Time for my next Indie author duo, the third in my series “The Wonderful Life of an Indie Author”. Today, I’ve paired a lady who writes post-apocalyptical series and thrillers with a writer of 17th century historicals – maybe because Terry Tyler has written a number of books set in present time but with the events inspired by such climactic events as the War of the Roses and Henry VIII’s reign. Elizabeth St John does not write thrillers. She depicts the life of her long-dead ancestors and doesn’t need to add any invented suspense: peeps living in the tumultuous time of the English Civil War had excitement aplenty as it was.
As a totally unrelated aside, I once had a teacher called Miss St John. She was probably related to Elizabeth and I am ashamed to admit I mostly remember poor Ms St John because she was very upset when I filled her briefcase with several dozen of live frogs. Before spreading glue on her chair… Right: moving right ahead, let us plunge into my interview!
What is the best thing about being an Indie author?
Terry: To be honest, Anna, I don’t think of myself as an ‘indie author’, but as a writer, full stop; I think what matters is the book itself, not how it is published. (Hear, hear, Terry – I’m with you on that. Plus I don’t think readers actually check HOW the book was published) I decided to take the self-pub route from the outset, because it’s important to me to have complete control over what and when I write, pricing and free or cut-price promotions, what my blurbs say, my covers, how my books are edited, their listing on Amazon, and so much more. The short answer: having control over every aspect of writing, editing and publishing my books.
Elizabeth: Without a doubt the freedom to write to your own beat, without having to compromise storytelling. Writing biographical historical fiction is a fine balance between staying true to facts and chronology, and creating a compelling plot. The freedom to do this without the confines of a “what sells” formula is priceless. Not to say I don’t employ professional processes – alpha and beta readers, and a skilled editor are a necessity. I just don’t have to conform to a third party’s view of what my novel should be. Oh, and I can give myself deadline extensions. That’s priceless!
What is your biggest challenge and how do you handle it?
Elizabeth: As I write more, keeping up equally with marketing and writing is probably the biggest challenge. Being disciplined with your time, knowing when to switch jobs and how to do both equally well is an acquired art. For me, carving blocks of time to do one or the other is best – whether it’s splitting the day into two different sections, or allocating a day a week for banking social media posts, blogs and reviews works best. What I find doesn’t work is hopping from one to the other. Writing requires focused concentration, and if my brain is multi-tasking on social media, my attention span is that of a flea.
Terry: Getting my books in front of readers who don’t know I exist. You need to go where the readers are, which for Kindle books (I don’t do paperbacks) is Amazon and BookBub, the latter of which has thousands of active members looking for books in their preferred categories, so getting a book chosen for a Featured Deal gives massive visibility. Hey presto: Amazon sales. On a smaller level, I started the ball rolling by learning how to use Twitter both effectively and enjoyably, and then by developing relationships with book bloggers, some of whom have become real life friends, which is lovely.
I am sensing a theme here: three posts into this series, and the consensus seems to be that marketing/enhancing visibility is the biggest single challenge for an author. Likely just as much no matter HOW you are published.
Terry, in your opinion, what is the biggest no-no for an indie author?
I’d say publishing too soon, before doing enough redrafting, before acquiring an objective viewpoint, and without employing a proofreader who knows what they’re doing. I understand the eagerness to get a book ‘out there’, but if it is to have any chance of being read and reviewed positively, it needs to meet certain standards. I read for a book blog review team for which we get many ‘indie’ books submitted, and a frequent criticism is simply that a book needs more work; publishing your work is about more than just the joyous, creative splurge of writing a story!
Are you a one-genre writer or do you enjoy writing in several genres?
Elizabeth: So far, one genre, biographical historical fiction. I did just have a fun skype session with my daughter, who is wonderful premise writer and editor, and we’re thinking about writing a historical Christmas romance together. At least we’ve committed to a picnic, Pims and sandwiches in the park when I see her next – all serious planning necessities, of course!
Terry: I started with contemporary drama, which became darker and eventually slid into psychological thriller. In the last couple of years I’ve written a five-book post apocalyptic series, and I’ve just finished a dystopian novel. I just start on the story I want to write next, as soon as one is finished. All my books are character driven, many of them written in the first person, so whether my protagonists are having wrangles with a husband, worrying that their best friend is a murderer, or facing the collapse of the 21st century, my basic writing style remains the same, so I find that a good amount of readers stick with me; cross fingers this will continue!
Tell us a bit about your books and what you are working on now.
