The Janine Bolon Show with Helen Starbuck - 99 Authors Project, Season 3, Episode 1

The 99 Authors Project – Season 3 – Episode 1 with Helen Starbuck

Helen Starbuck

Helen Starbuck is a multi-book author, and the author of the award winning “Annie Collins Mystery Series”. She’s a Colorado native who spent her career working as a nurse in the main operating rooms of several suburban hospitals, and a major children’s hospital here in the Denver area. She translated her experience and knowledge of OR nursing into working as a clinical editor for an operating room nursing journal, where she helped journalist and English majors understand those interesting intricacies of surgery, while they helped her to understand the American Medical Association styled writing which is a thing, yes, she loves books involving strong women and interesting men. She writes her mysteries from the perspective of Annie Collins, who is also an OR nurse and draws from her love of romantic suspense to write her standalone novels. Helen’s theory is that if you don’t like life, as it is, write a different ending.

Transcript of the Show

Bryan Hyde
Welcome to the Janine Bolon show, where we share tips from around the globe. As we guide practical people with their finances using money tips, increase their incomes through side businesses, and maintain their sanity by staying in their creative zone.

Janine Bolon
Hello, and welcome to the show. I’m your host Janine Bolon, and you may or may not know this, but the Janine Bolon show is a syndicated program, where we actually took four of the podcast shows that I was running, and we put them all together with our podcast programming team. We got syndicated in October of 2021, and my team and I put all the podcasts into one program, instead of running four separate podcasts, and we came up with the Janine Bolon show. So thank you for listening today, as we combine the Three Minute Money Tips, the Thriving Solopreneur, the Writers Hour Creative Conversations, and the Practical Mystic Show. Today, we are going to be highlighting one of 99 authors that we will be interviewing this year. Basically, we wish to receive their guidance and perspective on how to get your message, your story and your life purpose out into the world. And maybe you’re even trying to write that memoir for your grandchildren. We’re here to help you. Many of you have been told you should write a book about your life experience. Well, these 99 authors that I will be interviewing over the course of this next year were prompted to write their stories as well. Each one will tell you what helped them get into writing, but also, the more important part each will share what worked when selling their books, what didn’t work and things they wish they had known before they became first time published authors. Helen Starbuck is a multi-book author, and the author of the award winning “Annie Collins Mystery Series”. She’s a Colorado native who spent her career working as a nurse in the main operating rooms of several suburban hospitals, and a major Children’s Hospital here in the Denver area. She translated her experience and knowledge OR nursing into working as a clinical editor for operating room nursing journal, where she helped journalist and English majors understand those interesting intricacies of surgery, while they helped her to understand the American Medical Association styled. Writing is a thing, Yes, she loves books involving strong women and interesting men. She writes her mysteries from the perspective of Annie Collins, who is also an OR nurse and draws from her love of romantic suspense to write her standalone novels. Helens theory is that if you don’t like life, as it is, write a different ending. I mean, this is something we can all do. Right? So with that in mind, let’s bring on today’s spotlighted author, Helen Starbuck and ask Helen the 13 questions, we ask each author on the show. Welcome to the show, Helen.

Helen Starbuck
Thanks. I appreciate you interviewing me.

Janine Bolon
Well, and I think in all honesty, and authenticity, I need to let everyone know that Helen and I first met each other many, many years ago, we were flying out of the Denver Airport together, we were both headed to the same place. We were headed to England for a writer’s retreat, and we were lucky enough to be on this retreat that we’re near the downs of the English countryside, where Agatha Christie wrote her novels, I am so grateful we had that experience together.

Helen Starbuck
It was a lot of fun.

Janine Bolon
It was a lot of fun. So that’s how I met Helen. And so basically, what I’m asking is 13 questions of each of these authors to find out what they have learned about the writing process. So tell us, what’s your full name?

Helen Starbuck
It’s Helen Starbuck. That’s also the name that I write under.

Janine Bolon
Now, not every author chooses to do that some authors choose to have a pen name, do you want to tell us why you decided to go ahead and write under your own name?

Helen Starbuck
Well, I am divorced, and legally I use my married name for a variety of reasons. And my sister who’s kind of been my sounding board, and as she likes to call herself my muse when I was writing this and getting ready to, you know, get formal about it, she said, If you publish this under his last name, I will personally come and strangle you.

Janine Bolon
That’s motivation.

