The Back Road hits the top spot on the Waterstones’ chart

The Back Road was originally published as an Amazon exclusive – an arrangement that lasted for six months. I’ll be talking more about that experience in a subsequent post, but now it is available in all formats and on most ebook websites. 

Waterstones has proved to be a particular great company to work with, and they have kindly featured The Back Road on their e-books home page and asked me to write a blog post about my experiences as a self-published author. I’ve copied it here to share.

Since writing the post I am happy to report that The Back Road has already hit the top spot on the Waterstones’ ebook chart. Only the Innocent has also crept back into the top 10 at number 5.

Update: Waterstones confirmed that despite The Back Road only being launched in September, it is the 4th highest selling ebook for the whole of 2013. Only the Innocent is the 3rd highest – having been 2nd highest in 2012!

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Waterstones Blog Post

If somebody had told me five years ago that by 2013 I would have had two best selling novels and have just completed the final draft of my third, I would have thought they were joking.

I’ve always been an avid reader, and in my old job as managing director of an interactive media company, writing was a big part of my life. But despite always thinking that I would like to write a novel, I never believed it would happen.

When I took early retirement and moved to Italy, I suddenly found myself with too much time on my hands. For somebody who had always worked long hours, it was a bit of a shock to the system. I love to cook, but there are only so many exotic recipes that I could conjure up in a week, and I loath housework with a passion. I certainly hadn’t given up work to do that.

So as the winter of 2009 set in, I decided to spend the cold, wet months writing the novel that I’d had in my head for about eight years. I wanted to write about dilemmas – the sort that might end in murder.

The premise for my first novel – Only the Innocent – was “what set of circumstances could be so bad that a woman has no other option but to murder a man.” Once I had started, I couldn’t stop. I wrote every day until it was finished.

The truth is that the first version is never the final version, and it went round the houses so many times before finally I decided that it was ready. I chose to self-publish in e-book format, a decision that was based more on time than anything else. I knew that to have a book published the traditional way, I was going to have to pitch to agents who, on the off-chance that they liked my book, would then pitch to publishers. All this was going to take months, if not years. But I couldn’t wait years to get my book out there. I didn’t have the luxury of forty more writing years ahead of me.

Once published, I had very low sales expectations, but after a month of the thrill of selling one or two copies each day, I decided to put my business hat on, and devise a proper marketing strategy. And it worked. Only the Innocent hit the top of the charts in several formats, and was at number one on the Waterstones’ e-book chart for 15 weeks in 2012.

I enjoyed the whole writing experience so much that I couldn’t wait to get started on my second novel. I needed more dilemmas for people to face, but this time I wanted to come up with predicaments that readers might recognise: how to handle a stalker when perhaps you might have led him on a little; what to do if you think your husband is having an affair; how to prevent the past from colouring the present. The Back Road is the story of a tragic accident that takes place in a small village, but with so many people hiding secrets, each of them is inadvertently shielding a potential murderer.

I have chosen to continue self-publishing in the UK – a decision that many people have questioned. Perhaps I am a control freak. But as a self-published author, I can decide when my books will be published and where they will be available. I can monitor sales to check which of the marketing strategies is working well, and adapt accordingly. It’s exciting.

Of course, it also means that I am responsible for commissioning book covers, writing the blurb for the back of the book, developing my website, etc. And then comes the marketing; months of raising awareness of the book, writing interviews, blog posts and so on.

At the moment, I can’t think about taking a holiday because although my third book has now gone to my agent – the one person that I wouldn’t be without – I know that between her and the editor there are going to be plenty of ‘notes’ resulting in chunks of rewriting.

If you have thought of writing a novel and self-publishing in e-book format, it is thrilling and exhilarating, but it is not for the faint-hearted. There is a lot of work involved. If, in spite of that, you still want to give it a try, there are three bits of advice that I would offer:

  1. Do it! Even if you don’t sell any books, do it for your own sake and enjoy it. Read it over and over again and tweak it. Read it out loud to yourself and see if you like how it sounds – and if you do, go right ahead and publish it.
  2. Have your book professionally edited – not just proof read. I’m lucky to have an agent who reads and edits my writing, and also appoints an editor to help me knock it into shape, but the difference they make is remarkable.
  3. Be prepared for the marketing. Don’t just play at it. Work out a strategy of how you are going to get your book to be noticed. With the vast number of books that are available, getting noticed is the key.

Am I glad I did this?

My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.

Further information

The Waterstones blog can be found here

I manage all of my non-Amazon publishing through a great organisation called the eBook Partnership – and you can find out all about them here.

Extract from The Back Road

Ellie jumped as her mobile started to vibrate on the worktop next to her.

Her breath caught, and her arm froze in mid-air. She knew without looking who it would be. Should she answer? Would it be worse to speak to him, or to ignore him? She didn’t want to speak to him ever again, but she couldn’t predict what he would do if she started to avoid him altogether.

Snapping out of her momentary paralysis, she wiped her hands nervously on a tea towel and picked up the phone.

‘Hello,’ she said softly.

‘Why are you crying, Ellie?’

He was here. Ellis nearly dropped the phone as her eyes flew in panic to the huge bifolding glass doors that lined one side of the kitchen, leading out to the side of the house. But he combination of the stormy skies and the brightly lit room made it impossible to see into the murky depths of the garden beyond.

The voice continued. “I’m watching you.”

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