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From Traditional Publishing To Hybrid And Indie With Crime Thriller Author Michael Ridpath

    Categories: Publishing Options

The publishing world continues to change, but authors who adapt and grow with it are making the best of both worlds, straddling traditional publishing and indie in the hybrid model. In today’s show, I talk to Michael Ridpath about his journey.

In the intro, I talk about Kobo’s move into audiobooks, Draft2Digital’s new professional quality ebook templates, and Kris Rusch’s post about Rip Van Winkle syndrome and how you can navigate the changes ahead.

Plus, I reflect on my trip away to the Dolomites region of northern Italy. Click here for the photos.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Michael Ridpath is the internationally bestselling author of 16 novels, that range from financial thrillers through Icelandic crime thrillers, historical spy novels and most recently Amnesia, which incorporate aspects of thriller, crime, and history.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • On changing genres and the impact that has on one’s writing career
  • Michael’s mindset to keep writing during the dips in an author career
  • How to know when a book series has run its course
  • How Michael is publishing now
  • On whether the attitude toward indie publishing has changed

You can find Michael at MichaelRidpath.com and on Twitter @MichaelRidpath

Transcript of Interview with Michael Ridpath

Joanna Penn: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I’m here with Michael Ridpath. Hi, Michael.

Michael Ridpath: Hi, Joanna.

Joanna Penn: Great to have you on the show, just a little introduction.

Michael is the international bestselling author of 16 novels, that range from financial thrillers through Icelandic crime thrillers historical spy novels and most recently Amnesia, which incorporate aspects of thriller, crime, and history, so all in one which sounds very cool Michael. That’s your most recent one, isn’t it?

Michael Ridpath: Yeah, it is. Yeah, it came out in May, so just out.

Joanna Penn: Your story is so interesting. Back in 1995, you left the city of London as a bonds trader which is just… it’s too exciting really to become a full-time author with your first financial thriller. So take us back, 1995, you seriously left what must have been an incredibly high earning job to become an author, and now everyone’s going what is he doing?

What made you leave your job to become a writer, and what was the publishing industry like back then?

Michael Ridpath: Well, I started writing the book as a hobby. So it wasn’t a career decision at all.

I was a bond trader I decided I would write a novel about being a bond trader. After three gos of writing and rewriting the same book over three years, I sent it out to a set of agents, and they sent it around a number of publishers. And I got a very good advance my first novel.

A completely surprising one, I think it was a record at the time. Which was a bit of a shock was a shock to my colleagues when they read about it in the newspaper too.

I had an opportunity to give up work and do what I found I really enjoyed doing which was writing and earn a decent amount of money doing it, so that’s what I did. I gave up, and I think in 1995 which is when my first book “Free to Trade” came out.

And to answer your question about what was the publishing world like then, it was very different. It was very hard to get into, but once you were in…And I was very lucky and you were published by a big publisher, then you could earn a serious amount of money.

Because what was called the Net Book Agreement was still around, which meant the books were still full priced in this country, and importantly, in other countries as well including America.

So there was a lot more money to go around, there was a lot more profit in the system and the author had a lot more power. So if you were fortunate to have a good publisher and be writing in a fashionable genre then you could make very good money.

The other thing that was good was once you were established, you started off with an inch on the shelf at WHSmith, and then it got wider and wider and wider or it did in theory. And you eventually take over the whole shelf. I think it started out well for me and for financial thrillers.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and that’s so interesting, there’s a few things there. The Net Book Agreement. I mean we’re fast forwarding to now. Let’s go back, so 1995 was kind of the beginnings of the Internet, and I wanted to ask because we’re going to come later to how you’re doing book marketing now.

In 1995, for that first novel what did you do for book marketing?

Michael Ridpath: For book marketing was book tours. So I went on book tours all over the world, and that would involve a publicist a person setting up lots of interviews and book signing.

