How a Romance Novelist Churns Out Seductive Stories

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June Thomas: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.

Speaker 2: A romance does need to have basically the same things every time. Like I know by which chapter, for instance, my characters have to have their first kiss. I mean, after 40 books, I think I’ve pretty much internalized the structure.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host, Kathryn Hahn.

June Thomas: And I’m your other host, June Thomas.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Hi, June. How are you?

June Thomas: I am fabulous, thank you. I just had some aubergines and courgettes.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Those are some very romantic fruits, which gets me into my next question. How did you do this week?

June Thomas: So now the voice that we heard at the top of this show belongs to Harper Bliss. She is a really prolific author of romance novels whose work I’ve enjoyed. And honestly, this was just one of those cases where I just wanted to know how and why she did certain things, made certain choices, you know, why she writes books in series, why she puts so much focus on friendship as well as love stories and why they’re so international. And perhaps most of all, how on earth is she so productive?

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Well, there is a lot to talk about, so I’m very excited to hear your conversation. But before we get to that, what can we look forward to in the Slate Plus segment this week?

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June Thomas: So in one of Harper’s series, one of the characters is a very senior politician, and that job is presented in a pretty accurate way. And I was really curious about how that came about. And I also wanted to know what she thought of people like me who listen to the audio version rather than actually reading the book for ourselves. Like, does she think that people like me who listen to her books are cheating?

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: That’s so funny. And I feel like a very kind of hot button question that we don’t actually hear a lot of. I’m very excited to hear that. And Slate Plus members will hear that at the end of the episode. All right. Let’s hear June’s conversation with Harper Bliss.

June Thomas: Harper Bliss, Welcome to Working.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much for having me.

June Thomas: So how many books have you written?

Speaker 2: Well, I’ve have 37 published, but I’ve written a few more. Some of them ended up in the trash, obviously. So I’ve written a couple.

June Thomas: So over what period did you write? 37 books?

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Speaker 2: Well, I started writing in 2011. I published my first book in 2012, early 2012. So coming up to what is it than 11 years, I guess.

June Thomas: Wow. That is a prodigious rate, more even than I thought. I’m really determined to learn the secret of your productivity, so I hope that will emerge over the course of our conversation. But I’m curious. Do you feel like a very productive writer?

Speaker 2: Well, definitely not always. I guess when it comes to writing, like just pure first draft writing, I am pretty productive because, you know, once I start a book. I’m in it and I just I go write. I just I need to finish it. But of course, I don’t just write. There’s subsequent drafts and there’s all the other stuff. And I could also compare myself because I say I’ve written 40 books, but there are many, many, many romance authors have written many more. And in this time span that you can always do more. But in general, I do feel quite productive. Yeah. I can’t complain.

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June Thomas: No, no, absolutely not. How many have you written this year alone?

Speaker 2: I’m now writing my third book this year. I always aim for four. Four is like the magic number, but I don’t think it’s actually happened. And I’ve written four. But I like to have the go. But there’s always something, right? Life always gets in the way. So. But I’m good with three. So. Yeah.

June Thomas: So the way that I found your books was I got caught up in one of the series. You have a couple of series that I’m aware of. There may be more. There’s this series called The Pink Bean Series. There’s ten novels in that. That name comes because these books are centered on The Pink Bean, which is a chain of independent coffee stores in a neighborhood of Sydney, Australia. And then there are five seasons, which are five books in a series called French Kissing. They’re set in Paris, France. How did you come to write those series, and did you know from the start how the storylines were going to interact and develop?

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Speaker 2: Well, so I wrote French kissing first, right? Like, actually, I started French kissing like ten years ago, I think like when I first started out. So back then, for self publishers, the advice was writing a series. So I said, Well, I’ll do that. And so I did French kissing first. And but I’m not a writer who plots out her story because that doesn’t work for me. I mean, there are basically I mean, there are many types of writers, but in general, broadly speaking, there are two. There are the ones who plot everything out. And then there are the ones like me. They call them pansies, or they fly by the seat of your pants or or discovery writing. And that’s what I do.

