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How I Do It – Piers Alexander Shares the Secrets of His Self-Publishing Success

head and shoulders photo of Piers Alexander

PIers Alexander, indie author of “The Bitter Trade”, now available from airport shops

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?

3D image of The Bitter Trade book cover

Investing in a great cover is one of Piers Alexander’s top tips for indie authors

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?

Photo of The Bitter Trade in an in-store display

Piers Alexander’s debut novel on sale in W H Smith

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!

What’s next?

Photo of manuscript by candlelight

Piers Alexander’s work-in-progress

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!

Twitter bird outlineEASY TWEET Inspiring story of how indie author cracked airport retailers: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/piers-alexander/ via @IndieAuthorALLi #selfpub @TheBitterTrade

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!

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11 Responses to How I Do It – Piers Alexander Shares the Secrets of His Self-Publishing Success

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  4. Lorna April 21, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    Great to see and well done for racing around to speak to Matt and for it paying off! I’ve got my book into bookshops here in Ireland with the Irish wholesalers but otherwise, it is printed with CreateSpace and IngramSparks re bookshops abroad. I’ve a second book out in Sept (self publishing again) and am determined to try and get both into airport bookshops.

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  6. Philippa Rees December 4, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Yes, self belief in the value of your work Piers seems at the core of both persistence and chutzpah. Must get brazing on both, and cook up a new impetus.

    I did the print book bit with stores in mind and beautiful cover ( awarded) and book nominated runner-up ‘Book of the Year (2013) but with non-fiction you have to be ‘known’ or go on a circuit. Still your story has re-invigorated! Thanks.

  7. Yvonne Payne December 3, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this insight. Please share a follow up on your progress. Best wishes, Yvonne x

  8. Orna Ross December 2, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    Piers, your clarity and focus are an inspiration — and your publishing story epitomises what’s possible in this new era for authors. Thanks for sharing it here!

  9. Atulya K Bingham December 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Have a plan. Invest properly in print. Don’t listen to people all the time.
    Oh yes, I’ll second that!

    Fantastic success, great looking print book and a super story of how to make literary fiction work for indies.

  10. Helena December 1, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Piers,

    Thank you for sharing your story – it’s hugely inspiring.

    I’ve also been told by agents that my books aren’t commercial enough, although I have a great USP: Finnish fiction.

    At the moment I’m focusing on the Finnish expat communities around the world, building a platform through my work and writing, and this seems to be working quite well. But you’ve given me the idea to approach the Scandinavian airport shops next. And, yes, you are absolutely right, hard work pays dividends.

    Helena

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