Bestselling and award winning paranormal romance author Lisa Kessler joins us on the podcast today to discuss her writing process and how she uses tarot cards as a tool to help with writer’s block and character development. Lisa also talks to us about why she loves writing in the paranormal genre, her career as a hybrid author, and what changes she has seen in the publishing industry throughout her career.
- Lisa tells us about her career as a hybrid author, the pros and cons of both indie and traditional publishing, and she discusses the challenge of keeping a consistent author brand as a hybrid author
- She talks about the biggest changes she has witnessed in publishing throughout her ten-year publishing career including increased opportunities for authors to have their stories be seen
- Lisa discusses the cyclical nature of genre fiction and why she believes readers are drawn to the escape of paranormal romance rather than the creature at the centre of it
- She talks to us about her love of reading tarot cards and how this practice came about for her, and she tells us how she uses tarot cards to help push through writer’s block and create in depth characters
- Lisa chats to us about the courses she teaches and about her podcast, and tells us what she’s learned about her own writing process through her conversations with other writers
- She explains how she uses her blog and social media to promote her backlist, how a shift in mindset has helped her with this backlist promotion, and she tells us how she uses Patreon to connect with her readers
Follow Lisa on Facebook and Twitter
Sentinels of Savannah
Romance Your Plan
The Vampire Chronicles
Alpha and Omega
In the Kingdom of Ice
Lisa Kessler is a Best Selling author of dark paranormal fiction. She’s a two-time San Diego Book Award winner for Best Published Fantasy-Sci-fi-Horror and Best Published Romance. Her books have also won the PRISM award, the Award of Excellence, the National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Award, the Award of Merit from the Holt Medallion, and an International Digital Award for Best Paranormal.
Her short stories have been published in print anthologies and magazines, and her vampire story, Immortal Beloved, was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award.
When she’s not writing, Lisa is a professional vocalist, and has performed with San Diego Opera as well as other musical theater companies in San Diego.
Stay up-to-date on new releases and giveaways by subscribing to Lisa’s newsletter here: https://goo.gl/56lDla
Transcription provided by speechpad
Rachel: And I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life.
Joni: Today, on the podcast, we talked to Lisa Kessler. She is a best-selling and award-winning author of dark paranormal fiction. She’s written over 40 books, in 10 years, and she’s a hybrid author, so, she publishes traditionally as well as independently.
Rachel: We had a lot of fun talking to Lisa today. We spoke to her about her writing career and the changes she’s seen in both indie and trad publishing throughout the 10 years she’s been publishing. We spoke to her about trends in paranormal romance and we had a really cool conversation about how she uses tarot, both in her life and to help with writing. Which is a really cool idea if you’re ever stuck on a plot device or on a character. So, we hope you really enjoy.
Joni: We are here today with Lisa Kessler, best-selling paranormal romance author. Thank you so much for joining us, Lisa.
Lisa: Oh, thanks for having me.
Joni: Can you start by introducing yourself to our listeners and telling us a little bit about the kind of books you write?
Lisa: Sure. So, everything I write is paranormal. I got my start actually writing horror. I sold a bunch of horror short stories, so, I was a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award for one of my vampire stories. And then paranormal romance started to become a thing and I thought, “Well, the good guys get to win, I can do that.” So, I still have monsters, there’s always high stakes and tense moments in all of my books. But the good guys always win, we always get a happy ever after at the end somehow. But I always enjoy seeing reviews where people say, “I didn’t think they’d get there, I didn’t know what was gonna happen.” And that’s my favorite because, when I’m writing, I enjoy that. You know, as a writer and a reader, I like the twists and turns. And even though I know that it’s a romance, so, we have to have happily ever after, I love when it keeps me guessing till the end, “How could they ever get a happy ever after?” that’s my favorite. So, I like when my books turn out that way.
Rachel: You talked about twists and turns and whatnot. Do you plot out your books before you start writing or do you just dive head first and fly by the seat of your pants?
Lisa: Good question. Usually I just jump in. I usually know the ending and I have a beginning scene but I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. However, because I write like that, often the ending scene changes from what I thought it was gonna be. And there have been a couple books along the way where I wasn’t sure of the ending, which is a horrible feeling for me, as a writer. I love pantsing, I love the thrill of it, I call it “writing without a net,” you know, because I love that. However, not having the end, not knowing what the ending is gonna be is very unsettling to me as a writer because I’m not sure where I’m going. And that’s only happened to me a couple of times. However, both times the books turned out great. And, so, maybe it was just supposed to go that way. I’m big on trusting the universe to get me the story, so, I think sometimes some of them are just harder to pin down than others.
Joni: I wanted to ask you also about your general publishing journey. Because you’re a hybrid author, right?
Joni: You publish traditionally and independently. How did that come about? What did you do first?
Lisa: First, I did traditional because…August was my 10-year publishing anniversary. So, when I started, the world was so different and publishing changes so rapidly all the time. And, so, when my first book came out, in 2011, there were still the big 6 and you still got an agent and you still…you know, so, I did the very traditional thing and I hunted down agents and I got a publisher and I signed a book deal. And, at that same time, like 2012 was really when self-publishing exploded. And, so, I was slightly late to that because I think I started self-publishing…I wanna say in 2014. So, I kind of missed that big bubble of when it first was…you know, the first people who are there are always, you know, the big.
