Can self-publishing be a viable route for literary authors? If you write cross-genre, can you be successful with your writing? I talk about these topics and more with award-winning author, Jane Davis, in today’s interview.
In the intro, I mention the AI text generator that has now been released in a modified version [TalkToTransformer.com] after being considered too dangerous to release in Feb [Techcrunch]; Google’s new AI that can help you speak in another language in your own voice [The Next Web]; and how to turn your book into a podcast with text-to-speech AI, Amazon Polly [The Creative Penn blog]; and how moving house is like learning to write and publish.
Plus, my interview on how I run my author business plus my thoughts on a voice-first future [Unemployable Podcast]; my Mum, Jacqui Penn, on writing as Penny Appleton and a behind the scenes look at our creative relationship [Kick in the Creatives Podcast]; and how travel and writing can help you deal with death and grief [Books and Travel Podcast].
Do you need a professional editor or book cover designer? Do you need help with marketing, publicity or advertising? Find a curated list of vetted professionals at the Reedsy marketplace, along with free training on writing, self-publishing and book marketing. Check it out at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/reedsy
Jane Davis is an award-winning writer of literary fiction. Her first novel, Half-Truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail first novel award. And she recently won the Selfies Award at London Book Fair 2019, for best self-publish work of fiction for her book Smash All the Windows.
- On the many factors and issues around book pricing
- Why you need to try different marketing strategies until you find what works for your books
- Finding your target audience
- Looking at what a book has earned as a whole, rather than how it’s priced at any one time
You can find Jane Davis at Jane-Davis.co.uk and on Twitter @janedavisauthor
Transcript of Interview with Jane Davis
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I’m here with Jane Davis. Hi, Jane.
Jane: Hello, Jo. Hello, everybody.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Jane is an award-winning writer of literary fiction. Her first novel Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail first novel award. And she recently won the Selfies Award at London Book Fair 2019, for best self-publish work of fiction for her book Smash All the Windows.
You’re actually a multi-award-winning author now, Jane. Congratulations.
Jane: I’ve got a couple more than that as well. But some of them are quite small ones. But, yes, it’s my second. The Selfies Award was the second award that recognized self-publishing standards as well as the writing. So to me, as a self-published author, that means something special, and it’s one for the team, which is nice. It’s not just for me, it’s one for the whole team.
Joanna: I love that. We’re going to come back to that.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Jane: A very convoluted route, I suppose. And I think as a child, I was quite creative. But I wasn’t one of these people who grew up storytelling and writing. I was far too shy and retiring for that. But I did spend a lot of time drawing.
I come from a family of musicians and artists. And I think my parents had some idea that we’d all be able to make a living in the arts somehow. So we were all sent off to ballet lessons and to play musical instruments and nothing like that happened at all.
In fact, I didn’t even get that far as to really look realistically at a career in art because the work I produced for my O level art, the examiners hated. I had been projected to get an A and I didn’t fail, but I got to C and it was a little bit just and thought, “Oh, maybe I’m really not very good at this. Maybe I’m not good enough.” And so I actually left school at 16 and went to into the world of insurance where I stayed for 25 years.
Jane: Exactly. I had no creative outlet whatsoever. And I think once I’d achieved the things I wanted to do, I bought my own house, I had a car, a nice wardrobe, things like that, it begins to bunk you that there actually is no creative outlet.
Domething happened in my personal life that I wanted to make sense of, and I turned to writing. I remember a very drunken evening with my partner, Matt, down by the…I call it a second bottle of wine evening, down by the Thames and a lovely summer’s evening. And I pitched a book to him, which is something I’m not very good at doing to this day.
But I pitched an idea for a book for him and he said, “Do you think anybody would want to read that?” And he said, ‘Well, I’ll read it.’ And I thought, “Okay, then and I’ll give it a go.” Not realizing that it would take me four years of writing in all my spare time.
It didn’t get me a publishing deal but it did get me a literary agent at the time. I thought I’d written a crime novel as well at that point and they said, “No, Jane, this isn’t crime.” I’ve never been very good at working at more genres.
Joanna: What year was that first book or how many years ago was that?
Jane: That was when I was 36 and it took me until I was 40 to write it. So we’re talking…I’m not very good at math. That’s not a strong point. About 16 years ago now.
Joanna: So you’ve been doing this a while. I think that’s important.
Jane: I’ve been doing it a while. Yes.
