In this episode, we are joined by Nana Malone, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of sexy, feel-good romance novels and creator of the #BrownNippleChallenge. Nana is also the author of two Kobo Originals, and has recently started a new series: Gentlemen Rogues. The first novel, The King, launched on July 19th, and the next instalment of this standalone romance series is out on October 25th, 2022.
We learned more about Nana’s experience writing not one, but two novels for Kobo Originals, her writing process regarding dictation, modelling for her own covers, the importance of Black women and women of colour on the covers of romance novels, the #BrownNippleChallenge, judging a literary contest, and more!
- Nana talks romantic suspense, writing spy novels, and mapping out fight scenes IRL – with her family!
- We discuss moving from typing out novels to dictating them using speech-to-text software, and the learning curves involved
- Nana talks about her writing process – fast-drafting, dictating any and everywhere, and the editing and revision phase
- She also talks about who inspires her characters, and how those characters are developed
- Nana touches on modelling for her own covers, the important focus on Black heroines and putting women of colour in the spotlight, and discusses what necessary changes are needed in the cover model and photography industry
- She also talks about the #BrownNippleChallenge, the sustainability of this project, and her motivation behind it
- She gives authors advice – on editing and revision, on finding the perfect pacing, on marketing eBooks vs. audiobooks, on book length, regarding reading for writing, and more
- Nana also touches on the reactions of her readers, judging the romance genre entries for this year’s Kobo Emerging Writer’s Prize contest, and recommends some of her latest reads (as well as gives us insight into how she reads)
- And lots more!
Mentioned in this episode:
The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma
Dad Jokes and Pine Cones by C.J. Banks
Wall Street Journal & USA Today Bestselling author, Nana Malone writes Sexy Feel-Good Romance and loves all things romance and adventure.
That love started with a tattered romantic suspense she “borrowed” from her cousin. It was a sultry summer afternoon in Ghana, and Nana was a precocious thirteen. She’s been in love with kick butt heroines ever since. With her overactive imagination, and channeling her inner Buffy, it was only a matter a time before she started creating her own characters.
Transcription by www.speechpad.com
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 relations manager at Kobo Writing Life.
Laura: And I’m Laura, author engagement manager at Kobo Writing Life.
Joni: On today’s episode we are chatting with Nana Malone. It is not the first time she’s been on the podcast but we truly can never hear enough of what Nana has to say. It was a really, really great chat. We had to bring it to a halt because we really could’ve just talked to her all afternoon.
Laura: We talked to Nana about her “Covert Affairs Duet” with Kobo Originals, modeling for her own covers, and what she looks for in a romance novel.
Joni: Yeah, she’s part of the judging panel of the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize this year so we were able to chat a little bit about what makes great romance. She gave some tips for writing and talked about how she dictates her books. It’s a great interview. We hope you enjoy it.
Joni: We are excited to be joined today by Nana Malone. Thank you so much for doing this.
Nana: Hi, guys. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Joni: I do not think you need much of an introduction. I think most of our listeners are familiar with you, but for anyone that’s new, could you introduce yourself?
Nana: Sure. Hi, guys, I’m Nana Malone, Nana from Ghana, and yes, I am actually from Ghana. The accent, I know, is a little tricky but I write sexy, feel-good romance, usually fun, exciting, on the lighter side, but with a touch of spice.
Laura: And you worked on a recent project with Kobo Originals, “The Covert Affairs Duet.” Can you talk a little bit about that process and what your experience was like?
Nana: Oh, my gosh, I love that so much. So I was approached by Kobo to do a duet and the best part about that is they were like, “Look, do everything in your wheelhouse. We don’t care what it is, we’re so excited at anything you have to offer.” And I was like, “Wait, can I do suspense?” And they’re like, “Yeah, you can do suspense.” And I was like, “A diverse cast?” They’re like, “Go for it.” And so I did what is the core of who I am, and I took that show…it’s actually kind of “La Femme Nikita” but the awesome Canadian version, not that nonsense Hollywood CW version. And I changed it and made it a little lighter, a little funner, and I made the heroine African American. And then I took a little bit of a dating concept, like, what if you did a dating app and everything about your application was a lie in theory, but they matched you with someone else who had the exact same profile and he’s also an undercover spy? So those are kind of the fun things I did there, and that was so fun.
I had such a great time. Lyra and Marcus were a really great couple and it was the kind of like dating but you’re hiding who you are, which is like real dating where you’re trying to put your best foot forward and you’re like, “But I’m not only a spy. I’m actually a real-life girl,” but it was really fun and entertaining. And then, of course, hijinks ensue, so that was really great, and I loved everything about it and that world was so great. And one of my favorite parts is that Kobo is so great at international outreach that it’s already translated into a couple of languages, so that was really exciting for me because that’s always the thing that you want as an author. You’re like, “I want people in every country to read it,” so that’s very exciting.
Joni: Is there anywhere really unexpected that people are reading your books?
Nana: Yeah, which it’s weird, Slovenia. I’m like, “I hear you, but great, awesome.” I’m here for it. Every now and again I’ll check. I mean, I have a lot of South Africans which is…I mean, I’m from the continent so I was like, “Okay, South African maybe makes sense.” Yeah, Slovenia is probably one of the most, and then randomly, Sri Lanka. I’ll take Sri Lanka, and let’s see…yeah, those are probably the most kind of, like, oh, that’s interesting.
Joni: Are they all reading in English in Slovenia…?
Nana: Yes, they are reading in English because I can’t see my…
Joni: Oh, your translations are…
Nana: Yeah, can’t see my translation stuff. So yeah, for my English titles I’m like, “That’s great.” Whenever I have a sale in some place unexpected I run and tell my husband. I’m like, “I’m very big in Slovenia.”
Joni: That’s really cool. Do you have a lot of readers in Ghana?
