Interview with
Jean Joachim

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Barlow: Do you find that you whenever you write you create a lot of excess that has to be cut eventually, or are you pretty much just dead on?

Joachim: No. Actually nobody’s ever dead on.  That’s a myth. No, in some instances, I have stuff that has to be cut.  In others, I realize I’ve rushed through something, and then I have to go back and add.  I said, “Well, you know, that’s nice, but there’s no description here, there’s no discussion of the… the five senses this. You know… it’s too fast.  You need to transition.”  I will go back and edit and either add what’s not there that needs to be or take out extraneous stuff. You know, going, “Really? I don’t need to say that. Get rid of that.” It’s very important not to try to think that you’re dead on because nobody ever is. That’s enough to stop you from writing at all.

Barlow: Oh that’s interesting.  Okay.

Joachim: It’s very important to give yourself permission to write badly and become a good editor, which is what I do.  I’m a very good editor. Yeah, I’m just like, “Get it down on paper,” because you can’t edit a blank page. I’ve heard many people talk about how, you know, they write something.  It’s horrible.  And then they throw it out, and then they get discouraged, and you can’t… That’s very negative, and it will discourage.  It will keep you from writing.

Barlow: Right. It’s not sustainable.

Joachim: Nobody writes everything perfect the first time.  Nobody. That’s why editors were born.

Barlow: So, then, I had also seen you… you write a lot of romance, and also sports romance, which I had not actually heard of before. And, so, can you talk about what inspired you to go into that genre?

Joachim: I’ve always been athletic on my own when I was younger. I grew up with a very rigorous phys-ed program in junior high and high school.

I played everything, including lacrosse, even before the boys had lacrosse.  We had girls lacrosse. I’ve always been interested in sports, and then I raised two sons. And, of course, they did basketball, and they did soccer. My husband and I got into all of that. So, I’ve always liked sports, and I was a huge baseball fan from when I was 16.  I started my love of baseball, and then I have become a huge football fan…  I mean you have to be a super attractive guy to play professional sports. I don’t know why, but they have more than their share of handsome men. In football, especially.  Baseball not quite so much, but, you know, not bad.  I have to say.  And if you watch the World Cup. Oh my lord.

Barlow: *Laughs*  You’re right.

Joachim: Yes. I think there’s something very attractive and sexy about professional athletes. The physicality of what they do. They have you know kind of strong and lean bodies, and they just they just exude something, you know, something physical about them. I find them very attractive.

Barlow: And I’m guessing your readers also do, as well.  And now I’m wondering like how many writers are in, like, this sports romance area.

Joachim: Well, there are quite a few women writing sports romance. But – and this is where I’m really going to sound catty – but there are some who think of themselves as writing sports romance because their hero might be a quarterback, but they never have anything of the sort in the book. I don’t do that.  I have sports scenes in my books and well-researched, and not only for my love of sports, but, you know, buying books, like, my son gave me Football for Dummies for Christmas, which was great.  And then I have an extensive knowledge of baseball from years of watching. I also bought Baseball for Dummies, and I got to see how that discusses how… how to play second base, how to play third base, and I was able to pick just little pieces of information to add to my actual sports scenes to give it real credibility, like where the second baser places his foot when there’s a man on first. And this is different.  He doesn’t just stand there.  And that was not something I knew before I researched, but I think you don’t want to have too much of that. You know, cause it’s still a romance book.  But you want to add some so that readers really feel as if they are in the player’s shoes, and they see things the way he sees it.  And a lot of women don’t do that.  A lot of women who write sports romance just use the character as their hero and never touch a football or field or a baseball diamond.  I don’t do that because I think that’s inauthentic, if that’s a word.

Barlow: Yeah. Well, it strikes me that female sports fans would be more appreciative of that extra effort on your part.  And then, also, those who aren’t necessarily aware of sports or the rules get to learn something, and then the book becomes more than just one thing.