Joanna: You mentioned genre there and you’re a literary fiction author. So even though you said you’re not that good at genre, I think literary fiction is a genre. So I’m really interested in your thoughts on the category on Amazon of literary fiction.
Why do you choose that? Why is that what you write?
Jane: In short, I don’t choose literary as my first choice of category. In the official classification codes, there is no such thing as literary fiction. It’s general fiction. And so working out where you sit is a process of elimination, because you’ve eliminated historical, you’ve eliminated sci-fi.
What you’re left with is this thing called general fiction. I saw Adele Parks gave a talk at a conference. And she said that she was actually given the choice whether to have her work marketed as commercial fiction or literary fiction.
There isn’t really a subcategory as commercial fiction, either. It tends to be things like women’s fiction, but that’s the sort of thing they meant.
And she said, “Well, what’s the difference?” And they said, “Well, literary fiction sells 7,000 copies on average, and commercial fiction sells 70,000 copies on average.”
And so she said, “Well, I’d like to eat and pay the mortgage. So I’ll be commercial, thank you very much.” And it’s those sort of choices that you made that is a little bit about the way the book is marketed.
Once you’ve decided in your category, you tend to be pigeonholed if you’re under contract. We have a bit more choice if we’re publishing independently because as Kathleen Jared said to me recently when I interviewed her that self-publishing gives her the freedom to flip between genres if she wishes to.
But it’s true that most readers associate an author with a certain type of fiction. And I don’t sit down thinking I’m going to write literary fiction. I’m someone who left school at 16. I’ve got an O level, and a swimming certificate. And that’s a word that I associate with the classics, with Austin, with Dickens with Will Self, and to some people they might think it’s a difficult read, it’s not going to be accessible read.
What I try to do is I like to write about meaty, thorny subjects and I like to write about moral dilemmas. But I always try to make them accessible by showing them through the eyes of perhaps one or two characters, the case of my last novel, rather, a lot more characters and that actually with multiple points of view.
But usually breaking it down in that way so it makes a subject that accessible to people. And I do like to inform people, but I also want to entertain. And so if I have the choice, I’d say contemporary fiction because historical fiction is easier to market as well.
If I’ve written something that I can categorize as historical fiction, I will. Literary fiction is kind of a label that gets attached to me and you know on Amazon that we have the choice of different categories so that we can chart in different ways, in the rankings, then if literary fiction is a choice I might use that as one of my 10 choices, but it’s not my first choice. I prefer to say contemporary if I can.
Joanna: So many genre writers or commercial writers write in series.
Are authors who write mainly standalone novels classed more as literary writers rather than genre writers?
Jane: I don’t know that that’s got anything to do with it. Kate Moss said not so long ago as well that she distances herself. She prefers to think of herself as a storyteller, which I thought leaves you open to all genres really.
Joanna: Little bit broad there, Kate.
Jane: I don’t think anyone sits down and says they’re going to write a literary novel. The challenges that I set myself for to write something that’s authentic, something that’s honest, something that feels true. And if people say to me, by reading a review that someone says to me, “I believed that everything happened as it was written on the page,” which is reveal had recently.
And I thought, well, actually, that means I’ve done my job. Because I’m writing about made up things, quite a lot of them are based in truth, but the events themselves, the people are fictional, obviously. And if I get a comment like that, then I think, yes, actually that’s probably one of the best compliments I could have.
Joanna: You mentioned getting a literary agent earlier on in your career. You’ve won prizes. Your writing is excellent. Many people would then say, “Well, why choose to be Indie?”
You’re in the UK. I would say you’re significant in the genre in the UK because you’re always at events, you’re talking about it, which is fantastic.
Why choose the independent way? Tell us a bit about your story and how you to have chosen to publish?
Jane: Yes. Well, the truth is that I had my 15 minutes of fame, and was told I was going to be the next Joann Harris. And then, actually, I was dropped by my publisher.
So although I would say now that self-publishing is a positive choice for me, it came as a bit of a shock at the time. I didn’t realize because I was very green, and possibly my business background may be less challenging than I should have been.
I’ve sat on the board of directors for 16 years. You’re very used to in a situation, putting a case forward, arguing your case, but not actually winning the votes to get your policy put through to get your idea accepted. But the truth is that nobody actually asked me, “How do you see yourself as a writer?” when I was published.
