Well, maybe not EXACTLY Jacqueline Wilson but still … World Book Day saw me running a full day of workshops at a Cambridgeshire school and at the end there was a signing that felt somewhat Jacqueline Wilson-ish. OK, so there were no entertainers on hand to keep the crowds busy by making balloon effigies of my characters, but there was a queue and a huddle, lots of excitement and a definite forward thrust of the table that dug into my waist as the (small?) huddle pressed forward. In fact, the whole day was a blast. The kids were engaged and interested, the staff incredibly friendly (one had even read and enjoyed UMA & IMP!), and my contact person was on hand at every turn when I needed something – IT support, paper, pens, help collecting wads of cash that had me feeling and looking like Fagin on market day … My first World Book Day on the Author side of the table. It involved a ridiculous amount of preparation and a tension headache the day before – but here’s hoping for many more to come!
This week I’m very excited to post an interview with Pat Walsh, much-acclaimed author of THE CROWFIELD MYSTERIES. As you likely know, THE CROWFIELD CURSE, was shorlisted for The Times/ Chicken House Prize, and for the Waterstone’s Children’s Prize. It was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and was on the shortlist for the Branford Boase award. In 2014, Pat published THE HOB AND THE DEERMAN through the Amazon White Glove Programme and then independently. Clearly she has a lot to share! Here goes:
Could you describe a little about the White Glove Programme and how it works?
The Amazon White Glove Programme is agent-assisted self-publishing, available only to agented writers. It is Amazon’s way of adding a level of ‘quality control’ to self-published books. As part of the package, Amazon uploads the formatted text and creates the cover, either using an image provided by the writer or sourcing an image themselves, but apart from that, the process of creating an ebook or print edition is the same for both WGP and non-WGP self-publishing.
What were the plus points of the programme?
Amazon offers certain marketing and promotional extras for your book: a month’s rotational placement on the relevant genre page, and on the Digital Exclusives page on Amazon.co.uk. These are in addition to the usual benefits of being part of Kindle Direct Publishing; inclusion in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and access to promotional tools including Kindle Countdown Deals.
Ultimately, what made you decide to go down the self-published route?
It was mostly curiosity, to begin with. I’d read other people’s experiences with self-publishing and I wanted to try it myself. The idea of having control of every aspect of a book appealed to me and The Hob and the Deerman was not something I felt would hold an obvious appeal for a traditional publisher. At that point I had an agent, so we discussed the White Glove Programme. I had reservations from the start about taking this route to self-publishing, but decided in the end that having an agent involved would make the whole process less daunting. I have since moved on from my agent and as a result, the book was removed from the WGP. I then had to start again, opening a new account with Amazon and uploading the book from scratch to Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace – the ebook and print edition platforms. The whole process was straightforward and the Amazon helpline was always there for advice. It was interesting to compare the two routes – the WGP and self-publishing. With the WGP, the agent deals with Amazon and has exclusive access to the account page, and therefore the sales figures, promotions etc. This was something I was not at all happy with. Also, with the WGP, Amazon has six months’ or one year’s exclusivity, during which time your agent cannot sell the English language rights of your book anywhere else. This isn’t the case with self-published books.
How do you go about marketing and promoting your book?
This has been the hardest part. I write mid-grade fiction and children in that age range (8-12) still tend to read print books, bought from book shops and borrowed from the school or local library. With self-publishing, distribution to the library and school market is a huge stumbling block. The Hob and the Deerman is only available through one distribution channel – online, via Amazon. Older readers, from YA upwards, are more used to browsing for books online and tend to buy their own books and ebooks, but mid-grade readers often have books bought for them and are guided in their book choices by parents and school librarians, who source books from a variety of distribution channels. Bookshops stock very few self-published books. You might get your local branch to take a few copies of your book but that’s about all. If you did manage to persuade independent bookshops to take your book, the discounts they would want would most probably wipe out any profit you might make.
