#260 – Going Viral with Jennifer L. Armentrout

Bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her writing career and her experiences working with both large publishers and small indie presses. Jennifer’s most recent series, Blood and Ash, went viral on TikTok, and she talks to us about that experience and the power of word of mouth marketing.

Bestselling author Jennifer L Armentrout joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her writing career and her experiences working with both large and small presses, and publishing independently. Jennifer’s most recent series, Blood and Ash, went viral on TikTok, and she talks to us about that experience and the power of word of mouth marketing.

  • Jennifer tells us about her journey to becoming a writer, from falling in love with storytelling at a young age to becoming a wildly successful hybrid author
  • She talks to us about her experiences working with a big five publisher versus working with small indie presses, and she explains that while the process is similar, the marketing and flexibility can differ greatly
  • Jennifer speculates on why her most recent series, Blood and Ash, has resonated so deeply with readers, and why she believes both great timing and a supportive publisher played a huge role in the series’ success
  • Blood and Ash recently went viral on TikTok, and Jennifer discusses what that experience was like for her, how she utilizes the app, and how she engages with her readers on social media
  • Jennifer walks us through her writing process and how she maintains such a frequent release schedule while avoiding burnout, and she tells us how she manages to keep the lore from her sixty-plus books straight
  • She explains why trusting her instincts has not only brought her success, but also why it’s the most important thing she’s learned throughout her career

Useful Links

Jennifer’s Website
Follow Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Blood and Ash
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes
Bridgerton
The Secret Circle


#1 New York Times and #1 International Bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. she spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, hanging out with her husband, her Border Jack Apollo,  Border Collie Artemis, six judgemental alpacas, two rude goats, and five fluffy sheep


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: I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life. This week on the podcast Laura and Joni sat down to talk to Jennifer L. Armentrout. And what did you guys talk about?

Joni: So Laura really wanted to be a cohost on this podcast because she’s a big big fan. So I’m sorry that you missed out because it was a really good conversation. Jennifer has published 60 books.

Rachel: I’m sorry, did you say 60, 6-0?

Joni: Yes. Yes. She’s extremely prolific and she’s been in the industry since about 2010, 2011 I think she said. So she had a lot of really interesting things to say. Something that we thought was really cool because we haven’t talked to that many authors about it was that her most recent series went very very viral on TikTok. So we really wanted to know about that because, as you know, we are quite interested in TikTok even though we still think we’re too old to have accounts. We think it’s cool. So that was fun to talk about. She spoke to us a little bit about working with a small press, what it’s been like working with a small press versus working with a larger publisher, some of the advantages and disadvantages and some of the ways that her press approaches marketing and publicity a little bit differently. So it was a really great conversation. I’m excited to share it with listeners.

So we’re here today with Jennifer L. Armentrout. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jennifer: Thank you, guys, so much for having me.

Joni: For anyone that might not be familiar with your work, would you mind introducing yourself for our listeners?

Jennifer: Yeah. I write across multiple genres. I write in young adult, new adult and adult. I write science fiction and fantasy, paranormal, thrillers, contemporary. I pretty much have written in quite a bit of genres with the exception of, like, historical, mainly because I’m too lazy to do the research that’s necessary for that genre. And, you know, most of my books, well, actually all of my books are very romance-centric so I’ve been writing since… Well, I’ve been published since 2011 and I’m what they consider a hybrid author and I also self-publish.

Joni: Okay. awesome. How many books did you say you’ve published?

Jennifer: I have published around 60.

Joni: Right. And you’re too lazy to write historical romance but you’ve published 60 books. That is the exact opposite of lazy.

Jennifer: Yeah, I know, right?

Joni: No, that’s really cool. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to publishing? Did you always want to be a writer?

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, as cliché as it may sound, I’ve always wanted to be an author. It started when I was in middle school and really it started from my love of reading. I had read…I’m gonna date myself but when I was a teenager in the ’90s there wasn’t a huge young adult section. When you would go into the bookstore that we had here at that time, it was called Waldenbooks, there would just be like this one, you know, four foot wide shelving of young adult. It was mostly L.J. Smith, R.L Stine, Christopher Pike and a couple others. But it was one of the L.J. Smith books that I read that really got me into wanting to be a writer because the books, the series just absolutely just, you know, devastated me in the best way.

