Goodreads Blog

Marketing Advice from Successful Young Adult Author Jenni James

Posted by Cynthia on March 29, 2018
Jenni James wasn’t born a writer, but in 2008 she sat down to get a story out of her mind and onto the page. After numerous re-writes and feedback from readers on Wattpad, that story would eventually become her book, Pride & Popularity, which she published in 2011. Seeing how well a modern adaptation of a classic story resonated with readers, she kept writing. Despite plenty of personal and professional setbacks over the years, Jenni is now the successful author of forty books and several screenplays. One of her books, Not Cinderella’s Type, was turned into a movie and is currently streaming on Amazon. She released the third book in her Regency Romance Series last month, with quite a few more books planned to be written and released this year.

We asked the mother of eleven (!) to share her publishing journey with us and tell us how she arrived at her happily ever after.


Tell us a little about how you started out writing your stories. What motivated and inspired you?

I never wanted to be an author—like, ever. I loved reading books but thought writing one would be too hard. Then in 2008 a story wouldn’t leave me alone. It literally kept me awake for three nights in a row. I typed out the first chapter just so I could get sleep! The next day I began to wonder what was going to happen in chapter two. I ended up writing my first book, Pride & Popularity, in six weeks just so I could finish it.

When did you feel ready to publish your stories, and how did you decide to approach that?


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As I was writing that first book I knew it would be published one day. I had six kids when I started writing—I really didn’t have a bunch of time to waste on something just for fun. I couldn’t imagine putting six weeks of my life into something and storing it in a drawer. I did a ton of research trying to figure out the publishing world. I read blog after blog, book after book, and once I learned the craft of querying, I was able to branch out and get people interested. Landing my agent gave me the boost in confidence I needed to really get out there.

What challenges did you face in the publishing process?

My most memorable setback was the day my agent had Pride & Popularity going up for auction in late 2008, right around the time of the financial crisis. I had three publishers interested to buy the book when suddenly all three pulled out that morning. Everything was chaos. They told my agent to come back in six months.

When my book went up for auction again my agent went into preterm labor with her twins—three months early. She retired after that. By then I had done enough research to learn I wanted a little more freedom with my career than the big publishers would have given me. I queried a few small publishing houses. All of them were interested and I chose one and we went from there. The small publishers really helped me build a platform. Now that I have a following I can completely go on my own very easily, and I am now slowly buying back my works and republishing myself.

What else helped you stay motivated through the years?

I won’t go into the sordid details but halfway through 2012 I suddenly found myself on food stamps for the first time in my life, living in my parents’ home, with seven kids to provide for on my own. I hustled like I’ve never hustled before and wrote thirteen books the next year. I pushed through the grief, fear, and pain I was experiencing and eventually bought a minivan and the cottage and small farm I currently live in, all from the royalties of my writing. It is the greatest accomplishment I’ve achieved. Oh, and I found a handsome prince and married him too!

What’s your approach to using Goodreads?

I love to read what others are saying about other authors in my genres on Goodreads. It keeps me on the pulse in what people are reading and what they love. I’ve also had great success with Goodreads Giveaways. Goodreads lets me advertise and put up books before they’re written to drum up early interest. I’ve been able to connect not just with fans, but business professionals, conference committees, and school librarians and teachers. I also see a significant jump in sales every single time I review my own book with a message to my fans in the review. (See an example here.)

Any advice you can share with other self-published writers looking to follow your success?

Start a writing goal today. No more “If there’s time…” Make time. If you’d like to quit your job one day and write books for a living, then you’ve got to meet your goals today. Even if it’s just 500 words a day, it’s a goal. It’s a deadline, treat it as one.

You really need to be looking at ways to create a series as a fiction writer. Continue to build upon what is already there is the best way to get noticed. Don’t expect sales until you’ve got that third book out. Use your free online resources. Goodreads is an amazing way to connect with readers and authors that you love.