Promoting the book has been very hit and miss; I contacted a number of reviewers and bloggers to ask if they would be willing to review the book, and several agreed to do so, which was very generous of them, but quite a few blog and review sites have submission guidelines which clearly state that they don’t accept self-published books for review. I think there is still a perception that self-published books can be very poorly written and edited, and unfortunately this can be the case. Several reviewers found my book by themselves and wrote very positive reviews, for which I’ll be eternally grateful! But the hard truth is, whether you are traditionally or self-published, you have to be prepared to get yourself out there, make sure you have a website, be on Facebook and Twitter, maybe have a blog – do whatever you can to raise your profile. It’s hard work and time consuming, and not everyone enjoys or feels comfortable putting themselves in the limelight. The harsh reality of self-publishing is that you are just one tiny figure waving from the middle of a vast crowd and it’s hard to get noticed. And nobody is going to buy and read your book if they don’t know it’s out there.
Has this changed much from when you were exclusively published by Chicken House?
Yes indeed. It’s easy to undervalue just how much a good publisher does for a book. My first book, The Crowfield Curse, was put forward and shortlisted for various awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Branford Boase Award, and was chosen for the Booked Up scheme. Chicken House worked hard to get the book out there and they sold the foreign rights to a number of countries. They understood the market and made the whole business of selling the book look effortless. I still had to do a certain amount of promotion, interviews and talks, which I found very daunting at first. As I said earlier, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and I had my share of nerve-shredding moments.
And from when you were published through the WGP?
The Hob and the Deerman was part of the WGP for just four months, during which time I found it hard to gauge how the well Amazon’s promotions were working. As I mentioned, I didn’t have access to my account page and had limited feedback on what was happening. Since going it alone, I have a much clearer idea of how the book is selling. I suspect my biggest marketing tool has been the fact that the book appears on the Amazon pages for The Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon, and is set in roughly the same world. In that respect, the new book already had a readership.
Can you say, on average, how much time you spend on marketing/promotion?
It varies. It might be a few hours a week, or it might be a couple of days. I’m busy writing the next book, so I’m not spending as much time on promotion and marketing as I should. There are writers out there who work tirelessly to market their work and it really pays off for them.
In terms of sales, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?
Goodreads is a great site to have your book listed and reviewed on. There is an option to have an author page and a blog, which allows you to reach out to potential readers. Goodreads also gives you the option to have a giveaway – people can enter a draw to win free copies of recently published books, and the Goodreads team pick the winners after a set period of time. I found this brought in a lot of potential readers and I saw a big spike in book sales. I also approached several book bloggers to ask if they would host a stop on a blog tour and that resulted in a rise in sales.
In terms of exposure, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?
My website has been useful, mainly because it gives readers a way to get in touch, and that’s when you find out what they really think of your stories and characters! You’ll also receive invitations to do talks or appear at book festivals, all great ways to meet your readers. I have Facebook pages for each of the books but for me, these have been of very limited use.
What advice on marketing and promotion would you give to someone starting out?
I would strongly urge anyone starting out as a writer to have a website. Keep it up to date, keep the content interesting and consider starting a blog. Make sure you use your Author Profile page on Amazon and on Goodreads. Make it as easy as possible for people to find you and get to know a little bit about you and your book. Approach reviewers and bloggers – they are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and will give you a fair and honest review. If you’re lucky they might even offer to interview you or host a stop on your blog tour. It all helps to get your name and your book out there. There are plenty of people who have gone down the self-publishing route and many of them have written about their experiences on their websites or blogs, so read and learn as much as you can before you start out.
Is there anything you have learned that would make you do things differently when it comes to promoting your next book?
Self-publishing The Hob and the Deerman has been a steep learning curve. I wasn’t prepared for how much work was involved or how hard it would be. If I self-publish in the future, I will spend more time on marketing and promotion in the early stages of the book’s life. There are always new marketing avenues to explore and I suspect there are quite a few I haven’t tried yet. But I think the best advice I can give to anyone considering going it alone is, write the best book you can and have it edited professionally. All the marketing and promotion in the world will be for nothing if your book is not the very best it can be. And good luck!
Thank you, what a great set of answers. And not only is all this going on but Pat is steaming ahead with completing the next book in THE CROWFIELD MYSTERIES, which is due for publication later this year. Way to go! (says the person only four chapters into her next book. Sigh.)
This post was a little late going up because of World Book Day shenanigans, so see you again in a little less than two weeks.
Thanks for reading!