Discover more from Jason Pettus, Editor
A talk with romance/erotica author Kay Freeman.
Plus: The latest book reviews at Goodreads, and a look ahead to the interesting titles I'll be reviewing soon
Over the holidays I dropped a line to most of my past freelance clients, getting caught up with how they were doing and seeing if they might want to have their project featured here in the newsletter in 2023. (Are you an author as well, with a new project you'd like to talk about? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!) I heard back from about eight or ten people, and I'm happy today to be doing the first such feature, of romance/erotica author Kay Freeman. Kay was the first romance author I had a chance to start working regularly with, about six months or so ago at this point, after having lots of one-off experiences in the years prior with romance authors here and there. She specializes in BDSM stories, regarding topics having to do with domination and submission, bondage and ritualized sex play, but with tales ultimately about relationships and that thus classifies her books under the traditional label of “romance.” (There's a lot of bleeding between story types within the world of romance novels, I've discovered; there are Western romances, sci-fi romances, graphically pornographic romances, clean Christian romances, and on and on.)
After signing her first trilogy to the traditional publisher The Wild Rose Press (the first book in that finally comes out this spring), Kay's been focusing a lot more with her latest books on putting them out herself, so that she has a fine-tuned control over their details and especially the kinds of promotional campaigns and other marketing efforts she participates in. I've found it fascinating as her editor to watch and observe all the various tools and mechanisms now available in this heavily saturated, highly mature genre of publishing, and I'm really glad to see her first potential breakout book finally coming out in another couple of weeks (but more on this later), now curious to see whether all the work she's done at promotional websites like BookFunnel are going to pay off. Kay and I recently gabbed about all kinds of subjects over email, the transcript of which I'm including below. My many thanks to her for putting aside the time to chat!
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Kay, I think you'd agree with me that you haven't yet achieved "literary superstar" status, but you HAVE published what's now close to half a dozen books without going broke, and have amassed your first awards, your first high scores at Amazon, and your first passionate fans in a relatively short amount of time. Assuming that many of this newsletter's readers are fellow publishing professionals who already understand the basics, what's one of the more important advanced lessons you've learned about the publishing process only by actually publishing multiple books now?
I just now have three books on preorder so I can’t comment on reviews, but my book Hitman’s Honey is getting high marks and is downloaded more than many other free books and people are clamoring for a second so I must have done something right. I just sent some ARC outs and signed up with Booksprout to get book reviews. I think the best advice I can give is to make the first book your best book, whether you give it away or sell it, make it as strong as you can. Even if you have to wait longer to get it out, don’t feel rushed. I think there’s lot of pressure when seeing all these authors turning out books in four months but what you don’t understand is that some of them have been writing for ten years and/or it's a fifth book in a series, based on a trope, and it's a 30,000 word book. They can afford to have a dud because they have followers who read their books. You don’t. The competition for someone just starting out now is intense. Every day thousands of books get released. Can your book compete with all these other books? The answer needs to be yes.
I love that you're an active participant in the Romance Writers of America. What benefits does a group like that (or the events they sponsor) provide, and what's the nonsense you'd rather do without? Is it really like that "Fake Death in Romancelandia" article in the New York Times that's become so notorious in the literary world this month?
RWA is an essential group to join. They offer the RAMP program which matches would-be romance authors with professionally published ones who help you with your manuscript, and also the Pen to Paper program. They also have a conference every year with valuable workshops. They also have all kinds of online workshops. I also belong to two other online organizations that I enjoy, Contemporary Romance Writers and Passionate Ink.
You've published traditionally now with a small press, and you've self-published as well. Which is more satisfying? Do the extra responsibilities and duties of self-publishing equal the extra rewards?
I think when you’re first starting out, you are a bit overwhelmed and the marketing in particular is something I did not want to take on by myself. Unfortunately, most small presses do not have the employees to do much for you either. Most likely you will have to do most of the marketing for yourself, whether you go with a small press or self-publish, but a small press will educate you and show you the ropes. As you begin to learn more you begin to want more control over your covers and other things and want to spread your wings. This is where self-publishing comes into play. If you do go with a small press, make sure you know the cost of books and who holds the rights to translation, movies and audio. I would say in the future I anticipate a hybrid approach.
One thing that's really struck me about the BDSM erotica romance novels you publish is how densely they get into the mental issues surrounding domination and submission, when so many other erotic novels in Kindle Unlimited are simply about the activities. I also really admire how much you examine the negative mental things that might come with a BDSM lifestyle, like how some subs might develop an unhealthy obsession on constantly needing someone around to fix all their problems, maybe even manifested sometimes in OCD behavior like the protagonist of your newest book. How deliberate is it of you to want these kinds of elements in your novels? What do you think is the right balance between mind games and graphic descriptions when it comes to literary erotica?
All good characters are flawed in some way and believe it or not, some people are drawn to that BDSM lifestyle to heal, they find it cathartic. A Dom once told me that a sub is actually the one in control, because at any point they are the ones who can bring the whole thing to a halt. They are the person who decides whether to submit or not. My next book does not have a strong BDSM element; although it's mentioned, that is not the power dynamic between the couple. I believe The Devil You Know has the strongest “mind games” element of any of the books I’ve written, because it has a male who at one time had been a slave himself.
Tell us briefly about what marketing efforts you're putting towards your books right now. I know, for example, that you've had some pretty good successes at BookFunnel.com, and that you seem to be happy with a service called Draft2Digital. Are you running any traditional ads at the Kindle Store? Related, I know you've been to some live events at this point as well. What are these like, and how important do you find them to your career, compared to the things you can do exclusively online?
BookFunnel has been a godsend for me and has helped get the ball rolling,and for those getting started and don’t have much of a mailing list, it’s a good way to start. I put my Hitman’s Honey book on and offered it for free. I’ve run three promos and my mailing list is up to 370 names. I started with 42. I plan to also use BookFunnel to sell some of my other books because they also sell books on BookFunnel. Draft2Digital is good for turning your book into an epub so you can put it on BookFunnel and then if you want to publish it to an ebook they can distribute to Kobe, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, etc. Although they can also distribute it to Amazon, you would be better off doing this yourself. Draft2Digital also does audio. I am not doing Kindle Select, I am publishing wide and I am not doing any advertising on Amazon. I’ve heard of many authors going broke on there. I am exploring my options now, but most likely I will advertise on Google, where I have my books, Pinterest and Facebook.
I'm pretty sure you're offering your books through the Kindle Unlimited program, but are you also selling them as standalone books in the Kindle Store? You've also so far eschewed all paperback opportunities; is that a permanent policy, or are you waiting until you have a manuscript at a more substantial word count? (Kindle-exclusive genre novels tend to clock in around the 50,000-word mark, which would make for an extremely small paperback.) How are most of the copies of your books getting into your readers' hands?
No, I’m not doing Kindle Unlimited. I’m very frightened of Amazon’s power and ability of taking a book and deciding a book is “erotica” and if they decide it is this, it basically disappears. Why should I give them total control over a book I’ve put sweat and tears into? No way. They are the gorilla in the room, but there are other smaller gorillas I’m willing to play with. By involving myself with Draft2Digital to distribute to most of the others, it takes much of the work off of me, leaving me Amazon and Google Books. When I do the second of each series of a book, I’ll do a printed version. I plan to do audio too, and explore translations at this point. My publisher is doing the digital and printed version, and I’m doing an audio version.
What's a lesson about self-publishing you had to waste a lot of time or a lot of money on learning?
Don’t buy every course that comes down the pike that says that they have the answer to how to write a bestseller. If they did, they’d be writing a bestseller.
My thanks again to Kay for these really revealing and informative statistics about her work as a self-publisher, which I hope will help provide some good advice to all you fellow self-publishers out there. Her third novel, the particularly intensely psychological BDSM tale The Devil You Know, comes out this February 15th, deliberately the day after Valentine's Day. Take my recommendation for what it's worth (don't forget that I got paid to work on this), but I think it's fantastic, a really probing look at so many of the mental issues that come along with attempting to live a BDSM lifestyle, couched within an exciting urban thriller set here in Chicago where I actually live (and including nice insider details such as the main BDSM house being located in a Gothic-looking old mansion in the Hawthorne Place one-block historic district along an obscure street on the city's northside). The best way to learn about its release details is by joining her newsletter, which you can do over at her personal website at kaylaafreeman.com. She also has a more "making the sausage" type newsletter about writing erotica, similar to mine, here at Substack, or of course you can visit her Amazon author page for the latest as well. If you have a book that's recently come out or is about to, and you'd be interested in discussing the highs and lows of putting it out yourself (or what it was like to send it to off to a press), drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know!
The Latest Reviews: It’s All The Gold Standard’s Fault Edition
I’ve been talking a lot here at my newsletter recently about my romance freelance clients, but not all my clients are romance authors! For example, I’m working with the author of a dystopian day-after-tomorrow thriller right now too, and he mentioned during a recent chat how one of the inspirations for his was a similar book by Lionel Shriver (of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame) entitled The Mandibles; so I ended up checking that out of the library and reading that in the last couple of weeks, which I of course loved in a chilling, terrifying way. Spoiler alert: The world destroys itself ultimately because of going off the gold standard in the 1970s! Yeah, it’s one of those kinds of books!
That was it as far as book reviews in the last two weeks, in what was otherwise a really busy period of too much work and some traveling to do in the middle of it too; but now that things are settling down finally, I really hope to throw myself heavily into reading and reviewing for the remainder of this winter, where I have such tantalizing titles coming up as…
George Saunders’ lessons about literature as seen through 1800s Russian novels, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain;
My first-ever read of Margaret Mitchell’s perennially controversial Gone With the Wind;
A re-read of John Jay Osborn’s The Paper Chase and The Associates on the occasion of his recent death;
A “What Did He Get Right?” examination of Alvin Toffler’s infamous 1970 technology prediction book Future Shock;
An entire re-read of CS Lewis’ seven-book “Chronicles of Narnia;”
The book version of the New York Times’ Pulitzer-winning re-examination of American history through the lens of slavery, The 1619 Project;
Some really high-level science-fiction such as Mark Geston’s Lords of the Starship and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun (with thanks as always to Tor.com’s blog for the recommendations);
My official addition of Agatha Christie to my Great Completist Challenge with 1920’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles;
The infamously “reverse-published” biography of Philip Roth written by Blake Bailey;
The latest by Lauren Groff, Jonathan Franzen and Colson Whitehead;
And of course a ton of romance novels in between them all.
I hope you’re looking as forward to that as I am! So until my next issue in another two weeks, let me finish today by humbly reminding you that my shingle is officially hung out as a freelance book editor right now, and that I’m currently accepting assignments for any new manuscripts you might have on your hands. As always, don’t forget that if you’re subscribing to the newsletter at the moment you book a job with me (don’t forget to remind me when you contact me), you get 25% off your total bill, no matter what the job. No complicated web form you have to go through to get ahold of me; simply drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to book a job directly with me, or stop by Upwork or Gatekeeper Press if you’d prefer to book me through a third-party service like theirs. I’ll talk with you again in another couple of weeks!
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