Sherry A. Burton is the author of 14 contemporary and historical novels, including The Orphan Train Saga, a planned 18-book series based on actual historical events. She will chat about how she segued from contemporary fiction to historical, how she will sell over 600 paperback books at her next book signings, and how she researches her popular Orphan Train series.
Q. The reason I asked you to do a Q&A with me was a Facebook photo of yours that caught my eye on August 28, 2019. In the photo, you had boxes of books–642 books ordered, you wrote–you were going to take to some book signings and lectures. That amount just floored me.
A. Haha, those are just for the two orphan train books. Yes, my calendar is full of signing events. I try to book at least one large event each month.
Q. Tell me about the books you take to these signing events. Are they a series or something else?
A. It depends on the size of the table. If space is limited I will only take a few, if I get an entire eight foot table I will take everything. My heart series is my Orphan Train Saga. I have two books in the planned eighteen book saga that I take. If there is space I will also take my romance collection. I have two that are connected and the rest are standalone. I also take my children’s books.
I also do lectures on the orphan trains and have book signings afterward which is the reason for so many books.
Q. Describe your orphan train series. What time period is that; what an “orphan train” is…?
A. Let me work backward here, between 1854 and 1929 over 250k orphaned children were shipped west from New York and Boston via trains. Some of these “orphan” children lived on the streets of New York City, some lived in asylums, and some were not true orphans at all. 250k children, from newborn to teens, riding what we now know as the orphan trains in hopes of finding new homes. Some of the children went on to have grand lives. Others did not. Despite the numbers, many in today’s society have never heard of the Placing Out Program.
Q. Wow, that’s fascinating. I also write historical fiction, and so I understand completely that fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. How did you get started writing about orphan trains?
A. My goal is to keep those children’s memories alive through a mix of 18 historical fiction novels titled The Orphan Train Saga. I introduced 17 of the 18 children in Discovery, released December 2018. Each of the following books will tell one of those children’s stories. I follow the children from their earliest memory, what got them onto the trains and follow them throughout their lives. The books span the twentieth and twenty-first century.
I overheard someone talking about the trains and had to know more. I started researching everything I could get my hands on and now here I am.
Q. I am sensing that this isn’t your first foray into a historical series. How long have you been a published author and how many books do you have out now?
A. Actually, the Orphan Train Saga is my first. historical fiction anything! Which makes it so crazy. I said hey, not only am I going to do this, but I’m going to promise my readers eighteen books, published every six months.
I’ve been published since 2012. I have the first, Discovery (Dec. 2018) and Shameless (June 2019). Book three is due out late December.
Q. I just watched your Discovery video on your website. Gave me goosebumps…in a good way. We will take a step back to 2012. What was your first book and how did you get published? What inspired that book?
A. I always say I didn’t pick writing, writing picked me. I had a friend who was going through a very tough time. For some unknown reason, I told her I was going to write her a happy ending. I started writing and the story surprised me by taking over. That story is my first novel, Tears of Betrayal. I was traditionally published, for the first two, and decided if I was going to do all the work, I wanted the money. So now I indie publish everything.
Q. So after your debut novel, you wrote clean contemporary romance? How many books do you have out now?
A. My debut novel was also contemporary romance, as the story ended up being nothing about my friend. So I have three contemporary romance, Tears of Betrayal, Love in the Bluegrass, Somewhere in My Dreams and The King of My Heart. I have a time travel, Seems Like Yesterday and a suspense, Surviving the Storm. I have five children’s picture books, written under Sherry A. Jones. I have a new Paranormal Snapshot collection that is debuting in October and two books in my Orphan Train Saga. So, fourteen in total. Not as many as some, but it works for me.
They are clean, and for the most part, all the nitty-gritty stuff is more implied than seen. While the reader will know what is happening, they will not be beaten over the head with it.
Q. You said the Orphan Train is your first foray into historical fiction. How did you tackle the research for it and what was your drafting process?
