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How to write a Kindle bestseller

Interview: Mark Edwards, bestselling e-book novelist

Mark Edwards - who wrote the thrillers Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid with his writing partner Louise Voss - is the first fully independent author to reach no.1 on Amazon. Since then he has earned a four-book deal with HarperCollins; here's what he has to say about the secrets of cracking the iBooks and Kindle charts, and how the e-book has changed the publishing industry for indie authors.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes! I wrote my first novel just after I left university and wrote several more during my twenties, trying for a long time to get published. I managed to get an agent but never quite made it.

About ten years ago, I started writing with Louise Voss and, again, spent a long time trying to get a deal. Finally, last year we self-published our two novels, Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid, on Amazon - and they got to no. 1 and 2 on the Kindle chart. That led to a deal with HarperCollins. It's been like a dream come true, after a very long period of hard work.

What advice would you offer to unpublished novelists?

Firstly, you have to really really want it and believe you have a talent. Writing is hard work, and the universe doesn't care about your hopes and dreams. It takes a great deal of persistence. Secondly, you need to write stories that people will want to read. Finally, these days you have a choice: try to find an agent and publisher, or self-publish. The second route worked for us but I still think it's worth pursuing the traditional route first.

What's the secret to getting noticed on the Kindle and iBooks charts?

For iBooks we were lucky because Apple put us on the home page of the Crime and Thrillers category so we got noticed very quickly. With Kindle, it took months of spending hours every day plugging away, using social networks, blogs and doing everything we could to find readers - eventually, if you're lucky, Amazon pick you up in their algorithms and start to display the book more prominently. But the real secret is to write a great book that people will tell their friends about. Word of mouth is by far the most effective tool.

Which side of the industry do you find most difficult?

Print is difficult because you are totally reliant on bookshops stocking your work. They only stock a fraction of the books that are published. We have had most of our success with e-books so far. But there is nothing like the thrill of seeing your novel on the shelves of a bookshop.

Viral marketing: After rising to the top of the Kindle charts, Catch Your Death is now available in paperback from HarperCollins

Do you use an iPhone?

Yes, I have an iPhone 4. I am one of those sad people who queued up on the morning it was released to get one!

What are your most frequently used apps?

I use Twitter the most by far. I am addicted to it and use it to talk to readers, other writers and bloggers. I use the Kindle app which is great for reading books in short bursts, at bus-stops or wherever. I love the way it syncs with my Kindle so I never lose my place.The other three would be Sky+, Facebook and Tiny Wings, which is my favourite game.

What's your favourite piece of technology?

I love my MacBook Air. I do most of my writing on the train and in Starbucks and the Air is wonderfully light and portable. I am a gadget freak and also love my PS3, Kindle, iPad and, of course, my iPhone!

How often, if at all, do you read physical books? Do you think they will still be printed in 20 years' time?

I pretty much alternate physical books and ebooks. I like to have books on my shelves at home. I hope they will still be around in 20 years but would have said the same about vinyl in the 80s and I don't miss records. Ultimately, books are about words not the the paper they are printed on.

Has the rise of the ebook empowered indie authors? Will it change the way books are written?

Yes, without a doubt. It has given authors a new way to find an audience, without the old stigma of vanity publishing. And it has also given publishers a new way of finding authors who have proved they have an audience. There is a concern over the quality of a lot of self-published books, but the cream will usually rise to the top.

How do you feel about the demise of the high-street bookshop?

It will be very sad if bookshops disappear. They are a great place to browse and discover new books and authors. I hope they will always exist even if novels become less important on their shelves and they become more specialist.

Nobody really knows what is going to happen, but  I expect there will always remain a hardcore of people who want printed books. And if bookshops provide excellent service and the human touch that Amazon and iBooks can't provide, they will have a bright future.

Do you worry about piracy?

Yes. Our books appear on torrent sites which I find quite distressing! But maybe the kind of people who use those sites are more interested in music and movies than books. At the moment, I haven't seen any evidence that book sales have been affected by e-book piracy but it's definitely something we all need to be aware of.

Is Kindle or iPad a better format for reading?

The Kindle has a much better screen for reading - it feels like you're reading a paper book and is kind to the eyes. The iPad is great, though, for reading in the dark! The iPhone is good, too, for reading in short bursts - I sometimes read on my iPhone when I'm rocking my five-month-old son to sleep in the dark.

What are your thoughts on iBooks 2? Can you imagine e-textbooks replacing the printed word in the classroom?

It looks great. Louise and I are planning a collaboration with a photographer which we want to publish using iBooks author - it will be a free story with words by us and photographs by her. And going forward there will be a lot more innovative ways writers can create books. I can definitely see e-textbooks taking over from paper textbooks.

My four-year-old uses my iPad more than I do. To her, it's intuitive and natural. She loves books but likes iPad books even more. Having a textbook in which you can watch movies, explore images and interact with information sounds like the future to me.

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