Interview with Author Alison Boulton

Years ago, I discovered a book called Tom’s Daughters on a writing website and it was so good that I bought a version when it was self-published. It was the first e-book I ever purchased and remains one of the best I’ve read. I still remember the characters like they were real people. So when I heard that the author, Alison Boulton, was publishing a second novel – I jumped at the chance to do an interview.

KO: What did you learn about self-publishing from your first book? How are things different this time around?

AB: An acquaintance suggested that he helped me self-publish Tom’s Daughters as an e-book to see if he could ‘make us both a fortune.’ I was happy to accept this as it hadn’t been picked up despite being sent to numerous agents. I wasn’t comfortable negotiating the formatting and the technical stuff required to put in on Amazon for Kindle. He also did the cover from a photo I provided and set up a website. I think the deal was that he got 25% of revenues. The downside was that when sales were slow he lost interest and I got frustrated nagging for information and at not having control to update accounts myself.

This time round I wanted control from the beginning, and I also wanted a book that I could hold in my hand. I’ll put it on Kindle later, of course, but having the paperback makes publication and being a writer feel much more real. I think other people’s reactions have been more positive too.

KO: Where do you get your story inspiration from?

AB: For me a story starts with an image or a couple of images that are linked in some way. With Tom’s Daughters I wanted to write about sisters, but there was also the picture of a young woman with a small child in North London. The issue of the mysterious father was hovering in the background.

With Chasing Sunflowers it was again the image of a child, this time a boy, painting sunflowers for his mother. It was clear they were in Amsterdam where I also lived for a few years, and that the mother was lonely.

I then have to sit and try and work out the bones of a plot. Sometimes I write random scenes or conversations. Chasing Sunflowers was written first as a short story, but then it slowly grew into a novel, changing and developing in the process. The actual ending was the last thing to become clear.

KO: What kind of writer are you? Do you plot everything out before writing or does it evolve throughout the process? Do you force yourself to write every day? How long does it take to write a novel?

AB: The writing definitely evolves, but there has to be a certain amount of plotting too, plus a timeline of events. It always takes me a while at the beginning to sort dates out – how old was that character when this happened, etc.? And some thought must go into how the threads of the story entwine and unfold to keep the reader interested. There should, I think, always be some sort of denouement at the end. And I don’t really like sad endings, so I haven’t written one yet!

And it takes me ages to finish a novel, maybe even two or three years, because other stuff – like teaching and running our holiday complex – get in the way. I have to earn a living, unfortunately. I’m hoping the next one, currently called The Red Balloon, will be quicker though. And I do try to at least look at it every day but I don’t always succeed.

KO: Tell us about Chasing Sunflowers. Who is your audience?

AB: Chasing Sunflowers is the story of Kate, who moves to Amsterdam with her husband and young son. Lost and lonely in a new city, she develops a passion for the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Her decision to study them leads her to artist Rudy de Jong and following in Vincent’s footsteps, she makes a trip to Arles which transforms her life.

So, it’s a book about a woman who steps outside her own life, and how the experience changes her. There’s quite a lot about Amsterdam, the south of France and Vincent van Gogh too.

My first audience is me, since it was me I told the story to first and I liked it. So after that people a bit like me, I suppose; usually female, maybe over 25, though my daughters who are 20 and 22 enjoyed it too.

KO: What are your favorite books?

AB: I mostly read books about ‘real’ people and characters in plausible situations. I’m not a fan of Magic Realism or Fantasy novels. I hate anything sensationalist, badly written or too soppy. I love Ian McEwan, AS Byatt, Anne Tyler, and Doris Lessing amongst many others. Some of Lessing’s writing is futuristic, but then I love the prophetic nature of her work. Also EM Forster; I always say Howards End is my favourite book. I don’t know if it’s really true but it’s definitely up there.

KO: Alison, thanks so much for sharing and best of luck with the new book.


Interview with Self-Published Author Kevin Keely

I “met” Kevin on, a site where writers support or compete with each other. (Sometimes both.) Kevin has a big personality behind that tiny avatar. He pulls no punches and takes no nonsense. He has the kind of blunt, unapologetic style that makes him a great writer and, I figured, a great interview. So I made him agree to sit down with me (virtually, I assume we were both sitting) and talk about the release of his new book, A Fistful of Salt, and his thoughts about the publishing industry.

Where are you from? Are the characters in your novel from the same place and does it factor into the story? Is place important?

I’m originally from Dublin, but I got away from there fifteen or more years ago when people started to go nuts on the Economic boom in the Noughties and my home town became inhabited by yuppy space aliens. Now I live in a rural cottage in the North West of Ireland. When I wrote the book I imagined Sligo Town, a small regional town and it’s environs, as being the setting. People who read the start might just recognise the initial descriptions, but I specifically didn’t want to get too parochial in the telling and exclude other people from being able to relate to it. But the characters are Townies through and through. Sligo was always a traditionally hard hit town, overlooked in many ways for a long time and the people have a humble yet proud resilience about them that I absolutely love. I drew from my own experiences driving taxis around here at night. The accents and the dryness of the humour, it was critical for me to include this in the story to give them an identity that I could paint in conversation and attitude. Most of the action takes place in France and I visited every location in the book and documented it in thousands of photos so as to ensure my executions of place are spot on. So you have these hard-necked Irish Townies against a backdrop of cosmopolitan France and the contrast was so much fun to write. People and place, definitely two of the most important facets of my story.

Okay, so tell me about your book. What is it about? What kind of audience is it for? Why should people read it?

Well they should read it because its an excellent story, why else? I specifically wanted to write a book with broad appeal across age and gender. I wanted the book to be the kind of thing you can read then pass to your husband and he can tell his mates down at the pub and they can tell their wives and mothers etc. It’s literally for anyone who just likes a good yarn about regular people getting themselves into a whole heap of trouble in a very short time. It’s a love story between an introverted cabbie and his childhood crush, who happens to be off the rails. But as they rapidly get themselves into hot water with some very evil villains their humanity inevitably begins to prevail over their societal roles and they become first friends and then lovers. It’s ultimately a story about human frailty and the fight played out in all out hearts between good an evil and how we sometimes fail but sometimes we succeed. It’s a feel good story with a lot of bad stuff in it. Pretty much the same as life.

How long did you spend writing this novel? When you began writing it, did you have a goal to publish? Did traditional publishing ever appeal to you and, if so, how many queries did you send and what made you stop?

I suppose It has taken me two years to get this far with it. I wrote it thinking if it was good enough surely someone will publish it. I structured it with the commercial market in mind, word count, chapter size and appeal so I thought I was writing a book that publishers would want. But I was naive about the state of play in the commercial market. So many “rules” for what the market wants. So after sending it to over twenty literary agents with no success I learned that I needed to take this book to the market myself with my own rules in mind. My main rule is that good writing makes good reading. I intend to see that one through regardless of what the experts preach.

What do you think about genre? Is it a helpful guide or a straight-jacket?
I think of it like sex. Some people like it one way, others like it another way, and most people just like it with a lot of action and a healthy amount of humour. So If you bring a straight jacket to your lover’s house then you’re going to get tied up and the best of luck to you. Me? I like to think passion and vigour are the greatest components to writing and sex. So that’s what I bring.
Give me an excerpt of your book that captures something meaningful about it.
The main character, Thomas Brody, remembers the conversation he had with his mother the night he found out Shelley, the object of his lifelong desire, was planning to marry another man.

     ‘Love won’t make you happy, Thomas, nobody else can fill in the missing piece for you.’ She put her hand on his chest. ‘You have to do that yourself.’
     ‘Okay then, I’ll do that over a pint—while I see can I figure out a way to break up this wedding. Shouldn’t be too hard if all she is is a liar and a thief.’ He winked at her as he slipped his jacket on. At the door she called to him and he stopped, looking back into the darkness of their home as she came from the kitchen.
     ‘Put out your hands, Thomas,’ she commanded.
     She tipped a drum of salt and filled them while she spoke. A science and history teacher for forty years in the tiny Protestant school, she had a lesson for even the most arbitrary of things.
     ‘After water and air, salt is the most precious necessity of life,’ she said.
     ‘Yeh?’ He looked in her stony white face and wished she would smile more. ‘Who said that then?’
     ‘A very wise Indian man.’ She stopped pouring and snapped the drum shut.
     ‘Sitting Bull.’ He smirked and watched her expression for any hint of weakness.
     ‘If you’re worth half of that by the time you die, you’ll have made me proud.’
     He went to walk away then stopped. ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’
     ‘Earn it,’ she said, and closed the door in his face.

