#235 – How to Build Skeleton Drafts with Steff Green

Bestselling paranormal author Steff Green (AKA Steffanie Holmes) joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her writing career and her unique writing process of using Skeleton Drafts. Steff also talks to us about her writing community, Rage Against the Manuscript, revitalizing her blacklist, and what it’s like navigating the publishing world as a legally blind author.  Learn more about this episode!

Bestselling paranormal author Steff Green (AKA Steffanie Holmes) joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her writing career and her unique Skeleton Drafts writing process. Steff also talks to us about her writing community, Rage Against the Manuscript, revitalizing her blacklist, and what it’s like navigating the publishing world as a legally blind author. 

  • Steff tells us how her writing career got started, why she chose to publish indie and how Kobo inspired this decision, and she explains how she quit her day job to focus on writing full time
  • She talks to us about her writing process, which includes starting with a skeleton draft of her story and building it into a full novel, and she tells us why she tends to write longer series
  • Steff tells us about a series she recently repackaged to go wide, which included updating both the titles and covers, and she discusses why it’s important to revisit older titles and how being able to do so is an advantage indie authors have over traditional publishers
  • She discusses her release strategy, which is a mix of exclusive and wide, and she explains why she believes releasing titles wide is the only viable long-term strategy
  • Steff tells us what it’s been like navigating the publishing world as a legally blind author, and she talks to us about the exciting push toward diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in publishing
  • She discusses her writing community, Rage Against the Manuscript, which offers advice, courses, and a podcast to help aspiring indie authors “inject a little punk rock into their careers”
  • Steff tells us what she’s working on next, including a series inspired by a recent trip to Romania, a new spin off series, and a new book in a genre outside her comfort zone

Useful Links
Steff’s Website
Follow Steff on Facebook and Instagram
Rage Against the Manuscript
Rage Against the Manuscript Podcast
The Briarwood Witches
J Bree
Half Truths
BB Reid
Bea Paige
EM Moore
Priest by Sierra Simone

A photo of Steff smiling for the camera while holding up one of her cats.

Steffanie Holmes is a USA Today bestselling author of the paranormal, gothic, dark, and fantastical. Steff received the 2017 Attitude Award for Artistic Achievement, and was a finalist for a 2018 Women of Influence award. Her books are enjoyed by thousands of readers all over the world.

Steff is also the creator of Rage Against the Manuscript, an online community for writers to learn about self-publishing, finding their readers, and building a badass author brand. Steff’s passionate about helping authors from all walks of life find their voice and tell their story.

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by SpeechPad

Stephanie: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast,” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts, I’m Stephanie.

Joni: And I’m Joni.

Stephanie: This week on the podcast we are talking to author Steff Green. She writes dark fantasy and paranormal novels for adults under her pen name Stephanie Holmes, and she has published over 30 books and was the recipient of the 2017 Attitude Award for artistic achievement. And she also was nominated in 2018 for the New Zealand Woman of Influence Award. It was a delight talking to Steff.

Joni: It’s an awesome interview. And I really, really enjoyed talking to her. She talked to us mostly about writing and about building your career as an indie, which she knows a lot about because she also has a podcast called “Rage Against the Manuscript,” which is a lot of writing advice. And she also has a lot of articles and books, and she runs courses for writers who are looking to inject a little punk rock ethos into their indie author careers. So she really knows what she’s talking about. It was a really, really informative, interesting conversation, and we’re excited for you to hear it. Here’s the interview.

Stephanie: Thank you, Steff, for joining us on the podcast today.

Steff: It’s awesome. Thank you for having me, Joni and Stephanie.

Stephanie: So, before we get into all the hard questions, we want to know a little bit more about yourself.

Steff: So my name is Steff and I live here in beautiful New Zealand. And I write paranormal romance and supernatural suspense under my pen name Stephanie Holmes. And I also have a website for authors, which is called Rage Against the Manuscript.

Joni: That’s awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about Rage Against the Manuscript, why you started it and how it serves other authors?

Steff: I sure can. So, basically, I started up because… So I’ve been writing since…I’ve been self-publishing since sort of 2014/2015. And, you know, when I started, things were really hard and I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I sort of hit my stride about 2015. And I was able to quit my day job in 2018. I write full time and it is basically the most fun that anyone can have, I think. I just love it so much. And, you know, I spend a lot of time talking to other authors and hearing about the problems that they’re having. And I just wanted to…I just thought, “Well, you know, I’ve done this, I’ve been there before, I have been through this process. And suppose you just really need someone to sort of say, like, ‘Don’t give up. And, you know, here is a really simple solution to this thing that’s been bugging you for months and months.'”

