How a Highgate author’s masterplan conquered the Kindle charts


author - Credit: Archant

‘I always felt I could do something if only I knew what it was,” says author Tina Seskis, whose first novel is being relaunched this week after a three-book deal with Penguin. What is extraordinary about her journey is that she first published her novel, One Step Too Far, through her own company.

Through sheer hard graft, self-made luck and “gratuitous timing”, her paperback copies landed in WH Smith, Waterstones and Foyles. The book also hit the number one spot on Amazon, selling 100,000 between last April and November and won The Bookseller’s Book of the Year 2013. It wasn’t long before Penguin, giants of the publishing world, got on board and sold the rights to America and 13 territories within a week of striking the deal with her.

“Going with Penguin was quite a difficult decision at the time because I’d worked so hard to do the book myself and then, because it did so well on Amazon, I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the success of it,” says Seskis, who lives in Archway with her husband and son. “Publishers were contacting me from all over the world. It was difficult to know who to go with, who to trust. I spoke to every agent who contacted me on the telephone, but I met only one who really understood how I felt and where I was coming from.”

He signed her with Penguin on the Friday “and, by the Tuesday, had sold it to America. It was an extraordinary experience, I still hadn’t realised quite how extraordinary.”

The plot and “twist” for her novel came “out of the blue” four years ago while on holiday, a year after completing a creative writing course at Lauderdale House in Highgate. A mother with a seemingly perfect life in Manchester abandons her family for a grimy flat in London. Seskis calls it a “whydunnit” more than a whodunnit.

She sent pages to her mother who was in hospital, knowing it had to be a page turner and keep her interest. She died of cancer shortly after Seskis sent her the final draft, having asked her daughter to dedicate the book to her.


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Seskis sent it out to agents with no luck, so gave up. A year later, she had to decide whether to consign it to the bottom drawer or try to do something with it. She paid for a manuscript assessment, where it was rated highly and so was told they’d help her try to find an agent, but over a year later she still didn’t have one.

By December 2012, 18 months later, with a second book written, Seskis was ‘miserable’. With two options – go back to freelance marketing or publish it herself – she read countless books before alighting on Michael Alvear’s Make a Killing On Kindle.

“I knew nothing about publishing, I just knew I wanted a paper copy, not just an e-copy, and I wanted it to be as good as it could be – both editorially and how it looked. So I just hired in all the professional support that I needed to help me get a professional book.”

Her publishing company, Kirk Parolles, is now on the backburner while she concentrates on her writing. Her second book, A Serpentine Affair, is about a group of friends who reunite at the Serpentine when one of them dies and is in the final editorial stages.

“It was good to have that success last summer on my own, then six months to take stock because I feel much more ready now to be part of the major Penguin deal. It’s the most brilliant thing I’ve done. Instead of me having to worry about every last thing, I now have a team who know what they’re doing and are experts in it.”