So basically, the good things would be an interview with a national newspaper or a TV program. But you filled in with lots of local radio interviews and lots of book signings. Where you go to a bookshop you wait an hour three people show up and then you deface their book, and that has obviously changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

My second book “Trade in Reality” was actually about a virtual reality company, and my US publisher, Harper Collins got in touch me to say I needed a website. And I thought that’s ridiculous how can I get a website? But they said all high tech authors in the States had a website, so I made up my own website on CompuServe, and I think it was one of the first UK authors to do it which is interesting.

Joanna Penn: Wow, that’s so cool and of course VR back in the late 90s. It seems funny because then it all disappeared didn’t it?

That was meant to be VR and then it all disappeared, and now it’s all coming back again.

Michael Ridpath: And almost exactly the same. That is really strange because everything else has changed hugely in the last 20 years, but virtual reality hardly at all. There’s still the technology of tomorrow maybe for somebody it will be.

Joanna Penn: What was that second book called? I’m really interested in that one.

Michael Ridpath: It’s called “Trading Reality”…

Joann: “Trading Reality”

Michael Ridpath: And it was about a virtual reality start-up. So it was sort of a financial thriller. I had invested in a virtual reality company myself when I was working in the city and it was an interesting subject to write about and probably still is.

Joanna Penn: Oh yes, wow, you’re going to have to reboot that “Trading Reality 2” or something. That would be fantastic because now companies like Magic Leap are so secretive and you wonder what the hell is going on there. They’re just gonna burst out and it’s gonna be cool. So you built your site on CompuServe now presumably because of course, bond trading used to be in finance that you did a lot of things yourself on a computer.

Michael Ridpath: Yes.

Joanna Penn: You’re probably quite a techie compared to a lot of authors?

Michael Ridpath: I was techie then yeah, and then the rest of the world has caught up in overtaking me, but I did know a lot about spreadsheets at a very tender age.

Joanna Penn: I think that’s actually an advantage and as we come later like some of the things you’re embracing for book marketing there’s a lot of authors of your standard and caliber in Britain who are not. So I think that’s really cool.

Moving forward, you did eight financial thrillers, but then in 2006, you started to write different genres.

What changed? Why you make the decision to shift? Because I see from your book reviews that your readers still want more financial thrillers.

Michael Ridpath: Yeah, it’s interesting. Things started to go wrong. Financial thrillers were supposed to be the new legal thriller. And that was why they signed me up as English John Grisham and it never really worked out like that, unfortunately.

It did pretty well but it turned out to be quite a small niche and I found my main readers weren’t people who were actually working in banking but their mothers. So the great readers for all of us, these women their 50s and 60s who had kids and working in the city or on Wall Street liked to read my books to find out what it was all about.

That was fine with me, but what happened was my sales were declining. Legal thrillers were declining, financial thrillers were declining and I was dropped by Penguin who are my publishers. And that happened to a number of people at that time.

Mark Dawson, who’s a famous a self-published author, was one of them, almost the same time. And when that happens you can do two things, you can either try and figure out who else is going to publish your financial thrillers, or you can sort of think okay, the world’s changing I got to change with it.

But then what was extremely difficult was changing genres, because although editors might like the new book I wrote… I started writing series about Iceland. Although editors might like it the sales and marketing people would always say Michael Ridpath is a brand in financial thrillers, we can’t rebrand him forget it.

So that was the trouble I had in changing genres. That’s something which is much easier to do now, both for me and I think everybody else. But it was really hard 10, 15 years ago.

Joanna Penn: Yes, it’s really interesting. A lot of this does happen to a lot of people, this is not unusual.

Michael Ridpath: It does.

Joanna Penn: Many authors think, oh I’ve got a book deal that’s it, I’m gonna stay with the same publisher, the same agent, the same everything.

Do you know any authors who’ve been in the game 20 years, who have the same agent, the same publisher and getting the same money?

Michael Ridpath: Yes, but they are nearly all older than me, so they’d be in their 60s or 70s.

Someone like Ken Follett, people who are well established about the time I was coming on. I started out the same time as Lee Child and he would obviously be one too.

