Sue Ann Jaffarian holds down a full time job and writes more popular mysteries than many full time writers. With a back list of 25 books ranging from cozy mysteries to paranormal and – more recently – adult romance, Sue Ann is the perfect example of a successful hybrid author. She explains how she does it – and what she’s learned – to her cost – about staying healthy as a top producer.
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- The “lemons into lemonade” moment that helped Sue Ann decide she didn’t want to waste any more time NOT writing
- The productivity tips which have seen her produce 25 novels while working fulltime
- How she’d adjusted her work habits to protect her health
- How she is like her reader’s favourite character, Odelia Grey – and how they are different
- Why it’s “Reader Beware” with her Winnie Wilde, her adult romance heroine
- And her exciting plans for writing from her RV
Sue Ann can be found at sueannjaffarian.com
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/sueannjaffarian/
For more details, a full transcript follows: Note – this is a “close as” rendering of our full conversation with links to key points.
Jenny: And now here’s Sue Ann. Welcome to the show Sue Ann, it’s lovely to have you with us.
Sue Ann: Thank you for having me it’s nice to be asked!
Jenny: The Odelia Grey Mysteries were, I think your first series, and perhaps your most popular – – and you’ve produced one on those a year consistently since 2008 as well as working full time as a para-legal and doing other writing as well. I just have to think – WOW – you must be extremely well organised.
Sue Ann: When it comes to my writing I am, Anything else, no. It’s like I tell budding writers, if you set a schedule and stick to it it’s amazing what you can get done in a short amount of time.
Jenny: It looks like you just turned on a switch that said “Write” and you did. Tell me, what was the “Once Upon a Time Moment” that got you started?
Sue Ann: I always wanted to be a writer. Even as a little kid I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t something my parents encouraged. They thought if I was a writer I would starve and they weren’t far off there, if I didn’t have my para-legal job I probably would starve.
But you know all of a sudden, even though over the years I’d thought ‘I am going to be a writer, I want to write a novel’, in my mid forties or early forties I was engaged to a man and I broke it off.
And all of a sudden I took stock of my life. Here I was, about 42 or 43, and I realised, you know I have never pursued any of my life’s dreams.
So I made a list of them and at the top was to be a writer and from that point on I never looked back.
Jenny: Wow, that’s an amazing story – a real “turning lemons into lemonade story” isn’t it?
Sue Ann: Yes – I mean it was a horrible relationship, as it turned out, and I was writing when we were together, but I really didn’t get the kick in the butt until after we broke up.
Jenny: Odelia Grey sounds quite a lot like Sue – for a start she’s middle aged, has got curvy dimensions, and works as a para-legal. Where do the similarities begin and end?
Sue Ann: Well, I have a pat answer for that one, but it’s a truthful one: Odelia dresses better and she swears less. She is a para legal, like I am, but I don’t want to say she’s more grounded, but she’s a lot nicer than I am.
Like I said, she dresses better and swears less. And of course, she’s married, she has a relationship with her family, whereas my Mum and Dad have passed away, but I guess we think a lot alike
Let’s face it a lot of what comes out of her mouth comes out of my brain, if not full blown. It’s not like I have to work hard at knowing what she’s going to say.
Jenny: And working as a para legal – Your employers don’t get nervous they’ll end up in a book? How do you cover that one off?
Sue Ann: Well you know at the start, none of us really realised where this was going to go, so when I interviewed for the job it was like “Oh isn’t she cute?” and I assured them nothing would ever show up because that is a breach of confidentiality.. .
I’d already been writing and publishing for years when I went for the job . . . But as the years went on, and then I’d been there 12 years and the books just kept on coming out, and out, and out and then they were like “Holy Moley.”
But they are assured that nothing that happens in the firm shows up in the books, they are completely confident in that, and nothing does.
Besides law is really very boring. I work in health care law – and it really is like watching paint dry. Odelia’s job isn’t very interesting either, so she goes out and does stuff. Her job doesn’t come into it very often.
I had one interviewer – on a cable TV show – who was determined to get me to say that I did use material from work in my books – but I just don’t, as it would be very unprofessional, but she kept on and on, until I really let her have it! She was never friendly to me after that! But it was the truth, I have put in nothing, nothing, that ever happens at work.
Jenny: As well as Odelia Grey, you added the Ghost of Granny Apples series – and I believe you’ve done nine of those – as well as the Madison Rose Vampire series and the Running Wilde romances. Winnie Wilde is as you say, “a 50 year old divorcee on the road to self discovery and romance.” You’ve really got you hands full.
Sue Ann Oh and I’ve done some short stories too . . . You know Jenny I don’t know how I’ve done it . . . . . Well actually you know Jenny, I do know – and it nearly put me in my grave . . .
I am turning 65 soon, and this Christmas will be the first Christmas for years that I won’t be on deadline and I am so looking forward to it. Penguin has cut Granny Apples, so I am now going to be indie with that series. I’ve just completed the last Granny Apples for Penguin – not the last Granny Apples, but the last one for them.
There were times in the last few years I made myself sick because I worked so hard and my friends were very concerned. I really did make myself sick with too much work. I had no life, I had a full time job, and I was cranking out books. Now if I feel stressed I can take some time off and get back some life.
