One of the topics that I find endlessly interesting in fiction is the lengths that many authors will go to in order to avoid dealing with modern technology in their work. A functioning mobile phone, for example, can easily put an end to a disaster or adventure story, so it’s little wonder that characters either lose them, forget to charge them, or break them along the way. Another issue regarding the use of technology in fiction is that technology changes and advances at such a rapid rate that authors have to balance the need to tell a modern story with the concern that technological specificity can date their work.
Given the above, I was intrigued to be contacted by LA Johannesson, whose independently published eLoves Me, eLoves Me Not deals with the world of online dating. Internet dating is a concept that’s inextricably linked with technology, so I wanted to get LA’s thoughts not only on how she worked the technology side of things in her book, but what made her decide to tackle this topic in the first place.
“They say, ‘write what you know.’ So I did,” says LA. “Truth is, I was single for a long time and I had tried online dating. When I did, I was astounded at just how many other people were too–whether they admitted to it or not.”
Although some of these people might have been a bit reticent about their involvement in the online dating sphere, LA notes that there was, and is, no need to be.
“More and more people are getting past that [reticence] and actually trying it, some with great results. You’ll always seem to hear the negative before you do the positive but my experience was that, like with many things in life, the experience was mostly good peppered with just a little bad. With some guidance, a little research and experience you can maximise your potential for success.”
And success is more likely than you might think. LA is quick to point out that those looking for love online aren’t a bunch of “dating desperadoes and weirdos”.
“There were normal people, attractive people, people who were nice and interesting and intelligent–the variety of people was incredible. I quickly learned that it was way better than any reality TV show out there. I saw an opportunity to bring some of these fascinating stories to life and that’s how the premise for eLoves Me, eLoves Me Not was born.”
Part of the reason why LA has no qualms about working with present-day technology in her books is that the idea of technology is key to the stories that she wants to tell: like her debut, her second novel also deals with computer-mediated interactions, and it would be impossible for LA to tell the stories that she wants to tell without giving technology the page space that it needs.
“It was never really a concern with eLoves Me, eLoves Me Not. I thought about it, but all stories take place during a certain period of time. And that’s okay. As technology continues to change so do our interactions with it. That’s one of the themes I write about.”
LA strives to present the human side of dealing with new technologies and how the characters, their dialogue,and their relationships are influenced by these technologies, and believes that concerns about this type of work becoming “dated” are unwarranted.
“I think my work will remain fresh because of the concentration on the user side of technology. And as new technology emerges, we will continue to be presented with fresh communication and interpersonal challenges, so there will always be something fresh to write about.”
Of course, writing is only part of the job of today’s author, and having chosen to self-publish her work, LA is in charge of overseeing the multitude of other factors involved in getting a book in front of readers—design, marketing, promotion and everything in between.
Although the book’s original concept arose quite organically, LA’s marketing and communications training kicked in when it came to determining just how the story was presented. Namely, in using multiple viewpoints.
“I took a balanced look at online dating, dealt with many of its issues, both positive and negative, and presented a combination of male and female viewpoints, sometimes with some pretty hilarious consequences,” she says.
If this broader perspective helps to make the story funnier, more marketable and it appeals to a larger audience, then it can only be a good thing.
“And am I happy that number of dating sites and the numbers of people using online dating continues to grow? You bet. It means more and more people will be able to relate to and hopefully enjoy this story.”
Though LA’s still open to the idea of traditional publication, one of the benefits of self-publishing, and the one that clinched her decision to take this route, was that the production cycles involved in self-publishing are typically vastly shorter than those of traditional publishing.
“After completing a manuscript, the time involved in finding an agent, a publisher, editing, rewrites, design, production, marketing, etc. you’d be looking at close to two years and that’s if you are lucky enough to breakthrough and actually get picked up. I didn’t want to wait that long. In my case, it took just under three months from completed first draft to the first online sale.”
Given her marketing background, it was also important that LA have the autonomy to be able to respond freely to marketing opportunities, to create my own breaks and to leverage the power of social media.
“I wanted to develop the required digital assets and get them working for me. I didn’t want to trust these things to an industry, where, with few exceptions, their adoption and mastery of digital tools is lagging behind.”
But as a self-published author, developing those skills is crucial—although LA admits that it’s not an easy task, even for someone with a background in marketing and who’s comfortable with the idea of self-promotion.
“This is an area of struggle for many self-published authors, but conversely an area of opportunity for people who understand both worlds,” she says. “What’s involved in presenting yourself, a virtual unknown, and your book, another virtual unknown, with no big publishing house credibility behind you to a global reader audience? A lot!”
A great title, an eye-catching cover and a well-told story are all essential, but they’re only the beginning.
“You need a platform from which to stand and introduce yourself–a website or a blog. Then you need to create your messages, build your social networks, define your target market or markets, pitch to relevant media and reviewers, create and curate content, get listed on as many online retail platforms as possible.”
Physical placement in bookshops is the holy grail for many a self-published author, and although LA agrees that it’s a difficult goal to attain, it’s certainly worth trying. After all, the more opportunities to connect with your specific target reader communities the better.
“In my case, in general, I connect on Goodreads, and specifically I connect with Chick Lit blogs or sites that are specific to my genre. For me, the women’s fiction reading community and the online dating community are my two key target audiences. You need to reach out to your communities with contests, giveaways, and do interviews, book readings, author signings and you may also want to join book clubs and meet-up groups and any other association or community that’s relevant to your genre or subject.”
LA is so confident in her work that I can’t help but wonder whether, just as for online dating, the stigma that once surrounded self-publishing is no longer an issue. Are self-published authors becoming more accepted by the reading public?
“I think so. I hope so. There are certainly more support systems in place to assist us in bringing our work to readers. The power to change is in the readers’ hands and I think readers are increasingly more open to the indie author especially as they become more accessible and the channels to purchase and provide feedback become more direct. In my opinion, increased transparency is really helping the indie-author.”
But even if this is the case, LA is adamant that self-published authors need to look for every opportunity to tell, and sell, their stories.
“But that’s the joy of it. It is your story. There should be no better person than you to market it. You get to present your work to the world. And, you’re doing it on your terms and fuelled by your passion. And when you are successful you can stand proud and say, ‘I did this!’ It’s an amazing feeling when you accomplish a huge goal and realise a dream.”
LA is proud of what she’s accomplished so far on her own, and she’s excited about the steps ahead.
“Self-published or not, I’m aiming for ‘bestseller or bust’ folks, so watch this space!”
About the book: Still single at 39, Kayte Wexford has everything but Mr. Right. With keyboard at the ready, she turns to technology for help.
Kayte dives fingers first into a sea of online dating, instant messaging and email exchanges where she connects with some charming, hilarious, bizarre and downright frightening characters. Each encounter teaches her something and tests her optimism, intuition and commitment, while advancing her that next necessary step in her quest for love. With so many fish in this cyber-sea, Kayte must decide which ones to toss back, which to reel in and which, if any, should be proudly mounted.