With notorious cases such as The Alphabet Murders, The Genesee River Killer (Arthur Shawcross), The Murder of Kali Ann Poulton by Mark Christi, and the case of funeral homes stealing body parts from corpses awaiting cremation, Jen became fascinated by the darker side of human nature.
She brings this fascination to her romance novels, creating dark villains who wreak havoc on the hero and heroine, and producing page-turning suspense.
Jen is also a partner in Cool Gus Publishing, which she founded with NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer. Together they offer workshops and classes and sell millions of books.
Jen Talty Interview
Scroll down for a complete transcript of the interview or click the Play button below to listen to the interview now. And don’t forget to leave a comment to let us know what you thought of this interview!
Books by Jen Talty
Jen Talty Transcript
Tim Knox: Jen, welcome to the program.
Jen Talty: Hey Tim, thanks for having me.
Tim Knox: So happy to have you here. You and I have spent the last 20 minutes talking about computers and technology and now we’re going to talk about books. How about that?
Jen Talty: That works for me.
Tim Knox: Before we get started, if you will, give the audience a little background on you.
Jen Talty: I’m a hockey mom, or I was a hockey mom. This is actually my last year of being a hockey mom.
Tim Knox: You’re about to graduate?
Jen Talty: Yeah, my youngest is about to graduate. I have a degree in business education with a concentration in marketing and sales, and I really don’t know what that means. I have worked in the tech industry in various capacities as a merchandiser, as a sales training rep for different companies like Buena Vista, 3 Comm, McAfee. I also, while I was raising my kids, danced part-time and actually started my career off as a business teacher.
At one point around 2002 maybe I sat down and had read a bunch of books and my kids were at an age where you just kind of had to sit there and watch them. I was at a lot of hockey rinks and I thought, you know, I could write a book. So I did.
Tim Knox: How did you come to that realization?
Jen Talty: I just read a lot. I love to read and I think the characters would stay with me for so long that I thought I want to know what happens after the book ends kind of thing. I daydream a lot. You’re sitting at a rink for four hours with three different kids who are all playing hockey and bringing a computer and whatever. I just started writing and one day I kind of realized that I wrote a book.
Tim Knox: Was it really that simple? You just went, “Wow, I just wrote a book”?
Jen Talty: It was that simple I thought until I joined Romance Writers of America and I went to a chapter meeting in Syracuse and I started telling people about what I wrote and then I let people read it and realized I had a lot to learn about writing.
Tim Knox: I got you. One of the things I find so interesting about you is I love your website. Right up front if you click ‘About Jen’ you learn that she grew up in the city with the highest murder rate per capita in the state. I think that’s just such a very interesting thing to put as the first line of your bio on your website.
Jen Talty: Well that’s because I’m really fascinated by the darker side of human nature and it all started with – I can never pronounce his last name; I’m going to butcher it – Arthur Shawcross, who was a serial killer here in Rochester. It was like the mid-80s. He killed a lot of women and I just became fascinated by that.
It’s just really strange because Rochester is actually, they say it’s a really great place to raise a family. We have this really high crime rate, really high murder rate. It’s this running joke that we start the year off with January 1, homicide number one.
Tim Knox: We’re going to dive a little bit more into that. Let’s go back for a minute though because I’m still very interested about writing this book as a hockey mom. The first question is once you’re no longer a hockey mom how will you define yourself, Jen?
Jen Talty: That’s a really good question. I know we’re going to get to this later but that’s kind of how I ended up doing what I’m doing now with Bob Mayer. I think part of the writing and part of entering the business of publishing is as well I’ve always worked part-time and my focus was always my kids.
I have three kids. They’re 23, almost 21 and 17. My husband traveled for a living and I worked part-time but everything was about the kids. It was about getting in the hockey practice, about doing all of that and that’s really kind of what my focus was. I think as my oldest daughter started looking at colleges I started realizing that, wow, mommy needs a life.
I really like my little four corners of the world. I’m not a huge traveler, although I just went to Europe for 17 days because my daughter’s living in Spain. I’m not a huge traveler, not much interested in leaving my little four corners. I like my little office. I like my little house. My husband and I have lived in the same house for 23 years.
