Paul Pilkington

The bestselling indie writer reveals his tips for success

Paul Pilkington photographed by Rebecca Millar.

Bestselling suspense and mystery author Paul Pilkington had been writing regularly since 1999 and received positive feedback from agents. But it wasn’t until 2010, when he received a Kindle for his birthday, that he realized the potential of self-published books: quite a few of them were on the bestseller list. The U.K.–based Pilkington tentatively uploaded a couple of novels using publishing platforms such as Smashwords. He has now sold over 350,000 e-books and also has a traditional publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton (part of the Hachette group). He shares his formula for success here and how the U.K. indie model might be different from the American one.

What’s been the most pleasing or revelatory aspect of self-publishing for you?

I've had lovely emails and messages via Twitter and Facebook from across the globe. It's also pleasing to know that I achieved success without the backing of a publisher. In the U.K., I was charting above brilliant writers such as Lee Child, and Harlan Coben. One revelation was the support I received from companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Kobo. They actively sought me out and began to support my books, which felt amazing and surreal.

How easy or difficult is it to sell self-published work in this genre? What incentives and pricing structures did you have to implement to ensure sales?

I decided to use a "first one free" model, whereby one of my novels would be perma-free and would (hopefully) drive sales of my other work. It worked better than I could ever have expected, but I don't have any magic formula to explain what happened. A lot of authors use this model, and I appreciate that it doesn't always lead to big sales.

What has been the most difficult aspect of self-publishing?

I made the mistake in the early days of assuming I could proofread my own books. You just can't do that. So my early reviews—which still are highly visible on Amazon—mention the numerous errors that existed in the early versions of my manuscripts. I now understand the value of paying for professional editing and proofreading and do this with all my novels. You need to treat the reader with respect, and a large part of that is ensuring quality.Pilkington cover

Tell us about your publishing deal with a traditional publisher in the U.K. Are you looking for a similar deal in the U.S.?

Early in 2013, I was approached by a number of literary agents and was offered a three-book deal with Hodder and Stoughton for my Emma Holden suspense mystery trilogy. It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. The three books were released in 2014, and the first novel in the trilogy, The One You Love, reached No. 1 in the official U.K. Heatseekers Chart. I still self-publish the trilogy very successfully in the United States and wouldn't want to give away my e-book rights.

How do you feel the U.S. and UK markets differ in terms of interest in indie works?

I get the sense that self-publishing is more established in the U.S. and there has been high-profile coverage of successful self-published authors. In the U.K., self-publishing was initially ignored and then looked at with a mixture of bemusement and derision. Now, however, I think that's changed significantly. Self-published authors are making their voices heard, are combining traditional and self-published careers, and in some ways are driving change in traditional publishing.

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelancer with a passion for books.

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