The newest interview in the People in Publishing category is with Julia Roberts, a former TV presenter and author. She below she discusses self-publishing, writing and marketing.
I’m Julia Roberts. I’m originally from Nottingham but have lived in or around London for the past forty years because of my career choice. I was originally a professional dancer, travelling to far flung places like the Caribbean and Hong Kong, before moving into television. I started with TV commercials and small acting roles before becoming a Presenter shortly after the birth of my second child, who is now twenty seven. I worked on a local television show in the Croydon area, as well as corporate work, before auditioning for QVC prior to its launch in the UK in October 1993. Alongside QVC, I continued at the local channel, produced and presented some pieces for Sky Sports and started writing features for a cable television magazine and the Croydon Advertiser. I finished writing my first book, a memoir entitled One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, three years ago, which was published by Random House and sold on QVC, and is still available on Amazon.
Tell me about your first book, Life’s a Beach…and Then…
Life’s a Beach and Then… is my first novel. I had been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in April 2012 and after 10 months of treatment on oral chemotherapy drugs my ‘other half’ of thirty seven years, Chris, decided I needed a holiday. I had always wanted to visit Mauritius and as my future at that time was uncertain we booked a ten day holiday which was meant to be total relaxation. On the first morning I had the idea for the book and spent the rest of the holiday scribbling my thoughts in a notebook and discussing them with my long-suffering other half.
The first part of the book is set in Mauritius and features Holly Wilson on her latest assignment. We quickly discover that she is employed by a luxury holiday company to visit their 5 star resorts around the world and blog about them. She has to keep this secret from the people she encounters by telling them a cover story. She hates lying to an older couple she meets, Robert and Rosemary, but they have a secret of their own. Rosemary is terminally ill. The relationship between Holly and Rosemary develops quickly as Holly is estranged from her own mother following a teenage pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of her beloved son Harry, who she has raised single-handedly. Rosemary introduces Holly to a friend of theirs, Philippe, who also has a secret. He is a successful novelist but writes under a female pseudonym. He is struggling to meet the deadline for his second novel. Holly and Philippe are physically attracted to each other and intend to meet up when they are both back in England, but things don’t go exactly to plan.
The book is dedicated to a friend of mine, Stretch, who lost his life to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia almost two years ago, and as well as donating a percentage of my profit to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to help with the amazing research they fund, I also wanted to raise awareness that not everyone survives blood cancer.
How well received has the book been so far?
I have been overwhelmed by the feedback on my book so far. There are currently sixty 5 star reviews on Amazon and people seem to really empathise and genuinely care about my characters. I have had a few people tweet me to say that I have embarrassed them in public places by causing them to cry, and although that is not ideal for them, it is gratifying for me that I have been able to evoke such emotion. I should add that there is also humour in the book and romance too.
How do you go about marketing your book effectively?
Marketing is a very steep learning curve for me as it is something I have never previously been required to do. I am fortunate that I have a bit of a public profile through QVC so I have been able to do some radio promotion and print promotion tying the two sides of my career together. I have been on Twitter for about three and a half years and have 14000 followers so I have been able to spread the word on there, and am very grateful for the favourites and retweets, and have tried to make use of trending hashtags. I also joined Facebook in May and set up a Julia Roberts TV page for information about my book and the writing of the sequel. I did a book blog tour, organised by Jenny in Neverland, prior to the release of the paperback and I have also done my first book signing at a bookshop near Reading called Chapter One, with more in the pipeline.
How has your career so far equipped you for being an author?
There aren’t many parallels to be drawn between being an author and a TV Presenter but I would say that the huge variety of people I have met over the course of my career have helped with some of the characters within my writing. I have a T shirt that says on the front, ‘Careful or you may end up in my next novel.’
I do think that ‘talking’ for a living helps me to write believable dialogue, and I always speak the words in my head as I type them.
What are the benefits of becoming an author further down the line in your career rather than early on?
For me it is life experience. The older I get the more I realise that people aren’t always what they seem. I have been able to draw on the emotion I felt at losing my own dad a few years ago within the pages of Life’s a Beach and Then…
I am very fortunate to have led a varied life and visited lots of far flung places, both working and holidaying. I have used my knowledge of some of these destinations as locations for the first two books in the Liberty Sands trilogy.
I don’t think I would have had the time to dedicate to writing when I was younger, although I had always wanted to write a novel. As a freelance, rather than an employee, I needed to work whenever the opportunity presented itself which meant an erratic rather than fixed timetable. I also had two children only thirteen months apart, so it was a bit full-on when they were very young. I really admire authors who juggle a job, children and writing – a bit like spinning plates.
You have a large online following. What’s your secret for this success and how do you channel that popularity into getting your work noticed?
My profile through QVC has helped grow my Twitter following quite quickly. I don’t follow many people as I like to be able to read my timeline and not miss things I would like to respond to. I tweet often because I enjoy it and not always about my book as I don’t want people to get fed-up with me. I try to reply to people where possible and derive great pleasure from being able to block people who are unkind or whose behaviour is inappropriate.
What are your three main writing tips?
I’m a bit of a novice at the writing game so I can only tell you what is important to me.
Firstly I have to believe in my characters as real people. I cried several times during the writing of Life’s a Beach and Then… and not through frustration or lack of inspiration.
Secondly, I really have to have peace and quiet so that I can focus. I like to be able to write for a minimum of three hours at a time so on days that I am working on QVC I rarely write unless an idea occurs to me out of the blue in which case I jot down notes and write it properly when I have time.
Thirdly, I find it beneficial to re-read the previous day’s work before I start on the next chapter. I will often edit what I have written which helps in two ways. By editing as I go I don’t have so much to change when I’ve finished writing, and it also gets me back into the flow.
Are you traditionally or self-published and how has this benefited you? What are the challenges in publishing in this way?
Although my memoir was published by Random House, I have trodden the self-publishing route with my novel. This wasn’t totally my choice but there were several deciding factors. I sent my manuscript out to half a dozen agents and although I had a reasonable response none of them seemed particularly interested in what I was writing. Although I can sell anything on QVC, I find it difficult and time-consuming to sell ‘myself’ and I felt I was wasting valuable writing time composing letters to agents and meeting the different requirements for synopses and submissions. I actually began to feel bogged down with it all and it was preventing me from being creative. I made the decision to self-publish in February and the Kindle version of my book was online by May.
That is one of the main benefits, the speed from finishing writing to people being able to read your book. Another massive plus is that I have had control of the major decisions. I used a cover designer but I had the final say over how I wanted my book to look. I was able to keep the title I wanted and not have to change the story because some-one else’s opinion differed from my own – in other words if people don’t like the book, the buck rests with me.
For anyone else considering self-publishing I think it is important to have your finished book as good, or better, than those traditionally published. Pay for a good copy-editor, cover designer and formatter and be prepared to promote your book. If people don’t know about it, no matter how good it is, they won’t buy it.
The main downside is that I think I have only scratched the surface in terms of reach. I am currently working on getting it in as many independent bookshops as I can, one of the reasons I used IngramSpark rather than Createspace, and I’m really pleased that it can be ordered through Waterstones and other chains.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently writing book two in the Liberty Sands Trilogy entitled, If He Really Loved Me. The start of the book was in the back of Life’s a Beach and Then… to whet people’s appetite. The story focuses more on Holly’s son student Harry, although we do still travel to exotic locations – the Maldives, Los Angeles and Barbados – finishing back in Mauritius for a beach wedding … but who is marrying who?? Hopefully it should be ready for publication in November.