Terry: My most recent books: The Devil You Know has five main characters, each of whom fear that an unidentified local serial killer might be someone close to them. The Project Renova series is about a pandemic that kicks off in a seaside town in Norfolk; the series follows the fates of a mother and daughter, with more main characters added as it goes along. Best Seller is a novella about three writers. The House of York is a dark family drama inspired by events during the Wars of the Roses. (Presently on my Kindle. Am enjoying the subtle historical references) I am currently working on Blackthorn, set in my fictional city of the same name which appeared in the last book of the Project Renova series: Legacy. It’s a complete stand alone, so you don’t have to read the series first.
Elizabeth: My first series of books, The Lydiard Chronicles, is a trilogy set in 17th Century England and France. The books are biographical historical fiction and span the tumultuous years of England’s slide into Civil War and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Central to the saga is my own family – the St.Johns – who witnessed first hand the events from their positions as courtiers, spies, and royal favourites. I am fortunate enough that we have wonderful archives of letters and portraits, and I discovered the original story of the Chronicles in a 400-year old diary written by a family member. Right now, I’ve just turned in the manuscript for the third and final in this series to my editor, and it’s scheduled to publish in the autumn.
Fascinating, Elizabeth. What’s it like to write about your own ancestors?
You ask what it’s like to write about my own ancestors? As I type, a life size portrait of Lucy St.John Apsley is above the fireplace by my right shoulder. The painting dates from about 1618, so she is in her late twenties. She wears a beautiful gown of embroidered tawny, adorned by a delicate pointed ruff. A jaunty little hat crowned with a fashionable ostrich feather perches on her curled golden brown hair. Her face is serene, with a slight smile lifting her lips. She has just moved into the Tower of London as the wife of the successful and popular Lieutenant Governor, Sir Allen Apsley. I know what lies ahead in her life, but she does not. And therein lies the responsibility and joy of writing about my ancestors. Although I have a built-in timeline and structure to my story, I have to write “in the present”, keeping their future as a subtext to the main plot, for they act without knowledge of what lies ahead. I can foreshadow but not reveal, weaving fiction within the gaps of the facts. It is a responsibility I take seriously, for I would not characterize them other than I find them. And it is also a joy. For as I look up, perhaps Lucy’s lips have curved a little more sweetly into a smile of encouragement.
Which one of your books would you recommend to someone who wanted to check you out as a writer? Why?
Terry: Probably Tipping Point, as it is the first book in the Project Renova series. Many reviews say they had not read the post apocalyptic/dystopian genre before, and were pleased to find that it’s not necessarily about zombies and guns, but how the characters survive and thrive in the most trying of circumstances. (I have another suggestion: for a couple of days, The Devil You Know is free on Amazon… )
Elizabeth: The first book in the series, The Lady of the Tower, is where I would suggest starting. Chronologically it introduces the reader to the family story, in 1603. It’s also my most popular book, and has a very compelling heroine in the character of Lucy St.John, who lived in the Tower of London for thirteen years.
What is your latest release and what is it about?
Terry: Hope (coming later this week) is set ten years into the future, in the UK – jobs are scarce because of increased industry automation, benefits (welfare!) are getting harder and harder to obtain, and the homeless population is expanding every day; all over the country, centres called Hope Villages have been set up to house them. The main character is a blogger called Lita, who believes herself safe in her cosy flat with friends, with no idea what lies behind the carefully constructed mirage of Hope…
Elizabeth: By Love Divided is my latest release, which is the second in The Lydiard Chronicles. The story features Lucy St.John, The Lady of the Tower, and her children, Luce and Allen. As England marches into civil war, Lucy embraces the Puritan cause. Luce also follows Parliament’s radical views and challenges the very core of the family’s beliefs. and yet her beloved brother, Sir Allen Apsley, chooses to fight for king and joins the gallant Royalists When their influential Villiers cousins raise the stakes, King Charles demands a loyalty of Allen that could jeopardize them all. Allen and Luce face a devastating challenge. Will war unite or divide them? This novel tells of England’s great divide, and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.
Actually, Liz, you have a later release, Counterpoint, the rather delicious short story giving us some insight into the mind of the viperish Barbara Villiers. Not a novel, but a nice introduction to your writing, IMO
Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. Her novels are inspired by family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them – in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story…
Find out more about Elizabeth on her website, pop by her Amazon Page and follow her on Twitter or on FB
Terry Tyler has published eighteen (very soon to be nineteen once Hope hits the shelves) books on Amazon, and runs a popular blog on which she posts writing and social media advice for new authors, and reviews books, films and TV. She loves history, the countryside, peace and quiet and The Walking Dead. And her husband.