Exactly. And so I thought, “Well, I’ll sort of make this…” You know, I was sort of talking to people one on one, and I thought, “Well, I’ll make a little website and I’ll, like, put some of my thoughts out there. And then, you know, it can help lots of people.” And it kind of grew and grew into this ridiculous thing and I called it Rage Against the Manuscripts because I thought that was really fun. And I’m a bit of a gothy, metal-head kind of person. So it sort of…it suited me. And, yeah, so now there’s a podcast and there’s lots of articles, and I’ve got books, and I’ve got courses, and I do mentoring and all these kind of things. And it’s kind of really grown into its own sort of crazy thing.

Joni: Did you always want to start off publishing indie or did you look at other options when you started?

Steff: I spent about 10 years really fiercely pursuing traditional publishing. And I actually had a publishing deal with a big five publishing house, which was amazing. I sort of…you know, all that work and I’d written like five or six books at that point. And finally, finally, I had this book deal. And then my editor at the house decided to retire. And the publishing house decided that her retirement was a really good time to like go in there and like mix things up and sort of dramatically shrink her imprint. And so about half the authors got cut and got the contracts cancelled. And I was one of the authors that got my contract cancelled. I mean, gutted doesn’t even begin to describe how horrible that felt. And I thought, “Gosh, I’m just gonna have to start this whole kind of harrowing process all over again.”

And that was around the time where it was like, Amanda Hawking and Hugh Howey and Joe Conrath were starting to talk online about publishing their books and, you know, readers reading them and eBooks and also the time, funnily enough, that New Zealand got Kobo. Yeah, which was the first e-reader that was available in New Zealand. And I’d always been very staunch thinking I’m never gonna read on an e-reader [vocalization]. And my husband and I were both super keen readers and we thought we’ll go along to the book shop and we’ll check it out. And the cashier showed it to us over the counter and I looked at this, you know, the page, the ink screen, and I looked at being able to enlarge any book that I read because I’m visually impaired. I’m legally blind. So being able to just enlarge a book, and yeah, and kind of hold it slightly further away from my face than right against my nose, it was just…I was like, “Wow, I want one.” And so the two things kind of combined. And I went, “Oh, my gosh. I want to self-publish and I want to be on this eBook thing because I can see, you know, being able to carry like 1,000 books around on holiday. And like the tiny little thing, I can see it being big.” And, yeah. And I never looked back.

Joni: That’s really cool. So you were basically with Kobo from day one.

Steff: I was with Kobo from day one. And I was literally…was one of the things I was so excited. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. You know, I’ll be able to see my books on the Kobo website.” It was really funny. Yeah.

Joni: That’s really awesome. I love that. Yeah.

Stephanie: I’m wondering, so technically, indie authors, I find they write a lot of series, write a lot of long series, I’m wondering was that, like, a strategic move on your part? Or do you just find that writing longer stories fits kind of your writing process and like the stories you wanted to tell?

Steff: It was kind of a little bit of both. I mean, for indie authors writing series is sort of the most sensible marketing, branding decision that you can make. You know, yeah, it’s pretty much the most sensible decision you can make because, you know, you can advertise book one, you can lose money on book one and, you know, it doesn’t matter, yeah, if you don’t make money on book one with advertising because some of those readers will then go on to read book 2, book 3, book 10. And that’s where you make your income. And it just seems so sensible to do this.

And so there was that factor. But in the beginning, I sort of didn’t really think…I think I didn’t really think about that, you know, as a business decision. You know, most of the books I read were in series. I just sort of, as a writer, I just thought in long stories. And also, I find it whatever problem we are…I cram like far too much stuff into one day. And so often my books have like things happen over like three days. And I was writing…some of the first books I wrote were standalone romances. And I realized that I had written a series of like six books where every single couple got together and like got engaged after like a week. And I thought, “Oh, I don’t think this is really for me.” So being able to write a longer series means you can actually like develop a relationship over months, which was a revelation to me. So, yeah.

Joni: What’s your writing process like?

Steff: It’s very, very weird. So I have this thing that I do, which I didn’t realize was unusual, but apparently is really unusual. And it’s called skeleton drafting. And I actually have a little mini course on my website about it and a couple of free articles because people are quite interested in it. So what I do is I am a pantser or a gardener. So I don’t like to know anything about the book really before I begin. But what I do is, I don’t have an outline, but I have to write really fast because I like to publish sort of 8-ish books to 10-ish books a year. And so what I do is I sit down, and in about 2 to 3 days, I fast draft what I call a skeleton draft of the book, which is about 15,000 to 20,000 words of complete rubbish, basically.

