Bestsellers, experiments and print book satisfaction

There is something very satisfying about owning a physical copy of your own book—a LOOK WHAT I DID moment that never comes from staring at a thumbnail of the cover on a screen.

Draft2Digital recently launched a super-easy and free print service for indie authors, so I’ve created paperbacks for the remainder of the Highland Books series, which had previously only been available in e-book form, and two of them were delivered this week.

Although the proof copies I ordered are not as pretty as the custom-made ones I have for Highland Fling and Highland Heart, the interior I formatted using Atticus software is just as good, if not better.

Because we don’t have the purchasing power of big publishers or the economies of scale, indie authors like me can’t sell paperbacks cheaply, so our print novels must be priced in the region of £12-£15, if not more, which is why most of our sales are e-books (95 per cent for me in April so far, which is about standard).

But when one kindly soul emailed me the other week asking whether there were print versions of the other Highland Books because she had enjoyed the first three so much, that spurred me on.

I live for those comments…

I still need to create and order copies of two of my other Highland Books, so that I can add them to my vanity book shelf, which is pictured below.

What I’ve read recently

As I raced through two books that I took out of the library this week, I’ll plug them here: Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, and Rose Tremain’s Lily.

The first book’s premise was intriguing—a historical fantasy about a man who has been alive for centuries—and I borrowed the second because I remembered how much I enjoyed Restoration by the same author.

Reading is a personal and subjective experience, but both books have sold plenty of copies, so what makes them so popular?

I’m about to embark on rewriting one of my books with the lofty goal of trying to create a best-seller (more on that later), so I’m analysing everything I read right now, trying to figure out what makes it resonate with so many people.

(This, incidentally, doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of reading.)

Here are my thoughts on How to Stop Time and Lily:

  • They are page-turners (both professional and Amazon reviewers agree on this). Short chapters, with a hook at the end of each and plenty of tension (i.e. a sense of something bad about to happen).
  • They are immersive—on the pages, the worlds of Elizabethan London (How to Stop Time) and Victorian London (Lily) come to life.
  • Because the main characters evoke our sympathies, we’re rooting* for them to find happiness/succeed.
  • The character’s actions make us wonder what we would do in similar situations.

*For my Australian readers, I know this word has a different meaning in your country… 😉

What I’ve watched (spoilers ahead!)

We came to The Last of Us a bit later than the rest of Western Civilisation, but once there, it took us less than a week to binge through the nine episodes, me occasionally with my fingers in ears, a habit that dates back to when I was a child and the Daleks appeared on Doctor Who.

Again, I’ve been attempting to analyse what made the series so popular:

  • Pedro Pascale. (I’ll leave that there… feel free to disagree and I’ll fight you in the comments).
  • The character arcs, particularly Joel’s, who goes from hardened, cynical mercenary to someone who will fight tooth and nail for Ellie, and Bill’s, who moves from survivalist loner to compassionate carer in episode three.
  • Ellie’s kick-assed-ness.
  • An ensemble cast—it keeps things interesting by flitting between a variety of characters and their backstories.
  • The tension is there in bucketloads because you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time waiting for something horrible to happen.
  • The focus on humanity and their adaptability to the reality in which they find themselves, rather than the infected, prompts the viewer to ask themselves, “What would I do under those circumstances?”
  • Re the above bullet—the ending. Was Joel right to save Ellie at the expense of humanity? And would Ellie have been able to provide the cure anyway…?
  • And finally, the giraffes. Just because.
Photo by Pixabay on

The How to Write a Bestseller Experiment

Where to go from here… I’m in the middle of an existential writing crisis.

I muddle along, writing fiction that doesn’t sell enough to recoup the money I spend on covers, critiques, proofreading, etcetera.

There has been a lot of talk about Substack and its benefits for writers, with famous names (Salman Rushdie) publishing novels on there, not as famous names serialising their books and becoming success stories (Elle Griffin) while others treat audiences to their amazing insights and wisdom (Dominic Cummings*).

[*That was sarcasm, by the way.]

I’ve been blogging on and off for 12 years now and have never really got the hang of what to write about/how to position this blog. If I was starting now, I would do things very differently.

Substack is supposed to make it easier for you to monetise your content, providing you can persuade enough people that is worth paying for. That’s a big ‘if’, though.

As a writer of only middling success, I don’t want to publish a novel on there but I came up with the idea of a regular newsletter—the How to Write a Bestseller Experiment, where I embark on a mission to produce one and document what I do.

It would focus on craft—turning the first draft of a book I’ve already written in a popular genre (crime/thriller) into something that is page-turning, gripping and enjoyable—and building a ‘platform’.

I know, horrible, horrible word but it does seem as if you make life easier for yourself if you build anticipation and then launch your book, rather than the other way around, as every celebrity who gets a book deal can tell you.

I’m very much a LOOK, THE SHINY NEW! type of person, forever jumping on bandwagons, convinced the next big thing will work for me. Only for it not to.

But to use the old cliché, it is better to try and fail than not to try at all.

Wish me luck! And if anyone reading this is on Substack, let me know in the comments and tell me about your experiences there. Thank you!


7 thoughts on “Bestsellers, experiments and print book satisfaction

  1. Hi Emma,
    I’m so pleased you have hard copy versions now available and you have interest in them from fans of your work.
    Thanks for the asterisk on that word we treat a little differently in Australia. 😊

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