INTERVIEW: Kindle bestseller Nicola May considers the pros and cons of self-publishing v. traditional publishing

Nicola May

Check out Nicola May’s masterclass on How to Become a Kindle Bestseller – now available on demand to Publishing Talk members

Nicola May is a self-publishing sensation. She’s the author of a dozen romantic comedies, all of which have appeared in the Kindle bestseller charts. In 2019 she hit the #1 Kindle bestseller spot in the UK, across all genres, with The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay. It spawned a trilogy – plus a fourth bonus book, Christmas in Cockleberry Bay. Now she’s signed a three-book deal with Hodder. Jon Reed asked her why.

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Cockleberry Bay Trilogy

Jon Reed: You’ve had huge success with the Cockleberry Bay books as a self-published author. Why have you now turned to traditional publishing?

Nicola May: I was happy self-publishing and not looking for a traditional publisher but when approached by Hodder, I weighed up the options. The main one is that I have not hit the dizzy heights with paperback sales and am only stocked in a handful of high-street stores. One of my dreams has been to become a Sunday Times bestselling author. Just to see my name on that list in Culture Magazine would make my Sunday roast taste a whole lot better. With the backing of a mainstream publisher now behind me, I should be able to achieve this. Importantly, I am not in any way turning my back on self-publishing. I still own all the rights to the 11 books on my backlist, which include the four-book Cockleberry Bay series. I see my relationship with Hodder as another string to my publishing bow.

JR: The Cockleberry Bay books were picked up by Lightning Books after your success with the first one – but for print only. How did that come about – and what are the advantages of that model for self-published authors?

NM: Scott Pack, previously with Harper Collins and Waterstones, has always championed my writing. Now working with Lightning Books, he saw the opportunity to take my print books on. Being honest, I don’t think many publishers would entertain this model as ebooks cost so little to produce, so are less of a risk to publish. For me it is a perfect scenario, as managing suppliers and paperbacks from home had become a bit of a chore. I was constantly packing boxes in my front room and making trips to the courier stop or post office. If an author can secure this model, then it is a big win, as keeping your own rights for ebooks is obviously more lucrative.

I continue to happily sell paperbacks of my Cockleberry Bay series through Lightning. And now that I will be known as a traditionally published author, it will be interesting to see if my current and future self-published books start to gain more attention from bookshops.

JR: You were described on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours as ‘the invisible bestselling author’ last year, because self-published authors – at the time – didn’t appear in ebook charts. How has your campaign changed things?

NM: I was delighted that Philip Jones, Editor of The Bookseller, listened and actioned this important industry breakthrough immediately. The magazine now includes the Bookstat E-Book Top 10 chart, which includes weekly sales from self-published authors. It is another step forward for the recognition of indies, and for the industry and booksellers to further acknowledge that it isn’t just mainstream publishers who snap up talent.

Nicola May - Welcome to Ferry Lane MarketJR: What can you tell us about the new books for Hodder? Are they a departure from your previous writing? 

NM: The Ferry Lane Market trilogy will be based around a street market in the fictitious estuary town of Hartmouth in Cornwall. Each novel will centre on a different lead character and feature a set of core characters from the tight-knit community in and around the market. They will take on a similar style to the Cockleberry Bay series as that formula has worked so well for me.

JR: Will you stick with traditional publishing now, or still self-publish some books? What are the pros and cons of each approach?

NM: Firstly, unless you are incredibly lucky, publishing your book by any method is not a guaranteed get-rich-quick scenario. In both cases you need to be prepared to keep writing and keep working hard. I can’t answer your question about traditional publishing as I need to see how it goes. I will definitely continue to self-publish.

Self-publishing pros

  • You retain control of your work
  • You can choose your own timings for book release
  • Financially, you receive the whole piece of the pie.

Self-publishing cons 

  • You need to be good at self-promotion
  • You need to be driven and dedicated
  • If you want to expand to paperbacks, you may not be taken seriously by the industry or booksellers.

Traditional Publishing pros

  • You are under the umbrella of a reputable and respected organisation
  • You have the weight and experience of a whole team of people behind you for marketing, promotion, editing etc.
  • You are given the opportunity to enter new markets with paperbacks at home and overseas
  • Your access to media is greatly improved.

Traditional Publishing cons

  • The control of your work is taken out of your hands
  • Deadlines can cause pressure
  • You have to share the money pot.

JR: What would you advise new authors considering self-publishing?

NM: Head straight to the Amazon KDP portal, sign up and start reading. They make the process simple from the start.

Nicola May - Christmas in Cockleberry BayNicola May’s latest book in the Cockleberry Bay series, Christmas in Cockleberry Bay, is out now. Welcome to Ferry Lane Market is out now.

Check out Nicola May’s masterclass on How to Become a Kindle Bestseller – now available on demand to Publishing Talk members

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Nicola May

Nicola May is a rom-com superstar. The author of a dozen romantic comedies, all of which have appeared in the Kindle bestseller charts, she topped the UK Kindle charts in 2019 with The Cornershop in Cockleberry Bay. Described on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours as ‘the invisible bestselling author’, Nicola campaigned successfully for the introduction of ebook charts in the publishing trade press. In November 2020 she signed a three-book deal with Hodder, for the Ferry Lane Market series. Her latest book, Christmas in Cockleberry Bay, is out now. Follow her on Twitter at @nicolamay1 and on Instagram at @author_nicola.