I didn’t quite make it but I think anyone who started maybe a few years after I did, life has changed. It does get harder as time goes on.

What happens for a lot of people is your series runs its course, and of course, you think it will carry on forever and so do your publishers.

But in practice maybe it’s four books, maybe it’s 10 books, maybe it’s 15 books, but eventually, you or they want you to do something else. And then the writers split into two, those who are willing and prepared to do something else, and those who aren’t.

I think the good thing I did back in 2006, although it was a blow to be dropped by Penguin who are a very good publisher, was I thought, “Well I’m going to succeed in this if I look ahead to the next thing, rather than defending what’s happened in the past.”

And I think in general now the secret to success for authors, and also, especially publishers is those who are looking ahead to figure out what’s coming next, rather than to defend sort of declining market.

Joanna Penn: Wow, I’ve got so many questions coming out from that. You said about moving on and looking forward, that mindset of pivoting which you did when you changed genres. You could have just gone oh well I guess I’ll go get a job again or something, which you see with a lot of authors actually.

What was that mindset shift for you that kept you writing as opposed to giving up?

Michael Ridpath: Well, it’s two things. First of all, I absolutely love it, and I think I’m still learning a lot. I think “Amnesia” is my best book, so I think I still have a lot to learn. So I wanted to carry on doing that.

Also, I quite like a challenge. I mean for the financial thriller world is a very niche one, I was like a big fish or a medium sized fish in extremely small pool.

I quite like the idea of taking on the big boys and girls and writing in a broader genre. So crime or thrillers both of which I did seemed a bit more of a challenge.

I think when you start off writing about what you know, which is probably a good thing to do, but after you’ve written several books about what you know, you quite like the idea of writing about what you don’t know.

So the personal reason for writing factors definitely push me towards trying something else. And then there’s a commercial thing which usually is best if you can make the commercial dovetail in what you want to do because then you do it better and more profitably. So that’s what I did I think.

Joanna Penn: That’s great, and yeah, I totally agree with that.

The second thing, I had here is you’ve mentioned when the series has run its course, and that’s actually of really good common. Now what’s funny right now is “Game of Thrones.” So “Game of Thrones” TV series is awesome, has now overtaken the books, and the series really even though people want more it feels like it’s run its course. And I feel this with one of my series.

How do you know when a series has run its course in terms of your own sense rather than just it’s not making so much money?

Michael Ridpath: It was beginning to happen in my financial thrillers when planning the next book seems a little bit of a chore because you’ll rework previous things.

In my Magnus books, which are about Iceland, I get really excited when I go back to Iceland because I love the country and I got more to write about. Maybe eventually, I’ll sort of think well Magnus has done this before but he should probably do it again because I need to come up with a book.

I have never really got to that point myself, it’s my publisher who thought the financial thrillers have run out to steam. But I think that’s what it is.

What I did find is if you can switch from writing a series book to writing either a stand alone or another series that refreshes you. So coming back to the familiar security of a series is a good thing rather than, “Oh my God, I’ve gotta write the same book yet again.”

I think that’s, from a creator point of view that’s a good thing to do. Do one or two books in a series then switch and then go back to it, and I think that will give it more legs I don’t know we’ll see.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I agree I feel that way, that’s how I’m kind of doing it. But what’s funny is my stand alone books just don’t sell as well, because they don’t have a built in market.

Michael Ridpath: Yes.

Joanna Penn: So then you are like, “Well, I should just go back and do another one of those.” but it is a very interesting balance. But something else you said your publisher had said something like Michael Ridpath is a brand.

Michael Ridpath: Yes.

Joanna Penn: In Britain, this is not just pretty a British thing, but right now a whole load of people that you know I know are using different names to relaunch as a debut. I saw on your Twitter stream maybe I should be Michelle, because men are using women’s names.

I use JF Penn because having a female name sold worse in action adventure.

What do you think is going on? Is it just because the publishing industry can only make money from debuts or big names or is this just marketing?

