#328 – Wellness, Writing, and Working with Kobo Originals with Elizabeth Barone

In today’s episode, we are joined by Elizabeth Barone, author of over a dozen novels, with one of her latest releases published by Kobo Originals! Stagwood Falls: Love in Ink is a contemporary romance taking place in the fictional town of Stagwood Falls and the tattoo parlour – and the women who work there – at the heart of it.

In today’s episode, we are joined by Elizabeth Barone, author of over a dozen novels, with one of her latest releases published by Kobo Originals! Stagwood Falls: Love in Ink is a contemporary romance taking place in the fictional town of Stagwood Falls and the tattoo parlour – and the women who work there – at the heart of it. A Touch of Gold and the Love in Ink series are described as “Virgin River meets LA Ink” – and if you’re a fan of former-crushes-to-lovers, small town vibes, and tattoos, this is the series for you!  Plus, look forward to the release of book two in the series, Tattooed Heart, coming soon exclusively from Kobo.

Elizabeth spoke to us about what it was like working with Kobo Originals, living and writing with UCTD and PTSD, how her well-being and mental health are an important part of her writing process, getting inspired to write a contemporary romance series, how A Touch of Gold differs from her grittier romances, wellness and self-care, advice on avoiding burnout, and much more! We really enjoyed this insightful conversation with Elizabeth and we know you will, too

In this episode:

  • We hear how Elizabeth got started as a writer, and how her indie author career developed, and learn more about her writing process throughout our conversation
  • We chat about developments in indie publishing in general, especially surrounding the technology involved, and the changes that are expected to come
  • Elizabeth talks about what it was like working with Kobo Originals, and how that process played out, from submitting her work to getting the first book published this past May
  • We hear about A Touch of Gold, and get a (spoiler-free) overview of the plot and characters involved – the tattoo artist heroine Goldie, and city planner love interest (and Goldie’s former crush) David
  • Elizabeth tell us about her inspiration for the book, and why she chose to set the novel around a tattoo parlour and tattoo artist
  • She also tells us about how she created the setting – the fictional town of Stagwood Falls – and how she plans to continue using this setting in more books and series
  • Elizabeth talks about the editorial process behind writing her books, and how she approaches it with her editor
  • We ask Elizabeth how she exercises self-care and avoids burnout while living with chronic illness, and how she implements self-care into her writing process
  • Elizabeth offers some great advice on how to remember to care for yourself as a writer, and to prioritize your wellness
  • And much more!

Useful Links

Elizabeth’s website  

Elizabeth on Instagram

A Touch of Gold

Tattooed Heart

Stagwood Falls: Love in Ink series

Elizabeth’s books on Kobo

Mentioned in this episode:  

Kobo Originals

River Reapers MC series

Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Elizabeth Barone writes small town romance with a body count, and dark biker romance with another kind of body count. She lives in Connecticut with her bearded romance hero Mike and more coffee mugs than she’ll ever need.

Episode Transcript

Transcription by www.speechpad.com

Rachel: 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 Rachel, promotion specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Vanessa: And I’m Vanessa, the KWL Kobo Originals content creator. In this episode, we spoke to Elizabeth Barone. Elizabeth Barone writes dark biker romance with a body count and contemporary romance with badass belles because life isn’t just heavy or light, it’s both. Elizabeth has published over a dozen novels and has so many ideas for more. She lives in Connecticut with her husband Mike and more coffee mugs than she’ll ever need.

Rachel: We had such a delightful conversation with Elizabeth. We spoke to her a lot about her writing process and of course, we dug into her now-released Kobo original “A Touch of Gold.” Elizabeth gave us some insights into the writing process and what it was like working with Kobo Originals. And then she really talked to us about wellness and self-care as a writer and how important it is to avoid burnout especially when you’re a publishing indie. And she gave some really great tips for avoiding burnout and how to refill your creative well. It was a really insightful conversation, and we hope you enjoy.

We are joined today by author Elizabeth Barone. Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining us today.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much for having me.

Rachel: To start us off, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Elizabeth: I am a writer. So, I’ve been writing pretty much my whole life. I’ve been publishing since…2011 was when I published my first book “Sade on the Wall,” and I’ve just been, kind of, addicted to it ever since then. And I also live with UCTD, undifferentiated connective tissue disorder, and PTSD, which is post-traumatic stress disorder, and endometriosis. So, those are my demons, and I pretty much just try to write about things that affect me and my personal life and, kind of, give myself an escape.

Rachel: You mentioned you’ve been writing your whole life, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Was that always the end goal?

Elizabeth: So, it was like, kind of, just something I wish I could do but didn’t think I could do. I come from a small city, but it used to be the brass capital of the world, and it’s pretty much, kind of, just run down. So, the, kind of, goal of everyone coming out of there is get something practical, do something practical don’t waste your time or anything like that. And so I actually didn’t pursue writing in any way. It was something where I was like, “Oh I’d have to move back to New York,” because this is back before self-publishing and, kind of, just thought it’s not really something I’ll ever do professionally, but I had pretty much never stopped writing as soon as I started.

