#255 – Writing with your Readers with Kristen Ashley

New York Times bestselling author Kristen Ashley joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her journey to publishing, her career as a hybrid author, and how she manages her backlist of over 80 titles.

New York Times bestselling author Kristen Ashley joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her journey to publishing, her career as a hybrid author, and how she manages her backlist of over 80 titles. Kristen also talks to us about her newest release After the Climb: Special Edition, which she wrote with the help of her readers, and she tells us about her reader community, Rock Chick Nation. 

  • Kristen takes us through her journey as an author, from taking a chance and quitting her job to write to becoming a bestselling hybrid author with over 80 titles to her name
  • She talks to us about her prolific backlist and how she keeps her catalogue fresh and up to date, she explains how she keeps track of all of her characters, and she gives us her best advice for authors hoping to establish a similarly impressive catalogue
  • Kristen tells us about her latest series, the River Rain series, which she decided to write with the help of her readers, and she tells us what inspired this co-writing idea and what that experience was like
  • She discusses her writing process, how she brings her books to life through thorough descriptions, and how she ensures she never forgets an idea for a new book
  • Kristen’s books have been translated into fourteen languages and she explains why she decided to use a foreign rights agent to make these translations happen, and she tells us which country she was most surprised to find readers in
  • She tells us about her community of readers, Rock Chick Nation and why she decided to give back to her readers this way, and she tells us how they managed to pivot during the pandemic

Useful Links

Kristen’s Website
Follow Kristen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
After the Climb: Special Edition 
River Rain series
Dream Team series
Rock Chick series
Dream Man series
Soulmate Equation
Judith McNaught
The Hate U Give

Kristen Ashley grew up in Indiana, has lived in Colorado and the West Country of England but now she calls the Valley of the Sun home. Thus she has been blessed to have friends and family around the globe. Her posse is loopy (to say the least), but loopy is good when you want to write. Kristen has published over seventy romance novels, her work has been translated into fourteen different languages, she’s sold over four million books and has won or been nominated for numerous awards. She’s started the Rock Chick Nation as a way to give back to her readers. RCN has a variety of programs to promote a strong female community and has given over $146,000 to women’s charities.

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by Speechpad

Joni: 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 Joni, author engagement specialist at “Kobo Writing Life.”

Rachel: And I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at “Kobo Writing Life.” On today’s episode, we sat down and chatted with Kristen Ashley. Kristen is a New York Times bestselling author. She has written over 80 books. She’s a hybrid author. So those books have been published both independently and traditionally, and her books have been translated into 14 languages. She’s sold over 3 million books and her latest release, “After the Climb,” the special edition is coming out on July 9th.

Joni: I don’t even know where to start with this one because we had so much to talk about with Kristen. As you said, she is a veteran publisher. She has 80 novels under her belt in many, many translations. So she had a lot to say about indie publishing, traditional, her journey to publishing, her writing process. We talked a bit about how she came to write, “After The Climb,” which is one of her latest books which is a really good pandemic story, and we also talked about her community Rock Chick Nation. It’s a really great interview and we’re excited to share it with you.

So we are here today with Kristen Ashley. Thank you so much for joining us, Kristen.

Kristen: Thanks for having me.

Joni: So can you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Kristen: Yes. I am a romance novelist. I have published 81 books. I have been publishing for quite a long time and writing for a lot longer. I started to write when I was in my 20s. I am in my 50s now and I could not get a publisher, I couldn’t get an agent probably for about 15 years. I couldn’t get anybody interested in my books. Then it was called Vanity Publishing back in the day, but it was really taking off the independent publishing craze. And a friend told me, “You should give this a go.” And he told me about Smashwords, which is this really great platform that publishes on a variety of different vendors. And I don’t recommend anybody do this. But I quit my job so I could completely focus on writing. At that point I had about 20-some odd books either written or mostly written. I started publishing them all. I started cleaning them up, publishing them all. My husband created the covers which were not very…I like them, but they weren’t publishing quality covers and I just went for it. And I would sell maybe a book a week and I needed to sell a lot more than that obviously to make a career out of it. And then within six months, I had a blogger review one of my books, and within probably a week, I was selling thousands of books. And it just took off from there.

