It’s been a strange year for me as a writer, and now publisher too. One of my objectives for 2016 was to try new things as a writer. This ranged from the type of events I attended as an author, to what parts of my work were published, and also how it was published. Looking back, I really shook things up for my career.
Sighting a seven month window between finishing one novel and beginning another, I decided to do something in 2016 that I’d long fancied having a go at: independent publishing, or self-publishing.
Book creation and selling and marketing has changed so much since around 2011, and despite the obvious downside for traditionally published authors, the upside has been considerable too, in terms of the new opportunities to engage with readers more closely, and also in the possibilities of how we can now publish our work, and how we arrange our writing as a business.
Long fascinated by almost everything connected to books and publishing, self-publishing was something that I felt I needed to try out at some point; if nothing else to just understand the processes involved, as well as to test out its potential in a rapidly changing publishing game. But in order to make a start, I needed to create my own imprint, and all of the infrastructure that accompanies a micro-publisher. A platform that would become a vehicle for my uncollected short fiction initially, and for free books aimed at loyal readers, as well as horror fans in general … and maybe this imprint could also be used for novellas in the future.
Despite working at the editorial end of trade publishing for the last eleven years of my professional life, with nary a break (until this summer when I finally hung up my Editorial Director uniform), in February of this year, I embarked upon what has felt like a masters degree in digital publishing, print-on-demand publishing, and high spec’ limited edition hardback publishing. In many respects, as far as print and digital book production goes, I had to learn the business from scratch. So I had a go at just about everything involved in the critical path to publication, starting with text formatting and eBook creation, in order to understand each stage of the critical path for the three formats I intended to create – hardback, paperback, eBook (though, rest assured, professionals created the final editions of all of the books).
Along the way I also had to figure out how to create my own shirt and accessories to augment the Ritual Limited imprint too. And this entire learning curve was steep, and the process of acquiring new skill-sets, setting up the company, and publishing three books this year, consumed my mental capacity and nearly all of my time across those seven months (plus one more at the end, so it became eight months).
In hindsight, it was insane trying to achieve so much in so little time – 18 months would have been more prudent. But after many 60 – 70 hour weeks and many long nights this year, and quite a few total meltdowns, in which I dearly wished that I’d never even started, I crossed the finish line in late September 2016, and received 400 limited edition hardbacks three days before I left home to launch SOME WILL NOT SLEEP at Fantasycon 2016. At roughly the same time my trade paperback edition went on sale all over the world, as did the eBook edition of the collection in an Amazon exclusive, including Kindle Unlimited.
Prior to this I had designed a new website with my web-mistress and created a mailing list and newsletter service (this I had intended to create in 2010) with my wife. But what I ended up with at year’s end was an automated author platform, with all kinds of plug-ins attached to my WordPress mothership – from Mailchimp to Bookfunnel to Shopify. It pretty much runs itself now.
This overhaul was necessary, initially, so that I could give away a free full-length eBook – CRIES FROM THE CRYPT: SELECTED WRITINGS: an eBook created exclusively for my mailing list subscribers. To date, the book is on its way to 2000 downloads from my website, and I am delighted that so many people have taken an interest in CRIES’.
But this was symptomatic of the entire process; in order to achieve something, I had to go back to square one and rework, retool, and update all of my existing resources, as well as take training courses at each stage.
In the middle of the year I also created BEFORE YOU SLEEP: THREE HORRORS, a mini short story collection designed to introduce the fuller fiction collection, SOME WILL NOT SLEEP, that would come later. The jewel in my 2016 crown.
BEFORE YOU SLEEP I made available for free at most anglo eBook retailers worldwide and it was downloaded close to 20K times in the first four months following its release. And I believe most of these readers were, for me, new readers. That was another of my main objectives for 2016: to find new readers.
I wish I had done this years ago. What I have discovered, although it all sounds counter-intuitive, is that I have loved giving away free books. The value to me as a professional writer, in rewarding existing readers and finding new readers, has been enormous. And this has nothing to do with piracy; in this case, it’s both marketing and also a long overdue acknowledgement of my most precious readers who have been reading my books for years, and in some cases, from my humble beginnings in 2004. I gave something of value away, for free, and it was appreciated. I have found that I can’t put a price on that exchange.
