Wilkinson says publishers 'need to try harder' to innovate

Wilkinson says publishers 'need to try harder' to innovate

Former self-published writer Kerry Wilkinson has laid down the gauntlet to traditional publishers, saying that they do not communicate with authors enough and that Amazon is “the main innovator in the book space”.

Wilkinson also said that publishers were unlikely to change the way they worked any time soon, as the “only reason you change is if you’re forced to”.

Wilkinson self-published his début novel, Locked In, in 2011. It became a UK number one bestseller on the Kindle charts within three months of release, selling 250,000 copies. After self-publishing two further books he signed a six-book deal with Pan Macmillan in 2012. Wilkinson has since published 14 titles with Pan Mac—including his first three self-published titles— which have sold 16,824 print copies through Nielsen’s Total Consumer Market to date. The publisher said Wilkinson’s books have sold “in excess of 750,000 copies in e-book and paperback and are fast approaching the one million mark”.

Wilkinson now publishes four books a year across three series—two in the crime genre (Jessica Daniel and Andrew Hunter) and one in YA fantasy (Silver Blackthorn)—and his new standalone novel, Down Among the Dead Men, will be published in October.

Nevertheless, Wilkinson told The Bookseller that the hardest thing about being traditionally published was the “lack of control”. “When you talk to people who self-publish successfully we are all control freaks,” he said. “You have to be on top of all these things and get as many as you can right to give yourself a bigger chance of success. When you work with a publisher you give all that up: I have no control over how my listings look on Amazon, for example.”

He said that had he “realised everything I was giving up and how little control” he would have, he would have “thought a lot harder” about signing with a traditional publisher. “That doesn’t mean I made the wrong decision, and I don’t think I made the wrong decision,” he added.

Wilkinson said he continued to self-publish, releasing both original audiobooks and Kindle Single titles, and enjoyed keeping up with new developments in self-publishing. “Self-publishing in 2011 on Kindle Direct Publishing [KDP] is nothing like doing it now,” he said. “The system is so far advanced with the extra features and things you can do. For example, setting up pre-orders and territories in which you can sell your books is so different from what it was [previously], so you have to keep up with that.”

Amazon is at the forefront of new developments, said Wilkinson. “It is the one innovating the most in publishing,” he said. “People do have a go at Amazon, but I love Amazon because of the way it innovates. If it’s not hardware, in terms of an actual Kindle, it’s the back end of things like the KDP system, like the ACX audio system and so on. And there will be something new next year because there always is something new next year.”

Wilkinson’s views echo those of the Do You Love Your Publisher? survey, which was co-produced by authors Harry Bingham in the UK and Jane Friedman in the US earlier this year. While authors who completed the survey were generally impressed with their publishers’ editorial input, 57% agreed with the statement that “publishers have been lazy and un-innovative when it comes to matters digital”. The survey also found that 75% of authors had never been asked for feedback from their publisher.

Wilkinson said: “You do sometimes feel you’re the last to know things.”

However, he added that being traditionally published does have big positives: “I can’t fault Macmillan for getting physical editions into the hands of new readers. That would never have happened if I had continued self-publishing.”

Pan Mac said that it had worked hard to push sales of Wilkinson’s books, particularly in his native Lancashire, and added that more than 15% of overall paperback sales for the Jessica Daniel series come from that region.

One thing that he feels will continue to change and grow is the amount of communication between authors and readers. “A lot of people who do well for themselves go out of their way to find an audience,” he said. “That is only going to increase. There will be a new social network, there will be a new way to get your work out there. As long as you keep up with the tech, [as an author] you will probably be all right.”