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Speaker 2: But of course, I mean, I have my characters, right, because my books, there are very much character and conflict based. I mean, for French kissing actually is a bit different because that was actually a bit more plotted because I had four main characters to start with. And that’s a bit more difficult when when you just have to like in your regular romance, when you just have two characters. I mean, you know how it’s going to end and there’s going to be some conflict along the way. But for French kissing, actually, for those four characters, I did need to do a little bit of plotting, and I did. But since then, I haven’t really plotted out all that much because it’s not how I write, how I writers that I basically I read my own book as I’m writing it, which is a lot of fun. But that’s also, I think, why I can write pretty quickly because I need to know what’s going to happen next. So that’s the trick. Yeah.

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June Thomas: I’m honestly shocked to learn that, though, because just the idea of punching and being so productive is is it’s just mind blowing to me. But so French kissing, you know, for those who haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend them. As you say, it’s for friends. The cast grows over the course of the series, but it’s set in a world or a number of worlds. The Pink Bean. Is very interesting because, you know, as I said, there are these locations. It’s not just the coffee shops, but there are certain locations. But the cast really, you know, weaves in and out. How did those develop? How did those come forth into the world?

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Speaker 2: Is it after French kissing? Because French kissing you, you need to read the books in order. There’s no other way but for being mean. I wanted to write more like stand alone. Like if someone started at book three, that would be okay. Although it is recommended to read them in order. It’s more fun for the reader as well. But because characters from previous books always pop up in the next one, but you don’t really have to read them in order.

Speaker 2: And then usually when I’m writing, like when I was writing book one, I was already thinking like, Hmm. Who shall book to be about? So then I could already start thinking about it and like maybe putting in some, some little teasers for the next book just to, you know, to increase read through after book one. But yeah, that is my stand alone series being being. So it’s, it’s a different way of approaching it.

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Speaker 2: And also it’s easier than writing French kissing because by the end of French kissing, I mean, I hired a reader to like, write me a Bible, make me a Bible of everything that we call it a Bible. Think of everything that happens and all the characters and you know who they sleep with and things like that. I can’t remember all of that after all these books. Right. So that’s actually that has been very helpful with my productivity and this this person. Shout out to Claire, by the way. She also did it for the Paying Bean. So now if I want to start on a new penguin book, which it’s been a few years, right, I can just go through this. It’s a huge Excel file. I can just search in there for characters like, for instance, just like a small thing, like the eye color of a character.

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June Thomas: Oh, I.

Speaker 2: Can’t remember that. But yeah, this woman, she wrote that all down for me, which is pretty amazing.

June Thomas: Wow. So what kind of things are in this eye color? Who slept with whom?

Speaker 2: Yeah, and also per character, what they go through in each book. And sometimes it’s a small thing. Sometimes it’s a big thing. Like their profession, like all their all the details, really, of of the character that she can find.

June Thomas: Amazing. Amazing.

Speaker 2: Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible, right? Yeah. I think a secret of productivity is also hiring. Some help. Definitely. If you can. Yeah.

June Thomas: Yeah.

June Thomas: I would love to know. You know, what kind of help you get. I just want one more question about the pink being. You mentioned that there stand alone. Did you write them? Kind of. You know, as I say, I believe there are ten in that series. Did you write them kind of one after the other, or did they kind of come out of order? Were the books being published in the middle of that series?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think maybe one and two I did after each other, but I did write other things in between, just, I don’t know, to mix things up a bit. And also when when you’ve done ten books in a series, it’s you want to go somewhere else, so to speak. It’s just like I want to write something else. And also writing a standalone is always going to be a bit easier than writing a series. I mean, they both have their pros and cons, right? Because when you write a series, you can it’s like seeing old friends again and your characters and you already have. You don’t have to make everything up from scratch, but you also have to stick to what you made up before, which sometimes can be annoying. But yeah.

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June Thomas: And I’m sure that like me people, the French kissing books, I listen to them, but I listen to them kind of one after the other in very swift succession. So if there had been, you know, a continuity error, I’m I’m pretty sure I would have been, you know, aware of it. I didn’t quite experience the pink bean boots in that way. But it’s super interesting the way that a reader experiences them compared to the way that you create them. It’s it’s not the same.

Speaker 2: No, no, it’s not.

June Thomas: The most of your books, as you mentioned, are romances. They have a kind of an expected structure. Do you think in terms of the beats of romance when you are, well, pouncing when you are writing?

