‘The Last Day’ was published in 2014. I was drawn to the tagline – “He predicted when he would die. That day has now arrived.” and read it late last year. It was a quirky tale and one that really drew me in. I empathised with the main character George, was even in tears at the end (which isn’t a spoiler – I cry at happy stuff and sad stuff)!
The Outsider is Emily’s latest novel which she published in March of this year. It’s about Yasmin, a young would-be journalist who meets Daniel, a rich businessman and falls for his charms. His wife died recently though… under mysterious circumstances… eeek. This was a twisty-turny tale and things didn’t turn out as I expected for all the main protagonists which is something I appreciate in a novel!
I’m really impressed by Emily’s books and the way she has gone about publishing and marketing them. I’ve also loved following her creative journey on her blog. Always keen to pick the brains of an author, I was thrilled when Emily agreed to an interview:
Hi Emily, thanks for agreeing to an interview and congratulations on publishing both of your books!
It’s been a few months since the publication of The Outsider. How did you feel when you hit the ‘publish’ button (and how does that compare to your feelings now)?
Hitting the publish button is a combination of excitement and nervousness. And to be honest that feeling never really goes away. When I hit ‘publish’ I always worry there’s a typo or continuity error which hasn’t been picked up in the endless editing and proofreading process. Or that some chapters got accidentally left out. And I get nervous about people reading too, even though the whole point of writing it is for people to read! I sometimes need to remind myself that writing a book in the first place is a major achievement.
How long did it take you to write each of your books? Was it easier the second time around?
The first book, The Last Day, took me two years to write and the second one, The Outsider, took one year. So yes it was quicker and easier to write the second one. I’ve learnt lots each time I’ve written a book. Second time round I was able to pull myself out of the writing doldrums much easier because I knew I would get there with it in the end. I suppose I had more confidence with it.
How many drafts do you write? What’s your editing process?
About three or four, it’s hard to know exactly because the reworking and tweaking feels rather continuous. The first draft is fairly easy because you can brain dump your story knowing that you’ll come back to it and remove the unnecessary chunks and refine it. After the first draft is done I print it all out and then go through it all with a red pen which is quite time consuming. All the re-reads I do on the next drafts are on my Kindle because that’s how the majority of my readers read my books. I actually find it easier to proofread on a Kindle now, although I can’t scribble on it with my red pen! When I’m editing I’m always looking to see what can be removed – excess sentences, paragraphs and even sections of chapters. I aim to write more than I need then prune it.
What made you chose self publishing over traditional publishing?
I like to be in control! Although writing the book is my favourite bit, I do like working on a cover design, researching the book market and coming up with a marketing plan. I like the thought of a traditional book deal and all the fanfare and kudos that comes with it, but I’m not sure how I would deal with other people making the decisions about my work. Perhaps I’m a bit over protective. Or a closet control freak. I have in my mind an imagined day in the future where I’ll start approaching agents but so far I haven’t got round to it. I’ve spoken to only one and haven’t sent a manuscript to any agents yet.
It’s time consuming to pursue the traditional publishing route and I think the reason I haven’t really done it yet is because I’m enjoying self-publishing at the moment. Perhaps one day I’ll be a ‘hybrid author’ when I do both. I think in the future many authors will be hybrids. Traditionally published authors can get dropped by their publisher and some self-publish after that and become hybrids (that’s such a weird sounding name).
Do you sell printed versions as well as e-books? How does that work? (I’m imagining a spare room full of copies of your books… )
Yes I do, I sell these via CreateSpace which is an Amazon owned company which prints books on demand. The paperback version appears alongside the Kindle version on Amazon. I don’t sell many paperback versions, I find family members and close friends like to get a paperback copy. And I do give away a few signed copies to my loyal e-mail subscribers. 99% of my readers read on Kindle.
Do you have any advice for those of us considering self-publishing our work?
If you want to self-publish then I think it’s crucial you find a professional editor to edit your work for you. At the very least try a manuscript evaluation service. But I think the minimum you need is a professional line edit to remove typos, repetition and tidy up your work. I opted for a structural edit which costs more but the editor gives you feedback on your story structure, characters and gives you ideas for improving them. It’s invaluable. Even if you’re an amazingly talented writer, you still won’t spot your own commonly over-used words and phrases in your work. And you become so familiar with your book that perhaps you don’t emphasise a plot development clearly enough or make a character interesting enough.
