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How romcom author Nicola May cracked self-publishing

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Authors’ paths to success are many and varied, and invariably fraught with highs, lows and everything in between.

Best-selling romcom author, Nicola May is no different. “I was so green, I didn’t know anything about publishing,” she says of her first foray into self-publishing in 2011. Just eight years later, in January 2019, her ninth novel, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay, became the best-selling Kindle book in the UK…

How did she do it?

Necessity is the mother of invention: her impetus was redundancy, and time in between jobs to pursue her long term dream. Her first book, Star Fish — which tells of a woman who dates her way through the twelve signs of the zodiac — secured her an agent but no publishing deal.

In Nicola’s words she thought, ‘Sod it’, and kept on writing. She self-published her second novel, Working It Out and went on to self-publish her next four novels before being spotted by another agent. She signed up and very quickly secured a seven book deal with a publisher.

But real-life isn’t a rose-tinted romcom.

“I just didn’t make enough money,” says Nicola. “I thought that would be it and I would be able to write full-time, but a standard publisher tends to take 90% of paperback sales and 75% of ebook sales so there isn’t much left.” To compound the difficulty, sales were disappointing.

Not that Nicola is easily deterred.

In April 2018 she self-published her ninth novel, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay. Nine months later the title hit number one in the Kindle store.

Nicola May's ninth novel hit top spot in the Kindle store within nine months

A killer marketing strategy was key to spreading the word.

“I did a blog tour, which involves multiple bloggers running a Q&A with me, interviewing me or reviewing my book during the week of publication. I worked with Rachel’s Random Resources, and she organised the blog tour at a really reasonable cost. I’m sure that helped to escalate The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay to number one.”

Other tips Nicola swears by are:

- Create a Facebook author page and run targeted advertising and ‘boost’ posts

- Create an Instagram author page (and try to secure a handle as close to your author name as possible)

- Create a Twitter profile (again, secure a consistent and relevant handle if possible)

- Set up an author profile on GoodReads

But having a social media profile takes work: post regular, relevant content otherwise your audience will lose interest.

Nicola says if you’re self-publishing an ebook, the key steps to follow are:

- Write the book

- Invest in a good cover that will work as a thumbnail image online ( is a great resource - a one stop shop of editors, designers, marketers etc)

- Write a strong ‘blurb’ - read other authors’ blurbs, run yours past other people for their input, and don’t waffle

- Work with a professional to get the manuscript typeset so it loads correctly on the relevant device (eg Kindle)

- Register on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

- Upload your book

Of course, paperbacks are still a popular medium, but Nicola says it is hard to distribute and sell these as a self-published author. “But it’s not impossible — I did it. I went to the London Book Fair and met with someone from Bertrams wholesaler, which is a distributor for Waterstones. I really put myself out there — you have to be forthright and get yourself in front of people.”

She advises first time self-published authors, perhaps controversially, to stick to Amazon.

“KDP is so helpful for authors. Amazon has a ‘cover creator’ tool so you don’t even have to get a cover designed — although I’d still recommend commissioning one.”

Authors can choose a paperback format too. “Upload the book to Amazon, tick the box saying you want it to be a paperback, and it is produced and distributed on demand.”

But beware, it’s not a money spinner. “I make about 10p a book that way,” says Nicola.

KDP Select — which requires authors to make the digital format of their book available exclusively through KDP — allows authors to make money from the number of ‘pages read’ too. “If readers subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, which allows people to read as many books as they want for £7.99 a month, authors are paid per page read. Half my income is from that.”

Finally, Nicola says, be bold. “Anyone can succeed at anything. Have a goal and stick to it. Don’t give up.”

She tells of being inspired by Jim Carrey, who famously wrote himself a cheque for $10m and dated it 10 years in the future. “In 2011 I wrote myself a cheque, not for $10 million, but for a substantial amount of money and put it in a copy of Working It Out.” She dated the cheque 3/3/2019. “My book got to number one in January 2019 and the cheque was for the amount I will earn this year. That’s weird.”

Not really. It’s about belief. “Believe in yourself and keep writing. It might not be your first book which makes your name,” she adds.

Following Meet Me in Cockleberry Bay, the second book in the Cockleberry Bay trilogy, Nicola is now working on the final book, due out April 2nd, 2020.

You can catch her at the Exeter Literature Festival on Saturday, November 9th, 2019. She might just be the inspiration a whole generation of budding authors needs…


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