Interview with PP Corcoran, author of the Saiph Series

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Oct 5, 2011
blah - flags. So many flags.
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Today I had the chance to chat with PP Corcoran, talking about his work, the publishing market and his writing journey.

Firstly, can you tell me a bit about your books, and the world they are set in?

The Saiph Series is set around 150 years in the future when humanity has come together as the Terran Republic after suffering near extinction during a world war.

The Republic rebuilds its societies and is finally able to concentrate its efforts on satisfying their age old fascination for travelling the stars. By accident rather than design scientists stumble across the Gravity Drive, an engine that allows almost instantaneous travel over vast distances and the stars are at last within reach.

The Terran Republic venture beyond the solar system and discover a hidden alien library, which proves once and for all that man is not alone. The library holds a secret that changes the Terran Republics view of how life developed on Earth and amongst the stars.

The adventure begins! The Terran Republic discover that the alien race, the Saiph, have visited not only Earth, but also many other worlds. The Saiph were at war with an unknown enemy, one that was winning.

Through the series humanity discovers friends and foes alike as they discover a universe that is not always a nice place.

You’ve done tremendously well as a self-published author – what made you decide to take the indie route?

To be honest I didn’t consider myself an author or even a writer when I started. I’d thought about writing a story for many years and tinkered about with it. But I didn’t come up with Discovery of the Saiph until around March 2013 and it took me almost a year to finish the manuscript. It was only then I thought about ‘publishing’ options. Bearing in mind this book was the first I’ve ever written and I had no idea where to start.

I researched the traditional publishing route for the likes of Baen Books (a firm favourite of mine). But I soon discovered it would be tough convincing any of them that my book (first book) was good enough and it would take many, many months to get a reply, if at all! I also researched the potential earnings of a traditionally published author and was sorely disappointed when I discovered it was incredibly difficult to make a living from writing!

I then discovered the world of ‘vanity’ publishers. I found one that was UK based and offered a package which included cover design, editing, formatting, initial press releases, and the like, all for an upfront payment of £1000. I emailed them my first chapter and within a few days I got a reply telling me my book was the best thing since sliced bread. Having never written anything before in my life this raised a few red flags.

I took to the internet again, researched the company and found several pending fraud cases! The company had even changed its name on numerous occasions. Needless to say that scuppered that plan, luckily enough I have a wife that loves a challenge. More research followed and we decided that apart from editing, we could do everything that any vanity publisher was offering. It was a no brainer to us by this stage.

Can you talk through the process of how you went about becoming published, what timescale everything has taken?

In December 2013 I finished the Discovery of the Saiph manuscript, it took me about six months to write. In January 2014 I researched publishing options and finally plumped to self-publish. In February 2014 – I discover the term ‘self-published’ is a misnomer as my wife, Sarah, and I shared this work load which included re-formatting my manuscript for ebooks and print on demand, wrote a short book blurb and the longer back cover blurb, Sarah designed the book cover. We set up a facebook page, author website and twitter account and finally on 28th February 2014 we uploaded Discovery of the Saiph to Kindle, Smashwords, Lulu, Createspace etc.

Sarah did the formatting, which I understand was fiddly as it was formatted for both ebook and print on demand, I think the first attempt took her around a week to complete, as she works full time as well, now she can whizz through it in a few hours!

It was only after we’d published Discovery that we started looking at marketing – silly, I know but we were green behind the ears! The marketing takes the longest time and is a continual battle to keep on top off.

Sales were very low for the first week or two, although, I was still shocked that anyone wanted to buy it, but I started looking at ways to get my book in to the hands of sci-fi readers. The first port of call was Amazon’s KDP Select. I found I could enrol in it and do Amazon free promotions, the only downside was that my book would be exclusive to Amazon, however, I’d only sold about $20 worth anywhere else so really what was the harm? I made Discovery of the Saiph exclusive to Amazon and almost immediately got more sales. In March 2014 I sold around 400 books and gave away around 350 free in an Amazon freebie promotion (I hadn’t even started advertising anywhere else). I was stunned! Then I started getting reviews which highlighted my second mistake.

My first mistake was lack of marketing, my second was not investing in professional editing. I’d assumed no one would buy my book and chose not to invest in professional editing, unfortunately the reviewers (unsurprisingly) picked up on it. Therefore, mid-March 2014 I found an editing service online and sent my manuscript off, four weeks later I published a second edition.

In April 2014 I sold over 1000 Discovery of the Saiphs and got another 2,500 downloads in an Amazon freebie promotion, again I hadn’t advertised the book anywhere else and I couldn’t believe it to be honest. It seemed that the Amazon marketing machine was doing a lot of work by listing my book in ‘you may also like’ and ‘readers also bought’ sections. It also meant I was getting a lot of fairly positive reviews along with “When’s the sequel coming out?”