I’ve been a little in awe at those download numbers, and also startled by the interest in the first book that I’ve put out for sale myself, SOME WILL NOT SLEEP, and in all three formats too. The book has enjoyed my highest chart positions at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk since 2012 in eBook (when The Ritual made a Daily Deal). It has also matched the rankings of my last four novels in paperback on Amazon. We’re constantly told that there is no interest in short fiction, and that literary horror short stories are an endangered species. They’re not. Received wisdom isn’t always wisdom; it can become redundant or even disinformation because things are changing for books and writers and readers at such an alarming rate that it’s hard to keep track of the bigger picture, and all of the micro-pictures, from one month to the next. Admittedly, I was already blessed with a readership after seven novels traditionally published, and umpteen short stories published by small presses, but I have discovered a larger audience for my literary horror, stretched across the planet; a large audience that exists beyond the High Street book trade too. We live in the era of big niches.
I had to stretch myself a bit, though, to find these new readers and to generate enough interest myself, and in as many channels as I could, to reach them. In doing so, I’ve even advertised on Facebook this year, running three campaigns and nine advert sets. Only two advert sets worked out, but the return on my investment, ultimately, was well over 100% and made up for the earlier failures when I had improperly defined my audiences. I even took a course on how to advertise in social media.
There is so much useful and essential information out there for writers, from free video tutorials to paid courses, to books on indie publishing, and I’ve taken about a dozen courses this year from some of the most successful indie publishers, companies and writers out there. I even had to take a course on how to upload a book onto Amazon – I had difficulties! – but as I said earlier, I pretty much started from scratch in production and distribution.
It all took effort and a lot of time to acquire enough knowledge to proceed, step by step, but once I’d sought this information out, and begun processing it, and started putting in into action, what I have learned is that the sense of autonomy and the satisfaction that I have found as a writer-publisher is extraordinary (and I never had it in January 2016). One of the worst things about being a writer is the feeling of vulnerability within the bigger picture, this added to the general insecurity of the profession. Becoming far more self-reliant in one part of my publishing has erased many of my persisting anxieties about the future.
SOME WILL NOT SLEEP was a test, in effect, to see if I could pull this Indie endeavour off at all, to see if it was even for me. And could I create a new publishing strand to coexist alongside my traditionally published novels?
My expectations, I can honestly say, were even exceeded in the short pre-sales period of one month, prior to the publication of SOME WILL NOT SLEEP. I knew by October 31st that I was, at the very least, not going to lose the considerable sum of money that I was prepared to lose in this financial year. I invested a lot of my time into this venture, and a great deal of myself, emotionally and mentally, but I also invested a lot financially. No one likes to talk about money, but unless you are super-skilled, to do this properly, it’s expensive. But materially and vocationally, I’m pleased to report that Ritual Limited became a success before the publication date of SOME WILL NOT SLEEP, both in terms of critical response to the collection and in terms of sales. I tend to sell myself short, but I found, to my delight, that a lot of people really wanted this book. Far more than I’d anticipated. There’s nothing finer. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about, but I’d thought about it and braced myself … My entire time as a professional writer, that began around 1995, has been defined by risk, and risk management, being patient, and remaining consistent – this year felt like a confirmation of the past twenty. And what this year has also taught me is that unless we’re very lucky and on the front-list, if our writing is a vocation but also a business for us, then we probably can’t afford to only be writers anymore.
Amongst the variety of promotional and marketing strategies that I have employed, what I found helped the collection to get airborne, was doing two launches myself, one at Fantasycon in Scarborough, where I was Guest of Honour, and one online on Facebook through the Booklover company, so that both the physical and digital editions were each represented at launch stage. I also tried my hand at a Kindle Countdown Deal, backed up with several paid marketing strategies that I’d never had my books included in before, and as a result the collection topped three horror charts on the UK and US Amazons for the best part of a week.
I’m a beginner, and no expert by any means, but I have learned a great deal, and continue to learn, week by week. But I’m encouraged by the results so far, and the sense of satisfaction that it wasn’t all a horrible and futile mess, as so much of being a writer, publisher and bookseller is.