Joachim: Right. And actually I see that in reviews of my books – that people comment on how authentic the sports scenes are, or people will even say, “Even if you’re not a baseball fan, this is still a great book because the emphasis is on the emotional side of ballplayers.” And, you know, it’s funny because they share something in common with popular fiction writers because everything is win or lose. And there’s a lot of pressure that way. And I remember that from my days of competing in sports, but also now as a writer. It’s still, you put a book out there. Is it going to be popular, is it going to sell, or is it going to die?  And, so, you have a certain amount of pressure on you like they do. And I think that… I’m able to understand that about an athlete.  When he gets up there, and the whistle blows, and play starts, you know, things can get pretty hairy.

Barlow: It’s true.  It’s true.  And it’s high intensity.

I’m curious what made you decide to self-publish your books instead of seek or continue to seek a traditional publisher.

Joachim: Well, actually, I was… my very, very first book was nonfiction, traditionally published by St. Martin’s Press called Beyond the Bake Sale: The Ultimate School Fundraising Book.  That came out in 2003, and I’m in the process of updating it, but it’s still selling, even though it’s out of print. It’s still selling on Amazon.  I just got a review yesterday. I couldn’t believe it. So that was St. Martin’s Press. And then my first fiction was published by a Sweet Publisher. That was Sunny Days, Moonlit Nights… And then April’s Kiss in the Moonlight, and then that publisher and I parted company, and I went to another publisher – Secret Cravings Publishing – and I published a whole lot of books with her because I’m a marketing person. Sandy hired me to market for the company, which I did. Oh, I just loved her and I loved it. And, through an unfortunate series of events, the company had to close their doors in 2015. At that point, I felt I knew enough, had enough experience, having been with her almost five years, having a good relationship with a cover designer and our editor and stuff, that I could self-publish.  At that point, I decided I really did not want to share royalties with a publisher and was willing to take on, you know, the huge task of actually becoming a publisher, which is what you do when you self-publish. See, I had a lot of years in Corporate America, so I have a business background.

Barlow: Yes.  You had experience writing, you had experience advertising, and working.

Joachim: Yeah, for twenty years.

Barlow: Yeah, so you were good to go.

Joachim: I was.  A lot of people think, “Oh, self-publishing.  Oh, it’s so easy.  It’s not.”  And people think, “Well, I could just slap a cover on a book and get Aunt Mary to read it and edit it for me.” And… and that’s a disaster when you do that.

You have to be professional and have professional people on your team.

Barlow: Yeah. Yes. I interviewed someone yesterday, and he said the same thing.  He said the same thing, though for both self-publishing and traditional publishing – that you want to make sure have top notch people for both.

Joachim: The thing is, with self-publishing, if I get a cover I don’t like or have a problem with an editor, I can fire the editor or not use the cover.  In traditional publishing, you don’t always have that option.

Ninety nine percent of my covers are professionally created. And I never put up a book without professional editing and a professional proofreader.

Barlow: Okay, that’s good to know.

When you when you did start self-publishing, how long did it take before your book gained momentum?

Joachim: I mean, I was told on Friday, and I was up till three o’clock in the morning, putting up my books the next day because I had…. I was in the middle of a football series. I had readers or fans or people who had bought the first few books. I couldn’t have those books just disappear. So, I put everything up immediately, and I just jumped right into the water, as cold as it was, and learned certain things about formatting and stuff, you know, on the job, so to speak, because I have so many books invested with Secret Cravings. I’m over 20 books. If those books were taken down, then, you know, that income just completely disappeared. Then I disappeared.  And I just… I had to turn around on a dime, and I did.

Barlow: Good.  Okay.  So, basically, you kept it consistent.   You made sure that there was no gap.

Joachim: Right.

I was like a mad woman. I was, like, possessed.  The first person to contact our public assignment, and she gave us a very, you know, like, 24 dollars a cover. And she had to have a new cover with the logo of the publisher taken off.

Barlow: Right.

Joachim: So you couldn’t just do that.  And then you had to go in to your manuscripts, and you had to take all references to the publisher off, and then upload your own, you know, steam. I had self-published a couple of books that Sandy was not able to get out when I needed them early on in my relationship with them, so I already had an account with Amazon, but then I had to learn about the other side.  So that’s been, you know, a constant learning experience for me.

