How to Self Publish – Tips from Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

A few weeks ago, I went further north than I had ever traveled before. Well, almost. I was later reminded by my mother that the Lake District is in fact not the Peak District and, also, really far away from us in the south. (I was young, car journeys always felt long.) Anyway, my second-furthest-north-ever trip took me to Harrogate and its annual Crime Festival. It was the perfect setting; looking like a set from Midsummer Murders with its neatly trimmed lawns, old sandy buildings and neat flower beds; it is where the apparently simple life has undercurrents of unearthed secrets and intrigue. I am by no means implying that there is hidden crime running rife in Harrogate – though you can see how it’d inspire it. So I suppose Harrogate was the perfect host for this kind of event.

Harrogate Crime Festival

I attended three talks on a sunny, unsuspecting Friday afternoon in the beautiful setting of The Old Swan Hotel. One lecture in particular grabbed my attention. It concerned the enigma that is Amazon and self publication. I thought I’d share my notes with you –

  • Give away your first book on Kindle and then sell the next – This method appears particularly successful if you are looking to publish a series as, if the first in the series is just brilliant, then people will be happy to part with their cash for the next one(s). I recently had a tweet from James Oswald who kindly added the importance of having another ready to sell once you’ve set up your first for free. So don’t give one away and allow people to forget you whilst you beaver away on the next, it should be ready to go!
  •  80% of people buying on Amazon already know what they’re looking for, they aren’t just browsing – so you need to put all your effort into standing out from the rest otherwise you’re, unfortunately, a drop in the ocean.
  • James Oswald is a thorough Amazon success – we were fortunate enough to have James at the festival to offer some pearls of wisdom on how he managed it. He gave his first book away for free – the first in his Detective Inspector McLean series – and urged everyone to write reviews and offer ratings for the novel. He has an interesting angle from a personal point of view too – he’s a sheep farmer from North East Fife (that’s really north, as in, Scotland north). It can only make you smile to imagine a sheep farmer whiling away the cold Scottish evenings by writing a crime novel. This character aroused extra interest in his writing and a local newspaper wrote an article on him and his books. He said that this gave his sales a huge boost.
  • Connect with your readers – there are so many ways to do this now that, really, there is no excuse not to. We have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs (cough cough) and all the others out there. Connect with readers and you’ll create loyalty. Terry Pratchett had an incredibly loyal readership. Get interacting.
  • Authors receive money from library sales – each time you borrow a book, the author gets a little, so let’s not forget the humble library, many people still use them.
  • Encourage reader reviews – us humans, we’re like sheep, there’s safety in numbers. We’re more likely to buy a book if its had reviews – and I don’t even mean all good reviews. Something talked about in some way, is better than not talked about at all. (Isn’t that what they used to say at school…?) So give your shiny, finished book to your auntie, your uncle, your daughter’s boyfriend, your next door neighbour. All those people who asked ‘hey, how’s that book coming along?‘ with a wry, disbelieving smile. Here’s your chance to get them back!
  • Algorithms – yep, even the word makes me a little queasy. Basically, if you have better statistics to back you up, you’re more likely to be found and Amazon has ways of helping people find you. In Amazon, your work will fit into categories – for example, Crime. These categories start super small so if you can be Number One in the category for Best Crime Thriller Involving a Mouse (or some such variation) then you can work your way into the bigger and more important categories. Then, tah-dah, you’re Number One in Crime Fiction and everyone wants to see what all the fuss is about.
  • Covers are tricky, but nail it – if you happen to be in bookshops, then it’s likely that your publisher has most of the sway in terms of the front cover, or ‘jacket’ design. You’ll get a veto though. We all want beautiful, textural books, maybe embossed, but, nice though they are, they’re expensive. You’re unlikely to get any of the fancy treatment until you’re certain to sell a lot. So keep it clean, simple. People won’t buy a book they don’t know with a bad cover. Oh, and if you are on book shelves, wiggle in a front-on display, they’ll fly off the shelves.
  • Interact with Book Bloggers – blogging is big, almost too big. People can now earn a living through blogging so, do your research, find some Book Bloggers and get your book out to them and ask for their feedback. They can have a great influence in giving you a kick start. They’ll offer fair criticism and the readers of their blogs will be caught up in their discovery of your fabulous book too. Get on Twitter and see who other authors are interacting with – which book bloggers – and get yourself in there too.

So, this was the advice from a panel of experienced writers at Harrogate Film Festival on self publishing. It appears there is a lot more you can do than just sending it out into the Amazon-ether and praying for the best. Get people reading, reviewing. Give yourself a platform. I know. I know. The writing of the book was meant to be the mammoth task. But, settle yourself into modern systems and give your book a hand to walk for a little while. Do this and, with luck and hard work (sometimes, unfortunately, equal measures of both), it’ll be running by itself before long.

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