Q&A: One million page reads with Jess Mastorakos

Jess Mastorakos is the author of sweet military romances. She will chat about how she researches her Marine scenes, how she gets everything done as an author and mom of four littles, and how she got one million page reads in 18 months since writing to market.

Q. Thanks for working around naptime to chat with me! You have four kids, right? What ages are they?

A. Yes! They are 6, 5, 2, and 6 months. Two boys and two girls!

Q. Wow!! I am very impressed. That’s a busy household! How do you balance motherhood with a thriving author career?

A. I have a lot of help. My mom retired when I was pregnant with my third, and she and my grandma moved across the country to live with us. They help with the kids so I can work from home, and we love the multi-generational household thing! It’s a huge help with how demanding my husband’s job is with the Marines right now.

Q. That is wonderful to have your family around you. They sound like strong women. Your husband, being in the Marines….thank you for his service, truly, I just want to say that off the bat.

A. Thank you for the support!

Q. And like I told you when we set this chat up, I think it’s fitting to do this right before Memorial Day. How long has he been in the Marines?

A. He joined in June 2011, so celebrating 9 years next month!

Q. Fantastic. So let me explain what caught my attention about you and why I asked you to Q&A. I saw your post about your milestone–1 million reads in 18 months–congratulations….

A. Thank you!

Q. …so of course I went and checked out your books and have read a couple that I have enjoyed.

A. Thank you so much!

Q. I have read Back to you and Away from you. There’s definitely chemistry between the characters but you managed to keep the books clean. Well, there is some mild language, I believe, like the h-word, in the first book. Was that a conscious decision on your part to keep the books sweet? And why?

A. Yes, and that h-word is actually the only bit of mild language in the entire series LOL. Those two books were originally written about eight years ago with a little bit of steam and language. But it just wasn’t a natural way for me to write and my editor even told me at the time that I needed to kick it up a notch. Then, I started reading sweet romance and fell in love with the way you can connect to the emotions without being explicit. I re-wrote my books completely and then wrote the rest of the series. The sweet romance genre just feels like “home” to me as a writer.

Q. Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. What did it take and how long did it take for you to rewrite those books? And when did you originally publish them? Oh wait. You said eight years ago…gotcha.

A. Back to You wasn’t a plot re-write as much as it was a clean-up job. I loved their story so much. Away from You was an entirely new book. The only things that stayed the same were the characters.

Q. Knowing how hard it is to revise, I think that is admirable. So you started publishing in 2012, correct? How did you get started down that path?

A. I originally wrote Back to You in 2012 and published it in 2013. I didn’t even consider traditional publishing. In fact, the only reason I was brave enough to even finish the novel is because I knew I could self-publish it through Kindle Direct Publishing without going the traditional route. It sounded exciting!

Q. Nice! That sounds super brave. How old were you then?

A. 23. And it was while I was pregnant with my first and my husband was on his first deployment.

Q. 23! Yes, I was imagining you being home with your husband deployed. What kind of writing training or experience had you had at that point?

A. I had taken some classes in college while I was getting my Bachelor’s in Psychology, but nothing specific to genre fiction. I honestly think my degrees in Psychology help more than if I had them in English! I really love thinking about their personalities and the way they respond to their circumstances.

Q. So true! Writing characters is definitely a psychology exercise. One of the things that I think stands out with your stories is the authenticity of the Marine scenes and the emotions involved with deployment, on both the male and female lead. How did you research and write those Marine scenes? I imagine your husband was a resource?

A. He was a huge help. Being a military wife definitely means having a front row seat to a lot of the acronyms and procedures. So I know a lot of it just from asking him about his day. And then whenever I have a specific scene, like something that happens at boot camp or on deployment, he’s right there to answer my questions and describe the setting. And then he always reads the male POV chapters to fact check before I publish.

Q. Lucky you!! I am wondering if you get a lot of reader mail from Marine families? And if so, what are they saying?

A. My favorite thing ever is when a military wife or mom or daughter reaches out to talk to me about my books. They most often compliment how realistic they are, because it can be hard to find sometimes and what many people don’t notice, we do. So that makes me feel good and like I’m relating to a community of people who I care very much about.

Q. I can see that. I would imagine it is hard to find clean romance featuring Marines? Is that true?

A. I haven’t found very many! But really, the Marine Corps is the smallest branch of our military so that’s not too surprising. There are a lot of wonderful clean military romance books out there!

Q. That’s great. I think it’s fun to see our military depicted in clean and wholesome books. Do you think you would try your hand at other branches of military or first responders?

A. Actually, my next series is a first responder series. The characters exist in the world of my military romance series, so there will be some crossover between them. I’m really excited about it, but I also feel the pressure of switching gears to something I don’t have firsthand knowledge of. I want to do it justice just like I’ve tried to do with the Marines.

Q. I am sure you will do great. How exciting! Your series features a lot of interesting and well-fleshed-out side-characters. How did or do you plan out your series books? Do you have a notebook, or file, or…? How do you keep track of everyone?

A. I am a big fan of disc-bound planner systems, like Happy Planner, so I use those! But the San Diego Marines are all very near and dear to me so they mostly live in my head as a big family. I know I’ll need to get more organized as I create more series in the future.

Q. Funny, I thought you had this recipe. Whatever you are doing it’s working though. And my series planner is also disc-bound!

How do you decide which couple to feature in your next book? I just started a firefighter romance series, with a couple in mind for the next book, and then a reader said they hoped another couple gets the next story. So I am still trying to decide.

A. I just kind of go with my gut! It’s usually about whichever couple I’m most excited to write about next, because I think that excitement will translate into the story.

Q. Great advice. I have enjoyed chatting with you Jess! I’ve noticed how nice you are on social media, and this chat just continues to prove that. Are you good for a few more questions? Before the kiddies wake up…

A. Aw! Thank you! And in typical #momlife fashion, I’ve been holding one of them for a while now! Haha.

Q. Way to multi-task. You had said writing to market was key to your one million reads in 18 months. What did you do different to write to market, and how did you determine what that market was?

A. So, firstly, reading a ton of books in my genre was key. When you’re a reader of the genre you write in, you’re learning reader expectation firsthand. Reader expectation is like the backbone of writing to market, in my opinion. Hit the things they find satisfying about the genre, and it goes a long way toward their satisfaction level with your book.

Since I’m a busy mom of four, I also had to be smart about how I learned to write to market. While I was showering (yes, really), cleaning the house, or driving, I listened to audiobooks and podcasts. I soaked up hours and hours of info about the concept of writing to market and craft in my genre. I listened to The Writing Gals, Joanna Penn, and Chris Fox, to name a few. As a general rule, I take in my nonfiction audibly and I read my fiction on Kindle after everyone is in bed. It’s a constant learning process, but I think my writing has improved exponentially since I started being intentional about studying the market/craft of it all.

Q. Great! What is your writing and publishing timeline, from draft to published? And…sorry, actually two questions…what is your average wordcount?

A. I’ve gotten into a bit of a rhythm now with publishing every other month. My word counts have all been around 50,000 (except for Back to You, which was over 80,000 and took much longer than that LOL).

Q. Awesome. Thanks again Jess, and have a fantastic Memorial Day weekend with the fam!

A. Thank you so much for chatting with me! Enjoy your weekend and God Bless!

Check out Jess Mastorakos’ books.

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