Speaker 2: I do. I write to the three act structure, right. Like I know by which chapter, for instance, my characters have to have their first kiss. And I know when they have to have their big fight. And then I know how many chapters I have for them to make up because the ending is always the same, right? That that makes it easier. In a romance, it’s always there’s always a happily ever after. So I do definitely have that in the back of my mind. I also. Try to write down a couple of things. Right. But it’s mostly it’s just like act one, they get to know each other, Act two after the kiss. So, I mean, after 40 books, I think I’ve pretty much internalized the structure. Yeah. So but yes, a romance does need to have like basically the same things every time. But then it’s the characters, of course, that that make it very different from another book.

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June Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t disagree that their romance is. But one of the things that I have really enjoyed about your books is the role that friendships play in them. You know, as well as the love relationships there are always, especially in the series, I think, but generally speaking, also in the least in the standalones that I’ve read, there’s always a strong friend relationship for each character. Is that something you self-consciously program into your books?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I guess, because, well, obviously you can’t just have your main characters, right? They need a sounding board and they need someone to like drink too much wine with and stuff like that. And that’s why I always have, like, good friends. But I think for French kissing specifically, I started writing when my wife and I, we moved to Hong Kong for for her work. And I didn’t have a job, so I had plenty of time to write. But also we arrived in Hong Kong. We didn’t know anyone. Yeah, and I don’t know. I mean, I’m not generally a person who makes friends easily, like at all. But in Hong Kong, I don’t know. It was so easy. And we made this, like, really great group of friends. And when you’re away from home, your friends, they become your family, right? Like your surrogate family. And I think I was really like, I think that really inspired me when I was writing French kissing and, well, I’ve been doing it since.

June Thomas: But yeah, and also, again, you know, this is something that yes, it’s this is in every hopefully in every book, but definitely in every romance, you know, there’s this emphasis on communication. You know, the conflicts that people have are frequently about a failure to communicate or a difficulty communicating. And to me, your books are very kind of they almost have a message of, you know, please learn to communicate. Again, to what extent are you aware of conveying that message in your books?

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Speaker 2: I think I’m pretty aware of that because it’s usually my characters, the communication, as you say, it’s the only way for them to get out of their conflict. There is no other way. So they always have to through talk through everything very extensively. And then it’s like this big cathartic moment, right? But I will say that this is much easier to accomplish in fiction than in real life, because I, I am one of I’m really bad at communication myself. So I don’t know if it’s it’s like when I’m writing all these conversations in my book, it’s like my own personal therapy, right?

June Thomas: Yeah. The author gets to do some wish fulfillment, too. So it’s.

Speaker 2: Definitely.

June Thomas: Everybody go at it. Yeah.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: We’ll be back with more of June’s conversation with Harper Bliss.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Listeners, we want to hear from you. Whether it’s to ask us for advice on a creative problem. Tell us a guest you’d like to hear on the show or share your own creative triumphs. And we really love those. Drop us a line at working at Slate.com or give us a ring at 304933. W. O. R. K. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Now let’s return to June’s conversation with Harper Bliss.

June Thomas: So as I say, I’m a big fan of the series. And to me, they I think one of the reasons that I enjoyed them is they had some of the elements of another genre that also doesn’t get a lot of respect because it typically has or is intended for a female audience, and that is soap operas. Now, I love soap operas, I like romances, but how do you feel when I call your books soap operas?

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Speaker 2: Oh, I feel great. I love soap opera. I love drama. I’m a drama queen, Right? That’s what my wife always says anyway. But I say, well, you know, being a drama queen is what pays the bills.

June Thomas: That’s exactly.

Speaker 2: It. And also, I to what you say, like in publishing romance and publishing in general, romance is the biggest genre. There are so many and romance authors. I think they keep like a lot of the business afloat, of the business of publishing, because people love rumors. And when I say people, well, it’s probably mostly women because a lot of men, they just refuse to read books written by women while they’re lost. I see. But it’s also funny because, I mean, romance, it’s about love and it’s about friendship. And isn’t that, like, the greatest thing there is, really? Like, we’re all so addicted to love, right? Right. It’s a romance. Why not?

Speaker 2: And what I’ve also found, like, ten years in this business, right? Like the romance writers, the indie publishers in romance, they’re always ahead of the curve. They’re always coming up with the next thing. Marketing wise, I mean, or business wise. Like, they are smart and they know how to sell their books and they make a lot of money doing it. And to anyone say, I don’t know, I don’t feel disparaged at all.