Learn to love edits. Realize very early on that all you’re doing is creating the cake. The rewrites and edits are the frosting that actually sells that cake. If you love them then you can whip through them easily, without the vicious pride factor taking over.

Learn how to query. You’ve got to be able to sell yourself and do it well, or no one will see your work. Query newspapers, magazines, conferences to get yourself on panels, query schools to do visits, query anything you can think of, but you’ve got to be able to write to professionals as a professional.

Librarians are your best friends and have all your friends, family, coworkers and contacts, who seem interested, request the book at your local library. If it’s being requested, it’s a great way for others to read the book and build a fanbase. That library might have you come and speak about writing too.

There is real money here, but you have to be in it for the long haul. You have to be constantly looking outside the box. Actually, remove the box completely. It’s not worth it to pigeonhole yourself.

And last but not least, enjoy the ride. This journey is a thousand different experiences and emotions, but it’s so rewarding as well. Your voice needs to be heard. Don’t hold that back.

Got a question for Jenni James about her publishing career? Leave a question in the comments and the author will respond to them the week of April 9. Be sure to follow her on Goodreads to see all her updates.


Next: How to Approach Marketing to Actually Reach Readers - An AWP Panel

You might also like: Marketing Advice from Self-Published Author Josiah Bancroft

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Comments Showing 1-50 of 54 (54 new)


message 1: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Beverly Hi Jenni. Congratulations on your success. I have a question: Why does it have to be a series? Why can't an author write a variety of novels?


message 2: by Suzy (new)

Suzy Davies I'm so pleased you recommend a book series - exactly what I am focusing my energy on!


message 3: by Jenni (last edited Mar 29, 2018 09:24PM) (new)

Jenni James Pamela wrote: "Hi Jenni. Congratulations on your success. I have a question: Why does it have to be a series? Why can't an author write a variety of novels?" I have several series and standalone books. The books with the series do much better than the standalones. You can obviously write whatever you'd like to, but to make money and do this as a full-time job, you want to continue to create in a world or idea that the readers are used to. I have a modern fairy tale series that has nothing to do with each book. They're all standalone books, but because they're modern, without magic, they're their own series. Does that make sense? Then I have a Regency series where each historical book ties in with the next. Even though each story is its own, you still see the same characters. Developing a series, helps you get seen so much more quickly than creating different standalone books. Mainly because a reader will read one and then see there are more and read the rest. Each time you release another you're inviting the reader to continue to read the others you already have. And your following on grows from there.

Hope this helps!
Jenni


message 4: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Suzy wrote: "I'm so pleased you recommend a book series - exactly what I am focusing my energy on!" Yay! I'm excited for you.


message 5: by Suzy (new)

Suzy Davies Thanks, so much and Happy Easter, Jenni! ;))


message 6: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Beverly Jenni wrote: "Pamela wrote: "Hi Jenni. Congratulations on your success. I have a question: Why does it have to be a series? Why can't an author write a variety of novels?" I have several series and standalone bo..."

I have used some of the same locations I made up for my first book but not the same characters. Thanks for the clarification.


message 7: by Karlene (new)

Karlene Pitters I am inspired by your story and it makes me want to push on through. It's not an easy path but then things that are worth it are never easy. I love to read about other authors and see how they started. I love your tip regarding the series and I'm all for writing it. I love series and always anticipate the next book.


message 8: by Karlene (new)

Karlene Pitters I forgot to mention that I streamed your movie Not Cinderella's Type on Amazon. I loved it...and this was before I discovered your article on Goodreads.


message 9: by Angel (new)

Angel Gelique Truly inspirational! I watched "Not Cinderella's Type" with my daughter and we really enjoyed it. Congratulations and much continued success!


message 10: by J. (new)

J. James Hi Jenni! Thanks for sharing your story. I love Pride and Popularity; although, I have to confess that Northanger Alibi is my absolute favorite. I was curious about how got your movie deal. Was this something you queried Amazon or did they reach out to you? Congrats on the movie, and hopefully, there are many more to come. Tell them I want to see Northanger Alibi. :-)


message 11: by Simi (new)

