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In a Pursuit of Madness

London Book Fair 2016 Keith Houghton

That’s it. Another one in the bag. And another London Book Fair under my wing. And, yes, I lost my voice. Can I sleep now?

London Book Fair 2016 AuthorHQ Keith Houghton Mel Sherratt Mark DawsonYet again, it was a fantastic experience, and one that I am very lucky (and grateful) to be part of – getting to hang out with all my friends at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, new and old, plus everyone at Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint.

When I stop to think about it, I am taken-aback by how far things have moved in my writing career over the last few years. From anonymity to celebrity (although much of the latter is definitely in my head!), seemingly in the blink of an eye. A couple of years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d be speaking on a microphone to hundreds of people at big industry events. The thought would have gotten me running for the hills! You may not think this, and it probably doesn’t come across much, but in the real world I’m a shy person. I’d rather avoid crowds and not speak publicly at all. I guess there’s nothing like throwing yourself out of your comfort zone to get the adrenaline flowing!

Why oh why do I put myself through it?

Mainly, for two reasons: To give back, and to meet people with overactive imaginations like mine. Sharing the madness. The way I look at it is, if I can pass on one single bit of useful advice to an aspiring author that makes all the difference for them, then it’s job done for me. Besides, I enjoy talking passionately about my writing journey, what detours I was forced to take, and the dead ends I wish I had avoided.

If my tale inspires, if it makes someone muster the courage to try something new, if it helps in any way at all then it’s a win for me. Happy to help!

This time around I met all the usual suspects that I’ve become acquainted with, fellow indie and hybrid authors who I now think of as friends, including Alan McDermott, Mel Sherratt and Paul Pilkington, plus new ones (some of whom I’ve only met very briefly previously or never before), including Mark Dawson, Rachel Abbott, Nick Spalding, LJ Ross, Murray McDonald and James P Sumner. For the most part, indie authors are great people to hang out with and chat about the gory details of publishing, from real life experiences that end up evolving into story ideas, to the most effective ways to market book deals. It’s all good stuff and probably extremely boring to anyone who isn’t a writer!

My role at the Fair maintained the same format as last year, which involved sitting on a daily author panel, speaking about my own experiences from paper to publishing, and then hanging around the Amazon stand for the rest of the day, talking on a one-to-one basis with other writers, all wanting to know the secret to success – as though I know it. Even so, I’m happy to do it all day long, offering whatever tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. It’s a cool way to pay things forward. It’s also a great way to meet other indie writers and share a few anecdotes. It keeps me grounded and I really appreciate the opportunity to do it.

Some of the topics I was asked to talk about in detail and the key points I covered were –

My author journey —

How it all began for me; what I did along the way to try and break into publishing; the genres I’ve written in; what I learned; the different tactics I tried; and how I ended up publishing on the Amazon platform and sticking with it.

Sometimes, especially when you’re in the throes of writing that first novel, it’s all too easy to run out of steam, or even to feel like there’s no end in sight. Will it all be worth it? we ask ourselves as we face the daily grind of squeezing in our writing between work and family. It took over 30 years for me to sell my first book. The secret is to never stop trying.

My recommendation is: Never give up on your dream. Keep plugging away at it. And be open to change if something doesn’t work. Try something else. Flexibility is everything.

Marketing —

How I market my books; thinking with a business mind; promoting the Keith Houghton brand; using KDP Select free tools to promote; using third party advertisers; generating reader interest; mailing lists; getting the book cover right; and how to be flexible in an ever-changing self-publishing world.

The ways we can market our books has changed tremendously over the last few years. There are many more online outlets now, offering us the ability to advertise our books to an ever-expanding eReader audience. It’s important to look at all the sites that advertise eBooks, to gauge which ones best suit the kind of marketing campaign you have in mind for your book. Do you want to give it away for free in the short term? Do you want to run a price-reduced promo? These days, there are lots of places to advertise, including on social media.

My recommendation is: start small, use some of the online outlets that advertise your book for free or for a small change. Move on to the bigger sites, not only when you can afford their rates, but also when your book has gathered a good quantity of favorable reviews and is in the best shape possible to pick up new readers.

Social media —

What types do I use; how effective are they; what length of time I spend on social media each day; running Facebook adverts for book promos; interacting with my readership through Facebook Pages and Twitter.

Social media doesn’t work for everyone. Some people thing it’s the be all and end all. It isn’t. I found early on that Twitter has no appreciable impact on sales (for me), and so I stopped wasting my time making dozens of tweets every day. Facebook, on the other hand, has been a fundamental way for me to interact with my reader fans, and I wouldn’t be without it. Facebook is my campfire, around which sit all my reader fans, sharing stories and warmed by the good company.

