The 411 with Author Ruth Ann Nordin

Welcome, Ruth!

Hi Stacy-Deanne!  It’s an honor to be here.

First tell us a bit about Ruth Ann Nordin. What attracted you to become a writer?

I started writing books because I was looking for a book with a certain plot and couldn’t find it.  After a while, it occurred to me that if I wanted to read the book I was looking for, I had to write it.  As it turned out, the more books I wrote, the more ideas I had.

How did you get into self-publishing? Did you ever pursue commercial publishing?

I started self-publishing back in 2002 because I wanted to see my story in paperback instead of a binder.  I used vanity presses from 2002 up to early 2008.  It was an expensive hobby.  I honestly never believed self-publishing would ever take off the way it has, so I always considered writing a hobby.  Thanks to Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn (http://www.thecreativepenn.com), I learned about ebooks in 2009, and from there, I learned about Kindle and Smashwords.

During 2009 while I was uploading some of my books to Amazon and Smashwords, I did submit query letters to places like Harlequin, The Wild Rose Press, and agents.  None of the agents were interested, but to be fair to them, my queries were boring.  LOL  I suck at writing them.  I did get some requests from Harlequin and The Wild Rose Press to change my manuscripts to better fit their format for romance novels, and the people from those publishing houses were very nice and helpful.  I have a lot of respect for them to this day.  But the problem was, I didn’t feel the stories (Eye of the Beholder and His Redeeming Bride) were going to work well if I modified them.  So I ended up self-publishing everything.

How many books have you released?

I have released a total of 40 stories (26 being romances) ranging in word counts from 1500-word short stories to 115,000-word novels.  My average word length per story is between 65,000 to 70,000.

Tell us about your latest book, The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife. How did you come up with the concept of this story?

I’m going to be brutally honest because I feel the only way to learn about the business of writing is by experimenting.  I wrote The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife because I saw how well Regency authors were doing compared to historical western romance authors. The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife was an experiment to see what would happen if I wrote a Regency.  To do this, I decided to follow what I thought was a popular theme in the bestselling Regencies at the time: a scandal + a rushed marriage + a hero who didn’t want to get married + a heroine who wasn’t going to take his cranky attitude lying down.

I knew going in that it would be one of those books that people would either hate or love based on past books I’ve done.  Anytime you get a strong-willed heroine, you risk either pleasing people or upsetting them.  Plus, my more comedic books tend to be seen as immature by some because my humor isn’t for everyone.  Another important thing I want to pass on while I’m on this subject is that it’s okay if your book isn’t going to please everyone.  In fact, it’s pretty impossible to make everyone happy.  The key is to be happy with it yourself because at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s stuck with it.

So I wrote the Regency according to what I wanted.  That was the only way I could enjoy it, and to my surprise, I enjoyed writing that Regency a lot more than I expected.  In fact, I have more Regency books in mind to write.  Now for the interesting parts of my experiment.  My Regency hit as high as #20 on the Barnes and Noble Nook Store and got up to #1700 on Amazon Kindle.  Compare that to my historical westerns which are successful if they reach #450 to #550 at the Barnes and Noble Nook Store and if it hits around #5000 to #6000 on the Kindle store.  Those are the high numbers when the books are just released.  After that, they fall until they level off at a more steady sales rate.

As a side note, my contemporaries do the worst.  I’m lucky if I can manage a #15,000 to #25,000 ranking on the Barnes and Noble Nook Store and #25,000 to #40,000 on Amazon Kindle.  So what I have learned is that the genre you write might play a part in your ability to reach new readers.

You do an amazing job at getting titles out fast. How do you manage this and do you feel it’s contributed to your success?

I have set goals on how many books I want to publish in a given year, and by now, I have learned that my average book is between 65,000 to 75,000 words long.  At the beginning of the year, I get out a weekly planner where I write down goals on when I hope to get each first draft done, but I only plan out 4 to 6 months in advance.  I go back to the planner about once every month to track my progress and make any adjustments that pop up.  Having a plan helps a lot, but I also have to be flexible.  I have to write the book I’m most passionate about at the time I’m writing them and let books that aren’t sparking my interest wait.  If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, the book will write itself.  If you aren’t, it’s like pulling teeth to get it done.

