I wanted to do another author interview, since it has been a while and I had so much fun with the previous ones. So I went out on a limb and contacted Susan M. Toy, whose book Island in the Clouds I won a few years back through the Goodreads giveaways. At the time, she wrote me a lovely personal letter that she was happy someone from Belgium won, since her grandparents were also originally from here.
Susan is very experienced and has seen all sides of writing, publishing and promoting books. Based on her background, I decided to ask her a bunch of questions, not only about writing but also about publishing and promoting books. She shared a lot of advice and tips, here below. If you want to keep up with her, follow her blog for insights and tips!
And more good news: Susan agreed to do a giveaway on my blog! Susan has offered to give away copies of her three published eBooks, one to each of three readers who reply correctly to both parts of the question in the comments section of this blog post (tip: read the interview). All correct replies will be entered in the draw. The draw will be made on Dec. 31. Good luck!In which year did Susan and Dennis first visit Bequia, and when did they move to the island to live full time?
So post your answer to the question in the comment section below for a chance to win one of these books:
If there is one element from your books that you could take and implement in our everyday lives, what would it be?
I’ve always felt everyone would benefit from travelling to foreign countries and living within a completely different culture for a while – not just go to a resort complex that provides a “sanitised experience” and lie on a beach for a week or two, but to actually live somewhere (even where people speak a different language), get to know the local people, eat the food and experience the culture and entertainment on offer. I think this would go a long way to increasing understanding and tolerance among the people of the world.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I’m a reader who loves to encourage reading and also enjoys writing and telling a story.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Funny you should ask … I recently wrote a blog post about this, titled, Reading is My Superpower.
Which writers do you look up to?
My favourite living writer is Richard Ford. My favourite writer overall is Wallace Stegner. I reread books by both of these authors regularly. There are a number of Canadian authors I know personally whose work I enjoy and I find I can always learn from them – Aritha van Herk, Gail Bowen, Betty Jane Hegerat. And my current favourite writers I read for pure pleasure are Fredrik Backman and Jussi Adler-Olsen – I’ve been reading their books over the past couple of years as soon as they become available in English.
When I think of why I enjoy the writing of these particular authors, it’s because they all know exactly how to tell a good story. And, as well, I can learn a lot about the craft of writing by studying their books.
When did you decide to make the switch from selling and promoting books, to writing them?
I had worked as a bookseller and then a sales representative for publishers over the span of about 2-1/2 decades. During that time, I realized the authors were the singular part of the equation who provided the rest of us with a livelihood, yet they really received short-shrift when it came to promotion. (For instance, publishers and bookstores heavily promoted books for the first six months after publication, but little attention was ever paid after that time to either book or author – unless one or the other had won an award.) I began writing after I quit (the first time) my job as a sales rep and moved to Bequia. I returned to Canada, to the same job as sales rep, in 2008, and had not yet found a publisher for my own work … even with all my connections in the business. I talked with one of the authors whose books I was selling and she said, “I would pay you to help me promote my work, because I’m not getting much promotion at all from my publisher.” And that’s when I set up a promotion business that dealt directly with the authors themselves and promoted ALL their books, no matter when those books had been written and released. I still promote other authors to a great extent, although I no longer charge for that promotion. In turn, most of those authors also promote my books, so it’s become a win-win situation. I never actually switched from one job to the other as I have continued to do them both simultaneously.
How do you choose the subjects you write about?
When I began writing seriously, it was first about Bequia, but I have also since written about the neighbourhood in Toronto where I grew up, our family cottage, and I’m writing a series of short stories based on the lives of my Belgian grandparents who immigrated to Canada in 1919. Most of my stories come from personal experiences or are about people I know. Sometimes I hear a news story that gets me thinking about how I could incorporate that into a fictional story.
And now a big question: why Bequia?
My partner and I first vacationed on the island in January, 1989, and fell in love with the place. We kept coming back every year for a few weeks at a time, always over Christmas/New Year, until one year when our taxi driver stopped on the way to taking us out for dinner and showed us a piece of land he knew was for sale. We eventually bought that land, built a house, and moved from Canada to Bequia permanently in 1996. We’d caught what we all refer to as “the Bequia bug”!
Why did you want to be a writer?
I had stories in my head I wanted to tell and I hoped others would enjoy reading them. It was as simple as that!
What’s the most difficult part of writing a book, according to you?
Finding readers who want to read what I’ve written and who enjoy the story as much as I do. (Promotion and marketing, even with all my experience and connections, continues to be a chore and very difficult.)
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t take yourself or your writing too seriously. Set a realistic bar for yourself as to when you consider yourself to have achieved success. Again, I wrote a blog post about this topic: At which point do you consider yourself to be successful?
Make the reason you are writing be a realistic one with an obtainable end goal. Don’t set yourself up to be disappointed by being too ambitious. The only person who will suffer will be you.
But do be serious about learning your craft well and making your book the best it can be!
What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
A very established Canadian author once told me to write with joy… not to write only about joyful subjects, but to write with a joy in my heart for the process of telling the story I want to tell and making it the best it can be, then joy in making that story available to be shared and enjoyed with readers.
What is your advice to someone who has just written their first book, and is looking to get it published?
There are very many services that have popped up during this age of self-publishing and writing offering all manner of advice and help – for a price. Be very, very careful, because many of these people are preying on your naivety and the fact that you likely lack information about how the entire book business works. So, my best advice is to first Learn about how the entire publishing and bookselling business works.
And should you decide to take the self-publishing route, I suggest reading a new book by author, Tricia Drammeh – The Essential Self-Publishing Guide: How to Publish Your Book on Any Budget!
How important is the online community for the promotion of a book? How should authors go about it?
I can’t even begin to explain how important my online community has been to me … I’m very fortunate in that, over the years since I first published, I have discovered and been introduced to many, many authors, bloggers and readers online who have become big supporters of my writing and books, and have further led me to meet other like-minded authors. Mainly, I managed to become part of such an incredibly supportive network by promoting other authors. Rather than only talking about myself and my own writing, I created a promotion blog called Reading Recommendations on which I write about other authors and their books. I’ve discovered many great authors this way, and some of them have become friends, as well!
More on Susan Toy:
- Blog: https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/
- Information about The Bequia Perspectives Novels: https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/the-bequia-perspectives-novels/
- Information about my publishing:
- IslandCatEditions https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/islandcateditions/
- IslandShorts https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/islandshorts/
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1316805.Susan_M_Toy
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susanmtoy
- Twitter: @SusanMToy