Q&A with Nicola May – what makes a best seller

Just before she appeared in The Times and the Daily Mail, I asked best selling self-published author Nicola May if she’d do a Q&A for my blog – on what makes a best seller – both in the writing and the marketing of a book.

Nicola is a lovely lady who can be found sharing her wisdom regularly with other authors in online forums. She said yes willingly, and followed up with the insights which you can read below.

There’s a full account of her pathway to success in the Daily Mail article, but in brief, Nicola began writing as a side hustle because she loved it, and used her marketing experience to back up her writing and get the books in front of readers. She went through a few adventures with agents and mainstream publishing deals before returning to self-publishing and has thrived. Earlier this year her book The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay reached the number one spot on Kindle Store for over a month.

Nicola lives in Ascot and boy does that lady love hats. My deep thanks to her for sharing her thoughts with us, and let’s not forget Stan the cat and author’s companion, for his services to writing. Here’s Nicola on how she made it all happen.

Nicola May, author, and her cat Stan.

Q: First, please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Nicola May, I write romantic comedy and I live in Ascot. I first self-published in 2011 and am currently writing my eleventh novel.

My ninth novel, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay has sold around 170,000 copies, reached #1 on Amazon Kindle and is being translated into Spanish, Estonian, Czech and Italian. The sequel, Meet Me in Cockleberry Bay was released in July and is also being very well received.

QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING

Q: Are you a strategic writer or a seat-of-the-pants type? Do you map out the plot lines in advance, or know vaguely where you’re going and just write?

I’ve always been a bit of a seat-of-the-pants type writer, but writing a series was a bit different as I needed to line up plot lines for future books.

Q: What are the features or qualities of your books that make them appealing to readers and make them sell, indeed make them bests sellers?

I think it’s the fact that my heroines are flawed and that with regards to The Cockleberry series I instil a sense of community spirit.

Whatever makes a page turner is what makes a bestseller; so I guess keeping action, intrigue and many plot lines running without any lulls is an ingredient.

Q: Do you see yourself as a writer of books for women, and do men read your books too? Who do you have in mind when you’re writing, do you have a typical reader, and is it a man or a woman?

I guess my genre is targeted at women, however I did include a crime element in both of the Cockleberry books and I seem to now be getting reviews from several men, which is great.

Q: What are you like to live with when you’re writing? Are you writing for pleasure, or do you have commercial success in mind, and does this affect how you write?

Luckily, I live with just Stan the Rescue Cat. He usually sleeps at the bottom of bed, whilst I’m writing – yes I do most of my writing under the duvet! I write for hours at a time when I get engrossed in a book, but Stan of course gives me a gently reminder if he’s hungry! I say luckily as I am so insular when I am mid-flow.

Q: Have your writing habits changed as your writing career has grown?  And do you think your writing or anything else about your books has grown and improved over time?

Of course, like anything I do believe you learn your craft as you go along. I also have an exceptional editor, in Joan Deitch who has forever taught me how to improve. For example; shorter sentences and look out for word repetition.

QUESTIONS ABOUT PUBLISHING

Q: What do you think self-publishing or independent publishers have brought to the world of books? How have they changed things for writers in terms of the possibilities of sales and even a little success?

Speaking as a self-published author, I think if you have some sort of marketing know-how, it is a no brainer to publish yourself.  The whole process has been made very simple, especially by Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. However, I like the fact that I now have a publisher for print as they have all the ins required to get into bookshops etc. I don’t mind not managing that aspect of things. I used to have piles of books in my house and was constantly shipping here there and everywhere.

Q: How do you rate the relative chances of success between a self-published or mainstream published author?

That is a very hard question. I have succeeded as a self-published author by being relentless and as I said before have marketing knowledge. Obviously mainstream publishers have bigger budgets and are more likely to get included in magazine reviews etc. The market is changing but I still feel a snobbery towards self-published authors and especially ebook only authors.

Q: Do you enjoy the editing stage of your books, and why should writers look forward to working with an editor? Is this an important part of the process in making a book the best it can be and can it affect its success?

A good editor is of massive importance to making the best of book. You have to be ready to face the fact that your beloved masterpiece is going to change, but you can’t be precious as it is essential to get another professional point of view on your work. I don’t particularly enjoy the process, to be honest.

Q: How important is jacket design to a book and its success?

Very important, but title is probably of more importance. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. What is more important than either, is reviews.

ON MARKETING BOOKS

Q: It’s sometimes said that writing the book is the easy part, and marketing it is the real challenge. Is that true and why?

Marketing is a big area to cover but yes, I say writing the book is the easy part. Getting it out there and finding out what works and doesn’t isn’t easy. I think it is a challenge as due to the self-publishing revolution, there are so many books out there now. Plus, social media gives everyone opportunities to find all the books on the market, so you need to make yours stand out above the rest.

Q: Without asking you to write a marketing manual, do you have any top tips for other writers who are marketing their book? What’s the mainstay of your approach to marketing, getting your book noticed and reaching readers?

Easy first steps: 

  • Set up and be active on a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram account – look what other authors of your genre are saying. Which messages get most likes?
  • Look at Amazon advertising – again you can work to a budget or your choice. I have found more success just using .co.uk not .com.
  • Definitely set up an ‘author page’ on Facebook, that allows you to boost posts for as little a pound a day. This also links to your Instagram account. ALWAYS link to your book page so that you gain sales.
  • Allauthor.com – sign up to these guys. For just $59 a year, they produce great promotional graphics for you weekly! I use them all the time for my social media feeds.
  • BE BOLD – don’t worry about bombarding people with too many posts – if you use the Facebook boost button, you tailor that to a different audience to your general social media anyway. The more somebody sees your book flash up in their timeline, the more likely they are to buy it. Saying that don’t upset ‘the groups’ – I’m always getting banned 😉 

If you fancy you can download my short guide here for further hints and tips that will help you get started.

Q: When do you think it’s a good idea to look for an agent, and why have one?

I no longer have a literary agent. I do however have a foreign rights agent as they have all the necessary contacts to get your book overseas.

A literary agent is essential if you want to get into one of the bigger publishing houses. I would say wait until your first draft is done and then get hold of the Writers and Artists yearbook and look for agents who are looking for your genre. It’s all done by email now, it was all by post when I was looking!

AND LASTLY

Q: What are you working on right now?

I’m just about to start the final book in the Cockleberry Bay series, working title The Gift of Cockleberry Bay, due Spring 2020.

Q: Where can readers find your books?

All of my books can be found on Amazon.

Q: And where can readers follow you?

Web: www.nicolamay.com

Twitter: @nicolamay1

Instagram: author_nicola

My thanks once again to Nicola. There are some tips there that I’ll be taking myself and I’ve already downloaded that guide to using social media platforms as an author.

Fiona Stocker

About the blogger: Fiona Stocker is the author of Apple Island Wife, a book about moving your family to five acres in the country, on a hunch. Since publication, Apple Island Wife has ranked consistently in the top ten travel books on Amazon Australia. It was published by Unbound in 2018.

​“Apple Island Wife is both heart-warming and hilarious. Filled with raw, honest real-life accounts of trying to attain the good life fuelled with a pioneering spirit and a positive attitude. Compulsive reading for anyone who has ever thought they are not living the life they should!” 
Steven Lamb, River Cottage 

“Fiona Stocker is funny, really funny. She is also a beautiful writer with an eye for the telling little details. I just loved this book.” 
Pip Courtney, ABC Landline 

Apple Island Wife is available at bookstores in Australia and the UK, and at Amazon AustraliaAmazon UKAmazon USA and Book Depository with free international postage.


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