On Saturday 1 June we welcome three authors to Derby Book Festival who have all achieved success through very different journeys into print. But what if you’re an aspiring writer looking to find your own route into publishing? We spoke to creative writing tutor and horror writer, Alex Davis about life as a self-published author, advice for new writers and the health of publishing as a whole.

Routes to success

“There have been some ‘wobbles’ in the past decade,” Alex says, “but things seem to have settled down nicely now. E-books grew sharply which did have an impact but print has certainly bounced back and we’re starting to see a status quo develop now with the two co-existing.

“Audiobooks is an expanding market for sure, and even individual authors are getting involved in that now. Ultimately you’d have to say the more ways there are for readers to engage with writing then all the better. It can be a mistake to think of the three in ‘competition’ as it’s common for people to buy a physical book and an e-book or sometimes all three!”

When it comes to day to day life as an author, though, there are differences. “An e-author is really on their own, and so has control over what goes into the book, what it looks like and how it’s marketed. That might sound great but it comes with the responsibility to deliver to a high standard and do an awful lot of good, co-ordinated work on the marketing front.

“There are great success stories among e-authors, but it’s hard to do it well enough to be heard above the literally millions of self-published books out there.”

Alex continues: “The traditionally published author has a lot more support from a team of marketing experts and editors who do a lot of great work to ensure all elements of the book really shine. Trad published authors are certainly expected to do their bit of marketing, but they’re certainly not on their own.”


But what about the view from the other side of the page? “There’s still a lot of readers who wouldn’t even consider a self-published book,” Alex points out. “Self-publishing is easier than it’s ever been these days, which is great, but maybe it’s encouraging people to rush into putting things out without due quality control.

“I suppose that’s where some of the snobbery comes from. But in a sense more choice is always a good thing, and self-publishing can be great in terms of reaching niches that maybe mainstream publishing is not looking at or putting out. Audiences have an idea of what they want and the search mechanisms they can use to find it.”

With so many options, though, how does anyone make an informed choice? “Sites like GoodReads probably have more importance than ever, they’re very much ‘peer review’ rather than critic review. We’re getting quite resistant as a society to marketing messages, and maybe there’s sometimes a feeling that reviewers for papers or websites have an agenda – not an accurate feeling I would say, but it does exist.

“But peer reviews don’t have that. There’s no reason for a fellow reader to share other than to express their opinion in the hope of guiding you towards – or away – from a purchase. That said, I encounter a lot of people who ignore reviews of all stripes and just like to form their own opinion.”

Out now

With all that in mind, how would Alex recommend we navigate the publishing maze?

“It’s an old classic, but The Writers and Artists Yearbook remains a great resource,” Alex says. “Beyond that I often advocate people getting onto Twitter – there’s a slew of agents and publishers who are often happy to field questions, sometimes in Q&A sessions, in order to demystify that side of the process as much as they can. For anyone wondering how an agent looks at writing, Piers Blofeld’s Rejection: Live video is well worth a look.

“Other than that, I’ve always really recommended getting out to events – hearing from people who have been there and done it, and the many different ways that people do things can be a great help, as well as an inspiration!”

So there’s your answer: if you want to learn more and increase your chances of getting your work published, come along to our Routes into Publishing event with best-selling authors Lucy Foley, Rachel Abbott and Tracy Bloom on Saturday 1 June!

Derby Book Festival

29 May – 6 June 2020

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Derby Book Festival is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation registered with the Charity Commission for England & Wales Number 1159763