Q&A: Building an engaged newsletter list with Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is the bestselling author of contemporary inspirational & Christian romances. She will chat about how she built her 5k newsletter subscriber list, how she gets 100 reviews every book launch, and how she records her own audio books.

Q. Your Amazon bio says you are originally from Texas. Do you not live there anymore?

A. No, I moved to Washington about 17 years ago when I met my husband. State that is, not DC.

Q. What is it like growing up in Texas and how do you think did it shape your writing career?

A. My parents lived in the country so nobody even delivered pizza to where they live. My mom was angry a lot when I was growing up and as there was no place to go, I used to disappear into stories. I read a ton and began writing short stories when I was about 8.

So I guess it influenced me a lot growing up. Plus, Texas has some quirks. I love to pull those out in my writing when I can.

Q. What are some of those quirks?

A. The biggest one I remember is that everything in Texas is a coke. You order a coke and they ask you what kind. When I first moved here, I ordered a coke and the woman gave me a Coke, and I was like what is this? I wanted a Sprite.

Q. Ha ha ha. That’s funny.

A. My husband says I also say “lawyer weird” lol and I do still say ya’ll although grammatically it is correct.

Q. I love it. How did a Washington guy convince a Texan girl to move?

A. Well, we met when I was still in Texas and I was pretty sure I was going to marry him, so I agreed to move and give WA a try.

Q. So meanwhile, you were writing? When did you officially jump into publishing?

A. Not until 2016. I had always started stories but got lost in the murky middle. I still struggle with that lol.

Q. Wow, that’s only three years. And yet, as I look at your reviews and book ranks, you are doing very well. For example, you have a pre-order that is already a #1 New Release in Western Religious Fiction. What would you say your turning points in your writing career were? How did you level up?

A. Wow, really? I didn’t know that lol.

Q. Um yeah. Never Forget the Past.

A. Oh yeah, that officially released November 10, but it had almost 200 preorders at release.

My big turning point was when I met Evangeline Kelly and she told me about writing to market. I had been writing what I loved which is always important but not always easy to market. She taught me how to turn what I love into what the market wants as well.

Q. About when was that when you connected with Evangeline Kelly?

A. Um, Evangeline and I worked on a Christmas anthology in 2017 I think and became fast friends after that.

Q. Evangeline is a one classy, generous lady. I love her too. So helpful. What types of books were a good cross between what you loved and what the market wants and how did you figure that out?

A. Well, my first series – the Heartbeats series was originally more women’s fiction when it started. After reading about romance, I went back and shifted the story to have more of the romance elements. Then I learned about romance tropes and began using them in books from there on out. Billionaires were huge and still are, so that’s when I really started doing better. I learned some marketing and had good covers and enjoyed the stories. I wish I had more billionaire stories as they are still selling really well.

Q. Well, you can always write more…

A. Haha maybe, but I already have 6 covers created for books that haven’t been written yet. Though I do have at least one more billionaire book coming – The Cowboy Billionaire.

Q. I hear you about cover hoarding. What romance tropes would you say have resonated well with your readers?

A. My readers seem to like small town, cowboys, and billionaires best.

Q. How do you come up with your story ideas?

A. Isn’t that the million dollar question. Sometimes it stems from shows I watch and I think about how I could do it differently. Sometimes my students inspire me with their writing. They really want me to try fantasy but I’m not that brave yet. This latest book Never Forget the Past was really about me branching out and trying something a little darker. I was inspired by Christy Barritt.

Q. Your “students”? Ah, that’s right. You teach full-time, right? What grade/level?

A. Well, I did teach full time. This year I took a part time job to have more time to write and record my audiobooks. I teach 10th grade English.

Q. How fast is your process from draft to published? And how often are you publishing?

A. I made a goal to publish a book a month this summer. So far, I’ve been hitting it, but it’s tough. Generally draft to publish was taking me about 6 weeks. I’m still not where I want to be, but I keep hoping the algorithm will kick in for me.

Q. Wait. You narrate your own audio books?

A. I do. I hired the first few out but kept complaining about how they didn’t read it right. I used to be a DJ on the radio and I do a lot of theater, so my husband said I should do it myself. I invested in a nice mic and set up a small area in my closet, and I record in there.

Q. How cool is that?? A DJ for what kind of music?

A. I DJ’d for a country station and a pop station in Texas.

Q. I love it. So what is the market for audio like nowadays? What kind of sales are you seeing?

A. I started in November of last year and by the first of October, I had sold 1000. Then, one of the narrators who recorded for me, set up a website where you can promote your audiobooks. Since then, I’ve sold another 1000. So, it’s definitely more lucrative now.

Q. Nice. Do you find yourself wanting to edit your story as you’ve read it aloud?

A. Yes, it’s actually a great way to edit. I catch small errors that make it past my Beta and ARC readers and sometimes I find wording that sounds weird when read aloud and I update it. Sometimes, I even get inspired to add more.

Q. How do you make it so you aren’t sick of it?

A. Um… I pretend it’s a play, and I get into the characters and the story. I do get tired of them sometimes, but recording audio has a different feel than just reading the story over and over again

Q. Fun! I can see you infusing your Texan drawl into it. Which of your books sell best in audio, or do they all sell equally well?

A. My bestselling book is The Billionaire’s Impromptu Bet that Sarah Sampino recorded because she markets it as well, but I would say that billionaire books sell better than anything else in audio as well

Q. What do you do for marketing–paid and unpaid? And what ROI have you gotten? Best month, if you care to share. I am meaning your kindle books.

