A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of beta-reading a novella by Sarah Dalton, a member of the Absolute Write forums. (For those who don’t know, Absolute Write is a great place to find information and improve your writing craft, whether you write science fiction, literary, romance, or pretty much any genre you can think of). We got to talking about her self-publishing process, and much of the information sounded like it’d be really useful for others to know as well. So, I asked if she’d be willing to do an interview with me regarding her latest novella, The Fractured: Maggie (released yesterday!) and the approach she’s taken in regards to her book series. The Blemished. Lucky for us, she agreed. Without further ado, an interview with Sarah Dalton!
This is her most recent novella, the second of The Fractured series. Not my cover, but I wanted to share it, none-the-less. 🙂
Tell us a little about yourself. 🙂
Well, I’m from the UK and live in Yorkshire. I grew up as a country bumpkin with lots of horses and chickens. The Blemished was my debut novel, but I have been published in short form prior to that, with stories in Apex, PANK and the British Fantasy Society anthology. I’m most definitely a chocaholic and for the most part believe animals are better than humans. 🙂
What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Have any of them been particularly helpful in your recent series?
I’ve always read a diverse range of genres, from literary to science fiction to horror. I had a huge thing for Victorian Gothic classics such as Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Then, I started reading a lot of dystopian books such as Margaret Atwood’s MadAddam trilogy and JG Ballard’s novels. I think Atwood is a particular inspiration; I love her feminist themes and genetic mutations. Her books are incredibly clever and insightful.
Then I discovered the Hunger Games and it opened up a while other genre for me – young adult. In Britain we didn’t have a YA section before the Hunger Games, there were children’s books and adult’s books with nothing in between. I loved the drama of being a teenager coupled with the post-apocalyptic setting.
When I was a teenager I loved to read Point Horror and Goosebumps books and now that I write books for teenagers I’ve realised that I would love to be a similar kind of author.
What was your inspiration for the Blemished series?
I wanted to write a book for teenage girls with a heroine they can look up to, and with a love interest worthy of that heroine. It was really important to me for feminist themes to be brought to young adults. When I look around and see the models and beauty industry it makes me feel like I already live in a dystopia. It made me think about what else I could cram into a novel, what do girls need to know? And that was when I thought up the idea of control and choice. The Blemished is about choice being taken away and women not having control over their bodies. In the Blemished it is the women who are sterilised, not the men, because that has always been typical to the way the world works. Mina is the person who stands up and thinks to herself that this isn’t right, and she doesn’t want it to happen to her. She’s just not sure how to go about changing things.
But I also wanted to write something entertaining that has you reading it with a torch at night. So there’s lots of action and adventure. Throughout the series Mina and the gang get into lots of trouble, discover different ways of living and just how nasty human beings can be. On the flip side they discover how wonderful human beings can be, what it’s like to love and be loved, and how you can find a family in unexpected places. There’s something for everyone, and boys can enjoy it just as much as girls.
When did you first start writing the Blemished series?
I think it was just over two years ago. At first I tried to write a novel set on a different planet. It went a bit wrong so I decided to give myself an easier ride, keeping just one thing from the original idea – superpowers. But at first Mina had the extraordinary sense of smell, not the telekinesis. It made the book a bit boring so I changed it!
Tell us about your latest/upcoming novella, The Fractured: Maggie.
Maggie is about Mrs Murgatroyd from the first novel – The Blemished. She’s a very nasty woman who vilifies Mina and Mina’s choices. She’s not exactly a girl’s girl! J I wanted to write about her story in order to show her human side. I don’t believe in evil and good, and I think that even the most horrible of people have something inside that we can sympathise with. It was a long and hard road for Maggie, she didn’t become Mrs ‘Murder-Troll’ Murgatroyd overnight.
What made you decide to write the Fractured novellas?
There were a couple of characters whose stories I couldn’t quite finish, or forget. They appeared in the first book but didn’t make it to the second, and whilst I always planned to bring them back, I wasn’t sure how much ‘page time’ they’d get. In the reviews of The Blemished, Elena always seemed very popular, and I really liked her too. I figured she deserved a story, and some romance.
What’s your favorite part of writing this series? Any favorite characters?
