Julia Keanini is the bestselling author of sweet young adult and adult contemporary romances. She will chat about writing both YA and adult romance, how she leveled up her income with Facebook advertising, and what readers look for in royal romances.
Q. When I first met you in person, at Storymakers last year, you had flown in from Hawaii, correct? Are you still in Hawaii?
A. Yes! But only for about another month. We’ll be relocating to Utah in early September. A big part of that move is because of my writing and our publishing business. We’re also going for personal reasons.
Q. Have you always lived in Hawaii?
A. I was born in Japan, but my parents moved back to Hawaii when I was three for my dad to finish college. So the majority of my formative years were in Hawaii. We lived on Oahu growing up, but as an adult, most of my years have been spent here on Maui.
Q. I left the Philippines when I was 15. I didn’t think anything of it then, but now, I’m like, why would anyone want to leave a tropical paradise for the desert? What will you miss most?
A. Haha! Yeah. There will be so much I’ll miss. In all honesty though, I’ll miss the people the most. We don’t have any immediate family on Maui, but we’ve come to love our friends as our family. I’ll definitely miss the balmy winter days and the culture. I love the Aloha spirit. My kids call everyone Aunty and Uncle and it will be hard to not hear that all the time. But we’re looking forward to our move as well. We consider this to be very bittersweet.
Q. Ahh, balmy winter days. Christmas at the beach. Sigh. “A big part of that move is because of my writing and our publishing business.” Can you explain?
A. This business can be rough. I love writing. I love our community. But being an ocean away from almost every writer’s conference and from all of my writer friends can feel very isolating.
The move will bring us closer to being able to go to conferences and retreats and all of the other fun writing events I’ve missed.
Also, this is so scary to even write, but after lots of thought and prayerful consideration, my husband and I will be running our publishing company full-time. He’ll be leaving his job to become Pickled Plum Publishing’s CFO. We are thrilled about this huge step in not only our careers but our lives. When my husband steps in, I’ll be able to write full-time.
Q. Wow, that sounds amazing. I have no doubt you will be successful, as you have been successful with your writing so far. Have you not been writing full-time yet?
A. I’ve been full-time. But as you know when you’re indie there is much more to our businesses than just writing. We are full-time writers, advertisers, marketers, the hats can feel endless. With my husband coming on he’ll take care of the financial tasks so that I can focus on just writing.
My husband has a finance and law background so I can’t think of anyone I know that would be a better fit for the job.
Q. Sure, I get that. Such a fun name. Pickled Plum Publishing. How’d it come about?
A. Pickled plum or umeboshi is a traditional Japanese food. The food reminds me of my heritage, especially my Grandma. I loved the idea that I could subtly pay homage to both of those with a cutesy name like pickled plum.
Q. Love that! I want to try it now. It’s on my food bucket list. (I just googled pickled plums. LOL Walmart has them!)
A. It’s definitely an acquired taste.
Q. If you could sum up what kinds of books you write, what would you say? Because I know you write for young adults and adults.
A. I write romance. All kinds of it. I actually have a few paranormal and fantasy romances that have never and will probably never see the light of day.
I am in love with being in love, finding love, all parts of love. I love spousal love, sibling love, parent love, I honestly think it’s what makes the world go round. At least it’s what makes my world go round. Man, that was cheesy. Haha!
I’ve focused on YA and Sweet and Wholesome Romance for now, but I’m hoping that in my career I get to branch out even more. I love what I write, but when I read, I read all over the map. It makes me also want to write everything.
Q. Ha ha, I am an incurable romantic, so I totally get that. How long have you been publishing and how did you get started?
A. I started publishing on March 3, 2015. Which is girl’s day here in Hawaii and in Japan. I thought it was fitting that I started on a holiday all about women considering my first YA romances were about empowering women.
When I first started writing, I began with a time travel boarding school book. One of those that probably won’t see the light of day. But I learned so much from that manuscript. I saw what my strengths and weaknesses were and decided I loved writing YA, but I wanted to try my hand at contemporary.
So I began to write The Shy Girl and the Football Star (it was originally published under the title Skinniness is Next to Goddessness). Lacey’s character was one of the first I dreamed about and I knew her story needed to be told. I started to go the traditional route with it, I had queries out and a few agent requests for fulls when I felt strongly that I needed to independently publish these books. Here I am, four years later, I actually just finished book twenty-two today.
