do different things to get myself motivated.
Every exercise is designed to make your brain think in a different way. I don’t think this example is in the book, but if you get up in the morning and you usually brush your teeth with your right hand. If you brush it with your left hand, your brain will go nuts because it’ll go, ‘What’s happening?’ And it will waken up more quickly, yeah? Because your brain expects what it expects.
It’s the old story of, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,’ and you’re not going to change anything by doing the same thing all the time.
Joanna: I agree. Sometimes you just need to kind of jolt yourself out of how you used to do things. The pandemic has certainly done that for many of us.
Wendy: It certainly has. Although I think everybody, and I’m talking about big-name authors here as well, everybody, the first two or three weeks of the pandemic, their brain just went, ‘What now is happening here?’ and nobody could write.
Joanna: I struggled as well those first few weeks and then kind of went, ‘All right. Get on with things.’ But it definitely took a while to settle in.
You said earlier that people won’t be talking about it in a couple of years. I totally agree with you. I think whatever the reality is it’s part of the future. So it’s good not to put it in books. I personally am not going to do that. I think I’m just going to skip it entirely.
With your Shona detective books, would you have something with the pandemic in it?
Wendy: I’m the same. To be honest, I don’t bring other things in. When there was the Scottish referendum, I didn’t bring that into my books, and that was big up here. I’m not going to bring the pandemic in. What I found is that everybody’s saying that they find it difficult to get their characters to shake hands or hug.
Joanna: I don’t have any problem with that, although my characters don’t do that anyway. I suppose if you’re writing romance, that was more important.
But in terms of what we do include in our books, I wanted to ask you about this because I know you’re a committed Christian. I think that the way you demonstrate your Christian faith is brilliant because you don’t preach it. You’re not a preachy person. You’re just very accepting and lovely. There are many people of faith listening and I feel like sometimes people worry, “I don’t potentially want to write Christian fiction like as in put that in that category on the bookstores, but I want to include my faith or my faith principles in my writing.”
How do you bring aspects of faith into your books, or do you do it at all, and how does that play a part in your literary life?
Wendy: My DI Shona McKenzie books, I made a decision when I was writing them. There’s violence in them. It’s serial killers. You cannot not have violence. So that’s going to happen. But I made the decision that there was going to be no sex or no swearing in them. I don’t swear. So it would be difficult for me to get people to swear and I’ve made it into a bit of fun. I’ve done that.
DI Shona McKenzie always goes, ‘Hey, no swearing,’ not all the time because that would get boring. But I’ve made it into fun because like the sergeant says to the criminals when they go to swear, ‘No swearing,’ and they’re like, ‘Why?’ He like, ‘I want you speaking like a ballerina because the DI doesn’t like it.’ So I’ve done it that way.
There’s no sex because I couldn’t write a sex scene if you paid me. But as a result, the books are suitable for anybody to read. They can be read by Christians or non-Christians.
Now, this is quite a thing if you’re marketing. A lot of the Christians in the States will not read books if they’ve got sex or swearing in them. They just won’t do it. That’s part of their culture. And that’s fine. I have no problem with that, but it just so happens that mine are like that.
Now, when it comes to my Cass Claymore investigate series, which is humorous crime, she’s got a sister, the Reverend Percy. She’s Persephone but she gets called the Reverend Percy, and she’s a Church of Scotland vicar, but she’s as funny as heck because it’s a comedy book. It just comes in naturally. So there’s no preaching. I’m not trying to convert anybody to the Church of Scotland. It’s just a load of fun.
Cass will go up to her sister and say, ‘I need all your worthies,’ and she’s going, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Your Women’s Guild, I need them to help me put the feelers out.’ And her sister’s like, ‘What? You can’t use my Women’s Guild as part of your detective agency.’ ‘No, I need to.’
