I am excited to bring you another edition of the Process of Publication. This series has been an amazing experience and put me in contact with some amazing authors in the indie fantasy world. The more authors I interview, the more variance in process I am finding. No one took the same path, but they all found a way to
get their worlds out there for you to explore. In that respect, Tim Hardie, the author of The Brotherhood of the Eagle series, is no different.
Tim took the time to give some extremely in-depth responses to my questions. Though he encountered some bumps along the way (we all do), his first novel, Hall of Bones, earned him a place amongst the 2021 Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off finalists. He even has the coin to prove it. I saw it on twitter, which makes it official. Hopefully, his journey will help you find your own path.
Q: First-off, can you tell us about your projects. How many books have you published, what are they, and where can people find them?
I’ve been writing fantasy fiction for many years but I started independently publishing my work relatively recently in 2020. There’s no doubt that was one of the best and most life-affirming decisions of my life! I’m currently writing a dark epic fantasy series called The Brotherhood of the Eagle, which in terms of vibe and feel is a bit like a cross between the TV shows Game of Thrones and Vikings. If you like authors like Robin Hobb or John Gwynne, then you might find my writing of interest.
My first novel in that series, Hall of Bones, ended up making the finals of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off in 2021, which was an absolutely incredible experience. I’ve since published two further books in the series – Sundered Souls and Lost Gods.
My books are all available on Amazon and you’ll find the links at the end of this article.
Q: There are many different types of editing, all of which can be very expensive, especially in genres known for their high word counts. What kind(s) of editing did you invest in? How did you find your editor? Have you had positive experiences?
If you have the budget the investment in a reputable editor is definitely worthwhile. I’d emphasise the word reputable here. Please check them out because there are some unscrupulous people out there who prey on the ignorance of new authors. Personal recommendations and/or references are always the best way to judge whether someone will be a good fit for you.
When I was self-publishing, I simply didn’t have the budget to pay for editorial services, so I self-edit all my novels. However, I do have an agent (covered in another question below) and he provides a light-touch developmental edit and highlights any obvious typos once the text is in a more or less final form.
The main drawback of self-editing is seeing what you think you’ve written, rather than what’s actually on the page and that caught me out when I released my first book. I ended up having to go back and tidy up the text, once I realised this was an issue.
Now I make sure I take breaks between each draft for a few weeks. This helps me see the manuscript afresh, helping me spot weaknesses in things like plot, character and obviously spelling errors. I also do a full audio run through of the final manuscript, which I’ve found absolutely brilliant for picking up sneaky typos.
All this takes time but if I want to ensure the quality is there, I have to build this into my planning, and this is one of the reasons why I can only release one book per year. If I had a bigger budget, I would definitely look at editorial services in the future. In addition to the obvious benefits of a fresh pair of eyes this would also enable me to set a project aside for a time, knowing someone was working on it, and then start on something else (I always seem to have a few things on the go!).
Q: Self-publishing only works if people know where to find your work. How did you build your online presence (social media, website)? Which platform(s) do you focus most of your attention on?
You’re absolutely right about the importance of having a strong social media presence. I started on Twitter in 2019 and embraced Facebook the following year. I took the view it was better to concentrate on a couple of platforms and do them well, rather than spreading myself too thin. I also engage on a few Discord servers, although I find I have to limit my time on those as they can be really busy.
I also have a website at www.timhardieauthor.co.uk, which I built using Squarespace. Social media is great but I don’t control those platforms and I wanted a corner of the internet I could call my own. On there, you’ll find links to my books and blog and I’ve also gathered together links to the various interviews, podcasts and panels I’ve done.
Q: It has been said over and over, deciding to self-publish is deciding to become a business owner. Did you start a legal business to manage taxes? Did you open up a P.O. box or setup any other resources to manage your business?
I’m still a small-scale business, so currently I’m self-employed as a writer and treat this as a second job. That keeps the administration simple and I just fill out a tax return every year for my additional earnings. I set up a PO Box using www.ukpostbox.com, which is handy due to the legal requirement to have a postal address when sending out my newsletter, for example.
Q: The cover is always the first thing people see, and it can be a major cost for indie authors. How did you go about choosing an artist? Did you have to hire a separate cover designer? Did you commission any character art and how did you use it? Did you commission a map or any other additional pieces of art?
A good tip when approaching indie publishing is to set a budget and make sure you can afford to lose whatever you spend on your book. This is not a get rich quick business and it can take years to recoup your investment, if you ever do.
At first, I approached a number of cover artists I had heard of to ask for quotes and their availability and lead in times. I was shocked at the quotes I got back, which were way beyond the budget I had set for my first book.
I changed tactics and actually looked at various sites where I could set a lower budget and have designers pitch for the work. I went with Fiverr in the end and sourced and paid for my cover artist through them. Although this was good from a costs point of view, it’s obviously a risk but I figured if I didn’t like the end result, I didn’t have to use it and could afford to walk away. Ultimately, though, things worked out really well. I secured the services of US designer Anne Hudson at a very reasonable rate and she’s done all my covers so far.
