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?
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.
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?
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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