I'm excited to be appearing at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival next week, very dramatic timing, since the festival begins the day after the vote on Scottish independence!
Along with appearing on a panel on crossing the supernatural with crime fiction, the usual book signings, and hosting a table at the banquet, I'm moderating a panel on indie publishing, UK style. If you're in the neighborhood, hope you'll stop by. And if you aren't, you may be interested in a UK author/agent and UK indie author's perspectives, below.
Digital Detectives: The author independence debate
This year at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, crime authors Allan Guthrie and Ed James will be discussing their books and their roads to independent publishing success, chaired by American crime author Alexandra Sokoloff. The panelists will share how they have reached hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide and built or added to full-time writing careers through self-publishing, on Saturday, 20 September, 10 am-11 am, in the Academy Suite, Stirling Highland Hotel, Stirling. (Ticket information here).
Allan Guthrie’s traditionally published crime novels have won multiple nominations and awards (the American Edgar, the UK’s Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year), but he embraced the DIY options early and found indie-publishing success as well, his novella, Bye Bye Baby becoming a top ten bestseller on Amazon. Al is also a literary agent for Jenny Brown Associates, co-founder of the digital publishing company Blasted Heath, and a freelance editor for several British and American publishers, and his sage and generous advice have made him somewhat of a mentor to many authors, regardless of whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or both.
Guthrie initially self-published digital editions of his crime novels Two-Way Split and Kiss Her Goodbye, in the US after seeing his client John Rector’s success with self-publishing:
“I started to look into the market a lot more closely because of John’s success with his debut novel, The Grove. And I liked what I saw. Not only did digital publishing expose an author to a new readership, but I did some calculations and discovered that a self-published book priced at $1.25 on Kindle would pay the author almost as much in royalties as a typical mass market paperback at $5.99. I wasn’t sure that there was a huge readership out there, but on the other hand, the chances were that anyone who spent a few hundred dollars (they were more expensive back then) on an e-reader was going to be a heavy reader and liable to buy a lot of books. So I thought maybe they’d take a chance on an author they hadn’t tried before, especially if the price was low. Things took off for me in early 2011, which is when the UK Kindle market really opened up.”
After rejection by traditional publishers, Ed James took his career into his own hands. He self-published his Edinburgh-based Scott Cullen crime series and hit the bestseller charts, enabling him to give up his corporate IT job to live the dream as a full-time crime author:
“Back in 2009, I sent off my finished book to about 40 literary agents. Three or four wanted to read it. I polished it up then sent it off before waiting three months for the inevitable rejections. For a while I got really angry about the rejection and didn’t write a word for 18 months. A couple of years down the line and things had moved on. The whole Amazon/Kindle thing had come out of nowhere. Suddenly it was possible to self-publish. There were guys out there doing it and making millions. I thought there was nothing to be lost. I published the book, started writing the sequel and, within a year, I had four books on Kindle. Somehow they crept into the bestsellers’ list. The first one has been downloaded 290,000 times.”
Thriller Award-winning US author and screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff was doing well in traditional publishing — but not as well as some of her author friends who were experimenting with indie publishing. So she took a chance by self-publishing her Huntress Moon crime series - and made the bestseller charts as well as double her usual advance from traditional publishers in just the first two months of publication.
In fact, self-published crime fiction often sells as well and even better than traditionally published crime fiction. Major e-publishing platforms (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple i-Books, Kobo, Smashwords) have promotional opportunities built in to their systems, which entrepreneurial indie authors can use to find an audience whether or not they have been published before. Indie authors can earn 70% of the RRP from these e-platforms, as opposed to (typically) 25% of the net receipts (ie, the RRP minus the vendor’s cut) from traditional publishers, and indie publishing gives authors the control over book pricing, which can lead to significantly greater sales and significantly expanded readerships. And e-publishing platforms, particularly Amazon, allow UK authors to make their books instantly available not just in the UK but also to the enormous US market, as well as Germany, France, Australia, and a growing number of other countries – with no additional work involved.
These days a huge number of authors consider themselves “hybrids” – selling their books through both traditional and indie publishing. For example, James will continue to self-publish his Cullen books, but is very close to having a traditional publishing deal for a new series based on the success of his first series; and Sokoloff just sold the rights to her Huntress Moon crime series to Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, while keeping the rights to her supernatural thrillers. Traditionally published authors with out-of-print backlists have found new life for their novels and new income from going digital. And aspiring authors should note that agents and traditional publishers routinely track the success of indie authors, making indie publishing a viable alternative to the traditional query-agent-editor route to publication.
James says: “A lot of novice writers still tend to think of the Writers and Artists Yearbook as the primary method of getting an agent whereas I think it's genuinely changing...” In fact, it was Guthrie who approached James to offer representation, rather than James querying the agency himself.
Guthrie explains: “If you can establish that there’s a market out there for your books, it can be a big help, no question. Selling tens of thousands of books, backed by lots of Amazon reviews with a high average rating, is a pretty clear indicator that there’s a big readership for your writing. Which is the kind of safety net risk-averse publishers tend to find attractive. Also, if an author has a good number of sales through their own efforts, a potential publisher is going to know that they’re very likely dealing with a canny marketer who knows what their readers want and knows how to reach them. A good publisher can take that to the next level.”
The audience is welcome to join the authors in an informal chat session after the panel and book signings, to discuss specifics of self-publishing and promotional strategies.
By phone: 01786 27 4000
More about the authors and their books at: