How we turned 'taboo' novel into an e-book success story
WHILE the volume of UK book sales fell by three per cent last year, digital sales have increased by 318 per cent since 2009, from £4 million to £16 million, and now amount to six per cent of the overall market, according to figures from the Publishing Association Yearbook.
And as physical book sales suffer and the digital market booms, more and more authors are riding the wave of internet publishing.
Sarah Griffiths, 38, of Laceby Acres, works with co-writer Mark Williams under the pseudonym Saffina Desforges, and their first book Sugar And Spice, a psycho-sexual crime thriller, was deemed by publishers and literary agents to be too controversial for the British market.
Although many agents and publishing houses spent time reading the manuscripts and gave the writing duo positive feedback, the subject matter was one they considered to be too taboo for commercial success.
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Despite knowing nothing about the world of e-publishing, confident in the book they had written, the pair began looking into going it alone.
With more than 10 million Amazon Kindles – electronic devices on which you can read e-books – expected to sell at Christmas, they could see the future of publishing unfolding right before their eyes and found a new direction.
Yet with little knowledge in this new art and next to no investment capital, they were forced to feel their way around, learning the industry through experience and doing everything for themselves.
In November, they released the book on Amazon – and to say it was a slow starter would be an understatement.
Sarah said: "The first book is the hardest one to sell. When we started out with Sugar And Spice, we didn't know anything about marketing and it was just a case of putting the book online.
"But once it was online, we started researching ways to get more exposure for the book.
"It is an uphill struggle to get into the top 100, but once you're there, the book sells itself."
In May, the book reached number two in Amazon's paid e-book chart – 22,000 people having bought the title that month.
With the success of Sugar And Spice, their second book, Snow White, which has only been out four weeks, has already sold 2,000 copies and is on the up.
But how did they do this in just six months?
With nothing physical, learning the ropes in the vast online world of digital publishing may seem a little like feeling your way around a room in the dark, but Sarah explained how, like anything, you learn as you go.
And without spending a penny, they created a following for their book that far surpassed their expectations.
Even now, with two books released, Sarah estimates they have spent no more than £100 on advertising.
She explained how, with a good book and a little internet savvy, anything is possible online.
"We created a website, a Facebook page, a twitter feed and a blog and constantly updated them so that people knew the book was out there," said Sarah.
"A great way to get people to read the book is to offer Advance Reader Copies, which are free versions of the book that people can read and review.
"There are always people willing to read the book and offer their opinion for free, so you can get feedback without spending a penny and it can be posted by the book title so potential buyers can see it.
"One of the most crucial tools is the website Kindle Boards, which is a forum for writers, readers and Kindle users where people discuss e-books.
"People can discuss what is available and the best place to create hype about the book.
"Once you get into the top 100, Amazon starts advertising the book for you and it appears next to other similar titles so other people can see it.
"But until you do, people have to look for your book if they want to buy it – it is like being invisible."
Snow White has received international attention and the pair were offered a deal by Trident Media, a famous New York publishing house, but surprisingly, they have turned down the offer.
Throughout history, every writer has dreamed of holding their masterpiece in physical form with their name in bold print on the cover. But having been a part of the literary digital revolution, Sarah now considers the advantages of e-publishing to far outweigh the romantic allure of the traditional route.
"It is advantageous in almost every way, apart from being able to physically see it on the shelf," she said.
"You can release a book with virtually no overheads. There are no printing costs or administration fees, it doesn't have to be delivered and you don't need a shop to sell it.
"This means you can sell the book for very little and more people can buy it.
"We have sold all of our books for less than £2, which will undoubtedly appeal to readers and, in the modern marketplace, it is a useful tool.
"Publishing the book yourself gives you total control. You don't have to talk to agents and publishers and listen to them telling you what can and can't be commercially successful – you just let the readers decide.
"You can write what you want and no subject matter is too taboo, which is what they said about Sugar And Spice, yet we sold nearly 100,000.
"The main reason we turned down the deal from Trident is they wanted us not to release our next book.
"When you publish yourself, there are no such constraints and Mark and I have realised that, by ourselves, we can probably release four books a year."
Sarah and Mark have reinvested a lot of the £15,000 to £20,000 they estimate they have made so far into their own digital publishing company – Mark Williams International Digital Publishing. They now hope to help other authors make their name and forge more writing collaborations.
Despite their success, Sarah is the first to admit that, with bookshops closing at an alarming rate worldwide, there are some definite disadvantages to the shift in the way books are being released.
This year, Waterstone's, one of the UK's largest bookstore chains and one that has helped promote Sugar And Spice, announced that 20 stores would close nationwide due to falling profits.
"Nobody likes to see bookstores closing," says Sarah. "Unfortunately, nobody knows where the industry will be in ten years – things have been the same for centuries and this is totally uncharted territory.
"With people buying online, the need for bookshops is falling and many independent stores and even large chains have really felt the pinch.
"The issue of digital rights is another difficult one to tackle. E-books are often quite cheap, so most people don't mind paying for them, but if they want to put it into a different file and give it to other people for free, there is very little you can do to stop them.
"But it is not always such a bad thing, it can help market the book and strengthen the brand you are trying to create.
"You have total control over the book you publish, although once you put it on Amazon, they take over. The writer decides a price and the royalties they receive, but Amazon can decide to change the price at any time or run a promotion with your book.
"They are in charge of the sale side and simply send you a cheque at the end of the month. Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
"These are uncertain times for writers, booksellers and publishers but the positive side of this is that e-books is probably the fastest growing media industry in the world right now.
"It is sad that bookstores are closing but authors must move with the times or get left behind, and I would rather be a part of it."
Visit www.saffinadesforges.com to find out more about Saffina Desforges books. Rapunzel, the second book in the Rose Red crime thriller series and the sequel to Snow White, will be released in November.