Q&A: Writing Bestselling Regencies with Sally Britton

Sally Britton is the bestselling author of Regency Romances. She’s a sixth generation Texan, received her BA in English from Brigham Young University, and reads voraciously. Today she will chat about what tropes she’s used in her books, what’s prepared her to write emotionally compelling novels in the genre, and how she engages readers on social media.

Q. I’m going to begin with a basic question, which is, how did you get started writing?

A. I feel like the answer to that always has layers or stages! I started telling stories really young, started writing at 14, and I always loved English classes and literature, even when I wrote research papers. I wrote my first book to publish in 2016 and published in 2018.

Q. Is it safe to assume since you write Regency that you’d always set out to write historical novels?

A. When I decided to take my writing seriously, I knew that’s where I needed to start. I’m very familiar with the genre, as it’s my favorite to read. I do plan to branch out in future, though.

Q. You are obviously doing very well in the genre. In June, you made $15,500 with only $1,283 in ad (AMS) spend. Congratulations! Was that a record month for you so far?

A. That was actually the amount I was at a few days before the end of the month. It wound up being being $16,600. And it was the second highest month I’ve ever had – the highest was only $3 more.

Q. Ha ha ha, we won’t quibble about which month, but those are amazing numbers.

A. That highest month was actually last August, when I released my third novel. I still can’t explain that one.

Q. Which title was that one?

A. His Bluestocking Bride.

Q. And was that with or without advertising? If yes on advertising, which kind?

A. I have lots of theories, but that’s remained my most popular novel to date. It hits a lot of popular tropes and the cover is gorgeous. For this month or that crazy one? 🙂

Q. That crazy one.

A. I THINK I only had one ad through Robin Reads, and lots of newsletter swaps carefully stacked after that so it stayed high on all the charts.

Q. What kind of ranking does a book hit approximately to make a monthly income like that?

A. The current book that’s keeping me in that range, Rescuing Lord Inglewood, has hovered mostly in the 500-600 range overall. Let me check on HBB last year.

Q. When you are back, remind me what tropes HBB hits and what inspired you to write it.

A. Okay, HBB only ranked between 1500-2000 that August. The tropes it hits is friends to lovers, secret love, marriage of convenience, and of COURSE the title has the hot word “bride” in it. “Bluestocking” is another well-loved word/trope in the Regency genre.

Q. Ah, that makes sense.

A. I actually wrote that book FIRST of all the books in that series. But I didn’t think it would be a strong enough start to a series. Joke’s on me! I wrote it because I had a LOT of experience (during the dating years) of being the friend who helped a guy get through a breakup and only once wound up being the girlfriend. 😉

Q. Fun back story. I recently chatted with author Michelle Pennington, who also writes Regency, and she said that Regency seems to be the most promising genre she has published in. As you have published and learned more about the genre, what do you think accounts for that?

A. I think Regency has always had a huge fan following. Jane Austen, the Brontes, are the classical beginnings that attract people, but then Georgette Heyer was big in the 20th century. So it’s always been this sort of sleeping giant. Now that we have indies in the genre writing high quality books, we’re just feeding the giant!

Q. I love that metaphor.

A. Especially in Sweet Romance. People love that they can get that feeling from Pride and Prejudice movies/books in other places. We all adore Darcy, and we love watching relationships develop slowly and naturally as they did at that period.

Q. You aren’t secretly British, right? So how does an American like yourself who grew up in __ seem to get the British Regency period right? What has prepared you for your breakout successes other than reading voraciously?

A. I grew up in Texas, mostly. 🙂 I’m not secretly British, but that would be awesome. Let’s see. Most of my preparations have been in reading everything I could about the period for myself, fiction and non-fiction. One of the first biographies I ever read was all about Jane Austen. I have a true love for that time period and genuinely enjoy researching it. I’m not usually a big fan of non-fiction, but I have SHELVES devoted to the history of the Regency/Georgian era.

So really, “other than reading,” nothing prepared me. 🙂

Q. Sheesh. I was ready to bottle your secret sauce. Ha ha, seriously, that makes sense.

A. In terms of marketing strategies, I would even give that one over to reading. I read a lot of blogs and books by indies who were already doing well, I joined groups and read everything posted. I DO have a degree in English Literature, emphasis on British literature. Does that count for anything?