Speaker 2: I’m very proud to be a romance writer. Also, it’s it’s a really great thing to do. Like I write and in Lesbian Romance, which is you could say, I think, a pretty small genre, but I make a really good living doing this. I mean, isn’t that amazing? And that’s romance I come up with with a story of two women falling in love and this is my job, so how can I ever take offence? I say, good for me.

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June Thomas: I would say so, yeah. In addition to being a lover of soap operas, I’m also a huge TV fan. So again, please know that. I mean, this is a great compliment, but to me your books unspool in a very cinematic or televisual way. You know, they’re not written like screenplays, you know, they’re definitely well-constructed novels. But to me, there’s a kind of a TV or movie structure, and I know you must feel this way to some extent because French kissing was presented as seasons, you know, instead of books one through five at seasons one through five. And the chapters are referred to as scenes. And I’d love to learn more about why you made that choice for French kissing. And also, I guess since no, I know it was the first thing you wrote. You know why you left that structure.

Speaker 2: Mm hmm. Well, back when I started French kissing the serialized fiction thing, it was. It was a thing. It was like, really a thing. Like a look. Back then, a lot of quite a few authors were doing it, so I jumped on it and I said, I’ll try it. And it’s actually quite a fun way to write because when you set out to write what I call an episode, it’s not very long. It’s a lot shorter than a book. So when you start, it’s much less daunting, right? And then you have the cliffhanger, which like, you know, after every episode, you have a good cliffhanger. People will keep on reading. Yeah. But it’s true that I only did it for French kissing because it’s quite restricting as well, because, as I said, there’s so much you need to remember, especially as it goes on and there’s new characters. But then an old character props up and Oh, what? What did she say again? What did she do?

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June Thomas: So right.

Speaker 2: I think also business wise because like by season five of French kissing, not as many people were buying it anymore, which I understand. I mean, there’s always when you do a series like that that you have to read in order, there’s it’s not like an actual television series, you know, Right. Where the viewership grows over time. This is a bit different also because you can always like time it exactly like ideally, maybe if you have the new season out like every year or maybe two a year, I don’t know. But I mean, it’s just me, right? It’s not really doable. So it really was a thing at the time, but I think for a reason it never really took off.

June Thomas: Would you like to be in a TV writer’s room or write for TV and in some other context? I mean, you obviously kind of have this you have a love of television. I know from your. Podcast that you do. Is that something you would you would enjoy, do you think?

Speaker 2: Well, I love to television. Very much, yes. It’s my main hobby if you listen to my podcast. Yes. But but I’m not someone that you can just put in a room with other writers like I write alone. I actually did a couple of co-writes. But yes, a couple of years back I did one with my wife also, and it nearly ended in divorce. So we can joke about it now. We’re still happily married, but it’s to let someone into your first draft does. I think maybe you can get used to it over time, but it’s very daunting. It’s very stressful. So I. I really like working alone. So actually, this is like my dream job, right? I mean, obviously, I would love to see some of my characters on television, but I think someone else going to have to write that screenplay for me. Yeah.

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June Thomas: I look forward. You have set series, as I mentioned, in Sydney, in Paris. Some of your books are set in England or have British characters on vacation in Europe. It’s feels like a really, I would say, unusually broad range of settings. How is it that your settings are so international?

Speaker 2: Well, I think it’s because I’m from Belgium, right? But when I started writing, I lived in Hong Kong and I knew I was going to write in English. My my mother tongue is Dutch. I wasn’t going to write and Dutch or Flemish, as we say, because, I mean, the markets are a bit small. Yes. Also, I wanted to write in English and well, for French kissing. Obviously, I didn’t choose an English speaking country, but when you live in Belgium, France is the country you go to the most. We go to Paris a lot. Really? I know the city really well and it’s it just seems much sexier to set my book in Paris instead. Yes. Yeah. Abroad is always more exotic, right? Yeah. So. But most of my books now are definitely set in the U.S. And I will say that’s also for commercial reasons.

June Thomas: Uh huh.

Speaker 2: Because most of the readers are in the U.S., most readers want to. I think they do prefer to read in their own. I mean, I don’t know this for sure. Yeah, Yeah. Although, that being said, I have said books in the U.K. that have been very popular as well. But I think it’s because I am not from the U.K. or the U.S.. Yeah. And I get to choose. So I choose. And back in now with after the pandemic, I haven’t traveled, but we did used to travel quite a lot. So it’s fun to, like, feature the setting where you’ve been, like I’ve said, to book in Thailand and in Hong Kong also. So. Hmm. And some readers do find that interesting. Plus, it’s it’s more fun for me because it’s not always the same, right? It’s like to mix it up a little bit.

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June Thomas: Yeah, for sure. You, as you’ve mentioned, self-publish. Why did you decide to go that route? Does it cut into your writing time and take up bandwidth that could be used for creative projects? It seems just kind of like a lot of work. Work?

Speaker 2: Well, I think there’s various reasons because when I started, there weren’t that many publishers that would publish lesbian romance. You had bold Strokes and Bella. But also, I mean, I had time and I didn’t have to work. And the Kindle had just come out and I was reading about these self-published shows that were doing really well. And I said, Well, why don’t I just try it, you know? And I was very lucky timing was because when I released my first books, there wasn’t the amount of lesbian romance that there is now. There are very few. And the readership was hungry already. And I really managed in that short period of time to make a name for myself. I think I still benefit from that now and to go with a publisher now, I wouldn’t do that because I like to have control.

Speaker 2: And plus, of course, it’s a lot of work. But I mean, I work together with my wife, right? Like we always say, I do all the fun jobs and she does all the annoying jobs. It’s true. That’s true. So we work in our company together and she then maybe has a bit more of the publishing role. And I’m the I get to do my creative things, but also I only write in the morning. I can’t write a full day, but that doesn’t happen. I know that our writers who do this and wow, I applaud them, but I can only write in the morning and then it’s done.

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June Thomas: So may I ask what? Time you start in the morning.

Speaker 2: I used to start a lot earlier, but now maybe between eight and nine. Okay. Regular. Regular time. Yeah. Depends what time I get out of my bed. I try to do for half hour sessions. So that’s 2 hours of writing. And then I’m done. Then my brains are so done. And I mean, of course, in the beginning, I want to write more. I want to write more. But now I just accept that this is how it is. I know now, right? Ten years. I know in the morning I do my writing, and then in the afternoon I have a lot of marketing to do. So in the afternoon I do my marketing and that works out pretty well.

June Thomas: You seem to be quite disciplined about your social media usage. I wonder, do you have given that you are self-publishing and you know, there is a lot that could be done. Can you tell me about your philosophy of social media engagement and what you’ve chosen to focus on?

Speaker 2: I’m not that active on social media. I do have a Facebook group and I feel much more comfortable sharing in the group because it’s private, right? But people actively have to ask to join. I mean, anyone can join, but you do still have to ask. It’s not the same as like broadcasting on on Instagram. But I do maintain an Instagram and a Facebook page. But that’s it. And I, I don’t post about my personal life because my life is not instagrammable. It’s more my cat. My cat is very instagrammable. But but I just I don’t want to waste my time pretending that my life is instagrammable because it’s not.

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Speaker 2: You know, I sit at my desk, that’s what I do, you know, So and then because right now we have like book talk, which is like huge on TikTok. And I if I need to get on to book talk. Oh, my God, I think I’m too old for that. Then I would need to hire someone. But I think this my readership really on book talk. I wonder because my characters are a little bit older. I don’t know. But I don’t spend a lot of time on social media at all. For me, it’s not worth it. I have a newsletter and I do send out my newsletter every two weeks and I prefer to connect that way. So but, you know, social has never really been my thing. I also don’t follow anyone on socials. My brain can handle.

June Thomas: That’s the discipline. It’s impressive.

Speaker 2: But it’s not a matter of discipline for me. It drives me crazy. I don’t want to see that. If I want to know what’s going on with my friend, I’ll go see my friend. I don’t like Instagram.

June Thomas: To me, I’m a very nosy person, but I’m also very lazy. So just being able to find out what people are doing without actually having to go to see them. Oh, it’s perfect.

Speaker 2: It’s true. It’s true. I do go there, but I know for some reason I cannot deal with that. So that’s.

June Thomas: Good.

June Thomas: So when I reached out to invite you on to the show, you replied that being neurodivergent, you would need to see the questions in advance because improvisation is a no no. Do you mind talking about how that has shaped your creative process and how you go about your career as a writer and as a a self-published author?

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Speaker 2: I mean, improvisation in in anything but writing, yes, is very difficult for me. Give me a piece of paper and I’ll come up with something. But I say no to a lot of things. Yeah. Yeah, I used to. Not when there was something. Oh, I have to do this. But now I know. I just say no. Right. If I don’t want to do it or if it gives me too much stress, I just don’t do it now because I can.

Speaker 2: Yeah, but I also think that I mean, that’s just like for marketing, but for my work, I do think because I’m extremely sensitive to everything and I think it makes me look at my characters from every possible angle and I go through every possible way things could go or what they are thinking. And I think it does give my characters a lot of depth and a lot of emotion because I think I have a lot of emotion in my books, right? And I think that’s what readers really respond to.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And I mean, I’m sure plenty of other non neurodivergent authors have a lot of emotion as well. But for me, it’s like, it’s like my thing. And I think that that does help me in my writing. And I mean, I do write romance, which is fluffy and happy and happy ending, but it’s never just that there’s always something else because as I said before, like writing is very therapeutic for me. Like I’m always working through something and they always say, Oh, you shouldn’t do that in your books. But I get a lot of response to that. Like, readers really appreciate that. So I just keep. On doing it, you know? Yeah.

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June Thomas: No, I mean, I. The yearbooks really stood out to me because I do think there’s something a little different there. I mean, there are the elements that that one expects from a romance novel, but there is, I think, a great understanding of character and kind of pointers, you know, and how to have better relationships. And I think partly that’s because there is a broader presentation of kind of, as you said, different ways of seeing relationships and different ways of approaching relationships that yeah, felt very fresh and interesting to me.

Speaker 2: Well, thank you very much.

June Thomas: Harper Bliss. I really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you so much for joining us on working.

Speaker 4: And thank you.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Gene. That was such a fun conversation. But first, I wanted to start with something very basic because I don’t think I knew this about you. Are you a romance novel fan and do you have a favorite Harper Bliss book?

June Thomas: So I think I have a slightly unusual relationship to the genre, which is I enjoy it and I can blow through a lot of romance novels in a short time, which I think is pretty common and is a big part of why they are a commercial success. But I tend to go a long time without reading them, and then I reach for them in a pretty specific situation, which is when I have a lot on my mind and I’m seeking distraction.

June Thomas: So I first discovered Harper’s books when I was in Edinburgh looking for a place to live. I was so stressed out and I couldn’t focus on anything except her very fun mix of soap opera and romance. And I started with the Pink Bean series because I love the idea of characters from one novel popping up in another. I always enjoy it when non-German writers do that, you know, the British novelist Jonathan Cook, who is definitely not a romance writer, He does it, and it always makes me giddy to recognize a character I know from somewhere else.

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June Thomas: Yeah. So yeah, it was very specific time, although I’ve definitely listened to a lot more since. I would say that my favourite of her books was This Foreign Affair, and the characters from that Pink Bean book also show up in the French Kissing series. So it’s a very sexy game of Tetris.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Well, that’s the most appealing description of a book that I think that I’ve ever heard.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Another part of your conversation that I wanted to touch on was Harper talking about self-publishing. Self-publishing is definitely the easiest way to get your work out there, but it’s also a route that comes with its own set of difficulties. And I was wondering if you have a take on self-publishing versus finding a publisher?

June Thomas: Well, you know, it’s a topic that’s been very hotly debated, especially among genre writers, you know, romance y sci fi fantasy mystery writers. And I really recommend the YouTube channel of another former working guest, Michelle Shusterman. She has some really great and very well informed discussion of that question.

June Thomas: But as someone who is outside that world, I guess the question that I would encourage people who are wondering whether they should do self-publishing or go the mainstream publishing route is are you an entrepreneur when you think about the tasks that you would need to do if you self-publish and not if you don’t like, whether that’s a matter of handling or hiring people to handle the copy editing and proofing and the cover design and the logistics of like formatting files and uploading to Kindle direct publishing or getting books printed, do all those things seem like a fun challenge and something you’d like to spend your non writing time on? Or just as it seemed like a monumental pain that just fills you with dread. And if it’s the latter, you may well be a good candidate for traditional publishing.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s definitely, as you said, like a matter of how much work you want to take on at any given moment. Yeah. And I loved what Harper said about a secret to productivity. There’s a sort of related question, I guess being hiring help, because I feel like a lot of the advice that we hear and give on this show is about what you can do on your own. But it is true. Like having other people help you is monumentally helpful to your productivity. Or it could be at least. Do you have any tips in that regard?

June Thomas: So it’s not something I have personal experience with. I think like you, I’m because I suspect and we’re only children, so we just want to take care of things there. So why would I involve someone else when I can just take care of this thing? But I think about it in a similar way to your last question. You like what parts of the creative life do you enjoy? What bits are actually fun and exciting to you? What parts do you have to force yourself to do if in a basic way, you know?

June Thomas: And so considering hiring someone to handle the letter, you know, attitude. Yeah. And this is something. Where I’ve seen a lot of YouTube creators talk about, you know, if you think of your creative practice as a business, you should do the things that you’re good at and that you enjoy and most of all, that only you can do. You know, you should figure out.

June Thomas: And then on top of that, you should figure out like be very cold, you know, and just clear eyed about how much you’re making from, for example, a YouTube video and how much it costs you to make them. You know, if it’s $60 an hour and it would cost you $70 an hour to farm out the video editing, then maybe that’s not the best idea. Obviously, it’s very hard to provide real numbers about imaginary examples. But ultimately, you know, consider your costs and be very ruthless about calculating whether you can afford to get help or maybe if you can afford not to.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And to pivot a little bit, I love the part of your conversation about the perception of female aimed media as well. I think I’ve talked about this before, but there is an inherent bias, I think, against stuff that’s geared towards women or younger people or basically anyone who’s not an old straight white man. But there are obviously huge audiences out there for this stuff. And to refuse to acknowledge that really limits what you consume and enjoy. How do we deal with that kind of prejudice?

June Thomas: I mean, of course, I fully believe everything I’ve said, but I hear myself and every single time I talk about soap operas or romances, I always seem to preface it with, you know, how I’m really like a super intellectual, but I still like them. And, you know, like one day I guess I’ll be able to share my love of soapy narratives without a self-justifying preamble, but I’m not sure it’s happened yet. Or but maybe we should just remind people how good good soaps and good anime and good mystery novels and all these other slightly embarrassing genres are like, it’s just good. Like not everything is for everybody, but it’s no hardship, you know?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah, the genre, like really the genre. Everything doesn’t define whether it’s low or high brow art, which is something I don’t know. It comes up more and more often, I think, as we try to move out of those and it becomes very hard to like have productive conversations with people sometimes because they so refuse to acknowledge that.

June Thomas: Yeah.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And again, on a totally different no, it was very refreshing to hear Harper say that she can really only write in the morning. I feel like the tendency is for us to punish ourselves for not working all day, but sometimes that just doesn’t work. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Or do you have a specific window where you know that you’ll be the most productive?

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June Thomas: I mean, funny that you say about like accepting how much writing you can actually get done, because that was one of those things that people would say to me, and I’d always I never really truly accepted what they were saying at face value until I had my own book to write, you know. So many people write after they’ve done a full time job or after they’ve done a full time job and taking care of children and a whole bunch of other responsibilities. So like, it feels really decadent to say, well, you know, I can only write for 4 hours a day, write whatever it is, but you kind of have to listen to that inner voice. There are only so many hours in the day and a lot of tasks to take care of. And so if you’re able to, say, spend the morning writing and then spend the afternoon taking care of administrative and logistical tasks or research, you know, things that have to be done, that just seems smart.

June Thomas: So, yeah, I think we should all, when we can, just learn to kind of recognize what’s really productive for ourselves. And since you asked about my own creative rhythms, that’s something that’s changed completely for me over the years. I used to be an absolute total nights old, but now mornings are definitely my most productive time. And right now that’s partly because of the time difference between Britain and the States. It’s amazing when there are absolutely no emails coming in until like 2 p.m. So fantastic. But but even even before that was the case, I have learned to love the mornings. What about you?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: I also really used to be a night. I think this was more true during college and like after graduating, just because like, that is when it’s easiest to be the hell and not suffer the consequences for right since then, I don’t know. I feel like I still have to figure out what my best productivity window is. It tends to be right now more an issue of me just sitting down and really focusing rather than like having the right time of day to do it. But that said, like I kind of refuse to work post like five or 6:00 in the evening. I’m like, This is my time now. Like the work time is over. So I will try to get everything done in the morning and afternoon.

