BE: Apparently it took you 12 years to finish your first novel. Was this because it was so much more difficult to be published back then?
Alex Shaw: Yes, Hetman (now re-published as Cold Blood) took me 12 years to write but I was writing on and off as a hobby. I didn’t know if I could write a book and the hardest thing, as any new writer knows, is to finish your first full-length novel. I tried for a year to get traditionally published and got halfway with one major publisher before finally getting rejected. I then discovered that I could self-publish with Amazon’s CreateSpace. I happily self-published for five years until I was signed by Endeavour Press last July.
How have you been affected personally by the new online markets where anyone can publish books regardless of any quality control?
I’ve been positively affected. When Kindle first arrived in the UK I suddenly started to sell more than ever and for a short while did extremely well. Quality control is an issue, and I’ve been guilty of more than my fair share of typos, but I’ve always tried to produce the best book I can. There are an awful lot of great undiscovered authors and books out there that are hampered by ineffective blurbs and or bad covers. I think the biggest trap new authors fall into is not taking as much care crafting their covers and blurbs as they do their stories. I have loved being a self-published author and will continue to self-publish my short stories even though I am lucky enough (yes, it was luck) to now have my novels commercially published.
American, British and mainland European audiences seem to be very different markets. Do you find this so, and how do you deal with the different markets?
I think that Americans like American heroes. My SAS novels sell less in the US because of this. With this in mind I wrote a vampire novel with an American hero, and yes, it sells ten times more copies in the US than the UK. I may put more American characters in my future novels but I don’t want to spoil the world of Aidan Snow. I don’t sell much in mainland Europe but am in the process of having my work translated into Spanish, German, French, Italian and Portuguese. I’d love to see my work published one day in Ukrainian.
You write your own book descriptions and create your own covers—both of huge importance in driving sales. What are your other main marketing tactics? How much of your marketing is done by others?
Apart from designing covers and writing blurbs I’m quite lazy. I use Facebook and Twitter but not much else. I recently had a friend take over my Twitter account for me and he increased my followers from 536 to over 14k. Endeavour Press are great at marketing my novels that they publish.
What advice would you give to those who would shun the offer of a traditional publishing contract? After all, it means much lower royalties compared to going it alone.
My advice would be that if you do get an offer of a traditional publishing contract, take it! Controversial, I know, but it is a foot in the door and—I hate to say this—many readers, authors and reviewers tend to take you more seriously if you have a publishing contract. Yes, you will get lower royalties per sale with a publisher but this is offset by the number of units sold and the opportunities that appear. And you can always write another book and self-publish that one. There is a lessening stigma to being self-published, and eventually I hope it will vanish. The most important thing is to act professionally as an author, write the best book and blurb you can and design the best cover. I think the norm will be for most traditionally published authors to become ‘hybrid authors’, keeping their novels with their ‘legacy publishers’ but self-publishing shorter or experimental works.
Do you think writing and publishing is a feasible career option for independent authors? Can people do this as a “laptop lifestyle” means of making a living?
I know authors who do live off their book sales alone but this is the exception, not the norm. Most writers, be they independent or traditionally published, have other forms of income. But it does all depend upon your overheads and lifestyle expectations. I describe myself as being a full-time dad and term-time novelist.
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