Birds of a Feather welcomes Jennifer S. Alderson to the nest
I recently joined Jennifer’s Facebook group called “Travel By Book“, which is a community for readers and authors of all genres of travel fiction and non-fiction! Readers can share their favorite travel novels, books and guides. Bloggers can share their latest travel and book related articles, and Authors can post promos about their books, travel-oriented blogs about their books and reviews.
Today Jennifer is taking a break from her community-building activities to share tips and insights about her self-publishing journey.
How would you describe the type of books/genre you write?
I have three books out now, a travel thriller set in Nepal and Thailand, an art mystery set in Amsterdam and a travel memoir based on my volunteer experience and journey through Nepal and Thailand in 1999 and 2000.
What motivated you to start writing?
In America I worked as a journalist and multimedia developer until massive burnout lead me to quit my job. I bought a backpack and headed off to Kathmandu to volunteer as an English teacher for three months before traveling around Nepal and Thailand for another four. As cliché as it might sound, this trip ended up being a life-changing experience and formed the basis for my first novel and upcoming travelogue.
For four years my backpack was my best friend and together we visited thirty countries spread across five continents. After living in Darwin, Australia for eighteen months, I moved to Amsterdam to study art history and never left. I worked for several museums before the economy crashed and the cultural sector imploded.
While apply for jobs, I wrote my first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu, as a way of keeping my mind occupied. Writing about my adventures in Nepal and Thailand also helped curtail my wanderlust. I finished it between contracts, but never pursued publication.
After my son was born, I had the luxury of staying home to raise him. An idea for a second novel set in Amsterdam about paintings gone missing during World War Two was already brewing in my mind. Writing this story down became a way to connect with ‘grownup’ life and utilize the knowledge I’d gained during my art history studies. I finished The Lover’s Portrait a few days before my son’s third birthday.
Tell us the journey you went on to get your books published (e.g. direct on your website, self-published, assisted-publishing, traditional publisher)
I spent two years querying agents about both of my books and had several requests for partials and even full manuscripts. The response was inevitably that they loved the story and characters, but their list was full or it wasn’t a perfect fit, and they were certain another agent would snap it up.
Unfortunately, that never happened. After collecting a drawer full of the nicest rejection letters ever, I decided to self-publish first Down and Out in Kathmandu then The Lover’s Portrait six months later. I’ve been absolutely blown away by the overwhelmingly positive reception so far.
What publishing elements do you most enjoy and most like to avoid, and why? (e.g. design, marketing, formatting etc.)
I love having control over the production of the book — the fonts, layout, cover design and book description – though it is an intensive process. Hiring professional editors not only saves you time and energy, it ensures a fresh pair of professional eyes looks over and critiques your book before it is released into the world. A professionally designed cover is crucial if you want to stand out from the crowd.
Marketing is what I doing begrudgingly. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy connecting with readers but it takes quite a bit of work to build up those relationships. Time that I would rather spend writing. However, it is immensely gratifying to log onto Facebook or Twitter and see a reader has posted a new review or announced to the world that they just bought your book. Those kinds of comments make it all worthwhile.
With the hindsight of being a published author, anything you would have done differently?
Had I known how little traditional publishers help you with marketing and the amount of control you are required by contract to relinquish, I would have self-published immediately. I’ve heard too many horror stories from traditionally published author friends who were not given final say about their book’s last edit, cover or description, and were not always pleased with the result.
What tips or advice would you give an aspiring indie author who is looking to self-publish?
Take the plunge and give it a shot, but be realistic about what is expected of you and what to expect from your sales. However you choose to get your book out there, realize that being published is only the beginning.
Being an indie author means spending an absurd amount of time reaching out to and connecting with new readers. In today’s world, marketing is essential. You must be prepared to learn about social media and spend time creating connections between your work and potential readers. Most weeks, I spend as much time promoting my books on social media or writing articles for other blogs as I do working on my current manuscript.
What marketing or promotional tools or techniques do you use to reach your readers?
Before publishing Down and Out in Kathmandu, I wasn’t active on any social media networks. When my first book came out I focused all of my attention on Goodreads, with positive yet limited results. Two months before The Lover’s Portrait was released I finally created Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts.
I have not yet mastered any social network, but am slowly learning. Like most authors, I’ve discovered the hard way that “buy me” posts don’t work on any platform. What’s surprised me most is how the same post will be ignored on Twitter, yet on Instagram and Facebook is shared and liked by many. Short excerpts of reviews work best for me on these platforms. On Twitter, a snippet from a review accompanied by a pretty picture of one of the locations my books take place in spread like wildfire, as do posts I retweet from travel blogs and adventurers. These seem to appeal most to my travel fiction fan base.
I did write and send press releases to local, national and international organizations and news media before The Lover’s Portrait was released yet all were resolutely ignored.
I have also created a book trailer for The Lover’s Portrait that has been well received and viewed often. It was quite low budget. I rode around Amsterdam on my bike one sunny afternoon and shot short videos using my smartphone then edited it together with a free program already loaded onto my computer.
Honestly, I’d never watched a book trailer all the way through until I decided it was important to make one. I personally haven’t bought any books that way. However, I know some potential readers do enjoy them, meaning my trailer may help to reach a slightly different audience than Facebook or Twitter. In this crapshoot called marketing, I’m trying everything once!
What impact do you want your books to have on your readers?
I hope my books – both my travelogue and novels – will allow armchair travelers to visit a part of the world they may never get to, and inspire others to travel to the amazing lands I write about.
What is your latest book about?
In May I released a travelogue about my journey to Nepal and Thailand, Notes of a Naive Traveler. Since Down and Out in Kathmandu’s publication, I’ve been surprised by the number of readers who want to know which of the events described in my debut novel really took place. Very few, I’m afraid! Now everyone will have a chance to read about my actual journey and experiences gained while volunteer in, and traveling around Nepal and Thailand.
Part cultural and adventure travel guide, part journey of self-discovery, Notes of a Naive Traveler takes you on a backpacking adventure through Nepal and Thailand and provides a first-hand account of one volunteer’s experience teaching in a Nepali school and living with a devout Brahmin family. I’ve also included several photos of places I’d visited, many of which were destroyed in the massive earthquake that rocked Nepal in 2015. Beta readers call it a ‘must read’ for anyone who is interested in, or has traveled to, Nepal or Thailand.
“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”
What’s next on your writing journey?
Right now I am busy fleshing out the third novel in my Adventures in Zelda Richardson series, Smuggler’s Deceit (working title). It is another art-related mystery set in present-day Amsterdam and Papua New Guinea in the 1950s. This time bis poles (religious objects akin to totem poles), American anthropologists, and Dutch missionaries, drive the plot. As in my previous novels, I draw heavily on my own travel experiences when writing about the settings. I’m planning on releasing it in the winter of 2017.Are you ready for backpacker tales? Author of #TravelWriting and #TravelFiction @JSAauthor Click To Tweet
About the Author
Jennifer S. Alderson (1972) worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands.
Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her novels, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking and The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, transport readers to Nepal, Thailand and the Netherlands.
Her travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, is now available. Beta readers call it ‘a must-read for those interested in learning more about, or wishing to travel to Nepal and Thailand’.