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 Stephen Leather.
Tell us about your latest indie book
I’m working on a novel called Take Two about a soap opera star who witnesses a gangland killing. I’m having great fun with it. I’m also working on the fourth Jack Nightingale book. He’s a supernatural detective fighting the forces of evil. The first three books are Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare so the next one has to have “night” in it! Probably Nightshade.
What made you decide to go indie?
I’m not strictly speaking an Indie writer as most of my books are published by Hodder and Stoughton, but I self-publish novellas and short stories that my publisher wouldn’t want to publish. This is my twentieth year with Hodder and Stoughton and all my books are still in print. Though I caused quite a stir in the ePublishing world last year – I was the second-bestselling British author worldwide on Kindle behind Lee Child – in fact my self-published eBooks are a very small part of my creative output.
The self-published books of mine that did really well – selling 350,000 eBooks in total – were The Basement, Once Bitten and Dreamer’s Cat. But Hodder and Stoughton did just as well with my first Spider Shepherd book, Hard Landing, selling around 150,000 copies of the eBook. Late last year Amazon took over The Basement and Once Bitten and they now publish them.
Initially it was very much an experiment. My plan was to self-publish a few books of mine that Hodder didn’t want to publish and to basically use them as a marketing tool. I put three of my unpublished books – The Basement, Once Bitten and Dreamer’s Cat – on Kindle in late October. I spent November and December marketing the books so that on Christmas Day I had all three in the Top 5 of the Kindle Bestseller list.
I knew that on Christmas morning hundreds of thousands (though even I didn’t predict three million!) of people would be opening their Christmas presents and discovering that they had an e-reader. And I knew that the first thing they would do would be to start buying books and that many would go to the Kindle bestseller list for suggestions. And that’s why I sold 7,000 copies on Christmas Day, another 5,000 on Boxing Day, and 44,000 in December 2011 as a whole.
It was a total one-off and will almost certainly never be repeated. It happened because back then there were very few writers self-publishing. Plus I was selling them at the lowest price that Amazon would allow. Plus I was able to produce a professional product – well written, well-edited and with well-designed covers. And it definitely worked as a marketing technique as it boosted sales of my paperbacks.
Do you design your covers yourself and write your own blurb etc?
I write my own blurbs because I’m actually quite good at that. I was a newspaper sub-editor for many years and that is a great background for blurb-writing. I always get professionals to do my covers – I have paid as little as $30 and as much as $500. Your cover is your main selling tool and it is worth spending money on a good one.
What are the pros and cons of going indie?
As an Indie you have total control and that is a blessing and a curse. Self-publishing is hard work and there is so much more to do other than just writing. But the percentage (royalty) you get is higher when you self-publish.
How do you publicize your books?
Facebook, mainly, because I have a lot of fans. I do Tweet but that doesn’t seem to do much for me. There is just too much noise on Twitter and it tends to drown out any messages I send! I tend to use Twitter as a way of answering direct messages from readers. The best way to publicise a book is by word of mouth and your fans are the best way to do that.
Do you read any indie authors yourself?
I’m a fan of Nick Spalding and Adam Croft in the UK and a huge fan of Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch in the States. I read a few John Locke books to see what his secret was and enjoyed them.
You’ve had fantastic success with your indie novellas. Do you think the market for shorter fiction is growing?
I think the eReader revolution will change our reading habits and will revitalise the short story market. If someone is getting a plane or a train and knows that their journey will only last an hour or so, of if they have a short lunch break, I think they will start looking for short stories rather than starting a full-length novel. I have put up half a dozen short stories and they are selling well. I plan to do more.
Will you continue to be traditionally published in the future or do you think indie publishing is the way forward?
I have contracts for five more books with Hodder and Stoughton. I have been with them for twenty years and see myself being with them for another twenty. Though I plan to continue self-publishing stories that they wouldn’t want.
What advice would you give to writers thinking of going indie?
Write a good book. Write a great book if you can. Following my success, pretty much every person who has written a book has rushed to self-publish. The vast majority, frankly, isn’t very good.
In the old days of publishing, a writer would have to get an agent and the agent would go looking for a publishing deal. That process weeded out most of the unpublishable works, those books that are so badly-written that they shouldn’t ever see the light of day. The writer of an unpublishable book would hopefully learn from the rejection and go on to write better books.
The problem now is that Amazon and Smashwords really don’t care about the quality of the books that they sell. You can – literally – put anything you want up for sale, from your laundry list to the worst poetry imaginable. That means that a lot of self-published writers don’t realise that their work is sub-standard and start to believe that the only reason they are not selling is that they are not doing enough marketing and self-promotion. The basic rule is that a good book will sell and a bad book won’t, and that applies to both traditional publishing and ePublishing.
Thanks so much for sharing some fantastic tips with us, Stephen.