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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Anna Sayburn Lane. Writer Finds Her Fans In Write-To-Market Crime Fiction

Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Anna Sayburn Lane. Writer Finds Her Fans in Write-To-Market Crime Fiction

My guest this episode of the Alliance of Independent Authors podcast is Anna Sayburn Lane, who began her career as a journalist until she decided she had enough of writing content for other people and became a novelist. Anna's entry into indie publishing was rocky until, just recently, she decided to pivot and write to market. Now, her crime fiction is seeing fantastic sales as she works toward becoming a full-time novelist.

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On the Inspirational Indie Authors podcast, @howard_lovy features @BloomsburyBlue, who found her fans in write-to-market crime fiction. Click To Tweet

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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Anna Sayburn Lane. About the Author

Anna Sayburn Lane is the author of page-turning murder mysteries set in jazz age London, and of award-winning short stories and contemporary thrillers. Before turning to fiction, Anna worked as a journalist for local newspapers and medical journals—useful for thinking up novel ways of bumping off fictional characters. She lives in the UK, sharing her time between London and a small seaside town.  You can find Anna on her website, Amazon author page, and Facebook.

About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and X.

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Then contact Howard, including your membership number, explaining why you’re an inspirational indie author and what inspires you.

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Read the Transcripts to the Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Anna Sayburn Lane

Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Anna Sayburn Lane who began her career as a journalist until she decided she had enough of writing content for other people, and decided to become a novelist.

Anna's entry into indie publishing was rocky until just recently she decided to pivot and write to market. Now, her crime fiction is seeing fantastic sales as she works toward becoming a full-time novelist.

I'll let Anna Sayburn Lane tell her story.

Anna Sayburn Lane: My name's Anna Sayburn Lane. I'm a self-published author of thrillers and murder mysteries, and I'm publishing my seventh book tomorrow. I started publishing in 2018, but I've been writing for quite a lot longer than that.

I grew up in South London. I've lived in London in the UK for most of my life. I've always been a typical bookworm kid, and I do remember writing from a really young age, writing little novels and poems and stories in notebooks and things like that. I think I started my first novel aged about seven, which was, The Life and Times of Captain O'Neill. About a boy who runs away to sea and sails around the world and makes his fortune, which is quite fun. I was always one of those kids that that loved reading, loved writing, but I didn't ever really see, once I got to teenagerhood, adulthood, I didn't really consider it as a career as a fiction writer.

I didn't know anyone who was a writer for a living. It seemed completely out of reach.

Howard Lovy: Anna went to college to study English and history, but she did not want what others had planned for her.

Anna Sayburn Lane: Everyone thought I was going to be a teacher, and I was determined if there was one thing I was not going to do, it was be a schoolteacher because I didn't really enjoy school that much.

Not so much the subjects, just the whole, I don't know, the whole institution didn't really work for me particularly happily. I did okay at school, but I certainly was in no rush to go back to school. So, I thought, what can I do with these qualifications?

The thing that I was interested in, and I ended up going into, is journalism. I was under the impression that journalism was all about writing. I was actually quite wrong about that as I discovered during my 30-year career as a journalist. It's about mainly talking to people and finding stuff out and analysing information. The writing, it's important, but it's not as important as the rest of it.

Howard Lovy: Anna worked for local newspapers, then branched off into medical journalism.

Anna Sayburn Lane: Yeah, I started out in local journalism. I worked for the local newspaper that I used to deliver as a child. So, that was quite fun. I went back to my childhood home in South London and worked on the South London News Shopper. I was there for about five years, and then I moved to another local paper outside of London.

At the time, I remember just being desperate to get back to London. I'd decided I'd made a terrible move. I was away from all my friends. I didn't like being away from London.

So, I was looking for the next job that came up that was back in London, and that happened to be with a medical newspaper called GP. I applied for it, got it, and then I spent the rest of my career in medical journalism. In fact, I still work freelance as a medical journalist.

