Today I would like to introduce you to Tom Williams. Welcome to my blog, Tom. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I used to write books for business. Now I write historical novels and books about vampires that are generally described as fiction but which are often more realistic than the business books. The stories have given me an excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt and Borneo and call it research.
I live in London where my main interest is avoiding doing any honest work. In the days before covid I used to ski and skate and dance tango. Now all that is left is dancing tango at home with my wife, which is more fun than it really ought to be. Otherwise I read old books and spend far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.
You can read all about me (if you really must) and my books (yes please) on my website: https://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk. I also have a Facebook page (AuthorTomWilliams) and I tweet as @TomCW99
This week instead of the Q & A format we are going with more of a guest post type of format:
Self-publishing vs traditional presses
My tenth book was published on 19 March. My first six were conventionally published by small presses. Like most writers, I was thrilled when one of my books was accepted for publication. Disillusion came more slowly.
I know a lot of writers who have moved away from conventional publishing into self-publishing and many of them are quite bitter about the way that their publishers have treated them. I don’t want to abuse publishers. Publishers gave me a lot of support and encouragement with my first books as well as providing me with editorial services and cover design. Having them doing that sort of thing meant that I could concentrate on writing, rather than having to worry about how to format book for Kindle or what size my paperbacks should be printed.
The trouble is that many publishers have responded to the avalanche of books being written by taking on large numbers of authors, giving them minimal sales support and seeing which ones begin to move. Authors who can generate signs that they might have a readership will gradually find themselves given more marketing backup and they eventually make it to the point where – as one relatively successful conventionally published author remarked – their royalties will buy them a good meal once in a while. For the authors who don’t pick up readers early in the process, there will be no more marketing support and their sales will dwindle and die.
Harsh as this approach is, it makes sense for publishers. Predicting which books will sell and which will not is famously difficult. You have only to look at the number of publishers who “knew” that Harry Potter was never going to get anywhere. In the circumstances, it makes sense to throw a lot of books out there and let the public do the sorting for you.
The approach is sensible for publishers who have, potentially, hundreds of writers. (One thing I have noticed is that some independents are now taking on far more writers than any but the largest firms can honestly give proper attention to.) It is much less sensible for the writer who has only a few books (and, to start with, only one) to carry their hopes and dreams. The sad fact is that, unless you write the sort of book that can grab an audience immediately, you are unlikely to be one of the lucky few authors who gets a decent share of their publisher’s marketing budget.
Many authors (encouraged by their publishers) try to battle their way up the greasy pole by paying for their own promotion in the hope of getting enough traction for their publisher to notice them. I’ve always been uncomfortable doing this, as you pay 100% of the promotional costs but pickup only your royalty share (maybe just 20%) of the revenue generated. Which brings us to another problem with publishers: they have to make a profit and, unless they can generate a substantial number of sales, that profit is essentially made at your expense. Obviously once you are a bestselling author the tens of thousands of pounds your publisher will make are dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands that you
pull down, but only a tiny percentage of authors make any significant amount at all. The difference between being self-published and keeping all of your profits and being conventionally published and keeping only a small royalty is the difference between a hobby which barely pays running costs and something which can make a small but real contribution to your finances.
The benefits of self-publishing
The biggest benefits, as far as I’m concerned, have been being able to market my books more vigorously and, as a result, seeing a substantial increase in sales and benefiting from the financial rewards of this and hence seeing a startling increase in the amount of cash generated.
There are other benefits as well. I was once at a meeting with several very successful historical writers (historical fiction is my main genre) and they complained that their well-known commercial publishers kept putting historically inappropriate covers on their books. I felt their pain – we writers spend ages trying to get the details of the novel historically correct to have a schoolboy howler on the front cover. Not if you are self-published! There may still be mistakes on my covers, but they are my own fault. I put a lot of work into researching some of the cover pictures and I’m very happy with the results.
For example, that map in the background of the cover of Burke in the Land of Silver isn’t just any old map of South America, but a map dating to the period when the book is set. (And the rather lovely knife was bought by me in Argentina.)
I doubt many people will notice these details, but they give me enormous satisfaction.