Your new book covers look great… but I also loved your old ones – what made you change them?
It was a difficult decision because my original book cover designers have been so hard working and helpful. Listening to designers and publishers at the London Book Fair made me realise my covers needed to change. Firstly, I had to consider who was buying my books. Because most of my readers buy on Kindle, they only really see the cover as a thumbnail image on Amazon. Therefore my covers needed have lots of impact at thumbnail level. My original covers looked very pretty as paperbacks but they didn’t work as a thumbnail.
Secondly, I learnt that a cover needs to show ‘membership’ of your book’s genre. So if you click through the categories on Amazon you will see strong similarities between book covers of the same genre. I had to align my books with my chosen genre. And I have to be prepared to change them again as trends change. If you’re a fan of Kate Atkinson you’ll notice the covers on all her books are re-done pretty much each time she publishes a new one!
I imagine marketing your books is quite a responsibility – what’s your approach in this area? Do you focus on online marketing or ‘real world’ things (like attending events and trying to generate sales in your local community)?
It’s purely online at the moment and it can be tough as many people are suspicious of an unknown self-published writer. I quickly learnt that repeatedly mentioning a book on social media doesn’t sell it! A few lovely bloggers have reviewed my books on their blogs and I’ve recently started using paid advertising on BookBub. BookBub is notoriously fussy about who they feature so it’s flattering to get your book accepted by them. Facebook is proving to be a lucrative place to advertise books too because you can target customers so well on there. I haven’t progressed much with that myself yet, but I do know a number of writers who have.
In the future I like the idea of attending some literary festivals and events. If my books do well enough people might be interested in me. I’ve shied away from doing anything local such as a book launch party or similar. Mainly because I’m shy and hate being the centre of attention but also because I don’t think it boosts your book sales by much. I have to think about where my readers are and at the moment, like it or not, they’re on Amazon. I like the idea of doing something community focused when I’m more established such as chats in schools and libraries.
Are you pleased with how your book sales are going? Are they better or worse than expected?
Sales can be hard to predict when you’re starting out as a self-published author. Your books are competing with traditionally published books which have publicists, editors and agents behind them and all the industry connections they bring. For this reason I don’t think I’ve ever expected a certain number of sales so any number is good! Reviews matter as much as a sale, if not more so. Reviews from real readers can help cement your reputation as a writer. Especially if you’re unknown – readers need to know they can trust you with the money they spend on your book. That said, sales of The Last Day are doing brilliantly at the moment, it’s floating about in the Top 200 on Kindle store right now, when you consider there are over three and a half million Kindle books on the UK store that’s something I’m hugely happy about! I couldn’t have predicted that.
What’s the best thing about being a published author?
The best thing is people reading and enjoying your work. And it’s lovely when they get in touch to tell you they’ve enjoyed your book, you can’t beat that feeling.
… any downsides?
The downside is people not enjoying your work, although obviously you can’t write for everyone. In fact, having no one read your work is probably worse. Someone who’s taken the time to read your book, not enjoyed it and taken the time to leave a critical review is actually a positive because at least your work made them think. If no one’s reading then that can be dispiriting. And makes you question why you’re doing it!
What’s next for you? Is novel no. 3 in the pipelines?
Yes it is and it will be a mystery / thriller with a historical setting. I’ve spent some time on the ideas for it and there’s a huge amount of research to do but hopefully I can start writing it very soon.
What would you say to people wondering whether to pursue their writing dreams?
It’s clichéd, but never give up on your writing dream. If you’re not getting anywhere with it then change the way you approach it. Look at what you can do differently. If you want to make a career of it then you need to take it seriously and be completely determined and learn to get over the self-doubt which cripples all writers. That said, lots of people write for pleasure and may not want the world to read their work. In that case you should just enjoy it. In fact you should always enjoy it, even on the bad days!
Thanks Emily and good luck!
Linking up with The Prompt at Mum Turned Mom – this week it’s ‘To be a…’ which fits nicely with this interview: ‘To be a… published author’.