THE WRITERS’ POD PRESENTS…TOULA
Toula is a successfully self-published author, with several books already under her belt. I met with her recently in a coffee shop, on behalf of The Writers’ Pod, to gain insight into her world and the self publishing option. We shared a delightful hour putting the world to rights for at least fifteen minutes before knuckling down to the interview. For personal reasons Toula prefers talking face to face than on camera, so for this, the first of my topical discussions with authors and other industry professionals, I dusted off my interviewing skills from my time in recruitment and set about tackling the questions tabled by the members of The Writers’ Pod. I felt like a proper journalist, recording our conversation on my phone, whilst scribbling away in my own barely legible longhand.
You can find links to her books below, but for now, grab yourself a cuppa, curl up in your favourite chair and digest her fascinating and inspirational story.
When did you start writing?
I have written all of my life. I started typing my first novel at the age of two and just never looked back. At the age of 12 I won a coveted Blue Peter badge for writing a script for Grange Hill. At 15, I was a regular gossip columnist for Gay News. Then at the ripe old age of 22 I won a computer in a Write A Blockbuster competition for a national women’s magazine.
So what made you decide on self-publishing?
Publishing a book wasn’t really something I was seriously considering. With a background in PR and TV/Film production, I had moved to LA for work. A friend suggested I join a writers’ group as a way of getting to know more people in the city. The only prerequisite; I should bring along something I had written to share at the meeting. I dug out the chapters of a book I had written ten years earlier and off I went. When it came to my turn to read aloud at that first meeting, the room fell silent. In fact every time, at every meeting it happened again. At the end of eight weeks there was a collective cry ‘You must publish!’ I took their advice and since I knew nothing of the process, went along the self-publishing route as they suggested.
How much of the work did you do yourself?
Pretty much everything. I used Createspace, the Amazon self-publishing platform. It’s straightforward and easy to use. I’m lucky as my husband is a graphic designer, so he uploaded it, used the formatting tool and designed the cover. I didn’t use an editor, or plan a sales strategy and Mortal End was up and running on Amazon in a few days
How did you handle your marketing?
We just started telling people, by word of mouth. I had no knowledge of marketing so it was really random but L.A. is a bit like that. Out of the blue, a Golden Globe producer who’d read it became a fan and offered to use his contacts to help with promotion. I didn’t even know which genre it sat in, and was told this was important. To me it was an ‘Adult Fairytale’; apparently this is not a genre. So I worked out it fitted in the horror category and began to follow horror bloggers via twitter. This way I connected with enough fans to build up some reviews.
Were the reviews quality over quantity then?
They certainly were not in huge volume and they were a mixture. I think too many positive reviews can be picked up by the Amazon algorithm as a bit suspect. So the balance was good. Usually when you get to a certain threshold, Amazon will start to promote your book alongside other similar books as a ‘you might also like’ suggested purchase. I’m not sure how but, even without reaching the threshold, this started happening to mine.
How else did you gather reviews/ publicity using social media?
Good Reads is Amazon’s book club where readers can leave reviews and make recommendations. Some of the reviews can be brutal so you need to be thick-skinned. There are some ‘haters’ out there but you just have to move on. You can do a giveaway promotion and give away as little as one copy upwards for free. You can also set a very reduced price for a number of days via Kindle Select (if you choose to be a part of it). Do bear in mind this can attract readers looking for free or bargain books though. I do some twitter and Facebook promotion, but probably should do more. I organised a Thunderclap on Twitter. It’s a bit like a digital flashmob. You invite 100 people to send a coordinated tweet or Facebook post at the same time. The simultaneous posting can get you noticed more quickly. I was fortunate enough to have some celebrities on board and it had a reach of about 5 million people. It sounds impressive but really made no difference to sales! You have to be prepared to try things. Some things work well, others take lots of effort but may not produce any real results.
Do bookshops allow you to do signings?
The main issue with bookshops is the fact that they usually buy books wholesale on a sale or return basis, which you can’t do with Createspace. For the big chains this makes a book signing risky and they are unlikely to entertain the idea. I contacted the local independent stores directly and I did find an independent bookstore close to where I was living back in L.A. and sold about half the books at my signing. All the staff really got behind the promotion and it helped that it was Halloween. Perfect for the genre! There is a potential way round the sale or return issue. If you buy your own ISBN number through Nielsen UK you can simultaneously publish through Createspace and the Ingram distribution channel, used by many retailers.
Have you managed to break even or go into profit?
The actual process of formatting and uploading the book cost little to nothing, although I did, of course, have access to my husband’s expertise. So if you have the money to spend on an editor or cover designer, it is definitely worth the investment. So for me with very little up front cost and minimal promotion I have managed good sales of both of my books. My book Pocketful of Poesies reached #2 in the Kindle charts for TEEN & YA/ HUMOROUS and Mortal End reached #21 in HORROR/ THRILLERS. All the sales are in profit. If you sell up to the £2.99 range your royalties through Amazon give you 35% profit. In the £3 – £9.99 range it’s 70% profit. To find your price range have a look at other titles in your genre. Have a look at deals too and try and identify your market.
In your opinion what are the pro’s and cons of self vs traditional publishing?
Self publishing through a platform like Createspace will inevitably reach a smaller segment of the market, because you are cut off from the major retail channels. However it allows you greater creative freedom/control over cover design etc and potentially a bigger percentage of the profits. Even if you have an incredible book deal through a traditional publisher, you are still likely to need to be heavily involved in your own marketing activity, as budgets for promotion within the industry are increasingly reducing. Also it depends on your patience. The lead time for a traditional publishing route with the Big Five publishing houses can be two years plus, as you will need to find an agent to secure you a deal and then have your book slotted into the publishing calendar. I didn’t want to wait that long!
Would you consider using a traditional publisher, small or large?
It depends on the book. I do have an agent, have had agents for various times in my career. I do have a book based on the true story of my experiences of childhood sexual abuse. With this book I am planning to use the traditional publishing route. I want to make sure I am protected from a legal standpoint and whilst I could use a lawyer I feel I might as well let the publisher take the responsibility for that part of the process. I’m a little wary of the smaller/indie publishers. Many have sprung up in the last few years as a result of the changes in the industry. I would just be careful of their pedigrees; who are they; are your creative rights protected under their contract? Of course a deal with a well-established reputable publishing house will enable success by association.
Do you have any other advice for anyone at the beginning of their writing career?
Start marketing from the day you start writing. It’s never too soon to start building your audience for the book. Get some teasers ready and waiting, so you can filter them through as and when you need them.
Think laterally. If your aim is to reach as many readers as possible, where are they? Go to them. Hold a book party. Follow and engage with them on social media. If you are serious, you have to do what it takes.
Choose your editor based on their style and their clients. Are they authors you admire? If you have a limited budget, trade skills or share skills with other contacts in your network
For further information on Toula’s books and to follow her on social media please use the links provided here.
Author link: Author.to/ToulaMavridouMesser
Mortal End #horror: myBook.to/MortalEnd
Pocketful of Poesies #teenhumour: myBook.to/PocketfulofPoesies
100% Simply Perfect Photographs: myBook.to/100SimplyPerfectPhotographs
For further information on Print On Demand services here’s a useful article on self-publishing
Watch this space for the next in The Writers’ Pod Presents series…
© Nikki Vallance 2016