About Mary-Lou Stephens:
Mary-Lou Stephens studied acting and played in bands before she got a proper job -in radio. She writes whenever she’s not behind the microphone or heading off to a meditation retreat.
Mary-Lou has garnered rave reviews for her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation, the true story of how she changed her life, saved her job and found a husband, all with the help of meditation. She lives in Australia with that very same husband, their dog and a hive of killer native bees.
How To Stay Married is the sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation and is the truth behind the happy ending.
For a free copy of 7 Tips For Your Best Relationship Ever join Mary-Lou’s mailing list at www.maryloustephens.com.au
What inspires you to write?
I never thought I’d be a writer – a songwriter yes, but not a published author. I trained as an actor and played in bands until I got a real job, in radio. It was after I’d been working in radio for a while that I went to the USA for a holiday. On my return friends asked to see photos of my trip. I had taken only twelve photos on a disposable Instamatic and three of those were blurry. A colleague said, “Clearly photography is not your thing, why don’t you write about your trip instead?” So I did.
That led to me writing a weekly column for the local newspaper for five years.
When I was writing the column I became interested in pursuing writing as a career. My research told me that at the time, early 2000’s, most published Australian authors earned about $3,000 a year. I was earning that just from writing my column and I was published every week. So I kept working in radio and writing in my spare time. I wrote short stories, took many classes at the Queensland Writers Centre and began working on my memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation.
I joined a writing group, took six months leave without pay to write a novel, and quite accidentally received some interest from a literary agent for Sex, Drugs and Meditation. She thought the book had potential but wasn’t where it needed to be. Although I was a long way from being published at that point, it was the first time I really thought I could be a published author.
Tell us about your writing process.
Sometimes trying to capture a story is like trying to see a distant star. If you look right at it it fades away. If you look slightly to the side you can see it in your peripheral vision. Sometimes it’s best to write around the thing you really want to write but can’t. Take the pressure off. Write something different.
But the one tried and true method I have for boosting creativity and for coming up with a million ideas, characters and story lines, is meditation. Especially a silent meditation retreat. No distractions and a monkey mind! The idea of meditation is not to stop thinking, that’s impossible, but in the process of observing the thoughts when they come up you’ll be amazed at the concepts and ideas that arise.
What advice would you give other writers?
Find a space where you feel comfortable to write. When I first began writing I was extremely self conscious about what I was doing. There was no way I could do it in a cafe. It had to be somewhere private where I wouldn’t be interrupted. Door closed writing. Through the years I’ve become more relaxed about it. I’ve had more practice and that makes it easier to write wherever I am. Some of How To Stay Married was written on the couch with The Hubby beside me. I still prefer privacy though and I hate being interrupted. I know it sounds really basic but without the confidence of being able to write freely it can inhibit your ability to get the words you really want to, really need to, down on the page.
If you’re writing memoir I suggest following Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s advice. She’s written a book called Writing Without a Parachute: The Art of Freefall. One of her precepts is the ten year rule – any autobiographical material needs to be at least ten years old. I had followed this precept without even realising it. Once your material has had the time to compost it’s much richer, more fertile.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I knew I couldn’t self-publish Sex, Drugs and Meditation. I needed a major publishing house and their legal team to avoid getting sued. With How To Stay Married the only person who could possibly sue me is my husband and he’s promises not to.
I’ve interviewed many authors in my job with the ABC and increasingly they are self-published. Adam Spencer decided to self-publish his Big Book of Numbers because he wanted complete control to be as nerdy as he needed to be. I’m keen to investigate the hybrid model where some of my books are self-published and others are with a traditional publisher. Authors are doing this very successfully these days, including Stephen King.
My frustration with being published with a major publisher is with the pricing of ebooks. I would love to be able to play with price points and to do special promotions but that has not been possible. With so many inexpensive ebooks on the market it is hard to compete when your ebook is priced over a certain point. Having said that I am in negotiations to have my world ebook rights revert to me. When that comes through I can begin to play.
I wanted to explore the possibilities of indie publishing with How To Stay Married and it’s been an adventure and a great learning experience. The support from other indie writers has been overwhelming. There is a real community of writers who want to see other writers succeed. Their generosity has been an eye-opening and heart-opening experience.
There are expenses involved in self-publishing and I must admit it is nice to have all of them paid for by a publisher when you go the traditional route. However these are necessary expenses to deliver a book that serves you and your readers well. I have beta readers and I took their feedback on board but I also paid two editors to improve certain aspects of How To Stay Married. Other costs included a cover designer and professional formatter for ebook and print.
Marketing an indie book can be tough but then marketing a traditionally published book can also be tough. It’s hard to gain traction. From what I’ve observed successful marketing is about creating relationships with your readers. That takes time and trust. You’re building emotional connections with people. You need to find a way of adding value to their lives. Think about giving them a gift from time to time as well. Everyone loves getting a present, everybody loves to feel appreciated. This is very different from the sell, sell, sell approach. There’s so much noise out there, why not offer your readers a refuge, a place where they can relax and enjoy your writing?
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
t’s a fabulous time to be a writer. There are so many avenues open to us. However it’s not a good time to be a paid writer. It’s a double edged sword. People who love reading have more books than ever to choose from and are, I think, reading more. However because there are so many ebooks offered for free or for 99 cents it is tough for writers to make money.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: mind body spirit, memoir, self-help
What formats are your books in?: eBook, Print, Both eBook and Print