Derby Writers' Day 17th Oct 2015 - part 1

On Saturday 17th October I went along to the Writers’ Day held at Derby Quad that was supported by Writing magazine and Writing East Midlands.  The event was co-ordinated by Alex Davies from Boo Books (@BooBooksDerby).  As is the way when I go to these kinds of events I took notes for the talks and panels that I intended.

This post is the first of two. This time out, I’ll cover the two morning sessions that I attended, and next time out I’ll summarise the three afternoon sessions that I went to.  As ever, these are my notes only, and not a verbatim record!

10am.  Successful Self-Publishing with Tracey Bloom (@TracyBBloom), author of No-One Ever Has Sex On A Tuesday: interviewed by Alex Davis.

TB: self-publishing came out of not getting a UK publishing deal for my first two novels via UK agents.  I was inspired by Nick Spalding and his success story with Amazon.  I spent three months researching and planning before self-publishing.  According to Spalding, 99% of self-publishing sales are in ebook format.  Amazon dominates.  I read around self-publishing / pricing / advertising and marketing strategies.  I have a marketing background – it’s not rocket science – but you have to approach your books as though they are products.

My first novel was edited by my agent.  I always work with a skilled editor.  If possible, get a recommendation.

There is a Holy Trinity to self-publishing.  The title / the cover / the blurb.  Get these right.  The use of professional designer is important for your covers.  Remember that you are designing a thumbnail for Amazon and not a full size cover for a book.  Remember 99% of your sales will come from Amazon.

Look for other good examples.  Amazon has a White Glove programme that only literary agents can access.  To enables agents to sell publish directly to Amazon.  Otherwise, formatting your ebook is pretty straightforward their professionals will do this for you.  This costs me about £40.00.

Self-publishing led me to being picked up for traditional UK publication.  Publishers don’t like Amazon.  Commercial publishers are still biased towards physical copies and away from ebooks.  This has meant that I have gone back to self-publishing for the sequel to my first book.

The perception of self-publishing is changing but slowly, especially in the industry.

As for reviews and other coverage, book bloggers are gold but it’s a hard slog.  Bloggers need treating with respect, just like traditional journalists.  It is hard but not impossible because there although some bloggers do not touch self-published work, others do.

I spent approximately 20 hours a week over 3 ½ months marketing my first book.  But you need to keep writing as well.  You need to have more books for readers to buy.

Any advice? Do it. I learned so much by doing it. But be clear about a divide between writing and marketing.

Answers to floor questions

Agents?  I was dropped by my first agent, but foreign deals enabled a second.  I found my first agent through the writers’ and artists’ yearbook.  Some agents to work with self-publishing authors.

Editors?  Get a recommendation.  Writing East Midlands may have a database.  Look for people with previous experience.

There is always benefit to a self-publishing writer in having an agent.  Access to the White Glove programme, plus potential access to Amazon's own promotions etc.  The potential there is excellent.

Also there are more digital only publishers out there; people who are more attuned to ebooks.  Also sometimes a publisher will come to you if there are signs of success.

Pricing structure?  Models: seem to be very low for the first book and then build up from there.  99 pence for the first one then up from that point.  Also, you can do your own promotions via Amazon.

Amazon reviews? This can be good feedback and also useful for sales.  Is important to set up your ebook so that it is easy for people to sign up to mailing lists.

Amazon vs. traditional publishers?  Amazon have 80 per cent of the ebook market so you have to deal with them.  Plus the commission is a 70/30 split to you.


11am. Promotion and Publicity for Writers, with Julia Murday (@jules_murday) Campaign Manager, Penguin Books: interviewed by Alex Davis.

Debut hardback fiction sells about 400 copies.  We get involved us in as the commissioning editor gets an interesting prospect.  Lead times of 12 months plus.  Social media / online profiles / events / the cover / the look of the book – we’re involved in all this.

Big releases get the big push with Tube and rail advertising.  For new authors the challenge is to raise their and their book’s profile.  We give advice on GoodReads, book clubs, and non-traditional publicity means also.

Author led?  It's key for them to be invested.  Bookshop tours etc.  

Be objective.  Profile your consumer.  Who would buy this book?  Focus your attention accordingly.  Target your social media.  People want connection and conversation.  Social media can be great for this.

What not to do?  Don’t spend himself too thin.

There is a more cautious spend for new writers. The big players get the big spend. The new writer spend is on proof copies for review in advance of publication.  The goal is to create buzz and a domino effect.

The timescales are usually 12 to 18 months in advance. We put about 4/5 debuts a year. About half of these get a big push. To meet the sales budget and to break even is the key.

What defines a big buzz book? What strikes the right chord? A combination of the author themselves, a relatable story, the quality of the book.

Audience Q and A

Promotion - do I have to? If the author is unwilling to promote, then that can make things really tricky. It might even feed into a decision to purchase the book or not. So get some practice.  Do a reading, be involved with local reading groups, writing groups, and booksellers.

Is the paperback threatened?  Not necessarily.  Physical book sales are bouncing back (see also Waterstone decisions to stop selling e-readers).

Agent relationships?  A targeted agent is key. Their relationships with editors need to be in place and be strong.

What about anonymous authors and pen names?  It’s tricky but not impossible.  It’s not advisable for a debut writer.  Pen names are more common but total anonymity is difficult. Existing media and public profiles are useful but more so for non-fiction.

Brand name authors?  These are standout names within audience demographic that is clearly defined, for example Lee Child and Jodi Picoult.

Release strategies? Hardback and paperback release strategy depends very much on the book and the audience, but there is greater flexibility these days to model release strategies per book. Hardbacks are more profitable than paperbacks, so it makes sense to maximise these where possible.

Cross-genre? Cross genre books can be difficult.  Often we have to make a genre decision for positioning.  We do post-mortems afterwards though.  We work with the author regarding positioning.

Trends? Colouring books are a current fad, but book publishing is slow. Editors have to be cultural forecasters.  Unreliable narrators are popular at present, as are psychological literary thrillers.  Also we tried to predict and provoke trends for marketing purposes; the next Gone Girl, etc.

And that was it for the morning. I went off for a mooch round Derby, and was back in time for the afternoon's sessions on historical fiction, literary fiction , and the keynote panel at the end of the day. The notes on those will be up next time. 


My novel The Prospect of This City is available from this very website in paperback and also in ebook and paperback via Amazon