Marie Force is a hybrid author and a self-publishing superstar. She has sold 7 million titles worldwide and runs her own author services business with her all-women publishing team, helping other authors launch their careers. Here she offers her tips for success and gives KWL insight into her own publishing journey.
Marie Force is a #KWLWonderWoman—a savvy entrepreneur building her writing career into a successful independent business. Follow the stories here and on Instagram. Do you have a story to share? Tell us here.
When did you first know that you wanted to write?
I don’t remember a single moment of realization that writing was IT for me, but my 10th grade English teacher told me I was a better than average writer, which was a revelation to a 15 year old who wasn’t good at anything—or so it seemed. He steered me toward a journalism major in college that led to jobs on newspapers and later in corporate communications. I’ve always been a professional writer and editor, but the fiction writing didn’t happen until my late thirties.
What motivated & inspired you to publish independently?
I had many books written, readers asking for more of my books and the desire to be a full-time author. Independent publishing made all my dreams come true. One of my favorite quotes is that luck is the convergence of preparation and opportunity. When the indie publishing opportunity came along, I was well prepared with many books already written that I had been (thankfully!) unable to sell. I say thankfully because if just one of the MANY rejections I received early in my career had been a yes instead of a no, my story might have turned out very differently. My Gansett Island series was initially rejected by every romance publisher in the business, a stroke of luck I now give thanks for every single day.
That series, which has sold more than 3 million books, made my career. Gansett is the reason I’m self-employed with full-time employees and a booming business. I think all the time about how LUCKY I am that no one wanted that series—except my readers, of course! They love it and are eagerly awaiting book #19!
What steps did you take to get things going in the beginning?
I rapidly began publishing books I had already written, self-publishing books in November and December of 2010. I was in an interesting position then—I had books coming from two different publishers in January and February of 2011, and no one—not even my agent—had any idea how indie publishing impacted traditional non-compete clauses at that time, because almost no one had done both. I kept quiet about my self-published titles at first due to a genuine fear of being sued. In February of 2011, one publisher put an earlier book on sale for free for a week. That sale sent all my numbers, including my self-published titles, into orbit. After the first three books of my Gansett Island Series were self-published three months in a row in 2011, I saw a rapid upward trajectory that hasn’t slowed down since. I ended that year with more than 80,000 self-published books sold and quit my 16-year day job to write full time. Sometimes I still can’t believe the way it happened, after YEARS of toil and rejection. My life was changed forever by self-publishing, and I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity to take control of my career.
You have achieved phenomenal success as an independent author. What are the three main things you did, or choices you made along the way, to help you achieve this success?
The first thing was write series, which have been a critical element in growing my following. Right now, I’m juggling six different series, four of them self-published, which I don’t actually recommend (LOL). It just sort of happened that way. All of them have been well received by my readers, who clamor for more between books. I call that job security! The second thing would be an active and dynamic social media presence, especially on Facebook where I interact with my readers on a daily basis. I feel that personal touch has made a big difference and has kept me present to them between books. The third critical element would be the newsletter list that I’ve spent ten years cultivating, first as an excel spreadsheet and later as a more dynamic addition to my website. From the very beginning, if a reader contacted me, I asked if they would mind if I added them to my list so we could keep in touch.
What was the point where you realized you could make a full-time living from publishing?
After years of working toward the goal of being a full-time author, I left a 16-year job at the end of 2011 to write full time. I sold 80,000 books in 2011, and figured it was time to grab the golden ring. I’ve never looked back. I now have four full-time employees supporting my business.
What has it meant to you to hire your best friend Julie, and the other members of your team? How does it feel to run the business and run a team that you’ve hand-picked?
It’s been so fun to work with some of my favorite women on a daily basis. Julie, who is my chief operating officer, runs the entire business from her home in Virginia (I’m in Rhode Island). We worked together at my last day job and used to joke about her being my author assistant someday. Neither of us expected “someday” to happen as soon as it did, but the second I could swing it, I hired her, and she’s in her sixth year working with me. I also hired Lisa, another of my best friends, to be my chief financial officer, and she has been with us nearly five years and is an integral member of my team. I also have my niece working with me as well as another good friend. They handle shipping, formatting and other needs as they arise.
How do you balance writing and running your business with family and personal life?
It’s easier now that my kids are older (they are 19 and 22), but when they were younger, I would write at night after the day job and after they were in bed. As of this year, I’m an empty-nester, with my youngest off to college. My husband, kids and extended family/friends have been incredibly supportive of my career from the very beginning, and I’m very thankful for that support. I know of many other authors who’ve had the exact opposite, and I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for them.
What has been the most effective way of getting your book out there and reaching new readers?
For me, the most effective tool has been offering free-first-in-series and watching each of my series take off from the freebie. People say free doesn’t work anymore, but I’m still having great success with it. I also find that writing series gives readers something to bond with as they anticipate new books in a world they’ve come to love.
What unique approaches do you take to engage your fans?