It’s like separating the book into chapters, and each chapter might have like 500 words of just like dialogue and like action, then half the time the sentences aren’t even finished and it’s terrible, looks appalling. But that’s where I figure out everything that happens in the book, you know, the twists and the turns and the emotional arc of the characters and the conflict of the story. I figure all that out in this fast draft in like two to three days. And so it’s kind of like an outline, except that when you finish an outline, you have an outline. And when you finish a skeleton draft, you have 15,000 to 20,000 words of your actual book already written.

And then I go back and I do a proper first draft which ends up being about 50,000 words and I just smooth over everything and sort everything out and finish all the sentences. And then I do a third and usually a fourth draft which kind of makes it…I call it making it pretty, where I like add all the motifs and the themes and sort of pump up the emotion and finish the sex scenes because I always leave those for last. And, yeah, and that’s my process.

Joni: Wow, I don’t think we’ve had an author explain it like this on this podcast before.

Steff: Yeah, it’s so funny because I just assumed that was how everyone wrote books. And then I started sort of quite recently started talking to other authors about process and craft and things like that. And they’re like, “What? How do you do that?” So, yeah, so I’ve been kind of trying to talk about it with other people because it’s quite a good method if you’re like me and you don’t like to…you know, you want to get to know the story and get to know the characters as you go. But you also…the problem with that is you often get stuck really easily, like us pantsers, we very often get the writer’s block because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. And the skeleton draft kind of gives you the best of both worlds.

Joni: That’s pretty cool.

Stephanie: How long does it take you to typically write a book?

Steff: About four to six weeks. Yeah, so it’s about three days for the skeleton draft. And it’s about two to three weeks for the sort of the proper first draft and then the other two plus weeks to make it really pretty.

Stephanie: That’s quick. And you said you release 8 to 10 books a year, which is very much like an indie thing, right? Like if you were traditionally published, that would not be happening, which is one of the things I think is really cool about indie publishing. But is there anything else that particularly appeals to you about doing it yourself?

Steff: Oh, I just kind of…I never thought I would have wanted to do this. But actually, I just kind of love it. I love, you know, talking to my designer about my covers and I love kind of all the business-y stuff of it, and talking to other authors, and I do kind of love publishing a lot. And, you know, there’s lots of stories in my head, and I’m never gonna run out. And, you know, I’m already looking at all the books I want to write and there’s, like, 30 of them. And I can only do 8 to 10 next year. And I’m like, “Oh, how can I write faster?” Yeah, it’s just…seriously it’s so much fun. Like, I still kind of look at my life and it’s been three years now I’ve been full time author and I still kind of look at my life and I’m like, “How is this? How’s this a job? It must be illegal to have this much fun in a job.”

Joni: That’s so great, though, that you’ve made it work for you so well. And I think we’ve heard that from a few authors that have gone full time, just like you’re so lucky to find the thing that you love doing.

Steff: Exactly. And I just…I never want to take it for granted. And I, you know, whenever I talk to other authors and that’s what they want, I just I really want to be the person who can be there for them and say, “Look, I did it. And I’m not, you know, Faulkner or anything like that. So, you know, if I can do it, you can do it. It’s completely possible.” And that’s what’s so amazing. And it really only became possible for me because of indie publishing and because of eBooks and e-readers. And, yeah, that makes me really happy.

Stephanie: Another thing that you mentioned before was that you had repackaged one of your series recently, is that right?

Steff: Yeah. So I had a series. So I write paranormal romance. And I was writing in the sort of trope sub-genre of paranormal romance called reverse harem, which is basically you’ve got your heroine, and instead of having one love intrust, one hero in the story, she has three or more. And it’s not a love triangle where she has to choose between all of them. At the end of the series, she gets a happily ever after with all of them. So they’re really, really fun to write. This was the first series that I published in reverse harem, and it’s sort of largely…you know, most of the readers are on Amazon. So the books were there. And I decided quite recently it was time to take them wide and build a bigger audience wide. And doing that I sort of took a look at the series and I said, “You know, it needs a facelift.” And, you know, it’s not my most popular series and I sort of looked at, you know, “Why? What’s happening?”

And one thing that I realized was that I think the books, they were a little bit confusing in terms of their titles and their covers. So the paranormal romances, they’re set in the modern world. But the books are called the castle of something, so “The Castle of Earth and Embers,” “The Castle of Fire and Fable,” because our heroine inherits a castle. And I love castles. I’m obsessed with castles. So I wrote books so I could write about castles. They’re set in the modern world. But because the title has the word castle in them, they kind of…I think they look to people like the sort of fantasy books, like set in the medieval period, or session like a fantasy medieval-ish world. And so the readers who were picking them up weren’t getting what they wanted because they thought they were getting these like fantasy books.

