What are the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs self-publishing? How can you combine multiple options for a more creatively satisfying — and profitable — author career? Rachael Herron gives her tips.
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Rachael Herron is the internationally bestselling author of more than two dozen books, including thrillers, romance, memoir, and nonfiction about writing. She has taught writing at both UC Berkeley and Stanford, and now teaches authors online with courses and coaching, as well as through her podcast, How Do You Write.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Combining traditional and indie publishing
- Deciding which route to go with each project
- The locus of control with indie publishing
- Publishing a series — indie or trad?
- Pitching an agent as an already independently published author
- Differences in money between indie and trad publishing
- Tips for developing author friendships
Transcript of Interview with Rachael Herron
Joanna: Rachael Herron is the internationally bestselling author of more than two dozen books, including thrillers, romance, memoir, and nonfiction about writing. She has taught writing at both UC Berkeley and Stanford, and now teaches authors online with courses and coaching, as well as through her podcast, How Do You Write. So welcome back to the show, Rachael.
Rachael: What a treat to talk to you, Jo. It’s just a delight, as always.
Joanna: You were last on the show in 2018, talking about Fast-Draft Your Memoir. Now obviously, lots has happened since then, which is kind of crazy.
So give us a bit of an update on what your author life and your business look like now.
Rachael: Okay, so first of all, five years, oh my god. And second of all, when Fast-Draft Your Memoir came out, I have not listened to that episode since we recorded it, but I remember you saying, I’m going to write a memoir, and I’m not ready to do it yet, I’m not ready. Look at you now.
Joanna: Yes, well, for people who don’t know, my memoir, Pilgrimage, came out earlier this year in 2023.
Rachael: It’s lovely.
Joanna: Thank you.
Rachael: It’s lovely. So yeah, so that had just come out the last time we chatted. Since then, I was thinking about this because five years is a long time, especially in the last five years.
So since then, I have published two thrillers, one was called Stolen Things, and one was called Hush Little Baby. Both of those were from Penguin.
I got the rights back to, I think I counted, I think it was a total of eight books. So seven novels and my first memoir, A Life in Stitches, I got the rights to all of those back.
Those have been subsequently self-published, indie published by me.
I just sold a new book, which I was talking to you about recently, so that is actually going to be my new genre of paranormal women’s fiction. So that’s out there. And my wife and I have moved to New Zealand, so it’s been a busy five years.
Joanna: It has. It has, absolutely. We’re going to come back on the New Zealand thing.
But I mean, obviously there you’ve got traditional publishing, you’ve got rights back, you indie publish, you do all these different things. I wanted to talk to you because you’ve got this new course out, How to Publish Your Book in Today’s Market, which I think is super useful because it seems like there are more choices than ever, and also a lot of people like yourself, you’re mixing and matching all these things.
So talk a bit more about how you combine traditional and indie publishing, both practically and also the mindset.
How do you know what to do with each project?
Rachael: Oh, it’s such a good question. So I wrote the book that just sold, it’s not coming up till 2025, thank you traditional publishing, but that is the paranormal women’s fiction, and I wrote it with the entire intention, 100% intention to self-publish this as the beginning of a series.
I had the idea, I was in love with this idea, I was in love with the idea for a series. It was really one of the most joyful projects I’ve ever written. I had no intention of offering it to my agent.
Then when I got done writing it, I thought, well, this is really great. I love this book, and I don’t want to do a series.
I was just kind of exhausted by the thought of starting a series. I have written series before, and I just get kind of burned out on them. So I offered this one to my agent, and I’m in that fortunate place of being able to do that, but it was a very frank conversation with her. I said, like,
“If you can sell this for an amount of money that I’m cool with, fabulous. And if not, I’m going to happily self-publish it.”
So that’s the way I thought about that book, but when I start thinking about a book, overall, I like to decide in advance as much as I can. I really surprised myself with this one by giving it to my agent.
I’ve finished this memoir about moving to New Zealand, and I am not offering that to my agent. Period. She doesn’t know that yet. I know what I’m going to do with this. I have a plan in place.
It’s based on Patreon, I wrote these as a collection of essays on Patreon. I’m going to Kickstart it as the full book. That’s all thanks to you. Thank you, ma’am, for doing that to me.
I’m going to Kickstart it, and then I’m going to launch it into all of the places that I usually do. And having that solid plan in place feels really good to me. I know that this is a book I will be able to sell. I know how to sell on my own.
Then there’s another memoir that has been completed and finished for about a year now, and it’s a recovery memoir, and honestly I don’t know as well how to sell that one. My agent has been helping me revise that one.
So that one, I leave on her desk, and she’s going to handle trying to get that sold. But again, if she doesn’t sell it, if she can’t sell it, then I will happily indie publish this because —
I like being traditionally published for different reasons that I’m sure we’ll go into, but I love being indie-published for so many more reasons. But I do like to have both.
Joanna: Hmm, gosh, so much to unpack there. Okay, we’re going to come back on the series thing, and the money thing, and the agent thing. But we have to tackle the emotional thing which you’ve just said, which was: ‘I like being traditionally published, I love being indie.’
So can you talk about why you feel that way emotionally?
Rachael: Oh, you’re going right for the gut here. I think it has to do with the way I want to control things and the way I want things to go in my dream world.
When I have a book that is traditionally published, I always, always, always expect it—because I think writers are just these hopeful unicorns—I expect it to rise to the top and to sell a bajillion million copies, and when it doesn’t, and we’re talking about a traditionally published book, there is nothing I can do.
I mean, I can obviously do my own author marketing, all of the things I can do. But I can’t change the cover, I can’t change the categories that they have chosen for it, I can’t update or change anything.
It leaves me feeling kind of frantically unsettled, to the point that now I’ve traditionally published enough that I used to experience what a friend of mine recently called ‘a crash’ after your book comes out, like two weeks later, you’re like, oh, what have I done? How can I help this book sell more?
I don’t experience that with traditional publishing anymore because as soon as it comes out, the day it comes out, I kind of kiss it goodbye forever. I cannot affect this book anymore. That’s the only healthy way I can hold onto that side of my career.
In indie publishing, that unicorn hope never dies.
If it is not selling the way I want it to, there are things that I can do, that I can play around with, that I can change, that are under my control.
And for some reason, the idea of not selling a lot of books because it’s my fault, because indie published, is much easier for me to handle than not selling a lot of books in traditional publishing where I have no control. Does that make sense?
Joanna: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Psychology talks about locus of control as being a reason. Like people are happier when they have some locus of control over whatever it is, whether it’s choosing something in your job, which is basically what this is for us, it is a job, and being able to control stuff. We just feel more empowered. I love how you combine things.
So I want to come back on this idea of series. So you had originally designed this paranormal women’s series, which as we know, is normally the thing that we do as indies.
We write series because we know that it’s a longer-term game, that you’re going to do promotions on the first book, and there’ll be sell through and we know how that works.
When you decided it wasn’t the series, that’s when you decided to do traditional for this book. So can you talk more about this? I mean—
Is there any point in trying to pitch series books to traditional publishing at this point?
Rachael: Oh, what an interesting question. I think that selling series right now to traditional publishing, from what I have seen, is something to be careful about. When we presented this book, when my agent shopped this book, she didn’t say that this has series potential.
It was bought by Grand Central Publishing Hachette, and when I was in conversation with the editor, it was a conversation between the three of us, my agent gently said, “So do you see this as something that you would want another book in a series from?” Because we had said this is just a one book deal that we were talking about.
The editor said, and this is kind of mind-blowing, the editor said, “Well, you always have a fall off to the next book in a series. So I don’t think so. I think if you’d like to pitch us something in the same world, or also magical realism, or the paranormal angle that you’ve got here, but it doesn’t have to be in the same town, or anything like that, we’ll take that.” And that to me, was a very traditional publishing answer.
Yes, as indie publishers, we all know that the first book will get the most reads, the second book will fall off. However, the person who goes from the second book goes to the third book and the fourth book and the fifth book, and that’s where the long tail money comes in.
I’m not sure that they are thinking like that right now. What I think they’re doing, and what I’m happy to play with them in the sandbox for, is they buy books from writers and they hope that this will be the big hit. It’s pitched as Queer Practical Magic meets The Parent Trap. And maybe it’ll blow up, but maybe it won’t.
The other thing is that when I was making this decision, this calculated decision, number one, the series idea was kind of falling away from me.
And number two, I had a couple of very serious conversations with some people that I trust saying like, look, paranormal midlife women’s fiction is a small niche, and queer paranormal midlife women’s fiction is not even a niche. I couldn’t find anybody else writing in it. And yes, I could be the outlier and blow up if I indie published it, but I could also just find eight readers.
