Spotlight 48: Sarah Weldon
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GUEST: Sarah Weldon’s website
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Mark Dawson: I'm Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the Indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet Indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.
My name is Tom Ashford and I'm part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don't forget that you can get yourself publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
Tom Ashford: This week's guest is Sarah Weldon. She's written 15 books in the cozy mystery genre, and she lives in the UK. Welcome Sarah.
Sarah Weldon: Hello, I'm a big fan of the show and a patron too.
Tom Ashford: Would you like to start by elaborating a bit more on the 15 books that you've written?
Sarah Weldon: Yeah, sure. So I'm counting them 15 accidental books. They weren't really planned. The first one was an adult coloring book of the Lake District where I used to live. That one's only available on Waterstones and it makes me like a penny, so I don't really count it. It was self-published.
I've also written a romance, contemporary romance, novella under a pen name, which was my first book, first fiction book. And then I published eight children's stories that I'd written for children I worked with on my children's charity, which has started in Georgia in the country.
And I've also got two cozy mysteries, two short stories and I've recently published a one year sprinting journal, a planner for authors, which was really selfish because it's basically just to help me plan my cozy mystery writing and release. So, but I published it on Amazon just so I could have a copy for myself. Yeah. So 15 accidental books.
Tom Ashford: That's quite prolific.
Sarah Weldon: Yeah. A bit of say not planned at all, but I write cozy mystery now. So I've been saving it for a year to get all the covers and things like that. So I'm rapidly releasing those now.
Tom Ashford: If we dive into the questions, number one is why do you write?
Sarah Weldon: The big question.
Tom Ashford: Yeah.
Sarah Weldon: I'll try not to be too long winded with my answer. So I think I'm a bit of a closet writer, survival writer. I grew up in care and so I spent a lot of time moving between foster homes and things. As part of that, I used to go to a Rudolph Steiner school. So creativity was really encouraged.
And then with moving foster homes and things, I ended up in it back in state school and that creativity and stories and Norse mythology and things that we learned in school, that was all quickly brushed out of me through the education system.
And then I had a really good middle school teacher, English teacher who gave us some homework to come up with a mystery book, which I absolutely loved doing. I didn't do very well in it in school, but it was the first permission I had to write a story. So that was really nice. And then I didn't really write again until after school.
I had another really, really good English teacher who knew I didn't like the holidays and things. And to help me through the rough patches suggested that I write letters to her and short stories that I could send by letter because there wasn't any internet things back then. So I just wrote for survival really.
And then I didn't really write at all after that. My teacher was encouraging me to do journalism and I did some. It was called Trident work experience back in those days-
Tom Ashford: I remember that.
So I ended up working, doing work experience with the local newspaper and around the same time my old teacher from middle school, her husband was murdered accidentally in a drugs raid for one of the kids that was in my foster home.
Tom Ashford: Wow.
Sarah Weldon: Yeah. So that was big, had a big impact on me. I quickly realized that being in on that court case, I didn't want to be a journalist because it wasn't really reporting the truth. It was a lot of sensationalism and things like that. So decided writing if that was the only option writing it wasn't really for me.
And then I went to medical things. So more neuroscience. I worked in the NHS then about 17 years, but secretly I was a fellow with the broad geographic society in London and Michael Palin was the president at the time and so always lots of inspirational people there hanging out with them at the Explorer's bar. So like Michael Pailin, Douglas Adams, like Stephen Fry.
Tom Ashford: Oh man.
Sarah Weldon: It was amazing, but obviously that was my secret life, because I didn't think it would be approved of in the, I don't know, sciences and things like that. So I didn't really write again until I got a job working for the prime minister in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. So working for the Ministry of Education and Science on educational reform.
In the meantime I'd been working mostly in neuroscience and neuropsychology, but working in effective brain injuries on stroke and things like that impacts of those on the brain and a lot of people I work with specialized in the ability to write. So things dyscalculia and dyslexia and some of the people I worked with got those recognized in the education system.
Through that, I ended up getting this job in Georgia, but that was really eye opening because it's a country where kids are really creative and they're encouraged, they'd all read Shakespeare, they'd all read loads of literature, libraries were quite a big thing. They're all very musical and they're very proud and very open about being creative. It was really encouraged.
I ended up starting this children's charity. And then when I came back to the UK, I wrote these eight short children's stories based on the River Thames. And I wrote them for those kids really. And then I published them later on.
Then a little bit later on my landlords in the Lake District decided they were selling the house and I suddenly found myself technically homeless basically because obviously rent is quite expensive in the UK and I was self employed as well and I have pets. So all the landlords were asking for six months rent up front, two months deposit. Yeah a lot of money.