But boy, did things go wrong. I’d say, as a warning to the curious, that every stage of this endeavour in paperback, hardback and eBook format had to be redone between one and ten times. Human error, my low-tech’ temperament, mechanical failure (the first hardback covers were destroyed in a printing press), amongst more variables that I can even remember now at year end, nearly broke me, and ruined the three books, on several occasions. This kind of venture is not for the naive, the over-confidant, or the slapdash. My eyes were wide open before I began. I know how complicated books are at every stage of their production to publication, and of how much can go wrong even in professional, traditional publishing. Above all else, my advice to the curious is to find good professional people and to pay them to create, correct and improve your books …
What I endeavoured to uphold, above all else, were strict professional standards so that my three editions matched, or even exceeded, those of traditional mass market publishers. I employed professional text designers, cover designers, a professional managing editorial team (a copy-editor, two proofreaders, and, so vitally, a design proof-reader for the hardback text and cover). I proofread SOME WILL NOT SLEEP nine times myself. I did not sleep until I had it as good as I could get it. And what has been the most satisfying thing about the finished editions is how the readers have appreciated the books – particularly the hardback – and acknowledged the work and professional standards that comprised their creation. But it didn’t just happen. Just sayin’.
A wide variety of people were involved in the various stages of the various editions, as I eventually took on the role as project manager for the three books (which involved checking our work, line by line, over and over again). Key individuals that gave Some Will Not Sleep, Before You Sleep and Cries from the Crypt the hard-won form they eventually assumed were as follows: Brian Showers of Swan River Press, who mentored me on the hardback creation from beginning to end; Toby Clarke of Clarkevanmeurs Design, who designed all of my covers and jackets, boards and endpapers; Pete Marsh of the Dead Good Design Company who produced the paperback edition and all of the text design in the print formats. Blue Wave who created the eBooks for Some Will Not Sleep and Before You Sleep. Iain Rob Wright who created the eBook for Cries from the Crypt. CPI Anthony Rowe who printed my hardback. Ingram Spark who print and distribute my paperback. Amazon who distribute the eBooks of Some Will Not Sleep and Before You Sleep; my brother, Simon Nevill, who created all of my digital marketing graphics; Mark Dawson taught me how to advertise on Facebook and Nick Stephenson gave me invaluable advice on many aspects of indie publishing. And not least, my thanks go to my wife, who pretty much figured out and then created my store and newsletter, before helping me with fulfillment post-pub date.
There were many others involved too, who I acknowledge inside the books. My point here, self-publishing wasn’t really self-publishing , or at least it didn’t feel like it; what it actually felt like was the creation of a network, or company of tutors, advisers, creative and publishing professionals, who all contributed skills, labour, expertise and experience, to enable me to bring Ritual Limited, and all of its publications and merchandise, into being in 2016. As much as a team effort or collaborative venture as I’ve been involved in professionally. What I became was the CEO, project manager and investor. Oh and I was the author of the books too …
I’m tired at year’s end, but satisfied and utterly delighted by Ritual Limited’s first year. As a writer, I’m looking forward to the future far more than I was in January 2016. And I will continue as a fitter, more knowledgeable writer-publisher, who will employ a much longer critical path for my second short story collection. I intend to publish this second Ritual Limited book in three formats in 2018. And there will be more free books coming too.
Other highlights in 2016 include:
Being Guest Author at SciFi Weekender 7, a huge fancon in North Wales.
Being Guest of Honour at the fabulous Dublin Ghost Story Festival, at the behest of the marvellous John Connolly and magical Brian J. Showers.
Being Guest of Honour at Fantasycon, 2016, in Scarborough and launching SOME WILL NOT SLEEP. Folks, you came …
Finishing UNDER A WATCHFUL EYE – my next novel, and a work of psychic and astral terror …
Getting Des Lewis’s Dreamcatcher Award for Best Short Story – ‘White Light, White Heat’.
Beginning a future novel, or is that a world?, that may involve my largest research project to date. I’m so excited about this and it might never end …
Spending all of October and November in my office, packaging and posting the orders of the SOME WILL NOT SLEEP hardback and shirts – actually being in the warehouse/distribution centre, and using my own hands to fulfill the orders from my online shop.
Having a writer pipe-dream come true that I still can’t discuss …
Walking and swimming and exploring South Devon all year round.
If you got this far, thank you, and a Happy New Year to ya’ll!