I created the world maps myself and you can find those on my website. The original ones, which were basically created to help me build the plot and wider world politics, were hand-drawn in pencil. The version of the map you find in the books was also drawn by me on my laptop using Wonderdraft.
Q: After the cover, readers often go to the blurb. Do you have any suggestions for creating a good blurb?
Keep it short. A lot of authors really struggle with this and feel compelled to summarise the whole story and all the characters, often wandering into spoiler territory when they do. The blurb isn’t the story – it’s the hook to draw in your readers and make them pick up the book. I always try and introduce a question into mine, which is intended to entice the reader into finding out more.
Q: How did you go about formatting and producing your ebooks, paperbacks, and, if you have them, hardcovers? What company or companies print/sell your books? Why did you choose to publish through the platforms you chose?
At the moment I publish and print exclusively through Amazon. I use Kindle Create to format my ebooks and paperbacks and I’ve been pleased with the overall results. I went with this because it was relatively simple (it didn’t seem so at the time) and the finished product looked good.
However, now I want to branch out further for paperbacks using other distributors. For that, I’ll most likely need to format the paperback for IngramSpark and the file produced by Kindle Create isn’t compatible. I need to think about this and either reformat the Amazon files or create a separate version of my books available through an alternative distributor. This is basically in the ‘too hard’ box right now and I’m still thinking about my options. Fortunately, as an independent author I can change things around if I need to.
I do plan to create hardbacks as well in the future, again probably through IngramSpark. Again, I’ll need to master the formatting side of things before launching these, so it’s something I will get to as and when time allows.
Q: One of the keys to get readers is to work with reviewers. Can you describe the process of making and sending out Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)? How did you connect with reviewers? Would you suggest investing money in sending out physical ARCs or stick with eARCs?
This was my biggest mistake when I published in 2020. I assumed reviewers would automatically pick up my book and provide reviews. However, as nobody knew it existed, that didn’t happen!
I found all my reviewers and bloggers through social media and I’ve gradually built up a list, approaching them directly and asking if they are interested in my work. Some pass, which is fine, and others have really clicked with my writing and stuck with me through the rest of the series. I’m incredibly grateful to all the bloggers and reviewers who have supported me through the last couple of years. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. Building up that list of contacts is essential and a key part of any marketing strategy.
Generally, I offer an eARC EPUB file, which I create using Calibre. Some reviewers do prefer a physical book, which I understand. If they need those then I can order author copies at a reduced rate from Amazon and I simply send the book to them direct.
Q: Everything writers do to create their books can rack up quite an expensive budget. Did you invest in any paid blog tours, cover reveals, paid reviews, or contests with an entry fee?
In short, no. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things and several of my writer friends do and have found them very effective. However, I’ve found I can get reviews by approaching bloggers directly. It's a call on my time but I actually think in some ways it’s better to have a steady stream of reviews all the time. A big surge can really help raise the profile of a book but keeping it in the consciousness of the reading public over an extended period is also really important.
I just want to clarify something when it comes to paid reviews. It’s fine to pay for the services of someone who sends your book out to reviewers, and they provide those reviews free of charge. You’re paying them for the service of organising that for you. Anyone who offers to review your book themselves for a fee should be avoided and you also need to be careful you don’t breach Amazon’s guidelines, as obviously this undermines the integrity of the whole review process.
Q: Most indie authors don’t have the ability to produce audiobooks, especially during the initial release of their books. How did you produce your audiobooks? If you worked with a production company who distributes your audiobook and pays you in royalties, how much control did you have over the production?
I haven’t reached the point of releasing audiobooks yet, although again it is on the ‘to do’ list. The two basic models are a royalty split with your narrator, who is basically taking the risk that the project pays back. The major downside with that approach is if the book isn’t successful your narrator may not want to continue working with you for the rest of your series. Generally, this arrangement involves various narrators pitching to you, so there’s also a risk here in terms of whether your project attracts the right person for your particular book.
The model I prefer is to pay the narrator up front, which leaves me with a higher royalty rate for subsequent sales. This gives me more control, enables me to choose my preferred narrator and there’s less risk for them as they know they will get paid. However, this is an expensive up-front cost and it’s something I’m not in a position to do at this stage. As I said before, my whole business model is based around only spending what I can afford. As my platform grows, I’ll look at investing those returns in things like audiobooks in the future.
Q: Pricing for indie books has quite a range. How much did you originally price your books for? Would you have taken a different strategy if you could do it over again? Do you ever have sales and/or free book giveaways?
This is always a difficult one. It feels like you’re giving away your hard work by pricing low, but people are reluctant to take a risk on a new author if the cost is too high. I originally priced my first book at £4.99 but as an unknown author I think this was a mistake and sales were low. I think going in at 99p to help build a reader base is a solid strategy and you just have to accept your first book is going to be a loss-leader for a while. Now my name is a little bit more well-known, I’ve settled on £2.99 for my first book, and £3.99 for the others in the series.
I went with that pricing strategy partly because if you stick at 99p forever there is a risk people perceive your work is of lower quality. It’s also not great if you write longer books like I do, which take time to produce and release. However, the main reason for that price is it gives me better options when it comes to running sales. Then I’ll sell my books for 99p for a limited period and that’s a real discount on the normal price. That works well to drive sales. I also ran my first free promotional sale for Hall of Bones in September and that was really effective, hitting the top five in several Amazon categories, which raised the book’s profile further.
Obviously, the options for print books are more limited, due to the fixed costs of print and postage. I try and make a meaningful royalty off my print books whilst keeping costs as low as I can but, frankly, I make more money off ebooks and Kindle Unlimited.
Q: The big question for a lot of authors considering self-publishing, especially those on a tighter budget, is how much will it cost? How much did you spend on your debut novel?
This really depends on what you’re prepared to spend and how much you can afford to lose in those early years. For me, my costs related to cover art, the ISBN and setting up my website (a recurring annual cost). In the year I launched Hall of Bones my costs were around £600. Bearing in mind it made the SPFBO finals I think that shows what you can do on a limited budget.
Q: Do you feel like you made any mistakes along the way that you learned from? What pitfalls would you encourage authors to watch out for?
I’ve covered most of these in my answers above but to summarise:
Do your research, especially in relation to cover artists and editors. Find reputable people to work with and make sure you get quotes from them before commissioning anything.
Set your budget and stick to it, remembering that the margins in this business are very low and this is not a get rich quick scheme. Be prepared to sustain a loss in those early years as you build up your readership base.
Approach book bloggers and reviewers early, remembering they have lead in times and schedules to work to as well. Pitch them with a professional query and make sure you send them a finished, polished, professional product. If you update your live book, make sure you also update your review copies.
Before you release a book, make sure it is the best possible version of that book. The standard of the competition out there is fierce and you want to hook that reader and keep their attention.
Anonymity is your single biggest challenge. With so many titles coming out it’s very hard to get noticed. Embrace social media and take every opportunity you can to do interviews like this, podcasts, panels, conventions and the like, alongside working with the book blogging community. This is a very friendly, welcoming place and people want you to succeed but that’s very hard if no one knows you’re out there.
Q: Would you like to shoutout any of your editors, cover designers, or professionals you worked with?
Anne Hudson is my cover designer and I’m delighted with her work. We’ve come up with a formula for this series that I think looks a bit different and helps my books stand out from the crowd, whilst still giving you a good idea of what’s inside.
Q: I see that you have an agent now. Will you be pursuing traditional publishing now? How will having an agent change your experience moving forward?
I actually had an agent before I independently published my books. I’ve been represented by John Jarrold since 2015 and originally I was looking at the traditional publication route, mainly because I didn’t know there was another way. Also, back then independent publishing didn’t have the same profile it does now.
I think there are pros and cons with both the independent and traditional publication models. Going independent is great fun but for me it’s meant relying primarily on ebook sales and Kindle Unlimited. I’d also like to see my books in bookstores, so John and I are discussing a number of potential future projects. If those work out, I’d become a hybrid author. If not, I’m happy building my career as an independent. I’ve worked collaboratively with John on all my projects, which has been a huge help in developing my craft as a writer, and I see that arrangement continuing for the foreseeable future.
Q: Where can readers find you and your books? Can you tell us about your latest and/or upcoming release?
You can find my current titles here:
Hall of Bones – Amazon UK – Amazon US
Sundered Souls – Amazon UK – Amazon US
Lost Gods – Amazon UK – Amazon US
The US and UK are my main markets but my books can be found in all Amazon territories. I’m also available on Kindle Unlimited if you have a subscription to that service.
My Twitter handle is @TimHardieAuthor
I’m on Facebook at @Tim.Hardie.Author.Public
My website is www.timhardieauthor.co.uk
I’m also releasing a series of free short stories, which I send out with my bi-monthly newsletter. If you want to receive these you can sign up at www.timhardieauthor.co.uk/contact.
My next novel is going to be a standalone called A Quiet Vengeance, which I’m hoping to release in the first half of 2023. Here’s the back cover blurb:
Nimsah is an abandoned child living on the streets of Bengarath, surviving on her wits as part of a criminal gang in the City of Tents, home to the dispossessed. Dojan is the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Fujareen, enjoying a life of luxury in Bengarath Palace. Their lives are brought together as the threat of war looms in the neighbouring city state of Kandarah. However, Dojan and Nimsah share a secret, one that will set in motion a chain of events leading to vengeance.
Alongside publishing A Quiet Vengeance, I’ll also be working on the fourth and final book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle saga, called Broken Brotherhood.
To keep up with this series and more from James Lloyd Dulin, click here.