I’d like to welcome back three time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Linda Gillard today to talk with me about her self-publishing experiences. Linda lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She is the author of seven novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and HOUSE OF SILENCE, which became a Kindle bestseller and was selected by Amazon UK as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category. Three of her novels have been honoured with an indie B.R.A.G. Medallion
Linda, how long have you been an indie author?
Since 2011. I parted ways with my publisher over my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. They said it would be difficult to market and needed a complete re-write. Rather than do that I withdrew the manuscript. I really believed in my book as it stood. I hoped I’d get another publisher, but after 2 years my agent still hadn’t found one. We had a lot of rejection emails saying editors liked my books but couldn’t see how to market them because they didn’t belong to a particular genre.
My fans kept asking for a new book and I had two that my agent had been unable to sell, so I decided to publish them myself. HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller and then Amazon selected it as one of their Top Ten of 2011 in the Indie Author category. I re-published my out-of-print backlist and four new books and now I earn a living from writing non-genre fiction. Not many authors do that.
What has your experience been like along the way?
Almost wholly positive. Deciding to walk away from traditional publishing was the best thing I ever did, both creatively and financially, though at the time it felt like professional suicide. Now I can write what I want to write, in the way I want to write it. I can mix genres and have romantic heroines in their 40s!
I’ve enjoyed learning new skills and I’ve loved working with my designer, Nicola Coffield. I thought two of my traditionally published novels were sabotaged by their covers and I had a title foisted on me that I hated, so it means a lot to me to have books with titles and covers I can be proud of.
I’ve found indie authors a generous and knowledgeable group of people, especially the members of The Alliance of Independent Authors, the professional body of which I was a founder member. Bloggers too have been supportive and so has IndieBRAG who honoured three of my books with their Medallion. (CAULDSTANE, UNTYING THE KNOT and HOUSE OF SILENCE.)
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
It’s been difficult deciding how to market mixed-genre books. Traditional publishing promotes genre fiction by making it easily identifiable from the cover and title and they promote many authors as a “brand”. But I think I’ve now achieved that with my mixed-genre novels. Reviews indicate that people read one of my books, then download others. They aren’t buying a genre, they’re buying an author, a “voice”.
The downsides are trying to conserve writing time and the exhaustion that comes from trying to do everything yourself, to a very high standard. I write full time and my husband runs our home and does a lot of the technical work for me, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. That’s why I don’t do Twitter or have a blog. I prioritise writing because the best and most lucrative use of my time is always going to be writing the next book.
But I’m very lucky. My readers promote my books for me. Their enthusiasm is the best kind of marketing.
What have you learned in this industry?
You need a very good book, the best you can write. Don’t publish until you have that – ideally two or three. A really good book, professionally presented will have readers coming back for more. There have been a few books of debatable quality that made a lot of money, but if you’re a career writer, if you want to build a loyal following, producing good quality books is the best way to do it.
You also need to interact with your readers. If you hate social networking, don’t become an author! Readers expect you to be accessible. It’s all part of the package now. If they like your books, they want to know about you, in the same way they might want to know about an actress or sportsman they admire.
What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?
Research. Re-think. Re-write. Refine.
You must offer a totally professional product, indistinguishable from a traditionally published ebook or paperback. You must write the best book you can and it should of course be error-free. Then you must give it the best cover you can afford (and if you can’t afford a good cover, don’t publish.) Do lots of marketing research within your genre, then write a selling blurb and plan a marketing campaign.
Being an indie author is a job, not a hobby, so if you already have a job, be prepared to give up TV, housework, socialising, even sleep in order to realise your dream.
What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?
Promote by stealth. Readers hate relentless self-promotion. It’s selfish and boring. But they assume interesting books must be written by interesting people, so instead of promoting your books, cultivate relationships with readers. Engage with readers on blogs, in forums, on Facebook and Twitter. In the course of chatting, tell people about your books – just a little to whet their appetite. Then, if they show interest, tell them more.
Be sincere. Readers aren’t stupid. If you engage with them solely for the purpose of self-promotion, they’ll pick up on this and resent being used. Not only will you fail to sell a book, you’ll create a bad impression. Readers don’t want authors cold calling, they want new friends. The trick is to persuade them that their new friend also writes good books!
Put in the hours. Achieving online visibility is our biggest challenge and there are few short cuts to this. Resign yourself to putting in a great deal of time seeking out potential readers, cultivating bloggers, joining in discussions (not just about books). This is all part of the job. See it as an opportunity to make new friends with shared interests. Even if you don’t make a sale, you might make a friend. I regard my readers as friends I haven’t met yet.
What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?
I have an author page on Facebook where I engage with my readers most days, but a lot of what I do there isn’t related to book promotion. My page reflects all my interests and concerns. I occasionally promote posts on FB and I paid for two Bookbub promotions which were very successful and brought me a lot of new readers. My books are all on Goodreads but I don’t engage with that site much. Otherwise, there’s just my website. I don’t have a blog, though I often guest blog when people ask me.
As for promotion techniques, I talk about the issues or settings of my books, rather than promote the books themselves. I just give readers interesting information. I find that if, for example, I tell people on Facebook about living on the Isle of Skye and why I decided to write about a blind woman’s impressions of the island, it leads to sales, especially if I post photographs of my old home on Skye.
This is much more effective (and less irritating) than saying, “Please buy my book! It’s on offer today!” No one needs any more cheap/free books. Readers are now conserving time. They’re looking for quality reads that repay their time investment, so you have to persuade them your book will be worth their time.
I don’t know how much time I spend on book promotion. Too much! I don’t log my hours – it would be depressing. I suppose it must be at least 2 hours a day on average, if you count Facebook time, preparation for talks and workshops, answering emails from readers, librarians, festival organizers. And I work a 7-day week.
My hunch is, only 2% of what I do to promote my books actually produces sales and reviews. The rest is a waste of time. But I have no idea which 2% works!
Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?
Undoubtedly a lot of amateurs will fall by the wayside as they realise making even a modest living as a writer entails a huge amount of hard work, dedication and expertise.
Readers will make no distinction between traditional publishing and self-publishing. There will just be good books and bad books.
Unless publishers improve the service they offer, we’ll see even more traditionally published authors defecting to self-publishing so they can earn more and enjoy greater creative freedom.
Most people will be reading on e-readers, tablets or phones, but I think there will still be a market for high quality paperbacks and hardbacks which will lead to better designed, very desirable books that readers want to own.
If something can be improved upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?
Amazon currently allow readers to return an ebook within 7 days which means there’s a host of dishonest people out there reading for free. Amazon say they monitor this and eventually stop book buyers cheating, but when I look at my sales figures I still see lots of returns. Why should readers have 7 days to return an ebook? One day is surely enough to realise you’ve purchased something by mistake.
I’d also like to do something about piracy. Authors are told to just put up with it, it goes with the territory, not many copies are pirated, but shouldn’t we be educating readers to understand that downloading pirated editions is stealing? Readers who wouldn’t dream of stealing a car or groceries will steal authors’ books, as if intellectual property isn’t property!
This is just ignorance and unfortunately the huge number of free books has encouraged readers to think they don’t need to pay for any of their reading material. Piracy is theft.