Sara Downing

photoWhen did you first start writing?

I first started writing in 2009.  I’d always wanted to write, but work and a young family and the need to earn a regular salary had prevented it until then. I’m actually a qualified accountant, but I couldn’t imagine going back to that post-children. Once they were all at school I suddenly found myself with some spare time – and a supportive husband who was happy for me to experiment with the possibility of a writing career.  It really helped to have my family on side, and my kids love the fact that ‘Mummy is an author’!!  Head Over Heels was finished before the whole Kindle thing came on the scene, and I published it in 2011.  Within months it had hit the UK Top 100 Kindle books

 Are you a structured writer or a see-what happens? 

I’ve written all of my books in a different way, I suppose.  With my first novel, Head Over Heels, I just started writing, to see what would happen and which characters would pop out, what they would do and where they would take me.  Many were based on people I knew!  I had several re-writes, and the first few drafts were absolutely dreadful.  I think I knew where I wanted the characters to end up, but didn’t know what road they would travel to get there.  It took me a while, but it worked in the end.   With Urban Venus, I already had a story in my head whilst I was still writing Head Over Heels.  It was inspired by an exercise I did on a writing course, where I had to choose a postcard and write about it in the first person.   I picked up Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and scribbled a couple of pages about a girl who went to see the painting, fell asleep in front of it and dreamt she was the artist’s muse.  From that moment I knew that would be my second novel, as there was just so much to develop there, and I had formulated a story outline well before I started.  It was like there was a story trying to burst out of my head and I had to get the ideas down quickly, before I forgot them.  Other than all the historical research I knew I needed to do, it made it a very straightforward (and quick) novel to write.Before book number three, Stage Fright, I’d actually started on another book set in Italy, and was really struggling with it.  Then I went on a course called ‘Writing by the Seat of your Pants’.  I parked the third book, started another, and off I went, writer’s block all gone.  I would literally just sit down every day and write whatever came into my head, and I’m really pleased with the result.My fourth book is a sequel to Head Over Heels.  I’ve had many reviewers say they want to know what happened next, or for me to tell the stories of the other female characters.  So this time I already have my setting and a fully-formed group of characters, and it’s great fun going back to visit them and see what they’re up to now.  They feel like old friends!  Once again I’m writing by the seat of my pants, which I think is my favourite way to do it!

head over heels imageCan you tell us what Head Over Heels is about? 

Head Over Heels tells the story of Grace, a thirty-something teacher, keen shopper and collector of shoes.  Grace appears to ‘have it all’, a comfortable lifestyle, and Mark, her partner, the ‘love of her life’.  Or is he?  Mark is reluctant to tie the knot on their very long-term engagement, and when he suggests that they start a family – but still shows no willingness to walk her down the aisle – the cracks in their perfect existence start to appear.

Grace grows closer to her blond and sexy boss, Tom, and despite being a ‘one-man woman’, wonders if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  To begin with, she is horrified at the emotions she starts to feel, but her increasing attraction to Tom takes her down a path she’d never envisaged for herself.  Her life is thrown into turmoil, and even retail therapy and her clutch of zany friends can’t help her out of this dilemma…

 Here’s what reviewers say…

‘When I first downloaded Head Over Heels, I really just expected light-hearted fluff but what I got was a rich, emotion-packed, wonderful story that gave me both smiles and (happy) tears. All the characters seemed like real people with well-developed, three-dimensional personalities whose dialogue was both authentic and fun to read. The imagery was both vivid and realistic; it was easy to immerse myself in the story.’

‘I just love this story. Sara Downing weaves a very clever love story about how life can throw you a curve just when you have it figured out. I loved the way the author explains how Grace’s perception of her boss, Tom, changes throughout the book. And how she views Mark differently. And who can forget all those lovely shoes and clothes that Grace owns. Great read.’

‘A rollicking chic lit that poses questions but is easy to read.’

‘I truly enjoyed Head Over Heels’ take on the very real dilemma of attraction to someone other than your spouse.’

You mentioned in the previous question that some of the characters were based on people you knew, did this inspire you to write the book? 

I didn’t know when I set out to write Head Over Heels that some of my friends would find themselves in the book – it just seemed to happen!  One or two of my friends, lovely as they are, have certain characteristics which make them easy to caricature, and although they have been recognised by other friends, fortunately they themselves don’t seem to realise they are in the book!  Phew!

Another friend recognised her house – in Head Over Heels it’s Alex’s house, which I have literally dropped into the novel exactly as it is.  There is a story attached to the house regarding some valuable wine they found in the cellar which is so close to the truth, it gave the game away somewhat.

People say that your first book is based on what you know – I think that’s very true, and I drew on my own opinions, experiences and friendships far more in Head Over Heels than I have in my other two novels.