I didn’t want to invest that time in creating a series that I wasn’t sure I could really outright market in the best way I could possibly do.
So I enjoyed the heck out of writing the whole book, and then was just so happy when it sold because I don’t have to do things like covers, and the stuff that I do enjoy doing.
They didn’t give me a bajillion million dollars, but they gave me enough money to basically say, yeah, I don’t have to think about that book again.
I’d already had it developmentally edited and copy edited. It was ready to go. So the edits that I will do with that editor are really minor because she loved the way it landed on her desk because it was ready to go.
Joanna: I think that’s fantastic. I mean, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve had these standalone book ideas for years now, and with the indie model, I just can’t make that work. It’s so funny because this is exactly what I was thinking around like, okay, well, maybe these are the ones that I do pitch because I’ve done some standalones, and I know how hard they are to sell in the indie space, but maybe these are the ones to pitch.
So obviously this is an entirely selfish conversation. People listening are just listening to you coaching me!
But I think one of the things that comes up for me and comes up for a lot of indie authors, however successful they are, and I guess I almost feel that my platform and my sales may be at the point now where it’s even harder, and I’m even wondering whether to pitch under another name. So the question is really—
What do agents and publishers think of indie authors at this point?
And when we’re pitching should we like double down on what we’ve done as indie? Or should we just focus on the book?
Rachael: I love this question. I think that if we are indie-published writers who have books out there, I think we need to focus on the book itself in the query letter, if we’re trying to get an agent. Focus on the book itself, to the exclusion of the book. We want to keep the query letter as simple as possible, and you want that agent to want the book.
There is one exception. And honestly, Joanna, I would say that you would fall in this exception.
If you have books that have sold tremendously well, so not like a hundred copies a month, but thousands of copies a month or more, or if you have a sizable platform, that’s when I would put it in the query letter. But if you are querying agents, and it’s just your book, and you have a bunch of indie titles out there but they’re not blowing up like lightning, I think the least said, the better.
Then when that agent is in love with your book and you’re on a phone call with them, that’s the time to say, “I’m also indie-published. I’ve had success with this and this. I haven’t had success with those three books, but I really liked that series and maybe I’ll revamp it.” And of course, an agent who is interested in you will Google you, and your books will come up.
Things have changed so much now in the world. We would not have had this conversation five years ago. They’ve changed so much now that—
Agents absolutely know that their authors are making more money with their indie titles.
They know that they are, and editors know this too at traditional publishing houses, they know that they need to bring their best game, their best self, to this party too. If they love your book, they’re going to want you.
That said, I think there was a question in the questions that you sent, like when would you not mention a book? Or would you ever pitch a book that was already out there? That’s something I wouldn’t do.
If this is a book that you’ve already published by yourself, you’ve self-published it and it’s done reasonably okay, or it hasn’t done well at all, I wouldn’t pitch that book to an agent because what they will do is look and say, like, okay, so maybe they’ve had a thousand sales of this book, but that’s a thousand sales I can’t get for the editor to whom I sell this book. So they want to see something else from you.
And again, the exception to that is if you have self-published something that has I’m absolutely blown up, agents will be knocking on your door and they will want to sell that book for you to a traditional publisher.
Joanna: Yeah, it feels like some of the authors, like Hugh Howey would be the classic one, or Andy Weir with The Martian, like they were a decade ago now, those early authors when indie was new. In the Kindle store, they did get the sort of print-only deals, and some authors are still getting those. But as you say, most indie authors who are then doing hybrid, writing new series or new books, like it has to be new, basically, when you pitch.
Rachael: There are some exceptions. My friend AK Mulford, who was in New Zealand, but now she lives in Australia, she came out with two adult fantasies, and they did so well that she was approached by agents, and then she was picked up for those books and another series, and a multimillion-dollar deal with Harper Voyager. And she was absolutely brand new on the scene. She published one book, and then I think that was four months later.
Joanna: That was TikTok, right? That was a TikTok deal.
Rachael: Yeah, she’s a TikTok media perfection person. So you’re right. They had that going on.
Joanna: To be fair, that’s a platform deal.
Rachael: You’re right.
Joanna: She could have written anything.
Rachael: You’re absolutely right. That is a platform thing. But the thing about agents nowadays is, like I said, they know what they’re competing with. I’ve told my agent flat out that I make more money every year from my self-pub titles than what I make from New York.
