Frank Coles brings a wealth of experience to his writing and has enjoyed success in indie and traditional publishing. Learn how he’s mastered marketing across a variety of media (social and traditional formats) and why reviews are so important.
1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book. Pitch me your book in five to ten sentences.
Dark Market (Assassin’s Rule): Kill anyone, anywhere, anytime. Never get caught.
John Savage is a special force of one. A corporate investigator who had to leave when an investigation went wrong. He’s become a 21st century warrior serving overseas, but not for any one government, only the highest bidder.
When he finds a dead body with links to his old life, he returns and finds that what forced him out was only the beginning of a conspiracy to commit murder on a grand scale: the Dark Market, in which anyone can take part and anyone can be a victim. Now Savage must battle to finish what he started.
2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?
I get a buzz from writing, the blank page is like siren call from another world for me. I’ve been writing professionally in one way or another for nearly two decades – TV, journalism, advertising, branding. Writing has taken me to the North Pole and all around the world. Then I became an ‘author’ four years ago. Since then my writing output has dropped. It became all too much about guessing what agents, editors and sales departments were up to. Learning all about the shadier parts of the business that are in plain view and pitching all the time – but so slowly – because the business is so slow.
Now don’t get me wrong, my bread and butter has always been pitching, whether it’s TV programs and formats or journalism and brand concepts. But there is a big disconnect in publishing between, well, everything: traditional and indie, agents and editors, slush piles and proper business development, taking risks and playing it safe, publishing times. It’s a book in itself!
3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?
Yes, my book How to Drive a Tank…and Other Everyday Tips for the Modern Gentleman was traditionally published in the UK and worldwide, apart from the US. There was a book series in the pipeline, then the recession hit and a TV celeb ripped it off, so game over for book two, even though book one still sells.
I still own the rights to the US and dependent territories, so I’m indie pubbing it myself over there as I have a strong audience for the book videos on YouTube and my National Geographic channel. I’ve also edited and ghostwritten.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
Hard work, and until I get my back catalogue up I’m still not writing enough. But that’ll change very soon.
5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been the most successful?
In indie publishing, to be honest it’s too early to tell. Dark Market is picking up steam without much input. I sought a review from an Amazon top 50 reviewer which helped, but I’m waiting to get the marketing big guns out when the first three books are up. All successful indie authors say that the sale of one book drives the reader who likes it to their others.
Write more. Write well. Have a blog that is fun and not a burden.
I’m also building up my Twitter base while doing this so that I don’t have to do it when I’m writing. I’d rather have fun with the people I meet and keep the relationships genuine. And to be honest, even though I was a bit of a cynic about Twitter I’m meeting fascinating people every day. The most gratifying thing is when people you haven’t met before tell you that your work affected them in some way. I got a Twitter message recently that read, “Just finished Tank, truly inspirational and motivating in parts, just started a new life in London and was exactly what I needed.” How can you not love that!
In traditional publishing I used to do lots of radio interviews, got books of the month from big magazines like Top Gear and promoted myself to TV companies for the non-fiction (I’ve been shortlisted for big projects a couple of times). I have a NatGeoAdventure web channel and a modest YouTube following. YouTube also acts as a good point of contact for readers and provides some minimal revenue. I’m going to explore this as a marketing tool for books more in the coming months.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
Not yet. But I’m sure there’ll be plenty. For traditional publishers I’d say take over your own website. Many publishers want you to have a blog but they don’t really understand the dynamic that makes a good one. I took mine back last month, and although readership dipped a little, engagement is increasing and that’s what counts!
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Everyone talks about the latest big thing, Hocking, Konrath, whoever, but whatever worked for them isn’t a sure fire hit for you, you’ve got to persevere and make your own way. Whatever publishing route you take it’s your efforts that will sell the book, nobody else’s.
It’s a bit like William Goldman’s take on the movie industry: “Nobody knows anything” when it comes to predicting what will be big or what will work in the marketplace. Goes double here. Define and track your own success – or lack of it – and work with what you have. There are no magic bullets.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
Have a bigger back catalogue, farm out the marketing and formatting. The back catalogue will come with time and energy.
The marketing, you’d have to do it yourself most of the time even with a traditional publisher – no matter what some agents have been saying recently.
Formatting: at the minute, formatting is a bit like the browser wars of the 90s internet. A pain to manage but essential. I’m trained to masters level in science and computing and I’ve tested out most of the methodologies out there (it took five weeks). You can do most standard fiction formatting for just about every platform in about four to six hours. Non-fiction takes longer but there is a simple workflow for Smashwords which I’ll publish on my blog soon and a very useful tool for everything else. It’ll cost you no more than about $30 for a one-off payment to do this – and not to me. I’ll also review a whole load of e-books/blogs on the subject that I worked through to get to a quicker code-free, full cover workflow. Be warned there is a lot of drivel out there on the blogosphere about this.
9. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
I don’t agree with this. In traditional publishing I waited six months for the publisher to come up with one radio interview. It took me a morning of emailing producers with a pitch to get another 20 and we went head to head on reviews. In my TV days I worked for that kind of coverage, hitting phones, mass mail-outs, social media. I could get three days of work done in one at home. The indie always has speed and adaptability as his friend.
These days the most important reviews – in my opinion – are the Amazon customer reviews. I always read them before going to traditional bookshops and I’m not the only one. You can get those by approaching Amazon reviewers directly, along with previous reviewers of your book and anyone who messages you.
This question really made me think. So far I’ve been avoiding the usual routes I would take as a marketer or through traditional publishing because I’m now indie publishing. Is that because I still unconsciously see self-publishing in the negative light it was always presented in? I think I’ll do an experiment on this and see how it goes.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
Assassins Rule 2 & 3; a very naughty non-fiction book which is what Tank was going to be originally; an historical cop/martial arts story based on a real-life British ex-pat with a non-fiction auto-biography that I’ve sourced (unknown and never published); a serial killer book that hopefully redefines the norm for these sad little misanthropes; one non-fiction book via traditional publishing just bit the dust due to un-businesslike advances but there’s a couple more there in the pipeline.
On top of that I’ve got some expeditions to plan, some travel junkets to take, about 60 YouTube videos to film, a family to grow and a house to renovate. It’s all good.
11. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
I can do better than that, how about one word? The BBC said it for me on Tank: “Hemingway-esque.” I’m not worthy!
12. How can readers learn more about your books?
All the usual book outlets plus: