Today I’m chatting to Sacha Black, author of fantasy novels and writing guides. Sacha told me she has five obsessions; words, expensive shoes, conspiracy theories, self-improvement, and breaking the rules. She also has the mind of a perpetual sixteen-year-old, only with slightly less drama and slightly more bills.
Sacha writes books about people with magical powers and other books about the art of writing. She lives in Hertfordshire, England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son.
When she’s not writing, she can be found laughing inappropriately loud, blogging, sniffing musty old books, fangirling film and TV soundtracks, or thinking up new ways to break the rules.
How are you published?
I’m indie published. I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want to be traditionally published and I’ve never queried as a result. I would definitely consider being hybrid and selling some selective rights in the future. I think it’s somewhat inevitable for indies that hang around long enough to venture into rights licensing territory.
Honestly though, I’m a total control freak! I took one look at the trad model and balked. I didn’t want to earn 25p a sale, I didn’t want someone else deciding what my cover looked like and I really didn’t want my IP rights sales being dictated by someone else.
I’m lucky because the business end of writing interests me as much as the creative end. I’m one of these people who gets bored easily and while I want writing words to take up the majority of my day, I don’t want to write all day every day. I need variety in my life and I love the fact that I can dip my toe in the business side as well as the creative side.
How did you learn about book publishing? Are there any tips you’d like to share with readers?
I was in the blogging world for a while before I made the decision to commit to writing. As a result, I connected with various writers and publishing experts. I followed and read their blogs for the longest time and also shared lessons I was learning on my own journey. From there I discovered podcasts which I promptly got obsessed with. I used to cram in listening to them—and audiobooks—in dead time like while I was replying to emails, walking down corridors, the commute to work, doing housework and errands. At work I used to get these pompous assholes saying ‘you’ll bump into someone if you keep looking at your phone.’ I just turned the sound up and continued learning :p
Podcasts are probably the primary way I learnt about the industry and marketing, but for craft I’d say it was all self-taught. I still spend hours deconstructing the books I read right down to forensic levels. I look at how they’ve constructed sentences, what it is about their sentences that has created such good characterization or foreshadowing etc.
I also make a point of attending writing conferences. I go to the London Book Fair each year. I’ve also been to both of the UK 20booksto50k conferences as well as a few other events. I intend to go to Frankfurt Book Fair next year too. Conferences are a fabulous chance to network and learn at the same time.
I think authors often underestimate the value of in-person conferences. But networking and meeting other writers has been one of the biggest influencing factors in my career.
How did you get started and was there any specific event that was the trigger to your writing career?
I’ve always been a bookworm. So much so we had to change libraries when I was a kid.
I went to school already able to read and my love for books never waned. If I’d been a bit more self-aware, I’d have worked out I wanted to write long before I did. Instead, I went to university and studied Psychology because I had to get a ‘proper job’. I then fell into a really corporate FastTrack management scheme and hated it.
So I turned to blogging—and maybe gin if we’re being honest—ranting about how much I hated my job. But what happened was that I rather rapidly rediscovered how much I loved writing. I never looked back.
How are your books distributed and where do you find most of your readers?
I’m wide, which means I publish on all the online retailers. At the moment, I only have ebook and paperbacks.
However, I have my first audiobook in production—I’m narrating, editing and mastering myself. Big ask, I know. But that’s one of the things I love about being indie, there’s very little we can’t learn to do. If we have an idea, we can capitalize on it.
On the DIY audiobook creation topic, I highly recommend Renee Conoulty’s Narrated by the Author. It’s been instrumental in giving me the confidence to have a go.
Oh, and I also intend to publish hardbacks in the new year as well as finally dipping my toe in the course business. I’ll be developing some writing craft courses over the summer and fall of 2020.
What forms of marketing do you use to reach and engage with readers?
For my nonfiction I spend a lot of time playing with AMS ads to reach readers. I’d say they have been responsible for the majority of my sales. However, that’s changing a little now that I run the Rebel Author Podcast. The podcast is an awesome way to engage with both the community in terms of who I interview and also listeners. I’d say that’s one of my favorite ways.
I also have an amazingly supportive Facebook group for writers where we hold each other accountable and all have a penchant for villainous characters. I also do live Q&A sessions in there answering writer questions. You can join the group here.
Last, I have a Patreon account which is so much more intimate than anything I’ve done before. Everyone there is super engaged and you get to create the things your patrons really want which is fulfilling and lovely because they get the benefit of personalized content.
On the fiction front, I’m most active on Instagram. I love chatting about books and taking beautiful book photos. I also love how interactive Instagram stories are. Readers can ask you questions and take polls and tag you in things.
I posted a picture of a lamp post once and told my followers how an entire story had fallen into my head as I walked past this particular post. I’ve since been sent over 150 images of lamp posts from readers all over the world. You’d be amazed at the kinds of things that grab people’s attention. And most of the time it’s the things we’re afraid to share. I nearly didn’t share the lamp post story because I thought it was silly. I’m so glad I did because it connected with followers. Don’t be afraid to share the things you love even if they feel too niche or geeky.
What marketing has been most successful for you? Why do you think that is?
It sounds a little indirect, but I honestly think networking has been the best form of marketing I’ve ever done. Meeting other indies and forming genuine relationships has led to so many opportunities for further marketing (for my nonfiction). For example, appearing on podcasts, guest posting like this, speaking at conferences, awareness of the author services I have. The opportunities that come from networking are phenomenal.
Second to that is starting a podcast, I’ve been astounded at the volume of downloads and how sales have increased since I launched. That aside, it’s a cliché but writing more books. Nothing sells a book like another book especially if you write in the same genre.
Is there any marketing you’ve done that didn’t work for you?
So many things.
Ads! It takes a LONG time to get paid advertising right. You have to be willing to experiment and lose money while you’re learning. I’ve thrown more money than I’d like to admit at advertising. I haven’t mastered the paid CPM ads through Bookbub yet, but I suspect some of that is because I haven’t got enough books to earn royalties from read-through.
I’m one of these people who tries all sorts of things which means I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons over the years. I’ve tried NetGalley which didn’t work as well as I’d expect for the popularity of the site, but the most expensive cock-up was trying to put merch in YA monthly bookbox subscriptions. Other than a few mailing list signups, I saw nothing from it.
Do you have any tips on reaching an audience and building an army of fans?
Find the thing that is uniquely you and do it regularly. Everyone talks about author branding and how important it is. And it really is, but the part that’s most important is finding that thing inside you that you love. For me it’s being rebellious. I have a potty mouth; I break the rules and I don’t apologise for it.
I didn’t intentionally start doing that, I just did it because it’s me and the more I fell into the writing world the more me I could be. What happened was that a community of fellow rebels and villain lovers grew around me. I genuinely believe when we are our best selves we attract like-minded people to us. My best advice is to find the thing that’s uniquely-you and embody it as much as you can.
Thanks to Sacha for sharing your publishing and marketing tips with us. I’ll never look at a lamp post the same way again!