On the day I started this post, I watched the first episode of the Obi-Wan series with Ewan McGregor. In it, he says
“It's been ten years… I'm not the man I was then.”
It's been a decade since I released Cherry Picking for the first time.
So much has happened, so much has changed in the industry since then, that I thought I would take this moment, this milestone, this occasion, to look back, to look within, and discuss here what I've learnt, what I've seen, what I would have changed, and what has changed that is outside of an author's control.
Whether you are a full-time writer right now with multiple books, or just starting out and still dreaming (as I was a decade ago) I hope this open, honest account will help inform, inspire and encourage you, while helping you to avoid the mistakes I made along the way. Because I made a few.
Ultimately, I want this post to be a celebration. A marker in the sand, something to track progress, to remind myself I'm not where I started.
I've been published for 10 years, and this is my story…
This was one of my early images… probably a banner for either the website, or my Facebook page in those early days. So early that, after the release of the first book, I didn't have a date for the second. The Last Prophet didn't appear until 2015.
I remember choosing that little image on the right carefully. The improve word remains so fitting. I've always strived to become better. I want each book better than the last. It's why, given developments with Conundrum Publishing this year, I've been going back into The Hunt series and reworking each title, a process that is now complete. The first two books have already re-released. The Prey had the most work done on it, being the oldest, my fifth title at the time.
In January 2024, I'll start work on Cherry Picking, all six of my current stand alone novels being republished with brand new covers and updated insides next year. I expect there will be a lot of work on that debut novel, a book published a decade ago, started over seventeen years ago, and while I have looked at it once in the interim, my craft has improved greatly. I wonder how I will rework this novel which, for so many, remains a favourite, and remains the book that introduced readers to my style of writing and storytelling.
It should be fun!
One thing very much out of an author's control, has been the change happening across the technology giants this last decade. It's been huge, and life-sapping.
They got greedy.
I was far from being in the gold-rush early-adopters group first into KDP, when authors become rich overnight, but I was in early enough for there to be genuine, organic reach. You released a book, strangers actually saw it.
Today, that is impossible. I will touch on what changed in a bit.
For those unsure of what KDP means, it stands for Kindle Direct Publishing, and it took Amazon into new heights. Gone, they say, were the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Now any author with a story to tell could publish the book themselves, directly with Amazon.
Controversial for many, I know, it has been a huge success. There are now millions of books on Kindle.
I did my first free promo as an exclusive author with Amazon in February 2014, less than two years after Cherry Picking released. Back then I made a lot of mistakes (I'll cover these in a later section) yet the book, after three days of free and with 2,439 downloads, started selling at full-price in the days immediately after.
Entirely organic. I had a list and social media audience back then in the mid-hundreds.
I was new, nobody knew me.
I had exhausted my natural reach on the first day, when the promo started, accounting for most of the four-hundred or so downloads on day one as being from this reach. These sales meant the title charted on Amazon, and day two of the promo, saw the downloads double. These were now beyond my audience, organic in nature. Everyone I knew had already been told about the free book the day before.
Now these were strangers.
Day three of the promo (the last day, and had I known, I would have run it for five, no questions) saw over one thousand downloads and leapt it to #2 on the UK Mystery chart.
Once it went back to full price (I think it was £6 in the UK then, too), because of the chart ranking and how Amazon registered this then, there was a mass of sales (something I wouldn't better for over three years and a tonne of advertising money spent) which lead to 147 sales which, for me, felt like the impossible. It took many months and several book releases before I bettered this monthly total for royalties.
No free promo that I've done since has lead to anywhere near as many actual sales. I'll cover the idea of free books in a dedicated section below.
So what changed? What happened in the eight years since that promo that makes me say organic reach is now dead?
That's not the root of the problem, however. Greed is.
Big Tech got greedy. They couldn't help themselves. Is it any surprise that today Amazon, Facebook etc are worth billions of dollars?
Aren't they our friends, you might ask?
No, is the honest answer.
They are corporations looking to make more profit. These are the new gatekeepers. Publishing hasn't really changed one bit, not in this regard. Now we just have to play by their rules to get our books noticed.
Take Facebook, for example. When my Facebook Page only had 800 followers, I would post something, and they would all see it (or have a fair chance of seeing it). Today, with over 2,500 followers, whenever I post anything (which I do less now, anyway), only a tiny handful of people actually see it (perhaps a couple of hundred). That's all Facebook will allow to see it without paying them. That's right. And I guess who can't blame them… they built this platform, they let everyone use it for free, let authors and businesses build up their followers on their page… so then Facebook put up the walls.
You want to reach these people? Then pay us to reach them.
You want to sell your books to our users? We can tell you who might be interested, but it'll cost you.
Facebook is full of advertising (you might have noticed). Most of social media is nowadays. I now call them by how they really are, replacing the first part of their name with Ad… Adbook, AdTube, Adstagram… it's funny, but true. AdTok will happen soon, too.
Even the very people who made these platforms (in a highly worthwhile documentary, I will add) from their own mouths stated that if you do not pay for the product, you are the product.
Amazon, too, jumped onto this advertising revenue by launching their own program. If you type in Tim Heath and add any of my titles (you would think that is a fairly tight search on Amazon, sure to produce an accurate list of results, namely, my books) you'll get loads of other book served up in the results, some placed above the actual books I've written. Why? Advertising. These results do list that they are ‘sponsored' but it's never overly obvious. Even when you click through to buy now you'll be tempted by Amazon through other ads to opt for another book… all driven by Amazon.
Let's think about it like this. If Facebook and Amazon are being paid to advertise (thereby earning money regardless of results) there is no accountability for the service they offer. Amazon makes money on every sale, regardless of what they sell. If two authors are paying Amazon to advertise their book, and these are served to the customer, who instead opts for book three, Amazon wins three times over… they grab the advertising spend from the two advertisers, and pocket a hefty chunk from the sale of the third book.
Permanent win for Amazon.
This is why I call them the new gatekeepers in publishing. Because there is so much competition, because everyone now has to advertise as organic reach is dead, they now dictate who sinks and who swims. Those who spend the most money will usually make more sales (but by no means does this guarantee a profit for the author).
Firstly, there are millions of books on Amazon. While KDP has looked to challenge the stranglehold they see as traditional publishing, by throwing open the doors and doing away with the middlemen, the gatekeepers as they see it, this has created its own problem. There is now so much noise, so many books that any one title can feel completely invisible.
Spend nothing, and your books will remain invisible. Published, for sure, but never going to make you a royalty. Never enough to make a living.
And Big Tech couldn't careless, because they have a thousand people lined up ready to play their game that it doesn't matter who falls behind, who drops out altogether. They'll always make money from someone.
In short, a decade ago, the writing still counted (it still does, of course). Today, marketing counts the most (for getting sales). It doesn't matter how amazing your book is, without marketing, nobody will ever see it.
Okay, that's quite a sombre opening, so I'll move on to my tips to avoid the mistakes I (and many authors) made.
Get outside eyes on your book before you ever publish––it's not a suggestion, it's not a recommendation. You must. Someone outside your home. Someone who knows. Someone willing to say it to you as it is. Pick someone respectful, naturally (I'll cover those who give sideways digs in the next section) but it needs to be someone invested in making your book better.
Get outside help on the cover––there are some truly appalling covers out there. Don't be one of them. (My first book cover, while I did get someone to do it for me, was also bad… which makes the above account of those free downloads and additional sales all the more incredible!).
In your haste/excitement to be published at last, don't rush the release––yes, don't forever edit, either, because then your book will never come out. I rushed my first release. I thought it was ready. It wasn't. That said, it is hard to know when it's ready… the litmus test is putting it out there, and seeing what strangers make of it. Believe me, they'll let you know when they don't like it.
