Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #3 - Matt Drabble

Today, I'm proud to bring you another interview in what is proving to be quite a popular series - Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. In the hot seat is Best-selling U.K. author, Matt Drabble. His Amazon Author's page bio describes him as thus: 

"Born in Bath, England in 1974, a self-professed "funny onion", equal parts sport loving jock and comic book geek. I am a lover of horror and character driven stories. I am also an A.S sufferer who took to writing full time two years ago after being forced to give up the day job. I have a career high position of 5th on Amazon's Horror Author Rank of which I am immensely proud. "GATED" is a UK & US Horror Chart Top Ten Best Seller & winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Horror Book of the Year. "ASYLUM - 13 TALES OF TERROR" is a US Horror Chart #5 It was also voted #5 on The Horror Novel Review's Top 10 Books of 2013 & is a Readers Favorite 2014 Gold Medal Winner.
"ABRA-CADAVER" won an Indie Book of the Day award."

Without further ado, let's get in to it. Remember to make sure you check out Matt's excellent books and the other interviews in this series here on my website. 

Who are you and where do you come from? Do you think that your life experience has gone someway towards making you a successful author in your chosen genre?

My name is Matt Drabble and I am originally from a city called Bath in the South West of England. A few years ago I suffered a nasty back injury and as a result I was unable to keep on working a full time job. I have always liked writing and had many a notepad full of ideas and the beginnings of books. One day I stumbled across an article on Amazon’s self-publishing platform. With time on my hands I figured why not turn one of my half finished stories into a full book, mainly just to see if I could, so I did.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing and for the way you brand yourself as an author?

For me King is King and long live the King. I am increasingly working in the short story format and have produced three anthologies so for and am currently working on my fourth. Inspiration for a short story with a twist really comes from the world around me. It could be a news article that makes me think “what if?” What if the outcome was different, what if something else happened that changed the whole complexion? Normally I start at the end with a twist and work backwards from there.

If you could pinpoint one thing in particular that has grabbed readers of your work, what would you say it is? I.e. What do you think it is about your work that makes readers buy your books?

I always try and write stories with some depth to them. There is a market for the gross out horror fan, especially amongst younger readers, but my audience seem to be older readers. I’d like to think that I write with a decent pace, interesting and exciting situations, but all with three dimensional characters that you’ve come to care about.

You have enjoyed best-selling status – is there a particular moment in your career as an author that you realized that you had done something right to get where you are now? Can you pinpoint what it was that spiked your success to date?

When I first started self-publishing about two and a half years ago, the market was less saturated and you could do a free giveaway and I’d average maybe 3000 downloads a day without any marketing. Now without any advertising you’d be lucky to see 100 [downloads]. I set myself a deadline of three books to see some improvement in sales figures to give me any encouragement to keep going. Luckily, after the first two sank without trace, the third offering was a horror thriller called “Gated” which was a more deliberate attempt to produce something with more of a commercial appeal. The going was slow but with a lot of patience and determination sales started to pick up, reviews were good and I had a big free giveaway weekend which netted me around 31,000 downloads. My next book was a horror anthology called “Asylum – 13 Tales of Terror” which sold about 1600 books in the first month with no marketing. I am a firm believer that as long as your work is decent, once people see it they will buy it. The obvious problem with Amazon now is getting your book high enough up the charts for readers to see it.

Did you try to get publishing contracts for your books early on with traditional book publishers? If so, did you have any success there or if not what was it that made you decide to self-publish the majority of your work?

Yes. I sent out my stuff to every agent and publisher that accepted submissions. I did finally sign a deal with a publisher based in San Francisco who then unfortunately went out of business about four days before my launch.

Why self-publish?

The great thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it; unfortunately, the bad thing is also that anyone can do it. I believe that a lot of readers have had their fingers burnt by poor work and can be more sceptical and less willing to give a new author a chance. Self-publishing also gives an author time to grow and breathe, time to develop and time to forge a very thick skin. The only way to get better is to write and write a lot.

How important do you think awards are, to an independent self-published author’s success?

This is a tough one as awards look great on your Amazon page when trying to entice a reader and I have entered a few and won a few. But there are also a lot of “vanity” awards out there that are tantamount to simply buying one. I would say always look for the larger and more prestigious award ceremonies.  

Once you have decided that self-publishing might be your route, what financial and artistic considerations should you keep in mind before you begin?

Writing a novel really costs you nothing but time. Financially, you will need a proof reader at the very least. There are sites that sell cover designs if you are not artistically equipped. If you are writing for yourself then just write. If you are hoping to build a career or make money then first realise that the odds of any of us hitting the big time are pretty slim. I have been writing for almost three years and at the moment I am making a wage (I would dread to try and calculate my hourly rate as it would be lower than minimum wage when you add up hours versus reward)

What do you see as your most innovative promotional strategy?

Social media is always an excellent source for growing an audience. Once you start to build a readership they are a fantastic tool to use.

What kind of marketing did you do to establish your author brand and what do you think is the most successful marketing for self-published authors? Is there any one thing that you have determined has helped you sell more books – i.e. could you outline your path to establishing your brand and your most successful sales method/s as?

Marketing myself is always an area where I really should be doing more. I think that it all comes down to download numbers and that can be a matter of luck. Facebook and Twitter are crucial to getting yourself out there. I do a few book tours before every launch mainly to garner quotable reviews that I can use on my Amazon page. Again, interacting with readers is great, as it can give you excellent feedback to be able to communicate with your audience to beta test books to make sure that your customers are going to like the next project. Websites and blogs are a great marketing tool but as always what you write only matters if people are reading it. I always put clickable adverts for my other books into every Kindle novel along with links to my social media and websites. I also use a mailing service and put a link to sign up for my newsletter in every book. I shudder to think of the tens of thousands of downloads that I had before I started adding links into my books. That’s a hell of a lot of potential return customers that I could have harnessed. If someone likes one of your books then chances are that they would like others, but without directing them to the rest of your catalogue once they’ve put yours down and picked up someone else’s they will forget your name.

