How Romance Author Jillian Dodd Makes Her Dreams Come True
The plot for Jillian Dodd’s first novel came to her in a dream. Well, in three dreams, actually. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the author dreamt of the characters at different periods of their lives. When she woke up, she needed to know the rest of their story, so she wrote it down. The resulting novel, That Boy, remains one of her most popular series eleven years later.
Jillian is now a USA Today and Amazon Top 10 bestselling author of over fifty titles who manages her own app through BookFunnel and sells direct via a Shopify storefront. Her eight series deliver easy-to-read Sweet Romance titles that push the boundaries of YA with big cliffhangers and lots of drama. Though many of the books are set in a world of celebrity and glamor, their young protagonists face relatable milestones like crushes and first kisses. Her Kitty Valentine Chick Lit series offers rom-com tropes for more mature readers.
When she had that first dream, Jillian was a stay-at-home mom with a background in retail and marketing. She started going to movies by herself once a week while her kids were at school and then blogging about the films. “I’d see a new release, and then I’d write a review of it. And the scoring was based on anywhere from happily ever after to the walk of shame,” she says. She posted her reviews on Twitter and started to find a community there.
At first, she published That Boy without any expectations. She didn’t even tell anyone about it. In the first three months, she sold thirty-six copies. Wondering what would happen if she actually tried to sell the book, Jillian contacted bloggers and posted about the book to her Twitter followers. Her blog expanded to a website and Facebook. Her sales went up to three hundred, then six hundred, then nine hundred. She says joining a community of writers and readers made the biggest difference.
Now she communicates with her readers across several social platforms, but she’s most active on her Patreon. She says she’s interacting there every day and has monthly Zoom calls with some of her Patreons. “It’s a lot of fun to talk about the stuff that you’re passionate about with people who care,” Jillian says.
Jillian keeps her phone by her bed to get notes down as soon as she wakes up, but she says she doesn’t always need it. “I remember my dreams. I have a song that was sung in a dream by a character to his love, and I didn’t know they were supposed to be together. I woke up trying to remember the song. We actually ended up recording the song for the series.”
Waking at 5 a.m., she lies in bed and types on her phone, mostly without looking at it. She says she makes fewer mistakes that way and actually types faster than she does on her computer. She likes the quiet and really embraced the early hours during the pandemic, when her husband and daughter were also working from home. Even now, her husband’s home office is close enough to hers that she sometimes overhears his conference calls. They’re both looking forward to his upcoming retirement.
Beyond starting work from her bedside, Jillian doesn’t stick to a routine. “I’m an Aquarius,” she says. “I don’t do routine. I plot meticulously, but yet not. I always know the end of the book and the end of the series, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there.”
She uses Scrivener for both drafting and formatting, but she goes back and forth between two laptops and her phone, writing in her office or outside if the weather is nice. “I see my books like a movie in my head, and then it’s just a matter of trying to get that vision and everything that people are saying onto paper or on my computer screen.”
She says the first draft is usually pretty clean by this point in her career, but her daughter will give it a read-through before it goes out. She delivers the draft to Patreon and her editor simultaneously. Patrons get the unedited book chapter by chapter as she writes it, though she tries to keep four or five scenes ahead of them. The rough version of her newest release is also available on Kindle Vella, where she hopes to find new readers from the serial community. This early access serves a dual purpose in driving engagement with her readers and giving her feedback as they interact with the story.
She’s still dreaming about the characters in her novels—even the ones she’s already published. Over a recent holiday, Jillian’s family sat down to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in chronological order. Afterward, they reorganized her books on a similar timeline. “I had a dream that this character from a different series is going to end up in the Eastbrook series, and I was like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ But the timeline still works out.” Today, she keeps a spreadsheet to help track the families and make sure that crossovers make sense. She has the suggested reading order published on her website, and readers will soon have access to an EPUB with clickable links to guide them through their choice of chronological or series order on her app.
Creating a Dream World
This past April, Jillian released the only author app available through BookFunnel. She had mentioned to BookFunnel founder Damon Courtney that she wanted to build an app for her brand and asked if his company had ever considered something like that for authors. He said it had been an early idea ten years ago, but he hadn’t seen much interest. She told him she was interested.
The Jillian Dodd app is beta testing with a built-in e-reader and audio player, and when readers purchase e-books and audiobooks from her store, they are automatically added to the app’s library and synced across devices.
Jillian doesn’t think an app will be the right project for every author, especially since readers can already filter their books by author in the original BookFunnel app. For her, the app is an extension of her online store and a way to help readers organize her extensive backlist. She hopes to eventually add a chat function, in-app purchases, and notifications to keep readers updated on sales and other news.
Meanwhile, she’s focusing on growing the direct sales side of her author business. Jillian started selling her books through vendor links on her blog in 2018. She recently polled her readers, asking what drew them to her traditional website. They told her they mostly went there “to find out what’s coming next, and see what books you have out, and number one was to buy books.”
With that in mind, she “picked and chose what would work well from more of a store standpoint. On my website I had all the lists of all the vendors they could buy from, which was great, but why not come to me? I’m very passionate about that,” she says. “I love that when I ship paperbacks out, I can put fun stuff in there—postcards and bookmarks and other fun stuff. We stock it all.”
So after twelve years of blogging, she closed her WordPress website and shifted everything to her Shopify storefront. “I had a glass of wine and toasted the end of my website,” she says.
Selling direct, managing inventory, updating social media, and keeping up with the app on top of writing the actual content for her books is a lot of work, but Jillian doesn’t do it alone. The success of her author business has allowed her to hire a team, including her son, daughter, and two friends, who all now support JillianDodd.net full time.
Jillian’s daughter has worked for the business since she was fifteen and now focuses on branding. The author hired her son away from a corporate job about a year and a half ago to do the store and advertising. Her friend Beth “was one of those first thirty-six people who read my book.” They messaged each other on Goodreads, and have been friends ever since. Now Beth handles a lot of the backend work. “My friend Mandy was one of the first people in my reader group, and she’s very social and did event planning. So she’s been doing [social media] full time for at least four years.”
The team has been taking classes like Pierre Jeanty’s 7 Figure Book Business and Steve Pieper’s AMMO to learn more about direct sales and author marketing techniques. She’s enjoyed figuring out everyone’s strengths and interests “to try and create dream jobs for all of us,” she says, “because I think if you’re doing your dream job, you’re happy and having fun.”
She also says she looks forward to making more professional connections at this year’s 20Books Vegas conference. “One of the things I did very early in my career was go to conferences and meet vendors and try to meet other authors. You have everybody from somebody who hasn’t published their first book to people who are making eight figures, and so it’s just really cool to see them all together, and I learn so much. You never know who you’re going to meet and how that relationship is going to go, and how it can affect your career and … [how] you can help each other.”
This year Jillian set a big goal for the team: to sell more in her own store than she does on Amazon. They’re about a third of the way there, spending about 90 percent of their ads budget on direct sales. Although she plans to continue selling her books in a wide release to meet readers where they are, she’s focusing her energy on making personal connections with readers through the app and her store. Jillian fulfills most of the orders that come through her store herself. “I want a place where readers can go where it’s just all me all the time. We’ve got instant messaging. I’m the one who answers it. I like having that direct contact,” she says.
For Jillian, maintaining those relationships with the people who love her work is what makes this business a dream come true.