It's not all about the launch––this one I'm only just learning now (after 21 releases). Because marketing over the long term is now the ONLY way forward, the launch is not the thing. I've been underwhelmed by every single launch I've ever done. This book is amazing, so why hasn't my list of over 5,000 people bought more than 3 copies on launch day? Oh the sorrow.
Avoid book launch parties––it might just be me. Unless you can guarantee 100s (or 1000s) of sales, or you aren't planning on selling at all, just celebrating (celebration is always good––you've finished a book!) I don't think these are worth it. I did one for my second book back in 2015. I think I still have copies of the unsold ones somewhere at home, a book and cover that's changed since. I also massively over purchased on my Estonia-based thriller ahead of getting a booth at the Song Festival (the book starts there). I knew 10,000s of people were walking right past our table on the way in and didn't want to miss the opportunity. A few years later, I still have about 70 copies of these downstairs too (I've ignored how much they cost me!).
These have been surprising at the time. They might seem amusing now, but they can be equally real for you too.
On holding my first book (a post to Facebook the month it published), somebody I thought was a friend at the time felt the need to point our helpfully that the average sale of books are 9 copies (rising to something higher if you take out self-published books). I think I brushed it away at the time, with a comment something like well let's hope I sell 1000s then.
But I recently saw this photo and the comments (Facebook telling me its been 10 years) and I also see the undertone to such a comment (whether the stated fact is true or otherwise).
Sometimes those around you, perhaps through jealousy, I don't know, feel the need to pull you down.
Most of my extended family probably haven't even read my books––one close relative saying I just hear your voice as the reason given for not reading me then. That said, others (family included) have jumped in and totally surprise me with how invested they are in my success.
Then there are those who hear what you say, but then assume something else. (I recently had a chat with a world famous ballet dancer friend of mine who's been at the very top of the ballet world for several years and has had the same comments to himself down the years, too).
Oh, you're an author… so what do you really do for a living?
Then there was that time when someone said As a friend, can I just say something… and I allow that, of course. Their holdup was my use of words like ‘God' in my books… they said I should swear instead of blaspheme (I don't use swearing in my books). I've also since changed to using ‘god' when it's there. The funny thing when I pointed out it was the characters speaking, not me (I'm a Christian myself, so me saying Jesus has a different connotation altogether, anyway, it's not blasphemy), he said (he's also a Christian, I will add) But it's not though, is it.
Only afterwards did I come up with the thought in my head that, surely he doesn't think I personally also kill people and sleep around (as some of my characters do, which are also against the 10 Commandments). It probably wouldn't have helped matters. The sad thing for me, and it was me using the line he'd used to start the helpful conversation, was that when I realised we would need to agree to disagree, I said As a friend, can I ask us to agree to disagree and move on to which he wouldn't stop.
I lost a friend and a reader that day.
In short, those who are around you when you start might not be the ones around you when you see breakthrough. The ones who do emerge, might surprise you. The ones you thought would be your biggest supporters, might also disappoint you. Not everyone will be able to handle your success.
Sometimes people just want to be condescending. You can't win them all. But you can turn them into characters in your later books (I'm kidding…).
As I stated above, marketing is now essential. If you come at publishing from a marketing (online, especially) background, I think you are in good stead. Perhaps you will be able to do it all yourself?
In 2021, putting my Game Plan (see later section) into effect, I focused on marketing, and spent loads on advertising. Yes, I had my best year as an author, but it did not make a profit.
Facebook is currently one of the two places to focus for advertising, because of the apparently endless number of audiences to target. It's also a fast way to spend a lot of money. If you spend enough, you will get your own Facebook Rep calling you and aiming to help. I found most of these calls helpful and timely. I can't say I ever got great at marketing. I had my moments, but too often changed something too quickly, and in the blink of an eye, the magic that had been happening vanished. Facebook Ads are like that… treat them with care. There is so much I could say on the subject (I've done the courses, I've had the experience) BUT ultimately, unless you know the language of marketing, I'm going to suggest a different approach (something that I'll cover in the section called the Future of Publishing).