Michael Ridpath: Well, my own experience, which I suppose is 10 years ago when I was making the switch, I started off with the spy novels, actually, they were turned down because of my name.

Then I wrote the Icelandic novels and submitted those under a pseudonym. So they got through the sales and marketing thing, but when the editor found out who I was he said, “Oh that’s great. Let’s go ahead with it.” So then I switched back to my own name.

And then I did the same thing again for the spy novels which had failed first time, I’ve sent it all out again under a pseudonym name and that got published again.

In my case, the problem was this brand thing as far as publishers were concerned. I have a feeling that’s very different for self-published authors because the whole point about self-publishing is everything you do is cumulative.

Every reader you’ve got who likes your books might buy another one. And once you start changing your name you’re losing all your old readers.

You know obviously more about self-publishing than I do. But I think I would stick the brand once you’ve got it and then try and build on it. And you’ll take some of your readers with you and some not but changing…throwing away all your old readers if you’ve got quite a few is probably not a good idea unless you absolutely have to.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, it feels to me like let’s just try and do another “Girl on The Train” because Paula Hawkins that was a new name for existing author. Well, let’s have another go at a debut.

But you are right.

Another reason for self-publishers is the Amazon algorithms and iBooks all run on machine learning. If you have a brand name already those people who’ve bought your books they can actually recommend your books to those people.

Michael Ridpath: In the publishing world it works the other way because the other thing that happened in the late 1990s was booksellers would look at Book Scan. So if you were coming up with a book they would look at your name and then they’d look at your previous sales and that would be the main reason for whether they wanted your books again.

Penguin had a warehouse problem in the early 2000s, which meant my sales or my backlist fell to almost zero. And then that meant very few people were reordering.

Of course, you don’t get that in the self-publishing world. People don’t care too much the sales of your previous book were if they are a reader trying to buy it. If they’ve read it before that’s great or if someone else has recommended it that’s great. So that great hindrance has gone.

It’s interesting now, there are obviously a lot of people make a lot of money in the self-publishing world. But in the published world there are lots of debut authors who are making six figures with their first book in a way that I never could, because of this phenomenon of having a new name.

Joanna Penn: Then they seem to be in the second book they don’t and then by the third book they’re dropped, and then the fourth book they’re told to use another name again.

Michael Ridpath: Yeah, that can happen. Anything can happen.

Joanna Penn: It’s funny. I know a few people right now who this is happening to and I’m kind of just gobsmacked about it. And then I can see why because as you said your name was associated with a certain genre so that’s what readers think.

I always want to say that readers are used to a broader range of things happening.

Michael Ridpath: It’s interesting actually when I talked to my publisher about a standalone a couple of years ago I was worried they’d say no, but actually they were very keen, which is a definite change from 10 years ago. My publisher Atlantic is I think quite sort of forward looking. I think they’re more savvy than they used to be about authors being been locked in one particular brand.

Joanna Penn: Moving up to today with your publishing choices and part of the reason I invited you on the show, is that you are embracing the hybrid model now.

Talk about what’s happening now with how you’re publishing and why you’ve chosen these things

Michael Ridpath: Well, it’s interesting. There is still I think it’s a huge divide between self-published and traditionally published authors. And a lot of traditionally published authors ignore self-published authors.

Some self-published authors kind of slag off traditional publishers as being unimaginative and that’s sort of partly true. But it seemed to me that self-published authors were doing a lot of things that were working. And I remember, when I first met you I thought that sounds interesting and the more I found out about it the more interested I became as did my agent.

A lot of my books are sold on Kindle because the kind of commercial fiction I write is going to be bought on Kindle either traditionally or self-published. I’ve always been published badly in America for no really good reason. So it seemed to me that since I got a British publisher I’m very happy with and not really any good American publishers.

Then there was an opportunity to try and do both, and so my plan is to try and self-publish in America. And be traditionally published in Britain, and then hopefully get books translated everywhere else through traditional publishers.

Whether that will work I don’t know, what I found is my financial thrillers are all self-published now, I got the rights reverted to me. And from sales declining to nothing in the last two or three years, I got to a reasonably good figure for books that are at least 10 years old. But they do tend to do better in the UK than the US.

I haven’t quite worked out how to break into the US properly through self-publishing, but there’s plenty to learn and plenty of time to do it.

Joanna Penn: Exactly and it’s great you’ve got the rights back. One little tip: box sets.

Michael Ridpath: Yeah, I tried one of those and it really didn’t work. I tried a box set of financial thrillers they budgeted it wrong. But yeah, I don’t know why it didn’t work but it didn’t.

Joanna Penn: Well, I’m going to have to take on the challenge and have a look at your books.

You mentioned Britain and the US, what about the rest of the English speaking world? Are you going to put the books up Canada, Australia everywhere else?

Michael Ridpath: Yeah, I’ve always done one in Australia but my British publisher has those rights for Canada and the rest of the English speaking world. And they do a pretty good job. I think the other thing might be related to self-publisher in the past.

I always made most of my money through foreign translations, so through the financial thrillers, I probably made over half my money from foreign translations. When I did this “Fire and Ice Series” it started off with probably 90% of my income coming from foreign translations.

And then that trailed off in the last few years. The real blow I’ve had in the last five years or since the crash has been the lack of foreign translations.

There’s less of an opportunity than there used to be for English speaking authors. I think it is an opportunity and I know you’ve been doing some work on how to get books translated in the self-published world, but it seems to me an international writer writing international books should be making at least half of his or her income from translations one way or another.

We all need to figure out how to do that through this self-published world. The published world has a very efficient mechanism for doing it.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, to be honest on that since you’re a futurist as well, I tried doing it, but it’s very hard mainly because of the marketing. If you self-publish in foreign languages the marketing is just impossible.

I’ve pulled back on that, and I’m licensing rights as well. But I actually think in the last couple of years that they’ve developed this language translation AIs. I think this is gonna be a massive disruption in the translation market. I think we won’t need translation within, I don’t know five to 10 years.

With universal translation, you’ll be able to read on the Kindle and just pick up a book in Mandarin or whatever and read it in English. There’s already one on Skype you can talk in different languages. So I think there’s a disruption coming.

Michael Ridpath: Interesting.

Joanna Penn: But you heard it here first.

You and I met a number of years now, and you’ve always been really friendly and lovely and to me, that’s actually been great and thank you for that. Because I felt very ostracized in the British publishing community even though I tried to be part of it.

What do you think has or has it changed? Again I think you’re quite forward thinking, which is why you were interested.

Do you think that attitude has changed or it’s changing or is it swinging the other way almost?

Michael Ridpath: I think it’s changing very slowly and too slowly. I think there are many traditionally published writers who don’t want to think about self-publishing. Some of them are defensive.

Somehow there is still this idea that self-publishing is vanity publishing which is a least 10 years out of date. It’s weird, and I suppose, for me, I think it’s an opportunity for a traditionally published author. Because if I have a whole backlist of books which a lot of people already have read and that gives them some sort of social proof that some self-published writers don’t have.

I have that advantage and if most traditional published writers aren’t doing that then, I suppose, I have an advantage over them.

But it is a weird short sightedness, some of its defensiveness. A lot of it is just people who are interested in writing books and thinking about marketing them which is something I respect. The condescension must infuriate you and it infuriates me, and it still happens and it shouldn’t.

Joanna Penn: I think what’s infuriating is that people in public can be quite negative and then behind the scenes, but then you get an email that says hey, can you help me with this?

Michael Ridpath: Right, yeah. There is a similar thing from some self-published quarters as well, a lot of things about how all publishers are idiots. I mean it’s mostly aimed to get publishers rather than traditionally published writers.

But publishers are extremely intelligent people who love books and read lots of books. The publishing world is a difficult one and I think it’s much less of a problem from self-published writers, but I think some of them are too dismissive of traditional publishing – dead tree publishing all that sort of thing.