So I think back then my mind was saying some day your kids are going to grow up and they’re going to move away and they’re going to do their own thing and you still need to have a thing to do. My husband’s a big golfer and he’s a big poker player so he has his thing. Reading and watching TV was always… you know, introverted stuff. I think the books was a natural thing and I think the business was a natural thing because I have my thing; it’s what I do.
I’m really lucky because I happen to have two jobs, one being a writer and one working as a publishing partnership, and I love it. I wake up in the morning and I look forward to my day.
Tim Knox: And you hope a serial killer doesn’t show up at the door.
Jen Talty: As long as it’s only in my mind. My husband will tell you though that he sleeps with one eye open.
Tim Knox: Right, right. Let’s go back to that point where you did write that book. Before that had you ever had any inclination to be a writer at all? Did you ever have an interest in it?
Jen Talty: Yeah I did. There were a couple of times, and it wasn’t so much a writer. I had a lot of fascination with movies and TV and acting and having been a dancer for many years, theatre, I’ve always liked it. I’ve always kind of lived in my head.
I do remember at some point when I was in college I sat down and tried my hand at writing a short story and it didn’t go over too well but I was so preoccupied with different things and I wasn’t really focused. So I think it was something that was always in the back of my mind. I just never pursued it.
I don’t think I ever really pursued it hard until I had finished writing probably about 75,000 words and I got to a point in what I was writing and I realized I am writing a book. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it and I thought I’d like to do this. I really liked part of the genre that I was writing in, which was romantic suspense although I’m leaning more towards suspense now because I kind of like those serial killers. I’m fascinated by those.
It just became a great way for me to… I’ve always been a creative person so it was just a great way for me to really set creativity in a different way. I used to make dance costumes for my daughter before she quit dance to play hockey. So I would make all these dance costumes. For me, a lot of it is just the creativity. I like to create stuff.
Tim Knox: Did you find reading all those books, when it came time for you to actually write books, all that reading had been an education? You know about structure and character development, that sort of thing?
Jen Talty: I think I learned about structure and character development and all those writer things later. In some ways I think that ruined me because then I knew about writing instead of just doing it. This is actually work. I didn’t know you had to think about all that.
I think because I read so much and I think because I watched so many movies, I mean it was one thing when my husband and I first started dating, all we did was rent movies and watch movies. I had a Beta Max back then. How old am I?
Tim Knox: I remember those, yeah.
Jen Talty: That’s pretty much all we did, watch movies and I watched a lot of TV. Very few people I know watch more TV than me. Bob watches more TV than me. But yeah, all of that was an education because I think what I intuitively learned from reading so much was how important characters are, how important people are.
Yeah, plots are great. I love my bad guys and I love to write about people doing really strange things but it’s the people that we become attached to and I think that was the biggest lesson I learned in all the reading was how much I wanted to continue with those people. You get to the end and it was like I still want to know what happens to these people. I still want to know what’s going on. I think for me that was key in how I started writing and dealing with my characters first. I do like plot. The whole serial killer thing makes that kind of easy for me but how important the character is because that’s what we relate to.
Tim Knox: I’ve had other authors kind of tell me the same thing. The way they started writing a book was they were a fan of a series and when they read the last book in the series they didn’t want the story to end. So that really got them interested in writing their own books.
You mentioned the first book was a romance. Tell us about that. How did it end up being a romance?
Jen Talty: I read a lot of romance. I read a lot of romance/suspense. The three genres that I’ve always read a lot in were romantic suspense, not straight romance. It’s definitely something that had some crazy bad person doing some crazy bad thing. Science fiction, I’ve always been fascinated by aliens. ET, I loved that movie. It’s one of my favorite movies. Straight suspense, horror-ish type thing. One of my favorite TV shows is Hannibal. I love that show.
I think I started with romance because it’s what I had read the most of and it’s a huge genre but it was always important for me to have that bad guy, that bad person chasing the heroine or the hero or whatever.
The first series I wrote is two books in a series, The New York State Troopers series. All my husband’s friends are State Troopers so I wrote about them.
Tim Knox: Is your husband a State Trooper?
Jen Talty: No, he’s a salesman.
