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How I Do It: Indie Authors Share The Secrets Of Their Success – This Week: J M Forster

How I Do It: Indie Authors Share the Secrets of their Success – This Week: J M Forster

British children's novelist Julia (J M) Forster has got off to a flying start with her debut novel, Shadow Jumper, which sells consistently well while she works on her next book. Her success and down-to-earth attitude will particularly inspire anyone who is still at the early stage of their self-publishing career. It will also offer hope to people who aren't keen on marketing, preferring to concentrate on writing instead!

What's the secret of your success?

Headshot of J M Forster

Children's author Julia Forster, who writers as J M Forster

I'm still reeling with the idea that I'm considered a success, as I only have one title to my name and before 2008 hadn't written creatively since I was a child! However, for me, it has all been about making my book, Shadow Jumper. the best it could be, and to write the kind of story I loved reading as a child. I spent years re-writing and editing, taking on feedback and comments, before publishing it in 2014 in ebook and paperback formats and I'm now going through the same process (or agony) with my current work-in-progress. The bulk of my sales are through Amazon and finding the right keywords has been hugely instrumental in getting sales. Oh, and being able to say I'm an ‘award-winning author', having won the 2014 Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards, 9-12 year old category has helped too.

It's fair to say I do little marketing/promotion at the moment and this is because I need to concentrate on my writing; it takes me years to write a book. There's little point spending time promoting if I've got nothing to promote! And promotion is so time-consuming.

What's the single best thing you ever did?

That's an easy one for me. It's deciding to take the self-publishing route. I ‘ummed' and ‘ahhed' about whether I should take the risk and I'm so glad I did! That doesn't mean I wouldn't consider going the traditional route too; I'd like to do both.

Did you get lucky? What happened?

I guess luck has played a part and I do feel lucky to have so many lovely readers who have enjoyed ‘Shadow Jumper'. I'm still in a state of shock about it, if I'm honest. I feel lucky that I'm able to self-publish and I know Amazon receives its fair share of criticism, but at the moment it's working for me.

How do you prioritise?


With difficulty. Recently I decided I needed to treat writing more like an office job, albeit a part-time one (having two sons means not much writing happens during the school holidays), otherwise time drifts and I achieve next to nothing. So I now make sure I'm at my desk at 9.30 most week days and I write/edit through to lunch. After lunch it's time to do all those pesky household chores and other stuff. It seems to be working for now, but watch this space – it's only day three!

How do you get/stay in creative mode?

Cover of Shadow Jumpers

Julia's first novel has consistently high sales

I'm not one of those writers who has loads of ideas constantly circling around in my head. I usually get one story idea at a time which I plot out and then write a first draft to see where it takes me. I usually have to do several drafts before I know which direction the story is heading. Common to many writers, I'm besieged with doubts about what I'm doing and it can be difficult to quell that inner critic. Sometimes I have to abandon a project, but it's never a waste of time, as characters, scenes and bits of plot can crop up in other stories.

Plotting cause me problems and I find answers come to me in the shower or when I'm doing something completely unrelated to writing, like gardening.

What's your top tip for other indie authors?

I'm not sure I'm qualified to hand out tips, as I'm still at the start of my journey as a writer! Oh go on then, if you're forcing my hand, I'd say concentrate on your writing, get feedback from others, read widely and don't publish anything until you're convinced it's the best you can do. Oh, and make sure you get a good book cover designed!

What's next?

I'm currently writing another mystery adventure story for nine to twelve year olds with the working title Bad Hair Days. I hope to publish it later this year, or early 2017. Then, I have an inkling of an idea for a second Shadow Jumper book which I may just have to investigate . . .

For more information about Julia's debut novel and her writing, visit her website: www.jm-forster.com.



This Post Has 24 Comments
  1. A great post, Julia and very well deserved with your amazing sales. I’m really looking forward to reading Shadow Jumper.

    I love the fact that the Wishing Shelf Book Awards are judged by children. I entered my latest two children’s books (Henry Haynes and the Great Escape and Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat) a couple of months ago, though of course these won’t be judged until next year. I missed the deadline for entering Henry in time for this year, due to having a too-long to-do list! (Oh the life of an indie author…)

    And, yes, keywords are very important for discoverability.

    But, as you say, making your book the very best it can be is the most important thing. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who takes years to write a book! The Secret Lake, Eeek! and Walter Brown were all started well over 15 years ago and went through many iterations back then. They then sat in a box for 10 years, after rejections from half a dozen publishers or so. I then went through many more iterations once I got back to them in 2011 and (in Walter’s case) this year. Ironically I was told that The Secret Lake was too traditional when I had sent it out (it’s my bestseller) and that Eeek! was too short (it’s been praised by teachers and librarians as a great book for reluctant readers due to its length and has been used in the Get London Reading campaign).

    In my case most of my sales are at events so I think you’ve done incredibly well to achieve so much online – and this is surely testament to the quality of your book and the strength of word of mouth. Well done again 🙂

  2. What a success. Its amazing how hard work pays.I hope to get through with my first indie book on christian religion.Thanks for sharing.