The other platform is Amazon itself. It's often said that you either get one or the other to work for you, but rarely both (at the same time). I never quite got Amazon working, even when, like with Facebook, I had my own rep calling me, talking me through my various campaigns. It can feel nice having someone on the inside calling you, but they have no magic wand. You still have to do the business, whatever that is. They are there to get you to spend more money.
Both Facebook and Amazon (and probably all advertisers) take their fees either immediately, or that same month. Facebook usually has a cap (eg £400) which they collect when you reach that. If you are spending £100 a day, that comes round quickly.
Yet Amazon only PAYS royalties for sales 90 days later… so there is a huge lag (even if you are MAKING A PROFIT). You're going to have to cover a 3 month gap before you get paid. If your ads are increasing, your sales growing even more, this is not a problem. But it's worth planning for. I did when I set about my year. I budgeted so that I knew what I could spend.
(Lack of) Support
I've touched on this a bit above––when those closest to you aren't are fully committed as you want them to be. What, you've written a book? That's amazing. I must read it, like today! I must tell EVERYONE I know about it too! I'm sooo excited.
That doesn't happen (often).
Instead, it can feel like you are on your own often. Writing, by nature, is a solitary thing. Much like reading. I often envy a singer. They can stand on stage, have an audience of 300 and in 3 minutes can do their thing… and 3 minutes later (assuming they can actually sing) 300 more people now know exactly how talented they are. For writers, of course, we don't have that luxury. It takes hours to get through a book (even if you might have a feel of an aspect of someone's writing long before that) and people do this alone (yes, book clubs discuss books, but group reading is very rare).
It takes a while for people to see your talent. Like singing, it's something experienced, but unlike singing, 3 minutes just won't cut it.
Finding someone to edit for you (see Mistakes section above) might not be easy (there are websites and services dedicated for this), nor is getting beta readers to run and test ideas off. Perhaps you can do this with an equivalent author, sounding each other out, giving each other feedback? It's a great way to grow, and it'll bless you both by giving you this crucial outside voice (and support, I hope). If it's not supportive (I don't mean they always and only have to say nice things about your writing) then I would look for someone else.
A good place to start looking for help (if you don't know any others) might be the SPF community run by Mark Dawson and James Blatch (Self Publishing Formula) or ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors).
These other voices not touched on above are either your own inner critic (look up Imposter Syndrome), a common thing for authors, or those trolls online.
Bad reviews are unavoidable.
Negative people LOVE to be negative. And 1-star reviews will always sting. Even if they are justified. If you only get 1-star reviews, perhaps there is something wrong. Don't write off your career on one or two bad reviews (assuming you've followed the rules above to get an editor, get a professional-looking cover, ideally done by a pro). But if these are all that are coming in, you might need to take another look. Look at the reviews that are helpful (there might not be many). Ones that actually point at what the problem was. Perhaps you can change something.
I still remember my first 1-star review. It came during that first-ever 3 day free promotion mentioned above (surprise surprise… free = lots of people who feel they have a RIGHT to say whatever they want, even though they got it for free, even if it's not what they usually read). It was the only fiction book the reviewer had ever reviewed too… everything else was non-fiction.
It made me look up my favourite book of John Grisham (my favourite author, and someone, I think most can agree, who has made it, who's at the top when it comes to authors alive today). I looked through the many 1-star reviews that The Runaway Jury has (it's a GREAT book, so it makes these reviews even MORE comical).
It showed me most people don't have a clue––and perhaps, just perhaps, some reviewers have ulterior motives for slamming a book, other than the quality of the writing.
