MATADOR’S BULL RUN
14 Mar 2012
Novelist Ian Simpson explains how he went about self-publishing his crime novel through Matador.
In my light-hearted whodunit, Murder on Page One, literary agents are the victims and unpublished crime writers the suspects. I failed to find a company willing, at their expense, to transform my manuscript into a beautiful book and turned to self-publishing, which I prefer to call ‘collaborative publishing’. I wanted a company which would professionally produce and market a sellable book and approached Matador, which has been recommended in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for some time. They take a pride in their list and are selective in what they take on. Their charges are clear and it is for the author to choose what services they want.
The first essential is to have a decent book. My wife, Annie, read and re-read it, checking for macro errors of plot, character, pace, setting etc and for micro faults in spelling, grammar, expression and so on. No matter how many hours are spent, any author is too close to their work to adequately spot these glitches, which will irritate the careful reader. Even then, I had a copy edit done to correct small faults, and that improved the book significantly, although the copy editor Matador gave me made some mistakes.
An attractive cover is important. Matador would have arranged one, but I was very fortunate: my son, Richard, a director of branding agency, Tayburn, is interested in publishing and media. His designers produced a stunningly clever image based on the opening page of the book. Once we had this, Matador could buy space in trade brochures and prepare publicity materials.
I was fully involved in deciding on the font, the number of lines per page and the appearance of the book. Careful proof-reading was required after type-setting. Three months before publication, a number of print-on-demand review copies were made and sent to selected publications and individuals. Author information and PR sheets were disseminated more widely. Alexander McCall Smith, whom I had known quite well at university, was kind enough to write a stellar review, and I felt at the time that this was a game-changer. He did not need to help me, and there are numerous demands on his time. A great gentleman.
Tayburn adjusted the cover to incorporate the McCall Smith review and the print run was started. I was delighted with the finished product. Matador completed the run professionally, in good time for publication date. It is available world-wide as an e-book for about the price of a pint of beer. The whole exercise took eight months. Matador can produce books quicker, but the extra time enabled everything to be done properly.
I am not a natural salesman, but there are plenty in the family who are and many friends have bought copies. Matador’s Sarah Taylor has given informed advice and promoted the book assiduously. Shops, so far, have not been keen to stock it but, for better or for worse, the tectonic plates of the book world are shifting and the internet provides authors with a more level playing field. Matador arranged for an excellent designer to create my website, and Talking Bookshelf prepared a podcast. I am chirpy on Twitter, but less happy on Facebook, having accidentally invited my entire address book to be Facebook friends. I realised my error when I received two on-siesta replies from the Spanish time-share we got rid of two years ago.
It is too early to say how financially successful this enterprise will be, but initial signs are encouraging, with favourable reviews. It is selling steadily and Kindling nicely. For expenditure leaving me change out of £6,000 I had 2,000 paperback copies. If I sell the bulk of these, each sale netting me at least £2, plus 1,500 e-books, each sale netting me about £1.70, I should show a small profit. In order to achieve this, I will have to reach beyond my friends and family, who have supported me wonderfully, into my target market of crime fiction fans, wannabe writers, those in the publishing industry and holiday-makers in general. As more and more novels are being downloaded onto e-readers, 5,000 e-book sales is a realistic target, given more good reviews. That would represent a profit of about £6,000. In money terms, I would liken the exercise to a speculative stock market punt on a small company. Occasionally they make a great deal of money.
But the best bit? When I read, or someone tells me, that they have enjoyed my book.
Since retiring from a law career which included sitting as a judge in High Court murder trials, Ian Simpson has been writing crime fiction. In 2008, one of his books was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association. He has also written newspaper articles on legal topics. He lives in Edinburgh.