So I think that they’re looking and they’re hungry, and they’re also scared. Agents are scared, editors of traditional publishing houses are scared of how publishing is changing every year, just like we’re all frightened of a lot of things.
I always think that writers are perpetually like the sky is falling in the sky, and the sky is never actually falling. But they’re also feeling that. So does that help, or did I just like confuse waters?
Joanna: Oh, no, no, that’s good. I think the point is that this is confusing. And every time we say, oh, this, then there’ll be an example of something the opposite. So I think the point is that there’s always opportunity if you’re looking
Let’s talk about the money because I feel like it’s really important, like you said, to say agents are scared. Agents get paid a percentage of the money that their author gets paid.
This is important to remember for people because we’re so obsessed with our own business, which is as it should be, we forget that these are business people who are trying to make their own living. So maybe you could talk about—
How is the money different between indie and traditional for you? And when is it a good deal for an agent?
Rachael: So agents across the board are almost always going to get 15% of what you make. If it is a foreign deal, if you’re making foreign money at all, then they get 20% because 5% goes to their foreign sub-rights agent. So they’re making 15% of what you make, and they want to make that money for you.
For the first few years of my career, obviously I wasn’t indie publishing yet, all of my money was coming from New York. I had some good years with some bigger deals, and so I know that when my agent got those checks, she was happy. My agent got a check today, she got the signing portion of that traditional deal, which means the money goes to her first, she takes out the 15%, and then she sends me a direct deposit into my bank account.
So how the money works in traditional publishing is you get an advance. And it has been that they have been splitting this up into smaller and smaller chunks.
Both of my thrillers were parceled up into four different chunks of money. So say I got $40,000 for a book, parceled into four chunks meant that I got $10,000 on signing the deal, $10,000 on what’s called delivery and acceptance, which means after I’d done the edits that they wanted me to do, and the editor had said, yeah, these are good, then that’s another $10,000.
And then I got $10,000 when the first version was published, which for me was hardcover in both cases. Then another $10,000 a year later when the paperback was published. Or if the hardcover did so badly that it never went to paperback, I would have still gotten that payment a year later.
That’s difficult because that’s $10,000 every once in a while, minus the 15%, minus taxes. You’re really taking home about 45% of that. It’s not that much. But this latest deal that I just signed actually came in two payments, on signing and delivery and acceptance. So I’ll get those full moneys this year because the book is already done and deliverable, and I’ve already signed. So that’s kind of nice.
In indie publishing, we have that gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous long tail of the money that just keeps coming in.
And I am in that wonderful position that you are in too, of just having a large backlist. It means that I can make a good amount of money every year just by continuing to sell to new readers as often as I can.
Every year on the very first episode of the year on my podcast, How Do You Write, I do this incredibly awful and awkward and just feels terrible conversation about how much money I’ve made the year before and where I made it. I do it because I believe in transparency, and every year it makes me feel a little bit weirder. I should have looked these numbers up to have them right at the top of my head, but I think I made about $80,000 last year from books, and I want to say that $60,000 were from my backlist.
I hadn’t had a new indie pub book out for more than a year. I haven’t done anything. These are just my backlist books continuing to sell. I have an amazing assistant who does things like apply for BookBubs for me because I would never get around to doing it, but he does those kinds of things. But otherwise, that money’s just kind of rolling it. Whereas New York is a lot more unpredictable.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think that’s important. It’s almost the difference between spike income, so you get a big payment, but you don’t necessarily know when it’s coming in, and big may be relative.
With indie, it’s a smaller amount (each time), but it is pretty much every month.
I feel like it’s more, not a salary because we’re not employees, but it is more like a salary in that it’s coming in, and you know how much is coming in, and you can pay your mortgage with that eventually, when you have enough of a backlist.
Okay, so I want to come back on agents because you’ve been working with your agent a really long time.
You’ve got a really good relationship with your agent. But for people starting now, I mean, it feels like if you are un-agented, then new agents who might not have a big list might be a more obvious partnership because they’re kind of hungry. But then also, people want an agent with good connections and who knows what they’re doing.
What are your tips on finding an agent and pitching an agent?
Rachael: I have so many tips.
I love the whole process of pitching to agents. The query letter, it is something I actually used to coach people on. I don’t do it anymore, but I have this thing called a Magic Query Letter, basically form, that I’m happy to give to your listeners.
