Emma St. Clair is the pen name of Kirsten Kiki Oliphant, an author of contemporary romances who runs the podcast Create If Writing. She writes about sassy heroines and love stories that aren’t cheesy, served up with a side of wit.
Today she will share how she revved her publishing income by writing clean billionaire romance, how publishing is like competing in the sport of roller derby, and how she built her platform through podcasting.
Q. So first, let me say, I have loved seeing your success with your clean billionaire romance books. How did you get started writing them?
A. I didn’t set out to write billionaire books. I actually wasn’t a fan of them—they just aren’t my thing! But I kept seeing them everywhere and read a few. Next thing I knew, I had an idea for one. I wrote it faster than any other book is written (two weeks start to finish) and then found that my sales were better than my other books, so I made it a series.
Q. How did that first book idea come about?
A. I had one particular scene that popped into my head: of a woman hiding from her ex in a bathroom, but she went into the men’s room, not the women’s. And she ran into a guy in there that turned out to be a billionaire. I had a few different thoughts on what happened next, but I ended up with them both being cast on a reality dating show. So when they got on the show, they had already met. It’s called The Billionaire Love Match.
Q. I love that scene. It hooked me on the story completely. So much swoon. I will ask you more about before-that, but let’s focus for a minute on that series. You said that you have done better with your billionaire books. Do you mind sharing numbers as you are comfortable? Maybe a comparison to how you had been doing before. Ranks. Monthly income.
A. Sure. I’m remembering by eyeballing this. But I had started out making a little more with each book. First book, I made a few hundred that month. I wasn’t advertising much yet, just publishing and emailing my small list. Second book, I moved up to a little more, but I think it was the billionaire book that pushed me into making solid four figures from then on. I went something like a few hundred to just over a thousand to over three thousand and then up. When I look back at book sales (not pages read), the billionaire books sold double than everything else. (Including newer releases that weren’t billionaires.)
Q. That is awesome. You read a TON before getting in the genre. What do you think sets apart billionaire books from others to explain that kind of readership?
A. I think the idea may stem from the rags to riches idea, as a lot of times the trope centers around a woman who needs financial help. But that has become more broad with so many billionaire books. It’s kind of a Prince Charming without the royal bit. I also have been wondering if readers are drawn to men on the covers. My books with men on the covers have also outsold those with a couple. I don’t have that many, so it’s not a fair test, but I’m wondering if that is part of the trend. People like the idea of the security and lavish life of a billionaire and also readers are favoring male-centric covers.
Q. I think you are right. How many billionaire books have you written now, how often, and how do you keep the storylines fresh?
A. I’m about to publish my sixth billionaire. For my books, I tend to twist the trope a bit. I want to keep them interesting so I haven’t relied as heavily on the rich man/poor woman trope. I have a ton of ideas floating around my head at all times. I like flipping tropes a bit and having surprising characters and storylines.
Q. That kiss in The Billionaire Love Match, and I saw a kissing excerpt of another one of your books (as a romance writer, I am always drawn to kissing scenes)…you do those very well. Is there a science to how you create kissing scenes so they are unique to each book?
A. I struggle with this!!! I often will start out just writing it and then go in and try to take out anything that seems overused or cliché. I also sometimes try to really put myself in the scene and imagine the things I’d be feeling. Once I actually went and watched a favorite first kiss scene (Damon and Elena on the Vampire Diaries) and then used that for inspiration. My characters didn’t kiss the same way, but it made me pay attention to what they were doing with their hands and how they touched and looked at each other. It’s hard to write so many without too much heat or without using the same phrases everyone uses or even that I’ve used.
Q. Yes. This! The struggle is real. You point out some great tips there. So now let’s backtrack for a bit. How did you get started writing fiction in general? What year was that? And why did you choose to write what you did?
A. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first novel when I was eight. (Yes, it was bad! But still had a storyline, beginning, middle, and end. Even dialogue!) I got my MFA in fiction in 2007 and was writing more literary novels. But we also started having kids then too and now have five. Writing literary novels felt too heavy so I took a break and wrote a blog and also some nonfiction devotionals and business books on blogging and email lists under my name. It was actually when doing keyword research for a Christmas devotional that I saw how romance was a top search term for Christmas and that clean romance was a huge search term. I decided to see if this was something I could write.
Q. That sounds like a packed career path there. Impressive! And I have to throw this in…not to mention a roller derby career, yes?
A. Yes, I did roller derby while I was blogging. Off and on for eight years, coaching and playing. And having babies. I love it and wish I had the time to go back! I’m planning a YA roller derby book.
Q. You should. Sorry to go off track but I wanted to make sure we mention that. How did you think your roller derby persona / toughness carry over to your being an indie author?
A. I feel like I’m willing to try anything. I became confident and pretty fearless on and off the track.
Q. No kidding. I can’t even imagine the guts you have to have to get into all those elbows, arms and legs and smack talk. Am I correct?