And for me it was like if a fictional character, if a story, something that’s not real can invoke that type of emotional response, obviously I want to know if I can do that. So after reading…I think I started with “The Vampire Diaries” and then I went and I started “The Secret Circle.” And then from there it was “The Forbidden Game” and that was the one that just utterly just destroyed me. I’m still not over that. But I started writing my first book in ninth grade during algebra class. Would not recommend. I ended up having to take remedial math in college because of that. But when I went to college I had stopped writing because, you know, I was so busy with just college things. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that I started writing again.

And at first it was mostly just to pass the time in the evenings. It was something…my husband was working evening shift and so I was home alone so it was something for me to just do. But then I started, you know, taking it seriously and I was like, “Okay, you know what? I’m gonna try to get this published.” And that’s when I started to research how to get published and as you guys probably know, you know, this is back in 2009, 2010, the market was a totally different place then. The indie market was. It really wasn’t as big as it was now. It was nowhere near as big as it was now.

And so it was just a very different environment back then. So you almost felt like you had to go the traditional route at that point because, you know, there were indie authors but there were only a few that you could name. Like you know what I mean? That were able to kind of really, you know, launch their books into digital. Because even then, you have to realize, digital books really weren’t…you know, they hadn’t exploded as big as they did. Or they were starting to explode at that point. So that’s when I pretty much started to write seriously was at that point.

Laura: So you talked a little bit about kind of the difference in the indie market now versus then, and you’ve kind of had, like you said, a bunch of different experiences being a hybrid author. So can you kind of talk to us a little bit about being with a small press like Blue Box versus one of the big five publishers? Because I know you’ve been with Harlequin too for a couple of your books.

Jennifer: Yeah. And my first publisher back in 2011 was a small press. Even back then in the 2009 to 2011 time period, even small presses were not seen as they are today. Self-publishing, small presses were often very much frowned upon in publishing and by the industry. You know, it was much harder to publish at a small press then and to self-publish than it is now. To get support, to get reviewer, to…oh my gosh, there wasn’t even, you know, all the cover designers and editors that are freely available now to find, there was only a very select handful back then. But my very first publishing contract was with a small press. And so was my second contract. And in between that point I did sign with an agent who then took my very first traditional book contract was with Disney Hyperion. And then from there I did Harlequin Teen and then HarperCollins. And then I also have an active contract now with Tor, which is Macmillan but do have, of course, work with small presses still, Blue Box Press is one.

You know, there’s a lot of differences between working with small presses and large publishers. And then some of it is the same. You’re gonna have the same editorial process. You know, you’re gonna have multiple edit rounds, copyediting, proofing, revision. You’re going to have, you know, it probably really depends on where you would go with a small press and, honestly, where you end up with at a publisher what type of level of marketing you get.

But one of the things that I love so much about small publishers is the freedom to kind of break the rules. And in publishing, there’s a lot of unspoken rules and a lot of those unspoken rules are pretty much this is just the way it’s been so this is the way we’re gonna do it. Like that is pretty much the rule I feel like with traditional publishing. So any time…you know, it kinda hard to do something new or innovative.

It’s kind of hard to buck the system basically where with traditional publishing you usually have release dates that are year to a year and a half apart sometimes. And you have to turn that book in upwards of a year to a year and a half before the release date. So one of the biggest problems I have with that is by the time that book came out, I have already moved on to like three other books by then. My head, mentally, is no longer in that book that’s releasing. So it’s hard for me to really promote those books as well as I should be able to when, you know, you’re moving ahead so much faster than what they can keep up with.

But with small presses, they’re willing to kind of break that wheel and say, “Look, we can publish a book,” you know, some of them of course have much tighter…you know, they have different schedules. Some of them will have set publication schedules. Other ones will be like, okay, you tell me how many months you want in between releases and we’ll see what we can do. So if you want three months in between a release, six months, whatever, they’re more likely and able to do that. Where traditional publishing, you know, they tried that on, I believe, the adult side. Like I believe Harlequin had tried that before but the problem is, you know, with traditional publishing still being so print-focused, they need that extra time to sell that book into the bookstores so they can’t get that type of buy-in. When you have a book releasing by the same author that back to back, there just isn’t shelf space for that. So I think they tried that with a couple authors and then backed away several years ago from doing that, but that’s one of the big differences you’re going to see is the flexibility.

