In 2015, AJ Waines topped the UK and Australian Kindle Charts with her number one bestseller, Girl on a Train. She is now a full-time novelist, after fifteen years as a Psychotherapist, with publishing deals in France, Germany (Penguin Random House) and USA (audiobook).
Also in 2015, she was featured in The Wall Street Journal and The Times and was ranked in the Top 20 authors on UK Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Her new chilling thriller, No Longer Safe, is released on 4 Feb 2016.
1. How did you start out as an author?
Like many writers, my path hasn’t been straightforward! In 2009, I was burnt out as a Psychotherapist after fifteen years, so I had a go at writing a psychological thriller. Within the same week in 2010, I managed to land a top literary agent just after a small UK publisher made an offer on that first novel, but the agency advised me to turn it down. As it happened, the book didn’t attract a big-name publisher, so I wrote two more novels before my agent and I parted company.
My new agent sent out the two new manuscripts, Girl on a Train and The Evil Beneath, and we got a pre-empt in France and a two-book deal in Germany. Apparently, it’s very rare to secure overseas deals before getting published in the home language. It wasn’t planned! I think timing was partly an issue. I had a few near-misses in the UK, with several publishers saying they would have snapped up the books if they’d been offered before the financial crash! Bittersweet comments.
2. Have the deals abroad been valuable to you?
Traditional deals involve advances, so it’s good to have some financial security, up front. Of course, you then have to earn out your advance, before you get any royalties. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, however, to sell over 40,000 copies of The Evil Beneath in translation through a book club in France – and I didn’t do any publicity or marketing for that; it was all down to the publisher.
3. So, with your first traditional deals gained in Europe, how did you approach the UK market?
When the novels weren’t picked up in the UK, my agent suggested White Glove – a new programme where authors with agents put their books on to Amazon and get special promotion opportunities. We went for this and it worked well for me.
4. How did you find a market for your books? Was it difficult when thousands of new novels are being added to Amazon every week?
The main issue, as you suggest, is getting noticed without any publisher’s publicity or marketing! There was no book launch or any advance promotion for those first books, so I was advised to ‘build a platform’. Suddenly, I had to switch from being ‘anonymous’ as a therapist to being ‘in the spotlight’ as a writer. I started a blog, wrote features for other sites, set up an author profile on Goodreads, began Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, a newsletter etc, and started to build a small readership that way.
It was a real shift in mentality, but the biggest barrier for any writer – even if you’re published traditionally – is making your book stand out above all the other books out there. But, sometimes a simple article can unexpectedly lead to great things. I wrote a piece this autumn, about book titles for an online site which was seen by a journalist from The Wall Street Journal. He interviewed me and published a feature, which was then followed up by The Times and The Independent on Sunday. This led to an audiobook deal in the US, so you just never know.
5. What do you need to be most aware of as an Indie writer in the UK?
My situation is complicated, as I’ve got two books on the White Glove scheme and also two new ones on Amazon that my agent suggested I publish myself. So, in all, I have three types of publishing: Agent-managed, Indie and Traditional - and there are plus sides and downsides to all of them!
For the White Glove scheme, agents’ approaches vary considerably and some will format and convert the e-book for you, pay for cover design and copy-editing, etc – but others don’t foot the bill. Invariably, I need to do all the marketing and publicity, because an agent doesn’t have the time or resources to actively sell the book. The agent does have control of the account, however – they ‘manage’ the book entirely; change the pricing, manage the meta-data, arrange promotions etc and they take a commission on royalties.
Some agents are more proactive than others – mine is very good - at keeping the books in the limelight with promotions and special deals. I went to number one in the UK and Australian Kindle chart due to a special deal my agent set up and I sold 30,000 copies of both White Glove books in the first six months of this year, so they’re doing a great job! Agents seem less likely to want to manage the Print on Demand versions (CreateSpace) as the Amazon royalties are so low, so I manage all these myself.
6. Are you still hoping for a traditional UK publisher?
It’s an interesting question and a few years ago, I would have said yes, absolutely. Now, I think it would have to be the right deal. It used to be the case that once an author got a publisher, it was for life, but now, even authors who get a two or three-book deal are finding themselves back to square one if the books don’t sell as well as hoped.
My traditional foreign deals seem to involve spin-off imprints, so they can be lucrative, but some authors are actively choosing to self-publish because the royalties are better. It also depends on whether you have your heart set on seeing your books in a high street store or in libraries. Despite not getting a UK publisher, I’ve been very lucky with sales.
7. What has it been like to produce the last two books, Dark Place to Hide and No Longer Safe, entirely on your own?
The nice thing is that I’m not actually alone - I have a great ‘Team’ around me, including a cover designer, copy editor, proofreaders, beta-readers, reviewers and so on. My agent has confirmed that the books are ‘commercial’, but they aren’t involved, so I project-manage everything from start to finish, together with the online accounts, launches and publicity. It’s a lot of work, but it’s been great to know I’ve done the whole thing myself – I even managed the ebook formatting on the latest one, No Longer Safe!
8. What advice would you give to a new author, Indie or Traditional?
Promotion is really key – I see it as an essential part of a writer’s life - as well as a cracking novel, of course! Books are no longer only found in bookshops, so I think it’s more or less par for the course now, that new writers have an online presence, traditionally published, or not. Appearances at festivals, libraries and book-signings are time-consuming, so I focus entirely on online publicity. No writer who wants to be successful can afford to release a book without all the whistles and bells that go with it. Learn from authors you admire – that’s what I did. I tracked what other writers in the same genre were doing to get themselves known and then set up the aspects I liked, for myself. It’s quite refreshing to put up a review on Goodreads or a guest post on my blog amidst the rigours of daily writing. It’s also incredibly rewarding and touching when readers get in touch and I try to respond to every message, if I can.
AJ Waines lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Her new chilling thriller, No Longer Safe, is launched today 4 Feb 2016.