Ali is hands down my favourite character. He’s the kind of guy I want to be best friends with. He’s just a chilled out rock star. In the third book we learn more about Ali. He has hidden depths.
My favourite part of the series is writing little civilisations, like the Perthans. I like thinking up ideas for societal structure – so in The Vanished there is the Glasgow cult who keep women as slaves, but then the Perthans where the women rule and the men take on historically ‘feminine’ roles; then there’s the Moorlanders and Dales folk coming up in The Unleashed. In The Blemished we have the Slum people who live in the Areas but outside the law.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I decided to do it after getting a few rejections from agents. For me it was about timing, and going down the trade route could have taken too long. I knew that YA dystopia was popular now so thought I’d best get it out there while there are readers wanting to buy it.
How has self-publishing worked out for you?
It’s definitely a long game, because you don’t have a publisher behind you to help with marketing, you have to make a name for yourself and that takes time. The first few months were slow but the reviews were encouraging. You have to work out how much you want to spend on your marketing, and how much you need to spend on editing and cover art. There is only so much you can do yourself, and I’ve learned the importance of beta readers, and of people who support you and your book, such as bloggers and reviewers.
I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved so far, but as my goal is to support myself as a full-time writer, I’ve still got a long way to go.
Has it worked out well having beta readers help edit for you? Has there been much of a difference? How many do you typically ask? I know some people go the beta route, others go editing.
Betas are really important in my opinion. They’ve helped me to shape the relationship between Mina and Daniel, to make sure that characters are well-rounded, and helped a great deal with grammar and typos. I usually ask two or three beta readers to read my book and send me their comments.
In an ideal world I think a combination between beta reading and editing is best, but when you need to be frugal, betas are essential. Especially trusted writers. It can be hard to know what advice to take and what to dismiss, but you get used to trusting your instincts.
I’m using Betas as a necessity at the moment. I can’t really afford to pay for editors, as much as I’d like to. I think betas do a fantastic job but I must admit there’s always a part of me in a slight panic over spelling and grammar, especially grammar. But even professionally edited novels often have tiny mistakes in them so you have to learn to switch off that panic.
What is bookbub?
Bookbub is an email subscription service telling readers about kindle deals. They have thousands of sign-ups and you can pay them a fee to email their subscribers details about your discounted book. I was lucky enough to be picked by them and it really worked for me. http://www.bookbub.com/home/
At what point did you submit to Bookbub, and how long did it take to accept your book? Did it help with sells/reviews?
I went to Bookbub in February. I think they responded in a week. There might be some info on the site about how much notice to give them.
To be honest, I feel as though I owe all my sales since February to Bookbub. On the first day I sold 300 books which tripled the amount of sales I’d gotten in the first five months of publication. Since then, even after putting the price of my book back to 2.99, I’ve had really good sales.
I noticed you have a Wattpad account. Have you found it to be a useful tool? How have you used it?
Actually, no! I probably don’t spend enough time on there, but not many people read my stories. It seems more geared towards One Direction fan fiction! I know some people find it a great place to post their work, and I do like adding stories that were not good enough to sell. At least then someone gets to enjoy them.
Your book covers are beautiful (and so are the promotional materials you have posted on Facebook). Who did you have do your covers? They look really well done. 🙂
My cover designer is Najla Qamber, she’s the in-house designer for Inkspell Publisher and a really lovely person to boot http://www.najlaqamberdesigns.com/
I have a go at image manipulation from time to time and experiment with covers and promo bits and bobs but Naj is the real talent.
Have you found having the promotional banners to be helpful? What sort of promotional tools do you use?
I tend to use whatever is free and inexpensive – posting images to facebook, using social media, contacting bloggers, setting up blog tours… I don’t tend to spend a lot of money on adverts. I have tried Goodreads and Facebook adverts but they don’t affect sales.
I have some bookmark designs but until I find myself at a writer’s conference I don’t think I’ll bother getting any printed.
Do you primarily use the internet to promote your books, or have you done any book signings or other author events?
Just the internet for me! I’m a bit shy about book signings but would like to once I have a few more sales and maybe more books. I’d love to team up with another writer in my genre and maybe share a table at an event. Perhaps in the next year or so.