You’re also gonna find just the willingness to try new things because they’re not a part of this big machine. And I don’t want to say this as if, you know, traditional publishing is bad. It’s not. I’m not one of those people who think one is better than the other. I do think that at the bigger publishers it’s the same thing, you know, if you find yourself in a big company, you can kind of become another cog in the wheel. And I find when you are at a smaller house, and this actually can happen in traditional publishing too, when you’re at a smaller imprint, you do get a lot more hands-on direct focus than you would at a publisher that is publishing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of authors. So you do have a lot more of the hands on. There’s a lot more flexibility in what they’re going…like I said before, they’re willing to try often things that, you know, publishers may have tried once and it didn’t work so they gave up or have never tried. So there’s just a lot more flexibility often there.

Joni: I didn’t actually know that about small presses being more agile and able to release quickly. I sort of thought all of trad. had that same slow release schedule. So that’s really interesting to hear.

Jennifer: No. Well, and to be honest, here’s the downfall of that. Most of your small press publishers are not going to be able to get your book probably into a book seller. There is your big thing. So that’s not to say all of them can’t. They’re gonna try. They’re gonna most likely partner with someone like Ingram or Baker & Taylor and they do a great job at distributing books but, again, they’re also now going up against publishers who have their own in-house distribution sales forces that are hundreds of people deep. You know, they’re out there selling their books. So there’s a downside of that.

Now, however, the thing that was just so unexpected that happened with the Blood and Ash Series here in America, and I think it also ties into a lot of the restructuring Barnes & Noble just went through, they have ordered, you know, and have carried those books in their stores on release day, which, you know, these books are print on demand because it’s a small press, not all small presses will do offset print runs. Blue Box Press is doing offset print runs, for example, for Indigo. Indigo will be carrying them soon and they did an offset print run for it. But most small presses or like an indie author is going to do print on demand because, A, you’re not gonna pay for those books upfront. B, where you gonna store them and how are you going to ship them to bookstores?

But Barnes & Noble, they started carrying the books in the store and that was basically from readers going into the store asking if they carried the book and so that really does work. I feel like as authors we’re always, you know, told that if readers go into their stores and ask for the book it can help and I feel like that’s something that’s really hard to see if it does. Well, it did because that’s how Barnes & Noble reached out to Blue Box and was like, “How do we get these books into the store?”

Joni: Something else that we read about Blue Box’s strategy was about cross promotion with other authors, which is something that indie authors do a lot. But again, we don’t really see that much in publishing houses. Is this something that you did with the series?

Jennifer: Yes. Now, here’s the thing. That does happen in traditional publishing but it’s very genre-targeted. So basically what you’ll see in like the young adult world, you often will see authors who share the same publishing house will promote other authors but it’s not necessarily a part of the marketing plan from the get go, right, where it is at Blue Box where it’s a part of their marketing plan. Every author who comes onboard underneath “1,001 Dark Nights,” for example, which is their other thing they do, they know that they’re going to be sharing release information for their other authors. That doesn’t happen at traditional publishing. I don’t know why. So it really becomes a thing of networking that you have to do or your editor has to do, and in reality, it’s really going to be you who’s going to have to network.

The problem with that is it’s like asking people out to prom in school. Like you don’t want to make friends with an author and then immediately ask them to promote your book. So it’s kind of harder on that side and that might be why we don’t see it as often because it’s really, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, but it’s really like friends supporting friends where what you see a lot in the indie world is colleagues supporting colleagues. Does that make sense?

Joni: Yes, definitely. Have you found that you are quite involved in the author community?

Jennifer: You know, I am. You know, I definitely am involved in it. I run an event yearly that does a pretty massive book signing and has panels and all different types of events before, you know, we did cancel that last year and we postponed or we cancelled this year too, coming back next year. So I am involved in the author community but I also, you know, I’d rather spend my time that I have when I’m not working, you know, or not doing normal life stuff, being more involved with my readers instead of really focusing on authors because at the end of the day, it’s those readers I kinda want to forge a connection with that, you know, I really want to interact with.

