Katie Oliver currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.
She’s been writing off and on since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, Katie decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories.
She even finishes most of them.
What is your latest book?
Mansfield Lark is the latest, published on 3 March.
Is your recent book part of a series?
Yes, Mansfield Lark is the newest addition to the “Dating Mr Darcy” series. Other books in the series are Prada and Prejudice and Love and Liability. I have two more books in the works – one featuring Natalie and Rhys from Prada, and one with Gemma and Dominic from Mansfield.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
Well, I didn’t start out to write a series. I wrote the first book, Prada and Prejudice, with no clue that I’d write another…and then another, featuring some of the same characters across the three books. It just sort of happened that way. As I wrote the first one, I thought, you know, I really need to tell Holly’s story…and Dominic’s story… and so I did.
I think the biggest challenge when writing a series is keeping everything straight from one book to the next! I might forget whether a character in book one had blonde hair or black, or where he/she was born. Where was Ian and Alexa’s house located? Did Natalie take one gap year, or two? Those little details will trip you up in a later book if you don’t track them. I keep a notebook for each book, and I jot down stuff as I begin writing, so I can refer to it later.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
All the time! For instance, (spoiler alert) I didn’t intend for Holly James to end up with Alex Barrington. He was meant to be a cad who breaks her heart. But it didn’t work out that way…
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
What I make of it is this: it’s a crapshoot. There are many very excellent writers whose books languish unread. And there are many so-so writers whose books hit the bestseller lists.
Things that help get your book noticed are: a well-designed book cover; blog tours; and hosting a giveaway to stir a buzz and find you new readers. Establish yourself as a brand. Your writing name is your brand. Utilize social media. Don’t post non-stop “buy my book” Tweets – that’s spam, and no one likes spam. Engage with your followers. Use apps like Quozio to pull quotes from your book and post them on Twitter or Facebook. Pin pictures of your characters or locations to Pinterest and share on other social media. Think outside of the “buy my book” box.
Beyond that? It’s luck, pure and simple.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Know that nothing happens fast in the publishing world. It takes time to get representation, land a book contract, navigate through the editorial process. Be patient. Learn. Listen to people who know what they’re doing – your editor, your agent, the art department, your publisher. But don’t be afraid to push back (politely) if you really hate the cover or don’t agree with an edit.
For indie authors – I recommend hiring a proofreader to copyedit your book before you format and publish it. And it’s worth hiring a graphics person to design a killer book cover, as well. Make social media work for you by connecting with readers, bloggers, and other writers.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
Once my kids were grown, I wrote the book (well, two) that I’d always wanted to write. When I finished, I got an agent referral through the Elaine English agency in Washington, DC, based on the synopsis and first three chapters of Love and Liability. It took time to get a publishing deal, mainly because my books featured British characters and settings, which American publishers were hesitant to take on. But with time and perseverance it did happen, and my books – all three of them – were bought by UK Carina/Harlequin and published an ebook series.
There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?
It’s true, there’s a LOT to wade through and it can be overwhelming, especially to a new writer. Just try different approaches to find the one that you’re most comfortable with. If you hate Twitter, create a Facebook page instead. If you hate writing a blog post, let book bloggers know you’re available to answer interview questions or provide an excerpt from your book.
Many authors are happy to share what worked – and what didn’t – with other writers. Romance Writers of America publishes lots of useful tips on marketing and promoting your book. There’s also plenty of good information on the Internet.
You have to find what works for YOU, and for your book. Be creative. Themed giveaways that fit your book are a great approach. For the Dating Mr Darcy books, I offered a British Barbie and assorted “Keep Calm” notepads, page clips, and a pocket organizer, in addition to my latest ebook. Have fun with it, and your audience will have fun, too (and hopefully, buy your book!)
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
Decide what works best for you. If you work well independently, if you want to control everything from the cover design to the formatting and pricing of your book, you might want to self-publish.
If you prefer to focus on writing and wish to leave book cover design, editing, and formatting to others, you might prefer the traditional publishing route. Just be aware that promotion is still largely your responsibility. You may be assigned a publicist or a marketing liaison; you may not. Be prepared to market your books yourself.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
I think blog tours are one of the most effective ways to gain new readers for your books. You get exposure to a whole new audience who otherwise might not find you. You can share an excerpt from your book, or provide teasers about an upcoming release. You can participate in cross-genre blog tours with other authors. It’s fun, and a win-win for writers and readers.
Least effective? DON’T run a constant stream of links to your books on Twitter or Facebook. Just. Don’t. And giveaways can either be very effective or a complete waste of time. Themed giveaways are good; so are those that are open to everyone. Keep the rules simple. Don’t make contestants jump through a lot of hoops to enter, or they won’t bother. Make it easy, and fun.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
To play bass guitar! I’ve always wanted to do that. I want to be Tina Weymouth.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
That I suck at cooking. I’m an ace baker, and I make my own pizza dough and spaghetti sauce, and my lasagna is to die for. But beyond that? I’m hopeless.
What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?
In my junior year of high school, I took a course called Film Production. For the first half of the semester we watched films – Showboat, The Night of the Generals, Singing in the Rain, Chariots of Fire – and then we discussed them. We examined how scenes were edited and paced – short and fast for action sequences, longer for quieter scenes, etc. We learned that the film editor took miles of footage and cut and spliced it all together into a cohesive, compelling whole.
I learned to look at movies in a whole new way. Why did the director choose black and white versus color? Why was a particular scene shot in slow motion? How did those choices affect the drama, the tension, the pace of the film?
I learned to apply those lessons to books as well. I’m a visual person, and I ‘see’ my books as films inside my head. So wherever you are, Mr. Singleton – thank you. You rocked that class.
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