Special Guest Star Week: Author Susanne O’Leary

Last week I had an idea. (Dangerous, I know.) There’d been a lot of Me, Me, Me thanks to Mousetrapped’s birthday week (I know it’s my blog, but still) but yet everyone seemed pretty interested in e-books. So why not get some other self-published e-book authors to talk about their experiences, their books and their success? A few e-mails and it was all arranged: an e-book themed Special Guest Star week. Today our self-published e-book author guest poster is Susanne O’Leary, with Building a ‘Platform’ Using Virtual Bricks and Mortar:

As a novelist, I have always found the marketing side of things hard work. I’m happiest when I sit in my little room writing, completely absorbed by the story and going into what writers call ‘the zone’; when you are inside your characters and living in their world. Then, any thought of practical things, such as publicity and marketing are far from my mind. Ten years or so ago, when my first novel was published, there was a nice marketing manager at my publishing house taking care of the nitty-gritty of publicity. All I had to do was appear for interviews, sign books or give a little speech. Then I would go home and write the next book. Happy days.

With the decline in the publishing industry it became increasingly difficult to get published, even for an author with a good track record and excellent sales. Now, it can take over a year to hear from a publisher about a submission, even with an agent. A little over a year ago, my impatience drove me to pull my next book from my agent and go the self-publishing route in the form of e-books.

I uploaded my fifth novel, Swedish for Beginners on Smashwords and Amazon Kindle in February 2010 and went back to finishing the edits for my sixth novel, A Woman’s Place, checking sales figures on my new e-book now and then, getting a huge thrill at each sale. But when I started peeking into forums for writers, I discovered that many authors sold ten times more than me and that their marketing efforts was a large part of their success. I realised I would have to follow their example if I was to continue to sell e-books. As I am by nature both impatient and impulsive, I hardly ever read instructions or how-to books and I never pay attention to long lists of tips about ‘how to succeed at x’. Nor do I usually have a carefully laid out plan, preferring to learn as I go along (often by making embarrassing mistakes), all of which made my Internet ‘campaign’ rather a hit and miss affair. I chatted here and there, on both readers and writers forums that I found with random mouse-clicks as I surfed on the Internet, with no particular plan in mind.  I joined websites that looked interesting and then forgot my passwords and usernames, making it complicated to go back in and follow up on comments. But I ‘met’  lots of people and had fun. Sometimes I got into trouble with ‘trolls’ and arguments that led to ‘flame wars’, which was quite off-putting at times, until I realised that it was happening in a virtual world and, as long as one was cautious, it would remain there. Some of what happened even inspired me to write my recently co-written murder mystery, Virtual Strangers.

Little, by little, I e-published more books, including some from my previously published backlist and they also started to sell and now, a year later, my sales figures are good and getting better.

Is this as a result of my random chats on the Internet? Maybe. Which ones are the most efficient? I have to say I don’t really know. When someone asked me how I ‘did it’, I had to reply that I wasn’t sure, which earned me ironic comments from writer friends. But it’s true, I really don’t have any idea. That said, I have begun to realise that forum chatting has its limits and it is a good tool for getting your name out there at the start. But after a few months of this, it gets a little tired. It’s not a good long-term plan at all, in my opinion, and I have now changed tack. I feel that building your own blog and getting as many followers as possible on Twitter and Facebook a better investment of one’s time.

Networking and platform building can easily be confused. Meeting lots of writers online is useful for picking up marketing ideas or maybe getting someone to interview you on their blog. But writers who talk with writers are networking. Writers who talk to readers are building a platform. Even though some of the writers you meet may become your readers, the ratio will probably be low, because a successful writer network includes a lot of people who have no interest in your genre. Compare that to a platform where the majority of the participants are not just interested in your genre- they’re interested in you. As one perceptive writer said in a forum:  ‘networking is the oil in your engine. Platform is the fuel’

Now that I have, yet again, learned after the event, with my usual ‘cart before the horse’ method, I realise that: 1) working on my own blog and 2) using Twitter are two very important elements in platform building. The blog is a great way to get your own voice out there and it’s amazing how powerful one little article can be. I write about anything at all really, bits and pieces of my stories, fun thoughts and musings and  also about my experiences of writing and publishing on the Internet. I see it as a writer having a weekly column in a newspaper and if you’re lucky, readers out there will find it and then go onto your books. Or maybe not.

Facebook comes a close third but there are different ways of using this particular social network. You can either have two accounts; one for family and friends, one for your fan or author page. I prefer to have only one; it’s less confusing and, in any case, I want my real life friends and family to read my books and share my news, either personal or professional.

My next move? I’m going back into the ‘zone.’

You can read Susanne’s blog here,  visit her website here and her Amazon Author page here where you can view all her titles. Thanks Susanne!

5 thoughts on “Special Guest Star Week: Author Susanne O’Leary

  1. Christopher Wills says:

    It’s great to learn that not everyone is methodical and logical about marketing. I’m interested in your comments on Twitter because I tweet but I still don’t really get it reference getting people to buy books.
    Thanks and good luck Susanne & Catherine.

  2. Nick Finley says:

    Thanks for the great guest post. Ive currently been pondering platform building and a host of other issues. I like hearing other author’s takes.

    Ive been leaning towards a “Brand the author, not the book approach” although, my initial thoughts on this matter are to:

    1. Brand the author
    2. Then brand the book (sort of a sub brand of the author

    I think its most important to build the brand of the author. Otherwise, how will we survive in this “race to the bottom” of the pricing category? The market is already so, so crowded.


  3. Rob A Marsh says:

    I enjoyed the article, Susanne. It’s a shame writers have to do so much of the tedious leg work to get their books out there, but your experiences are inspiring.
    Best of luck with the continued success!

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