A. Marketing is still a nebulous thing to me. I’ve tried Facebook ads and just feel as if I’m throwing money away. I do see more results with Amazon ads, but my ROI is still awful. I’m actually not sure how to go back and check my advertising stats lol, but I think I average about 150% ROI which sounds bad but KU page reads don’t equate into that.

 Otherwise, I do newsletter swaps and when I run a promotional price, I set it up with some of the big promo companies – Robin Reads, ENT, Faithful Reads.

Q. Do you mean that you get more KU reads than the stats reflect?

A. Yes KU reads don’t show up in your Amazon ads at all, only sales, but I know that some people who click on my ads read the books on KU. At least I hope they do, or I’m losing money that way too lol

Q. Ah, okay. Tell me a bit more about your firefighter series. What inspired you to write those books?

A I loved the feel of Chicago Fire, PD and Med – I watch them every Wed night. The first book – Fire Games was actually supposed to be in the Blushing Brides series but when I began plotting it out, I felt it was more suspenseful than the cover suggested, so the new series was born. Now, it’s my bestselling series.

Q. How do you research the fire station / firefighting scenes?

A. I try to find stories that firemen wrote on the internet to get the intensity right and I watched a few movies.

Q. How do you keep firefighting plots fresh? Do you feel that there’s room for creativity? (Considering how popular they seem to be.)

A. Yes because they aren’t always about fighting fires. I wanted to be able to pull firefighters, cops, and doctors in… so the first book introduces the lead detective and the firefighters. Then book 2 shows more of the hospital. Book 3, I actually take one of the firefighters and have him return to his hometown to help solve an arson case. I haven’t figured out the plot for book 4 yet, but I know the female lead is ex-military.

Q. Brilliant. You said you have a theater background. Does that influence the way you write? If so, in what way?

A. I think a little. I try to imagine the scene in my head – how it would play out if it were acted out

Q. What was your degree in? My guess is English or Education…

A. My BS is actually in psychology and I have a masters in education.

Q. Okay, it is a surprise but not really. I bet understanding psychology is helpful for characters. Do you psychoanalyze your characters as you outline?

A. I’m actually really terrible at outlining. I’m way more of a pantster, but I’ve been working on trying to analyze my characters more.

Q. So you draft and then revise extensively? Or do you luck out and have a pretty clean draft to begin with?

A. Depends on the book and how much story I had thought out. One time I trashed a whole draft and had to start over. Of course that draft became a new story later. But usually I revise a lot. I have a great BETA team who give me ideas when I get stuck or need to add more conflict.

Q. Looking at your books and from our conversations in the past, I know that your Christian faith plays a big part in your life and in your writing. Is that correct? And how?

A. Oh definitely. My first series actually has a strong pro-life message and I really believe God gave me those words. I read Christian fiction growing up and so when I decided to write, I wanted to write clean books that weren’t as preachy as the ones I grew up reading

Q. That is awesome, on writing books you wanted to read. Where does one find such a great beta team??

A. A lot through responses from them. They would start as reviewers who would tell me….I loved this but it would have been better if…. When they send me those kind of reviews, I know they would be a great BETA team member.

Q. Nice. Going back to Christian romance…have you always marketed your books to Christian romance readers? I just wondered if you have books that don’t have an obvious Christian theme, and if the reception to your books has been different? Is the Christian market bigger?

A. I did a series of short stories this summer which were just clean without the Christian elements. I think the clean market is actually bigger because Christian readers will read clean whereas clean readers won’t always read Christian. Part of why I write is to get out the message of God’s love. I have a few books I call redemptive fiction where characters make poor choices and then after finding God, they turn their life around. My readers tell me they really miss the Christian elements when they aren’t there.

Q. Makes sense. What do you think accounts for your books having such a high number of positive reviews?

A. I hope it’s my writing, but I also have a great team of ARC readers. I try to have about 100 for every book release.

Q. I guess I should have said other than the obvious. 🙂 How have you built up such a huge ARC team?

A. I ask my NL a lot. I have a questionnaire they fill out so I know if they’ll be a good fit for my books and then I keep a review sheet. It allows me to send reminders when reviews haven’t come in and to add new people when others start falling behind. I’ve been really lucky to have a good group of engaged readers who joined my NL

Q. This is like a nesting doll question. How do you get engaged readers joining your NL?

A. A lot of trial and error. I did a ton of promotions where I gave out a free book. That helped a lot. I was lucky enough to get four Bookbubs this year which I think helped some, and I always offer a free chapter to my next book in my newest release if they join.

Q. Nice. Four bookbubs! How did you snag that many?

A. Honestly? pure luck. After my last one, I reapplied and they’ve turned down every book, so all I can say is that I must have hit on just the right day.

Q. Probably more like, “I applied.” Which is always a first step…

A. True but I got turned down a lot before I got the first one and then a lot after the first one. The last two were freaky weird. I got one approved in September and then another in October.

Q. How many NL subs do you have now?

A. Over 5,000 and growing. I love having new members.

Q. Fabulous. Lorana, our time is almost up. So here’s my last question…what advice would you give to someone who is starting out as an author?

A. I would tell them to research the market. Try to find out what’s selling well and start there. After you’ve gained some fans, then you can try writing other things because a lot of them will follow you, but start with what the market wants.

Q. Lorana, thanks so much for chatting with me. It’s been such a pleasure! I wish I could translate your wonderful voice in this written Q&A but readers will just have to imagine it…

A. Haha, thank you Jewel. Well, they can always check out the audiobooks if they want to hear. I have free codes lol.

Q. …or check out your audio books. You read my mind!

A. Great minds think alike.

Check out Lorana Hoopes’ Amazon page here.

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