Spotlight 51: Tim Heath
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Spotlight 51: Tim Heath
Mark Dawson: I'm Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show. And this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors are all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions, five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career. My name is Tom Ashford and I'm part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don't forget that you can get yourself publishing resource [email protected]/starterkit.
This week's guest is Tim Heath. He's written 15 books in the thriller genre and he lives in Estonia.
Tim Heath: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Tom Ashford: It's great to have you on.
Do you want to start by talking about the 15 books that you've written?
Tim Heath: Yeah. I've lived outside of the UK for 12 years. I think as part of that journey, I came into writing and, and definitely a flavor of my books is the world I find myself in. And so it's so different, my upbringing, which was living in Kent in the UK.
Some of my books about, I think nine of them have based in Russia where we lived at first, my last one was purely Estonian based, which was probably my bravest, but for me being here in Estonia and be lots of outcomes given their history. But it's not a crime for it. Is that kind of drama.
Tom Ashford: You mentioned before we went live that you've got four more books in the works.
Tim Heath: Yes. Next three will finish a nine book series. And then actually, I wrote one in during the first week of lockdown, which will, I guess be number 19.
Tom Ashford: Question number one is why do you write? Is there a particular reason that you started writing in the first place?
Tim Heath: I think there's three things I would say. So one the stories I feel, from the very first genuine moment of inspiration of, a story, title, opening dropping in, I knew I had to tell it and I think that's continued with all my stories.
I think I touched a little bit, a moment ago. I write because of the world I find myself in, so it is so different to how I grew up and not everybody does get to visit, Russia or live in Russia, or Estonia. And maybe people don't even know where Estonia is, but just South of Finland, Europe.
So I think writing stories that reflect and give a little bit of taste of life outside of your main two brand is an angle I'm gifted to do this and actually, something I should keep pursuing. So that's why I write.
Tom Ashford: In terms of your publishing history, are you entirely self published or have you got a traditional publisher, a publisher or are you hybrid?
Tim Heath: I'm entirely self published. When we moved to Russia in 2008, I was writing what became my debut novel. And so at the time I think indie was fairly new KDP was fairly new. And so I was going to go that route, get an agent has to be a New York based agent.
I was following this particular guy's blog and stuff. I submitted to him, he was in New York. And as he claimed that he was there, he reads it and then responds immediately, because he's got too many. So I went through that process a little bit, got the standard, "Thanks. But no thanks."
And actually suddenly this New York guy said, in a typical week he had 400 submissions, of which he asked, I think it's really a full manuscript. So he only asked for the first chapter, I think, and a cover letter. So I just did the numbers, there's massive factors in that, if you're that busy, depending on how many good ones you see that week, what they use reading on how busy it is.
You realize it's not an exact science, it's not that these three out the 400 were the best. So I went that route, but then obviously discovered a bit more about KDP and launched into it back when we moved to Estonia, and the first book published nearly eight years ago.
Tom Ashford: In terms of the thriller, was there a particular reason that you wanted to write thrillers as opposed to romance or Sci-fi or whatever?
Tim Heath: Definitely an interesting question. The films and books, I love all that genre. I'm married to it. I do have to go into other genres, but I think it's definitely writing what you feel most comfortable with for me.
And obviously it happens that thrillers are one of the big markets anyway, so that's convenient.
For me, I wouldn't want to write to market purely, thinking that way it has to be. It is a good competitive but good genre.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? Are you more of a plotter or do you just see where the story takes you?
Tim Heath: Definitely a plotter. I think my class little story, I use this, like my, my transformation from being you know, a pantser, to use your phrase, and to becoming an author was like going on a car journey. With panting it's quite fun.
But at some point you get lost and really don't know where you're going. And I think my transformation, with my debut novel, plotting it and understanding it, that I now had a route map. I'm setting off and I know the stop of points and I know the destination.
I think, that's definitely been the transformation for me, to plan and then to write. So, that's what I do now.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular software you use, like Scrivener, to map it out?
Tim Heath: I write on Scrivener on my iMac. I read through and edit into ProWriting Aid and I always do the first read through on the computer now.
I used to print it out, but, there's my point now. So ProWriting Aid, and I even do the edit live and copy it chapter by chapter into Vellum. And then that is ready for the editor.
So those are my three main pieces of software to get it to that stage.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place that you prefer writing?
Tim Heath: I stand up to write. I have done for for years now. I'm unusual in the sense. I don't often hear people say this.
I write in sessions, so for example, I mentioned the most recent book. I had a few days, so I kind of set myself the challenge in the first week of quarantine, here in Estonia, could I write a book by the end of March? I ended up finishing it on the 1st of April, so that was in eight days.
That came about by planning it. So Thursday and Friday, 19th and 20th of March, I went out, planned it. I had a general idea, but I thought this is me planning and thinking through character names and all that in those days. And then Monday, the 23rd, started writing.
And then you followed it through eight days. I didn't write on the weekend. So I finished it on the Wednesday, the first, and then I haven't written anything since, and I probably won't until the autumn. who knows?
So I'm still going to release four books this year. When I write, I write all day. I just giving myself permission to say, this is what I'm doing. I'm at the computer at 8am or 7:30, depending. Have a good lunch, have a rest. I always nap. And then back in the afternoon.
