In July, I attended one of the most useful and inspiring writer-focused events I've ever been to: The Self Publishing Show Live. It was a two-day event organised by the team behind author Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula(SPF). For those who don’t know, SPF is a 'one-stop shop' for all things self publishing, offering courses covering a range of subjects as well as lots of free resources, including the hugely popular The Self Publishing Show podcast.
But while the show and SPF as a whole is officially aimed at indie authors, much of what's on offer is super useful for traditionally-published authors too. I saw that first-hand at the show last week as I bumped into lots of familiar faces from the trad world. Like me, many are considering the hybrid route. Some are even looking to go 100% indie. Others simply attended the show to get tips and tricks from the indie world to help with their traditional releases.
Either way, all the authors I spoke to agreed on the same thing: The show was AMAZING! I could do a whole series of blog posts about what I learnt there but I haven't got time for that! Instead, I want to share some of the highlights I took away which might be useful to authors who have trad publishing contracts too...
1. Writers need to trust their instincts more
Did you know I’m a bit of a data geek? I love trawling through sales figures to learn what works in which genres. So I was in data heaven during the talk by Alex Newton, the guy behind K-lytics, a data crunching company focused on the book world. There is so much great stuff I could share about his talk (including his tongue-in-cheek prediction that Amish Cyberpunk is going to be the next big thing 🤣). But I’d end up having to dedicate this entire post to his presentation.
So, instead I'll focus on something that really struck me as I looked at the stats he was presenting: If you hear on the grapevine that a certain genre isn't selling, don't let that put you off. Instead, go check out the raw data yourself via a service such a K-lytics so you can make your own judgments.
For example, a recent report by Nielsenwould give you the impression digital sales are on a slippery slope downwards. I saw a bit of panic on Twitter and in the Savvy Writers' Snug from authors about this. But the simple fact is, the raw data actually shows income from ebooks sales is going up and up and up. And that's ultimately what keeps us in our writing jobs, right? The income.
I've also been hearing that the domestic thriller market is saturated and nosediving. And yet the stats from K-lytics actually suggest it’s still a ‘hot niche’ for digital sales and this is backed up when you check out the top 100 digital bestseller charts.
Of course, this is all very digitally focused and these 'whispers' in the industry about genre sales are usually based more on physical book sales and / or about a publisher or agent's priorities (eg. their lists and whether they have too many authors already covering your genre). YOU need to think about where the majority of your income comes from. Should you be making decisions based on physical book sales... or digital? What is important to you? It's worth digging deeper.
So my first takeaway from SPS Live is… don’t always blindly listen when people tell you not to write in a certain genre. Do you own research.
2. TikTok works… if a popular BookTokker recommends your book
Oh no, not another book person banging on about TikTok. Yeah I know, there’s been soooo much talk about TikTok lately.
But there IS a reason for it. It's very clear now that TikTok can shift sales, particularly in genres like romance. I've seen it myself with the sci-fi romance I independently published (seriously. When one of my videos got over 22k views, I literally saw sales go up on my KDP dashboard an hour later). But before I add to the 'TikTok is amaaaaaaaazing for sales' chorus of excitement, what I learnt during SPS Live is that the big successes mainly happen when a popular BookTokker recommends a novel. So it's less about devoting time to making TikTok videos as an author and more about getting your books into the hands of popular BookTokkers.
This was highlighted by Lucy Score, the contemporary romance author taking the Amazon charts by storm at the moment, and Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti, the sister writing team behind the multi-million copy selling Zodiac Academy series. Though these authors are on TikTok, they confirmed the videos that helped their sales rocket tended to come after popular BookTokkers raved about their books.
Of course, author videos that go viral definitely give your books more chance of getting noticed by these BookTokkers, and SPF co-founder and author James Blatch did a superb presentation to help with this. But what’s important is either getting your book into the hands of popular BookTokkers (tough when the good BookTokkers are inundated with proof copies, but then hasn't this always been the case with bloggers too?), or writing books that evoke passionate reactions so they’re talked about on TikTok.
My second takeaway from SPS Live is… get on TikTok if you enjoy making videos. But it’s more important to ask yourself, or your publisher, what the plan is to get your books into BookTokker’s hands.
3. Check your contracts
Joanna Penn, known as The Creative Penn, is a much loved figure in the indie world thanks to her popular Creative Penn podcast, her super useful books and courses too (oh and her awesome dancing skills, as I learnt at the show's evening event which was also attended by EL James, author of the Fifty Shades megaseller series. Thanks, Joanna, for encouraging us all onto the dance floor!!)
Something Joanna is super hot on is looking to the future. What particularly struck me about her talk is how important it is for authors with contracts to check any clauses about digital rights. Why? As Joanna says, a new wave of change is on the literary horizon, a wave with exciting creative developments in areas such as Article Intelligence (AI), for example. Think this sounds a bit 'out there'? Well, the fact Spotify has invested in AI voice platforms around the same time they're focusing more on audiobook plans shows just how important this is going to become. Still not sure? Remember when people scoffed when they were told the Kindle was going to revolutionise reading and writing all those years ago….?
