Write Now: How Can You Be A Successful Author in the 21st Century? Sponsored by Bookswarm Event Report

Posted by Monica Cardenas on 24 February 2023, in Event reports, News

Photos by  Alex Shaw and Amelia Kyazze, words by Chris Russell, cartoon by Ollie Randall 

Byte The Book live events made a triumphant return on 21st February with a spirited discussion on how to be a successful author in the twenty-first century. The four-strong panel comprised best-selling author Nicola May, publishing consultant Janey Burton, literary agent James Wills (Watson Little) and publisher Jamie Hodder Williams (Bedford Square).

Sponsor Bookswarm's Simon Appleby chatting to panelist Jamie Hodder Williams

Byte founder Justine Solomons launched the discussion with the million-dollar question
— which authors publish well, and why are they successful? “People who write because
they love the process”, responded Jamie, adding that the most successful authors all have
a deep understanding of their genre. Janey agreed, stressing the importance of first
identifying your core audience and then devising a strategy for reaching them. Nicola,
whose breakthrough novel hit the number one spot on Amazon and remained there for
twelve weeks, is a poster child for persistence and dogged determination. “There hasn’t
been one day since I started when I haven’t been on social media talking to fans, or going
to panels, or approaching radio stations and papers”. As a primarily self-published author,
she praised Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform as a core ingredient in her
success. “It’s incredible… it’s the main reason I’ve done well. They even have a KDP
‘University’ to help you out with marketing. I don’t use anything else”.

Justine Solomons (centre in red) introducing the panel, from left to right, James Wills, Nicola May, Janey Burton and Jamie Hodder-Williams

Next, the panel discussed whether authors need a public platform to be successful and the conversation turned to publishing phenomenon and TV personality Richard Osman. “It’s tempting to think that Richard’s success is purely down to his celebrity,” began James, “but I saw him presenting an award at the Harrogate Crime Festival way before anyone knew he was writing a book and he was talking to everyone. He did the hard yards. Success relies on a combination of factors”. Janey (pictured left) urged authors against getting “hung up on social media”, and Jamie agreed. “A platform can really help,” he said, “but it doesn’t matter to me if writers don’t have one. I’ve taken on authors who’ve been successful without it”.

Bestselling author Nicola May on the mike

The self-publishing landscape has evolved dramatically over the past decade, so how
viable an option is it for authors in 2023? “It’s not for everyone,” observed Janey, “because
you have to do the job of the publisher yourself. Self-publishing looks cheap and easy but
it’s not something you can just knock out on a wet Wednesday. You need a strategy”.
James picked up on this point, commenting that to stand out above the noise, self-
published authors need “incredible drive”, and as an agent, he’d almost rather his clients
were channeling every ounce of that energy into writing. Nicola, unsurprisingly, is an
evangelist for the DIY approach, although of course her enormous success is the
exception, not the rule. “I published with Hodder for a while because they made me an
offer I couldn’t refuse, but I soon returned to doing it myself. Seeing your book in
Waterstones is amazing (I cried!) but I’m far happier just being an eBook author”.

Hamza Jahanzeb asks the concluding question from the floor

To close the discussion, Justine asked each panel member for a nugget of advice for authors in the audience. “The mistake I see most often,” said Janey, “is people coming to me before they’re ready. Authors get so excited about landing an agent and selling the book that they sometimes skip the less glamorous stages before that… the drudgery of actually writing the thing. You can’t sell a book until it’s finished”. Jamie picked up on this, advising aspiring writers to hand their manuscript over to a trusted reader — before approaching agents — for honest feedback, and Nicola counselled authors against jumping at their first offer. “Keep your options open. If someone wants it, then you know the book is good enough”.

Jamie and Janey networking with attendees after the talk

Finally, James concluded that success in publishing is in the eye of the beholder. “Every writer is looking for something different,” he said, “so whether it’s becoming a number one bestseller or simply completing your manuscript, you can define what success means to you”.


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One Comment

Emma Simpson

It was a great event, and so good to see people in the flesh, hear some great advice and tips and of course, share our stories. Thank you, looking forward to the next one!


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