Episode 31: On Creative Reader Engagement, Lessons Learned & Pitching the Media with Hollie Anne Marsh (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 31: Welcome to the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast! In each episode, you’ll hear inspirational stories from horse book authors including writing advice and marketing tips to help you write your own horse book. If you are an author, aspire to be an author, or simply love horse books then you are in the right place!
In this week's episode, you'll meet Sweetbriars Series Author Hollie Anne Marsh. You'll learn ...
About Hollie Anne Marsh
Hollie Anne Marsh is an Australian author who lives in Melbourne with her partner, toddler, and young Warmblood mare Frieda.
Hollie has been horse riding since she was a little girl, enjoying activities such as Pony Club, showjumping, eventing and trail-riding in the great Australian bush. Hollie lived in England and Barcelona for almost fourteen years, where she caught the travel bug, visiting over forty countries... and also enjoyed and trained two horses for dressage.
The Sweetbriars series is inspired by all the special moments Hollie spent with horses - good, funny, and challenging!
Additionally, 'coming of age' and 'growing up' experiences that Hollie had.
Hollie hopes that readers will find her books fun to read, and they will help readers to learn more about horses.
Hollie Anne Marsh Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how you fell in love with horses?
Hollie: I grew up in a house with lots of pets! Kind of like a mini zoo. We had three dogs, three cats, budgies, a cockatoo, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens and a rescued blue tongue lizard at one point. My mum was pretty busy when I was younger, and my Dad remarried, so these animals were really my best friends – they meant the world to me.
When I was eight a friend at school, who I would say wasn’t was that friendly at the time – she was twice my size (the school bully) and through a rock at me once which left a big welt on my head, anyway she had a really naughty bay pony called Billy. Probably about twelve hands. She kept him at a chicken farm close to my house. I grew up in Sydney not far from the city, but at that time it was the suburbs, but with lots of space around and lots of horses. At that time as kids, we would always be in the streets playing/exploring and I guess that’s when Nicole and I finally became friends. I don’t remember exactly but I do remember the nasty rock incident!
I was enamored with her naughty pony and her mum’s appaloosa. I spent endless hours at the paddocks with my fox terrier Mickey, helping in any way I could, brushing, bathing and feeding Billy, being careful to avoid his kicks. Nicole’s mum let me start riding once they bought a sweet flea-bitten grey mare called Tiffany. We would take turns galloping Tiffany bareback from the gate where she would wait for us, to the feed shed.
Carly: What is your favorite horse memory?
Hollie: When I had my own pony to ride, Apollo, Nicole and I had a great time exploring the Australian bush on our ponies. We had a national park not far from our paddocks and would go out for hours, wandering though the gumtrees and even finding streams for the horses to swim in. One time we took the wrong trail which horses weren’t allowed on, and we were chased by park rangers. To get away we galloped down a teeny trail, away from them, dodging tree branch after tree branch (lucky we were on small ponies) – the rangers couldn’t get through the path as it was too narrow. Oops! At the end of our dare-devil gallop we made it safely away, on the other side of the bush and were in absolute hysterics. We were probably twelve or thirteen years old. It was a bit naughty, but this rebellious and carefree moment stayed with me all these years.
Carly: What excites you about writing horse books?
Hollie: Well it’s quite fun when you write about your passion! I enjoyed pony books so much when I was a teenager and it means a lot to be able to create new books that kids, teenagers and ‘young at heart’ adults are enjoying now.
Carly: Tell us about your book(s).
Hollie: The books are totally horsy, with coming of age themes. I think the recommended reader age to enjoy the books the most is nine - fourteen years old.
In the series, there are three characters; Cate, Tabby and Violet. They are all quite different and they keep their horses at the Sweetbriars Farm, set in a fictional village called Dalesea in the south of England. The setting was inspired by my visits to the horse stud where I bought Frieda, in the county of Devon. It’s like out of a postcard with gorgeous rolling hills, villages with thatched roofs and snaking lanes and by to the sea.
Cate and Tabby are dressage riders, while Violet can’t get enough of going fast over obstacles! They all have different challenges to face, it’s not all smooth sailing for them and along the way their friendship deepens and they become stronger.
Carly: Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Hollie: Yes. The stories so far are often about the characters finding the courage to be honest about problems they’ve faced, not letting them fester and trusting their friends and family to speak up. Also about increasing reader’s understanding that everyone’s situations are different and acceptance. Perhaps people are going through certain things… ie. don’t assume that everyone’s lives are perfect.
The books are also educational from a horsy perspective - weaved contextually into the stories. The first book for instance, teaches how important it is to have fun with your horse and not to put too much pressure on yourself or your pony to win a ribbon. Horses are not machines.
I’ve often received feedback that my books are educational about horses, in an engaging and easy to understand way – I hope that’s true!
