Jessie Gussman is the award-winning author of soul-stirring, sweet, small-town romance with humor and heart. She will chat about how she increases series read-through to five-figure months, rapid releases a book a month while running million-dollar farm businesses, and how her faith sustains her through these uncertain times.
Q. Thanks for chatting with me, Jessie!
A. Thanks for having me!
Q. Tell me a bit about how you got started writing and then publishing your first book.
A. In February of 2013, after reading a book that I didn’t think was very good, I closed my computer and said, “Anyone could write a better book than that.” My husband heard me and said, “Why don’t you?” I wasn’t sure I could write a whole book, but I started anyway.
Q. Awesome. And which book was that?
A. Haha! I wrote about seven books that will never be published. It was one of those. : )
Q. Seven! Why did you hold off?
A. I was really bad. They were awful.
Q. Mmm. I doubt it. Your talent shines through, I bet your worst is still someone’s good rough draft.
A. I seriously worked hard to become a better writer. LOTS of time.
Q. I just did a thing today. I stalked you and joined your reader group.
A. Haha! Welcome! : )
Q. It was really long overdue because I beta read for you at least once and I knew you were an amazing writer. But life, you know.
A. Yeah. Life. You’re busy!!
Q. Okay, tell me, Jessie, how you seriously worked hard to become a better writer. Give the rest of us mostly-positive, sometimes self-doubting writers hope.
A. Haha! Well, that was 2013. I never published until fall 2017 – trad published. And didn’t self-pub until December 2018. I spent all my spare time in those years working on getting better. I outlined other writers’ books, looking for patterns and structure. I read a ton of books. Entered contests and came in last (I’m not kidding) and got zeros on a scale of 1-5 (not kidding about that, either). Eventually I got better, but it was a lot of writing, a lot of crying, a lot of work and throwing out the bad stuff.
Q. I have up for reference right now your detailed, inspirational post on Facebook that you shared on August 24, 2019. That post of how you grossed nearly $20K per month once you started writing to market was golden, in my opinion. Do I have your permission to share it on my blog?
Q. Thanks. I wanted you to know that your info will be there too, in case we don’t get into too much detail here. I’ll let my readers study it up at their leisure.
Q. So Jessie, I wanted to give some context to our Q&A today. I am frankly feeling overwhelmed about the COVID-19 coverage, and I am hoping you can throw a lifeline to me and other creatives out there who are having a rough go at focusing right now. Because as I have seen it on your readers group, you are a person of great faith. I hope that is not getting too personal.
A. No, not at all. I was just talking with my daughter about it today. My life is in God’s hands. It always has been. God hasn’t changed just because there’s a killer virus on the loose. (Is that too graphic?) I guess I could quote a lot of Bible verses, like, “Underneath are the Everlasting arms” and ones like that, because that’s totally what I’m thinking right now. God’s in control. And, as much as I can, I’m going to refuse to worry. I do pray. A lot. : ) Especially for friends and family who are traveling, and I don’t want to sound calloused, because I know this is a real worry for some people, but I’ve got my hand in God’s hand and I’m gonna walk beside Him and when I get scared I’m gonna give a little tug, and He’s going to pick me up and carry me. Can’t beat it with a stick.
Q. Ah, Jessie. That is beautiful. And calming. Truly. In your post, you said you have done what it takes to push through your deadlines. 4 a.m. starts to your day. Four days holing up in a hotel and finishing with a cowboy romance…that kind of thing. How do you have such fortitude? I would love to know what it was in your childhood or upbringing that has given you that.
A. Fortitude? Is that what it’s called? Not downright stubbornness? I don’t know. Although, when I was a kid, we didn’t have a choice about working. We just did it. I paid for my college myself (without loans) by working a factory job during the day and getting up early – before 3 a.m., milking cows (going to the factory job) then going straight back to the farm and milking again before I went home. I milked cows in the morning before college classes and milked in the evening between studying. We just worked. And, if you have the right attitude, it’s fun. I loved milking cows. The factory job wasn’t as fun (I was a janitor – HARD work, lol) but I enjoyed that, too. In high school we worked on the farm. Baling hay and picking rocks in the summer. It was crazy hot and I often thought I’d die of thirst, but I never thought of quitting. You couldn’t just stop and go get a drink. lol So you suffered, and I guess suffering makes you stronger or something. : ) The factory job was college summers only. And I didn’t finish my degree. Life. : )
Q. Your life degree was plenty, and then some. “Picking rocks.” That sounds so awesome and kind of funny.
A. Picking rocks is NOT awesome, just saying. lol Even the right attitude doesn’t help that!
Q. Ha ha ha. Maybe I meant awe-inspiring. Do you mean picking rocks in the field? Because if it is like our horse-riding pen, the rocks keep multiplying regardless.