You mentioned you are working on your fourth book, a sequel to Head Over Heels, can you tell us more about the novel you are working on at the moment?

I am writing a sequel to Head Over Heels.  It’s as yet untitled so if any readers have a suggestion, then please let me know on my Facebook page!  It centres on the three friends again, Grace, Alex and Evie, and their partners (and now children too).  Whilst Grace was the focus of Head Over Heels, Evie comes to the fore in this novel.   It explores how the women came to be where they are now, and brings their lives up to date too.  I’ve only written about ten thousand words so far, but it’s great to go back and visit my ‘old friends’ and see what they are up to now.  It’s harder than I thought writing a sequel, though, even with a fully-formed set of characters.   Head Over Heels has been so popular that I know readers will have certain expectations – I have to do my best to live up to those!

What motivated/inspired you to become an Indie Author?

After a few failed attempts to get an agent, but lots of positive feedback on my work, I looked into publishing as an eBook.  I saw it as a way to get my first book out there, and perhaps earn a little money in the process, still with the view to hopefully getting an agent at some point.  That was in 2011 when really the Kindle hadn’t hit the UK in a big way.  Hardly anyone I knew had Kindles, or even iPads come to that.  How things have changed in a couple of years!

So I went ahead and published through Amazon, as their market coverage seemed to be the best, and it was so easy!  I think Head Over Heels hit the market at just the right time; many of the ‘big’ authors hadn’t yet put their books out in eBook format, and there weren’t millions of books to choose from.  Within months Head Over Heels was in the Kindle Top 100 and I was selling 100+ books a day, which was more than I could ever have hoped for.

Traditionally published authors used to look down upon Indie authors and the term ‘self-published’ was almost an insult.  I think there is still a little snobbery involved, but less so, as so many Indie authors have gone on to have a successful writing career.  Of course I’d love to be traditionally published, but if I don’t succeed in that, it’s not the end of the world.  My books are being bought, read, and enjoyed, and that’s the important thing to me

How do you marketing your books? Do you have a process? 

Any Indie author knows that they now have to have many hats, and one of them is as a marketer.  It’s not all just about writing good books, you have to be able to get them under people’s noses too.  I’ve marketed my books in lots of different ways.  I make a lot of use of the tools Amazon has to offer if you belong to KDP Select (ie if you only publish through them).  Offering free eBooks can help to boost sales, and just recently they’ve introduced Kindle Countdown Deals, where a book can be discounted for up to 7 days in a 90 day period.  On the product page it shows a countdown marker, indicating how many days, hours & minutes are left in the promotion.  I’ve got Urban Venus in the plan at the moment and it’s given it a real boost.

Then there are all the social medial channels, Facebook, Twitter etc.  I do use these, and just recently have tried some paid advertising through Facebook, which has proved quite successful.  I’ve also taken out paid ads in a national magazine – ‘Italia!’ magazine for Urban Venus as it’s set in Italy.  They also ran an editorial feature on it which was great exposure.  And then I’ve done the face to face stuff, handing out fliers at literature festivals and the like.  Great fun, but you have to be prepared for rejection and someone refusing to take your leaflet!

The main thing is to get the balance right.  Set aside a certain amount of time a day to market your book, but don’t let it get in the way of writing!

What advice would you give to any writer wanting to do it the ‘Indie Way’.

Don’t hold back!  If you have a book to publish, then publish it, but first make sure it is really ready.  Get it properly proof-read, with a good, eye-catching cover, an enticing product description, and then check, check, check!  Reviewers are very hard on grammatical errors, and even the best book can take a knock if it’s full of mistakes.  Ask some friends to be first readers too, and to give you their honest opinion, and then accept their feedback openly.   Whilst a proof reader might spot the spelling mistakes, an early reader might spot a hole in the story, or an inconsistency – or the fact that you accidentally changed a character’s name half way through!  There are a whole load of Indie books out there – you need to make yours stand out.

Tell us what you are reading at the moment.

At the moment I’m re-reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  I first read it twenty years ago when it came out, and I remember it as being one of the best books I’ve ever read.  But I couldn’t remember a thing about the story!  I bought The Goldfinch as soon as it came out, but knew I had to read Secret History again first.  I have to say I am absolutely loving it.  It’s beautifully written, and even though it’s long, it’s utterly absorbing.  I am having far too many late nights as I stay up to read ‘just a few more pages’!  I still can’t remember what happened at the end, so at least it will be a surprise for me all over again.  I’ve read a lot of books since I first read it, but it’s still one of the most outstanding.  I wish I could write like that!

Anything else you would like to add to your readers or to other writers

Enjoy your writing, and here’s to the exciting future of digital publishing, whatever it may hold.  I can’t see eBooks books ever wholly replacing tree books, but the digital world has certainly helped me and many other Indie writers to have a voice, and ‘be an author’!

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