Q. Um, yeah! I would say so! Your books will probably sell themselves without much advertising, but I will ask you about advertising Regencies…

A. Ask away. I’m ready!

Q. Do you advertise multiple books? And if so, how do you find your keywords? Have you taken ad courses and which have you found helpful?

A. Okay. This is a loaded question. 🙂 I have taken classes, but I don’t feel like they helped. One I took, which I KNOW others have seen success with, actually made my ad spend go way up and my sales tank for about three months. So what works for one person might not for another!

Q. I love how diplomatic and candid you are. That is so true.

A. Right now, I have ads running for six books, only through AMS. Because Facebook makes no sense to me yet.

Q. You read my mind. That was my next question. AMS only, right? But as far as Facebook…

A. I am NOT running an ad in my first in series, I paused it recently, which people say you should never neglect. But since my series can be entered from multiple points, I’m doing okay. Facebook scares me.

Q. There will be many Facebook changes apparently coming, but meanwhile, what have you learned in the past year as you have engaged readers in your groups and pages? Things that worked and things that don’t work as well.

A. I’ve learned a lot about reader expectation. Once you have fans of your books, people who truly love more than one thing you’ve published, they’re VERY loyal. Even if a book isn’t their favorite, they’re still actively enjoying it because it’s YOU. I’ve noticed this in my reading habits, too. I keep an active dialogue going with my readers about my books. I tell them what I’m researching, about things I’ve learned about the time period, I share glimpses of my work, and I even share negative reviews in my groups.

They really like it when something new is explained in the book – something they might not have known before about that era in history. I always get notes when I include something that isn’t a Regency staple.

Q. You’ve done author takeovers. For those unfamiliar with takeovers, it’s when an author invites other authors to take a day or period and post on their page. What is your advice for someone who wants to do them nowadays?

A. My advice is to engage on a personal level. Don’t go into those events desperate to sell. Readers can sense that. When I have authors come to my group who immediately start pounding away with a dozen posts about their new release, my group members disengage.

They prefer authenticity, and fun. The most successful takeovers I’ve seen are when the authors talk about their characters like they’re real people and then play fun games – not even always with a prize, but quizzes or polls about heroes or movies. Readers are there for fun, not to be sold to.

Q. In your house, do you go around in period dress and talk Regency to your family? (I am half kidding) Because you seem to eat, breathe, and live it…

A. I. Wish. 🙂 I don’t even own a Regency gown, but that’s on my goal list to have one by the end of the year. At my house, I go around talking about writing, literature, symbolism. My kids get LOTS of that. But then they talk about the books they’re reading with those terms and it warms my heart.

Q. That is great. What a connection. How often have you been publishing, on the average?

A. Every other month is the average. I’m shaking things up the last half of this year, though, with almost a book a month starting in July.

Q. How easy is that with Regency? I have always thought, having written historical romances, that it takes longer to draft historical. What is your drafting/publishing timeline?

A. Everyone’s method is going to be different. Because I have a lot of history (hahahaha) with Regency, I don’t usually have to do a lot of research up front. I research as I go. I do a loose plotline – usually using two or three methods – and then I start. I can usually get a novel written in 4-5 weeks. Then it goes to an editor for two, then I work on it another week, and then it’s done. Sometimes I work on two projects at once, but that’s rare and usually not mentally healthy!

Q. I remember beta reading for you once. You finished a book and I was impressed with how clean/publish-ready your story was. Those books you will publish monthly soon, are they Regency? A new series?

A. I started a new series in May, so three of the new books are for that series. I have a multi-author series novel coming out in a couple of weeks, and then I’m planning a novella for Christmas. But yes. They are all Regency.

Q. What do you mean “a loose plotline using two or three methods”? What methods do you prefer?

A. Sarah M. Eden has a 7 Plot Point structure that I use. She’s Regency and is AMAZING. I follow some of K.M. Weiland’s strategies with character plotting. And then I use Jami Gold’s worksheets for writers because that helps me with pacing. Those are all almost second nature now, too. I handwrite my plots out in a notebook and then refer to it throughout writing.

Q. In a recent post, you shared your pre-order stats. “I do pre-orders, and I usually make over 1k pre-orders, at 2.99, in a two month period of time. My first three novels I did pre-orders and releases for the first three weeks at 99 cents, then went up to 2.99, then 3.99 when a new book was released. Now I do pre-orders at 2.99 and release at that price. I do a short, 3-4 day price decrease after three weeks down to 99 cents.” Why that 3-4 day price decrease after three weeks?

A. THAT is when I run ads, if I run any, through services like Ereader News Today, Robin Reads, etc. That’s also when I started to notice a natural rise in my rank numbers BEFORE that became part of my strategy. So when I lower the price and run those ads, my rank stays lower for longer.

Q. Ah, I see. Smart. You snagged BookBub Ads January and April of this year. What were your takeaways from that experience?

A. That BookBub might not be the Holy Grail that authors who have been around longer say it was, but it’s still AMAZING. I gained so many new readers and followers, the read-through was great, the pre-orders shot up, and my author rank has been high ever since. I haven’t been able to duplicate BookBub ad success with any amount of ad stacking and swaps that I’ve tried.

I plan to do another once I have three books in this new series out and the fourth on pre-order. Or at least apply for another. 🙂 I’m not sure how often lightning will strike there.

Q. Not just one but two coveted BookBubs. Which books did you use for those promos? And how did you choose them?

A. The first ad I decided to do my favorite book, which is the 4th in my series. I had heard BB only took firsts with regularity, so that was me bucking the system again. With the second ad, I hadn’t expected to get another one that soon. I really believed it would be rejected. I submitted my 3rd book, that most popular one. It had been rejected the previous year – but they accepted it. That one didn’t do as well as the January ad, but it still made back its money and a lot more.

I’ve submitted for five total featured deals and been accepted for two free US and one 99 cent international feature.

Q. That is great to know. I love how you bucked the system. I read The Gentleman Physician and was struck with the emotional journey it took me. I am thinking of the scenes when there was death and the two MCs came together at the same time that they were being torn apart. What is your advice to an author who wants to deepen the emotion in their novel?

A. My advice is to do it – but not for a cheap emotional moment. Readers can totally tell when you killed someone off just for a reaction vs. when it’s important to the characters and plot for that to happen. I have received dozens of emails – one just today in fact – from readers thanking me for writing those difficult scenes. Several of my favorite reviews mention them, too. I set out knowing I wanted to explore more emotions than love, and somehow it comes out in all my books, even in places where I don’t intend for it to be. Authors who want to do the same need to be vulnerable while they write. They need to think about the emotion and how they’ve experienced it, or seen others go through those difficulties, and treat it with the respect it deserves.

My grandmother had actually just lost her husband of forty-eight years when I wrote that book. She read that scene and called me immediately to tell me it had so perfectly captured everything she felt. THAT made me cry.

Q. Aww, I love that. As it should have. Tell me a bit about your covers. They stand out in the genre. Do you commission your own models?

A. My first complete series of covers are actually all models from Period Images. They’re a sort of by-word in the genre, for people who don’t know, because their images are cheap and over-used. But my cover designer is worth ten times what I pay her, because she makes the images so unique with setting, filters, and I don’t know what else. My new series has models from a more expensive, higher-end stock site. TWO of my books are models I’ve commissioned.

Q. Yes, you have a talented designer. Sally, you have been so generous with your time. Especially chatting with me at the last minute. One last question…What is your advice to someone who wants to level up their publishing career?

A. Be humble and learn. I asked a thousand questions in groups, I read a lot, and when I read something from a SUCCESSFUL author that I didn’t believe, or thought I could do better, I checked myself. I’ve seen so many newer authors – and had several reach out to me – who ask for advice and then argue about why that advice shouldn’t apply to them. Find the experts in the industry and genre, read what they’re saying, read their books to see how they apply it, and then try for yourself. You may love your cover, but if it’s not speaking to readers then it’s not working. You may love your story, but if the elements are wrong it isn’t going to sell. You have to know your goal – and if it’s to make more money and reach more readers, you’ve got to change.

Q. Fantastic advice. And with that, thank you so much! Your kids were angels to let us chat.

A. Oh, they’ve been in and out. 😉 But they’re pretty understanding of the business. Thanks for chatting with me. I feel honored.

Visit Sally Britton’s Amazon author page here.

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