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.

The New Sense – free on Amazon!

My psychological mystery The New Sense is a free Kindle download today. Montrealers who read it will recognize a host of places (and maybe even some people).

The New Sense cover_72dpi

I have to get back to promoting the promotion now but if you want to know more, either click on the cover to read an excerpt on Amazon.com or watch this interview I did last year: LINK TO ME TALKING IN FRONT OF MY BOOKCASE.

If you’re looking for the Canadian Amazon link, click here.

For the UK Amazon link, click here.

And, what the heck, if you’re in Japan, click here.

Cory Doctorow’s self-publishing insights

Cory Doctorow is a science-fiction author who has lived his life inversely to me, in the sense that he was born in Canada and moved to Britain. In this recent interview he talks about a range of issues related to self-publishing, including DRM (Digital Rights Management, in other words, file copying restrictions), traditional bookstores, and copyright. Here’s his very interesting take on the definition of self-publishing:

To be self-published is not to prepare a file for distribution, nor to put it in an e-commerce system, it is to have and execute on a theory of how to connect the audiences with the works you are publishing. And unless you can elucidate that theory and test it and act on it and revise it, you are not publishing, you are merely formatting.

Cory_Doctorw_portrait_by_Jonathan_Worth_1

Cory Doctorow, sitting at his desk. And presumably working, although he could just be pretending to work so the picture looks good. Photo by Jonathan Worth.

This is a great definition. Writing in a journal every night and locking it in a bedside drawer isn’t self-publishing. Making an ebook and uploading it to Amazon is almost identical to locking it in a drawer, in the sense that no one will know it’s there. That’s why connecting with an audience is the key to self-publishing. There are a thousand-and-one theories out there about how to do that, and my job as a publisher (who happens to be publishing my own works) is to filter through those theories, concoct one of my own, try it out, and see whether it’s working.

Of course, self-publishing might not mean attempting to actually sell any books. For example, I’ve already connected with an audience of thousands with Silent Symmetry through my Amazon free promotional days. But this is all part of a long-term professional marketing plan. Maybe there should be a distinction between the two activities – finding readers and selling books – although “professional self-publishing” is a very unwieldy term to describe the latter. Then again, it’s not as unwieldy as selfpropub or proselfpub or ishouldjustgotothepubinsteadofthinkingaboutthis (though some would say I’m already a pro at the last one of those).

Marketing probably seems distasteful to some self-published authors. These are the types who believe that if they put their work of genius “out there”, fellow geniuses will discover it and they will be lauded and feted and get laid.

This is at best pretentious and at worst simply lazy. In Britain, self-promotion is often frowned upon. Interestingly, the British idiom for showcasing your talent is “to blow your own trumpet”, while in North America it’s “to toot your own horn”. But here’s the bottom line: if you’re a creative individual who doesn’t blow your own trumpet, all you’re doing is sucking on your own horn.

The Guardian begins serious coverage of self-published authors

On Thursday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper began a series on self published authors with this article on Polly Courtney. In her interview she describes the negative experience she had when her third book (following two self-published novels) was marketed by HarperCollins in the UK:

Polly Courtney

Polly Courtney. Photograph: Hanna Palmer.

When I signed with HarperCollins, I thought “Great! This is the golden ticket I’ve been waiting for!” I thought it would be a great collaboration between me and the publisher, given my success self-publishing my first two novels. The reality was a big disappointment. The publisher seemed intent on pushing my books into pre-existing moulds (“misery lit”, “chick lit”) that didn’t reflect
the contents.

“Brand Polly Courtney” was increasingly muddled, leading to confusion for readers. It turned out that my editor hadn’t actually read my first two books. There was no marketing budget, which meant that it was up to me to promote each book. This wasn’t a problem per se, but my job was made hard by the frivolous book covers and titles assigned to them. I actually felt ashamed of the product. Now I’m back to self-publishing, I’ve regained control.

20 FERAL YOUTH Front cover Amazon

The Guardian appears to be making a genuine effort to provide its readers with coverage of self-published books such as Polly’s novel Feral Youth, which will be released next week. I’ve already touched on the issue of gatekeepers and quality control mechanisms in the traditional publishing industry as well as the ones that are springing up for self-published authors, such as the Awesome Indies website, independent reviewers, and the True Review Pledge. But one of the principal gatekeepers that has always existed in the world of traditional publishing is professional reviewing of new books in newspapers and magazines.

Reviews that appear in quality newspapers like The Guardian are trusted by the readership and have a huge influence on consumer behaviour. Many self-published authors are not writing with any expectation of profit, but for those that do, influencing consumers is the way to bridge the gap between amateur and professional status.

I’m already a professional writer (copywriting, book sales and translation work account for 100% of my income) so that gap doesn’t exist in quite the same way for me as it does for other self-published authors. But whether professional or not, pretty much every author, myself included, would like their work to be read by as many people as possible. Mind you, “read” isn’t necessarily a synonym for “consumed”. I’ve managed to give away over 5,500 copies of the Silent Symmetry ebook, and presumably the vast majority of those copies will be read at some point in the near future. Some will also be shared with family members and maybe some even pirated, which leads to even more readers but no actual consumption in a financial sense. For me, as an unknown author, this is all part of a professional long-term marketing plan. But it if that plan doesn’t ultimately translate into income through sales, it has failed.

So what makes people lay down their hard-earned pounds, dollars and yen (yes, Silent Symmetry has readers in Japan!) and buy a book? Trust. That’s why The Guardian’s series is an enormous step in the right direction for self-publishing. Of course, any single book may turn out to be rubbish, whether traditionally or self-published, but at least positive coverage for the indies in the mainstream media increases the overall credibility factor for self-publishing, and may encourage more readers to consume books that authors such as Polly Courtney have laboured so diligently to write and market.

On another note, if any self-published authors out there have the slightest idea why the Silent Symmetry ebook was downloaded over 2,500 times last week in the US but only 9 times in Canada and 58 in the UK, I’d love to hear their theories! Since Facebook,  Twitter and blogs are essentially international, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these figures are so disproportionately skewed in favour of the US. More copies were downloaded in India than in Canada where I live and wrote the book! As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “What’s up with that?”

Silent Interview

I was interviewed recently about Silent Symmetry for the Rai29BookReadNReview blog and it’s now live on Rachel’s blog here: INTERVIEW.

Don’t read it if you don’t want to know which four celebrities living or dead I would invite to a dinner party and the advice I’d give to young writers.

Here’s a big clue to one of the dinner guests:

483px-Emily_Dickinson_daguerreotype

Blogging about talking on video about writing a novel

The video interview about The New Sense is now on YouTube and the BBC. Oh wait, just YouTube:

Watch it for some insights into the ideas behind my upcoming novel, what inspired it, whether (or not) it reflects my personal life and what makes me laugh out loud. (Hint: it’s sex-related.)

Thanks to my publisher Chris Trudeau of Second Generation Press for doing such a great job!