Helen Starbuck
Yeah. So I said well, okay. So, I published it under my maiden name, which is Starbuck and I have been trying to tackle the bureaucracy of getting rid of the no longer valid married name, but boy, the government they don’t make it easy.

Janine Bolon
No, they don’t. That name change.

Helen Starbuck
Yeah. So I need to stop procrastinating and just do it.

Janine Bolon
I like to ask authors that because there are some authors that are adamant about their pen name and for others, it’s just a natural course of events for our lives. So, out of curiosity, did you have a marketing background before you started writing on your book?

Helen Starbuck
Oh, no, not at all.

Janine Bolon
I love that question.

Helen Starbuck
And I don’t think very many authors do, unless for some reason, the book they’re writing is, you know about marketing or some sort of background like that. I don’t think most authors and particularly most fiction authors have a clue when they first get started.

Janine Bolon
Right. So out of curiosity, what most surprised you about the book marketing process,

Helen Starbuck
That it was such a confusing, and a confusing process that nobody could really say, if you do this, your book will become a bestseller. And there are all sorts of ways to market a book, and you never know if doing that is going to be successful, or not. And some are successful for some authors and others don’t get any return on investment from it. So I think that’s the most frustrating part is, you just never know, some things just surprise the heck out of you, because they seem to work. And then others that you’re sure are going to work just fall on their face.

Janine Bolon
It’s almost almost in a way like gambling, you feel you really never know what’s going to work or what isn’t going to work. So when did you start marketing your books?

Helen Starbuck
I think I would say that I started marketing my books, right before the launch of my first book, when it became apparent to me that there were certain things that you needed to do to make people aware that you had actually written a book, as opposed to just putting it up on Amazon or taking it to bookstores, and just hoping for the best. So you know, there are a lot of things that I was told to do, you know, have a social media presence in, you know, one of the platforms that you feel like you have the most success with, having a website, doing book launches, putting the news out there so that people know that there’s going to be a book launch. And then as you get further into it, there are things like, cover reveals, having newsletters, going to book club, I mean, it’s just, there’s just a huge list, it would take up the whole interview if I sat here and talked about each one.

Janine Bolon
Yeah, I agree. So what year did you start your publishing? When did you start your first book? Or? I mean, what year did it publish?

Helen Starbuck
Well, it published in 2018. Well, right at the very end of 2017, the copyright is for 2018. But I think we had the launch in October of 2017.

Janine Bolon
Yeah, I just like to give perspective on that, because so much has changed with 2020 that I like people to know that a lot of the authors that are coming on now are doing things differently. So what would you change? If you actually started marketing your book today? Like, what are some of the things that you’ve learned that you would focus on rather than maybe things you’ve focused on in the past?

Helen Starbuck
Well, I have a, at the moment, a fairly decent sized newsletter group that have signed up for it. And I would start with my newsletter and on social media, hyping the fact that a new books coming. I’d share little bits and pieces of the book that are at the point where I know they’re going to stay in the book and you know, whatever. To the people on my newsletter first and then on social media, I would do cover shares once I got a cover that was finalized. And so I would start a lot sooner. I would start probably six months before the book was projected to come out, and once I had a finished book, textbook, you know, text of the book, I would send it out to advance readers like through services called Book Siren where they have a whole solicitation or subscription of people who want to read advanced reader copies, and they, the deal is that they asked them to write reviews so that when your book comes out, they’re automatically a certain number of reviews attached to it. So those are some of the initial things I would start doing a whole lot sooner, because by the time the book is up on Amazon, and you’ve had a book launch, you’ve lost valuable time to work up a little enthusiasm for it.

Janine Bolon
Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t realize how soon authors start marketing the book, and it’s like you said, it’s recommended at six months. And this is not a simple six week process. It’s not the same as like, an event or something like that. So what has worked best for you that sold the most books?