I have a word count gadget on my blog to help me stay motivated because around 20,000 to 40,000 words into the book, I lose some of that initial passion.  If I need a break (ex. I run out of ideas on what to do next), I’ll stop writing that story and work on something else.  I’ve learned if I force the story, it’ll suck and need to be written again.

I also allow myself breaks.  If I don’t feel up to writing on a certain day, I don’t write.  This has allowed me to recharge a lot faster than if I push myself to do it.

I definitely think the more books an author has out there, the better.  I don’t sell mega copies (as in I don’t often hit those big charts like some authors do), but I’ve learned that you can be in the mid-list range (which is #5,000 to #50,000 in my opinion) and make a living off your work as long as you have enough books, and I do believe $2.99 is the sweet spot for a good number of authors.  Some can sell at a higher price, but I do best at $2.99 or less.

How did it feel when you first made a best seller list? What went through your head at that moment?

Again, being brutally honest.  I thought I was the best writer who ever lived.  I was getting a swell head, and the best two things that happened to me were the 1 and 2-star reviews and the drop in sales.  I know that probably sounds strange, but when an ego gets big, the best thing to bring someone back to normal is a good slice of humble pie.  Now when I hit those lists, I realize it’s temporary and I am grateful that I even get there.  But I no longer get that swell head.  Now I estimate how soon I can pay off my mortgage, save up money in the emergency fund, or come up with other financial goals.

As a side note, I do look at sales to determine which kind of books I should be writing more of since sales means I have a demand from my fans.  I think of the sales sheet as a report card.  If I can get an A or a B, I’ll write more of those books (ex. Regencies and historical westerns).  If I get a C or less, I don’t write the books that don’t sell (ex. contemporary romances).

Even though you are very successful, do you ever face the stigma that a lot of self-published authors deal with?

Yes, but only from aspiring writers.  Those and other self-published authors are my harshest critics.  Readers (on average) don’t care if a book is self-published.  All they want is a good book that makes them forget their troubles for a while.  Those can be commercially or self-published.  But aspiring writers and self-published authors are the hardest groups to please.  At least, that’s been my experience.

Do you feel that the recent popularity of self-publishing is good for the industry overall? Why or why not?

I have mixed feelings on this.  Self-publishing has offered me an avenue to write books I really want to write and can write my way.  However, I don’t like hearing that publishers are losing business or that they might have to price books according to someone else’s guidelines.  I think publishers should be able to price books as they want.  I don’t like the distinction some people are making between self-published and commercially published books.  To me, a book is a book and should stand on its own merit.

What worries me about the popularity of self-publishing is that some people are treating it as a get-rich-quick scheme.  They ignore the years and hard work that’s required to make a living.  Yes, a couple of authors hit it big in the first year, but they are the exception, not the rule.  Most authors need time and hard work to get there.  When I hear new authors talking about their “crappy” sales and they made $50 or $100 in a month, I want to tell them that when I started with ebooks, I was earning about $5 to $10 a month for six months.  I didn’t see my first $100 until I was about six months in and I had about ten books at $0.99 up by then with some for free.  But some authors hear “author X is a superstar” and assume they will be, too.  That’s not the average author experience.  So what happens is that some authors rush into self-publishing without doing their research to find out if it’s right for them, and some take short cuts on the cover and the content of the book instead of taking the time to do their best.

No book is perfect.  Every book will get 1 and 2-star reviews if it sells enough copies.  So to expect that your book will be a perfect fit for everyone is a disservice to yourself.  But I do believe writers need to do their best and it helps to have others look at the book and cover before it’s published.  That’s where I think self-publishing being popular has hurt authors in general.  Some authors won’t take that time to make the books their best work because they assume it’s easy and publish it right away.

Name a favorite book of yours and why do you like it so much?