It was pretty much like 2008 when that really big economy hit came in, and I was unemployed over the summer, and I was just kind of trying to figure out my next move and also already had symptoms from the UCTD but didn’t have an official diagnosis yet. So, it was kind of like a weird limbo that I was in. And I’d been reading all these different blogs about self-publishing, and I had all this time on my hands, and I had all this web design and graphic design experience. And I thought, “Well, let’s just try it.”

Vanessa: Yeah. Speaking of early self-publishing though, I guess you were always self-published, right? Like, you always publish your first books. How did you find that process for you?

Elizabeth: For like a hot minute, I was with, kind of, like a hybrid publisher. They were, kind of, trying something new, but I’ve always been self-published. And I loved it from the beginning. Like, I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and I had a lot of hiccups. I can distinctly remember last minute, I mean, probably like less than a week before my first book came out, I was trying to make a cover for it, which I did not know what I was doing, and it was horrible, but I kind of lost my cover designer, so I had to put something together.

And this was before vellum and everything, so I was hand-coding, which is not a good time. And just I loved it. It was just weird and wild. And it was kind of a mix. You know, like some parts were really easy because I had that experience, and then some parts were just I don’t know. But I read a lot of blogs at that time because everybody was very generous with everything that they were sharing. The community was very generous. Like, everybody was always sharing the things that they were learning. And so I really leaned on those blogs to kind of get me going and figure it out. And then my experience, like I said, as a web designer and graphic designer really came in handy.

Rachel: Mm-hmm, like you mentioned vellum obviously is one of the big changes to any publishing. Like, I had to hand-code an ebook for a course I took in university, and that is the least fun. But super helpful software aside, what have been some of the really big changes you’ve noticed from the beginning of indie publishing to where we are now?

Elizabeth: We have a lot more books and a lot more authors, which is amazing because it’s just so normal now. The stigma is pretty much gone. There really is not that like, “Ew, you’re indie?” Like, now readers gravitate toward indie. They specifically look for indie. So, that’s been pretty exciting. And we have so much more technology, so many more options. Like, when I first started, there was just a handful of options. And Smashwords was a little baby and now it’s been purchased by Draft2Digital and just so much has changed. And I don’t know if it’s for the worse or for the better. We have AI now, which is weird. I don’t know how I feel about it.

Vanessa: It’s an iffy one.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Rachel: It’s going to be interesting to see what happens over the next even just like two years with how fast AI is growing.

Elizabeth: It is moving so fast, I think faster than any of us even thought. Like, I kind of think two years is fair to say, but the at the same time, it’s like, I don’t know, two years, one year. Like it’s changing so fast.

Vanessa: Yeah, two years we might be living in Skynet and Terminator at this rate.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So, I haven’t played with any AI at all. So, I don’t know much about it other than it kind of gives me… It’s like it’s exciting but also a little terrifying.

Vanessa: A little scary.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Vanessa: So, I can jump in a little bit on Kobo Originals. Just what was the process like? You could pretend I’m not here and that I don’t know anything, but just what was the process like working with Kobo Originals? How did it all come to fruition? Just kind of take us through that.

Elizabeth: It’s been great, and everything is fine.

Elizabeth: No, it really has been great. So, Kobo Writing Life, I think most people know, has a newsletter that goes out pretty much once a month. Sometimes I think more than that sometimes. So, I got an email that basically said that Kobo Originals was going to be the new imprint, and that there was open submissions. And I had this book, “A Touch of Gold,” that I had been playing with and writing since 2020. So, I hadn’t really done anything with it, hadn’t really decided what I was going to do with it as far as indie… Do I indie publish it or do I just give it some more time? And so I decided to just submit.

I had a couple other submissions that I’d gone through for different things like different audio book deals and stuff like that, that just fell at the last minute because that’s that publishing life. So, I just kind of just submitted and then, kind of, just forgot about it. And they all say that four to eight weeks is that…if you don’t hear anything, you kind of just assume that it’s a pass. And 48 weeks went by, more time went by, I completely forgot about it, and then I got an email one day. I think it was you, Vanessa.

Vanessa: Yeah, it was me.

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah. And it was like, “Oh, we’re interested.” And I was like, “Okay.” And then just from there, it kind of just all came together. And it’s interesting because I know traditional publishing is usually slow, and Kobo, kind of, you guys, kind of, have a… Indie is usually crazy fast, and traditional publishing is crazy slow, and then Kobo is right in the sweet spot, I feel like…

Vanessa: We try.

Elizabeth: …as far as that stuff moves. Yeah, that’s pretty nice. And honestly no one’s holding me hostage, I swear. It’s been really nice working with everyone. Everyone has been lovely.

Rachel: I want to get more into “A Touch of Gold” and the process of working with Kobo Originals, but would you mind giving us a brief synopsis of the book for the listeners who have not had a chance to read it yet?