I've been editing articles on palliative care medicine this morning. So, it was a good fit for me. It was something that I enjoyed, I found really interesting. Although my background was English and history and I didn't have a science background, I had enjoyed science at school and it was quite a nice way of getting to use my writing skills, but also to learn a lot more about an area of science that I was really interested in.

Howard Lovy: Meanwhile, there was always a voice in Anna's head telling her that there was something else she needed to do.

Anna Sayburn Lane: I don't think I ever stopped having a few things on the go, but I'd write a short story just for fun. I wrote a satirical blog for a little while, which was a sort of spoof diary. I wrote a script for friends to put on a play at Christmas, this sort of stuff. So, nothing terribly serious, but there was always in the back of my head that one day I would write a novel, but there was a lot of life going on.

There was the journalism obviously, which was pretty full on. I then got fed up with England for a while after a love affair went wrong and moved to Spain, and thought, I'm living in Spain now. Then eventually came home and married the boyfriend that I'd met whilst I was in Spain. So, a lot of life happened, and then finally, I turned around and thought good grief, I'm 40-years-old, and I've got a happy marriage, a job that I'm enjoying, I like my life, but I've not done that one thing that I always thought I would do.

I suppose I thought, what on earth am I waiting for? So, I started to take writing a bit more seriously then, and that would have been in about 2009.

Howard Lovy: It took a very long walk for Anna to finally hit on an idea for her first novel.

Anna Sayburn Lane: I decided to walk with my husband. We walked from London to Canterbury, which is a distance of about 60 miles. Being very optimistic, we decided to walk it over three days on the Easter weekend, so 20 miles a day, and yeah, I had the blisters to show for it.

But during that time, I kept coming across references to Christopher Marlowe, who is a writer who was born in Canterbury and died in Deptford, both of those places were along the route that we walked. Also, to lots of other writers like Dickens, and of course, the whole Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer thing is what inspired the whole pilgrimage in the first place.

I'd been reading Dan Brown, and I just had this little idea that started thinking, what if Christopher Marlowe, who was murdered at the end of his life, he died very young at age 29, what if he was murdered because he knew something, some secret, something to do with Canterbury, to do with maybe the murder in the cathedral in Canterbury? He's written his clues to this into his plays, or he'd written one final play, and that's why he ended up being murdered at the end of his life.

So, it was nonsense, but it was just all of these sorts of strings of ideas that came together whilst we were walking, and I was telling these stories, making up these stories as we walked, and it just stayed with me that there was something there.

So, I spent the next four years trying to write this book, which did eventually turn into my first novel Unlawful Things.

I walk a lot. I do a lot of long walks and find them really inspiring. I love just wandering around London, and places in London are really important to my creativity. They're what inspires me really.

The history, particularly of London, is just so many layered, that every turn you take, you think, why is that street name called that, or that looks like an old pub, I wonder what the story is there?

Then you start digging and there are so many stories there. So, that's been really important to me for all of the books that I've written really.

Howard Lovy: It got to the point where her day job was interfering with her writing time, so she quit and went freelance.

Anna Sayburn Lane: The writing bug had bitten hard now, and there was no stopping me. I didn't feel like getting up to go to work in the morning and spend eight hours doing someone else's work when I could work freelance and then write around the edges, and the around the edges has grown so that most of my working day now is writing fiction, and I fit the journalism in around the edges.

Howard Lovy: When it came time to publish, Anna tried the traditional route, but got nowhere.

Anna Sayburn Lane: Then I thought, this is mad. Lots of people have told me this is good enough to publish. It's not that it's not good enough, it's that they don't think they can get it into Tesco’s, or they don't think that it's commercial enough.

I'd heard about self-publishing by then, and I thought, I'll go to the London Book Fair, which I did. I heard the Alliance of Independent Authors speak, and I talked to people there. I heard about the self-publishing forum, as it was then, and did the course.

I thought, if I'm going to do this, I'll do it properly. So, I found out everything I could about self-publishing and thought, you know what? I'm not going to throw away this book because I believe in this book, and also, I've got a great idea for a follow up.

So, I kept going and I self-published in October 2018, the first book, Unlawful Things.