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June Thomas: And this is I’m so hearing a topic for our annual New Year’s resolutions. So can’t wait to chew that over with.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: I’m excited to see what you pull out of it because I’m not entirely sure and I’m very eager to find out.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Well, that’s all the time that we have for this episode. And if you’ve enjoy the show, please remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and that you’ll never miss an episode. And just a reminder that by joining Slate Plus, you’ll get ad free podcasts, extra segments on shows like the Waves and Culture Gabfest, and you’ll never hit a paywall on the Slate site. To learn more, go to Slate.com slash working Plus.

June Thomas: Thank you so much to Harper Bliss and to our producer, Cameron Drews. We’ll be back next week with Karan’s conversation with Dice Sisters to meet Robert Kondo and Sarah Simpson. The minds behind the new Netflix series Only Thunder Gods Tale. Until then, get back to work. Hastily put members. Thank you so much for your support, which we appreciate very much. We’re so grateful, in fact, that we have this extra bit just for you.

June Thomas: One thing I’m very curious about in the French Kissing series, one of the characters is a really high level French politician. I’m not going to spoil the plot for new readers by saying exactly what her position is. But let’s just say it’s the senior most ranks of French politics. And in writing about, you know, her life and the campaigns that she’s part of. You refer to real parties and real situations, real conflicts that were going on. Why did you want to introduce the world of politics into your books? Because, again, in this world of romance that isn’t typically, you know, there’s a very famous series that involves the first daughter of the United States, but it doesn’t feel very real, whereas I think French kissing felt very reality based.

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Speaker 2: When I was thinking about possible characters, a politician really seemed very intriguing. And I think readers like that as well. And especially in French kissing, because the pairing she’s like, falls in love with a much younger woman, like the age gap politician that is like catnip for the lesbian reader. Right? Right. But but I think in hindsight, romance readers don’t read to, you know, know more about politics. They want escape from politics. Right. Right. And the world has changed so much because you have to think this was ten years ago, right?

Speaker 2: Yeah. The world has changed so much in the in the past ten years. I mean, I do sometimes think, Oh, politician it would be fun to write a book about it, but I think it’s become a lot more trickier. Like some of the things I say in French kissing. I’m not sure I could still say them now because the world is so different and politics is just it’s much harder. Yeah. Yeah. So I don’t. I don’t want to put that in my romance anymore. Yeah. Yeah. Unless I’m. Maybe I don’t want to sell any books. Yeah. That’s not the goal.

June Thomas: So I’ve read somewhere between, I don’t know, 15 and 20 of your books, but I experience them all as audiobooks. I’ve never seen an actual book or an actual Kindle book. Some of them, including French kissing, read by former working guest Abby Craden, who’s an amazing narrator of audiobooks. Your books feel very suited to the audiobook format. But as a writer, do you feel I’m missing anything by not reading the books kind of myself, as it were?

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Speaker 2: I really wouldn’t know because I rarely listen to audiobooks. I can’t listen to my own audiobooks. I mean, I know Abby Craden is amazing, right? And I listen to snippets like I have a book, like a character. She’s a singer, so she has like this song lyrics and I listen to Abby read Rhythm. And that was enough for me to know how amazing she is. Yeah. Like, a lot of a lot of listeners say, Oh, Abby Craden, she can read the phone book and I will listen. I mean, that’s maybe a little bit exaggerated. But like having Abby Craden read a book is the best marketing ever because all you have to do is put her name on the book and then it just sells itself. It’s amazing. So she is really amazing. And the readers slash listeners, they love her so much. But yeah, I don’t consume audiobooks, so I don’t know, I should give it a try.

June Thomas: But also give it a try.

Speaker 2: Oh, it is very popular now. More and more people are always asking, Oh, what is the audio coming? Why don’t you? And I always try to book Abby as quickly as I can as soon as I start a new book. This is very busy just to narrate like 50% of lesbian romance.

June Thomas: Right?

Speaker 2: At least it’s hard to book her these days. But. And I say you have to be a bit patient because Abby is very busy.

June Thomas: If you want Abby, you got to be patient. And we all want Abby.

Speaker 2: Yes.

June Thomas: That’s it for this week. Thank you so much for being a member of Slate Plus. So.