Barlow: Yeah.  Well that’s good, as well.

Did you, ultimately, use any specific advertising avenues?  And, if so, what worked well and what didn’t work?

Joachim: Oh advertising. The thing with that is that it’s… what works for one person often doesn’t work for another. And you can go on to any of the author’s sites, and there is one huge one run by Marie Forest, and somebody will put up something and say, you know, “Facebook ads.”  And you’ll get five people say, “Oh they work great for me.” And then another five people say, “I can’t make them work at all.” So there is no longer… There used to be when I was doing the marketing for Secret Cravings. It was pretty easy. But it is no longer like that, and the entire marketplace has become so flooded with self-published books, many of which are really poorly written.

Now, I’m using in my book description, I put in, “Professionally edited or proofread” because that’s now a selling point, which is an unfortunate state of affairs. That should be assumed that you are doing that. So, things that work for me might not necessarily work for somebody else. I also spent years with my own agency, so I’m also a copywriter.  I can put together a meme and a blurb, and I know how to create an ad. I know how to use reviews and review quotes.  Stuff like that. So, I’m a little bit ahead of the game than so many people who write fiction and say, “Oh my God.  Marketing.”  You know?  And to me marketing is just completely logical, simple, easy stuff.  It’s not… I don’t find it challenging. But, yeah, I do try to get on as many newsletters… you do newsletters swaps, you advertise on Facebook, and then there are Amazon ads and BookBub ads. You know, there’s so many things out there. And there’s so many genres. I write everything from sweet to, you know, not sweet.  Too erotic.  But not terribly explicit.  But I don’t write paranormal, so I can’t say that any advertising that I do will necessarily work for a paranormal or a fantasy writer. Totally different.  And the sports stuff I gear myself toward what I can target.  I target sports as an interest. But isn’t going to do anybody any good who’s not writing sports.  So, it’s not like you could just say, “Oh, here are the five places to advertise because they work the best,” because that’s not necessarily true for everyone.

Barlow: That’s… I’m really glad that you said that because, like, from various people I’ve heard, like, “Oh, Facebook advertising,” and then I had one… I talked to David Chilton, and he said he did no advertising, but he did, like, thousands of interviews. And, so, it was sort of like, everybody’s done something different. And I think you’re right that for different genres it might require different advertising techniques. I’m also remarking in my head that your background was really advantageous for your future self-publishing, and I think of some of our graduates who’ve gone on to be like copyeditors and things like that, and I think that they are definitely also getting the background. And so, in my presentation that I ultimately create, I can I can talk about that a little bit. How do you get this experience to take with you?  And these are some of the roles you might consider.

Joachim: Right.  I don’t encourage anyone who is just starting out to self-publish. I don’t at all because I don’t think they’re prepared. I don’t think they have a clue. Because you become a publishing company when yourself self-publish something, and people don’t often get that.  But there are a ton of small, Indie publishing houses, and I encourage people, if they can’t get into a big house to go to a small one like Secret Cravings, and, like I did, and you learn on someone else’s dime, so to speak.  It’s really your dime.  But it’s their dime, too.  When you get to work with different editors, you get to understand the process. Many small publishers – all of them, accept unagented books. So, you don’t need to have an agent to get published by a small press. But that’s the place to start. That is the place to start. And they will… your publisher, then, will walk you through the process. But slapping a book up on Amazon…  There’s a lot more going on out there than Amazon. Other sites that you need to sell. I mean, there were times when the other sites outsell Amazon for me. So, I’m a great believer in being wide. I have a couple of books in Kindle Unlimited, but only in Spanish and Portuguese.

That’s the other thing that I do believe in as… I mean, part of the reason to self-publish is to have the control, but you have to know what you’re doing.

The biggest challenge is getting the book written – having a good story and telling it well.  And then what you need to do, if you’re really interested in making money, is to get that out in as many formats as you can, so you’re making additional money from one creative product. And that’s a completely business point of view. And most authors don’t have… don’t understand that.  They can’t just come out with an e-book on Amazon. It’s got to be an e-book on every possible site you could be on, and a paperback, and an audio book.  And some of my books I have out in large print, as well as regular print. Every place that you can put it out, and some of my books now I have translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, so they’re all the same initial creative, but there has a lot of different sales avenues.