Nana: I don’t, which is odd. I think the Ghanaian readers are probably reading on other vendors because Amazon has, like, a big presence there, and then there are people with their iPhones all the time so they’re probably, I would assume. But when I look on Kobo I’m like, “Guys, where are you?” I mean, Nigeria is there, which is awesome, not unexpected. They’re our neighbors, but I’m like, “Ghana?” Because I do a lot of, like, when I go home I’ll do readings and signings and I’m like, “There’s no one here. What’s up?” But I think Ghanaians also really like their paperbacks because that’s the number one thing I get asked for. So whenever I travel I’ll ship some and I’ll sign them all, and there’s a couple little bookstores, and boutiques, and stuff that I’ll store at.
Laura: So one of my favorite parts of “The Covert Affairs Duet” was all the different action scenes you got to write, so can you tell us a little bit about how you wrote those and, kind of, blocked out the scenes?
Nana: Yeah. So one of the fun things is I used to do krav maga, which it’s an Israeli fighting technique, and I blew out my shoulder many years ago so I don’t practice as much anymore. But my husband also does Shotokan karate and he’s a fourth degree black belt, and so it’s really handy to visualize in my mind how I want a fight scene to go. I’m like, “Well, this is how it has to end, and this, I think this will be cool, and that’ll happen.” And I’ll already have kind of made bullet points of…especially when I use props, you know? But then what’ll usually happen, I’m like, “Babe, come here, come here, I wanna try this out.” And he’s just, like, he just shakes his head and he gets up, and I’ll say, “Can I do this? If I elbow you, can I come back and then groin strike?” And I’m like, “Well, no, that doesn’t make any sense. What was I thinking?”
Because I’m like, “No, I’m right-arm dominant. If I use that,” I was like, “Then I can’t get my hips in the right location for a groin strike.” And I was like, “Never mind, it’s fine.” And he’s like, “That’s it? That’s all I get?” And then our daughter used to do Judo, too, so she wants to get in on the game because she thinks it’s, like, playtime, and I’m like, “No, no.” Plus, she doesn’t know how to use a lot of control yet so one of us usually gets hurt and that’s me.
Laura: I love that you guys are such a kickass family that you’re physically blocking out what the fight scenes are for the book. That’s so cool.
Joni: That also makes so much sense. It didn’t occur to me that you would actually get up and walk through it, but yeah.
Nana: Well, it’s funny, I dictate to write, so I’m usually walking around anyway. And so what’s funny is I’ll be doing a scene, and it’s just a talking scene where they’re in a room, or she’s with a friend or something, and I’m walking and doing it, kind of like you’d be walking along the halls of an office, or your super secret spy center, or whatever the case is. So I’m walking and making turns, and I’m like, they’ll stop to do something and I’ll stop to also do something so my hands are also moving as I’m doing it. It’s really funny watching me as I dictate a book.
Joni: Do you always dictate?
Nana: Yes, ever since that shoulder injury, it’s not conducive to long periods of typing, because typing you’re moving your arms a lot back and forth. Even if they’re in a braced position they’re moving, and so that motion back and forth in that, kind of, L, makes my shoulder go clickety-clack and do unhappy things. So it’s not ideal for long term, and when I edit I’ll type sometimes or I’ll use a tablet. I use Pages in Apple and I’ll use that to manually edit, or I’ll print it out and I’ll write on it and someone will input for me. But when I’m putting the story down it’s always dictating.
Joni: Yeah, we’ve talked to a couple of authors that do that and it’s fascinating to me. I imagine the learning curve is quite steep to getting used to saying it out loud.
Nana: Yeah, it was odd. I think “Cheeky Royal” was my first fully dictated book, and then when I did that one, that actually wasn’t too bad because I was typing the book and then I was saying it as I typed to get used to saying the punctuation, which can be very difficult. That’s the number one thing, a lot of authors will be like, “You dictate, how do you punctuate?” And I’m like, “I see it in my head like I’m typing it, and then I’m like, ‘Okay, comma, close quote, she said,'” you know, that’s the kind of thing. So I did that and I think three chapters in I just abandoned the typing.
Joni: I think it’s also interesting that it gives you the opportunity to move around while you’re writing because that’s not something you would usually get. Do you find that it changes the way that you write at all?
Nana: Not now but I think in the early days, probably yes, I was a lot more cognizant of where I was and a little bit shier. Sometimes you’re in the car pickup line and you’re sitting there dictating and a mom walks by and she wants to have a conversation and you’re, like, “I’m on the phone,” and you’re worried people can hear you. But I think it was once, this was a few years ago when we first moved to our new place in San Diego and they were doing construction on our house. I was on a very tight deadline and I just, I had to get the book done. And so I was outside of a Starbucks walking back and forth dictating, I think, the love scene in full view and full hearing of whoever happened to be sitting outside on that patio, but I did not care because it had to get done. And that was one of the first times that I kinda let go of any, you know? Because before I had to have…oh, my God, no one was in the house, it had to be quiet in the house.
Because mostly, I don’t care if I hear something because I can usually…it’s like when you see a musician they sing, they’re right in the mic so that’s not the problem. I was worried that they would hear me and I’m like, “Whoa, it’s not perfect coming out.” But now I honestly do not care. Now I’m in my office, my daughter will be in the living room and I’m just dictating away, don’t care, just going for it. So your inhibitions get lower the longer you do it, I think.
Joni: That’s really interesting because I would think I would be very self-conscious, but yeah, you get used to everything.
Nana: Yeah, a lot of people still are and they’ve been doing it for years, but I think the necessity of having to just be outside, I mean, I dictate in the car. I’m in car pickup for school. I will be on the way to a doctor’s appointment, it’s mic on and I’m getting the scenes in, which is great, so I’m not stuck in the house which is nice. But in the early days, absolutely. Like, I’ll do it in a doctor’s office, I don’t care.
Joni: This is all excellent bonus content for any fans of yours that happen upon you.