Elizabeth: So, “A Touch of Gold” is set in a female-owned and run tattoo shop, and it’s in a small town. And our heroine, Goldie, has just come back to town, Stagwood Falls, where she grew up. She’s come back from her few years building her career as a tattoo artist. She’s come back into town to help out her family. And they’ve kind of just basically escaped a little issue with their taxes and gotten that all straightened out.

And then here comes, David, who was Goldie’s friend/crush in high school, and he’s the new city planner. He’s just come back from, kind of, having like a…not a big shot but pretty successful career, and he’s now got big plans for the town, which is declining. The town’s been struggling since both recessions, and he lets her know that they’re going to be renovating Main Street, and that, as part of that, he wants her building. They’re going to be purchasing all these buildings in eminent domain, and he lets her know that they’re going to be wanting to purchase her building. And they’re going to give her a nice chunk of change, and her family will be all set. And she looks at him and tells him, “Uh-uh, no way, not happening.” But they like each other so…

Rachel: I was going to say, “And then tension ensues.”

Elizabeth: And she notices right away but he notices too that they have both grown up nicely. And she’s stunning, and he’s very, very, very, very handsome and…

Rachel: With his caterpillar eyebrows.

Elizabeth: His caterpillar eyebrows. He’s still got those eyebrows. And, you know, they can’t resist each other and even though they’re kind of on opposite sides of this whole renovation.

Rachel: One thing I wanted to ask about is the setting, the tattoo studio, because Vanessa and I both love tattoos. We both have a handful. So, what inspired you to set this book and, minor spoiler, potential series around a tattoo studio?

Elizabeth: So, it’s kind of crazy. So, I have quite a few tattoos. My husband has tattoos. He’s an artist. And in 2020, at the beginning of 2020, when I got the idea for this book, I get ideas for books that… Usually, it’s like an idea for a specific character, and it kind of just hits me in the face. And I was actually working on the third book in my “River Reapers MC” series, and I got this idea for this tattoo shop, this women-owned tattoo shop. And I hadn’t even built the small town yet. It was just the tattoo shop, and I just had this idea for this woman with these beautiful gold tattoos standing out on her dark skin. And she owns the shop and just this female-led tattoo shop.

My husband and I have a lot of friends who are artists. He’s an artist. We have some friends that are tattoo artists. We have some friends that own shops. And I guess that kind of influenced it and put it in my head. And I just knew it was going to be probably three girls, and each book in a series would be their story, their love story. And I almost right away knew each of the guys was going to have something to do with the town like working in the town. So, David is the city planner in “A Touch of Gold,” the hero. He’s a city planner. And then his best friend and brother also work for the town. So, they’re all in town hall together, and they have that kind of buttoned-up kind of thing going on. And the girls are all tattooed, and they’ve got just two, kind of, very different lifestyles going on. And interestingly, after I started writing the book, my husband started apprenticing as a tattoo artist.

Vanessa: No way.

Elizabeth: And then I weirdly got this book deal, so I was like, “Maybe I should write something where I win the lotto or something.” I also really wanted to write a small town. I tend to get very complex with my stuff and really dig into it. And I had this idea for this small town on the lake. My family, we grew up, kind of, camping on this lake, and another lake we have also camped on and do different things on. So, I have a lot of memories of growing up on the lake, and all the different activities, and just kind of that lake life for the summer anyway.

And I wanted to move into a fictional town because with my “River Reaper” series and everything else that I’ve published before that, it’s real towns in my area. But then with the “River Reaper” series, here I am hiding bodies all over the place, and I’m starting to wonder, “I know I can’t necessarily get in trouble for this because it’s fiction,” but it’s almost like a conflict of interest writing about a real town, because then sometimes people, like your neighbors and stuff, they’re like, “What are you doing?” So, I was kind of thinking I kind of want to get into a fictional thing. That way, I can really just do whatever I want, and I don’t have to worry about anyone coming at me, or did I get a detail wrong, because if I got it wrong, it’s fake. It’s made up completely.

So, once I started developing the tattoo shop series, and I knew it was going to be a trilogy, I also started developing the town. And I knew that long-term I want to have interconnected trilogies that are all set in the town. And I’m hoping to even bring the dark romance into it too because, and it’s mentioned in “A Touch of Gold,” there’s this sort of little neighborhood. Because in real life, in the town that I live in, there’s Oakville, which is technically considered another town, but it really is Watertown. It’s so small. It’s literally just a neighborhood. So, I wanted to do something like that, and I have that kind of set up so that I can eventually spin off, and bring the darker stuff into it, and have that little neighborhood of Stagville because the town itself is Stagwood Falls, have that neighborhood of Stagville be where the seedy club stuff goes on, maybe a little bit of mafia. There’s some opportunities there.

Vanessa: The underbelly.