Tim Knox: He’s just on the road a lot and gets to know the Troopers.
Jen Talty: Yeah, that’s kind of how that works. He’s got all those Trooper stickers on his car. I think because every day you turn the TV on and there’s another crime happening or there’s this happening, and I think I just became fascinated with the darker side of human nature.
That first book I wrote, which was in two weeks, it’s really about a woman who… it’s a love story about a woman who is being stalked by a serial rapist and murderer. The focus on that story is much more on Jared and Ryan and their romance and how this one part pulls them together as a couple.
I kind of continued that but got a little darker with a book called Jane Doe’s Return, again dealing with this serial rapist and murderer. I think that comes from the Arthur Shawcross whole thing here that happened. Just as I kept doing more and reading more… I’m a huge fan of Lucy Gardner and reading more of her stuff and Allison Brennan and of course Bob Mayer who’s my business partner but also has affected my writing.
I actually kind of want to write sometimes from the point of view of the bad guy.
Tim Knox: I think that’s a great point of view to write from. I’ve had other authors tell me it kind of frees them up when you’re writing from a bad guy’s point of view. If you’re writing from a point of view as someone who has questionable morals and that sort of thing, it kind of frees you up as to what you can do.
Jen Talty: Well I think the question I always ask myself is… I love those shows about the crazy neighbor next door. I always ask myself what would it take for someone like me, a normal everyday – well, my husband would tell you I’m not normal, but a normal everyday housewife or whatever to cross that line? What would it take? Is it nature versus nurture? Are these different things? I’m fascinated with that psychological disposition or whatever that makes people do something different.
Actually the book I’m working on right now, I kind of describe it as a Manchurian Candidate meets Total Recall meets Hannibal Lector.
Tim Knox: Written by hockey mom.
Jen Talty: Yeah, written by hockey mom. Basically it takes a scientist who is trying to reprogram a brain and take a criminal and make them a good person, except what he didn’t know is this person was a cannibal. It kind of screws up the programming and it backfires on him.
But the story really is more about her because she doesn’t know she’s been manipulated and that her brain has been manipulated and she has all these desires to eat human flesh and she doesn’t understand why.
Tim Knox: Let’s back up just a little bit from that and let’s go back to that first book because one thing I’m always interested in is what did you do once you had that book? You said you joined a writers group and you shared it. How did that go?
Jen Talty: That was interesting. Actually this past weekend I had a bunch of writer friends that I’d met from that very first week that I joined RWA, our local chapter in Syracuse. We all met at a lake and sat around for two days writing and talking about our latest work and saying, okay, 2,000 words in the next hour and we would just write for the next hour all sitting together but not talking to each other.
So actually it was really great and what was interesting for me was the first book that I wrote did actually become the first book that I published, except it was rewritten about eight times. I wrote four other books in between that time that I wrote that first book and the time that I rewrote that first book and published it, and those other books will never see the light of day.
Tim Knox: Those were practice books.
Jen Talty: Yes, absolutely.
Tim Knox: Everybody has books in a drawer somewhere that no one will ever see.
Jen Talty: Yeah and these are bad characters and bad plots. I know they’re bad. The interesting though for me is this first book that I wrote, I think it was just two people who had been in my head for a really long time and they just came alive to me.
When I started the group and we talked about this book and I put it aside and wrote a couple other books and those couple other books is where I learned the whole passive thing versus active voice and show, don’t tell and started taking a bunch of classes from my business partner, Bob, about novel writing and structure and inciting incidence and all of that and I started putting it together.
I wrote a lot of books that might have been grammatically correct and might have had good structure but they really didn’t have any good characters. I went back to this book that I wrote realizing that I am a good storyteller and that this story that I had and these people that I had were so real to me that even though the writing wasn’t really good and the structure of the story needed a lot of work, the people were really, really good.
So I went back and I spent a few months rewriting that and, you know, I was submitting all the other books that were garbage too but that was the first book that caught the eye of anybody and I published.
Tim Knox: So that was a revamping of the very first book.
Jen Talty: Yeah.
Tim Knox: Wow. I know you said you were submitting the others but once you got this one finished did you feel like you really had something there?
Jen Talty: Yeah, it did. As soon as I got the contract for that one, I had been working on Jane Doe’s Return, which was probably one of the harder books I’ve ever written plot-wise. I was feeling the same way about the people that I was feeling about in Two Weeks. It’s an interesting thing because when you’re standing there on the telephone talking to your girlfriend about these people in your books and your husband looks at you and goes, “Who are you talking about?” and I tell him and he’s like, “But they’re not real.” That’s how real they became to me and I think that’s kind of the feeling that I started to develop when I started writing. It’s a passion and it’s the same passion that I developed when I started this business.
Tim Knox: So really the characters were so real that you wanted to do something with them or for them so that’s when you went back and rewrote that book. You wanted to do justice to the characters because you loved them so much. Does that make sense?
Jen Talty: Yeah it does and I think that’s what I wanted to do but I also think I felt like… and I think some writers go through this and others don’t. I think as I learned the process of writing and I learned to hone the craft, you have to learn the craft. I think when it came full circle for me was that I realized I had to trust myself as a storyteller and trust that I did have a story to tell but it wasn’t always the perfect grammatical sentence.
Not that the other books that I wrote that will never see the light of day didn’t have something to them. This was a story that meant something to me that I felt I could convey something to a readership that they might feel something about. The other ones I was just learning how to write.
Tim Knox: Once you had the book written what did you do with it? What was your process there?
Jen Talty: Well that was back before digital. I’m an early adapter to all things technological and was always looking at the digital side and knowing that somebody was going to, just like it was disrupted in the music business and it’s being disrupted in cable now, somebody was going to disrupt the publishing business. I didn’t know how or when. I had a Sony eReader but it hadn’t quite taken off.
I actually was doing the traditional publishing. I had an agent but I also was not opposed to digital publishing. I got a contract with a company for a digital book plus they were just switching over to mass market paperback. Unfortunately the week my book came out, the company went bankrupt.
Tim Knox: That’s great timing on your part, huh?
Jen Talty: Yeah, and that was very difficult but I ended up going with another small digital press and I did it for a lot of reasons. One, nobody else was going to touch that book because it was already under contract. Once I got the rights back I did that.
I also took a job here in Rochester teaching at a place called Writers and Books of Rochester but you kind of needed to be published to do that so I took the digital deal. Then the Kindle came out and once I went with the other publisher… now the books are with my publishing company, Cool Gus. I had four books and two short stories with the digital press.
When the Kindle came out and I started seeing that publishing was heading in the direction that I thought it was heading in and I had met Bob, I started working to get the rights back. I looked at Bob and I was like, “What are you going to do with the 30 books you have the rights back to?” He just kind of shrugged and looked at me like yeah okay, whatever.
But I talked him into giving me a shot because I knew the technology side of eBooks, being a web designer and all of that. So my focus went from going the traditional route to continuing this digital process. We created Cool Gus and have done pretty good for ourselves.
Tim Knox: Bob is Bob Mayer, who’s a bestselling author and now you and he are partners in a publishing company called Cool Gus, which we’ll go more into in just a second. Let’s go back if you don’t mind to the part where you mentioned you got an agent. How was that process? Did you query 1,000 agents to get one?
Jen Talty: I queried every agent that I could find. I queried everybody. I went to conferences. This was back in 2004, 2005. I went to conferences two or three times a year, mostly RWA because I was writing romantic suspense. RWA is Romance Writers of America. You’d have these 10 minute pitches or 5 minute pitches or whatever. You’d sit down and talk to an agent and tell term about your book or talk to an editor and tell them about your book. I did that. I sent queries. I sent the chapters snail mail. It was still snail mail back then, before you started sending things email.
I sent it to every editor and publisher that I could get my hands on, and agents. I just happened to have met my first agent at a conference and she happened to be an agent to some of my colleagues from my writers group and she happened to like what I was writing and tried to sell the books. We parted ways in part because I was going in a different direction. I was doing the digital stuff and that.
Today’s agent roles are a little different. I mean it depends on what you’re doing and who you are but I don’t really need an agent at this point in my career because I’m doing Cool Gus and it’s working for us.