Nana: Oh, yeah, they’ll be like, “Oh, is that her? Is she dictating?” Because especially if you have an appointment, I’ll go and usually they’re not ready right away. So if you don’t have paperwork to fill out I’m just like, “Hey, I’m just right outside the door so if you just open and shout out for me, I’m right there.” And then I’ll just get in a quick 15 minutes and usually it’s, like, 500 words at least, so I got some words in at the doctor’s office without having to stop my flow.
Laura: Have you found that you’ve increased your word count since you started dictating, or is it kind of the same?
Nana: It’s funny, that’s a question people ask because they assume dictation is faster, but I think it’s the same because when I used to type I would use this app called Write or Die. I don’t know if it’s still around, it’s a software program. And you can make it more difficult for yourself if you’re prone to distraction by doing Kamikaze method, which is if you stopped writing it would start to delete words. Now when I was first writing I needed that because it was so easy to get distracted by anything, and I would write in sprints because I was working full time. I had a baby, I was, like, anything can be done in 15 minutes. You can put laundry in in 15 minutes, you can wash the dishes in 15 minutes.
So I would take these 15-minute chunks, and they were always spread out throughout the day. First thing in the morning, 5 a.m., I’d be up, those kind of things. And then it’s, like, okay, and then the baby, and then I can do 15 minutes at lunch, and so before I knew it I would have all these words. So I learned to type very quickly and at least get the ideas out. I was like, “Well, anything can be fixed.” So at that point I could get about 500 words in 15 minutes. Were they great words? No, but that’s how I fast draft anyway, and so the magic comes in the editing process, which I don’t love. But that’s the slower, “Oh, I don’t want it to sound like this,” or, “Should it say this,” or, “Oh, that word, what’s that word again?” Get the thesaurus out, and that kind of thing, that’s when that happens, in, for me, the revision phase. But to get the story down to make it out of my head, I learned to write really fast and to just do it, and so dictation isn’t any faster for me.
Joni: So to swing back a little bit to “The Covert Affairs” books, we were talking about the character of Lyra and how she is very badass, and she’s a lot of fun. Was she based on anyone in your life?
Nana: I think all my characters are based on a conglomeration of people. Her mentor figure was based on someone I knew. That person is awesome but the mentor character, no spoilers, had turned out how we want the mentor to character to turn out, then she was based on someone that I know, and who is a very close friend of mine who is a very great mentor to me when I was still in corporate world. And Lyra, I think, I mean, they’re all me, all the characters are me, they’re just me. But she has fun, funny sayings and quirks from my best friend and she’s more fearless than I am. She just, kind of, dives right in. I have other friends like that. So you end up taking bits and pieces, and when I’m usually conceptualizing a character, I think to a TV or movie character that I loved but how to improve upon them, or Lorelai Gilmore but she’s not as messy.
So then I’m like, “Oh, well, okay, if that’s the case, what does that mean? She talks really fast. She’s sometimes impulsive but she has her stuff together at work, and her family dynamics are great, and cool, and all those things.” But I’ve taken a very specific cutout of that character and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what I mean by she’s fast-talking, drinks probably more coffee than she should, eats a lot of Gummy Bears, or whatever, but at the same time, she’s not messy. She doesn’t have a kid.” It’s like all the things that make Lorelai Gilmore Lorelai Gilmore are part of that character, but I just took that one snapshot and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a fun piece.” And then you build a character out from there.
Laura: I love that. Yeah, it’s kind of like a build-your-own adventure with a character. You’re just stealing bits of everything you like. That’s awesome. One of the other things that I loved about these books is the covers, and you actually modeled for them. So can you tell us how that came about?
Nana: I sure did model for those. Well, at the end of 2020, as you guys know, the uprisings in the United States and around the world were really important and the start of something great in the movement. And at the time, I wanted to start doing things that were like the things that you do in publishing that in the early days, because I’ve been around. I’m, like, from the Paleolithic era of romance, and back in the day I used to put Black models on covers all the time.
I was like, “Well, she’s Black, let’s go.” I didn’t even think about it, but you would see that at a certain point my sales plateaued and they just started to get flat, and I was having a hard time growing. And you start experimenting with what you can do to fix that, and I was very adamant that I was writing books about predominantly women of color. I would say the guys are interchangeable. I’m like, “Look, it could be Idris, it could be Brad Pitt, it could be Timothée Chamalet, I don’t care, equal opportunity, fine. But the women, I want them to look like me, and my family, and my friends, and by and large, that’s what a large number of my heroines are. I think 80% of them are women of color. And I used to put them on the covers all the time and then sales flattened out, so I started experimenting. So while I’m not changing the content, though, I can fiddle with the covers and see what happens.
I started putting a lot of very pretty men on the cover, objects on the cover, and people have internalized biases so the books started to perform better. But sure enough, you get in, like, is that a brown nipple? What in the world? But after 2020, now I was talking to my publicist and she’s like, “It’s time to go back,” and I was like, “Ah,” which is very terrifying. Because if you have a marketing thing that has worked for you, you’re like, “Oh, God, why would I change it?” But we took some books that she had hated the covers of already. She did not like those men on the covers, and we just said, “Let’s find a model.”
But one of the most difficult things, if anyone is an author and has gone through the dregs of stock photography, it is impossible to find women of color and I needed a Black woman who was dark skinned like I am, and in a princess dress, and with a hot guy, and they needed to clearly look like they were a couple, not just Photoshopped standing next to each other awkwardly, and that photo did not exist anywhere. And so we started calling photographers to see if they were available or had any models in stock that could shoot. They didn’t even have Black models available, which was signifying something really major important that it’s still, as far as we’ve come in the year 2021, though 2020 at that time, you still couldn’t find these models, or people just weren’t shooting them because “they don’t sell,” or whatever.