Ironically, one of my all-time favorite books is The Giver by Lois Lowry.  It’s for middle-school-grade children, and it’s in no way a romance.  In fact, it has a very sad ending, something I usually despise in books, but it has terrific suspense, and Lois Lowry didn’t disappoint me as she answered the questions she posed in the book.  But I can’t read it without crying, so I have to be in the right frame of mind to read it.

Does writing historical romance come easier to you than contemporary?

At first, I had a hard time getting into the historical mindset, and it shows up in my early attempts.  It takes time to get into the historical time period, but once  you do, it feels natural.  Now it’s easier for me to write historicals.

Do you do a lot of research for your books?

I did the bulk of my research when I started writing historical westerns and the Native American romances.  I also did the bulk of my research for Regencies with the first Regency I did.  Once you have the basics of the time period down, you don’t need to do as much research, though there’s always some detail you need to dig up for each book you write.  You never stop researching, but you do build upon the foundation you already established.

Since you’ve been so successful, are there any tips you can provide for promotion? 

I honestly think the best promotional tool I’ve used have been making a couple of my books free because I think the author’s writing will either connect with a reader or it won’t, and free books help weed out the readers who don’t prefer your writing style.  I would never price everything free like I did in 2009, but the first book in a series or “world” where other books are based end up boosting sales on other books.

Free isn’t a guarantee, though.  It’s a tool but not a sure thing.  A friend has had a huge success with being featured on prominent book blogs.  I’ve had no such luck.  But since it worked for her, I figured I should mention it.  This friend of mine (a Regency writer) has out-sold me on every single book she’s written, so she’s a lot more successful than I am.  She doesn’t want anyone to know her numbers because she’s been the victim of multiple shill reviews by other authors.

Another promotional tool is being the kind of person you’d want to be around.  Your reputation will have an impact.

I do think the genre you write makes a difference, but the problem is, you shouldn’t write something you won’t enjoy.  So that’s a catch-22.  Vampires might be popular, but I have no desire to write them.  I am lucky that I enjoy romances.  I have fantasies and thrillers that don’t sell more than a couple copies a month, even given my reputation with romance novels.  So don’t assume because you put your name on another genre, it’ll magically sell.  Half of my books only sell enough for me to take my family out to eat at a fast food restaurant.  Ultimately, write the story that is burning in you to get written.  I believe the passion makes a difference.  And to be fair, I was never as passionate about fantasies and thrillers as I am about romances.

I’ll add something I think is NOT a good promotional tool.  (By this, I mean this is the kind of stuff I see some authors doing that could be sabotaging their chances of success.)  Writing on another author’s Facebook wall about your book, using someone else’s blog to pitch your book, sending out emails to people you don’t know, following someone on Twitter just to pitch them your book, etc.  If the person asks about your book, that is one thing.  But to do this uninvited is (I think) a big mistake.

I also think going exclusive with only one bookseller might yield short-term results but can do damage long-term.  Remember, the average author isn’t going to zoom up to fame and glory.  Most authors have to be patient and keep writing and publishing for years before they might make a living.

You’ve always been a writer that corresponded closely with readers. Do you feel that the bond you’ve built with your base has contributed to your success?

This has its advantages and disadvantages.  I’ve gotten burned by one reader whose husband made it a point to harass me once he realized I didn’t write books he approved of.  So I suggest keeping some distance between yourself and the reader.  I will respond to the reader’s email and be nice, of course, but I hesitate to get personally involved with anyone now.  I also realize that you can’t let one bad apple spoil the barrel, so I have opened myself to a very few readers I feel most comfortable with.  Basically, listen to your gut.  If I had listened to my gut on that one reader with the husband, I would have avoided a lot of grief.

I think taking the time to thank readers for taking the time to say a kind word is important.  It doesn’t take much to say thank you.  However, if someone is rude, then by all means, ignore the email.  Why go through the grief of trying to justify your book to someone who doesn’t like it?  Focus on the fans because they’re the ones who want to buy your future books and have invested their time in your work.

Do I think it’s contributed to my success?  You know, it probably has to a point, but I think only a very small fraction of people who buy my books actually contact me.