Because the thing about query letters is they can’t stick out, and they can’t take too much time for the intern to read. Because agents for the most part are not reading the slush pile, which is that inbox of query letters. It’s an intern who is trained to read until the word that makes her delete the email, and they’re getting 300 a week, 400 a week.
Your only job with sending a query letter is to not allow her to find any word that makes her want to delete it. Then by the time she gets to the end of your email, she’s like, oh crap, I’ve got to ask for a partial on this because I don’t hate anything. So it has to be a little bit formulaic.
It has to be simple, the query letter. And the thing about agents is, like exactly what you said, of course, we all want that agent who is incredibly high-powered and knows everybody in the industry.
My agent, Susanna Einstein, we started working together in 2008. I was her second client, and her first one was dead. She was representing a rather famous author’s estate because she was a sub agent for a larger agency. I did not know who she was, I had run out of agents to pitch that I was just desperate for. I had my perfect list of 10 agents that I would die to work with, and they rejected me so quickly or I didn’t hear back from them.
Then I took like maybe the next 10 who were like they’d be okay, I could work with them. Total rejection. I just kept going until I was in agentquery.com or querytracker.net, which are free places you can go and look for agents who are looking for your genre.
And I was now just pitching pretty blindly. What I would do is I would go to their website, and I would make sure that they really were an agent and they weren’t a scam, and that they were representing books that looked like my book could fit in there somewhere with them. Then I would just send an email query out and I wouldn’t care.
That’s one of my biggest tips: Don’t get your heart set on a particular agent.
The most brand new green agent could be the one that you work with for the next 15 years who becomes your friend. Susanna is now the head of her own agency, she is high powered, she knows everybody in the industry. But we really grew up together.
Also, the thing about signing with an agent is it’s not that big a deal if—I mean, it would hurt—but if you got one and you just didn’t like working with them, you can drop them. It’s a business arrangement.
The only time you can’t do that is if you’re working with an agent, and they sell your book. They’ve sold your book forever, you can’t take that book away from them, they will get 15% of that book for the rest of time.
We also have to be, and you’re so good about talking about this, we have to be savvy with our businesses.
In this new contract that I got, I had her ask them if they would change some of the rights reversion clauses. And that was awkward because what I was asking Susanna to strike out of this contract was a line that said something like, “If you ask for your rights reverted, we have the right to refuse you if there are 150 copies of your book in the warehouse. We also reserve the right to reprint your book, 150 copies or more.”
So what that was saying to me was that they could just say, “Oh, Rachael wants her rights back. Go ahead and print 150 copies and put them in the warehouse, and now she can’t have her rights back.”
Joanna: They don’t even have to prove that to you. It just makes it difficult.
Rachael: Well, HarperCollins had told me, because I wanted a bunch of my books back from them, and they had told me, “Well, there’s still 120 copies in the warehouse.” I said, “Fine, I’m going to buy those.” And I bought them, and then they had to send them to me, which was the worst.
Why that’s difficult with Susanna is that that’s me saying like, if this fails, as so many of my books have failed in the traditional publishing world, I will come back and I will get these, and then you won’t get the 15% anymore. Once I take them back from the publishing house and I self-publish them, she is cut out of the whole deal, which kind of makes me feel terrible as her friend, but as a business person, that’s just the way it works.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. I’ve done a lot of shows on contracts, so we will just say, watch out for your contracts. There’s lots of stuff on that. I mean, of course, you talk about this in the course in terms of being careful with the legalities.
I just want to come back on there, you mentioned the word ‘failed.’ And I also want to mention ‘ego,’ because I still feel like in the early days, people used to call indie vanity publishing. And it was like, oh, you’re so vain, you want to print your own books.
Now I feel it’s the other way around because it’s like, you’re so vain, you want your name on a book in a bookstore. And that’s fine, because we have to acknowledge the ego.
I feel like as writers, ego and self-doubt coexist.
There is a sense of ego, and we should be proud of that, and ambition and all of this kind of stuff. But you also mentioned failure, and disappointed, and you mentioned the word crash after a publication. This is a tough roller coaster. And in fact, some of the unhappiest authors are those whose books come out and then don’t perform.
Can you talk a bit about what does failure mean as a traditionally published author?
How can people deal with that, as well as kind of holding onto the dream of ego?
Rachael: Yeah, well, I’m kind of an expert in what this feels like. I love what you say about the dream of the ego.