I ended up moving into a B&B for a week on the opposite side of the country where it was much cheaper, which is the area I am now. I was supposed to be buying a house which fell through. So I ended up in the B&B for about 18 months at which point I've realized I couldn't do. I used to do a cruise ship speaking and paid talks in schools. I worked in the film industry as a medic doing different things as well. And obviously because I was in the B&B, I couldn't travel. So I needed to quickly find something I could do from home from my room online. So I started ghost writing, copywriting and basically saving up to be a full time writer, which was what really, really wanted to do. So yeah, long winded answer.
Tom Ashford: Very interesting.
Sarah Weldon: Very random.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? In terms of your fiction, do you plot the stories out first or just see where they take you?
Sarah Weldon: My romance story and my eight short children's stories, I basically just pantsd those. I just wrote them in a day. I'm quite lucky I can write because of ghostwriting and things, I can write like 10,000 words a day if I need to so yeah. So yeah they were pants and because I wrote cozy mystery now, obviously there's a lot more red herrings and suspects and things like that.
So I only plot now, but I'm quite lucky because I run a Kickstarter campaign and some of the rewards on the Kickstarter were to be characters in my future books and to come up with some of the titles and the pun titles and to name objects or to give you a motive or things like that.
My readers are very, very involved in the writing side and I get a lot of ideas anyway in just general life. But then I write in Vellum. I absolutely love Vellum. So I write into that directly and then I copy and paste that into Google docs, which I check through me with Grammarly and things.
I live stream my writing on YouTube as well. So I'll do plotting. Like if I'm plotting a story, I'll plot it live online and my readers, Kickstarter, backers, patrons, they are online as well. So they get to make suggestions and things and what if we do this? What if we do this?
And then I've got an editor as well, who I work on a royalty share basis with because I couldn't afford to pay an upfront, which was that more traditional way. So as soon as I've put it into the Google docs, I use Grammarly and check through the basic spelling and stuff. Then I put it onto a website called scrubber files which is free. And my readers and YouTube viewers then go and critique what I've written that day. My editor also can critique it as well.
And then once I'm happy with that, then eventually she chases me with the editing each day so I can get books out quite quick. The only thing was like cash flows, I'd say the covers, but I mean, in terms of writing I can do a book a week.
Tom Ashford: Wow. That is an interesting process.
Sarah Weldon: Yeah. A bit different, but I love Vellum. So yeah. I did try. I forgot what it's called-
Tom Ashford: Scrivener?
Sarah Weldon: That's the one. Yes, I did try that, but I couldn't quite really, I don't know. I think I'm just really visual. I love to see the big picture and the finished product. I love seeing the cover and the chapters. And once I done a mind map on the live stream, then I put it all into the chapters and then... I still pant stuff a little bit as I go, but yeah, mostly it's plotted out vaguely.
Tom Ashford: I try to use Vellum for the final draft just because I want to spend as long as I can in the software. Like you said, it looks so good.
Sarah Weldon: It's addictive.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, it looks so good I don't want to just drop it in and go, yep cool export, done.
Question number three is, are you a full time author if you are, how did you get there? And if you aren't, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
Sarah Weldon: I am a full time writer now, but mostly because of being fan funded, I suppose. It's through Kickstarter and Patreon. It's taken me a really long time to get here and to say, because I think because I was in the B&B as well, I used up all my savings and then to try and find a way to pay for B&B each week. So it's a bit more survival mode.
And also and I need to buy things like Vellum up front. So I did some weird things. I was very frugal, had no overheads and things. Obviously you didn't have house tax because it was in the B&B and there was no kitchen there. So I just had microwave meals. So that was cheap on food.
But yeah, basically I spent pretty much the first 12 to 18 months just I was on Fiverr and Upwork doing the ghost writing and I was on Amazon Mechanical Turk originally doing that little, they call them human interactive tasks, I think hits and you get credits from Amazon and I got Starbucks vouchers and I sold the Starbucks vouchers for cash to buy Vellum.
And then once I got Vellum, I went on Fiverr and I was selling formatting services for $5. So I formatted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books in that time. So yeah, I didn't really get time to write my own stuff in those 18 months, but it got me to the point where I could buy everything I needed, like ISB numbers and covers and stuff.
And also got me to being able to get a deposit to rent a house as well. So it got me to the starting point where now I can finally get back to writing and not having clients. So yeah.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is what mistakes do you think you've made and what have you got right?
Sarah Weldon: I think in hindsight that was definitely a mistake, but I didn't know any better at the time. So if I was doing it again, if I had known then I would've applied for universal credit as a start up business, because that would have paid rent and I would have got house earlier and I would have been able to write quicker.
