Successful historical fiction author Carla Acheson joins me today to talk about herself, her writing and offers her experience in making a success of your writing career.
Carla grew up on the tiny Mediterranean British territory just off the tip of Spain, Gibraltar before moving to the South East of England and returning in her teens. Today she talks to me from her new home where she settled a few years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland to continue writing full time whilst busying herself in so many other creative ways.
Thank you Carla for joining me. Tell me about your time on the Rock of Gibraltar.
It’s where my roots are based. I loved growing up there in the 80’s and am very nostalgic about that period of time. I miss certain foods and things, and more especially friends, family, people that I love. When my family returned there after many years in the south of England I found it changed for the worse if compared to my teenage years.
And now you live in Edinburgh, Scotland. What was it like transitioning between the two?
It’s a drastic change in scenery and climate compare to what I’ve been used to the last 30 years. I live in my own shell. A safety net. Having lived on a small Rock for years I find that moving to a bigger place has changed me though, and I’m more comfortable and able to explore my wider surroundings without feeling anxious. If anyone asked me what I like most about life I’d say that it’s a bloody interesting game.
Among your other creative interests you used to sing in a casino in your twenties. What made you stop?
Oh nothing made me stop, I guess I just moved on. I still sing, write and record music, just not professionally any longer, but who knows if there is a band out there looking, call me!
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I am busy and creative in so many ways. I like to sketch, draw, play the keyboard, record music, read books, watch films, go for walks, interact with friends and family. Writing is the only hobby of mine which actually turned into a paying career. I don’t have another day job, writing is my job, and I work as an author/writer generally around four to five hours a day. It took a few years to get to the point where I could feasibly do this.
I live a simple life but when I look back realise that I have achieved a lot. I have an ongoing inner desire to seek knowledge, learn, and grow, using my best talents foremost. It is not to impress others, but to challenge myself.
I tend to look at the world objectively but with a sentimental overlay and I’m a fairly good judge of character. Compassion is possibly my best character trait, but I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I’m easily hurt. I pick out what interests me about life the most, then write about it. I have learned over the years that I naturally gravitate towards the struggles people have with themselves.
My worst trait is in being super (and often pathetically) over-emotional but the fact that I think excessively about every aspect of life translates well into stories. But if I could only hold back the tears every time I read something sad, that would be an achievement in itself. I haven’t got there yet.
I’m a bit of a free spirit. I let life surprise me, I generally make small individual achievable goals but the larger events in my life tend to hit me head on. My only aim at the moment is to get this novel finished and feel a sense of achievement again. It hasn’t been the best year for me outside of my writing world, and so I’m happy to concentrate on what I do best for now, and that is to write.
What started your writing journey?
I started to write with a view to professional publication in 2010. I penned my first book over a Christmas period when I had the swine flu, and seriously, I thought I had to get this thing out on to my laptop before I died.
I survived and so did my book which went on to do very well and gain hundreds of great reviews. I would never have predicted that in a million years but I had faith in myself.
Now I have three titles published with Charlotte Greene Publishing and these are available at Amazon, Waterstones and other outlets. I am currently working on a fourth novel, which is again, a historical fiction story set in both the 1920’s and Victorian era.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Realise that good writers don’t happen overnight. It’s a long and sometimes harrowing journey and you’ll have to trust yourself, even trust those bad days and trust that good does eventually come through. For some it takes longer than others to establish confidence in their own abilities. If you can stick it out you will learn so much about yourself. More than anyone will ever be able to tell you in fact.
I notice Charlotte Greene Publishing describe themselves as not being a traditional publisher. How do you thing they have helped you over and above what you could achieve by self-publishing directly?
Charlotte Greene Publishing are somewhere between traditional and self-publishers. They helped me get my books on to the trade paperback market as well as into impossible stores for indie books to penetrate such as Foyles in London, Waterstones, B&N. The books are also deposited in national libraries. The publisher Jonno, is a good friend of mine and he has always been supportive and had my back with regards to my writing.
Tell me a bit about your new book?
It’s a cross between a psychological story and a supernatural thriller, with a bit of witchcraft thrown in. It’s set in two different time periods. I have spent many hours researching insanity and mental health issues down through the last couple of centuries. I will pinch some of that for my own characters, and add a murder plus other intriguing plot elements. I find that if I can enlighten readers with a few historical facts too they tend to like it.
If someone asked me to pitch in an elevator I’d probably laugh maniacally and offer you a sweet. I’m good on paper pitches. Wait no, I’ll have to finish the story first. Anything could happen right up to the last page.
And it’s out in December?
