A reader-first approach to writing and self-publishing

A reader-first approach to writing and self-publishing

Earlier this week Amazon UK sent this press release out to all sorts of media organisations. Things have got pretty hectic since then. FutureBook asked me if I would share some tips on how I'd sold so many e-books.

It's a complicated issue and I can only speak for myself but I think there are a few things which let me compete with the big publishers. I think sometimes people in the industry are too close to it. Because something has been done one way for years, nobody else can think of a better way.

I am a sports journalist and know that feeling. Sometimes we get emails saying, "I don't understand this article". We re-read it and realise we were too close to the story to be able to tell it to the general public properly. We haven't explained it correctly simply because we had the prior knowledge they didn't.

And I think the same applies.

I didn't self-publish because I wanted to "stick it to the industry" as some people do, or because I had been rejected by all and sundry - because I haven't. I self-published because I wanted people to see my work. I never expected to get to number one, or to sell 250,000 copies. That still amazes me.

But I do think that sometimes, when you're close to something, you can end up being very cautious.

So it is easy to sit back and look at the big-name authors on your lists and think, "That's a guaranteed X amount" and so on.

I write books I think I would like to read - it's that simple. I try to create characters people want to read. Are my books perfectly literary? No. But they don't need to be.

As an example, I write short chapters because, as a reader myself, I hate starting a long one before I want to go to sleep. Or I like to read while I'm on the toilet! I think about my readers and what THEY might want. So my stories may not flow like something that has been traditionally produced but maybe - just maybe - people like that precisely because it's not the same as everything else?

I try to focus on the characters because the "crime" element of the story is only ever a backdrop. People might give you a go once because they're interested in the premise – but they come back because they like the characters involved.

Ultimately, I have no qualms at all with the publishing industry. I don't think it's a battle between "them" and "us" and, for all the naysayers, I'd be bloody annoyed if major publishers started to fail because I want to read the stuff I like too. Whoever published the Alan Partridge autobiography last year is an absolute genius. I've read it twice and listened to the audiobook. If that were to ever go away, I'd be fuming.

And I think being a reader is a key thing.

As a reader, I know what I my want from my favourite authors. The first thing is I want to know when their next book is out!

I do my absolute best to interact with my readers. They can email me through my site or tweet me. And that creates its own interest. I have a large self-generated mailing list, plus visitors to my website (well over 10,000), plus Twitter followers and lurkers.

I talk directly to my readers. I email them, I tweet them, I ask their opinions. A few nights ago I asked them to tweet me a page number and line number - then I tweeted them all back lines from my unpublished book four.

How many authors have you ever heard do that? Or publishers? I reply to every email I get and I invite their comments.

Ultimately, I'm a kid from a council estate in Somerset. I grew up reading those thin Doctor Who paperbacks which were almost entirely written by Terrance Dicks. I love books, I collect them.

There is no way I should be able to compete with a massive major publisher - let alone beat them. How have I done it? I'm not sure I really know. I can only ever continue to act on instinct. After all, I'm a reader first.