But anyway, so, I thought, “Well, I want to learn how to do both.” Because, as I watched the big six publishers shrink to the big five, and now they’re like the big four, every time that happens, I always have a lot of people ask about, you know, “What does it matter who owns the company?” You know, they say, “Well, Harlequin got eaten by HarperCollins,” and all this kind of thing. But the real story for authors is that it squishes how many publishing spots there are. And, so, it’s less chances for you to get published. And like, on Kobo, every time you have a new release, you sell all of your books because people wanna go back to the beginning. So, if there’s fewer holes, there are less chances for you to get a new release for people to find your backlist.
You know, so, I could see the writing on the wall, so, I started self-publishing. So, I always have one series with a publisher and one series that I self-publish myself because I feel then like I have a little more control. I can’t control, you know, who buys a book or, you know, making people buy books but I can control where that income stream comes from and I have control over pricing and covers. And, so, I love all of that.
Joni: Do you feel like it’s challenging for you to relinquish that control if you’re doing them simultaneously? Yeah?
Lisa: Yes, that’s a very good question. Yeah, but there’s pluses and minuses to both. So, for writers who might be listening and going, “Well, I don’t know,” here are the perks that I see is that, with self-publishing, I have all the control but I also have all the upfront costs. So, if you’re gonna really self-publish right, you need a cover designer and you need a really great editor. You might need a proofreader too. You might need a formatter. I have a great formatter who I just love because constantly they’re updating, you know, your back matter on the book and all that kind of thing. It’s hard, it’s you’re suddenly a small business. So, you do get all the control but you also get all these costs and you don’t start seeing royalties until like 2 or 3 months after the book comes out. So, that makes it tricky.
Whereas, if you do a traditional publisher, there’s no money out from the author. They’re covering all those costs. However, you’re also splitting royalties and you’re totally giving up all that control. They assign you an editor, they make you a cover, they decide the release date, pricing, everything. So, basically, you’re being paid to produce a product and it does have your name on it, there’s some ownership there, but it’s not the same as your small publishing business when you’re self-publishing. So, it is really hard to do them at the same time because I’ll have my own deadlines with my own editor that I pay but I also have, you know, my traditional contracts, suddenly, the edits will come in and I’m like, “Shoot, so, I have to set aside the book that I’m writing for my editor and edit the book for the publisher’s editors,” if that makes sense. So, there are pluses and minuses.
I also feel like, with a publisher, depending on your publisher, they have readers that are very loyal to the publishing line. They generally like the books that come out of that line. So, I do feel like publishing with a publisher, you also might have a better chance of selling foreign rights of, you know, audiobook rights, all that kind of thing. At least that’s what I’ve experienced with my publisher. So, I think it’s good to do both because you really spread your net wider that way to find more readers.
Joni: Something I always wonder when people are doing both is do you feel compelled to have your indie books look the same and like have the same kind of covers or fonts or whatever so that you maintain that author brand? Or is that kind of problematic when you’re taking someone else’s…do you know what I mean?
Lisa: Yeah. I don’t, I try and have each series look the same. So, my cover designer works really hard to give me an image of what this series is gonna be. And then we change it a little bit for each book in the series. But you definitely can pick up Book 5 and recognize that it’s the same series as Book 1. So, my name and the fonts will all be the same for each series but my publisher tends to do that same thing also. So, I don’t feel like I have to, you know, make sure that Lisa Kessler looks, you know…I’m pretty sure because I write all paranormal also, it kind of…I feel like there is that overall look but I don’t have to try to match what the publishers do.
Rachel: I just wanna jump in and wish you a happy 10-year publishing anniversary, that’s really exciting.
Lisa: Ah, thank you. Thank you, it’s so exciting.
Rachel: I’m just kind of wondering like what are the biggest changes you’ve kind of witnessed being in the publishing industry for 10 years?
Lisa: Well, definitely the big publishers squishing, going from six to five to four, and they’re still, you know, little things happening there. I’m like, “That has been interesting.” Also, I think some of the big changes that have been super cool have been audiobooks. In the past, when self-publishing really broke out, like in 2012, you couldn’t make your own audio books. So, that was still something that you would have to have a publisher for that. I mean, back then, even going to write, I would go to all the writers conferences and there was no way to even pitch your book to an audio-book company at that point. And you couldn’t find a narrator, I wouldn’t have even known how to go about that. And now we have Findaway and we have, you know, Audible. And there’s all sorts of different options for hybrid authors who are self-publishing as well.
So, I have dabbled in that, I did put one series out in audio myself so that I would know how to do that. My publisher also sold rights for one series so I got to see it from the traditional end too. And again, no control. So, basically, I had to put in if anyone had an accent and, you know, what I thought they sounded like. And then the books came out, so, I didn’t get any input on narrators or anything. And they came out great, I’m happy with them, but it was a weird experience compared to when I did them myself. I did auditions and I had like 70 people audition and I’m going through and I’m talking to narrators until I finally picked someone. So, I definitely had a lot more control. But that was something that, 10 years ago, impossible. Impossible. And then, where would you sell them? And now you can sell them on Kobo, you know, you can sell your audio books everywhere. Which is really exciting also.
