055: Aileen Erin – YA Author Debut Book Sold 300K Copies

USA Bestselling Author Shares the Secret to Her Success

Aileen is the author of the Alpha Girl series where she ended up selling 300,000 copies and landing on the bestselling list of USA Today. In this episode, she talks about why you should treat publishing your book like a business, things you can do to overcome writer’s block, and some helpful strategies when you’re looking to write a series.

Aileen Erin is a half-Irish, half-Mexican, and 100% Star Wars fanatic. Also a fan of Star Trek and Tolkien’s linguistics, Erin has a severe fascination with the supernatural.

Aileen has a BS in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas at Austin and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles and spends her days doing her favorite things: reading books, creating worlds, and kicking ass.

What We Discuss with Aileen Erin:

  • How her experience growing up influences her writing
  • Writing her first book and attending grad school
  • Why you need to treat publishing as a business
  • Writing a series vs writing a single book
  • How to overcome writer’s block and tips in creating your series bible
  • Finding the balance between writing and business
  • Aileen’s book writing process and her advice to aspiring writers
  • Why pursuing distributorship is essential
  • When is the best time for marketing your book in the series
  • Marketing your book and the importance of finding your own community

[00:40] Early Influences in Writing

Aileen describes how it was growing up in Central Houston, Texas and going to an international school. This became the basis for the Alpha Girl series.

She has been writing since she was little but it wasn’t until she was finishing college that she got back into fiction writing.

Then she continued writing even when she was already working and she ultimately realized she had to focus on her passion for writing.

Eventually, Aileen quit her day job to focus on writing. She finished the book but she wasn’t satisfied with it. She then decided to go to graduate school and get her MFA in Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where she also studied publishing.

[06:22] Her Decision to Publish Her Own Book

Aileen considered vanity press and it seemed cool. But when she wrote Alpha Girl, it was the post-Twilight era when everybody was into wolf and vampire books. Publishers simply wanted to move on from it.

So she decided to give it a go anyway and publish it herself. She treated it like she was going to be a publisher and researched it for a year. She was treating it like a business.

Aileen ended up selling 300K copies and landing on USA Today list with the third book of the series (she didn’t realize this until two books later).

[12:25] Why You Should Write a Series 

It’s much easier to capture your audience and keep your attention if you have a series. In today’s binge-watching culture, with the advent of Netflix, people want more. They want to get to know a character more and be with them.

Especially if you’re a debut author and you’re starting from scratch, having a series where readers can really connect and get to know your voice, it’s pivotal in starting and making your career.

When building characters, each side character has a backstory. And there would be multiple points for extra conflict.

Develop a character that’s growing and changing with each book – learning more and becoming more of themselves. The character is what draws the audience through.

[15:28] How to Avoid Writer’s Block

Never stop at the end of a chapter or the end of a scene. You can stop in the middle of the scene or chapter so then you can start the next day at the beginning of that, revise a bit, and keep going. This way, you have a continuous flow.

[16:30] Creating the Series Bible

Aileen keeps a spreadsheet with character names. This can form part of your series bible, where you put in all the details and key information like the eye color, hair color, character quirks, and character traits, hopes, dreams, and motivation.

You have to create this sheet even for your minor characters, otherwise, it could get super tricky.

[21:15] Balancing Writing and Publishing

Finding balance was tough for her in the beginning to do all of the business side and writing.

Then she moved all the publishing business stuff to one day a week. The rest of her time is then spent on writing. What she aims for is to be able to write  2,000-2,500 words per day.

Her goal is to be able to finish one or two books ahead. Make sure to have a couple of books already done before you publish the first one so that you’re not automatically behind schedule.

[24:44] Lessons from Writing and Publishing

Writing can be isolating. Having a writing community that you can send your work to and get feedback support is very helpful.

When starting out ideas, Aileen would use giant post-its and markers where she does brainstorming and brain mapping. She would write all kinds of ideas – characters, worlds, etc. She lets her imagination go wild.

Aileen recommends Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! for structuring your book. The magic happens when you start the first chapter and learning the characters.

Publishing is a ton of work so she decided to close her publishing just for herself and her two friends.

[29:50] Pursuing Distributorship

While formulating her business plan, she wanted to have a link at the back of the book. She wanted somebody to go to each retailer and ask for good placement.

This is the key for any distributor is whether they can help you stand out in a crowd. Can they help put you on some of the banners on iBooks or get you in some of the emails for Amazon?

But to get a distributor, you have to have a business plan.

[32:50] Marketings Tips for Releasing Your Series

The best marketing for a book comes when you’re releasing the next book in the series, discount the other books in the series.

At this point, get Facebook ads, blog tours, and getting word-of-mouth. Being the hermit that she is, Aileen doesn’t do traditional media. She just utilizes social media ads, podcasts, and blogs to get the word out.

[34:45] Developing a Relationship with Your Readers

Aileen has a super fans group. She likes to be friends with her readers and this is key in building readership.

Building a relationship with readers makes them engage more with your books. Form a group of dedicated readers and they would become the best sellers of your work. You can also get ideas from them in terms of the plot for instance.

In terms of developing your series, pay attention to the sales and what your fans are asking for. Also, try new things. Ask your readers to go with it as well.

[39:15] Final Words of Wisdom

Find your community and do a lot of research about what other authors are doing, what books are similar to yours, and what the covers look like.

Then delve into how to make a business work. What would you do for marketing? Know your strategic plan of attack. You have to have a way to stand out.

Give yourself time to do the research. If you’re going to do a series, write another book and have it ready before you start really getting into it.

Episode Resources:

Alpha Girl series

Follow Aileen Erin on Facebook and Instagram.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! Listen on: 055: Aileen Erin – YA Author Debut Book Sold 300K Copies055: Aileen Erin – YA Author Debut Book Sold 300K Copies 055: Aileen Erin – YA Author Debut Book Sold 300K Copies