Finding a publisher isn’t always the end of the story.

I have always been a bit of a snob when it comes to self-publishing. In theory, I like the idea of making publishing democratic by eliminating the gate-keepers, but without some sort of filter, how do readers find the good stuff in all the slush?

I shied away from self-publishing, insisting on the validation that traditional publishing provides. A few years ago, I got exactly that: a publisher with a three book deal, a contract, an advance, an editor to work with. We went back and forth on cover revisions. There were book bloggers who did reviews and twitter updates from the publisher. Months later, when the sales were finally reported to me, Monsoon Season had sold over 10,000 ebooks. I was elated.

Things went very differently with the second book, however. In order to get me to sign over all three titles, I had been told they planned to release all the books in the same summer. But a year later, that hadn’t happened and my editor stopped returning my emails for such a long period of time that I actually thought she might be dead. When she did get back in touch, she ignored my questions and we began the editing process. This time, I had no input about the cover – a decidedly summer image for a story that takes place in the winter, called A Long Thaw – and there was no promotion on their end. No reaching out to bloggers, as with the first book, not so much as a single tweet.

Not surprisingly, the second book didn’t do as well. It took awhile, but I was able to get out of the contract so they wouldn’t have the rights to the third book or any option thereafter. This is particularly tricky when you don’t have an agent or a law degree.

Getting out of a contract with a publisher was a very strange feeling for someone who always thought that was the brass ring.  It was a hard fought victory that put me back in control of the way my work is promoted. And that’s exciting, but also a bit daunting.

I certainly don’t regret the route I took.  I learned a lot and I probably wouldn’t have the confidence to take the next step if not for the validation I felt in the process- from my publisher and editor and, ultimately, from readers.

So, about that next step… I just got the rights back for that second book and I’m rereleasing it on my own. I don’t know if I can do a better job of selling it than the traditional publisher, but I’m excited to find out.
Wish me luck.

Preparing a Novel for Publication – Preparation, Pre-orders, and Promotions, oh my!

Professional publication isn’t easy. Whether you’re traditionally published or self-publishing, you need to present yourself professionally. How your book looks, on the inside and out matters. How you promote your book also matters. Today, I’m going to walk you through how I, a self-publishing author, navigate the murky waters of publication while attempting to be as professional as I possibly can be.

I’m going to draw your attention to one important thing: If you act like a professional, treat yourself and others in a professional fashion, and treat your work like it is a professionally produced product, at the end of the day, you are a professional. It doesn’t matter if you spend $1,500 to produce a novel (like I do) or if you spend $0.00. Professionalism isn’t about budget. It’s about behavior, planning, and executing your publishing plans.

Having a budget helps, though.

I’m going to walk you through how I’ve been working on my upcoming novel, Winter Wolf, from start to finish, including tidbits and tips for a smooth release.

My Process:

  1. Outlining
  2. Drafting
  3. Editing
  4. Cover Art and back-of-cover copy
  5. Pre-Orders
  6. Promotions
  7. Formatting
  8. Publication

1: Outlining, 2: Drafting, 3: Editing

This is pretty self explanatory, so I’m not going to waste a lot of words on it and will instead jump straight to my unasked-for advice: Write your book, and make it as professional as you can. I hired two editors to help me whip Winter Wolf into shape. I’m working like some professional publishing houses do: the publication date is set when the book isn’t completed yet. Unless you are an experienced professional, do not do this. Deadlines like this are serious, and cannot be missed.

  • For most people, the pre-order and promotions phases will not begin until after the editing phase is completed. Your mileage may vary.
  • In this phase, professionalism is really important. Listen to your editors. Let them be picky. They’re improving your novel. Leave your ego at the front door, and always be polite.
  • If you aren’t using editors (not recommended!) then you should take extreme care and caution with your work. Use your word processor’s grammar checker, and confirm each and every rule. If you’re breaking a rule, you need to know the rule and why it’s acceptable to break it.
  • Use a synonym checker and master list of commonly misused words. Their and there are two different words! So are where, were, and ware.