I feel like the publishing world has changed probably in the biggest way as far as having a middleman or a gatekeeper. When I first started in publishing, the gatekeeper was really strong and you had to break through that to get published. There really wasn’t another way. And then, as more ebook retailers came online, like Kobo, and self-publishing started to happen, there were more avenues. When I was first writing, I remember the terror of, “Am I gonna spend months writing this book and then no one will ever get to read it because I can’t sell it?” And now that I am so free, I can write whatever I want because, if I can’t sell it to a publisher, I can put it out myself. And you can genre bend now, you couldn’t do that before. When I first started, it had to be in a certain genre because they were still thinking about bookstore shelves, like Barnes & Noble, where will it get shelved? And now that so many people are e-readers, you know, they love genre bending. It’s like, “Give me,” you know, “monsters,” and, you know, all these different hybrid genres. There’s even a category that’s like genre mashup or something like that. You know, so, people enjoy reading them because, as a reader, I enjoy that and I couldn’t get that before. And now you can. So, those kind of things have really changed over the 10 years that I’ve been in publishing.
And I think it’s fantastic. It does get a little Wild West where you’re like, “How is anyone ever gonna find my book?” you know, “a million books come out every day. How are they gonna find mine?” But it is also exciting because I feel like any story can be discovered, whereas before, you know, there was a very traditional map of how you had to get that story out there. And, you know, there was a chance you were writing something no one would ever read, which is kind of depressing. So…
Joni: How’s your experience been with like trends in genre? Because I feel like, particularly with paranormal, like there’s being very zeitgeisty. Like you remember vampires were a thing absolutely everywhere…and I’m not even sure what years that would’ve been but I imagine it coincided with when you were writing. How has that been, seeing things come in and out of fashion like that?
Lisa: Well, everything in all the genres is really cyclical because, you know, like they always say, there is no story that’s never been written. You know, every fantasy story is a quest and every mystery finds a dead body and figures out who killed it, you know. So, we’re all just constantly trying to find a new bend to the same story. And, so, when I first started, my first series was vampires because vampires was the thing. However, vampires never die, they still sell, it’s still a very strong series for me. But I haven’t written anymore. Now I write…I have an “Immortal Pirate” series with my publisher, which is the most fun series in the whole world.
Anyway, for me, I enjoy writing it very much. My agent had pitched it as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” meets “Pirates of the Caribbean” because it happens today. They’re immortals and they’re not vampires, they had stolen the holy grail and they’re still alive. So, that’s a super fun series. I’ve also written “Greek Muses,” which had the Greek gods, plus I added in fated mates because I read a lot of werewolves and my readers enjoy that. So, there was, you know, guardians that were marked by the gods. So, I did that as well. I have two werewolf series and I also have little Fae stories that I do on the side called “The Summerland Stories.” And those are fun for me because I bring in a Fae character that’s very magical and I always pair them with a very human guy. Like one guy was Scott from Jiffy Lube. You know, so, I give them the least magical human. And yet, these Fae creatures think they’re so magic when they meet them. And these super regular guys are like, “What does she see in me?” and she thinks they’re magical.
So, anyway, I have a new one, a Christmas one will be out this holiday season. And the human in it is a down-and-out songwriter who takes a job as a mall Santa and falls in love with a real elf. So, anyway, it’s super cute. So, those are cute, those are much less deadly than my normal…my normal paranormals tend to have a lot of high stakes. But I do see a lot of alien romances now are going up with that blue alien barbarian…now I can’t think of the name of it. But it’ll come to me later when I don’t need it. And now there are some monster romances that are coming in. And I’m not sure if those are gonna go in with paranormal or not, but they might. I don’t know. But I’m starting to see some of those come in with like minotaurs and humans. But there is no shape-shifting into a human. So, it’s a little different than what traditional paranormal has always been.
But I think that, for paranormal readers anyway, it’s the escape that draws them in. So, like the escape of that, you know, there could be magical creatures or there could be vampires or something like that. So, it’s real “escape the mess of today.” So, you can escape and go, “Wow, maybe vampires do live in San Diego,” you know, and really take that reality a little bit more out of it. Also, I think the high stakes…because in paranormal romance it could be the whole world is gonna fall apart. And no one knows except these people who are trying to save it and fall in love. You know, so, for me, the high stakes makes a big part of it.
And the trends, I think no matter what creatures they are, it always comes back to that, that it’s gonna have high stakes life and death and there’s going to be some paranormal element that is a real escapism from the real world. So, even though the creatures might change and the fads might change what kind of creature, you know, whether it’s a wolf, a bear, a dragon, but that core element of paranormal is almost always, you know, something larger than life. And with vampires, I think it’s that you could love for lifetimes, that is the big attraction with the vampire is that you wouldn’t ever have to say goodbye, you know, which is very romantic. And, so, they stick around, vampires never die.
Rachel: I’m a vampire fan, so, I agree. It’s a running joke on our team that I’m the only member who has watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and that is something I’ve been working on since I started a year and a half ago. And it’s not going well for me, nobody else is watching. But anyways, you can shame Joni with me because she has not seen it.
