It’s a great pleasure to welcome Samantha Tonge to the blog. I’ll be honest, it’s absolutely beyond me why she’s not been here before (but maybe that’s had a lot to do with her ridiculously prolific publishing schedule or the fact that I have been pretty busy myself). But she is here and that’s all that matters. And she has a new book out – My Big Fat Christmas Wedding.
I’ve known Samantha for years – we were members of the same online writing group once upon a time, so I’ll have known her since before my first book came about – so getting on for ten years then. And I remember, when I was touring that book, her coming along with her lovely family at an event I did at a library. Samantha’s definitely one of the nice ones. And on top of that, she’s a great (bestselling!) writer. So here she is, to talk about the world of digital publishing. Sit back and enjoy. I did…
Down and Dirty with Digital Publishing.
In September 2013 I signed a digital-first, 3-book contract with CarinaUK, an imprint of Harlequin – now under the HarperCollins umbrella (it’s complicated!) And yet I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Over the years I had dreamt of a traditional deal, where my books would also be available in paperback and in all the shops. So two years on, I thought I’d share my experience with you (which might, of course, be different to another digital-first author’s).
Firstly, I’ve had to get to grips with promoting myself and my work pretty speedily – I am fortunate in that I love Facebook and Twitter. It’s harder if you don’t. I did initially dabble with Pinterest and tumblr as well, but my advice is to concentrate on the social platforms you really enjoy. Recently I’ve discovered Instagram and have made sales and connected with new readers that way as well – plus the photo-shopping facilities make for far more pleasant promo pictures! I probably spend as much time networking and promoting, as I do writing. To me, it is equally as important.
How do I manage that? I am lucky – I write full-time and my children are older now. However, I am in awe of some writing friends who have jobs and a young family… I imagine they are highly organised and work later hours. My website and social media accounts were already set up and growing before I finally got that deal, which saved a lot of work in the first instance. I schedule tweets using HootSuite and in the evenings am often on the sofa, in front of the television, using the Photogrid and Photolab apps on my phone to put together fun promo posters to share online the next day.
It’s a full-time job – a vocation – no doubt about that. My books are not in shops (or weren’t until recently – more on that later) so to achieve visibility I have to advertise them online, for example in suitable Facebook reader groups. I use the appropriate hashtags on Twitter to reach my audience, such as #chicklit #Kindle #bookboost. I spend time cultivating relationships with readers, reviewers and bloggers. Over the last two years I’ve learnt a lot – and connected with many generous people, having organised a total of five blog tours. Above all, I’ve grasped the fact that you can’t be apologetic about promotion. It’s part of the job and about getting your products in front of customers’ eyes, end of. The key is to mix it up with content that is not just promotional. As a romance author, cake, cats and cocktails seem to work!
Some might say, if you are doing all that self-promotion, what is the difference between digital-first and self-publishing? Well, certainly at Carina, I have access to the editorial and digital-pricing expertise of Harlequin and HarperCollins and my work is launched from their huge platform. And whilst I might do a lot of the front-of-house promotion myself, there is a strategy behind the scenes. Carina is excellent at getting its books into Amazon promotions. My debut, Doubting Abbey, is currently in the Amazon autumn sale, for example, so is once again bringing in income. Plus the editors are keen to build brands and always looking to your future.
That’s the other thing about digital-first… five blog tours, five books in two years… The turnaround is very fast and that has plusses and cons. It’s exciting. You create a brand and backlist very quickly which is great for you the author and your pocket. And what a whirlwind to hand in your manuscript and two months later sometimes, see it on the virtual shelves, having been revised, edited and given a gorgeous cover. But it is incredibly hard work. You need to be able to meet deadlines in a way you never have before.
Admittedly, I’ve been fortunate in that my books have achieved decent sales. Romance is very well suited to the digital form and market – it doesn’t necessarily suit every genre. Before signing with a digital-first publisher I would study their backlist and see how well your particular area has performed. Cheap prices rule in the ebook romance world, which can lead to a much wider audience, higher volume of sales and bigger profit. My summer novel, Game of Scones, at 89p reached #5 in the overall Kindle AmazonUK chart and stayed in the top #20 for several weeks. And with the digital-first imprints the royalty rates are excellent – 40% with Carina. Bookouture is another successful digital-first imprint with a great royalty rate and a good number of its books in the Kindle top #100.
What’s more, eventually, your books might end up in shops. Doubting Abbey, is currently in The Works and last year’s Christmas book. Mistletoe Mansion, will be there later this month. What a thrill!
So, in hindsight, I am incredibly grateful that my then-agent helped me keep an open mind and grasped the digital-first opportunity firmly with both hands – even though it wasn’t what I had originally aimed for. It has helped me create a brand and given me a reasonable income (touch wood) and the excellent editors I have worked with have taught me more than I ever imagined possible. My writing has, in my opinion, grown, and it took a slightly different direction with Game of Scones and my latest release, the standalone sequel My Big Fat Christmas Wedding. This, I believe, is partly the result of so many rounds of revisions in such a short space of time with different books. Above all else, at Carina, I would say the editors (and covers – very important when most customers will only see a thumbnail of your book -) are superb.
As a final plus, although I did have an agent, you don’t need one to submit your work to most of these imprints.
If you decide to go ahead, best of luck. There are negatives – publishing dates can be unexpectedly changed and a fast-turnaround can bring its own stresses. Not every author’s experience is the same as mine. But if I was back in September 2013, I wouldn’t be able to sign that contract quick enough.
About the author…
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.
About the Book…
Things don’t always run smoothly in the game of love…
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be…a fishwife?
There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stolen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…
Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!