Two and a half years ago, according to more than one national newspaper, I was the 'Kindle King'. Brilliant, yes? Except two of them also called me a "she", which gives you an indication of how deep their research goes.
Either way, I sold around 400,000 ebooks through self-publishing in the UK and it's been terrific for me in pretty much every way. In early 2012, I signed a six-book deal with Pan Macmillan for my Jessica Daniel crime series. Since then, I've also signed for eight more books on top, not all in the same series, or genre. It is quite the investment for both them and me.
Recently, there's been an increased debate about traditional publishing versus self-publishing and how things stand in 2014. Honestly? I've missed most of it. I don't live on Twitter – that's how I manage to actually finish writing books – and I don't keep up too closely with industry news. I'm more of a football man. But, after being copied into a few tweets, I've read Hugh Howey's self-publishing piece and a few other odds and ends.
I'm not going to argue with Hugh's numbers but the first thing that strikes me is that the UK market is not the US market. His examples of authors a lot lower down the Kindle charts making X or Y amount of money do not hold true across the pond, no matter what anyone argues. The market is smaller. I know a fair few authors who've self-published and make next to no royalties. It's not all about money, of course . . . unless a person wants to make a living from writing. If a person's goal is to create something of which he or she is proud, and then have it out there, then self-publishing is a winner every time. For most people, it's not the secret to fame, success or money. It wasn't in 2011 and it isn't in 2014.
That's also true of traditional publishing, of course.
Far more importantly, the issue surely isn't self-publishing versus traditional publishing, it's good publishing versus bad.
I'm not just saying this – and I have no need to talk them up – but Pan Macmillan have been great for me.
They've been terrific because they had a plan and never assumed my books would sell themselves. Other publishers signed up successful self-published authors, apparently expecting readers to flock and money to pour in, but nothing's like that. If that were true, why would a company like Coca-Cola still spend millions on advertising?
I've had four new books released through Macmillan, each with a slightly different type of advertising, be it train station posters, sample giveaways with the Manchester Evening News, local bookshop events, or – most recently – an enormous billboard at Piccadilly Station in Manchester.
Ebooks are great and, except for comics, I've not read a physical book in . . . I don't even know how long. Years. But people are different – and the physical book market is still a decent size. Macmillan have got my books into all four major supermarkets at various times, including a number three chart position at Tesco, and a number one in Morrisons.
When Hugh Howey talks about royalties for ebooks, none of those types of sales are included.
But it isn't just sales – it's legitimacy.
In 2011, when I was Amazon's top ebook author for a while, there were people I knew very well who shrugged at that fact – which is fine. In reverse, I'd be shrugging, too. I'm a good shrugger.
In 2014, when Macmillan put up a massive billboard in Manchester, I had strangers tweeting me photos; people I hardly know texting me to ask if I'd seen it. And so on. That sort of old-fashioned advertising – posters, billboards – gives your name a normalcy that can't be matched by Kindle chart positions or ebook sales. It just can't – and I'm saying that as someone who's seen both sides.
It's the type of validity that means someone walks into a supermarket, sees a book with my name on it, and thinks, 'Oh, I've seen that cover/title/author somewhere'. It's also the type of recognition that means people can find your book on Amazon there and then and download it. I've had new readers email me who've done just that.
Like it or not, many, many readers still don't consider ebook success as legitimate success, in the same way that having thousands watch your YouTube comedy sketch isn't the same as having a series shown on the BBC.
Maybe it doesn't matter – it never did to me – but it will for some.
On top of that, my ebook sales are still good. I've had two overall Kindle number one pre-orders, even outselling Dan Brown's behemoth last year. I've had eight consecutive top-20 Kindle crime books. That's all going very well. I'm happy, they're happy. It's a rippling sea of happiness.
Which brings me back to good and bad publishers. Macmillan are good because they took what I had – ebook success – and built on it by going out to find new readers who didn't know me.
It's enabled more and more foreign publishers to take on the rights to my scribblings to the point that my spare room is now full of books with my name on the front. Know anyone who speaks Turkish? Send them my way. Also, those are more numbers – and more money – unaccounted for in Hugh's figures.
Self-publishing through Amazon changed my life but the way Macmillan have handled me has made that grow. It doesn't mean we agree on everything but it does mean I can offer my ideas and send emails to people if I'm not sure about something. I'm very involved in the process of publishing my books because I go out of my way to involve myself. There's not a week that passes where I'm not in contact with someone at Macmillan about something or another. I treat many aspects of the process in the same way I treated self-publishing in that I want things like categories, descriptions and many other things to be correct.
Good or bad, it works.
None of that means that certain authors wouldn't benefit from self-publishing; or going the other way and trying for an agent/publisher. It just means that everyone's different and to try to pretend otherwise is misguided.
For me, what's worked is combining with a traditional publisher for my core work, along with self-publishing the odd thing here or there.
There and good and bad authors; good and bad agents; good and bad publishers; good and bad booksellers. The more 'good' you have from that list, the more chance you have of achieving what you want.
As it stands, I'm with a good publisher – and I'm very pleased. I also know that may come back to haunt me in the years to come. Let's hope not, eh?!