There's also government funding, the startup businesses, I could have applied for that and there's things like the Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship, so that funds people to do writing as well, like to travel and write. So, yeah, there's in hindsight I would have applied for funding straight off and it would have got a business. I would have hired somebody straight away on the business side to basically look after all the business and accounting stuff and then that would lead me to write each week. So yeah, that's what I would've done differently.
Not really a mistake as such, but it would have saved a lot of time. It wouldn't have faffed around with lot of clients. And I mean, that was good, but I could have been writing my own stuff rather than ghost writing for other people and watching those books do well and crying.
Tom Ashford: Is there anything that you've got right, particularly?
Sarah Weldon: Yeah, I think I'm very, very close to a lot of my readers. So I think that's definitely been something I've done well and being very open and honest with the readers straight from the beginning and getting them involved with every bit of the process. So they know what goes into a book, which has been really good.
And the other thing was I started an annual day, like a national day. It's a worldwide day called Cozy Mystery Day on Agatha Christie's birthday in September. So that's been really good because if you start your own day, then you can get media, you can get media coverage for free at the back of that. So that's been really good and it's also helped me to connect with other authors and other readers and get the genre out because it's not very well known genre in the UK, but that's definitely helped.
Tom Ashford: Yes, definitely go back to your YouTube stuff. It's definitely a very transparent way of writing.
Sarah Weldon: Yeah. It's a lot more vulnerable, but then I think cozy mystery genre, especially, it's like they're books that you go to when you're having a really bad day, and they make you feel cozy. So it's quite nice and I drink a lot of tea and the cats sit in the cardboard box next to me when I write.
Especially at the moment being on lockdown as well, a lot of my readers are at home writing or really struggling at the moment on lockdown, wherever they are in the world. So they've been knitting and things as I write. So yeah, it's been quite nice and then chatting backwards and forwards as well. So yeah.
Tom Ashford: Question number five is what's your final piece of advice for authors starting out in Indie publishing?
Sarah Weldon: Probably if you absolutely know, like for me, I've always been a writer. I've always told myself stories to cheer myself up and it's only recently that I realized that there was a lot of shame in that I think because of perhaps early experiences as well I have that creativity knocked out of me and was always very ashamed, but even though I haven't really told, I've got books and more to stays and things I haven't even told friends about them. So stuff a lot of people's don't know what I do on a day to day.
Tom Ashford: You should probably do that.
Sarah Weldon: Yeah. It might ruin my books, but yeah. I think it's really impacted me because I love writing, but I always feel really guilty when I'm writing because I enjoy it so much. And I feel like I should be doing a proper job, helping people or I don't know. I mean books help people, so it is an important thing to do. But I think I mean, I'm really lucky now because obviously I've got the SPF community and 20 Books community and I've met really cool people online through that. And I can't wait to meet people at conferences in person.
But if you can try and if you have a mentor or try and surround yourself with people where you want to be, then it makes it more okay to be aspiring to that. Whereas in my normal communities, I don't know any writers and they all think I'm completely crazy, but I know I should be out doing a proper job.
Tom Ashford: I think every non writer friend is like that. Like mine they don't know what I do.
Sarah Weldon: Yeah. And they just think it's drinking tea. I mean, it is a lot of drinking tea, but there's a lot of hard work and that isn't just like I say, writing in your pajamas and sitting at home watching Netflix, but it is, but it isn't. There's a lot more I think people don't really appreciate that it's actually a business as well. So I've definitely felt a self pressure, I guess that I always feel really bad for writing because I don't know.
I thought it was like a fair of success at first, but I think it's like it is that being a closet creative person and especially in the UK, we're not brought up to be creative as much. So even working in the film industry and things and meeting screenwriters and people making the productions of the things that I love and getting to talk to the authors on set and I'm like, wow, that's so cool. I didn't know, you could do that as a living, so are you were allowed to do that?
Tom Ashford: Well, I mean jokes on everyone else now because we're in lockdown and we're all wearing pajamas.
Sarah Weldon: Oh yeah. Exactly.
Tom Ashford: You can be in pajamas and still be productive and have a proper job.
Sarah Weldon: Exactly. Well, I think everyone's learning that now and they're learning it's not as easy working from home as they thought as well, so yeah. It's quite good. It's like welcome to my world. This is how I've been for the last 18 months now. Now you know what it's really like.
Tom Ashford: Well, thank you very much for coming on. So those are your five questions.
Sarah Weldon: Oh, thank you very much for having me
Tom Ashford: That's it for this week. Self-publishing Spotlight. Don't forget that you can get your free self publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starter kit.
And if you want to appear as a guest on the show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest. I'm Tom Ashford and I'll see you again next week.
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