336 Psychologist to Bestselling Mystery Writer – Roberta Isleib

What you will hear in our discussion with Roberta Isleib:

  • Success Story of a Fiction Writer
  • New to Writing? Author Success Story
  • How to Collaborate with Others for Success
  • Changing Career to Become a Writer? Success Story
  • The Road to Becoming a Nationally-Bestselling Author

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More about our featured guest Roberta Isleib

New Jersey born clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette) took up writing mysteries to justify time spent on the golf links. Her first mystery, SIX STROKES UNDER, featuring a neurotic professional golfer and a sports psychologist, was published in 2002 and nominated for both Agatha and Anthony awards. Roberta is now writing the nationally-bestselling Key West food critic mystery series as Lucy Burdette.

She blogs weekly with a group of culinary mystery writers at MysteryLoversKitchen.com and another group of crime fiction writers at JungleRedWriters.com. Her fourteenth novel, FATAL RESERVATIONS, will be published by NAL/Penguin in July 2015.

Roberta/Lucy says the work of the detective in a mystery has quite a bit in common with long-term psychotherapy: Start with a problem, follow the threads looking for clues, and gradually fill in the big picture. So this career move turned out to be a natural progression. She is passionate about portraying her psychologist characters as competent professionals (with flaws of course!) Like her food critic character in the Key West series, she is also passionate about food.

Roberta/Lucy is a past-president of the International Sisters in Crime, founded in 1987 to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Authors Guild. She divides her time between Key West, Florida, and Connecticut.


Full Transcript

[00:00] Joel: Hi, it's me, Joel.

[00:01] Pei: And this is Pei.

[00:02] Joel: Welcome to ReLaunch. One of the best shows you'll ever hear for authors, podcasters and content creators. And this is the podcast dedicated to helping you develop entrepreneurial confidence, maximize your visibility, and of course, grow your business. And if you are a frequent listener or an insider, welcome back and thank you for joining us for today's show. And if you are new here, just know that you are among friends. And our show today is brought to you by Brandon Schaefer and My Virtual Sales Force. They partnered with us and what they do is they take the worry and the stress out of hiring and training the right sales and the right marketing professionals, so you can focus on your business. A little bit more on My Virtual Sales Force a little bit later on in this show, but joining us right now is clinical psychologist turned mystery writer, Roberta Isleib. And Roberta, she actually had her first novel published about 12-13 years ago in 2002, and we're delighted and excited, Pei, to celebrate with her…

[01:22] Pei: Indeed.

[01:23] Joel: Right. We're excited to celebrate with her and with you, novel number 14! It's called “Fatal Reservations”, and it was released just yesterday. If you're listening to this show on the day that it goes live and wow, Roberta, 14 books. Congratulations to you.

[01:48] Roberta Isleib: Oh, thank you. I'm so delighted to be here talking to you two.

[01:52] Joel: This is going to be so much fun. We love, love, love having authors on the show, Roberta. Just in case somebody may not recognize your given name, Roberta, you're also known as Lucy Burdette.

[02:07] Roberta Isleib: Lucy Burdette is my pen name, right.

[02:10] Joel: Name might ring a bell with many of our listeners. Especially if they're Florida listeners, because the backdrop for pretty much all of your books is in Key West and in Florida area and that is my favorite place in the world. So, I can't wait to hear about the Florida references in your book. You know, Roberta, this show it's highly practical because it is all about the relaunch, how you did it. And it's also about becoming known in your niche, again how you did it. And I wanna get into the book as quickly as possible. But before we do that, I generally ask my guest to zero in on the relaunch that has been the most significant for them or the most transformational and then we just kinda unfold the story from there. And I'm wondering do we need to start the conversation by talking about your transition from psychologist to author or is there another relaunch that we need to begin…

[03:12] Roberta Isleib: No, I think that's it, because that was what I call my “midlife crisis.”

[03:17] Joel: Okay, okay.

[03:18] Roberta Isleib: And it's turned out pretty well. So, I was in private practice as a psychologist back in the 1990s, and I'll give you a short version or the long version. I met this guy who I'm now married to who was a big golfer. So, I tried to learn because I wanted to be out playing with him, but it's a really hard game. So, I wasted or spent a lot of time taking lessons and practicing and finally thinking to myself, “What could I make of this? I'm putting an awful lot into it?” And the idea of writing came to me. I have always been a big reader but I never, never planned on being a writer. So, after writing some articles about the psychology of golf, which is… It's such a hard game. I was frustrated about getting these pieces into magazines as a freelance writer and a good friend said, “Well, why don't you try writing a mystery,” 'cause we've always traded them back and forth. And so, that is when this idea was born. I mean, we can talk about the process of getting to this point but the first book which was a golf mystery series, so it featured a neurotic aspiring professional lady golfer and that first book came out in 2002.

[04:57] Joel: So, I'm just curious. When you were sitting there in the golf cart watching your husband swaying and miss, and dig holes or however he plays golf, I mean, I'm just trying to relate 'cause that's the way I play golf.

[05:11] Pei: Well, what's funny is, Roberta, you're just talking about releasing the… You released a book 2002, right?

[05:20] Roberta Isleib: Right.

[05:21] Pei: Okay. So, Joel, we married 2001, right?

[05:26] Joel: Correct.

[05:27] Pei: Okay, this is something I believe. If you're a guy, one of the first things you do is… Well, one of the things you don't do is don't teach your wife how to golf.


[05:38] Pei: So, just about as soon as we were married…

[05:41] Joel: Because she becomes a neurotic.

[05:43] Pei: Well, he was trying to teach me how to golf.

[05:47] Joel: No, that's not true. I bought you lessons.

[05:50] Pei: What? No, you tried to teach me in the beginning, and I guess the most frustrating moment were when you prepare for the most beautiful you think it's the best swing ever and then you look down, “Oh the ball is still there!”

[06:09] Roberta Isleib: The ball is still there…


[06:11] Joel: So that's why people become neurotic and then they…

[06:14] Roberta Isleib: But you're already neurotic before you start. But this is my low moment, Pei. So we'd been out playing with another couple, this is still fairly early on, and I had a horrible, horrible day on the golf course. And we got into the club house and we were having a beer and the other husband said, “Roberta, you should consider taking a lesson.” Well, but I had been taking lessons. I had taken lessons from eight different teaching pros. So from there came… All of this angst came out on the page with this first character that I wrote about. So it was all to the good, it was just humiliating at the time.

[07:04] Joel: Let me ask you this, Roberta, kind of back up a little bit. Now you were running a thriving psychology practice. I'm just kind of curious here about the transition. I realize you're setting the foundation for us right now but what about the internal transition? When you are in your practice seeing clients, patients. Is it something that kind of gradually started just kind of tagging on your sleeve, so to speak? Launching into or Relaunching into a real career? Or is it something… You woke up and decided, “You know what? I am done with that. I am now ready to do something else. I don't know exactly what it is, but I need to do something different.” what was…

[07:52] Roberta Isleib: I would the two paths got crossed. So I was doing my private practice which is kind of tough, especially the way managed care was changing things and I think it's probably even harder now. But I was doing that. I was really not a good marketer of my psychology practice which is odd because I love talking about my books. But that is a different… It's a different product that you're talking about. So as my practice was not growing at that point but the writing was, it just got to a point where it was a natural transition. And I would say that was probably before the first book was published.

[08:46] Pei: Oh! So, I was actually… Before you finished that sentence I was gonna say, “How many books did you release till you turned switch?” But actually, before you even release the first book?

[08:58] Roberta Isleib: Yeah, yeah.

[09:00] Joel: So I'm curious about this. When you release the first book… Okay. Wait a minute. Let me back up a little bit. As you were writing that book, talk about your emotional and spiritual transformation as you're putting your thoughts on paper was it… I'm just trying to experience something like what you experienced. Was it just, “Oh my gosh, yes. This is going to be part of the next chapter. The next phase of my life” Or was it…

[09:32] Pei: Yeah. How did you know? How come you didn't practice part time and then write your book and then see how that goes. So take us though that process.

[09:45] Roberta Isleib: If I hadn't been married to someone who was making money, I might not have been able to make that choice. But since I was, it made it easier. And it also… It really felt like a natural transition. I don't know how else to explain it, but the books… The thing that interests me most about writing is, writing about the characters and trying to figure out who they are and what's their family history and their back story and what they want and what they need, and that all feeds the novel. So it's really not that different than psychotherapy.

[10:33] Pei: I can see that.