You’re doing what most writers only dream of, supporting yourself on your work. Was this always the plan or just an added bonus?

A bonus.  I never planned to sell enough books to even pay bills.  Remember, I started back in 2002 with a vanity publisher.  Big success back than was selling 200 copies of the book in its lifetime, and I sold maybe 1 copy in two years.  So my expectations were very low.  I will add that making a living as a writer (while is something I am thankful for) isn’t as stress-free as some authors might make it seem.  There’s a lot of pressure to write the next book and for it to be just as good or better than your last book.  It’s harder to focus on the story.  The internal critic is louder so it’s more difficult to listen to the characters and what they want.  It’s a constant battle to write the story you’re most passionate about because you start thinking of sales.  So you have to balance what your readers want and what you can successfully write.  So it’s wonderful but very scary at the same time.  Sales fluctuate.  One month, you make a lot; the next, you make little.  You have to be careful with budgeting and save for that rainy day, especially if you’re the one supporting the family.

What does Ruth Ann do to relax?

Sometimes I’ll watch TV or movies, but mostly, I go for a walk or out to eat with a friend.  I’ll go out with my family to places like the zoo or for a swim.

You’re a write-a-holic. What is a typical writing day like for you?

I’ll get up, take a shower, make breakfast for the family (a husband and four elementary-school-age boys), send the kids off to school (if it’s a school day), answer some emails, do some writing, go for a walk with a friend, make lunch, write some more, take care of kids as they get home from school and make dinner, clean up the dining room and kitchen, do laundry and dishes (thank God for dishwashers), take kids to the park or somewhere so I can write while they play.  Come home, have them wash up, put away dishes and laundry, get kids ready for bed, and sit down and write until it’s time for bed.

Basically, I write when I get the chance, even if it’s only ten minutes at a time.

From time to time I read articles that claim there’s a war between self-published and commercially published authors. Do you find this to be true or do you feel that most authors support one another despite how they are published?

I haven’t noticed a war between self-published and commercially published authors.  In fact, my greatest support and friendships come from commercially published authors.  I find that the biggest rift is within the self-published camp.  I get emails, blog comments, and reviews that are given in the spirit of attacking the me as an author.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have some awesome self-published author friends out there, but even they have been subject to other self-published authors who try to hurt sales.  Sock puppet accounts are a huge problem, and the level of dirt being thrown around is disheartening.  I found out who a couple of self-published authors were who were doing these sock puppet reviews when some Amazon forum readers pointed out their identities.  Other authors I know have found the identities through other “paper trails”.  I have yet to see a commercially published author behind these situations.  Is it possible a commercially published author can do something like this?  Sure.  But from what I and other authors have noticed, it’s often a self-published author.

What genres besides historical romance have you written?

I’ve written science fiction, fantasy (young adult and adult), young adult thrillers, a sci-fi thriller for adults, nonfiction books to help other authors, short stories, a short play, and contemporary romances.

Tell us a bit about your Native American series. I loved the first book, Restoring Hope. Do you plan to continue the series?

The series spans three full-length books.  I am currently working on the last book, Bound by Honor, Bound by Love, right now.

After I wrote Meant To Be, I wrote a novella (A Chance in Time) because I fell in love with Penelope and Cole who were secondary characters in Meant To Be.  I wanted to know more about their story.  Well, in their story, I came across a scared, pregnant Mandan woman by the name of Woape.  The original plan was to have Woape die in birth so Penelope (who couldn’t have children) would have a child to raise.  But I liked Woape and couldn’t kill her off.  Instead, when Woape gave birth, Penelope realized the father of the child was a white man. It was then that I thought, “I bet people are going to assume a white man raped her and that’s why she was scared and pregnant.” I knew this wasn’t the case, and I knew the white man and Woape had loved each other.

But I was left with two big problems: where was the white man and why was she alone and pregnant when Penelope found her?  I didn’t know the answers to these questions when I started writing Restoring Hope.  As I wrote it, the answers unfolded by themselves.  Then while writing Restoring Hope, I had two other plot ideas pop up.  One was the idea for Brave Beginnings and the other was the idea for Bound by Honor, Bound by Love.  Now I’m finishing up the series with Bound by Honor, Bound by Love.