And I was so grateful to get a publishing deal that I didn’t really challenge it at all. And I thought, “Oh, you’re going to be on our Black Swan label.” Apologies. I didn’t say, “What does that mean?” I just thought, “Great.”
I just looked up a couple of authors who on there and they were authors I liked, who were fabulous. And it was only when I presented my second book, which was actually quite soon after my Half-truths & White Lies was published, probably in about three months down the line because the production took quite a long time. And they said, “Yes, we love it. But of course, we can’t publish it because it’s not women’s fiction.”
It was only at that point that I realized that that was how they saw me and that it wasn’t possible. They weren’t going to publish me if I wrote anything else. And it had never been my intention to write only for women.
As someone put in one of their reviews, it’s human fiction. This isn’t women’s fiction because it was a book that they’d bought it under the category of women’s fiction. I said, “This isn’t women’s fiction, it’s human fiction.”
My fiction was always supposed to be for everybody. I presented them with a book where the main character was a 12-year-old boy, a book that became A Funeral for an Owl, and it’s my best-selling book now. And they said, “No, we can’t take it.”
What I set out to do after that was I set out to write what I thought was deliberately quite a commercial women’s fiction novel with a really feisty ass-kicking female lead. And, again, that was of a historical bend and, again, it was something they didn’t want.
So I actually was in the end, in the not very enviable position of touting three quite different books around the market at the same time. And I really stumbled upon…I paid like many, many people… I mean, this was back in 2009, in 2010. Self-publishing was probably still in its infancy and the advice at the time was no self-respecting author will self-publish.
And you pay thousands of pounds to get this advice and of course you listened to it. And it wasn’t until I actually thought, “I should go along to a conference and see what this is all about. Just check up on it.” And I realized that I was walking into a room of absolute professionals, people who had been traditionally published before, whose latest book hadn’t sold quite enough copies.
There was someone there who’s writing what he called lad-lit at the time, and so chick-lit. He felt he was writing the equivalent of chick-lit but for men. And there was no market for that at the time so he decided that he would go ahead and self-publish.
And there were people who had ghost written novels for other people, but had choosen to self-publish their own work because it didn’t fit neatly into a genre. Or something was literary that was classified as being too quiet for the current market because we know that it is a business decision that the big publishers are making.
I reread recently Diana Athill’s memoirs stats about her many years in the publishing industry. And she talks there and reminds us that the Booker Prize was set up to try and tempt non-readers or people for whom reading was one of many options to get them out of the cinemas and the bingo halls, to get them to pick up a book by making it newsworthy.
She talks about how if a book came across her desk that she categorizes literary fiction, she would almost hope it was bad because then it would be an easy decision, she could just turn it down. Whereas if it was good, it had to have an editorial meeting to decide whether it’s something they would take on board in the knowledge that if they took it on, they would probably sell 800 copies and they would make a loss.
And of course the publishers, they have their more commercial books that will prop up that costs that will support it. And that’s one of the things they want to do as publishers. But when you’re publishing on your own, you don’t have those other books to prop things up unless you delve into nonfiction.
Roz Morris, for example, has her own writing series. I think you do as well, you have nonfiction books as well. And of course, they support and they give credibility to your skills as an author as well. It’s something I haven’t ventured into yet, simply because I think there’s so many books out there.
Joanna: We know there can be many books on the same topic. So I don’t think that should stop you for sure. But I want to come back on the word self-publishing because you have talked about on your blog and things about how self-publishing is a misnomer.
Tell us about your publishing team and why it’s not self-publishing.
Jane: The only part in self-publishing is where you push the button, at the end of the day. You’re the only person who can decide whether you’re going to put that book out there. I still hope that if I’ve written something, spent a couple of years writing a book on the professional opinion that it wasn’t good enough that I would actually abandon that project.
I’ve never got to that stage but I still hope that if that’s the opinion I’m getting that I would have the integrity to do that rather than put out something that was substandard. I also feel the pressure mounting with every book because readers have certain expectations.
They keep on saying, “Well, we see the development with every book,” and you’re thinking, “Oh, my goodness, what am I going to give them with the next one to top the last one to meet those expectations?” I think it gets tougher.
One of the reasons self-publishing is now my first choice is because I’ve built a team around it. Of course, my first attempt at self-publishing I didn’t have that. I was changing services as well as I was using professional services. But it took me a while to get a team that I was completely happy with.