Having control over the details of what you write and how it is presented is very gratifying but there are practical benefits too. In the past, I have turned up at conferences and readings with books that cost me pretty much the same as I can sell them for. Now I can buy at a publisher discount which means I can make a profit if I do a personal appearance – which is nice. I get daily feedback (if I want it) on my sales and, of course, control of how much my books are advertised.
The problems with self-publishing
Of course all this control comes at a cost. The most obvious cost is money. I didn’t produce that cover myself – I had to pay somebody else to do it. I’ve been lucky in not having to pay for editorial services, but most people do have to and that they can set you back a lot. And that advertising that I used to complain my publishers didn’t do? It turns out that’s not cheap either.
Even more significant than the cost is the sheer amount of time and effort that goes into all this – formatting books for publication, briefing designers, sourcing those period maps, reading up on the theory behind advertising profitably on Amazon (and, trust me, if you don’t you will lose a lot of money). All these things eat into time and energy. There’s no doubt that if I wasn’t doing it I’d be writing more. But, against that, I’d be read less. I’d rather my ten books had a small but real market than that I had fifteen that were selling derisory numbers.
Advice to a would-be self-publisher
I’m not sure I’m really in a position to give advice. I’m not a famous author and I’m not rich. Besides that, an awful lot of this publishing business – as you probably realised from what I’ve written so far – is very emotional. I know people who just cannot promote their books. They find it almost physically painful. They can write a perfectly good 90,000 word novel but are incapable of putting down 280 characters in the tweet that explains why you might want to read a book by them. Play to your strengths. Go with what works.
At a practical level I suggest that you start with Amazon. Google KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and follow the instructions that you will find that. Follow them precisely and make sure that you have time to discover your mistakes and correct them before your book meets the waiting world.
There is loads of advice, both paid for and free, on things like how to use social media (you’re going to have to, so get over it), through how to advertise (you don’t have to but it will help a lot), to making personal appearances, to how to write your book blurb. Lots of people know a lot more about this than me.
Talk to friends who write. If you don’t have any friends who have published, get some – I really can’t emphasise that enough. In fact, the biggest benefit for me of being conventionally published was meeting other authors. They will be your support group. Be nice to them and they will be nice back.
I’ll make a quick plug here for the Historical Writers Association. If you are historical fiction writer, I really recommend this group. It’s incredibly accepting and friendly and being a member will make a difference. Membership fees are yet another unexpected cost of self-publishing, but, at least as far as the HWA is concerned, just pay. I’m also a member of the Society of Authors, which is – how shall I put this – slightly less inclusive and also quite expensive, but I learned the hard way that sometimes having people around who know the publishing scene better than you do is invaluable. I hear great things of the Alliance of Independent Authors and this might be a better choice.
Busy, busy, busy
Sue has suggested I tell you what’s ahead for 2021. Well, at the time of writing we’re just two months into 2021 and so far I’ve produced an audio book of my urban fantasy, Dark Magic and published another contemporary fantasy, Something Wicked and the latest in my series about the Napoleonic era spy, James Burke.
In line with all the advice I’ve been giving, I’ve recently got back the rights to my trilogy set in the mid-19th century, the Williamson Papers. I’ll be republishing them over the summer, so that means new titles and three new marketing campaigns. This all means that the next James Burke book – a traditional spy thriller set in Paris and featuring the Empress Josephine – may be delayed for a while. It’s shaping up to be a lot of fun, though, so I hope it will be worth the wait.
Thank you so much for joining me on my blog today, Tom. I wish you lots of luck and success with your future projects!
James Burke: a spy in the age of Napoleon. Based on an actual spy and real history, this series is a painless way to learn about Napoleonic history while enjoying some very James Bond-esque adventures. Daring deeds, villainous foes and beautiful (and often deadly) women – what’s not to like? It’s history – but not the way you learned it at school.
Buy the Burke books here:
Add to your To Be Read list here:
Burke at Waterloo
‘There’s trouble in Paris. Bonapartists; plots; sedition. Wellesley needs a man who knows how to fit in. Find out what’s going on. That sort of thing.’
Napoleon is on Elba and Europe is at peace. But there’s no rest for James Burke, His Majesty’s Confidential Agent.
Burke’s mission starts in a bar in Montmartre as he infiltrates the group plotting to assassinate the Duke of Wellington and kill the French king.