And I will always tell anyone who listened that I wanted to be a traditionally published author because I wanted the ego boost of walking into a Barnes and Noble and seeing my book on a shelf and I didn’t put it there. And that is an absolutely valid thing to want.
It is a great thing to move toward, if that is something that motivates you to keep writing and to keep getting better at your craft.
In terms of quote, unquote, “failure or failing,” when you are given this advance, it’s a bet that the traditional publisher is making on you. They’re saying, I bet you make this much money. If you make this much money, that’ll be a good thing. We’re going to make the money up that we gave to you, and we’re going to make some extra money.
When you do that, then you can go back to that traditional publisher and say, “You know, that last book, I made you some money. Here’s another book. Would you like to make some more money with me?” And they say, “Well, sure. It’s a good book. You made us money. Let’s do it.”
Then there are the times where they give you an advance, they make a bet, and you don’t make back the money.
So for my Penguin thrillers, Stolen Things did great. It earned out, it performed the way they wanted it to, and I made royalties on it above and beyond my advance. Hush Little Baby, the next book, which is to be very honest, my favorite book and the best book I’ve ever written that is currently published, I looked this up before we started chatting today, I have sold 2500 copies of it. That is not a lot in terms of traditional land, and I cost them money. So they don’t want to work with me anymore.
I always joke and I say that I’ve gotten fired from all of the publishers. I haven’t gotten fired, but what that is, is that my agent goes back and says, “Would you like another book from Rachael?” And they go, “No, thanks. We’re good. We’ve done that.”
And I think in terms of my ego and my own choice to deflate ego, I laugh about it. I say it’s failure, and I say I’ve been fired, and it kind of covers up the sting of it a little bit because there is definitely a sting. I jokingly say that I have PTSD, and the P stands for publishing. It’s not easy, and I still want to keep doing it.
Joanna: And as we said before, you also do indie. So you kind of have both of these things.
I love that you’re planning to do the Kickstarter, you have a Patreon, obviously, you do courses, you have your podcast, you have all kinds of things. And I think this is the important aspect of your business, is you don’t just rely on sending a book to traditional publishing and then expect that to be the only thing.
That seems to be when people struggle is if that’s the only thing they have.
It feels like the secret to being an author success is having multiple streams of income.
Rachael: Yeah, it is.
Also, I love that for myself because I am the kind of person who was basically born an entrepreneur. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I think I had three businesses before I was 12 years old. They made $7 total, but I love doing this.
The thing that is hard I think sometimes, is talking to people who they want to write this book, and then they want to get an agent, and they want to sell it for a bajillion million dollars, and then retire to their private island. And you and I both know, that’s not the practical reality.
We have to be thinking about how we can support ourselves in other ways. Whether that is multiple income streams on the writing side, or do you have a supportive partner that can help you while you do this, or do you work a full time day job, or a part time day job, while you support this desire and longing and yearning to be a writer. Because I think that the people who know that we want to write will do anything for it. We’ll do anything to get it done, and knowing that that’s okay.
I worked for the first 10 years of my career, so from 2006 when I finished my first book that was sold, to 2016, when I retired from my full-time day job, I worked both jobs 80 to 90 to 100 hours a week. I had to. I wasn’t making enough money not to.
Joanna: I remember when you were a dispatch officer.
Rachael: Yeah, I was a 911 dispatcher. I lived in the firehouse, and I was there for 48 to 72 hours at a time. I do not miss staying up all night and napping in the firehouse!
Joanna: Yeah. I mean, we do what we do. I mean, the first five years I wrote while working my day job. And of course, now I kind of see this podcast and my nonfiction almost as the day job that support my fiction. Although my fiction does reasonably well, I still like having good multiple businesses.
I do want to ask you about New Zealand. We’re almost out of time. And what’s really interesting, so you and your wife moved to New Zealand from the USA, which is a really big deal.
A lot of people are lonely, just wherever they are in the world without even moving, and it looks like you’ve done a really good job of connecting with community.
So I actually wondered if you had any tips on making author friends in a new place or in your existing town if you haven’t tried before? Because I remember my early days in Brisbane when I started writing, I couldn’t find any author friends and authors seemed very remote.
I had all these friends in my existing life, but I wanted to kind of move into this new life, and I just didn’t know how to do it.
How have you developed these relationships? And any tips for people on building a network of author friends?