And not only professional services, but I have a core team of beta readers, probably about 20. And then for every book as well, I actually look for someone with specific skills. So, for example, if a book has a medical subject matter, I might ask a doctor. I might be looking for sensitivity readers if there are issues of diversity or ethnicity. So I’ll pull in some extra people every time.
But after I’ve self-edited the book myself to within an inch of its life, and I just can’t be objective about the thing anymore, that’s the point at which I’ll send out to beta readers. I collect all of their comments back.
And really, if more than one people are saying to me, “I’ve got a problem with that part of the book.” Even if you don’t agree with the solution they’re suggesting, you know that there is a problem with it. So you’ve got to start making the changes and also weaving those changes the whole way through.
By the time my books get to a professional, they’ve been through quite an extensive state rounds of self-editing, really.
And so for my last book I use the structural editor. I don’t always use the structural editor. But it was a really complicated structure from my last book, and I used Dan Holloway, who’s been known to ALLi members as our news hound. But he obviously writes himself and he can just get to grips with something very, very quickly.
He’s very challenging, which is what you want people to do you work with. The whole idea is you’re not employing the yes-man. You’re employing the people who are going to push you to make the book as good as it can possibly be.
When Dan says, “Is that really the first thing you want the reader to know about that character?” You have to really be able to justify that and to think about what you’ve done because I don’t plot, I write quite organically.
So the book grows out of an idea. And I’m probably not thinking those questions through to myself that need to be asked at the structural stage.
Dan is great fun to work with. The cultural references are so broad. He’ll say, “Go and watch the first scene of ‘The Player,’ or, “Go and watch the scene from ‘Silence of the Lambs.” There are a lot books he’ll send your way to look at.
A cinematic approach can be really, really useful to trigger ideas of how you might tackle a particular problem. And he rather than offering the solution on a plate challenges you to find your own solutions or define what it is that we need to take it next.
After that stage of edits, I use a copy editor and I use some John Hudspeth who I haven’t actually met, I found online. I found online because his comments are so irreverent.
Joanna: Not irrelavant.
Jane: I can’t say innovation. Oh, I’ve done it today. But irreverent the people actually publish his comments to their work. There are blogs on which people publish his comments and they’re so funny.
Joanna: That’s brilliant.
Jane: Someone I can actually work with because he can present critique in a way that is going to make me laugh and I’m not going to take offense. Because it’s so easy when you get a critique paper back the first time round to read it through and go, “But that’s not right.”
And to be very dismissive to this because that’s your baby they’re talking about and you’ve been working on it for such a long time. And sometimes it’s good to have someone who can make you laugh at yourself quite a bit. And he also does a little bit like a school report at the end of each chapter as well.
Joanna: That’s fantastic.
Jane: On how it’s moved the novel on or if it hasn’t moved the novel on in the way that he wanted to see. And his writing sound really excited, “Where to go next with this,” or, “I’m not sure where you’re going with this,” or something like that.
But he’s putting his thought processes down as a reader, which is really, really useful as well. Then I go through the proofread stage before type setting. Type setting, another proofread, of course, and testing out all the various eBooks and the formats.
And then cover design has happened at somewhere in between this point in time. I work with them. Sorry, I wanted to mention JD, Jane Dixon Smith does my eBook formatting, my type setting for me. And she is fantastic help and resource with that. Another ALLi person.
My cover designer is actually someone who runs my local art gallery. And when I first decided to self-publish, I walked in and said, “Do you know artists, graphic designers, etc.? Do you know anyone who does cover design?” He says, “Jane, I do cover design.” So I’ve worked with him.
My initial cover designs were really quite simple but I like to get quite involved in the process. I usually source the photographs myself. I come up with the concept. And then I say to him,”‘This is what I have in mind. What are we going to do with it?” And actually, I push really hard to get the covers I want.
For my latest cover, he wanted it to be very simple. And I said, “No, we need people to have a place in mind. I want people to know it’s a London novel.”
Joanna: I like your covers. I think they’re very good.
Jane: Yes. So we have these conversations, like, “Can you put a deer’s head on a ballerina?” And he says, “Will you go away and find me the right picture, the battering in of the deer’s head? Because I’m not going to scroll through and find ones that like a dog’s dinner. I need the exact angle of the deer’s head to be right, the exact width of the deer’s head to be right, something the proportion is going to look cool, and you’re going to do that not me.”
I spend hours and hours and hours, weeks looking for the right photograph.
