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Books on the Underground: An Indie Author’s Experience

Books on the Underground: An Indie Author’s Experience

It’s hard enough to write a book as most indie authors will attest, but then comes the really hard part – marketing your work. It’s a challenge that provides a far steeper learning curve for many writers than actually crafting 70 000-plus finely chiselled words in the first place. So savvy authors are always on the look out for new promotional ideas, especially ones that work, have tangible results and put books in readers’ hands. Oh, and it helps if it doesn’t cost an awful lot of money.

Imagine my delight when I stumbled across Books on the Underground (BOTU). Virtually every day of the year these guys are placing books across the capital’s transport network, each one carrying a sticker on the cover inviting travellers to take it home if they like the look of it, and to return the book and leave it on the underground for another reader when they’ve finished it. Like most smart ideas, its genius lies in its simplicity.

Could your books be featured?

But hang on a minute – the first book I heard of being distributed in subterranean nooks and crannies was Maya Angelou’s autobiographical work Mom & Me & Mom – an eminent work from the legendary poet and civil rights activist. Oh, and it was actor Emma Watson, Hermione from the Harry Potter movie series to many, who was playing the part of the ‘book fairy’.

Well OK, I thought, Books on the Underground is a great concept, but obviously not meant for the likes of me, a lowly self-published author? Wrong. Turns out they DO want people like me – people like you – participating, because different readers like different books, so BOTU encourages indies to rub shoulders with major literature prize winners.

Here’s how it worked. BOTU couldn’t have been more helpful and encouraging. They took my novel, Written Off, and slotted me in for a December date. I supplied fifty copies to them, they applied the scheme stickers, and their team of book fairies were up early on the day to hide them in clear sight across various stations. I got the Northern Line, which being from Leeds and living in Manchester I thought quite apt.


Here’s a thought for meeting new readers halfway… Imagine you printed your own sticker, saying if you like the look of this book take it home, read it, review it and put it back where another reader can find it afterwards. And you put (gaining permission first) your stickered books in bars, restaurants, train stations and shops local to you? Your book wouldn’t even need to be recently published. Something to think about for kicking off your 2017 quest to reach a wider audience, perhaps?

Then the tweets and Instagram posts started from delighted commuters who’d found my book and couldn’t wait to take it home and read it. These were commuters – readers – who I hope will enjoy Written Off, share their discovery of a writer they’ve never heard of before and possibly review the novel on Amazon, Goodreads or on other platforms and put it back for somebody else to pick up. And so on it goes, just like the Circle line.

But you want to know how much it cost? Basically, one pound per book. I supplied fifty books, so it was £50 plus delivery. Granted, I had to decide to supply fifty books but I thought they were better off out there than in a warehouse or under my bed.

Take a look at the books that have featured in the scheme. It’s pretty august company, and you’re deploying the same marketing technique employed by some of the largest publishers in the UK. Talk about democratic. Well, you never know who you’re going to be sat next to on the Tube, do you?

Written Off, by Paul Carroll

Written Off, by Paul Carroll

About The Author

Leeds-born, Paul studied English at the University of Manchester before going on to run his own successful PR consultancy. Nowadays Paul concentrates on his writing. Paul’s third novel, Trouble Brewing is to be published by Matador in 2017 following A Matter of Life and Death (2012) and Written Off (2016).

Video Update!

From the editor…

As we move into February, literary events season looms. You can expect lots of articles explaining how indie authors can really make the most of the events that are on offer.

You may have noticed our recent piece about DIY self-publishing. As the name suggests, this is for authors who are considering what it might take to ‘go it alone’. It’s the first in our mini series looking at the very basics of self-publishing – ideal for those who are new to this or repeat authors considering a fresh approach.


It’s been great to hear from so many of you already in 2017. If you think of anything you’d like to see featured on the site, or would like to contribute, get in touch. That’s how the Back to Basics series came about!

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At The Self-Publishing Magazine, we are always trying to cater to our audience, so we would love to here from you.

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Indie Pick


This limited edition book is a love note to Canada by its creator, and Zelpha Comics founder, Luanga Nuwame.

The book is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter… help make this one-of-a-kind collectible item a reality.

On July 1st 2017, Canada turns 150 – and the entire country is celebrating all year long. To mark this grand anniversary, Zelpha Comics is launching a unique, collectible hybrid book to showcase the people, landmarks, wildlife, inventions, international relationships and interesting factoids that Canada is famous for.

150 Years of Awesome Canada is an innovative combination of a multiple set trading card series and large format coffee table book. Each glossy page contains 8 to 12 cards, which readers can cut out. 150 Years of Awesome Canada also contains trading cards that tackle intriguing subjects such as the growth of gay rights, free trade, universal healthcare, G8 Power, women of distinction, Canada at war and Canadian comic book legends. There is even a comedic ‘President Trump meets PM Trudeau’ card – to our knowledge, the first one to be made.

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