What are some current best practices that you’re using to sell books? Any tips?

Without question, BookBub has been by far the most successful site that I’ve used to date. The drawback though is that it is incredibly difficult to get a novel accepted and seems to be getting more difficult by the day. I’ve managed to get four promotions with them and I’m about to do my fifth and their numbers are fantastic whether it’s a free giveaway or a $0.99 sale. The initial downloads are very high but it’s the knock on effect on sales for maybe three months after that you can make your money back several times over.

How important are ‘series’ books to your success as a self-published author?

I think that they are great when trying to establish a brand. I have published “Gated” and “Gated II” with plans for a third to end the trilogy. I have also published a horror anthology collection called “After Darkness Falls I and II” and I am currently writing a sequel to “Asylum – 13 Tales of Terror”

Do you design your own covers? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader and how big a part do you think it has played in your success to date?

I design all of my covers. I have a background in design so fortunately I am able to design (hopefully) decent covers. The cover is the only part of the book that can draw a reader’s eye when they are staring at an Amazon page full of potential reads, it has to draw them in as readers have so many choices now.

In your opinion, is traditional publishing on the way out? Do you think that traditional publishing can continue to keep up with the rise of self-publishing?

I think that self-publishing is growing at a fast rate and the impact has been felt by publishers as many are now trying to poach the most successful. Amazon now have several publishing companies that will recruit successful self-publishers and promote them above us little guys.

Would you ever consider signing all your books to a traditional publishing house or will you always mange some of your titles yourself through self-publishing?

I still send stuff off to publishers from time to time and I would always try a traditional route if one was offered to compare the two processes if nothing else. There is still a part of me that can’t help but feel I haven’t made it until I was traditionally published.

Have you ever used free book promotions? Do you think they are a worth-while marketing tool for self-published authors? If so/not – why?

Yes I use free promotions all the time. As I’ve said before, the market is so saturated now that a lot of readers can exist solely on free books and never have to buy one. Giving one free book to one reader can turn them into a regular customer. Reviews are also a huge part of attracting new readers and the review to read rate is tiny, something like one review per 1000 downloads. So the more downloads you have the more reviews you will get.

What avenues of self-promotion did you find to be most effective and affordable? What’s the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ advertising you have employed?

As said before BookBub was by far the most effective.

Do you feel there’s a good sense of community within the self-publishing industry?

There is good and bad everywhere. I’d like to think that the overwhelming majority of people in our field are good spirited souls always willing to hand out advice. There will always be those who resent any kind of success and I have been trolled a few times by obviously disgruntled authors.

Was it always your intention to self-publish, or would you have considered the traditional publishing route had the opportunity presented itself?

My intention at the beginning was always to just finish a book with no thought to sales or downloads. I would like to try the traditional route as publishers are still a mighty machine when it comes to marketing, proofing, editing etc.

What would you say is the single biggest advantage of deciding to self-publish?

You obviously have complete control. You will also have the time to grow, to fail, to improve and develop a thick skin. Hopefully if you stick with it then in time you will hit your stride and be ready for the next step.

Are there things you feel as though you missed out on by not going down the traditional publishing route (working alongside an editor, for example)?

Definitely. When I was briefly signed to my publisher before they went bust I worked with an editor who was reshaping my novel for the commercial market and it was very interesting to see what she thought worked and what didn’t.

Would you recommend other aspiring self-publishing authors pay for particular services? Editing or cover design, for example?

I would always use an outside proof reader that is essential as there is no latitude given to self-publishers when it comes to errors. Readers will demand that your book is as perfect as the new King or Koontz despite them having huge companies with multiple proofers, editors etc behind them. If you can’t design a decent cover then get someone else to do it for you, you might have written a best seller masterpiece but it won’t matter if no one picks it up. 

You use social media a lot and interact with your readership – how important do you think this is to becoming a success as a self-published author?

You have to work hard to develop your audience as you are a one voice screaming for attention amongst millions of others.

Are you in regular contact with other self-published authors and how important was any input you may have received early on in your career?  Do you have a mentor in terms of your self-publishing success – someone who may have inspired you to ‘give it a go’?

Not really, no. It was still relatively new when I started and much of what I learned was through trial and error, but there are lots of things that I wish I’d known then.

Where to from here? Are you currently represented by an agent and are you working with any publishers on future projects?

I am still plugging away on my own. I make a living from writing and am of the opinion that the more work I do the more I stand a chance of attracting attention. I have had a few approaches from publishers, agents and a film company, but as of yet nothing has panned out. I believe that the right deal is out there for me and I’ll find it when it’s meant to be.

Can you offer any advice to fellow writers if you could go back in time and “do it all over?” What’s your top tip for other indie authors?

Proof, proof and then proof again and when you’re finished proof again! A good tip when finishing a novel is to put it away for a couple of weeks and then come back to it with a fresh mind. Always get it proofed by other people, if you can’t find or afford a proof reader then look around your circle of friends and family. Find a professional, someone who works with facts and figures, someone with a meticulous eye like an accountant for instance. Always insert links to a website, blog or social media sites into your Kindle novels, help people to remember you and find other works of yours.

Finally, thanks for sharing your thoughts on self-publishing. Where is the best place for readers to find your books?


 Matt Drabble, Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors, Self-Publishing, #selfpub, Writing, Amazon Best-sellers, Selfpublishing vs traditional publishing,  William Cook, Interview