Tim Knox: You were kind of forward thinking though because even before you got into Cool Gus you were steering toward the digital side of things. You saw the trend coming and you figured you’d get on that board and ride that wave, which is not a great reference to make to a hockey mom. Did you put on your skates and hit the ice?
Jen Talty: I did break my leg playing hockey once. I was a hockey mom who played hockey. I know every Tim Horton’s in Canada.
I think I saw it coming because of the way the music business was or the way computers developed or the way cell phones developed. I was 35 when I got my first cell phone. My kid was 10 when he got his.
I could see that digital and the eBooks… and they did it with iTunes; Apple did it with iTunes. The key is connecting the hardware to the content – connecting hardware, software and content. Once you can make that connection and there’s a need for it or there’s a desire for it from the consumer level, and this comes less from my writer life and more into my business persona, once you make that connection and the readers buy off on it, it was going to be golden. It was just a matter of who was going to do it first.
The moment Amazon came out with the Kindle, and I bought the very first Kindle the day it came out. Actually I just bought Fire TV the day it came out. I got my little greedy hands on it and I’m glad I went digital. This was in 2007 or 2008. 2009, when I met Bob and we started doing this eBooks were 3% of the market.
Tim Knox: What are they now? Do you know the latest stat?
Jen Talty: Depends on who you talk to. I mean if you look at Cool Gus, 95% of our sales are in eBooks. I think I’d have to look at what Digital Book World reported last, maybe 36-50%, but I think that’s skewed. It’s getting closer to half and half.
Everybody’s saying eBook readers are going down. That doesn’t mean eBooks are going down. I think less people are buying dedicated eReaders and reading on their phones or reading on a tablet and there’s so many great tablets out there. I mean I have an iPad but I’ve seen… what is that one? My husband’s in love with it, the new one. I can’t even think of the name of it. The Surface!
Tim Knox: My daughter has one of those and it’s amazing.
Jen Talty: Yeah and it’s good. We were talking earlier before the show started about the size of phones and the bigger the phone gets the easier it is to read on it. eBooks are definitely still huge and they’re going to continue to increase and print is going to continue to decrease. I think print on demand is the future.
For me, it wasn’t so much looking at where I thought publishing was… well, it was looking where I thought publishing was going to go but it was also looking at where I wanted to be and as vast as the internet is you can really narrow that down and find a readership. We were talking about this weekend and how being a New York Times Bestseller, that’s a great thing to be able to say but you can still make a decent living and not ever hit a list but it’s just as hard work. That’s the thing that a lot of people don’t get.
Self-publishing, which Bob and I don’t think anybody can truly self-publish if they’re going to make a career out of this which is why we have a team, is just as hard as traditional publishing. There’s no easy way to go about it. It’s not a simple process and it’s a lot of work. I work full-time doing both the writing and the publishing.
Tim Knox: The thing I think with self-publishing is you have to be a writer but you also have to be an entrepreneur. You have to be a marketer. You have to be a salesperson. You have to be all of these things rolled into one. I’ve had a lot of authors tell me that they’re finding that they spend way more time marketing now than they do writing.
Jen Talty: To me, that’s a huge mistake. The best marketing tool you have is a good book. The best promotion is writing a really good book. The better promotion is writing an even better book. We tell a lot of people don’t focus on the marketing until you have three books out there. It’s hard to market one book. If you’re like, “Oh, I have a book out…”
Tim Knox: I think that’s so smart. If you don’t have a backlist.
Jen Talty: It’s not just a backlist. Not everybody can be Bob Mayer and have 60 books.
Tim Knox: This is true.
Jen Talty: People will say, “Oh, I have one book out. Should I do free?” It’s like, why? If you don’t have anything to follow that up with… I would wait to do free until you have two or three books out, or a price promotion until you have two or three books out because you can use that first book to promote the second book or to promote the third book.
There are no absolutes but there are a few things that I will say. There’s not much that actually, truly sells books. I used to say there’s only two books that you could ever hand sell, that you could actually sell-sell, and that was the Encyclopedia and the Bible. The rest is each one is a unique product and you can’t really sell them. When people say, “How should I sell them?” or “How should I market them?” – Awareness is key.
I think the big thing that writers really, really need to focus on is still their craft of writing.
