Laura Ann is the author of contemporary sweet romances who also writes Book of Mormon romances under the pen name L.A. Patillo. She will chat about how she built her 4.5K mailing list, how she plans her addictive series, and how she releases a romance a month.
P.S. I just read the first book in her bodyguard series and that was pretty much all I did for my lunch break…sooooo good!
Q. Thanks for chatting with me, Laura! How was school today?
A. Busy! But we’ve got a pretty good routine down. All 5 of my kids are in school, so it makes for a lot of homework, but we’re making it work. And thank you for having me, by the way.
Q. My pleasure. You are amazing! How do you make it work with your publishing schedule? What does a typical day of “home” school and writerly duties look like?
A. Luckily, I’m an early riser, so that makes the day go better. After I get up, I exercise and shower before the kids get up. After breakfast, they do PE, which allows me to get things ready for the day. The kids and I sit down together around 8:30. My 4 older kids don’t need much help (except to be reminded to stay on task), and I help my 2nd grader. While he’s busy, I get a few words in, then help him, then write and so on. He’s usually done by noon, so I have the afternoon to finish my word count. Getting schoolwork and writing done really aren’t too hard. It’s the housework that always seems to be lacking!
Q. Ha ha, I know I am done with a book when I rip through my house in a cleaning fit. One of the things that caught my eye when I’ve seen your posts around on Facebook was that you have a mailing list of 4.5K. That may have been from this February. Is that the current number?
Q. How long did it take you to build your list, and what were some things that helped build it?
A. I started building my NL list only a couple of months after I released my first book, which was 2 years ago. At first I used all the free promotion sites to get going, but as time has gone on, I’ve gotten to where I do some advertising. Like all writers, I get organic sign ups out of my books, but I also run a few dollars a day on FB to a sign up and have had good success with that. I have a ‘Netflix’ system set up, so I more than make my money back from that ad.
Q. Huh. That sounds intriguing. Tell me more. What kind of copy do you use for the sign up and what do you mean by a Netflix system?
A. I’m in the process of revamping the ad copy because I’m taking a class on FB ads, but in the past I’ve used an image advertising a free book and then had an excerpt in the ad itself. It has worked well, but I’m going to be experimenting with other things, so we’ll see if I can make it better. As for the Netflix system, when someone signs up for my NL, they get the first free book and then every few days they receive another email introducing them to more of my series. After they have been introduced to all my series, they get an extra free book for sticking around and then are joined to my regular list. While it means less people sign up, it also means that those who are there really want to be there. Plus, they read my backlist along the way which is always helpful. It’s similar to when Netflix sends you emails telling you that you might this movie or series because of what you’ve already watched.
Q. Ah, I see. Wow, that sounds like a fairly involved email funnel system. Is it all automated now?
A. Yes, it’s automated. It took my a little less then 2 hours to set it up originally, but now I don’t have to touch it.
Q. Smart. Okay, so let’s go back to the basics here. You have been publishing for two years now, correct? And how many books do you have out so far?
A. Do you want just Laura Ann books or my other pen name as well?
Q. Both! As in, break it down between the two.
A. Sure. Under Laura Ann I write sweet, contemporary romance. I have 11 novellas, 1 novellete (part of a multi author boxset), and 11 novels with a preorder up for next month for novel #12.
Under LA Pattillo, I write Book of Mormon Fiction. I have 1 novella, 3 novels and a 4th coming out in about a month.
Q. Whoa! That is neat. So how did you get into publishing in the first place?
A. I have a degree in Creative Writing and as a child always wanted to write a book. My children all came really fast, so even with the degree I didn’t do much with it at first. But now that my kids are getting older, I started to have a little time on my hands and told my husband I had a book idea. Since he’s the best husband on the planet, he told me to go for it. I started writing, and researching about publishing. I sent a children’s book to a trad publisher first and had a bad experience with that, which led me to indie. The children’s books were set aside for romance, (my true love), and 2 years ago I put all my research into action.
Q. It’s great to have the support of your hubby. Awesome. How often are you publishing a book and what is the average word count of your novels?
A. For my sweet pen name, I put out a book every 4 weeks. They are 45-48k words. For BofM fiction, the books are 100k and they take my about 4 months to put out. Though, the one I’m working on right now is a new series and will be around 50k.
Q. Okay, that is impressive. How fast do you draft your sweet pen name books? And how do you think did your Creative Writing education help you in fine-tuning the process?
