Kate Allan is the author of a number of romantic novels, including Krakow Waltz, Fateful Deception and The Smuggler Returns. Under her married name of Kate Nash, she is also a literary agent and a director at independent publisher Myrmidon Books. She has recently self-published for the first time; a novella, Snowbound on the Island, available as an e-book through Amazon.
Kate, you’re used to publishing and representing other authors. You’re used to having your own books published by other people. How does it feel to be doing it all yourself, for yourself?
I thought I’d find it liberating but in fact being in control of the entire process from the writing through to bringing to market has been terrifying. Being published by a traditional publisher means someone else out there thinks your work is good enough to invest in. Suddenly that decision was with me, the author, and that was surprisingly frightening. All the usual self-doubt that I get when I press ‘send’ on a submissions, and then some.
In fact Snowbound on the Island, the novella I’ve self-published, was accepted by a traditional publisher in America but after seeing the terms on offer I withdrew it. However, it still felt like a big decision to self-publish and be the person ultimately deciding my own book was good enough to be published.
Why the move to e-publishing? Can we expect more self-published e-books from you in the future?
Issuing Snowbound on the Island as an ebook was the right decision for that work. I looked at other publishers and options for the story including magazine serialisation, but I couldn’t see a natural fit anywhere. Yet I knew that fans of romantic fiction would enjoy it and that the short length made sense as a potential ebook. Because I’ve got a track record now with My Weekly Pocket Novels and these go into Tescos, WH Smiths and other outlets denied to self-publishers, it still makes more financial sense to continue to write my shorter novels for that line. However, if sales of Snowbound on the Island go well I’ll look into self-publishing for a couple of my backlist novels that are now out of print and also for a novel I wrote a few years ago. I’d not been able to sell to a mainstream publisher because the industry view was that I’d missed the boat for that genre. It’s still a good story though and I believe in it.
Can you make money out of it? Is that the point? How does it compare to other ways of scraping a literary living?
It’s too early for me to take a view on the money side of things but despite a growing market, with so much being self-published now, I think it will get harder and harder to break through and make riches. In general though I’ve not done too badly from my ebooks. My primary US publisher for my ebooks pays quarterly and as some of those have been out for three years now, when you add up what they have sold in total, even with the rubbish exchange rate it’s a few hundred pounds which isn’t too bad. The majority of my writing income still comes from print, however. So of course it is possible to make some money from ebooks but I doubt there are many authors making a living from ebooks alone. I seem to remember a survey that said only around a fifth of authors make their living from writing alone, and most authors have other forms of income like a part time job or supplement their income through teaching or appearances. I’m a literary agent for a small stable of authors and I’m surprised more authors don’t do this. Publishers love the fact I’m also an author as they know when they get a manuscript from my literary agency, it’ll be an excellent read.
As an agent and a publisher, as well as an author, do you have any sense of the kind of books that do well as e-books?
The answer to this one is actually very simple in my mind. It’s the kinds of books that readers want to read. There’s been an explosion in self-published chick-lit for example, which is the genre that mainstream publishers and our main national book chain have neglected in recent years. I think the key thing is to make sure your ebook offer looks as good and is as professionally produced as a mainstream paper book. Be very, very clear about the genre it fits into and have a catchy blurb, cover and title. For example I’ve put “contemporary romance” in brackets at the end of the title Snowbound on the Island, so romantic fiction fans know it’s a story for them and not a thriller or some kind of Robinson Crusoe type adventure. The cover is also full of romantic fiction cues from the font used to the couple together in the background on the shoreline. The airplane gives a hint that there’s a bit of drama in the story, and then the rest of the cover echoes the title having a plant peeping out from under fresh snow.
As both an author and a publisher, I imagine you must have mixed feelings about e-publishing?
As an author and a publisher I haven’t got mixed feelings about epublishing at all. There are virtually no downsides and everything for the book industry to gain from the explosion of ebooks. I think the industry needs to make sure to maintain quality and not devalue the book as a product by too much downward pressure on prices. I think publishers in general do recognise and appreciate that readers perceive that ebook prices should be cheaper than the physical product but we need a state where ebooks are typically priced in pounds and only on deep price cuts for short term promotions.
For authors ebooks have been revolutionary in that they have tipped the balance of power away from publishers and back towards authors. I’ve always said that a publisher is only as good as its authors but I can see a future where publishers are going to have to work harder to woo authors and offer them more in terms of career development and marketing. This will be especially hard for smaller publishers who may lack marketing clout. I pulled Snowbound on the Island because I didn’t believe that the marketing support I would get would compensate for the poor terms of the offer. But if I’d not been thinking in the back of mind that I could easily self-publish instead, I might have just put up and shut up.