Cover for Tidewater Cover for the Sekhmet Bed

First, thanks for coming on the blog.  

For those that don’t know your work, tell us about your books:

— I write mostly historical fiction, though occasionally I do some other stuff, too. My best-known books are in my She-King series, a four-book saga of Hatshepsut and her family. Hatshepsut was the most powerful female Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and as you can imagine her story is full of intrigue. It was a lot of fun to write!
How easy or hard has it been to get visibility and build a name in your chosen genre? 
— Well, historical fiction can be a tough genre for many writers. It doesn’t have a super-huge audience, but it’s pretty good-sized…and they are some of the most wonderfully demanding and challenging readers to please. But I love such an involved and engaged audience.
I’ve made myself stand out by understanding what that particular audience wants: pretty writing, emotionally deep stories with complex characters, historical accuracy (that’s a big one) and DETAIL. In addition to keeping my eye on those basics with each book I write, I’ve tried very hard to stand out from the pack by steering away from the kinds of settings and historical figures that have had a lot of traction with traditional publishers over the past several years. By not writing to trend, I offer readers all the usual fun of historical fiction combined with a sense of the exotic or unique.
It can be hard to stay ahead of the genre’s trends, though. Historical fiction can get into “meme loops” very easily, with specific eras and figures becoming the hot setting for many authors and attractive to many readers…for example, we’re just coming out of a long trend of Tudor fiction. It can be easy to chase a trend like that, when historical fiction trends can get SO huge and successful.
But so far I’ve found considerable success in an otherwise tough genre by making sure I stick out from the pack. So my business plan involves writing in the settings nobody else is touching (yet.)

What is the most successful promotional strategy you’ve used?

— Definitely BookBub! The results have been pretty impressive. My best BookBub promotion launched me all the way up to #3 in the Kindle store…an impressive trick for a historical novel! However, I should point out that I got my books to sell pretty well before I ventured into any paid promotions. It took time, but I just let word of mouth build among fans of the genre, and before too terribly long, my books were selling steadily.

Do you have a mailing list, and if so, what do you do to grow it?

— I do. It’s maybe my most important promotional tool, but I am pretty low-key about growing it. The first thing a reader sees when she reaches the end of a novel is a link to the next book (next in the series if it’s mid-series, or next-newest release if it’s the end of the series or a stand-alone book.) Immediately after that is an invitation to sign up for the mailing list. Plus I have a sign-up link on my web site. But that’s all I do. No popups, no aggressive sign-up drives on social media. I only want people on that list who REALLY want to be there, not who sign up in a fit of impulse!

I also only send a message to my subscribers when there’s something they’re very, very interested in: a new book, or news that’s equally exciting. I don’t get chatty on my mailing list; I save that for social media. Many authors have success with using a mailing list for regular, more social contact with their readers, and I think that has its place with certain genres…but the hardcore fans of historical fiction tend to be more introverted and introspective as a group, less inclined to engage with an author who’s a constant presence in their lives (or their inboxes.)

What is one unsuccessful promotion tactic that you’d never try again?

— I recently tried boosting a post on Facebook just to see what would happen. The answer: not much at all. I wasn’t impressed. Glad I only put $20 into that experiment!

Do you have any advice on how to get more reviews for your books?


I know it sounds like a flippant answer, but it’s really not. If you’re writing truly memorable books — books that lodge into a reader’s heart and mind — they’ll want to tell other people about your work. They won’t be able to stop themselves! A good portion of those readers will do it by writing reviews, but others will do it in other ways, too, which are equally effective at driving new readers to your door.

If you want to do something in the unobtrusive, low-key Libbie Hawker style, you can include a brief note in the back of your ebook asking readers to take a moment to write a review if they enjoyed the book. Leave a link so it’s nice and simple for them.

But you can’t get around the necessity of writing good books. It has to start with a story that lodges in a reader’s psyche and then won’t get out. Nothing you can contrive will make a reader want to review your book if they’ve forgotten it moments after finishing it…or if they don’t want to finish it at all.

What do you know about self publishing now that you wish you knew when you first started out?

— Series. Series sell. It doesn’t mean the only thing you ever have to write is series, but if you can get a series out there early on, it will make the business a lot easier on you.

How has Free worked for you, and do you have more plans to incorporate free stories into your marketing plan in the future?

— I’ve had some good times with brief flurries of Freeness. Combined with a BookBub ad, it’s frankly awesome. I tried Permafree on the first in my series recently and liked the results. Then I went to 99 cents just to see how it was different (if at all.) Sales were a little better at Free. I went back to full price with that book just today, to compare full price to free.

I LOVE the flexibility to experiment and compare in this way. Flexibility and the speed with which indies can change direction and try new tactics is SO important to success as an author in today’s world. It would take a very huge publishing contract indeed to induce me to give up just the ability to change my prices whenever I want to, let alone all the other perks and power that come from self-publishing.

What advice would you give to writers that are either just starting out and/or are struggling to get sales?

— Be sure your books truly are good.

It’s tough to develop any shred of objectivity about your own books, but it’s a skill that is so important to any financially-successful creative type. Until you’ve developed a bit of skill at accurate self-critique, find some people to give you honest feedback on your writing. Close friends and family love you and will automatically think everything you do is amazing. Hug them, but don’t listen to them. Find somebody who doesn’t know that you look like the world’s saddest puppy when you cry, and then ask them to rip your book to shreds.

And then find a few more.

Look carefully at where their comments overlap. What weaknesses or problems do multiple people consistently identify? That’s where you suck; that’s where you need to get better.

Sales will come in greater numbers once you’re writing books that readers can’t get out of their heads…once you start to get a lot of reviews.

So many authors, even well-established authors who have been at it longer than I have, believe that reviews generate more sales. But they don’t. Readers generate more sales for you, by talking about books they think are worth talking about. Both reviews and sales follow naturally when you’re giving readers what they want!

Now, genre plays a big part here. I love writing literary fiction, and I’ve got a lit novel that’s easily miles better than my historical fiction. It sells like crud, but the few reviews it has are glowing. There just aren’t a lot of readers out there who are interested in that kind of book, though. If you’re writing something that has a tiny audience like literary fiction or poetry, and you want to make a living from your writing, you need to be realistic about the potential size of your audience.

But if you’re writing good books in a genre that has enough readers to support an author with potential, eventually you’ll catch on.

What does one of your typical book launches look like–blog tours, giveaways, etc…?

— My book launches are pretty boring for everybody involved, I’m sorry to say. Mainly, I just announce the new release to my mailing list. I shoot out a tweet or two (never more than a couple…I can’t stand it when other authors won’t shut up about their own books on Twitter), I make a post on Facebook and hope others will share it and comment on it and like it enough that it shows up on blog feeds. For the most part, I rely on my mailing list to make the crucial first flurry of purchases, and to get the new book on some nice Also Bought algorithms. From there, I just let it launch itself.

I do like guest blog posts (like this one) but I haven’t seen them give any kind of a lift to sales. But they’re fun!

I haven’t tried give-aways, except for offering freebies to some of my mailing list subscribers, but those are readers I’ve already attracted, and the give-aways are thank-yous rather than something intended to catch new eyes.

Now that I’m writing full-time, I have a lot more free time on my hands, and I intend to really step up my blogging presence as well as my connection to other authors in my genre on social media. I hope that future book launches will be even better, with more traffic to my blog and with lots of popular authors getting excited about a new release and mentioning it on Twitter and Facebook. But that’s all hypothetical. We’ll see if it actually works a few books from now.

If anything, I guess I’m proof that you can build a self-publishing business slowly, placing the majority of your focus on offering a high-quality product to discerning readers, in case stuff like a frenetic, high-stress book launch or an aggressive mailing list campaign doesn’t suit your style. I didn’t get here overnight, but I did get here. So I suppose it’s possible.

Do you have any advice for finding success on other platforms such as Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo?

— I wish I did! I only recently started seeing good sales from Apple. The majority of my sales still come from Amazon, followed by audiobook sales, then Apple, then print editions via Createspace, then Kobo and B&N together. I’ve heard BookBub has a big presence among Nook users, though!

What can we expect from you in the future?

— Well, my latest historical novel comes out in early July or mid July. The title is Tidewater: A Novel of Pocahontas and the Jamestown Colony. It’s a long one, so I’m not sure how long it will take my dear and very patient editor to go through the whole thing…so I don’t have a steady release date set yet. But since I don’t make a big to-do of my book launches (yet), that doesn’t concern me. 🙂

However, anybody who’s interested should join my mailing list (link on my web site, since the book will launch at 99 cents and work its way up to full price (yes, counter to what we all typically do with backlist and frontlist. I stole that brilliant idea from my fellow historical fiction writer David Gaughran, who is a genius.) So if you are curious about it at all, you’ll want to snag it while it’s at its cheapest, and the only way to know immediately when it comes out is to be a list subscriber!

After Tidewater, I’ll be trying out paranormal romance under a different pen name, then it’s back to historical fiction for fall and winter releases in some seldom-explored settings: a novel about Zenobia, a short-term empress of (part of) Rome, and a novel about Egypt’s fall to Persian rule, told from the perspective of a Greek bed-slave who “accidentally” gets tangled up in all the action!

Check out Libbie’s books HERE

Also check out Libbie’s recipe for Kindle Unlimited success HERE