Joanna: For people who don’t know ALLi is the Alliance of Independent Authors, if people were wondering that. And I’ll put links in the show notes to some of the professionals you’ve talked about. Jane Dixon Smith does my covers and my interior print design as well. She’s fantastic.
Really important like you mentioned standards at the beginning. And clearly with all those iterations, you’re absolutely maintaining standards and growing standards.
I also wanted to ask about your thoughts on pricing because we had discussed this and when you spend years on a book like you do, it can be very hard to look at the pricing that people use online and make a decision.
Tell us what’s happened with your experience of pricing?
Jane: I’m really conflicted on this. I had been trying to edge my prices up. I worked on the basis, I think this statistic is still true, that only 5% of books sell over 1,000 copies regardless of genre. And so if you actually do the math and work out what you’re spending, work out what commission rates you’re going to get, hope for the best and hope you’re going to sell those 1,000 copies.
But you can’t really say if you don’t have a history of sales that you’re going to sell much more than that. And I worked out to begin with the minimum I could sell an eBook for would be $2.99. My paperbacks have always been the same.
I’ve never particularly made a profit on paperbacks. In fact, for several years, I was making a loss of about five pounds per book because I was trying so hard to do the footwork to get into bookstores. But it’s so important to me as someone who grew up surrounded by books.
I’m not the eBook generation. I love the feel of a physical book. I read physical books. I read my own books on eBook because I have to. I don’t enjoy reading books in eBook format. I know other people do. I know other people find them incredibly helpful. But my eyes don’t like them. I don’t find that I process the information the same way.
So for me, it’s always a paperback. It was so important for me to produce something that I thought was a beautiful thing as well as an object and to try and get those onto the books of bookshelves. And I have to say I’ve kind of abandoned my attempts to get stocked in bookshops. It’s so hard, it really is.
I forgot to mention Clays with my team. We only went as far as the production and Clays produce my paperbacks for me. But they also did they do more than that, they do distribution as well.
I have a catalog that I send to book shops in the UK. The slightly frustrating thing with Clays is that although they do the distribution to book shops, you don’t find out which book shops have bought your book. So you can’t find out what and grand worth that you’ve been doing has paid off.
But I’ve stopped taking my boxes of books and driving to book shops and saying, “Please stock my book.” I’ve just stopped that kind of activity that I was doing.
Joanna: Just on that so people know, so Clays is a printer and a distributor. So you would have paid upfront for them to print a certain number and then put in their warehouse. Whereas I do print through Ingram Spark so I only do print-on-demand.
Jane: I do print-on-demand and I do short print runs. So Clays do short print runs. It’s a service that they’ve only introduced for Indie authors in recent years. They will print you one book. Fifty books, it’s still quite expensive. But if you order 100 books plus it starts getting economical. If you order 200 books, the price comes down to below £2 for paperback.
And they will deliver to one UK address but they will also keep…I don’t know what the number is. It’s a box of books on site. And those they will distribute for you through Gardeners to book shops. So you have a stock for yourself and you have a stock that they keep there as well. And I think they will still do the distribution above that, but they will charge you for warehousing if you get a certain number that they keep free.
Joanna: So circling back on eBook pricing.
Jane: I started off at £2.99.
Joanna: So £2.99 or $2?
Jane: £2.99. I had been gradually trying to edge up to £4.99. Some of my books were selling it £4.99, some weren’t.
Something specific happened last summer. One of those things was that I got a Book Bub deal for my book A Funeral For an Owl And I had been trying to sell it at £4.99. And I did it at 99p. And it sold massively but it didn’t stop selling. So I didn’t reduce the price.
Now this was about the time that amazon.com were telling people in other countries you can only buy from amazon.com if you’re a U.S. resident.
So prior to this time, I’ve had quite a degree of success with Amazon Marketing Services in the U.S. At that time, those sales dried up and it became apparent to me that the people I was trying to reach all myself started to come from .com, .au. So Australia and New Zealand basically.
And it appeared to me that that’s where my market really is, the UK. I don’t appear to have a U.S audience. So there wasn’t much point carrying on with the advertising on .com. And in fact, the book sales continued to grow for A Funeral For an Owl. And I was putting all this work into trying to push for £4.99price.
But I was giving away so much of that money in marketing expenses that I actually decided to trial for one and reduce all my book prices to 99p. The reason for this was I started to help care for my dad, who has dementia, two days a week, and it was taking up writing time.
