Our guest today is Mary-Lou Stephens, author of the relationship book, How To Stay Married. Mary-Lou 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. She 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.
Thank you for this interview, Mary-Lou. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I used to play in bands; gigging, touring and releasing CDs. I had a great time but I was getting nowhere. When my last band broke up I knew I couldn’t do it all over again. I was heartbroken and exhausted and had no idea what to do next. I’d studied acting and played in bands all over Australia, neither of which had set me up for a career. The door had closed and all I could see ahead was a string of dead-end jobs. That’s when another door opened – the doorway to radio. I’ve been in radio for over 18 years now. In that time I’ve presented every shift ever invented and been a Music Director both locally and nationally.
About 12 years ago I went on an overseas holiday and came back with a few out of focus photos taken on a disposable camera. A friend said “Clearly photography’s not your thing. Why don’t you write about your holiday instead?” So I did and I’ve been writing ever since. I wrote a column for the local paper for over four years and started writing short stories.
I wanted to find out whether I could write a book and if, after having done that, I would want to write another. I took six months leave without pay and discovered the answer to both questions was, “Yes.”
My first published book was Sex, Drugs and Meditation. My latest book How To Stay Married has just been released.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
My first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation told the story of how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband.
How To Stay Married, is the truth behind the happy ending; a journey from fear, resentment and financial devastation, to a place of love, joy and trust.
How to Stay Married takes us around the world; from the glitter and glare of Las Vegas to the sub-zero temperatures of the French Alps and the tropical heat of Thailand, all with cabin luggage only.
The discoveries I made about myself and my marriage are a modern day parable about learning to travel light in life, love and relationships.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
When I read self-help books I turn straight to the case studies, the stories. I think human beings are hard-wired for stories, we love them. When I realised my life read like one of those case studies I wondered if other people would be interested in my story. My first attempts to write Sex, Drugs and Meditation weren’t successful. A literary agent read some of it, saw potential but told me I had to get really, really honest if I was to continue. I wasn’t brave enough at the time so put the manuscript away and write a novel instead.
When I found my courage I rewrote Sex, Drugs and Meditation and eventually landed a publishing deal with Pan Macmillan. How To Stay Married is the sequel.
What was your greatest challenge writing this book?
Once again How To Stay Married, is a brave and personal book. It touches on areas in a relationship that not many people have the courage to expose. I have a wonderful writing group and they gave me the support I needed to be honest in all areas. My husband has been my biggest supporter. He gave me permission to write anything I needed to, even though some of it was very tough on him. I’ve been toughest on myself though, often not painting myself in a very good light, but that’s what being honest is about.
Our early married life was a nightmare to tell you the truth. But the lessons I learnt and the hurdles we overcame to get to where we are now make fascinating reading. We’ve just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary and are happier than ever. There’s a list of tips in the book as well, Seven Tips For a Happy Marriage, for those who like lists.
Are you published by a traditional house, small press or are you self-published?
My first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation was published by Pan Macmillan after I submitted it through their open submission process. I wanted to go with a major publisher because of possible legal issues in the book. I wanted a legal team to look at it before it was published. I had to make a few changes but not many. Luckily my work as a broadcaster has given me a fairly good working knowledge of the laws around defamation.
I’m self publishing How To Stay Married because the only person who could sue me over this book is my husband and he’s promised not to :)
Was it the right choice for you?
Being published by Pan Macmillan was a wonderful experience and I appreciate everything they did for me. Having said that I am in the process of having the erights for Sex, Drugs and Meditation revert to me. It has been frustrating not to be able to change the price point for the ebook and to partake of the wonderful promotional tools that are available to self published authors.
How are you promoting your book thus far?
I have been giving away review copies of How To Stay Married through my website to those who sign up to my email list. I have a free PDF of Seven Tips For a Happy Marriage for everyone who signs up as well.
I’ve made a book trailer which has clickable links to my mailing list and the offer of a free review copy and the seven tips.
I’m using the services of Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book for a social media blitz.
I took advantage of the pre-order option on Amazon and I have a Kindle Countdown promotion coming up soon, so watch out for that.
Once the Kindle Countdown is over I’ll approach some of the Kindle free and discounted sites for promotion.
How is that going for you?
I’m thrilled with the response to my email list and I’m loving Dorothy’s work especially on Twitter. She’s created some amazing images around my book.
Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?
It’s very early days for How To Stay Married however I was thrilled that the pre-order option on Amazon resulted in sales.
Do you have another job besides writing?
Yes, I work full time as a radio broadcaster for ABC Radio. I present the Drive shift from 3-6pm. Great hours because I don’t have to work until 10am. It’s a very busy and interesting job and I’m often working on weekends, unpaid, in some capacity. One of my favourite things is interviewing authors. Free books and talking with writers – bliss.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
I was told over and over to get a list happening. I didn’t have time, couldn’t be bothered, thought it didn’t apply to me, couldn’t work out how to do it – every excuse under the sun. I thought because my first book was published by a major publisher that I wouldn’t need to develop my own email list. Wrong. Now I wish I had started earlier. So that’s my big piece of advice. Get your list happening and use it wisely.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing another novel. This one will actually get published. I’m doing a writing masterclass early next year and the tutor has promised she’ll land me a publishing deal – she knows my writing and that I’ll write a marketable book.
I also have a series of non-fiction books planned which I will self publish. I won’t the freedom around these books to do what I want with them as far as pricing and bundling is concerned.
Thank you for this interview, Mary-Lou. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
My website http://maryloustephens.com.au
My Amazon author page http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Lou-Stephens/e/B00O6JMAC2/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Huffington Post page http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marylou-stephens/
Book trailer for How To Stay Married https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obR1s3bNnJ8