Author interview – Linda Gillard (part three)

Here is the third and final part of my interview with British author Linda Gillard, in which she talks about genre-related hurdles in trying to crack the North American market, fascinating heroines, and her upcoming writing plans.

Me: How are your sales in other territories, in particular North America and Oceania? Do you have any plans to promote your books specifically for those markets or are you happy enough with your success in the UK?

Linda: So far I’ve made no real impact anywhere other than the UK. I’ve tried paid adverts for the US market. They boost sales for 2 days, then they go back to single figures, so I’ve now let it go. I have no experience of paid adverts working, so I’ve stopped buying them. My UK sales earn me a living. I’m gradually getting more reviews on US Amazon and they’re good, so I think my readership there will grow slowly – possibly slower than stalactites, but that’s how it was in the beginning in the UK.

Linda Gillard’s Emotional Geology

I don’t write genre fiction and that’s made it hard to crack the North American market. I’m not sure how well my stories will travel anyway. I’ve been told by American fans that my books don’t have enough sex in them to appeal to readers of romance and paranormals. Most of my heroines are well into their forties. They aren’t the girl next door and never were. Sadly many Amazon reviewers assess books according to whether they’d like the heroine to be their best friend. I’m not writing for those readers.

I think the first duty of a protagonist is to be fascinating, not likeable. Let’s face it, Jane Eyre is not exactly Miss Congeniality. And I’m surely not the only one who’d like to slap Emma Woodhouse. Cathy Earnshaw is a minx at best. Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Scarlett O’Hara, Tess D’Urberville – none of them would have made Head Girl. But these problematic heroines haven’t exactly blighted the books in which they appear. On the contrary, they’re the reason we read and re-read. We relish their complexity, their guts and their moral ambiguity.

I cherish a review of my first two books in a Scottish literary journal that said, “The emotional power in these novels makes this reviewer reflect on how Charlotte and Emily Bronte might have written if they were living and writing now.” That reviewer picked up that my protagonists and stories pay homage to the Classics. A LIFETIME BURNING, with its incestuous twins, is my 21st century take on WUTHERING HEIGHTS. My novel STAR GAZING owes a lot to Charlotte Brontë’s VILLETTE.

That’s a plus for many UK readers. I don’t know if it would be for North American readers. I’m not all that bothered. I write what I want to write in the way I want to write it. I’m indie.

Me: What has your experience been with niche subjects and do you think they fare better in a self/indie publishing environment than the traditional publishing world?

Linda: I think they probably do fare better because there are no editors setting themselves up as arbiters of taste. In the indie world, niche subjects can at last find their readers.

I’ve discovered readers are quite happy to tackle novels featuring challenging topics (bipolar, PTSD, depression, suicide, disability, bereavement, addiction, survivor guilt). My fiction is issue-led because I’m interested in discussing these issues and how they affect people. I think issues like these also increase the drama potential of a story.

Linda Gillard’s Untying the Knot

Issues also give you an angle for your book promotion. I can say to you as a reader, “Try UNTYING THE KNOT. It’s a great love story, it’s funny and it will make you cry.’ Do you care? Probably not. But supposing I say to you, ‘I saw a white van in Glasgow with the words “Bomb Disposal” on the side. I wondered what sort of guy goes into bomb disposal. Then I asked myself, what sort of boy grows up to become a man who goes into bomb disposal? Then I wondered what it would be like, being married to a man in bomb disposal. So I decided to write a book about all that.” Do I have your attention now?…

Don’t tell people your book is good, tell them why you just had to write it.

Me: What’s next for you? Do you take a break between books or plunge right into the next one?

Linda: I usually take a short break after a book, but I don’t stop for long because I’m addicted to writing. But there was a sad hiatus last year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery & treatment stopped me in my tracks and I wrote no fiction for a year. Instead I wrote a lot of guest blogs and caught up on my reading.

I started writing a new novel on New Year’s Eve and I hope that will be launched before Christmas. It will be another genre-buster: a contemporary family drama set in a decaying Scottish castle. It’s a bit of a whodunnit, with a love story and a ghost. In other words, it’s a marketing nightmare. But so was HOUSE OF SILENCE, my most popular book. I’m not worried. When readers buy my books now, they expect the unexpected. That’s all part of the fun.

A big thank you to Linda for taking the time to share her absolutely fascinating insights and experiences. You can find out more about her (and of course buy her books!) on her Amazon author page here.

Author interview – Linda Gillard (part two)

Here is part two of British author Linda Gillard’s insightful and inspirational interview on her experiences in the world of self-publishing.

Me: Since you don’t do the social media thing, how have you built your readership? This is obviously a key issue for self-published authors with zero or miniscule marketing budgets.

Linda: I’ve built up my readership over many years. I was first traditionally published in 2005 and I’ve published six novels in that time. I’m not an overnight success. I had a modest but enthusiastic following for my first three traditionally published novels. Those readers gave me a lot of good reviews. Two of those novels were short-listed for various awards and won one. When I went indie, I already had a following and a good writing CV (apart from being dropped by my publisher for “disappointing sales”.)

Inverewe portrait with gate

Linda Gillard

After I was dropped, I set up my Facebook author page, waited for my agent to find me a new publisher and carried on writing novels. I was preparing for a miracle. I offered to write guest blogs for whoever would have me, so that I could promote my backlist and keep myself visible. When, after 2 years, my agent still hadn’t found a publisher for my mixed-genre novels, I decided to go indie.

There was a sort of impromptu launch party on FB. (Nowadays authors orchestrate these things.) Enough people clicked on the same day to send HOUSE OF SILENCE to #2 in the Movers and Shakers chart and that book has never really looked back. But I broke all the rules. I didn’t blog. I didn’t Tweet. It wasn’t genre fiction. It wasn’t the first in a trilogy. I didn’t ever make it free. But I sold 10,000 downloads in less than four months and Amazon UK selected it for their Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.

I don’t know why it sold. It had a good, professional cover. The blurb was appealing and ticked lots of boxes because it was a mixed-genre book. But who knows why a reader clicks? I keep my prices low (£1.99/$2.99) which encourages new readers to try me. If you check out my Amazon reviews, especially in the UK you’ll see readers try one book, like it, then download several others. (This is why it’s important to have several books out there – you want to capitalise on that impulsive moment when a reader decides they’ve found a new favourite author and have to have the complete works.)

Linda Gillard’s House of Silence

But the main thing I do to build up my readership is keep writing good books that are hard to put down. That brings readers back for more. They also tell their friends & family. That’s what you want – “superfans” who’ll do the promotion for you. 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 my books, I cultivate relationships with readers – in forums, on Facebook, in blog comments. I regard readers as friends I haven’t met yet.

I can’t explain how I write books readers want to read because I don’t know. I just write for myself and always have. I like complexity, moral grey areas, believable characters, lots of dialogue, humour, an interesting and unusual angle (eg a blind heroine, a hero suffering from PTSD, incestuous adult twins). My books don’t belong to any particular genre. I’ve written a three-generation saga, a paranormal, a love story with a 47-year old bipolar heroine. But variety hasn’t been a problem for me as an indie because I market myself, not a genre and I market myself as a writer of intelligent page-turners.

 

The final part of my interview with Linda will appear either tomorrow or Friday.

Author interview – Linda Gillard (part one)

British author Linda Gillard has seen a lot of success as a self-published author, having become dissatisfied with being pigeonholed by the traditional publishing industry. Some of her travails were covered in this article on her that appeared earlier this month in The Guardian’s series on independent authors.

I interviewed Linda last week and her answers were so interesting and in-depth that I’ve decided to publish them in several posts over the rest of the week.

Me: You have stated that you make a healthy number of ebook sales even though you don’t participate in social media. Do you ever worry that you could be selling more books if you were tweeting, blogging and posting?

Linda: I used to, but I don’t any more. I’m yet to see any evidence that Tweets sell books in any significant numbers. I was recently featured in the Guardian newspaper as a successful indie author, but despite a massive readership and multitudinous tweets and shares, the article had no impact on my sales. Tweeting can raise your profile and increase your book’s visibility, but my concern now is acquiring new readers.

Author Linda Gillard

Indies have discovered book promotion can take all the time you’re prepared to give it, but launching a new novel is the best thing I can do to stimulate backlist sales and bring myself to the attention of book buyers. My readers don’t want a new blog post from me, they want a new book. I think however successful (or unsuccessful) you are, the best and most lucrative use of your time is always going to be writing the next book. Once I’d come to that conclusion, I stopped worrying about how much I participate in social media.

The exception for me is Facebook where I have a lively author page with 800 followers. I enjoy interacting with readers there and the feedback I get is useful and fun. I also have a website, but apart from that, I just write books. I try to produce one a year. Having found your readers, it’s important to keep them supplied with new books. They are your best marketing tool.

Me: Genre seems to be a problem for traditional publishers who often take a marketing-by-numbers approach (whether through laziness or incompetence) and attempt to slot every book into a neat genre. As a successfully self-published author who mixes genres, can you turn the tables and throw some advice back at the so-called pros?

Linda: What do publishers know? The Time Traveller’s Wife was rejected 40 times before an independent publisher took a risk. It went on to sell seven million copies. In the UK publishers market to retailers, not readers and that’s where they’ve gone wrong. They underestimate the intelligence of the average reader and that reader’s willingness to experiment.

Readers want a good story and characters they can get involved with. Apart from that, they’re open-minded. I see no evidence in book forums, on blogs or in reviews that readers want authors to produce the same kind of book all the time or even a book that sticks to a single genre, yet this is what editors tell any author who wants to mix or change genres. “Readers get confused”, we’re told.

I think this is just an excuse to disguise the fact that publishers don’t really know how to market books except as yet another “stunning debut novel” or “the next Jodie Picoult/Lee Child/E. L.  James.” It’s not marketing, it’s cloning.

Linda Gillard's The Glass Guardian

Linda Gillard’s The Glass Guardian

I know it’s hard to market “a rattling good yarn”, but this is what readers are looking for. Readers want to fall in love with authors. That’s what readers are looking for now when they buy indie books: stories cheap enough to risk trying a new author who might be “the one”.

Publishers would do better to promote the author, not their latest book, build up a following, encourage brand loyalty. Readers don’t want to be disappointed by novels that fail to live up to the hype. They want the next good book from a favourite, reliable author. But how do you make that sexy?…

No one knows how to market quality, but that’s what readers want.

What kind of party is it if it doesn’t have a dog playing the piano?

Actually, that’s a rhetorical question. But I do know the answer to what kind of party it is if it does have a dog playing the piano: an Awesome Indies website relaunch party, and it’s going on until August 25th. Check out the 99 cent sale and all the other high quality indie books recommended by the site, including my very own Silent Symmetry! Click on the banner below to see the aforementioned dog pounding on the ivories and to read some entertaining flash fiction.

aia_header_party2

Awesome Indies’ online launch party!

I personally have never been to a party that lasted five days. UNTIL NOW! Because the awesome and indie Awesome Indies site is having a Grand Opening party starting today and running until Sunday, August 25, inclusive.

Here’s what’s going on: a sale of 26 top reads at just 99 cents each, plus 5 days of fun. See the new website, meet the authors, join them for games, giveaways and giggles and be in the draw to win the latest generation Kindle.

aia_button

My YA novel Silent Symmetry was Awesome Indies approved earlier this year, which means that it and the others on the AI site have met the same standards as books published by mainstream publishers – as evaluated by publishing industry professionals – giving readers the same level of confidence as they would have buying in a big bookshop chain.

Have fun!!

Sony et pas cher

(The title of this post is a bad pun for people who like oldies music and speak French.)

While I’ve been doing some vacationing, Silent Symmetry has appeared in the Sony online bookstore. Who even knew that Sony had a bookstore besides indie publishers? People in Japan, I’m guessing.

Click on the screenshot below if you are either a) curious, or b) own a Sony Reader.

Sony store screenshot