If I was going to write a next book, because I hadn’t written anything for a year, I realized I was going to have to cut back on marketing massively and walk away from it. And suddenly, there seemed to be a way of walking away from it. So it feels like selling out because I’ve always been against low pricing. I’ve always felt that books should be priced to represent their value.
And yet, where I get the value is because I need to put a value on my time. And I can’t be spending 70% of my writing time and a great deal of budget on trying to get the price at £4.99 for a book.
The other advantage for me with Amazon with the 99p is you are on the 35% commission rate instead of the 70%. And so, actually, you’ve got to make three times as many sales to make up for them. But the really good thing, as far as I’m concerned is that they don’t allow eBook lending at the 35% rate or you have to opt into it rather.
So it’s not automatic whereas at 70% you have to allow eBook lending. And because I go out and speak to book clubs quite a lot because book clubs are my market, I’ve been aware for some time. I used to be able to go to a book club and even if they’d already bought the book, I would be able to sell 20 or 30 copies of paperbacks at a book club.
I wouldn’t be paying for a market stall. I wouldn’t be paying money back to a bookseller. I wouldn’t be paying commission to a bookseller. So I would get 100% of that book price. So although I had gone and spoken to a book club and given up my time, I would actually get some sales out of it. And in the past year or two, I’ve not been getting any sales.
And when I actually asked the question, they said, “Oh no, we don’t buy paper books. One of us buys an eBook from Amazon and we all copy it and give it to this…”
So they’re downloading books from pirate sites. These are people who consider themselves to be book lovers, book worm people. They consider themselves to be supporting the publishing industry and yet they think it’s acceptable to buy one copy of an eBook and put it on an eBook library like Caliber and pass it around the whole group.
If you imagine now I’m only getting £1.99 per sale for a whole book club. It’s so destroying to be honest.
Joanna: I’m stunned that it’s a book clubs they’re normally women over 45…
Jane: It’s almost exclusively women mostly.
Joanna: That’s crazy. That makes me quite sad as well. We definitely should not be encouraging that.
This is almost nine months on from when you made those changes to your pricing. Do you get a sense of whether it was worthwhile?
Do you feel you’ve had your time back, the pricing is working, you’re still moving books?
Jane: I’m not selling as many. I am moving books. I’m not selling as many as I was for me because I think people start buying paperbacks around Christmas time, start looking at present buying. It dropped off.
So between August and the end of last year was absolutely fantastic. And I was thinking for the first time, “My goodness, this is actually a considerable contribution to my revenue. If I could do this every year, it would be a significant amount of income, not so huge but significant for me.”
Because I also work as a compliance consultant. So I could do some freelance work as well. And I thought, “Well, I can start building apps and a self-publishing pot as it were for future projects.” And it has tailed off a bit.
I tried the nerve of it, putting my prices back up to £1.99 and the sales just dried up completely. So I’ve actually gone back down. And that was always my aim that it would be temporary and that I will start nudging up again. But I don’t think I can do that.
The good news is for the UK market I can still utilize Amazon Marketing Services and it still pays for itself even at the 99p because my campaigns all run at about 15%. So there’s still money there.
And if I can get a new reader on board as well, he’s going to go and read the other books with that. And the ads in the UK still pay for themselves. So I’m pretty pleased with that even at the 99p because lots of people say, “Oh, well, if you’re going to advertise on Amazon, obviously your prices got to be high enough to pay for that.”
Joanna: This is interesting because when I heard Karen Inglis, of course, who you know is another Indie author. And I think this is one of the benefits of being in a genre, whether you want to call yourself literary or not, but within categories that are less targeted by Indies right now.
It’s very expensive in romance, in thrillers, in mystery, in crime. But if you’re in poetry or literary fiction or children’s fiction, you can still get good return on your ads because there are fewer authors actually paying for ads at that level and fewer publishers.
Jane: Definitely. My book that I’m advertising for that is historical fiction that runs at a, I might say lost but that runs near the break even. And whereas the ones that are contemporary literary, they run very, very well. So I think you’re probably right there.
Joanna: You’ve given us loads of tips on marketing there, Book Bub and AMS and book clubs and things.
Do you have any other thoughts for writers in your genre on marketing?
Jane: I think it’s quite individual. I tried Facebook ads and they didn’t work for me. And I quite quickly clocked up a lot of money, got very scared and ran away from that. And since 2012, I’ve been interviewing other authors.
