My novel ‘Joe is Online’ is probably the first piece of fiction in the world which was written FOR e-readers. It works on a Kindle – in fact it looks great on a Kindle and an iPad. ‘Joe is Online’ consists entirely of digital documents – blogs, emails, webchat logs, diary entries and websites. It tells a story of an online cult which triggers a wave of attacks both online and offline.
People have also been reading it on their iPhones and telling me that they think it works really well on a phone – something I was quite surprised about.
It doesn’t have chapters – it’s just a stream of data, telling a story spread over 25 years.
I did look at traditional publishing methods and had the usual volley of rejections. It was only after a few people started reading it and telling me I shouldn’t bother with the traditional book route that I decided to stick it online.
I was a BBC journalist for 10 years. During that time I covered lots of terrorism cases, and was in New York during the aftermath of 9/11. I guess it was these experiences which prompted me to write ‘Joe is Online’.
I’m also very interested in the web ‘footprint’ we’re all creating as we go about our lives. I think a lot of people assume that if you delete something from a blog or social network then it’s gone, but that’s not true. It’s all being stored, probably forever.
I think there will be more books like mine coming through – books which probably wouldn’t work as a printed book but which embrace Kindles and other e-readers and write with those devices in mind.
I don’t think any of this means the traditional book is dead or even dying. I just think the book now has a little sister (or niece) which has her own identity. Sooner or later publishers will start looking at these new books and get over the alleged stigma of self-publishing and begin to pick up and promote these kinds of writing.
1. How did you come to self-publish? Did you try to get published traditionally?
Yes I did try with literary agents, and am still waiting to hear back from some of them. But for one thing I’m an impatient sod, for another I felt that I would always be rejected because of the amount of white space my book would produce if it were ever published. I have had rejections of course, but I’ve also had ‘nice’ rejections where agents have said they liked the book but couldn’t see a market for it. Those rejections, if you get them, aren’t really rejections at all. They’re a back-handed compliment.
2. What self-publishing service did you use? Happy with the service?
I converted the book myself into a Kindle and .epub file using Sigil and Calibre. I have also put it on Smashwords but there are considerable problems with formatting which mean it’s not my preferred method of delivery.
3. What avenues have you taken to market the book? Have you gotten
reviews, interviews, TV, print media coverage?
I have used Twitter to promote the book as well as Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, and Project Wonderful – all three have given me quite a few sales with fairly minimal expenditure.
4. What drove you to write this particular book?
I did a lot of work on terrorism as a journalist, but primarily I wanted to do a different kind of writing, outlining the power of digital documents stored online.
5. Is the book in any one particular genre? Is it a genre that’s familiar
It is probably best described as a thriller with elements of cyberpunk, but not in a futuristic way.
6. Who are your greatest writing influences?
I always have been a fan of dystopian novels, particularly Margaret Atwood, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. I also enjoy Iain Banks a lot, William Boyd and Neil Gaiman. However predominantly I read non-fiction for pleasure.
7. What’s your writing regimen? Any tips for keeping focused?
I find that I am at my most creative at certain times of the day – specifically between 5:30am and 8:00am, and again between 14:00 and 17:00. I’ve always found it difficult to write in the mid-mornings and evenings. I think writers need to cut themselves a bit of slack if they don’t feel creative on one given day, but if this carries on for more than a day or two, you just have to chain yourself to your computer and not leave it until you’ve written a couple of thousand words.
8. Would you self-publish again?
9. Any final words of advice for those looking to self-publish?
If you cannot afford a professional proofreader or editor, you have to be extremely diligent. I read through my novel about 10 times spotting errors, farmed it out to some good, intelligent friends who found some more, and STILL they got through. So if you’re editing it yourself, check it again, and then check it again. Try to avoid hitting ‘publish’ until you’re fairly confident all those typos are gone. I didn’t do that, and annoyed some people in the process when they came to read the book.