A. Each child will have a different life and I will use mostly forgotten history to tell their tale. I’ve purchased over one hundred research books and use Google, Newspaper.com, and lots of road trip research to get the stories straight. I’m not a plotter, I have amazing voices who help me tell the stories. All I know when I start writing is the name of the child in question and what their profession will be when they are adults.
Q. Wow, that would be magical to draft like that. And is there romance in each of the stories? That was my impression in book 2’s blurb.
A. No, there is very little romance, to the point of being nonexistent. They are more of a drama series.
Q. How did you get started booking your signings? How did you get your foot in the door? Where do you have them and how often?
A. I’ve had signings in Barnes and Nobles in three different states. I’ve signed at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest alongside Diana Gabaldon. Okay, we were in the same building, and spoke to her for a few moments, so that counts, right? (Yes, I have the photos to prove it.) I do a lot of craft shows and multi-author signing events. Some may think craft shows are not the right venue, but I have a lot of long term fans that first met me when I stood in the hall of a high school trying to sell my very first book.
I’m lucky that my husband is now retired and we can travel at our leisure, so if I say to him, hey there’s a signing in Florida and I want to go, he’s like, tell me when and where. By the way, we just got back from that event (Kentucky Bookfest).
Q. How often are these signings and how many books are you able to sell on the average? PS (Can I see the photo with Diana Gabaldon and post it?)
It depends on the month. I’m already booking well into next year. I think I have seven large venues so far. I have a signing in Deadwood Colorado in June and a signing at the Mansfield Prison (where they filmed the Shawshank Redemption) next November. How many I sell depends on the size of the crowd. I can sell anywhere from twenty to well over a hundred a day. Both are a great day for an indie author trying to get her name out there.
(I’ve actually met Diana Gabaldon twice.)
I mean…to have Diana wish me good luck in my writing, sigh.
Q. Cool! How do the ebook sales compare to the print sales?
A. E-book sales do better for my older titles, but the Orphan Train Saga is jumping off the shelf in both print (hard and softcover) and in e-book. I sell well in print at all my signings, but again TOTS is outselling everything else.
Q.We need to wrap up soon, for your sake, because I promised an hour.
A. LOL, it is not as scary as I’d thought.
Q. Ha ha, good. It’s like chatting up an old-new friend. Do you mind sharing some stats of what kind of sales to expect from historical fiction nowadays? Like, best Amazon rank for your e-books or some other measurement you are comfortable in sharing? (Or not, and that is fine, too. I am just nosy! 🙂 )
A. I am not a bestseller (yet) I’m still trying to figure it all out. But with each OT book, my sales are increasing. To some, my rank is probably laughable but to me, I know I’m on my way.
Q. That is awesome, Sherry. What is the pricing sweet spot nowadays for paperbacks and hardbacks?
A. Hardbacks are only for people who like them. They don’t sell as well and I have to price them high just to make a dollar a copy. I will continue to offer them only because I want this saga to come in that format. I’ve priced the softcover a bit higher ($14.99 for book one and $15.99 book two) because of the amount of research and time it takes. Also, it seems as though people are willing to spend $$. I do discount them to $12 each at my signings, being sure to begin with, “They sell for this and that and are on sale today for this.” If I am feeling frisky I will add that the signature is free. Anything for a laugh.
Q. How many words are your Orphan Train books on the average?
A. I think Discovery was in the high 80’s and Shameless is around 96K
Q. Last question…what are your top three tips for an author who wants to venture into book signings to enhance their career?
A. Be approachable- stand up and talk to people. Treat every person standing in front of you like they are worth your time. Have a great tag line. That is the hook that will help you sell more books. Also, you would be surprised how many people do not realize I am the author until a few minutes into our conversation.
Q. Sherry, thank you so much for being so gracious with your time. I have enjoyed getting to know you better and I am definitely intrigued now and want to read about Orphan Trains. Congrats with your signing success!
A. Thank you so very much. This has been very enjoyable.
Check out Sherry A. Burton’s The Orphan Train Series here.