Jenny: Winnie Wilde – and telling the story of a mid life woman having a love life is quite bold. Although we might agree in principle it’s breaking a few conventions to write about it.
Sue Ann: Yes. It began because I had an idea for a novel about a woman in her 50’s who is cast aside by her husband for a younger woman and instead of going and selling real estate she decides to explore parts of herself that she’s never experienced before..
Once I got started on it it thought to myself “You know I am not sure there’s a novel here – it would either be too big, too overwhelming.” So I cut it into novellas – two novellas are out, a third is coming next year, and then there will be three more – it’s planned as a six story arc and then no more after that.
Jenny: I note you’ve given the Winnie Wilde books an “explicit sexual encounters” warning on it too. And I wonder how much cross over there is between your mystery readers and romance.
Sue Ann: My Granny Apples are very cozy, and there is not a lot of sex in Odelia, although there are darker themes.
So when I did the Madison Rose Vampire novels some of my readers were very upset with it, with the violence and sex in it.
My feeling is readers should be responsible for what they read. I mean if you see a picture of a naked woman on the cover with bite marks on her neck, then you read the back cover and you know its going to be vampires and gory, and you don’t like it, why are you busting my chops. So with Winnie Wilde I am just warning them “graphic sex.” It sounds kind of harsh, but I can’t be responsible for my readers.
Jenny: I guess that’s why sometimes people decide to write under another name.
Sue Ann: Exactly. You know you asked me about having a co-author for Winnie Wilde because the name Meg Chambers appears on the cover . . .
Meg Chambers is not a different person, it’s me. Originally my agent loved Winnie Wilde, but she said she thought I should pick another name to publish her under. And then they hardly sold at all, and I don’t think Penguin would have minded anyway, so I rebranded them.
Now they are sold under my name, Sue Ann Jaffarian, but Amazon won’t let me get rid of Meg Chambers and someone also suggested I should leave the Meg Chambers name for people who are looking for the next Meg Chambers book. But all the rest will be under Sue Ann and they sold better under my name too.
I attribute a lot of that is because it’s over a year since I wrote the last one, and I haven’t had a chance to market them, I’ve been so busy working on other books. I had a long conference call with my agent and I asked her – “should I just end Winnie” and she said, “No.”
She thought I should get out a few more, and they will catch on. She has had some interest from overseas, because they are so short. So the plan is to get out the third one and then I am going to put them in a print anthology, and then the next three will go into another anthology.
Jenny: Yes, I heard in a Joanna Penn podcast recently, research shows people had to read 3.7 books to register an author’s name and get really sold into the series, so your feeling you should be publishing three or four or five is probably right.
Sue Ann: Yes and you know Jenny, I have been around forever, or at least I feel I have been around forever.
I have 25 books published and yet people are still coming to me and saying they’ve just discovered one of my books in the library or a friend recommends it, and they are just now discovering me and I have the 12th Odelia coming out in a couple of months….
You’d think I might have petered out my market but I haven’t… People are still discovering me and saying they’d never heard of me until now.
And you know Granny – there’s still a big demand for Granny. They may not be selling enough to keep Penguin interested, but they are certainly selling enough for me. When you have a big publisher they are looking for sales of 30,000 – 40,000 copies and when you are an independent it would be nice to to have that, but you don’t need to keep going.
Jenny: I’m hearing there is quite a trend in publishing for the big houses to cut their mid list, so its probably a very good career move for you.
Sue Ann: Yes. My agent is quite happy, though not all agents agree. I know some of my friends, their agents cut them when they went indie, but my agent is still very gung ho, she thinks there are still things she can sell to publishing houses as well as the indies. So we will keep Odelia and Granny going, my signature series. It’s funny actually because Granny sells more in sales but Odelia is more popular with readers.
Jenny: And Sue Ann I see you are a motivational and humorous speaker as well? Talk about an over achiever!!!! . . . .Seriously – how did that aspect of your career get started?
Sue Ann: That just happened as part of being a writer. I got invited to library events and book luncheons and if you do well they spread the word.
Here is someone to is really good to have speak.. this year I haven’t been saying yes to everything, because I was finishing a series, I was very busy at work, and I co-authored a big conference, so I had to cut back in other areas.
But I plan to accept more speaking engagements next year, and when I’m retired in a couple of years I plan to travel and I’ll be very happy doing more speaking. I want to “take my show on the road” and meet my readers.
Sometimes I do get complaints from readers because I don’t travel, but I just don’t have the time. In a couple of years that will be different and they’ll be sick of me.
Jenny: What drew you to mysteries and why do you think they are the most popular genre after romance with genre readers?
Sue Ann: Honestly I was not a big mystery reader until I started writing them. I wrote two general fiction novels.. My agent – not the same lovely one I have now – had them with two major publishers but they never sold, and she said to me – you need to write mystery. So I bought up dozens and dozens of mystery novels and that was my training.
I still want to write some non mystery novels. I’ve been playing around with one for a couple of years. and my agent wants to sell it so bad.