So now I’m a hybrid writer and I publish both traditionally and independently, mostly independently. I’ve sold over 5 million books, I’ve had my books translated into 14 different languages, and I’ve hit the bestseller list. And I’ve had a movie made of one of my books. So when I say it took off, it really took off, and now I get to do this for a living which is really wonderful.

Joni: So you really know what you’re talking about. And 80 books is wild to me. I can never get my head around that.

Kristen: Yeah. It’s a lot. I feel very itchy if I’m not writing. I can take a little bit of time off between books, but I need to be doing it. It’s just something. And since I’ve been doing it…even when I was working, I used to be a full-time charity executive, I would come home and start writing. I would write all weekend long. That’s what I love to do.

Rachel: It does sound like quitting your job really paid off in the end. You made the right choice.

Kristen: Yeah. I mean, fortunately I had a little money in the bank and my husband was behind the project. And, you know, we have the conversations about, you know, we actually went to eating ramen. He said, “I have to have good coffee,” and I said, “I have to have my hair professionally dyed.” And those are the things that we weren’t gonna give up and I gave it a year, you know. It wasn’t like I was going to quit forever, you know. We had budgeted it and we knew that we could afford to do that. But, you know, there’s a lot that goes into this. And fortunately, I mean, it all happens for a reason, but now authors market their own books. So I was able to concentrate on getting a very professionally put together website. I was able to get my social media going. I was able to really kind of get a grip on what my brand was going to be to the point where I have a graphic standard for colors, and what fonts, and, you know, everything looks the same that I put out.

And so I was able to because I had all day to do this. For months and months, and months, I was able to get the foundation because the bottom line is as much as this is a creative endeavor and I get to use both the sides of my brain because I used to be an executive, so you know, I really love the challenge of that, but I also get to be creative. So I’m running my own business and it is a business. And I think a lot of indie writers don’t understand that, you know, they have to have both sides of their brain working to do that or they have to be smart enough to get somebody who knows the business side to run the business side because, you know, that’s what it is.

Rachel: And you mentioned that you have a really strong brand, but you do write across a couple of genres if I’m not mistaken. You dabble into fantasy and you do a lot of romance. Do you find you have different methods for reaching those readers or do you have a lot of crossover between the genres?

Kristen: I don’t have any crossover. I’m really careful. I have a lot of crossover in my books, but I’m really careful not to cross over any kind of fantasy or paranormal that I do with my contemporary romances. And that’s really to give a grounding to readers in those worlds. But mostly it’s good communication. You just have to tell your readers what they’re going to expect and also understand that not all your readers…you know, it isn’t an insult that they don’t jump on to the fantasy world because some people just don’t like fantasy, you know. And I wrote some erotica books and some people don’t get into the deeper, you know, eroticism of romance. And so you just have to say, warn them, you know, be very clear and on all channels as much as possible say, “This is what this is. So, you know, if you wanna give it a go, I would love that, but if you don’t, I get it.” Because especially for romance novels and I think, and my impression is for independently published novelists, your readers can be very loyal, like, beautifully loyal to you because they feel like they’re a part of this journey and they are a part of this journey with you. So they feel like they’re letting you down if they don’t follow you into the fantasy world, but if they’re…you know, it’s a commitment to read a book. So if that’s not their gig, I just wanna make sure that nobody is disappointed. You know, when they grab a book, they’re like, “Oh, man. This is on a…I don’t even know the continent of Trident. What is this?” So yeah.

Joni: Going back a little to what you said about being a hybrid author and taking that step to go independent, could you tell us a little bit more about that? Why is it that you decided that independent was more where you were gonna lean towards?

Kristen: Well, in the beginning it was because I didn’t have any choice. I couldn’t get published, but then, I like having control of my books. Not so much the creative control as much because everybody needs, you know, an editor, you know, everybody needs their books polished. I would love to be able to say that I can write a fabulous book and nobody is ever gonna change a word, but that’s just not possible. Like, romance novels back in the day and even now to a certain extent have covers that are…I never liked them, you know, the bare-chested roguish guy, you know, and the fresh-faced girl with her flowing hair. Because, obviously, I have a very vivid imagination, I like to be able to make up my own hero and heroine.

So when you have a cover, it kind of fixes in your head that that’s what they look like. So I don’t tend to… You’ll see on my traditionally published books, they have people on them and none of my independently published books have people on them because I get to control my covers, I get to control the marketing, and also, you know, the bottom line truth of it is that I make a lot more money independently, you know. I don’t give up a huge percent of my royalties to somebody else, but I also take on all of the…you know, because my books go through exactly the same process as a traditionally published book whether edited, they’re copy-edited, they’re proofed. You don’t have to pay for the cover design. I have to pay for all the marketing that goes into it. So I had that outlay as well and you have to understand that and you need to really launch a book and brand, you need to invest in it.

Joni: Do you feel like you reach different audiences between the two types?

Kristen: I don’t think so. I think that they are… Because they’re all romances, they’re just sub-genres, you know, different sub-genres in the romances and maybe a little bit. But I think for the most part, there are a lot of romance readers that would read anything that’s a romance. You know, romance readers, I mean, I know romance readers that read hundreds of books a year. I mean, they just devour romance and I’m like that too obviously because I write and I even read romance and genres I don’t write, you know, like, historical romance. I would love to write historical romance, but I haven’t written one and those are some of my favorite romances.

Rachel: I just wanna touch back on the fact that you have published over 80 books which like Joni said is just so impressive. Do you have any advice for writers who want to have that prolific library of books behind them?

Kristen: Write. And I say that and it seems like, “Oh, that’s…” you know, of course. But I think a lot of people get stuck on some of the other… You really have to take that time to do it. You get stuck on, like, the social media and you get stuck, you know, you got 15 Instagram pictures coming out a day and you’re engaging with your readers in very deep ways. And if that’s your gig, that’s your gig. But you got to know that it’s gonna take away from something else. So I, y’now, write and live because if the well is dry, you’re not gonna have anything to write. You have to experience the world and be out there, and do things so you can get inspired to write more books. But it’s really a time management thing, and I did this. And I’m telling you, the pitfalls I fell into because when you write and you publish, and you start to get a readership, you’re just so grateful to these people for reading your books that you just wanna spend all day with them, you know.

And in the beginning, that’s all I was doing. I was on Facebook all the time for hours and hours just like, chatting with people and then I had just…you know, I wasn’t writing. I actually wasn’t doing anything really. I wasn’t out there, you know, going to new restaurants or, you know, traveling, or having any vacations, or anything. I had to sit down and say, “What am I spending all my time doing?” And then I had to really have a think about the factors, do these folks want me to engage with them personally four hours a day or do they want me to write more books? And they really want me to write more books, you know. A lot of what they’re saying is, “When is this person’s book coming out,” and, “When is this person’s book coming out?” Obviously, I’m not gonna be writing it if I’m answering this question. So I answered this question on my website where, you know, thousands of people can read it and I’ll go and write the book.

Joni: It’s a lot of balance. And building on that question, so once you had this catalog as big as yours, what do you do…like, obviously, you’re focusing on your new releases and what’s upcoming, but what do you do with the backlist? I think it’s a lot to manage.

Kristen: It is, and I never forget it because I love these books. And, you know, I love my books. You know, I will actually turn to one of my books, reread it way too often.

Joni: I love that you do that.

Kristen: I need to be reading other people’s stuff, but also because I cross over so much especially in my contemporary books, there are a lot of opportunities to remind people that they’re there or to showcase them to new readers. So I never forget them. And I do a lot of sales. You know, at one point, I revamped all of them and had them all reformatted the interiors and had new covers, put new covers on them just to give them a little bit…you know, a breath of fresh air. So yeah, I don’t forget them. I keep selling them.

Rachel: With a backlist that large and like you said, you have a lot of crossover in between your books, how do you keep everything straight? Because I would be so lost in my own world.

Kristen: Well, it was funny because my husband once we were driving to a party and we were talking about, this was before I started publishing, we’re talking about my books and one of my books, “Lady Luck” has this really great hero, and he said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Dwayne Johnson played your hero in this book?” Because I’m a huge Dwayne Johnson fan and I was offended. I was like, “What are you talking about? Dwayne Johnson?” I mean, and I’m a huge Dwayne Johnson fan. But I was like, “Nobody can be tied because he was so real in my head.” And so that’s how I keep track of it because they are really real in my head. So I mean, they just kind of… I kind of have a sense of, you know, how they are as parents and how many kids that they’re having, and, you know, what their day to day lives are. So it’s really easy for me to pop somebody in and that’s how the crossovers happen is because, you know, if there is the security specialist needed, I’ve got a character who can pop in and do that. And then I love to spend a little time, you know, have him be on the phone with his heroine and they’re talking about, you know, whatever is going on. So yeah, I do have the worst memory in life, people say, “Do you remember when we had this great time,” and whatever, and I’m like, “No.” But I remember something about my characters, like, down to the deepest detail.

Joni: And we’d love to talk a little bit more about your books. Could you tell us a little bit about your latest series, the River Rain series and just give us a bit of background?

Kristen: Well, the River Rain series is really a fun, fun series, and it didn’t start fun though because when COVID hit last spring and the lockdowns were happening, people were, you know, freaking out. I mean, nobody had experienced this for 100 years. So I had some really good friends. I have this idea for a book in my head and I always do obviously, but I don’t have the freedom to just drop everything and write a book like I used to. And I had some friends who said, you know, “Just do it. Just write this book. Just take some time to write this book.” And what I decided to do because everybody was at home not knowing, you know, what was happening with life, I decided to engage my readers into writing this book with me. So I got on Facebook and I would do polls on Facebook where they could vote for names and they can vote for dogs, and they can vote for dogs’ names and business names, and I asked for input and feedback. And one of my characters had lived in France and so she needed to speak some French phrases. So I asked… Some of my French readers would tell me, you know, what she would be saying in certain instances, and we wrote the book together. And I put it out for free. It’s still… That was the first free book I’ve ever, ever done. It’s still free, but I love that experience with writing a book with my readers so much that I decided it was clear that it was gonna be a series, you know. All of these characters were coming out and they were very strong.

So I decided to write the books in the series with my readers. And so I’m actually next month on July 9th, in a couple weeks, I’m putting a special edition of that out because I turned it around very quickly so people could read it during the pandemic which we thought at that time was not gonna last as long as it has. So I thought, “I’m gonna get this out,” when I didn’t really need to hurry that much, but there was something missing in it. And so I’m keeping the old book that we all wrote together. It’ll always be there and it’ll always be free or will be for a good long while. And then this new book with the extra chapters is coming out on July 9th and it again will be free, but just for 10 days. And then the series continues with the next book, “Chasing Serenity.” That book is called “After the Climb,” and then the next book is called “Chasing Serenity,” and that’s out in September. And my readers helped me with that. And I’m just finishing the next book, “Taking The Leap,” which unfortunately I couldn’t write with my readers because now we’re getting into spoiler zone because I haven’t read “Chasing Serenity.” And I don’t wanna say, “What’s gonna happen with these people when they don’t know what happened with those people?” So hopefully we can get back on track with them helping me write it after they read the next couple of books, but yeah, that series took off and it’s my COVID series.

Joni: What a cool idea? I bet your readers love that like, choose your own adventure.

Kristen: Yeah. It was really fun. And the best part about it was…or possibly disturbing was whenever I would put…obviously, both the choices are… And, you know, anything I ask, I would give them things that I approved of, you know, things that I was feeling. But they would always vote for the things I didn’t vote for. And I’m like, “Hmm.” It was really cool. It was really cool to see how it would go. There was lots of comments underneath. In “Chasing Serenity,” I had two readers talk to me about their puppies, their dogs that had passed that they had lost and there was such love outpouring in these posts that I memorialized their dogs in the book. I gave the hero one of my reader’s dog and the heroine adopted the other reader’s dog. Yeah.

Rachel: I love that so much. As a dog owner, I love that so much.

Kristen: Yeah, yeah. So hopefully they’ll enjoy that when they get it.

Joni: Are you planning on doing a similar thing with “Chasing Serenity” as well where you’ll release one that your readers helped you with exclusively quickly and then do a special edition or are you gonna take a little bit more time and…

Kristen: No. I actually sold the series. So now it’s with Blue Box Press. So it’s a real book. It’ll come out. It’s done, it is ready, and it’s ready to rumble. So it’ll come out in September just like a regular book, and it’ll be what it is. And it’s great. I love these people. I’m completely obsessed with them. I love them. I’m a mountain girl. I lived in Denver for a long time and I have a cabin where I go write up in the mountains in Arizona, and this is set in a town where I have my cabin. I have this little… I call it my Ted Kaczynski cabin.

Joni: Oh, nice.

Kristen: I mean, I do have like, running water. I mean, it’s nice, you know, but it’s very quiet, you know. It’s me and the deer and the wild boar, and my books, and my cat.

Joni: That’s perfect.

Kristen: So yeah, yeah.

Joni: What is your writing process like typically?

Kristen: It’s obsessive. Like this book I wrote in a week and a half, and I haven’t done that in a really long time. But it was…

Joni: A week and a half for the whole book? What?

Kristen: Yeah, yeah.

Rachel: Wow.

Kristen: [crosstalk 00:19:54.753] 25,000 words. Yeah, it was… But that’s writing from like, I get up, I make coffee, I feed Starla, my cat, and I sit down and write, you know, starting at like, 7:00 in the morning and then I don’t finish until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. And then I get up and do the same, you know. So it is like, deep, deep dive. But my hero in this most recent book, “Taking the Leap,” he’s a double amputee. He’s a firefighter who lost his legs fighting a fire, and I fortunately have a very good friend who’s an OT, an occupational therapist with about 30 years of experience and she gave me a very deep dive into what somebody recovering from a double amputation and how they live their lives, and what the rehab is like. And so I have to go back and make sure to thread all the things. And I watched a couple of really cool guys who, you know, I wish I remember their names. I got them up, but one is a veteran who lost his legs when an IED exploded in Iraq and another one is a gymnast, acrobat who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.

And the veteran is this amazing yoga, you know, he teaches these huge yoga classes. And I mean, he just can do anything. And the guy that lost his…the acrobat, the gymnast, he’s in Vegas, this huge Vegas show. I mean, he just flips around. And I mean, it’s just insane how fabulous these guys are. But it was a really cool inspiration. And my friend, Beth, who was helping me with Rick’s character, she said, “You need to be very careful not to express him in a way where, you know, he’s living with less and just how much she couldn’t live with more.” You know, that’s how I wrote him. It’s not that anything held him back. He just kept going and it was a really cool experience. I’ve never written a disabled, anybody, you know, that was the main character and I fell in love with him. My readers are gonna freak for him. He’s just amazing. So yeah.

Rachel: And if you’re writing 25,000 words in a week and a half, which as somebody who has attempted NaNoWriMo, I cannot comprehend writing that fast. Do you plot out your stories first or are you just going all in making up as you go?

