Today I’m interviewing Andrew Sparke, who runs the APS books imprint as well as writing his own books.
Andrew Sparke is a retired lawyer who has transitioned into a full-time writer and publisher. His imprint, APS Books, publishes fiction and poetry alongside childrens stories, true life mysteries, photographic work, discographies, erotica and health and well-being guides.
Tell me about your publishing model
After I wrote my first novel, I didn’t want to waste the energy hawking it around agents and publishers. So I went on an Indie Publishing course run by The Guardian and did it myself.
Then to avoid repetitive questions from friends with book ideas, I did a how to guide and somehow that morphed into a publishing company.
I now publish over 50 other writers and photographers but its more of a co-operative model because APS Books doesn’t charge fees to authors and we operate on 50/50 royalty sharing giving both us and the author a strong motivation to market their book.
How did you learn about book publishing? Are there any tips you’d like to share with readers?
Until I started publishing my own work I’d rather forgotten how much I’d learned doing textbooks back in the 1990s for national law publishing concerns. That said I’m acutely aware that there’s always more to learn, especially on the IT and design fronts so the trick is never to let yourself be convinced you know it all.
How did you get started and was there any specific event that was the trigger to your publishing career?
My mum was quite aggrieved that she had to wait fifty years for my first novel. She predicted I’d write and publish stories when I was seven.
But the catalysts really were enforced retirement from a busy day job and the swirling confusion of emotions I needed to make sense of things as a long-standing relationship died and a new one started. Writing as therapy – well that’s partly true anyway.
How are your books distributed and where do you find most of your readers?
Amazon really made indie publishing possible so they are the linchpin of everything because with ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks there are no stock, storage or distribution costs. I don’t do Amazon exclusively though, and tend to use an eBook aggregator called Draft2Digital who place my ebooks in multiple other places including Nook, Kobo, and Apple iBooks.
Where an author wants to sell his or her work at personal appearances, readings and events we do traditional print runs which can be as low as 20 copies. 50-100 are the norm, given the lower unit costs of printing more copies.
The main booksellers like Waterstones and WHSmiths we don’t touch much. The margin they want and sale or return at our expense makes them uneconomic. Indie bookshops though definitely and we sell a few copies through Nielsen as a by-product of rigorously registering the ISBNs of our titles.
What forms of marketing do you use to reach and engage with readers?
Mainly social media. We maintain a website of course and use Facebook extensively, and Instagram and Twitter less than we should. We are also building up a war-chest to start national newspaper advertising as well as online ads and that needs careful planning.
What marketing has been most successful for you? Why do you think that is?
Oddly the best-selling series of books we do are a series of alternative histories by Hugh Lupus. His employer, a large engineering company in NZ, has really gone to town on helping promote his work.
At the end of the day so much relies upon proactivity by the author, especially if they are great readers and performers willing to present in public. Unfortunately most authors don’t want to do that or aren’t as good at reading to an audience as they imagine themselves to be.
How do you keep in touch with your readers?
Regular Facebook posts, an email list with periodic mail-outs and a colourful catalogue to circulate (PDF and hard copy) every once in a while.
Is there any marketing you’ve done that didn’t work for you?
I’m not yet convinced by author signing events unless they are genre-exclusive with a firm fanbase. Maybe our work doesn’t pigeonhole easily.
Do you have any tips on reaching an audience and building an army of fans?
Keep at it. Marketing impact is cumulative.
Anything else I haven’t asked about?
Only the obvious point that writing and publishing is unlikely to make us rich. Although our ‘Bella In The Wych Elm’ true mystery books have been optioned and if the Americans do end up making a film or TV series…
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to chat to me about how work. It’s interesting to learn how a small independent imprint operates. You can find out more about APS Books via Andrew’s website.