Simi Sunny What a fantastic article to read. I think I can totally relate. I used wattpad to get a head start on my writing career, and it gave me the sense of being an author. ^-^


message 12: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Karlene wrote: "I am inspired by your story and it makes me want to push on through. It's not an easy path but then things that are worth it are never easy. I love to read about other authors and see how they star..." Do it! Push through. The hardest part is finishing the book. it really is. Just sitting down and pushing through the doubts and committing to write. But it's such an amazing feeling once it's done. it's so worth it! Thank you for commenting.


message 13: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Karlene wrote: "I forgot to mention that I streamed your movie Not Cinderella's Type on Amazon. I loved it...and this was before I discovered your article on Goodreads."

Serious? That's awesome! I'm glad you loved it. It's such an important message. Thank you!


message 14: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Karlene wrote: "I forgot to mention that I streamed your movie Not Cinderella's Type on Amazon. I loved it...and this was before I discovered your article on Goodreads."

Thank you! thank you! It's been a whirlwind of a year for sure.


message 15: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James J. wrote: "Hi Jenni! Thanks for sharing your story. I love Pride and Popularity; although, I have to confess that Northanger Alibi is my absolute favorite. I was curious about how got your movie deal. Was thi..."

Lol! I LOVE Northanger Alibi. I always tell everyone it's the funniest book I've EVER written. haha. I also warn people not to read it where they're not supposed to be laughing... because funny.

As for the process a producer actually read my rough draft of Not Cinderella's Type on wattpad then approached me about writing the screenplay. They weren't from amazon, but they put the movie up there first because amazon had the best royalty rates for the first million hours watched. However, we're getting super close to a million hours so he'll be moving it to another platform soon.


message 16: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Simi wrote: "What a fantastic article to read. I think I can totally relate. I used wattpad to get a head start on my writing career, and it gave me the sense of being an author. ^-^"

Isn't wattpad amazing? I love them so much. Every writing class I teach I brag about them. <3


message 17: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Hunyah wrote: "That is kool, I 've heard of not really a cinderella story it looks like a good book .I started writing books from createspace .I'm a self-published author . But your story is really kool on how yo..."

Thank you! I started using createspace too. Love it. And I wish you the best of luck with your books!


message 18: by D.D. (new)

D.D. Marx You're an inspiration! Congratulations!!!!


message 19: by Sally (new)

Sally I think the series idea works because the author can build on an existing foundation, rather than have to take the time to create new characters, plot, and scenes entirely from scratch. Just an idea - I haven't done a series. (Yet.)

I have one published book and one about to be - both self-published, both contemporary "literary" fiction - and their stories aren't even remotely related. Each has taken years from concept to completion, partly from neglect and life getting in the way (lesson here: make the time if you plan to be serious about your writing), partly from lack of focus (lesson here: repeat the above lesson), and partly because of the highly-charged emotional journey of the characters (particularly in the second one) that took a lot of self-study, research, and guidance from those with the experiences I have written about (in this case, getting serious about my writing meant it took more time to do the work properly).

It's been a challenging ride, but most interesting and revealing on many levels. The next project will be an historical novel, again, completely unrelated to the first two, so I won't be taking advantage of the series concept anytime soon. Maybe some day I'll get to the point where I direct the stories instead of the stories directing me!

Jenni, I know what you mean about a story idea not letting you be - that happened to me with a short story some years ago. It wasn't in the least bit polite about its intrusion! Kinda cool when that happens, though, isn't it?


message 20: by Kelsey (new)

Kelsey Schulz Congrats on your success, Jenni! I'll definitely need to add your books to my infinite 'to-read' list! I am also a self-published author of two books (one a part of a trilogy). How do you go about getting the word out? I'm still a fairly new author, and it's difficult to drive traffic. I did the whole query process at first with both books to try to secure an agent, with no luck and a lot of rejections. So when it didn't work out, I went out on my own and published through KDP and Createspace.


message 21: by Tom (new)

Tom Blubaugh Congratulations on your success. I'm curious--how did the small publishers help you build a platform?


message 22: by Mel (new)

Mel Schanz Hi. Do you have advice on how to get more reviews?

