Saturday, 8 February 2020

Keith A Pearson: Best-selling 80s Time-Travel Author

In 2016, Keith A Pearson wrote a time-travel novel called The ’86 Fix which takes its hero back to 1986. After briefly trying to get a conventional publishing deal, Keith decided to go it alone and publish the book himself. Good decision. The ’86 Fix rapidly became a best-seller and currently has over 1,100 reviews on Amazon. Since publishing his first book, Keith has written another eight books and is planning another three novels this year alone. Here Keith tells me about his surprisingly rapid rise to success.

It’s less than five years since you published your first book. You’ve been remarkably busy and remarkably successful since then. Tell us about it!

Three years, three months, and eighteen days have passed since I first clicked that ‘publish’ button. At the time I didn’t harbour any great ambition to become an author – I simply wanted to tick a box on a bucket list. Today, I’m nearing the end of my ninth novel and I write full-time. Thinking back, I could never have envisaged how that single click would change my life so dramatically.

Initially you went the ‘traditional’ route by trying to get a book deal via a literary agent. What was that experience like and when did you decided that it would be better to go it alone?

I think I emailed a dozen agents and two or three publishers. Being honest, I’m not a patient person and I only waited a few weeks before deciding to self-publish. The first rejection came in two weeks later. Ten months after I published my first novel, I received an unsolicited offer from a major publishing house – I declined it for several reasons but primarily because it made no sense financially.

Your books often go back to the 1980s and sometimes earlier. Are they based on what you remember of the time or have you had to research the period?

I was a teenager in the ’80s so it’ll always be a period close to my heart. Much of what I write about that period is based upon my own experiences (which remain fresh in the mind), although my first novel did include a cripplingly awkward scene in which the protagonist loses his virginity – I’m taking the fifth amendment on that one! For my seventh novel, Tuned Out, large parts of the plot were set in 1969 so I spent an inordinate amount of time researching as I wasn’t around at the time.

How do you go about writing? Do you set yourself a target of so many words per day?

Prior to my writing career I worked from home as a freelance web marketing consultant so the transition was seamless in that I already had an office set up at home. I have a daily target of 1,500 words and I write every single day whether I’m in the mood or not – it pays the bills so it’s imperative I treat it with the same discipline as any other job.

You finally quit your ‘day job’ last year to concentrate on writing. That’s a big step for anyone.  At what point did you realise that you could make a profitable career from writing?

I maintained both jobs for three years and although I don’t think there was a specific moment of realisation, in the summer of 2019 I came to the conclusion something had to give. Writing requires absolute focus and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain focus while answering calls and emails from clients.

Do you have other people to help you? For example, with proofreading, book layout and formatting, cover design and so on?

I use an editor but that’s it – I do everything myself. Perhaps I’m a bit of a control freak and that’s why being self-publishing works so well for me. I don’t have deadlines and I don’t have anyone telling me what I can or cannot write about.

The covers of your books are quite unusual. I’ve heard so many self-publishing ‘experts’ tell writers that they must get their covers designed in a way that fits in with the standards of the genre – so that they look like books by other authors. But your covers don’t really look like anyone else’s. Was this a deliberate decision? What are your thoughts on novel covers in general?

As a general rule, you should never design your own covers but that’s exactly what I do. However, I have twenty-odd years’ experience in graphic design and marketing so I’m perhaps more qualified than most. As for the style, my novels don’t tend to conform to accepted conventions so I take the same view with the covers. If you want to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you absolutely have to inject some individuality.

How long did it take you to find readers and how did you do it?

It didn’t take long for The ’86 Fix to gain traction but there was no great marketing campaign behind its success; it was simply down to positioning. I knew the audience I wanted to reach and I wrote that book for them. I didn’t care that anyone under the age of forty or readers outside of the UK wouldn’t understand the nostalgia or the cultural references – I simply wrote a book which resonated with my target audience. Consequently, they did most of the marketing for me.

Do you advertise on Amazon, Facebook or elsewhere?

Advertising-wise, I do next to nothing. The only promotions I run are instigated by Amazon, such as Kindle Countdown deals and Prime Reading. My sales are virtually all organic so I’m not ideally placed to offer advice on advertising.

What do you do for promotion (e.g. Blog tours, Bookbub, social media etc.)?

I’ve had one Bookbub deal but that’s as far as my advertising goes. I use Facebook and Twitter to engage with my readers although I only have a relatively small following. For someone from a marketing background, I’ve been incredibly lapse in my marketing and advertising efforts. Perhaps the lack of necessity is a good thing.

There are lots of people selling books and courses on how to succeed as an independent publisher. Have you ever bought any of these that you found useful?

I’ve been tempted to try a few courses but they’re expensive and I’m tight-fisted. Also, I’ve got this far by ignoring the rules and I’m therefore less inclined to adopt a ‘cookie cutter’ methodology most of these courses promote. If everyone is using the same strategies, how do you stand out?

You’ve got a ton of reviews on Amazon. What’s the secret?