I hadn’t really considered it! It took me almost a year to write and publish Search for the Saiph, mainly due to personal life and full time work getting in the way of writing I didn’t actually start writing it until August 2014. But during this time Sarah and I began looking at marketing to try to keep the interest in book 1 riding high while I struggled to get book 2 out. This is when we learnt about keywords, power words, pesky algorithms, advertising and marketing – probably enough for another blog here! Though I was slow to get off the mark with book 2, my wife and I devised a marketing plan building up to the planned release date which had been pushed way back to March 2015 (originally planned for August 2014). Now this was difficult, I had to stick to a tight schedule to get the book finished, professionally edited and launched. I’d always thought the beauty of self-publishing is that you have no deadlines – wrong! I wanted to write for a living and I knew I had to release book 2 as quickly as I could so that readers didn’t forget about me.

Part of my marketing plan was to run a kindle countdown at 99p/99c for Discovery of the Saiph around Christmas 2014 in both the UK and US (up to then the majority of my sales had been in the US and I’d barely scratched the surface in UK). This time Sarah also sourced online websites to advertise the kindle countdown, promoting it at home in the UK and across the pond. It worked! The UK readers finally found it and began buying. At this stage sales had dropped to around 200 per month (including ‘borrows’) after the Christmas promotion, sales doubled and importantly held up fairly well until the release date of Search for the Saiph at the end of March 2015.

I gathered subscribers to my website and was able to notify them of the release of book 2. I also ran a kindle countdown on Discovery of the Saiph at the same time as the sequel’s release and, importantly, advertised it in the UK and US. The result? 3,966 of the Saiph series sold in April 2015. I was over the moon and in a bit of shock! Search for the Saiph reached #1 in Amazon UK Science Fiction Space Exploration but not only that, the majority of readers loved it. This is when I actually began to think I could be a full time writer.

May was another fantastic month with over 3,000 sales and then opportunity came knocking, twice! The first was an email from Amazon UK asking whether I would like to participate in a ‘Start a New Series’ promotion, they would offer Discovery of the Saiph at a knock down price but I would keep my 70% royalty. I jumped at it! I was more than happy to let Amazon do the marketing for me. This time sales reached over 5,000 for the month and Discovery reached #1 in Amazon UK Science Fiction multiple sub genres. Both books were also consistently within the Top 20 of Amazon US Science Fiction sub genres and more importantly I was getting yet more great reviews.

My next opportunity came from Tantor media, a US publisher of audiobooks and ebooks. I received an email through my contact form of my website asking me whether audio rights were for sale for both the Saiph Series books. I didn’t quite believe this, in fact I didn’t really know what ‘audio rights’ meant. I also thought it was a scam at first! Eventually I realised it was a huge opportunity for me. I had looked at self-publishing audiobooks through ACX, but had found no real interest from narrators on the basis of a royalty share (I am an unknown after all) and the only offers I was getting was for an upfront cost which was way outside my budget (I had no budget!). So really I had nothing to lose in signing up with Tantor. So you can get both Discovery of the Saiph and Search for the Saiph in audiobook format – Audio CD or download including Audible. In fact I have a giveaway running right now for two copies of the Audio CD on Goodreads. Book giveaway for Discovery of the Saiph (Saiph #1) by P.P. Corcoran Jul 15-Aug 31, 2015.

And that’s my self-publishing journey to date. My next book in the series Hunt for the Saiph will be released around October 2015, I’m half way through writing it now.

What is it about military sci fi that you like best – any particular types of scenes you especially like writing?

I come from a military background and for me the most appealing thing about military sci-fi is that when a particular scene or story line is done properly it feels real, no matter my brain knows it is fiction it is also believable.

That’s probably the reason that I write in the style that I do. Warfare is not all about one person especially if your story, like mine, is set throughout the universe. You have to have a multitude of characters, each playing their own small part in a bigger picture, all working towards a common goal. Admittedly it means you end up with a lot of characters, I think the voice artist who did my audio book told me there was something like 92 in my first book, but that’s how war works.

When it comes to writing particular scenes my personal favourite is those that show how fast paced combat actually is. From marines boarding an enemy vessel to a single marine taking on two enemy soldiers with nothing but a pistol and a knife. I try and make the reader feel as if they are that individual marine and it is the reader and not the character who is in a life or death situation.

If you were to recommend three books to introduce readers to the genre, what would you suggest?
I read a lot of sci-fi but if you really want to read a universe encompassing military space opera then I would have to go with Insurrection by two of the great military sci-fi authors, David Weber and Steve White. Although Insurrection is the start of a series of books it lays the ground work well for the follow on novels without being boring. The action takes you from massive space fleets to first contact with friendly alien races to genocide.

Running a close second is The Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove. The series spans not only the globe but decades of time and tells the story of an alien invasion of earth from not only the human perspective but that of the invading aliens.

Next up is a book called A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo. The first of The Posleen War series. It tells the story of humans fighting another race’s war against an enemy that are bred to fight. Humans must do the fighting if they are to gain the weapons and technology to defend their own world when the enemy eventually reaches earth. A very interesting premise and one which Ringo exploits to the full.

What is your writing routine and how do you balance that with marketing requirements?