Jenny: Well it sounds like you’ve got it all set up to have a hybrid career – some books with publishers and some independent, which is what seems to work best for a lot of people these days.
Sue Ann: I think that will work well.
Jenny: What do readers tell you they like best about your series?
They like the characters the best. I hear this all the time Readers say the characters are so real they can go out and have coffee with them. If people want to meet Granny, or have coffee with Odelia that tells me they are not cardboard characters.
Even the vampires – people said they were so real, they were like normal people but they were vampires. It’s the character development – it’s not the mystery, my books are character driven.
Jenny: One of the poignant things about Odelia is the relationship with her husband. They seem to have a really genuine love for each other, but for that slightly unusual extra factor you’ve put Greg in a wheelchair.
Sue Ann The second novel that I wrote that never got sold, I got a lot of feedback that they loved the character of Greg Stevens, who was a man in a wheelchair. That was a recurring theme, they loved the character of Greg Stevens.
So when I needed a love interest for Odelia I just poached him from that book, and I haven’t looked back, it worked perfectly. .
He sees things differently, from a different perspective – literally – and like many people in wheelchairs he is invisible to some people, just like Odelia, who is carrying weight – overweight people are also considered invisible, so the two of them together make a perfect team. All the rejection notices said they loved Greg Stevens.
Jenny: I wondered if you had a friend who was in a wheelchair . . .
Sue Ann: Not a friend no, but I interviewed a lot of men who were quadriplegics and paraplegics on every aspect of their lives.
And I followed one man around for a few days, he was willing to do this because he wanted to get the word out that he was normal…
I probably followed him for three or four days, for four hours at a time, and saw him working, playing, doing a lot of other stuff. And I purchased a couple of books about how to live in a wheelchair. I studied up on it because it had to be done right. You can’t tackle such a sensitive topic like that and not do it right.
Jenny: In more general terms (moving away from specific book focus) . . .Is there one thing you’ve done in your writing career more than any other that’s been the secret to your success?
Sue Ann: Yes keeping my focus on getting the job done. I never once said I don’t like this. I’m not doing it… Of course having Odelia contracted for twelve books – once I found my niche, just staying on the path and seeing it through
I gave up a lot of social things. Writing came first after the day job, nothing else came ahead of it.
Jenny: Turning to Sue Ann as a reader:
I wonder you have any time to read at all with your production schedule – but are you now or have you ever in the past discovered authors you like to “binge read”
If so who – any recommendations?
Sue Ann: I always have a couple of books going at a time. I read a lot of E books, because I don’t have the space for more books, and I love audio books. And you’re right, sometimes I don’t have much time for reading because I am tired at the end of the day. But when the Hunger Games came out a few years ago I had to read those books every spare minute I had.
And then I realised I had never read Michael Connelly so I went through his entire series and I read noone else, until I caught up with Michael Connelly. And I’ve read all of Diana Galbaldon Outlander series. – not the companion books, but the actual series.
Jenny: Circling around from the beginning to the end. You’ve shared in your blog some big exciting changes coming up for you – a new publishing venture and – travelling plans – can you tell us a little about those?
Absolutely I am so excited about this. I am retiring and my dream for retirement is to buy an RV and travel this beautiful country, meeting my readers, interacting with them, and also my writer friends.
I have so many wonderful writer friends all over the country. and we have talked about doing things together. My plans for travel is the the NovelRV.
I have a logo and everything and my future books will all be tagged as being from the Novel RV and so probably in a year and a half the Novel RV will be hitting the road. I hope by Spring 2019 – definitely by summer, I want to be living in an RV, travelling.
I see myself going off into National Parks for a few days of solitude and writing and writing and writing and to me that’s a dream life, and then going out and meeting friends and talking with readers.
Jenny: It certainly sounds very attractive
Sue Ann: Doesn’t it? I’m anxious because I want it to happen now but I can’t. I have a count down. From today my target date if 471 days away. My office knows it already . . . .it may not be exactly 471 but that’s the target…
Jenny: So Sue Ann we are coming to the end of our time . . . So where can people find you online and connect with you?
Sue Ann: My website is www.sueannjaffarian.com
I blog at Babble and Blog on Blogger sueannjaffarian.blogspot.com/
But where I am most active is on Facebook.
I have a very active fan club on Facebook. I highlight other writers there. There’s more than a thousand people on there now, we’ve been really excited about it. It’s the only place I run contests, and also I have a SueAnnJaffarian author page
I just post things about books there and my personal page has about 3000 followers on that one where I post about everything from my cat to my particular liberal brand of politics and that is where some of my readers are not happy with me.
I only put my views on my personal page. I did lose a dozen or so when I came out against Trump and a few more when I marched in the women’s march…
The most popular is the fan club or my personal page.
Jenny: thanks so much for talking to us today – and Keep Writing!
Sue Ann: I always say I’m going to keep writing until they put a toe tag on me. You have a good day Down Under.
- The Joys of Binge Reading podcast is put together with wonderful technical help from Dan Cotton at DC Audio Services. Dan is an experienced sound and video engineer who’s ready and available to help you with your next project… Seek him out at firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone + 64 – 21979539. He’s fast, takes pride in getting it right, and is lovely to work with.
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