My recommendation is: Create a Page on Facebook for you as an Author, plus one for each of your books, then ask everyone you know to Like and Share them. A Facebook Page for you as an Author not only gives you credibility, but it also gives your readers an anchor point from which they can start to spread the news about how great your books are!

Feedback and reviews —

What I do with feedback, good or bad; how I take criticism on board; how I use feedback to improve my writing; how I deal with negative reviews.

Once your book is out there online for every Tom, Dick and Harry to dissect, digest and tear asunder, you will get both good and bad reviews.  The 1 and 2 stars are inevitable. Fortunately, if you’ve written a decent book, the weight of reviews should tip toward the positive side, and hopefully no one will read too much into the bad ones. But you should take their critique on board.

My recommendation is: Grow a thick skin as quickly as you can, and try not to take every negative comment as a personal attack. Be open to criticism. Think about why the reader didn’t like something about your book and, if you get a common thread coming through with several bad reviews, be willing to change the problem in your book or at least learn from it so that you can make your next novel an improvement, and hence a target for fewer negative reviews.

And my other recommendations were —

Book covers – Think about color and font, and how the image will look in thumbnail view. You must get your book cover right – since your cover is your store window, and if it looks uninviting, then no one is going to come in and take a look around. If you have a series of books, consider maintaining imagery / color schemes / typefaces so that your ‘branding’ is recognizable everywhere. This is one of the biggest things I notice when writers contact me asking for advice, asking why their book isn’t selling. All too often it’s down to a bad cover. Make yours relevant, uncluttered, colorful and, above all else, easy to read when it’s in a thumbnail on Amazon.

Book blurb – This is the ‘sign’ you put in your store window, advertising what you are selling inside. Spend time on writing a good book blurb. It will be worth it. Don’t go into too much detail about who does what to whom and when. Keep it to the basics. Use punchy sentences. Create an air of intrigue, so that the reader wants to find out more. Pose questions. These will engage the prospective reader. It’s always useful using bullet points to highlight key things about your book (such as any awards it has been nominated for, or favorable chart positions). All too often I read book blurbs that trundle on and never get to the point. Make yours snappy and your readers will be happy!

A business mind — If I could go back to the start of my writing career and tell myself about one thing I’ve learned, it would be to think with a business mind. As writers, we all start out doing it as a hobby or a pastime. The sooner you start thinking about your writing as a business, then the quicker your success will come. As soon as you’re ready to make your book available, create a plan of action. In other words, a business plan. Work out who your target audience is and how best you can appeal to them. Work out what budget you have for marketing and promotion. Set yourself goals and adjust things accordingly. Make yourself into a ‘brand’ that is recognizable everywhere. Run your ‘hobby’ as a business. I speak with writers who put their books on Kindle and hardly sell any copies. Of course, they want to know why. When I ask them what strategy they’re working to, what business plans do they have – it’s soon clear where they’re going wrong. Be professional. Think with a business mind. Sell yourself and your books will sell themselves.

Living the dream — Most of us dream about being a full-time author. But ask yourself this: Do you want to win prizes and accolades for your work, or do you want to quit the day job and make a good living from your writing? With the advent of eReaders, it’s now possible for indie authors to make more money than most of their traditionally-published counterparts. I’m not kidding. A recent survey showed that, on average, a published author in the UK receives £13,000 each year. I have earned that some months! There are indie authors on Amazon who sell hundreds of thousands of books annually, making much more money than they ever did working for somebody else. When I set out on my writing career, I decided I wanted to write commercial fiction. I never thought of myself as the next Emily Bronte. My aim was to make as much money from my writing as possible, quit my 9 to 5, and be my own boss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard work, and there have been lots of pitfalls along the way. But I got here. And so can you. Just keep at it.

And finally . . . one very groovy addition this year was taking part in a publicity photo shoot for the wider media, which involved signing Kindles with engraver pens. Let’s just say I broke a nib or two and an eye was nearly taken out! Okay, so maybe I can be a little heavy handed. But it was fun destroying a few Kindles in the process!To see what they thought about us in the Press, go here: The Independent (gallery feature), The Bookseller (Pg.25), and The Bookseller Week in Pictures.

All in all, it was another memorable week for me, with lots of things to think about on reflection and now going forward with the third standalone I’m writing, plus the upcoming new release in August of Before You Leap. Thank you to everyone who organized the event and our seminars, and especially to everyone who turned up to listen and to meet me afterwards. You are all great!!

To stay updated on my books and future plans, drop me an email to with your name and I’ll add you to my no-spam mailing list, or pop back to my site’s main page and enter your details into the Author Updates box on the top right-hand side menu. Thanks!! 🙂

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