So I get about six, seven hours a day. I try and hit about 10 to 11,000 words. Get the first draft down, which is very rough, but that's my process. I write in seasons, plan it well, write. And then move on to other stuff.
Tom Ashford: That leads into, and sort of answers question number three, which is, are you a full time author, if you are, how did you get there? And if you aren't, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
Tim Heath: Yes, I'm a full time author. I guess that's currently purely opportunity rather than financial. I'm kind of a bit stuck. So I would just explain a very brief story.
In Estonia, I just, by reaching out to them, maybe with the cheek of a foreigner, when I only had two books, a few years ago, I got into the biggest, big store chain here just by approaching them, reaching out. And they took on small order of books.
And then when it came to my third book, which actually ended up on Amazon, becoming my first best seller. They wanted me to pay them to advertise their book in store for them to sell it, which kind of doing the maths the little bit that I was getting from them.
They wanted me to use to help them sell it, which is their job. So I thought this is a little bit weird. I'm not doing that. March last year, obviously I've been part of SPF as as a student for many years. I applied myself full time to marketing as my time is available, instead of writing, I said, okay, I'm going to of go full time.
I became an international bestseller by throwing money at ads and everything. So, got there in the thriller chart. But I think my kind of mindset now, and I actually stopped advertising in April last year is I realized Amazon is now doing what the big stock store was doing. So the money that we're making, they're basically asking us to advertise with and they're kind of selling, so I'm a bit stuck.
I had that great month where I basically break even and then looked at the numbers of how much, Amazon and Facebook earn, which was in the thousands.
And I'm just working through what it means going forward, but there is something new on the horizon, but that's something separate. So we'll see what turns out with that. I do write full time, but I market when I can.
Tom Ashford: Question number four is what mistakes do you think you've made and what have you got right?
Tim Heath: Like many people I put my first book out too soon, this is not the first time people have answered that. I didn't know what I was doing at the time and, and compared to now is kind of embarrassing to think about, but that definitely went out too soon.
And also I was a little bit too reliant on my designer. Now I think design is one of those difficult things that you can't necessarily do if you're an author and obviously you shouldn't do necessarily, but BookBrush came along. I was at the SPF live day in March. I got back to Estonia just before they closed the border up here and met the guys from BookBrush. So that's actually allowed me to take back control for my design process.
Tom Ashford: Right.
Tim Heath: I've worked with my designer on all 15 covers. So I've understood and I always steered him, but then he did all the technical stuff and BookBrush allowed me to kind of take that back. So I think that was one thing that I felt a little bit like crippled with or paralyzed with in a sense of all the design stuff. Recently, I wasn't getting stuff back very quickly.
BookBrush has been a breath of fresh air for me for that, with the covers I'm putting out and I'm actually having fun with it.
What have I got right? I think first one I would say is characters. And this, I have no idea how, so people always talk about depth and uniqueness, et cetera.
And I don't have a process for this characterization. It seems to just come out. I think on my original book, I followed some guides where you put in who their parents are or their relationship, even though it never comes up in the book. Just so you understand the character. I sort of say a long winded way.
I don't do that, but often, there's one thing people comment on it's the characters. So I don't know how that happens.
Second thing is, is plots. I know why this is, so they talk about them being deep and twisty and consistent. So that's fun. I like things that are multi-leveled. I never write a simple book. And I also recently, and this came out of a comment and I guess it's a good piece of advice for Indies.
Last summer I was at an English teachers of Estonia conference in another part of Estonia and I was allowed to have a little store. The idea was I'd get invited into schools, which didn't really happen. But they had one guest from a publisher in the UK who was doing a seminar, I think. And so she came over very polite, but looked at my most recent book and like a lot of guys in SPF, it's professionally designed, it looks good.
She picked it up and just looked at the spine and I said, Oh, you're independent. You're doing it, deal with it. Cause you haven't got a logo here.
And it's a tiny thing like that. So obviously I have my own publishing house, so got a logo design for that. So that's now on my spines and on the back of the book. A little tweak, but I think just something that is helping people that might otherwise think, Oh, it's different to other books just to kind of help. It's very easy to do, certainly with BookBrush and that's something I thought I've got right. It's great looking at my books now, but with the logos on and everything.
Tom Ashford: Optics are important.
Question number five is what's your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Tim Heath: My advice would be, even if people don't say it, sometimes I see all this acting on this, they think indie means independent, but they kind of act like it means individual.
My advice is, it's not individual; you don't have to do it all on your own. You don't self edit and don't self cover design. Even yesterday I was in Instagram and someone had loads of followers and the covers were just atrocious. So, it means independent. It's different from the old school bricks and mortar publishers, but it's not an individual.
Do get outside editorial help, you do get a cover design help until you've been in the business long enough to understand covers. Edits and covers are probably the two biggest flaws I see. And really, for many of us we can look at a row of books and you can kind of tell from some of them that this is substandard just by a little glance, maybe. So it's things like that.
So independent or indie doesn't mean individual. That's my final piece of advice.
Tom Ashford: Nice. Well, those are your five questions up, Tim. So thank you very much for coming on.
Tim Heath: Thank you for having me.
Tom Ashford: That's it for this week, Self-Publishing Spotlight, don't forget that you can get your free self publishing resource [email protected]/starterkit. And if you want to appear as a guest on the show, send us brief details about yourself and your [email protected]/spotlight dash guest. I'm Tom Ashford. And I'll see you again next week.
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