Helen Starbuck
Well, there’s a lot of things, there’s the sell more books on commercial sites like Amazon or through bookstores. And then there’s what works for personal sales. Personal sales work well, if you have a book launch most of the people who show up are familiar with either you or your work and they want a signed copy. Book clubs are great, because I always bring books and I always carry books in my car, because you never know when you’re going to sell one. I actually sold one to a valet, who was parking my car. That still tickles me, but at any rate, and book fairs are a good way to sell copies yourself, you actually make more money that way. But it’s a fairly small audience. And so as far as the online sales and bookstore sales, some of the things that have worked really well for me to drum up some enthusiasm and get what they call read through, in other words, somebody reads your first book, if it’s a series, or even if they’re standalones, and they like it well enough to read the rest of your books that follow. And that’s using sources like free Booksy, and Book Gorilla, and Fussy Librarian, to do a free book, free eBook giveaways. And especially if you’re in Kindle Unlimited with your books, through Amazon, you don’t make any money giving those books away. But you make money for every page that is read. And I don’t know how Kindle tracks this, it’s kind of Big Brotherish. But with eBooks, they know how many people have read, how many pages people have read in your ebook, and so you get paid a certain amount for that. Now, it’s not a lot, but it kind of makes up for giving the books away. And you get a lot of downloads. My first book got 6,000 ebook downloads. My last book got almost 4,000 You know, and that translated 4,000 ebook downloads to $125 in royalties, so and that’s good marketing, because it hopefully gets you people who may not know you, and who, like your books and keep reading. The other ways to get readers to sign up for your newsletter and also to read your other books is to do the Advanced Review copies, like through Book Siren. And that introduces you again, to an audience who, because their audience is so huge, a lot of them don’t know you. So that’s a good way to get yourself out there and pick up some new readers. So I think those are the two things that have worked best for me. Word of mouth is huge. So if you can go to book clubs and book fairs, and you can nicely, prod your faithful fans to recommend your book to other people, and to go on Amazon and Goodreads and BookBub, and leave a review, those two things are huge. Reviews are crucial, especially to Amazon, to get Amazon behind promoting your book. So, you know, I guess those are the main things that I would always do.

Janine Bolon
Right. And then share with us the flip of that coin, which is, What process did you try? And it was just an epic failure, because every author has those stories, right? Every single one of us, it was an absolute abysmal failure and you turn to your fellow authors, and you go, whatever you do, don’t do this, I’ve spent the money, it’s not worth it, and that’s the value of people like yourself.

Helen Starbuck
Well, without saying the name of the company, there’s a service that for a price at a upfront price, and then the cost of you sending your books that they’re interested in to them, they will distribute your books to high end motels, or hotels on, generally speaking, the east coast, and they put a stack of these books, not all your books, but your books and several others on the bedside table in these hotels, and they are free for anyone who stays in the room to take with them. And so the thought is that they will take your book while they’re on vacation, and they’ll read it, and they’ll take it home, and if nothing else, they may donate it, and somebody else reads it and likes it, and then checks you out and goes back and read your other books. That was a huge flop. And I have heard other people say that it worked well for them, and I do think it depends on your genre. But for the mystery suspense genre, I would never do that again. And I think that’s the only one that I just went, Oh, why did I do that?

Janine Bolon
Yeah, there are some things we try that just do not work. And this is more a little bit more personal, and this is because a lot of authors forget, hello, you’re a storyteller. So go ahead and entertain the audience. So what story do you tell about yourself, that gets the most laughs from your audiences when you go to book clubs and stuff like that?

Helen Starbuck
Well, and I have to laugh at this too. One of the things you do as an author is especially an independently published author, is you enter a lot of contests. And there are several that are rather prestigious, the Booklife Prize Contest, and the National independent Excellence Award, and so I had entered sort of a scattershot of contests. And these usually take anywhere from six months, six weeks to several months before you ever hear. So, I entered them, and it almost immediately left my brain, and I got this email from one of the contests and it said, Thank you so much for entering your book. We loved it, but we were just overwhelmed with entries, and your book didn’t win this time, but please consider submitting again. And my first thought was, I don’t remember submitting a book to this contest. And then I thought, Oh, If I don’t remember this, maybe I ought to go check. So I got out the little list that I had written down, and there was one that I should have heard about a month or so previously. So I went on their website thinking, Well, I didn’t hear from them, so probably didn’t win anything. And discovered that my book had won the mystery category, and it’s a fairly big contest. So I was just blown away. And the funny thing is, I didn’t believe it. I saw my book cover on their site and I sent the person I had conducted with to submit the book and said, okay, so I didn’t hear anything from you guys, and I see my book on your website, did I really win? And she was like, Oh, my God, yes. She said, I’m so sorry. She said, you didn’t get the email? And I said, No. But I said, you know, my email automatically after certain period of time with spam, which I said it might have gone to, they just delete spam after 30 days. So I said, you know, maybe it came in and I just didn’t see it. So that’s my funny story. I entered a contest and won it and didn’t even know about it.