Tim Knox: I agree. I don’t remember who told me this but they told me, “You can market a lousy book but you’ll only do it one time.”
Jen Talty: Exactly, exactly and this is why I think you’re seeing a lot more virtual assistance and lot more author co-ops and a lot more authors working together or something like what Bob and I are doing.
Bob has a unique specialty with his 20 years in traditional publishing and being a midlist author and I have a unique background in digital publishing plus my tech background and one of our authors happens to be a lawyer. We have other authors who have worked in PR.
We work together as a team to come up with creative ways but spending a lot of time to do a print ad or all these Facebook things or these Twitter things, I know some people will say it sells books and maybe in the long term it does, but the key to those things is not about looking at your sales and going, “Oh I did this post and nobody bought my book”; it’s about getting the information out there because it’s going to take a while for people to recognize your name. It’s going to take a while for people to see your books and then to build up that rapport with you as an author.
The other thing is, and this is an interesting concept and it comes from a book called Primal Branding, is that in order to be a brand you have to have haters. You look at books that have gone viral – 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, all these things – they go viral because people love them as much as they hate them.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about Cool Gus. Tell us how that came to be and what it is you guys are doing.
Jen Talty: Well it came to be because I strong-armed Bob into letting me publish his backlist.
Tim Knox: Again, this is Bob Mayer who has 60 some odd books, bestselling author. How did you meet Bob?
Jen Talty: I met him at a conference. I listened to one of his keynote speeches. I forget what it was on. At RWA he did a two hour presentation on the original idea and conflict. Just so much stuff in my writing just clicked, so many things I was struggling with. I was learning how to write and so many different things just clicked. I never got the nerve to go up and talk to him at the conference but I saw him at the very next conference I went to like two months later.
I went up and talked to him and we struck up a conversation. He asked me, you know, what do you write and where do you publish? I told him and we started talking about digital. I took a chance and asked him… I knew he had the rights back to his Atlantis Series and I took a chance and asked him what he was going to do. He really didn’t know and I started explaining it to him and we got in an email conversation back and forth. Finally he just kind of looked at me and said, “You know, let’s give this a shot. Let’s see what we can do with my backlist.”
We spent probably about six months with me learning some of the new technology that I didn’t know and understanding at the time… there really were very few choices at the time. I mean this was at the end of 2009, beginning of 2010. So getting them up on whatever platform we could, learning the ins and outs of Meta data and all of that other stuff.
I remember the first month we had a book out it was like, “Woohoo, we sold three copies!” and then in 18 months we had grossed a million dollars. That happened very quickly. When that happened and why that happened really is Bob was still looking at to be traditionally published and so was I. this was kind of like, okay, this great for backlists. We really weren’t looking at front-list.
I think it was in 2010 and Bob was submitting his book around with his agent and he just kind of looked at me and said, “I’m going 100% indie. I just love the control and we have a great working relationship together.” We started taking on a couple other authors and we just went from there. It’s really been great. Once we both made the commitment that we were going indie, that’s when things changed for us.
Tim Knox: So Bob was a traditionally published author for a long time. He had a backlist. Talking to Bob, I’ve interviewed Bob and he didn’t really know what to do and then he and you met. That’s when you introduced him to the world of digital publishing and you guys came together to form Cool Gus Publishing.
Jen Talty: That’s pretty much it, yeah.
Tim Knox: And you did a million in revenue over 18 months. Was that off the sales of Bob’s backlist or what?
Jen Talty: Pretty much, yeah.
Tim Knox: Boy, Bob must have been tickled pink that you came up and bugged him, huh?
Jen Talty: I think he is now. He might not have been back then. I’m pretty tickled pink.
Tim Knox: Isn’t it funny though the way things turn out? You’re sitting in an audience listening to this… Bob Mayer’s a famous author and then a short time later you and he are partners.
Jen Talty: Oh yeah, if you had told me that when I first met him I would have laughed. I’m thinking he would have never even given me the time of day.
The one thing that’s interesting about Bob, and he’ll always be the first one to admit the mistakes that he’s made early in his career, and one of them was networking. We met at a time where I think he was realizing that networking was very important.