And the readers who would have liked them weren’t picking them up because they thought they were fantasy books. So I got rid of the word castle in the titles and I just called them “Earth and Embers,” and “Fire and Fable.” And I got some new covers made just kind of updating them and making them look a bit more modern and like, “Hey, this is definitely set in this world.” And then I’ve published them all wide on all the platforms on Kobo, my favorite platform. And, yeah, and set the first book to free and, yeah, I’m finding new readers now for the series, which is three, four years old now. And that’s so exciting. That makes me so happy.

Stephanie: That’s so cool. And I think that, like, people don’t think about this when they’re going into indie, but that’s a huge advantage is being able to experiment and make mistakes and redo them, which you can’t really do for a publishing house. You know, they’ll invest money in new ones, right, pretty much.

Steff: Exactly. And, you know, yeah, they’re always looking at the next round of books that come in, but I’m able to go back to my bank list and say, “Well, you know, can I do a little tweak that will make the series sell a little bit better?” So recently another thing I did was I went back through all of my books, which is 40-plus books, on all the platforms, which is, you know, 5-plus platforms for every single book, and rejigged all the back better and just made sure that my newsletter link was pointing to the right page on my website, which many of them weren’t, you know, and I was telling people, “Hey, you finished this book. You like this book, read the next book.” And I was actually pointing to a really good book that they might like next rather than, you know, back, when I only had a few books, I might not have had the best book to recommend next. So that’s huge update, and it took like five days of my life. That’s a thing that’s gonna pay off, you know, over the next year or more. Yeah. And it’s super cool. That’s not something we could do…you know, I could do if I had a publisher.

Stephanie: That’s true because I was on TikTok recently.

Joni: We’re very cool.

Stephanie: I’ve started using it too. But I’ve noticed a lot of reverse harem has been…like a lot of people are recommending that. And it was interesting to see that like you’ve kind of picked up on that and been able to like, so essentially put out a “new series,” I’m using like quotes, for the trends that are going on right now. Like I don’t think any traditional publisher could do it as well or as quickly as you’ve been able to do it.

Steff: Exactly. And part of it being able to write fast and react to trends and things like that. That’s such an advantage that indies has and, you know, the people that are really successful as indie authors are the people that are like, “That’s our advantage. So I’m going to play to my strengths. I’m going to do that.”

Stephanie: You mentioned that you retired from your full-time job in 2018, you said?

Steff: Yeah, yeah, it was 2018.

Stephanie: Were there any steps that you took that helped you transition to a full-time writer that you think other authors could implement themselves when they’re trying to make this transition?

Steff: It’s possibly a bit of, “Do as I say, not as I do.” So I don’t do this. But at the same time, I was trying to… So it’s been sort of three years, you know, where I was earning a decent amount of money in addition to my day job, which was in the tech industry. And we were at a point where probably possibly I could have quit my job. But my husband and I decided at the time that we would also build our dream house, which we designed ourselves. And so we were paying rent on a property, we were building this house like working on it every single weekend. It was this massive hole in the ground that you just pour money into. It was massive like stress. So that was going on at the same time. And so basically couldn’t quit until that house was finished.

And I had taken on a new job. And because I’ve been offered this job and it was great money, it was a good kind of opportunity, I didn’t really want it because I wanted to write full time. But the money would have been good, help us furnish the house. But the thing was, was that the job would require me to commute for five hours round trip each day. Yeah. And it’s mainly because I can’t drive because I’m blind. So I had to drive to my husband’s work, which was an hour and then take two buses to get to my office. And then leave me work from home a couple of days a week. But it was three days a week, I had to do this round trip for five hours.

So my husband and I agreed that I would take this job, but only for a year. And so I wrote the date a year in advance on my calendar, “This is my resignation day. I’m quitting my job. I’m writing full time.” So I was like, “Right, I’ve got a year to get my shit together, to get my act together. And we’re going to do this.” So I basically worked every hour I was awake. When I was on the bus, I was like typing on my computer. I wrote like…I think I wrote six books that year in addition to working this ridiculous job and commuting all this time. I worked every weekend. I worked every night. I did freelance work to bring in the extra money. And also the freelance work helped me the first year that I quit my job kind of to even out the income until my fiction income increased a little bit more and then I quit all the freelance work. So that was quite a good idea.

