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Self-publishing Success Stories: How I Do It – with C J Archer

Headshot of C J Archer

Australian historical fantasy novelist C J Archer shares the secrets of her self-publishing success

This week in our series celebrating super-successful indie authors, we talk to Australian historical fantasy novelist C J Archer, USA Today bestseller and author of over 25 books. Read on to find out how she does it, and to be inspired for your own self-publishing career, whatever genre you write.

What is the secret of your success?

Educating myself in all aspects of writing and publishing. I spent more than fifteen years honing my storytelling skills before self-publishing in January 2011, and I’m stilling trying to be better. I’m also continually discovering what my readers like and trying to give them more of it.

What was the single best thing you ever did?

cover of The Watchmaker's Daughter

Writing this book was the best thing she ever did

Writing The Watchmaker’s Daughter, a more “high concept” book than anything I’d ever written, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. While the hooky premise was not consciously done, giving it a hooky title, blurb and an eye-catching cover appropriate for the genre was very much a conscious effort.

Having a solid fan-base built up over 25+ books helped launch The Watchmaker’s Daughter with a few thousand sales in its release week. The resulting visibility coupled with a good premise, title, blurb and cover meant it caught the eye of readers who’d never heard of me before.

The book floated around the 1k rank at Amazon US, UK and AU for over four months at full price of $4.99. The book also did well at iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes and Noble but sales were always strongest at Amazon. Some readers went on to read my other books, and since I have so many, 2016 ended up being a very good year.

How do you get/stay in a creative mood?

I need solid writing time with no distractions. It can take a little while to get started, but usually once I do, I don’t want to stop.

I find the more I write, the more I sink into “the zone” which is where the magic storytelling happens.

How do you prioritise?

Being in Australia means I wake up to emails and messages that have come in overnight from fans, my cover artist, beta readers or editor. I can’t concentrate on writing until I’ve answered everyone. I do some of that before taking the kids to school in the morning, and finish it after I get home.

I also post something on Facebook once a day around that time, usually book related, even if it’s just a share of a Victorian-era gown that I saw on another page.

Then it’s solid writing until it’s time to pick the kids up, with breaks for coffee and lunch, which I have at my desk as I check messages again or read a publishing industry article.

The only other times I stop writing is if I have to do some historical research that can’t be put off because the story hinges on it. Other research can wait until the editing stage.

I rarely do Facebook ads, and applying for Bookbub features only takes a few minutes, but I leave most of that until the weekends or school holidays when I don’t write.

I like updating my spreadsheets but I make sure that and other business tasks don’t interfere with my writing time.

When it boils down to it, I’d rather be writing than doing almost anything else so it’s not a chore to put it first.

What’s next?

More of the same, of course! I’ll write at least four full-length novels this year in my two ongoing series, but I hope to squeeze in another book or some novellas if I have the time. I’ll get more audiobooks produced via ACX for my two current series, and hope to sell the audio rights to more of my backlist after Tantor produced two of my older series.

What’s the highlight of being an author-publisher for you?

cover of The Mapmaker's Apprentice

She hit the USA Today Bestsellers list with this book

It sounds like a cliché, but I love getting messages from readers. I actually got teary the first time I received fan art from a reader.

The next couple of highlights came within days of each other in October 2016:

  • I sold my 500,000th book
  • I landed on the USA Today bestseller list with the second Glass and Steele novel, The Mapmaker’s Apprentice

It was the first of the bestseller lists I’d made and I was particularly proud because it was completely organic based on the success of The Watchmaker’s Daughter.

What are your top tips for other indie authors?

  • Make your stories unique, but use tropes and elements that readers of your genre love.
  • Give readers a reason to look for more of YOUR books when they finish one, not start the next random book on their to-be-read pile.
  • Treat writing like a job not a hobby, even if you can only give it a few hours a week. You wouldn’t watch TV when at work or spend hours chatting to friends, so don’t do it during your designated writing time.
  • Be kind to yourself and those around you. Get some exercise, hug your children, don’t ignore your spouse, and take a moment to just breathe.
  • Keep your love for stories and storytelling alive within you.