[10:33] Roberta Isleib: Yeah. And a mystery novel I say is similar also because as a therapist, and I was a long-term therapist, so the therapy could go a year or several years as we're trying to figure out what's holding a person back. It's looking for clues and kind of unraveling the story which is the same thing I do as a writer and that my character does as a sleuth. So it all fits together in a very odd way.

[11:10] Joel: Sure.

[11:12] Pei: Interesting. So I just wanna understand. Now, how about when you were little and when you grew up… Teenagers. Were you ever… Did you ever consider yourself a writer in your younger years?

[11:30] Roberta Isleib: I never considered myself a writer. I was crazy for reading. I would read all the time. And I have a PhD, so I had to do a lot of writing obviously to get through the program, and people would say, “Oh you're a good writer.” But that was non-fiction. It never occurred to me to write a novel, it just snuck up on me.

[11:59] Joel: [chuckle] I love that, it just snuck up on me…

[12:00] Pei: Yeah.

[12:01] Joel: Like the neurotic golfer.

[12:02] Roberta Isleib: Yes.

[12:03] Joel: Something like that. Alright, I'm gonna ask you in just a minute what you learned or re-learned about yourself as you were going through this natural transition and as you went from book one to book two, and so forth and so on, but I'll give you just a few seconds to process that, what you learned or re-learned about yourself. And right now I am going to talk about our sponsor, myvirtualsalesforce.com. And you know, Pei, owning a business has many challenges, but luckily, managing a marketing and sales force does not have to be one of them. Today's promotional partner, My Virtual Sales Force does the heavy lifting for you by hiring, training, and equipping the sales pros. They'll bring in new leads, and what we all need as business owners and entrepreneurs, and that is more sales. Brandon Schaefer and his team even take care of the health care coverage. So, do yourself and your business a favor and outsource your worry and give them a try. They'll put together a strategic sales and marketing team tailored to your needs and to your goals. My Virtual Sales Force gives you what every entrepreneur also needs and that it is their time back. Myvirtualsalesforce.com, the place to go. Again, myvirtualsalesforce.com. Okay so, I gave you about 60 seconds to think about that Roberta, so what did you learn or re-learn about Roberta?

[13:46] Roberta Isleib: Well, I learned that I am a dogged person, which you have to be in this business. And because it's so hard to get published, and it's so hard to stay published, you have to figure out how to be hopeful but also realistic.

[14:07] Joel: So, how did you learn those things? How did you navigate that dance?

[14:15] Roberta Isleib: Well, I started out… I did not know anybody in the publishing business at all. I didn't know any mystery writers. I knew nothing. But as I started to look for an agent who could represent this novel, then I realized that there are writing organizations out there that could be of great support. So, I joined an organization called “Sisters In Crime,” which was designed to help support and bring more notice to women crime fiction writers. And…

[14:56] Pei: What a cool name, huh?

[14:57] Joel: Sisters In Crime.

[14:57] Roberta Isleib: Yeah, it is. Sistersincrime.org. And I made most amazing friends. It's a very generous world, the mystery writers. Because we realize that a person is not going to buy one book, and then that's it for the year. Readers buy a lot of books, so why would you not support the other people who are in the same business. And then, I learned a lot. I found a writers group that I still work with, and I have just amazing writer friends that could teach me about what's ahead. And you know, if something really stinks, you found out your contract didn't get extended, which has happened twice, then you can call people who have been through it and are completely sympathetic. So, that really has made a difference is the support.

[15:57] Joel: So, this is a great story because what you said a few minutes ago is you knew no one in the industry, and definitely in that niche or genre, but since you wanted to become known in your niche… That's one of the things we help people with on a coaching basis, but also within this show. Since you wanted to become known in that field, that area, you reached out and started to link arms. Go ahead, Pei.

[16:24] Pei: Definitely. And especially in the book arena for you it was new. And Joel and I, when we were launching that was your “Finding Your Voice,” back in, was it, 2014?

[16:39] Joel: No way, it was like 2013… Anyways, when we were launching my last book, go ahead.

[16:43] Pei: Right. We landed to number one. But that was a collaborative effort. And we just attended so many seminars and trainings, and now we're helping others. So, that's brilliant to link arm with others and, instead of seeing each other as competitors in…

[17:05] Roberta Isleib: Yes.

[17:06] Pei: Yes.

