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40 years to fulfil a dream

A self-proclaimed shy person, Keith Houghton isn't normally one to enthuse publically, but the success he's seen as a self-published author so far has totally exceeded his expectations and he says he's "over the moon".

"As far back as I remember I wanted to be a writer, closely followed by an astronaut, nuclear physicist and brain surgeon, or preferably all three, which I could then write about," Keith says. "When I was 14, my English teacher told me that I'd never make it as a science fiction writer; she said she was tired of reading those stories." With a passion for the genre instigated by watching Star Wars when he was 11, Keith ignored this advice and finished his first science fiction novel when he was 18. "At that age, I thought the world was my oyster," Keith remembers. "I just assumed that one of the publishers I sent the book to would buy it and I'd be rich." But that life-changing phone call never arrived and Keith put his writing on the back burner to focus on "real life".

Real life for Keith meant having a family and working as a retail manager, but when he was made redundant he decided to start writing again. Unfortunately, sending his new science fiction novels to agents simply resulted in more rejection letters. "At that point I started a new venture repairing computers to pay the bills," Keith says. "I carried on writing, but I was still far from fulfilling my dream of making a living as an author."

Following his teacher's advice

It was only when he hit his 40s that Keith decided to listen to his old English teacher's advice and try something new. "In one of my science fiction novels there was a flashback to a crime noir scene. My partner said that she'd always liked that part so we hammered out the idea for a crime novel, which would become Killing Hope (A Gabe Quinn Thriller)."

Keith had heard about Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and decided to give it a go. "I launched Killing Hope in November 2011 and decided to promote it using one of the five free promotional days as part of KDP Select in the following January." He wasn't expecting much, but it hit the top five in the free charts in both the US and the UK in one day and suddenly people all around the world were downloading his book.

The free promotion ended, but the paid sales continued growing. "Over those few days, Killing Hope was selling like hot cakes," Keith exclaims. "I was at my daughter's house when it first got into the Kindle top 100 in the US and UK at the same time and I was absolutely giddy. It also reached number one in its category. I couldn't believe it; it felt like I'd won the lottery." Keith has now loaded the second and third volumes of his Gabe Quinn series to Kindle and to Amazon's bookstore, using Amazon's print on demand service, CreateSpace. "I love the flexibility that self-publishing brings," Keith remarks. "I also really value the feedback from readers, which allows me to adapt my writing to make sure it's what people want to read."

A whole new life

"Self-publishing my book has changed my life completely," Keith says. "Amazon’s high royalty rates mean that I am making 10 times more as an author than I was with my computer repair business. It's allowed me to think about things that I've never been able to before, like buying a new car and putting a deposit down on a new house."

For Keith, this is living the dream, but he still wants to go back to his first love of science fiction. "I'm currently writing a stand-alone thriller and want to continue my Gabe Quinn series, but in the future I'd love to dip back into science fiction: I hope the learnings that I've had with KDP will help me to write the book my teacher always wanted to read. In a way, that would make everything complete."

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I was at my daughter’s house when it first got into the top 100 in the US and UK and I was absolutely giddy. I couldn’t believe it; it felt like I’d won the lottery
Keith Houghton