Elizabeth: Yes, the underbelly. And I have this, sort of, thing where the locals kind of call it Stab-ville because the crime there is a little bit higher than the regular town.

Vanessa: Now that we’re on the topic of your other series, new dark romance, I’m wondering what you found to be the biggest difference from writing a small town versus writing a dark romance because they’re very different genres. So, what do you think was the biggest difference, or how was the process for you?

Elizabeth: It’s super different. So, when I wrote “A Touch of Gold,” I was in between “River Reapers” books. And I just wanted something… It was kind of like a palette cleanser where I was like, “I have this idea. I really love it. I don’t know where it’s going and what I’m going to do with it.” And I’m technically supposed… I kind of told myself like, “I’m going to focus on the ‘River Reaper’ series and just get that out before I do anything else.” I have this whole notebook full of ideas.

So, I really just wanted to change gears and clear my brain because with the dark romance, it’s so fun to write, and you can kill people, and you can pretty much do anything you want, but it is dark and it does get heavy. So, I wanted something to just clear away and just have fun, you know? So, one of the biggest differences was, “Okay, now I’m going to build my own town. I’ve got to make sure that I know I’m kind of referring to things properly where I’m not… For continuity, I’ve got to make sure that I’ve got everything laid out.” So, I have spreadsheets for every series and book that I do, but this one is just really getting out of control. It’s got all the businesses. I’m sure street names will start coming into it. I’ve been trying to really tiptoe around street names because I don’t want to end up really nodding myself where I’m like drawing a map or anything like that.

But I think the biggest difference is it’s more fun sort of in a different way. I’m not killing people, so that part isn’t… That, like, freedom to… Because plot holes… When you have a plot hole in a dark romance, you can just kill the character that’s causing the problem, but in a small-town romance, it’s a little frowned upon. So, you have to be a little bit more creative in solutions, and the problems are not quite the same. They’re more, I don’t want to say silly because small-town problems are not silly, but sometimes the drama and the gossip mill is a lot different. It’s a very different tone than problems you’d have in a city or with a biker club.

Vanessa: It’s more Hallmarky. It’s more like you can… The gossip around the town baker, stuff like that, but I just wanted to add to that too, because I kind of saw the editing process as it was going, which was so cool for me to see because I saw the first draft to the end draft. So, I wanted you to talk a little bit about the editorial process and what it was like for you to go through the changes because sort of as you mentioned, the town and the lake evolved as you were writing from the first to the end. So, just talk a little bit about the editing process, maybe things that changed, things that didn’t stick, stuff like that.

Elizabeth: So, first of all, thank goodness for Traci Finlay, my editor, because when I’m writing, I’m always trying to process some kind of trauma, and I tend to just throw everything into it. And she’s just like, “Okay, I see what you’re trying to do here, but let’s reel it in a little bit.” So, she helped me really pare it down, because I had a lot of subplots going on.

You probably remember, in the first draft, I had a character that had a chronic illness. Then the family’s dealing with potentially losing their family home. And then I also had another character that had…you know, she had a little kid. And then I had aunts and uncles and stuff. So, it was really just, kind of, spinning out.

I like my stories to be as realistic as possible, so I have a lot of family elements, and I have a lot of real social issues. But when you’re writing, you start to realize, “This is a lot.” You need to be able to keep track of everything and button everything up nicely at the end. And with this series, going back to differences, I really wanted everything to work out. They might have problems, there might be conflicts, they might be in danger of losing their family home, but it works out in the end.

So, one of the things that Traci and I did almost immediately was, okay, let’s start paring this down. And she had made some big suggestions. Vanessa, you and Jessica made some suggestions. And immediately I was like, “Cool, that makes perfect sense. Let’s get rid of this stuff.” It’s less lifting for me to do.

Vanessa: And Traci was… Yeah, she already was on the same page, I think, as me and Jess were going through. She already was on it. She had it.

Elizabeth: It was so great. So, you guys made those suggestions, and then I’m sitting here going through her line edits. And I’m like, “You know what? Let’s also get rid of… Since we’re getting rid of the kid, let’s also get rid of the chronic illness,” because then I won’t have to worry about like, “Who’s this aunt and uncle? Give them names.” And I really have to wrinkle myself in sometimes because I’m getting out of control. I have a whole family tree.

But, I mean, I probably could have honestly gone another three rounds because I love… I don’t know if it’s that writer thing where you just can’t let go of a story sometimes or if I’ve got a little bit of a perfectionism streak in me. Vanessa’s nodding like she knows.

Vanessa: It’s good though. It’s a good nod.

Elizabeth: I really want to get things right. So, I really could have gone like another three rounds, honestly, but having a whole team there to support me and not just it being me and one editor and only one round is absolutely beautiful because you’re just like, “I don’t have to think about this so much.” When you’re writing sometimes and maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I can just really get locked into… Maybe I’m just torturing myself over one line or something, you know? So, having not just my editor and me but also you guys there to say like, “Yeah, we think this too,” it just gives me that clarity to say, “Okay, cool. I know I’m on the right track now.”

