We spoke with Anne Barwell, a gay and lesbian SFF and historical fiction author about her recent novel, Shadowboxing (Lacedragon 2020). We discussed her experience with co-authors, self-publishing, and in-depth historical research. –Katsumi Sterling
Why did you decide to write with a co-author? What’s your top tip for people looking to do the same?
I didn’t decide to go out looking for a co-author, but the opportunity came about after chatting with author friends. Lou Sylvre and I both wanted to write a Scottish historical [novel] with a touch of fantasy, and thought it would be fun to write it together. It was! Then later, she approached me about writing a New Zealand set romance together. As we were already working on The Harp and Sea, and I knew we worked well together the answer was a very resounding yes, so Sunset at Pencarrow was born.
With The Sleepless City, which Elizabeth Noble and I wrote together but as alternate books rather than co-writing each book, we’d been chatting about our vampire characters and how it would be fun if they met. The series, which is now a wider world as we both have spin-off series, came from that.
Working with a co-author requires a lot of give, take, and compromise, and your ideas and writing style needs to mesh if you’re co-writing a book. Also, make sure you get on with the person you’re writing with, as it’s like having a child. You’re going to be working with that person for a very long time. Promo is much easier working with someone rather than fighting against them.
I’d also recommend using a collaborative online process like Trello for the book/series bible as continuity is a must. Although Elizabeth and I have finished The Sleepless City, we still need to make sure our wider universe continuity meshes, and we have characters and ideas from each other’s books popping up in our own, with permission of course.
In terms of personal marketing, which techniques have been successful for you and your co-author?
It’s important to get out there and make connections. Although writing is a solitary process, marketing definitely isn’t. At the very least make sure you have a website so that people can find you and your books. I also have an active Facebook presence, and I’m constantly promoting in groups there. I have my own reader group and a couple of joint ones.
Don’t just promo your own work, but be open to spreading the word for others too. It’s all about give and take.
Goodreads can also be used for marketing, so a presence there is a good idea too, although you’ll need a thick skin if you read your own reviews. I use it to track my own reading and reviewing, and my WordPress blog crossposts to there, Twitter, and my author page on Amazon.
One of my co-authors swears by Amazon ads, but I haven’t gotten into that much yet. We did run a Kindle countdown Black Friday sale for The Sleepless City, which was a simple set, forget, and make sure you promo like crazy over those few days.
Also make sure you have a newsletter because if your other platforms go down, it’s something you have control over. And check what other promo is available in the genre you write in. Get out there, meet people, comment on their posts, and make connections.
What are the best and worst parts of self-publishing?
The best part is having control over your books, and what you write. I also get a much higher financial return, but I need to put up money up front for covers and editing etc.
But it is a lot of work. When I release a book I don’t get any writing done for at least two weeks. And there is a cost if you want that return. A good cover and editor is a must, and if you can afford it, a proof reader. You’ll also need to format. Vellum is great although only available for Mac, but you can format on Draft2Digital and other places. Research is your friend, as is asking other authors what they do.
Promo is something you need to do whether you’re traditionally or self-published. Traditional publishers don’t do much, if any, promo for you unless you’re a big name author. So whichever way you go, that’s something you’re going to have to do.
How much research do you do as part of the composition process when you are working on historical fiction?
The short answer is a lot. The long answer is before I start writing I read about, and read books set in the time period I’m working on to get a feel for it as it’s going to drive a lot of the plot. While the level of technology is important, you also need to be true to the mindset and social ideologies of the time. For example, homosexual men need to hide their relationships in public or they could end up not only being persecuted, but prosecuted, imprisoned or worse etc.
Location also needs to be researched and from an historical perspective. I was looking for a park-like location in Berlin for a scene in my WWII story Shadowboxing, and found the perfect place. Unfortunately in 1943 it was a railway station so I couldn’t use it.
What is your favorite page-turner? (What is a book you could not put down, and why?)
I have a lot of favourite page-turners, so I’ll go with the book I’m currently reading which is Black Moon by Elle Keaton. This is the third in a series. I love the mix of mystery detective, action, and relationship. Niall and Mat are wonderful characters with interesting backstories, and I love them individually and as a couple. The plot keeps me turning pages as the tension wracks up. Mat is a Sheriff and Niall is an ex-cop, and now PI.
To find Anne online, check out her:
Website & Blog—Drops of Ink: http://annebarwell.wordpress.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/annebarwellauthor/
Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/annesbooksandbrews/
Sign up for her newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/39edaba3e3ad/annebarwellauthor