This is a tough business, especially when starting out, but if you enjoy the process and remember to feed your creative soul every once in a while, it won’t feel like hard work.

 

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17 Responses to Self-publishing Success Stories: How I Do It – with C J Archer

  1. Lee West March 10, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    All that and good-looking, too. I am not worthy…

  2. Leslie Miller March 9, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    C.J, you are a true inspiration! Most of us long to create a life doing the thing we love and you are modeling that for your children day in and day out!!!

    (Anyone who says otherwise is clearly motivated by jealousy and spite. Please don’t bother to defend yourself.) Your book covers are gorgeous. I’ve already hopped over to Amazon to check out The Watchmaker’s Daughter.

    Any advice on coming up with a “hooky premise?”

    • C.J. Archer March 10, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

      Thanks Leslie. No real advice on the hooky premise. Not all of my books have them, but the ones that do seem to strike me after I’ve started, either as I write the book itself or as I write the description.

  3. B. M. Allsopp March 9, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    I’m astonished at what you’ve achieved, CJ. Huge bouquets! I’m sure you’ll go on to even greater heights in the future. Your covers are the absolute tops and I can’t wait to read your books!

    • C.J. Archer March 10, 2017 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks B.M. My cover artist is amazing at taking my raw ideas and making them better than I imagined.

  4. Paula Stanley March 9, 2017 at 7:20 am #

    Fascinating. Thanks for sharing your insights and advice, CJ.

  5. Tara Saunders March 6, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

    Not sure where all the negativity is coming from — personally I appreciate the glimpse into your writing world. I’m sure you have many more appearances on the best-seller lists to come.

    Now off to use the inspiration as a kick in the butt.

  6. Clare weiner March 6, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    I wasn’t having a go but I was amazed that you can do 4 novels a year and it is quite depressing to read for some of us who struggle with the learning curve …what is inspirational to one person can be overwhelming to another and you obviously have huge energy levels. I know young mums who battle with the problems and long to write but their wip is taking years due to childcare and other demands. With the bar so high a success story can be disheartening! Perhaps we need a few more How do you Do It stories factoring in the down side? And from those of us who are over the age of unlimited energy as a balance,,,

  7. Mark Gillespie March 6, 2017 at 12:00 am #

    Hi C.J.

    Quick question if I may. I’m Aussie-based too and thought ACX was just for US/UK authors. Are we allowed in now or have you found a loophole? Thanks 🙂

  8. Debbie Young March 5, 2017 at 9:07 pm #

    Gosh, 15 years learning before self-publishing first in 2011 – so that’s a twenty-one year career path to get to this point. Such determination and dedication is an inspiration to any aspiring writer who ever wavers in their application – and a reminder to keep going! Thank you for sharing your story, CJ. (And your book covers are stunning.)

    • C.J. Archer March 5, 2017 at 11:16 pm #

      Thanks Debbie. My cover artist does an amazing job, particularly with this series. She took my half-formed ideas and turned them into something better than I imagined.

  9. Clare Weiner March 5, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    ….. So, she has a nanny and a housekeeper? Not sorry to point out that this is okay if someone else is there to do the routine tasks, including child care. But it is by no means possible for many of us! Four novels a year? I note she ‘gives the kids hugs’. Can I get away with saying they deserve a lot more from their Mum … and will soon grow and go anyway, and not be there to disturb the writing – Very old fashioned I know, but just a point of view … ( I personally find these kinds of articles about writers annoying rather than inspirational …)

    • C.J. Archer March 5, 2017 at 8:44 pm #

      Clare – I’m not sure where you get the idea that I have a nanny and a housekeeper!! I have neither. And yes, my kids DO get more than the occasional hug from me but I didn’t think I needed to mention the list of things I do for them in this brief article. My bad. I’m not sure why you think it necessary to have a go at me for balancing kids with working full-time. It’s nothing unusual in this day and age. Also, please re-read the part where I do most of my writing during their school hours, when they’re not even home.

    • Orna Ross March 5, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

      No Clare, you can’t “get away” with these astonishing comments, or with publishing such irrelevant and untrue assumptions about another ALLi member on an ALLi website. I am sending you a private message about this.

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