  3. Some very good points made in this interview:
    1. Most of Julia’s sales are on Amazon and she mentioned how important keywords are
    2. She doesn’t publish until she is sure the work is the best it can be — she is open to feedback
    3. She knows that it is important to keep writing and publishing but she doesn’t rush to publish (see point 2)
    4. She mentions that a good cover is important
    5. She has put her award front and centre — according to Bookbub’s Marketing Manager, that is a good marketing strategy and they encourage their authors to include in the first para of their profiles
    Finally, though she didn’t mention it specifically, she clearly knows who her readers are — check out her website.
    Thank you ALLi and Julia!

  4. I’m intrigued by the fact that your a successful self-pubbed children’s author. I’ve been told that it’s really difficult to do well as a children’s author without being trad-pubbed. Any hints you might have in that direction?

  5. Thank you for your comments. I have no magic formula up my sleeve – I wish I did! It took four years to write the book (I rewrote it at least ten times), taking on feedback from many kind and knowledgeable writers and readers. I submitted to numerous agents and a few publishers who at the time were accepting unsolicited manuscripts and faced my share of rejections. I did not take the decision to self-publish lightly – I knew it would be an uphill struggle. When the book first came out I sold very few, it was really depressing but not unexpected. Two things then happened: the book won The Wishing Shelf Book Awards so I could call myself an award-winning author and I learnt about keywords on Amazon and started experimenting. Slowly things started to change, but I don’t profess to have the answer to what makes a successful author, I’m just enjoying it while it lasts..

    1. So, the real secret to your success and the turning point was winning the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. Now that makes a lot more sense to me, and, by the way, congratulations.That is what set you apart and allowed readers to take a serious look at your book. You were able to say, “Look! My book won an award. It has been deemed worthy to be read.” That will also bode well for you when you are ready to publish your next book. Thank you for sharing.

      1. As someone who works with data, keywords are also very important, so I wouldn’t discount that part of it. While an award is nice, people need to find the book first. Keywords allow discovery, and an award is an added validation.

        Thanks for sharing your experience, Julia!

        1. Thanks Leslie.Yes keywords and metadata are certainly important. It takes a lot of experimentation to get ones that work though.

  6. Julia, thank you for sharing. I looked at your webpage and did not see a website builder listed, I am currently looking into a creating an author webpage but having a hard time deicing on a Website builder with the best marketing capability.

    1. Well I use Weebly for my website as I know nothing about the coding side of things and wanted something which was simple to use. I know many use WordPress and rate it highly.

  7. Julia–
    As an indie author with no track record, you must have faced a difficult task in figuring out how to inform potential buyers about you and your work. I’d really like to know how you went about doing this.

    1. Hello Barry. It was and continues to be very difficult to let people know my work is out there. I contacted a few Amazon reviewers/parenting bloggers who I thought might be interested in the book and asked them to give an honest review. I also had a couple of articles in local newspapers/online parenting magazines, and when the book first came out I attended local fairs.I didn’t sell many but perhaps that contributed to raising my profile.

  8. Take a look at Julia’s website to find out more about what she’s doing to make a difference eg her super readers’ info pack. And read the book. I did, and I think it’s fab – the sort of book where word of mouth recommendation will play a part. Plus of course the cover is striking and superb.

  9. Good for you, Julia. Pleased for your success. My first kids book, DOGNAPPED! is released this week – I hope it does o.k. but I’m not holding my breath, there are a lot of good books out there. But watch out for the second…

    Antonio – what can I say. There is a saying that ‘if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.’ For all your moaning that the article was a waste of time your whinge is hardly sparkling critique is it? But judging from the first line of your comment being a writer is obviously not your forte. You write a lot? Quantity is not quality my friend. The only arse in evidence is the one you’ve got in your hand!

  10. So what is the secret? It is not enough to write a great book. There are lots of great books out there gathering dust. What we all want to know is what did Forester do after publishing to make her work stand out, to catch to reader’s eyes. What did she do to promote herself? That is the secret everyone wants to know. Something of consequence occurred between that day she first released her book and today.

  11. That’s great for you but exactly what take away can we, as Authors, get from that?
    I feel like I’m in a plane wreck and screaming as I get sucked out into ice cold night only to see the smug face of some arse who is safe inside the plane!! Thanks very much Alli – I am totally depressed now!

    I write constantly and don’t have enough time to write all the ideas down and this children’s author hits the top on the first shot! Brings to mind:
    “And I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift nor riches to men of understanding but time and chance happeneth to them all” !!!!!!

    Waste of time article!! Why not be honest and just say if you are politically correct and very very lucky you will be a success.

    1. I think the key to Julia’s success lies in writing a great story and writing it really well, then finding out how to sell effectively. It doesn’t matter how many ideas an author does or doesn’t have – it only takes one really good story that people want to read

      1. I’m sure that luck does have some part to play in just about everything in life. However, so does talent and determination and Julia clearly has those in bucket loads, Antonio. Did you miss the part where she said she rewrote ten times? Or that it took her years to perfect her novel? That’s hardly “hitting the top on the first shot”. Like most successes’, Julia has clearly spent years investing in her career, her ability and her novel as well as learning all she can about sales.
        I know nothing about your ability, ideas or history as a writer Antonio but I do know this: no one wants to work with bitter and aggressive people. Agents and editors will turn away and so will readers. You’ll get further by learning to cultivate relationships than deriding other writers who are trying to be helpful. If something isn’t for you smile and move on. This isn’t about nepotism, don’t get me wrong – it’s about not being an arse. Why would anyone cheer you on, read your work, or share advice and feedback if you can’t show any generosity yourself?

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