Tell us something about your book, EXIT. The basics: what’s it about?
Imagine you’re lost; trapped in a maze of a place that you do not know. It’s pitch dark, and you’re fumbling around in the blackness, hoping to find a way out. Now imagine that in that blackness, either ahead of you, or behind you – someone is hunting you… with murder in mind.
That’s essentially the premise of EXIT. Couched within a heist-gone-wrong, survivalist thriller, I take the reader into that realm of claustrophobic, fear-fuelled paranoia; following our heroine, Kim Sawyer, a reformed thief trying to make good, as she’s first blackmailed back into a world of crime she thought she’d escaped, then, during the heist when her crew are attacked by vigilantes intent on killing them all, Kim realizes she must at last face the ghosts of her past crimes she’s so long been avoiding.
If you think of classic movie thrillers like Assault on Precinct 13, The Warriors, or Southern Comfort, that’s where I’m coming from, only with a strong female heroine at its core.
EXIT overturns traditional urban paranoia, this time making criminal predators the prey. It examines whether anyone is wholly good or evil. I don’t want to make the book sound high-brow here, it’s not, but the journey through the bunker that Kim and the others go on is more than just a search for survival, but on another level, an exploration in the dark for forgiveness, hope and meaning; and a conflict between two opposing ideologies; divinely inspired redemption and the human desire for closure through revenge.
How did you come to self-publish? Did you try to get published traditionally?
I imagine if any Indie author has a one-word reason why they turned their backs on traditional publishing, I’d say that word must be “frustration”. I know I was.
I’ll be straight with you; I only made a token effort, attempting to follow the traditional route. I contacted a couple of literary agents (the traditional gatekeepers for publishers), and approached I think one publisher direct. I never heard back from the agents, and finally received a reply from the publisher one year – one year – after I subbed the manuscript. That alone was enough to make me grind my teeth. I’ve had other writer friends tell me I should’ve kept trying the traditional route, but my view is that life is too short. Why wait on an establishment that deems what is worth publishing and what isn’t, based upon its own biased criteria? I felt I simply hadn’t the time to work my way down a long list, going cap in hand, asking for validation of my work, when I was sure there is an audience already out there who can do the validating for me – and for a larger cut of the sale price. The explosion of self-publishing alone has helped prove there’s a market out there for Indie-produced books. Plenty of Indie authors are proving it can be done, and self-publishing has nothing like the stigma it once had among the industry. Even established authors are taking that route with their earlier books – books their own publishers are no longer printing; getting the rights to their novels back and re-releasing them themselves, making money from titles their publishers had previously written off. So what was there not to like, trying such an approach myself?
Besides, I have writing I could be doing rather than taking time asking someone to pretty-please publish me. This is not to denigrate the many advantages you have if the publishing industry does embrace you; your agent and publisher handles all the logistics, concerns and tasks you’d otherwise have to handle yourself going it alone, and they foot the bill for getting your book out there. And of course, if an agent expresses interest in representing me down the line, then I’d be happy to talk to them. I hope by that stage I’d have proven there’s an audience for my work, as other writers have. In the meantime, I don’t want to have to wait for permission to get published.
What self-publishing service did you use? Happy with the service?
Well, the answer is more, “services” that I used – emphasizing the plural. This is the Digital Age after all; it’s exploded the established publishing model where, once upon a time, all the formats you had to consider outputting were either hardback or paperback. Now that ereaders are well established, you have to consider expanding your book’s availability in all formats and platforms to maximize audience access – and from that, income potential. This is a business after all, and an author should consider at least trying to make their money back from their publishing ventures in whatever way possible. Now that the ereader platform exists to deliver product, independent authors can, and often do, eschew paper-based publishing altogether. And doing so is a sensible, great way to save on publishing costs, so you can focus your money on editing, proof-reading, design and marketing.