One thing I have noticed happening more recently, is putting books out for free (compared to a 0.99p offer, which requires something of a minimal investment) only draws more negative criticism. Like free = cheap. Free = poor quality. I've written extensively on this, and my views haven't been changed by anything I've seen since. See the section below on free books for more.
Future of Publishing?
Now we are getting somewhere… because, if like me (you might have picked up a certain dilemma in this post so far, namely, if you can't market, how can anyone become an author in the future?) you only see issues, there are new options emerging.
New, kind of, anyway.
I'm talking about a whole host of brand-new hybrid publishers. It's a new wave of publishing companies (usually coming from the back of being successful independent authors, who have been able to learn marketing, and who are then setting up publishing companies with the knowledge of how to sell books).
And they are!
It's not uncommon for some of these new names to have ten books in the Amazon Top 100.
In January 2022, I signed with one of these publishers (you can read about that here). Yes, they are still using Facebook and Amazon to advertise, but now it's in their hands to sell the book. Royalties are much better than with traditional publishing (who, let's be honest, don't fully understand marketing books in the 21st century), so even if they only do the same as what I managed, because I've not spent anything on ads, I'm massively in profit. They need to double what I managed to break even––again, author in profit even more.
Here's how I see it going, for the foreseeable future anyway (sadly, Amazon and Facebook et al aren't going anywhere soon). If you aren't in the business or knowledge of marketing (I mean marketing to the point where you can spend £1,000 on ads to turn around £3,000 in sales, and thereby giving yourself the basis of a monthly salary), then this next option might just be the best thing for you.
Write your books. Don't worry about marketing, don't even worry about the covers. Write your books––plural. Whether it's a series (3 books is a start, longer if you have it in you) or stand alone books (which can be linked into a series, a series of stand alone novels), create material. Learn the craft. Improve. Create a back catalogue.
Yes, it's possible to try releasing them yourself (you'll need covers etc––you might find Book Brush a great website for this). You'll also need to format it all (I can only recommend Vellum for this). Perhaps getting it out there (a little) might help you. You'll probably spend more on ads.
Either way, become confident in what you do and what you have––then look for the right hybrid publisher. I'm sure more of these niche marketers will be appearing in the coming years.
Mine only sells thrillers. It's a perfect fit for me, a thriller writer. Coming to them after 10 years of writing, I have 16 completed thrillers just begging to be revamped and republished. Who wouldn't say yes?
I was an easy prospect for them, I believe. I knew my trade, have seen success, but need the marketing muscle and knowhow to get me out there.
It's a match made in heaven.
And I really think this will be the way to go. The publisher is building up their own mailing list of thriller readers. They are forever learning the art and skills of marketing, the various nuances and tweaks that Big Tech is always doing.
They speak the language of marketing. They build the brand, but they are also invested in you, the writer––most are writers themselves. They are one of us.
Over the next 10-20 years, I predict we'll see more of these types of publishers emerging. I guess traditional companies will still be there (John Grisham is still writing books, isn't he?) but they won't solely dominate the digital landscape. It'll be those who are savvy at marketing who are the ones able to get their authors noticed.
So, there is hope. Ultimately, it is about the book. So do your part well, do it again and again, and become an author that a niche hybrid publisher just cannot refuse. Then you'll hit the ground running with them and hopefully both go onto great things.
It's how I'm planning on things now going with my publisher.
About five or six years ago, I got some fantastic new business cards-cum-bookmarks created using MOO. And on it, I called myself an author & screenwriter.
At that point, I'd never written a screenplay.
A few years afterwards, I still hadn't. Yes, I'd been reading books on the craft, trying to understand it. I'd read several screenplays for popular and successful films. Then I finally found the book I'd needed, Syd Field's book on The Foundations of Screenwriting. All the other books told me how to write a story––things I think I've got by now. This book actually told me the rules of a screenplay, how things need to be set out. It lead me to the Final Draft software, on which I wrote and finished my first ever screenplay.