Rachael: I love this question because I think it can help anybody who’s feeling like they want more of a writing community, which I think is one of the most important things that we need as writers.
When we moved here, I was incredibly deliberate. I was also, I think we talked about it, I was terrified. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, selling the house and everything we owned, and leaving my family and all of my friends, to move around the world. So I was incredibly intentional as soon as we got here that I wanted to make friends, and COVID made that a lot trickier because Omicron got in right after we did.
My goals—or actually the decisions that I made—I had two of them in my mind, I wanted to be brave and I wanted to be picky.
And together those two things, in terms of finding writing community, I think has worked so well for me, and I see this working with my students too. I would go to writing meetups, I would go to writing groups. There’s the Romance Writers of New Zealand, I don’t write romance very much anymore, if at all, but I knew that that was a place where writers would gather, so I went.
I was brave because I am truly an introvert and peopling makes me want to die sometimes, but I was brave and I went to these.
Part of that bravery extended to making my mouth say the really scary words, which were, “I just moved here. I’m really scared about making new friends. Would any of you like to have coffee with me?” And that, as a, you know, I was 49 then, I’m 50 now, that is not easy to say out loud. People respond so well to that kind of honesty because they felt that way too in the past.
Then number two is to be picky. Like I had a lot of coffee dates with a lot of amazing people, and I liked them all a lot. Like I went out to coffee with nice, nice people all over the place.
But I fell in love with a small group of writer friends that those were just the ones I knew they were my people. They were my people. And for them, I was also brave. You know, I would say, “Can we please hang out again? Can we do this again?”
So we’ve been here now two years, and I have this group of writing friends that we go away on retreats together for four days to little houses all over New Zealand and we just write together. It’s paid off, the bravery plus the pickiness.
If you go to a meetup in your small town, there’s going to be seven people. And the guy named, I don’t know, George, is going to be old and kind, and he’s not going to be your best friend. Then there’s going to be a woman who creeps you out, just don’t make friends with her.
And then there will be a woman or a man that you can just feel it. And those are the ones you need to be brave about and say, “Do you want to go have coffee and talk about your book? I would love to talk about my book with somebody like you.” Doesn’t that sound terrifying?
Joanna: Oh, I completely get it. I call it a kind of ‘friend dating.’
And you mentioned deliberate. You do have to be deliberate. These things don’t happen by accident because otherwise, we just stay in with our laptops in whatever space and we’re in our head. And then we don’t have any friends.
So I think you’ve done an amazing job of putting yourself out there. And I know, I mean, you get migraines, and I get a lot of head pain as well from people. But we have to do this, otherwise, it is lonely. Yeah, so I wanted to encourage people that way. But we’re out of time—
Tell people a bit more about the course, How to Publish Your Book in Today’s Market. Also, you mentioned a query letter form, which you offered, so you have to talk about that too.
Rachael: Oh, absolutely. So the course is How to Publish in Today’s Market.
And it will always be today’s market because I will always keep it updated, but it’s the difference between traditional and indie publishing. I think it’s 22 modules, and it goes through everything you need to know about traditional publishing, and how to write a query letter, how to write a synopsis, how to format things.
Then it goes into everything you need to know for indie publishing, or at least as much as I can fit into one course. It talks a little bit about marketing, but not too much. There is a little bit about it, but it talks about finding cover designers, and how to find a good editor, all of those things.
I do not talk about AI because I just send everybody to you. And thanks to you, I am obsessed with GPT-4, and I was just using it earlier to help me figure out this Venice book that I’ve been trying to figure out for years. It’s helping me with that. It kind of feels like your Shadow book, I think that’s the one. ChatGPT is helping me.
So that course is available over at RachaelHerron.com/publish. And it’ll be there. And the Magic Query Letter, your listeners can get for free just by going to RachaelHerron.com/magic. And it’s got all of the instructions you need in terms of formatting, and what to say, and how to say it, and how to make sure that that intern cannot delete your query letter, and they will ask you for that partial or that full.
Joanna: So also, just tell people about your podcast as well.
Rachael: Of course. It’s called How Do You Write. I’m about 370 episodes in, and I am obsessed with process because I’m always looking for the magic bullet that will finally make writing easier for me. And it doesn’t exist, but I really love to talk with writers about it. You have been on the show, and yeah, How Do You Write is available everywhere.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Rachael. That was great.
Rachael: Thanks, Jo. What a joy.
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Author: Joanna Penn