I currently have four self-published romance novels on Amazon Kindle with a fifth publishing in May, and plans for eleven books total. Like you, I began writing simply to rid my head of the chaos. I merely wanted a few hours of sleep!

My first four are doing great on downloads, but... The reviews aren't coming. I've done the social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Instagram, and Goodreads. I have a great group of followers on the Facebook page. Amazon is allowing the first book in the series for free for life. This was a tremendous boost to the series, but... The reviews are not there.

Honestly, I'm not in it to become rich and famous, I'll continue writing until my mind is finished. However, I'd really like to know what people think. Any suggestions?


message 23: by Alex (new)

Alex Ander Jenni,

110% correct on focusing on a series versus standalone books. Once an author has created characters and established the basis for the series, future books are somewhat easier to write, not having to start from scratch.

There is also the potential for a spinoff series featuring one of the characters readers have come to love.

Best Wishes.


message 24: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Frerking Hi Jenni! I was wondering how you deal with negative reviews?


message 25: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Jenni wrote: "Hunyah wrote: "That is kool, I 've heard of not really a cinderella story it looks like a good book .I started writing books from createspace .I'm a self-published author . But your story is really..."

Thank you! I had so many people inspire me on my journey, glad I can help someone else!


message 26: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Sally wrote: "I think the series idea works because the author can build on an existing foundation, rather than have to take the time to create new characters, plot, and scenes entirely from scratch. Just an ide..."

Thank you for your long response!

I love it when a story idea hits me and doesn't let go. I've got one right now brewing... it's started a few days ago. Thankfully, it hasn't come out yet what it'll be, but yeah... I know it'll be something tear-jerky and a learning experience for me. I wish you the best of luck. You can still find success with the standalone books. And you will. But it might not be as fast, so don't worry. Just enjoy your journey and write what speaks to you. <3


message 27: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Kelsey wrote: "Congrats on your success, Jenni! I'll definitely need to add your books to my infinite 'to-read' list! I am also a self-published author of two books (one a part of a trilogy). How do you go about ..."

Lots of networking. Have you asked any friends if they'd read it and leave a review? Do a possible blog post or youtube vlog about it? Have you had contests where you gave away the ebook for free? Have you done the goodreads contests? That's a ton of exposure. Don't be afraid to give away ebooks--they cost you nothing, just an email, and they're a great way to drive up interest.


message 28: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Just saying I was published by such-and-such publisher, with a distributor really made it easier for bookstores and libraries and schools to find me and get those books on their shelves. Small publishers or big publishers... you still do your own marketing. So, that is the same. It's just a lot easier to get your foot in the door and drive interest if you'd got something backing you. I always say I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond, than a small fish in a big pond. Did that answer your question?


message 29: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Mel wrote: "Hi. Do you have advice on how to get more reviews?

I currently have four self-published romance novels on Amazon Kindle with a fifth publishing in May, and plans for eleven books total. Like you, ..."


a lot of authors suffer from this--me included--at first it was a lot easier to get reviews now it seems like you have to beg, borrow, and steal to get them. So what I do whenever I need a boost, is to offer a couple of ebooks in a review contest. For every review they leave (anywhere) they enter to win an ebook. Hope this helps.


message 30: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Alex wrote: "Jenni,

110% correct on focusing on a series versus standalone books. Once an author has created characters and established the basis for the series, future books are somewhat easier to write, not ..."


Yes, yes, yes! :)


message 31: by Jenni (last edited Apr 16, 2018 09:15PM) (new)

Jenni James Ashley wrote: "Hi Jenni! I was wondering how you deal with negative reviews?"

