Susan Buchanan

susan Buchanan imageWhen did you first start writing?

I first started writing when I was about 7, but quickly had to learn that it’s not OK to finish your story with ‘and then I died’! I enjoyed writing essays in English class and had a very good imagination for inventing stories. I started writing my first novel when I was about 14, Adolescent Fun, which I never finished. I am sure I have it somewhere. But I only really started writing again when I was 29. It took me 6 years to write and edit my first novel, as I was still working full-time. I wrote The Dating Game in less than 6 months and The Christmas Spirit in less than a month. It shows you what you can achieve when you really put your mind to it! I’ve been writing full-time for almost 2 years now, minus my maternity leave.

Are you a structured writer or a see-what happens? 

I’m structured in that I think about the story and the characters and make chapter plans and character plans. I even have a spreadsheet with characters’ names. However, I am open to change if I think I come up with a better idea. I have deviated from plan considerably over time, particularly with my first book, and The Christmas Spirit was by far the book where I stayed most on track. That said, much of that was down to timescale. I like, though, when characters’ actions make me go off at a tangent and it creates another facet to the story. I couldn’t be the kind of writer who planned out every single scene and paragraph in advance. That would take the fun out of it for me.

Tell us about your first novel ‘Sign of the Times’

sign of the timesWow! Sign of the Times, where to start? It’s probably the most complex book I will ever write – having 12 key characters and a whole screed of ancillary ones. Months, days of the week, seasons had all been done, but not signs of the zodiac. As I love to travel, part of the book had to be set abroad. I researched all the personality traits for each star sign and then started building up pictures in my mind (and on paper) of the various characters and their stories. One event binds the twelve characters together – they are all somehow linked. it was a very tricky book to write and gave rise to boundless continuity errors, but I think I got it right in the end. There will actually be a continuation to Sign of the Times, purely based on demand from my readers. It was meant to be a stand-alone, but the readers missed the characters and so do I. Depending on how my progress with What If goes early next year, the continuation might be out end 2014 or more likely early 2015.

When you first initially put Sign of the Times out there, did you get the response you hoped for?

God no! But that was largely down to my ignorance of what would happen to it once I pressed publish on Amazon. I think I thought Amazon was this lovely, magnanimous company who would tell everyone about my book and sales would start pouring in! Eh, well I woke  up to that quite quickly. I had no idea about social media or networking. I  had set up a Twitter account only a few days before, had no blog or Facebook author page – nada. I sold about 30 copies in the first few weeks, to friends. Not all of my friends and acquaintances had Kindles or e-readers back then. I would imagine about 500% more have now! So I started to build a following:  marketing, blog appearances, got Twitter followers, set up my own blog, helped other authors – who are then more than happy to reciprocate. Twitter, I have to say, was how my sales took off. Plus when I reached #1 on the free Amazon chart, the after sales spiked.

What inspired you to write it?

I wanted to write something which I had been looking to read, but which hadn’t been written. Back then, almost 11 years ago, no-one had written a book to my knowledge, based on the 12 signs of the zodiac, or certainly not as a different character for each sign, who then took on the personality traits of that sign. The characters’ jobs are also appropriate to their particular star sign – ie people of those star signs have a propensity to turn towards those kind of careers. I also love writing about relationships and portraying characters which are relatable to my readers. With Sign of the Times there was something for everyone

Tell us about your latest novel – Christmas Spirit.

the christmas spiritThe Christmas Spirit came about quite by accident. I had shelved What If whilst I was on maternity leave and was due to pick it up again soon, when one night in bed I couldn’t get to sleep and for whatever reason, the idea for The Christmas Spirit came to me. I’d always wanted to write a Christmas book, but this wasn’t the book I expected to write. I have another Christmas book planned, but it’s a few books away. I started to think about what Christmas meant to me (love it), how much fun we have, how much excess we all go to – food, presents, decorations, etc. Then I thought about all those who might be dreading Dec 25th for various reasons: breakup, death in the family, no cash, stress, pressure etc. And I wanted the various characters to have a happy ending, of course; it is Christmas after all!  So I introduced a figure into the equation who would be instrumental in improving the lot of each character.