Yes, if I can stay on track.
How do you measure your success?
I measure success in the completion of a novel and that I am happy with the result. It’s a bonus if people like it. You can’t measure success in how other people think because you can’t please everyone, and you never will. This I learned after a few years. It is your happiness and self-contentment that comes first. That way you’ll never feel a failure or let down by others opinions. Write because you love writing and be successful in it rather than in what others think. You should though take into consideration any optimal advice on improvements of course.
Can you tell me about how you market your books and what your experiences have been?
I don’t spend vast amount of monies on marketing other than letting my current readers know that I have a book out. I blog about it, and perhaps channel a few small ads into facebook pre-release. I try to do some interviews and talk about my books where possible. My first book took off because of the quality of the work, I fully believe that. You need a GOOD book, by that I mean a great story and it must be properly edited! Plus you need a dose of luck. Seriously. There are way too many books out there all following the same marketing channels. There are so many facets to marketing and advertising that indie authors don’t know about. It’s hard for them to penetrate the crowd and engage readers.
When I made £5K on my first book on kindle alone, I was constantly asked how. It’s a difficult one to answer, because I couldn’t pin down exactly how it did so well, but I do think mainly it was through word of mouth and good reviews. Word of mouth is free advertising that counts for a lot, and once you get more than a few good ratings and reviews, it should snowball a little from there. Other times it’s trial and error. I think throwing money into these marketing sites (sorry that includes twitter feeds too) that merely mention your book along with thousands of others is not going to guarantee the most fruitful outcome.
TIP: The more books you write and make available on amazon, the better chance you have of one of them taking off.
What has your experience been with using social media to build an author platform?
Frustrating, initially. It’s very difficult to market yourself as a serious writer, let alone a book, because there is a fine line between spamming and gently informing. I could go into great lengths on the topic of effective and non-effective marketing, it would take a long time to discuss though. Briefly, I think when it comes to social media we need to aim for small goals rather than unrealistic gigantic ones. Every single reader counts. Even the ones who return with critical negative reviews. Those are not what people want to hear, but every reader counts! People get despondent far too quickly. It took a year for my first book to gain any traction and decent sales at all. Some books will rise and others will sink, no matter how well marketed. Not even traditional publishers can make such concrete predictions about the success of a book. It is wise to remember that at the end of the day a book is a book not a work from God. Too many inexperienced authors place their work directly on a pedestal without even objectively knowing if it has the capability of being successful. I could spend all day offering my opinions.. but sigh..
Have you any experience using paid advertising services, such as Amazon Marketing Services or Facebook ads?
Yes I have used the odd facebook advert, but I don’t use it as the main target to my readership. On the whole I don’t think they’re worthwhile for indie authors, and here is why.. What inexperienced authors don’t realise is that you need to spend a large amount of money over a period of time in order to see any possible real results or difference in sales. And you need lots of ads, on the go, simultaneously, all with different keywords, dermographics… bla bla.. it’s like an experiment as such. Can most indie authors afford to do that? I wouldn’t advise spending £200 on a randomly thrown together face book advertising campaign, at least not unless you’re an expert in marketing. If you spend £10 on an advert and don’t get £20 return then that marketing campaign has failed. It’s simple. If you make back your £10 investment, it is still a fail. This is common sense. If you can make more than you put in then you might be on to something, but I never really used Amazon’s in-house marketing service because once my books started really selling, they advertised for free. There is a point where Amazon sees that a book is doing well and is happy to push it under reader’s noses. Authors don’t really need to be concerned with that either, getting the royalty return is your reward. Authors may be interested in my blog post where I attended Amazon’s Author Academy event, where lots of really good advice was on offer.
And you’ve done all this without an agent?
Yes, never had an agent, but yet if anyone wants to find one, I highly recommend choosing only from the industry safe and recommended “Writers and Artists Yearbook,” updated annually and which has listings for nearly every reputable agent out there. I personally would never randomly go with any website or online entity these days that isn’t listed in this volume.
Thank you Carla for your time and for your thorough answers. While I go and rewrite my marketing strategy you can all check out Carla’s novels, The Last Gift, Girl Forgotten and The Whitechapel Virgin which are available from Amazon and many outlets now. It just leaves me to wish you the best of luck with your career and please let us know when you have a date for release and details of your fourth novel.
If you enjoyed this interview then why not follow my blog where I’ll be posting more interviews soon and I regularly provide an insight into my own experiences as I work towards publishing my debut novel, In The End. If you’re an author, or you’ve just got an interesting story to tell and you’d like to be interviewed, just drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org