I spoke to Jo Parfitt, author and founder of www.expatbookshop.com and Summertime Publishing. Jo started self-publishing in 1997 when she lived in Muscat. She decided to break away from mainstream because it wasn’t proving worthwhile in terms of royalties, and because she felt she knew the market and was better able to promote her work directly. Jo believes that being immersed in the market – being physically present to promote your book – helps enormously. ‘The most successful book I’ve ever written was the one in Muscat, because I was there. I was the one going to the fairs, we got on the radio, in the paper, and we did really well. But almost regardless of the genre, or what sort of book you’ve got, it’s down to the author.’
Jo asserts that ‘back of the room’ sales, when an author is speaking or participating in a conference or panel discussion and can sell books in person, is the best way to sell expat lit. Laura J. Stephens, author of An Inconvenient Posting, agrees that a personal approach is effective: ‘Being self-propelled is absolutely crucial for any published author. Back of the room selling requires taking time out to travel… but it can be fun and helps create a buzz. Selling direct to the reader makes a higher proportionate profit that balances the time and effort you have to put in.’
Laura recognises that social networking also boosts sales. ‘I tweet daily and have a Facebook page specifically for my book. I [also] write a regular blog drawing on my own life experiences and my therapeutic training. The latter allows me to differentiate myself; issues around transition feature strongly. I believe there is a correlation between my on-line presence and book sales; hopefully people find my blog interesting and I know some people are drawn to buying my book as a result.’
At Summertime, Jo provides crossover between traditional publishing and self-publishing, soliciting manuscripts to ensure a strong catalogue of books whilst charging fees for the publishing process to keep royalty rates high. The most useful part of publishing with Summertime, she says, is her network. The emphasis is on the author to do the marketing, but Jo helps by providing a host of networking opportunities, and encourages the development of a community amongst Summertime authors where work is shared and the stable of books is reviewed or promoted across individual sites, Facebook pages and on Twitter. This reminds me of Anastasia Ashman’s comment about ‘attracting an audience to a larger body of works’.