Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

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I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Steven A. McKay to talk with me today about his self-publishing experiences. Steven was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon stand. His début novel, Wolf’s Head, was also released the same day as an audiobook. Wolf’s Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller and The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1.

He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.

Steven, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?

I really wanted to have my book picked up by an agent and then a publisher and see my books in hardback form in stores all over the world. But it wasn’t to be. My first draft was turned down by the agents I approached, so I hired an editor to go over it and help me improve things. She’d worked on books by Bernard Cornwell, Jilly Cooper and Ben Kane so I was really trying to do things properly but still, I couldn’t find an agent never mind a publisher. I could have spent more time searching for someone to represent me but we all know how hard it is to get a deal so I didn’t waste any more time. I knew guys that were making a good living by self-publishing so I decided to go ahead and do it all myself.

What has your experience been like along the way?

Pretty much all fantastic! I had faith in my debut novel, but it was shaken a little by the rejections so, to have the level of success I’ve enjoyed in the past couple of years has been a real blessing. Somehow the book did really well in Amazon’s charts almost as soon as I published it, then they picked up on it and put it in their Monthly Deal which pushed things even further and it kind of snowballed from there. I’m very grateful to Amazon, they’ve been brilliant with me.

Wolfs Head BRAG

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I think as a new author the first big challenge is the bad reviews. The first few times I received them it felt like a punch in the guts; not only is it hard to accept someone hates your hard work so much, but you’re thinking of the potential impact on your career.

Mainly though, the biggest challenge is trying to put out good quality books that your readers will enjoy as much as the last one. It’s amazing to have so many 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but those people are expecting your next work to be even better than the last so the pressure is always growing, but in a nice way.

What have you learned in this industry?

Don’t count your chickens until they hatch! I’ve had emails offering potentially huge things such as a movie deal from one of Hollywood’s biggest production companies or even just a major promotional opportunity in the USA. You can imagine how my mind went into overdrive when I received those emails, especially the film one…I was wondering which colour Lamborghini to get!

Of course, neither of those particular things came off. I’m now waiting to hear about a different, fairly big, opportunity but I’ve learned my lesson. If it happens, great, but I’m expecting nothing…

What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?

Do hire a professional cover designer. Do hire a professional editor. Do have belief in your work and the drive to push it continually without being a pain in the arse. Do keep writing, even if your latest book isn’t selling as well as you’d hoped. Do help out other authors.

Don’t ever give up or allow yourself to become too downhearted at bad reviews.

The Wolf and the Raven with Medallion BRAG

What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?

Go for it, and put everything you have into it. No one else is going to help you. As I say, hire a professional designer to make you a good, striking cover, and an editor to hone your writing. Make sure you weed out any typos or other errors in your manuscript.

Don’t be afraid to take chances – ACX asked me if I’d be interested in being one of the first UK authors to use their program to turn Wolf’s Head into an audiobook. You can either pay nothing at all up front but share all royalties with your narrator OR pay a fee but keep your royalties. To me, that was a no-brainer – I had faith in my work and I expected it to do well so I paid the fee and it turned out to be a great decision. In the past couple of months I’ve sold more audiobooks than ebooks! So be brave and have faith in your talent.

What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?

I have a cool network of friends on Facebook – like you Stephanie! – who do interviews with me and review my books etc. Likewise, I review other people’s stuff and post links to those reviews on my website and FB pages. It’s a bit like “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. It’s a balancing act in terms of time – I’m trying to finish my new book just now so I can’t review books for a while, but there’s always time to ‘share’ someone’s post about their new novel or to fit in a Q&A like this.

As far as I’m concerned ANY chance to get my name out there in the ether is worthwhile, because you never know who might read some minor interview on a tiny blog with only a handful of visitors a year.

What are the different sites you use to promote your book?

I think Facebook is a decent tool to promote your work. It doesn’t cost that much, a new advert set can be made in minutes and you can target your intended audience. It doesn’t drive all that many sales but, as I said in the last question ANY way to get your name out there is worthwhile.

In terms of paid promotions Bookbub was by far the most successful site I’ve used. It cost hundreds of dollars but helped me sell literally thousands of books in a short period of time. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to get them to accept my stuff any time I’ve tried them recently but it’s certainly worth a try.

Most promo sites don’t charge all that much though, so give them all a try when you can afford it. You might not sell many, or you might sell loads, but it’s all publicity and gets your name out there.

Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

I couldn’t begin to speculate. If I thought it would continue to grow I could quit my day-job but the fact is, the whole lot might collapse or Amazon might change their business model and authors could find themselves earning much less money than we do now so….Who knows what’s ahead?

If something can be improved upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?

Can’t really think of anything. Some self-published cover art is just ridiculous – laughable. And some of the books are terribly written and riddled with errors. It gives the rest of us, who try to do things to a high standard, a bad name. BUT, if everyone was putting out great stories with fantastic eye-catching covers it would just make things harder for me so…I’m happy to try and improve on my own work with each release, other people can look after themselves.

How long have you been an indie author?

July 2013 was, I believe, the date I published Wolf’s Head, so, just about two years.

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Interview with Two Time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Steven McKay

Wolfs Head Audible Front

When a frightened young outlaw joins a gang of violent criminals their names – against a backdrop of death, dishonour, brotherhood, and love – will become legend. ENGLAND 1321 AD After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals. When they are betrayed, and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends seeks bloody vengeance. Meanwhile, the country is in turmoil, as many of the powerful lords strive to undermine King Edward II’s rule until, inevitably, rebellion becomes a reality and the increasingly deadly yeoman outlaw from Wakefield finds his fate bound up with that of a Hospitaller Knight… “Wolf’s Head” brings the brutality, injustice and intensity of life in medieval England vividly to life, and marks the beginning of a thrilling new historical fiction series in the style of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow.

Stephanie: Hello, Steven! I am delighted to be chatting with you again about your book, Wolf’s Head and I would also like to say congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. First, I would like to ask you how you discovered indieBRAG?

Steven:I think it was actually you that suggested I put the book forward. I hadn’t really thought of anything like that – literary award type things – until that point. I still don’t really, because I’m so busy, but I’m really proud to have my B.R.A.G. Medallion. Hopefully the sequel, The Wolf and the Raven is good enough to win the award too – it’s getting even better reviews than Wolf’s Head so that’s a good start! I don’t know if indieBRAG looks at novellas too – I hope so, as my brand new one, Knight of the Cross, is due to be released on September 19th!

Stephanie: That’s right, Steven! How could I forget that?! Lol. And I’m so glad you submitted your book!

Please tell you audience a little about your story and what sets it apart from other Robin Hood stories.

Steven: I’ve set my series in the 14th century which is, as far as I know, unheard of when it comes to Robin Hood. When I began to research the legend though I found plenty of evidence to suggest the REAL Robin probably lived in that time period, rather than earlier, as everyone else suggests. It was good to realise I had a new angle to explore because it’s a legend that’s been written about a lot over the years.

Other than that, I’ve written it in a modern style. The action might be medieval but my readers aren’t so I use language people can identify with. It’s an old legend, and a familiar kind of story, but I’d like to think I’ve brought enough new elements to the table to make it fresh and interesting.

Stephanie: What were some of the political & religious unrest going on in England in 1321 besides the Lords strive to undermine the King- that your characters were up against?

Steven: I don’t think there was much religious unrest, other than the fact some of the clergy were obscenely wealthy and often corrupt. If you were a downtrodden yeoman, or an outlaw, it must have rankled to see some fat rich priest going around in expensive clothes while your family was starving. There had actually been a famine in England just a few years before 1321 and the Scots were raiding the northern towns so much of the political unrest stemmed from that. The common people were unhappy with the King so, if you add all that together, Robin Hood and his mates had plenty of reason to be angry.

Stephanie: How did Robin meet Sir Richard-at-Lee and Stephen?