Since becoming a writer full time I have really been forced to approach my writing now more as a business than a hobby. I built myself a garden office where I lock myself away every week day and write two to two and a half thousand words a day.

I have a writing programme called Scrivener which allows me to easily lay out the framework for a novel and work on each section of the story line individually whilst referring back to other sections of the current or previous novels without losing where I am. It’s very handy and I would recommend it to any budding authors out there.

As for marketing I’ll be honest and tell you that I am very fortunate to have a wife that is fully on board with what I’m doing so I leave all the marketing to her. We work as a team and I believe that it is this teamwork that has made it possible for me to leave work and become a full time writer. I really feel for an author who is out there and facing the daunting task of not only writing a novel but getting it edited, getting book covers, getting published and then keeping it in the public eye so that it sells. It is a full time job.

To that end my wife has decided to start her own business up with the aim of providing some of the services and help that has made me successful. The Guilded Quill will not be a vanity publisher but it will provide book covers, formatting and the like as well as pointing you in the direction of editors that I have used so I know the quality of their work. There will also be a hints and tips page to help other authors avoid some of the mistakes that I made in the beginning.

Do you intend to continue writing in the Saiph world – if so, what are your future plans for it?

I plan to release a further two books in the Saiph series, Hunt for the Saiph due out in October 2015 and then a fourth book as yet untitled which I expect to be out around Christmas 2015.

Although the Saiph series has done extremely well and I know there are a lot of successful sci-fi series out there that are onto their tenth (or more) book, but right now I want to take a break and get on with some other projects.

I am planning on a three book series entitled the K’Tai War. The first in the series, Invasion should be ready for release late 2015 early 2016. It’s a bit of departure from my Saiph series in that the book concentrates on one family, a husband, wife and their two teenage children who get caught up in the invasion of their colony world on the border of human and K’Tai space. The first book will centre on the initial invasion and the struggle the family faces to survive the battles raging around them.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t hang around waiting for some international publishing house to come to you or thinking that your stuff isn’t good enough. Get your stuff out there and let the reader decide whether they like you or not.

I hadn’t written as much as a short story before I published my first novel. Now I have two self-published novels and another on the way. My books have been picked up by Tantor Media in the US and turned into audio books and writing has become my full time job. All of this has happened in the space of eighteen months. The best thing I ever did was grab the bull by the horns and go for it.

A friend of mine had a story floating around in his head for years but he never published it. His goal is to become a successful screen writer but he hesitated and didn’t take the initial step of publishing his work. With a lot of cajoling, and after a few beers, my wife and I helped him to publish a short story. It went to number one in its genre and he has since been approached by a media company looking to employ him.

The moral of this story is you never know until you try!

Another thing to remember is that you must believe in yourself. Don’t introduce yourself as a ‘wannabe’ or ‘finally’ a writer - you are already a writer, maybe unknown but a writer all the same. You must portray yourself as confident, competent and professional. Show readers your belief and they will take a chance on you.

And finally, work hard at the marketing side. It’s no secret you need a great product, but what makes the difference is marketing and perseverance, it can get very repetitive and incredibly boring but it’s worth it!

Where do you see the future of publishing? When writers like Hugh Howey go trad, does that strengthen or weaken the sp model, for instance? Is it a case of one becoming more dominant, or a split in terms of marketing?

I personally feel that eBooks will be the future. Traditional publishing is a shrinking market. There will always be people who like to hold a physical book in their hands but for the vast majority of authors, unless you are one of the very few who are picked up by a major publishing house, the only realistic way that you will bring your book to market is through eBooks.

For any aspiring author who has limited resources then their best chance of reaching readers and getting a following is by using eBooks to take advantage of the bigger and bigger numbers of electronic platforms that are out there.

If, for example, you look at Christopher Nuttall he is probably the most successful self-publisher I know. Chris’ books continuously reach the number one spot on Kindle and that means he is selling tens of thousands of book annually.

So my question is: Do you need a big publishing house? I would say no.

Author Bio
I was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1967. I joined the British Army in 1985 at the grand old age of seventeen and a half. After completing my initial training I joined the British Army's elite parachute force, 5 Airborne Brigade, spending four years there until moving on to various intelligence and signals units for the remainder of my twenty-two years’ service. During my career I served in many areas of operations including: Africa, the Balkans, Central America, Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South East Asia. I continue to work in the security field.

I have been a fan of science fiction since my school days, my reading tastes have developed to include all things military, past, future and alternate history.

I began writing my own stories in 2013 and self-published my first science fiction novel DISCOVERY OF THE SAIPH in 2014 and SEARCH FOR THE SAIPH in 2015. Both books reached number 1 in Amazon UK's Science Fiction Exploration Best Sellers list in April/May 2015. Discovery of the Saiph and Search for the Saiph are available in print, eBook and audiobook formats.

Where to find me:
Twitter @ppcorcoran
Author Central

Where to buy my books:
All my ebooks are exclusive to Amazon (Worldwide), print on demand is widely available from many book stores.

My audiobooks can be purchased as Audio CD through Tantor Media & most good audiobook stores or downloaded (including Audible).