Joni: In the winter, when there’s nothing to do it outside, I will watch it.
Lisa: You’ve never watched Buffy?
Rachel: Thank you.
Lisa: And please watch “Angel,” because I liked “Angel” even more than Buffy. Yeah, watch “Angel” because there’s less high school in “Angel.” So, that’s why I enjoyed it more.
Joni: To be honest I have nothing against high-school TV like I’ll watch Gossip Girl, Mean Girls
Lisa: If high school doesn’t bother you and bring back PTSD, then you’ll love Buffy.
Rachel: That’s great. I wanna stay on this like paranormal train for a second. And on your website, you talk about how paranormal exists, both in your books and in your real life, and you actually do tarot readings. And I would love to hear more about how you got into tarot and kind of what you get from it.
Lisa: Well, my whole life I was an only child and I grew up, you know, playing make-believe all time. And, for some reason, I’ve always been into ghosts. I used to scare myself to death and read scary stories and all that. So, I’ve always been drawn to metaphysical things because I want there to be more to the world than, you know, what we see, balancing the checkbook. Anyway. So, I got into tarot early. However, I did not get good at it. I liked the idea but I bought a Rider Waite deck, which is the traditional deck that everyone tells you to learn with, and I could not learn with it. It is full of angry men, all the pictures are angry men. And I could not memorize what was in the book, it was impossible. There’s 78 of them, I’ll never do it. And, so, I would put it away.
And finally, probably 15 or 20 years ago, I found a deck that I resonated with, that I was like, “Hey, I’m getting things off these pictures.” I was like, “What?” and then the deck collecting started. Well, I have so many decks. But, when you find a deck that you connect with, the cool thing about tarot is that you don’t need to memorize the book. Once you figure out, you know, what the pictures mean to you, what the colors mean to you, you can look for symbolism like butterflies or transformation and, you know, all that kind of thing. And you learn what the elements are for the Minor Arcana, it’s your thoughts, your heart, your health and money, earth, and taking action and getting things done. So, once you learn those things, you can really swap the decks or whatever and figure it out.
And what I learned early on is that it’s a tool. And I know, on TV, like I loved the show “Carnivàle.” If you’ve never seen it, HBO, “Carnivàle.” Tarot played a big part in that and made it seem super creepy and scary, but it’s really not. I understand why they do that in movies because it makes it mystical. But the reality of a tarot card is it’s just a tool so that you can tap into your intuition. We all have it. And, as we get older, we turn it off, sadly, we talk ourselves out of everything. You know, your gut says, “That street? I don’t know…” and your head says, “that’s stupid, I’m going to walk down that street,” you know, and off we go. And, so, tarot just is a way for you to get out of your own way, in my head. I do tarot readings for other people also, obviously, and, when you do that, you are giving messages to them that maybe they’re…you know, if you’re open to spirit guides and angels, they’re around you and they’re trying to get a message through and your brain is so busy that you don’t hear it. And, so, people will go get a tarot reading and, you know, you’re able to give them that message that the universe is trying to get through.
And I actually even use them for writing because, when you get stuck, especially like me, since I’m not a plotter, sometimes you’re like, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.” I use this story a lot because it’s true but I have a pirate deck of tarot cards which I use for my “Immortal Pirate” books. And I had this one book where the heroine was a historian and they have recreated their old Spanish galleon ship from the 1700s. So, he takes her on it, and I could not get the scene to end. It was like, “Kill me. I’m bored, I know the readers will be bored. I can’t end this scene,” because she wouldn’t get off the boat, she thought it was the coolest. And I’m like, “No…” So, in desperation, I pulled out my pirate deck and I shuffled and I pulled one card. And every themed tarot deck will change names of the Major Arcana cards, you know, to go with their theme. And I pulled it out and it was the overboard card. And I was like, “Why didn’t I think about that? I’ll throw her overboard.” So, I had them turn the ship and the sail came around and shoved her right over the side. And it fixed everything and it ended up being an amazing scene. And it was fantastic. And in a million years, it would not have occurred to me to chuck her overboard. It just wouldn’t. But that card, you always pull the card you need, and it saved me.
Anyway, so, I use the cards a lot when I’m writing because I feel like sometimes we know what the story should be but we try too hard to force it in a direction where we think it’s supposed to go. And, so, then things grind to a halt and you can use a tarot card to like take you out of the equation. And you pull the card and you’re like, “Oh, of course. I throw her overboard. Perfect.” You know, so, it’s a great writing tool when I teach classes. I have a class called “What if I don’t plot?” and it has lots of different tools and tricks for when you get stuck. And tarot is a big part of…you know, it’s a good tool for when you’re stuck. And you can use it in regular life too, it’s really…I mean, if you want it to be mystical, it can be. But for real, it’s just a tool that’s super handy. And, so, you know, it can help you focus, “What do I need to focus on today?” and draw one card. And then, for the day, you have some kind of focus. So, I find them to be super helpful tools. So, I do a lot of tarot.
Rachel: I love that. And I love tarot as a tool as well, I have a deck out in my living room. But I’ve never thought about using it for writing, that’s such a cool idea to just kind of break down that wall between your overthinking and just story. That’s really cool.