What can your fans expect from you next? Do you have any new releases coming up?

I hope to have a Regency, Her Counterfeit Husband, out in August.  Bound by Honor, Bound by Love should be out before the end of the year.  I also have a historical western romance, Mitch’s Win, that I’m working on, and I hope to have that out before the end of the year, too.

If a publisher approached you today with a pretty good deal, would you take it or are you content running the show?

This is a hard one because a publisher can offer some advantages going alone can’t: mostly protecting you from people who like to steal books and offering legitimacy as a writer.  But I enjoy all the aspects of self-publishing too much.  I love to make my own covers, create my own content, control the timing of publication, and bookkeeping.

What’s the key component of self-publishing successfully?

Do it because you love it, not because you think it’s the quick and easy way to make money.

How do you feel when some suggest that self-publishing is easy. Is it like a slap in the face to an author like you who takes self-publishing so seriously?

Self-publishing is only easy if you want to do it as a hobby.  Just because you self-publish a book, it doesn’t mean you have to sell it.  If you just want a book for your bookshelf and to give out to family and friends, then there’s nothing to it.  However, if you want strangers to buy your book, you have to treat it like a business, and any business venture a person pursues is going to require hard work, dedication, and patience.

Also, something to keep in mind is that if you are self-publishing today as a hobby, you might want to either change names or make your work as polished as possible because some day if you do start to treat it like a business, it’s going to be embarrassing if you use the same name for your “hobby” books (the books you didn’t polish up).  I made this mistake from 2002 to early 2008 when I (as a hobby writer) used a vanity press to publish about 14 novels.  I kept my name and didn’t do much to polish those old books.  Guess what?  Now people are buying them, and since the vanity publisher refuses to let me polish those books and won’t remove them (even though I’ve requested this according to their guidelines), I’m stuck with some very embarrassing books.

Do you come in contact with people jealous of your success? How do you handle it?

No one ever comes to me and says they’re jealous of my success.  But what I do get from time to time is “advice” (usually from aspiring or other self-published authors) on how to do things better.  What distinguishes them from my readers who also offer advice is that the jealous people have an underlying tone of snakiness in their email.  A reader who enjoys the work and is truly trying to help is polite and kind.  A jealous person slips in subtle put downs in the way they word things; their criticism is based on resentment and it shows in the way they write the emails.  I ignore the jealous people.  Nothing I say will ever make a difference to them.  I can’t change what they think, so I just don’t bother.

The other way jealous people show up (and this is more often than the emails) is by leaving reviews on the books, and these reviews are pretty much attacks on me as a writer.  Honest negative reviews by people who are  not jealous are more objective in their criticisms of the book.  And it’s not just my books that I’ve noticed this on.  I’ve noticed it on other authors, and it’s not just successful authors who receive these attacks.  I think jealousy isn’t limited to just “successful” authors. Authors who aren’t “successful” can also be attacked by jealous authors.  Maybe a jealous author didn’t get a publisher, maybe they didn’t get an award, maybe someone who didn’t like their book liked another author’s book, etc.  There are many reasons why jealousy crops up.  My advice to any author who is being slammed in an email or a review by a jealous person is to ignore the email or review. Never give that person power over you.

Name a romance novel that you’ve always loved and has this book had any impact on your own writing?

Rather than a book, I’m going to comment on an author.  Carolyn Davidson was my inspiration as I started down the road to writing romance novels.  She’s a Harlequin Historical author who writes tender romances with sensual themes in them.  I wrote to her early on to ask her about her books, and she took the time to respond (I still have her letter).  From her, I learned that you can be a Christian author and incorporate sex in your novels.  I’ve read Christian romances, and I think the publishers in this division could use some growing up.  People weren’t immaculately conceived, and I’m tired of sex being “dirty” when it’s really just another part of our human experience.  In fact, without it, we wouldn’t be here.  I do upset some people with my stance, but I get more Christian women thanking me for having the courage to add sex in my romances than those who condemn me.  So I’m not the only person who feels this way.  But I have to thank Carolyn Davidson for influencing me this way.