At the end of every book I make it clear I’m an indie author, and I can only complete with the big publishing houses with the help of my readers. I politely ask them to spare a few minutes to leave a review and thankfully, many do.

When did you start releasing audiobooks? Are audiobooks really worth all the hassle and the expense?

I have a publishing deal with WF Howes for audiobooks so I don’t have to get involved with the production. Having seen the sales numbers, I’m glad I didn’t produce my own audiobooks. The time and investment wouldn’t have been justified.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m hoping to release three novels in 2020, which would take my inventory to eleven titles. The grand plan is to get to twenty titles as quickly as I can, and at that point I’ll slow down a bit. Of all the advice I’ve ever read about publishing, there is one piece of advice I absolutely agree with – the more books you write, the more success you’ll enjoy.

Keith A Pearson released his first novel, The '86 Fix, in October 2016. Much to his surprise, it went on to become an Amazon bestseller and a follow-up soon followed. Keith is about to release his ninth novel and now writes full-time from his home in Hampshire.


Monday, 3 February 2020

Sheri Cobb South Interview: The Romance of Publishing!

Why would a successful paperback novelist commit 'professional suicide' by self-publishing her books? Popular Regency Romance and YA author Sheri Cobb South tells me about the joys and the frustrations of 'going it alone'.

'In Milady's Chamber' is the first book in Sheri Cobb South's popular series of John Pickett Mysteries
You are a very prolific author, Sheri. What was the first book you wrote? How easy (or not?) was it to get it published?

The first book I wrote was actually the fifth one to be published. When I was shopping the manuscript around to agents, I got it back with a letter saying, among other things, that its “boy next door” plot was “far too familiar” in the young adult (YA) genre. I was devastated! I didn’t know any other authors at that time, so there was no one to put that letter in its proper perspective: an agent had taken the trouble to contact me personally and tell me exactly why she was declining to represent it. That letter was pure gold, and I was too inexperienced to know it! The second book I wrote was my first published novel, a teenage romance called Wrong-Way Romance,published in 1991 by Bantam as part of its long-running YA series Sweet Dreams. From the time I started writing to the time my first novel came out was 3 years; it seemed like ages at the time, although in fact, I got awfully lucky, awfully fast.

You’ve published novels in several genres. Some authors say that publishing different types of novels can confuse the readers. Have you ever found that to be the case? Have you ever published under other names?

I’ve never published under another name; in fact, I went from writing YA for Bantam to self-publishing Regency romances (more on that in a minute), back in the day when self-pubbing was considered to be professional suicide. It was almost a given that anyone self-publishing did so because they just weren’t good enough for the New York publishing houses. I felt that my Bantam books established my credentials, so to speak; going with a different name might have given me better placement on library or bookstore shelves, but I would have sacrificed the name recognition I’d built up over my five books with Bantam.

To me, the biggest challenge about writing YA is/was the fact that your readers outgrow you. So in a way, going from writing YA to writing for adults seemed like a natural progression. In fact, there have been times when I’ve been promoting my Regency novels at conferences and someone will come up and start talking to me about Wrong-Way Romance!I don’t mind; I’m delighted that so many people still remember it so fondly after almost 30 years—including two authors I’ve met who credit that book with inspiring them to write romance.
“With prodding from my husband, I took out a loan for $4,000 and had 1,000 copies of the book printed”
Many self-published authors are jealous of novelists who are published by ‘traditional’ publishers. In fact, you’ve gone from traditional publishing to self-publishing. Why did you do that?

Necessity! To my dismay, I discovered I have a superpower: I can destroy whole genres without even trying. After five books with Bantam, they canceled their Sweet Dreams series in favor of the “Goosebumps”-style paranormals that were squeezing YA romances off the bookshelves. So I decided it was time to try my hand at writing a Regency, which had always been my favorite genre for reading. I won the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot Award in 2000 for Miss Darby’s Duenna, but by that time publishers were dropping their traditional Regency lines for the longer and sexier Regency-set historicals.

But even if there had been plenty of publishers to choose from, I’m not sure they would have chosen to acquire my books; I seem to be a bit out of step with what publishers want, or at least what their marketing departments say will sell. When I wrote The Weaver Takes a Wife, one editor sent it back to me with a note saying, “No woman could possibly fall in love with a man like that unless he was devastatingly handsome.” Maybe I was too attached to Ethan Brundy (the titular “Weaver”) that it clouded my thinking, but I’d seen online bulletin boards on which readers complained about the sameness of so many Regency romances that I was convinced at least a few people would welcome him as a refreshing change. With prodding from my husband, I took out a loan for $4,000 and had 1,000 copies of the book printed. That book is the most popular single title I’ve ever written. Armed with a few good reviews, I sold the large-print rights to Thorndike Press, and based on strong sales of the large-print edition, I pitched the John Pickett mystery series to Five Star, the first-edition fiction imprint of the same company. Then in 2016, Five Star dropped its mystery line (do you see a pattern here?), so I’ve been publishing the series on my own since then.

What are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing? Isn’t it simply much harder work to do everything yourself when you publish your novels?

