Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sara stops by my spot

Sara Jayne Townsend has a taste for solving mysteries, and it shows in her fiction. I've had the pleasure of working with her on two of her novels, which she published through Lyrical Press, and I invited her to stop by my blog today to chat a little bit about the art and craft of writing.

Plus she's a gal after my own heart. She's learning to play bass guitar!

Welcome, Sara!

Although your first novel has supernatural elements, you show a tendency toward murder-mysteries. Are there any novels/authors that are influential with regard to this?

Sara Paretsky is hugely inspiring to me. Her character, VI Warshawski, was the first female private eye in the field of crime fiction, and I still hold her up as a shining example of a strong-minded, independent woman, and she introduced me to the genre of crime with a female heroine. In fact, this is what inspired me to try to write a series of my own featuring a female amateur sleuth.

Ebooks aren't tangible and, so far as I can see, the ereader market is still growing outside of the US. How do you market yourself in the UK?

It’s hard with ebooks as you have no physical product to sell to people. On the other hand, bricks-and-mortar bookshops are in decline as virtual bookshops like Amazon rise ever higher, and even print authors are turning more to the internet to market their books. The good thing about the internet is that it’s global. Virtually all of my marketing is done online. As well as having a website and a regular blog, I utilise social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc. I also do guest blogs and online interviews whenever I can, just to try and get my name out there as much as possible.

On top of a day-job, how do you balance your writing/reading schedule?

It can be tough. It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. I have a two-hour journey every day on public transport to and from work, and I do most of my reading on the train.

I used to be able to write late into the night and then get up for work five hours later and still function, but now I’m the wrong side of 40 I can’t do that any more. I find when I get home from work I’m too exhausted to write productively, so I use that time for writing blog posts, answering emails, and whatever other marketing activities need doing. And fitting in all the other non-writing aspects of my life such as going to the gym and learning the bass guitar.

For the last couple of years, I have been getting up early a couple of times a week and going into London on the early train, sitting in Starbucks for an hour to write before heading into work. And I try to get some writing time in on weekends if I can. This is working for me, but if someone had told me fifteen years ago I would be voluntarily getting out of bed at 5,30am to write, I wouldn’t have believed them.

First and foremost, all authors are readers. What are the next three books on your "to be read" list and why?

Body Work by Sara Paretsky. As I mentioned earlier, I am a huge fan of Sara Paretsky. I had the privilege of meeting her when she was in the UK earlier this year as part of a tour to promote her latest book and I got a personalized signed copy of it.

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher. I am a big fan of Jim Butcher’s series about contemporary Chicago wizard Harry Dresden. I read Changes recently. Without giving away any spoilers, the book finishes on something of a climax. I had to go buy the next book to find out what happens next.

Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold. This is a debut novel by a friend of mine, soon to be released by Solaris. Gaie is an amazing writer and I am so pleased that she’s now got a novel in the public domain, so everyone can enjoy it. Although it’s fantasy, which isn’t really my genre, the title character of Babylon Steel is just my sort of woman – independent, and strong-minded. She’s an ex-mercenary who runs a brothel. Gaie has a witty and easy-to-read style of writing and I am looking forward to reading her debut novel.

How has your approach to writing changed since publication of your novels? What have you learnt about yourself?

I’ve learned that I’m quite lazy and have had to become far more disciplined about my approach to writing. We all have the same number of hours in the day, it’s how we use them. As I mentioned earlier, getting up early to write is one change I’ve made to ensure that I do get some writing in every week. I also spend a lot more time on internet promotion. This can often seem like a thankless task with no immediate reward, but I think it’s important. Building one’s name as a writer is a very slow and gradual process.

I’ve also learned about some of my own bad habits in writing – such as feeling the need to describe every single detail. In early drafts of Death Scene, when my amateur sleuth got out of the car, she didn’t just get out of the car. She put the brake on, turned off the engine, undid the seat belt, opened the door, got out, collected her bag, shut the door, locked the car, walked away. I think this comes from my own rather anal habit of attention to detail, but the reader will imply she’s done all these things just by her getting out of the car.

What, in your opinion, are the three greatest mistakes authors make when promoting their writing?

One is to assume they haven’t got time for promotion. Many writers have said to me they don’t blog because blogging detracts from writing time, and it has no affect on sales. I know it’s said that the most effective way of selling your book is to write the next one, and I have no doubt that’s true, but the industry is changing and it’s becoming ever important to get yourself Out There. Readers find an author they like, chances are they are going to Google that author. The more places on the internet you can be found, the better. Blogging is a very good platform for getting yourself Out There. You don’t even have to blog about writing – readers want to know about the writer as a person. Most people think they lead quite boring lives, but other people are interested in aspects of your life unfamiliar to them. I find commuting to London every day very boring, but people who don’t live in London seem to find the tales I tell on my blog about my daily commute interesting. If only one person decides to buy your book because they came upon your blog and decided you were an interesting person, then it’s been worth doing.

However, you have to be careful of over-exposure, which I would list as Mistake Number 2. If you’re on Twitter, you shouldn’t be using it solely to tell people to buy your books six times a day. There’s a fine line between being proactive and being intrusive. Tweet regularly, but Tweet about other things as well as your book.

The third mistake is, I think, writers who take criticism too personally and decide they are going to use the internet as a public forum to defend their book. I’ve seen – rather too often, it seems – a writer who’s had universal praise have a rather public meltdown when someone posts a less-than-favourable review about the latest book. Some writers have felt the need to defend their book, which has often involved attacking the reviewer. Growing a thick skin isn’t easy, and it does rather cut to the bone when someone really doesn’t like your book, and says so. But the author biting back on this doesn’t look professional, and ultimately will not help sales. Not everyone’s going to like your book. That’s just something you have to live with.

* * * *

Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of horror and crime fiction.
She has two novels, Death Scene and Suffer the Children available as ebooks from Lyrical Press, and a collection of short stories scheduled for release in 2012 from Stumar Press.

You can learn more about Sara and her writing from her website and her blog.


  1. Great interview - think I'll be checking out Sara's books! See, publicity does work.

  2. What I really love about her writing is that her characters are *real* people with everyday issues.

  3. Great interview, definitely sound advice. Being lazy gets you nowhere when you finally decide to take that plunge.