Fun Fact: My outline for Winter Wolf was so detailed it was pretty much a first draft, which in turn makes the drafting and editing process much smoother. It took well over a week to completely detail the novel, make corrections, and do my developmental editing chores. As a result, the drafting and editing phase is well ahead of schedule.

4: Cover Art and Back-of-Cover Copy

Winter Wolf by RJ Blain This is the finished cover for my upcoming novel, Winter Wolf. Due to the importance of the cover art, I actually ordered the cover art from my artist, Chris Howard, in the very early stages of production. Once Chris started working on the cover, it took approximately a month to finish. The texting, commonly referred to as typography, was done independently with a different graphic designer.

A professional cover artist can help you create an attractive, compelling cover. But also remember that not all cover artists are graphic designers, and you want a graphic designer handling your typography.

Since the cover should tie to the novel, I did the back-of-cover blurb shortly after the cover art was completed. It took me about five hours to come up with my blurb, and I didn’t finalize it until I gauged the interest from some fans and readers.

Here’s the blurb I’m using:

The Hunted Wizard

When Nicole dabbled in the occult, she lost it all: Her voice, her family, and her name. Now on the run from the Inquisition, she must prove to herself—and the world—that not all wizards are too dangerous to let live.

The savage murder of a bookstore employee throws Nicole into the middle of Inquisition business, like it or not. Driven by her inability to save the young man’s life, she decides to hunt the killer on her own. Using forbidden magic to investigate the past, she learns that the murderer is in fact a disease that could kill the entire werewolf race.

Forced to choose between saving lives and preserving her own, Nicole embraces the magic that sent her into exile. Without werewolves, the power of the Inquisition would dwindle, and she could live without being hunted.

Nicole’s only hope for success lies in the hands of the werewolves she hates and the Inquisition she fears, but finding someone to trust is only the beginning of her problems. There are those who want to ensure that the werewolves go extinct and that the Inquisition falls.

But, if she fails to find a cure, her family—including her twin sister—will perish…

Why did I choose this blurb? I feel it has the important elements of a good blurb: It has a character who has a problem to solve. It tells a bit of what the story is about–but not too much. Finally, it hints at the consequences of the character’s failure, and what she gains should she succeed.

These are the types of blurbs that appeal to me, which is why I asked friends and fans for their opinions. I settled on this blurb because it resonates with me, and it’s also appealing to others who like the type of stories I write. That’s important–you want to write a blurb which attracts readers who enjoy the types of stories you write.

These were all marketing decisions, as the blurb is one of many weapons in my publication arsenal.

Tip: Professionals don’t insult the tastes of readers in their blurbs. The blurb is about the book, not you, your opinions, and whether or not you think books of whatever sub genre are boring. Exceptions may apply, especially in parody works.

5: Pre-order

Amazon recently opened pre-order functionality to self-publishing authors. Winter Wolf is my initial experience into the pre-ordering system. Here’s a very brief walkthrough of how it works from a writer’s perspective, and how to set it up:

1: Fill in the book data as normal.

However, this time, you have the option of marking a ‘finalized file’ or a ‘draft manuscript.’ For Winter Wolf, I am using a dummy manuscript of the approximate length of the actual book. The manuscript isn’t ready to be finalized, nor will it be ready until mid October. Most authors should not do this. I’m good at meeting my deadlines, and I’m experienced with doing so. If you are not the same way, absolutely do not start a pre-order unless you are 100% certain you can have the finalized manuscript ready on time. Amazon will ban those who fail to have their manuscripts ready from the pre-order system for one full year.

You do not want this.

Tip: Professionals meet their deadlines.

2: Select a date

Amazon and other pre-order services require the finalized manuscript two complete weeks prior to the novel’s official release date. Most services will ban you from pre-ordering if you fail to have the manuscript prepared on time. Yes, I’m repeating myself, but it’s really that important.

Buyers will be able to see your pre-order approximately 24 hours after submission, where they can click “pre-order” to buy the book. They’ll be charged for the book on the day of the novel’s release.

6: Promotions

Armed with your pre-order links, you can arrange any promotions you want without having the stress of doing a soft launch or needing to get links to your bloggers at the last minute. This is a huge relief, as someone who had to do this. My previous novel’s release was beyond hectic, as I didn’t have buy links until the last minute.

  • Research your promotion companies–there are great ones, and there are scams. Research, and don’t accept the first site you find as the final say. The hours you spend researching may save you a lot of grief and heartache later.
  • Many promotion firms require at least six to eight weeks to prepare for a tour or single-day blast promotion.
  • I’m using six different groups for promotion of Winter Wolf. I’m really proud of this novel, and I feel it is worth the investment.

Tips on Professionalism: When working with promotion groups, stay polite, if you’re asked for something, deal with it as soon as possible, and have patience. A single advertising campaign may take you hours to properly prepare.

7: Formatting

Sometime between the editing phase and the publication date, formatting the novel is necessary. You’ll need to format twice; once for the ARC, and once for the production copy. You may need to format three times, if you’re doing a print manuscript. From past experience, it takes me several hours to format a novel for publication, and I’m experienced enough to have streamlined the process.

  • The interior of your novel matters. Do it right. If you can’t, hire someone to do it right for you. If you don’t know how to do it right, learn–do not publish until you’ve mastered your formatting. Always check for errors if you’re converting files.
  • As with many things, plans included, ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’ applies–the simpler your formatting is, the less likely there will be problems over different devices.
  • My first formatting run is done a month prior to the novel’s release so I can send the book to reviewers. The second formatting run is for the finalized version, which will be done several days before my deadline for submission.

8: Publication

Two weeks prior to the official publication date, the finalized manuscript goes into all systems. At this stage, I’ll be completely done. On publication day, all I’ll have to do is sit back and watch.

That’s how my novel is being dealt with this time–a very drastic difference compared to how my other books were produced. This method won’t work for everyone. However, the basic principles of professionalism still apply, no matter how you approach completing your novel.

In short, these are the things I’d suggest to you if you want to carry yourself as a professional:

  1. Swallow your ego and correct your mistakes.
  2. Don’t argue with people helping you. Either use their advice or don’t, but listen and keep quiet unless you have a question.
  3. Always be polite–even if it means gaining a reputation of being old fashioned from saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ so much.
  4. If you can’t be kind to a reviewer of your book, don’t say a word.
  5. If you say you’ll do something, do it.
  6. Don’t miss your deadlines. (Excuses won’t get Amazon to overturn the 1 year ban from pre-ordering.)
  7. Edit your novel.
  8. Proofread your novel.
  9. Proofread your novel again. People are paying you for your book. You don’t want basic mistakes! (All books have them, just fix them when someone finds one.)
  10. Yet again, proofread your novel.

Good luck.

The Writers Circle: Publishing

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Self-publishing has made it easier to get your books out there for people to read and buy, but it isn’t for everyone and the idea and promise of traditional publishing houses remains the goal for many.  Do you feel traditional hard-copy publishing is still feasible or realistic for new or emerging authors?  Which publishing methods do you feel are best for your own work?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.


Do you have an idea you think would be a great topic for a future The Writer’s Circle post?  Do you have a question you’d like to ask our authors?  Fill out this form to submit your ideas and questions:




Essential tips toward self publishing

A few years ago, writer’s blogs and sites furiously debated the future of the publishing industry. While it has in no way become extinct, the opportunities for a writer to self-publish their work has forced the large publishing houses to rethink their strategies and widened the choices for writers.
The pathway to having a published work is still a journey many emerging writers are challenged with, as its quickly realized that its not as simple as throwing a cover together on Microsoft paint, converting the document into PDF, loading it up onto Createspace and praying to the gods someone will notice (and buy) it at its ranking of 50000000001. Sadly, many new authors burst into the scene this way and discouraged by the lack of success, drift away from their passion.
There is still a huge stigma associated with being self-published to overcome, so its important not to give potential readers any reason to question the quality of your work.
Some of the most valuable advice about self-publishing was something I heard when attending a workshop led by mainstream publishers. They suggest conducting yourself everyday as if you’re actually working with a traditional publisher and to hold your time and work to high standards, along with all aspects of your business of writing. By having this mindset when you self publish a book, you set yourself up for success.
1. Platform
A platform is the public space which gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with your audience. Most often, its a Facebook fan page, a website with an interactive blog, twitter or combinations of these tools. It’s important to be able to interact with fans and to be reactive to feedback. By being able to gauge your fans’ interest, you are able to create a book specifically for them – which is why, then, they will buy it and continually follow your work. Practically, of course, you don’t write a book for a specific fan, rather for the general feelings and needs of those you interact with. Its no good, for example, to self-publish a book on the history of the steam engine in Gloucester, if your fan base is predominantly 15 year old girls obsessed with vampires. A strong platform is the foundation for a successful self-published book.
The way to build this is to start a blog, podcast, web/YouTube show, and build your strong group of fans who regularly check in, share and comment in your contributions.
2. Share your passion
Don’t write just because you think it will sell well. Just because erotica is selling well now, if you blush at the thought of writing a kissing scene, it may be best to stick with genres you are comfortable with.
Most writers start scribing because they want to share their passion on a certain subject or area. Don ‘t be swallowed by the echo chamber of mainstream publishing. It’s important to explore your passions and interests within your writing and to have a clear and strong opinion. Regardless of what genre is fashionable right now, if your voice is strong, your book will stand out.
3. Editing
Traditional publishers have multiple editors and proofreaders working with your book before it hits the shelf. However, even the large publishing houses have produced books with noticeable typos in them. It’s vital to invest in an editor; after all, you have invested a great deal of time writing. Even if you’re the best proofreader in the world, it’s almost impossible to spot your own mistakes. .
4. Cover Design
The first thing a potential reader and fan will see on Amazon or in a bookstore is the cover. If you’re competent in graphic design, then you can produce your own cover. If not, don’t hesitate to hire a freelance designer. A self-published book can look very tacky and amateurish with a substandard cover, bringing your reputation down.
5. Marketing Plan
Don’t think that once your book has been written, edited, laid out, proofread and formatted that the work is all done. Hopefully, you will have been busy building and strengthening your platform. Even if you have written the greatest book in the world, without exposure and an extended marketing plan, your sales will plummet.
Your marketing plan needs to involve promotion and reviews.
When the book is released, you’ll need people to help you spread the word. This might include fellow bloggers and other writers happy to help you and who are truly engaged with your work. You’re better off with 10 promoters who will go out of their way to help you, then 100 who are just looking for a free book.
Promoters can be just about anybody who would benefit from the book. Either way, promoters need big fan bases either as an email system, twitter or on Facebook. It’s important to build your group of promoters well before your book launches.
On Amazon book reviews matter. The number of reviews on a book are judged as a strong indicator of social proof. As you get more reviews, the visibility of your book rises.
There are a number of varying thoughts on free promotions. While some utilize this strategy to discount their books and offer lower price points, others give away their books for free in order to gain more fans.
Giving away your book during its initial launch, or over a specific time period, can lead to thousands of people finding out about your work. It’s a great way to raise awareness of your book and generate lots of reviews.
If you sign up for KDP, Amazon allows you to give away copies of your book for 5 days in any 90 day period. At the moment, you can use those five days all at once or specify certain days.
Blogs, podcasts, you tube and other channels are the new media outlets which have the potential of reaching thousands of people at a very low cost.
Write a guest posts for other writers’ sites and review sites where thousands of people might see it. Be mindful that the content of the post must be relevant to the intended audience of the site and if it’s just a pitch for your book, it will be seen as such. Give the audience value and information rather than a sales pitch.
While traditional publishing still provides a certain layer of credibility to your work, self-publishing is creating opportunities for writers to reach audiences they may never have been able to reach in the past. With the way the industry and audiences are moving, it won’t be too long before the stigma goes away. I heard an analogy of comparing self-published authors to fine wines which is relevant here. There are people out there who will only ever buy the bulk produced wines. Just as there are people who will seek out crafted and exquisite wines from tiny wineries. One type of wine is only better than the other depending on the consumer’s perspective.
You can stop waiting to be picked up at random by a big publishing house. Forge your own way. Share your message with the world through self publishing. Just don’t assume it’s going to be an easy journey.