And even just being able to bring my own editor into the Kobo Originals was great because we already… Traci, thankfully, somehow knows what I’m trying to do. Even if I’m not doing it well, she knows what I’m trying to do. And she almost always has a solution or something I can try. So, I found her, and I just really wanted to keep her. So, the fact that immediately you guys were like, “You can take your editor with you,” I’m like, “Aw, yay.” But, yeah, the editing, you go through it so many times, and it starts to, kind of, just become almost like nonsense in your brain. Like, the book doesn’t even make sense anymore. So, I will say that I don’t want to read it again anytime soon, but I’m pretty proud of what we ended up with.

Rachel: Yeah, I love it. One thing I wanted to touch on, which you kind of already have, is the difference between indie pubbing and working with Kobo Originals because you’ve indie-pubbed your entire catalog. And now you’re working with an imprint. What were the biggest differences that kind of caught you by surprise?

Elizabeth: So, for I think it was one or two years, maybe three, I was with a small publisher. So, I have a little bit of experience working with a publisher. They were kind of trying to do something a little different, so it didn’t exactly work for them, but it was nice to have that whole team in place already. And that’s immediately what I loved so much about Kobo. I didn’t have to find a cover designer and schedule that. I didn’t have to find a proofreader and schedule that. I didn’t even have to wrangle beta readers and schedule them. Everything was pretty much handled and all I had to do was just focus on writing, which is beautiful, especially when you have chronic illness, because 365 days a year, 24/7, my main job is this chronic illness.

And so it’s nice to just be able to take off all those hats that you have to wear when you’re indie publishing because it’s a lot of hats. It’s marketing and cover designs, and it’s just getting all these schedules to line up. It takes so much brain space. So, I like indie publishing because it is fun. You can literally do anything you want, but the organizing of everybody and getting schedules to line up is so much. And then it’s so nice to have someone just handle that for you.

Vanessa: I do remember when we first had our… I think it was our first author meeting with Michelle and then we had one with Jess, but we had asked you why you want to work with us. And I think your answer was, “I want to write, but the other things I want to just kind of hand off to other people.” And we’re like, “Perfect. We’ll slide in, and we’ll do it for you.” That’s great. That’s exactly why we pair so well together, I think, is that we complement each other very well.

Elizabeth: So well. It is pretty much where… I mean, we’re still learning because I think, even when I was with Booktrope, rest in peace, we had a team, and I had a marketing manager, a project manager, and then your editor, your proofreader, cover designer. So, you have a whole team, and you just kind of figure out everybody’s strengths. And there’s a little adjustment period where you’re trying to, kind of, figure out how you all work together. And it’s beautiful when you have someone just take those hats because sometimes it’s like, “Cool, I have many skills, and I’m very proud of all those skills, and I’m very proud to wear all these hats and be this kind of Jack of all trades but, man, take it. You can take it.”

Rachel: Now just kind of going more into your career in general, taking a step back from Kobo Originals, I’m really curious about what your writing process is like. Are you somebody who has all of the plots laid out beforehand, or do you just dive right in and see where the characters take you?

Elizabeth: So, it really seems, for me anyway, to depend on the book. Every book is so different. I feel like half the battle is figuring out how that book needs to be written, if that makes sense, because sometimes I get ideas constantly, all the time. It’s almost annoying, honestly, because I don’t have enough time, or energy, or hours in the day to write every single idea that comes to me. Basically, from the point where I get the idea, I write it down. If it’s something that really stays with me, and I’m like, “Okay, I really want to figure that out. I want to read that story. That sounds really fun,” then I’ll come back to it and actually turn it into a plot.

But sometimes some books I have completely pantsed. I sat down and just started writing, and then point A to point Z just got it out. And then some books I have to very carefully plot it. And then some books I kind of do a little bit of both. Like, one thing I was doing for a little while was I was kind of like plotting where I knew the beginning, middle, and end. But I was really getting into the beats, and I was going a few beats at a time, and then writing that, and then going back to the outline, and then getting those next few beats down, and then writing that.

And for “A Touch of Gold,” I think that one I pretty much outlined from the get-go, I think, because at one point, I did have 20,000 words that I’d written, and then I actually went back in, and I almost entirely scrapped those 20,000 words and rewrote everything to, kind of, make sure some things were crystallized. And I want to say that one though was outlined. And then, like I said, during revisions, we really went back in and got rid of a lot of extra plots.

But because the bones were there, it really was easy… Not easy, I don’t want to say like it was nothing, but it was easier to get in there and make those changes because it already had a good structure. So, it’s kind of tough because I think sometimes I’m a plotter and then sometimes I think I’m a pantser. And then sometimes I think I’m just kind of both, and it depends on the book. And it would really be easy if I could just be wonderful, if I could just plot all the time, but sometimes I have an idea that I just so badly need to know what happens. It’s like I just don’t even have time to bother with a plot… Not a plot but like an outline. And so I’m just like, “Nope, no time.” Just have to hammer it out. It’s almost like it just pours out sometimes. And then sometimes it’s just agonizing. Every sentence is agonizing. And then you throw in the brain fog, and you’re really just like, “Wow, I made a sentence. Good work for the day.”