Now I really am an author AND a screenwriter. Which of these two titles takes precedence over the coming years, only time (or a friendly Producer or Director) will tell.
I also started an after school club teaching storytelling to Primary-aged students (more on this below). That led to this book being released.
Whatever it is you want to branch into, as you grow your craft, focus on your writing, I don't see there being a problem with branching out, as long as it doesn't hurt your core creative.
Have a Game Plan
If you are going the marketing (yourself) route––because I've said all books need marketing now, so someone, somewhere needs to do it––then this section might be useful to you. It's something I came up with two summers ago.
I put together a game-plan.
I knew I needed to advertise, and therefore that required money. I was writing full time, but without money to advertise, my books were not selling, and thus continues to circle. Where and how do I get money to advertise, without the household suffering?
I started an after school club. It was called Seriously Smart Stories and I made it open to all ages, but ultimately gathering from the Primary-aged students about 15-20 in that first year (that became 20-30, at times, by the second). I ran it twice a week, with students able to come to either or both.
I tweaked it in the second year, adding in an element that created the book mentioned in the section above. Both years were a great success.
The club started in September 2020, with my advertising year starting only in the January 2021. That meant I had a few months to save up everything for the advertising budget fund.
And everything I earned was set aside. It was all seed money, to pay for adverts that, I hoped, in turn would become royalties.
The club meant I had a regular supply of seed money, renewed each month, so even if I struck out one month, I could come back again the next. It was gambling money, for want of a better word. It was money we didn't need to live on, money I could play with to try and learn Facebook.
And I threw everything at it in 2021.
Some months were good, even turning a profit. Overall, I made a loss. As 2021 came to an end, I looked at the numbers, looked at all that spending, and everything began to unravel. The system was broken. Big Tech controlled too much.
I should add here, my Twiggy Rattlesnake stories are also a result of the club. In the first year, I read them a chapter of the book each week (street-testing it with the very audience that I know one day will read it). In the early months, I was even writing the book week by week, chapter by chapter, ready in time for club. I soon wrote the whole book, plus the second one. I read most of the second one during this last year of the club.
Because there is no book three yet (nothing to read, therefore, next September) I had already made the decision not to continue the club next year, instead to focus on writing. Then the publisher happened, and I feel that only solidifies this thought. Plus, without advertising, which was the sole purpose of the club, I do not need to do it… and now that I have an outlet for my thrillers, surely the time is right to focus 100% at this side of things, and see what happens.
While I know the club was a big success (teaching is something I can do, but not necessarily something that energises me, not compared to writing and how much I love doing that) I do sincerely hope that I never need to do it again. It was a means to an end, or so I thought. Money to run ads, which sell books, which produce royalties, which I use to run ads. That didn't ultimately work like that for me.
But, for you, things can be different. Is there something extra you can do on the side, using your gifts, that might provide a small income, some seed-fund you can then use to launch the selling side of your business?
Series or Stand Alone?
I'm going to be controversial here. I really think that if the books are good enough, it doesn't matter. I read John Grisham. He (basically) doesn't write in a series. Most books (yes, I'm aware there are a couple that use the same characters) are pure stand alone. It's the brand you are buying, the author you are reading.
Yes, we aren't John Grisham, but actually, I don't think that is even a factor. Besides, Amazon will group your titles into any series you want––I even have a Tim Heath Stand Alone Thrillers series. So all my six stand alone thrillers are linked in that same series, meaning a reader discovering one of them might well then work through the rest.
Series, from a marketing point of view, are perceived as easier to sell. It you have 10 books, you can focus a lot of advertising attention to book 1, and trust that enough readers continue through the series all the way to the end, making the cost of finding that reader all the better when you consider the payout you'll get from them buying the following 9 titles as well. Again, this doesn't stop being true for a series of stand alone books.
If I had only just discovered John Grisham, and I had loved The Runaway Jury, am I really going to be less interested in The Associate, The Broker, The Racketeer etc because they aren't in the same series? No, of course not.