Joni: So the Blood and Ash Series has been extremely popular with readers so your recent book was number one in the USAToday list, I believe, and you’ve generally had a lot of positive attention. Is there something that you think is about the series that really resonates with your readers?

Jennifer: You know, gosh, I wish could answer that question because if I could, I would want to repeat it over and over again.

Joni: Bottle it. Yeah.

Jennifer: Right? I think there’s several things. I think, you know, it’s like, what do they say, lightning in a bottle. You know, I think there’s many things that change about that series. One of the things I do think was important was the timing, which is one of the reasons why I did not want to go to a traditional publisher with this book. And the reason being is because I knew that when I thought I would have the book finished and the first one and when it would be through its editing and all that there was a gap in books that were similar to it in the same genre. I knew that there was a gap in publication around that time that some series had ended and people were waiting for the next book to come out where I recognized that there was this opening that I felt like I needed to slide into. And I knew if I had went traditional, I was gonna zoom past that, I was gonna miss that by, like, a year. And so I do think the timing played a role because people were kinda wanting more like the book that they love and there were no new ones that were similar at that point. I think that helped.

You know, I do think I did have support from other authors who, you know, wrote in that genre. But I also think the timing and the support and, you know, Blue Box, they do a lot of marketing and they are very…I mean, that is pretty much their wheelhouse is marketing. So they spent a lot of time making sure all of their advertising was targeted correctly which, you know, I feel like with Facebook and Amazon and, you know, other avenues where you can do advertising at, it seemed to be almost always changing like how you do it. But they’re very much on top of that. So they did a lot of advertising through there and like Goodreads and so that obviously helped.

But I think this is one of those things where it’s like it had all the necessary stuff and that’s the crazy thing about publishing. Whether you are doing it yourself or doing it with one of the big New York houses, you can have everything. You can have the perfect story, the perfect marketing publicity team, the perfect timing, and that’s no guarantee. You know, at that point the next ingredient in that is luck. It’s pure luck. And you can either get a piece of that luck or you can, you know, it just passes you by. And I really do think that is what that book had was a little bit of luck and then that luck turned into word of mouth which is one of the things you cannot recreate. You can’t replicate. It either happens or it doesn’t. And that is really what you started to drive the series forward was the word of mouth.

Laura: Yeah. And you’re kind of talking about newer marketing strategies and I guess one of the big things that we noticed with this was it went crazy viral on TikTok, on BookTalk. So has that kind of become like a new marketing strategy for you now with like the rest of this series or what was that whole experience like because it had millions of views and videos?

Jennifer: Oh my gosh yes. Well, the funny thing is like I didn’t have a TikTok account when this was going down, at all. Mainly because I’m like there is nothing that I’m ever going to do with myself that is going to be remotely interesting on TikTok. So I would just look at, you know, videos that people would send me that were funny videos that had literally nothing to do with the book world. And I really didn’t even know it was blowing up on TikTok until I started noticing people saying, “I heard about this book on BookTalk. I saw them talking about this book on TikTok.” Then people started sending me these hilarious videos that readers were doing on TikTok about the book. And still I kinda stayed away from there because I’m gonna sound like, you know, completely out of touch but I was like, “I don’t even know how to use TikTok.” Not only that, I have a vision disease called retinitis pigmentosa so I have very poor vision. And the app itself is not very vision-friendly. Everything’s very small that you need to look at to navigate.

So I was kind of still staying away from it but then other authors started reaching out to me being like, “Jen, have you looked yourself up on TikTok?” And I’m like, “Hell no. Why would I do that? I do not Google my name. I don’t look at reviews. You know, I don’t want to do that.” They’re like, “You need to. You need to go look at this.” So one day I went over and I had to create an account then kind of figure it out. And I searched my name and I searched the Blood and Ash Series and I about fell out of my chair. I mean, it was tens of millions of views underneath those hashtags. I was a little scared at first because I was like, “Oh my god. That is a lot of views.” But that is where the word of mouth exploded on was BookTalk.