So I called a photographer friend of mine and I was like, “Hey, is your one model available,” that I knew he had. And he was like, “Actually, no, she’s pregnant.” And my publicist looked at me and she was like, “You’re just gonna need to do these.” And I was like, “Oh, what?” And so I did those and when it came time to do the Kobo covers, we were talking about it. We were talking we were gonna do illustrated, and I was like, “That’s not really the tone of my books because that’s more of a rom-com feel.” And I was like, “While these are light, and fun, and funny, they’re not really rom com.” And they were like, “Okay, great, we’ll find some stock photos.” And I was like, “You can look, but let me tell you…”
And I remember Michelle was like, “There’s no way. Of course we can.” And then it took a half a day of searching and she came back and she was like, “We can’t, so what are we gonna do?” And of course, … my publicist, she just lifted up the bus and was like, “No, just get underneath here.” And I was like, “Again?” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t know.” And the Kobo team was so supportive because as soon as they heard it Michelle was like, “Yes.” And I was like, “Ah, not again.” But it was actually fun. We used a new photographer I’d never used before, a new model I’d never used before, and one of the great things is we could come up with a concept together. And we all loved the idea of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” which is kind of how we started conceptualizing the books, as part “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Alias,” all of those kind of fun, action TV shows and movies.
And so we used the comp of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and so we shot me in that concept, which was…it was really fun but it’s always nerve-racking if it’s you on the cover. You take it personally if people don’t like the book, because otherwise if it’s not you, you’re just like, “Oh, some things don’t sell,” but it feels personal when it’s you, although I have many books. I’ve learned to separate a little. But yeah, it was a really fun shoot, and the photographer, Brandon Sosa, did an amazing job. He’s so talented and the rest is history.
Joni: Okay, but I have to ask, you have a background in modeling, right? You’re not just, like…because these photos are beautiful. If they asked me to randomly stand in because there were no models they wouldn’t look like that.
Laura: They’re gorgeous covers, really gorgeous. Yeah.
Nana: Thank you. Thank you. I have done a little modeling but nothing for book covers until that original photographer, Wander Aguiar, he’s a friend and I’ve bought images from him before. And I remember, I had never met him until a signing one time and he came up to me and he was like, “I’m gonna shoot you.” And I was like, “You’re gonna have to clarify. When you say ‘shoot me,’ that can mean a lot of things. What are we talking about here?” He was like, “You’re gonna model for me.” And I was like, “The hell I am.” Wander is very persistent. He just keeps hounding you until you say yes, and finally I had a full…I had been reading Shonda Rhimes, “The Year of Yes.” That book messed me up, man, and I started saying yes to all these things and finally I just called Wander and I was like, “Fine, yes. I will model.”
But the great thing about Wander is he doesn’t just, like, throw you in and be like, “Well, stand there and give me face.” He really walks you through what to do with your face, what to do with your body, what angles you’re looking for, what are your best angles? So you’ll see there’s a lot of photos of me in profile, like, so many, because I prefer it because you can see my neck, and he’s like, “The neck, the neck.” And it’s like, the one thing I hate about my face, which is my jaw, I’m just, like, “Ugh.” To me it’s always, like, too long. He’s like, “No, that’s your thing. That’s perfect, that’s what I wanna see.”
And so he showed me what to do with my face so by the time I got to Brandon I was like, “Okay, I do know what to do kind of.” And photographers, if they’re really good, are actually really helpful. So if you are feeling brave you could be on a book cover, too, just find a good photographer. You just gotta be brave, that’s it.
Joni: I know it’s only been two years, but has anything changed since 2020 in terms of finding stock pictures, any improvements at all? It’s a big gap in the market, somebody needs to get in there.
Nana: I think that there are some more, like, there’s more availability. There’s some photographers of color that are really making it a point to shoot more marginalized communities, which I think is great. I think that the difficulty is for us in romance is that romance is so specific, right? It’s like you need the couple. If you’re going to do a couples shot, right, you need them to look like they’re in love, and you need them to be, like, this close. And we’re still in Covid times so that is slightly tricky. But also, it’s like, you’ll get people being like, “Well, I don’t know where to find Black models,” and I’m like, “I’ve seen you run after a pretty blonde girl in the street and be like, ‘Wait, wait. Please come.'” I was like, “There are women of color everywhere that are stunningly gorgeous. If you can do that I’m sure you can.”
And a lot of people, a lot of models are like, “Oh, my God, that was such a boss move.” Authors are like, “I can’t believe you did that. That was so great.” And I was like, “That was a necessity thing that I did both times out of necessity because those photos didn’t exist. What we need is photographers to really understand that those photos can sell books, those photos can do well, and to have more of them available,” not for authors to then be like, “Well, let me just get my lingerie out and do it myself.” That’s not the actual solution. I am capable of solving my own problems but that’s not the solution I’m talking about.
So not a lot has changed. Like I said, there are more, I think, photographers of color taking more stock photography. The thing is is it’s not really romance ready, so you’ll go and you’ll be like, “Oh, my God, this Black girl, she’s so beautiful, and amazing, and great,” and you can use that for maybe an ad but it’s not ideal for a cover because the guys sell covers and couples sell covers really. And nowadays people are also doing, kind of, like, alternate covers as well as an experiment, but historically people like to see the face and they like to see a couple that look like they’re going to embrace at any given moment. And so we’re not releasing that yet, so there’s still a lot of room for growth there, I think.
Joni: Big opportunity for somebody that’s willing to…
Joni: So in general you are a champion for diversity in romance. Can you talk to us a little bit about the Brown Nipple Challenge?
Nana: So that was my little piece of 2020 that I was like, “I wanna do something, something that I can sustain and not just do it in a moment and then just kinda be like, ‘Oh, well, I’m done now,’ and something that’s sustainable and can have an impact moving forward for years to come if that’s what I choose to do.” And so it’s essentially a book club because for years I’ve gotten people like, “Oh, my God, I wanna read more diversely.” And I was like, “Okay, great, that’s awesome. I love this journey for you.” And then they would just have the nerve to look me dead in the face and be like, “But I don’t know where to find these books.”