[17:06] Joel: Well, what she said is, it's a generous world, and she was talking about her world; the world of mystery writers. But really in whatever field or industry that you're in, you're going to find… Or at least my experience has been, Roberta, you're going to find generous groups that can support you in whatever field that you're in. If you're…

[17:25] Pei: Right. And people in our insider group has been supporting each other, kind of pushing each other up, upwards. So, building up that relationship in our life or in professional transition has just been key.

[17:42] Joel: Okay so, let's talk about your book, Roberta. Let's talk about this series, because this is actually book number six, it's called… What did I say it was called?

[17:49] Roberta Isleib: “Fatal Reservations.”

[17:51] Joel: “Fatal Reservations.” So, this is actually book number six, and you're already working on, or just about to start…

[17:57] Roberta Isleib: Working on number seven, yes.

[17:59] Joel: Right.

[18:00] Roberta Isleib: So, these books are written under my pen name “Lucy Burdette”, which is related to another transition, but anyway that's a whole different story. But it's all the same character. It's a young woman in her 20s who doesn't know… It's your same story. She doesn't know what to do with her life. She latches onto a guy in a bookstore, and he says, “Why don't you move to Key West?” which is where the books are set. And so, she does. But of course, she doesn't know him very well, so it doesn't work out. There's another woman that's quickly revealed to be in the scene. So by then, not only does she love Key West, which I do, too, living there half the year; she wants so badly to land a position as a food critic in a magazine. So, that is part of what's driving her through all the series. And in this latest one, she has a good friend who is a tarot card reader… You guys have been to Key West, so you've probably…

[19:14] Joel: Love Key West.

[19:15] Pei: Love that place.

[19:16] Joel: Absolutely, that's my favorite place in the world.

[19:18] Roberta Isleib: You've been down to the sunset where all the performers are at night?

[19:23] Joel: Yes, absolutely. There's unicycle riders. There's yoga people. There's acrobats. There's all kinds of… Yes.

[19:31] Roberta Isleib: So, one of my characters is a tarot card reader who is actually there every night. I've changed his name but that's my guy. If you saw him, he's…

[19:41] Joel: I think I know who that is, 'cause we were…

[19:43] Roberta Isleib: Yeah.

[19:44] Joel: Yeah.

[19:45] Roberta Isleib: So, in this… As an amateur sleuth which my character is, I have to always be thinking, “Why in the world is she sticking her nose into solving a crime when she has no training for that?” And so, it usually ends up being it's a connection with someone she cares deeply about in her little world.

[20:11] Joel: Sure.

[20:11] Roberta Isleib: And so, in this book, it's Lorenzo, the tarot card reader, is accused of murder.

[20:18] Joel: I got you. One of things that I love about your books and books in general is when they have a familiar setting or a backdrop that other people kind of relate with. And when I picked up your book, Roberta, and I flipped it over to the backside and saw that it was based in Key West, it's like, “Must read. Done.” And I love how you relate real locations, real things that are going on in that area and people that are familiar with South Florida will be drawn…

[20:55] Roberta Isleib: They'll have a good… They'll recognize things. Since she's a restaurant critic, I used a lot of the real restaurants that are in town. But my rule of thumb is if I'm going to burn it down or poison someone, I make that up.


[21:13] Joel: Okay. You know what? That's probably good.

[21:16] Roberta Isleib: I think so, yeah.

[21:18] Joel: Okay so, kinda coming in for a landing a little bit, kinda approaching the runway, so to speak, but what can you tell us or what have you discovered about becoming known in your niche? Because as I've mentioned earlier, that's one thing that we help people do and this environment, this climate that we live in, is a content-heavy environment. I mean, there's content everywhere. There's new books coming out and there's podcasts available, more so than every before. There's new video shows on the various channels. You've gotta separate yourself from a category of many into a category of a few or a category of one is what I'd like to call it. So, what are some of the practical ways that you've been able to do that, to be known in that niche, that circle?

[22:11] Roberta Isleib: Right. And I'm still aspiring to climb higher.

[22:14] Joel: Of course. Of course. We all are.

[22:16] Roberta Isleib: The first thing is to write a good book. So, if you don't have a good book, you could have all the publicity in the world and it's not going to help you once people start to read it. So, that always have has to be number one. And it's very hard to write a book. You're there by yourself, having to think everything up. So, a couple of things I learned in my golf psychology days was to figure out what your big goal is. Like say, my big goal is to be on the New York Times Bestseller list, then maybe I would cut out that page from the New York Times and hang it up on my wall just say… Used to say in golf, so you have something to shoot for. And then, forget about it, and then you break it down to really small manageable goals that you can control. So, in my case, that is a 1000 words on a page, five days a week. ‘Cause you can always fix something, but if it's a blank page, there's no fixing.

[23:25] Joel: Sure. You know what? And that's manageable, too.

[23:28] Pei: I love that.

[23:29] Joel: Yeah.

[23:29] Pei: Break down your big goals.

[23:32] Roberta Isleib: Yeah. And then, don't get hung up… I mean, I can't really control whether I get on that list, but I can control writing the book, and I can control doing my best to spread the word. And then, another thing that I do a lot is to link up with other writers who have similar themes. So, on Facebook, I'm on a list called “Delicious Mysteries,” and there are three of us who write these foodie mysteries. And then, we also have a website called “Mystery Lovers' Kitchen,” where we take turns putting up a recipe and a story every day. So, it's just thinking about what might draw people in, because there are so many books on the shelf, how are they gonna pick you out?

[24:25] Pei: Indeed, and I caught something you said earlier, that now when you share all these different ways to market your book or write your book, but I remember you mentioned back in your being a psychologist, you said you weren't really marketing your practice, so looking back at that moment, why do you think you weren't marketing that business as much? Was it because you just lost passion for it?

[25:02] Roberta Isleib: No, I think there's something that's different about, say… One of the suggestions that was made was to take lunch into a doctor's office and tell them about your practice, which felt really impossible to me. I'm not really a big extrovert, but I can tell somebody about my book, because then they can pick it up, look at it, and like it or not, but they're not rejecting me. They're saying, “No, I don't wanna read this book right now.” So, maybe the practice was more personal in some ways.

[25:42] Joel: You know, it's a good observation that she just made, because what she discovered or learned is what works best for her, and that's one of the things that is so key to content creators, is to really get a grasp on, “Okay, well, what's going to work for me?” Not necessarily what's worked for him or what's worked for her, but how does that blend in with who I am, my personality? And then, also the message that I'm here to share, and the value… The value and entertainment, I should say, that I wanna give to other people, and that's something that you kind of discovered as you have grown in multiple ways in your relationship and…

[26:30] Roberta Isleib: And you'll figure it out.

[26:32] Joel: Hmm?

[26:33] Roberta Isleib: Yes. Is Twitter something that suits you, or does it feel silly? I mean, you just try things out.

[26:41] Joel: Absolutely. Very well said. Very well said. Talking with Roberta Isleib. Did I pronounce that right?

[26:48] Roberta Isleib: Yes, you did.

[26:49] Joel: Okay, fantastic. Roberta, congratulations. This is book number 14 for you, and the title, one more time, is…

[26:58] Roberta Isleib: “Fatal Reservations”, and it's… Lucy Burdette is the author.

[27:02] Joel: Is the pen name. Absolutely.

[27:03] Roberta Isleib: Yeah. That's right.

[27:05] Joel: We're gonna put all the go-to places and all of the social media links in our notes.

[27:09] Pei: Yeah, in… Definitely. Just go to joelboggess.com/336.

[27:16] Joel: Fantastic. And since this is… We're celebrating with you, of course, we're going to tweet that out and put that up on our Facebook as part of your launch celebration. So again, congratulations, and Roberta, you're welcome back here on ReLaunch. Anyone that likes Key West is good in my book. So, we'll be down in a few months.

[27:40] Roberta Isleib: And you give me a shout when you're down there. Yeah.

[27:42] Joel: We'll be down to meet you there in a few months.

[27:45] Roberta Isleib: Okay.

[27:46] Joel: Have a wonderful day, Roberta. Thanks for being on the show today.

[27:48] Roberta Isleib: Thanks. It was a pleasure to meet you.

[27:49] Joel: Bye-bye.

Connect with Roberta on Twitter, Facebook and her website.

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Joel Boggess

Keynote Speaker | Corporate Trainer | Award-winning podcaster I help teams ignite their courage, take bolder steps, and get greater results. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.

1 Comment

  1. […] had a huge impact on her life. And there is a podcast on the same topic you can listen to over at Relaunch for those interested in finding out more about starting a writing career. Your editor can […]

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