Rachel: I have to ask, is the editorial process more, I want to say painful, although the editorial process can be a lot, but do you find it is more intricate when you have pantsed a book and you’re just letting the thoughts flow, or do you think it’s pretty much the same process depending on how you start the book?

Elizabeth: I think it’s pretty much the same process. I remember I think it was “A Fatal Prospect” or it might have been another book that I had her edit. It was pretty funny. Traci was like, “Here’s a plot structure. Try this,” because I hadn’t really plotted it within a structure, but I have several different structures that I use. And sometimes it’s like I get halfway through a book, and that’s when I realize like, “Okay, this plot structure actually isn’t working. I need to use this one instead.” And it’s weird when that happens because you would think…

So, I usually use “Romancing the Beat” by Gwen Hayes. And especially the dark romance, because it’s got that suspense element, that plot structure doesn’t always work well, but it is working really well for these tattoo shop books for the “Love and Ink” series. That’s actually helping a lot because it’s also reminding me to not make it so complicated because I’m used to, with the dark romance, having all these subplots going on as well and juggling all these different things.

And with these small-town romances, it’s not like the plot is less serious or less important, but it’s just less heavy. And you just want to keep it as light as possible because I want these books to be something that people can escape into, because for me, it was an escape. When I was writing the first book, I was really, really, really sick, and it was my escape. I was like, “Okay, I’m going into Stagwood Falls. Bye,” to my husband. And I’ll be like, “All right, I’m heading into Stagwood Falls, see ya.” And this was all during the shutdown. I was having this big, crazy flare, so it was really just a major escape for me. And I want to keep it like that for readers so that they have somewhere to escape to. And so I think using that plot structure helps me keep it focused and not too bogged down in the heavier topics that the “Love and Ink” books do touch on but without getting, kind of, stuck there, you know?

Vanessa: Well, speaking of the brain fog, the well-being and self-care is a huge part in your writing process. So, can you talk a little bit about combating the burnout that you may feel or what you do for self-care to help that and just basically what it’s like writing with a chronic illness because it’s definitely not easy, I’m sure?

Elizabeth: It sure is interesting. It definitely keeps it interesting. I’m used to flying through books, writing them, and just being able to sit down and go from what I’m thinking and into putting it down into actual words. But especially this last flare, I had a really big flare in 2020 that gave me pleurisy for the first time. So, I already have joint pain, and fatigue, and a face rash, and a couple other little things, so we kind of threw a wrench into there with pleurisy.

And it’s really hard… I feel like writing a book is hard in the first place, but I had it, kind of, down. So, I haven’t quite bounced back. I’m very slow. And I know what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to say, but I will sometimes just sit there and with the manuscript open in front of me and I’m like, “What? Like, what am I doing? What are words?” And I laugh, but sometimes it’s really not funny. Sometimes it’s really, really frustrating. And it’s like, “Where’s my brain? Like, where did it go? I used to be really good at this.” And I think that it kind of forces me to slow down and really dig into craft because, like I said, having an outline makes everything so much easier.

So, you really start to learn to lean on things that, in the past, I would have just kind of been like… Like, when I wrote a “Disturbing Prospect,” I wrote that in two weeks. I didn’t have an outline. I just vomited it into the page and then just kind of went. And it just poured out of me 50,000 words no problem. Didn’t even blink. Now, fast forward, what, it’s been five, six years since I wrote that. Now, my writing process is so much slower. I know what I’m trying to do. I know that I know that I can do it, but sometimes my brain is just like, “Words? What are those? I don’t know.”

So, it’s a lot of thesaurus.com to figure out what I’m trying to think of. It’s a lot of patience. You have to learn to be patient with yourself, and you have to learn to take care of the writer first. If it’s a day where it’s just not happening, and I’m just sitting in front of the computer, and I’m just almost beating my head into a wall, it’s realizing, “Okay, this is not going to happen, especially if I’m basically abusing myself here trying to make it happen. I need to just call it a day and just stop right now and just go take care of me,” because you can’t have a book without the writer. You need to take care of yourself.

And it sounds so basic and so simple but, especially in the indie author community, I feel like we see a lot of burnout and don’t really talk about it as much. People I started publishing side by side with 10 years ago, 11 years ago, 12, 13 years ago aren’t here anymore. They’re alive, but they’re not in the community anymore. They’re not writing anymore. They’re not publishing anymore. Some of them are not alive.

And it really speaks to… Especially in indie publishing, we’ve set this precedent of having these rapid releases, and we would all do pretty much anything for our readers. And we love our readers and we love what we do. Otherwise, we definitely wouldn’t do it. And I especially have seen it in myself. We often forget to take care of ourselves. We forget to put ourselves first. And it becomes all about the book.

