I wrote the manuscript for Sweetbriars almost fifteen years ago in Australia. I remember sending the manuscript to a literary agency for an appraisal, and they wrote back to me encouraging me to take more writing classes! I was encouraged at school to pursue a career in writing as my teacher thought I had some talent – but school English is a little different to studying writing at University or through specialist courses.
My dream was to create a new Saddle Club series as I loved these types of books… books with fun, addictive characters that love horses, and evolve as the series progresses.
I did go on to study writing more formally… but as part of a business degree where I had some ‘free’ subjects and somehow was able to choose creative writing subjects, which I enjoyed a lot and did well in. After finishing my studies, I went into a career in marketing working for international companies / brands.
A year and a half ago I had a baby and I had not forgotten my book dream… so I dug out the manuscript and worked on it a few hours each day, whilst I was at home with my baby.
As I’d lived in England for almost ten years I changed the book to be set in the stunning countryside of Devon – where my Oldenburg foal was bred. The book is based on the many experiences I had whilst enjoying horse life in the UK – competing in dressage competitions, exploring bridleways and spectating at big horse shows. Also, my growing up riding ponies, going to Pony Club and having so much fun and adventures with my friends.
My last professional job was not creative at all, so doing something creative was enjoyable and a welcome change.
But it wasn’t all joyful… towards the end of writing my book and working closely with an editor to refine the story, I was spending more time writing and it was winter. The days were cold, dark and rainy and I had back pain from sitting and writing for four to five hours a day! I felt isolated at times… I went from being in an office with many things to do, surrounded by people, travelling a lot, to spending a year with my baby, not sleeping well and doing something much more creative… but mostly solitary.
Once the book was finally published though, the feeling of having my new book in my hand was (and still is), something special!
I realise now how much I’ve learnt, particularly through working with a good editor and I made some good contacts. When I embark on writing the next book in the series, I am confident it will be much easier. Most importantly I want to make sure I enjoy writing for the sake of writing… having fun with the new world and characters I created!
I thought I could share some learnings from my recent experience of publishing my first Sweetbriars book:
- Editing. I found a developmental editor through Reedsy and she was very good. She pulled my book apart and then helped me put it back together to make it a hundred times better. She had experience working for top publishing houses in my book’s genre, and excellent reviews on Reedsy.
A good editor is essential with the right experience and good reviews. This also goes for copy editing and proofreading. I realised from my first readers that there were some errors in my book. Make sure you get as many people as possible to read your book before you publish it. I read that in the big publishing houses once a book has gone through the full editing process, they have seven extra people read a book before it goes out into the world.
- Book Cover. Start your book cover early – towards the end of writing your book. I sent a brief to the book cover designer when I finished writing my book and I could have done this months before to save time.
- Formatting. In regard to book formatting, I had a bad experience despite using someone recommended to me. But through that experience I realised I can do the formatting myself in MS Word and I kept the template from the first book, so I won’t have to waste time using someone or have the added expense again. I recommend trying to do it yourself if you are good in MS Word (read up about how to do it on the internet) or hire someone with good reviews to do it for you, and keep the template to use next time.
- Book reviews. If possible, try to get reviews before you release your book. You can reach out to people you know but be careful if they are close friends and family, as Amazon will remove the reviews if they see some sort of connection. For more professional reviewers, I found the Kindle Book Review, Twitter and Goodreads have been helpful to network with appropriate people. You can also use a service like Book Funnel to send the books out to readers in a simple and professional way.
- Book Reviews. Once your book is published you can include a page at the end of your book encouraging people to leave you a review. I’ve done this and included hyperlinks to my Amazon book pages to make it as easy as possible.
- Amazon Exclusivity. If you decide to join KDP Select as I did for three months, and you run a book give away or count down deal (they offer you either of these options once in each three-month period), make sure you list the book on free sites to get the most out of your promotion (as I did not!). Here is a helpful article www.selfpublishingadvice.org/free-promotion-self-published-books-evaluation.
I decided on exclusivity as I thought it was a good way to get the book read and generate reviews quickly. I have to admit this didn’t work that well for me, but I think this was because I didn’t have the page where I remind readers to leave reviews, until the very last page in my book. I’ve now moved this page to after the page where the story finishes (eg. The End), so it is more obvious.
- If you are writing a book about horses, for people who aren’t that knowledgeable, make sure you explain to them what certain names or terms mean. I included a glossary at the end of my book, Leaving The City, but you could also add this information on a website, which could be a great way to engage with readers. In the reviews I have to date, I often get readers commenting on how helpful this glossary is.
- Be thick skinned and grateful for every bit of advice. Be patient and probably realistic that writing your first book isn’t going to bring you huge sales over night. It is a learning curve where you need to develop your writing skills, identify your market of readers as well as the right channels to be able to reach them.
Lastly, remember writing a book is a big achievement and something you will always be proud of! You never know where it will take you… ( :
Hollie Anne Marsh is an Australian author who lives in Barcelona, Spain with her partner, baby boy, and Oldenburg mare, Frieda. After having a professional career, including creating the equestrian online shop Equiporium (since sold), working for many large multinational companies, and having a baby, Hollie reconnected with her passion of writing, and finished the manuscript she wrote many years ago.