But, yeah. So I had this horrible year where I just worked all the time and it was stressful. And I was very close to approaching a breakdown, where I just couldn’t do anything. But then finally, finally the date came up and I did exactly what I said I would, and I quit my job, and went home and wrote books. And it was brilliant.

Joni: That’s awesome, though. Good for you.

Stephanie: I’m only imagining how hard that was.

Steff: It sucked. It was a…

Joni: Also how annoying is that everyone can now just work from home.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Steff: I know. I know. I know. But also, it’s good. And I hope it saves lots of other people from ridiculous five-hour commutes.

Joni: Yeah, that’s a very long commute.

Stephanie: Yeah, really.

Joni: I wanted to ask you also, you mentioned that your reverse harem series, you’d had it up on Amazon exclusively? Is that what you said?

Steff: Yeah.

Joni: And then you brought it wide. This is something that a lot of authors ask about how to go wide, like how to go from building that audience that you already have on Amazon to trying to find a whole new audience. Do you have any advice for that?

Steff: For me, my strategy is that I tend to release books into Kindle Unlimited. And I see the exclusively on Amazon as a really great, inexpensive way to grab new readers. And then my backlist books, so I already had I think it was 10, 15 books wide across all platforms when I took this new series wide. And I see wide as the long-term strategy. You know, wide is we capture the readers who are outside of the U.S. We capture readers who are in countries like New Zealand, like where I am, where there isn’t such a big sort of dominance of Amazon. And so I see wide as the long-term strategy.

So what I like about wide so much is that you don’t have to…you can have a lot of small wins that really add up really quickly. So I just do little things. I apply for the Kobo promos every single month, the Barnes and Noble promos, you know, Draft2Digital often offers promos, especially for like Apple, which is really cool. I have a couple of perma free books. And so I just do little nudges on those every now and then. I don’t run pay-per-click ads, just because I like to keep my money in my pocket. Yeah, just the little things every now and then, a little FreeBooksy on the perma free first in series, you know, once every month or a couple of months.

And that just keeps things checking over. And, you know, it doesn’t have overtime, it sort of builds and builds and builds. And, you know, it gets to the point where, yeah, you kind of look at your royalties coming in and you’re like, “Oh.” You know, Kobo is usually my second best platform after Amazon. And I think it’s recently been taken over by Apple, but you know, that’s taken two or three years. But, you know, I’m at the point now where I can…you know, a lot of months I can pay my mortgage without Amazon. And, you know, that can be a long build. You know, it’s taken me three or four years to really get to that point. But it’s really, to me, it’s the only long-term viable strategy.

Stephanie: I mean, I feel like yeah, the time, people expect immediate results and it’s just that’s not gonna happen. It takes a couple of months to like kind of get momentum going. But then, yeah, it’s like you said it kind of takes years sometimes to really get where you want to be.

Joni: I definitely support that message.

Steff: Yeah. And I like my strategy because I feel as though I get the best of both worlds. And I like that.

Stephanie: When I was perusing your website, I noticed that you kind of like a strong author branding that your cover is going to go together. Like I can tell that’s exactly like that’s your book. Stephanie wrote that book. How did you create your author brand, basically?

Steff: Basically, I’m a weird person, generally and so my brain is just kind of weird. And it’s probably one of my strengths is that I kind of I write the books that I, as a weird person, as a bit of a gothy person want to read. And so it just seems completely natural for me to make sure those books all look like books that I as this weird person would want to read. And that my website, and you know, my tagline and all my things kind of reflect this weirdness because that’s sort of who I am. And so, you know, to me, branding is all about the promise that you make to your readers. Like that’s the heart of what a brand does.

A brand is not something that you create. You always have a brand whether you’ve thought about it or not because your brand is what other people think about you or what your readers think about you. And you have the chance to kind of direct that a little bit by making sure that the promise that you make to them, you know, when someone picks up a Stephanie Holmes book, they’re going to get a very specific, very weird experience. And, you know, my brand is basically Gothic romance. Except that, you know, Gothic romance is not sort of a thing that you can really advertise these days. There’s not really a big audience for it. So it’s Gothic romance for people who don’t know that what they really want is Gothic romance.

Yeah. And that’s my brand. And people know when they pick up a book from me, that is what they’re gonna get. They’re gonna get a very specific experience. And everything I do reflects that specific experience. Yeah, and it’s fun and, yeah, I think having a strong brand really helps you, you know, retain your readers. Sometimes it’s more of a longer term game. But in the end, having a strong brand really helps you stand out and it helps you retain readers because they know they can come back again and again and again, and get the same experience.

Joni: Related to that, I know that you talk about a lot of the sort of spooky stories and places that have inspired you and your writing. And I love that kind of thing. Like I’m from Edinburgh, which is super…Like there’s a lot of gory, gross history here, which I love. So I wanted to ask you, is there anywhere that you’ve been or any kind of stories that you’ve read that have particularly inspired you in that sense?

Steff: Oh, Edinburgh inspires me so much. I recently, last year, 2019, my husband and I went on a big trip, and it was our 10-year wedding anniversary. And we went on a trip back to this heavy metal music festival in Germany, which was where we went on our honeymoon because that’s the kind of people we are. And for this year we went to Romania for two weeks. And this was very much my part of the holiday. And we went Romania for two weeks and we basically spent time there exploring the history of Vlad the Impaler and, you know, the kind of Dracula myths, the vampire mythology and all the stuff. And gosh, I love Romania. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world now. And so I’m writing a whole series next year, a vampire series, which is basically, you know, that trip was basically the research for, and I’m so excited. I can’t wait to start writing this.

Joni: Love that.

Stephanie: So you’re very open with your readers with the fact that you’re legally blind. How do you find navigating the world of writing and publishing as a disabled author?

Steff: It’s cool. It’s interesting because one of the reasons why I started really seriously pursuing publishing was because I… So I actually, originally, I was trained to be an archaeologist. And what I wanted to be was like a museum curator, and I wanted to have like a collection of like weird objects that I just like fiercely protected inside of museum and, you know, went around and lectured people about shrunken heads or something like that. And that was what I wanted. And so I had this internship at a museum and I worked as a volunteer at like a living history museum for six months. And every day I’d show up and I walk around the museum and I would, you know, do like artifacts storage and stuff, and it was really cool.

And then one day a job came up at this museum. And I went and I told the director that I was really interested in the job. It was like an entry level job. It was below the level of the work I was already doing. And he told me that he wouldn’t hire me. He couldn’t hire me because I was a health and safety risk. It was sort of like a living history museum so it had lots of old buildings and stuff, and it was an old well on the site. And the well was…I walked past the well every single day and the well was covered with grate. And he said to me, “What if you fall in the well?”

Joni: What?

Steff: Yeah, I was so taken aback. It’s been six months working for this guy for free and the audacity to say, “Well, what if you fall in the well that you walked past every single…?” This came at the end of sort of a one to two-year period where I was trying to find a job as an archaeologist or a curator or anything. And I kept getting people pushing me back saying, “No, we just worry about your eyes around artifacts.” And, you know, people who I had done volunteer work for who wouldn’t give me a job, and I was just starting to realize that the rest of my life was going to be really hard. And I came home and I was in tears. And my husband said, “Well, you know, you can maybe look at it this way. You have done archaeology. You’ve done all these really cool things.” You know, I went to Greece and worked on… Like I had done all these awesome things. “Maybe you could say, ‘Well, what would I do after archaeology?'” What was the thing that I would love to do that people couldn’t tell me I couldn’t do?

And the immediate thing that came to mind was I would love to be a writer. But I had no idea how a writer even like earned a living. So I had to google, you know, how do writers earn money. And that was like the moment that really flipped me from, “Yes, I want to be an archaeologist,” to really falling out of love with it and wanting to be a writer. And so it’s been this thing I’ve kind of relentlessly pursued, whether people want me to or not, ever since. And so in that respect, it’s much…it’s really wonderful because no one can tell me that I can’t…the proof is in the pudding, no one can tell me I can’t be a writer. I have adaptations that I use. You know, I have a massive screen, which, like sits right against my nose. It’s really close to it. And I have really large print on the screen and a really dark office because I’m quite light sensitive, and things like that so I can do my job.

And, you know, yeah, there are things that are a little bit odd. Like, you know, if I go to an author signing, sometimes people look at me funny because of my eyes, or, you know, I won’t recognize…you know, I might be talking to someone really famous in the corner and I won’t actually know that I’m talking to them. I would fall down stairs all the time, just stuff like that. But, yeah, you just crack on. Yeah, and it’s been a wonderful…for the most part, it’s been a wonderful welcoming industry to be a part of. And it’s really amazing to see the real push over the last sort of 10 years or so to have more diverse books and more books with heroes and heroines that people like me can relate to a bit more and, you know, just, yeah, life is good.

Joni: And also even just accessibility and like in terms of like what you were saying about e-readers and being able to enlarge print and that kind of thing. Like it is easier to get stories out to more people now.

Steff: Yes, exactly. And audio, you know, it’s made me so happy to be able to put my books into audio myself over the last few years, which automatically means that they’re more accessible to people who have print disabilities, or, you know, fully blind people. And it makes me so happy.

