Guest Blog from Andrew Wilson, writing as Sam Ripley.
Every time I looked at the manuscript that sat on the shelves of my study I felt a sense of failure. The book – my second novel, The Gift of Death, written under the pseudonym Sam Ripley – had done the rounds of various publishers but had not found a home. Responses varied, and while one commissioning editor, Kate Miciak, at Bantam Delacorte in New York, thought that it was an “electrifying novel … pitch-perfect and brutal, a twisted gem”, no publisher felt like they wanted to take the risk.
The novel languished in my study for two years, making me feel at once ashamed and guilty until I bought myself a Kindle. As soon as I held Amazon’s ultra-light eBook reader – a device that can hold 3,500 books – I suspected that The Gift of Death, a fast-paced thriller set in Los Angeles, would be perfect for it. But how hard would it be to self-publish? How did you go about designing a cover? Did you need a lot of technological know how? And would self-publishing finally rid me of those uncomfortable feelings of failure?
The first thing I did was watch Amazon’s excellent video tutorial, available at kdp.amazon.com, which guided me through the whole process. I wrote a succinct blurb about the novel, which included the line, ‘A run of unspeakable crimes. A series of grotesque presents. The legacy of a dead serial killer’, and then began to think about the cover. Over a couple of glasses of wine, and with the help of an arty friend, I came up with a gritty design showing someone holding a box with a ribbon tied around it, suggestive of one of the central images of the box. Once I was ready I was then able to upload both the book and the cover from my desktop. Although there is a great debate about pricing – the top sellers maintain that it is best to keep your book as cheap as possible, around the 75 pence mark – I didn’t want to undersell the novel and so chose to market it at £2.12, still a third of the price of a paperback. As a result, I was able to qualify for Amazon’s 70 per cent royalty, meaning that I would earn £1.84 on each book sold. The whole process – cover design, blurb writing, uploading the book – took something like four or five hours.
As soon as my book appeared ‘live’ – meaning it was ready for consumers to download and read – I felt a wonderful sense of liberation. Yet, as there are around 650,000 eBooks for sale on Amazon, I knew that the difficult part – getting people to notice and read the novel – was only just beginning. In my dealings with traditional publishers – I’ve written two literary biographies, including Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, a novel, The Lying Tongue and I’m just about to publish Shadow of the Titanic, a book about the lives of the survivors of the disaster after the sinking – I’ve been able to rely on teams of publicists and the marketing department to do this for me. In the harsh world of e-publishing an author has to be a designer, computer wizard, marketing expert and publicist all rolled into one.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I hope to be able to publish my first novel, The Lying Tongue – originally published by Canongate in the UK and Simon & Schuster in the US – as an eBook in the next couple of weeks.
While the book is far from dead, there’s no doubt that authors as well as publishers need to be ready to respond to the challenges of the digital age. And that sense of failure? It disappeared at the touch of a button.
The Gift of Death by Sam Ripley is available on Amazon at £2.12 and on Smashwords at $3.35