There’s a lot that both sides can learn from each other and that’s really what I’m trying to do is try and get in the middle so I can figure out what works either way.

Joanna Penn: I think you’re totally right. I would take a book deal if it was better than what I could do.

Coming back on the marketing because like you said people just want to write they don’t want to do marketing.

Isn’t it the truth that you have to do marketing now as an author even if you’re traditionally published? Or like you said back in the day you went on book tours. Now, with a publishing deal you’re expected to do podcasts, blog tours, and all this other stuff.

Is anyone just writing?

Michael Ridpath: Probably not. Everyone has to do something. And I think this is another misapprehension traditionally published writers have. They think self-publishing is all about blogging and tweeting and that’s what I thought until I realized it wasn’t.

The blogging and tweeting are fairly inefficient ways of going about it. But most of the marketing that they get traditionally published writers to do is blogging and tweeting, and they make you come up with Flickr and I had to come up with a Flickr account all these other things.

Joanna Penn: Not Instagram?

Michael Ridpath: I’m not on Instagram yet, they haven’t told me to do that yet. But I’ll do it if they tell me.

But what you guys do, which is interesting, is you measure the effectiveness very well because you can do it because it’s a single book often. You do something with a single book and then you can see its effectiveness the next day.

The traditional publishers haven’t got that luxury, so I think a lot of marketing effort is dissipated in things that really are wasting everyone’s time. But as an author, you always want to show willing to your publisher, and sure you’re wasting their time if necessary.

I once took a Eurostar to Belgium for a book signing in the WHSmith’s sale where one person showed up. And came back to London, because the Export Department the politics of Penguin where the Export Department wanted an English author to do this, so I did it.

Joanna Penn: That’s awesome. I used to work in Brussels so I got the Eurostar to work every week, and it’s okay in first class right?

Michael Ridpath: They sent me first class.

Joanna Penn: That’s brilliant.

Michael Ridpath: I signed one book. Two people showed up but only one bought a book.

Joanna Penn: Well, then I have another question because you mentioned several times about being willing and you’re clearly a good author to work with. And again I’ve heard some things recently people like oh I forgot that my book was due because my contract. I got the date wrong on my contract. Authors can be either good with publishers or not good right.

What are your tips for like how to work well with publishers so that you have a good experience?

Michael Ridpath: With publishers, I think a lot of it is managing expectations and big expectations contract. It takes me 15 months to write a book, not 12 months but 15 months.

I’m not saying there’s a right way to do it. But I will always ensure that I have 18 months in my contract to write the book, and I will negotiate that difficulty at the outset of the contract rather than in 12 months when the book’s late. So however long it takes you to write a book make sure you’ve got enough time to do it.

If you can explain that’s how you write the best book they’ll be fine with it. If however, you miss the deadline they won’t.

I think being generally professionally reliable is good. Authors have a reputation for being difficult and that’s because it is a highly emotional business. I often feel like being extremely difficult. But I think if you can be just friendly and helpful and reliable and positive that helps everyone who’s working with you try and sell your book. So it’s a good thing to do.

Joanna Penn: I talk a lot about intellectual property assets on this show, and we try and keep that in mind that this is not a book that you were just selling, this is an asset. You mention contracts straight away which, to be fair, most authors don’t.

Do you think you have that different attitude because of your financial background that you understand that side of the business?

Michael Ridpath: Actually, I would say that the book business is a lot better than the financial business because the most important way to make people work together is trust and keeping your word.

In the book business, unlike the film business, almost everyone is trustworthy almost, most of the time. Certainly compared to the financial world I come from. So I’ve actually really enjoyed developing relationships in the book world and developing trust and working with an editor, who isn’t going to screw you over unless they are told to.

I think in many ways the book world is a better business world than the financial world. True, there are things like contracts and so on and it’s always a good idea as you were saying make sure that you get your rights and keep your rights, in particular, can get your rights back.