A. Yes! Fields and fields full of rocks. A job that kept teens out of trouble, I guess.
Q. Let’s explore a bit of what you are working on right now. What series is it, and book number?
A. I’m starting a new series that I’m REALLY excited about! I’m doing this with Mr. Jay Dyess, my narrator – we’re hoping to put the audio out at the same time as the ebooks. I know the big pubbers do it all the time, but it’s new and exciting for me. A cowboy Christmas series set in the foothills of the Ozarks in Arkansas.
Q. Whoa! That sounds fun! How do you think will this affect the way you write your books?
A. Wow! Well, I’m planning more than I usually do, for one.
Q. So a more detailed outline? How do you brainstorm your stories?
A. Yes, more details in the outline. More details about the series. I do a lot of daydreaming. And we’re working WAY ahead, since these don’t come out until September. Usually I finish an ms and publish it less than two weeks later.
Q. Less than two weeks later!! Tell me more about your method please.
A. When I’m riding in the car, at the supper table, while I’m cooking…that’s my brainstorming time.
Q. Like Agatha Christie. She went on walks and figured out villains and the crime that way.
A. Ha! I don’t have that kind of brain – for villains and crime.
Q. Well in reality, your romance needs conflict, right? So there’s gotta be a villain somewhere. Either the two characters are working against each other or working together against a common threat?
A. Yes, you’re right. You need that conflict. My “bad guys” are usually really flat, though. It’s something I’m working on.
Q. So how long do you usually brainstorm for?
A. Well, I’m always brainstorming. (Daydreaming.) Always. I can write a book in a week, then I go through and edit it, then I send it off to betas and my editor at the same time for a week, then it goes to ARC readers, who have it for a week or ten days before it goes live. That’s my method.
Q. Nice. That is great. How long are your books on the average?
A. 50K – 65K
Q. Do you have an outline? Or do you daydream the details until things fall in place like a puzzle?
A. I always have an outline when I start. I almost always am way off in the bushes going somewhere when I finish.
Q. How do you lasso and wrestle it back, to use a ranching term?
A. Ha. I usually go with it. About the middle of the ms I feel like it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written, and I start telling the Lord that it’s a huge mess and if he wants me to sell books then He needs to take it and make something readable out of it. And I just keep writing and praying and daydreaming and usually it seems to turn out okay. I’ve had some flops, which are all on me. Although I think God knows we NEED to flop sometimes, right?
Q. I need to have your kind of faith. I usually rely on my own strength and…well, good luck with that. Jessie, tell me more about the Christian romance market. What are you seeing in it as you have jumped into it both as trad and indie? What should those aspiring to do well in it prioritize doing?
A. Cowboys seems to be doing well. Small town romances are still popular. I’ve been hearing billionaire fatigue. There seems to be a demand for Christian romance.
The priority should always be the very best story you can write, in my opinion. No point in writing what’s popular if it’s not done to the absolute best of your ability. And if that means taking time to learn how to write better, I absolutely recommend it.
Q. I’m gonna ask a nosy financial question, and feel free to decline if you want. In your FB post, you mentioned how you had earned $15K in August of 2019. That is amazing, but July even surpassed that at nearly $20K. What accounted for your income? How much was spent on advertising? And how is the earning trend going?
A. I don’t mind answering at all. : ) Read-through on my cowboys is really when I started making money. I only advertised the first in series. And I spend around 40-50% of what I make on advertising. In October and November I was a Kindle All-Star. December was a low month for me, but January and February were twice as much as I earned in August of 2019.
I accidentally deleted all my Facebook ads yesterday (I have this talent, where I can pretty much mess up ANYTHING. : ) and so I’m not sure what’s going to happen now. I have new ads made, but my old ones were killing it. lol I’m gonna assume that God is still in control and he allowed me to delete everything (on accident – how does someone DO that anyway, right??) because it was Him saying, practice making those ads some more, girl. IDK.
Q. Whoa. That is amazing girl. Congrats. Do you mind sharing an ad or the concept that seemed to resonate best with buyers?
A. LOL. Sure. You can see all my ads if you go to my FB page. I forget what they’re under, but you can totally see everything I’m running.
I’ve done a ton. What I’ve been doing right now is a cowboy on a horse in the snow (and ladies make a LOT of comments about that cowboy. Some that I need to delete!!) and just my blurb – the one you see on Amazon – plus some review quotes at the end. I also have “Best friends fall in love in this SWEET cowboy romance with all the feels. 🌹” That’s really it. Oh, and that first book is $.99 and I try to put that up there, too.
Q. Cool, thank you. Those cowboy epic pics do seem to ignite readers’ imaginations. And it bears mentioning here, though you already say it in your FB post, that you have taken courses, including Anne-Marie Meyer’s FB ads course. As I do the math, we are talking ads in five figures, like 10K. How do you white-knuckle that monthly expense?
A. Yes, Anne-Marie’s FB ads course was instrumental for me. Well, I don’t want to sound…rich. lol Because we’re so NOT. But we own several businesses – and we do run $4-$5 million dollars through our bank accounts every year. I deal with a lot of large sums of money. Honestly. And we’ve been in business for over twenty years. Spending money to make money is a mindset I came into the game with, if that makes sense. Of that $4-$5 million, we see a tiny fraction of that for ourselves – running a business costs money. All the rest of those millions that we don’t keep are for expenses. I totally expected that with writing and selling books. (The thing I really wasn’t good at was selling stuff. I’m still really not.)
Q. Gulp! Good for you. What a great mindset and more power to you. Two more questions (though I could ask you lots until the cows come home)…
Q. The first is, how does a true-blue working farm owner and operator like yourself find time to rapid release books? What kind of schedule do you do? What vitamins do you take? J/K
A. Haha! Well, we talked about me getting up at 4 in the morning. I did that for a long time last year when I was writing my cowboys. I still do, some. BUT as my books started to sell and became more of our income, my husband started saying I should go ahead and write, and I got excused from some of the work. Also, I have a seventeen-year-old daughter who graduated hs last year and has been taking some online classes this year who has REALLY stepped up and taken over a lot of my jobs.
So, yeah, I usually have one week where I’m writing from 4 a.m. and only stopping when I really have to, and going all day until I fall into bed. I’ll have a book written at the end of that week, and hopefully I’ve gone through it at least once to edit it, too. Then I take a week or so to work on everything else (there’s a ton of things to do as an indie author, right?) and hopefully get an outline ready to go. Sometimes writing the book takes longer than a week, maybe ten days or two weeks, depending on how much I get interrupted.
Q. I have to ask a follow-up…what kinds of businesses do you run?
A. We own and operate a trucking company. We also have two 20K bird poultry pastured laying houses (so we’re farmers, too : ) and we have about 10K blueberry bushes, which go along with the farming, I guess, although they’re much more seasonal. We also have some beef cows.
Q. Um yeah. Sounds a little busy, lol. And the last question is…I found your readers group through a post by a fellow author who gushed about your readers group and newsletter. What are the top three things that you employ in either or both that bring up the engagement?
A. #1. Well…um…I just try to talk to people. I find people and their stories so interesting. Everyone has a story, right? Multiple stories. As writers, we look for the characters’ wounds – that’s what makes them act the way they do, that’s what needs healed in order for them to find love, right? But real people, they have all these wounds, too. But there’s also all the good things. What makes people happy? What makes them proud? I just LOVE hearing about those things – the good and the bad. Maybe readers enjoy talking about their lives? I think they do.
#2. Hmm. I include a lot of stories in my newsletter. Chapters from my books (I’ve put whole books in, one chapter at a time. I do this because I want people to be able to read my books even if they can’t afford them.) I put stories from my life in, which seem to be kind of popular. I try to be real. I just chat. My newsletter subs are readers, so I try to give them stuff to read. : )
#3. I include stories and things that my readers send me in my newsletter. I have a bunch of “regular features” that include things my readers have sent in – marriage advice, things we’re thankful for, Little Acts of Kindness, that type of thing.
One of my early ARC readers didn’t like one of my books, and she said something like, “I kept expecting it to get better, but sadly, it didn’t.” lol So, I asked her permission, and I stuck that in my newsletter saying that not everyone likes all my stuff all the time and that’s okay, we can still be friends, right?
As for my Facebook group…that’s a little different. I get a little more personal in there. I definitely show my spiritual side much more. I ask for help in what stories to write. Man, those ladies are SO creative! I’m almost always overwhelmed by their ideas and thoughts!
Q. Fantastic stuff…thank you! Jessie. You are AMAZING. I have always admired you and your work ethic and talent, but today you blew the barn roof off. Thanks for inspiring me…and tolerating my cheesy farm metaphors. I really appreciate your getting up close and personal and wish you continued success in your publishing career!
A. Thanks so much!! I was so honored to be asked, and I’m nothing special. Honest. Just me. : )
Check out Jessie Gussman’s books. Read her detailed, inspirational post of how she wrote to market and grossed nearly $20,000 one month.