I mean, especially if it’s coming from a friend you’re trying not to be super snarky, but you’re like, “Is your Google broken? Because if you just mosey on over and you type in ‘diverse romance,’ so many names pop up, or ‘African American romance,’ or ‘interracial romance.’ It’s right there, Google is such a great tool. It’s easy, it’s at the fingertips,” and nobody wants to do the work. But if they are reading diversity they’re like, “Yes, oh, my God. I love reading diverse books. I read books by,” and then they rattle off four or five authors, the same ones, always the same ones. And I’m like, “I love Miss Bev. Beverly Jenkins is amazing.” That’s the ’90s. That’s where half of us were like, “Oh, my God, brown people on covers. This is great.”
Kennedy Ryan is a very good friend of mine, she’s amazing, but there are thousands of other Black and brown authors writing romance, so many. We’re all just there and these books are amazing, and great, and sometimes just being overlooked, or they haven’t had the same access like I have, or haven’t been as lucky as I have. I mean, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’ve also had some great mentors, and friends, and people who’ve been like, “Come on, I just learned about this thing. Come do it, too.” Because if you don’t have access to some of these spaces you miss out.
If I didn’t know some of the people that I knew, I wouldn’t have found out about, like, Skye Warren’s Ads class, or whatever. I just wouldn’t have known and I wouldn’t have been able to then grow my career from knowing even just a little bit of nugget of information. So I started this book club where I just highlight books that I love by diverse authors. It’s pretty simple. And I was like, and all I asked, I said, “If anyone wanted to do it, great. Join me, also host your own Brown Nipple Challenge.” I wanted people to, because we’re speaking to their audience and people who love their books, pick an author who writes the same kinds of things that you do. If you write small town romance, go pick up Farrah Rochon or someone like that who is writing small town romance, but the author is diverse and you see what you come up with.
But what would happen is people were like, “Oh, my God, I wanna do this famous Black and brown author, one of the five, that I wanna do their book.” And I was like, “But that’s not what you write, what they write. Social justice books is very different than your small town, very lily-white…your readers are gonna have a hard time making that jump, as amazing as this is. Talk about this book, this book is amazing. You should definitely talk about them, but if you’re doing a Brown Nipple Challenge, why don’t you pick something that’s an easy jump for your readers so they can go, “Oh, why was I so scared, or resistant, or whatever to reading something by someone who didn’t look like me? That makes no sense.”
And then the big thing is, I think, people, once they really connect to an author or they see someone and they can go, “Oh, they’re fun. I know them.” I mean, … because it’s a parasocial relationship where you think you know someone, but that’s really helpful for authors because when you can see their personality and you think you know them, you’re more likely, when you see their name come up on an ad, or in a newsletter, or whatever, you’re gonna be like, “Click. I met them that one time on the internet and they were awesome.”
And so once we have the book club and I make everyone buy it, and I trumpet them, I share them in my newsletter for a month, and everyone’s meant to be reading or listening to the audio if that’s how you prefer your reading material. And then we have a chat with the author and just talk about their writing process, and the book, and sometimes why they made the characters do the things that they did. Sometimes I’m upset because I don’t like a secondary character so I make them explain themselves, but really kind of just have everyone, meet them, get to know them. And it’s a very informal chat but a lot of readers have said after that, they’re like, “Oh, she’s so fun and amazing.” I”m like, “Yeah, I know. Isn’t she great?”
And if it makes even just five people go, “Oh, I’ve never read a book by her and now I have to go read her whole backlist,” and I’m like, “That’s the whole point, you know, to put money in marginalized authors’ pocket and go, ‘Yeah.'” And to give them even the slight sliver of access that I have an be like, “Hey, I’ve kept the door ajar, come on in. It’s nice in here. There are readers and there’s money to be made.”
Joni: Yeah, it’s a win-win, readers discovering new authors and discovering someone with a backlist they haven’t explored yet.
Nana: Yeah, that’s always a fun surprise when you discover a book and you’re like, “What else have they…” And they’ve got, like, 10 to 20 books and you’re like, “Oh.” It’s like, “That’s gonna be a minute, excellent, excellent.” And then you just go down this rabbit hole. It’s really great.
Joni: It’s the best feeling.
Laura: Speaking of backlist, you have a pretty big one. You’ve been writing for a while now, so how has your writing process changed throughout your career?
Nana: Oh, that’s a good one. That’s a long backlist, like you said. I think in the early days, well, one of the main ways that it’s changed is that I wrote primarily standalones for the first 30 to 40 books in my career. I forgot, I’ve lost count, but I wrote primarily standalones, standalones in series, but still, standalones. And then my cliffhanger journey started with…I did a cowrite with a friend, “The Shameless Series,” and you could really see the trickle through and not just having one book, and then hoping that they liked the secondaries enough to continue. And so I was like, “These cliffhangers are nice. This is guaranteed money.” I mean, as long as the story calls for that, obviously.
But for my solo endeavors with “Cheeky Royal,” I had intended to go back to single titles. That was the plan. I was writing a single-title book. I was minding my business and I wrote “Cheeky Royal” and everything was great, and I got to, basically, essentially the black moment and I was like, “You know, if I wrote cliffhangers this would be the perfect place to end this book.” And then I was like, “Oh, God,” because then that idea wouldn’t leave my head. And all I had after the black moment was, like, 25,000 words, and that’s it. So I was like, “For a second book, that sucks.” But I couldn’t leave it alone. I couldn’t not think about it, and so finally I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna do this.”
And I knew that I couldn’t do it for that book and not do it for the subsequent because it was supposed to be a three-book, interconnected standalone series with three different siblings, and I was like, “Well, now it’s six. Oh, great,” and that’s how the cliffhanger journey began, and I like that method of storytelling. I already write like I’m writing for television anyway. I have a lot of dialogue. It’s very snappy and fast, and so writing cliffhangers for me is, like, I mean, I’m gonna show my age but I remember when old-school “90210” would be on, right, and they would leave you on a cliffhanger and you would just scream at the television, “No!” My cousin and I would go ballistic and we’d just be like, “I need to know what happened with Brandon and Andrea.”
I mean, you would be crying and howling about it for at least an hour afterwards, just mad, and then sure enough, you would not be late because you needed to know if they were gonna actually kiss or not. And they weren’t going to but you didn’t know that because you were a teenager. And that is the exciting part, the anticipation, coming back and being like, “Oh, I need to know what happens next. I need to know what happens next.”
And I love that method of storytelling, which is interesting that I’ve gone back and I’m doing a single title but with a soft cliffhanger for another character. So it’ll be interesting to see how that works out because I do love a cliffhanger. It’s a really interesting way to tell a story, and then you can tell a bigger story, too, with more layers. Because I don’t like simplicity, because why would I like it simple and easy? And so I tend to add a lot in anyway and this way nothing ever feels rushed, like, “Oh, I have to hurry up and close that storyline.” So it’ll be interesting to see how it works to go back. It’s certainly a journey on the new series but we’ll see how it goes.
Joni: How much…because this is a business, and like you said, cliffhangers sell differently, right, or series sell better, and how much of that informs the way that you write? Or how much is it really you just going, “You know what? I love this method of storytelling.” Is it just, sort of, serendipitous that they tend to both happen at the same time?
Nana: That’s a good question. It is serendipitous, I think, because you also get those reviews. Guaranteed when you write a cliffhanger, I mean, you should have a really thick skin because you’re gonna get those one-star reviews. They come quick on release week and you’re, like, “Ah.” I mean, so nobody likes pain and harassment, but that’s sometimes how it works out. And so there are good parts, like, yes, it’s more money, but then it’s also you have to write enough to write the story to fit the story you’re trying to tell. So you could’ve had your life easy and written 70k, or you could write 140k for one story, that’s on you.
So if you’re writing more, yes, you’re gonna charge more, but I do love that method of storytelling, and I write long. I mean, it’s so funny, sometimes I’ll get the reviews and people are unhappy that it’s a cliffhanger and they’re like, “She should’ve just done it in one volume.” And I was like, “Okay, well, that was a trilogy. Each one had 80,000 words so you’re looking at a 240,000-word novel that’s not …” Okay, great. Does that make sense to you? And so you see those things and you’re like, “Guys, I know that the story goes fast when we’re consuming it.” It’s like cotton candy, you think, you’re like, “Oh, this is great,” and it goes quickly and you’re like, “But where did it all go?” They’re long stories, so I love the method of storytelling because it does give you room and you do, if you’re writing long, which I tend to do, you do need to charge for that.
But what I tend to do after a while, I do first in series free so that brings the cost down for the reader a little bit, and then I’m on Kobo, I’m available in libraries, so if the cost is cost prohibitive, grab it from the library. The audios are also available with the library so that’ll make it a little bit easier. But I mean, if you’re writing, like, the story, I know there are some authors who wrote 40k and they need to price accordingly. But when you’re getting a hefty book that price is part of it, and it’s not necessarily about making money. It’s about, if I’ve done the work then I should be paid for the work, because sometimes you don’t mean to write that long, like me right now. I told myself I was writing a 70,000-word novel, 100k later and I’m like, “What’s wrong with me?”
Joni: I always think that must be one of the most annoying things about writing is that you spend sometimes years writing a book and then people consume it in a day. And they’re delighted with it, but still, that would drive me insane.
Nana: Yes, yes. Well, it’s not so much they consume it in a day because you’re like, “They loved it,” but it’s when they come and DM you and you’re like, “When’s the next one?” And you’re like, “Are you kidding me?”
Joni: “I just did this one.”
Nana: Yeah, that’s the one. And you take it in stride because you’re happy that they love your work and you’re excited that they’re excited, but I mean, sometimes you just…you have a small apoplectic fit and you’re like, “Oh,” and then you take a breath and you’re like, “No, but they love the book and I’m so happy they loved it, but goddamn.” Because I mean, it takes…I mean, you bleed for these stories sometimes, and when you’re in revisions and you keep thinking about the people who are DMing you being like, “When are we getting the next one,” do you know what?
Laura: And you’re like, “I’m already dictating from the doctor’s office, okay, guys? I’m doing everything I can.”
Nana: Right? And you’re like, “I am in the car on the way to the gyno. I am dictating this book right now. What I need you to do is chill.” But I mean, on the other hand there is that, like, they love it. There is that feeling but sometimes you’re, like…I mean, I wanna get really British and just be like, “Mate, come on.” I can just hear all my British friends and just the string of curses they would let loose, and you’re just like, “Oh.” That happens all the time. I feel especially for the really huge authors who, like, it really takes a year or more to really…I mean, people are still waiting on George R. R. Martin’s next book. It’ll get there when it gets there.
Joni: So as a reader, you’ve been involved in judging the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize this year. What do you look for when you’re reading a great romance? What keeps you going?
Nana: I mean, it depends. Every story is a little bit different, but personally, what I like in a story, I like…I mean, anyone who’s listening is, like, “Oh, she talks fast.” I do talk fast but that’s because that’s how my brain goes. I really like a snappy…I want to get dragged by the hair into the story and not let go. That’s what’s really exciting for me. There are some stories that take a while to get moving because you do need to lay groundwork, and I don’t even mind that as long as at some point it does drag me in kicking and screaming and won’t let me out. Those are the kind of books that you’re, like, you’re brushing your teeth and you’re reading them, and you’re walking through your house and you’re reading it, and you’re waiting for your kid in the pickup line and you’re reading it. Those are the really exciting ones, so that’s what I really love.
