Publishing Literary Fiction Independently
By: Piers Alexander
“I did not need reminding that my place in the world was to be the cutpurse, to show my pistol and witness murder while others played the honest craftsman.
“Garric Pettit, Cassie Barcus, Calumny Spinks: ours was the bitterest trade of all. Hiding in other people’s clothes, tricking and beating our thorny way through the world, and for little more than another day’s bread and water…” – from The Bitter Trade
Sometimes book marketing can feel like that! Writing is a big commitment even without promotion: in my case three years, five drafts – at one point the manuscript was 250,000 words long – until my agent Meg told me that the German version would weigh about 8 kilos… and I sliced 40% of it out. Ouch.
After winning the Pen Factor last year, I finally realized that it was time to stop drafting, put on the clothes of a publisher and get The Bitter Trade to market. But the novel is literary historical fiction: it’s not genre, there aren’t 30 of them in a series, so it’s not a typical self-pub operation. I know literary writers who’ve been actively discouraged from publishing independently because it’s considered hard to find readers.
So I decided to do things differently, and reach out directly to readers with a few innovations. In my other life I am co-founder of three media businesses, so I’m hoping to bring some ideas in to help promote The Bitter Trade, which is an adventure story set in London’s coffee rackets during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
First of all, I decided to work with epubli to distribute and promote the eBook. There are a lot of entry-level blogs and courses on digital publishing, but epubli’s author relations team are sophisticated, up-to-date, available and passionate about their writers. I am working long hours just to keep up to date with their recommendations, and the way they think about SEO and social media presence is very sophisticated.
I also asked the voice actor Roland Bearne to produce some high quality audio snippets from the story – they are up on SoundCloud and we will be using YouTube and other rich media channels to find people who prefer to listen to stories.
Then I took the rather radical decision to distribute the paperback nationally through bookstores. It’s a fairly serious investment, especially in typesetting and design (thank you www.thecurvedhouse.com and www.twoassociates.com), but I think the bookshop presence and ebooks will complement each other, with paperbacks leading people to Kobo and the other platforms. More importantly, a really nicely-designed book makes other potential marketing partners take you much more seriously – I walked the aisles of the London Book Fair in April and found I could have proper conversations with people.
The most radical thing I’m doing is working with very niche interest groups, like the London coffee scene (launching and selling the books at one of the leading coffeehouse groups), and historical reenactment societies. I had a lovely moment last week when a member of a Luxembourgish 17th century historical society kindly refused to take a review copy and insisted on paying for an ebook instead. The best part about this is the opportunity to connect with people who love coffee, and people who are as passionate about the historical period as I am.
So it feels like a good marketing plan is coming together – wish me luck! The Bitter Trade is up on Kobo already, and I still have a handful of free review copies available on Goodreads for friendly readers.
Wishing you all happy marketing… and more importantly, the time and freedom to write your hearts out.
Kobo and Kobo Writing Life are proud to be sponsoring the 2014 Penn Factor again this year. They are actively contributing to the success of new and talented authors like Piers. The winner will be offered a one year access to TLC literary and publishing events at Free Word Centre, editorial and advisory support.
We are looking forward to meeting you all at the 2014 Writing in a Digital Age Conference, which starts tomorrow in London.