Kristen: I’m all in. It’s a…

Rachel: It’s so impressive.

Kristen: Well, it’s like a movie that runs in my… And that’s why my writing process is obsessive because you don’t turn off a movie. So I’m just typing what I see and hear. And so I actually get a little panicky when I have to go to sleep because I have to turn off the movie. And you get worried that the movie isn’t gonna turn back on again. So fortunately, it turns on and then I get right in front of the TV again. But I also am very descriptive and there are reasons for a lot of the things that I put in my books. Like, I am careful to express how the clothes that they wear, that my characters wear and the homes that they live in because I feel that gives the reader…and when I’m reading, it’s the same thing, it gives the reader a deeper insight into characters. I mean, we are not what we wear and we are not what we live, but that’s part of it, you know. And that’s why the [inaudible 00:23:17] characters, all their friends and family are definitely developed because you are definitely who loves you. You know, whose love you earn that is a part of who you are. So I am very careful to really weave all of that together, but also it’s in my head. So when the movie is going I’m like, “Okay, we have to know that the tile in his kitchen is pear-colored. I have to put that down and I’m not gonna delete it.”

Joni: So the way that you describe it, it sounds like the idea comes to you and you just write it down. Do you always have books brewing or is there ever a time between books where you’re like, “I don’t know what the next movie book is?”

Kristen: It’s always brewing, I have this. I started to create files where I would…like, I would have really full on, like, in my head the first 6 chapters blocked out and I would just very quickly write 3,000, 4,000 words so I won’t forget that idea for a book, and then I save it because it’s just never ending. Knock on wood.

Joni: Is this how you read also? Do you read a lot of books all at once?

Kristen: Yes. I’m reading two books right now and that’s pretty good for me to only be reading two books.

Rachel: I’m just gonna slightly switch gears here. Up at the top you mentioned that your books have been translated into 14 different languages and I was just wondering what that process was like and if you have any advice for other authors who are looking to start translating their books.

Kristen: Well, I am fortunate that I have a foreign rights agent who sells my books. So I don’t really…I mean, I just go for what their offers are and agree or don’t agree, and I usually agree. I don’t think I’ve ever not agreed to anything because how cool is it to have your books in Hebrew, you know. I mean, that’s just awesome, but I have had translators and publishers come direct to me to talk about. But I always go through my agent mostly because I feel like in that zone, I’m more comfortable having a publisher publish it because I can’t read a French translation and know if it’s appropriate, where is that’s their business. And a lot of people, and outside of America, they don’t just speak one language. So I have readers that are English readers and then they will also read the book in their native language and they’ll know, you know. So I feel I need to be careful about that, but if I get more contacts from people, you know, that want to translate the books, I think that that’s a new budding industry, especially independently, I love my baby so much. And I wanna give my readers the best experience as I can, so I want to be comfortable with that. So it might take a little while for these independent companies to grow a little bit more and have a little bit more under their belt before I feel comfortable with going with something like that.

Joni: What’s the most unexpected country where readers are enjoying your book?

Kristen: Well, Japan, and my Japanese books are super awesome because, you know, they’re even laid out really cool. I mean, the way the letters are and I think it goes back to France, it’s different. And Poland, they really love me in Poland and that’s cool because I’m Polish, you know.

Joni: Oh, cool.

Kristen: My heritage is like, a quarter Polish and so I’m going to Poland next year, and I’m really excited about meeting some Polish readers because it’s kind of like, going home a little bit because it wasn’t that long ago. It was just a couple generations back where my family came from Poland.

Joni: So I wanted to ask you, you have a community called Rock Chick Nation. Could you tell us a little bit about that, how it came about and what it is?