Barlow: How did you find translators for your book?

Joachim: Well I’m fortunate to have some experience with a few foreign languages myself, and my husband studied German, but I went to Craigslist.  I just listed there what I was looking for and what I could afford to pay. Yes, I did have a couple of people who scammed me, but not many, and then I found some people who were very good and very reliable that way, too.

Barlow: Wow. I had never thought about using Craigslist. That’s amazing.

Joachim: It’s a place where people find jobs, right?

Barlow: *Laughs* Yeah, that’s true.  Well, they find everything.

Did you ever consider, like, splitting your… cause, you were talking about having, like, multiple versions… Did you ever consider splitting one of your books up into multiple parts, to where, like, to buy the second part of this book you have to pay, like, three dollars or something?

Joachim: No.  I say most the time I sell the book for three, four, or five dollars – the whole book.  Splitting a book into parts is a great way to annoy people. People don’t like cliffhangers, and readers are not stupid. If you have a 200-page book, and you split into two parts of 50 pages each, and you charge two dollars for each page, each, uh, section, readers will quickly understand that they’re paying eight dollars for your book when everyone else is selling this for $4.99. Plus, it’s a cliffhanger.  If all four parts are not out at the same time, and people are going to be… they’re going to be mad. Most readers do not like cliffhangers, and you can see that all over Facebook. There a lot of reader groups on Facebook, and people are very vocal about it.  And I don’t blame them.  One of the actual marketing points that I’ve used because I have put my very, very first series… I have put out as a boxed set of seven books, and one of my marketing points, one of the first things I say in my ad is, “No more waiting for the next book to come out.  Get the entire series now.”  And with romance readers, that’s what they want. They don’t want to wait.

Barlow: That’s true. I would assume, especially in romance, because they are used to reading… I don’t know if I should say that they’re used to reading more than in other genres, but…

Joachim: Yes.  They are.  They’re voracious.  Yes, absolutely.  They read on average 36 books a year.

Barlow: They’re not going to want to wait on a cliffhanger.

Do you feel as though your experience was one of a kind or something capable of being accomplished by any writer who’s serious and, as we talked about, like, knowledgeable about self-publishing.

Joachim: I’ve always believed that you can do whatever you want if you’re willing to work hard enough. My secret to my success in life from advertising as well as, you know, being as prolific as I am in publishing is the fact that I’m not afraid of hard work.

Do I think my experience is unique? No. Not if somebody else decides to put in the time and the effort. No, I don’t think anything that’s… You know, people can reach anything they want if they’re willing to work for it.

Barlow: Right.

Joachim: When I first had my first editor at Secret Cravings went through and explain to me what head hopping is, I had no clue.  I was an English major in college, but writing fiction was not my strength, and all the writing that I did do was nonfiction.  All my life, I wrote a movie review column for years, and all that stuff, all nonfiction which I’m very adept at. And she explained to me what head hopping was, and I realized I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t even recognize it. I sat down with that book, and I went through sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraphs.  Did he see it?  Could he smell it?  Could he feel it?  Could he hear it?  No?  Head hopping.  And I went through line by line and did that. You have no idea how many hours it took me to do that, but I had to remove head hopping from my writing, and I had to train myself to see it so that I would be able to see it before the book went to the editor.  And I did that, and it took me forever to do it. But I did it, and that’s what I mean by, if you’re willing to work hard, you know?  And now head hopping is not an issue with me.  I see right away. I see it when I’m writing.  I know when I’m doing it, and I don’t do it. But I’m willing to do that.  If people aren’t willing to do that, they’re not going to get very far, but if they’re willing to work hard… I don’t see anything being a barrier to anyone that’s willing to work for it.

Barlow: Okay.  Good.

Joachim: I hadn’t ever heard of that happening before. I’ve heard of a lot of things, we’ve talked about a lot of things, but never that. But it makes sense. I’m assuming it’s just making sure that you don’t just suddenly switch from X to Z, from one character’s head to another.