Janine Bolon
Didn’t even know that I had won that entry. So one of my favorite questions to ask authors is, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in yourself? Since you started marketing your book?

Helen Starbuck
I think the biggest change is being able to say, I’m a published author. I’ve published, you know, six books, and say that without being hesitant or reluctant or even embarrassed to say that. So it’s being able to put yourself out there and not say, Well, you know, I used to be an operating room nurse and an editor. And now you know, I write books.

Janine Bolon
Almost as an aside, yeah.

Helen Starbuck
You know, and you really have to be willing to put that up front. I had a friend, somebody, we were at a get together, and somebody said to me, So what do you do? And I said, Well, you know, I’m an author, and she stepped in and said, No, she’s a published, award winning author, and I looked at her like, shhhh, hush. And she said, You need to stop that. She said, You need to tell people. And I was like, Well, yeah, I guess I do. So, you know, that was really hard, and I’ve been, I’ve become much more comfortable. And the other thing that’s really, really hard, is when you cold call an expert on something that you need an answer to. It is extremely hard to say, I’m writing this mystery, and I need some input from you about what happens when something like this happens. Because it’s kind of like, oh my God, they’re gonna think I’m some flake. So I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable doing that.

Janine Bolon
That’s one of my favorite stories of from the fictional authors that I get the privilege of being able to chat with at this level, is the fact that so many of them will say, yeah, and then I had to call this minister and say, what do you do when? Because they had no life experience. So they weren’t going to write about something that they had no life experience on. With all that, what are your top five tips that you would give authors when they’re selling their books?

Helen Starbuck
Well, I think any author whether they write fiction or nonfiction has to know who their audience is, and you find that out in various ways. For example, my audience tends to be women. Most men read thrillers as opposed to mysteries and suspense, most women read mysteries and suspense, and aren’t real big on thrillers, you know, the Jack Reacher, the Bourne conspiracy kind of things. And they tend to run anywhere from about 15, up to death in age. So you have to know who your audience is, and you have to realize that every audience, you have to mark it a little differently too. I think you have to connect with your audience on social media, and by that I mean, you need to connect with them, not just hype your book. So you have to establish a relationship, an ongoing relationship, and then periodically mention your books. If all you do is hit people up with buy my book, buy my book, they’re going to just tune out and stop following you or whatever. And then you need to check out promotional opportunities like your podcasts, and find podcasts where you can be interviewed and get your name out there. You need to find sites that offer promotional opportunities for your genre. There’s a site that loves suspense with some romance thrown in and it’s called Chicklit that sounds a little flaky, but boy, they get your name out there, if they like your book, you’re on their site, you have a webpage, you know, a page on their site, and that can be very helpful. And then I guess the last thing is what we talked about a little bit ago. And that is, don’t be afraid to talk about your book, and being an author, and my sister whose been involved in various connections with Disney and other things, and runs a business that relies heavily on promotion, she said to me with the first book, she said, you have to, you have to figure out an elevator pitch. And I said, What is that? And she said, Well, in Hollywood, if you’re pitching a story, and you get on the elevator with a producer, you have to be able to tell them what your story is about in three sentences, because they don’t have time to listen to, and then this happened, and then that happens. And so she said, You need to think about how to market your book, in three sentences. I said, I don’t think I can do that. She said, Yeah, you can. She said, take some work. But you know, so I finally came up for the first book with friends change, love betrays, and the end results are never what you expect. And nice, short and sweet. And I could do that in an elevator. You know, and with the last one, it was mistakes, regrets and murder.

Janine Bolon
You’re getting down to one word.

Helen Starbuck
And so then one of the things I’ve done in advertising on social media is to say, an old flame, a dead husband, and a compromised cop… What could get be any worse? And that’s gotten a lot of traction. So, you know, you just have to figure out a way to put yourself out there and make your being out there appealing to people enough that they will look at your book online, or they will pick it up in a bookstore, and go, that’s kind of interesting. So those are my five tips, I guess.

Janine Bolon
Wonderful. And thank you for sharing your years and years of experience as you have learned to market not only a series, but also a standalone. So let’s travel back in time, and you’re promoting your very first book of Annie Collins, the Mad Hatter. Okay, and you’re sitting there getting ready to do that, what is the one thing that you would say you most misunderstood about what it meant to be an author

Helen Starbuck
I didn’t understand how much work it would take. I kind of thought, well, I’ve told people before writing a book is easy. Getting people to buy it is like being Sisyphus, you’re pushing that rock up the hill, and you turn around, think you’re done, and it rolls back and crushes you.