Kristen: Well, you know, back in the day when I was… I’m going back to what we were talking about when I was spending all my time talking to my readers and I decided to not spend that much time, I also felt it was necessary to continue to extend the gratitude to them for the life that they were giving me because I love my life and this is the greatest job in the world. And so I really thought of that, because I was a charity executive, I decided that to show my gratitude, I would give back to them in a much bigger way. And so we do three things with the Rock Chick Nation. I throw parties, I throw weekend parties called Rock Chick Rendezvous. We’ve done them all over the world. We used to do a bunch of them a year, but it’s a lot. And it’s very expensive, and so we’ve kind of cut that back. But it’s just a long weekend of cocktail parties and coffee mornings, and book signings. And if we’re in Denver we do a…because a lot of my books are set in Denver, we do a road rally, and then we have a big night where, you know, you can dress up and there’s dancing and a DJ, and hors d’ourves, and that good stuff.

And it’s really just so cool because it’s women getting together and at first they want to meet me, you know, and they’re all standing in line waiting for a picture with me. And I’m like, this is, you know, the cocktail hour is like…you know, but there’s only one me. So they’re forced to mingle and then like, coffee morning nobody cares that I’m there. They’ve all made friends, you know, they’ve all found their passie, and, you know, they’re all just kind of hanging out. And that’s the coolest thing in the world. And I’ve had people come up to me and say I haven’t danced like this since my prom. You know, I haven’t had let my hair down and really went for it because we’re just sisters all together. There’s no judging. You just do your own thing and be your own person, and it’s just so free and open, and it is beautiful. And so we do that.

And I also give out Rock Chick rewards where I do certain things with my readers and we raise money. I sell swag with logos of businesses from my books and we do silent auctions, and, you know, all sorts of things. And we’ve given over $150,000 to charities, and the charities, I don’t pick them. I ask my readers to nominate them. So those are actually my readers’ charities as well and I vet them, of course, they’re all, you know, bona fide charities. And then we give money to these charities. And the last is Rock Chick Recharges and this is where my readers, if I’m going to be somewhere, I will ask my readers to nominate somebody, not themselves, to give something to another sister who really needs a good night out. And then I take them out to dinner, and we have a fabulous dinner with all the drinks. I put together a big, you know, swag bag with makeup and facial products, and clothes, you know, things that I really dig. They all get a book from me, their choice.

And that’s really wonderful, but it’s the hardest because we always say we’re gonna have 5 people to dinner and we always end up with 15 people at the dinner, because going through the application process, I mean, people hit rough times and it’s hard to select. You just wanna have all 75 people that have been nominated and that doesn’t make for a nice warm intimate evening. And also when they get together, I tend to fade into the background as they all start talking to each other. And that’s a beautiful thing to do, done in a much smaller way because, you know, a lot of women they nurture and they sacrifice, and they go through just many, many, many things. And they don’t get a night where they get to, you know, put some lipstick on or not if they don’t want to, and have somebody spoil them, and then be around people where they could share stories. And it’s really a gorgeous experience. So I’m glad COVID is going to go away so we can start up some of this face-to-face stuff again because I miss it.

Rachel: Yeah. I was gonna ask if you had pivoted to doing any online virtual events during the pandemic?

Kristen: Well, yeah, I’ve done some like this and some interviews. And I’ve never been really kind of a live chat person with my readers. It was just sporadic, and I did a lot more of those, you know, get their questions beforehand and to answer questions, and try to interact with people like that.

Rachel: It’s not quite the same.

Kristen: No, it isn’t. No.

Joni: So let us know if you come to Toronto for any of these.

Kristen: Well, I’m dying to come up to Canada because I have a lot of Canadian readers, and also, I love Canada. But there aren’t as many signings and stuff up there.

Joni: That’s true.

Kristen: So, which is a bummer.

Joni: We’ll try to fix that and make them in summer because, you know, you can only come here June to September. Those are the only months when it’s not freezing.

Kristen: Well, and that would be perfect because it’s very hot here. So it would be a nice break.

Joni: Awesome. And you mentioned your upcoming release, can you just let our listeners know when is your next release coming out?

Kristen: My next release, I just had a release in May called, “Dream Spinner,” and that’s in the Dream Team series. And that’s exciting because it’s kind of a spinoff of two of my other series, my Rock Chick series and my Dream Man series. And then “After the Climb,” the special edition will be out, and I keep getting these dates mixed up. It’ll be out July 9th and that’ll be free for a short period of time. So people need to jump on that, and there’s no preorder now because I can’t set it for free for preorder. So it’ll drop on the day and I will let people know if they follow me, and I will get that word out. And then the next in that series, the River Rain series, “Chasing Serenity” will be out on September 7th. And then the next Dream Team book will be out in November, “Dream Keeper.”

Joni: You are busy. This is awesome. Okay, we’ll include all of that information. And where can readers find you online?

Kristen: Kristenashley.net is my website and it has all the links to Facebook. I do Facebook, Twitter, sometimes Instagram. Yeah. I’m out there.

Joni: Awesome. And we’d love to finish off by asking you some questions about what you’re reading and your favorite books. Is that okay?

Kristen: Yeah, that’s great.

Joni: Let’s do it. All right. What is the last book that you read and loved?

Kristen: I decided to get organized this year and write down everything because you forget it. Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren, and I always say Lauren, but Lau is not Lauren. She’s Lauren, Christina Lauren. I wanna make them fancy and it’s great. It’s a really great romance that I fell in love with and we did a live chat about it. And I started to put tabs on the places that I wanted to talk to them about, and the whole side of the book was lousy with tabs.

Joni: The sign of loving a book.

Rachel: All right. My question, is there a certain book or a specific story or author that made you want to become a writer?

Kristen: Yes. Judith McNaught is a romance novelist who published in the ’80s, and I think that there’s rumor that there’s a new book coming out from her soon and I hope so. But she wrote historical, some contemporary, and her books were marvelous, really great books. And I actually kind of pulled threads from what she always put in her books and that laid the skeleton of what I never fail to put in my books. And that is the hero and heroine are, you root for them. You know, they’re not perfect, they’re fallible, which is good because a lot of people try to make them perfect and life isn’t perfect. And then she had… Her secondary characters were completely fleshed out and I thought that was amazing, you know, that she had this really deep rich cast of characters in her books and she had humor. And things can get intense and there’s lots of angst in romance novels, but it’s nice to turn the page and get a little giggle, you know, it’s a relief. And I really enjoyed that. And so I took those threads and I wove those into the books I write. Judith McNaught.

Joni: Awesome. And is there a book that you give as a gift often?

Kristen: A lot of them. Yes, I give a lot of people, “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas.

Joni: Oh, it’s so good.

Rachel: So good.

Kristen: Yeah. It is phenomenal.

Joni: I missed my subway stop twice reading that book.

Kristen: I can believe it. I think that people tend to maybe shy away because they think it’s gonna be difficult, but it’s not. I mean, it just draws you in, you love this family. Starr is an amazing character and, yeah, I love it. So I give that book a lot.

Rachel: And our final rapid fire question for you, do you have a favorite fictional female friendship, that’s an alliteration, but favorite fictional female friendship?

Kristen: Can I pick my own?

Rachel: Sure, of course.

Kristen: I love Indy and Ally from my Rock Chick series, and probably because Indy is based on me and Ally is based on my bestest friend, Kelly. So I love those two a lot.

Rachel: I love that.

Joni: Well, this has been really great. Thank you so much for joining us.

Kristen: Well, thank you. It has been fun. I really appreciate it.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast. If you are interested in picking up Kristen’s books, we will have links to her website in our show notes. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com and be sure to follow us on socials. We are at @kobowritinglife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Joni Di Placido. Our theme music is composed by Tearjerker, editing is by Kelly Rowbotham, and big thanks to Kristen Ashley for being our guest. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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