I saw myself, even just recently, skipping lunch so that I could write. You got to feed yourself. You can’t write if you haven’t eaten. It’s stuff like, “Oh, I’ll shower later. I got to just get these words out.” And then the whole day goes by, and you’re too tired to shower. So, you go to bed, and it doesn’t feel so bad, but over time it builds up and you start to feel less valued by yourself even. And you have to remember basic simple things that seem silly to other people. They’re like, “I don’t eat lunch ever. Whatever.” “Guess what? I do.”

You know, even pretty recently, I was in a forum for writers, like a writing group, and people are almost like bragging about the different ways that they’re neglecting/abusing themselves to get the book written. And I think, in our community, we’ve normalized a lot of things that are not healthy at all. And a lot of us are running into the ground. You know, we’re seeing a lot of repeated stress injuries, RSIs. People are having to have surgeries because they’re blowing out their wrists and their shoulders. I’m seeing a lot of alcoholism, substance abuse in my community. And a lot of mental health issues. People are having breakdowns. I have a few friends that had mental breakdowns, ended up in the hospital. I have friends that just ran screaming completely from the community and will never write or publish another word ever again because it got so intense and they felt like they had to stay on this hamster wheel.

And we want to serve our readers. We want to give them stories. And I don’t think any reader wants us to run ourselves into the ground for it. So, I think, for me, being so sick, definitely not a blessing. I don’t want it. I would love to give it back, but it has definitely forced me to slow down and say, “What’s important here? What are my priorities here? How do I want my career to look in 10 years? Do I want to be super sick?” And I’ve had giving myself carpal tunnel or just skipping meals and my brain just rots away. What do I want my career to look like? Do I want to still be writing in 10 years, or do I want to go really fast right now and try to capitalize on this? And for me, the answer is I still want to be writing in 10 years.

I’ve been at this for over 10 years, and it’s crazy to think that 10 years ago, I just started. I had one book and I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know if I would still be publishing. I was like, “I hope, in a decade, I’ll still be publishing,” but I am and that’s what I want to see. I want to see another 10 years.

Vanessa: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think what we mentioned also in the beginning, how much indie publishing has changed. I think there’s so much content out there that people are…they get a little competitive in how much they want to publish. So, we’ve spoken to authors who publish 15 to 30 books a year, and you’re going to burn out. You have to take care of yourself, and it’s a huge problem right now. So, yeah, it’s a very good point to bring up I think from an author. I think it’s very good to sort of spread awareness for that.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I mean, it’s amazing if you can publish that many books, but I do think that even the best of writers and the most stable and no mental health or chronic illnesses, I still think that you’re going to end up burning yourself out. There’s this book by Julia Cameron, it’s called “The Artist’s Way.” And she always talks about filling the well. And when you’re a writer or any sort of creative creator, you’re giving constantly. You’re emptying yourself. You’re giving everything. Even if you’re not writing specifically from things that you’ve been through and your own perspective, you’re still using your creativity and you’re putting your heart and soul into it. And you have to refill that.

You have to remember that you’re a human. You’re not a machine. You know, you’ve got to take care of yourself and attend to those basic needs, but you also need to fill the well and take time to read other books, and watch movies, and TV shows, and replenish yourself. Listen to music. You know, do things that you love that make you happy. We get so caught up, I feel like, in gotta go, gotta go, gotta go, gotta write, gotta write, gotta write. We forget that we are also here to enjoy things, and we are human. We are not infallible and indestructible. We have to take time to stay well.

Rachel: I think that’s incredible advice for writers who do have chronic illnesses or who are, I don’t know what the, well, I think is like the wrong word, or like neurodivergent or neurotypical. It covers the gamut of writers is you have to take care of yourself and refill your well or else you’re just going to be running on empty. And then you’re not going to be able to put out the content for your readers.

Elizabeth: Yeah. You know, I have a few writer friends that don’t publish anymore. And a couple of them were pretty successful. I mean, they released… One in particular I’m thinking of had released a book, and it was a massive like runaway hit. And then she even said like, “I’m burnt out. I have to just step away.”

Vanessa: Books will always be there for the most part. Hopefully knock on wood, the industry will be there forever. So, take your time. That’s what everybody needs to realize. Just books will always be there.

Rachel: And I’m really curious what do you consume creatively to refill your well. What are you watching, reading, listening to?

Elizabeth: So, I just watched… And you’re going to be like, “What?” I just watched the Kitty spinoff of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” on Netflix. I loved it so much. It’s like so outside what you’d think would be my wheelhouse, but it was so cute. It just makes me so happy. And Kitty was my favorite in the original movies, so I was very excited when she got a spinoff.

Vanessa: I didn’t even realize she had a spinoff.

Elizabeth: Oh, it’s great.

Rachel: Even I knew this.

Vanessa: I didn’t know.

