Lorna Sixsmith is a farmer, author, social media trainer and blogger. She lives in the South East of Ireland on a dairy farm with her husband, son, daughter, 110 cows, three hens, six farm cats and a collie dog. She published her first book ‘Would you marry a farmer?’ after a blog post she wrote went viral
Tell us about your writing background; have you always been a scribbler?
I used to be an English teacher but beyond writing some short stories as a child (that I immediately hid away), I only started writing in 2009 when I started a business blog. In 2011, I started a personal blog and it was a blog post during September 2012 entitled ‘Ten pieces of advice for anyone considering marrying a farmer,’ that inspired my first book. Once the post went viral, I felt the book would become popular.
What is your writing routine? Has it changed over time?
I’m more of an owl than a lark and would quite happily write away until 3am if I didn’t have to get up at 7am to get children to school. I write better under pressure which isn’t necessarily a good thing but I’m finding I tend to be more analytical about my structure and the words tend to flow. Luckily I have a very patient editor! It’s only two years since my first book came out so it’s still early days. I’m planning to bring out a third book next September and will be starting the writing of it in early January. I’m going to tell myself the deadline is May and see if that helps!
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Not really but I think it is easier as my books are non-fiction and are divided up into sections and subsections. Whenever writer’s block did strike, I told myself I was writing a blog post and was then able to manage 1000-2000 words fairly easily. My writing is quite long-winded during the first draft and then I tighten it up substantially with the first edit.
You have self-published two books, one crowd funded. Tell us about the journey behind these books?
I decided to crowdfund my first book for three reasons.
1)I knew my target market of farming families would prefer to read a hard copy than an eBook so I knew the cost of self-publishing could be significant. I didn’t want to risk having 500 books gathering dust in my attic for evermore so the crowdfunding campaign was an attempt to reduce the risk by raising part of the capital.
2) I wanted to test the market – would my potential readers who engaged with the blog post put their hands in their pockets to buy the book?
3) I needed a deadline! I knew that I would never get the book written if I didn’t have a deadline. I was very conscious that it could take years to get an agent or a publisher too and I tend to be impatient and impulsive. I told my pledgers they would have the book for Christmas (that gave me 3.5 months to finish writing the book, edit it and get it printed). I burned a fair amount of midnight oil!
The crowd funding had other advantages, it created press coverage for my book months before it was published and gave me confidence too. It is a lot of hard work though and I’d argue that it was only successful because of my blog following and other social media followers.
How did you feel when you held your own book in your hands for the first time?
I felt a little bit panicked to be honest. There were 1000 hardback copies in my hall and although I had pre-sold 230 with the crowdfunding, it looked like a lot of boxes. They did smell lovely though! My first surge of pride was when I was interviewed by Ryan Tubridy two weeks later. Ryan always shows an appreciation of good books and the fact he, as a city boy, was engaging with my book about farming gave me huge kudos.
Tell us about your farming background?
I was brought up on this dairy and beef farm. In 2001, my father wanted to retire and offered the farm to my husband and I. We were working as a teacher and scientist in Salisbury in England, with vague plans to move to Devon or France and live on a small holding. We moved back in July 2002 with a three week old baby so the change in lifestyle was immense. We milk 110 cows at the moment and I always really enjoy the calf rearing in the spring.
Will you be sticking with non-fiction?
Yes, for the time being. I do have ideas for a novel but am planning a follow-on to How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife with plans for three other mini non-fiction books too so maybe in two years time, I’ll have a go at the novel. I really enjoy doing historical research too so who knows what may lie ahead.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m taking a rest from writing at the moment as I’m writing articles for some publications to increase awareness of Perfect Farm Wife. I was delighted to have an article published in Farmers’ Weekly this week and a short review in Horse and Countryside. I met my editor, Sally Vince, on Friday to discuss my ideas for the next book and I’ll do some planning on it over the next month but will leave it until mid January before I start writing in depth.
What would you say to writers who are considering self-publishing?
My advice would include getting a good editor and to invest in a good cover design too. Do be prepared to work at getting press coverage for your book, starting with your local radio station and local newspapers can be a good idea. Some self-publishers stick to eBooks only so use of social media will help greatly although writers must be very careful not to irritate followers with ‘buy my book’ type content. I’d really recommend blogging for many reasons: for building a following, gaining readers, honing your writing skills and testing ideas on your audience.
How important is social media in your writing life? Do you feel under pressure to constantly be ‘on’ and self-promoting?
I love using social media and have a separate business where I train small businesses how to use it effectively. I think it is important to use it daily and check to see if anyone has tried to contact you but by using apps on your phone and scheduling, you can reduce the time it takes. It’s important to see social media as being sociable, for engaging with your target readers rather than just as a sales tool.
What do you like to read?
I read a variety of genres but mainly farming memoirs, historical fiction, academic historical research and crime fiction. I have a ridiculously high stack of books to read at the moment so I’m looking forward to some time off over Christmas.
Where do you write?
It depends on the time of year. We live in a very cold house so at this time of the year, I write either at my writing desk in the living room or at the kitchen table in the kitchen (as they have an open fire and wood stove). In the summer, I often write in the dining room (which gets lots of natural light) or at the kitchen table if I’m grabbing a quick half an hour to write.
LadyNicci comment: I love that Lorna has published and continues to publish by finding her niche and knowing her audience. She has become a voice and a spokesperson for the community she writes about and represents. Her crowdfunding success is very inspiring – she treated her book like a business, did her research, got the funding and launched. I also agree with her social media comments – I can’t see how anyone who is considering self-publishing could do so without a strong presence online. Finally, I love Lorna’s artwork for her books – they look sophisticated and chic and something that could sell all over the world. Christmas is coming folks!
How I write is a weekly blog post series published on Sundays on www.ladynicci.com. The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email firstname.lastname@example.org with How I Write in the subject line.
Lorna’s books are available to buy from her website