Just make sure you write great books. That much is on you (and the help you can get from willing people). After that, there are no guarantees, but what is true is that bad books, however good the marketing, will only crash quicker than good ones.
Social Media – Essential?
If you are going to market for yourself, then yes, sadly, I think some element of social media presence has to be had by the author. For example, you'll need an account to run ads on Facebook and Instagram. TikTok, they say, is the new medium. Advertising is not yet possible on this platform (it'll become AdTok all to soon, mark my words) so they say that it's the golden time for organic reach.
I haven't found that.
I have a presence on all these platforms (plus Twitter, or as I call it, Totally Worthless In Trying To Entertain Readers)––I have over 25,000 followers on Twitter. I honestly doubt if I have ever sold even one book because of a post to Twitter. But I'm drawing back my presence. True, I'll post stuff to my author/business pages, but my personal profile I do very little with.
There's nothing social about social media, for me.
Big Launches and Book Parties
Go wild! If the idea is a celebration of the achievement, then party like you just don't care. If it's to sell books, then save your money. There are better ways of selling books.
When you market, you are serving your ads at least to people who read, who buy in your genre even.
When you invite your friends to a book launch party, they are there because it is a party, because it's you. They aren't, however, necessarily your target audience. Some will even tell you to your face as they drink the free drinks that they never read books. And they are at your book launch party!
It's taken me a decade (and with the help of Nick Thacker at Conundrum) to understand that regarding launches, I was doing it all wrong. I used to think it was ALL ABOUT the launch. In reality, it's the months and years after that is more important to sites like Amazon. One hundred sales on launch day but then nothing in the following month tells Amazon it's a flash in the pan. They soon take the focus from the book and move onto the millions of others. Steady and increasing sales over time is what makes Amazon really excited.
There are no hard and fast rules about what to do, and I'm far from telling you what to do. I've done them, and still have the books I purchased ahead of the events in boxes, gathering dust, over-estimating the interest, left with unsold material which, over time, has been updated and improved.
Perhaps, years later, with the books looking better than ever, I should re-look at book events. Now more than ever I have something to sell, something truly special to celebrate and read. So perhaps I will come back to this in time…
Paperbacks vs eBook
Is it really a contest? I'm not so sure any more. By contest, I mean picking one over the other. Can't both exist?
When I started, I soon saw the value of eBooks. You are download many, carry them around with you. Easy.
A decade on, using a computer all day, around devices all the time, I now ONLY read physical books. I love then for that very reason.
I also always keep a supply of paperbacks (and Hardcovers now too, since they became available) with me at home. I sell an increasing amount to friends and parents at the school, both books for their children, but also thrillers just for the adults.
Readers love getting a signed copy.
It doesn't cost you anything with Amazon to have both available. Even if you use a designer, creating two covers compared to one isn't (or shouldn't be, anyway) twice the price. Most of the work is already done.
I love paperback versions of my books. It's why I can't wait for the paperbacks to be made ready with the new publisher.
It's probably a less controversial topic than when I first wrote #BooksAreNeverFree, as I think in the years since, people are coming to the same conclusion.
Only 5 years ago, free was still heralded as the Golden Rule. My article wasn't agreed upon by many. It was believed that the ONLY way to reach new readers was to give your book (first in series, if you had a series) away for free.
Websites like Instafreebie helped drive this circulation of free books. I even put together an exclusive giveaway with some fellow authors where we each included a book we'd never given away for free before. The download numbers for us all were better than we'd ever seen. Literally thousands.
Did it lead to an increase in sales. Not at all.
In fact, free books are almost NEVER read. Kindles the world over are loaded with 100s of free books, downloaded in good faith, but soon added to and buried by the latest batch of free books.
A free download is also likely to get more negative reviews.
