We interviewed Nick Lloyd, an independent author living in London. Nick loves writing stories with moral uncertainty, where a reader could take the side of one (or more) protagonists in conflict. His first novel, Emergence, was published on Amazon Kindle and has sold over 10,000 copies to date.
1. Your first book came out in November 2014. Tell us a bit about how Emergence came into being.
Although a keen reader for many years, I only actually started creative writing about six or seven years ago. Initially it was a form of personal escapism, but within a few months of ‘picking up the pen’, there was no doubt in my mind – I wanted to be a real writer.
The core aspects of Emergence had been rattling round my brain in various scraps for many years before I actually started writing it formally. The basic premise of the story is that humanity is at the cusp of evolving to gain a measure of control over supposedly random events; meanwhile there is an unknown alien race observing humanity through this change, dishing out dispassionate judgment.
A critical aspect of sci-fi writing is world-building. I performed a series of thought experiments in which I pumped up quantum mechanics to be influential at a macro level and then set Copenhagen against Many Worlds; it led to a whole series of interesting and engaging moral dilemmas.
And then came the hard bit, actually writing the first 100,000 words… That took three months. Then, over the next 18 months, I rewrote the whole manuscript about three times whilst taking tuition from creative writing experts and a number of internet-based independent publishing service providers.
2. As a first time indie novelist, can you share some of your experiences promoting your book?
In terms of sale for an indie novelist my experience is that there is only one game in town – Amazon Kindle. Everything else pales into statistical insignificance from a sales perspective. I made some effort to get onto other platforms and into bricks and mortar shops but it was not worth my effort.
So, given my position that Amazon Kindle is the focus, the critical factor in book sales/promotion is: The Product. Any writer must spend 99% of their effort on ensuring the content of their book is the best it can possibly be. This means using beta reviewers, structural editors, copyeditors, etc. A writer who is serious about improving needs to actively seek feedback on their work… time and time again.
Once I had assured myself the novel was the best it could be the next two critical items were the book cover and blurb – both have to be engaging and, very importantly, they need to be clear and quick to convey the product. Bear in mind that book covers will be viewed at ‘matchbox’ size and so needn’t be too clever or complex. These things are not 30ft billboard posters or neoclassical paintings, so be simple and clear, and genre specific.
Once I was listed on Kindle (the publishing process for eBooks is pretty simple) it was just a matter of waiting for the reviews to stack up. When I got to about ten reviews I started to use e-mail advertising services (e.g. BookSends, Ereadernewstoday, Book Barbarian, Bargain Booksy, FKBT, Robin Reads etc.). They all offer a similar service in which (a), I discounted my book to 99p/99c, and then (b), they bulk sent an e-mail with my book listed as a ‘high-quality bargain’.
Sales volumes vary greatly… and it is never clear why one service works on one occasion but not on the next. I have a number of writing colleagues now, and a few have had (big) success (i.e., sales greater than 25,000 books), but not many of us indie authors have had multiple successes across different books. It is very hard to point to any particular event that turns one book into a runaway success.
It helps to combine and plan promotions to reinforce each other so that you (hopefully) start climbing the Amazon Sales rankings. Once that happens then you can get a snowball effect.
(FYI, I have sold ~10,000 copies of Emergence, pretty much all at 99c/99p)
This is not my experience yet, but received wisdom is that a big factor for success is having multiple products. This is difficult for a first time author, but it has made me consider whether I should be knocking out one novel every two years, or interspersing them with a few short stories… that is an open question for me.
3. You’re working on a new novel, Disconnected. What have you learned from your first publication that will influence what you’ll do differently this time around?
The critical items remain the same: I will work hard (with an independent editor) to ensure the product quality, and I will ensure the book cover, blurb and supporting meta-data are all as good as I can possibly get them (for my budget).
However, from a marketing perspective I will do a much more structured set of promotions… such that I schedule the various email shots in alongside Amazon Countdown Deals etc.
Also, I will reach out to my new network of writing buddies to see what support I can get from their blogs or their own contacts.
And… I will also “reprioritise” the effort I spent trying to get publisher and agent interest, and/or bricks’n’mortar sales. For my first book I spent months pedalling my manuscript around agents and small publishers. It is very time consuming and (for me) did not yield anything. I will self-publish via Amazon Kindle and if my product hits the zeitgeist and tops the Amazon lists then someone may come calling me. It happened to Andy Weir and E L James. I am not holding my breath… 😉
Apart from that… Tidy up my web-site, ensure I talk about my book shamelessly to anyone showing the remotest bit of interest… I wrote Emergence… See what I did there!
4. The indie community in genre fiction seems pretty collaborative. Can you tell us a little about how supportive your fellow writers have been?
I have built up a network of five or six other independent authors and we occasionally draw on each other for advice and support. But rather like social media ‘time leeches’ (like Twitter, Instagram), spending too much effort connecting with other writers does detract from the main game; when it comes down to it, writing is a solitary business. It is correct to say that the indie community is collaborative but any writer needs to be disciplined with regards to how much they involve themselves in it.
That said, many forums (I use www.sffchronicles.com and The Alliance of Independent Authors) will connect you with writers who can provide critiques or share information about book reviewers/cover designers/submission windows.
5. What advice would you give anyone deciding to give up their job and take up writing fiction?
As a form of creative expression and self-help and wonderment, I would highly recommend to anyone the process and activity of creative writing. I simply love it.
As a method of earning money it is marginally less effective than trying to filter gold out of the ocean with a fine weave silk handkerchief in your mouth.