Sunday, 12 May 2013

500 Words From Stephen Leather

500 Words From is a series of guest posts from writers and translators.

Many Asian writers feels excluded by geography, or by language, or by choice of subject matter, from publishing in the big centres of the industry in London, New York and Sydney.  But developments in the self-publishing of eBooks mean that if he or she has access to the internet, and is writing in English, and has enough spare cash to pay for editorial services, then a writer living on, say, a remote Indonesian island has a much fairer shot both at reaching a wide international readership, and also at earning by the keyboard, than would have been the case until very recently.  (A writer writing in an Asian language is unlikely to reach an English-speaking readership. Whatever language a writer uses, his or her earnings are likely to be small to nil.)

Bangkok-based Stephen Leather is a highly successful thriller writer. His self-published eBook The Basement was Number 1 in the Amazon Kindle charts in the US and the UK. He here draws on his experience to offer encouragement to others around the region who think they could do better than published authors, and who want to have a go at self-publishing. A debut author wouldn’t be able to send his or her manuscript to fans, and might not be able to afford an editor in New York, but the process Stephen outlines – editing, design, formatting, eMarketing – would be the same for a newcomer to self-publishing, as it is for him. 

A self-published author pays the costs of publishing. It is probably best not to try to save money on editing - you need the best editor you can afford - but you can bring the design costs down, whilst still getting a great cover,  by posting your job on internet auction sites.

So: 500 words from Stephen Leather for Asian Books Blog.

It’s never been easier to be a writer based in Asia, and it’s all thanks to the internet.

I can sit in my apartment in Bangkok and send my newly-completed book to half a dozen readers and fans in the US and the UK to check that it works. Once I’ve incorporated their suggestions, I can send it to an editor in New York who polishes it and then sends it back to me. I have cover designers around the world – in the UK, the US and India – and depending on the type of book I commission the artist who I think will do the best job. I usually get the completed cover back within a couple of days.  Then I send the edited book to a lovely lady in France who formats it for me so that it can be uploaded to Amazon – to publish on the Kindle – and to Smashwords, who sell it everywhere else. Once the formatted file comes back to me – usually within hours – I can download it to the Kindle servers in Seattle and the Smashwords servers in California.  The book will go on sale within twenty-four hours and two months after that any money earned is paid into my bank account. And over the next few weeks, readers who have spotted typos and mistakes in the finished product will let me know and I’ll fix them, within hours.

And the amazing thing about the entire process is that I have never met any of the people involved. In fact I’ve never even spoken to them – all communication has been by email.

It’s a far cry from the state of publishing when I wrote my first novel some twenty-five years ago.  Back then I wrote on a manual typewriter, and my first editor at Collins worked on the manuscript with a pencil. It was then given to a typesetter who retyped the entire manuscript, which was then checked by a proofreader before the book was printed. For that book, and many of my subsequent thirty-odd novels, I would sit down next to the editor and go through the manuscript page by page. If a typo did manage to get through, changing it was a time-consuming – and expensive – process.

The advent of ePublishing has also changed the way that writers relate to the readers, and vice versa. In the old days – actually only five years ago – it made sense for a writer to go on lengthy book tours, visiting book shops and libraries and signing books for readers.  But these days it’s Facebook and Twitter where readers can be found. Instead of standing in a bookshop and talking to a dozen readers, I can post on Facebook and talk to thousands. And instead of readers posting a letter to me care of my publisher and getting a reply several months later, now they can tweet to me and get an answer within hours, no matter where in the world I am.

Find out more about Stephen at

If you have any experience of self-publishing, please do post to share your insights. To repeat,  self-publishing is unlikely to be a path to riches – it is not a way to get filthy rich in rising Asia, or in risen Asia, or in sinking Asia. Wherever they live, most writers earn very little. (See the post of  March 29 for a notice for How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia / Mohsin Hamid.)