x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

E-books help self-publishing come of age

No longer purely a vanity project, self-publishing is enjoying a boom, thanks to electronic readers.

The self-published author John Locke, in order to go head-to-head with well-known authors like James Patterson, priced his e-book at 99 cents.
The self-published author John Locke, in order to go head-to-head with well-known authors like James Patterson, priced his e-book at 99 cents.

“Everyone has a book in them.” It’s a well-worn mantra – and it may well be true. The problem has always been persuading publishers that your book is the one they want to spend money developing, editing, publishing and finally persuading the public to read.

Until now.

For a number of years, would-be authors have been encouraged by the many ways in which the internet helps them to bypass traditional methods of publishing (and the dreaded rejection letters) and get their work “out there” quickly and easily. Self-publishing became something anyone could do. And when the increasing popularity of Kindles and iPads confirmed that writers didn’t even have to bother printing their books, it was only a matter of time before a hopeful author made it big without the backing of a big publishing house.

That watershed moment came last week, when Amazon.com announced that a self-published author had broken the one-million sales barrier.

The author responsible was John Locke, a 60-year-old thriller writer from Kentucky who uses the online store’s Kindle Direct Publishing to get his book to his audience. Locke has written nine novels, seven of which focus on the exploits of a former CIA assassin named ­ Donovan Creed.

It appeared not to matter that his books didn’t pass through the critical eye of a trained editor. It may have mattered a lot, however, that many were 99 cents (Dh4) each: Locke admits that he deliberately pitched his books at that price point so he could battle with world-famous authors such as James Patterson – whose e-books are sold at 10 times that amount. “Figuring that was a battle I could win, I decided right then and there to become the ­bestselling author in the world – a buck at a time,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

The strategy paid off. Locke has joined an elite group of just seven other authors to have sold a million Kindle copies. Other names on the list include Stieg Larsson and Michael Connelly.

Still, for all the success enjoyed by Locke and the other notable self-published e-book sensation Amanda Hocking, there’s something faintly dispiriting about the way in which these authors shamelessly peddle mass-market, populist fiction. Hocking, for example, writes paranormal young-adult romance squarely aimed at the Twilight generation.

Not everyone, of course, will find a path to stratospheric literary success through self-publishing. But the personal satisfaction can still be immense. In 2010, Antony Last wrote a blog on his experiences of riding solo from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the United Kingdom. The book, which collated his entries, One Man and LEJOG, was born because, as Last says, “words on a screen may be accessible worldwide in seconds, but there’s something magical about the feel of the book”.

His tale would have been impossible without the internet – Last paid for lulu.com’s Global Reach Package which, once you’ve uploaded your opus, gets it listed on all major book databases and subsequently allows it to be picked up by the likes of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

“That bit’s brilliant,” he says. “Someone sees my book online, and Lulu prints it and sends it out in around three days. There is no stock held anywhere as far as I’m aware and I don’t have to facilitate anything myself.”

The book is too new for exact sales figures – although Last has had reviews from around the world. But it was when he also uploaded One Man and LEJOG to Kindle Direct Publishing that the sheer potential of self-publishing became immediately apparent.

“I’ve been completely staggered at the response to the Kindle version,” he says. “It took me an hour and a half to get it formatted and released and I’ve sold 151 around the world. Now that’s not crazy figures compared to Locke, but considering I’ve done no marketing at all and I’m a ‘nobody’, I’m delighted.”

Last says that he wasn’t interested in making his fortune from the book, but it’s easy to see why Locke was so enticed by Kindle Direct: the author gets a far larger share of the revenue from each sale. For Last, that was 70 per cent, though for him it’s as much about the joy of reading good reviews.

“It’s definitely made me consider writing again,” he admits. “But honestly, I just wanted to get a book done, and I would encourage anybody who has considered publishing something to do so,” he says. “The walls that stopped people from getting their material out there have been hauled down. So if little old me can put myself into a position where my story is available globally then that can only be a good thing, right?”

As for Locke, his current title is called How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months. It’s rocketing up the charts. Clever man.

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