I have a blog called Virtual Book Club. And the idea being that they get a bit of publicity and in return I get other visitors on my website and hopefully they might stay and have a bit of it explored like what they see there. Social media, I suppose, has been quite successful for me, certainly in terms of nurturing some contacts and friendships.
I have several hidden Facebook groups with other authors who will support groups and bits and pieces as well. And I’ve done some joint ventures with other people.
I did a joint venture with some other members from the Alliance of Independent Authors a few years ago. A box set called “Outside the Box.” And as a result of that because we got there with the power of several individuals, we were able to get in several national newspapers, which I don’t think it would have been possible to do on our own. And so that was very exciting.
But it’s a sort of scattergun approach. You have to try and see what works. And I think it’s very important to not write off the things that didn’t work for you two years ago, because the market is changing.
Publishing is changing so rapidly that you have to constantly revisit the way that you’re doing things and make sure that you haven’t missed a trick. And perhaps go back and try something that didn’t work before, perhaps something you’re doing now just stops working.
So you’ve just got to find the next thing to latch on to. And the chances are that that won’t work forever. I’m sure that my pricing strategy at the moment is a temporary thing. And so you have to constantly keep looking at it and experimenting. Be willing to experiment. It does take time.
Joanna: I think it’s that being willing is exactly the point. And I think particularly in literary fiction, there are people who are less willing to engage with some of these marketing activities.
You mentioned the word ‘sellout’ around your pricing, which I totally would never use that around anything you do at all but you clearly feel that.
Jane: I do find it difficult. And actually, I got a really supportive response from somebody because I felt it necessary to put my reasons down. I felt it necessary to blog about my reasons for reducing my prices. And I wanted people to know that this is not the value of the book.
There are no books out that are only worth 9-, but I’m sure there might be some. This is a year, two years of someone’s life they’ve spent on professional services. They haven’t just written it and pushed it… This is one of the reasons I dislike the term self-publishing because the perception of people, there is still the dismissal, “Oh, you’re self-publish.”
And the thought that it’s not seen as a professional way of doing things. It is and it costs money. And the idea that a book that’s been two years in the writing and had all that money spent on it should only be worth 99 P. I do find it difficult.
David Gaughran sent me a lovely response and said, “Never look at the individual price of the book, look at the total income from that book. I only look at that. And if that makes sense, then keep on doing what you’re doing.” And that’s the thing that makes sense now to me.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. Well, look, we’re almost out of time.
Tell us what are you working on at the moment, or anything you want to tell people about what you do write.
Jane: I’m quite superstitious about talking about work-in-progress and with very good reason, really. You always feel as if you’re discovering something for yourself when you’re reading it. And like other people, I read three biographies last year and I found that there was a connection back.
I found there was a connection between three people in the biographies. And I thought, “That’s really interesting.” And you feel as if you’re the only person in the world who could know this and I already have found out that someone is writing something quite similar.
And so you get a bit scared about that, ‘I’m going to have to read that and make sure mine is different enough.” There’s always a state where you’re writing when a book takes a long time to write, you think, “Oh, my goodness, they’ve written my book, and they’ve got their’s first and it’s already out there.”
And the thing is they won’t have your characters. They won’t have your story line. They won’t have the structure. They won’t have anything else.
Joanna: There is a work-in-progress. Good to hear.
Jane: There is a work-in-progress. I’m about 65,000 words in, which is quite early days for me. I don’t know if it’s going to be as long as some of my other novels but it is first draft.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, tell people where they can find you and your books online.
Jane: My website is jane-davis.co.uk. And I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. Those are the two main ones, actually.
I don’t spend a lot of time on other social media websites. I’ve never quite got into the Instagraming thing but post plenty of my photographs on Facebook. I like to, as you do, post a few pictures of where I go on a day-to-day basis in my travels in bits and pieces like that.
And of course my last book was based in the city where I go to for my day job. So I often feel as if I’m revisiting the scene of the book, actually. It does that for you, doesn’t it? It transforms the landscapes when you’ve actually written a book there. And you’re not just thinking, “Oh, this is where I go to work.”
It’s where all the action in your book took place. So that’s some people I think like to see those bits and pieces, especially, particular places that have inspired scenes in your books. So I do remember listing those.
Joanna: Fantastic. Right. Well, thanks so much for your time, Jane. That was great.
Jane: Thank you.