Yes! The advantage, of course, is that you have complete control of your work, and keep all the income it brings in. The disadvantage is that you wear all the hats: writer, editor, typesetter, art department, marketing, etc. I’m fortunate in that my writing is finally bringing in enough that I can afford to hire good people. I liked the way my Five Star cover designer “branded” the John Pickett series by using the same font for the title, etc., so I retained her to create the covers for the series. As for the Regency romances, there are so few stock images available for Regency covers that there’s bound to be a certain amount of repetition. I went to the fan-art site Deviant Art and found a young Japanese woman living in Budapest whose style I liked, so I commissioned her to create custom artwork for my Regency romances. As for the marketing, I feel like I’m always a step behind others in discovering the newest Big Thing in book marketing. Rather than lose valuable writing time just trying to stay up to date on it myself, I’ve hired a publicist to promote the last two books, and I’ve seen a corresponding uptick in sales.

Do you sell more in paperback or in Kindle format these days?

Paperbacks are actually a distant third in my sales, behind first eBooks and then audiobooks.

How do you go about finding a narrator and creating an audiobook?

I’ve done my audiobooks through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), the audio arm of the Amazon/Audible/Createspace publishing behemoth. ACX allows authors to audition narrators by uploading a (very) short excerpt from the book.

Publishing audiobooks sounds like it might be hard work and expensive.

It depends on how much you’re willing to spend. Then, too, what do you want from your audiobook(s)? Personal satisfaction, or real income? ACX allows for a 50/50 royalty split between author and narrator, so in theory it’s possible to create an audiobook with no money upfront. But . . . the best narrators won’t audition for these books. I always suspected as much, and at the Independent Audiobook Awards this past summer, I heard one say that she only works for a royalty split if the book is in a genre that she’s trying to break into.

Then, too, the very best narrators are members of the Screen Actors Guild, and the terms of their membership prohibit them from working for less than $250 PFH (per finished hour; that is, the actual length of the finished book) or $100 plus a 50/50 royalty split. It’s a bit of a sticker-shock, I know: when I was looking for a narrator for the John Pickett mystery series, I na├»vely offered $100 PFH. Joel Froomkin emailed me, telling me that my book sounded exactly like the sort of thing he most wanted to do, but SAG requirements prohibited him from accepting my offer as stated. At that point, I had listened to almost a dozen auditions, and every one of them had the same problem: they all pitched John Pickett’s voice very deep and “manly,” when he needed to sound young (he’s 24), insecure, and completely in over his head trying to solve his first murder case as a Bow Street Runner.

Since I hadn’t yet found what I was looking for, I encouraged Joel to submit an audition; if I liked it, I was sure we could work something out. He absolutely nailed it. (He’s said since then that he voices John Pickett as “John Pickett as played by Eddie Redmayne.”) Since this was the first book in a series, I knew I would want the same narrator to do all the books, and I wasn’t sure if it would sell well enough, even with $100 PFH up front, that he would want to continue. So I bit the bullet and offered him the $250 PFH. It was the best business decision I’ve ever made.

Would you recommend less established authors to publish audiobooks or do you really need to have a dedicated readership to make this worthwhile?

I would say hold off until you can afford the level of talent you want, whether that comes from writing income, income tax refunds, work bonuses from your day job, or whatever.

Oh, and one other thing: for the love of all that’s holy, don’t narrate the book yourself! If you’re afraid the narrator will read it “wrong,” don’t be; I know that changes in inflection can change the meaning of a sentence, but in nineteen audiobooks, I can count on one hand the instances where I’ve had to ask the narrator to redo a sentence in order to convey the right meaning. The more important reason, though concerns sales. The best narrators have fans of their own—and those fans may buy your audiobook simply because they love the narrator. If you read your own book, you cut yourself off from being discovered by those potential listeners.

What do you do to promote novels? Do you have a mailing list? Do you use Amazon or Facebook advertising?

I have an emailing list, but I only send out a newsletter when I have real news to share. I don’t want to inundate people’s inboxes with mailings, but more importantly, I don’t want to have to spend time composing newsletters when I’d rather be writing! I have used both Amazon and Facebook ads, although the Facebook ads were actually created and run by my publicist. With Amazon ads, it’s important to set limits on how much you’re willing to spend per day, or it can get expensive in a hurry. For the author with only one book, I doubt if they would earn enough to cover the ad costs, so I would advise authors not to do it unless it was to promote the first book in a series, or unless they were prepared to operate at a loss in exchange for building name recognition—a tactic that certainly has its place, as long as you know what you’re getting into!

Your books generally get lots of reviews on Amazon. What’s your secret?

A lot of the reviews on Amazon are the result of BookBub promotions in which first The Weaver Takes a Wife and then In Milady’s Chamber were offered for free. I’ve always been leery of giving away my books for free—there is a school of thought that says we’re training readers to expect free books, which makes them less likely to pay for them—but at my publicist’s urging, I gave it a try. And she was right. Many people downloaded and reviewed the free books, then went on to buy the other books in the series.
“I emailed the Bank of England and asked for their advice on the best way to rob it.”
Your novels often have a historical British setting. How do you research the details?

The internet has been an amazing help, not just for the information that’s available there, but for the way it can connect you with valuable sources. A case in point: When I was working on In Milady’s Chamber, the first of the John Pickett mysteries, I needed to know where the Foreign Office was located in 1808. I knew it had been in Downing Street, and at some point had moved to Whitehall, but I couldn’t find anything that said exactly when it had moved. So I went to the Foreign Office website and emailed the historian (because apparently that’s a thing). The next day, I not only got an answer to my question (it was Downing Street), but a whole paragraph vividly describing what the street would have looked like at the time! That experience made me a lot bolder about contacting people directly and asking questions. In fact, just this week I emailed the Bank of England and asked for their advice on the best way to rob it. (Yes, I really did!) I made it clear, though, that I was working on a book (Brother, Can You Spare a Crime?, coming later this year) set in 1809, and that I knew the bank had undergone a major renovation since then. They responded the very next day, sending me links to several documents and images in their archive, plus a book recommendation that I might find helpful.

If you were starting over again today, having never previously published a book, what would you do differently?

It’s tempting to say I would have started sooner. Had I done so, I would almost certainly have found it easier to find a publisher. But the “golden age” of the romance genre as we know it was in the 1980s, and by the time I began writing in 1988, many of the minor players had already vanished from the publishing scene, or soon would. On the other hand, sometimes it takes a seeming disaster like being “orphaned” by a publisher to force us out of our comfortable little ruts and into a new direction. I sometimes miss the satisfaction of going into a bookstore and admiring my book on the shelves, but when I compare my earnings then and now, that feeling quickly passes!

Sheri Cobb South is the Amazon Bestselling author of more than twenty books. Her John Pickett series of historical mysteries was featured on USA Today’s book blog, and is now being released as an award-winning audiobook series. Her novels have been translated into half a dozen languages and published in large-print editions.


Monday, 27 January 2020

Rub Cubbon Interview: Success With Factual and Low-Content Books

Rob Cubbon is a successful writer and online instructor. His books cover a large range of technical, educational, motivational and entrepreneurial topics. He also publishes some 'low-content' titles which are, essentially, notebooks aimed at specific types of user. Here Rob shares some of his secrets of success...

You’ve published quite a range of books. Which was the first one and how did you get started?

My first book was Running A Web Design Business From Home. It has over 100+ good reviews on Amazon. I wrote it in 2013 and it still sells most days these days. To be honest, the first draft was a few of my blog posts stitched together.

I know that you have a successful business teaching online. Can you tell us a bit about your online courses. Did the courses come before the books?

I started the courses almost at the same time as I started the books during 2012/3. The courses and the books were basically on subjects I knew the most about: running a web design business, web design with WordPress, building an audience online, etc.

Do you only publish on Amazon or do you also publish elsewhere?

Pretty much only Amazon.

What are the main advantages and disadvantages when publishing on Amazon?

The advantage is the huge market Amazon gives you. The disadvantage is that it's Amazon. They hold all the cards, the customer emails, and they make up the rules, they can remove you off the platform at a moment's notice for no reason, although, mercifully, that is fairly rare.

What do you do to promote your books?

Now I will have to explain that I publish two types of books and they have different marketing approaches.

The first type of book I publish I've already mentioned. These are non-fiction how-to books I write in the solopreneur, make money online niche. The marketing I employ to sell these books is too involved to explain here but basically it revolves around building an audience through a blog, a YouTube channel, and other platforms and selling the book to that audience.
More advice from Rob…
But the second type of book I publish are low content books. "Low content" books are books like notebooks, logbooks, and planners that don't take so much time to create but can easily be sold as paperbacks as "print on demand" on Amazon. I can't sell these books to my audience. But on Amazon, the best way to sell things is by choosing a keyword that has a fair amount of demand but doesn't have a great deal of competition. There is information on the Amazon site, as well as research you can do on other sites that show you which keywords could work as a title for a book.

If you get a good keyword this will trump anything with regards to sales. Good keyword research is more important than advertising, promotion, marketing, it's even more important than the actual content in the book! Good keyword research is essential to selling any book on Amazon: fiction, non-fiction, low content, anything!

Do you use Amazon advertising? Or Facebook advertising?

A little bit of AMS (Amazon Marketing Services ) but definitely not any Facebook advertising. I don't think it's possible to make money on Facebook selling non-fiction books for $15!

If you started publishing all over again, what would you do differently?

Do keyword research properly and write titles of my books accordingly. I shouldn't have been so dumb to call one of my books "The New Freedom" when "How to run a small online business while travelling: Location independent entrepreneurship" explains what the book's about and will be more visible in Amazon searches.

What are your plans for the future?

That's a really difficult question for me to answer at the moment. I'm engaged in a lot of businesses at the moment, online and offline, and I'm trying to double down on what's working while cutting down on the most labour intensive activities. I will continue to produce video content, blog posts and books, both free and premium. Ultimately, data will be the biggest economic driver, and those who can make sense of it will thrive.

Rob Cubbon is an Amazon bestselling author, online teacher, graphic designer, and entrepreneur who currently resides in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Rob's web site:

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Diane Farr Interview : From Trad Publishing to Self-Publishing

Diane Farr is a successful ‘trad published ‘paperback novelist. So why did she decide to go it alone and become an independent publisher? Here I try to find out…

When did you start writing? What was your first published book?

It’s difficult to remember that far back. Hmm. Seems to me I began with poetry at about age six, but actually there are recordings of me at nine months’ old, alone in my playpen, babbling and chuckling and clearly telling myself a story. So I acquired my storytelling habit early.

Diane, babbling and chuckling (not a recent photo!)
By the time I started school I read aloud with great expression, and was put on a local television show a time or two to read “news for kids” or some such thing. I desperately wanted to become an actress—a prospect that alarmed my parents, who had rather Victorian views about show business in general and actresses in particular. Nevertheless, I graduated college with a degree in Drama and happily pursued an acting career for quite a long time—not an easy field, but I did have some success—until I met and married a man who was not a theatre person and preferred that I find a different creative outlet…something that did not require me to rehearse five nights a week and perform on weekends. I had never really stopped writing; I was about halfway through my first novel at that time. So I switched gears, got serious about writing, stayed home in the evenings, and finished the novel.
The Nobody was published in 1999.

How did you go about getting a publishing deal? Did you approach the publisher yourself or did you first get an agent?

I wrote The Nobody as a lark. I had read all my Georgette Heyer novels to tatters, and wanted a new one. As she had died some years before, there were no new Heyers to be had. So I started writing one, with no thought of publication. The Nobody is the result of that endeavor. I have since learned that new authors frequently mimic a writer they admire—consciously or unconsciously. I consciously tried to write in Georgette Heyer’s voice, and where I failed, discovered my own. The Nobody is a strange little mashup of her voice and mine. Luckily, people liked it.

I won my agent in a contest. There’s a wonderful organization in the States called Romance Writers of America—a ten thousand member behemoth—that nurtures authors in many ways. For authors in the early stages of their careers, they sponsor writing contests of various sorts. I entered one called the “First Kiss” contest, where you enter ten pages of your unpublished novel containing the scene where the hero and heroine first kiss. The three highest-scoring entries would be judged by Irene Goodman, one of the top agents in New York. The Nobody was one of the three highest-scoring entries, and she ranked it number one of the three. So she offered to represent me.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. But when I sent her the full manuscript, she informed me that she couldn’t sell it. “It’s not a romance,” she explained. She was very nice about it. The publishing industry—particularly in those days—had rigid definitions of what constitutes a romance novel. The Nobody did not fit the industry parameters. Did I mention it was like a Georgette Heyer novel? Yeah. It contained no love scenes and was largely populated with very nice people. The publishers (said Irene) were not interested in witty banter. They wanted conflict between the hero and heroine.
Basically, they were looking for Beauty and the Beast and I had written Cinderella.

Then one of the judges in the early round of the contest wrote to congratulate me on my win. She was a published author whose editor, lo and behold, was looking for just the sort of book I had written. As it turned out, I was not the only reader suffering from Georgette Heyer withdrawal. There was a market for witty banter after all. Signet Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam (now Penguin Random House), published what they called “traditional Regencies.” This author generously offered to put in a word for me, I was invited to submit The Nobody to Hilary Ross at Signet, and that was that. My rookie effort was snapped up by a big New York publisher. Heady stuff.

How many books have you published in the ‘traditional’ way?

Eight novels and a novella published as part of an anthology. In industry jargon, the first four novels were “traditional Regencies.” The next four were “Regency historicals.” What’s the difference between a trad and an historical? A trad is a bit shorter (about 75,000 words) and offers the reader a time-travel vacation. Its readers are history buffs and Anglophiles, college-educated and largely female. You will hear from these readers if your hero, in 1816, drives a carriage that was not on the market until 1818. An “historical” is a bigger book (about 100,000 words), and has a much larger audience. These readers have a different set of expectations. Sentences are shorter. The voice can be more modern. Sexual tension looms large. Love scenes are not only permitted, but encouraged. You will hear from these readers only if you bore them.

My “breakout book” was The Fortune Hunter. Distribution was a bit wider than bookstores. It was a huge thrill for me to see my novel in a grocery store! But the main difference between The Fortune Hunter and the books that preceded it was the foil on the cover. Foil is expensive, so you know you have arrived when the publisher springs for foil on the cover…and places your name above the title, instead of below it!

You then decided to publish your books yourself, using Amazon I believe? Why did you make that decision?