Q. Wow, 22! Congrats on finishing it today. The best feeling! I seem to remember–correct me if I am wrong–that you were consistently making five figures a month around Christmas. Is that right? What’s been your highest month income to date and what did it take to do that?
A. My highest income month was a little over $12,000 and that was in March of this year so it took me exactly four years to get there. I was heavily advertising and I would say I was able to take home a little over half of that. I’ve been tweaking my advertising and trying to make more while spending less. It’s definitely process.
Q. When you say advertising, do you do Facebook or Amazon AMS ads or both? Where have you found the most success?
A. Mostly Facebook ads. I wish I could get AMS ads to work for me. But they are just too hard to predict, in my book. And even when I get a good ad going, it’s hard to scale up. Facebook is much easier to navigate, at least for me. With my husband on board I think he’ll be experimenting with both.
Q. You re-covered your YA series. Has that made a huge difference? And if so, why do you think it did?
A. It did. When I first published the series, I had no idea about marketing. I wrote a book I wanted to read. I still do that today, but I also keep in mind what my readers want as well.
When I rebranded the series I took the elements that I knew readers appreciated and pushed them to the forefront of my cover, title, blurb, and marketing. They are still mostly the same books, they were just given a bit of a makeover.
Q. Smart. You also have a royal series of four books. I will be launching one late this month, so I was curious to see what you’ve learned writing royals. What do readers like? What should we steer clear?
A. I can’t wait to read yours! I think readers who love royals want the fantasy. The love reading about the normal life that a royal leads, but also about the extravagance of the noble life. I’m not sure what to avoid. Maybe just if anything seems too unbelievable? I actually have no idea. I’m sure you’ll do beautifully!
Q. I’m excited, thank you! Those are great tips. How often do you publish a book? How long are they? And how long do you usually take to draft one?
A. My publishing schedule has been all over the place. I was publishing once a month, but I have a two-year-old at home with me full-time and that got to be overwhelming. I’m down to about once every eight weeks this summer. But starting in September I’ll be publishing once then, two in October, two in November, and one in December. My books are about 50,000 words a piece and I usually take between two to two and a half weeks to draft.
Q. Your productivity is amazing considering you have a toddler! In your experience, which one is the stronger market? YA or Adult romance? Which one is your preference if sales didn’t matter? And why?
A. I’ve found that both are amazing markets. I love my readers in both genres and I’ve found sales to be pretty strong across the board as long as I’m writing books that people want to read. The biggest difference I’ve found is that with my adult romance I can peak at a higher rank in the store. I’ll typically make more from those books in the first few months. YA is more of a slow burn. I may not get as high as far as ranks in the store, but I get consistent sales for much longer. So in the end I think it evens out?
As far as preference I would say it depends on that the day you ask me. My husband hates that I never have favorites, but that’s the way I feel about genres. Today I’m really excited about a new YA series so I’d say YA, but then in a week or two I’ll get an idea for a sweet romance and think I love that genre too. So I know it’s a cop out but I love them equally.
Q. That is great. Sounds like such a good diverse mix that will serve you well in the long run. Did you ever consider a pen name? One for your YA, one for your adult?
A. I did. I actually am still playing around with the idea in my mind. But I think in the end I’ll keep all books under my name. However I never say never about anything.
Q. Well, obviously your readers are finding you both ways, so it is all good. I think we have time for one more question. But before I forget, I have a funny request…could you pick a Hawaii snapshot on your phone and send it to me? I would love to see where you live.
Q. Thanks! Last question…What would be your advice to an author wanting to scale up their career?
A.I’d say give it time. Don’t judge your progress by anyone else’s progress. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Give it your best, but don’t sacrifice your quality of life. Set attainable goals every year, month, week, day. If you mess up, wake up the next day and try again.
And don’t give up. I honestly think the only way we can’t succeed is to quit. It seems to easy, but it’s my honest opinion. There have been so many times I’ve wanted to quit. When it just didn’t seem worth it to sacrifice my time, energy, money, sanity. Haha. But I didn’t. And I won’t. I have huge goals for the future and I know I’m going to stumble on my way. But I’ll be on my way. Get on your way too.
Q. LOVE that. So wise and true. Julia, thank you so much for chatting with me across the ocean! It was fun. Good luck with the move and I hope to run into you when you are in Utah.
A. For sure! It was a blast. Thank you!! We’ll have to plan a lunch. I know you’re crazy busy so when you finally have a down day.
Q. I would love that!
Check out Julia Keanini’s Amazon page.
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Such a fun interview!
Glad you enjoyed it!