For my first two books therefore, Many Happy Returns and Crazy Busy, I did just that – going digital, and only digital. My reasoning was this; 1) they were just short stories, and their length was such I felt going the hardcopy publishing route wasn’t practical or cost-effective – I simply wouldn’t get the return for my outlay, and 2) I was testing the water going the independent route at the time, assessing the ease I could get my work out there. As such, I used Smashwords and Amazon. Smashwords allowed me to create ebooks using only one file that their service would deliver across almost all ereader platforms in one go – very handy – and they do so on a sale by sale basis. No up-front costs. Amazon has its Kindles, so of course I had to use them separately; again, on a sale by sale commission basis, no up-front costs. So, aside from ensuring I adhered to their formatting guidelines (which could be a headache), it was a relatively straightforward process.
EXIT – being a novel – meant this time round it made sense expanding my product’s availability into paperback format. I considered a number of print-on-demand options, and eventually decided upon Feedaread. A really good service, which allows authors to sell direct via Feedaread’s own site, and – for an additional cost – release it through a distribution service which has international reach to booksellers all around the world. (That means you get an ISBN too – vital for booksellers and libraries when running searches for your book.) That’s imperative if you want to maximize your book’s reach to your target audience. Another good thing about Feedaread is they give authors a larger cut of the revenue per book sold – better than standard publishing industry rates, and a larger cut again if your book is bought direct from their site and not a bookseller.
The real trick though is pricing your book at a value which appeals both to your target market, and according to the platform it sits on, while giving you as an author an optimum return per copy. That’s why, unsurprisingly, you’ll see EXIT priced substantially cheaper in ereader form than its paperback version – and even with the paperback, it’s cheaper for readers to buy it direct from Feedaread than from booksellers (you can get it here: http://www.feedaread.com/books/EXIT-9781785106651.aspx), as booksellers will be adding their mark-up to the price.
It’s my first sojourn into print-on-demand, and I’ve not regretted it so far; the print quality from Feedaread is great, and already readers have told me they are delighted they can obtain my work that way. And as so many readers still like reading from a physical book, it makes sense including them in author’s distribution plans.
What avenues have you taken to market the book? Have you gotten reviews, interviews, TV, print media coverage?
As I had a very limited marketing budget, I deliberately sought out reviews from established online Indie author review sites, such as SPR and Kirkus Review, who could offer maximum exposure for the book. For example, SPR offers additional exposure of author’s work by circulating its reviews through social media, running competitions, and offering other marketing tools authors can take advantage of, which is great. Kirkus is used by industry pros, booksellers and libraries alike, so exposure of EXIT to them would be tremendous. I also made a point of subbing the book for review prior to publishing, so it’s been great being able to have favourable quotes from them that I can now post on sites like Amazon, my own Twitter feed, and EXIT‘s official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/exitnovel).
These reviews have ended up on my book’s back cover, which is brilliant. That’s important for prospective readers – it gives the book legitimacy as a professional product, and reassurance for the reader that they’ll get value for money.
Of course I’ve been using social media as much as I can; which has been great at spreading the word to my followers and for prompting sales, but I’m looking at getting other media coverage; local newspapers, genre magazines and the like. I’ll also be approaching my local library to get a copy available for lending, as well as local and major bookstores to raise awareness of the book to them so they order in copies for customers to see in the shops.
There are other tricks and strategies I’ll be using over the coming months. Marketing is an ongoing process, which – as I’m an Indie author – I have to fit in when I can. I have other projects to write after all
What drove you to write this particular book?
I suppose it was the premise and the journey the characters take to escape their hunters, as well as the fact I was inverting the traditional idea of who the heroes are; the bad guys. Once the premise had properly crystallised in my head, it acted like the hook a fish swallows – there was no way I could break free of it. However long it took, I had to get the story down. Couple that with the fact I love good thrillers and horror stories; the frisson they generate within me when they succeed in scaring me or filling me with suspense… it’s delightful. So I wanted to try and achieve that myself. From the feedback I’ve received so far, it appears I’ve succeeded – which is very gratifying. I’d hate all that work to have been for nothing.
Is the book in any one particular genre? Is it a genre that’s familiar to you?
EXIT is a combination of genres really; a crime thriller that switches a third of the way through into a survivalist horror. I’m not saying it’s a horror story per se, I’d describe it more as a mélange of sub-genres under the umbrella of “thriller”; crime, urban, psychological survival. I’m a big movie fan, so I’m familiar with the genre as a viewer, a consumer, and I love stories that take an unexpected turn. EXIT was my first go at the thriller genre however.
Who are your greatest writing influences?
Ray Bradbury, for the fantastic realms he conjured, for being so evocative in his writing, and his ability to draw emotion out of me. HG Wells, the first grand master of sci-fi, for effectively showing what could be done. Arthur C Clarke; not just making his sci-fi so plausible, but his interest in details. I think he made me aware for the first time of the concept of world-building – which Tolkein exploded when I finally read The Lord of the Rings. MR James, William Hope Hodgson, HP Lovecraft & Edgar Allan Poe, for their tales of the supernatural and the uncanny; at their best they thrilled me with the atmosphere and sense of dread they created.
What’s your writing regimen? Any tips for keeping focused?
In try and write every day. This was the late, great Ray Bradbury’s advice to writers, and I try my best to live it. Make writing a discipline. Even if you can only squeeze out fifty, a hundred, two hundred words a day, you can look back at the end of each day and tell yourself honestly that you spent time writing and got something down. It’s amazing – even if you only manage a little a day – how quickly it all adds up, and it’s a confidence booster too, knowing you’ve stayed committed to your project.
I have a few strategies for keeping on-project; if I’m blocked, I step away from the screen and go for a walk to clear my head and be in a different place to approach the answer. Sometimes settling down to sleep frees my conscious mind to let my subconscious have a stab at it. Often I’ve gotten a solution just before I drift off. It means I need to get up again to scribble down the answer, but it’s worth it. Also, if you find yourself blocked in one area of the story, move to another section you know you’ll have no issues with and write that, just so you keep writing. But often as not it’s just staring the screen into submission. As Joss Whedon has said, just write the damn thing.
Would you self-publish again?
Yes, no doubt about it.
Any final words of advice for those looking to self-publish?
Research, research, research. Aside from writing itself, learning how to get your book out there the best, most marketable and cost-effective way possible is crucial. Make sure you use the best service that meets your needs to get your work out there, and check the price ranges of works of similar genre and released on the same platforms, so you know your own book’s price will be competitive. Ensure your message about your book reaches the widest audience. Network. Use social media. Build a brand as an author and a product while you’re writing and before you publish, so you’re already establishing an audience ready to receive your book.
Next, do not skimp on editing or proof-reading your book. Do not skimp on cover design either. Find good providers of both services, as they will lift the quality and presentation of your work by an order of magnitude. Editors can specialize in genres, so find one suitable for your book. Browse the web and visit bookstores to understand what cover design might best suit your genre of book, and find a designer who can meet your criteria. I kid you not; poorly written and presented books with sub-standard covers risk killing your credibility as an author – and your book sales – stone dead.
Also, check your own writing again after your book’s been edited; you’ll be glad you did, as you’ll find mistakes and omissions you and your editor missed before. Follow the guidelines of publishing services you use to the letter, and when submitting your manuscript to a publishing service, check the formatting again, then again, then once again. I guarantee that you will spot formatting errors you failed to correct prior to uploading, or that were generated as result of the upload, which you’ll need to fix. Again; it’s a turn-off to a prospective reader if they find formatting issues in an eBook or paperback. You cannot afford those mistakes.
Above all, embrace the process of publishing and enjoy it. Yes, it could be as much hard work and time getting your book out as it is writing it, but you will be rewarded by positive feedback about the quality of your book, and its writing. You’ll also be learning the intricacies and nuances of what it takes to bring a book to life; knowledge and experience that will get you closer to realizing what you wanted to be in the first place – a professional author. Good luck!
Feedaread link: http://www.feedaread.com/books/EXIT-9781785106651.aspx
Amazon link: http://amzn.com/B00VELDYIE