Lisa: Yes. And it works really well for character development too because tarot has the four aspects of your life. You can draw a past, present, and future for your character and then you’ll know, you know, what trauma did they face in the past and where are they when they hit the page and where are we gonna be by the end of the book. And it really gives you, you know, some direction. And also oracle cards…like I have oracle deck here. But oracle cards are fun because they are a little less, they’re not categorized like a tarot card so you can be flexible with an oracle card. And, so, if you’re drawing for yourself, an oracle card is a great way to…because it will also have a word on it. So, you know, you can say, “Okay, I’ve shuffled,” and, “what should I focus on today with cooking?” And you pull a card and it says, you know, “Nature.” And you’re like, “Okay, so, I’m gonna focus on vegetables today, things that grow outside.” You know, so, you can really play with an oracle deck when you’re reading for yourself.
Joni: This would be great for NaNoWriMo, Rachel, when we, in November…
Lisa: Yes, it’s a great tool for NaNoWriMo.
Rachel: I’ll bring my deck to every writing session we have.
Joni: That’s a great idea. I can totally see how this would work to, like you said, just open your mind and open up to possibilities that maybe you haven’t thought about.
Lisa: Right, right. Because we get so ingrained, especially like when it’s a timed challenge, like NaNoWriMo, it’s super easy to get crunched because you’re like, “I don’t know what else to write. I’ve done everything, I don’t know what else to write and I’m not to 50,000 words yet.” You know, and you can just pull a card and the card will be, you know, that it’s the six of pentacles, which means charity. Okay, what if they’re going to go volunteer somewhere? And then now you have a whole other scene you can write in your book that you never would’ve thought of before. So, definitely, when you’re doing a challenge like that where you need words, it’s a great tool. It’ll save you.
Joni: And what are the courses that you teach to other writers?
Lisa: Well, I’m teaching next week, I’m teaching for the Orlando Library online, a dark moments class. That’s pretty much my most popular one that people…because I love, you know…that dark moment is really the moment that characters change. You think about that hero’s journey, where they go. And that dark moment, if it’s really good, it makes the story last so much longer than the book. You can’t stop thinking about it because that dark moment sticks with you. So, I work with writers on twisting that up, you know, building the tension so that it’s even better, so that it will affect more than one character, that kind of thing. So, I teach that and I teach, “What if I don’t plot?” how to write with, you know, that kind of thing. Also, deep point of view and characterization and world building. So, those are my my big five…I think that was five. And then I do teach tarot classes too and I also have a tarot for writer’s class.
Joni: That’s cool. We’ll have to get details from you at the end about where people can find you online for these things.
Lisa: Yeah, sure.
Joni: And I wondered…you also have a podcast, right, where you interview…
Lisa: I do.
Joni: …other paranormal writers. Is there anything that you’ve learned from other writers and from talking to people in this format?
Lisa: Yes. Actually, “Book Lights,” I talk to all genres. So, like this month, for some reason, I’ve had a bunch of thriller authors on. But I’ve had every everything from hard sci-fi to horror to thrillers to women’s fiction. I had one children’s book author on. Oh, I had a graphic novel author on once too, I learned so much. I was like, “Wow, I had no idea.” So, anyway, I have a lot of fun. I do it once a week and it’s a really great way, especially with the pandemic, to connect with other writers. And I think readers enjoy…we do talk about their new book but then we talk about, you know, “What are you binge watching?” You know, I feel like readers, when they feel like they have a personal connection with the author, they get so many books in an e-reader. And when you’re ready and flipping through your library, what they remember is, “Oh, that’s the guy who also likes ‘Breaking Bad,’ I’m gonna read that.” You know, and you can’t help it. So, we try to keep it just a conversation, you know, kind of thing.
And, in October, I always do all horror authors and we talk ghostly things, and that’s fun. And, in February, it’s all romance authors, all the love all the time. But I think the coolest thing that I’ve learned is that every single writer has a completely different process from everyone else. And I think that that’s really important to realize because part of the reason I came up with the workshop of “what if I don’t plot?” is because I went to a whole bunch of writers conferences. And I was in RWA and we had speakers at meetings. And you’re constantly bombarded with that you need an outline and you need goal, motivation, conflict, and you need, you know, all these different things that do work for some people but, if your process isn’t like that, it’s so confining…when I started out and I was writing horror short stories, I tried to plot because that’s what they tell you is the proper way.
And those were the only stories that I never finished because, in my brain, once I know how it’s all gonna happen, it’s done, it turns into a term paper for me. So, for me, that is not my writing process because there’s no reason for me to go to the keyboard if I know what’s gonna happen. So, whereas I have friends who, you know, plot out on different colored note cards, that this is emotional tension and this is…you know, and I start getting hives because I’m like, “Oh, how can you write like that?” But for them, I’ve talked to them enough that I realize that, for them, it’s paralyzing to look at the blank page and not know what needs to go on there. And I have other friends who do it so that they know that the book will be long enough. Because they know that each scene for them is 1,500 words, they have planned out this many scenes. So, the book will be the right length.