A. It’s less smack talk than you’d think. When I first started, derby was much more like that. By the time I ended, it was a much more serious sport. It’s very rough, but I’m good on skates and when I played soccer, I was always better at being rough than ball control!
Q. Ha, that is surprising. So let’s go back to publishing and blogging. You run a popular writer group and podcast, Create If Writing. I’ve enjoyed being a member. Tell me how you got into all that and the reasoning behind the name.
A. It started when I was kind of in a muddy place, not sure what my next step was, but I wasn’t happy just writing my blog and doing sponsored posts. I went to a Christian Writer’s conference and found that people kept seeking me out for help with social media and blogging- all tools I picked up while blogging professionally. I had just started listening to podcasts and it seemed like a great medium. I wanted to help bridge the gap for writers and creatives who like creating but don’t like or understand promotion and platform-building. Create If Writing is a play on creative writing but the IF allows for a wider range than just writing. My audience is a little more diverse with different creatives.
Q. Ah, that is clever. When did you launch the podcast and what are your tips to someone who wants to start one?
A. I launched in 2015. Starting a podcast has a lot of little steps. It’s not hard, but it is a lot of work and a new skill set. You have to really love it to keep it going. I connected with other podcasters. Going to Podcast Movement (a conference) also really helped. I learned how to edit and lots of other things.
Q. And so did your Facebook group start after the podcast? How large is it now and did you do special things to grow it?
A. I started the group pretty soon after. My group is around 2500. I talk about it in my weekly emails and on the podcast but haven’t focused on growth as much as community and creating a culture. A lot of groups grow fast and people get excited about numbers, but then the group gets out of hand and they lose control. I’m not after the biggest group, but a strong community with the values that matter to me. I moderate some bigger groups so I’ve seen how bad things can get and what not to do.
Q. Could you elaborate on what not to do?
A. I think it’s about finding what you want the group to be and what will foster that. For me, that means cutting down on self-promotion. I’m super strict on that. But we do have a share weekend and I encourage the members to not just drop a link but visit others as well. I try to foster discussions and make sure people talk kindly and are supportive. No room for jerks or people trying to mine the group for potential clients for their business or service.
I have firm rules and sometimes message people who break them with a warning, but as I grow, often I just boot them if they are dropping links randomly or being rude or using affiliate links or trying to sell their stuff.
Q. How much time would you say you spend on the podcast / group, writing, and marketing? And how do you find the time to do it all?
A. Ugh, time!! So hard to find and make it. I don’t have a set schedule for what I do. The writing gets most of my time and the promotion for my writing. I hop in and out of the Facebook group daily and then have a few hours dedicated to my podcast one day a week. My husband now works from home so we switch hours- I work in the morning while he watches our two youngest kids, then I come home at lunch and we switch. I also sometimes work at night just because I love what I do and it’s hard to stop.
Q. Yes, I hear you. Being our own boss has its pros and cons.
A. When I first started writing the clean romance, I was writing in fringe hours- nights and then in two hour chunks when I took my kids to the ymca and worked in the lobby while they were in childcare.
Q. How old are your kids now?
A. They are two, five, six, nine, and eleven.
Q. That’s a busy household right there. You are amazing. For my last couple of questions, I wanted to ask you about advertising. How much do you advertise, percent wise, per month, and what kind of return have you gotten?
A. I’m still toying with advertising. I make about a thousand a month in passive income related to affiliate sales through Create If Writing. I used that money to help pay for book covers and advertising. When I launch a book, I spend around $200-300 on email promotions through sites like Robin Reads. I’ve been playing with Facebook advertising but am not seeing the ROI for that that I want yet. It’s positive, but not enough. It’s so hard to track sales when you’re doing different kinds of ads and amazon makes tracking hard. I’m generally spending $1000 and under a month for promos and editing and covers and making a gross profit from $5k-8500.
Q. Thanks for giving us a look into your advertising process. By the way, while waiting for you to answer earlier, I googled Damon and Elana’s kiss and… swoon. Last question. For those who are lacking confidence about writing and publishing, can you give any parting advice?
A. I would say to watch the people doing well in your niche. You need to spend money to make money, but you should start out spending just a little. Don’t invest too much until you know you have a viable product (i.e., readers like your books) or have a backlist so you’ll get more readthrough. I invested a little more with each book and continued building my email list all the while I was writing.
You won’t know ‘til you try and you can start with low risk. Covers from Fiverr, look for cheaper editing options, and try just a few paid promos. Read in your genre also! The more you meet reader expectations the better off you’ll be. Sorry, that was parting advice, too. I’m on my phone and a slow typist.
Q. Wow, you did all that on your phone??????
A. Yes! I also wrote most of Billionaire Love Match on my phone.
Q. AMAZING! You rock.