English historical novelist Piers Alexander shares the secrets of the success of his award-winning self-published novel, The Bitter Trade, which, thanks to his hard work and focus on his goals, is now stocked in airport shops and is about to go into over 500 stores of a major brick-and-mortar UK bookstore.
What’s the secret of your success?
Well: it’s a bit early to be calling my indie publishing adventure a success, but I’m very pleased to have got The Bitter Trade into the WHSmith Travel network (more news about that coup in The Bookseller here), and to have won the Pen Factor and Global Ebook Award.
I’ve twice heard superstar indie author Rachel Abbott say something that resonated with me as an entrepreneur: “First, have a plan.” It sounds simple, but I think it’s quite profound. She doesn’t just mean have a marketing plan: it’s about having clear goals and a sense of what you do and don’t want to do with your books.
Having met a lot of fiercely independent entrepreneurs, and now indie authors, I’ve seen how important it is to have a clear Unique Selling Point and a sense of what makes you and your story special. In my case, I’ve been launching a fairly literary historical adventure from a currently untrendy era (the seventeenth century): something that both indies and traditional publishers warn against. But I have two things that I am totally committed to: getting the book into LOTS of bookshops, and connecting (face to face) with two very defined communities. One is historical reenactors, the other is the indie coffee scene. Everything that’s worked for me has come from those two ideas.
What’s the single best thing you did?
Invest properly in print. I had a dream of seeing The Bitter Trade in airports. My ex-agent thought of it as a literary novel, but I have always seen it as commercial. So I produced it in trade paperback format, took a deep breath and spent EVEN MORE embossing and using spot UV (varnish) on the front cover – and cursed myself for a fool right up until the moment Matt Bates from WHS said that he liked the jacket, loved the story and could see it in his stores.
And by the way, most trade publishers have to pay a lot of money to get into the Airport Exclusives spots. I just had to print the books. I guess there’s another lesson here: don’t listen to people all the time. When it comes to the really big decisions, go with your gut.
Did you get lucky? What happened?
I don’t believe in luck!
People might think of Talli Roland or Jodi Picoult as “lucky” – but you just look at how hard they worked and how long they were prepared to keep plugging away. All the successful and “lucky” people I know are persistent, courageous, committed and hardworking. Maybe I’m quite persistent, at least…
And what happened? I went to the Historical Novel Society’s London conference – which is excellent, very well-formatted, great speakers – with the intention of pitching a publisher, as well as Matt from WHS. I missed the boat and didn’t get to book a pitch with him, but I did see him leaving after a panel. Raced around the auditorium while the keynote speaker was setting up, breathlessly put a copy of the novel in Matt’s hands… and was totally unable to even speak. Great pitch, eh? But he’s a lovely guy – he read it on the Tube home, and within 6 weeks it was in the airport charts.
How do you get/stay in creative mode?
Turn up at my desk with a coffee. Light a candle. Close the door. Keep going for 2 hours.
How do you prioritise?
In my diary, most days. I put all aspects of my life in a brutally short list and just do them one after another. And I forgive my own lapses. I think that’s very important!
Finishing the first draft of book 2, Scatterwood. Planning a research trip to Jamaica. Planning the WHSmith reprint – it goes into 500+ shops in the spring. Working with my agent to drum up a trade publishing offer or two (fingers crossed!) Booking a sculpture course. And NOT founding another startup company… for a while!
What’s your top tip for indie authors?
I have two:
- Have a real, specific goal for yourself in your marketing/launch. Something that is true to you, original, differentiated.
- And don’t do it the way I did! It’s CRAZY!
OVER TO YOU Which of Piers' top tips chime loudest with you? Have you also managed to get your self-published books stocked by airport outlets? We'd love to know!