You know, so, everybody is different And, from the podcast, that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from that is that no one is wrong. If you finish a book, you did it the right way. And once you find your process, you should honor that and stick with it. And if other people give you ideas where you go, “Oh, that might help,” that’s fine but you don’t need to chuck…you know, there isn’t a right way to write a book.
Joni: I love the fact that it sounds like 40 books in and 10 years on, like you’re still so passionate and you’re still having fun with every book that you write.
Lisa: Yes, yes. And every book is an adventure. I know that one of the books where I didn’t know the ending, and that is really hard for me, it’s happened a couple of times, and when that happened, Nora Roberts had posted a blog about “why is writing hard?” And I went and read her blog and she was talking about that, every once in a while, you have a book that makes you think, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And I thought, “Geez, if that happens to Nora then I’m fine.” But I feel like writing is a craft, and, so, the more you do it, you know, you just work different muscles. And you do get bored if you keep writing the same thing, which is why I enjoy the hybrid also because I write in one series for myself and one series from my publisher so I never feel like it’s stale, I’m jumping into a different world. But I think, when you do that, you’re also testing new things. And, so, sometimes you do hit a book that’s harder than others. Sometimes, when I’m in a hard spot in a book, I think, “Geez, I’ve done this 40 times. Why am I incapable of doing this?” But I feel like, because you’re learning, you know, you’re growing…if you think of the lizards that only grow as big as their geranium, you know, it’s like I’m getting out there, I’m making it bigger. So…
Joni: Would you say your writing process has changed at all throughout your career or has it pretty much stayed the same, pantsy fun?
Lisa: Yeah, it’s pretty much been pantsing the whole time, pantsing and tarot cards. But process-wise though, when I…gosh, I guess during the pandemic, I started writing online with friends. And we would do zooms where we were writing at the same time just to help you focus because the beginning of the pandemic was really scary and my anxiety was like, “Why, hello.” So, getting stories down was hard. But through doing that, I have learned from them…like, you know, it had never occurred to me to time myself to figure out, you know, what’s my average words per hour. And by doing that, now I can plan out how long it takes me to write a book, how many hours I need at the keyboard. I can plan that all out. So, I feel like I have a much better hold on what I’m doing. It used to be much more magical before, “I don’t know but I need 10,000 more words.” And now I know, if I need 10,000 more words and I write 3,000 words a day, I’ll be done in 3 or 4 days. You know, and I didn’t have that capability before because I had never timed it. And there’s apps for your phone. I’m like, “What?” So, I always time it now and I know what my average is. And, so, it’s no longer scary for me to look at a deadline because I can plan it all out. And, so, that has been the biggest change in my writing process, I think, much less panic.
Joni: I noticed that you use your blog in kind of a cool way to talk about your backlist. You have things like 40 scenes…
Lisa: [inaudible 00:35:02].
Joni: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I thought that was a really cool idea. Because when you’re looking at a backlist of 40 books, it’s a lot. And if somebody’s discovering you as a new writer as well, like it’s hard to know where to start. And I think that’s one of the biggest questions from established writers is, “Well, what do I do to keep that backlist working?” Is there anything else that you find…
Lisa: Yeah, I’m still struggling with that answer as well because it’s like…and I’ve talked to people who like help writers, like Becca Syme and figuring out your strengths and all that kind of thing. And I talked to a coach about it and he was like, “Well, 99% of people don’t know that’s an old book.” Because I was telling him, “I have a really hard time promoting old books,” and he’s like, “well, for 99.9% of people, they don’t even know it’s old.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s…”
And then there’s other phenomenal writers like Zoe York who…she actually wrote a book…I think it’s called “Romancing Your Plan,” where she talks about newsletter content. And that was where I got the idea for those vlogs is because she was talking about putting in top five lists into your newsletter to help people discover books that they haven’t read yet of yours. And I thought, “Well, if I did scenes, if I did it on my blog, I could give them actual scenes so that they can see,” you know, “if that book seems good to them.” And then the other thing I use them for is Throwback Thursday posts on Instagram, or whatever, I’ll put a link back to my blog so that they can see a little thing and then hop over to the blog and read the scene there. And it gives me content, you know, for Throwback Thursdays, for five of them! So, anytime I can find a way to save time but also give readers content, that’s a win. So, yeah. So, I do that a lot.
And every once in a while I try to, you know, do a birthday of a book. Like the 10-year anniversary was all “Night Walker” all the time, so, I try to, you know, repackage. Because that coach was so right, I mean 99.9% of people don’t even know that that book exists, so, to them it’s new. And, as writers, it’s really hard for us to…because, you know, I’ve written 39 books since “Night Walker” and I’m writing the 41st book now, you know, so, it’s hard for me to go all the way back and go, “Well..” but we really need to because we’re a small business and those are widgets. But it’s hard, as a writer, to think like a business person.