Stephanie: And you also offer scholarships that I read.

Steff: Yes. So, I have a course, which is called “How to Rock Self-Publishing,” which is basically a brain dump of everything that I know about self-publishing. And I offer the course for free to any writer of color or any disabled writer who just emails me and says, “Hey, I’m a writer with disability and I’d like to do your course.” And I’d basically give them free thing on the course. And it’s just kind of my way of saying, “Hey, you know, let’s have more writers able to, you know, have the skills and have the knowledge to be able to get their books and get their stories out there. And let’s increase the number of sort of stories of marginalized voices out in the world.” And that’s never going to be a bad thing. So, yeah.

Joni: That’s awesome. Can we share that in our show notes?

Steff: Yeah, absolutely.

Stephanie: Excellent.

Steff: I will send you the link.

Joni: Perfect. We will do that. I wanted to also ask you about going back to the community that you’ve built. Like if people are interested in joining, like who is it aimed at? Is it all writers or is it a particular genre or limited in any way to region? Or is this something for everyone who’s interested in writing?

Steff: I think there’s something for you. So most of my community interested in self-publishing, you know, whether they’re still working on their first book or, you know, they’ve got a few books out and they’re just, you know, they’re looking to improve the way that they’re doing things. So the majority of my audience are very interested in self-publishing and being indies, that, you know, they’re not so big on that traditional publishing side. And, yeah, they’re from all over the world, which is awesome. Yeah, it’s really for everyone. I’ve got sort of more basic things and I’ve got more advanced courses and things. My main focus is helping people earn money from their writing. So that’s sort of a more of the focus rather than, you know, other focuses. So, yeah.

Stephanie: For more business than craft kind of thing.

Steff: Yeah. Well, business and helping people sort of strategize and figure out what’s the best way to get this book out to the right people and that kind of thing.

Stephanie: What can readers expect from you next?

Steff: 2021 is a good year for me. I’m very excited. I am finally writing my vampire series inspired by my trip to Romania, and like all my Gothic Anne Rice kind of roots. So I can’t wait for that. And I’m writing some more contemporary romance, which I’m quite excited about because I always thought I was a paranormal romance author. And then I wrote this contemporary series this year, which was kind of inspired by sort of like a mafia series. But the mafia kind of crime families are all inspired by ancient Roman history. So it’s weird. It’s like everything else I do. It’s weird, but in a good way. And I’m writing a spin…and it’s been really, really successful. So I’m writing a spinoff series for that. And then the other thing that I’m doing this year, which I’m really excited about is I’m doing…I call them moonshot projects. So just a project just for me that’s kind of a big risk, but it could be a big payoff as well. And I’m writing a psychological thriller. Yeah.

Joni: It’s a big change.

Steff: Yeah, big change. It will probably be under a pen name. I may pitch it to traditional publishing first, I have not decided. But I know the story. The story is actually inspired by something that happened to me when I was younger. So I’m really excited to kind of finally solve this mystery that has been bugging me for so many years in a book.

Stephanie: That sounds very cool. I have a question. So usually, we ask people what have they been loving lately, but I’m gonna change it up for you. I’m assuming you read romance novels. This is where you told me you don’t, you just write them.

Joni: You’ll break Steph’s heart.

Steff: No, I read really, really widely. I always read like five books at a time, but I definitely read romance novels.

Stephanie: I’m just wondering what authors have you been reading that have been like really, like challenging the genre that you’re reading in? Or like really like bringing a new perspective to a genre that you haven’t seen before? Something you’re just like, “I love this book and I can’t tell you why.”

Steff: Oh, what a great question. So I’ve just read… So J Bree, who writes like kind of like dark, sort of high school romances kind of was like…the main character is like an assassin. Like it’s the dark, the very lush. They’re just so well done.

Stephanie: It’s like dark academia.

Steff: Yeah. I freaking love dark. Anything that could be [inaudible 00:38:57]. Anything with secret societies in it. Claire Contreras wrote this one called “Half Truths,” which is secret society one, and oh, that makes me so happy. “Lilac,” B.B. Reid, which is kind of a like a rockstar romance one. It was lovely. And Bea Paige who, again, writes…even though I write paranormal, I read a lot of contemporary. I don’t really know why. But Bea Paige writes these really good like sort of contemporary kind of bully romances, she kind of called them. So she’s got this one called “Academy of Stardom” series, which is set in a dance school, and, like the romance, it’s on fire, but the dance is like another character in the story. It’s so well written and the way she kind of describes the dancing and how they all relate to each other is just…oh, it’s magic. E.M. Moore wrote this crazy book about treasure hunting. And it’s like a romance between rival treasure hunters, and the first book’s called “Those Heartless Boys.” And I loved that. I loved it so much.

Stephanie: These are great. The combinations that you’re saying, I’m like, “Yeah, I wanna read that.”

Steff: Yeah, I’m loving all the like, new like bully and like…I don’t like dark romance that’s got like stalkers in it and stuff so much and like serial killers, but if it’s got secret societies, and you know, anything like that, I’m like all over that. Yeah.

Joni: Overt Gothic thing. Yeah.

Steff: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that’s me. Yeah. Oh, Sierra Simone. That’s the other one. She wrote the series called “Thornchapel” which is basically it’s like the best Gothic romance that’s come out in the last 10 years. But she doesn’t call it Gothic romance. But it’s creepy old house. It’s six friends. It’s got sort of kinky stuff in it. It’s just the language is so lash. She’s probably my favorite. Yeah, she’s probably my favorite author.

Stephanie: She wrote “Priest Journey.” I’ve be trying to get Joni to read “Priest Journey.”

Steff: Yeah.

Joni: Because, yeah, we all watched “Fleabag” around this time last year and then Steph was like, “You now have to read this book about a priest.” Like I think that was a very specific “Fleabag” fantasy.

Stephanie: I don’t know about that.

Steff: You have to read “Priest.” Yeah.

Stephanie: Right? I said, I was like, “Joni, it’s like pivotal. You need to read it.”

Joni: Okay, I’ll read before the end of this month. I will report back.

Stephanie: Perfect.

Steff: Yeah. And then you’ll be a Sierra fan for life.

Stephanie: Sierra Simone also writes the best novella length books. She writes a lot of anthologies and I’ve been…her stories are always the best ones in the anthologies.

Steff: Hands down. She just wrote this one that was like a historical anthology, and it’s called “Duke I’d Like to F…” It’s just brilliant title. Oh, yeah. And her story in that, it’s historical Duke stories and, yeah, hers was great.

Stephanie: I agree. I loved it.

Joni: If like travel is allowed next year, you’re gonna be in Edinburgh for RARE?

Steff: RARE has just been postponed to 2022 I think it is, but I will definitely be there. And I’m so excited.

Joni: Have you been there before?

Steff: I have been before once when I was 15 for about 2 days. But I was a 15-year-old stuck in a school trip so I didn’t get to do any of the… The castle was closed. I don’t even remember anything else.

Joni: Okay. There’s a lot of cool like stories here. Like you can email me. If you’re going, like feel free to email me and I will give you… Because there’s some really cool things in Edinburgh. And like if you go to the right places, like there’s some really good stories and you’ll probably love it.

Steff: I 100% will love it. I just heard the other day this podcast I love called “Lore,” which is stories from our dark past. So each episode is like historical stories often about hauntings or like just like weird stuff. And they just did an episode about Edinburgh underground. Yeah.

Joni: The vaults. Yeah.

Steff: Yeah. And all these [inaudible 00:43:23]. And it’s funny because it was just this week, just the week where RARE Edinburgh got postponed, which was a great thing because I was worried that like even if we could travel next year, I don’t think I physically personally would be able to get from New Zealand to Edinburgh. Because our borders could still have been closed or…

Joni: Well, you guys don’t even have a pandemic anymore, right? You’re just living life. We’re just so jealous.

Steff: Yeah. We are incredibly, unbelievably lucky. And I try not to take it for granted.

Joni: You have an awesome leader who did not bungle this.

Steff: She really did not. And you know, and some of it is luck. Like, you know, we’re an island and we didn’t get it first in the world. So we kind of got to look at everyone else’s systems. But, yeah, we had great leadership. And, yeah, we are reaping the benefits.

Stephanie: Our final question is where can people find you online?

Steff: They can find me on…my best place to find all my books is my website, which is http://www.steffanieholmes.com. And that’s with two F’s. Steffanie with two F’s. And you can find all my writing stuff and my podcast at http://www.rageagainstthemenuscript.com.

Joni: Perfect. We will share those links. Thank you so much, Steff. This has been so good.

Steff: Thank you. This has been heaps of fun.

Stephanie: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in reading Steff’s books, we’ll have a link to them on our blog, or if you’re interested in hearing her podcast, check it out at Rage Against the Manuscript.

Joni: This episode was produced by Joni Di Placido and Stephanie McGrath. Production assistance was by Rachel Wharton. Editing by Kelly Rowbotham. Music is provided by Tearjerker. And huge thanks to Steff for being guest today.

Stephanie: If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey today, sign up for free at kobo.com/writing life. Until next time, happy writing.

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