You may know Helena Halme as author of The Englishman series of books on the tumultuous 1980s love story between a Finnish girl and a British Navy officer, but did you know she also acts as Nordic Ambassador and Publications Manager for ALLi? At the moment, she’s putting together the next Self-Publishing Services Directory, the only dedicated listing of vetted service providers, backed by ALLi’s Watchdog Desk, which comes out in January 2017. Today she tells us more about her busy life as an indie author and authorpreneur.
Please describe your indie author journey, from starting point to the present day.
My indie author journey really began when I started my blog in 2009. At that point I’d taken an MA in Creative Writing, written two novels and had been doing the rounds with literary agents, whose collective verdict on my work was, ‘I love your writing but I don’t think there’s a market for it.’ I was beginning to get frustrated with the long-winded process and decided I’d start a blog, just so that I could get my writing out there. And boy did I fall in love with blogging! There was suddenly a brand new community of like-minded people who I could swap stories and ideas with.
When some of my fellow bloggers and readers asked me why, as a Finn, I had settled in Britain, I began a series of blogs, titled, ‘How I Came to be in England’. This series, initially telling the story of how I met and fell head over heels in love with my British Navy officer husband, soon took on fictional properties, and proved so popular that there was even a campaign #BringBackHowICameToBeInEngland in the heady, early days of Twitter, when I’d decided to stop the blog posts and finish the book off-line.
It took more than a year to turn those blog posts into a fictional novel, The Englishman. I’d been planning to start another round of sending out query letters to agents with this latest manuscript, but when I visited The London Book Fair in 2012, and happened upon Orna Ross launching The Alliance of Independent Authors, I felt like I’d come home. Here was a group of people who’d taken charge of their own authorship, and they were willing to share their experiences with me and help me do the same! I went home, joined ALLi and began learning about self-publishing. I’ve now published six titles, including the fourth book in The Englishman series, The Good Officer, which came out this Friday.
Name three things you know now about self-publishing that you wish you’d known when you started out
- The first one has to be a mailing list. When The Englishman came out in 2012, it sold 500 copies on the first night, and the book was downloaded about 1,000 times during the first month of its publication. But I have no idea who all of those people are, because I had no mailing list. It embarrasses me to think how long it’s taken me to realise this fundamental mistake, and now I am racing to try to build a solid mailing list. Ah well, we all live and learn?
The second is the benefit of a well planned launch. With the glow of the success of The Englishman still in my heart, I hurried to publish my two other, finished books. I gave out Coffee and Vodka, a story of displacement and family secrets set in Sweden and Finland, and a Cold War spy thriller, The Red King of Helsinki, almost at the same time in March 2013. With no mailing list, and minimal marketing, these two books didn’t do as well to start off with, but have been solid sellers since. If only I’d taken time with the launches, as I have done with my recent titles, The Navy Wife, The Finnish Girl and The Good Officer, I’m sure both would have made much more of a splash.
- Thirdly, I wish I’d know how much book covers help to sell a book. When I first published The Englishman, I was merely thinking about how the book would look on a bookshelf in a bookshop, even though I knew most of the sales would come from online shops, mainly Amazon. The first cover is still a favourite; it’s pretty and moody and handsome at the same time. It was my first baby, and designed by a professional cover artist. As a small icon on a smartphone it doesn’t work so well, though.
What has been your biggest surprise as a self-published author?
I couldn’t believe the sense of community and solidarity indie authors show each other. This is most vividly shown on the ALLi Facebook group, where indie authors give advice to each other and even at times prop up each others’ fragile writer egos.
Unlike the many years I used to attend The London Book Fair alone, marveling at the lack of resources for writers, now the three days of the book fair are full of seminars and talks for indie authors. They are also like family reunions; there are many fellow indie authors who I only see in London in April!
The same goes for the MeetUps – the one I help to run in in London is growing fast, and again the members willingly share latest marketing techniques, rejoice in each other’s successes or commiserate if another indie author has had a bad month. Recently, as Publications Manager with ALLI , I have also come into contact with the many vetted ALLi Partners. These people, who provide various services to indie authors, are an equally supportive and enthusiastic bunch!
How do you describe yourself and your books – self-published, indie, or something else?
When I meet a new person and they ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer. I don’t believe readers care who publishes the books they read, or whether the author is an indie or a traditionally published. If further questions arise, I say that I am an indie author, which means that I run a small business, and that I work with a team of people, where I write the content and buy in services to publish that content.
What are your future ambitions as an author?
- Strange as it may sounds, I am not very well known in Finland and Sweden, and I’d love to change that.
- I am currently writing two novels, one the fifth (and final, I think) book in The Englishman series, and another a new series of books set in The Åland Islands, which lie between Finland and Sweden. I haven’t quite decided if this series is going to be in the romance genre, or if it might be Nordic Noir, or even spy thriller! I also have the beginnings to a sequel for The Red King of Helsinki, but that might have to wait for a little longer.
- I work as a mentor to people who would like to write a book, but just don’t know how, or where to start, and I’d love to do more of that. My first mentored non-fiction title is coming out in March 2017, which is so exciting.
- I would also like to write a non-fiction title myself on how to turn your life into fiction, and a second one on how to write in a language, which is not your mother tongue.
- There are also plans afoot to turn The Englishman series into a film or TV script. I know a film project may be a bit of a pie in the sky, but the wonderful thing about being an inde author is that you can decide yourself, which dreams to chase!
- Finally, I am working hard on building that mailing list …
How different do you think the self-publishing landscape will be in five years’ time?
During my four years as indie author, the self-publishing landscape has changed dramatically; there are many more titles published all the time. There is no doubt that it is now harder than ever to be an indie author, because of the increased competition. However, there are also many, many more (ALLi vetted!) good service providers who can become those invaluable team members in the small business that is a self-published author. And there’s an infinite amount of good help and advice online. Of course ALLi, as always, leads the way with the Self-publishing Advice Blog, which gives a new indie author a ‘Best Practise’ on how to self-publish a book.
I believe that self-publishing has hit a plateau, and that those currently in the industry, and those who are just starting out, do so in a much more professional way than I did in 2012. I don’t believe that the change will be as rapid or dramatic as it has been in the past five years, although certainly reading on mobile handsets will increase, as will the use of audio books. New markets, such as the Nordic countries, will increasingly open up to indie authors. I also believe that the line between traditionally published and indie authors will further blur. I hope that the snobbery against indie authors, which sadly still exists within the trade publishing industry will, if not disappear, at least lessen, as indies march on and become more and more powerful.Another #selfpub success story: @HelenaHalme interviewed on our blog today Click To Tweet