Steven: I stuck to the original, well-known legend for the most part. Sir Richard is passing through the forest and the outlaws stop him, to rob him basically although it doesn’t end up like that. I thought it would be a nice twist to make him a Hospitaller Knight and Stephen, his grumpy sergeant-at-arms followed on from that. They’re a couple of great characters and they bring a nice new dynamic to the outlaw group. You can find out more about them in the new novella Knight of the Cross which follows Sir Richard as he goes up against ancient evil in Rhodes…

Stephanie: What are the weapons or weapon they use in fights?

Steven: The usual favourites: longsword, daggers and, of course, the longbow. These are hard men though and they’re comfortable using whatever’s at hand to win!

Stephanie: Does Robin have a love interest in your story?

Steven: Again, when I researched the legend I found there was a man called Robert Hood who lived in Yorkshire and was married to a girl called Matilda. I didn’t want to just repeat everything that had been done before so I was happy to use Matilda rather than ‘Maid Marian’. Robin’s had a thing for her for years and she’s actually the reason our young hero is outlawed as you’ll see when you read the book..!

Stephanie: What is some of the promoting you have done for this book and any advice you can give to beginner writers on promoting would be great!

Steven: I tried to find book bloggers who would review my book, hoping some of them would like it and get the word out there. Thankfully, I managed to get a few to review it – it’s harder than you might think because these people have LOADS of books to get through and it’s hard for them find the time to fit in another from some unknown indie writer. But all you can do is try, so send emails out to whoever you can find and just hope they’ll a) take a look and b) enjoy your work. Other than that, I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed for local and national newspapers and Amazon took me down to London to be part of their stand at the big Book Fair this year which was truly the experience of a lifetime. It was amazing!

Once your book is out there I recommend trying some ads to let people know it’s available. If no one knows it’s out there, no one can buy it! Try places like Bookbub, Goodreads and Facebook – they’ve all worked to some extent for me.

Stephanie: What are some of the positive things readers have said about your book?

Some of them have said my version of the Robin Hood legend is now the one they’ll always think is the “real” one, so that’s been fantastic. It’s always great when people say they enjoy your writing style or what you’ve done with the characters but I think the best is when people say I’ve inspired them to really get into writing their own stuff. I’m a working class man who’s managed to sell a few books and it proves that anyone can do it, as long as you’re able to tell a good tale!

Steven: Who long did it take you to write your story and how many drafts did it take to get to where you wanted it to be?

Steven: Wolf’s Head took about two to three years, including all the research I had to do around the Robin Hood legend and the whole medieval setting. I’m able to work a bit faster now – The Wolf and the Raven only took about a year – because I have the foundation down. In terms of drafts, I’m quite lucky in that I don’t really need to do major redrafts. Wolf’s Head was done in two major drafts – it originally had a fantasy element with a magical old wise-woman and much less of the historical stuff, but my editor suggested I change that so I revised it accordingly. I haven’t had to do a really major redraft of any of my three books so far though, thankfully.

Stephanie: How do you find time to write?

Steven: It can be hard, particularly just now when we have an 11 month old baby boy crawling around the place! I’m lucky that I get a couple of evenings free to myself when my wife takes the kids out and I do most of my writing then, while fitting in things like this and other promotional stuff whenever I get a spare minute.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Steven: All three of my books are available exclusively from Amazon – either for Kindle, or as paperbacks or, in the case of Wolf’s Head, as an audiobook. Amazon have been very good to me and, while some people might not like how they work or whatever, I don’t have a bad word to say about them, far from it. So I’m happy to continue to put my work out there in partnership with Amazon for as long as I can. Publishers and agents didn’t give me an opportunity to get Wolf’s Head out there, Amazon did, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Steven McKay

Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children.

His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon stand. His début novel, Wolf’s Head, was also released the same day as an audiobook.

Wolf’s Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller and The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1.

He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.


Amazon Author Page

Blog/Offical Website

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A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Steven McKay, who is the author of, Wolf’s Head, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Wolf’s Head, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.