Barlow: Right. Yeah.

Joachim: You don’t write something that you’re… The person who’s in that scene who’s the main character in that scene can’t know, see, or hear.  If you’re writing something that another character feels, that’s head hopping. You can’t do that. And what ends up happening is, it ends up being confusing to the reader. And, yes.  Famous authors do that.  When you’re Nora Roberts you can do that. And I am not Nora Roberts, and I can’t do that. And I realized at that point that since I was not a fiction writer – I was learning about this – that that was true.  That it was confusing. The other thing I learned that was incredibly invaluable from my publisher. I see you have certain rules.  Every scene in one point of view had to be a minimum of 750 words, and every chapter had to be a minimum of ten pages, and wow.  That is an incredibly valuable thing because I tend to write, like, nonfiction quick, short, fast. You’re not supposed to have a lot of description.  You’re supposed to get to the point.  And I would find my scenes were very short, and I would have to go back and make them longer, which forced me to do a deeper POV, point of view, to delve into the character whose scene it was in a deeper way and to make it more meaningful and to include more sensory description. And, as a result of that, my books… I’ve never had a problem with flow, with pacing, and I think that that’s a real reason why because I hold to that religiously. Sometimes, I will have a chapter maybe a page shorter. I will have sometimes a chapter a few pages longer, but by and large, I hold to those rules, and they help to keep my book flowing and to keep it well paced.

Barlow: Okay.  That’s, that’s great to know.

Joachim: And I would not have gotten that if I hadn’t been with a small press who understood what makes a book good.

Barlow: Right.

It sounds as though constriction. Well it sounds like a constriction actually ends up sort of helping your writing flourish.

Joachim: Yes.  I know a lot of writers say, “Oh, no rules.  No rules.  I write the way I want.”  Fine.  If you don’t want to sell your books, write that way.  Don’t learn anything from people who know.  There are rules to everything you do in life. And the rules of writing… those are some of the rules that I follow.

Barlow: Yes.

We talk about it we talk about the whole constrictions freeing us in a way we didn’t expect a lot. But then there are also students who don’t want them.

Joachim: Even an artist has the restriction of working on one canvas.

Barlow: That’s a good point.

Joachim: So there are rules, there are restrictions… and being creative, it’s great to be creative.  But it’s also important, sometimes, to have some… to be creative within certain boundaries.  And I find that it’s usually people who are lazy who say, “Oh, well I write the way I want,” because they don’t want to put in the time.  Hey, fine.

Barlow: Yeah.  There are others that will.

We had already sort of talked about mistakes that you see other self-published authors – or want to be self-published authors – make. Um, I was going to ask what your biggest mistake was?

Joachim: Head hopping was one of them.  I don’t think it’s bad to make mistakes. What’s bad is to not learn from them. So, I did as any, you know, fledgling fiction writer does – make mistakes – but then I learn from them. So, when you make a mistake, that’s fine.  If you make it once, that’s fine.  If you make it five times, it’s not fine. So, I allow myself to make a mistake, and then I learn from it. I have occasionally put out a book that was a very bad translation that got slammed in reviews, and then, of course, I neatly folded down and found someone who could read it and redo it for me.  You know?  And never work with that translator, again. So, you can’t avoid mistakes.  Everybody makes them. If you’re not going to make any mistakes, it’s because you’re not trying. I mean, how many times do you think Edison came up with the light bulb that didn’t work before he came up with it?

Barlow: That’s true.

Joachim: So, you have to allow yourself to make mistakes, but not the same mistakes over and over again. So, make your mistakes, learn from them, and fix it.

Barlow: Yes.

Is there anything that you wish everyone knew?

Joachim: Yes. I wish everyone knew that they’re not going to write 50 Shades of Grey, if they sit down and spend two hours at the typewriter, slap something out, and put it up on Amazon, and make a million dollars. I wish people would not go into writing and self-publishing, if they didn’t have a burning desire to really be a writer and really tell a story. If they would stop seeing this as an avenue to easy money, which it is not, it is not an avenue to easy money, and go do something else.

Barlow: Right.  It’s not a get rich quick scheme.

Joachim: No, it’s not. And what happened to E. L. James is wonderful, and I congratulate her on her success, but just because it happened for her, it does not mean it’s going to happen for everyone else, or anyone else. Don’t be a writer unless you’re serious. Writing is hard work.

Barlow: Yes, it is.

Joachim: It is.  And publishing.  And don’t do it if you’re not serious because you’re cluttering up the field and making things worse for the people who are.

Barlow: Yes. And that’s a really good point. I do…  I am thinking of the people I will be talking to. I suspect that a lot of them will definitely put in the work required to make a great book. They all seem like academics, and that’s what they’re going to do. A lot of the people in my program aren’t necessarily, like, they kind of stick up their noses at the idea of self-publishing.  And I kind of want to show that it’s, well, like one author said, that just as much work would go into as with a traditional publisher, and, on top of that, you can create really high-quality works.

Joachim: Yes, you can.  It’s more work than going with a traditional publisher.  It’s more work.  Because you’re responsible for uploading everything, for doing all your formatting, for all your interfacing, as well as all of your advertising and marketing with a traditional publisher. They do do some for you. Oh yeah. It’s a lot more work.

To do it.  It’s a lot more work to do it… not just to put a book up on Amazon and put it in Kindle unlimited and walk away.  You’re going to do it the way it should be done. And it’s a lot of work.  I now have 75 books.  I mean, in English and foreign languages that I’m shepherding, you know?  It’s a lot of work, and it’s fine if people want to turn up their noses at self-publishing. I think that’s okay. I don’t have a problem with that… unless they’re going to look down on me, I do.

If they don’t want to do it, that’s fine.  That’s one less person cluttering up the world with bad books.

Barlow: Right.

No, I don’t think that they would turn their noses up at you.  I think they see it as playing tennis without a net. In that, people don’t have to have copyediting done or get a good book cover. But the reality is that they can do those things, and they can make it a quality work.

Joachim: Um, I don’t think anyone should look down at self-publishing, but I wish the people who would self-publish would get professional help. But you have to spend money for that. And people don’t understand, when you’re self-publishing you’re investing.  You’re investing in yourself. Well, I’m investing in translations.  I’m laying out a lot of money upfront. Okay?  For books that are going to sell for three or four dollars.  It’s going to take a long time to make that money back. In some instances.  In some, like in Italy for me, I make it back fairly quickly, but it’s still an investment in yourself. And that’s what self-publishing is in both time and money because you’re hiring an editor, you hire a cover designer, and if you forge good relationships, they become part of your team. And that’s very important to have that support.  To self-publish without those people supporting you is much harder.

Barlow: Yes.  Definitely.

Joachim: And if you put out a crappy product, and then you make a bad thing for yourself, it’s pretty hard to overcome.

Barlow: Right.  That’s a good point, as well.

I have one final question for you. Is there something that I shouldn’t have asked, but I didn’t?

Joachim: I can’t think of anything.  I think you’ve been pretty thorough.  It’s been a good interview, but it’s just, you know, the publishing world is changing daily. There’s just so much going on. And there are book fairs all over the world. People need to look globally, not just at the United States and the UK, but they need to be serious. That’s, I guess, the point that I really want to stress the most.  Is the people who go into this as a lark, as an easy way to make money…  God, no it isn’t.  And then, you know, the criticism and the reviews, and then your public persona, which you have to… That’s something, too… People… If you’re going to be an author, well watch what you say. Watch what you post. Readers are watching, will see you, and you can deep six a career in no time.

Barlow: That’s a good point.

It’s scary.

Joachim: Yeah.  But everything you do is public, and people post reviews. It’s not the same as when it was just traditional publishing, anymore. With e-books and stuff?  You’re out there. You know, when you’re traditionally published, you get reviews by publications and what individual people thought of your book didn’t count, didn’t matter, and was never posted anywhere. That’s not true, anymore.

Barlow: So, social media should be a place of connection.  Not a place to argue.

Joachim: No.  Or for you to bash anybody.

Barlow: Or bash.  Right.