I tell a lot of struggling writers if they want to feel better about themselves go and read my negative reviews... haha. Gotta love the one-stars. However, I don't truly consider myself an author until the one-star reviews. You can't please everyone. We're not the same. No one is. Not all of us like the same movie, food, clothing... anything. How are we expected to create a book everyone will love? You absolutely cannot. Your only goal is to write a book MOST people who are reading your genre will love. Lol! And to wish the haters well. In my book, now my movie Not Cinderella's Type, it has a way of triggering abusive people. Those one-star reviews literally destroy the book and movie. Just wham! These are people who don't leave reviews anywhere, but just are nasty enough to decide my message about a girl dealing with emotional abuse is exactly their target. haha. Just breathe. Be grateful for different tastes. Can you imagine if we all DID like the exact same things? ((shudders)) It would be awful. Also, be kind to those nastiest. Clearly they're having a worse day than you. (And by kind I mean, vent to someone, but don't respond.)


message 32: by Kari (new)

Kari Trenten Thank you for sharing your story and the advice! You've done an amazing job in overcoming some formidable obstacles...it's an inspiration to other writers!


message 33: by R.A. (new)

R.A. Thanks for the great advice and inspirational story Jenni!


message 34: by Alex (new)

Alex Ander Jenni wrote: "Ashley wrote: "Hi Jenni! I was wondering how you deal with negative reviews?"

I tell a lot of struggling writers if they want to feel better about themselves go and read my negative reviews... hah..."


If I may add to this...

I try to determine if a person is being truly negative (hateful, vicious) or critical (expressing something he or she did not like). From there, I disregard the former and contemplate the latter.

One reviewer said my book was 'stilted.' After looking up the word :) I realized my work felt a little stiff, so I edited all my books. As a result, I feel my writing has improved, thanks to that 3-star critical reviewer.

Negativity versus constructive criticism.

Regards,

Alex

P.S. Jenni: I have to plus one your reply too.


message 35: by Sally (last edited Apr 17, 2018 06:49AM) (new)

Sally Always good to maintain an objective view, and to assess reviews for their objectivity. Some folks are just plain mean-spirited (fortunately not many) and are looking for attention. They need our compassion more than our argument. Discerning readers recognize a negative flame for what it is, and ignore it, as we should. I learn vast amounts from my beta readers and others who critique my work, and their comments guide me to improve my work.


message 36: by Kelsey (new)

Kelsey Schulz Jenni wrote: "Kelsey wrote: "Congrats on your success, Jenni! I'll definitely need to add your books to my infinite 'to-read' list! I am also a self-published author of two books (one a part of a trilogy). How d..."

Yes! I have some friends reviewing my newest book before the official launch date, so hopefully that helps. I didn't think about doing an ebook giveaway though, so that's a good idea! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond not only to me, but to all these questions! I think that's really great. :)


message 37: by Tom (new)

Tom Blubaugh Jenni wrote: "Just saying I was published by such-and-such publisher, with a distributor really made it easier for bookstores and libraries and schools to find me and get those books on their shelves. Small publ..."

Yes. Thanks.


message 38: by Cara (new)

Cara Stevens I loved reading your success story and am excited to read your books, too! In the interview, you mentioned writers should use free online resources like Goodreads. While I'm working on building my Goodreads author platform, can you recommend other free online resources that help support an author platform as well?


message 39: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth Glas Very inspiring post - thank you for sharing so honestly! I'm working on a fairy tale series myself (only book 1 so far) - giving the traditional and typically conservative fairy tales by the brothers Grimm a modern, progressive touch (Cinderella becomes Cicerello). I would be curious to learn more about your modern fairy tale series. What are the names of the first 3 books? Did you know the story of book 3 when you wrote book 1? Congratulations again on your inspiring success!


message 40: by Storm (new)