A. I’ll admit that I have a good daily word count, about 5k words, which helps me put out books pretty fast. And I’m fairly darn consistent with that. I’ve discovered that consistency is one of my strengths. I don’t do big bursts well, so it takes me about 3 weeks to write one of my romances. Then I take a few more days to read/edit before sending it to betas. As for my degree, I think the biggest way it helped was to teach me how to get my brain moving in a story. I can stay focused and stay in character well because the classes helped us hone some of those skills. But I will say the editing classes were lost on me. I can be creative, or I can write clean. They don’t both happen at the same time. 🙂
Q. Makes sense. Which book did you bring out the starting gate? Was that a sweet pen name book? And how did you choose your genre?
A. Yes, I started with the sweet romance name. It was what I read the most of, so it made sense to start there. I first wrote a series of contemporary fairy tale retellings. I’ll be honest, they aren’t my best writing, but they were the best I had to offer at that point in time. I love them for that exact reason. I learned more from writing that series than I did anywhere else, including the bachelor’s degree. Getting busy and putting out the words is the best way to increase your skills and knowledge.
Q. I love that attitude. Having that courage to put out the best you had to offer at that point in time. My first romance written to market was a bodyguard one. I have a soft spot for that trope. I saw that one of your Lockwood bodyguard romances has a #1 New Release flag. Congrats!
What do you think are reader expectations for clean bodyguard romance that someone aspiring to break into it should incorporate?
A.Thanks! I lost the tag this morning and I was so sad to see it go. 😉 As for the trope, I think it requires a few things. One, it totally has to have a muscled man on the cover. I mean…he’s a bodyguard! Readers definitely want the muscles. Second, there needs to be some action in the book. A crime, a stalker, a something. There needs to be a side of suspense, but it doesn’t have to be heavy. My books are definitely romance first, then suspense, but it needs to be there. Third, I think they need to have heavy tension. With bodyguards, it implies they are spending lots of time together. The readers want to there to be a sizzling undercurrent that keeps them pushing forward so they can see the romance eventually blossom. And lastly, make sure your characters are likable. The guys should be tough, but have a soft side. I think of the girls as opposite usually. They should be soft but have a tough side. It makes for a good match that everyone roots for.
Q. I love that. You have really pegged some good elements there. What have you learned through series writing that you have found makes for good read-through?
A. Leaving Easter eggs in earlier books makes for a great one. In my bodyguard series, I showed a possible relationship in book #1, and gave clips of it through the series. The couple didn’t actually get together until book #6 and I had readers begging for the story months in advance. Also, my readers have told me that having connections between characters rather than tropes is their favorite. It allows them to see the characters in multiple situations and they grow accustomed to them and learn to love and root for them. When a reader is attached, they’ll read through everything. That should be the goal.
Q. Easter eggs. Great metaphor. And since you write fast enough, they don’t have to wait too long between books, eh? Are those things you discovered along the way or pre-plan as you thought of the series? I guess, did you plan your series in advance? And how?
A. I’ve changed my tactics a little with each series as I learn from releasing and advertising. However, when I plan a series, I plan the whole thing in advance, though I do very little outlining per story. But I plan what tropes will be in each book so that I don’t repeat too many throughout the series, and I’ll make sure to figure out where the put the stereotypes the readers enjoy. After that, I leave myself open to have fun.
Q. Good plan. Speaking of advertising, how much of your revenue do you put back into advertising and what kind of return are you seeing? Amounts / percentages would be great (if you are comfortable sharing).
A. At the end of the month, between 50-60% of my money is advertising money. I’ve been working on increasing my ROI and the last couple of months are headed in the right direction, so I’m hoping to bring that number down to 30-40% in the near future. As for what I roll back into the business, I’ve mostly held myself to a monthly budget, rather than a percentage. However, as my backlist has grown, and my releases are getting higher rankings, we’re starting to increase my spend to see if we can increase my profit as well, so I don’t really have numbers to share with that one, I’m afraid.
Q. Wow, the hour just flew past, Laura. This has been a very enjoyable and inspiring chat. Do you have time for one last question?
A. Sure. Go ahead.
Q. Awesome. What are your top three tips for authors who want to have a long-lived career and avoid burnout?
A. Great question. 1. Figure out your strengths and goals. Whether you plot, or not. Whether you do better in bursts or not. Learning how you best work will make a huge difference in handling writing as a long term career.
2. Write. Write. Write. And don’t stay on one project forever. We get better when we move on, rather than writing 30 drafts of the same story. You don’t have to publish everything you write if you don’t want to, but keep moving forward.
3. Take care of your body. Your brain might come up with the stories, but your body supports the brain. Exercise is the absolute best thing I do for myself every day. When I feel better, I write better.
Q. Love, love that. Thanks so much Laura. Enjoy the weekend with the fam and best wishes on your publishing ventures.
A. Thank you! This has been a really awesome opportunity, I’m so grateful to have been asked. 😊