While Joanna is not suggesting all writers engage with these new developments if they're not comfortable, one thing that’s worth doing right NOW is being careful about giving away too many digital rights in your contracts. So lines like ‘All formats existing now and to be invented’ isn’t too great for us authors long-term if we want to explore new digital opportunities in the future. Or when signing away audio rights, we should think about whether our contract should specify ‘human voice’ so we can do exciting stuff with AI voices down the line.
What Joanna also demonstrated in her talk is that as daunting as these 'futurist' developments might seem at first, they're actually quite easy to get to grips with... and creatively exciting too!
So my third takeaway from SPS Live is…look to the future and check your contracts.
4. Look after your body
Important one, this. But also something many authors (I’m looking at me in particular here!) ignore. Watching mega-seller Lucy Score's interview at the show reminded me how important it is to make health a priority. When Lucy's sales really took off and she was getting ridiculous royalties every month, it didn’t just allow her to build the perfect house (guys, she has a writing room accessed via a SECRET BOOKSHELF!). It also allowed her to invest in her long-term health. As she said: ‘I want to be my best self so I can continue doing what I love for as long as possible.’
So my quick forth takeaway from SPS Live is… investing in your health is just as important as investing in a secret writing room!
5. Write what you’re GOOD at writing
Bestselling hybrid author Suzy Quinn did a great talk at the show on how to write a bestseller. And by bestseller, she was quite clear on how she defines that: selling 100k copies of your novel (not novels all together, but one novel).
I got SO much out of her session. But what really struck me is how important it is for us as authors to, as she put it, ‘know thyself’. So when we read our work back, what are we particularly proud of? What do our readers love about our stuff? It might seem so obvious but I honestly don’t think we authors truly focus enough on that. Sure, we might focus on writing what we love, or writing to market, but what about really delving deep into what we’re bloody good at already?
This really made me think. I'm blessed enough to have had some of my novels achieve that 100k bestseller status. But it isn't a consistent thing. So this week I've not only signed up for the ‘How to write a bestseller’ course Suzy runs with SPF, I've also had a good look at my reviews to get to grips with what I’m good at. And what really stood out to me was that my readers love the ‘twists and turns’ I write. So surely it’s best to capitalize on that?
The fifth takeaway from SPS Live is… learn what you're good at writing and write it.
6. Do it your way
Thriller writer Rachel McLean gave a brilliant talk on how she launched a multi-platform advertising campaign to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of her books (Bestseller! Bestseller! Bestseller!). Not only did I come away with a marketing strategy to follow for my indie books, she also highlighted something I've been thinking about a lot lately: not one size fits all.
So for example, some authors will find a particular approach to Facebook ads works wonders for them. They'll share their 'secrets to success' with other authors and those authors will assume it's going to work for them. But that won't always be the case. As Rachel said, we need to find our own ways as authors. And yes, she shared what works for her (and I am SO going to copy it!), but she made it very clear that while you should take her advice onboard, make sure you also experiment, tweak, reject and accept as you go along.
I feel like this applies to writing too. The more we write and experiment, the more chance we have of finding that sweet spot that will get us onto those bestseller lists.
So my 'sweet spot' sixth takeaway from SPS Live is... do your own experiments to see what works for YOU
7. Lockdown = more authors
During the show, I met SO many new authors who told me they'd finally written that novel brewing inside them during lockdown. For some, it was because they had more time on their hands, no longer enduring a long daily commute and chained to the office desk. For others, it was pure necessity after they found themselves in such financial dire straights, they had to find a way to make money and writing was that way.
But they aren't just throwing books out there and hoping they'll stick. Thanks to the services and advice offered by teams like SPF, these authors are not only writing amazing books but they're packaging and marketing them in such a professional way, readers can't tell (and don't care about) the difference with trad published books.
This means there are more awesome books out there crowding Amazon and other online stores. It might, in some cases, explain why sales are stubborn for some trad published authors. But this shouldn't be seen as a negative. It should be seen as an opportunity. You just need to worker smarter and harder to get yourself noticed...and that's why events such as SPS Live are so important.
So my final takeaway from SPS Live is... 'competition' for space on the bestseller lists is tougher than ever, so you need to get more savvy (hey, reading this blog helps and signing up for my enewsletter!). But also: yay, more writer friends to be made!
To sum up, for me personally, SPS Live injected a much-needed shot of clarity, ambition and excitement for a future where I can take more control of my career... and maybe get a secret writing room installed, too! But it also really showed that the myth about indie authors trying to catch up with the trad world is just that: a myth. Maybe, maybe, it's the other way around. Trad authors, and the trad publishing world as a whole, needs to catch up with the indie world.
Want to learn more? Head on over to selfpublishingformula.com to learn more about what SPF can offer you. If you want to listen to these talks for yourself, get yourself a digital ticket by clicking here.