Monday, 6 April 2020

Nicola May interview: Chick-lit With a Kick!

If you are stuck in self isolation and feel the need to escape to a better world, Nicola May’s top-selling Cockleberry Bay books, set a quaint Devon village, could be just the thing! Here Nicola tells me about her books, her life as a writer, and why romcom appeals to men as well as women…
Your books are sometimes described as ‘rom-com’ or ‘chick lit’. What do you think about categorising novels in genres in that way? Good or bad? 

I think it’s a good thing.  If there weren’t categories on Amazon, there are so many books to search through, it would be kind of daunting and not easy to find the sort of read you preferred.  And my books are romantic comedies and fall under chick-lit. Although I like to call my books chick-lit with a kick, as I am not frightened to deal with issues like bereavement, infidelity, infertility and domestic abuse. So many people out there are stuffy about the genre I write. The fact that I was no 1 on Amazon for 6 weeks last January and I am again as I type, with the same book proves that this is very readable and sought-after genre.
Your books are very British in style and setting. Does that risk limiting their appeal to an international audience?

I did think it might, but in the past year I have signed translation deals with Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Russia, Estonia, Czechia and am also talking to Croatia so that proved me wrong! This makes me think the setting holds no weight, it is the content which is full of love, life, conflict and community that is what is making the Cockleberry Bay series so popular.
What’s a typical writing day for you? Do you have a set routine? Do you set yourself a target – to write a certain number of words each day?

Once I am in the throes of a new book, I literally just write. I wake up, have breakfast and then write until I am too tired to write any more. Usually a chunk of 6 hours is my limit, but if I am in the flow after that, I just carry on. I am happy if I write 2000 words a day as a minimum.

The biography on your web site contains words that strike terror into the heart of every budding author – “unable to find a publisher…” Can you tell me what attempts you made to publish the ‘traditional’ way? 

Yes, back in 2003 I wrote to nineteen agents, got eighteen ‘No’s but then did sign with one. They sent my book to many publishers over two years but to no avail. We parted ways. I then self published to moderate success. I then did sign a 7-book deal with a publisher, but I wasn’t happy with the results, so decided to go it alone again.

I am lucky that I have a marketing background, which has no doubt helped progress my books to such giddy heights. I also am maverick and quite ballsy. I once chased the book buyer of W H Smith at the London Book Fair and then placed my book in his hand, which subsequently got stocked at W H Smith travel.
I do think that having a publisher suits many people well as they don’t have the marketing skills necessary to get their books out there. It is a constant job to promote your books to readers. It’s not a case of ‘oh its on the shelf, everyone will buy it now’, which I do think a lot of people fall foul to. You know it’s there, but nobody else does unless you tell them. My success is due to a lot of hard work and persistence; even when my books weren’t doing that well. It wasn’t until my ninth book that I could give up the day job.
You said you signed to a publisher. Why didn’t you stick with them?

I wasn’t happy with the financial reward. My contract was a 75/25 split for eBooks and 90/10 split for paperbacks in the publisher’s favour. I also felt constricted in what marketing I could do myself. This was in 2015. I decided to self publish again in 2018.
What was the biggest problem you had when you began self-publishing?

It was hard to make money out of paperbacks. By the time you have paid for a book to be printed in a relatively small run, paid a distributor – Waterstones only buy through a distributor who take around 45% of book value – and then post it, I was drawing even or even running at a loss.
What would you do differently if you were starting all over again?

I have learnt so much and met so many people through every success and failure that I wouldn’t do anything differently. The journey has made me the author and businesswoman I am today.
However, my advice when starting out as a self-published author is just go for eBooks first. It is so much easier to convert a word document into a MOBI for Kindle with a simple cover design. Very few overheads and little hassle.  And if you do decide to go for paperbacks, create them through the Amazon KDP platform. They are printed for you and posted out, so you avoid the whole distribution process.

Also just solely sell your eBooks through Amazon KDP, you can then make use of all their tutorials, promotions etc. It really is a no-brainer.

You have an astonishing number of reviews on Amazon (3,684, and rising, for ‘The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay’!).  That’s more reviews than some Stephen King books get! How do you do it?

It is a good book. And, I think probably volume of sales. I have now sold around 187,000 copies Also, it has been on Prime Reading, so another huge audience there. I also put a friendly interview request in the back of my books. And it is the kind of read that I hope evokes true emotion so maybe people feel driven to review it.
Do you ever read the reviews that people write on Amazon? If so, are there any that you particularly remember?

Yes, I read lots of them, good and bad.  One of them told me that I should go back to school and learn English. I think it’s the ones where readers who tell me that they hadn’t picked up a book for years and are now back in to reading because of my writing, that are the most heartening.

You said that you  a background in marketing. What did you do to market your books?

That’s a big question. But I usually do a pre-order build up campaign on social media. I then arrange a blog tour, around the book. This time for The Gift of Cockleberry Bay I have a 50 strong tour, where reviews and excerpts will be shared for a 2-week period from publication day. I then do blog posts, like this and usually would get out to festivals etc; maybe talk on the radio; but of course, this won’t be happening for a while. So, I will just continue to put up Facebook boosted posts and regularly post on Twitter.

What do you think is the biggest marketing mistake that authors make?

Not doing enough of it. You must be persistent. It’s no good just throwing one tweet or FB post up a week and hoping it will stick. I also see so many authors forget to include a link to their book on posts. People are lazy, so you need to make it easy for them. Every time you get a good review, throw it out there. Make use of occasions, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc., to promote.
Do you use Amazon or Facebook advertising? If so, how effective are they?

I boost posts on Facebook, which link to Instagram. I have no measure if they are successful, but they are not expensive, and you create a brand-new audience to keep ‘touching’ with your messages. I’m not very good at working out how to use the Amazon advertising, but I have used in the past. I need to go on a course!  Once you do get into a chart, even top 100, shout about it. People are very likely to download something that is charting.
At the moment, the world is a pretty depressing place. If you could recommend one of your books to cheer us up, which would it be?

It would have to be the Cockleberry Bay Trilogy. They are full of heart and soul and life lessons. Plus, the sense of community, which we are all beginning to experience, at the moment, features heavily in them. The characters are real, the emotions are true. I don’t sugar coat anything.  I love the fact that many men are reading them too. I guess they have romcom covers, but there is more kick, than chick-lit in them, hence the universal and worldwide appeal.
And a book by another author?

A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. Love his books! Love his flawed characters! His writing has taught me a lot.

Nicola May is a rom-com superstar. She is the author of eleven romantic comedies, all of which have appeared in the Kindle bestseller charts. The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay is currently the best-selling Kindle book in the UK, across all genres and she was the number one indie author on Amazon last year. She lives near Ascot racecourse with her black-and-white rescue cat, Stanley.


The Gift of Cockleberry Bay, the third in Nicola's much acclaimed Cockleberry Bay Series is out now: