We’re delighted to welcome Emma Davies as our Saturday Spotlight guest. Emma is an indie-published author whose debut novel Letting in Light – which we reviewed last week – has stormed the charts and we were eager to get to know the author behind the success. Over to Emma …
I live in Shropshire which is a beautiful but undiscovered (by many) county just shy of Wales, and have lived there for about 14 years since our children were little. There’s me, my husband, three children, mum in law, and two guinea pigs, so life is mad / busy / hectic / fun / frustrating / noisy / all of the above. I’m currently a finance manager for a group of four schools, but like a lot of writers would love to be able to give that up and write full time. I’ve taken a little step closer to that by reducing my contract from full time to a four day week from September, something I’ve been hoping to do for a long time, especially since my full time role is not exactly a nine to five one. I’m so excited at the thought of having a whole day a week to write!
What led you to becoming an indie writer?
I think it was a natural progression for me really rather than a conscious decision. Since getting a kindle a few years ago, I’ve read many books by authors who are not traditionally published and found some absolute gems, by writers who I now count among my favourites. I hadn’t realized before until I looked into self-publishing this was even possible, and in fact how easy it is to do. As I was writing Letting In Light at the time it seemed the best way forward for me. I was getting older, I didn’t know if what I had written was any good, and I was put off by the length of time that seeking a traditional publishing route can take. It was a way of dipping my toe in the water and testing things in my own time and on my own terms.
Would you consider becoming traditionally published? What might tempt you?
I’ve always been very honest about my views on traditional versus self-publishing, and indeed readers of my blog will have read my countless deliberations before. I am still a bit on the fence, purely because I like to keep my options open; things change and I think you have to change with them. I’m not against traditional publishing, that’s not why I self-publish, but equally I don’t self-publish because I’m an ardent supporter of the ‘cause.’ I’ve done what felt right for me at the time. Both types of publishing have pros and cons and at the moment I can see that financially, self-publishing is the better option for me, and I like the greater flexibility it gives me. Having said that my ego would love nothing more than to walk into a bookshop and see a huge pile of my books on a table, so who knows? If I get a tempting offer I’ll let you know!
‘Letting in Light’ is an emotionally-packed read. Where did the idea come from?
That’s a really difficult question to answer without giving away a huge spoiler so I’ll have to stick to the book’s setting to answer the question if I may. I’ve always loved walled gardens and country estates, simply because of the capacity they have for the imagination to run riot, and that’s what really appealed to me; that I could take a setting such as Rowan Hill, put a bunch of people in it, and see what happened. The setting and characters have been with me for a very long time, and I knew the type of story I wanted to write. When I discovered the story line that would give the book the impact I wanted the rest just fell into place.
‘Letting in Light’ has been very successful. Have you been surprised at the success?
Utterly, but although it’s currently doing very well it has taken over a year to achieve this.
What do you do to promote your novel? What method do you think is most effective and why?
I guess like most people I just look for any opportunities that are out there, so guest appearances on blogs such as this one are a great way of getting your name and book information out there. I’ve done quite a few ‘interview’ features and also other fun posts, but these have all been quite widely spaced so it’s been a bit of a drip feed to be honest. When I first published Letting in Light I didn’t even know that book bloggers existed, let alone think about setting up reviews prior to launch. I have had a few blogger reviews now, but again perhaps this is unusual for a book already published. Social media is brilliant for networking with other authors, readers and bloggers etc but I have to say that Twitter has been the most effective for me. I try really hard to be as generous as I can to other writers because the one thing I have learned over this last year or so is how supportive and friendly everyone is. Twitter is great for this, and I really enjoy the interaction I have with people.
Recently you had 100 copies of your book downloaded in one day. The Write Romantics were in awe! What’s your secret?
The scary thing is that if I have one I’m really not sure what it is! I think for me a combination of things seemed to come together at the same time, and once sales started to pick up I think Amazon starts to play its part too. Much is written about the mystery of Amazon’s algorithms and how they work. Personally I don’t have a clue either but I’m sure that they have been wafting my book under people’s noses and undoubtedly I’ve benefited from that. One thing I have done it to create a SmartURL for Letting in Light. Essentially all this does is allow whoever clicks on it to be taken to their own country’s Amazon site so that you don’t have to post lots of links. However it also provides you with a whole range of statistics and as soon as I started to use it, with some very carefully put together tweets, I could see that my links were being clicked on, and at a rate that really surprised me. When I started I had over 500 click throughs in a matter of days so I knew that my tweets were attracting attention. Once I discovered that, I just kept going, and things have gathered their own momentum. Obviously now it’s a combination of things that are contributing, and I’m just thrilled that people are loving it the way that they are.
‘Letting in Light’ has a gorgeous cover, but we’ve seen a different version. What made you change the cover design and when did you do this? Did the cover change have an impact on sales?
I changed the eBook cover in May of this year from a design which I produced myself. A friend of mine who is an artist painted a beautiful watercolour which is the central image, but my desk top publishing skills really did not do it justice. I still have the watercolour though which is just lovely. When Letting in Light was first published I couldn’t afford or justify spending any of our family’s budget on a professional cover and so I did the best I could at the time. Earlier this year though when things started to pick up I realised that the cover really didn’t have the kerb appeal it needed to get noticed. People might look at it, but it wasn’t saying ‘buy me’. Also the thing about eBooks is that when people browse they are only looking at a thumbnail image and so this has to stand out. I spent a long time looking through pages of bestsellers so see what colours and types of design were more noticeable than others. There is only a very small window of opportunity to grab someone’s attention when they’re browsing before they’re onto the next book. So, I saved up and when I could had the cover redesigned professionally. I always knew what I wanted and the end result is exactly what I hoped for. Now of course I wish I had done it much sooner as I’m convinced it has helped sales.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing the sequel to Letting in Light which I had hoped to release later this year. However a few weeks ago, with the school holidays looming (and therefore for me more writing time) I had a mad idea about writing a novella for Christmas. Then one morning as I was brushing my teeth the perfect plot came to me, and so I’m right in the thick of this at the moment. It will (she says through gritted teeth) be published in October.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you published your novel? What’s the most challenging thing?
I don’t know whether it’s the best thing that’s happened, because this year has certainly been a year of firsts, but the nicest thing happened recently when I received a message from someone via my website; ‘I enjoyed your book so much I just wanted to let you know. I was devastated that this is your first and I can’t go straight out and buy all your others. Please write us another one soon.’ I was so touched that someone had actually taken the trouble to contact me personally; I got a bit emotional over than one!
The most challenging thing has to be trying to get the balance right between all the areas of my life, when most of the time what I want to do is just sit and write. I don’t think I’ve got the hang of it yet, but perhaps this comes with time!
You say on your website that you love Pringles. What’s your favourite flavour? Did you ever sample the Mint Choc Chip ones that came out a couple of Christmases ago?
I’m on record as saying I never met a Pringle I didn’t like, and that’s probably true, although my least favourite are salt and vinegar, not because I don’t like them but because if I eat too many they take a layer of skin off the inside of your mouth. I do however always keep going back to the original flavour, which on balance are probably my favourite. I did try the mint chocolate ones when they came out and loved them too, but really, chocolate Pringles? It’s not right; they’re a savoury snack, and if they’re not then I’m sorry but they’re an Elizabeth Shaw mint and I love those too!
Huge thanks to Emma for joining us. We look forward to reading the sequel to Letting in Light and wish her continued success. We’re not convinced about the mint chocolate Pringles though. Ew!