Spotlight 53: Paul Stephenson

Links mentioned in this episode:

GUEST: Paul Stephenson’s website website

STARTER KIT: Self-Publishing Formula’s publishing resource kit


Spotlight 53: Paul Stephenson

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 kit at

This week's guest is Paul Stephenson. He's written five books in the horror and sci-fi genres and he lives in the UK.

Welcome, Paul.

Paul Stephenson: Hi.

Tom Ashford: Would you like to start by talking about the different books that you've written?

Paul Stephenson: I have one completed trilogy, which is the Blood on the Motorway series, and that is a apocalyptic British horror. With thriller elements.

My newest book is Sunrise, which is a beginning of a sci-fi ... what will hopefully be a nine book odyssey. I have one nonfiction book, which is a kind of comedy music thing. So a bit across the board.

Tom Ashford: Are you a musician yourself?

Paul Stephenson: No. I used to be a music journalist many years ago, and I got tricked into promising to listen to every album on the Rolling Stones, top 500 albums list and at the end of it, having listened to all of these dreadful songs and some really good ones, I thought, well, that will make a book.

Tom Ashford: Fair enough. That leads into question number one, which is why do you write? Is there a particular reason that you wanted to start writing, I guess beyond the journalism?

Paul Stephenson: I think actually it goes back to music a long time ago when I was a kid. There used to be an indie band called Carter, the Unstoppable Sex Machine, and they had a song called Granny Farming in the UK about elder abuse. And I don't know why, but when I heard that when I was 13, I just started writing a short story for it. And just sort of picked up from there.

But it wasn't until many years later when I discovered NaNoWriMo that I actually finally write a novel, but that was the original seed.

Tom Ashford: Was there a particular reason that you chose a horror and sci-fi?

Paul Stephenson: I guess it's just my wheelhouse, I grew up loving John Wyndham and Stephen King and Dean Koontz. And I've tried to read fairly widely, but horror is kind of, on scifi is kind of where I always end up circling back to.

Tom Ashford: Was there a reason, to go even further back, why you became a journalist in the first place?

Paul Stephenson: I always wanted to be a writer. I did foresee myself being a Hunter S. Thompson type when I was going through university. And that, as I imagine, many writers of my generation would have done, but it wasn't a beat. So I did try journalism for a little while, but it was never quite gelled.

I'm just far happier telling, made up stories, which I guess a little too many journalists do, but I didn't want to be that kind of journalist.

Tom Ashford: Now that you write novels, do you self-publish all of them or have you got traditional contract?

Paul Stephenson: I've never queried. I have submitted to a couple of competitions over the years, but no, I was always wanting to be indie. I think back in the day I stumbled across the self publishing show on podcast and it just blew my mind. This idea that you could be in control of your career and be your own publisher. I thought it was great. Very kind of appealed to the DIY punk rock ethos that I like. So, that's always been my route.

Tom Ashford: Do you think that you'd ever switch to a traditional contract?

Paul Stephenson: I mean never say never. Like everyone, I'd love to see my books in traditional bookstores and things like that, if we have them at the other end of all this craziness. But I think I'd always want to have control. I really admire what Mark's doing at the moment with his hybrid approach. I think that's a really, it's going to be the future for publishing and nothing not really interesting. But so I definitely would. If anyone's sitting out there who thinks that my books are amazing then please do get in contact.

Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? Do you tend to plot your stories out first or just see where the story takes you?

Paul Stephenson: I'm somewhere in between, I suppose the plotter and planner kind of in that planter kind of zone. I tend to write about the first 10, 15, thousand just off the hoof. And then I tend to stop, trying to work out what I've got and try and engineer a rough plot for the rest of it.

I always recommend Libby Hawkers, excellent book, Take Off Your Pants, not just for its excellent title, but because it's quite good for giving you a roadmap. So I tend to sort of set out what the rest of the book is going to be from that. And then I set it aside really and carry on writing. And if I get lost, I can always go back to it, but I like to put a bit of structure in there, but mostly I'm a discovery writer.

Tom Ashford: And in terms of software, do you use Scrivener or Word or Google Docs?

Paul Stephenson: I'm a hardcore Scrivener fan, especially writing sci-fi, it's great to have, essentially it's project management, and it's great to have all your research right there in the binder, but also to be able to move things around. I work a lot with multiple narratives, so it's quite nice to be able to write them. And then when you come to the editing stage, just drag and drop them so that they provide a bit more of a narrative thrust throughout the book. So I really love Scrivener.

Tom Ashford: Is there a time and place that you prefer to write?

Paul Stephenson: I have two children, so whenever I can. I'm also as still working so it tends to be kind of whenever I get the chance to. I try to make sure I write something every day. I think that's the key to battling the demon of writer's block. So yeah, whenever I can really.

Tom Ashford: Question number three 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?

Paul Stephenson: Sadly not, no, I still have a full time job. It's not a bad career. I work for a pretty large company and it's pretty well paid. So it's quite difficult to kind of justify walking away from that. But I would love to a full sort of in the future. In terms of what steps I'm trying to take. I'm just trying to prepare for success.

I think I've got everything set up that hopefully to capture people when they come in your mailing list, your website and started doing things like direct sales and I'm wide across the different bookstore. So hopefully if the success does start to come my way then hopefully I've got the tools there to capture it and make a try for it.

Tom Ashford: Question four is what mistakes do you think you've made and what have you got right?

Paul Stephenson: I've made all the mistakes. I've gone over the years, I've kind of wasted money on some things. My initial covers, I knew really, really talented designer, but he wasn't a book cover designer. So what he gave me whilst it's amazing, it wasn't necessarily right for my genre. I then sort of fiddled around and had some pretty crappy ones I made myself. But then I learned through the cover designed for authors course. I managed to learn how to do it properly. And now I design my own covers and I'm pretty pleased with them.

I think the biggest struggle for me has been going wide versus going KU. I have tried KU once, but I wasn't really sold on it and I'm not sure I'd do it again. But yeah, I suppose I've probably made every single area you can make it for some point wrong the line, but it's just picking yourself up and carrying on.

Tom Ashford: I guess the thing you've done right there is probably take Stu's course.

Paul Stephenson: Yeah. It's highly recommended to anyone who's on the fence. If you've got even a modicum of an eye for what you want, then it's really worth it.

Tom Ashford: Question number five is what's your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Paul Stephenson: It's probably best to, first of all, just read and try and learn as much as you can from ... We're really lucky that we have a community where you go, people like Mark, like David Gaughran, Joanna Penn. You've got all these great sort of resources out there. You can essentially take a degree in publishing without ever spending a penny really or take some of the excellent courses that are out there.

The other thing I'd say is have the money to invest. You are starting a business you might want to have dreams of becoming a big publisher of your own one day, but any business kind of needs some seed money. So kind of get that up front. I think that's one of the mistakes I made is taking a little too long to realize that.

Tom Ashford: Nice. Well, those are your five questions. Thank you very much for coming on. And hopefully we will be able to catch up again at the next self publishing show, whenever that happens.

Paul Stephenson: Fantastic. Thank you, Tom.

Tom Ashford: That's it for this week, self publishing spotlight, don't forget that you can get your free self publishing resource kit And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing I'm Tom Ashford, and I'll see you again next week.

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