The other thing, and I’ve heard him say this and it’s really true; he’s said a lot to not discount the person sitting next to you because they’re not published or because they’re not this or because they’re not that. You never know when they might mean something to your career.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about Cool Gus itself now. Is it a formal publishing company or is it like an author’s consortium? How is it structured?
Jen Talty: It’s kind of both. We don’t really like to call ourselves a publisher. We came up with publishing partnership because that’s how Bob and I look at each other. We’re a partnership. Every conference we go to people are like where can I get my own Jen? Our authors kind of feel that way about both of us.
Basically the way we work, we started off mostly dealing with people with backlists but a lot of our authors, like Jennifer Probst, she doesn’t really have a backlist. She writes for Pocket. She’s a New York Times bestselling author and she just wanted to do something different outside of her traditional publishing.
Self-publishing right now is incredibly overwhelming – all the different platforms, all the ins and outs, Meta data, pricing, Book Pub ads, all the little different things that you need to keep track of and you need to know. If you have more than a couple of books it’s kind of difficult. She just didn’t want to take the time to learn it and do it herself. She heard us speak and so we struck up a conversation and it’s been great. We just released a novella for her.
The way we look at it, our job is to help them build their career. It’s not just about our titles in Cool Gus. One of the interesting things we did is we put together what we call Sneak Peaks. We did one with Janice Maynard. We did her backlist but we also put her front list from Harlequin in there with Harlequin’s permission. It’s free on all the platforms and you can download a sample with special exclusive author notes.
We have one for Bob and working on one for Jennifer and we also have another one for Colin Falconer, who’s one of our authors in Australia. We have permission from their other publishers so we’re not just supporting the stuff they’re doing at Cool Gus. We’re helping them build a career and that’s really kind of our goal. They didn’t have to sort through what we did as this business was growing and then they can still reap the benefits and we all work together. We work together on release parties and help each other out wherever we can but this gives them one point of contact, which is me.
Bob and I have spent a long time developing relationships with iBooks and Amazon and the people at Barnes & Noble and Kobo and now Google, in helping get merchandising. It just makes it a little easier. They can just come to me and say, “I need XYZ,” and I do XYZ.
Tim Knox: So you’re not just a publisher. You’re actually kind of a digital marketing firm.
Jen Talty: Well I wouldn’t say we’re a digital marketing firm in the sense that we don’t… anything we provide for our authors, we provide on our dime. They don’t pay us anything. We do pay royalties. The money always rolls towards the author. That’s just as important to us as authors. Unless you’re going to hire out formatting and hire out all of that and you’re going to do that yourself and you’re going to do that yourself and you’re going to have to pay somebody but we don’t really contract out to do that with other people. I spend a lot of time working on our authors with branding. I redid one of our author’s websites. I’ve helped them rebrand covers.
Debra Koontz, one of our new authors, she has the Lucky series and we just released a book last month for her. When we did the covers it was really important to her that… she really wanted total say in what the covers looked like. I worked really hard to make sure that she was satisfied. Then the other thing we did for branding was we put, because the series is set in Vegas, we put a little poker chip on each cover. The tone of the covers are the same.
That’s the one thing we give our authors. I do all the covers. They have total say and they have total input. I mean I really listen to them and what they think their vision is and then I work with them and give them direction. Sometimes they might say, “Well let’s try this,” and I’ll say, “That’s not going to work but I’ll try it anyways,” so they can see that it’s not going to work. That’s the thing. They have total control but they don’t have to do the work.
Tim Knox: In a traditional sense as a publisher, do you accept queries from authors? Do you work with agents? What’s your process there?
Jen Talty: We do and we don’t. So Bob has seen a lot in traditional publishing and we’ve all seen a lot with publishers. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that they’ll take a couple hundred authors with a couple hundred books and toss them out there and hope something sticks. We don’t a bunch of authors with one or two books. We want 10-12 authors or however many I can handle with lots of books and lots of different ways that we can help them with their career. It’s about them. It’s not necessarily about us.
