My autobiography, Strictly Ann, was in The Times bestseller lists when I told my editor, Alan Samson of Orion, that I was writing a detective novel. He responded enthusiastically but these days it is the sales team which seems to decide the merits of a book and the Orion sales department thought that, having published four novels and an autobiography, a third strand of writing would be difficult to sell.
My agent began talking to other publishers but by the time we had an offer I had resolved to try publishing on Amazon, which is where The Dancing Detective by A N Widdecombe can now be found.
Many authors are convinced that this is where the future lies so from the point of view of the writer what are the advantages and disadvantages? And should traditional booksellers and Amazon be looking at ways of working together?
One of the biggest pluses for any author is the sheer speed of publication. A traditional publisher will take nine months from delivery of a book till publication but one can put up a work on Amazon almost immediately. You also start earning immediately with monthly royalties instead of getting paid twice a year. The flipside of that is that there is no advance so during the period of actual writing an author is working for nothing.
The royalties on Kindle at 70% are vastly higher than a publisher would ever write into a contract but of course it is 70% of a much lower sum than the average book costs in a shop and the paperback royalties paid by Amazon are not much different (about 12%).
Perhaps the biggest drawback is the complete lack of co-operation between Amazon and the ordinary bookseller and event organiser. Most bookshops will stock an author's work for a few weeks after publication and thereafter keep only limited stock so authors promote their work at literary festivals and speaking engagements, selling and signing at those events. Hence all my novels are still in print 14 years after the first one came out.
Event organisers buy books at discounted prices from the publishers on a sale or return basis but Amazon offers no such facility to either bookshop owner or event organiser. Indeed authors themselves can receive a discount only if they are prepared to pay postage from the United States which is where even UK books are printed. It is cheaper to buy the book from Amazon as though one were a customer but that leaves the shop or event without a profit and having to fund upfront costs. Given that Amazon gains from every book sold, it must surely be missing a trick here.
One huge advantage in Amazon publishing is that the author is boss from day one because he or she is the publisher and Amazon the distributor. So I had the glorious experience of being able to say “Of course I want it available in America”! One can also set one’s own price, change that price at any time and devise offers. You can even promote the second book by offering the first one free with the purchase. In exchange for exclusive distribution rights for a defined period Amazon also throws in some promotion of its own but of course very big authors can always rely on a lot of free marketing from their publishers in the conventional world.
My current thinking is to publish three detective novels this way and then to take a long look at the results. It may be the best publishing decision I have ever made or the worst but at least I am not sitting here waiting for the first book to appear in nine months’ time!
Ann Widdecombe is a former MP and prisons minister, and a novelist.
Image by Poppy Berry