Janine Bolon
And welcome to your Greek metaphors, ladies and gentlemen.

Helen Starbuck
You know and then you know, the other thing that a lot of editors, particularly independently published ones just don’t get, and it’s a matter of cost, I will be the first to admit that, but you have got to have an editor, and you’ve got to have a proofer. And these cannot be family members, or good friends. And if it’s your very first book, you need a developmental editor who can take your book and say, Man, you’ve got a plot hole here that a bus could fall into, or this doesn’t make sense, or where are you going with this, or you don’t need this entire section. And that may be hard to hear, but it is crucial. It is absolutely crucial. And as you get better at it, you may not necessarily need a developmental editor, but you still need an editor. And it’s expensive. But you need that and you need a good cover designer because as much as saying is don’t judge a book by its cover, that’s what people do. They see your cover and it intrigues them and they pick the book up or they click on the read more on Amazon, and once you get them to that point, the chances that they will actually buy your book have gone up significantly. If you can’t get them to pick it up or click on the ‘More Info’ bit on Amazon, you’re not going to make a sale. So those are the things that I would say.

Janine Bolon
Thank you. And we’re gonna finish on a positive here. What’s the primary thing that has been the biggest reward for you as an author?

Helen Starbuck
I think there would be two things, but they’re all related. I’m getting some amazing reviews from independent review sources like Kirkus, like The Book Life Prize, and then person to person hearing people say they love my books, and people saying, when’s the next one coming out? It’s like, this one just came out, give me a chance. I mean it took Diana Gabaldon seven years between her previous book and her most recent book, and people were just frothing at the mouth, but sometimes they take a while. And you, thank God, you want to read them, but realize that they don’t just spring fully born out of my head. It’d be nice if they did. It’d be great.

Janine Bolon
It would be fabulous. So thank you so much for your time today, Helen, I appreciate it so much.

Helen Starbuck
Oh, you’re welcome. I enjoy talking about this kind of stuff. Because I think we need to help each other. And your fellow authors are not your competition, they’re your comrades. And if you help them, they will help you. And I think that’s important.

Janine Bolon
We read each other’s work all the time. Some of my demographic a lot of times is other authors, depending upon what I’m writing on. So since you’ve answered our 13 questions, please take a moment and tell us about your latest book, and where people can connect with you.

Helen Starbuck
My latest book is The Woman He Used to Know, it’s a crime, mystery, suspense book. Essentially, it is a cop who comes to a crime scene and discovers that the dead husband and the wife are people he has known for a very long time. And he should have removed himself from the case, but he stays on it because he has things he really doesn’t want people to know. And so the question is, you know, is she guilty? And does he care? And how is he going to manage this? And what’s he going to do if it turns out she killed her husband? So that’s kind of it in a nutshell.

Janine Bolon
Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen. And where can people connect with you? What’s the best way?

Helen Starbuck
I have a website. It’s www.HelenStarbuck.com. And I’m on Instagram, and Facebook primarily. Again, Facebook is Helen Starbuck-author, and the Instagram is @Helen Starbuck. I am on Twitter, but I don’t use it very much, that one’s Helen S, as in Sam, Starbuck. But, you know, people can connect with me there if that’s their chosen source of social media.

Janine Bolon
Okay. Thank you so much. We really appreciate you being the spotlighted author today.

Helen Starbuck
Well I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks.

Janine Bolon
You betcha, and this is Janine Bolon signing off with you today and all of us here at the eight gates that produces the Janine Bolon show. Wish you a wonderful week, and we encourage you to get your message, your story, or your knowledge out into this world and make it a better place just like these authors are doing for the newly published authors that are coming along behind them. We’ll see you again next week, and until then, keep sharing what you know with others, keep shining that light that is so quintessentially you. And don’t forget to go out today and do something for yourself that is fun. See you next week.

Bryan Hyde
Thank you for listening to the Janine Bolon show. Be sure to subscribe to our show notes by going to www.theJanineBolonshow.com, where you’ll find additional resources as well as the opportunity to sign up to receive our program in your email each week. Be sure to visit our sponsor at www.the8gates.com.

 

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