And then I read across genre, so I’ll read anything from contemporary, to historical, to vampire, to alien. And so as long as that’s the general quality, I like a really well-paced book that’s pacing…I mean, the pacing going along with the snap and the banter. If there’s banter and really good pacing, that makes me really excited. I don’t read super, super dark, it’s not really my general thing, but I have read some things that are super, super dark and I’m like, “Oh, I really dug that.” So it’s not really about genre for me, it’s about the feeling and something that’s really unavoidable. You can’t not read it, and so that’s what I’m looking for and that’s a hard quality to find. Sometimes people are like, “Oh, you’re really hard on books,” and I’m like, “Am I?”
I know what I like, and so some friends will be like…I’ll never forget, Kennedy Ryan, one day she called me and she was like, “Oh, my God, you have to read this book,” and it was some book about a barbarian or whatever, and I read the first, I don’t know, 10 chapters and I was trying to get into it and I was like, “Oh, I don’t…hm-mm, it’s not mine.” I mean, I always finish books, so I finished and I was like, “That’s fine but I didn’t love it love it.” And she was like, “Why?” And I couldn’t pinpoint it, but then I was talking to Sierra Simone and she was like, “Yeah, it took too long. There’s a lot of warlord things going on and the politics weren’t interesting enough to keep me engaged.” And I was like, “I need more.”
And so she was like, “You’re hard on books.” But I’m like, “No, if they’re really fun and snappy…” So I’m really excited to read. I read one of them which was the … I’m really terrible with titles. “Dad Jokes and Pine Cones,” I think, which was super cute, really, really adorable. And so I’ve been on deadline so I’m gonna dive into the rest of them next week and really dig in. So I’m excited to see what we’ve got because these are all the short list so they really made people excited to read, so I’m excited to read them and see what they’re about.
Joni: Do you have any tips for writers on pacing and getting that un-put-downable quality? Because that’s hard. It’s intangible.
Nana: Yeah, no. The number one thing I would say is read, read, read so much. One of the alarming things is I think there are a lot of authors who don’t read at all, which I was like, “How?” Because most of us are here because we loved to read, and I do understand that with life and stuff sometimes it falls by the wayside. But I think finding the time to read whenever you can, like…I can’t read while I’m writing, for example, or in revisions, I can’t. But the moment I’m done, man, my TBR list right now is, like, come Monday, it’s like…the way I will inhale things, and it doesn’t matter how you’re reading. I will listen to an audio while I’m reading a…Sierra Simone reads hardcovers in the shower. It makes no sense, but it doesn’t even matter.
We were just at the … experience this past weekend. She was, like, “I’m going to read my book,” and I was like, “In the shower?” She was, like, “Yeah,” and she just scuttled on in and I was like, “I don’t even know what to say.” But however, hardcover, paperback, your eReader, however, your Kobo eReader, however you are reading or consuming your media, do that, but that’s the most important thing. And then you’ll start to see because it will become a second nature, because the more you read, the more you’re going to go, “Ah, I see where they…mm.” And you won’t even be aware of it but you will stop reading and you won’t know why, but you’ll be like, “Hmm,” and it’ll feel uncomfortable.
And you’ll pick up the book again and maybe the author will write themselves or whatever, but people always say, “If you’re bored writing it they’re bored reading it.” And I was like, “Hmm,” so the way I will ruthlessly go and cut words that I’ve painstakingly put in, I’m just like, I’ll slash it, kill it. I don’t need it. Unless it’s information, do it in two lines or less. Stick it somewhere else where they get the information but don’t write this whole chapter if it’s boring. But that’s the number one thing is, like, if you don’t read, you’re not going to be able to understand what snappy pacing looks like.
And then in your genre, whatever it is, go and look at the bestsellers. Read their backlist, however many, read it. I like to say read something from when they started and read the things of theirs that are the most popular. Read those, consume them, understand where they went. And what you’ll find a lot, especially in romance authors, a lot of us talk about this all the time, it’s that you started and there was a sense of magic to it because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. You didn’t know you were breaking rules, you had no idea. You were just, like, “I’m just doing it and it’s great,” and there’s a magic and a flow to it. And the more you write, the more you self-censor as you go because you’re remembering things that editors have said along the way. So it feels less smooth and not as full of magic, but there are other ways to capture that magic and bring it back, but that’s my biggest advice is you have to read. You must, must, must read.
Joni: You mentioned audiobooks, and I know that you have a lot of audiobooks yourself. Do you listen to it on audio as well as…
Nana: Oh, yeah, it’s my preferred method of book consumption because I have old lady eyes, and so by 7 p.m. these no longer work right. So even to conceptualize sitting down with a book after that point is, like, my eyes are like, “You’re kidding, right? We are not doing this.” And so I tend to actually read in the morning, so I’ll get up early and if I’m using my eyeballs I’ll be on the treadmill just taking a walk or whatever, and I’m like you, utilizing my eyeballs and I can read that way, especially if it’s an eReader. But any other time it’s audio, so it’s in the car, and especially if I’m not writing at the time and I’ve just finished a book, man, the audiobooks that are stacked up waiting for me is not even funny because I commute. I mean, I go get my kid and bring her back. She can’t listen to things in the cars on the way, so it’s like, audio any time I have to go anywhere to an appointment, it’s audio, and then when I’m stationary it’s audio or whatever book is on my eReader at the time.
Joni: Are you one of those people that listen to them speeded up? I feel like you are.
Nana: Oh, yes. Oh, my God, you have no idea.
Laura: Why do people do this? I don’t get it.