Does having your own specialized website help promote your books? Did you create it yourself or hire someone to make it for you?
My partner is a computer programmer so he did it for me! I’m very lucky to have him around.
Do you plan on continuing to self-publish, or do you hope to trade publish as well?
I’ve really enjoyed the experience but I must admit I would like a trade contract. I think my ambition is to be both trade and self published. If I can get at least one book to a bigger audience, then hopefully my sales would increase for the other books, and I’d get to keep 70% of the royalties from the self published books.
Or another ideal would be to have a print deal and retain my ebook rights. Some of the authors who have had amazing success at self-publishing – Hugh Howey, Bella Andre – have done this. It would be amazing to walk into a supermarket and see your book on the shelves.
I saw on goodreads you had a few short stories trade published (congrats on getting into Apex, by the way). Do you think being located in Britain versus the US has had any difference on your market/target audience?
I’m not sure about the Britain/US thing. I tend to read US based YA so I think my books are heavily influenced by the US trends. But at the same time I write in British spelling and set my books here, so that might actually work to my favour for a US audience. I think we’re pretty popular in America at the moment, what with Harry Potter, Doctor Who and One Direction. Most of my sales are in the US. I find my home country the hardest to sell to!
I saw on your Amazon page that FeedARead is listed as your publisher. Can you tell us a little more about them and how they work, and if they have been useful to you?
Feed a Read are a Print On Demand service for British writers and funded by the UK Arts Council. They pretty much offer the same service as Create Space but work as a smaller company. I’ve had no problems with them at all and am very happy with the royalties and the quality of the book.
I went with Create Space for my second book so I could compare. They are a lot quicker and the direct link to Amazon is really helpful, but the royalties aren’t quite as generous. When I first published The Blemished, Create Space didn’t have direct bank transfer payments for UK authors (another reason for choosing Feed a Read) but now they do, which is much easier.
For the third book I’m not sure which way I’m going to go. Amazon is my priority for sales, so I’m drawn to Create Space.
Any suggestions for authors considering going the self-publishing route?
I’d say have a go to anyone. As long as you research everything and get a really kick-ass cover (and have a good story) then there’s no reason why you can’t have some success. One key factor is releasing more than one book. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do novellas, so readers wouldn’t forget about me when waiting for the third book. It does put a little bit of pressure on the turnaround time, but I work part time so have been able to handle it so far.
Check out Kindleboards Writer’s Cafe if you want to know more. (http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html)
I understand the novella bit. It was something I’d wondered about doing. Actually, I’d wondered about splitting novels into self-contained “episodes” that were novella length and releasing them within a period of five months or so, but I wasn’t sure how well that would go.
The episodes thing worked really well for Hugh Howey and Wool. I think it’s a good idea when self publishing because regular releases bump sales. One thing I’ve noticed from the people who earn their living through self publishing is that they write fast and they release often.
On the topic of suggestions for self-publishing, was there anything you found particularly useful or not useful when you started promoting your books?
Kindleboards Writer’s Café and Absolute Write are really useful forums to learn more. I love reading other people’s experiences with selling their work.
Having a good cover is really important, and it needs to represent the genre you’ve written.
Goodreads – excellent for finding reviewers and building up a good relationship with people enthusiastic about your books.
I saw that you had advanced reader copies available for reviewers when you published the Vanished. Have you found ARCs to be useful in getting reviews? How early do reviewers like to have their copies to read?
I got some advice from a publicist before I published my first book (she was kind enough to stop by my blog and offer advice) who suggested I send ARCs out about a month before the release. I don’t always make that deadline.
Anything you’d like to add (either about the books or self-publishing) before the interview concludes?
Just that you’ll come across many cautious people who make you feel like you’re doing the wrong thing. Sometimes people are right and sometimes they are very wrong. It’s a learning curve. You have to learn who to listen to and who to ignore. When people begin to tell you their way is the right way alarm bells ring in my head.
And that’s a wrap. To find out more about her books, take a look at the links below. I hope you the information proves useful, and perhaps you’ll even find an intriguing book to dig into. 🙂