If The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife was made into a movie, who would you want to play the main character and why?

James Franco because I think he’s sexy.  I first saw him in the Spiderman movie and loved every scene featuring him just because I wanted to look at him.

A younger version of Sandra Bullock would be good for the heroine.  I can see her as the type who wouldn’t sit by and take crap from anyone. 

Which do you enjoy creating most, the hero or the heroine? Why?

The hero.  Men fascinate me.  Again, to be brutally honest, I enjoy their points of view the most because they usually have the more sensual thoughts, but these thoughts also go along with love and tenderness.  As a side note, between me and my husband, I tend to be more physically inclined and he’s emotionally inclined.  So I have to cuddle and talk to him to get sex.  LOL  I know.  It’s backwards, but it’s probably why I relate more to the hero in my books.

Do you ever mirror your characters after yourself?

Not intentionally, but I think a part of me slips into all of them.

What words of wisdom do you have for newbie writers?

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t write.  You write the story you are most passionate about because passion guarantees a good story.  Don’t write the way others tell you to write.  We aren’t supposed to be cardboard cut-outs of other writers.  Have your own voice.  Dare to be unique.  Have someone else (ideally, not your family member) look over your book prior to publication to help smooth out the rough edges.  If you can find someone who is kind and objective about your work, keep them around.

Listen to your fans.  They are the ones you write for.  Ignore the critic who hates your work.  You aren’t writing for the critic because they are not going to be buying your books and telling others to check you out.  (A critic, by my definition, is someone who wants to attack your work.  This is not helpful.  There’s a difference between someone who gives honest feedback meant to help and someone who’s being spiteful.)

Dare to try new things.  Don’t let fear hold you back.  Explore new ideas.  Even failures help you become better, and I have a lot of failures.  To me, failure takes you one step closer to success if you’re willing to learn from it.

Rude people aren’t worth your time; ignore them.  Price your book at what you want.  If you want a publisher, go with a publisher.  If you want to self-publish, self-publish.  If you want to do both, do both.  Don’t be ashamed of the path you set for yourself.  Be proud of what you’re doing.  I’m tired of self-published authors who don’t have the courage to admit they  self-publish.  If you produce quality work, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Know when to say no.  You can’t do everything for everyone.  You’re a writer first.  Make sure you get that writing time in before you do anything else for another person.  Booksignings are a waste of time and money.  If you want to meet people, then go.  If you want to make a profit, stay home and write the next book to publish.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc are no substitute for publishing your next book.  A new book does a whole lot more for promoting you than any social networking venture does, which is why I like having a book or two for free.  Books are your best promotional tools because they are what readers want.  I don’t think many readers (as a whole) read author blogs, friend them on Facebook, follow their Twitter updates, etc.  Yes, some readers do, but the majority of them just want the book.  Don’t do any social networking you don’t enjoy.  When it becomes a chore, stop doing it.

Read books.  I especially like books outside my genre, and most of the books I read are nonfiction.  Expand your mind, and learn about the writing and publishing business.  I especially like Dean Wesley Smith, Seth Godin, and Mark Coker.  These are three people who look at things objectively and honestly.

Here’s what some marketing “experts” say to do that are wrong:  Some “marketing experts” will tell you to approach everyone about your books.  One in particular said to pitch your book to a server at a restaurant or tell the person next to you in the grocery line about the book.  Another person recommends reviewing your own books.  These are all things you should not do.  No one wants the car salesman approach, and no one wants to be lied to about why someone likes a book.  I have yet to see these methods work for authors who do them.

Another thing I strongly recommend authors should never do is this put other writers down game.  You will not magically sell more books just because you attack another author or that author’s work.  I am a firm believer that what you do, comes back to you.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Be the kind of person you’d want reading your books.

Thanks for stopping by, Ruth!
Thanks for the great interview, Stacy!

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