Nana: No, listen, okay, no, listen, here’s why. If someone is an exceptionally slow talker it drives me bananas, and you don’t meet those people often but what happens is when I’m listening to audio, and these are trained actors so they’re really enunciating and they’re reading it. But I was that kid in school who, and my daughter is the same way. She just rolled up to her teacher the other day and was, like, “Miss Sugar, can I read ahead? Because this slow reading in the class thing is not working for me.” And so I was always reading ahead because I’m just, like, “I’m faster than you are. Give it to me,” and I need it to get into my brain faster. And there’s a very, very popular male narrator who women just go nuts for his voice. And I would listen to him on my friend’s audiobooks and be like, “Oh, my God, he’s amazing. He’s great.” And then I would listen to samples online and be like, “Ugh, I hate him. Why do I hate him?”
And I recognized that when I would listen to samples online he was not sped up and so he sounded like a drunken frat boy to me. And I was like, “Oh, no, don’t like it, don’t want it.” But just a little, and I don’t even go super fast, like, 1.5. I’m just, like, a smidge, and then I’m like, “Yes, this is the perfect tempo.” It’s not like I’m going at two times the speed or something.
Joni: Yeah. No, I do get that, there are some narrators who are slow, but sometimes when it gets fast it’s like it gets higher. It’s very weird.
Nana: Does it?
Joni: Yeah, it gets, like, high pitched if you go too fast.
Nana: Oh, yeah, I never go that fast because then I have to pay closer attention because I’m used to fast talkers but that’s because I’m trying to get the information as quickly as possible. But if I have to talk to a fast talker or somebody is talking faster than me all the time, that would force me to engage on a level that’s, like, “Oh, no, I’m on. I have to be fully paying attention to get everything in.” That would be very difficult because then you know you’re gonna miss something.
Laura: That makes sense. Yeah, you don’t wanna be listening too fast and then everyone sounds like a chipmunk or something.
Nana: Oh, God, no, no. With these male narrators, no, you want the deepness and the baritone, you want it.
Laura: Exactly. So how do you market your audiobooks versus your e-books? What do you do to reach that audio listener?
Nana: Some of it is things that have been part of my marketing for years, like when people click an audio link on my newsletter I immediately shuffle them to my little list. I will do audio ads. There are specific Facebook groups or just online groups that really have a large audio audience, I do that. And then I partner with the narrators and I’ll have them do some booth time, so I’ll … up on Instagram, stuff like that. You can do audio teasers, like there’s a little software program called Headliner and you can use snippets of the audio that you’re pushing out and can make whole waveforms, and now you can even get cooler and fancier because everyone is doing TikTok videos. So now you can actually use the video and put part of the audio on that.
I mean, there’s all kinds of ways now if you can get creative. People are always looking for traditional author marketing methods for audio, which is still the same. There’s some great audio groups out there that are amazing. Oral Fixation is probably the biggest one that we’re all aware of, and that group is run so well. Everyone in there is an audio listener and they have, like, thousands of people. And sometimes before I will even drop an audio they have got the link already, like, “Nana Malone’s latest audio.” And I’m like, “How did you even know? It just went live.” I mean, they’re on it, and then already the fans, because by the time you go see it, you’re like, “There’s 20 comments. I just went live.”
And so they’re really great, so just you can…Aural Fixation, like I said, is the best, biggest one. Or some of them are really great, the ones that the narrators have, like, fan clubs some of them. If they’re really popular and if you use one of those narrators, that fan club, it’s an auto buy. They don’t even check to see what it’s about. Some of the more popular narrators, they’re like, “Anything so and so does I’m here for it,” and so those are great. So it’ll be interesting to see, and you usually hear about those on Twitter, but it’ll be interesting to see the new…everyone’s like, “I’m leaving Twitter,” and they’re not.
Listen, if you haven’t left over the last several years you’re not leaving Twitter, please. But you usually find out about those things because the narrators themselves will push it. Or Instagram, I don’t know a lot of narrators that are super…because Instagram is really…well, was mostly photos and now it’s videos, but some of the narrators are under pseudonyms and stuff like that, or they don’t show their faces, or things like that. So it’ll be interesting to see how narrators start also doing their part in promotion with all the changes that are happening. But yeah, so that’s really what I do, but number one is newsletter. Your newsletter people are there. And then sometimes they’ll give people who are diehard, “I only read the e-book or paperback,” and then you play a snippet of some narrator’s hot voice and they’re like, “I got my first audio,” and you’re like, “Yeah, you did.”
Joni: Love that. All right, last question, what is on your TBR list on Friday when you hit your deadline?
Nana: Oh, my gosh, let’s see, finishing up “Dating Dr. Dil” for Brown Nipple Challenge chat on the 2nd, and then next is Anna Wang, “Wicked Games,” those two definitely because those have been on my list. I started going through a historical phase after “Bridgerton,” and so I’ve got Sarah MacLean on there, and then I’ve got…let’s see, Britteny Sahin. She does kind of grittier suspense. Yeah, so those are the immediate ones that I’m like, yeah, I’m just gonna inhale those, but yeah. “Dating Dr. Dil” is number one because I had started it and my deadline was actually looming and I was, like, “Stop it. Stop playing with your time.” I was really cranky about it, too, but that’s the number one thing I’m going back to.
Joni: Awesome. All right, well, we will let you get back to your deadline. Before you go, can you tell us where we can find you online?
Nana: Yes, I’m super easy to find. You can go on my website, nanamalone.com, or you can find me primarily on Instagram @nanamalonewriter, occasionally on Facebook, Nana Malone, Writer, and I’m on Twitter but I’m not on Twitter, guys. Oh, and on TikTok I’m nanamalonewriter, so I’m pretty simple. But check my website first because that’ll have the most latest updates anyway.
Joni: Awesome. Thank you so, so much.
Nana: Thank you, guys, for having me. I had fun.
Laura: Thank you.
Joni: This was fun.
Laura: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Nana’s books, we will include links in our show notes. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at KoboWritingLife.com. Be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.
Joni: This episode was produced by Laura Granger and Joni Di Placido. Our editor is Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker, and huge thanks to Nana Malone for being a guest. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at Kobo.com/WritingLife. Until next time, happy writing.