I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree David Penny to talk with me today about his self-publishing experience. David is the author of 4 Science Fiction novels and several short stories published during the 1970’s. Near-starvation led him down the slippery slope of work, which distracted him from his true calling. He has now returned to writing and The Red Hill, a Moorish mystery thriller, was published in June 2014. He is currently working on two new books: the follow up to The Red Hill, and a thriller set in the world of industrial espionage.
David, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?
I think pretty much from the moment I returned to writing I knew I wanted to self-publish. I’d already had a traditional experience when I was in my 20’s and had four science-fiction novels published by Robert Hale in the UK, a short story in Galaxy magazine, an agent – in fact everything many authors still aspire to.
However, I recognized the world has changed since the 1970’s. I started writing again with no expectation of how my words might see the light of day – then I discovered there was this thing called Amazon, and you could just upload your book! And it was available the same day! It was a revelation.
What has your experience been like along the way?
The technical side of self-publishing came fairly easy, but then I have had 30 years working in IT. I think once I decided that self-publishing was my route to publication the process was pretty straightforward.
One of the major things I have experienced is the absolutely wonderful support and camaraderie that other Indie authors offer each other. Without it this would be a very lonely and hard road to follow.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
I started learning about self-publishing in 2011, even before I began to write my own books, by helping a friend who couldn’t cope with the technical side of things. Some of these challenges relate to her work, as things have changed enormously since then.
Early on formatting required a lot of dedication and could be considered a “black art”. I remember poring over the Smashwords Style Guide then trying and re-trying to upload a document that wouldn’t get rejected. Even these days I still come across threads on forums bemoaning the trials of trying to get a document that will be accepted.
Initially we tried creating out own covers, and failed dismally. Unless they are a genius most writers are not graphic designers, and we are guaranteed to make a bad job of cover design.
And of course, the biggest challenge of all, is how do you get readers to discover your books. You might be the best, most eloquent writer in the history of the world, but if you can’t get the book in front of people then they won’t buy it. So marketing is the biggest challenge I had, and still have. I’m not very good at it.
What have you learned in this industry?
The biggest lesson is not to believe you can, or have to, or even should do everything yourself.
What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing
Don’t get hung up on checking your sales every day, let alone ten times a day!
Never respond to bad reviews, and accept that everyone is going to get them.
Make sure you understand the technology and, if you’re unsure, get help. There are a lot of good resources out there to help with formatting, layout and publishing.
At the risk of sparking controversy – forget about print. I meet a lot of writers who are still chasing the traditional dream of seeing their books in bookstores, but it’s a hard road to follow with little in return. There’s a saying in business I’ve borrowed and altered – Print is Vanity, ePub is Sanity. I still put my books in print, but have little expectation of sales from that channel. The print books are primarily a marketing exercise, and for handing out at meetings and for reviews.
Don’t expect your first book to set the world alight and becomes a best seller.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
That’s a lot of Don’ts, so here are some Dos:
Do read about the craft. There are many great books on writing, too many to start to list, but I believe all writers need to continually hone their craft, and reading out it is one way to do this.
Do make sure you get professional help with the elements that will make your book compete on a level playing field with the big 6 – these are: Editing, Proofing, Formatting and Cover Design.
Do make sure you check our any services you decide to use. There are a host of great resources out there (I would recommend David Gaughan’s website and books as essential to everyone starting out, and The Alliance of Independent Authors provides a huge amount of useful resources) but there are also many, many predators willing to charge you a fortune for bad advice and services.
Do keep writing and do keep bringing out books.
What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?
Write the book you want and embrace self-publishing as the new paradigm for the twenty-first century. I have read some great trad published books, but these days I have also read great self-published books as well which push the boundaries beyond where the traditional market is willing to embrace.
What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?
I don’t spend enough time on social media, but I don’t feel guilty about it — it’s a decision I made, and it suits me. I’m still struggling with ways to promote my books. Most of the writers I know follow a similar pattern which can lead to being very busy but communicating only with other writers. It’s a easy trap to fall into, because we all love talking about writing. But the people we need to communicate with are readers.
So I’m trying to work out a means of making that happen. I have a few ideas, but at the moment none in place. For example – my books are set in southern Spain in the 1480’s. When my wife and I were on the airplane going on a holiday research trip I was leafing through the EasyJet Inflight magazine and it occurred to me I could write an article on the hidden Spain that lies behind the beaches and hotels.
What are the different sites you use to promote your book?
At the moment I don’t use any, and the reason for that is I plan to have at least three books in the series available before I start, so that when I do promote one book the reader will have something else to go on to if they like it. I don’t think promotion when there is only one book out is effective. There are, of course, outliers who dash this notion to pieces. Mr. Howey!
I did try BookBub once, but of course didn’t get accepted. Next year, when book 3 in the series comes out, I’ll try again, and other sites. But by next year the market will be completely different again!
Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?
Ooh, great, back to the science fiction!
I think we are just starting to see the major changes coming to the industry. Self-publishing is reaching a maturity it hasn’t had before, and the resources are now in place to offer support where needed.
So, in five years I see an acceleration of self-publishing with an emphasis on quality both of content and presentation. I also see continued resistance from the traditional market and a continued erosion of their power. I also think there will be less players in the eBook market, with Amazon and Apple being the main players, maybe with Apple overtaking Amazon as the main seller of eBooks. And of course, even before five years are here, there will be eReaders that provide the exact same reading experience as paper. The Kindle Voyage is already close to doing that, and in technology terms five years is a geological time period. One thing I don’t see happening – and which some have predicted – is the disappearance of reading in its current form. Multimedia is great in its place, but there is something special about curling up to read a book (on whatever media) that film or games or TV simple cannot replace. Only books can take you places in your head that nothing else can match.
In ten years time the battle will be continuing, but I think the pendulum will have swung over and it will be Indies who are the majority, and Indies will be considered as equals alongside traditional authors. By this I mean readers won’t care how you publish, only what you publish.
If something can be improve upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?
Alongside what I said above, a few things need to be in place. It is still too easy for rogues out there to ruin a writer’s career by lodging spurious copyright claims. I read a recent horror story of a writer’s book being taken down from Amazon because someone in Indie filed a claim that they wrote in – without any evidence at all.
The main players – Amazon, Apple, Kobo etc – must put their own houses in order to ensure that the scammers that currently abound cannot ruin the scene for the majority. At the moment self-publishing is like the Wild West – there are laws but not everyone adheres to them. This will come only with maturity and a willingness on all parties to make it work.
How long have you been an indie author?
Depends whether this relates to when did I have my first idea (6 years), start the research (5 years), start the book (2 years), or publish the first book (1 year).
Of course, the other answer is – I’ve always been an Indie author. I was just waiting for the right book to come along.