Since its inception, the focus of this blog has been to encourage writers to turn their dream of becoming a writer into a reality. This week I’m featuring an interview with Swedish author, MM Justine. The points she makes about taking online classes, reading to understand what other writers were doing, and benefiting from reader feedback struck me as important lessons for all of us, me included. But, there’s more. Not only has she written one book. She’s maintained the discipline to write three, all while holding a full-time job. The perspective she offers about publishing in Sweden and about how she’s marketing her books is also fascinating. Welcome, MM Justine. I know readers are going to be interested in your international perspective and your success in getting your books written and launched into the world.–Marylee
Marylee: What inspired you to write in the thriller genre?
MM Justine: My passion for writing in the thriller genre was grounded in high school. Literature was my favorite subject. We used to have class competitions on who would read the most books in a week. I practically lived in the school library, devouring copious pages of Daphne du Maurier, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Alistair Maclean, and Frederick Forsyth. I loved the thrill and suspense of mystery, the cat-and-mouse chase between the protagonist vs antagonist.
Marylee: There’s a lot of buzz in the US about “Scandanavian noir,” with the prime example being Stieg Larson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. What kinds of books are popular right now in Sweden?
MM Justine: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a classic, and it is still top of the heap. Here in Sweden, Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is very popular, and Lena Andersson’s Willful Disregard, a love and humor novel, is a good one, too.
Marylee: Have you found places to do live readings with other authors? Radio shows? Interviews? How hard or easy is it to get press coverage for a new book?
MM Justine: I have done live book readings with other authors at schools, workplaces, and libraries. Christmas season and summer vacations are the best times. That’s when people read lots of books. Usually, I do two or three book readings just before the Christmas season.
In late spring, I book in as many readings as I can, in schools and libraries, to catch the summer season. Summer-seasonal-readers help me maximize summer sales and build momentum into the run-up to Christmas, making this the most sensible time to promote books.
I have stalled on radio shows until the third book, Traitors Beyond Insanity, is published. I plan on launching an intensive marketing campaign for the trilogy. Hopefully, I will be invited to some radio shows and press interviews. According to authors I have spoken to here, it is difficult to get a radio show as a self-published author, but then again you never know until you try.
Marylee: Do readers in Sweden still buy books from bookstores, or are they getting them some other way?
MM Justine: Readers in Sweden are causing a shift in the way people buy and read books. Most people are buying books from online bookstores, directing a clear challenge to physical bookstores. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores are struggling for customers. With a quick delivery system and cheaper prices, online bookstores have gained an advantage over physical bookshops. The Kindle, e-book, or audiobook, can instantly be download on your iPad, Smartphone or computer screen, and a paperback will be delivered to your home address in three days.
Readers are no longer doing shopping at bookstores, but rather are shopping digitally in the comfort of their homes. Online bookstores are open twenty-four hours. Physical bookstores can’t compete with that. Physical bookstores are adjusting accordingly by downsizing on space, and on the volume of books they carry. At worst, some stores are closing doors.
Marylee: What impact has Amazon had on the book-buying market?
MM Justine: Amazon has inspired book buyers to embrace online book shopping. It has transformed the book industry, providing easy access to books at cheaper prices. Amazon has understood that there are avid readers all over the world, and they all have different inclinations in how they like to read: Some like to hold a paperback in their hands, some prefer an e-book, others like to download books onto their Smartphones, some read from their iPads or other tablets, while others are voracious listeners.
Online bookstores are here to stay.
Marylee: Are there any companies besides Amazon doing well with internet sales?
MM Justine: In Sweden we have Bokus.com and Adlibris.com, both online bookstores with a large presence. In fact, Swedes, are no longer buying books from Amazon. They buy whatever books they need from Bokus.com and Adlibris.com. Both online stores are nearer, more convenient, and books take a shorter time to arrive. Readers find all the books they need on these two websites, just like they would have found them on Amazon.
Marylee: What inspired you to become a writer?
MM Justine: Being an avid reader, I have always dreamt of writing a book of my own. I believe everyone has a story to tell. Our world has been undergoing massive change, and mainly, it was the gravity of the direction of the change that inspired me to write the Traitors Trilogy.
Traitors from Inside Out was published in 2014. One of the first readers who reviewed the book put it so well: “A fiction from facts to educate the unknowing, depicting the turbulent world we live in.” It is delightful when readers grasp the essence of the story with the silent message imbedded within the scenes. My long-term dream for my writing is to help people, create awareness, and inspire humanity to rise to a higher consciousness about our changing world—and what can happen if we don’t pay attention.
The second book, Traitors Unleashed, was published in 2016. Many who read the first book went on the read the second, and are now awaiting the last installment. Traitors Beyond Insanity is due for publication in the fall of this year. Writing this trilogy has been an exciting learning curve, a passion that has advanced my creative capacity, and facilitated progress in ways I had never imagined.
Marylee: How has your real life, including the places you’ve lived and the traveling you’ve done, influenced your fiction?
MM Justine: Travel has been an asset in creating the trilogy. I am well-traveled. Born in Africa and educated in Asia, I have lived on and off in the US, Canada, and Latin America. Europe has been my home for over thirty years. Travel has offered a treasure of ideas and access to the rich cultural landscapes of the world. The rhythms, sounds, and sights of things that interest me in real life find their way into my fiction.
Marylee: How did you learn to write?
I took a fiction writing course and continued with an online internet course, but before I gained confidence, I had to read many, many novels to see how other authors translated what I had learnt on the page.
Marylee: How has feedback from readers helped you improve your books?
MM Justine: Readers have been incredibly valuable. The feedback I got from them has been amazingly constructive. They spotted plot holes that I was able to patch when I revised the books. I added an extra chapter to Book 2 to give it a more rounded ending, and I changed the covers of both books. I learnt that it is okay to rewrite things and resolve problems, that there is always something one can improve on, whether it’s a phrase or a scene that doesn’t move the story forward. Once the rough draft is done, you can rework it to make it more specific and accurate. There is almost no author who writes correctly the first time.
Marylee: That’s time consuming!
MM Justine: Yes, but it is good to remember that there is no end to the learning curve, and that the final product will not be perfect. One must decide when to move to the next project, or the first will never be published.
Marylee: You’ve told me that you used a marketing consultant. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that in the US. More commonly we hire developmental editors to help us make sure we don’t have any plot holes. It strikes me that a marketing consultant is brilliant. Can you tell us what a marketing consultant does and how s/he helped you?
MM Justine: I do use an editor before I send the manuscript to the publisher. A marketing consultant offers advice on marketing strategies after the book has been published. He works in close consultation with the author, and the author has the final say on the marketing approaches he suggests. I have worked with a marketing consultant since the start of my publishing journey. These are some of the projects we have done:
- He designed my author website, manages it, and maintains it. Currently, it is not the best it can be, as we are working on refurbishing it to accommodate the three books in the trilogy.
- He arranged for the production of the book-trailer videos: Book 1 & 2, which are posted on Youtube.
- He organized press releases.
- He organized for Book 1 & 2 to be reviewed by: Kirkus Reviews, Foreword Clarion Reviews and Blueink reviews.
- He arranged for a Hollywood Screenplay, Book 1, to be written and listed in the Hollywood Pitch Database for access by film production companies to make a film adaptation of the book or serial TV shows.
- Traitors from Inside Out attended five major international Book Fairs in 2015.
- In March of this year, Traitors from Inside Out will participate in the Tucson Festival of Books. In August the book will be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and in November at the Miami Book Fair International. This is part of a promotional tour to enhance the visibility of the book to readers.
- There are other projects he has suggested and which I am considering.
Marylee: What strategies do you have for finding time to get your writing done?
MM Justine: I have a well-developed schedule which I diligently follow when writing the first draft. I still hold a fulltime job, and mainly write in the evenings when I get home. I write one thousand words per day before I go to bed. On weekends, I wake up at 4 am and write two thousand words or more. By midday I’m done. I take a walk or go to the gym, spend time with family, and, if times allows, I go out with friends.
It is the re-writing and polishing of the draft that is the hardest job. This is when I shed unnecessary words, tighten plot holes, shift paragraphs and even shred chapters that don’t move the story. It is a gruesome process, but necessary to make sure I am reasonably satisfied before I send the manuscript to my editor.
Writing the trilogy, I learnt that I enjoy telling stories and, mostly, I love the creative process.
Marylee: Can you tell me about how your books were published?
MM Justine: I publish with AuthorHouse, UK, and my experience with them has been positive.
Marylee: What ways have you found to sell your books?
MM Justine: Book readings generate good sales, but they are best done at peak seasons, before the onset of summer holidays and the Christmas season when readers buy most books. However, there are other methods to sell books.
I sell books through my company website, in combination with my business as a copywriting consultant. I buy hundreds of copies from my publisher at a discounted rate and sell the books online. That way, I eliminate the go-betweens and make a good return on investment.
The books are also available for sale on www.authorhouse.co.uk. Since I publish with them, I get paid a royalty for each book sold.
Marylee: What has worked best for you?
MM Justine: There are no strict approaches to selling books. It depends on what strategies the author wishes to adopt. Facebook ads, Google AdWords and Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) (or AMS in the UK) are popular marketing tools to attract readers, build a fanbase, and sell books. As an author, you choose a sales strategy that works for you.
The good news is that the Internet has leveled the playing field for everyone.
Marylee: What would you recommend to other authors, especially those considering publishing exclusively on Kindle?
MM Justine: The best idea is to make your books available in as many venues as possible: Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords.com, CreateSpace for print books, and as an iBook (in the iTunes store) and in as many formats as possible — e-books, print, audiobooks, and any new format that might come along. There are other companies besides Amazon that offer POD (print-on-demand) services, such as Lulu.com, PrintToPress, Draft2Digital, etc.
My books are available for Kindle, as an e-book, and in print. They are available on different platforms: AuthorHouse.co.uk, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bokus.com and Adlibris.com. Soon, they will be offered in audiobooks too.
Marylee: Do you have plans to continue your series? What about beyond that?
MM Justine: I enormously enjoyed writing the Traitors Trilogy, and with pleasure, I would continue with the series, but I trust the story has run its course to a satisfying end. In the future, I plan on writing non-fiction about the Fundamentals of Writing Fiction or A Guide to Freelancer Copywriting. After which, I will embark on another thriller novel.
Marylee: Those nonfiction books will allow you to share the many things you’ve learned along the way, and I’m sure they’ll be a success. That’s so much for sharing your perspective.
Readers, I know this author would love to get some feedback from you. Was there something in the interview that made you think about your own dreams, goals, and achievements? Please leave comments.
Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection, and THE RUG BAZAAR, a chapbook. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers’ Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.