So it all comes in quite naturally. And there is faith in that, but it’s not a force-it-down-your-throat type of faith because that doesn’t work. I never felt that I was meant to be writing specifically Christian fiction. If I wanted to write Christian fiction, I would, but I don’t think that’s what I’m meant to be doing. So I don’t do it.
Joanna: It’s just having characters who are people of faith but not specifically pointing them out or having any kind of message.
Wendy: I don’t have any message really. If people want to see that, you know, vicars can be fun… The thing is in a lot of fiction, the Christians are often seen as… Or any other faith, I’m not just saying Christians. I’m saying people of faith are often seen as being the bad guy. Make them funny. Take the mick out of them. Make them, you know…and just bring them in naturally. That’s the way to do it.
Books are not the place to be shoving your faith down people’s throats. They want to enjoy it, not think that they’re trying to be dragged into some sect somewhere.
Joann: I actually write more ‘religious’ books than you do, even though I’m not a Christian. I find this a very interesting line to walk because I have a lot of Christians who read my ARKANE books because I base a lot on biblical history and that type of thing. I possibly have a larger Christian audience than you do.
Wendy: You probably do.
Joanna: It’s funny you mentioned the swearing and the sex thing because I discovered that very quickly with my first book, which was originally called Pentecost and is now Stone of Fire. And I actually did an edit post-publication to remove swearing. I’m not a big sweary person, but I think I did have a couple of words that were not favorable, and I did have very small scene … It was not what you’d even call a sex scene, but it was enough of one that I got people complaining about that, even though I had all kinds of murders and death and burning people alive.
But that violence was fine. What was not fine was these specific things. So I agree. It’s an interesting way to go. Obviously, there are Christian writers who do include those things, and that’s not a problem either. It’s just what you prefer.
I do just have one last question. What are you excited about going forward? You’ve got all these things going on. You’ve got lots of different books going on. You’re involved in all these organizations.
What are you excited about for the next couple of years for your own writing career?
Wendy: I’m very excited about the books that are still going to be happening in the series seven books down. My seventh DI Shona McKenzie is about to come out. And seven books down, people still like her. To be honest, I always thought, ‘Eight books would be about the maximum for a series,’ but people keep saying, ‘Is there another one coming? Is there another one coming?’ So, I’ll keep writing them.
Cass Claymore, very silly. I started with the alphabet so it’s ‘Antiques and Alibis,’ and the second one is ‘Blood and Bones.’ It kind of leads me to a 26 book series. I might not get through the whole alphabet because I think people will get bored by the time I get to H.
And I’m doing this narrative non-fiction book which is exciting me as well because it is a different project. I’ve very tentatively got a publisher who’s interested in that because they want me to pitch it to them. Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know.
As I say, there will be more Bertie the Buffalo books coming out. And I’m going to be doing more international tours as well which is nice. So, give or take COVID because I don’t know what will happen next year. Will I still be able to go to America next year? I should be in America as we speak, but I’m not. I’m in Dundee.
Joanna: Hopefully, people can see you with Bertie the Buffalo in 2021. That would be awesome.
Wendy: Bertie loves it. He’s even got his kilt ready for his trip to the States!
Joanna: Oh, brilliant. And I’m going to have to find a picture and put it in the show notes because it really is a gorgeous toy. So where can people find you and your books online?
Wendy: Well, you can find me anywhere good books are sold, so all the usual suspects, Amazon, Kobo Books, Apple Books everywhere. You can get me through my website which is really easy. It’s wendyhjones.com.
And for heaven’s sake, do not forget that H because there’s another writer who doesn’t have the H in her name. And our discussion of what goes in our books, she has that in her books, and I don’t. So you’ll get a shock. And so it’s Wendy H. Jones for a reason, so wendyhjones.com, and I’m Wendy H. Jones on every social media known to man. So any social media if you do Wendy H. Jones, you’ll find me.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Wendy. That was great.
Wendy: Well, thank you for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And I’m such a fangirl. So to be on your shows is amazing. Thank you.
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Author: Joanna Penn