So I don’t really use it myself in terms of… I mean, don’t focus heavily on it as a marketing strategy. One of my other publishers did do these really cool videos that I posted to my TikTok for an upcoming book that actually comes out tomorrow. But for this series I don’t really use it that often. Like if you look at my TikTok, you can obviously tell which posts are from me and there are very few of them. And usually they’re just like videos of what I’m writing or one of my animals. And the reason why is because I believe that TikTok, it’s organic.

There isn’t going to be much that I personally believe that an author will be able to do to make something go viral on TikTok relating to books. That doesn’t mean that you yourself can’t go viral for lord knows what, but everything that I have seen from books that have gone viral on TikTok, it’s been completely organic. The author has not done anything to really provoke that. It’s just word of mouth. Now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something someone can do. I just don’t know what that is. Because when I look at all the other books that are pretty big on TikTok, I mean, it’s stuff that, you know, some of these authors are not even on TikTok and their books are blowing up on it.

Joni: TikTok is so cool and creative. Like I also feel way too out of touch to have a TikTok account because we really are too old. But it’s so creative the stuff that they’re doing and the fact that this happened completely without anyone doing anything on your behalf that just blew up organically is so cool and really speaks to how engaged your readers are.

Jennifer: Yeah. It was so unexpected. It was just so unexpected and I feel like in publishing, again, no matter what type of publishing you’re doing, I feel like you’re always chasing the next platform where you can reach readers at. And we knew that a lot of readers had, you know, moved from places like Facebook and especially Twitter and onto places like Instagram. So you’re able to do a bit more targeted marketing on places like Instagram and we had heard…of course I had heard that, you know, BookTalk was a thing. And, you know, but at that time, you know, even still now there’s really no way to manipulate that because, again, these are the readers who are doing that. They are propelling these books forward and it’s just amazing to see and like you said, the creative videos that they do, especially when they find these random lines from like movies and things and they put them into their videos, that always cracks me up. But it’s really, you know, just they’re creators. You know, they’re creating content.

Joni: Yeah, it’s awesome. So if you are not necessarily the person going into Tiktok, what’s your favorite way to engage with readers? How do you like to stay in touch?

Jennifer: Well, one of my easiest ways and best ways that I have found is I created a reader group on Facebook. I have a main reader group where for all of my books is under. Then for the Blood and Ash Series it has its own reader group that is just focused on that series. And that has been perfect because you can post… I like to post teasers as I’m writing. And that’s something that does keep readers very excited while they wait and interested while they wait for the next book to come out is to see you writing it. I think they also like to see the process of writing. They also like to check to see if these teasers actually make it into the final version. You know, obviously sometimes it doesn’t. And they will remember this stuff. They will remember a teaser I shared nine months ago that did not make it into the final version for whatever reason. And, you know, they want to know why. Like they’re curious, like why was that removed or was it rewritten?

So I find that, you know, sharing teasers and things like that as I’m working keeps them interested in between releases and also just interacting with them, and also I think it helps, you know, for them to see you not just as the book but a person, which I think, you know, is important when you are interacting with your readers is for them to also see, you know, you are the creator of this world, but you’re also a person at the end of the day.

Joni: Yeah. I think readers love getting that little peek behind the curtain into process that’s going behind creating the stuff that they love and that’s very cool. Is there anything that surprises you about your audience? Because I feel like YA as a category has a much broader appeal than young adults. Do you find that you have the audience that maybe you expected or is it broader than you thought?

Jennifer: My young adult audience and, you know, I’ve written young adult since 2011 along with writing, you know, for older genres, it always has had a crossover audience. I think when I first started writing I was always surprised that most of my readers were adults and not actually teens. It hasn’t been until later in my career where I started to pick up more of the younger audience. And I usually can tell interacting with them without even looking at, you know, their information what age group you’re in and I have found that…I always felt that was strange like in the beginning that I always had… It is not that I thought that adults reading YA is strange. Absolutely not. I was an adult. I was an adult reading YA. I mean, young adult is one of the biggest crossover genres there is. There is really no age limit on young adult, especially because young adult covers too much stuff. Like it’s not less than or not as serious or whatever.

But I always thought it was strange when I started that I always had trouble kind of breaking into the actual young adult audience. And it wasn’t really until, you know, I started seeing my books carried more in bookstores that I started to pick up the actual young adults. And of course the reason for that is kind of like right in your face. They’re not online buying books. They usually can’t. Most of them won’t have debit cards and credit cards. Some I guess will have debit but for some reason teens do not like to read on their devices. They still like a paperback or hard cover. They still want print, which is very strange to me because they’re always on their devices. But for whatever reason, when they read, they want to read it in a print format. So that was why I wasn’t getting, you know, a lot of the teens at that time.

I will say I have a lot of younger readers on my Blood and Ash Series, which is not young adult. So that I find very interesting that that has jumped back into a young adult audience.

Joni: Interesting. Maybe it’s because they’re always on their devices that they don’t want to read on them. So can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Do you normally write as fast as this most recent series?

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean I used to write faster than this. I used to be able to write, oh my gosh, like eight or nine books a year and these were not short books. These are books that are usually around 90,000 and up. But over the years I have slowed down to probably what is a more normal and sane pace of writing. You know, I think if you can write a ton of books a year and it doesn’t burn you out or stress you out, then go for it. But I also will say that it can burn you out. Writing that many books is just…it’s a lot. It’s a lot to do.

But yeah, I can write pretty fast and usually my writing process is, you know, I usually write unilateral. So I’ll start at Chapter 1 and basically when I get to about the middle of the book is what I call the “midbook crisis” where you just hate everything about your book. And it never fails. It happens on every single book. That’s usually when I will jump forward at that point and start writing a little bit out of order and that just helps me kind of reclaim my excitement for what I’m doing.

I do a very generic plot where I have like a general idea of how the book starts, what happens throughout the middle and then how the book ends. I do not plot in detail until I usually get the third act of the book and I usually do that because I know I’m on the home stretch and I don’t want to get lost in the weeds at that point. So I will usually stop and then again plotting chapter by chapter at that point to make sure I cover everything that I need to cover in this book and so that I don’t, you know, veer off into no man’s land with something. And that’s something that can happen when you don’t plot from the beginning. You can end up in a totally different place in your book.

So that’s pretty much how my process is. I try to write a chapter a day but that doesn’t always work out. And I’ve learned to be easy on myself when it doesn’t.

Laura: Do you ever kind of find yourself losing track of like the different plot lines or anything like that? Because I know, like I just finished “From Blood and Ash” and there was a lot of different things going on in the book.

Jennifer: Yeah. It’s strangely, you know, it’s weird. I really don’t like lose track of my different books and series. And I don’t know if it’s just because I’m writing them. Maybe that’s just how, you know, my brain will work with that. However, I will say once I get a certain amount of books into a series, I have to have something to refer back to. I have forgotten the color of characters’ eyes, what their hair color is, you know, how to spell their name at that point. So usually about a couple books in I do have like for the Blood and Ash Series one of the editors created a bible basically that keeps track of all the characters, the locations, and the different blood lines, which has been very very helpful. I don’t think I would be able to write a high fantasy without that. And it’s because you just… I feel like with that series my brain can’t retain all that.

Joni: It’s a lot, especially with as many books out as you have. So 60 books in, if there’s anything that you could go back and tell your younger writer self, what would it be? What have you learned along the way?

Jennifer: One of the things I have learned along the way and then I lost it and forgot about it was to trust your instincts. And I know that may sound kind of dumb. I’m just gonna give like a perfect example of this. Back in late 2012, early 2013, I had wrote a book. I had gotten the idea while I was taking a shower and was really excited to write it. It was just when new adult was becoming a thing. Like it was brand new, there was only…you could count on both hands how many authors were actually writing new adult. It was still during that really odd period of indie publishing where it was starting to explode and really make a name for itself and basically be a method of publishing that truly, you know, was a force to be reckoned.

And I had this idea and the book came to me so quickly. I had an agent at that point. I wrote the book in about, you know, it was about 20-some days, about halfway through it I told my agent about it and she was confident that she could sell the book to a publisher. At that time I already had two small press deals. I had, you know, already signed one traditional deal and I think at that point I had hit the USAToday best sellers list on a book. So I had a proven sales record, a proven backlist, whatever. So we were pretty confident that we could sell that book. So she went out on exclusive submissions to about five publishers.