So we do but we generally work with authors that have been traditionally published and are looking to do something different or authors who have an extensive backlist, like Colin Falconer. We publish his backlist and he’s done some indie with us but the other thing we did with Colin, which is an interesting twist, is we helped him… because Bob is also published with 47North, which is an in print from Amazon; we helped facilitate a deal for Colin with Amazon as well. So instead of us publishing the book, Amazon’s going to publish the book but he’s still publishing other books with us.
The way we look at it, it’s more fingers in the pie. It’s more fingers in different places and it’s an opportunity for Colin to get in with a different publisher because he also publishes with another publisher in the UK. What’s good for him is good for Cool Gus.
Tim Knox: Does it seem to you like authors have a lot more choices now than they did just a few years ago?
Jen Talty: You know, Bob used to always say authors have the choice of saying no. That’s always been true. You don’t have to take the first agent. You don’t have to take the first deal. But yeah, now there’s different kinds of choices. We have a lot of models at Cool Gus and one of them is there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to different people.
Bob has this extensive backlist and what works for him and what works for Colin isn’t going to work for Jennifer Probst or Debra Koontz because they don’t have an extensive backlist. What works for Bob isn’t going to work for me because I’m not a New York Times bestselling author. I’m still really basically just starting out in that part of my career.
I think that’s the key to understanding what it is that you want out of your writing career. What is that goal and how are you going to get there, and what that exactly means to you. So someone who says, “I only want traditional publishing because I want this to happen,” there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if that’s what works for them. For somebody who wants to go indie, that’s what works for them. There’s no right or wrong here.
Tim Knox: Are you enjoying the publishing side as much as you do the writing?
Jen Talty: Probably a little too much. I mean I’m writing really hard now but I put a lot of it off to the side to learn this business. I absolutely love working with Bob. He’s an amazing guy. He’s an amazing writer. He works a lot with his wife, who is incredibly talented. Together they’ve created some of the greatest books I’ve ever read. I love working with him.
I love the creativity I get. Even marketing can be very creative or Meta data. Whoever thought I’d love to play around with Meta data? I love working with the people at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and iBooks. I mean everybody’s been so wonderful. The covers, I mean that really is a huge creative outlet for me. I remember the first time one of the covers I did went live on the internet. It was almost more exciting to me to see that than to see my own book somewhere.
I really do love what I do. I love the authors that I get to work with. We have one author, Amy, who is just starting out in her fiction career but we published all of her backlist. She’s a pet expert and she’s taken that experience into her fiction work. To me, it’s just really fun to watch these authors grow and watch their careers develop. Yeah, I love this side of the business just as much as I love the writing part.
Tim Knox: I think you’re just really creative person and the more outlets the better.
Jen Talty: Yeah, and more technology. I mean if you could see my office, I’ve got this iMac and then this huge monitor attached to that and then my little laptop and my iPad and my iPhone. I’m plugged in.
Tim Knox: You are a completely wired hockey mom.
Jen Talty: I am.
Tim Knox: In the minute or so that we have left, little advice to the audience. Primarily the folks that listen to this show are authors who are either looking to get published for the first time or going down the self-publishing road or whatever. What’s the advice you’d give them, really as an author and as a publisher?
Jen Talty: Always, always, always study the craft. Hone your writing. Work on the writing. The writing is the most important aspect about being an author. I can’t stress that more. Always remember that there are many roads to Oz. write down your goal, find out what it is that you want to do, ask yourself where do I want to be in three years and then write the steps that you need to do to get there. Bum glue, just sit down and do it.
Tim Knox: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
Jen Talty: Yeah, exactly.
Tim Knox: Jen, how can folks find out more about you, your books, Cool Gus?
Jen Talty: Actually we have everything in one place. It has all our authors and anything you could want to know about Cool Gus and that’s at CoolGus.com.
Tim Knox: How about your personal website?
Jen Talty: JenTalty.com
Tim Knox: Very good. This has been a lot of fun. We could keep rambling on and on but we’re out of time. Do keep me posted on your progress. I’m very interested in what you’re doing. Again, I find it very interesting that you come from the land of serial killers and now you’re working with Bob Mayer.
Jen Talty: That could be interesting right there.
Tim Knox: You have come full circle. Jen, it’s been a lot of fun. I appreciate it.
Jen Talty: Thanks for having me.