Elaine and I met a few years ago in one of Brian Henry’s writing courses, and I’m delighted to interview her about her new historical novel, The Loyalist’s Wife. She welcomes everyone to the official launch on Saturday, October 6th from 2-4pm at the Quality Inn, Woodstock. Thanks to Elaine for taking the time to share some great advice about writing historical fiction, and self-publishing.
About The Loyalist’s Wife
When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.
With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.
What inspired this story and these characters? Do you have a personal connection with this story?
The Loyalist’s Wife came about because I wanted to write something more substantial than the family stories and recipe books I had written. I said as much to my soul-mate son, who talked about my qualifications and ended with, “If not now, when?” Indeed. The next week on holiday in Hilton Head, I bought a book, “How to Write Your Novel” and away I went. Following its suggestion to pick a topic about which I was passionate, I chose the Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War. One of Butlers Rangers was named John Garner and so is my brother so that just seemed to be the right name for my male lead. His wife became Lucinda or Lucy after my great aunt. I loved the historical quality of the name and the fact that I could delve into her buoyant personality with the short form.
My personal connection is that I come from these Loyalist folks and writing and learning about them has been a voyage of discovery in very many ways.
What advice would you give to authors who write historical fiction?
There are so many excellent historical fiction writers that I hesitate to give advice. Perhaps that is the advice: read excellent writers in the genre. I have many favorites such as Colleen McCullough, Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, Edward Rutherfurd, Anne Easter Smith, Diana Gabaldon—the list is far too long to complete.
Do you have other projects in the works?
The Loyalist’s Luck is well underway just now and I hope to have it finished at the end of this winter, ready for final revision with a publication date of June, 2014. This is the second in The Loyalist Trilogy with the third, The Loyalist Legacy, slated for June, 2015, completing that series. Then there is a memoir floating around my brain which would build on a lot the family stories I’ve already worked on. Shaping them into an actual memoir for the public will be a labour of love with emphasis on labour. This project has already suggested a number of problems I’ll have to solve so I leave it in the future, out there, waiting until I’m ready to tackle it.
And now questions about the business side of publishing. Marketing any novel is a challenge, but a self-published book has unique challenges. What have been your most effective marketing tactics to date?
This is a tricky question as it’s too early in the game to know how effective some of my thrusts have been. I chose to self-publish for a lot of very good, well-considered reasons and, so far, I am delighted with my decision. I have control. Perhaps that is the greatest advantage I’ve found so far. I decide on the cover designer (she’s wonderful, lives in Victoria), the interior designer (again wonderful, lives in Paris, France), and the final thrust of the story itself(professionally edited twice). Along the way I’ve been given much advice by those in writing circles and in the business. What I finally learned was that I had to trust my own intuition and write, with the study and knowledge I have, the best book I could. And I had to learn to trust my judgment, born of a lifetime of reading historical fiction’s greatest authors.
As far as marketing, The Loyalist’s Wife is on Amazon, both in print and Kindle e-book, and on Kobo as that format is very popular in Canada. I intend to do more formats soon but Kindle is such a universal choice among readers that I found it a good place to start. Having print books with me at all times has proven to be a successful marketing strategy as people, friends and strangers alike, get a special look on their face when they learn I am an author. I’ve sold at a garage sale, local book store, women’s club meetings, speaking engagements, book club visits—you name it, I’ve been there. Because I love people the signings are a joy. I guess you could say that love of people has opened a lot of doors for me.
One of the keys to a successful marketing campaign is to identify and target your audience(s). How have you connected, or plan to connect with your “ideal reader?” What advice do you have for writers about finding and communicating with their target audience?
What a great question, Urve! The usual audience touted for historical fiction is middle-aged women and I believe that to be true. I do not, however, limit my queries to that segment as I know many men who love HF. I even had a neighbor shout at me from his doorway at 7:00 o’clock in the morning so that he could stop me and tell me how delighted he was with my book. And this man is a reader. Nevertheless, with women in mind, I am looking at various women’s groups and book clubs on the local front and am moving toward expanding that thrust with wide-reaching speaking and reading engagements. Already I am speaking at a historical society and a men’s club, both of which will, I hope!, like the historical quality of the book and the fact that it is written giving equal time to John’s story and to Lucy’s story. The very makeup of the book, with the two stories intertwined, appeals to both men and women. Advice? Look at your story, define your target audience, and look for the places online and off where large numbers of that audience congregate. Go there, too.
Goodreads is a great medium for writers, but can be confusing (at least for this writer). What is your experience with Goodreads?
I am still in the early days with Goodreads. I have a couple of reviews which are complimentary but I haven’t even set up my author page there yet. I subscribe to Sharon Kay Penman’s site on Goodreads and love to get the weekly digest of posts she has made. One of these days I’ll find time to set up my page and try to emulate SKP. Meanwhile I continue with guest posting, blogging on On Becoming a Wordsmith, and working through the dozens of emails I get every day with ideas for outreach. Oh, and I do write for two hours every day. J
Any advice to writers who want to self-publish their novel?
Self-publishing is not a way to skip the necessary steps to writing the best book possible. Realize that you need fresh eyes on your work, you need to do enough courses and critique groups to be able to decide for yourself what to keep and what to dump, and you need to have the goal in mind. Mine has always been to have work of which I can be proud, both for myself and for my family. Ask yourself if that version is the best it can be? Would you want to leave it to your grandchildren as an example of your very best work? Some day they won’t have you. Will your books be the legacy you want them to have?
Kind words from Terry Fallis about The Loyalist’s Wife:
“Elaine Cougler has written a page-turning novel of the American Revolution through the eyes of a conflicted loyalist soldier and his indomitable wife. You’ll feel the hardship of homesteading, the fear of the enemy, the blows of battle, and the pain of separation. You’ll be transported through history. This is not just a novel written about another time, it seems written in another time.” Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans, Stephen Leacock medal winner
About Elaine Cougler:
A native of Southern Ontario, Elaine taught high school and with her husband raised two children until she finally had time to pursue her writing career. She loves to research both family history and history in general for the stories of real people that emanate from the dusty pages. These days writing is Elaine’s pleasure and her obsession. Telling the stories of Loyalists caught in the American Revolutionary War is very natural as her personal roots are thoroughly enmeshed in that struggle, out of which arose both Canada and the United States.