There was a bit of a crisis in the publishing world. My editor, after decades in the business, was abruptly canned and I had to find a new home. My agent thought this was a great opportunity for me and suggested I try writing a book about a teenage witch. “Young adult” (known to the industry as YA) was booming, thanks to Harry Potter. She assured me that books about teenage witches were hot. I was pretty sure the trend was already running out of steam, but attempted to oblige. My “teenage witch” became a girl with mysterious powers who is deeply conflicted about them. Then into her life comes a boy who … yada yada yada. We sold Wicked Cool to Sourcebooks, but the contract fell through. I took it back and, in a fit of despair, sold it myself to Cerridwen Press. Cerridwen Press was wonderful and gave me lots of editorial support, but they were…gasp!... an e-publisher. To my mind, at that time, e-publishers were one step up from a vanity press.

I had a lot to learn.

Cerridwen offered Wicked Cool for about six months before announcing that they were going to concentrate on their biggest seller, erotica, and were letting the rest of their catalog go. So the rights reverted to me. Gosh darn it. Hardly anyone had bought the thing, and now it was mine again and I didn’t know what to do with it.

I decided, since my sisters wanted to read it, I'd make it available through Amazon’s CreateSpace, a “print on demand” publisher. It was a free service, and at least my family could order a copy and receive an actual book. So I uploaded it, went through the cover creation process, etc., and was rather pleased with the result when I ordered a proof. Wicked Cool was a slender volume with a glossy cover, printed on bright white, high quality paper. It looked nice enough. So I hit the “publish” button and told my sisters.

When I hit that “publish” button, another option popped up. Did I want to offer Wicked Cool for sale on Amazon as an e-book? The formatting had already been done. The cover was created. There was no charge. Just say yes. So I shrugged and said yes. Why not?

It was at this point, Huw, that I recall you entering the picture. You urged me to offer Wicked Cool for ninety-nine cents, the lowest price Amazon would permit. I was appalled, thinking I would never make any money selling books for that price. I followed your advice, however—since, at this point, I never expected to make any money with this property anyhow. To my surprise, after about a month, Amazon sent twenty bucks (or something like that) to my account. I checked my sales, and was astonished to see that a few people had bought it after all. You could watch your sales in real time. I amused myself by keeping the window up in the background and checking it every so often. The numbers would go: Tick. Tick. (long pause) Tick. Then, suddenly, the ticks took on a life of their own and started to go tick tick tick tick. Then more of a …whoosh. I couldn’t believe it. Wicked Cool sold thousands of copies that summer and spent a long time at Number One on Amazon’s “YA Paranormal” bestseller list.

What, in your experience, are the main advantages of self-publishing?

I am unfailingly polite to myself, even encouraging, and display none of the New York “attitude” so intimidating to us laid-back Californians. I rarely pace the floor, biting my nails, trying to screw up enough nerve to call me. I never fret about whether my calls or emails are an unwelcome interruption, or, worse, that I am being a nuisance, because I know I am my publisher’s number one priority. I hardly ever scoff at my ideas, or make appalling suggestions about what I should write. I don’t change my titles without consulting me. I pay me promptly. And if I don’t like my book cover, I change it—something no other publisher would do.

And the disadvantages?

No art department.

What do you do to promote your books? Do you advertise? Or do you use blogs, Facebook, Twitter and so on?

I am the absolute WORST book marketer on Planet Earth. I used to blog, back when everybody thought authors should blog, but my last entry is a year old. I tried to Tweet, but heavens, I was dull. Now I tweet as my cat. She’s far more interesting on Twitter than I ever was, and has quite a following. I have a Facebook page, but hardly ever post anything. Like Twitter, I find I am more far more comfortable on Facebook as someone else…in this case, the real-life me rather than the Author me.

I haven’t given up, you know. I still have the Twitter account, the Facebook page, and the blog. I just haven’t a clue what to do with them. I hate it when authors email me, or tweet about their books, or trumpet their releases on Facebook. I have yet to purchase a single book I’ve encountered that way. I figure I'd rather sit quietly in the corner, unnoticed, than annoy people. What to do??

Do you employ people to do proofreading, cover design or any of the other things needed to get your books ready to publish?

No, I am far too cheap. I spend nothing whatsoever on publishing my books. I used to work as a copy editor, so my copy is generally pretty clean from the get-go, but I have a friend who also has a past career as a copy editor, and we proof each other’s work. My cover art has gradually improved…my cover for Wicked Cool (or was it Scary Cool? One of them, anyway) actually won an “Indie Cover of the Month” award, an honor I was completely unaware of until I was notified I had won it. But I do miss that art department!

Do your books sell better in paperback or for Kindle (or other eReaders)?

My books sell best on Kindle through Amazon. I do have them available in other e-formats through Smashwords, which is my second-best income source. Smashwords can sell them to readers who have Nooks, or Kobo readers, or buy their books through Apple, or whatever. Most of them are available in print editions as well, but the print editions, naturally, cost more to produce and deliver than the e-books do, and I try to offer them at a low price point—so I don’t make a lot when people buy the print versions. There are still some readers who prefer a “real” book, so I’m glad I can make them available through Amazon for those readers.

If you were starting your writing career all over again, what would you do differently?

I would start sooner.

