Chances are, you’ve already heard about Mark Edwards and Louise Voss. The biggest self-published e-book success story to date on this side of the Atlantic, the clever duo pushed two novels –Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death – to the top of Amazon.co.uk’s bestselling fiction charts and then inked what was reportedly a six-figure deal with Harper Collins. Even more impressive is that they did all this within a matter of months.
To coincide with the launch of her new blog, Self-Printed right here on writing.ie, Catherine Howard took time out to talk Mark Edwards, to find out exactly how he and Louise worked their magic.
Welcome to Writing.ie, Mark. How did you come to decide to self-publish? Walk us through the decision.
My writing partner, Louise Voss, and I have spent a very long time trying to ‘make it’ (whatever that means!) as writers. About 8 years ago, we wrote our stalker novel, Killing Cupid. At that time, Louise had a publishing deal and an agent, but neither of them were interested because they didn’t want Louise to write thrillers. We managed to sell the TV option, but it never got made…
A few years later, we decided to write another book, a medical conspiracy thriller called Catch Your Death. By this point we were both in the literary wilderness. We couldn’t even find an agent for CYD – my rather useless former agent rejected it with a single line, ‘Just not good enough’, after representing me for years – and after a few months of trying rather half-heartedly, we gave up.
I decided that real life was more rewarding than repeatedly banging my head against a wall. I didn’t care about writing any more. I had a good job where I was appreciated. I had kids. Giving up writing made me feel liberated after so many years of caring too much. Louise still kept trying for a while but eventually reached the end of her own tether.
Then, in summer 2010, I read something online about authors in the US like Amanda Hocking self-publishing their novels for the Kindle. I persuaded Louise that we should give it a go: rather than leave Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death languishing unread for eternity, why not put them online and see if anyone wanted to read them? Louise was reluctant; she thought we’d sell two copies and that it would be humiliating. But we still really believed in the books and decided, after some debate, to rewrite and update them; for example, writing out the dial-up connections and giving our characters mobile phones. This took about six months. During that time, we bought a picture from iStockPhoto and my sister-in-law designed a sexy cover for us.
In February 2011, we put Killing Cupid live on Amazon, priced at 70p. That was the beginning of the most incredible journey since a cat and two dogs set off across America in search of home (or something like that, anyway)
How did you self-publish? Did you use the usual suspects: Amazon/ KDP/Smashwords?
Killing Cupid was published on Amazon and also, after a while, Smashwords. Catch Your Death was only published on Amazon.
Watching from the sidelines, it seemed like your success happened practically overnight. At what point in your self-publishing adventure did you hit #1 on the Amazon bestseller chart?
As the old line goes, it took us fifteen years to be an overnight success.
But after those first fifteen years, the following months were far more eventful, even though sales took off pretty slowly. On day one we sold two copies: to my boss and my mother-in-law. For the first few weeks, we sold around 4 or 5 copies a day, and I personally spent around two hours every night hammering away on social networks, writing blog posts and articles, contacting other writers, just doing everything I could think of to attract attention. Louise did lots of online interviews and submitted the book to review sites, and I developed an unhealthy obsession with checking our sales on KDP.
Slowly, slowly, sales crept up until we were selling around 20 to 30 a day. We started to pick up some excellent reviews. On the final day of April, we sold 77 copies and hit No.1 on Movers and Shakers. We were really excited. Sales continued to grow slowly until we finally, after three months, crept into the top 100. In our first few months we made a grand total of £120.
Then we had a stroke of luck – Killing Cupid made it onto the ‘Also bought’ bars of a couple of books that had climbed into the Top 10, meaning we were suddenly exposed to a lot more potential buyers. But we were still stuck just inside the top 100. After studying the blurbs of some of the big sellers, we rewrote the blurb to Killing Cupid, making it punchier and more straightforward. Sales doubled within an hour and we climbed into the top 50.
At the same time, we published Catch Your Death. We were sure this was the more commercial of the two books, and we republishedKilling Cupid to include an ad for CYD. It sold around ten copies on day one. Then everything went crazy.
Killing Cupid went into the top 40, and CYD climbed to No.200. And then, one weekend, we watched in astonishment as CYD rocketed up the chart. One Saturday morning, about two weeks after we published it, CYD climbed from outside the top 100 to No.11 on the bestseller list. The next day it climbed to No.3. Two days later, it hit No.1. That was one of the most exciting moments of my life. And it stayed there for a month, Killing Cupid following it up the chart until we occupied the No.1 and No.2 spots. It was an incredible feeling. I actually cried with happiness like a big baby – it felt like vindication after so much hard work.
While the headlines are full of million dollar e-book success stories, the reality is a newly-published e-book is just a drop in the Kindle ocean. How do you think you and Louise managed to set yourselves out from the rest, and started to sell your book?
I think it was down to a mixture of a few things: firstly, having a couple of great books (he said, modestly) that were very commercial with strong hooks and openings so that all those people who downloaded samples wanted to read on; secondly, we marketed them well and put an awful lot of effort and time into it; thirdly, we did everything as professionally as possible.
You recently signed a reported 6-figure deal with Harper Collins in the UK. Congratulations! What aspects of the traditional publishing world are you looking forward to? What aspects of the self-publishing world do you wish you could bring with you?
Thank you! I’ve written about our deal with Harper Collins in great detail on my blog, but the most important thing for us is being able to reach a larger audience. I think we’ve pretty much saturated the UK Kindle market – although barely made a dent in the US – and we want people who only buy print books to read our stuff. I want my mum to be able to read our books! It’s also great to have an enthusiastic editor to help us make our books as good as possible, along with a professional team of designers, copy editors and marketers. We are also hoping to sell the foreign rights, which would have been very hard to do on our own.
I suppose the hardest thing will be relinquishing the total control we have as indie writers, being able to check our sales figures live, being able to tweak the descriptions whenever we want. But actually, being free from all that will give us the time to do what we love most: writing. We didn’t write anything while we were first marketing the books ourselves. Now, we are already making great progress on our third novel.
Mostly, we are both looking forward to holding a copy of our printed book in our hands. It’s been my dream for a long, long time and I’m so looking forward to that moment when we get that box of books delivered.
Does your traditional deal mean the end of your self-publishing adventures or do you plan to keep it running parallel?
Louise is planning to self-publish her backlist as the digital rights have reverted to her. I have a couple of solo novels that I’d like to rewrite, but don’t have time, to be honest. We will always feel part of the indie world because it’s such a great, supportive community. I think the lines between indie and traditionally-published authors will continue to blur. However, you are published, you still have to work equally hard and do lots of self-promotion. And if it all goes horribly wrong, we’ll start self-publishing all over again!
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known back when you started self-publishing that you do know now?
That checking our KDP sales every ten minutes wouldn’t help us sell any more copies.
If you could give those considering self-publishing now just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be professional, and be nice to everyone.
What’s next for Mark and Louise?
Desperately trying to get the next novel finished while also carrying on with our day jobs and looking after our kids… The next novel is a sequel to Catch Your Death – it’s going to be a very exciting read, a blockbusting page-turner that takes all the things we did inCatch Your Death and ramps the volume up to eleven. After that, we are going to start a crime series, featuring a very cool cop, the first of which is set around the world of internet dating.
Apart from that, who knows? If 2012 is half as exciting as 2011 it will be very exciting indeed.