I spend a lot of time on Facebook, tending to reader groups for each of my series. I find that personal interaction to be very beneficial. I also host receptions for readers everywhere I travel, which has been a great way to connect personally with readers. I answer all my own email and tend to my own social media because I feel there really is no substitute for the personal touch when it comes to my readers.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
The challenges at first were formidable. I joke that I was the most rejected author in history before I finally got a couple of breaks that turned out to be less than beneficial. It was a long, tough slog that was going nowhere fast until indie publishing made it possible for me to take control of my career. I’ve had productive relationships with publishers, especially Harlequin, which publishes my Fatal Series. But being able to do my own thing too, was the game changer for me. Back in 2010, when I first self-published, there was no supportive indie community available for help and advice. Now, we have all sorts of support available any time we need it, which is a great improvement. I have also been continuously published by traditional publishers for the last ten years, so there is quite a balancing act to juggling a hybrid career. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!
How has the publishing landscape changed since you started out and how do you keep up with the evolution of publishing?
Publishing today bears no resemblance whatsoever to the business I entered ten years ago when there was only one way to get to readers—through traditional publishers. I read a quote from an editor somewhere that said publishing has changed more in the last ten years than in the previous fifty years combined, and I agree with that. Now there are endless opportunities for authors who have great stories to share with readers. If your story doesn’t fit the needs of a traditional publisher, you can self-publish it and find success. We’ve found that there is an audience for just about every story, and what would never fly with a publisher can be hugely popular with niche readers. In my workshops, I tell other authors that this is the best time in the history of the written word to be an author. It’s a very exciting time to be in this business. That said, however, it’s still a tough business to break into. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed. I tell newer authors to put all their focus on their books. If there is a “magic” wand that leads to success in this business, it’s in the books.
What inspires you?
My readers inspire me to want to give them more of the characters and series they love, and I’m constantly inspired by people I read about and stories I hear on the news (I’m a huge news junkie). I pay attention to what goes on around me and find inspiration is everywhere if you are looking for it. I’ve also come to realize that the author brain doesn’t work the way other people’s brains do. I see and notice things that others miss, and in those little nuggets of life are story ideas that can become books.
What do you like to read? Do you have any favourite authors, or favourite books?
I read all over the romance genre, from erotic to historical to contemporary. I love juicy historicals by my favorite author, Lisa Kleypas, and sexy erotic romance from a wide variety of authors. I also enjoy memoirs and biographies when I need a break from romance.
Can you tell us about any habits you have/things you do, which set up success every day?
- I write every day, seven days a week, even if it’s only 500 words.
- I have my team set up so the vast majority of my time goes to writing books and not dealing with details that don’t involve words on the page.
- My husband is semi-retired, and he handles so many things on the home front, which gives me more time to write. For me, it’s all about structuring my days toward putting words on the page.
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given?
Years ago, I had a conversation with a fellow author about how often women let emotion get in the way of how they run their businesses. She said, “Run your business the way a man would,” and I thought she made a good point. I try not to lead with emotion, but rather focus on what makes the most sense for me and my business and follow that instinct rather than the emotional one that wants to take the lead. That strategy has served me well. In a funny aside, my 19-year-old son noted last weekend that men we meet tend to be fascinated by the concept of a woman running a successful business. They always have the most questions about how it all works. I thought that was an interesting observation on his part.
What advice would you give to other independent authors?
Career authors write a lot of books. One or two books is a great start, but to go the distance in this business, you need inventory, which means lots and lots of books! I find that many authors can write five or ten books, but can they write fifty or a hundred books? Inventory is where the rubber meets the road and makes the difference when it comes to longevity in a very competitive business. I encourage indie authors to keep their focus on producing new books and getting them out to readers as fast as they possibly can without sacrificing quality.
What advice would you offer to an author just starting to publish today?
Write. Write. Write. So many people come to me wanting to talk about how to break into publishing, and my first question is always the same—how many books have you written? Inevitably, they are still working on their first, which is fabulous, but they aren’t ready to talk about publishing. They need to be focused exclusively on honing their craft and making their books as good as they can possibly be to give them the best chance of finding readers who have thousands of authors to choose from. If you get them to read your book, you want to keep them, and the only way you will do that is to continue to write great books that keep them coming back for every new release. There’s no shortcut, get-rich-quick scheme or weekend workshop that will make that process “easier.” It just takes time and perseverance to get your books to the point where readers are clamoring for them.
And finally, what are you reading right now?
I just read Hello, Stranger by Lisa Kleypas, who is my all-time favorite author. Her books are just pure magic to me, and I eagerly await each new book she releases.
Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance, including the indie-published Gansett Island Series and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series. In 2019, her new historical Gilded series from Kensington Books will debut with Duchess By Deception.
All together, her books have sold 7 million copies worldwide, translated into more than a dozen languages and have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list many times. She is also a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller, a Speigel bestseller in Germany, a frequent speaker and publishing workshop presenter as well as a publisher through her Jack’s House Publishing romance imprint. She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award for romance fiction.
Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
Join Marie’s mailing list for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram. Join one of Marie’s many reader groups. Contact Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join Marie’s mailing list on her website at marieforce.com for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Follow her on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/MarieForceAuthor, on Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/marieforceauthor/. Contact Marie at email@example.com.