Carly: You did something really unique when it came to cover design. You had a Cover Star Contest. Tell us about the covers of the books, how you thought of the cover star idea, and how you got the word out about the promotion.
Hollie: I came up with the idea as I wanted girls to feel part of the series, and also build excitement and create awareness. I thought it was a unique lifetime opportunity to go on the cover of a book, as they’re around a long time and the I had over 500 entrants in the competition I ran.
Initially I ran it on various equestrian Facebook groups looking for an eleven – twelve year old girl with a Palomino pony and for the second book, I ran an ad in the Pony Mag and some Facebook advertising.
I also wanted the cover images to demonstrate the partnership between a girl with her pony, which I think I luckily was able to find. The photo used for the first book cover, is of Faye Heppelthwaite – a well-known show rider who has ridden at Horse of the Year Show, Royal Windsor Horse Show and won many titles. It was set in an English meadow, and taken by the equestrian photographer Paul Ruffle. Even if I am biased, I think it’s quite stunning.
The second book took I took it to another level and ran a competition to give away a photoshoot and be on the cover. Twelve year old Sia, won the competition and she and her cheeky Haflinger pony Frankie had their photoshoot in scenic Yorkshire. It was a fun day... the only challenge was keeping Frankie’s focus on ‘modeling’, with all the spring grass around!
I asked entrants to tell me why they wanted to win, and this is Sia’s response:
"My pony Frankie is 18 years old and has arthritis. His glory days are over. He is a one in a million pony and I love him so much. To me, the best way I can think of celebrating Frankie is having him on the cover of a wonderful book."
As I wanted to release the third book by Christmas, I decided to use another of Paul Ruffle’s photos. This time with a dressage rider, Tyler Russel and her advanced dressage pony Fairlady, taken in a typical English scene, in the Chilterns in England.
Carly: Tell us about writing for this particular age group. Was it challenging in anyway?
Hollie: Sometimes it’s hard for me with the English lingo… as I’ve gotten about, it’s all a bit of a muddle. Plus, I’m not a teenager anymore, so there’s also the teen lingo. I’ve been taking notes watching television, reading articles and jotting down popular teen expressions. However, I don’t think you forget what it’s like to be a teen… it’s both an exciting and scary time… blazing the path between the safety of childhood and the freedom and responsibilities of adulthood.
Carly: You have a glossary of horse terms on the Sweetbriars website. What a great idea! Tell us how you thought of it.
Hollie: I didn’t want readers’ who perhaps weren’t that experienced with horses, to be left out with some of the horsy lingo. I guess that’s a big percentage of the readers that would read my books. So I thought it could be useful and turns out it was, as I’ve received positive feedback about it and see people visiting the website page often.
Carly: I love your “Celebrate the Palomino” page on your website where readers can send you pictures. Tell us about the page, how readers submit there photos, and where the idea came from?
Hollie: Thank you! I have a thing for Palominos. Funnily enough I’ve never owned one although I see you have Carly – jealous he he he. As the first book was about Cate and her Palomino pony Odette, it inspired me to create the gallery. I wanted readers to feel involved in the series by sending their favourite pics, and it was just a fun thing to do, to put all these gorgeous Palominos in one place.
In the gallery, there is the well-known stallion Treliver Decanter kicking the page off -- many horse people in the UK know of him. He’s a Warmblood dressage stallion with a lot of Palomino progeny around in the UK.
If anyone would like to submit their Palominos can email me. I will also upload any new pics to the Sweetbriars Facebook and my Instagram page.
Carly: You support the RDA by donating a percentage of each book sale to the charity. How did you get involved with this organization? What does the process look like for your donations to them?
Hollie: I have a friend with a little girl who is autistic and rides ponies at an RDA centre. When I saw her riding a pony, it was amazing to see her little face lit up, absolutely beaming, with not a care in the world. Usually she’s a serious little girl who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, and it was really something o witness.
I contacted the RDA to see if they’d like to collaborate and I agreed to donate a percentage of each book sale to them once I made a profit.
Carly: Which do you prefer independent or traditional publishing?
Hollie: It’s great to be able to get things to market when you want and control things the way you want. In saying that, it’s a lot of work… and writing children’s books isn’t that easy if you are only selling online… and you don’t have a big author name yet.
My books have been Amazon ‘best sellers’ in the UK for both the Equestrian children and Young adults categories and I’ve made pocket money to date. I do hear that this changes when you write more books, so I’m hoping for a step change for book three – cross fingers.
Also before in my career, I managed big brands with big budgets. I also managed a team along with advertising and media agencies. Now I have to do everything myself with a small budget. It’s really hard sometimes, especially going it alone, but at the same time I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished (especially in an often sleep deprived state) and now I know I can apply what I’ve learnt to other writing ideas I have.
