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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…

Events season is here. Perhaps you're heading to the Self-Publishing Conference this spring? Literary events are great opportunities for authors to network and learn more about the competition, and the market as a whole.

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