Joni: Yeah, I think a lot of writers lose sight of that. And it’s so true, like there’s nothing better for a reader than discovering that an author that you love has 40 books. Plus, readers are aging into your books all the time, right, like there’s people, yeah, are just getting ready to enjoy them every day, yeah.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. They’re in college and they catch my book on one of those reader apps and then they’re like, “Oh my gosh,” and then they can hop over to Kobo and go, “wow,” and, you know, read all of those books. I love that e-readers and e-books have changed because I can remember loving…like I did not discover Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” until “Tale of the Body Thief” came out. And I remember going to the bookstore and they had the first book, they had “Interview with the Vampire,” they didn’t have any of the books in between because they only keep them, you know, for a couple months and then they get shipped back and new books come in. And, so, back then, I had to like special order. And then, Amazon was a baby, so, I would order from Amazon because they would have all of the books. But now, you know, none of the books go out of print, so, you can hop on, you know, and buy all the ebooks. And that was a huge luxury because, back then, that was impossible. Unless you could find them at the library. So, I love that. And, so, when you do have a new reader that finds you, they can get all 40 books if they want to. You know, it’s really cool.
Rachel: I just wanted to ask you about, I saw on your website you also used Patreon to connect with your readers.
Lisa: I do.
Rachel: And I was just curious like how do you use the platform? What can readers expect when they sign up to your Patreon?
Lisa: That is a good question. I have…so, Katee Robert is a friend of mine, she’s “New York Times” bestseller and she’s fantastic and she has this amazing Patreon platform. So, my Patreon is just a baby and starting out but she told me to, you know, use everything you can. So, what I do with my patrons is, for the smallest one, I think it’s $5 a month and they get all of the ebooks, as they come out, for free. And, every month, I write them a new short story and they get to vote on who it is and they get to vote on which characters they nominate, they vote. And then I write them a short story. So, I have written eight short stories so far, this year, for them. And it has been such a blast, I did not foresee that it would be so much fun because they like to pick ancient books. And, so, I have to go back and reread part of the books so I can remember where it ended and where were they and what happened.
But then I get to get back in their skin and it’s like seeing an old friend and it’s just like, “Oh, I fall in love with them all over again. Every month it’s so fun.” Let’s see, just yesterday I posted the August short story was for Issa and Mariah from “Night Child,” which is the final book of “The Night” series, which is vampires. And I remember that she was like a treasure hunter. So, anyway, I went back and re-read part of it and I’m like, “Oh…” So, it’s super fun for them because they get this exclusive content that nobody else gets. Eventually, when I have enough of them, I will bundle them and put them out so that everyone can read them. But for now, only patrons can read them.
And they also get stories that sometimes, if they nominate the right characters, they’ll get a story that goes in between two books that haven’t come out yet. So, it’s like they get inside scoop of a book that’s gonna come out in January. So, anyway, they get that as well. So, that has been super fun. And then I have a level where they get signed paperbacks. Every quarter, I send out a bunch of mail. So, every quarter, they get signed paperbacks of all of the indie books that have come out. And then the biggest one is a paranormal reader subscription box, which I have so much fun shopping for them. But they get all the signed paperbacks, plus they get lots of cool paranormal things that every paranormal person should have. Like the pirate box had dirty pirate incense. So…and I give them candles that I like to burn while I’m writing the books and all that. And sometimes they’ll get a mug with the series logo on it. For my “Sedona Wolf” pack, my editor has an Etsy store. And she made this whole line of bath products with an exclusive scent for the Sedona pack. And she called it “shift happens.” And, so, they all got “shift happens” bath salt and soap.
And, you know, so, anyway, I have lots of fun with the reader subscription boxes. So, it’s a great way to connect with readers. We’re just starting doing zooms once a month for the patrons. So, that’s just getting started, so, I don’t have a report yet on that but we’ll see how that goes. But I’m finding Patreon a really fun way for readers to be involved in the creative process because they know that their patron money is going to pay for covers and editing for the indie books. So, they are invested in what’s coming out. And I think that that’s a really cool thing. And there’s lots of, you know, artists and podcasters and things who all have Patreons. And I think it’s just a fun way for the end user to also be involved in the creative process, which I think is really cool and hasn’t been available before. I mean I can remember, back when I was so into “The Vampire Chronicles,” if Anne Rice has had a Patreon…ah, oh my god.
Joni: Well, that’s what I was thinking. This is amazing. Like this kind of access to your favorite author, that’s amazing. You’re right, like people would lose it for Anne Rice.
Lisa: Right, right. Oh my gosh, yeah. But it really is fun and I love seeing which characters they pick, it always surprises me, and then I have to go back and read the book and figure out what’s happening. But it’s been a really fun way to connect with readers and, hopefully, they’re having fun too. I think they are.
Joni: It sounds like.
Lisa: And…yeah. So, anyway, it’s been really good and I’m glad that I got involved in it. And we’ll see where it goes, you know, from here. I’ll keep expanding it as I come up with more ideas of other things we can do. I don’t know, but for now that’s kind of what we’re doing over there.
Joni: Oh man, no, it sounds fantastic. I love this idea.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s really fun.
Joni: Well, we’d like to finish off by asking you about some of your favorite books, if that’s okay.
Joni: So, we have some…
Lisa: That I like to read?
Joni: Yeah, that you like to read.
Lisa: Okay. People always ask, “What’s your favorite book that you’ve written?” and I’m like, “this is the hardest question ever. What?” But I love to tell people what I like to read. So, I have a really weird mix of books that I love to read because I do love paranormal and I love urban fantasy. So, of course, Christine Feehan’s “Dark Carpathian” series was my first real paranormal, love “Dark Fire.” Oh, darius… Anyway, so, that was my intro to paranormal romance.