Storm Savage Hi Jenni!
I enjoyed your article. I found it very down to earth and loved the advice you gave, as I recently turned a new corner in my writing career and have started a new series. I was once with publishers and left to go on my own, so it really takes a lot of self-discipline to get those books out! Congrats on your success, your farm and your mini van! How awesome! Hugs, Shiloh Love


message 41: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Oliver Jenni wrote: "Sally wrote: "I think the series idea works because the author can build on an existing foundation, rather than have to take the time to create new characters, plot, and scenes entirely from scratc..."
Jenni, you sound like an amazing super writer. How do you find the time to create all this phenomenal work with 11 children? I'm single and sometimes wonder how I'm going to get all my writing and producing done. What's your advice?


message 42: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Oliver R.A. wrote: "Thanks for the great advice and inspirational story Jenni!"
Good strategy Jenni.


message 43: by Amber (last edited Apr 19, 2018 02:40PM) (new)

Amber Taylor Enjoyed this article the advice at the end. For the vast majority of us Writers it will not be an over night success "once" you publish. You need to have a long rang game plan, and stick with it and put out QUALITY work (which I believe is what she was getting at with the edits) and that doesn't means College Diction and grammar. If you write fiction it means have a clean, readable (flow) interesting for your subject manner book


message 44: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Kari wrote: "Thank you for sharing your story and the advice! You've done an amazing job in overcoming some formidable obstacles...it's an inspiration to other writers!"

Thank you, Kari! (You have my sister's name!)
I think we're all on this journey together. It's such a fun ride and I'm so grateful to all of those who inspire me daily. <3


message 45: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James R.A. wrote: "Thanks for the great advice and inspirational story Jenni!"

Thank you! I hope it helps you reach your goals! :)


message 46: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Alex wrote: "Jenni wrote: "Ashley wrote: "Hi Jenni! I was wondering how you deal with negative reviews?"

I tell a lot of struggling writers if they want to feel better about themselves go and read my negative ..."


Yes! Yes! I do have a handful of reviews that are just mean people being mean. :)


message 47: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Sally wrote: "Always good to maintain an objective view, and to assess reviews for their objectivity. Some folks are just plain mean-spirited (fortunately not many) and are looking for attention. They need our c..."
Thank you, Sally. So true! :)


message 48: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Kelsey wrote: "Jenni wrote: "Kelsey wrote: "Congrats on your success, Jenni! I'll definitely need to add your books to my infinite 'to-read' list! I am also a self-published author of two books (one a part of a t..."

Good luck! I'd love to hear how the giveaway went for you! So excited for your book. :)


message 49: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Cara wrote: "I loved reading your success story and am excited to read your books, too! In the interview, you mentioned writers should use free online resources like Goodreads. While I'm working on building my ..."

What works best for me:
Facebook (allows me to interact with fans and become 'friends' with them. Friends and people who love you buy your books and talk about them.
Instagram (the same thing)
wattpad.com (huge site that allows authors to find readers)
twitter (The best place to spam thousands of people--so with giveaways, book releases, free books, sales...)
blogger.com
Also, build an author profile on amazon

Hope this helps. I'd love to come back and actually teach how to use these sites effectively.


message 50: by Jenni (new)

Jenni James Elisabeth wrote: "Very inspiring post - thank you for sharing so honestly! I'm working on a fairy tale series myself (only book 1 so far) - giving the traditional and typically conservative fairy tales by the brothe..."

I actually have two series of fairy tale books. One is more traditional with 15 books set in historical settings with magical things. The Jenni James Faerie Tale Collection... And then the other is my Modern Fairy Tale series. Those books are:
Not Cinderella's Type
Sleeping Beauty: Back to Reality
Beauty IS the Beast
I had no idea I would be writing a new series when I started Not Cinderella's Type. However, it wasn't long before the idea for Sleeping Beauty hit. Then Beauty IS the Beast sort of jumped out at me. I now have an idea for a modern Little Mermaid... though it'll be a bit before I get to writing it. Have to catch up on some other book series first! Good luck with yours! Fairy tales are a huge best seller. No one can seem to get enough of all the different versions and twists on the tales. :)


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