Each one of those publishers…and when it’s an exclusive submission from an agent, that usually means that agent doesn’t just send an email. They pick up a phone, call an editor at their desk who they think is going to be a good fit for, let them know that, hey, I’m only sending this to a certain group of people. We would like an answer pretty quickly and if a agent has a good relationship with an editor, you know, they’re going to get a response pretty quickly. So out of these five publishers all of them either turned the book down or had wanted me to wait to see what was happening with this new adult genre.

They wanted to see how it panned out because they weren’t sure how to market new adult because their marketing was so bookstore-focused that it was and still really isn’t a place for new adult books in a bookstore. So publishers were like, “Well, we can’t market this and we need to figure out how to market this and so if you can wait, you know, we’ll be interested.” I think one of them did offer a digital-only contract which we kinda, you know, like LOL, no thank you for that. So my agent Kevan and I, at that point we had not… She had never done any self-publishing, neither had I. And my gut told me that, look, this book, there was something about this book that it is going to be either something major or it was going to be a complete disaster. There was going to be no in between on this book. And I knew that I did not want to wait.

So I spoke to my publisher and I was like, “I want to self-publish this.” She was all for it, completely supportive and she basically helped figure out what I set for. You know, at that time like how do we get this stuff on Amazon? How do we get this up on Kobo? How do we do this up here and there? Because we never did that and, again, you’ve got to remember, this is 2013. Completely different ballpark. This was not the same thing.

So I wrote the book. I finished the book in January. We went through the editing, the cover design, all that good stuff. The book was called “Late for You.” It came out at the very end of February in 2013. So it basically came out, within a couple weeks the New York publisher’s turning the book down because our instinct was we gotta do this. It came out. After being out a couple days, and at that time “The New York Times” best sellers list had 25 spots on it. It came out, hit number 25 on “The New York Times.” Then it hit on the second week at number four on “The New York Times” and then within a month of the publishers turning that book down, it was sitting at number one on “The New York Times” list.

And I think that was one of the first times the New York publishers actually saw a book that was on their desk less than a month ago, not a year ago, not a year and a half ago in submission, but it literally was just sitting on their table and so it was one of those moments that I just think it was kind of like… And I wasn’t the only author I’m sure that happened with where the publishers probably were like, “Oh man, we probably should have acquired that book.” But I listened to my instinct and the strange thing is that that book was a huge career changing moment for me but somewhere along the way in the years after that I kind of started to stop trusting my instincts.

Like I’d be working with a publisher or, you know, I’ll be self-publishing something and my gut instinct would tell me one thing and then I would second and third and fourth guess at and things wouldn’t work out exactly as I would have anticipated or I knew something wasn’t going to work right and I just didn’t listen to my instinct. I didn’t speak up. And it wasn’t until 2019 when I decided that I was gonna write “From Blood and Ash” and what my instinct told me, don’t take this certain way, you need to do it this way. And I listened and then, you know, the book, it was kind of another situation like made for you where it was either going to do something big or it was going to be a complete disaster and there was going to be no in between. And it was a really important moment that I remembered.

You really need to listen to your instinct. You need to know also when to listen to other people and to take their advice. But if your gut is really telling you something, it’s telling you that for a reason. And I think that just may seem like really silly advice but it’s important. We tend to… The more books you publish, the more you doubt yourself. And the reason being is because with each book you learn more about writing, about yourself, about publishing. You get more voices in your head with each book where your first couple books there’s really no voices in your head except for your own. But that changes as you build an audience. So I think we end up doubting ourselves. So that would be something that I would tell my younger self is to trust your instinct.

Joni: I think that’s really great advice and it’s a good point about how time in the industry doesn’t necessarily make you more trusting of your own instincts.

Jennifer: No, it kind of messes with your head.

Joni: That’s such a good story though. How vindicating to have it hit number one. That’s awesome.

Laura: That’s one of the first series I read from you, actually. So it’s kind of crazy to think that it almost didn’t happen. But yeah, how great that you listened to your instincts there and it’s really rewarding.

Jennifer: Yeah, it really was. I mean, of course there was that, “I’m human.” There was that petty reward on my side. That was just like, “Oh. Well.” But also it was very rewarding in the sense of, I mean Kevan, my agent, and I, we had no idea what we were doing self-publishing. But we managed to pull it off and, again, it’s a totally different environment back then. It was harder in a lot of ways and it was also easier in a lot of ways. There wasn’t that many indie authors then. You know? There were a decent amount but not like it is now. Either your books weren’t vying for as much attention, if that’s the right word to say. But yeah, it was a great experience to be rewarded kind of for listening to your instincts.

Laura: For sure and we’re seeing a lot of kind of new forms of books take place and stuff too. So it’s great to see lots of marketing strategies like TikTok paying off as well. And we’re also seeing a lot of book to movie adaptations. Because “Blood and Ash” is fresh in my mind because I just finished it, do you kind of have like a dream cast that you picture for Poppy and Casteel?

Jennifer: I am terrible with dream casting. I still live in like, I don’t know, I always think of Jake Ryan from “Sixteen Candles.” That’s who I’d pick and he’s like what? Fifty-some years old right now. Or Theo James. I would cast Theo James in every single role. I don’t care what character. He could be Poppy. He could be Cas. He could be Kieran. He can be everybody.

Jennifer: Yeah, I think Theo would be… I would just B.S. of course, whenever that day came. I would never be allowed on set though I am sure.

Joni: Awesome. Okay. We’re gonna start wrapping this up with some questions about books for you. So my first question is what is the best book you read this year?

Jennifer: I don’t know if you guys can look it up. I can spell her name for you. I cannot think of the title. It’s X-I-O and then space Axelrod, A-X-E-L-R-O-D, I believe. Her newest book that just came out.

Joni: “Girl with Stars in Her Eyes?”

Jennifer: Yes. There.

Joni: Perfect. It’s a great cover too.

Jennifer: I knew how to be served. Yes. Beautiful cover. Beautiful story. She’s an amazing author and she’s an amazing singer. She can sing.

Joni: Oh this looks good. Okay. Adding to my list.

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s really good.

Joni: Things to read this year. Awesome.

Laura: And do you have a favorite book to movie adaptation that you’ve watched recently?

Jennifer: Bridgerton.

Laura: Oh yes, I just finished Bridgerton. It was really good.

Joni: Good call.

Jennifer: Yeah, that was everything. The costumes, the music, the love story. And you know, the funny thing is about that series with the music also is it took me forever… I’m listening to some of these songs and I’m like why is this instrumental song familiar? And then I’m like, wait a minute, that’s a Taylor Swift song, I’m pretty sure. And then come to find out a lot of the music was instrumental versions of current songs.

Joni: I think you might be the second person who said that on the podcast because I don’t think anyone… Like it’s one of those things where it’s in the back of your mind like, “I know this, but I don’t. I’ve never heard it.”

Jennifer: And every time I would hear it play and I think even their theme song or one of the songs they play at the very beginning is a Maroon 5 song. So it was just very… It was like one of those things where you’re watching a movie if you recognize an actor and you can’t place it. It was one of those moments but yeah, Bridgerton was an amazing adaptation.

Joni: loved as a child?

Jennifer: Probably not so much as a child. I wasn’t very much a reader as a child. As a teenager it was L.J. Smith’s “The Secret Circle.” That was ultimately one of my favorite book series as a teenager.

Joni: Amazing. All right. We will include links to all of these and my final question is where can readers or listeners find you online?

Jennifer: Yeah. They can find me on Instagram under my name. they can find me on Facebook or they can find me in my reader group JLanders, which is just J-L-A-N-D-E-R-S. So that’s where you can find me.

Joni: Perfect. We’ll share all of that. This has been so great. Thank you very much for doing it.

Jennifer: Thank you guys so much.

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

Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Joni Di Placido. Laura Granger was my cohost. Kelly Rowathon provided editing and music is provided by Tear Jerker. Big thanks to Jennifer L. Armentrout for being our guest.

Rachel: If you’re ready to start your self-publishing business, go to kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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