Which has been the difficult thing to do because access to your re-book rights is really important if you’re trying to do what we’re trying to do. So that’s certainly true.

I suppose the other thing is just if you worked in offices and being professional. Being professional as a writer is becoming more and more important, especially if you’re self-published because there’s just so much administration to do effectively and efficiently.

One thing I noticed I doubt if it’s still true but a year or two ago a lot of the most successful self-published writers had worked in Internet marketing in some kind or other or in marketing or some kind or other. And I can see why those skills are important.

Joanna Penn: Yes, so coming on to marketing then because I went and had a look at your websites and your list building which is awesome, which again most traditionally published authors don’t do list building.

“Amnesia” was on newinbooks.com which is the same company who do FreeBooksy, Ebargain Books, so great they have an email list. You’re embracing these newer forms of book marketing.

How do you feel about the way things are now, and what are the tactics that you feel are working for you or even the things that you actually enjoy?

Michael Ridpath: When I thought about it, I thought there were three.

I think you need to focus that’s the first thing. So I decided to spend 25% of my time focusing on three things which would be book marketing companies like BookPub, advertising, especially Facebook advertising, and lists building.

I spend a lot of time on all of that, and I think the book marketing companies have worked. Facebook advertising hasn’t worked. I spent huge amounts of time. And I think email lists clearly will work, I think I spent some time advertising giveaways which probably wasn’t cost effective.

And obviously, you don’t know how much of stuff even if something is working directly. My financial thrillers sales are steadily going up so something’s going right. So you don’t know what the general brand awareness is, by what you do. But I think it’s important to sort of trying to figure out what’s working and then focus on that.

One thing I do think, though, if I was doing everything I am doing now two years ago, I’m sure my sales would be much better. That’s because of the very few people who were smart enough to be doing all that and I wasn’t one of them.

Now I get the impression that there were lots of people all trying to do the same thing, and as a result, there’s a certain crowding out.

Just the cost of Facebook advertising goes up as more people trying to do it. I get the impression there are more people with mailing lists which means more readers are getting many more free books, which they’re not necessarily reading.

I think it’s making it difficult for all of us in those three areas. Maybe Amazon advertising will work. I’m about break even with that quite got that cracked. Just a straight for Kindle promotion works pretty well. So I haven’t cracked this yet.

Sales have doubled every year for the last three years but there’s a lot more I could do I think. And I spend a lot of time working on things which haven’t quite worked. I’m certainly not giving up, but you need to figure out what’s going to happen next.

Joana: Okay, let’s be kind to ourselves because the publishing industry hasn’t figured this out either. So I think we can all relax a bit.

But it’s interesting with Facebook advertising. I agree with you but in fact, probably the most powerful thing you can do with Facebook advertising is once you have an email list. Because then you upload your list and you can advertise to your list but also a look like lists and that’s actually a much faster way to build.

I think you might and it’s much, much cheaper rather than say trying to go after James Patterson or Lee Child. Everyone who follows Mark Dawson now advertises to Lee Child.

Michael Ridpath: I tried a look alike list and that didn’t work, but I think it was because it was mostly based on the people I signed up from the original list if you see what I mean. So look alike…so if you sign up a list based on people like Lee Child and then you grow up a lookalike list based on that it doesn’t work quite as well as it should. I don’t know.

Joanna Penn: No, I totally agree with you, and it’s so interesting because the fact is this is all changing. Like you said and what’s going to happen in two years time it’s going to be completely different.

But as he said about email lists the only thing that won’t change probably is email. It’s pretty standard it has been for a long, long time. So I’m hoping that will stick around. I just got a Bookbub it was like, “Whoa, that’s expensive.”

Michael Ridpath: A Bookbub…I used to get two years, when I started I would get a Bookbub every other time I tried because I had this backlist of books that had all sorts of quotes from big newspapers. So I stopped doing it but then I started expecting I get Bookbubs all the time.

I haven’t had one for nine months. I think that’s because they, publishers are now using Bookbub. So there are loads of people who have been traditionally published not just me. So that’s an example of how things have changed. But entered a very good thing with BargainBooksy which worked remarkably well. I was surprised how well it works, there are other things you can do.

As you said, if the genuine readers who really like your books and want to buy every book to somehow get on your mailing list, then that’s the core of what should work over the long run. And that I need to probably focus on one more.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and it must be so frustrating having had such massive earlier success where all those people should have been on your email list from like…you should have an email list for 20 years basically.

Michael Ridpath: All of the things I tried was to get publishers to put in a proper email list and they wouldn’t do it. This is many years ago I tried this. And that’s kind of idiotic I think they still don’t really do it properly.

Joanna Penn: No, they don’t.

Michael Ridpath: Which is great because once they start doing that properly there will be too many emails around so you don’t want that to happen.

Joanna Penn: No, and then just coming back to the brand things. This is the other thing I was thinking about, as a reader. I’m sure you’re saying there are only a handful of authors where you buy every book right?

Michael Ridpath: Yeah.

Joanna Penn: And you don’t really even question that, and that kind of loyalty takes time to build up. And that’s when I looked at your reviews it was really interesting.

There are clearly people who have been following you, who are writing reviews on “Amnesia” for example, who’ve been following you for 20 years. That’s awesome.

Michael Ridpath: I had my own sort of a mailing list which is basically a file on my Outlook which is just everyone who ever sent me an email, that built up over time. So that was a good way of always getting a small kick start.

But obviously, there are all these ways now being much more on analytical and efficient about gathering emails. There’s a woman called Susan who’d just come back from Iceland who I think first wrote to me 15 years ago. Who’s been to Iceland for the first time and you do recognize these names and just get to know my own time, it’s lovely.

Essentially when we write books we write them for readers and when these readers have real names and you get to know them and they’re reading your books and genuinely enjoying them it’s sort of what it’s all about really.

Joanna Penn: I think so, and I keep coming back to that, there are people are listening. Hello listeners who’ve been listening since 2009, and that’s kind of crazy. And now they’re getting to know you because you came on the show.

That kind of loyalty over time is what I think we’re looking for and maybe there is no short cut, we can only cast the net wide and see what happens.

Last question because we’re almost out of time. You’re really active in the UK crime writing scene, CWA, The Crime Writers Association and you go to Crime Fest and Harrogate and all these different things.

How important is networking in person for your author business but also your morale and happiness?

Michael Ridpath: Well, I think it’s very clever of you to put that into two questions, because it’s good from the author’s point of view, especially if you’re traditionally published. Because it’s really hard to have direct contact with readers, but if you know people who can influence readers then that’s great.

And so if you’re known within your community you’re more likely that a reviewer or a publisher is another company sees your book they’ll know who you are and will be more likely to look at it for 20 seconds, and then perhaps read the whole thing. So it’s definitely a good idea.

But the morale thing is really true too because I had sort of up, down, up, down, I’m hopefully up again in my career. And on the downs, it’s good to know people who are in the same position as you.

Either they’re suffering like you are or they’re people you really respect who respect you because of the kind of books you’ve written. And that’s what keeps you going through the sort of difficult periods of over two, three, four years.

And when I see friends of mine who are in the situation you described earlier who maybe have lost their publisher or are feeling down, then I do my best to help them because I was there in the past I’ll probably be there in the future. And we can all help each other, so writing can be very lonely occupation obviously, and anything you can do to improve that is a very good idea I think.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic, right so where can people find you and all your books online?

Michael Ridpath: Well, I have a website michaelridpath.com. And obviously I’m on Amazon all over the world, so just look up Michael Ridpath on Amazon.co.uk or .com and I should be there.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic, thanks, so much for your time Michael that was great.

Michael Ridpath: Thanks, Joanna.

Joanna Penn :

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  • Another good one, Joanna. And another story very similar to my own. Also, I too had a publisher just last week ask me (or my agent anyway), if I'd be willing to change my name for a new standalone we're shopping. We were kind of dumbfounded ...