Here’s the blurb:-

Christmas is coming, but not everyone is looking forward to it.

Rebecca has just been dumped and the prospect of spending the holiday period with her parents is less than appealing.

Eighty- two year old Stanley lost his beloved wife, Edie, to cancer. How will he cope with his first Christmas without her?

Jacob’s university degree hasn’t helped him get a job, and it looks like he’ll still be signing on come New Year.

Workaholic Meredith would rather spend December 25th at home alone with a ready meal and a DVD box set. Can anything make her embrace the spirit of the season?

The enigmatic Natalie Hope takes over the reins at the Sugar and Spice bakery and café in an attempt to spread some festive cheer and restore Christmas spirit, but will she succeed?

What motivated/inspired you to become an Indie Author?

Well, actually, it was my Other Half who kind of decided I should become an indie author. Back then I had no idea what an indie author was! I had been looking for jobs after my then current position ended and nothing that I was interested in bore fruit. So, he suggested that rather than beat my head against a brick wall during a recession, why didn’t I prepare my already long-finished novel for upload to Amazon and it kind of went from there! He actually made the original cover. OK, he knocked it up in 20 minutes and in retrospect that wasn’t the brightest decision I’d ever made, but when you venture out into the great unknown, you really do have no clue. Even now, things are different – new authors bringing out novels for the first time probably are better armed than I was, but I had no author platform and didn’t even know what one was! I had originally approached publishers a few years previously with Sign of the Times, but no-one was prepared to take on a novel with 12 main characters! When I finished writing The Dating Game late 2012, it didn’t even occur to me not to go indie with it. I loved the fact that I could plan everything myself and I loved the immediacy of it all.

How do you marketing your books? Do you have a process?

Marketing – where to start? I spend far too much time on Twitter (still), even though I have seriously cut back. I am getting a bit better at using Facebook. I’ve recently used a site in the US where you pay a percentage of your profit for the sales their site generates for you, but that’s really the only paid advertising I’ve done. I use my blog as a vehicle for reaching my readers. I could do so much more – you could literally spend 24 hours a day marketing and it really does get in the way of writing and I don’t want that.  Networking with other authors and appearing on blogs, doing interviews, giveaways, guest posts, sample Sunday on Twitter, blog hops. There are so many things. I am thinking about doing an official blog tour early next  year, but until now I’ve contacted all the book reviewers and bloggers myself. What you’ll find about authors is we all do something different with regard to Marketing!

What advice would you give to any writer wanting to do it the ‘Indie Way’.

I would advise writers wanting to do it the ‘indie way’ to ensure they treat it seriously and dedicate enough time to it. Even doing so, it’s a tremendously hard slog. Writing is the easy bit, but can you market yourself, too? I had no idea when I first started out, even though I’d worked in Sales, that I needed to be a brand. Make your book as professional as you can  – for a few hundred quid you can have a professional cover and a proofread and/or edited book, as well as a professionally formatted book. Take yourself seriously and others will, too. If you really don’t have the cash, learn how to make your covers, learn how to format, but you will still need a proofreader. It’s the one thing you cannot do without and you cannot do it yourself. You will always be too close to the work. Finally – see Marketing answer above!

Tell us what you are reading at the moment.

I’ve just finished Carole Matthews’ Calling Mrs Christmas and I’ve read a few pages of Lindsey Kelk’s I Heart Christmas. I have temporarily ditched Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (which is as brilliant as the hype suggests) only because I like to read Christmas books in December.

Anything else you would like to add to your readers or to other writers.

To readers I would say simply, try new authors. I’ve read lots of new authors this year. I always have my favourites, whose books I will continue to buy, but this year new authors for me have been E J Greenway, Diana Appleyard, Jaimie Admans, Cat Lavoie, Jonas Jonasson, Ali McNamara, Nicky Wells, Ali Harris, Linn B Halton, Mhairi McFarlane and R J Heald. To those who have read my books, I would say thanks so much, I will keep writing as long as you keep reading. To those who haven’t read my books, I would say, why the heck not?! Kidding – well, sort of. They’re good – really!

And to other writers, I would say, support each other, ‘cos it’s a tough old job, but a great one.

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