In short, free has become associated with cheap, with poor quality. I started the hashtag #BooksAreNeverFree because of everything I was learning about it, especially living in Europe, where the idea of free books hasn't taken root.
I think the years since have proven this thought valid. Still some, I'm sure, will argue, but let them argue. There are all sorts of readers out there, and while I cannot deny that there are still some decent readers who, after getting a free book, will go on to buy others from the same author, I think it is also blindingly evident that the majority of freebie-seekers are just collecting books, more than they could ever read––why would they ever need to actually pay for one? Plus, they are only one (albeit a large) group of reader.
There are some who will happily pay proper money for a book and not think anything of it.
Tell me, which type of reader do you want to appeal to?
What About Audio?
Books are about reading, right? Well, that's not so simple now. People like to listen to their books too.
The rise of audio books has been steady over recent years. They aren't anything new, of course. They've been around for years, now available to stream and download at the touch of a button.
I have one audio book (The Tablet). I teamed with a narrator through ACX to do the book for me. I not sure the hours he put in would have produced much of a return for him. We signed a profit-share, so he only gets a royalty when it sales. As the book is not being advertised, I doubt he's getting anything now.
I wonder if this model of payment is going to last. I think most want a fee, making this option (while it makes sense to have available) too expensive for some, especially if you are just starting.
I believe my publisher will deliver the audio books in time, so again, thinking about the future of publishing, if this is the route you go too, you will not have to think about it. The publisher will know what to do.
Something I have learned (often the hard way) over this last decade is that you can't do everything. The industry (whatever that means) often screams that you need to do this or that, this or that and it can feel overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I jump onto this latest trend, do the next thing that is being demanded of me?
You can't do it all. You might not need to do much of it. Just do what you can do right now. Let it grow naturally.
Would it be a good idea for all my books to be in audio? I guess it would. Could I do anything about that a year ago? Not easily, no. That has changed now and the responsibility is out of my hands. But it's important to get a balance. I'm ONLY on TikTok because I jumped at the urgency that I had to be on this platform like YESTERDAY and and and…
You don't have to do any of it. Write. Enjoy. Flourish. Yes, there are things that might help you reach more people (and people = readers, remember). But do it at your own pace. Or better still, work with a publisher who already knows all this stuff.
The Future (or the Next Decade, anyway)
I'll finish with a speculative section on what I want to see across the next ten years. This should be fun.
By the end of 2023 (so that's 18 months from now as I write this) 15 of my thrillers will have been reworked, recovered and republished by Conundrum. By then, perhaps as many months into serious advertising on their part, my prayer is that this will be generating a proper full-time income through sales.
Such an income would make us mobile. A move would be on the cards in 2024…
As well as writing more novels and screenplays, I would love one of these to lead to a film or TV series happening in this next decade. While that sounds fanciful now, when I look back 10 years and realise I'd not even published one book yet, I have to admit that anything is possible.
Perhaps I really will go with my family one day to a cinema and watch one of my ideas on the big screen?
If there's one thing I hope for the next decade, it would be that. I mean, this last decade, I've managed to be in two feature films (one of these being Tenet, where I appear on screen for a few seconds around the 5 minute mark), so who's to say what's possible looking forward.
My one screenplay to date received some excellent feedback. That will help me improve that project, while spurring me on for others. I plan to write this autumn, working on perhaps four or five new works… so anything can happen.
I've seen and done so much this last ten years. I've come full cycle in many ways, but enter this next decade as an author with a far greater understanding on what I need to do and where I am heading. Only time will tell how it plays out. Will I come back to this website in 2032 and talk about the films that have been made?
Will things have exploded and the need for me to say anything be reduced––perhaps people will already know?
Or will Big Tech continue to get greedy, starving even the efforts of a publisher (like something out of 1984) and leaving us all empty handed and miserable?
For once, I've left this post open for comments (I'll switch them off if there is spam or needless trolling). I'd love to hear from interested readers of this post, especially how you see things going in the future.