Howard Lovy: What she came up with, though, was a series of books that pleased herself, but never really connected with readers.

Anna Sayburn Lane: Now, this is the problem. It was a thriller with a sort of historical literary backdrop, and the fact that I can never quite tell anyone what genre it's in is part of the reason why I really struggled to market it. I loved writing it. I wrote four books, which was probably too many, but I loved it. I'd fallen in love with my protagonist. I loved writing it, but it never really got the readership, and after the fourth one I was already well embedded in writing the fifth, but I took a long, hard look at the figures and thought, no, this isn't really working.

By then, I'd got from the point of, I just want to write my book and put it out there, which is probably where I was in the first couple of books, and I was now thinking, actually, I want to earn a living as a writer, and it clearly wasn't going to happen that way.

So, just over a year ago, about a year and a half ago, I made the big decision to stop what I was doing, take a good look at the market and decide to write to market.

Howard Lovy: So, Anna went back to the drawing board and began to research a genre that she would both enjoy writing and would sell.

Anna Sayburn Lane: I began by talking to a few other self-published authors who had similar sort of experiences, Rachel McLean being one. She was really helpful, and I read her book which is Five Steps to Author Success, I think, which was really helpful, about how to go about researching genre.

So, I looked at the crime genre. I'd pretty much decided I was going to stick with crime, looked at all of the different genres within that, read a lot of them, thought about, where are my strengths, where are my interests?

I knew that history was really important. So, I was never going to write a contemporary police procedural because that's not what gets me going. So, when I looked at, where are the historical mysteries, they were very much in the sort of cozy genre. I thought, okay, an amateur sleuth, that works for me. I'd rather do that than a professional sleuth, and then I noticed that there were lots set in 1920s, and immediately I thought, oh, that's fantastic, because that's a really interesting period. I love so much about the 1920s. It was a fascinating time of change.

Then I went off and did loads of research about the 1920s and also read lots of books set in that genre. I did look at things like sales, and I recognized that it's not the highest selling of the crime thriller mystery section at all, but I thought if I can get as good sales as people who are at the top of that chart are getting, then I'll be pretty happy.

So, it was a bit of a crossover between, where is the market, what do I want to write, where are my strengths, and where can I see myself fitting in?

Howard Lovy: And it seemed to work. In January and February, she hit her first four-figure sales months.

Part of the reason was that she knew exactly who she was marketing to.

Anna Sayburn Lane: It became much, much easier because I knew who I was promoting to. I knew exactly who my comp authors were. I knew who to target on Amazon.

When I was doing Facebook ads, I thought, okay, so I'm targeting people who went to see the latest Poirot movie and who watch Downton Abbey, and it just became much clearer in my head who it was I was marketing to.

I did do a complete switch of the way that my website looks, the way that my newsletter looks. I was pretty upfront in my newsletter, this is my new direction, this is what I'll be doing now.

Expecting that I'd probably lose quite a lot of readers. I don't think I've lost that many. There were some people who were just on the list and weren't opening the emails anyway. I've done a few cleanses, and I think most of my list now has come through promoting directly through BookFunnel and so on to people who are interested in cozy mysteries, historical mysteries.

Now, if I look on Amazon at my also-boughts, they're absolutely bang on target. So, once I knew who I was targeting and where I sat in that market, it just became so much easier.

Howard Lovy: Anna challenged herself to publish four books in one year. So far, she's done two and is writing the third.

Anna's advice for other authors who want to write to market, make sure it's also a genre you enjoy.

Anna Sayburn Lane: You've got to write something that you enjoy. Otherwise, what's the point?

I've loved writing these books. They've been so much fun. They've been a lot more fun, actually, than the thrillers were. Especially if you're going to write with a fairly rapid release schedule, it's got to be something you enjoy, something that you read already.

But do then look, it's not so much look for, is this a really high selling genre, as is this a genre? Is this something that people read these types of books? Is there a market there of sufficient size that you can play in it?

Don't be ashamed of writing to market. Some people sort of get very sniffy and snobbish about it, but all it means is that you've decided that you want to write books that people want to read, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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