To celebrate the publication of my novella, Christmas with Mr Darcy, I’m hosting a special ‘Indie Month’ on my blog where bestselling authors will tell you about their latest book and share the secrets of their indie success.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome bestselling author, Scott Mariani, whose Ben Hope books are fantastic!
Tell us about your latest indie book
It’s an ebook novella called Passenger 13, and it’s a prequel to the first of my Ben Hope novels published by HarperCollins, The Alchemist’s Secret. The story takes us back about five years before the events of that novel, to when the hero Ben Hope is still a soldier in the SAS. He’s been injured in action, and while recuperating he gets involved in an intrigue surrounding the apparent suicide of an old army pal in the Cayman Islands. Naturally, once Ben gets involved, the bullets soon start flying, and a whole political conspiracy is unmasked. I’m not sure if I can still call Passenger 13 my latest, as it’s been out there for a while now! I’m currently working on another, which I hope to be able to release in the not too distant future.
What made you decide to go indie?
At this point, it’s really a sideline for me as I’m so heavily committed with current and future books for HarperCollins. But I’ve enjoyed it so much that who knows, one day maybe I really will ‘go indie’ completely! My main reason for getting into it was that I kept having ideas for my character Ben Hope that, being straight thrillers with no historical mystery hook to them, didn’t fit with the concept for the main series. My publishing contract allows me to self-publish independent fiction based on the same character, so that seemed like the obvious way to make use of those surplus ideas that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. I’m convinced that Passenger 13 attracted a whole bunch of new readers to the Ben Hope series, as it had a pronounced impact on sales across the board. So in every way, it’s been a highly positive venture for me.
What are the pros and cons of going indie?
It’s a genuine liberation to enjoy complete creative control. You set your own deadlines, decide your own schedule. You’re responsible for your own editing, of course, but I’ve found that a liberation too. If you’re reasonably literate, know how to tell a story and have a few trusted friends and allies you can rely on to spot errors, typos, continuity issues and so on, you really don’t need an editor. When the book’s finished, instead of having to endure the tedium of waiting for six or eight months for the publishers to get the thing out there, you can have it launched almost immediately. Once it’s out there, you’re fully in control of pricing, allowing you to maximize the book’s appeal to your readers rather than having to watch in helpless frustration as a publisher marks it up so high it just won’t sell. Then, of course, there’s the question of earnings – an independent author need sell only a handful of ebooks, even at Amazon’s lower royalty rate, to match what a traditionally-published author makes from paperback sales. Contrary to popular belief, you have to sell a hell of a lot of those to make even a modest living; whereas the indie author selling a fraction of that quantity can see a far better return on all their work! So there are many, many pros. From a professional author’s point of view, the biggest con is that with no publisher involved, you won’t get paid an advance on the book, and that if it’s a complete turkey you risk seeing nothing much from it at all. Another downside is when a reader gets in touch to express their disappointment that the book isn’t appearing in print paperback. I’m sorry when they do, because there’s not much I can do to help them! I try to explain to them that, as a private individual, I just don’t have the resources to launch a great big print run. But those readers are thankfully becoming fewer and further-between every day as more and more people discover the ebook.
Do you design your covers yourself and write your own blurb etc?
When my publishers came up with the blurb for The Heretic’s Treasure that ran: ‘An ancient fortune has lain hidden for thousands of years . . . one so powerful [sic] that men will kill to protect it’, I decided it was definitely time to start writing them myself, or at least taking as much of an active role in them as I was allowed. With indie books I’m deliciously free to write them exactly as I want, and I think I’m not bad at doing it. (If all else fails, I’ll become a copywriter!) For the cover art, I work closely with a design company. I’ll give the artist a starting brief based on how I can imagine the design might look, and we take it from there, step by step. I think it’s really important that even an ebook should have a striking cover image. And as much as I like the brand image that’s been established for the main Ben Hope series, I’ve tried to vary the style for Passenger 13 and the next one to come, which will have a very cool and modern thriller look to it.
How do you publicize your books?
I’m fortunate in that over the last five years the Ben Hope series has gradually amassed a large and loyal fanbase. I receive a great many reader emails, and reply to all of them personally, which means I’ve built up a rather large address book of fans. The night before Passenger 13 was about to be released on Amazon, I sent out a general email alert to them all, blind cc-ing them in one at a time. It might not have been the most sophisticated method, and it took ages, but it did the trick. Within a couple of hours of its appearing on Amazon, Passenger 13 shot up into the top 20 Kindle list. Soon afterwards, it climbed up to the top 5, and remained quite high up in the charts for a lengthy period of time. I’ve needed to do very little else to publicise it, as the visibility you achieve from the Amazon charts is the best publicity you can get, short of nationwide poster campaigns and TV advertising.
Do you think Twitter and Facebook really help in getting word out there?
I think that if an author has a strong fan following who’ve been drawn to his/ her books by effective marketing and publicity, the social media phenomenon offers a great potential way for their word-of-mouth popularity to spread further. But for me, the jury’s still out on whether an author can kick off a widespread and successful campaign from scratch by trying to whip up a buzz all by themselves on these online platforms. You hear all the stories about the best-selling indie authors who attribute their success to social media networking . . . then find out how they actually paid for a load of reviews to help launch them! I know authors who’ve bought into this thing in a big way and network like crazy on social media to very little avail, others who don’t bother with it at all and do very well indeed nonetheless, and others again who privately admit it probably doesn’t make a big difference but enjoy doing it. So I’m still a little skeptical about the ‘social media revolution’. Having remained fairly distant from it all myself for a long time (in fact I’d never even heard of things like Twitter until comparatively recently!) I’ve now become involved with the Scott Mariani Fan Group on Facebook. It’s fun to share thoughts and comments with the growing community of Ben Hope fans there. I’m really doing it more to express my gratitude for their amazing enthusiasm than as a serious marketing exercise. Time will tell.
Your novella, Passenger 13, was a runaway bestseller. Do you think the market for shorter fiction is growing?
Kindle has really reopened the door to literary forms like the short story and the novella, that at one time were a major part of publishing but in recent years had somewhat died a death simply because they were no longer seen as being commercial. The fact is, readers love a 30,000 word novella as much as they’ll love a 130,000 word mega-buster. I get lots of emails from readers telling me that Passenger 13 made a perfect read for a short plane or train journey. So I would say yes, it’s certainly filled a demand, and long may it continue.
Do you have plans for future indie novellas or will you be sticking to traditionally-published novels?
Definitely both. I see no reason why they can’t work together in parallel. At the end of the day, the vast majority of readers don’t care one way or the other whether an ebook comes to them via a publisher or direct from the author – they only care about the story, the characters and the experience of reading. In my case, what the readers want is more Ben Hope, so that’s exactly what I’ll give them, one way or another. I have plans for a whole series of Ben Hope novellas that I think will really help to flesh out the readers’ understanding of the character and fill in the gaps in his life story. I plan for the indie books to appear in-between the mainstream novels, so that readers will never have to wait too long for another installment. And if one day the publishing contracts stop coming? Then I’ll simply be able to carry on independently as if nothing had happened. That’s possibly the most significant beneficial impact of the ebook revolution: that for the first time in centuries authors have been liberated from the terror of ‘what if they won’t publish me?’ Author unemployment is now a thing of the past.
What advice would you give to writers thinking of going indie?
Thanks so much, Scott. Keep those brilliant Ben books coming!