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Life in the big smoke

Writing interview: How to self e-publish with Helena Halme

I first came across Helena Halme about a year ago. I’d been trying to find Nordic bloggers in London and stumbled across her blog Helena’s London Life after some random googling. I was instantly impressed by Helena’s ability to multi-task, not only was she blogging, she’d also written and self-published a novel and was working as an accountant. Helena is doing really well in the tricky (and exciting) new field of self-epublishing and I thought I’d send her a couple of questions about how she’s done it.

1. Could you tell me a bit about how you started writing? How did you come up with the idea for the Englishman?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t write. Growing up in Finland I wrote a diary on and off, and then when I moved to the UK at the age of 23, I started to keep one in earnest. I wrote in both Finnish and English. A bit like the character in Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook, I documented the life of two personalities, the Finnish Helena and the young, inexperienced English naval wife.

My first job in the UK was as translator for the BBC, and it was during his period that I noticed I could write original stories. But life gets in the way, and it took many more years for me to realise that I wanted to become a writer. In 2004, after 20 years in the UK, I enrolled on a MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Since then I’ve written three novels and haven’t really looked back.

I started writing The Englishman as a series of posts on my blog, Helena’s London Life. It was supposed to be a series of two or three posts titled, ‘How I Came to Be in England’, but by the time I was on post 25, I realised I was writing a novel. The posts became so popular I decided to turn them into a fictionalised story of how I met my naval officer husband and moved to the UK.

2. Why did you chose to self-publish?

Over the years I’ve approached a few literary agents, and have worked on a couple of novels with one agent. In the end nothing came out of the relationship and so with the emergence of the e-book, I decided to take the plunge. I had the three books professionally edited, employed an experienced cover designer and pressed ‘publish’.

3. How do you feel about that decision now?

I could not be happier about publishing my novels as e-books. To be able to share my work and get positive feedback from people I’ve never met makes me giddy with happiness. Everyone tells you that as an independent writer you are lonely, but I haven’t found this to be true. There is a wonderful community of Indy writers, and now we even have our own organisation, Alliance of Independent Authors! There is a closed Facebook page purely for discussions on the fast changing face of e-publishing, monthly meetings and a support network, something which I could not have done without.

4. What would you say the most important things are to keep in mind when it comes to self-publishing?

The most important thing to keep in mind when you self-publish is your motive. Why are you doing it? If want to make huge amounts of money, train as a lawyer or an accountant instead. Writers, whether published independently or traditionally, will never be rich unless they are very, very lucky. But, you can make a living out of your words if you are prepared to put in the work.

5. How do you think the publishing industry is changing? What does this mean for authors?

The biggest change in the publishing industry over the last few years is undoubtedly the emergence of the e-book. Some 15% of books sold today are in electronic form and this figure is growing, while the sales of traditional books are declining. This change has also brought about the increase in Indy writers/publishers, which in turn has increased the power of writers in the book production chain. There are now some traditionally published writers who are turning Indy and publishing their own e-books. There’s also a new category of ‘hybrid’ writer. These are self-published authors who have often sold tens or even hundreds of thousands of e-books, and when approached by the established publishers, retain the right to their e-books while signing a deal for printing the paper versions. The simple reason for all this is, that a writer keeps a much larger part of the royalties of self-published e-books, than they do in a traditional publishing deal.

6. You’ve published two more books after The Englishman, what’s next?

I’m writing a new novel which will be a sequel to The Red King of Helsinki, my spy thriller. It’s set in London and Helsinki in the mid-eighties. I am also pursuing a Finnish publisher for my novel about a Finnish immigrant family in Sweden in 1970’s, Coffee and Vodka. I think this book would suit the Nordic market perfectly, so watch this space!

7. What advice would you give to authors who are trying to get published?

Write a good book, employ professionals to help you to edit and make the cover design to format it if you need to, and be prepared to market it. Make sure you have a good description of your book on Amazon or wherever you want to publish your book, and use your meta tags and SEO’s wisely. It’s best if you don’t already have one that you establish an online presence, which could be an author website, or a blog. Then write another good book, and another, and again and again, and you will make a living. Eventually.

You can find out more about Helena’s books on Amazon, The Englishman, Coffee and Vodka, The Red King of Helsinki.