Diane Farr is the author of a dozen novels, a few plays, a weekly newspaper column, and a novella, all of which have been published by somebody or other. She is self-publishing lately–an experience she recommends to any writer who dislikes high-stakes phone calls with way-too-powerful people in New York.

Web page:
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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Chris Limb Interview : From Self-Publishing to Crowd-Funding

Chris Limb is an independently published author who has written both fiction and factual books. His first self-published book documented the effects of the singer, Toyah, on his life from the 1980s onwards. He latest fiction book Comeback will soon be published by the crowd-funding publisher, Unbound. Here Chris tells me about his experiences in self-publishing and crowd-funded publishing.

Can you tell me a bit about your publishing history? What was the first book you published?

The first book I published was "I Was  Teenage Toyah Fan". I'd been blogging regularly for a while, always finding different subjects to write about. I started writing blog entries about my experiences as a Toyah fan in the early 1980s and quickly discovered that these were proving very popular - and that there was probably enough to say about the subject to fill a book rather than a blog.
Why did you decide to self-publish? Had you tried to publish with a ‘conventional’ publisher or did you know from the outset that you wanted to go it alone?

I did ask around about agents and publishers when I first came up with the idea of expanding these blog entries but it was very difficult to get anyone to even respond or acknowledge my approaches. However, this was at the time when publishing - and in particular Print On Demand - was beginning to take off. So I decided to go down that route.

What has been the best thing about self-publishing?

I think the main advantage is the speed - if you dedicate yourself to a project you can get it out there incredibly quickly rather than having to wait for the sometimes glacial wheels of the publishing industry to turn. Furthermore as I have experience in graphic design for print (one of my main skills when freelancing) so I have been able to design covers and typeset internal layouts to professional standards.

And the worst?

I think the main issues are:

  • Getting people to take it seriously (thankfully this is less of an issue now that it is more widespread)
  • Getting your books noticed - as self-publishing is an "anybody can do it" medium  now that it is more widespread there's a lot of competition and it's harder to reach an audience.
You recently took a different route to publication. I think that involved some kind of crowd-funding, didn’t it? Why did you decide to do that?

The crowd-funding model wasn't initially my decision. With my fiction I was trying to go down a more traditional route, and so was submitting short stories to anthologies and (online) magazines. I think it's because that way there is some kind of quality control - in order to be published you do need to be read by an editor or the person compiling the anthology. I was quite lucky in that respect;  I had my first short story published in 2013 and a number over the next few years (which I did then collect in a self-published collection "The Demon Face").  I learned a lot from my interaction with editors and I think my writing improved as a result.

With respect to novels, I continually submitted to agents and traditional publishers - a slow process as many specify that you can't submit simultaneously. This meant several years were eaten up waiting to hear back from publishers' open submission periods for instance.

Unbound were one of the publishers I pitched to - and unlike the others they said yes! They have a unique business model - when they accept a manuscript for publication (and I understand that acceptance isn't a foregone conclusion) they then run a crowd-fund to raise the money for their production costs. People can pre-order the book at various "pledge" levels (which means they get certain additional rewards).

What is your business relationship with Unbound? Do they take care of all the marketing and so on? Do you work on a royalties basis? Why is this a more attractive option than just publishing direct (via Amazon KDP or Lulu)?

I suppose basically they are my publisher. If you set the crowd-funding aspect aside (which is them covering their costs of production) they do pretty much everything a regular publishing house would do for me from both structural and copy editing (which I have just completed) to typesetting, cover design, printing, marketing and distribution, and they do work on a royalties basis.

Of course these days all authors need to do a lot of marketing themselves whether trad or self-published; so aside from the production I think it's the distribution that Unbound take care of which is a big plus for me.

I had been trying to get my fiction published in a more traditional way anyway - as I mentioned I preferred it because it meant an editor / compiler would be passing an unbiased eye over my manuscript - so anything which was accepted meant that at least one other person thought it was worth reading! The novel was submitted to a number of publishing houses during their open submission periods. Another advantage Unbound has over other trad publishers is that they don't require you to submit through an agent.

How has this worked out so far? Better or worse than just releasing a print-on-demand book?

Well it worked out in the end as I hit my pledge target in August 2019 after two years. It’s much better than print-on-demand as now that the book is in production it will be distributed the traditional way and appear in bookshops such as Waterstones or WH Smith. I suppose the main disadvantage is that it can take a long time to hit the target whereas with print-on-demand you can go as soon as you are ready.

Also there is still a degree of confusion with regard to the crowd-funding process - there are a couple of questions several people have asked me - "What do you need all that money for?" and "Why not just get a bank loan?" - as I think the concept of the publisher raising production costs beforehand is still quite a new one to people, and they don't realise that the money isn't being raised for me...

Do you do any advertising or marketing? If so, what?

With the self-published books I generally do all my marketing via social media which has varying success. With the Toyah book I was very lucky as there was an audience for it already. It was more difficult with my short story collection as that was an unknown quantity to many people - plus you have to be careful not to bore them with constant tweets! For the eBooks I found having it available free for a short period did boost sales afterwards as it raised the books' profile.