Elizabeth: To be fair, it just came out, but they’re half-hour episodes, so you can pretty much get through it pretty fast. So, a lot of Netflix. With my chronic illness, I pretty often run into a position where I kind of just have to lay there. So, as almost embarrassing as it is to admit, I watch a lot of Netflix, and a lot of comedy and horror, especially comedy lately. Lately I just want to laugh, you know? So I just watched “XO Kitty,” which was great. And before that, I had actually just finished the Queen Charlotte spinoff of Bridgerton, which is fun.

I like stuff that’s just fun that I don’t have to really pay too much attention to, because I always make the joke that every time I get a story idea, something important falls out of my head, because I’ve been trying to basically juggle entire worlds and people’s entire histories and personalities and family trees. So, I like to watch shows that I don’t really have to keep too much track of what’s going on. I started to watch “1899” and that was pretty cool but then…

Rachel: It’s just weird.

Elizabeth: It was really weird, and it also like just hit a point where I was like, “I can’t… What? Oh, God, I don’t know what’s going on anymore.”

Rachel: If it makes you feel any better, I have no plots for books in my head, and I had the same experience watching that show. Just could not keep it all straight.

Elizabeth: All right, that makes me feel better. You know, so a lot of Netflix and a lot of music. I was telling my goddaughter and her friend the other day, because they were like, “You know Phoebe Bridgers?” I’m like, “Yeah, these ears are pretty much an IV of music, just 24/7 just pumping in.”

Vanessa: That was Rachel’s buzzword was Phoebe Bridgers.

Rachel: Yeah.

Elizabeth: So, I’ve been listening to a lot of actually like Kali Uchis, and a lot of Foo Fighters while writing these Stagwood Falls, the “Love and Ink” series, the “A Touch of Gold,” because it’s very energizing. When I’m writing my “River Reapers” series, it’s a lot of Deftones and the kind of what I’m listening to just completely changes like the mood of what I’m listening to.

So, I don’t like to read… Like, if I’m writing a cute small-town romance, I don’t like to read small-town romances, but I will keep it… I’ve noticed I’ve just been gravitating toward lighter things, and it kind of helps shape the mood and the tone, especially with music. I also recently realized that Bush was still making music, and so their latest album is actually really good.

Rachel: I’m going to have to check that out. I did not know that Bush was still making music. This is excellent news for me.

Elizabeth: Yes, I was so excited. I was like, “Wow,” and it’s still really good and he sounds great. So, just a whole bunch of different things honestly. Like, I’m really all over the place as far as the stuff that I like and the stuff that I’m interested in. And that’s probably why my backlist is all over the place. Sorry in advance.

Rachel: And then looking forward, what can readers expect from you next? What’s cooking? What’s going on?

Elizabeth: So, Kobo Originals is publishing the Stagwood Falls “Love and Ink” series. So, “A Touch of Gold” is the first in what’s going to be a three-book series with a Christmas novella. And each book is going to follow one of the girls from the tattoo shop and one of our guys from town hall. And so the next book is going to be Sabella and Benton, and he’s the town social worker. And he can’t get his life together. He’s helping everybody else, but he can’t get his life together. And she is a tattoo artist who can help him get his life together.

Rachel: Very excited to read that. I love those two.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think they might be my… I don’t know. It’s hard to pick favorites, but so far, because I’ve been developing all four books and writing different parts of them, and I think so far those two are my favorite.

Rachel: And this just occurred to me, but I’m just going to throw this out there to both you and Vanessa, the Kobo Originals team, a flashback book of Poppy and his music playing heydays.

Vanessa: Just putting it out there.

Rachel: Just putting it out there as something that could be fun.

Elizabeth: Okay, I don’t need any more ideas, but that would be really fun. That would be really fun.

Rachel: So sorry to add to your ideal list, but that just popped into my head and I was like, “This could be fun.”

Vanessa: And my workload too.

Rachel: You’re welcome to you both. And before we let you go, I know we’ve taken up so much of your time today, where can listeners find you online?

Elizabeth: I ran screaming from Facebook, so I’m no longer on there. And also ran screaming from Twitter, so I’m no longer on there. But I’m mostly on Instagram @elizabethbarone, and I have my website, elizabethbaronebooks.com. And my newsletter is really probably the best way to stay in touch with me. That’s where I really like to get in and hang out with readers and really, like, give you guys a behind the scenes, more in-depth kind of stuff. So, it’s really those three like the newsletter, Instagram, and website.

Rachel: And we will include links to all three as well as to “A Touch of Gold” in our show notes. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for hanging out with us this afternoon. This has been an absolute delight.

Elizabeth: Thank you for having me.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Elizabeth’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. And be sure to follow us on socials. We are @kobowritinglife on Facebook and Twitter and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Vanessa: This episode was hosted by Rachel Wharton and Vanessa Salemi with production by Terrence Abrahams. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker. And thanks to Elizabeth Barone 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.

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