I also really enjoy urban fantasy, especially like Kelley Armstrong is one of my favorites. I really love her “Women of the Other World” because it’s one of the only urban fantasy series where the narrator changes, and I love that. I do find that, you know, when an urban fantasy goes on for a really long time and she can’t decide and there’s different…eventually, I lose interest because I am a romance…you know, I want them to have a happy ending. And, somehow, Kelley Armstrong managed to get the urban fantasy and she would do like three books with one narrator and then it would switch to the witches and three books but it’s all in the same world with the same characters. And I thought, “That is genius.” So, anyway, I really love Kelley Armstrong.
I also love Patricia Briggs. And it’s funny because most people talk about “Mercy Thompson” but I actually like “Alpha and Omega” even better with Charles. And I’m not sure if I like…it might be because “Alpha and Omega” is a third person. It’s told in third person instead of first, which is really weird for urban fantasy but it enables you to get in the hero’s head, which I like. So, anyway, if you haven’t read “Alpha and Omega” of Patricia Briggs, super worth reading.
Also, I still enjoy horror very much. “Heart-Shaped Box” from Joe Hill is so fantastic. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s been out for a while. But if you haven’t read it yet, it’s like old-school Stephen King. It was so scary that you’re like, “Ooh, I need to set this down for a little while,” it was very good. I still enjoy that very much, being scared.
I still love Anne Rice, I can’t quit Lestat, I can’t quit you. So, every time another one comes out, I’m there. And when the series finally comes out, I think on AMC or something, I saw something about some casting and that Louie is gonna be a black man, and I’m like…so, anyway, I’m very excited about that. So, I do still enjoy her. I’m trying to think, and I know I’m leaving people out.
There is a great YA series. I don’t read a lot of YA but I think it’s called “Shift” and Jeri Smith-Ready wrote it. And it still, obviously, sticks with me, haunts me, it’s very good. But it all revolves around Stonehenge, it’s gonna sound weird, but when the equinox hits on this one particular day, all the babies born after the equinox could see and communicate with ghosts. And, so, there was like a first and the last. And the girl who was first, who was born first and could see ghosts, meets the boy who was the last one who couldn’t. And it’s a trilogy and it’s so fantastic. So, everyone go get that. I think it’s “Shift, Shade,” and I can’t remember the third one, but super worth reading. At one point, it was optioned for a TV show, and I was like, “Oh, please. Oh, please,” but I guess it never happened. So…
And who else are fantastic? Dean Koontz, oh, I enjoy Dean Koontz. I just finished a Patricia Briggs book, it was fantastic. But I always like having a paranormal bend, however, I do often read weird non-fiction books and I can highly recommend…it’s the story of the USS Jeannette, “In the Kingdom of Ice.” And it is a true story and it will blow your mind but it is about the race to the North Pole. And wild story, you’ll be reading it going, “This can’t be real,” but it’s all true. But basically all the countries, the UK, Russia, United States, everybody was trying to map the North Pole. And it even has pictures, in the book, of the maps that people were making in the 1700s and 1800s trying to guess what was at the top of the earth. And because there is a jet stream that’s warm, the big theory, at the time, was that, once you pushed through the ice, it was a tropical paradise. Because they thought that was where the hot water was coming from. So…
Rachel: Wouldn’t that be nice?
Lisa: Yeah, right? So, there’s pictures of these weird maps that they had. One map maker killed himself when they found out that it was all just ice, because he had been wrong. Anyway, it’s the fascinating story of the USS Jeannette that sails up with Thomas Edison’s first lights on the ship. They never worked the whole time but they did have them. And off they went and they tried to go up the Alaska side. And they got completely stuck in the ice, they tried to sail to the North Pole. So, the whole ship gets stuck in the ice. Anyway, it is an amazing story. And the USS Jeannette is apparently still down there and you can see it. And no one can get it because it’s in Russian water but it’s a United States Navy ship. So, there’s still…every once in a while, I see a little news story about…because they’re trying to bring it up because it had also been a science ship, so, there’s all kinds of photos and things of animals from back then that some are now extinct that are in watertight containers, if we can ever get the ship up. So, anyway…
Rachel: Well, that is a cool story. That sounds fascinating.
Joni: It sounds really cool.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s “In the Kingdom of Ice,” and it’s wild. I can’t even imagine not having GPS or a cell phone and trying to sail to the North Pole. I’m like, “These people were hardcore.” But it was a race of nations to figure out what was up there. Wild.
Joni: Wow. Well, this is great. We have so many book recommendations to share, so, thank you for that.
Lisa: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Joni: This has been great, thank you so much.
Lisa: Yeah, thanks for having me. This was really fun.
Rachel: Thank you for listening to the Kobo Writing Life podcast. If you’re interested in picking up Lisa’s books or learning more about her Patreon or her tarot card readings, we will have links to her website in the show notes. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. It helps us out a lot. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, go to kobowritinglife.com and be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.
Joni: The show was produced by Joni Di Placido and Rachel Warden. Editing is by Kelly Robothom, our theme music is provided by Tear Jerker. And big thanks to Lisa Kessler for being a guest. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.