Do you write fiction in a specific genre? Do you think it is easier to find an audience if they are already looking for a “specific types” of novel?

Yes indeed, I think in general it is easier for genre books to find an audience as genre readers can be enthusiastic readers and are often on the lookout for something new to get stuck into. Once upon a time that would have been by looking on particular shelves in bookshops or libraries - now that can also be done by subscribing to book bloggers and reviewers.

I do write in particular genres - (urban) fantasy, horror and science fiction, although there is a bleed between the three and one or two of my ostensibly "horror" tales - including the first short story I had published - have no supernatural elements whatsoever so could actually happen in real life. My forthcoming novel Comeback is Urban Fantasy.

As a writer it is easier to find a home for short stories when writing in genre - calls for anthologies or magazine submissions are usually themed. I would imagine that it is easier to target audiences for novels too although I haven't had to do that yet aside from when submitting my novel to publishers' open submission periods - it did have to be publishers who specialised in SFF!

When self-publishing I think the way to go with genre fiction novels is to send copies to book bloggers and / or reviewers who specialise in certain genres and already have an audience who will be by definition on the lookout for that kind of novel. Plus organisations such as the British Fantasy Society do review independent or self-published books sent to them (and despite the name do cover SF and Horror as well as fantasy). A good review from them is always a plus.

Do you work with any other ‘freelancers’ – say editors, proof-readers or cover designers?

Not when self-publishing, yet. I can see the advantage in doing so though - in particular,  no matter how much you might think you are concentrating, typos will always slip through when you are so familiar with the text. And following on from my comments above I think editors are very important so even though I haven't self-published fiction (aside from my collection of short stories which had all been through the editing process prior to being published elsewhere) I would definitely consider doing so.

What would you do differently if you were publishing your first book all over again today?

Following on from the previous question I might indeed hire an editor and proof-reader to give the text a going over to make it better. Also I think I would have started earlier and fleshed the book out a little as it is quite a slim volume!

What have you got planned next?

The main thing will be plugging my novel "Comeback" when it comes out with Unbound in April 2020 and then seeing if they are interested in the (already written) sequel. If they are, that will mean another crowd-fund, but hopefully not as long a one!

Chris’s Books

I was a Teenage Toyah Fan:
The Demon Face: 
Comeback (page at Unbound):
Goodreads page:

More On Chris
Twitter: @catmachine | @catmachinedes

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Writers and Publishers, Let’s Get Together!

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. An awful lot has changed in my writing and publishing business lately. The main thing that’s changed is that a business is now what it is. I used to think of myself as a writer. A writer publishes one book, maybe two or three or more and then sits back and looks at the total lack of sales.

A publisher, on the other hand, sells books: markets them, advertises them, publishers not just one or two individual books but one, two, three (or more) series of books. Publishing is not a ‘calling' or a ‘talent’, it’s a business. And to make a success as an independent writer you also need to be an independent publisher.

I’ve been a publisher once before – a magazine publisher in the conventional (that, is old-fashioned) way. I commissioned articles, had the magazine designed, got tens of thousands of copies printed, had them distributed to shops. And then waited to find out how much money I’d lost!

That was back in the 1990s. The idea that you could publish without paying huge sums of money to get all the salable copies printed in advance was not one that had even occurred to me. On-demand publishing didn’t exist back then. Nor did Kindle and iPad devices. Heck, Amazon didn’t even exist back then! Fortunately, the world has changed, and my approach to publishing has changed with it.

Anyway, it’s early days for me but this year I launched my publishing business (Dark Neon Books) with five programming books under the imprint (or ‘brand name’), Bitwise Books. There will be one more programming book published before the year is out. And I also redesigned and republished three novels via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). They were previously published via Lulu.

Along the way, I’ve had to do all kinds of other stuff such as buy ISBNs so that they are shown to be published by my company (a free Amazon ISBN shows them to be ‘Independently Published’ which is not what I wanted) and I’ve had to start to learn the whole confusing, complicated business of advertising and marketing. To be frank, I am still in the early stages of this and I’m planning to become more professional about marketing during 2020.

If you are an independent publisher, a small publishing company or a self-published writer and you would be interested in sharing your experience, please get in touch. Maybe I can do a short interview (by e-mail is fine). From now on, I want this blog to be by writers and for writers. So let’s share our experiences to help one another!

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Bitwise Books - Our new Programming Imprint

Dark Neon has just launched Bitwise Books, our new programming language imprint! We’ve been working away at this for most of the last year. Our aim is to publish a range of tightly-focused programming books that explain just what you really need to know without any padding.

The series is called The Little Book Of… and our first three titles are:

The Little Book Of C Programming

The Little Book Of Pointers

The Little Book Of Recursion

In addition, we have created a series of free programming guides called A Really Simple Guide To… These include A Really Simple Guide To Object Orientation, C IDEs and Pointers. To can get the guides delivered straight to your inbox (no purchase necessary) from the Bitwise Books site.

We’ll be announcing more Really Simple Guides and Little Books Of (various programming topics) soon.