Interview: Andrew Thompson on breaking the trivia market and more

Back in September, I looked at the approach taken by Aussie author Andrew Thompson as a textbook way of scoring a publishing deal.

Thompson’s quick success was a result of careful research and targeting a publisher that had signed on the dotted line for the kind of book he wanted to write previously.

Since then, Thompson has made a name for himself in the trivia market and beyond, with that initial book having shifted more than 30,000 copies to date.

Here’s the full interview with Thompson, where we talk about everything from publishing deals to agents to going it alone.

What made you start writing?

The Internet and emails I think. I’ve always read a lot and liked the idea of writing, but when emails became commonplace I got more used to writing and enjoyed it. It just went from there.

What made you go with the trivia format that most of your books take?

In 1985 a read a book by the actor, Michael Caine, called ‘Not Many People Know That’. It was a trivia book. I was only 12 at the time, but it really piqued my interest in trivia and years later I decided to write one. Since then I’ve moved into travel writing, which I enjoy more. My latest book is ‘Dog Days – Tales from an American Road Trip’ which describes a road trip I did through 45 states, as well as commentates on the American culture. A number of Americans haven’t been too pleased about that as my views are quite candid.

What was the biggest challenge when it came to selling your first ever book and how did you tackle it?

I got pretty lucky at the start. I wrote a trivia book and sent it to John Blake Publishing as I’d seen that he’d published similar books. He wrote back the next day and we signed a deal. But with later books I had a lot of challenges getting published. I just kept sending out submissions and finally got accepted.

Are you able to give us an idea of how much you sell today?

My first trivia book sold about 30,000. I’m not sure on ‘Dog Days’. It was only published in March this year so I’ve not received any sales figures yet.

How did you build your following and sales?

Twitter was the main way. I was never on Twitter and didn’t see the point of it, but it’s amazing how many people write to me from there saying they’ve read my books.

Tell us about your publishing deal, how did that come about?

My first publishing deal with John Blake is mentioned above. For ‘Dog Days’ I got the usual rejections and then got despondent and stopped trying. Then a few months later I thought I’d give it another go and Fingerpress Publishing accepted it and published it.

What advice would you give to a budding career writer in 2014?

Two things: 1. Keep sending out your submission and don’t take rejection personally. If you try hard enough, someone is likely to accept your book; and 2. Write. Ernest Hemingway is my favourite writer and he once said ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence’. Don’t procrastinate. Write that one sentence and after that it should just happen.

How important do you think it is to have a publisher behind you in 2014?

Despite the ability to self-publish on the internet, I still think having a publisher important. Apart from published books looking far more professional, a publisher has a marketing budget and can better promote your book.

What should writers expect and look for in a publisher in your opinion?

Marketing budget is the main thing. Small publishers spend very little time or money promoting books. That’s the main advantage of a decent sized publisher. Good communication in the pre-publication phase is also important. Many publishers don’t answer emails quickly or keep the author updated and this can be very frustrating.

Have you ever worked with an agent? Do you think they are needed in this day and age?

I have worked with an agent and there are pros and cons to them. The main con is that they take 10 to 15% of your royalties, but the main plus is their contacts. Many good publishers will only accept books submitted by agents, so without them you have no chance. And they also have contacts at publishers which is very helpful. There’s no doubt that you’ve got more chance having your book published if you have an agent. Mind you, getting an agent is almost as hard as getting a publisher.

How do you feel you use Twitter effectively? Do you have a particular strategy?

I think there’s a lot of luck with Twitter, but what I do is tweet about my book and where to buy it as well as other people’s books. I try to make the tweets interesting. It’s hard to know how effective it is, but I have had a number of people buy my books from tweets.

You can follow Andrew Thompson on Twitter @AndrewTWriter and find out more at AndrewThompsonWriter.co.uk.

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