Storytelling … but Add a Little Spice
This year, Ines Johnson will have written and published over one hundred books. A seasoned author and introvert who loves sticky notes and colorful pens, she’s a treasure trove of experience. She’s also quick to point out that her processes may not work for everyone.
“Just because Ines said it, don’t you follow her. Understand that Ines is romance forward. Kissing books are what she’s looking at, and if it’s not that, then I’m not paying attention.”
And Ines does write kissing books of all flavors: paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, and erotic. She’s admittedly a very specific consumer of stories who prefers her books with a heavy dose of love and doesn’t see herself writing outside of various romantic subgenres, but one thing is clear: great advice can often be applied universally.
The Storyteller and the Formula
As the daughter of a funk musician, Ines grew up with music as the background to her life. She learned that storytelling was present in songs, in everything. “Life is just made up of all these parts, and you can pick them apart and put them back together in interesting ways …. As a kid watching cartoons, I would be thinking about that, thinking about the structure of things.”
She worked in television before writing full-time, just one more avenue where she got to watch stories develop and hone her skills. On that evolutionary path, she became more well versed in story structure and plotting. She applauds the idea of the “obligatory scenes” and says, “People talk about plotting and plots and outlines and beats like it’s a bad thing … I hear people sometimes talk about this as ‘oh my gosh, that’s not creative. You’re just following a formula, or you’re following a pattern,’ and I’ve never understood that, and I still don’t because there’s comfort in that repetition. But try to twist that in a different and interesting way.”
Along with understanding storytelling, she doesn’t shy away from tropes and market research. She knows the trends. She knows the reader expectations. She wants her readers to come away from her stories with a sense of contentment.
“Those patterns are there for a reason, and I think they should be respected. If you are making a cake, you don’t all the sudden put in a cup of salt instead of a cup of sugar … maybe even cayenne, you add a kick of it. You add to it, but I think you should not subtract from it because when you subtract, people get uncomfortable, and they’re left unsatisfied.”
If her journey to bestselling author is any indicator, her readers are definitely satisfied.
For those reading who don’t love being online all the time, Ines is honest about her lack of desire to interact on the various platforms, preferring to focus on new stories for her readers rather than the social aspect of social media.
Arguably, some of her advice that we can all heed is, “I really pay attention to my strengths, and I go full force with my strengths. I don’t really put a lot of time into what I know I’m not good at.”
However, introverts can find social places that work for them, and for Ines, that all comes back to storytelling. “I can tell a story with a Facebook ad. I’m telling stories about my characters in my newsletter. I try to use that to my advantage. I like TikTok, but it’s only because I’m telling a story. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about what my characters did, what my characters said. That’s interesting, and it’s fun for me.”
And she is finding success on platforms like TikTok where she can stay character-focused instead of Ines-focused, where she doesn’t have to share what she had for dinner or the state of traffic in her neighborhood. The takeaway here is that if you don’t enjoy something, don’t force it. Find the author places you like to be and make the most of them. As Ines says, play to your strengths.
While we spoke, it was nearly impossible not to notice the artwork that decorated Ines’s walls. Not abstract colors or figure drawings like you might picture, but whiteboards, calendars, lists, and an impressive number of sticky notes. Ines is a tracker, a planner. She checks her sales daily and knows when sales are generated from a specific source. But she doesn’t let tracking take center stage.
“I love to take a colored pen and record the data of my sales every day … but if you ask me at the end of the day or the next day how many sales I had, I couldn’t tell you because I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the achievement.”
Ines knows where her sales are coming from and uses that data to motivate her further, but she doesn’t swim in the minutia of it. This approach feels very doable and less overwhelming, like so many pebbles of wisdom she shared.
For those looking to up their planning game, along with Becca Syme’s courses that we’ve talked about in previous articles, Ines also recommends Sarra Cannon’s YouTube channel and courses.
If you are wondering what an author with a triple-digit backlist focuses on, the answer for Ines for 2022 would be translations. “I compared my audio sales and my translation sales, and translations by far were killin’ it.”
Part of her universal advice is that authors should be doing their research. Know what genres are selling in what foreign language markets to make sure you are putting your time and money into the right things for your books. Cowboy romance might miss the target in Japan, but urban fantasy might be a bullseye.
As far as her additional future plans, she said, “I really want to try some simultaneous releases, meaning where I release the e-book, the audiobook, and the print book, including the hardback, all at the same time.” She even talked about co-writing and collaborations, followed by the deep breath of a woman with a lot of irons in the fire.
The overall impression of author Ines Johnson is one of relatability. She’s smart and genuine, focused but friendly. When she talked about having too many story ideas but too little time to write them, the global author collective nodded along at their desks. As the interview ended, I couldn’t help but think that this was a human I would happily sit and have a coffee with just to pick her brain for even longer. As a bonus, she had great book recommendations!
To see what Ines is up to, you can join her newsletters on her websites https://ineswrites.com/ and https://shanaejohnson.com but true to her word, she’s not very active on social media. Feel free to check out her #booktok videos on TikTok and watch for her sessions at upcoming author conferences in various locations across the US.