Pursuing his most deadly foe yet, he moves from the slums of Paris to the aristocratic salons of Brussels until the final showdown on the field of Waterloo, as French and British armies clash in the defining battle of the age.
Burke in the Peninsula
Things getting a bit messy in Spain. Lots of irregulars. Civilians joining in the fighting. That sort of thing. Wellesley needs all the help he can get. They need a man who can pass for a Spaniard. Someone who can make himself useful with the irregulars. Someone who is prepared to fight dirty if it gets things done.
1809 and Burke has barely returned from South America when he is sent off again, this time to join the war being waged by Spanish guerrillas against the French. It’s not long before he’s fighting for his life, but which of the Spaniards can he trust?
Burke faces new adversaries and finds old allies in a dramatic tale of adventure during the Peninsular War, set against the background of the bloody battle of Talavera.
Burke and the Bedouin
Burke’s mission to watch out for French plots in Egypt is overtaken by events when Napoleon invades the country. On one side: a French army, 35,000 strong. On the other: James Burke and Bernadita, the Spanish woman he has saved from captivity in Cairo.
From the Battle of the Pyramids to Nelson’s victory on the Nile, James Burke’s adventures in Egypt find him at the eye of a desert storm. Can he frustrate French plans and get Bernadita safely out of country? And are the pigeons he had to carry to Alexandria going to be any help at all?
James Burke’s second adventure is set against the background of one of Napoleon’s less well-known campaigns.
Burke in the Land of Silver
James Burke never set out to be a spy.
But with Napoleon rampaging through Europe, the War Office needs agents and Burke isn’t given a choice. It’s no business for a gentleman, and disguising himself as a Buenos Aires leather merchant is a new low.
Despite this, he falls in love with the country – and with the beautiful Ana. Burke wants both to forward British interests and to free Argentina from Spain. But his new found selflessness comes up against the realities of international politics. When the British invade, his attempts to parley between the rebels and their new rulers means every man’s hand is against him. Can he come out alive and still strike a blow against the French?
The John Williamson Papers
A rather more serious look at history through the eyes of a witness to British rule in the Far East. John Williamson’s travels see him fighting pirates, charging with Indian cavalrymen in the Indian Mutiny and meeting Karl Marx in London. At the same time he casts a critical eye over the values of the British Empire as he tries to find a place for himself in a world he despises. (A big advantage of self-publishing is that you can write stuff like this. Three major publishers expressed interest in these books before deciding they were “too difficult” for their lists.)
The books are being republished and will be available this summer.
Contemporary Urban Fantasy.
Dark Magic (a novella) and Something Wicked marked a change of genre for me. Both are tales of the supernatural. Dark Magic takes us into the world of Black Magic when a troupe of conjurors decides there are easier ways to impress audiences than constant practice. Something Wicked is a story of tango and vampires – two things that involve getting up close and personal late at night. Both are funny, but with definitely scary bits. (I think comedy horror doesn’t usually work, but according to my Amazon reviews it does here.)
Baby’s blood… Virgin’s tears… Chainsaws… It’s remarkable what some magicians keep back-stage.
Two magic shows: the Maestros of Magic touring the country, playing provincial theatres; the Carnival of Conjurors successful in the West End. When the Maestros learn that the Conjurors are using real magic – Black Magic – to do their tricks they decide that they must use their own, distinctly unmagical, stage skills to stop them. Soon people are dying on stage – but can the Maestros really beat a team that has the devil on their side?
A darkly humorous thriller by a writer who knows the world of magicians and stage magic.
Add Dark Magic to your To Be Read list here:
Buy Dark Magic here:
* A peer of the realm dead in his study, his body drained of blood *
* A tango club where the Undead and the living dance together *
* A 500 year old policeman *
Are some crimes best left unsolved?
Read my Review of Something Wicked here
Add Something Wicked to your To Be Read list here:
Buy Something Wicked Here:
Who’s Next on Indie Spotlight
Susana Imaginário lives in Ireland with her husband and their extremely spoiled dog.
Her hobbies include reading, playing board games, hanging upside down, daydreaming around ancient ruins, talking to trees and being tired.
Her debut novel, Wyrd Gods, combines mythological fantasy with science fiction and psychology in a strange way.