In the latest interview in our self-publishing series, author of suspense mysteries Paul Pilkington tells us how he secured a traditional publishing deal with Hodder & Stoughton, after hitting the bestseller lists as a self-published author.
What or whom inspires you to write?
I’ve always found inspiration from the books I like to read. Back in the late 1990s, I was reading a lot of comedy fiction, and decided to try my hand at comedy. But then I began to read suspense mysteries, such as the standalone Harlan Coben books. I was on a bus travelling to work, enjoying Tell No One, when I made the decision to write in that genre.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us about your books?
My novels are what I call suspense mysteries. I write about ordinary people, in extraordinary situations. There is a strong emotional element, and a focus on the relationships between the characters. My Emma Holden suspense mystery trilogy, beginning with The One You Love, follows Emma, whose fiancé disappears on his stag night. Emma is in a race against time to find out what happened to Dan. I like to write stories with lots of twists and turns, and plenty of cliff-hangers. My aim is to create a book that is hard to put down.
To what extent do you feel self-publishing is giving readers and writers greater freedom when it comes to what they read/write?
I certainly feel that self-publishing offers readers much more choice, and it offers writers the opportunity to write what they want, in terms of story, genre, and length. Readers can find new authors, with self-published books often priced lower or even given away for free.
When do you find time to write? Does this differ from when you started writing your first novel?
My writing has always had to fit in with the rest of my home and work life, and this hasn’t changed during the past fourteen years. I tend to write either in the hour before work, or at night. Often I find that I write best in public places, like coffee shops, where there is a background buzz. I still write purely because I enjoy writing. If I stopped enjoying it, then I wouldn’t continue.
Why did you choose to self-publish? You’ve had publishing success in the past; did you try the traditional route first?
I chose to self-publish after I received a Kindle for my birthday. I realised that there were self-published books doing well in the charts, and investigated how to publish on Kindle and other formats such as Apple iBooks, Kobo and Nook, through Smashwords. Years previously I had submitted to agents and publishers, and had some positive feedback. But eventually I decided to stop sending material out, and just focused on enjoying my writing. When I became successful with my self-publishing, I was then contacted directly by a number of agents and publishers.
Would you have taken the opportunity to go down the traditional route if that had been a possibility?
I’ve never ruled out any route in publishing. Recently, off the back of my self-publishing success, I signed a three book deal in the UK with Hodder and Stoughton (Coronet imprint) for my Emma Holden trilogy. At the moment, I’ll continue to self-publish my standalone novel, Someone to Save You. I like the idea of trying different things with my writing, finding new ways to connect with readers, so it’s exciting to think that I will soon be both self-published and traditionally published. It will be really interesting to see what happens.
What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?
You have total control over the whole process. It’s a fantastic learning experience, and I’ve certainly learnt a lot over the past two and a half years since I first self-published. Things like cover design, crafting a summary of the book, considering titles, and pricing – all of these are under your control.
On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? Such as the editor-author relationship.
There are of course downsides to self-publishing, and not having an editor or other professionals behind you does in many ways make it harder. One of the things that I’m looking forward to about my deal with Hodder and Stoughton is working with the team there, as they have so much experience. You can however pay for services such as developmental and copy-editing, and I’ve done both in the past. All my books are professionally copy-edited.
How, if at all, has having an agent been of benefit to you?
My agent has been great in negotiating with publishers, and getting the deal that was right for me. I have no doubt that having an agent, and agency, supporting me, will be of great benefit.
How important do you feel interacting with your fans has been?
I love connecting with readers, primarily through my Facebook author page, but also through email and twitter. It gives me huge satisfaction to get messages from people all over the world who have read and enjoyed my work. It makes all the hard work worth it. I believe you have to treat your readers with respect, and part of that is engaging with them. It’s the least you can do when they pay money to read your books and then take the time to get in touch. The response from readers has been the best thing about self-publishing.
Do you feel there is more of a sense of community with self-publishing than there is with traditional publishing?
I can’t really answer that, as I’m very new to traditional publishing. I do have some contact with other self-published authors, and I know there are strong networks, but I’m not really involved.
How important is marketing yourself in the early stages of your self-publishing career? Any tips?
I haven’t really done marketing in the sense of going out there and selling myself. However, I do feel that it’s important to consider the issue of branding – so that readers are clear what they are getting when they buy one of your books. So although self-publishing means you can publish whatever you want, in any genre, I feel that creating a brand requires you to think carefully about your publishing decisions. Otherwise readers may be disappointed.
Did you design your own cover? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader?
Initially I did design my own covers. However, my covers are now professionally designed by a very talented lady in South Africa, Jeanine Henning. Her cover designs really helped to strengthen my brand identity. I’ve recently seen the new covers that will be used by Hodder and Stoughton, and they are fantastic.
Finally, do you have any advice for writers looking to self-publish?
My biggest piece of advice is to treat your readers with respect. That means ensuring that your books are free from typographical and grammatical errors. That’s why my books are now professionally copy-edited. Also, ensure that you publish as widely as possible, on all of the available platforms for self-publishing. Finally, I would say that as soon as you are happy with your work, then go for it. Whether your book is read by ten, ten thousand, or one hundred thousand people, self-publishing is a brilliant way for writers to reach readers all over the world. And for a writer, having anyone read and enjoy your work is truly magical.
If you like to find out more about Paul Pilkington and read his books, please take a look at his website.