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Hollie: I’m still trying to figure this out LOL. To date I’ve done advertising with the Pony Magazine (a few times), I’ve been reviewed by Reader’s Favourite (5 star review), and Horse & Hound twice (they called my books a ‘Must read for horsey children’ twice).
I shared these snippets on social media and the website. I also paid for some Facebook advertising which has helped me build a following there…
I’ve done eBook giveaways on promo sites like eBooksy and I’ve given away a lot of books. I hope it pays off in series read-through but honestly, I don’t know at this stage. Now that I have a trilogy on my hands, I’d like to step back and think about how to get more readers eg. master AMS a bit more, perhaps looking at going wide, I might try and get a Bookbub featured release, but I guess that won’t be easy!
Carly: What do you do to get book reviews?
Hollie: I’ve done some blog tours to kickstart the release of each book and I think I’ll do another tour for the third Sweetbriars book. I found the blog tours to be good, to get some early reviews.
I would say the bloggers standards are quite high – some are quite large bloggers and non-horsey. I’ve found I’ve tended to get a mix of four and five stars from them, and for being a newish author still, I’m pretty thrilled with that actually as I think a four start to a blogger, is pretty good.
I also used Goodreads a lot initially just reaching out to people, building GR ‘friends’ chatting, commenting about books. I also reached out to a lot of horsey bloggers directly. Luckily some contacts I made, agreed to read Leaving The City and then go on the review the second book. I hope that will continue for the third book!
Lastly I’ve done exchanged reviews with authors like yourself.
Carly: What is the hardest part about being an author?
Hollie: Putting your work out there to be judged… especially the first book is really nerve-wracking and I experienced a roller-coaster of emotions at first. Will people laugh at me? Is my book boring / ridiculous / rubbish?
Once you finish the first book, you begin to relax a bit more about all of this and feel less self-conscious. I think as long as you do your best and enjoy the process, that’s what matters.
The other hard part is spending so much time, and not an insignificant amount of money and not get much in return for sales.
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Hollie: I am the kind of person that has a hundred ideas a day (prioritizing can be challenging) and it’s awesome to be able to bring them to life, on my own terms… all I need is time and my computer. I don’t need a heap of money like starting a business takes. You are in control of how quickly you go… and what you produce. It’s also satisfying starting with a creative seed, and seeing where it goes. It’s really an art, turning creative ideas, into a fully-fledged story.
Carly: What advice can you share that might help aspiring authors?
Hollie: A few things…
1. Motivation: If you feel the urge to write just do it, even if it’s fifteen minutes each day. You won’t regret it and with practice it becomes easier. You also never know where the journey will take you and the people you will get to know along the way.
I think it’s a great creative outlet and can be therapeutic. Putting your hopes, dreams, frustrations, observations out on paper… and who knows it might just help someone else and/or they will enjoy it.
2. Don’t skimp on finding a good editor and if you can use beta readers for feedback.
3. Network with other authors – other authors have been so helpful to me (like Carly) and I now have a few that I feel comfortable bouncing questions off.
Carly: What are you curious about right now?
Hollie: I’m interested to become more self-sufficient to publish books independently. I am thinking about doing a photoshop course in January (for my series books – I think I’d still pay for a designer for some of the ideas I have) and also investing in a Dictaphone device or software to write quicker / and stop sitting all the time. Last year I had a slipped disc from sitting writing so much – not good.
As for new ideas, I want to try my hand at something else in 2020. I have an idea about doing a coming of age book, set in Catalonia in Spain where I had just been living. Non horsey and showing a young person’s POV about living with the political crisis there.
Other than that, I have a long list of ideas and now that I’ve finished the third Sweetbriars book, I need to go through the list and see what speaks to me…
As for Sweetbriars I am toying with the idea of doing a few different trilogies under the Sweetbriars series name eg. There could be another set in Australia, another in South of Spain, with completely new characters.
I just need to find the time to fit it all in!
Connect with Hollie Anne Marsh
Facebook: https: www.facebook.com/hellosweetbriars
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About Author & Podcast Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is an award-winning equestrian author and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle! She writes fiction about horses, horse shows, Western pleasure and a handsome cowboy or two. Her books are for people just like her — crazy about reading, horses and cute cowboys!
In the Reins, the first in Carly's series of novels inspired by the equestrian lifestyle, has been an Amazon best seller for more than 10 weeks, is an EQUUS Film Festival Literary Award Winner for Best Western Fiction and has earned two Feathered Quill Book Awards in the Romance and Adult Book featuring Animals categories. The In the Reins equestrian romance series is available now in Audiobook, Paperback and eBook on Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks and Kobo.
Books by Carly Kade
Carly Kade writes for anyone who loves horses, handsome cowboys and a great romance. Creative writing about horses makes her spurs jingle!